Category Archives: girl time

Tuscany – Day 23

After workout, I’m told we have no cold water. The gardener’s trying to fix this issue, and the housekeepers are also on it. It’s a good thing my workout was brief today, because no shower. Definitely no shower as by the time we’re ready to leave, no water at all.

Lovely view. Photo by Kayla.

And about the time we’re walking out the door, the villa manager’s husband fixes it.

Griffin’s not happy when Mommy heads out, but his attempt to follow her—making a run for it, even figuring out how to open the gate—is foiled by Daddy.

And with Kat at the wheel, we’re off.

I anticipate a workshop where we’ll sit around someone’s table and play with silver wire, twisting or bending it into what would be in my case, a poor excuse for a ring or pendant. No problem with that, it’s always fun.

Navigation takes us to a kind of industrial area between the villa and Florence, and now I anticipate we’ll twist that wire in some sort of warehouse setting. Then we make the last turn, and it’s a little bit residential, so I’m back to table.

We ring at the gate, walk in. Katarina greets us, and takes us up to a display room to explain what’s possible to make. Well, wow. Jewelry and much more. Boxes, bowls, key chains, charms, wine stoppers, salad tongs. Beautiful, shiny things. She explains some aren’t possible to make in an hour or two, but we have many choices, and she’ll take us down to what she calls the laboratory for inspiration.

This isn’t twisting silver wire at a table.

It’s a serious, professional work space with all sorts of tools, presses, rollers, work benches, soldering irons. And her father who sits at a workbench creating. She shows us little silver beads that come from the mine, and explains they send them away to a place that makes them into sheets of silver. And—fun fact—pure silver doesn’t tarnish. Copper’s added to make sterling, and the copper causes the tarnish. We’ll be working with sterling.

Silver beads. Photo by Kat.

Kayla’s picked what she wants to make. And I can’t tell you as it’s a surprise gift, but after a brief consultation Katarina says it’s possible. I decide on a pair of earrings I saw in the display room, and Kat, being Kat, has an idea for something else altogether.

Work table. Photo by Kat.

She makes a prototype out of a strip of paper. Katarina and her father discuss if it’s possible. He doesn’t speak English so the discussion’s in Italian. But it’s possible.

Katarina tells us that silver is not only pure, it’s alive. I think our group will be very simpatico with Katarina and her Papa.

Katarina at work. Photo by Kat.

Kayla begins, and follows instructions on how to use the big tools to bend, straighten. One of them has a large handle, and you swing it, keeping back as when it swings back, it would knock you a good one in the head. Kayla want her creation engraved, so into another workspace and the engraver, a machine you guide by hand—so cool. You pick the letters, line them up, and then increase or decrease the size, center. You hold one handle, and with the other guide the engraver into the letters on the tiles so it etches the letter into the silver. Slowly, firmly.

The process. Photo by Kat.

It’s absolutely fascinating.

Then it’s soldering time. Heat the solder, dip it in powder, touch it to the joint or base when the flame turns the silver at that point pink.

Now Kayla’s really impressive creation goes into a solution to clean it, and it’s my turn.

Before I begin, Papa takes us into another room to show off some of his work. Well, Jesus! The man is a true artist. Beautiful candlesticks, ornate bowls—all that detail, all hand-crafted. Gorgeous boxes with intricately designed lids. He’s justifiably proud.

To start I’m given what looks like a little spring of silver and sharp-nosed clippers. Snip! She tells me to cut a few as back ups for mistakes. We take the little rings to the soldering station to fuse the ends together. Fun! I haven’t soldered since high school metal shop.

Now I get to do the big swing, and the rings are now flat. Into another room and what Katarina calls the pasta machine. It’s basically a roller. Put the rings down, nudge them under with a tool, and the big roller (what a number THAT would do on a finger!) flattens them more and shapes them into ovals. Do it all again. We take the ovals to another bench where I get to hammer them. I love hammered metal, and it’s a kick to do it. Whap, whap, whap. Then over to file the joints inside the top. Punch the holes for the wires.

Hammer time! Photo by Kat.

I’ve freaking made hammered silver earrings.

Kat begins by, along with Katarina and Papa, bending a strip of silver by hand. And oops, cuts her thumb. Antiseptic and bandaid provided. Kat bleeds for her art. The experts feel the strip was too thin, and provide a thicker one. And Papa works with Kat. His daughter tells me he is very precise, has very high standards. If a guest, like us, or a customer wants something made he doesn’t like, he won’t do it. Just no from Papa.

Whenever it’s time to make samples, she tells me, it’s a big family fight.

Partners. Photo by Nora.

He obviously approves of Kat’s design as he breaks from his own work to supervise hers. She has two strips, hammers them—again under Papa’s eye. He’ll say no, or stop, or signal to continue. Bend them into the shape she wants by hand—again with Papa instructing—Nods, no, stop.

More tools to turn the flat strips into the smooth and rounded, soldering.

Kat’s work goes into a sandblaster for cleaning. All our creations are polished—so pretty!

Up to the display room where Katarina provides Kat with ribbons and twine so she can use her curving bauble as a bracelet or pendant—or both as she made two. Papa comes up, so I think we’ve entertained him.

We’re given certificates—like diplomas. Papa instructs his daughter to roll and ribbon them. (Pretty sure we made a hit with him.)

I spy a pair of small, gorgeous, ornate scissors—for cutting grapes, I’m told—and buy them.

Silver scissors. Photo by Nora.

What a fun, fascinating time. I’m not surprised by how beautiful Kat’s and Kayla’s creation are, but I did astonish myself with mine.

Well pleased with ourselves and with Papa and Katarina, we head home to show off our work.

Back home. Photo by BW.

Griffin’s happy to see Kat. He must be happy to see me as before too long he challenges me to a race, with jumps.

More puzzling—we’re almost there!

Appropriate for the location. Photo by Nora.

And oh—no water. This time BW fixes it as instructed.

Time for a drink, a sit outside. The lawnmower’s back and I can hear it rattling in front of Griffin.

And another oh—no AC. What the what?? I wouldn’t mind so much, but it’s seriously hot. I’d had a conversation with Katarina about this long, unseasonable heatwave and drought. It’s a serious problem. Kayla comes out to stand in the center of the breezeways, doors open on either side for the cross-breeze.

The manager’s husband and daughter come to fix. Takes awhile to figure out that when the gardener tried to fix the water, he inadvertently turned off the AC. As the villa took awhile to heat up, it’ll take a little while to cool down.

But we’re heading out to dinner soon anyway.

Seen in town. Photo by j a-b.

And off we go—so does the lawnmower. We’re going to try the place just down from last night’s spot, and at seven-fifteen are the first table occupied. Kayla and I are pleased they offer green salad—just field greens. Many varieties of pasta to follow. I go with the thick spaghetti in a garlic and tomato sauce, and it’s wonderful. Griffin’s happy with his lawnmower, Kat’s phone and French fries to start. It’s a much quieter place than the night before, and service is much brisker and still relaxed.

[The variety of dinner choices to follow.]

Salad with a side of Fanta OR Fanta with a side of salad? You decide. Photo by j a-b.
An antipasto of some sort. Photo by BW.
Raviolo. Photo by Kayla.
Nora’s pasta. Photo by Nora.
Cappuccino with dessert. Photo by BW.
Dessert with chocolate. Photo by Kayla.

