Trust Me

Desperation In Death comes out shortly. As always, I enjoyed spending time ( a lot on this side of the page!) in that world, with the characters who inhabit it. And hope you will, too.

Whenever we announce a new In Death, there’s excitement and speculation. There’s also—inevitably—a continuing complaint from some readers.

It goes something like this:

The last book (or books) disappointed me/ wasn’t up to par because —name a favorite reoccurring character or characters —wasn’t in it/them or wasn’t in it/them enough.

It’s difficult to address or explain the reasons for this in a two sentence reply on Facebook, so I decided to address and explain here.

First: Trust me.

If you’re invested and attached to these characters, it’s because I created them. I know them—and yes, gentle reader, even better than you because they came from me.

It’s my job to write the best book I can. To do that, I have to respect and honor the story, and the people in it. It’s simply not possible to craft the best book I can if I try to shoehorn every character—even your personal favorites—into every single book in the series.

When a recurring characters shows up, it’s because it fits the story, the scene, the tone, the purpose. When they don’t show up, they didn’t fit.

It’s my job to craft the story.

Trust me to do my job.

If I wrote thinking: I have to squeeze Mavis into this, and Bella, and Louise and Charles, and Nadine, Feeney, and so on, the story would suffer for it. I’m not going to do that. Not ever.

Let me add an aside. I absolutely love writing scenes with Bella. I find her a joy, and find more joy in seeing Mavis’s evolution as a mom. But the books aren’t about Bella, Mavis and motherhood, or Eve’s often baffled reaction to both.

When they do come in, it’s for a purpose. To further the story, to lighten or darken the mood, to provide information, to interact in a way that makes sense in the storyline.

I’ll add in the In Death world very little time spans between stories—much, much less time than the six months span in which they’re published. How would it make sense for Lt. Eve Dallas to interact with all the recurring characters every few days when she’s pretty busy investigating murders? It just doesn’t.

Connected to the above complaint is: There wasn’t enough Roarke—which I firmly believe a good portion of readers expressing this actually mean: Not enough sex with Roarke. (Hard to blame you!)

But the same reasons apply. I’m not going to shoehorn sex scenes in either. They, like any scene, either flow into the story, for a purpose, or they don’t. Also, Roarke’s pretty busy running his empire, and while I have crafted ways—that make sense to me—to have him on the page, contributing to the investigation, even just as a sounding board—he and Eve have their separate careers and duties to them.

Roarke doesn’t work at Central, or in the field. He’s evolved into a consultant—officially—because it made sense, and opened a way to give him more page time, and added to his understanding of and respect for what Eve does.

There are books in the series where nearly everyone finds a way onto the page—for a purpose. And there are books where hardly anyone outside the main characters show up. Because they don’t fit in that storyline.

Trust me to know when they fit, when they don’t.

Since I’m devoting a blog to this, let me address a couple more questions/hopes.

I have no idea—none at this time—if/when Baxter will enter into a serious relationship. I have no idea—none at this time—if/when Morris will find another love. The purpose of the series is clear in the name. In Death. It’s about a cop investigating murder. Each time, every time. That comes first. The primary purpose is not to hook up every character in a romantic relationship.

The secondary purpose is, absolutely, the connections—emotional connections, the evolution of long-standing characters, and/or the introduction of new ones. But the purpose is not romantic relationships for all. And for me, and I do know them, many of the characters are perfectly content with their lives as they stand.

I had no thought to write Nadine into a serious relationship. Until Apprentice In Death. It flowed out—from the scene where Jake first appeared because it fit, it made sense, and Jake’s character worked. The chemistry worked, a nice surprise for me.

The same thing may happen for one of the other characters in an upcoming book—as yet unwritten—or it may not. Ever.

And yes, Mavis is still pregnant, and will be for several more books. That’s how the timeline of the series works, it’s the way I structured it a couple decades ago. Decades for you and me, about three years for the characters in that world.

Some people may just be tired of the series, find themselves burnt out on it. That happens, and it’s okay. Some cycle through disappointment in a book or a couple in a row because they didn’t get to see their favorite(s) play a part.

I can only say to that: Trust me. They’ll be back when they have something to add to the story.

