Monday, December 21, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

Do you ever feel like time in December marches to some other beat, a faster one; a cadence that you simply aren't ready for even though you knew it was coming?

My finals are done, and I am home at last at my parents' house but it still seems like there are parties or events or a myriad of somethings that still must be attended to. My mother says try as she might to get more done earlier in the year, it simply doesn't seem to make a difference. The pace of December's days and nights is simply accelerated no matter what she does. It's all part of the preparations for Christmas. And she's just gotten used to it.

This just doesn't seem right to me somehow. The first Christmas wasn't fast or frantic or exhausting. It was quiet and unhurried and practically missed by everyone except for some shepherds. If we are trying to recapture the wonder of the first Christmas, it seems to me we are grasping for something that is completely OTHER. Not bad or disrespectful or unhealthy, just other. There is the real Christmas, the first one. And there is the other one, the one we drive ourselves to exhaustion every year to create. I think we are missing something.

Tonight I shall do nothing but drink cocoa and look at the stars . . .

Merry Christmas, Raul. Or should I say Feliz Navidad! Give my love to your parents and sisters. . .

Monday, November 30, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

The last of the turkey has been eaten - today I made enchiladas with the last of it - and, pardon me for saying so, I am glad the leftovers are out of my refrigerator. Leftovers are not my favorite thing. They do not taste like the day they were made, I don't care what anybody says.

Tonight I am making sopapillas for Miss Abigail. She has liked them since she was a little girl - back when my mother made them for her. Here is my mother's recipe:


4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 Tbls sugar
1 1/4 cup scalded milk, cooled
1 Tbls shortening
1 pkg yeast
1/4 cup warm water

Combine all the dry ingredients. Cut in shortening. Dissolve yeast in warm water and add to cooled milk. Add to dry ingredients. Knead dough 15 to 20 times. Set aside for ten minutes. Roll dough into 1/4-inch thickness and cut into squares. Fry in melted, hot shortening, a few at a time. Dust with cinnamon sugar and serve with honey.

Save none for leftovers. They are only yummy the day you make them . . .

Monday, November 16, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

I am starting to feel my mortality.

I can sense within me that there is an intruder and that my own body has surrendered to it. Have you seen how an animal who has no will to fight lies down in front of its competitor and exposes its tender belly? Inviting its own defeat? This is how I see it, almost like a spectator watching from the last row in the arena. I am not in a war with the cancer. I am its spoils.

Lauren has stopped asking me to at least consider treatment. The treatment is not a cure, my dear Lauren, I told her, more than once. It will only delay the inevitable and fill those extra days with nauseating frustration. Besides. We are all appointed a time to exit. Most of us don't have the odd gift of knowing when it is. It is odd. And it is a gift.

Mercy's diary will probably be published after I am gone. I am quite fine with this. I won't have to wonder if Lauren and I did the right thing and not being able to do a thing about it. Even now
I still wonder.

The gallery is under construction and despite my money, influence and daily badgering, I may well be in my grave when it is finally finished, too. I am not quite so fine about that. Lauren took me to see the progress made so far. It is a great scraping of the earth and a huge slab of cement at the moment. Hard to believe it will be beautiful one day - a great white edifice of art and music and literature.

I am re-reading my favorite books while I still have the time. Today I am reliving the melancholy magic of Wuthering Heights. I can almost smell the heather . . .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Ask Clarissa

It was bound to happen. I knew there would come a point in our budding relationship when John Beckett would ask the "If There's A Good God Then Why" question.

Everybody has to ask themselves that question at some point, you know? They either come up with an answer they like or they don't. If they don't, they ask other people that question - many times over - 'cause they simply have to have an answer for it. It's the question of the ages.

We got into it, like John and I usually do, at the coffee shop, on my break. Some little kid who lived in the neighborhood where he grew up was kidnapped, abused and then killed. He knows the parents. It's horribly tragic. So right now John Beckett's pretty ticked at God. I mean, if there's a good God and he can do anything, then why the heck didn't he stop it?

I told him I agree that the situation is horrendous. Tragic. The person who did this is a monster. But I asked John if he was ready to take his question all the way to its logical conclusion? Which is what? he said.

Which bad things do you want God to stop? I asked him. All bad things? Just some of them? Which ones? Where do you draw the line? On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is cataclysmic natural disaster, and 9 is mass murder, and 8 is the killing of an innocent kid, and 7 is the car accident that leaves you paralyzed, and 6 is your spouse leaving you for another person . . . well, you get my drift. Where do you draw the line? You want God to intervene all the way to 1? All the way to you getting a flat tire or breaking your ankle playing tennis? No? Then where do you want him stop? At 5? At 8? Where do you want him to intrude on the natural outworking of our moral choice? Do you realize if you want him to intervene all the way to 1 you have just eliminated the need for doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, policemen, the military, hospitals, prisons and courthouses? Where do you want him to stop, John?

There's no reason he couldn't have stopped this, John said, pointing to the article in the paper about the kid.

Well, how many reasons have you thought of? I asked. Do you really think mere mortals are capable of thinking of ALL the reasons there could be?

He started to get mad. Whose side are you on? he growled.

I laughed, but not in a funny way. I said, Who said anything about sides? This is just the way it is. It's a matter that is too big for sides. I am just telling you if you are going to stick with your argument, you need to consider how it shakes out when you take it all the way to where it stops.

John stood up. You want to tell that to this little boy's parents? he said coolly.

They didn't ask me, John. You did.

Well, what if they did ask you? What if they did ask you why God let this happen?

That's a different question, John. I don't know why. I don't think anyone has the answer to that one.

John stood up to leave. I didn't think you were such a big fan of God, he said.

I didn't think I was either, I told him. I am however a fan of keeping it real. If you're going to believe in something, believe in it all the way. If you're going to believe God should stop bad things from happening, then believe in it all the way. Keep it real, if you're going to bother to keep it at all.

John said, If this kid was your little brother, I doubt you'd feel the same way. Then he left without saying goodbye.

Everyone's convictions about what they believe are tested when they lose something - or someone - they love. Maybe John is right. Maybe I would feel differently if that little boy had been my brother.