Everyone’s well pleased with their choices. Kat has her splash of wine from the best bottle of red yet. Smooth as silk.

The sky goes pink—a huge cloud, rosy pink, demands pictures. Time for cappuccino and dolci as the bells chime at nine. Laura tells me this is an old-tradition, the mad bells at nine—to signal it’s time for prayers and bed.

Sky show. Photo by j a-b.
Pink! Photo by BW.

A perfect little chocolate soufflé first? Yes, please!

A mishap with the cappuccino, as the tray dips and two hit the stone. The waiter’s full of apologies—no big for us, we assure him. Replacements delivered, and we all enjoy.

The walk back in time to see those last fiery lights. And home for another look at the half moon before bed.

Lights above and below. Photo by j a-b.
Smiling parents, absorbed boy. Photo by BW.
BW & Nora. Photo by BW’s phone.
Kayla and a sunset. Photo by BW.
Group selfie. Photo by j a-b.

The winery we’d hoped to tour is fully booked, but we may take a drive to look at a castle. Depending on the distance and how windy the road, I’ll join or stay back and pack. Packing must be faced as this is our last day.

Chain Saw Man doesn’t disappoint and has been busy since about six a.m. Otherwise, the hills and valleys are quiet. I’ll do my last water bottles for weights routine, see what’s what.

Morning sky with balloon. Photo by Nora.

In the quiet, I watch a hot air balloon float over the hills.

Nora


Legit #randomcatness. Photo by j a-b.

Girls, Games & Griffin

Another Girl Spa Week in the bag! We missed Laura, who ditched us to attend her son’s wedding. Of all the nerve! And Pat who’s in the process of moving.

But the rest of us had a very fine time.

Every time I walk into the lobby after the drive, I feel my stress level plummet. Just ahhhh.

We’re back in The Chateau after a two-year absence. The first year, canceled due to Covid, the second year in a house on property, due to Covid again.

We’re all happy to be back in our traditional space. Settle in, pop a bottle. Slainte one and all. Relax, eat, enjoy watching Griffin explore the space.

The boy likes a good hotel.

Nicole and JoAnne just dancing.

And let the games begin! Just Dance comes first, and while Kayla and Sarah are neck-in-neck, Kayla wins it with top score. Bowling’s up next, and I crushed it! Hello, five strikes in a row. But I disqualify myself from Fabulous Prizes.

Games continue, but not the tourney, as Griffin wants to race. At home he likes to chase me around the house until we round back to the start/finish line. Then, he looks at me with puppy eyes and says: Ready? I must repeat it. Then Set, then GO!!! Usually at the finish there’s: Hooray! We did it. We win a trophy, and high fives. But he sometimes skips that and goes straight back to Ready?

Different track in the suite, but same game. Around and around we go. I bank a LOT of steps before bedtime. And slept like a rock.

Work out in the morning, then clean up for some shopping. They’ve painted big angels wings on one of the walls in the shop area, and Kayla poses. We have fun, Griffin especially in the toy store.

Then Kayla and I have massages. More ahhhhh!

Lovely, lovely. Let’s cap that off with a glass (or two) of champagne and a cookie.

Dinner order’s in, Jo and Jeanette arrive. They have to catch up with dancing and bowling. More Fabulous Prizes! And more races. It helps that Kayla joins in there.

And it’s great, seriously great, just to hang out with girls.

Another morning, another work out. Jo’s got a neck/shoulder deal going on, so I take it easy on her. We do a lot of stretching.

Elaine, Jo, Kat and I squeeze in Scrabble. I have words, but no strategy for Scrabble and they have my share and more. But they needed the fourth and Jeanette (who also kills in Scrabble) had a treatment.

I am the lamb to the slaughter.

Kat defeats all comers.

Kat’s win — I think, no one labeled these. ~Laura

I have champagne to sustain me.Meanwhile Nicole’s doing makeovers. She’s a Seint rep, and all her profits go to Distinguished Young Women–a scholarship program for high school seniors.

Nicole in action
Kat creating more art

Laura sends us pictures of the wedding. Oh, so beautiful! And our girl is dancing! Happy!

More bowling, more dancing–Kayla’s killing it. Jo wins her bowling heat, if I remember right. And Kayla and Sarah will face off in the Just Dance finals when we get to it.

We do some Wild Cards for those who have no stickers on the board. Everyone wins a trophy!

Morning workout, and a little more cardio of Jo as she’s down to sore. Lots more stretching.

Sunday is Paint Day. Griffin gets a sitter. He isn’t thrilled, but I distract him with a race so Kat can sneak out. Then I make my escape. And he has his Monster Trucks to sustain him, and takes a nap halfway under the couch.

I should add, Griffin is now seriously attached to the little lawnmower Grandda and I gave him on his first birthday. He often takes it to be with him. And this is essential to his race games. In the mornings, I can hear him coming from across the hall into the suite as the lawnmower clacks its way.

But now it’s paint time! We’ve chosen the painting–a pretty simple sun on the meadow sort of deal. I sit as far away from Kat and her genuine artistic talent as possible. I’m between Jo and Kayla, and we begin with the sky.

Kayla and Nora
Kat
JoAnne
Sarah, Elaine and Jeannette

A glance over and I see Sarah’s going for a night sky.

My sun looks like a six-year-old painted it–all it needs are the rays poking out. So I paint over it. No sun on my meadow! Kayla’s sun looks like it should, and even better. Jo paints over hers.

I try clouds, and I think I regressed to a four-year-old. Paint over them.

Sarah’s night sky has become a dramatic storm with a freaking tsunami instead of a meadow, and a rocky outcropping in the corner with a figure standing on it. It’s fabulously fierce.

I work on my grass. I’m fairly pleased with my grass and my sunless sky. I refuse to be unpleased when I walk around, see Elaine’s, Jeanette’s, Nicole’s. Even Kat’s.

We can add flowers, so I do. No, I tell our helpful instructor, don’t show me how to paint tulips as they will probably look like the work of a two-year-old. But I have fun mixing colors, dabbing, dotting, swirling. Jeanette does awesome daisies. Kat’s is, well, gorgeous. And no one’s looks like the template. They’re all just wonderful and individual. And every one of us leaves happy.

[Laura’s note: Since I wasn’t present in person, here are all the paintings for your perusal.]

Good job, girls!

Griffin continues his nap when we get back. It’s Scrabble for Nicole, Jeanette, Sarah and Kayla. Kayla inherited her Scrabble skills from her Nana, poor thing. Jeanette dominates.

It’s pizza and ice cream night! Who could ask for more?

First Round of Cards Against Humanity. It’s always ridiculous fun. I do well here as I know my individual judges and I get really good cards.

Elaine has to leave us Monday, early, so we say our goodbyes before bedtime.

Morning workout, then Jo, Jeanette, Kayla and I head off for mani-pedis. Or just the pedi for Jeanette today. I love knowing the hardest decision I have to make today is what colors on my toes. My feet are incredibly happy by the end of it.

Kayla and I make our way back as Jo has a massage after nails.