Again, I hope you enjoy Desperation In Death. And can happily tell you, Mavis, Leonardo and Bella all appear in this one. Because they fit.

Nora

Summertime news

Hello all,

How have you fared during the dog days of summer? Or the depths of winter, depending on your hemisphere? Nora’s currently with family at the spa while I thought it was time to get a regular summer cold. (Forgot how little fun they are.)

But before either of those things happened, we had some time together at The Greenbrier.

Previously, the resort was such an oasis of cooler weather I’d taken to calling it Brigadoon.  Unfortunately the magical properties of Greenbrier weather were no match for the current US summer reality.  While we didn’t scorch, we had three solid days of rain along with late afternoons showers on two other days, so patio time was limited severely to a couple hours on arrival day and the last two days.  That was a bit sad since we’ve mainly stayed outside/eaten dinner on the patio every visit.

However, the space is big enough that we made our own fun.  And there was no thunder and lightning with the rain so Kat and Griffin spent hours at the pool each morning.

A couple days before we headed to the resort, JoAnne sent out a report of filming a Christmas movie at The Greenbrier (rumor is it will be titled Christmas at The Greenbrier). 

As we turned on the main drive, there were all the trappings of a traditional Christmas — set among the mid-summer begonias, coleus and hosta.

Just a small glimpse of decorations.

The main building was decked out for a traditional Christmas, including the ice rink that Greenbrier has November through January (we’re summer visitors, who knew???).  We think they are going to CGI the ice.  

Skating rink amid summer green.

Pause for a second and consider any bride who dreamed of getting married at The Greenbrier — in the summer — arriving to find it decked for Christmas.  Guests were not given a pre-arrival heads up. But plenty of creative families got their holiday card photos taken against the gorgeous Christmas in July set ups.

There was filming in the lobby on our first full day.  A couple of us went down to watch for a bit.  We didn’t recognize the actors so I’ve taken to checking IMBD for a cast list

The hero and heroine. We heard it was a second-chance love story.

The sound guys must be brilliant because they had to deal with a kid screeching in a stroller as his parents — not extras — walked through the lobby off set.  Then there was a family coming down the hall, with someone giving instructions that echoed around the tiled lobbby, followed by a yelped “Oh S#*T!” when he saw the crew.

We stayed for three takes.  And now we have something to watch in December. The staff didn’t know if it would be Hallmark or Lifetime, so once I know, I’ll share.

The holiday decorations made for lovely evenings, even when it was cloudy.
The evening the purple sky competed with Christmas.

On the whole, the Greenbrier stay isn’t one to lend itself to daily travelogues. Nora and JoAnne worked out every morning. I went for walks or the gym. Everyone had books to read. Nora got a little work done. Kayla instructed me and Sarah on Instagram looks. The usual.

Mainly it lends itself to photos.

The best way to recycle.

We had three wonderful sessions with Max at the glassblowing studio. He plans to move on from rural West Virginia this winter so we made the most of our glass time. 

Kayla, hot glass and Max.
I wish all my days included blowtorches.
Nora applying color to her glass.
Finished work

Sarah organized trips to the two escape rooms on the property. I declined because it felt too much like a dreaded game. 

First day, Alice in Wonderland escape room crew: Kat, Sarah, Nora and Kayla.
Second day, Bunker escape room crew: Kat, Nora and Sarah.

Though I get credit for playing hearts.

The dread deck.

JoAnne was Chief Griffin Companion while the gang escaped from rooms. She was prepared to chase and hide and play, but both times, he opted to deal with his mother’s absence by napping in place.

There was a puzzle. Not as bad as the cupcakes from March, but a hard one. Nora and JoAnne completed it the last day.

Bright colors, big square.

Kayla turned 20 while we were there.

Crowned after 2 decades.
Ice cream cake for DAYS.

There was ghostly activity to entertain everyone. The keys stopped working daily. Nora, Kayla, JoAnne and Kat saw presences in the card room. I did my morning work in there for most of the trip. One morning I heard someone go down the hall to the kitchen. As she came back, Nora said, “Oh, good. A real person.”

Sarah had it the worst as a ghostly presence kept invading her room at night.  She finished the trip sleeping in my room after our sensible Kat went into the room and reported whatever was in there wasn’t nice. Housekeeping confirmed there was something in that room that didn’t play well with others.

