Category Archives: Travelogues

Cozumel, Day 5

As our Kat isn’t feeling well, Jason designates himself our chauffeur for shopping while the guys head off to fish. Kayla has enough Spanish to explain to housekeeping not to open the door to Kat’s bedroom as she’s resting.

Before we head out we have a quick game of Daddy Gate.

While Jason, Kayla, Griffin and I are getting ready to go, Griffin spies Colt’s blue icing cupcake on the counter. And he wants it bad. Blue cupcake! He doesn’t cry or even whine, doesn’t melt down or throw a tantrum. He just repeats. Blue Cupcake!

We promise we will get him one while we’re out so he’s okay with going. He takes a little spill on the gravel outside, looks up at me as he gets up, and says: That was a close one.

The kid makes me laugh a lot.

On the drive, he and Kayla have a very fine time in the back seat.

We get to the shopping area, which is lined with little shops and stalls, and boy, are the merchants hungry for shoppers! We’re told the cruise ship passengers flood in about one—we’ve got just over two hours before that flood, so we’re good.

I’m after my traditional I’m Away Christmas Shopping. In the first shop I try, I do find a couple things, but the merchants are just too helpful, to put it mildly. I like to poke and browse and consider, but they insist on showing me this, and that, and things I’m not really looking for.

So I take what I did find, and we move on. Lots and lots of shop choices, and as we breeze through one, Griffin spots a Peppa Pig toy that’s just at his level. He’s dealt with the shopping so far without complaint (Blue Cupcake ahead!) so Nana indulges.

Another shop where the merchant is friendly, but not pushy, at all. And there I feel we made his morning. Left to ourselves, I find several gifts, and he offers a good price. Jason finds a lovely birthday present for Kat.

And while we’re waiting for them to bag all the pieces, there’s a show about to begin out in the plaza.

Out we go to watch acrobats, young men in native costumes. They climb up a very high pole, and descend part way and circle—hanging upside down—from ropes. Around and around, pretty high up, while one plays a flute. It’s impressive, dizzying and a little bit scary.

Climbin up. Photo by Kayla.
Mid spin. Photo by j a-b

We park in the garage, which Griffin decides is haunted. He spots ghosts, a vampire!, more ghosts.

In and up we go. They check your purses and bags at security. Not sure why, but fine. The bakery has the blue cupcakes. Final Mission Accomplished!

And back through the haunted garage. More hilarity from the backseat on the drive.

I reward myself for a good shopping job with a Bellini, and Griffin settles down with his Blue Cupcake. Jason goes to check on Kat.

I run up to put gifts away, and while I’m gone, Kayla attempted to wipe the blue mustache from Griffin’s face. He responded, as she showed me, by doing the boy thing. Swiping his sleeve over his face. So he now sports a blue icing sleeve, and a blue beard, and is fully enjoying the cupcake.

A boy and his cupcake. Photo by Nora.

I decide it’s too late to start any work—and I’ll earmark time for that tomorrow. I read instead until the fishing crew returns.

With three red snappers.

Okay, good job! But do not present me with fish that still have their heads. I ain’t touching that. Kayla, the vegetarian, and I have similar reactions.

We learn nothing was biting for quite some time, and there was a four-five foot roll. Colt and Logan got pretty seasick, but Colt rebounded and caught a snapper.

Colt and his catch. Photo by BW.
Logan, chillaxing. Photo by BW.
O Captain, my captain. Photo by BW.

I don’t have the supplies to deal with the fish—which someone else will have to dehead and filet (the tour guys cleaned them). But I make a list, so it’ll be back to the mega store for the spices, and potatoes, more carrots for sides I’ll make. I figure I’ll sauté the filets, roast potatoes and carrots. They can pick up some nice bread. That should do it. We’ll see how that goes tonight.

But for dinner, we head into town—with Kat who’s feeling rough, but better. Drinks, Nachos, soup for Kat. I order a rib eye—haven’t had any red meat in quite some time.

It’s really good, and really big. BW polishes off what I couldn’t manage.

We miss sunset, but there’s still time for Nana and Griffin chases apparently, and more Daddy Gate.

I sit out for just a bit and watch the crescent moon and the star that dogs it.

Up early, so since I conquered the strange-to-me-oven, I make bacon for the bacon lovers before my workout.

Today, for me, is put in some writing time, then make a meal. Yeah, we’ll see how both of those go.


Cozumel, Day 4

We experience, and test our mettle with, a day without power.

No AC, no water, no internet, no nothing!

Our hopes that this will be a quick fix are dashed. It’s island wide.

So we have the pool, we have the Gulf, we have books and toys and cards. And make use of all.

I finish the last fifteen minutes of my workout with an admittedly lazy swim. It felt just fine!

We have bread, cheese, crackers, peanut butter and jelly, chips, fruit. Nobody starves. Lots of drinks, including big jugs of filtered water. No one will die of thirst.

Griffin’s disappointed he can’t go on-line for his usual morning entertainment, but as a child of the internet, he gets it.