But this isn't about how any of us feel. It's about what is and what is not. . .

I don't want to think about it anymore, it's making my head spin. And I have to get back to work. The afternoon crowd is coming in for their hits of caffeine. I'll ask Lauren about it tonight. She's a fan, as John would say. . .

Monday, November 2, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

The diary is as good as printed. The last changes I could make to it, I have made, not that there was truly anything to change. A word here and there that I had to guess at because Mercy's ink had faded were the only words I seriously thought about changing. And it's done. The galleys for Mercy's diary have been sent back to the publisher.

In a couple weeks, those pages will go to the printer. The publisher has decided to expedite the first printing and have them available by Easter. Today, they sent me a PDF of the cover. I honestly wasn't sure if I liked it, Raul. It was so simple, so unpretentious. Ryan thought it was perfect. So did Clarissa. But Abigail and I kept gaping at it, wondering, I suppose, for the umpteenth time if we're ready for Mercy's heart and soul to be laid bare. The cover image looks like softened leather, brown and warm like a saddle in the sun. And across it is the image a of quill, a bit of ink, and the cap of colonial woman, folded loosely. It evokes the strangest feelings in me.

The publisher has decided on a title and I am learning to like it. Diary of Innocence. There is nothing outwardly wrong with it of course, but it has always just been Mercy's diary to me. It is awkward to think of it having a name other than just that. Abigail asked me if I liked the title and the cover and I told her it's not as if I like them, it's as if they must be what they must be. That makes no sense, I know. And yet she knew exactly what I meant.

For now, I can let the diary go. There is nothing I need to do between now and April. Clarissa said she will get a website up and running for me and Ryan said she'd design the look for it. The foundation has been laid for the Mercy Hawyworth Arts Center and construction will begin as soon as the cement is dry. In southern California, you can build whenever you want. . .

I feel a little useless at the moment. Midterms kept me busy the last couple weeks, as I am sure they did for you, too. But they are done. I feel untethered.

Like I don't know how to prepare for what comes next. . .

Miss you,

Love, Lauren

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy Hayworth's Journal:

(a portion of the page has torn away. The entry appears to be a few days after her sixteenth birthday, in October 1689.)

. . . Papa gave me a book of poems and inside are these lovely verses by Anne Bradstreet. . .I wish I had known her.

By Night when Others Soundly Slept
by Anne Bradstreet

By night when others soundly slept
And hath at once both ease and Rest,
My waking eyes were open kept
And so to lie I found it best.

I sought him whom my Soul did Love,
With tears I sought him earnestly.
He bow'd his ear down from Above.
In vain I did not seek or cry.

My hungry Soul he fill'd with Good;
He in his Bottle put my tears,
My smarting wounds washt in his blood,
And banisht thence my Doubts and fears.

What to my Saviour shall I give
Who freely hath done this for me?
I'll serve him here whilst I shall live
And Love him to Eternity

Friday, October 16, 2009

It is hot today, nearly eighty degrees and I can't believe I am simmering a pot on my stove, but the girls love my vegetarian chili. It's a savory pot of bubbling beans, very nice for an October evening - in Vermont, though, not southern California.

But Abigail likes it. That matters to me more than anything.

Here it is:

Esperanza's Veggie Chili

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 carrots and 2 celery stalks. chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
1 28 0z can diced tomatoes
4 or 5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup parsley
4 ot 5 tsp chili powder
1 tsp each cumin and oregano
1/2 tsp salt
2 cans kidney beans
2 small zucchini, sliced

Heat oil and add onions, carrots, celery and jalapenos. Cook, stirring often for 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, garlic, green pepper, parsley, and spices. Simmer 20 minutes. Stir often. Add beans and cook 15 minutes. Add zucchini and cook 5 minutes. Spoon over rice. Sprinkle with grated cheese. Serves 4 to 6.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

My humblest apologies. It is my fault that I am so late in writing this. I lacked the energy when we returned to Santa Barbara after our little retreat to the Pismo Beach house, and then I lacked the motivation.

It's not that I didn't have a lovely time with my girls. I did. I was unmotivated because I had such a lovely time. I didn't want to come home to this house where my mother died when I needed her most and where my father died sputtering he didn't need me at all. I know I will probably breathe my last in the same room where they both left me - fifty years apart. Tell me you'd race home to embrace an imminent future like that one.

Clarissa says if I am going to spend my last few months here whining about the past, she's leaving. I don't think she is serious. Well, actually, maybe she is. In any case, when she said that, I realized I really don't want to think of this house as the place where I will die. It is, but I don't want to think of that being its purpose. It is the house where I made most of the choices that have defined me, good or bad. It is the house where I learned what I could change and what I couldn't. I met Lauren in this house.

It is the house where I lived.

So I had my coffee on the patio this morning. The birds were singing to the day and the sun was coaxing the morning glories into a most narcissistic display of splendor. And I just sat and sipped. Clarissa saw me there before she left for class and I think she realized she does not have to think about finding a new place to live.

Lauren is getting a package today. She told me the galleys for the diary are ready and she is going to be going over them word by word. This is the last time she and I will have a chance to weave Mercy's words into the tale that will be her legacy.

I am glad the sun is shining today.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ask Clarissa

I went to Abigail's beach house just to get away from school and life and the coffee house and maybe even John Beckett for the weekend. I read the Pooh book, which Abigail told me over and over is not a Pooh book, and had really nothing to contribute to any conversation about it. It was a cute book, I guess. I will probably save it to give to my own kid someday. But it didn't, like, move me. I didn't have sticky notes protuding out of mine like Lauren had in hers.

And I wasn't pondering the illustrations like Ryan was. I am not even sure she read the dang book. She was just all over the illustrations; their charm and poetic imperfections and wonderfully abstract shadows. Whatever.

The first night at the house we decided to have our dinner outside on the patio (Esperanza grilled salmon) and discuss our overall impressions of the book. Oh, yeah. We're talking about When We Were Very Young. Lauren went on and on about this and that, Ryan murmured one-word super-niceties about the illustrations, Esperanza said she wished she had known about the book when her kids were little and I said I didn't have any overall impressions.