I slept extremely well. I think the fact I sleep in Wallis Simpson’s old room scares them all away.  

Ghosts are afraid of her too.

Nora and I filmed our regular July Facebook live on Saturday afternoon. It was our first one since October 2021 and we were due for a catchup. Really hope this link works: https://fb.watch/eLKJQfU5mf/

We all dressed up for a fabulous dinner at Prime 44 (the steakhouse down the hall).

From l: Sarah, Nora, JoAnne, Kayla, Laura and Kat

And in our final tradition, we’ve already booked our trip for 2023.

Nora may or may not have a spa trip update. Once she’s home, she stays put until NYC in October. In the meantime, I’ll head to the OBX to work by the ocean for a bit.

Hope the rest of your August is a good one. Here’s to cooler/warmer days in the weeks ahead!

Laura


Once Nora readjusted to East Coast time after Italy, she recorded an interview for the LifeExcellence with Brian Bartes podcast.

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.

Laura

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.

Nora

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.

Nora


Legit #randomcatness. Photo by j a-b.

Tuscany – Day 22

After my work out, I can hear Kayla fake squealing so know I’ll find her and Griffin, at least, in the game room. And I do, along with Kat and a game of video Yahtzee. Griffin requires a brief non-virtual race with Nana before he morphs into Danger Guy dangering on the sofa. He pays no heed to reminders of his previous spill, but fortunately doesn’t repeat it.

Morning view. Photo by Nora.

He does invite me to jump from said sofa to the padded bench. While flattered by his belief in my prowess, I respectfully decline.

It’s time for puzzling. Kayla does a little packing, Jason’s doing some foundation work. I make a little snack of cheese, grapes and paprika-flavored chips (tasty!) and write for an hour.

Apple slice design by Kat. Photo by Kayla.
Hummus platter by Kat. Photo by Kayla.

We pass a lovely, long, lazy day where I occasionally think about packing a little, then go back to the puzzle. BW and I have a drink and sit outside—a much better use of time—and Griffin has a nap.

A new-to-us restaurant is on tonight’s agenda. It’s a street east from the little main road, and a kind of different world. It’s a big outdoor space, some under a pergola, other tables uncovered, and all with the gift of a spectacular view. We won’t get the sunset here, but that also means we won’t have the sun’s heat and glare as we sit.

Slow close to the day from the shady spot. Photo by BW.
The narrow street. Photo by j a-b.

It’s a lively place, and I think a number of locals as well as vacationers already enjoying it. I can’t tell if there’s more dining inside, but think it’s all kitchen and work area. The bells chime over the sounds of conversations and clattering dishes.

They bring us water and two brown bags of bread. One of the offerings is green. I think basil maybe. Pesto bread? I don’t want to eat bread because:

I decide, because who knows when I’ll have the chance again, to go with the Florentine steak. I won’t make a dent, but others can enjoy the left-overs. Marco, our waiter, assures me it isn’t really so big. He also assures Kat they can make some pasta with just butter for Griffin. They also have what we discover are home-made potato chips.

Pasta and house made potato chips. Photo by j a-b.

They bring us out little dishes of complimentary tomato and bread soup. I taste it—really good—but again, I have steak coming.

Meanwhile a family group is seated at the table beside us. Two couples, a girl of about four, a boy of about 18 months, and a very fresh baby in a pram.

The boy’s wearing overalls. He has red hair. He’s possibly the cutest child (excepting my own kids and grandchildren, of course) I’ve ever seen. The girl’s curious about our table, and gives us—or at least me—the eye. She’s also very protective of the baby and checks on her many times.

The light changes as day ends and goes, on this eastern side, gold.

Kat and BW get a starter—it’s an egg, somehow breaded and deep fried into a globe within the breading. It’s fascinating—and they both give it major kudos.

The egg appetizer. Photo by j a-b.
Egg broken open. Photo by BW.

Despite Marco’s claims, the steak is huge. It actually comes on its own table.

The steak and its table. Photo by BW.

Its own table.

It’s amazing, and I don’t do it justice. BW and Jason will have a hearty lunch today. But I enjoy every bite I can manage. And the Chianti, and the soft fall of night all around.

The Chianit. Photo by BW.