Dinner. I have to give kudos to the chefs. We have among us, two vegetarians, a shell-fish, beef and pork allergy, and a gluten allergy. It’s a lot to deal with, and they really come through.

I think we did some final rounds, more wild cards. I know Sarah and Kayla went head-to-head for Just Dance. Well fought, but Kayla nipped her for the final round win. Jo and Kayla are the finalists in Bowling. This time Kayla goes down.

Did I miss this? Um, no.

Workout morning, and Jo’s better so I don’t take it so easy on her.

More makeovers. It’s really fun to see the transformations. I make a palette–girl toys–and add their brush cleaner as it’s so much better than anything I’ve used. Ever.

Kat, Kayla, Griffin and I take advantage of a pretty day, go outside for a walk. That becomes many, many races. Then Hide-And-Seek.

This is particular fun as you can hide behind a skinny pole, and Griffin loves it. Or you can sit on a bench, cover your face with your hands. He’s on board. This is in a really spacious and pretty courtyard area we have to ourselves.

We race, and when Griffin needs a break, he pushes his lawnmower into the grass and pretends to be stuck. So Kayla and I use this ruse, pretend to be stuck. Catch our breath.

Dinner, more Cards Against Humanity. Kayla sneaks up on me this time. I blame my cards. Since she won Just Dance–every round– Cards twice, and finaled in Bowling, it’s no stretch to see who’ll get the crown on our last night.

Final Scrabble–Jeanette and Kat. The tension is palpable! The board is tight, neither combatant giving way. Though Jeanette came close, Kat remains undefeated.

Last day workout, hang out, enjoy. I take Griffin duty so Kat can finally have a much-deserved massage. Kayla assists. He really likes the kid dances on Just Dance, so is well entertained.

Last dinner, last races, last ahhhs before Kayla is crowned Queen of the Girl Spa. Youth kicked Experience’s ass this year.

The winnah!

One last morning workout. Everyone finishes packing. It’s a lot!! Even though I don’t have the three bags of clothes purged from my closet–they went Night Two. Or all those Fabulous Prizes.

Hugs all around. So glad to have had this time together. Then Kayla and I drive home where the dogs–and BW–are happy to see us. And my gardens have exploded in the week away. Big and beautiful and full.

I took some pictures yesterday. Laura can decide whether to add them to this–which would be a lot–or just do another blog of garden pictures. Or save them. I’ll let her surprise me.

That was our week, and it hit every note. We missed you, Laura, and you Pat, but we’re already booked for next year!

Treasure the women in your life. They’re the flowers that bloom all year long.

Nora

A preview of a garden gallery on Wednesday.

A note from Laura:

While I’d argue using the word “ditch” to describe missing Spa Girl week, I was definitely absent. Instead of a scoreboard, my focus was on flowers

Rehearsal dinner settings

water views

View from reception

and family

Me with daughter Clare & her partner Nate.
Proud parents of the groom
The happy couple.
There was a lot of other dancing, but the video isn’t in from the photographers yet.

The Busy Season

It sure has been around here. But happy busy with shopping, wrapping, decorating, baking. We do the works!

Pies, Turkey, All The Fixings and Family. I broke my own tradition this year, and decorated before T-Day. It seemed to me we can use all the cheer we can manage. So up goes the tree, out come the candles and strings of lights. Put out the Santa collection, the Snow People. And it’s time to admit I also collect Christmas trees.

Thanksgiving pies

And yeah, there’s a lot of cheer.

Thanksgiving gobbled right by. And that’s my signal to get up to my One More Room and start dealing with my personal department store of presents accompanied by gooey (it’s the season!) Christmas movies.

A quick and careful shopping trip with Laura to visit our friends at Saks (with Sarah for a day). Room service and evening hotel writing. Quiet, productive, and a lovely little break.

Weekends loaded with wrapping paper, tissue paper, gift bags, gift tags until Hey! I can once again see the floor.

Nose to that grindstone during the week because I really, really want to finish this book and take a long deep breath before Christmas. And it pays off! Manuscript done and outta here two days before I have a little gathering for a handful of my (vaxxed and boosted) girl pals.

Mary Kay, JoAnne, Nora, Elaine

So nice to see everyone face-to-face, to just spend a day catching up. And since I have a day not chained to the keyboard, I can haul down the two Hefty bags of clothes purged from my closet, set them up on BW’s clothes rack.

And gone. More room in the One More Room. And that’s a nice side benefit.

The long deep breath includes a weekend with Jason and family as Kat leads this year’s Foundation Christmas party for a few local families. Deliveries again this year instead of in person, but Covid doesn’t dampen the cheer.

And I get Griffin time! The time includes a new favorite story.

He’s not happy when his mom leaves and it’s just me. Not a tantrum, but sadness that takes him to the door he’s thankfully unable to open to follow her. He sits on the floor in front of the door. I sit on the floor and sympathize. Then lie down, play peek-a-boo. He tries hard not to smile.

Then I see him look out of the corner of his eye at my little Limoges cabinet. He’s always fascinated by all those little pretty things. And is always denied access. Clinging to his boon companion, a little stuffed dog called Howl, he starts a butt scoot to the cabinet and the shiny little things.

Nana says: Uh-uh, Griffin, that’s a no.

So he shifts Howl in his hand so Howl puts his paws on the knob of the glass cabinet. Hey, I’m not doing it! Howl is!

Howl is also denied access, but Nana gets a good laugh, and gives the boy full credit for creativity.

Then I get out the bowling pins and we play, wild and happy, for a solid half hour before we head into Chase Me All Over The House–another favorite game.

The Santa gang brings back pizza.

Monday, dentist for me–and coincidentally Jason. Permanent crown now installed. Extraction (oh joy!) in February. Home to play another favorite game with Griffin, Bury Me In Pillows, before he and Kat head home.

Halfway through sophomore year!

And yesterday Baking Day with Kayla. Our girl is home from college (Dean’s List once again!) with a rotten cold. Tested for Covid, Flu, Strep, all negative. Just a vicious cold. But she’s on the mend, so baking it is.

Sugar cookie dough first and in the fridge. Chocolate chip, Peppermint Kisses, Snickerdoodles, Peanut Butter Blossoms. The house smells like a bakery (yum) as I play baker’s assistant. She does the work. I’m no longer guiding her little hands to help her crack an egg or measure flour. Those early lessons bore fruit, and she’s a wonderful baker.

At work

While she bakes, I make her some veggie bean and pasta soup.

We’ve got soup simmering, cookies in the oven, and Christmas movies on the kitchen TV. It’s pretty damn perfect.

Artistes.

And she and BW sit down to paint the sugar cookies as I roll out the dough, cut out the shapes. After a long, productive day, she goes home with soup and cookies. And I have more sweet memories in the bank.

The goods

I’ll start a new book today, satisfied that I’m ready for the Christmas that is just around the corner. And look forward to having the family gathered together to tear into that wrapping paper and those gift bags.

As we close out the year, and look to longer days with the Solstice behind us, I wish you all peace, health, joy. And hope you find all of those with friends and family.

Stay safe.

Nora

A Cranky Publicist Summer Recap

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.

Ahhhh.

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.

A tradition.

[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.)

That arch and my name in silver.