All right, Abigial said. How about underall impressions then, and the other girls laughed.

Do you have a favorite line? Lauren asked.

I cracked open the book to the Pooh poem and said, "A bear however hard he tries, grows tubby without exercise." And I snapped it shut.

Lauren and Ryan giggled but Abigail didn't.

I love that line, too, she said.

And then Lauren and Ryan stopped laughing because Abgail was serious.

Think of a bear, she said. A bear lives alone unless it's a mother with cubs. They hunt alone, they walk alone. They sleep alone. And if they just sit in their cave and do nothing, they increase their size but never their influence. They never make a difference to anybody. They just get fat.

It got quiet then.

I don't think Pooh minds being chubby, I said. He likes it. It's part of who he is. And other people like it about him. Other people love that about him.

That's not really Pooh, she said. It's before he was Pooh.

It's Pooh and you know it, I said. Besides, it says "however hard he tries," Abigail. That's the opposite of sitting in a cave and doing nothing. Even Eeyore would tell you that.

She broke into a smile and then began to laugh.

Abigail seemed different after that moment, like something big and heavy that she'd been carrying around for decades had just fallen into the ocean below us.

We all sat and talked until well after dark. And when I went to bed, in the room Abigail had slept in as a child, I opened the book and started to read it again from the first page. It wasn't like the first time I read it. This time it made me feel young, like a kid. And I fell asleep thinking of my old bedroom and the sound of my parents talking in low tones as they shut down the house for the night, and Fruit Stripe gum and new boxes of crayons and watching the stars come out.

I began the weekend just wanting to get away and I left it not wanting to go back. Life is complicated when you are an adult. Too complicated.

John Beckett, who can just about drive me crazy with his opinionated diatribes, kissed me tonight. I wanted him to. . .

Friday, September 25, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I hope you've had a more restful week than last week. I don't know why the universal They insist that medical students must be sleep-deprived to learn anything.

I am learning to think of us as just good friends, as you have asked, but I would be lying if I said it's a skill I like. I am not trying to start a conversation you don't want to have yet, but if we can't be honest with each other, how can we be good friends? I miss you, Raul. And I miss thinking of you as more than just a friend.

I wanted to call you as soon as I got back to Santa Barbara from the weekend at the Pismo Beach house. But I needed time to mentallywork through the weekend's effect on me.

It was different for Clarissa and Ryan. They had never been there before, and so they started making memories from nothing, mostly good ones. The house is beautiful, has an outrageously fantastic view, is steps away from the ocean and Abigail paid for everything. The only damper on their perspective was Abigail's prognosis, something we all attempted to avoid thinking about anyway.

But I had been to the beach house before. It's where I found Abigail and the diary that terrible weekend she wanted to disappear - in every sense of the word. I's stopped it then; that course she had set for checking out on me altogether. But I can't stop it this time. No one can.

We sat at the same patio table, the girls and Abigail and I, where I had given Abigail that book of poetry Tom Kimura wanted her to have. But this time there was a different book on the table, When We Were Very Young. Also a book of poetry. I don't think Ryan had ever read a child's poetry book before, certainly not as an adult. It was a bit of a stretch for Clarissa, too. But I loved the book, probably because Abigail loves it and the reading of it has reminded her of much happier times.

I loved most the poem called The Invaders, abouta line of cows walking through a flower-strewn meadow: The first two stanzas are these: In careless patches through the wood/The clumps of yellow primrose stood/And sheets of white anemones/Like driven snow against the trees/Had covered up the violet/But left the bluebell bluer yet/Along the narrow carpet ride/With primroses on either side/Between their shadows and the sun/The cows came slowly one by one/Breathing the early morning air/And leaving it still sweeter there/And one by one intent upon/Their purposes, they followed on/In ordered silence. . .and were gone . . .

I just can just see it all. The flowers. The morning sun. The quiet cows and their lumbering stroll through the dewy grass.

When I told the girls that this one was my favorite, Abigail said, with tears in her eyes, that that was always her favorite, too. And I suddenly realized why she must like it so.


Her favorite flower. They always find a way to come back after a hard winter.

Take care, Raul. Don't work too hard. Life is short. . .

Love, Lauren.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Author Intrusion

Just a quick intermission here to share with you some exciting news! Lauren, Abigail, Clarissa and Esperanza told me it was okay to jump in here and tell you that The Shape of Mercy was named Book of the Year for Women's Fiction by the American Christian Fiction Writers. The award was presented Saturday night at the ACFW's annual conference in Denver. Pretty cool!

I was nominated with six other gifted writers; and I am truly amazed to have been named the winner. I wanted the Christian theme in The Shape of Mercy to be as organic to the plot as oxygen in our lungs - we breathe it in all day long with hardly ever being aware of it. So I was afraid the subtlety of the faith thread would perhaps keep me a nominee only - for which I was already extremely grateful. I was surprised beyond words when my fabulous editor called me with the news.

But I know you are anxious to get on with what happened at the Pismo Beach house this weekend when the Girlz gathered to discuss "When We Were Very Young." It was a weekend that can't be summed up in one post. Each of the gals will share with you their perspective on the "book club weekend," starting with Lauren - on Friday.

Until then . . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

From Mercy's Book of Poems and Stories

February 20, 1692

Papa was loaned a book of poetry from a gentleman he knows in Marblehead. Such a lovely, sad poem. It was written by Sir George Etherege. He wrote it for the woman who asked how long he would love her. Who of us knows the span of years we will be granted? I would rather exhaust myself having loved than to have avoided the ache of having loved simply because of the things I do not know.

"It is not, Celia, in our power
To say how long our love will last;
It may be we within this hour
May lose those joys we now do taste;
The Blessed, that immortal be,
From change in love are only free.

Then since we mortal lovers are,
Ask not how long our love will last;
But while it does, let us take care
Each minute be with pleasure past:
Were it not madness to deny
To live because we're sure to die?"