I read awhile, watch Kayla paddle board awhile. Colt asks me to teach him another card game.

Gin Rummy it is! After a couple of open hands to explain, he proceeds to kick my butt. I’m pretty good at Gin. I feel he’s going to be better at it.

We keep the patio accordion doors all the way open, and open the front door. There’s a blessed cross-breeze. It’s not nearly as hot as it has been, so we can be grateful there.

But by late afternoon it’s starting to get pretty steamy.

I make a big salad. Washing everything with our filtered jug water. Jason uses the gas stove top to make boxed Mac and cheese. BW does hot dogs on the grill. I do some raw veg with some Ranch dressing, some cheese and crackers. Again, no one starves.

Jason and the older kids head to the store—more ice. We have a cooler and can store some of the perishables in there if the power stays off much longer. They buy a couple more flashlights and candles—in case.

As it’s Kat’s birthday we have cake—and some very soft ice cream.

Birthday ice cream! Photo by j a-b

Griffin decides on a combo of chase and the locked-gate game we play at home. Jason becomes a gate at the library door and locks us in. We have to find the right color key—which Griffin chooses by some color on a book cover or something on my library shelves.

In this version Jason is the gate that locks me on the other side of Griffin. I have to find the right color key, unlock the gate, and give chase.

Hey, it worked off dinner.

The end of the day. Photo by Nora.

And suddenly, just after 8, boom! Power! There is joy and jubilation throughout the land.

Close the doors and feel the cool start to happen. Plug in all devices that weren’t. And bless him, Jason does the mountain of dishes.

When I head up, I take the little flashlight I carry in my purse and put it on the nightstand, light a candle, in case.

And boom, power goes down. Oh, the moans! The curses! I use the candle to find the flashlight, start to head down to help any who need it. And boom, it’s back on. Whew.

Tiny moon among the trees. Photo by Nora.

And so far it’s stayed on.

This morning the guys are heading out on a boat/fishing trip. The girls and Griffin are going to drive into town and check out the shopping.

But that’s after, I hope, a full workout AND a shower!


Cozumel Day 3

The three oldest kids and BW try out the Gulf. What fun—for them, and for me to watch. The practicing snorkeling in the pool worked great. Kayla, however, goes in, comes out and ditches her mask. She decides she’d rather not know those fish are in there!

Kayla and her grandda. Photo by Nora.

Logan finds a conch shell with an occupant. Very cool! And puts it back in its watery home.

Beach meeting. Photo by j a-b

There are kayaks and a standing paddle board. All are put to good use. Those kids are good! Excursion boats fly by, making a nice wake for the water play.

A very fun way to spend a chunk of the morning.

We’re thinking since Griffin has his float jacket, he might like to try a dip there later this week. We’ll see.

Housekeeping’s here, so I read outside awhile. When they’re finished in the room I’m using to work out, and will use to work, I go up, and travel from Mexico to New York in 2061.

I put in a hour and a half, am well satisfied. And the screen freezes. This has happened once or twice in the past, but THIS time I neglected to copy from my thumb drive to the hard drive, then work on that. Just a mental blip that cost me 90 minutes work because it’s gone, baby, gone.

I have to come down, pour myself a drink and take some good, deep breaths.

While I was working, Kat, Jason, Colt and Griffin have gone out to take a submarine ride. But I can whine to BW, Kayla, Logan, and do.

Then I put on my big girl pants, go back up and reconstruct. I tell myself this is probably better anyway. Come down, reward myself with a Bellini, then bang—something flashes in my brain and I realize I can add just this revelation—Eve’s—to the end of the chapter.

Well, you don’t waste that kind of flash, so back up yet again and finish it out. So maybe that annoying 90 loss was worth it in the end.

Everybody’s back and had a fine time on their underwater excursion. There’s pool time, reading time, hang out time before we clean up for dinner.

A drive into town and another open-air restaurant with two for one drinks. Ho boy!

Family meal. Photo by j a-b

Super nachos for the table, and another big ho boy. HUGE. And yum.

Big ass nachos. Photo by j a-b.

There’s a band here, and though they’re a little loud to allow conversation, they’re good, and they’re fun. Chips come with two kinds of sauce—mild and burn your tongue off. I am alone in enjoying the burn your tongue off.

Sunset by Kayla.

At home BW, Jason, Kayla, Colt and I play some poker. Kayla’s getting it pretty good as we pretend bet from a penny to a million dollars.

A fine meal in a lively place with more awesome views. Can’t ask for better.

Shortly after, I follow Logan’s example and give it up for the night.

It seems I slept through the power outage. BW had settled down to read, but luckily had a flash light. Jason and Kat were about to take Griffin to the other villa for bed time—and Jason got the flashlight from the kitchen. Colt and Kayla used their phones to get back here.

BW tells me the dark was DARK, and brought the stars to brilliance.

A couple hours later, it came back on, and I never knew the difference.