The Dining Room


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.

From left: JoAnne, Kayla, Laura, Griffin, Kat, Sarah, Nora

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.

Sigh,

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.

A kiss from Griffin.

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.

Nora blowing hard while Max keeps a close eye on the glass.
Kat rolling through all the colors.

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.

From left: Laura’s pitcher, Sarah’s b&w vase, Kayla’s paperweight, Nora’s vase, Kat’s rainbow vase.

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.

Balloons down.

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,
Laura

*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.

Montana – Day 14

Kat, Griffin and I have an indoor morning while the rest of the gang is out riding a UTV. Griffin and I play the Bowling Game. I set up the colorful rubbery foam pins, counting them off. Finish with a dramatic TEN, often like The Count: Ten Bowling Pins! Ten! Ha-ha-ha!

Then he gleefully runs over to knock them all down, I feign shock and despair. He retreats to wait for me to do it all again. This amuses us.

The gang returns, covered with dust. Had much fun, though BW claims Jason hit many mud puddles purposefully.

Adventurers assemble. Photo by j a-b
photo by j a-b
Kayla and Jason. Photo by BW

Jason does not actually deny this.

Lunch, showers, laundry.

Some work time for me, nap for my bowling partner.

Our aviary on the front porch is busy. I think the two babies—that third egg never hatched—are growing fast and constantly hungry. Many feeding times with little heads popping up.

Kat, Kayla and I have a jewelry-making class and head out. There are about a dozen of us in the group—from New York, California and our MD team. We’re given our choices of many rough gemstones and wire to wrap for rings.

Kayla chooses a pretty blue celestite. I’m tempted by the same, such a sweet color, but go with a pale yellow citrine. Kat picks a couple—starts with an amethyst—and asks our instructor if it’s okay to do something other than a ring.

Well, sure.

Of course, we’re only being instructed in the steps of making a ring, but this is Kat.

Nora and Kayla. Photo by Nora

I go with copper wire for my citrine, and Kat and Kayla for silver. Two thin wires, one thicker—I think. I’m easily confused on the process apparently. Wrap, wrap, wrap the thins around the thicker. Small and tight. Kat has to stop her own project to get me started on this, then the light bulb in my head ignites.

I manage this fine, as does Kayla. I see Kat is making a circular pendant.

Kat in her zone. Photo by Nora

Others in the group are making progress or asking for help. Everyone appears to be having fun. The instructor comes around to help most set the stone. You have to flatten the four ends of the thin wires out like spider legs then wrap them around to secure the stone in the center of the wrapped band. Harder than it sounds! The instructor sees Kat’s nearly completed pendant.

It gets the expected Wow!

We have clippers and needle-nose pliers to snip wires, to tuck the pointy ends into the wrap. I’m amazed to make this work.

Meanwhile Kat completes a SECOND pendant—a square one. Both have the pretty center stone set in a way they move freely. It’s Kat genius.

We all leave pretty pleased.

From l: Kayla, kat, Nora

Time for The Chuck Wagon.

Lovely evening, good food, great views. Kat takes Griffin—or he takes her—down to the river where he picks up rocks, hands them to her to throw into the water. Over and over and over. He may have a plan to clean the entire river bank of rocks.

Rocks are his business. Photo by BW

Jason goes down at shift change, and same deal. The boy spends the best part of an hour on his project, perfectly content. The rest of us eat and enjoy the evening sun. BW and Kat try their hand at axe throwing. No one does well at this but the axe-throwing instructor, but Kat managed to stick one in the target.

BW action shot. Photo by Kat.

Griffin comes back, grabs some offered salmon. Kayla accuses him of wadding it—which is true. A whole chunk goes in. But he’s not much interested in more, Kayla’s had her s’more, so it’s homeward bound.

Now Griffin’s into food and eats past bedtime, ignores the Daddy Dance playlist. Until The Monster Song proves too much for his will power. Scramble down and run to Daddy. Many happy dances.

I love how he sings along.

Bed time.

Curious boy. Photo by Kat.

We’re up early this morning. In house breakfast as all but Kat and Griffin are going for a morning trail ride. Workout will wait. I hear Griffin up, morning cheerful. He greets the day with: Yay!

The mid-50s may call for my new Montana sweatshirt for the ride. Gotta go get up and get ready for the trail.

Nora

#randomkatness perfection

Montana – Day 4

Apothecarying’s fun!

We have our class near Spa Town with those incredible views through glass walls.

We start off making little lotion bars—custom as we choose our own scents or blend of scents.

Measure, mix, melt. Sniff, sniff to decide how we want them to smell. I’m in love with the Huckleberry so easy choice for me. Kayla goes for a lavender peach combo, and Kat huckleberry lemon.

Oh, the way everything smells!

We can add bits of rose, lavender or chamomile. Who can resist?

When we’re all done, we pour into little molds. Kayla and I both choose stars, and Kat a star and a couple seashells. So cute!!!!

From l: creations by Kat, Nora, Kayla’s . Photo by Nora

While those are in the fridge to harden we tackle lip balm. For this, it’s lavender peach for mine because it smells so yummy. A similar process of measuring and mixing, and into the little tubes.

Polish it off with bath scrub. I’m all about the huckleberry and lemon—with some dried rose crushed up in it. We get blue jars, mix it all up. It’s so creamy and fragrant.

Happy Kat and Kayla. Photo by Nora.

Back home on a warmer and happily sunny day.

BW’s been out with his drone taking aerial shots. Jason has tried and failed to get Griffin down for a nap.

The view from above. Photo by BW.

Pretty day to walk around outside—then the puzzle calls me for a session.

It’s coming along!

We have dinner—The Big Sky Bash—at the equestrian center. Kayla gets her cowgirl on with her hat—and a jacket and boots from Nana’s closet. It’s just gorgeous when we leave, but I also wear a jacket because I know how it goes here!

Kayla and her Nana. Photo by BW
Kayla and her Grandda. Photo by Nora.

We shuttle off to the bash, and it’s gorgeous there, too. There’s a pretty pond, and people out in canoes. That wide, wide spread of sky, the mountains and hills rising and rolling under it, cattle in the fields, lots of picnic table set and another live band.

Fun stuff. Along with a pony ride for kids.

Griffin makes a bee-line for the lake. That kid loves water. He has some running around time, and his Mom suggests a pony ride. But when she takes him over, sets him in the saddle, the answer is: Absolutely not!

A shame (though pretty funny) as Cookie the pony is pretty and sweet and patient. Kayla makes friends with her.

Kayla and her new friend. Photo by Nora.

Lots of food—and the roasted corn on the cob’s a big hit. Also fresh tortillas—mmmm.

Then the sun disappears behind clouds, the wind kicks up. Cold!!!! I hold out hope the sun will find its way back, but no. Just no. Still we had a fun time, good eats, and sunny and pleasant for most of our adventure.

Before the sun disappeared. Photo by Nora.

Back home for us. A Daddy Bedtime Dance. Not even halfway through that ritual, Griffin’s asleep on Jason’s shoulder. And still, mouth slack, eyes closed, he sings blearily: Wobba Wobba.

The videographer dances too!

Up to bed for our sleepy boy.

Day is done. Photo by Kat.