The little boy and his father approach the table. It seems the Seriously Adorable Child wanted to give us all high fives. Now add charming to adorable.

Another entree. Photo by j a-b.

The little girl does something which earns her a scolding. Tears follow. But she rebounds and strolls around the tables, smiles at me, checks on the baby or walks with baby and mama up and down the cobblestone street when baby needs soothing.

Granda and his Kayla. Photo by Nora.

Kat also strolls Griffin. It’s a very leisurely meal, and he’s a trooper, but he needs to move a little.

The girls decide to split a dessert—something with cream and dark chocolate and wafer thin crunchy pastry. I now assume the restaurant doesn’t believe in splitting as we each get a dish of it, and combined it would be enormous. I do what I can because it’s fantastic.

Dessert (I’m pretty sure). Photo by BW.

Griffin’s holding on—it’s nearly ten now, and we arrived at seven-thirty—but he looks unhappy. Kat says: Bedtime? And hope spreads over his face as he repeats that magic word.

We have two cars, so BW and I stay back—Kayla’s tired, too—to wait for the check that’s taking its time getting to us. It may be ten, but the place continues lively.

Moon over dinner. Photo by Nora.

It’s a quiet night walk back to the car—I could’ve used twice the distance after that meal—then the drive home. Kat and Jason wait in the kitchen to make sure we arrive safely. Sweet.

And now another perfect summer morning, and CSM’s making busy use of it. Me, I’m just enjoying the view.

Likely an abbreviated workout coming as we girls are heading off to our silver jewelry making workshop this morning. I don’t expect to make anything memorable—but for the experience—but I’m anticipating what Kat and Kayla create.

Nora

Tuscany – Day 21

A stay home day is just fine. Chain Saw Man gets very busy through the morning, and this time two trucks are spotted in the general vicinity on what we’re now calling Chain Saw Ridge. And he’s at it again today. CSM is no slacker.

Neither am I as I appear to be Griffin’s Race, Jump, Pratfall partner. I hold up my end, but still have time for puzzling. Making progress, and Kat is making serious progress in that area. She and Jason head to the market, and Griffin’s satisfied to hang with the rest of us. Kayla lures him outside for a race, but he spots his trucks inside, so in we go. He has several Mario figures—his new hero, perhaps displacing Blaze and that gang. Down the sliding race track with Mario, time to sleep for Mario, time to wake up and slide for Mario. Mario is very busy for awhile.

Grandkids, toys and a view. Photo by Kat.

A little lunch when the shoppers return, Kat makes cookies and BW takes his drone on its longest journey yet.

Perfect cookies cooling. Photo by Kayla.
Cookie alignment. Photo by Kat.

We have discovered the Italian brand of Fruit Loops. Kayla decrees them okay, and undoubtedly healthier than the real thing. Griffin loves them—but often requests the purple ones. Kayla questions this preference as to her pallet they’re all the same. Later at dinner, Kat will do a blind taste test, and proves Griffin is correct—or at least she and Griffin share the same taste buds.

The breezeway lives up to its name. Photo by Kayla.

But before dinner, we all clean up and change. Kat and Griffin visit my room as Kat’s booking a little fun time for the girls. We’re going to make silver jewelry, instructed by a local silversmith. Griffin doesn’t know a bed that isn’t made for bouncing on or jumping off of. Kat and I take turns—as directed—helping him take the big jump from the chest at the foot of the bed to the floor.

Somehow he decides it’s now my turn to jump. Unexpected! But he doesn’t object when I sort of sit on the chest, and assists me in my version of a jump before he switches to Hide and Seek. He hides—in my closet, every time. Oddly, I never find him.

Then they’re off, and I hit the showers.

We’re booked for dinner at 7:30. Just before 7, Jason tells me Griffin’s fallen asleep—small wonder. He gets his brief nap before Kat carries his limp self out. We’re armed with Italian Fruit Loops in case of crankiness, but though zoned, he’s surprisingly non-cranky.

Filling the space with a late nap. Photo by Kat.

We arrive right on time at the restaurant the driver recommended for pizza. The cook/host/owner/part-owner (?) seems surprised we arrive on time, but gracious—any table we like as none of the outdoor seating’s yet occupied. We sit, order a bottle of water, and observe what’s essentially Main Street in a small town. A car parked across the narrow street scrapes the stone wall of the building on his way out. He appears unconcerned.

