Kiki Lowenstein and the Cheery, Cherry Blossoms — Comment to win your own cheery, cherry blossoms

Note from Joanna: On Friday, March 23, at midnight, I’ll choose one lucky commenter from this blog to win a cherry blossom set (mouse pad, drawer scent, pencil and postcard).

Anya sat slumped to the right as her fingers pranced over the keyboard. Her headphones looked weird, tilted as they were. I didn’t want to disturb her or scare her, so I called her name. She didn’t respond. I tried again, and then my eyes flickered to the screen. She was playing Forge of the Ages, and her character was negotiating for a necklace.

I glanced at my cell phone. The bus would be leaving in an hour and a half. Her suitcase was sitting empty on her bed. She needed to finish her packing.

“Anya?” I prompted her again, but this time I went to tap her shoulder. That’s when I noticed the lumps running down the side of her throat. At first, I thought I was dreaming. The knots that covered her typically smooth neck were as big as large jawbreakers. How could that be real?

“Honey? Anya? Let me see you, sweetie.” This time I did touch her shoulder, gently, interrupting her concentration. She startled. Her hands flew up.

“Mom! You scared me.” She yanked down the headphones in a motion suitable for pulling off earmuffs.

“Come here.” I took her by the shoulder and guided her to the window. Maybe those lumps had been a trick of the light. No, there they were. Knots positioned the length of her throat from under her jaw to her collarbone. If her blouse hadn’t been buttoned, I would have probably seen more on their way to her chest. I pressed the back of my hand to her forehead. She whined, “Mooo-ooom.”

I turned her so that she was facing away from me. Kissing the skin on the back of her neck, I realized she was burning up. “Stay right there. I’m getting the thermometer.”

Detweiler sat across from six-year-old Erik at the dining room table. Between them sat a series of dominoes and the empty tin case with the logo “Mexican Train.” My husband looked up. “I’ll be ready to take Anya to school in twenty minutes.”

One foot on the lowest step and my hand on the rail, I hesitated. “That might not be happening. She’s running a fever. There are lumps on her neck.”

“Sounds like mono.” He shook his head sadly. “Mononucleosis is extremely transmittable. Even if she gets on antibiotics today, she wouldn’t be clear in time for the school trip to DC.”

“I know it. Let me take her temperature and then we’ll figure out what to do next.”

#

“Totally unfair and crappy.” Anya rested her forehead against the door window while she sat in the passenger’s side of the car. “This was supposed to be the best cherry blossom display in years. We had reservations to take tea at the Willard. I can’t believe it! Are you sure we can’t tell the teacher that I’ve been on meds for two days? I feel fine, Mom. Really I do.”

Reaching over with my free hand, I rubbed her shoulder gently. “Wouldn’t that be nice? We could just lie to Mr. Harmann, eh? No one would need to know about your fever. When all your classmates get sick, you could just pretend that’s surprise. You could go on and visit DC. Oh, maybe you could avoid little old ladies and old men and babies and anyone with a compromised immune system. If you wore a mask, carrying Lysol, wore white gloves, and went to bed earlier than everyone else, who would notice? It wouldn’t hurt anyone, would it? I mean, if someone climbed into your bus seat after you, well, gosh that’s the problem with public transportation, isn’t it?”

With an angry harrumph of her shoulders, Anya refused to face me. I could guess what she was thinking, and it wasn’t very pleasant. I turned up the radio.

Five minutes later, she pointed at a pair of golden arches. “Could we at least stop at McDonald’s? One of those shamrock milk shakes would taste great.”

“Of course we can.” I dreaded walking into the house and admitting to everyone that Anya was staying home. She had saved and saved her money for a seat on the bus going to DC. Taking photos of the monuments and the cherry blossoms was a high priority on her bucket list. Not that it mattered. All her plans would have to wait. Fortunately, we had a bottle of aspirin, antibiotics, and a coloring book that we’d picked up at CVS to keep her occupied. Unfortunately, those items were no substitute for a trip to our nation’s capital.

Anya was pretty good that evening. She hadn’t been looking forward to the long ride, because the school had decided to let two drivers alternate shifts and keep driving all night long. I could imagine how tired the sophomores would be as they drove through Virginia. But the long ride would practically guarantee the civics students that they would arrive as the sun rose on the proud marble markers. The photos should be glorious, which was why the civics and arts class decided to take the trip together. They’d been watching weather reports nonstop since the last week of January.