More puzzle time! Hang and puzzle with Kat and Kayla for awhile after Griffin’s settled (and Daddy with him). By ten we’re all tired, so an early night in the west.

I get eight straight, always a happy. Work out—good morning, Griffin. This is Daddy’s shift, their routine, and it goes along well. Some warmer, so parts of that routine means Griffin goes to the door. Time to go outside!

Finish my workout shortly before the shift change and BW, Kayla and Jason head out for breakfast.

I need to rewrite the bulk of a chapter. I’ve worked out in my head the how and the why but because it’s more intense work than editing, I take myself up to the quiet of the bedroom.

It takes a couple hours—and will need at least a couple more to make it all smooth. But it’s done. I think, while I’m up there how some idiot posted on the internet just yesterday or today—forget—how I don’t write all my own books because. There’s always a because in this type’s mind. And I think bite me, asshole, as I finally shut down after a couple of sweaty hours during my damn vacation!

Because I do write all my own books.

Come down to learn Griffin’s not feeling altogether well. When a toddler wants a nap and doesn’t want a cookie, he’s feeling off. But he has The Daddy Shoulder Of Comfort—doesn’t want Mom who is—unquestionably—his most favorite person of all people.

From yesterday when the mad scientist felt better and kept busy. Photo by Kat.

Seems a little better now, and is outside with Mom while Daddy’s getting a well-earned massage at spa town.

BW’s just back from taking pictures of our neighbors just up the road. Buffalo!

BW and his new pals. Photo by BW.
A closer look. Photo by BW.

I’m going to get some outside time myself.

We have—hope it’s not too cold—The Chuck Wagon Dinner tonight. Always a good, fun time.


Note from Travelogue Central Editorial Desk:

Because one download staring at me wasn’t enough, Kat decided to get a fuller photo of the eyes, thus earning the first #RandomKatness since 2019. To top that off, she took a snap of Griffin communing with the eyes. ~Laura

Girls, Games, Griffin and (Uninvited) Guests

Laura’s done a roundup of our Spa Girls Week, but I’ll fill in a few details before I continue the adventures of our last night.

First, the house was all Laura said, and so perfect for our needs this year—though we SORELY missed our butlers. The weather struck me as more March than May the first few days, but the indoor space provided all we could ask for. (And a little more than we wanted!)

Kayla had her first spa girls experience, and that was a bonus for all.

The best was just seeing each other face-to-face again after a very long year-plus. HUGS!!! Lots of laughs, lots of catching up, and of course, the annual tournament.

Griffin’s also had a long year-plus unable to socialize, but he got used to a house full of women pretty quickly.

I had bags and more bags of clothes purged from my closet—no chance to see each other since 2019, so a lot of bags.

How Kat managed to load luggage for five women, one toddler, two cases of champagne, two enormous bags of games and prizes, snack food and more as we’d be in a house instead of the hotel, a case of toys, etc into two vehicles remains one of the greatest achievements known to womankind.

Ample room to watch the contest unfold

So the tournament began. Fierce competition, as always, and Elaine, our oft-reigning queen seemed a bit off her game. Youth nipped experience in Just Dance time after time with Kayla taking the lead and holding it. Laura and Nicole proved Bowling For Giggles experts. Nothing made the boy laugh harder than watching the ball roll down the alley, strike or gutter ball.

 And, again Nicole and Laura proved dark horses in Scrabble. Kat unmercifully crushed all comers in her first round, but a steady feed of vowels in her second defeated even her mad skills. In the semis, Nicole looked poised to send Elaine, our other Scrabble Queen, packing, but at the very end, Elaine slipped past her by one point.

One soul-shattering point.

As Laura reported, she faced off with Elaine in the Scrabble finals. Though she went down in defeat, I feel her complaints about the score board now ring hollow. The Cranky Publicist bagged an array of Fabulous prizes this year.

I will say it’s interesting for a nana to play Cards Against Humanity with her granddaughter. Interesting, yet hysterical.

And Reverse Charades is, always, just brilliant. Fave of this year: Sarah bending over, pointing at her butt. And Kat guessing—pretty instantly—Full Moon. It was a moment.

Sarah also shared bacon with Griffin at breakfast each morning. So when we gathered at the dining room table one evening, Griffin reached over took the end of bacon peeking out of Sarah’s bacon cheeseburger, and slowly, carefully, pulled it out.

Plotting his next move to corner ALL the bacon.

He enjoyed the bacon almost as much as we enjoyed THAT moment.

So you have the girls, and you have the games. Now we’ll discuss the (unwanted) guests.

The first morning while Jo and I are doing our workout in the communal living area, Sarah comes out. She’s laughing, but her eyes are very large. As they have just seen the dead mouse in her bathtub.

This, we agree, is A Problem.

We also agree we’re not going to deal with A Problem ourselves. We call for disposal.

A Problem is solved. Maybe not as quickly as a group of women on a spa vacation might like, but it is solved.

Until, a couple days later, the unfortunate mouse’s sibling—alive and well—makes an appearance in the kitchen. 

Ten women, a toddler, and a mouse is A Problem. 

All of us but Laura are country girls. And all of us have seen a mouse in our lifetimes. But we do not want its company. We call for a solution to A Problem.

I have to say the solution didn’t arrive as quickly as any of us liked, and wasn’t solved in a way I’d have chosen. Setting snap traps under the stove isn’t ideal in a house with ten women and a toddler.

The problem solver promised to return to check said traps. But he did not follow through until more calls for solutions. However, the second mouse joined its sibling in the Great Mouse Hereafter.

We had a amazingly fun time at our group paint session. Everyone’s painting was fun and pretty. Kat’s isn’t yet finished as Griffin woke from his nap. But I can already see it’ll be amazing.

All the color! (From l: JoAnne, Kayla, Kat, Pat, Nora, Elaine, Laura, Mary, Sarah, Nicole)

 Nicole taught Elaine how to make other art with dried flowers. Gorgeous!

For our last night we were a smaller group as Pat, Elaine and Mary had to leave. Hated saying goodbye, but so grateful we had our time together.

Laura and Kayla had shared the loft bedroom, but that evening, Kayla informed Laura she’d moved her things, and herself down to Mary’s room due to the Big Spoder on the skylight.

I didn’t see said spider, but am assured by those who did, it was BIG. And what’s left of it after Nicole smashed it as it was too high and too BIG to catch and release—remained on the skylight.

Laura also moved down to Mary’s room.

For our last evening, we decide (poor Laura!) to play Hearts.

We’ve enjoyed our dinner. Kat’s on the lower level putting Griffin to bed. We’re enjoying our champagne. While chatting with Nicole, JoAnne knocks over his glass. Broken glass on the carpet. A (new) Problem.

Jo claims there must be a vacuum, but we pay no attention and call Housekeeping. We watch the sunset, and have the array of tiki torches lit. Lovely!!

Housekeeping arrives with a broom and dust pan. No, we said vacuum cleaner because carpet. Come back with a vacuum cleaner please.

Meanwhile Jo finds we DO have a vacuum cleaner in some random closet. We’re stunned, but clean up the glass in case Housekeeping doesn’t return. And in case they do, we leave the chairs pulled out, in innocence.