People sit and chat at the wine bar next to us, others walk by. Another guy walks past our table into the kitchen/bar, and it becomes clear our place is a two-man operation, and this may be the owner.

The menus have English names for the pizzas—like Body and Soul, Nice Pesto. Jason uses his phone to translate as the descriptions are in Italian. They also have a handful of appetizers, and Kat picks one—a kind of puff pastry turnover filled with tuna with caramelized onions on top. She’s hoping Griffin will go for the tuna.

Pizza with ricotta, fresh tomatoes, pesto. So going with Nice Pesto on this one. Photo by j a-b.
Pizza with ham and cheese. Photo by BW.
Margherita pizza — which can fill the Body & Soul. (I don’t know, this was a guess. ~L) Photo by j a-b.

I won’t call the service slow. I’m going with very, very laid back. Friendly with it when we eventually order. The tuna deal, pizzas, more water, a bottle of Chianti.

While we wait, another car slides in to park across the street, bumps into a pole. Apparently no big deal. I assume the cars parked or moving are locals as through traffic isn’t allowed after 8–and it’s already well after as another starts to slide next to the building, clearly texting while doing so. And somehow she avoids mishap.

Bells chime on the hour and the half from the bell tower across the street. At nine—I don’t know why—they chime like mad things.

Group selfie. Photo by Kayla.

Griffin absolutely goes for the tuna. The pizza’s delicious, and very sloppy. Kayla solves this by folding pieces in half. I go for the lift by a fork until I get it up method. Kat finally succumbs, with apologies, to knife and fork. However you get the job done, it’s pretty damn good. Griffin agrees, though when he takes the piece I offer, most of it slides off the crust. He likes the crust. And the purple Fruit Loops.

For a kid wakened from a nap, hauled into the car, packed in a stroller, parked at a restaurant for more than two hours, he’s remarkably chill. Maybe his sense memory of his first year and a half of life’s clicked in. Scotland, Ireland, California, Hawaii, Montana, New York—there may be more in there. In any case, he’s a most excellent traveler.

We miss the sunset, but catch the final dramatic red blush with the growing moon sailing overhead. And head home for cappuccino. Kat wants to try making it, and does a very fine job.

Last light. Photo by j a-b.
Evening show. Photo by Kayla.
Sunset paparrazzi. Photo by Nora.

From the looks of the sky this morning, I expect another pretty day. I’m going to work out, and consider it training for any upcoming races and jumps.

Nora


Bruce’s countryside video.

Tuscany – Day 20

Jason, Kat and Kayla head out to Pisa, and Griffin invites me to sit and watch a morning video. It’s a clear day, and will be hot—but not quite the triple digits hot. The boy doesn’t notice his mother’s not there for awhile, then he gets up, wanders into the kitchen. I know he’s looking for her. He’ll usually call out: Mommy? Where are you? But today, he just looks. Then one of the cleaning crew comes in—she has dark hair like Kat, worn pulled up as Kat often does.

I can see for an instant he thinks it’s Kat, then realizes, nope, not Mom. But he decides she’s worthy of attention. Since the pandemic, he’s been very wary of strangers, but he likes the look of this one, so follows her around, chatters at her. She’s amused and chatters back. The toddler English and the adult Italian don’t seem to matter in this cheerful conversation. Then she walks over to our dining room Start/Finish line, and he assumes: Race, and gives her butt a little nudge.

Dormant bath in wall with green. Photo by Nora.

She is even more amused, and I’m delighted when he doesn’t back off when she crouches down, touches him and they converse in their different languages.

I race with him as she’s busy, then Grandda joins. Now it’s chase and catch Grandda time.

But when the second housekeeper comes in, he decides she looks interesting, too. And when the pair of them start up the stairs, he’s happy to believe this is a race. Up the stairs. Race Up! So up we go, trailing the two housekeepers into Kayla’s room.

They work around him as he jogs in a circle, babbles, then climbs on the bed to jump and bounce. We have a fairly dignified pillow fight on Kayla’s bed, pretend to sleep. Back down he finds one of the buckets with cleaning products interesting, and I must explain: That’s not yours. Fine then, back to videos and the occasional race. Then a break to play trucks before lunch.