For Anya, the trip would be a non-starter. She slept all night and didn’t wake up until 10 the next morning. When she remembered that she would have been spending this morning in DC, she groaned and pulled her pillow over her face.

“Tell us about DC and flowers,” I suggested as a way to help her focus on things that were cool. “Come on, sweetie. I want to know.” I plucked the pillow off her face.

She rolled her eyes “Today is the peak day, which means that 70% of them will be in bloom. It varies every year, according to the weather. The majority of the trees line the Tidal Basin, near the monuments to FDR, Martin Luther King, and the Jefferson Monument. It’s illegal to pick a blossom.”

“How did they get there?”

“Teddy Roosevelt decided the nation’s capital needed sprucing up, but nothing was done until Helen Taft, President Taft’s wife, saw the monochromatic nature of the city as an opportunity to get involved in diplomacy. We’d had an ongoing trade and immigration imbalance with Japan, but a few wealthy Japanese businessmen actively sought a way to thank our country. Cherry blossoms are highly prized in Japan, but the first shipment of trees was teeming with bugs and had to be destroyed.”

I shook my head. “Wow. Talk about a rocky start.”

“The mayor of Tokyo was very embarrassed. The next shipment was bug-free. Because the trees only live to be about 30 years old, the ones blooming today are offspring. The blossoms are white and pink. Thanks to the efforts of the National Park Service, today there are 3,750-some trees that flower each spring, but I won’t be able to see them!” With that, she dissolved into tears.

#

“Why is Anya so sad?” Erik asked. “Because she feels bad?”

I explained about the cherry blossoms. “They’re only in bloom a few days. She’ll miss them.”

Erik pulled out his iPad and scrolled through several pages. “Look, Mama-Kiki. We can make cherry blossoms. See? Here are the directions, CHERRY BLOSSOMS. s

I glanced at them. “One problem, buddy. We don’t have tissue paper.”

“You always say, ‘Be creative.’ We have to be creative, right?” His chocolate brown eyes challenged me to live up to my own motto.

“That’s right. Tell you what. I think we have coffee filters in the pantry. Let’s go see.”

I was right. We found a package of the white circles. I sent Erik to get his watercolors. We spent a happy hour or so, coloring flowers and leaves. Because we didn’t have filaments to use for stamens, we dipped yellow embroidery floss into Elmer’s glue and frayed one end. The colorful mix dried on a dish rack set upside down. An hour later, we cut out the blossoms and assembled the branches. We also found an app that would put cherry blossoms on Anya’s DESKTOP.  Then I discovered a 99 cent app that would create STICKERS.

While Erik finished arranging the branches, I made Anya a cherry milkshake. I put a handful of frozen cherries in the blender, added chocolate syrup, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and 8 ounces of milk. After blending it, I served it in a tall glass with a squirt of whipped cream on top.

Anya sat in her bed, sipping her milkshake and admiring the spray of cherry blossoms that Erik made for her. “Do you know what the cherry blossoms mean?” she asked her little brother.

“They mean spring is coming.”

“Yes, but they’re also a reminder to enjoy every day.” She put a dab of whipped cream on the tip of his nose. “Especially those days when I get to be with my brother.”

#

Have you ever seen the cherry blossoms? What does spring mean to you?

Kiki Lowenstein and the Watermelon Festival, Part II

Part I Recap: In an attempt to repair their friendship, Kiki and Mert decide to take a road trip. But hurt feelings don’t mend easily, and the two women get off to a rocky road start. Here’s the link to Part I

Mert insisted on taking her truck. This made absolutely no sense at all, because I could have easily borrowed Sheila’s white Mercedes sedan, which is a dream of a car for highway driving. Since Sheila’s still in Texas for rehab, her car has been sitting in her garage, coming to life only when Detweiler goes there to turn over the engine. Also, Mert’s truck doesn’t have a back seat, which meant that I could only take a small overnight bag, and it shared the space with my feet. I’m short, but I still needed room for my legs. I thought about complaining, but it seemed pointless. As far as I could tell, Mert had no luggage at all. I couldn’t figure out what she planned to do for clothes, but I climbed in and waved to my family, doing my best to keep a cheerful look on my face.

We drove two miles in total silence. I considered saying, “So this is how it’s going to be? A long weekend and hard feelings?” Instead, I told myself to be nice. I asked, “How’s life, Mert?”

“Fair to middling.”