Nicole discovers we’re out of tequila, and she wants some. Since the intrepid butlers said we could call for any reason, she tries them to ask how we might acquire a bottle of Patron. She leaves a message.

Housekeeping does return, and as Kayla supervises the clean-up, she spots A Problem. Apparently the mice have yet another sibling and this one dashes across the kitchen floor.

Nicole and Sarah begin devising a cunning plan to capture this one as the mouse problem solvers have proved neither efficient nor timely. And the housekeeping guy looks stunned speechless when we suggest he deal with it.

We let him off the hook as Nicole and Sarah are determined they will capture the mouse, removed it and take it out to the woods and release.

Jo turns off the kitchen lights as she thinks this will bring our quarry out of hiding. I think, the lights haven’t stopped him yet, but we try that while Sarah and Nicole finalize The Plan.

There’s also discussion about how the poor mouse will starve after we go as no one will drop crumbs on the floor.

I am long past caring about the mouse’s welfare. But that’s just me.

Brendon the Butler calls back. As Nicole’s asking him the best way to acquire the Patron, Jo—obviously forgetting about the mouse—strolls into the kitchen.

The mouse makes its dash at her feet.

The scream should’ve broken another glass. And her leap was Olympic level.

The scream brings on a chorus of screams, curses, shouts, hysteria, all of which Brendon hears. The screams of six women would alarm even an intrepid Butler who’d just asked Nicole if a half bottle of Patron would do.

Nicole responds: It’s the mouse. Gotta go! And hangs up on him.

And so the hunt begins.

Nicole snaps out orders: Shut the door, move that towel, guard that door.

The rest of us shout:

It’s under the chair. It ran over there! Now it’s under that chair! Under the fridge!

Laura is The Flusher, following Nicole’s or Sarah’s orders to Herd It This Way! Which she does by stomping. There’s chaos, confusion, more screaming as the mouse skitters under one of the small refrigerators.

Sarah is battlefield calm as rear guard, bowl at the ready as Nicole hunts with her bowl and Laura drives.

It’s making for the hallway to the bedroom! Cut it off! No escape!

Laura prepares to pick up the fridge, Sarah and Nicole pursue doggedly with two stainless steel mixing bowls.

I think, I admit it, this will never work.

Laura stomps, they pursue, the mouse streaks across the floor desperate for cover. Nicole tosses the bowl! A miss.

Another toss—missed it by THAT much!

Sarah follows up, tossing hers. It wobbles, wobbles, wobbles over the surely exhausted and traumatized mouse. Then settles.

The mouse is Under The Dome.

Cheers, screams of triumph, wild laughter.

For those who follow me on Instagram, there’s a mouse was the correct caption.

Nicole and Sarah celebrate with a double high five. Unfortunately, Nicole missed with one hand and smacked Sarah in the eye. Sarah deemed it worth it.

Then the thought: Now what?

Nicole asks for tape. We must tape the bowl to the floor in case Griffin comes up in the morning and picks up the bowl.

I say: It’ll be gone in the morning, and mean it.

I helpfully offer the bottle of Dawn dish detergent (A big one!) to weigh the bowl down. This offer is rejected.

We must remove the mouse from our house. We’ll slide something under the bowl, trap it, carry it out of the house and release it into the woods. We are not murderers!!

A paper plate? But we discover the plates have lips, so won’t do.

The cutting board? The question: What do we do with the board after, is met with: Toss it out.

Fortunately cooler heads prevail, plus the board’s too thick for the job.

Nicole takes the big glass turntable out of the microwave. I think, but….

Laura actually asks: But how will we clean it after?

It’s suggested (Sarah!) we put it back after and turn the microwave on to kill the germs.

Again, cooler heads—and it also won’t work.

Sarah says: Someone’s coming down the drive, and they’re coming in hot!

Brendon arrives—and as we’re a serious distance from the Chateau, he must’ve flown. He says: I heard you screaming. I heard all of you screaming! Every one of you! And he brought Patron!

He volunteers to help dispose of the mouse (impressed by the capture). Maybe we have a box. A box will not do. He agrees the paper plate is also a bust.

While we’re discussing solutions, Jorge—who has been our stand-up guy throughout—arrives. He also came in hot.

The poor guy looks so upset that we’ve had yet another A Problem. He has something rolled under his arm which makes Nicole ask: You brought a tube?

No, he and the guy with him have a piece of FLAT cardboard (rolled up)—exactly what’s needed.

The mouse, cardboard, bowl and all are removed. We see Jorge stop the car at the woods, and so the mouse lives to scamper in the woods—until he meets an owl or hawk. But that’s not A Problem for me.

Tequila shots, relief, ridiculous laughter.

Then Kat, who’s been trying to settle Griffin for the night comes up, with a narrow look in her eye. When the Asian Goddess give you The Eye, you feel it shiver in your bones.

Ringing phones, screaming, stomping, more screaming. But when she hears the story, we are forgiven. She also said that it was a relatively short amount of time. Felt like hours, but there you go.

Kat who rarely has more than a sip of wine, makes herself a tequila shot.

Then we played Hearts.

Nora


Thus ends the 2021 Spa Girl Recap — Wait! It’s not official until we have a photo of the winner of the tournament. This year, the crown went to Nicole!

Nicole with her crown, scepter and small dinosaur.

And in another step toward life without restrictions, Nora and family will travel back to Paw’s Up in early June — so stay tuned for the return of travelogues!

Bubbles and Breaks

It’s been a long year. When I think of last summer, I think of time spent with friends and family, our wonderful trip to Scotland and Ireland, prepping and hosting our annual summer party.

Seems like another world.

Still, we have a lot to be grateful for around here. It’s been a good spring and summer for the garden, and that gives me a lot of pleasure. I’m seeing hummingbirds–a favorite of mine–almost daily. Work’s going pretty well, and that’s important to me.

Most of all, we’re healthy and safe.

Recently, we expanded our bubble and with much preparation and precautions, took our girl trip (including Griffin) for a week to The Greenbrier. We book a house there, with a private patio–so the six of us (with Griffin as 7) made a bigger bubble.

Having a week away, with girls and the boy (and the ghosts) was just incredible. We didn’t, as we have in the past, go out to dinner, haunt the shops. We just hung out, played cards, sat on the patio, entertained our young male companion. We went for walks–with our masks.

Speaking of bubbles, I got our boy a little bubble maker. A huge hit, and a break-through for a toddler who’s spent about 1/4 of his life now in his own bubble with his parents, in his own home and yard.

Who are all these people???

I brought bubbles and bowling pins, and they really did the trick.

Boy and his bubbles.

The house spirits took to him, big time. In fact, one day when his mom was elsewhere, he had a toddler meltdown, raced down the big hallway on our main level, face-planted.

Life, as he knew it, was over for the moment. As he stayed face-down wailing–not hurt, pissed–I heard a woman’s voice–very calm and soft speak to him from farther down the hall. I thought it was my pal JoAnne, as only she and Sarah–whom I could see right there on the chaise were around. Then I saw Jo come in from the patio.

So, some motherly ghost offered him a little comfort.

They also enjoyed Kayla who joined us for her first adult girl trip. One night she fell asleep watching something on her laptop, earbuds in. When she woke, earbuds still in, her laptop was closed and set safely aside.