Friday, September 11, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

I am not very happy with the way things are. Abigail has cancer, as I am sure you already know. She will not let the doctors cut it out. You know that, too. They can't cut it all out anyway. And besides, she said, it likes her. It will grow back.

I cannot picture my life outside the walls of this house. I have worked here since I was a teenager and I am now sixty-nine years old. Abigail says I have nothing to worry about. I can retire in good health and spend my days making tamales for Arturo and reading drinking horchata on my patio.

I don't want to retire.

And what will become of this big house?

I am not happy. Not happy at all.

This dish isn't authentic Mexican but Lauren and the girls like it. They want it all the time. And I don't feel like finding something to post here today that I really like.

Biscuit Topped Mexican Chicken
2 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can of chopped chiles
1 cup shredded Jack cheese
1 cup shredded Cheddar
1 can Mexican style corn
1 cup Bisquick
1 cup milk
3 eggs separated
1/2 tsp salt
fresh ground pepper

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Grease 11 x 7 pan. Layer chicken, onion, chiles, cheese and corn. Beat Bisquick, milk, salt, pepper and egg yolks. Beat egg whites in separate bowl until stiff. Fold in yolk mixture. Pour over chicken. Bake until knife inserted in top comes out clean, about 35 minutes. The girls like it with Spanish rice.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

I have spent the last few days reading literature that simply doesn't thrill me in the least. In fact, it has left me feeling rather depressed. And for pity's sake, who has time to read depressing literature when there are so many wonderful books, begging for attention?

I certainly don't have time. So I am putting away the literature on what happens to your body when the cancer within lays claim to your insides like a greedy Monopoly player who simply isn't content to own hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place. I am through reading about obstructed this and blocked that and stents and stomas and grains of sand in the hourglass.

Today, I feel lovely. I have no sense of the Intruder today. And today is all I consider anymore.

We are reading A. A. Milne's When We Very Young, the girls and I. Dear Ryan, the girl-with-the-boy-name who I regret I haven't learned to love yet, held up her copy today and announced with disdain, "This is Winnie-the-Pooh."

No, it's a book of poems written by the man who created Winnie the Pooh, I told her.

It's a kid's book, she said.

Would you prefer some adult literature? I asked her, and I handed her the 50-page treatise on treatment options for advanced ovarian cancer.

She closed her pouty little mouth.

Didn't think so, I said.

When We Were Very Young is a collection of forty-four poems. It was the first of the books Milne wrote featuring Pooh and Christopher Robin, and when it was published in 1924, only a little more than 5,000 copies were printed. It seems to me Dorothea and I had one of those copies. We read it at the Pismo Beach house, I think. I just remember reading it with her in the sunshine. With sand between our toes. And there was lemonade and cherry tarts.

I don't have the book now. Makes me think maybe it was Dorothea's book. And nothing remains from her childhood; nothing except the memories I have of it.

I am going to suggest we girls discuss the book over a weekend retreat at the Pismo Beach house. Weekend after next. I shall have Esperanza call the property manager to air it out.

It will be relaxing and peaceful. How can it not with sand between our toes?

And there shall be lemonade and cherry tarts.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ask Clarissa

It's been a little creepy around the house. Ryan extended her stay in Europe for another week - can't say as I blame her. Lauren's been home at her parents' the last few days reconnecting with Raul now that's he's back from Guadalajara.

So it's been me and Abigail at the house. Me and Dying Abigail.

At first I didn't quite know what to say to her. But heck, if I am anything, I am transparent. I just flat out told her, "Abigail, I don't have a clue what to say to you about this. I can't tell you it's all going to work out just fine, 'cause we both know it won't. I can't tell you don't be sad; you've lived a good, long life because that's like saying hey, get off the planet and make room for someone else. So I mean really, what can I say?"

And she said, "You can say, 'Let's go to Cold Stone.'"

I said it. So that's what we did.

While we ate cake batter ice cream with cherries and chocolate I asked her if there were any books I should read before she, you know, because it was always Abigail's intention to see that I read the classics while I lived in her house.

She licked her spoon, cocked her head and told me she thinks it would be a good idea if she and I both read A. A. Milne's When We Were Very Young.

I thought only for a moment that she was pulling my leg. But only for a moment. A woman in her 80s who has known mostly sadness her adult life is dying of cancer. It's the perfect choice. But she doesn't have it in her library. We decided to order five copies. It will be book club at Abigail's. Me. Abigail. Lauren. Ryan. Esperanza.

I am actually looking forward to this.

And yes, since you must know. John Coffee Shop Beckett and I are seeing each other. We never get to finish our arguments in the coffee shop. So we simply have to pick up where we left off later at dinner. I don't call it dating, per se. Lauren asked me who is paying for dinner when we go and I told her to shut up and mind her own business.

The books are due in tomorrow. I don't think I want to wait until Ryan gets back to start.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I have been in a bit of a fog the last few days. I am sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I've been wrestling with news that has me grappling for a handhold. I wish you were here. I cannot wait until you come home from Mexico.

Abigail announced to Clarissa, Esperanza and me that she has cancer. It is advanced and surgery and treatment will likely only prolong her life by a year, maybe a little longer. She has decided to do only what will keep her alive long enough to see the the opening of Mercy's art gallery. Beyond that she says she doesn't want to fight it. After she told us, she went to her library and started making phone calls to the contractor, the architect, her lawyer - telling them all methodically, as if announcing a bit of bad weather is headed our way - to step everything up a notch. She wants the building competed by the New Year.

We've only just had the building plans approved. The ink on the last environmental survey is barely dry. They all told her - even the lawyer - that she is asking for the impossible. But she just said most of what we say is impossible is really just improbable and she's never been a fan of probabilities. So everyone better just stop imagining what can't be done and instead get busy pursuing all that can be.

I can hardly believe I am writing this. Ryan is due home from Europe next week. Clarissa emailed her and told her the news. For now, Abigail says she wants nothing to change. She wants the girls and I to continue living with her this next school year. I don't know if Ryan will want to. Clarissa has been quiet. I don't know what she is thinking. And usually I do. Usually she just says what she is thinking.

