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?

Time for a Change…or Two

Nothing stays the same, does it? I keep casting my thoughts back to one calendar year ago. The amount of change in my life is positively dizzying. (Is that a word?)

I’m not just talking about a change in locale.


This morning I heard from my editor that Book #4 is a bit long. I’m not surprised. I had noticed that my original goal was 80-85,000 words. The more recent contract we’re negotiating shows a final word count of 70,000 words. That’s a big change. Especially since I’ve been working very hard to develop subplots that take my books to the next level.


Today, most publishers schedule books to come out yearly. When you think about that, it’s a bit odd. I mean, I watch my favorite shows every week, and they’ve got me hooked. So why is it different with books? I would love to share my Kiki short stories between the book launches. We’ll have to see if I can.


For some odd reason, most of the curl in my hair has just…disappeared. I have no idea now. Maybe it symbolizes that I’m not nearly so tightly wound. Or maybe it’s the result of living near Washington, D. C., where everyone seems to be very, um, personally conservative and straight-laced. Curly doesn’t seem to fit my new life.


Stay tuned. Working on this.


A old friend sent me a ranting political piece she’d written that was totally inflammatory–and then she asked me to critique it. This came totally out of the blue. I thought to myself, “I didn’t sign up for this.” See, when you work at home by yourself all day, and you get something that’s so…ugly, it’s hard to shake the mood. As a wise business coach once said, “The most important thing any entrepreneur can do is protect their confidence.” Translated for writers that becomes, “The most important thing any writer can do is protect her mental state.” I should have told my old friend, “Please don’t send me anything like this again.”


Used to be, I was the new kid on the block. My dear pal Emilie Richards came over for breakfast the other day, and we had a lovely talk about how to write a synopsis, how to keep track of a story in progress, and where we hoped to go with our next books. I reflected at the time that this isn’t a conversation we could have had years ago. I didn’t know enough to ask Emilie the questions I’m asking today. I guess I’m not such a newbie anymore! This lovely blog post by Pam DeVoe confirms it.

Rain, Rain Go Away

When you move to a new place, you don’t know what to expect. I had looked up DC weather before we came, and I thought, “Gee, this is pretty much what I’m accustomed to here in St. Louis.”

Now I’ve discovered they are calling Fall 2009, “A season of soakers.” Yes, it’s evidentally the 15th wettest October on record. Downpours continued and made this the wettest November since 2004. And December is 2 inches ahead of last year. I’m not sure if that takes into account the snow we’ve had and the snow that’s predicted.

What gives?

I walked the dogs an hour ago and stared at the heavy clouds.


Our yard is so wet that I’m thinking, “This would be a great place to try water lilies.”

The dogs’ paws get so muddy, that I keep washing them off in the laundry sink, and the pups are even getting used to this Marine bath situation. (By the way, what is a Marine bath? My mom used to call quick slooshes in the sink by that name.)

It’s a good time for writing. I mean…I have to force myself to get up and get out, but it’s also a hard time for writing because the incessant drum-drum-drumming of rain on the roof at night keeps me awake.


I hope it dries up soon.

I'll Be Attending the National Tree Lighting Ceremony Tonight

I have to admit, I’m having a blast living here in DC. Tonight I’ll be in the reserved seats at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree. I’ll wear a red cap and scarf, so maybe you can spot me on tv!

Hint: Look for the blonde curls, a black coat with a twin poinsettia pin on the upper left shoulder. The “pin” is actually two enamel earrings from my Grandmother Marge, who passed away years ago. I’m wearing the “pin” so that my recently deceased mother and grandmother can attend “in spirit.” There will be only 2,500+ of us in the reserved seating area. After the recent gate-crashing, I’m anticipating heavy security.

I’m proud that our National’s Capital agrees that as the centerpiece of our country, no other piano besides a STEINWAY will do! That’ll be our Steinway on the stage. It won’t be the first time we’ve provided a piano for Sheryl Crow, nor is it likely to be the last!

Here’s the lowdown on the ceremony:

Enjoy the sounds of the holiday season against the backdrop of the National Christmas Tree
and the smaller trees representing all fifty states, the District of Columbia and the
five U.S. Territories, model trains as well as the warmth of the yule log.

For 85 years, the American tradition of lighting a national Christmas Tree has continued, interrupted only briefly in its history during moments of great national travail.

In 1923, President Calvin Coolidge lit a “Community Christmas Tree” on behalf of “all Americans.” A Senator from Vermont, Coolidge’s home state,arranged for a cut fir tree from
Middlebury College to be erected in President’s Park (The Ellipse) for lighting. President Coolidge declined to speak at the ceremony, but he did push a button switch to light a 60-foot tree. Later that evening, the Marine Band performed in concert near the tree.

Sir Winston Churchill appeared on the South Porch with President Roosevelt for the lighting ceremony in 1941. Both men delivered Christmas messages to the gathered throng before sharing the official lighting duties. By the next year, Washington was under a war-imposed blackout. Lights were placed on the tree in 1942 but never lit, and the tree remained