Up just before the sun to enjoy the birds and that slowly creeping light.  Nice quiet start to my day. I’m about two-thirds done with my workout, and the screen freezes. Not just the internet. Power’s down again.

We’re fortunate it’s not blazing hot—at least not yet.

We’ll hope the outage doesn’t last too long, but there’s the pool, there’s the Gulf. I think we’ll manage.


Cozumel Day 2

The view. Photo by Kayla.

A fine day had by all. Some lazing around, some swimming.

Part of the gang hits the grocery store for the big run. While they’re out I teach Colt 5-Card Draw. Every boy should have this skill—and every girl, too, so we’ll teach Kayla.

Grandda comes out and we switch to 7-Card Stud.

When the gang comes back, we’re loaded. Lots of food to put away, and now nobody should be hungry!

Griffin picked out a pool toy—a big Orca float. This proves fun for all. Logan and Colt practice snorkeling in the pool to get a handle on it before trying the Gulf tomorrow.

Resting before pool time. Photo by Kat.
A new friend! Photo by Nora.
Snorkel prep and whale riding. Photo by Nora.

The neighbors are having a fine time, too. I hear lots of kids laughing. Nice someone’s enjoying themselves as much as we are.

I think it’s more getting our bearings, setting things up, figuring out a routine-ish, learning where everything is. And appreciating the lovely views.

We gather ourselves and head to a restaurant in town. I spot the shopping area we’ll hit on whatever turns out to be shopping day.

Dinner with a view. Photo by j a-b.

Fun restaurant, terrific water view and seriously good menu. Again, no one will be hungry! It’s two for one drinks. Logan and I—18’s the legal drinking age—order margaritas and Kayla a banana daiquiri. Didn’t realize we’re getting two drinks so we’ve got a lot! Jason takes a margarita. They’re excellent!

Hanging out. Photo by j a-b.

Logan and I appear to be in solidarity as we both order the grilled lobster. Beside me, Colt goes for a steak burrito. Not sure what everyone else ordered, but everybody was happy. Ice cream for dessert, but I try the flan. And it’s just fine!

Colt, waiting for his burrito. Photo by Nora.

I all but waddle out to the car.

After dinner sib group shot, Kayla, Logan and Cold. Photo by Kayla

Back home for some sunset picks—low clouds block the sun, but the sky turns into a painting of pinks and golds with orange highlights.

Sunset show. Photo by BW.
Sunset show, Nora’s version.

Griffin has some ice cream and entertains me with an on-line game that amuses the crap out of him. And Kat gives Logan a kitchen haircut at his request. Good job!

Another early night. The heat’ll do that.

Up early, enjoy the birds—a yellow warbler watches me as I watch him.

Logan’s already up, made his breakfast and coffee. Taking an early dip while I figure out how to work the oven. First challenge, translate centigrade—-but BW has his tablet handy. Then figuring out the symbols. BW and I both try various things, and I’m about to give up when I finally hit on it. Bacon will happen!

It takes longer than at home where it’s put the parchment paper lined sheet in a cold oven, turn it to 400 degrees for 20 minutes. It takes about 30, but I’ll adjust for it next time. And still a little floppy.

Time to work out, get cleaned up, and see what the day brings.


Cozumel – Day 1

Cozumel in sight. Photo by Kayla.

We take off for Mexico on a wonderfully clear day. Always a relief for me when flying. On this trip, we’re eight. BW, me, Jason, Kat, and all the grandkids—Kayla, Logan, Colt, Griffin.

Nora watching the approach. Photo by Kayla.

It’s not only Colt’s first trip out of the country, but his first plane ride. He handled it more than well. At take off, as usual, Griffin starts grinning—he’s a plane vet. Going super fast, and up, up, up.

Grandda and a cool Colt. Photo by Kayla.

We have some snacks, then Logan brings out cards. He wants Poker, Kayla wants Hearts. We end up with Hearts—Kayla, Logan, Colt and me—because Poker seems too complicated for those (K&C) who have no idea how to play. Plus Logan’s only Poker is Texas Hole ‘Em, which I can’t remember how to play.

I hope to teach them all 5-card draw on this trip.

Kayla and I watch Logan and Colt play Chess on another of Logan’s portable game deals.

Colt and Logan Photo by Kayla.

Games pass time well, and really before you know it, we’re on our way down.

It was clear and warm in MD when we left some 3 hours ago, and clear and HOT in Cozumel. I can soak that heat right in!

Through Customs, through the airport, and Kayla, Logan, Colt and I wait with the luggage while the others hike across the parking lot to where our rental car company’s based. Two cars due to eight people and a serious mountain of luggage.

Waiting with Nana and the luggage. Photo by NR.

We pack it in, people and luggage, and wind our way through town. Busy! A tree limb, good-sized, falls into the road in front of the truck in front of us. Guy gets out, hauls it over to the little central island.

I guess it happens.