Esperanza is angry. She has been making cookies and bread and empanadas nonstop, banging pot and pans around in the kitchen as if they were battle drums. I don't know what to do with all the food she is making. I don't know what to do about anything.

I miss you, Raul. I know we have a lot to talk about when you get home. But I miss your nearness.

Call me when you get home.

Love, Lauren

Monday, August 3, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

Much on my mind today. Something is up with Miss Abigail. She wants to speak to me and the girls later today. She asked me to make her favorite strawberry pie. I did. I include the recipe here. It is a great dessert for using fresh strawberries. You can't use frozen, so don't even try.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 Tblsp milk.
Sift dry ingredients. Add oil and milk. Mix well and then press into pie pan. Prick with fork tines and then bake at 425 degrees for 15 min. Let the crust cool.

3/4 cup sugar
3 Tblsp corn starch
1 1/2 cup water
large pkg strawberry Jell-O
3 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

Mix sugar, corn starch and water in sauce pan. Bring to boil. Add Jell-O and stir to completely dissolve. Let cool. Add strawberries, stir well, and pour into pie shell. Refrigerate until set. Serve with whipped cream.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

I apologize for my tardiness. I am not one to take an appointment lightly. You can be sure I am late because there was nothing I could do about it.

I have also never been one to pretend something is true when it isn't nor have I been the kind of person to suppose everything will turn out fine when it is quite obvious it won't.

What is "fine" anyway? We say something is fine when the thing in question is as it should be, when nothing about it is amiss, when it's the way it was before anyone wondered if something might be wrong with it.

I am not exactly fine. Something is amiss, in fact.

I have been diagnosed with cancer. Ovarian. It can happen to old women like me who've never had children. My little nests of eggs have exacted a kind of justice for having been kept from performing their sacred duty. It's not that I didn't want children. I did. But the only man I was married to did not. After he left me, I was too old and too single to consider waltzing into motherhood on my own. Besides, I had Graham, right?

The girls do not know. I haven't even told Esperanza, even though she has taken me to my doctors' appointments of late. They all suspect something. I can see it in their eyes.

I don't plan on keeping anyone in the dark. I shall tell them soon. After I have a chance to decide what I want to do.

And amazingly enough I do have some choices.

Isn't that just fine?

Friday, July 24, 2009

Win a book!

Just a quick note here before I head back to my current work in progress. I am loving it! It's called Lady in Waiting and the historical thread in this one is the demure, dulcet and doomed Lady Jane Grey. Brave girl. . .

The Shape of Mercy is a Book of the Year finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers Women's Fiction category. Yay! To celebrate, I am giving away a signed copy here and also on my regular blog

To enter, just drop a shout in the comments section here by Thursday, July 30. You can enter on the regular blog, too, if you want.

And just so you know, The Shape of Mercy didn't win the RITA award at the RWA national conference last week in D.C. The accomplished Nora Roberts won in our category, but it really was a thrill to be a finalist alongside her.

Have a great weekend. Abigail is up on Monday. She's been secretive lately. Wonder what's up. . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ask Clarissa

Okay. Yes, it's true. I am sort of going on a date with John Beckett on Friday. Yeah, the cell phone guy. It's his idea. And I wouldn't actually call it a date. I'd call it a deBATE. Huge difference.

But Lauren's calling it a date. And now Abigail and Esperanza are calling it a date. Just because a guy says, "Hey, you want to grab some dinner and talk about this?" that doesn't mean the upcoming dinner is a date. We got into a discussion about politics and capitalism (can you see this is so NOT pre-date talk?) and he told me democracy is the only form of government that works and I said democracy is only as good as the people in charge and we couldn't finish the conversation because other people were waiting in line and getting all jittery waiting for their java.

So we're going to finish the debate on Friday. Yes, over dinner. John Beckett is a prime example of arrogance and opportunistic behavior. I said it to his face. And he has told me on numerous occasions on his daily stop at the coffee shop that I wouldn't last a day in a place where everyone had as much power as everyone else. He so doesn't get it.

Lauren says I am the one who doesn't get it. He likes you, Clarissa, she said. Does not, I said. Then why does he keep coming to your coffee shop? she said.

We make d- - - good coffee, I said.

She just laughed.

In a sad way, though. She and Raul are having issues.

But that's besides the point.

It's not a date.

Not a date.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I just want you to know that I understand your need to stay a few weeks longer in Guadalajara to help your friend deal with the loss of her brother. I know I didn’t sound like I understood when you called me last night. It just caught me by surprise. I am sorry I sounded like I didn’t care about this friend of yours. I do care about her loss.

But if I am being honest with you, I have to tell you it scares me a little that she is someone you once had feelings for. And that she once – and maybe still does – have feelings for you.

I can’t help feeling a little pushed aside. I don’t want to feel that way, but I do. I’d be less than honest with you if I said I was fine with this. If I am being melodramatic or over-reacting, I apologize. I miss you.

Clarissa came home with me for the weekend. Cole is here and we are going over to his house tonight to swim and play volleyball. Yeah, I am going to attempt to play volleyball. They insist they are just friends. She actually met someone at the coffee shop who she says drives her nuts but she keeps talking about him. And she says he can’t stand her, but he keeps coming into the coffee shop. It’s the strangest thing. It’s like they both love to hate each other.

Abigail went to the doctor the other day and then she went again today. Esperanza took her both times. I don’t think she is sick. She doesn’t appear to be sick. But she dismissed both doctor visits as if they were trips to the grocery store. She won’t say why she went and I guess it’s really none of my business. She was quiet when Clarissa and I left the house this afternoon. I am worried about her.

I am praying every day for your safe return. Hope you’re not irritated with me. It’s almost impossible for me to picture – you being irritated with anyone. But still. Sorry if I’ve disappointed you somehow.

Miss you,
Love, Lauren

Friday, July 10, 2009

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy Hayworth's journal - dated February 10, 1691

I came across this lovely poem today while in Boston with Papa. It was written by Catherine of Siena, who lived three hundred years past. It makes me think of heaven . . .


