Tell Me Your Love Story . . . Mommy and Daddy

253191_10150894471864145_311115938_nThis is one love story that is very near and dear to me, since without it, I wouldn’t be here. Also, I got to witness a lot of it up-close and personal.

 

In March of 1943, Harry and Marian Thompson had their second child. Their first son had come into the family via adoption, as Marian thought she was unable to have biological children, but then about eighteen months later, she was proved wrong. They named their son Robert David. His middle name was after Marian’s brother who had been killed at Guadalcanal the autumn before; Marian was still grieving.

Bobby as he was called by his family was born in Philadelphia, although the Thompsons lived in New Jersey.

In July of 1943, in Billingsport, New Jersey, Robert and Martha Murray had their thirteenth child, a girl. As they were both over forty years old, Martha had suspected this pregnancy was a tumor before she realized she was in the family way . . . again . . . twenty years after her first child was born. They named the little girl Juana Regina after the nurse who had helped deliver their daughter Barbara five years before, but they mostly called her Jeanne or Jeanie.

Over the next 14 years, Bobby Thompson and Jeanie Murray would cross paths, though they never actually met. Both moved to Pitman, New Jersey (Bobby in 1949 and Jeannie some time in the mid-1950s).  They went sledding as children on the same hill in the small town of Pitman. They had mutual friends. But Jeanie, like her siblings, attended Catholic school, and Bobby went to public school.

But in 1957, Jeanne began high school at Pitman High. Outgoing and vivacious, she joined the cheerleaders and enjoyed her classes. But it was at a school dance that autumn that her life really changed. She was standing in the gym when one of her friends pointed out Bob Thompson, a guy well-known in the class as a football player, baseball player and class president. The friend had a crush and wanted to ask him to dance. Jeanne volunteered to tell Bob that her friend was interested, but somehow once she got over there, she ended up dancing with him instead.

13227791_10153871193734145_2852587171300094900_oBy that spring, the two were going steady, and they never stopped.

After high school, Bob went to West Point. For four long years, Jeanne made the trip up to the Academy every weekend. She didn’t miss a football game or a hop or any other event. As a matter of fact, when I was up there last May for my dad’s 50th class reunion, as many people recalled my mom as they did their classmate, my dad.

Ten days after graduation, on June 19, 1965, Bob and Jeanne were married at the Presbyterian Church 217898_10150894471319145_757475488_nin Pitman. Bob spent the next year going to Ranger School and Airborne School as he prepared for his first tour in Vietnam. He left in August 1966 . . . and when he left, I was already on my way.

They did meet in Hawaii that December for R&R, but Bob didn’t come home until June 1967. I was almost three months old by then. Another tour of Vietnam came when I was two years old. Those heartbreaking separations took their toll on both Bob and Jeanne, and they vowed thereafter that they wouldn’t be apart if they could do anything to help it.

Bob left the Army and began working for Proctor and Gamble, and then left that company to fulfill a lifelong dream of going to law school. He graduated in 1979. By that time, we were back in New Jersey, after living in Pennsylvania and California, where my sister was born.

While Bob attended law school, Jeanne went back to work as a secretary. She was glad to quit, though, once he was finished; being a wife and mother was all she’d ever wanted, and she was happy to be back at home, where she also helped Bob with his work on a regular basis.

Over the years, they gained a reputation among friends and family as the closest, most devoted couple 560265_10150894471504145_1024709765_nanyone knew. Neither liked to be away from the other. They did enjoy travel, though–Maui being the favored destination–and they were consummately focused on their family: children and grandchildren came second only to each other.

In early 2001, Bob was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, caused by his exposure to Agent Orange during Vietnam. Although he was very ill, Jeanne determinedly nursed him through an autologous stem cell transplant and into remission for nearly four years. In 2005, when he came out of remission, a subsequent bone marrow harvest was unsuccessful, and on June 9, 2006, forty-one years to the day after his West Point graduation and just shy of their 41st anniversary, Bob passed peacefully out of this world. He was 63.

Jeanne was grief-stricken, so much so that for a while, we chalked up her own sudden onset of symptoms to that emotional break with the man who had been her entire world for nearly fifty years. But two months after his death, she was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and was in the same hospital, on the same floor, where her husband had just died. She fought valiantly to overcome the disease, receiving a bone marrow transplant from her sister Barbara. But whether it was the strength of her disease or her own broken heart, Jeanne left this earth one week shy of the one year anniversary of Bob’s death. She was 63.

527738_10150894471649145_997763577_nThere were friends and family who noted in the wake of my mother’s passing that they could never imagine the two being apart, so they were not surprised she had followed him so quickly. And that may be true. I like to think they’re together now in a place like Maui, which would be their heaven, for sure.

They left a legacy of a strong marriage, deep love and commitment to the family above all else.

What’s Cooking? Chicken Espagnole (Hanging By A Moment)

Various herbs and spices on black stone plate

By her own admission, Quinn Russell isn’t much of a cook–or at least she’s not very interested in the kitchen. (Will that change in Days of You and Me? Hmmm . . . stay tuned . . .) But her friend and college roommate Zelda Porter does love to cook and is something of an amateur chef. In this scene from Hanging By A MomentQuinn catches her friend making a special occasion meal . . .