“Remind me who we’ll be visiting and how this person is related to you?” I focused on the pretty flowers on porches, window boxes, hanging baskets, and lining sidewalks. St. Louis loves to spruce up with the changing seasons, and Webster Groves is (to my mind at least) the prettiest town in the metro area. I particularly like how joyous the geraniums are this time of year. They have a very patriotic look to them as they burst with color right as we come up on the Fourth of July. Even now, four weeks later, the heads were still full of color.

“We gonna see Corva. She ain’t a relative.”

“Oh.” I wasn’t sure how to follow up on that. Ask open-ended questions, I reminded myself. “How do you know her?”

“We was pen-pals as kids. Stayed in touch all these years. When we could, we’d visit each other. Whoever had the money or the time would do the traveling.”

“Wow. Pen-pals. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of people staying in touch as long as you two have.”

“Yup.”

The sun glinted off the chrome of Mert’s candy-apple red truck. That gave me the perfect excuse to put on my sunglasses. The dark lenses allowed me to study my friend without her knowing it. Mert had aged in the past six months. The crinkles at the edges of her eyes fanned out like spiderwebs. The grooves on either side of her mouth had deepened. She owns a tanning bed and uses it year round because she claims it makes her look younger. I’ve argued it also ages your skin. She disagrees, but the proof was on her face with its leathery surface. I moved my gaze down to her hands. She wears Playtex gloves when she cleans, but for the first time, I noticed how knotted her knuckles were.

Mert was getting old. A lump formed in my throat. I remembered how she had reached out to me when we first met. How she had stood by me when George died. She had been loyal as the day was long until she thought I’d disrespected her brother, Johnny. Sadness crept up on me the way a cat hunts down a sparrow, and when it pounced, I couldn’t breathe.

“Asthma getting to you?” She stared straight ahead. We sat at a stoplight, getting ready to pull onto Highway 40, which is really 64-40 but no one calls it that. The road is the east-west artery that pumps the lifeblood of traffic in and out of St. Louis, only pausing for heart attacks like major wrecks once or twice a month.

“I guess.”

“That time of year, ain’t it?”

“I’ve been thinking about getting allergy shots.”

“Probably should.”

“Where are we staying?”

“Holiday Inn. It’s on the outskirts of town. Probably the nicest place. Got a pool. Did you bring a suit?”

“No.”

“We can stop at a Walmart on the way, and you can pick one up.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Okay, it wasn’t exactly a heart-to-heart conversation, but we were making progress. The temperature had changed from chilly to lukewarm. I figured I’d take another stab at learning about Corva. I waited until Mert had smoothly merged into traffic heading east. But before I could speak, my friend glanced up at her rearview mirror. “Look at that, will you? Behind us.”

I twisted in my seat, turning as far as I could despite the tightening of my seatbelt. Out of the left corner of the back window the Arch gleamed like a silver band embracing the cornflower blue sky.

“It’s so, so beautiful!” My heart squeezed tightly in my chest.

“I know. Ain’t it? I guess it’s purely corny, but I always get teary-eyed when I see it. You’d think it would get old—”

“But it never does.”

“Nope.”

There it stood, majestic and proud, a symbol that only our city could claim. An iconic shape, the arch is an example of a weighted catenary, the idealized curve made when you hold a weighted chain or cable upside down, supporting it at each end. The outside consists of 900 tons of stainless steel that the designer, Eero Saarinen intended to catch and reflect the ambient light. Indeed it does, in such a way that the arch also reflects the changing world around it.

“Did you know you can see that there monument for 30 miles?” Mert asked. “But I think this is the best view of all.”

“I do, too,” I said.

And oddly enough, our shared love of the Arch went a long way—30 miles maybe—toward repairing our friendship.

~To be continued~

In Part III, we’ll visit Vincennes, Indiana, vicariously. A heat wave is the least of the problems that the two women face. Somehow they get involved in a crime. (Or did you guess that might happen?)

Happy Valentine's Day! (I'm Feeling the Love!)

Hi Joanna,
 
I just wanted you to know that I was so excited to find
out my copy of Shotgun, Wedding, Bells was waiting for me on my kindle when
I went to bed. I had to read “just a little bit.” I am now
starting chapter 45 and forcing myself to stop reading (it is after 1am)
but man oh man that is a tough thing to do! The book is WONDERFUL! It is by
far your best Kiki story ever! I know it is full of tragic circumstances,
but I am totally spellbound and feel like I am in the room with Kiki. You
ROCK Joanna! Fantastic job. I will have to wait to finish it in the
morning, but I couldn’t wait to tell you how great it is and thank you for
writing it. Big hug to you! Happy Valentine’s day to a fantastic author and
someone who feels like a friend. I can’t wait to finish the book!
 