We arrive at our home-away from home for the next couple of weeks. We have two villas—right beside each other. So it’s take a tour through, decide who stays where. Everyone wants a view, and everyone can have one!

Walk around—we have two pools, a hot tub and best of all a view of the Gulf, and a lovely little pergola on one side, a little roofed hut on the other for sitting by the water, or making your way down to it to swim, snorkel or kayak.

Everything is very blue and very green, with splashes and flashes of red from flowers.

Haul luggage, start the unpacking process.

One issue: The company was supposed to stock one of the villas—where we’ll gather as a family-with food and drink as outlined on the list provided. And someone didn’t get the memo.

Now we have some hungry people!

Off go BW, Jason, Logan for emergency groceries and a take-out meal from an Italian place. A lot of restaurants close at five on weekends, but this one has longer hours.

Everybody in the pool! Photo by Nora.

Meanwhile Kat, Colt, Griffin, then Kayla try out the pool. Water’s warm. Kat says it’s the best pool ever. There’s a wide ledge where Griffin can stand—he steps off it once, and under he goes.

Griffin and Colt. Photo by Nora.

Colt hauls him back up. I’m pleased our boy didn’t freak at the dunking, but just carried on.

A black bird drinks from the shallow end. Being a bird’s thirsty work.

Emergency food arrives, so we eat at the big, live-edged dining table. That’s better!

Big grocery run today, but there’s enough to sustain all until.

Jason and Kat set up the Switch in the living room, and it’s Kayla v Colt in Mario.

BW and I sit down by the water as the sun gets lower. Perfect weather now—warm, a little breezy. The gang—sans Logan who’s crashed in bed—comes down. We admire the sunset, watch the boats ply the water.

Sunset. Photo by Kayla.

Travel days wear you out so it’s not long until the rest of us follow Logan’s example.

Evening boat ride. Photo by Nora.

I’m up early, sit out on our little balcony and watch the world slowly wake. That starts with a lot of very happy birds. It’s pretty sweet to wake and not immediately think of work or duties.

I have an unoccupied room for workouts, so take advantage of that. I give it about 20 minutes on the balcony before even I have to say: Too hot for this.

I finish up inside.

Get myself a shower, get myself dressed. I could hear Griffin’s arrival during my workout. BW comes up and tells me he and the boy played several games.

I find Logan in the kitchen, making eggs for his breakfast. I like a grandson who cooks!

BW went down to snorkel, and I choose a book.

Logan’s had a turn in the pool, and Kayla must still be sleeping.

Another black bird, or the same one, used that shallow end as a birdbath for a bit. Hot and thirsty!

The gang’s about to take off for the grocery run, and I believe I’ll sit down in the shade outside and read.

It’s so lovely, such a blessing, to be able to take a trip like this with so much family.


I’m Getting Those F’ing Wings!!!

And I did, but that’s for later.

Derby time!

…and we’re off! Photo by BW

Smooth flight down—yay!—on Thursday, with our delightful cop, Justin, and equally delightful escort, Anne, picking us up for the ride into Louisville. Time for lunch, and yum, before it’s off to the hotel to unpack and decompress, then dude it up some for Club Night. Happily the event’s right here in the hotel. Especially since the theme is Bourbon Tasting. Sorry, Kentucky, not my drink, but my companions sampled some new to them bourbons.

Nora and BW, ready for fun. Photo by Laura.

Wonderful, big space, a fabulous rotations of live entertainment. And best of all reconnecting with some of our Derby family, much missed since Covid kept us home the last three years. Laura and Mark haven’t been to Derby with us since 2016. But they remember everybody!

Great weather, fun times. Lots of dancing. Felt good to get the groove on, and see so many shiny, happy faces.

I met Tricia Helfer, whom I’ve loved since Battlestar Galactica. Number Six!! She is ridiculously beautiful. We reconnect with the fabulous York Sisters, Tonya and Tammy, who put this incredible weekend together year after year. And so many more Derby pals—plus the chance to make new ones.

Bruce, Nora and Tonya York

Tumble into bed about midnight.

I do a very short little in-room workout in the a.m, then Anne’s taking me and Laura to get mani/pedis, shop, lunch while BW and Mark are off to the Oaks. I pick a filly—I have yet to win and Oaks race in all these years, but hope springs. BW will bet for me.

Off we go to a lovely salon with GREAT pedi chairs. Oh boy, ahhhh. Pretty fingers and toes for all. The guy who did my mani is also the manager—possibly the owner. Young guy who seriously knows how to multi-task and keep things moving smooth, even on the day before Derby when people are calling, doing walk-ins, chairs are rotating.

A pregnant mom and her little girl—maybe five—get pedis. So, so cute.

Our Italian restaurant (Grassa Gramma) for lunch is right next door, and it’s wonderful. We see a group of dressed-to-the-nine’s ladies sitting outside. Laura offers to take their photo—all there to celebrate one of the ladies’ birthday.

They’re all so pretty!

The dining room at Grassa Gramma.