She thought I’d done it.

Nope.

Jo and I worked out every morning, then joined the rest of the gang. Hot days at first, but Griffin entertained himself and us with his tub of water, measuring cups and pitchers. The boy loves water, and has most excellent hand/eye coordination.

Busy boy
Popping bubbles

Our highlight was taking two private–just our group–classes. The first on glass-blowing. I’ve always been fascinated with the art, and while eager to try, had low expectations of what I (or really any of us) could do.

Except maybe Kat, because Kat. And possibly Laura who is a crafty girl. But we had the fabulous, skilled and adorable Max as our instructor. No one could have been more delightful, safe and more articulate as a teacher.

Meet Max

Kayla went first, and wanted to make a glass ornament–a globe. I think of them as witch balls. She chose her colors, and Max walked her through the process first, then worked with her on the creation.Stunning really to watch him gather the glass, watch him help her roll it through the colored fragments, watch her blow through the pipe so that globe became.

Kayla rolling glass through color

She did beautifully. And ended up making two.

Sarah wanted to make a paperweight, a different process. She wanted to make on filled with fire. For this, after the gathering and rolling, she sits in the chair, uses tools to pull the hot glass, then fold it back. Max heats it again, she repeats, repeats. It’s amazing. Then with other tools, she shapes it, smooths it, creates a solid ball filled with color.

Sarah pulling glass with the tweezers

In the end, like with Kayla’s, Max holds the pipe over fireproof padding. She taps the pipe (this is after she files the globe from the pipe–or makes that initial cut) and the ball falls into the padding.

It’s put away until it cools.

Laura–ambitious–wants to make a flower. Lots of tools used here, pulling, drawing out the glass, reheating, using big tweezers to shape and shape. Again, and again and you could see it start to become.

Honestly, I had the time of my life just watching.

And her result was just stunning.

My turn. I tell Max I collect paperweights, so I want to make one. And I want to make a garden in it. He helps me choose the colors, walks me through. It’s even more amazing rolling the pipe, gathering the colors, sitting it the chair with those tools. Feeling the glass pull out, fold in. Watching yourself shape that globe.

Nora’s paperweight
Nora finally blowing glass after researching the technique in the 1990’s

We all make two. Oddly, Laura, Sarah and I all have an idea–independently–to create a night sky. They do paperweights, and I want a chance to make a witch ball.

What an experience. Thanks to Max we have the most amazing memories.

The group exhibit
Laura’s flower and paperweight

We also have a private class for glass fusion. Last year we all made windchimes. This time we’re going to choose between making clocks, plates. Kayla wants a plate, and is going for a kind of tie-dye deal. Laura, Sarah and I decide on clocks.

So much fun! Such a variety of styles and visions.

We book another glass blowing class, but this time Kat and Jo will join, and Nana will stay back with Griffin. You probably know this is not a sacrifice for Nana.

Laura and Sarah make vases. Vases!!! Jo finds the idea of that molten glass too scary, so Sarah makes her paperweight. And Kat designs a bowl (free-form and so Kat)–Max is happy to help her with the design, and the result is gorgeous and unique.

Kat’s turn!
Laura’s vase

I have to try the vase deal next year–as those results were also gorgeous–and involve SWINGING the pipe. I have to do that.*

We’re all pretty damn proud of ourselves and our accomplishments.

Best of all, we had a week together. And I had a week with good friends, my treasured daughter-in-law, and my oldest and youngest grandchildren.

Home again, rebooted, refreshed, and re-energized to get back to work, back to the garden, back to the kitchen, back to routine.

And feeling blessed to have found a safe way in these difficult times to gather with my girls and my boy.

Stay safe, stay well.
Nora


*Note from Laura: we only picked up the vases and the fused glass just before departure so I don’t have a shot of Kat’s bowl or Sarah’s vase.

I also spent a lot of time taking photos and here are a couple of my faves.

I told him to hold this pose while I took some photos. He obliged. And didn’t cry, just posed.
Open door from the patio
Gorgeous blooms
Morning

Tabula Rasa

Who doesn’t like a blank slate?

I don’t make new year’s resolutions because never going to keep them, but I like the idea of starting fresh. And that I can try to do.

It might be why I do a full-house purge every January. You gotta out with the old before you in with anything. Plus I find it incredibly satisfying. Boxes and bags of things someone else might use–and clean, tidy closets and shelves and drawers for me. [Please see Editor Note below]

But first, we had to end the old year.

We do that around here with a full day in the kitchen prepping for our annual New Year’s Day Open House. The fun part of the prep is having the kitchen full of girls.

Kayla shows up first, willing and able. I’ve already started the red beans–culling out a portion before I add the ham hock so my veggie girl and Kat can have some. And I’ve mixed up and rolled 108 meatballs now simmering in red sauce.

Yes, I said 108.

Laura comes bearing her InstantPot to boil the eggs for deviling. This, she tells me–and it bears out–cuts the time down, doesn’t require my magic solution to make the eggs come easily from the shells.

And here’s Sarah.

Sarah and Laura, InstantPot experts–deal with the eggs. I don’t like to think about pressure cooking as I have vivid memories of my mother’s old cooker exploding.

But this doesn’t happen.

Kayla’s making brownies for her trifle, I’m making whatever comes next–and Kat arrives with Griffin. He’s the most delicious thing in the kitchen.

Cousins

We stir, chop, cook, mix. I’m doing a couple more veggie dishes this year, experimenting to see what goes over with the crowd.

We drink champagne while everyone pitches in.

It’s a long, busy, productive day, and how better to spend the last day of the decade than with people you love?

Concentration

Kayla’s building her trifle, Kat’s creating a huge casserole of tortellini and cheese, Sarah and Laura are shelling three dozen eggs. I’ve got two big-ass hams in the oven, and my pal Ruth’s recipe for Party Potatoes to finish up. And a whole lot more.

Naked eggs — de-shelled perfectly.

Jason–who had a show rehearsal–arrives.


…24 hours earlier

I’d emailed him in a panic the day before.

The saga is thus:

At the end of my work day, I go to back up on my flash drive before my workout. I get: MALFUNCTION!!! And something else that my shock has forgotten.

Okay, well, just reboot, it’ll be fine.

MALFUNCTION!!

Okay, breathe. Try a new flash drive. And the screen goes black.

There is no breath as I hastily reboot, check if my work is still there (I’m talking 29 and a half chapters of a 30 chapter book.)

It’s still there, so okay.

Now let’s get out the Surface I use when traveling. Plug in the flash drive. And the keyboard won’t work.

Now WTAF!!!!!!!

I try everything (and send the panic email). I go to the desktop and Google, follow the instructions for what to do. Keyboard works.

For a minute. But even in that minute won’t read the drive. Not MALFUNCTION but INVALID.

I obsessively check, and my work remains intact. So I put all my faith in Jason and go workout.

An email from him when I check assures me all will be well. I’m already backed up on some other location. (I knew he did this, but I don’t understand it.) And he’ll figure things out when he gets here.


Back to prep day

So he’s here, and he figures things out. Apparently–though he’d never experienced it–the little drive itself malfunctioned and screwed up everything.