XOXO,
 
Barbara Hackel

 

Crafts to Do When the Weather Outside Is Frightful

By Joanna Campbell
Slan

Snow, snow, snow. The weather report sounds like a broken
record. As I write this, the Boston area is bracing for yet another blizzard-like blast,
adding more flakes to the growing mountains of white fluff.
Even though I now live in Florida, I remember those winter days “up yonder” when we could get out
the front door because the snow was piled up high.  I can still hear the sound of a snow shovel scraping the concrete of our walk. My nose prickles to the smell of the diesel fumes that wafted
over the neighborhood as husbands vroom-vroomed from behind their snow blowers.
And I’ll never forget how my son would send up a cheer at the words, “Snow day!” Meanwhile, I would groan,
wondering, “How am I going to keep him busy?”
So I used these memories in my newest book

An Excerpt from Shotgun, Wedding, Bells

(Book
#11 in the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series)

By

Joanna
Campbell Slan

 

Chapter 1

 

Our wedding day dawned like a scene from a fairy
tale. Frozen rain coated the freshly fallen snow. The glassy surface glistened
like a million tiny diamonds. Icicles hanging from the eaves of our house
formed natural prisms, casting rainbows across the blanket of white. Sunlight
transformed the long dead banks of mums into mounds, like glittering pillows
under a white duvet. The scene before us was beautiful, but treacherously
slick. This overnight winter storm had paralyzed travel throughout the St.
Louis area. All the salt and sand we’d tossed down on the walkways hadn’t done
much good.

Our friend Detective Stan Hadcho guided me along the
flagstones, by means of a good grip on my elbow. He escorted me from the back
door of our house to the gazebo. As we walked, Leighton Haversham, our former
landlord and dear friend, snapped photos so I could make a memory album. That’s
what I do. I’m a scrapbooker and owner of a store called Time in a Bottle.

At the stairs to the gazebo, I stared up into the
smiling faces of the people so dear to me: my newly adopted son, Erik; my
daughter, Anya; Erik’s aunt, Lorraine Lauber; our nanny, Bronwyn Macavity; my
fianc

Kiki Lowenstein and the Penny Pincher (Part 3)

By Joanna Campbell Slan


Editor’s Note: In Parts 1 and 2, Kiki Lowenstein, owner of Time in a Bottle, has been teaching a two-session class called “The Double-Dip.” This week, her customers brought in one of their favorite dessert recipes, a photo of the dessert, and the recipe to use in an 8- by 8-inch cookbook album. There’s a bit of friction in the group because Iona Lippman and Lisa Ferguson both claim to make an outstanding red velvet cake

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

I’ve been re-reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things for the authors’ book club I belong to. The book was my choice. It’s almost guaranteed to spark a lively debate for many reasons. I find myself intrigued by the way that Alma, the main character, can find beauty and wonder in the world around her.

It is, I think, a talent well-worth having. To see past the broken, the ugly, and the dirty, and to find pockets of wonder. Perhaps it’s a form of gratitude. Instead of taking the world for granted, it’s an opportunity to appreciate the moment.

I try to do this in my books, leaving a trail of literary bread crumbs for the reader to follow. It’s my way of sharing what has given me joy.  Because owning a Great Dane is out of the question for me at this juncture, I gave one to Kiki Lowenstein. Because I love turning trash into treasure, I assigned that job to Cara Mia Delgatto. Because I like to look like a lady (even if I don’t behave like one!), I told Clancy that she has to be a Jackie Kennedy clone. The list goes on and on.

This morning, I was thinking about my favorite things, things that have or should become part of my books. What would you add to the list?

* blue patterned china
* sunrises
* miniatures
* ferns
* my Paris coffee mug
* my color printer
* my notebook computer
* our blue bedspreads
* Jax, my puppy
* Jax’s toy, Foxie
* Hibiscus
* the beach
* thunderstorms
* a good book
* peanut butter
* fresh cherries
* the walk to my mailbox
* tissue paper
* greeting cards
* my comfy pajamas
* lavender the fragrance
* sandalwood

Okay, it’s not all inclusive, but I think I’ll stop and work on Kicked to the Curb, a book I love writing, but one that’s been through TONS of rewriting!

Tell me about your favorite things!