The very ornate Italian decor of the restaurant  just sets the mood for my amazing spaghetti and meatballs. Anne and Laura both go for the pasta primavera. And nobody left hungry or disappointed.

Meanwhile. BW and Mark at the Oaks.

Shopping at Rodes with Beth next—a long Derby tradition. I score! But I had no doubt. Actually found the perfect wrap for the gala—much better than what I brought with me. Also some very cool and comfy sneakers. I don’t need more sneakers, but they’re so cute! And a little this, a little that.

Back to the hotel to chill before we glam it up for the gala. They hold a silent auction to benefit Blessings In A Backpack—such a good cause. And everybody gets spiffied up. I think the four of us—five including Anne—pulled off the spiff!

Gala ready.
Laura, Nora and Anne dressed for the evening.

But I continue my losing streak on the Oaks. Next time!

On the red carpet.

My first stop when we get down to the ballroom area, is that auction. I’ve already looked at some of the donated items on line, but did NOT spot the amazing wings until I saw them in person. And I immediate knew—I’m getting those f’ing wings. They’ll look so right in my gardens! I see a few other things—and hey, for the kids—so bid.

Those f’ing wings! Photo courtesey of Unbridled Eve.

More music—such great entertainment and all in a big ballroom that has simply gorgeous decor.

Tammy and Tonya York, acknowledging the Nora Roberts Foundation.
Tablescape. Photo by BW.

Someone else wants my wings—but they don’t have a chance. I’m determined! Bid, bid, bid, stalking bids with my phone, but still managing to get up and dance. You can’t NOT dance with that music pulling you up.

First act of the night – JD Shelburne.

When the auction closes, the f’ing wings are mine!! Was there any doubt? Once I find the perfect spot, I’ll take another picture.

The packed dance floor with Robin Wilson of The Gin Blossoms on stage.

More dancing, more happy—a quick stop to mug for the Photo Booth—then another tumble into bed.

We’re going to the track early—why not spend the day at the Downs? We ride with Lisa Leslie and Michael Lockwood… They’re not only TALL, but both are gorgeous. Plus so nice. BW and Mark sat with them at the Oaks on Friday, so they’re already Derby pals.

Michael Lockwood, BW and Lisa Leslie at the Oaks.
The early birds win the early races! Off to the Derby in style. Photo by BW

Perfect Derby weather, and a quick walk down the red carpet, then a longer one—always wear comfortable shoes to the Derby!—to our floor and our area for the day.

The best looking group on the red carpet.

And just in time to place a bet on the second race. And I’m a winner! Woo. As I am on the next race, and the one after. Whoa baby, I’m on a streak!

Lisa and Michael also hit on the first bet, and I believe the second. We seem to have a mind meld going on what horse to pick.

More people filter in, so many fun hats, pretty dresses, handsome suits! And so much happy energy. We have our fantastic long-time servers, Amy and Kim, and that’s another reunion.

I love standing out on the terrace, looking out at the track—so rich and brown against the green infield and the white buildings and stands.

More hugs and kisses, more catching up with old friends.

More betting!!

BW has his own serious system. Mine is—first always bet on the gray—and if no gray, I go by the name. What appeals. (Like one big winner for me, Webslinger. I’d always bet on Spider-Man!) I Always bet across the board. Win, Place Show.

Guess who won more races? Ha! I think I only had three races all day where one of my horses didn’t come in.

We’re honored to have the legendary Randy Travis and his lovely wife, Mary, at our table. Also J.D. Shelburne and his lovely wife, Amy. J.D. performed at the gala, so played a part in getting people on the dance floor.

Nora, Randy and Mary Travis

This is part of Derby magic for me, meeting people you admire for their art, their talent, then getting a chance to know the person behind that art, that talent.

When JD (Shelburne) meets JD (Robb).
Tricia Helfer and Nora.

For the Derby race, I also pick horses for my fam at home. Kayla happened to get home from college a couple days before we left, so I showed her the field. She picked Mage—for the name.

I also bet on Mage. Because, hey, magic.

As the big race approaches, the energy’s through the roof. The sun really does shine bright today on our old Kentucky home. Everyone crowds outside to watch the horses parade. They’re simply beautiful.

The packed stands pre-race 12 (Derby race).

All bets placed, the crowd in the stands and the infield are pumping out more energy.

And they’re off!

It’s simply impossible to describe the feeling. The cheers rising up, spreading out in a wall of sound. Then the stunning look of those athletes—horses and riders—flying over that oval. It’s thunder and lighting on four legs. As always, I lose track of my horses—the ones I bet. Because it just doesn’t matter now.

The race is on.

This is it, a breath-taking display of speed and athleticism. The wild excitement of that two minutes when thousands of people are focused on the same thing.

But as they’re coming down the stretch, I hear people shouting, Come on #8. Why, that’s Mage! And I see him, oh yeah, I see that beauty streaking toward the finish line. Just tearing up the track.

I realize no one’s going to catch that horse. Kayla and I have the Derby winner!!!