He fixes, puts in (has to program I think as I use the ancient WP) another flash drive.

So I don’t have to end the year weeping and gnashing my teeth while cursing the cruel and capricious gods of technology.

Ah, sweet relief provided by the prince of all sons.

Meanwhile, my girls have to go. Much gratitude for the help and the company. Post-nap Griffin eats hearty, and as I added noodles and sauce to his meatballs, gets a sink bath.

Clean boy.

BW is the only one with enough gas left to make it till midnight.

Happy New Year means Kat puts together her adorable veg crudite–this year with a little something extra for Colt and his pal CJ.

Crudite names

We have set up, we have making whatever needed to be made in the morning. We have Griffin to entertain–and be entertained by. We have dogs to chase out of the kitchen.

Then we have guests. Lots of guests. Lots of happy, lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food. An all-day deal with friends and family to ring it all in.

Buffet
No longer naked eggs
Healthy start to 2020

And happily, enough party leftovers that Kat and Jason can take enough home, and I have enough here none of us need cook this weekend.

Yay!

And Monday, it’s the start of a well-earned week and the spa for all of us. With this year’s extra-special treat of Kat’s participation in Nemocolin’s art show.

We’re so proud of her! She’s already sold SIX paintings. She has a website. Shoot, what is her website? Laura, do you have it? I have book brain as I worked today in anticipation of a week not, or barely, working.

[Laura Knows All: www.katpong.com]

My house is de-holidayed–clean slate. The house purge will begin when I’m home from the spa. And I’m going to thoroughly enjoy a week of relaxing and cuddling Griffin.

My first, miserable draft (first drafts are always miserable for me) is done.

A nice start to the New Year. A nice page or two written on that blank slate.

I hope however you ended the decade made you happy. And whatever you write on the start of the new one brings you joy.

Nora


Editor note: I’ve posted Nora’s pieces about the whole-house purge for nearly 8 years. While it’s not my personal style, I admire her ruthless clear out of drawers, closets and cabinets in every room, on every floor. I see how that clean slate sets her up for the year.

But, I’m here to tell you that even the Mistress of the Purge misses some spots. After the December signing, Sarah decided she wanted some tea, something herbal. Nora doesn’t drink it, but she’s gifted tea all the time so she keeps it in one of the lower cabinets for guests who do. I was sitting in front of that cabinet on that December evening so I reached down and ran through the inventory to find a taste Sarah wanted.

Idly, I turned a package over and there it was: Expires 8/16. I picked up another, expiration date 2013. Another, 2017 (that was the freshest). Sarah was already steeping her tea as I started flinging tea out of the basket, announcing dates.

“Tea expires?” Nora asked. “Who knew?”

Me, for one. Sarah opted to live in ignorance, but since she didn’t expire herself, I can now reveal that she chose the oldest tea there — expiration 2006.

I tossed three boxes then and there, proclaiming that the 2020 purge was now underway. Nora’s sworn all tea will be gone the second week of January. I will bring a fresh (truly) assortment for the Golden in Death signing.

It’s nice to know she’s human. <g>

Laura

The Most Wonderful Time

And it has been–almost all the way.

A couple of weeks ago, we have our traditional girl trip–two days with pals at Tyson’s in VA shopping, hanging out, exchanging gifts and just being pals.

The gang’s all here! From left: Nora, Laura, Pat, Mary Kay, Elaine and Mary

Jason and Griffin join us the second day for the stupendous lunch the team at Saks puts on for us. The boy is quite the star! And my beloved Azita–whom I’ve worked with for . . . God, it must be a decade now–never fails to put together clothes that suit me so well. (This means a mini closet purge when I got home, but I have no regrets!)

Griffin photos and holiday decorations that are actually amazing gingerbread cookies.
Azita and Nora

Last weekend Turn The Page joined Holiday In Boonsboro with a massive, happy signing. Lots of readers, lots of books, lots of holiday spirit in a town all decked out. We have a great group of authors and fabulous, patient readers who stay cheerful through a five hour event.

Creative event parenting: Kat constructed a pen for Griffin made entirely of unopened boxes of Golden in Death. He still did his best to escape. Some readers offered to take a few books to help.

On Sunday we hold another event focused on kids, and there’s nothing, just nothing as heart-stirring as watching a child light up when Santa ho-ho-hos into the room.

I store up that joy and spirit to get me through Monday and dental implant, take two. Okay, that isn’t a wonderful time, and the weather agrees by turning raw and rainy. Just a little bonus.

But that’s done.

I have to skip my workouts for a week–sore, swollen jaw and my own worry about raising my bp too high in the early healing stage. But that’s done, too, as I–finally–got a good one in this morning.

Still, not breaking to hit the gym means a longer writing day Tues, and that’s nice.

Wednesday, a shorter one as BW and I host our employees at our annual Progressive Shopping Night–with dinner on us at Vesta to cap it off. It’s not only fun, but it gives everyone a chance to see what the other businesses have to offer, and the opportunity to mix and mingle.

Holiday windows at Gifts Inn BoonsBoro.
The fabulous TTP team with Nora and BW.
The Inn in her holiday finest.

Then my pal and business manager JoAnne and Laura and I stay overnight at the inn. Pour the champagne; we’re not driving! And after a fun night, an amazing breakfast, I head home to work.

…and we stayed up late enough to see the 12/12 full moon at 12:12 am. ~Laura

A full day of that on Thursday–yay–then another shortened work day as I’m hosting my annual Managers’ Holiday Party here at home. With the exception of our fabulous Robert at Vesta, all our managers are women. Maybe, feeling outnumbered, Robert skips this event, so it’s a few hours with girls.

Saturday is cooking baking marathon. Kayla’s definitely head baker here now. Just her and Colt to bake this year, and she’s all over it!

I make the sugar cookie dough early so it chills while she–with her able assistant, Colt–deal with the rest. While she’s making chocolate chip, peanut butter blossoms, candy cane kiss cookies, I make a pot of chickpea vegetable soup for the vegetarian. And potato and ham for BW and me.

Kayla and Colt with egg.

First time with this veg soup, which I blend from a couple recipes and Kayla’s choices. She tries a bowl for lunch. Has seconds, so it definitely worked! She has another bowl at dinnertime, and took the rest with her.

Onto painted sugar cookies, and BW joins in. A friend gave me dinosaur cookie cutters, and Colt is all about them. So we have Christmas dinos along with the Santas and bells and stars.

A mandatory photo break.

I should add we all taste test along the way–every type. My girl’s become an exceptional baker. And I’m going to need those workouts even though I sent the kids home with a major supply.

Today, at last, a workout so I feel more like myself. Kayla’s come up to wrap for me for a couple hours–bless her heart! Since we ran out of steam before snickerdoodles (and they’re one of her faves) I’ll bake those shortly.

With the help she’s given me on wrapping this year, I should only have one short session remaining.

My house needs a good shoveling out as it’s been a really busy week, but once that’s done, it’s done.

We have leftover soup, plenty of cookies, and a house that’s ready for Christmas.

I hope you’re all enjoying the holiday season as much as we are!

Nora


Note from Laura:

Took this when I headed home from Nora’s Saturday morning. Nothing like muted colors and a dreamy scene.