I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.
the cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,
and the earth acted as a shy
girl, like me.

Divine light entered my heart from His love
that did never fully wane,

though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person's
faith can at time flicker,

for what is the mind to do
with something that becomes the mind's ruin:
a God that consumes us
in His grace.

I have seen what you want;
it is there,

a Beloved of infinite

Monday, July 6, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

Did you know that when The Bell Jar was first published, Sylvia Plath used the pseudonym Victoria Lucas? It was only after she took her own life that the book that would become her definitive work was published under her real name.

I feel sorry for the poor girl. She wrote The Bell Jar - the story of a gifted woman who wars with thoughts of suicide - from the standpoint of someone intimately knowledgeable. She wanted anonymity. Perhaps some would say it does not matter now. She is gone. She is not here to demand Victoria Lucas be known as its author. And she is not here to need her privacy. But I believe if it mattered to her while she lived, it should matter just as much to us in her death. Who is to say what we believed to be of great importance while we lived ceases to matter at all when we die.

I have read that while in college, Sylvia wrote in a letter: "I've gone around for most of my life as as in the rarefied atmosphere under a bell jar." I took enough science classes in high school and college to know what a bell jar is for, at least the kind I think Ms. Plath was talking about. This kind of jar has a rounded top and a bottom that is open. Put it on a snug base with a firm seal and you can create a significant vacuum. And of course, that lovely clear glass allows wonderful visibility to lookers-on. Whatever is being tested under the vacuum will have a ready audience.

I do believe I can relate to what life is like inside the bell jar. It can suffocate you. Some cannot break the glass and get out. I just learned that from the inside you can paint the glass black so that at least no one can see in.

But then, you cannot see out, can you? So which is worse, I ask you?

I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow. Esperanza is taking me. Something is not quite right. I kind of wish the glass around me wasn't so dark. . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Author Intrusion

I need to break in here for a moment to let you know that The Shape of Mercy blog will go quiet next week while I am away from "the office." I don't think I will be anywhere near a computer so I hope you will hang tight and come back the week after next to see what The Girlz are up to.

I can tell you that in the coming weeks Clarissa will have another run-in with John Beckett - and another date with Cole. Raul will rekindle an old friendship with someone from his past while he's in Guadalajara which will through Lauren off balance a bit, Abigail will get some disturbing news, and Esperanza will try sushi for the first time. Don't stay a stranger.

And for fun, here's a picture of my good friend, Susan May Warren, who's in Holland at the moment. She came across a Dutch version of The Shape of Mercy. Pretty cool, huh? Thanks, Suz!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ask Clarissa

So I am in the coffee shop this morning and this guy comes in during a much-needed lull. He’s got his Bluetooth thingy in his ear and a laptop and the morning paper under his arm. He’s drenched in cologne, is wearing a gray suit that looks and smells like he just picked it up from the dry cleaners, and he’s chattering away to someone he is obviously trying to impress. On his phone.

So he gets to the counter. He’s looking right at me while he’s telling Prospective Client how wonderful his company is. He holds up a finger like he might need another minute before he can reenter the real world where I and the coffee shop exist.

I smile nice and say loud enough to make his pointed head jerk a teensy bit, “No prob!”

It is delicious turning away from him and busying myself with the pastry shelves. I get the attention of Mindy who’s building the drinks this morning and I tell her the guy at the counter is mine. She smirks and gets a big bag of beans to grind for the next onslaught of caffeine addicts.

Mr. Cell Phone is pacing a little. He wants his coffee. He wants the deal. He wants everything. He leans over the counter to get my attention. He snaps his fingers. Dear Mindy grinds the beans next to me. Clever girl. I pretend I don’t hear him. Mr. Cell Phone grabs a napkin from the counter and a pen out of his pocket and scribbles something. I am thinking it is his coffee order. I begin to hum a happy tune. Mindy grinds a few beans.

A man comes in the store and smiles at me. I cheerfully ask the new guy what I can get for him. He happily tells me he wants a dark roast with room for cream and a blueberry scone. We complete our transaction with lots of cheerful small talk and the whole time Mr. Cell Phone is jockeying for position so that he can wave that napkin in front of my face, all the while chattering way on his Bluetooth. I give the new guy his change, wish him a fantastic day and immediately turn back to the pastry case to straighten th
e straight doilies.

At long last Mr. Cell Phone says goodbye and the moment he does I look up at him. “All set?” I say oh-so-sweet. He huffs, with a little smile of his own on his face, like I am a cute, dumb blonde who needs a lesson or two on napkin-waving. “I was trying to get your attention!” he says, shaking his head in just about the most patronizing way he could.

“I was trying to get yours,” I say, just as cool as you please.

His mouth drop opens a bit. His glassy, I-need-my-coffee eyes widen. Have I just said what he thinks I have just said?

Oh.yes. I have. I detect the slightest snickering from Mindy.

Mr. Cell Phone simp
ly doesn’t know what to say. I can tell he wants to turn on his fancy heels and go get his coffee elsewhere. But he needs his coffee and he’s got an incoming call.

“Tall cinnamon latte, no cream,” he says flatly.

“You got it,” I respond and I take his five dollar bill. I hand him his change and ask for his name so that I can write it on his cup. He says, “This is John Beckett,” but he is saying it into his Bluetooth, while looking straight at me. He tips his head, as he continues his phone conversation, like he’s saying, “There, smart aleck. You have my name.”

I write “This is John Beckett’s latte” on his cup and wish him an exuberant nice day and I hand the cup to Mindy.

He walks away, and looks back once, and I can tell he’s wondering if he should report me to the manager.

“I am the manager!” I call out to him, with a smile and a wink.

After John Beckett finds the farthest corner of the shop to finish his phone call, Mindy turns to me.

“You know that

“That’s John Beckett,” and I pick up the napkin he left on the counter. It is scribbled with
T Cin lat no w c.

I crumple it and toss it in the trash.

I gotta text Cole. He’s gonna love this. . . Oh, yeah. We went on a date Saturday night. But there’s nothing to tell. Yet.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Love, Lauren

Hey, Raul:

You’ve only been in Guadalajara a week and it already feels like months since you left. Tell your mama and hermanas hello from me.