Now there’s the bonus of fun. Winner, winner! I love texting her she won, and her OMG reaction.

We have to say goodbye to many, but we always stay for the last two races. Mostly hoping traffic will ease up.

It’s starting to rain—lucky it held off for Derby!

The rain coming in

And Laura hits it big*—I have another winner to cap it off.

Then the long walk down, the search for the right lot where Justin waits to take us home.

Our hope re traffic wasn’t realized. Whew, it’s a long ride, but we made it. And Anne brings us pizza. Just the perfect end to a perfect day.

Nora, Justin Probus, BW and Anne Rademaker — the two people who made things happen.

At some point during that perfect day, I lost my voice. Just gone. But it seems to be coming back as I write this.

We’re heading to the airport soon—had to wait out a wild, really wild storm. Clearing up now—thank all the gods and goddesses.

Honestly couldn’t have had a better time, in better company. They’re going to ship my f’ing wings. Can’t wait to find the perfect spot for them.

Thank you again, Tonya and Tammy, for having us back for the best weekend of the year!

(Turns out not so lucky today—4-hour delay so far**, and who knows when we’ll finally take off!)


Notes from Laura:

*Let’s be honest, Nora’s big win is a tad larger than mine. But since my Derby win was $8 in 2016, I’ll take this.

**Our delay totaled 5 hours. At one point, the pilot told us we’d be parked for nearly two more hours, so he and his co-pilot were ordering some pizza — would we like some? Sure! Why not?

Then he told us we could step out on the tarmac to stretch our legs since we’d been in Justin’s car for two hours and then the plane for another two. Do something very few people ever get to do? Sure! Why not???

Just a small taste of the planes lined up.

We get back on the plane, finally start moving in a slow stop-and-go when the copilot springs up and re-opens the door. The pizza was coming out on a golf cart! He grabbed it and put it on an empty seat,

then once he closed the door, he came back and put the seatbelt around the precious cargo.

We were all home by 7 pm.


Nora in NY (Sung to I Love NY)

A fall trip to New York City is one of Nora’s fondest traditions that dates back to the years of fall book tours. New York would be the last stop on the tour, then BW and the family would meet her at the Palace to relax after weeks on the road. It was the breather before the holidays.

Well, a breather and a chance for Nora to finish her holiday shopping. She still does. [humbug]

Her favorite place to stay is the Champagne Suite at the Palace which is large enough for the entire family to stay comfortably.

The view from the suite’s living room. Photo by Laura

Covid interrupted the trip in 2020 and in 2021, the suite was taken for Nora’s dates. This year? She was back, baby. Broadway and dining out remain off the table for now, so BW opted to stay home. Kayla planned to come on her fall break, then had an opportunity to travel with friends. So Nora, Jason, Kat and Griffin rode up in a new-to-them small bus. Everyone was comfortable and Griffin loved it.

Champagne for the champagne suite in the large box. Photo by BW.

I love October in New York for the weather and the sports. My husband and I drove up a day early so we could see the Mets on Saturday night (the only win in the series against the Padres) and then the Jets on Sunday afternoon. We were 2 for 2 for in-person sports so happy, despite the Mets losing the series on Sunday night. We’re native New Yorkers and just keep hold of our teams.

Nora and family arrived Saturday afternoon after creeping so slowly through tunnel traffic I had to leave for Citifield before they reached the hotel. I popped up for a quick hello before football, but didn’t spend time with them  until Monday.

It was an absolutely gorgeous October 10 (aka someone’s birthday), even with the Columbus Day Parade screwing up our walk to the new flagship UGG store on Fifth. Nora, Kat and I spent a nice hour wandering, then an enforced 25 minutes watching the parade since we were held at a crosswalk until a break in the marchers.

Stepping off. Photo by Laura

Once allowed to cross, we headed back to the hotel for a break. Then I had a late lunch with my sister downtown and Nora decided to walk up Madison Avenue on a gift mission.

A side note: Sunday evening, Kat’s nephews and nibling came over from New Jersey with their moms.  When they got to the suite, they reported meeting Dennis Quaid in the lobby. Nora replied, “You should have called me – I love Dennis Quaid!!”  Please note, I only run into athletes and saw many San Diego Padres and the Cleveland Guardians — also at the Palace.

Back to Monday. We get on at the 53rd floor, then the elevator opened at the 51st and Mr. Quaid walks in, finishing up a conversation with someone who remained on his floor.  He was in front of me, looking ahead at the doors — as one does on an elevator.  I looked over at Nora who gave me bug-eyes.  (Later, Kat said he probably caught us in the reflection of the doors ruining all my fantasies of being cool.) 

Dennis Quaid half turns and asks what we’re all doing today.  I told him we were riding the elevator until we ran into him.  And then we all chatted a bit on the minute long ride.  He’s doing a project for HBO Max with Stephen Soderbergh.  (Ok, he mentioned Soderbergh and I googled the rest.) 