I puzzle and BW reads while he eats.

He’s truly good as gold and very entertaining throughout the day.

It’s a long trip for the adventurers, and they bring back many stories and pictures. After the drive, lunch—which given the rest they think should’ve been reversed.

[Presenting photos from Pisa, captions from Laura. Any errors are mine. ~L]

Alfa Romeo. Photo by Kat.
The Tower. Photo by j-ab.
Fallen Angel. Photo by j a-b.
A pano of the entire Piazza del Miracoli. From l: Pisa Baptistry, Pisa Cathedral, the Campanile (Leaning Tower). Photo by j a-b.
The crowds around the tower. Photo by Kayla.
Dramatic biblical moment. Photo by Kat.
Pisa Mandevilla. Photo by Kat.
Coat of arms. Photo by Kat.

The climb up the Leaning Tower is circular and tilted—with my tendencies toward motion sickness and vertigo, I suspect I wouldn’t make it. Kat has a little trouble, and from the interior pictures I can see why. But they make it to the top and the spectacular view. And after time admiring it, documenting it and regaining some balance, down again.

Look WAY up. Photo by Kayla.
The view from the Tower. Photo by j a-b.
A selection of bells at the top of the Tower. Photo by j a-b.
Intrepid climbers overlooking Pisa. Photo by j a-b.
Looking down into Pisa. Photo by j a-b.

On the way back they spot a winery that looks like a castle—and we may adventure there. Though Kayla doesn’t like wine, she’d like to visit a winery here. I like wine, and would also enjoy a visit.

For dinner we just raid the fridge and pantry—there’s plenty to go around.

And it’s time to Chase And Catch Grandda again.

Mother/Son Chillaxing. Photo by Dad.

Then sit outside in the shade of the back yard, relax while Griffin plays with water, pouring—intensely—from pitcher to bowl, through the net bag that held a kind of Ferris wheel toy, and all over him.

Pre-bed pool time. Photo by Kat.

An evening swim for Kat and Griffin, another spectacular sunset.

Silhouettes in setting sun. Photo by j a-b.
Sunset with flower. Photo by Nora.
Filmy clouds post sunset. Photo by Kat.
La Luna is growing. Photo by Nora.

Cloudy and cooler this morning. Chain Saw Man was busy earlier, but must be taking a well-deserved break.

I’ll get my workout in, then I suspect plans will depend on the weather.

Nora


In today’s #randomkatness

Nine-spotted moth spotted by Kat.

Plus this beauty.

I’m going to call this #randomhatness. Photo by j a-b.

Tuscany – Day 19

BW gets a glimpse of a little yellow tractor disappearing into a thick swath of cypress on the western hill. CSM’s in there somewhere.

Post work out, I hear the squeals and cheers of racing. Today’s track is around the dining room table with competitors Kayla and Griffin. It’s pretty sweet to watch my oldest and youngest play. Before long, I’m drafted onto the field.

At one point Kayla tells him she needs a break and sits. Oh, the sad! No whining, no vocal objection. He simply hangs his head in a moment of mourning silence before I distract him back into the race with just me.

It’s a hot—triple digits hot—hang out Sunday. BW does some droning, Jason’s checking on his house—big rain storm back home. There’s racing and videoing, a new puzzle to puzzle, hide and seeking, Mario Carting and Mario Partying.

Temps. Photo by BW.

Danger Guy dangers himself off the game room sofa onto the tile floor. A hug and Mommy stroking’s all he needs before he’s back in business with a new game. Crash The Nana—with pillows. I execute many dramatic fake falls which pleases him.

Shade time. Photo by Kayla.

Cooking starts to happen. Scrub and quarter potatoes with a sharp knife—thanks, Kat—figure out conversion for oven temp—thanks, Jason—gather herbs, mince garlic, grind some pepper, slide big ass pan in the oven.

Family dinner. Photo by BW.

BW’s drafted to make a salad, Kayla a cheese board. Kat will handle the broccoli. Jason’s assigned to make some fries—we have frozen—for Danger Guy. And we discover, unlike at home, these won’t cook in the oven—translation from package instruction says fry in oil. An attempt to subvert this with the oven fails. We have sunflower oil, so Jason fries, Kat steams (the broccoli), Kayla creates, BW tosses. I stir up potatoes, slice some bread, some tomatoes—add fresh basil, pepper and olive oil there.