Plans for the arts center are coming along. Abigail and I have hired a female architect to draft the first set of blueprints. This gal is someone my dad knows and really likes. She has designed a beautiful art gallery in New York and a stunning museum of modern art in Miami. The rest of her portfolio is impressive.

I also have to admit I like it that she’s a woman. It just seems appropriate somehow. I don’t mean for that to sound bad. I just think of all the women in Mercy’s life – and in mine – that have had such a pivotal effect in this journey, and it just seems right. For Mercy, there is the memory of her mother, and the women who were accused before her, and the Goody Trumball who tried to help her. And Prudence, of course. And then John Peter’s sister who gave the diary back to Mercy’s family – to Mercy's cousin’s wife. Then there is me. And Abigail. And Esperanza. And even Clarissa.

I mentioned all this to Cole and he told me I was being sexist. Cole also thinks I should re-write the ending of the diary so that Mercy comes back from the dead to haunt the people who falsely accused her. Since you know Cole, you know he’s only half-kidding.

Did he tell you he’s coming up to Santa Barbara this next weekend to see Clarissa? Like, a date . . .I am not sure what to think. I don’t want to see either one of them get hurt. Sure, Cole seems like a self-assured lady’s man, and Clarissa is a street-smart chick who won’t take crap from anybody. But inside they are as fragile as the rest of us.

We shall see . . .Miss you,
Love, Lauren

Friday, June 5, 2009

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy Hayworth's book of poems and stories

September 1, 1691

Morning breaks across the hill
Flood of sun, a steady spill
Sings the dawn, a heady trill
Be gone, night! Be gone, chill!

Birds take flight, across the mist
Into velvet blueness kissed
All around, above, amidst
Light now reigns and will persist

Until the hours fade to gray
Begins the end of this new day
It soars without me to heav’n – away!
The morrow waits and I must stay

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

Today I share with you my version of Baja Fish Tacos. When people come to the West Coast for the first time and they hear "fish" and "tacos" in the same sentence, they get a little worried that if they order one at a restaurant they will get a taco made of cat food. I have served these to countless reluctant Easterners who always want the recipe afterward. They judged before they tasted. Never a good idea:

Esperanza's Grilled Baja Fish Tacos

1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tblsp vinegar
Juice of one lime
1 garlic clove, minced
½ tsp cumin
½ tsp chili powder
Dash of red pepper flakes

You can use cod or tilapia. This is enough to coat 1 lb of fillets. Let them sit in this for 30 mins before you grill them. It’s good to use a mesh grilling basket because tilapia especially becomes very delicate as it grills and flakes easily. You will lose it all in the grill. You can grill them in foil packages, but then you give up texture and visual appeal. A grilled piece of white fish looks better than one cooked in foil. The fillets will grill quickly. No more then 8 to 9 minutes total cooking time. Yes, it's true that some fish tacos feature fillets that have been battered and fried. Yes, they are yummy. They are also bad for you.

White sauce
½ cup mayo
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup plain yogurt
¼ chopped fresh cilantro
Lime juice
Couple dashes of tobasco
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Serve the grilled fillets in warmed corn tortillas with the white sauce and shredded white cabbage. You simply cannot use lettuce. Cannot. Must be white cabbage. Chopped tomatoes are good on top. Baja fish tacos are never served with grated cheese. So don’t even go there.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

The wheels are in motion.

I have sold a sizeable amount of stock to finance the Mercy Hayworth Memorial Arts Center, much to my lawyer’s shock and awe. He tried to convince me to wait and see how I feel about this project in six months – nothing good happens when we are impulsive, he said. Ha. I didn’t tell him I certainly know all about the regrets you live with when you act on impulse only.

But I told him that in six months I could be dead. Highly unlikely, he said, referring, no doubt, to my robust contrariness, the kind of which has kept codgers alive and kicking well into their centenarian years.

In any case, it’s my money, my estate, and I can do what I want. So I did. I have also asked my lawyer to draw up the necessary paperwork to set up a land trust so that the parcel of land I am donating will always and forevermore be a monument of sorts to Mercy.

Lauren’s father’s company is taking care of all the contracting. I have nothing to do now except watch it grow.

It’s a beautiful piece of land, really. I’ve had developers after me for years, wanting it. You can’t see the ocean from the land, but you can smell it. You can feel it. On extraordinarily quiet nights, you can hear it.

In the meantime, Graham is at last gainfully employed. I wonder every day if this will be the day when he decides he doesn’t like working and will quit. That’s not your problem, Clarissa tells me. So stop wondering. I think there are days she’d like sock Graham soundly in the head. I wonder if maybe that isn’t what he has needed, all these years - for someone to care enough about him to knock some sense into him.

I am glad Clarissa is staying at the house with me this summer. I would never tell her this, but she makes me feel brave.

Ironically, if she knew, I think it might scare her off . . .

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ask Clarissa

I can’t believe I am saying this but I can’t wait to get back to Santa Barbara and Abigail’s mausoleum of a house. I am home for the three-day weekend, and it’s hot here in Bakersfield and I am finding the older I get the more I don’t fit here anymore. A bunch of my high school friends are here for the summer; some have jobs, some don’t. All of them seem to have this itch to be like we all were in high school – back when nothing really mattered but who liked you and who didn’t.

I am glad beyond words that I took on the job as assistant manager at the coffee shop and that means nearly full time work this summer. Lauren’s going to be around some, too, since she and Abigail are going to build the arts center - you know, the one that she is convinced will appeal as much to the struggling blue collar machinist as the upwardly mobile CEO. We shall see about that.

And Lauren has plans for us to spend any weekends I am not working at her parents’ house in LA. Cole will be around. And Raul, after he gets back from visiting his parents in Mexico. Should be an interesting summer. Ryan has a summer internship in Paris, lucky her, so the studio will be available for me to flee to when Lauren is gone and Abigail is moody.
Graham finally got a job at an upscale men’s clothing store. in SB. It’s actually the perfect job for him. He’s knows all about expensive clothing for men. He practically sold his soul to the devil to finance his gambling habit - all the while wearing $2,000 suits.