Guess who else is in the project? Timothy Olyphant!  We hoped to run into DQ again to find out where Timothy Olyphant is staying.  No such luck.  But a fun birthday story.

On Tuesday, Nora and Jason took Griffin to the Central Park Zoo.  I walked uptown with them to enjoy the lovely morning. Griffin was taking in all the sights and sounds. Every time he heard a horn or a siren he’d yell “Watch out!” as safety always comes first.

When they returned in the afternoon, Nora and Jason reported that Griffin took a couple moments to look over the Spider Web Scramble Net, but once he watched some kids playing, he climbed up and had the best time — never once letting go of his truck.

Griffin getting the lay of the web. Photo by j a-b.

After nearly an hour, Jason retrieved Griffin so they could take in some more sights at the zoo. That turned into a ramble in the park to find the carousel — which dad and boy enjoyed a lot.

Carousel smiles. Photo by j a-b.

On the walk back, they found a subway stop with Nora’s intials.

Nora’s station. Photo by j a-b.

In big Griffin news, next week he turns 4 AND starts school!

In Griffin and Nana news, Nora got in an extra 5K steps every day with Griffin — either chasing, racing or playing hide and seek.

Does a Cranky Publicist do any of that? Why no, but we got into a great rhythm of him doing a run and when he’d get near me, I’d ask “Stop or Go?” He’d reply “GO!” and keep on the move. Satisfactory exchange on both sides.

Wednesday was a walk around day. I’ve taken on an intern this year — specifically The Inquisitive Intern, to contrast with a Cranky Publicist. Paige is helping me with some social media graphics as well as behind the scenes research for future updates to the websites and this blog.

We shopped for sneakers for Griffin and more Christmas gifts (bah, humbug) then had an al fresco lunch near Rockefeller Center.  Nora and Paige bonded by the time the french fries were served.  And you’ll see more of Paige as the year goes by.

No ice skating until November — rollerskaters out in force. Photo by Laura
Paige, the Inquisitive Intern, and Nora.

Thursday was the only rainy day. Nora, Jason and Kat had a Nora Roberts Family Foundation meeting so I rambled around — down to the Flatiron Building and back up to St. Patrick’s. Then I met my husband for a couple beers at an Irish pub. A perfect NYC day.

NYPL on a rainy day. Photo by Laura.
St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Photo by Laura.

Friday was a matter of tying up any loose ends for shopping — which meant a stop at Uniqlo and later Sephora. I also had to show Nora the seasonal decorations on Papillon, a restaurant on 54th street.

That last afternoon, we sat down for a Facebook Live on the JD Robb page — we shared stories about the trip, revealed the title of the September 2023 In Death and answered a few questions. I know it will fill in some of the blanks:

A few more favorite photos from the week.

Love this view. Photo by Laura.
Light at night. Photo by Laura.

A lovely week indeed.


Italy 2022 – A Postscript

Did you think I’d make you go cold turkey on the travelogues? I thought it might help the transition if I posted once more and shared a few things.

The trip home took some time, but the family was back in a rainy Maryland before dinner last night. Now Nora’s reacquainting herself with the dogs and the garden and putting away all those Christmas gifts. [Insert a procrastinator’s eye roll here.]

When you deal with photos without the experience, creating these posts can take a great deal of care. Usually I’d review the day’s worth of photos everyone uploaded to the shared Google account and pick what I thought would work. Put my choices in a draft blog post and then see what matched Nora’s copy, which would arrive overnight. Occasionally I’d send specific requests (like, Where the heck is the rosemary plant you went on about?? or Where’s a photo of the second puzzle?), but mainly it was going on instinct.

Finalizing the post was the first task of my day, which is why so many of you have sipped your morning drink and read the blog during this trip. Last year’ Montana posts were more cocktail hour ones.

Occasionally a photo would show up after I’d posted the blog.

Like this lovely one of Kayla and BW on the first night in Florence.

Kayla and her Granda. Photo by NR

Or this lovely night shot from Jason.

Clock tower at night. Photo by j a-b.

Speaking of Florence, here’s BW’s video tour of the flat.

On occasion, I’d live up to the Cranky Publicist name and complain about not having details I couldn’t look up. Or would outright say no on a visual pun. More often the real issues were tech ones when WordPress didn’t like a photo format — especially from iPhones or iPads. In those cases, Jason — along with BW, another Android fan — would filter the photos through to me. Fortunately, we quickly figured out the work around and he didn’t have to do double duty for more than 3 weeks.

The work around for the panos — a family favorite — was a direct text to me.

Dining pano. Ensemble credit.
Pano in the flat.

On other occasions I’d have four photos of the same thing. In the case below, everyone liked this butt when they visited Pitti Palace. This is Kat’s version.

And there were several carousel photos, loved this for the action. Photo by Jason

As the goal was to have the photos to flow with Nora’s recaps, sometimes I couldn’t use the random photos everyone sent. I think you saw all of Kayla’s signs, but there was a lot of fabulous street art Kat captured in Florence.