Delightful plates. Photo by BW.

And indoor meal tonight due to heat and bugs. And it’s all more than fine. A lovely family Sunday dinner in Tuscany. After which BW makes cappuccino and the gang cleans up.

BW-made capuccino. Photo by Kayla.

It’s pool time. Out of the blasting afternoon sun, an evening swim sounds good. Knowing the water temp won’t meet my standards, I will observe and document. Kayla’s reaction doesn’t surprise, but she eventually inches herself in.

The hard part – getting in. Photo by Nora.
Nearly there. Photo by Nora.
Everyone’s adjusted to the water. Photo by Nora.

We examine the room near the pool—another bedroom we didn’t need, but haven’t looked over. BW finds one of my In Death books inside. Nice.

Excellent reading choice. Photo by Nora.

As the sun goes down, so does the heat. It’s breezy with it, so very, very pleasant.

Sunset show. Photo by Nora.

Bedtime—but I place a couple puzzle pieces first.

Today, Danger Guy stays with Nana and Grandda while his parents and cousin adventure off to Pisa. BW and I have been there, done that, so we’ll give Griffin a day of adventuring at home. I hope Danger Guy takes it easy on his nana’s heart rate.

Chain Saw Man’s busy, and some bird calls out—a hoarse call, like it has a cold. Not a cloud in the pale blue morning sky.

I’m going to see about getting a short work out in before I step up for Nana duty.

Nora

Tuscany – Day 18

Morning mist. Photo by Nora.

First, for those of you wondering why we don’t/hoping we will walk down to see what Chain Saw Man is building, an explanation.

We’re on a hilltop here, overlooking the valley with more forested hills to the east and west. CSM is somewhere—best we can tell—on a ridge to the west, within one of the dense forests. We can’t see him, only hear.

No way to walk down anywhere from here as the first step would be a doozy!—which is why we have stone walls to prevent tumbling off the hill. Plus he’s not `down’ there, he’s over on another hill somewhere. I can see a vineyard on the top of the hill to our right—the west—and what looks like a dirt road going down, but even with all the sounds of building, we never see any movement.

Don’t know where he is, and there’s a lot going on over there this pretty Sunday morning. Sawing, hammering, and the first time I hear the sound of a vehicle. A tractor, maybe? A small bulldozer? Not sure, as it’s just not visible. I just heard a tree go down, and I was looking in that general direction, but didn’t see one fall.

Anyway.

Command Center request for an actual photo of the huge rosemary plant mentioned back on the first day at the villa fulfilled! Nora provides scale. Photo by Nora’s iPad.

After work out, I join the family for a pleasant time in what’s sort of our sitting room/Griffin’s play room. The cleaning crew’s doing what must be their Saturday ritual, and that’s thorough, so we’re staying out of their way as much as possible. Kayla appears late morning as she’s spent some Face Time with her guy as he and his family are leaving for a cruise and they won’t be able to talk for about a week.

Busy boy. Photo by Kat.

We think to visit the shop in the village, then make a quick hit on the market for fresh strawberries and what Kat needs to make cookies.

Daddy stays back with Griffin, and off we go.

Sadly the shops are closed. I guess Saturday isn’t a big hunt through shops day in Barbarino. So with Kat as our driver and tour guide we head to the big COOP—like chicken coop. There are two—one big, one small—we want the big one as there’s a better chance they’ll have Kayla’s oat milk.

We also score, to our satisfaction, chocolate chips, and to my pleasure, two bottles of Veuve.

Unlike the shops in Barbarino, the COOP is a madhouse. It’s interesting looking for specifics, identifying flour, brown sugar and so on when it’s not in the packaging you’re used to and in another language. Like a hunt, and we become skilled hunters.

Home we go, me to make frozen margaritas, Kat to make cookies.

The reason for margaritas needs no explanation, but the cookies?

Griffin is fond of Chips Ahoy—only the chewy ones, red package. He’s used to being offered a cookie or two daily, so his parents brought along what they thought would last through our Italian adventures. However, there are more of us offering those cookies (often as bribes, of which I am a firm proponent).