And now that he has a job, he wants a car. We convinced Abigail not to buy him one, but she did decide to let him borrow her old Mercedes until he can afford his own wheels. She never drives it. It’s like a thousand years old. Graham turned his nose up at it and I wanted to clobber him with the broken gear shift on the bucket of bolts I am driving around. But he ended up taking it. He wanted Abigail’s Jag. He said it without saying it, if you know what I mean. I started to whisper “Don’t!” to her but I didn’t have to. She told him it was the old Mercedes or her Schwinn.

I am almost starting to like her. . .

Gotta run. A party tonight. Last one. . .

Monday, May 18, 2009

Love, Lauren

Dear Raul:

I can hardly sit still to type this email. First, I signed that contract and sent it. Mercy's diary, at least my transcription of it, will be on bookstore shelves by Christmas. It makes me light-headed just thinking about it!

But guess what? Remember I told you I wanted to find a new investor for that arts center idea I had and that I planned to donate the publishing proceeds to fund an endowment for it? Abigail wants to build it! She has undeveloped land in Santa Barbara that she wants to donate and she has stocks she says she will sell to see it built. When she told me, I honestly could think of nothing to say. She misunderstood my silence for disappointment. She asked me was there a reason why I didn't approve? When I finally spoke, I whispered that I was speechless with amazement not disappointment! But I asked her if she'd really thought about what it would mean to fund a multi-million dollar project. I imagine it could cost $10 million to build - maybe more.

She said, "I know exactly what it will mean."

I think perhaps she wants to find a remarkable way to make up for the mistakes she's made in her life. She is at her lawyer's today to start working out the details. He will probably try to talk her out of it. I doubt he will succeed.

I want to call it the Mercy Hayworth Arts and Literary Center. And I want her diary to be housed there in her memory. She loved to write, she loved beautiful things, she loved people. It's the perfect place for it to be. I have to dash out for my last final, but I wanted to tell you this. Isn't it cool?

Can't wait to see you this weekend!
Love, Lars

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mercy's Quill

From Mercy's book of poems and stories
11 May 1692

In my dreams she came to me
This locked space
Without a key
She kissed my brow
Soothed my worries
Lingered long
No sense of hurry
But gone again, a flickering ache
The second I became awake
Left me smiling, grieving, bare
For just a glimpse, to see her there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

In the Kitchen with Esperanza

A little while back, when Miss Abigail was sick, someone asked for the recipe for chicken tortilla soup because this is what I fed to her to chase the flu away. It is better than aspirin and cough syrup

Here it is.

Esperanza’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

3 cups of cubed cooked chicken (Abigail only likes white meat. I roast the chicken in the oven with garlic, onion power, cumin and a couple shakes of cayenne. I bring home the thighs and legs to Arturo, my husband)
8 cups of chicken broth (if you use the canned kind, add some adobo seasoning to it otherwise it tastes like old tea)
12 corn tortillas cut into shreds the size of French fries. I use kitchen shears
Seasoned oil – we like olive oil
One green bell pepper and one yellow one – diced
Two tomatoes – diced
One yellow onion – diced
One garlic clove – minced
Some cornstarch and chili powder mixed together – maybe 4 tablespoons of corn starch and one of chili powder
Lots of shredded cheese
Snipped cilantro
Sour cream
Avocado bites

In oil, fry the tortilla strips in batches in large Dutch oven. Drain them on paper towels. Use the same oil to sauté the peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic. Add more oil if you have to. Add the chicken broth and chicken and simmer for 15 minutes. Increase the heat and add the cornstarch mix a little at a time so that the soup is creamy, not thick. Serve piping hot in bowls. Top with shredded cheese, cilantro, sour cream, avocado bites and the crispy tortilla strips. Usually there aren’t any leftovers. But if there are, keep the tortilla strips in a paper sack. If you put them in baggies, they will go limp like lizards.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Abigail on the Classics

I feel very strange today, light-hearted. Hopeful. It’s been a long time since I have felt weightless like this. Even when I read Tom’s poem to me and knew I had his forgiveness, I still felt the weight of the choice I had made all those years ago. But today it feels different.

Lauren showed me the publishing contact today for the diary. I told her she was under no obligation to show it to me. I gave Mercy’s diary to her to do with as she pleased. But she wanted me to see it. And I suppose, deep down, I wanted her to want me to.

The money this publishing house is offering is a nice amount. Clarissa said it was enough to make her want to write a book, and I imagine she was only half kidding. For Lauren, of course, it has never been about the money. Lauren is an heiress to millions. When Clarissa asked what she would do with “all that money” she turned to me and asked if I remembered that proposal she helped write for her father last year, the one for the non-profit literary and arts center. Perhaps you also remember it?

It was to be a grouping of galleries all in one place, connected thematically and centered on a garden in the middle. There was to be a viewing library of rare books, and a museum of antique musical instruments, and a gallery of rare china and furniture. Lauren envisioned readings of the rare books, concerts with the instruments, and meals served with the antique china and furniture. Everything was to be displayed as if it was in current use. She envisioned classrooms for lectures on art history, music, literature, design, textiles. I told her I did remember it. Lauren told me she wanted to find a new investor for that project and use the money from the publication of the diary as an endowment so that anyone of any socio-economic class could become a member of the center and enjoy its offerings. She asked me what I thought of that idea.

I told her it was an idea worthy of thought and contemplation and I asked her if I could think on it and get back to her.

The thing is, I can’t get that project out of my mind now. I am thinking. . . I am thinking I might want to be the investor to plunk down the millions to see this center become reality. I have some property right here in Santa Barbara that is just sitting here doing nothing. Developers come to me every so often asking me to sell it to them. And I have always turned them down. I have stocks that I could easily sell to fund the center. I could make it happen in a heartbeat.

The thought of doing something so spontaneous and expensive and, I confess, memorable, is making feel like I’ve had too much Dom Perignon.

I think I might do it. I think I just might. . . Would you?