Street art. Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kat.

Or the quirky things Kayla and BW noticed in Gimignano.

Dear. Photo by Kayla.
Oh my — I know the In Death fans will dive down an Eve Dallas hole with this one. Photo by BW.

And I could have just done the flowers in Tuscany for days.

Photo by BW.
Photo by Kat.
Photo by Kayla.

Plus tons of Griffin.

Intrepid explorer. Photo by Kat.

One of the games in action.

And the cloud, horizon, evening, daytime landscape views were gorgeous.

Pink clouds, last night. Photo by Nora.

But you can’t share everything. And all things do come to an end.

Nora and I found the accommodations through Via Villas and just scrolling through their website is almost a trip to Italy in and of itself.

Nora’s home for a couple weeks, then it’s time for Greenbrier. I’ll probably do the recaps for that one with Nora chiming in.

Thanks as always for coming along for the ride.


Tuscany – Day 24

A day of packing and organizing and planning. Five adults and a toddler can spread out a lot in a couple weeks. Apparently I slept through a storm the night before—thunder, lightning and much needed rain—which turned the day’s sky pure blue, blew away all the haze, and took the temperatures down to normal.

Brilliant sun over the hills. Photo by Kayla.

Of course there’s time for racing, for Mario Cart—and a finished puzzle. Kat left me the last four pieces because she’s the best dil in the history thereof.

Happy kid. Photo by Nora.
Finita! Photo by Nora.

We have to be out of the bedrooms by nine for the cleaning crew to start, so packing’s pretty essential. And we have to plan our agenda for rental car return, customs stamps for tax back and so on.

Also essential is our traditional family panorama. Griffin’s not much interested in this tradition so we play slide the cars while Jason and Kat plan it out. Then he just runs around while we’re doing our thing.

Family pano on the terrace with view. Photo by ensemble.
Family pano on the grounds. A group effort photo.
Contemplating the grown ups’ antics. Photo by BW.

There’s time to sit out, enjoy the view which never fails to relax, even when Mario Cart and the Switch must be packed up.

Granda by Kayla.

We take our last trip into Barbarino for dinner, aiming for Bijou where we’ve enjoyed dining in and take out a few times. As we sit, street side, a gorgeous classic car—I don’t think a Rolls but something like—top down streams by. Going the wrong way on the little one-way street.

In the back are unquestionably a bride and groom. They stop not far past us as a car coming the right way hastily backs up.

The bride steps out in her stunning fairy tale frothy strapless dress, hair up, crowned with little flowers. And she is not happy. She is the picture of The Pissed-Off Bride.

There’s some discussion—a photographer loaded with his gear hops out of a car. Then The Pissed-Off Bride strides alone down the street, her frothy hem and lovely train dragging in the dust. Shortly after, the groom in his handsome gray tux follows. And from around the corner, more discussion, louder discussion in rapid Italian.

I assume since the couple rode together in the fancy car the wedding already happened. This may be their first marital spat, or perhaps they’re united in their pissed-off status aimed elsewhere.

Meanwhile our delightful server takes our orders. Pizzas for Kayla, Jason and me. Tagliatelle with fungi for Kat and BW. Hot dog and fries for Griffin. Some salads.

Music starts up from somewhere, so I hope the Pissed-Off Bride is now The Happy Bride and dancing with her man.

The pizza’s marvelous, and I’ll miss it. Griffin’s hot dog is actually four hot dogs (they come on a sandwich, but they leave off the bread at Kat’s direction. He ate all of them. They’re not huge, but still. Four dogs.

A reflection. Photo by Kat.

We all thoroughly enjoy our last dinner in Tuscany. And some of us enjoy the complimentary limoncello after.

Selfie time. Photo by Kat.

The sky’s pretty but lacks drama tonight following the pure blue sky day. And we head back for cappuccino in our kitchen and some of the teramisu Kat and Jason bought for BW’s and my anniversary.

Kayla and Griffin have a game filled with wild laughter. She is just so sweet with him, and he is so in love with her. They’ve bonded drum-tight over these three weeks.

Sunset by Nora.
Ivy and the moon. Photo by Nora.

But bedtime comes as bedtime must.

This morning Chain Saw Man is silent. I like to think he knows we’re leaving and is sorry to see us go so can’t drag himself to work.

The cleaning crew’s already busy. We have a couple of hours left before our car—the one to take BW, Kayla, me, the luggage to the airport—arrives. We’ll try to limit ourselves to the kitchen and dining room to stay out of their way.

Luggage at the ready. Photo by BW.

It’s been fabulous, absolutely perfectly fabulous. Family, fun, food, wine, shopping, art, culture, views, adventures, relaxing and racing. I’m grateful to have had this time to spend in such beautiful places with people I like and enjoy as much as love.

But now the time approaches to say Arrivederci to Italy, and grazie.


One more, into the sun. Photo by j a-b.

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.


Legit #randomcatness. Photo by j a-b.