He’s running out. We have substituted what he calls cookie cake—some sort of Twinkie looking thing without the filling but with tiny chocolate chips. This was Kayla score, but she shares. Kat’s decided to try to reproduce cookies that meet Griffin’s Chewy Chips Ahoy taste bar.

I’m going to make strawberry margaritas for Kayla and Jason, and for me, a purist, regular. BW can have either. I need cookie-baking Kat’s guidance on the machine to start. But soon I’m juicing and measuring (mostly eyeballing as measuring tools are scarce) slicing and blending. And produce pretty strawberry margs while Kat makes the world’s smallest batch of cookies (it’s a test batch, after all).

Then what I consider a real frozen marg. And I fear I’ll never use margarita mix for anything but marinating chicken and fish again. Fresh is so much better.

Hummus plate for Kayla courtesy of Kat. Photo by BW.

In her cook’s mode, Kat makes hummus for Kayla and presents a lovely tray. BW, Kayla and I sit out, BW and I with our second margaritas and some cheese and crackers, Kayla with her hummus tray, and enjoy the view and the sunshine.

Inside, the kitchen smells like fresh cookies, and a few sit out cooling—bigger than the standard Chips Ahoy. Back in the sitting room we learn Griffin took one from Daddy, had a bite, made a disillusioned face and handed it to his mom.

But then went back, took Daddy’s cookie, had some more. I’m too full of margaritas and cheese for cookies, but BW had one. Kat has another culinary success.

Lovely day. Photo by j a-b.

It’s game time. Kat v Kayla on the ever-popular Mario Cart. Danger Guy is dangering on the sofa below the screen. I take the other sofa and a bat nap.

We plan to try the other restaurant in the village—recommended for its pizza. It doesn’t open until 7:30, so we head out about 7:15. Griffin plays a game with me and Kayla, closes the gate behind us, guards it. We pretend to beg to come in. He opens it a crack, peeks out. This keeps us entertained.

Peeking through. Photo by Kayla.

We also discover the old door across the road sort of built into the wall of the hill isn’t locked. Inside a kind of small cave are big old wine jugs and baskets. I don’t know why.

Door. Photo by Kayla.
Old bottle recepticle. Photo by Kayla.

Shops still closed in the village, and we learn our intended destination is fully booked for Saturday night. We go next door where we had dinner Friday, elect the street patio area.

Kayla and I are going to split a salad to start—what I thought would be a smallish Isalada Mista, that turns out to be huge with tons of roasted veggies. We make a spare plate of tons of roasted veggies to take home for tomorrow’s Sunday morning omelettes (by Kat).

Then there’s pizza, pasta, wine. We don’t lack for conversation. Kayla remembers I can find a song containing almost any word you can throw out. My father could do it. So words are tossed, and Kat says I’m faster than Google. But, I admit, chocolate stumped me. Jason Googles and finds many. None of which I recognized.

Cappuccino, lemoncello—and then they bring us a complimentary dolci, a pretty crepe with many forks.

Dessert with forks. Photo by Kayla.

On the waddle back, we make a reservation at the other place for Tuesday night, so we’ll now compare food and service.

The view of the sky, that thumbnail moon, the red glow at the horizon, from the parking lot is just awesome. Which may be why they have a platform you can go up to to enhance that view.

Home for a last sit out and bask for me, then bed.

Rosy horizon. Photo by BW.
Evening family shot. Photo by BW.
Day is done. Photo by j a-b.
Kayla-approved shot by her Nana.

We plan a Sunday dinner at home tonight. I’m going to make roasted, herbed-up potatoes—a crowd fave. We have salad makings, broccoli, cheese, bread, left-overs.

I may write awhile after my work out, or sit and read—or watch what I assume will be more Mario Cart competition.

What I think was a big gray cat just dashed up and away. At least I hope it was a cat as I only got a glimpse out of the corner of my eye. We’ve seen a little black and white one in the bushes outside the gate, so I’m going with another cat.

Chain Saw Man continues his work, and I think everyone else is still sleeping.

I predict another fine day in Tuscany.

Nora


And in today’s #randomkatness (cooking division):

A boy with his fishing pole in front of the moon. Food art by Kat, photo by j a-b.

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