“What’re you doing?” I closed the dryer and started it up, stepping away from it so I could hear Zelda.
“Uh, I’m cooking.” Her voice held a faint tinge of . . . I couldn’t read it. Embarrassment?
“Cooking? For you and Gia? Well, aren’t you a good roommate?” I flopped onto the sofa. “You never cooked for me.”
“No, doll, I’m not cooking for Gia. I have a . . . date. I guess. Sort of.”
If she had told me that she was a spy who was cooking for the head of the CIA, I wouldn’t have been more surprised. Zelda was predictable only in her cynicism about romance and relationships. She had regular sex with an abundance of men, and she liked men, but she didn’t trust them.
“Uh . . . okay. Can I ask the name of this date?”
“You can ask, but I’m not going to tell. This is way outside my comfort zone, Quinn. It’s probably not going to amount to anything. If I’m wrong and it does . . . then you and I can talk. I’ll tell you all the down and dirties. But until then—if there is a then—I’m going to play it close to my chest.”
When I didn’t respond right away, she hurried to continue. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Quinn. I just don’t trust me. I’m going out on a limb here, and I’m actually scared shitless.”
“Zelda.” I crossed my legs at the knee and kicked one foot in the air. “I’m not insulted that you want to be, um, discreet. It’s your business. But don’t be scared, okay? You are the most incredible woman I know. You’re beautiful, you’re funny and you’re smart. Any guy would be lucky to date you. So don’t mess this up just because you think you’re not the relationship type, okay?”
Something sizzled on Zelda’s side of the phone. “I appreciate everything you said, Quinn. I don’t necessarily agree with you, but still, I’m grateful. I can only promise to do my best.”
“Good. Have fun, and don’t think I’m going to forget this. When I get home next month, you are so cooking for me.”
She laughed. “You got it, doll. We’ll be in our new apartment with a real kitchen, not this lame ass kitchenette. So I’ll make you something special to celebrate moving in, okay?”
“It’s a date.” I giggled at my own joke.

So who was Zelda cooking for, and what did she make? Well, no spoilers here–though you may have guessed the who–but I can tell you that for her mystery date, the enigmatic Ms. Porter prepared Chicken Espagnole, a dish that tastes fabulous and looks elegant but is actually fairly simple to prepare. This recipe was adapted from one served at The Gumbo Shop in New Orleans, where I’ve enjoyed all their food on multiple occasions.

If you want to know more about Zelda’s secret lover, preorder Days of You and Me–and then get ready for her spin-off standalone book, Wildest Dreams, coming in 2017.

Zelda’s Chicken Espagnole

2 small chickens, backs removed, cut in half

CHICKEN SEASONING:

3 tsp Italian seasoning

2 tsp cayenne pepper

4 tsp black pepper

4 tsp white pepper

5 tsp onion powder

5 tsp garlic powder

2 Tbs paprika

4 Tbs salt

***

3/4 cup butter

3/4 flour

VEGGIES:

2 medium  onions, roughly cut

2 ribs of celery, chopped

1 medium green pepper, chopped

SAUCE SEASONING:

3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp sage

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp white pepper

1 tsp salt

***

4 cups chicken stock

6-7 baby bella mushrooms, sliced

5 green onions, diced

Directions:

Place chicken halves in roasting pan with sides at least 3 inches. Sprinkle CHICKEN SEASONING over chicken and roast in 400 degree oven for 40 minutes. Remove and set aside.

While chicken roasts, in a large pot melt butter and add flour to make a medium roux. Add VEGGIES and stir until coated. Cook about 20 minutes, then add SAUCE SEASONING. Cook until combined, then add chicken stock slowly, stirring well. Bring to a boil and cook on low for about 20 minutes. Add mushrooms and green onions, mix well and remove from heat.

Spoon sauce over chicken in roasting pans and return to the oven, roasting at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes or until chicken is tender. Serve over rice.

True love is contagious . . .

This is a bonus love story, in honor of their 41st anniversary. 
 
14212121_1422372777795170_2938044446641630502_nI don’t know all the details of how Aunt Terry and Uncle John met, except that it was in high school, and probably, if I know them, through friends. They’ve been together ever since.
 
I met them in 1985, when I began dating their nephew. He was at West Point, and I was still in high school. When he was home for a weekend, he invited me to a family dinner, which was completely overwhelming. I came from a large extended family, but they were not like this: there is nothing like an Italian family gathering to completely overwhelm a girl! I was sure I’d never remember the names. My only safe spot was with a sweet four-year-old little boy, who invited me to sit on the floor and play cards with him.
That was little Johnny, and before too long, I got to know his parents, Terry and John. Although all of Clint’s family was kind to me, there was just something extra about these two. They were open, welcoming and charming. Pretty soon, their house was my favorite place to visit with my boyfriend!
Over the thirty-one plus years that have passed since our first meeting, I’ve been blessed by this couple in ways too numerous to list. But all the details boil down to this: in their world, there are no ‘in-laws’ or degrees of relation. You are family. Pure and simple. I never call them my aunt and uncle-in-law; long ago, I decided that they are my family, and sometimes I think I forget that we’re not technically related by blood.
Their house is my home in New Jersey. It’s where I feel welcomed and loved and accepted, no matter 13173351_10153842439344145_2850996556114927587_owhat. Their love created this home. They are my children’s safe place, the surrogates for the grandparents my kids lost too early. All of my kids feel this way; I think it was Cate who said recently, “Aunt Terry just wraps me up in love.”
I’ve written them into books. Uncle John is in The Posse as the supplier of the infamous limoncello (he really does make it, and it really IS delicious!). They were the basis for a couple in The King Quartet. From day one, they have both been supportive and encouraging of my writing–they even hosted a signing for me at their dance supply store in New Jersey.
But the point is this: forty-one years ago, these two people committed to love only each other. But in doing so, they started a ripple effect that has changed countless lives, including their family, oodles of friends and their community. The love they share–which is beautiful and still romantic and an example 309843_10150295466734145_6500775_nfor all of us–has reached out to encompass others. They gather in, rather than closing off; they embrace rather than divide. They choose to love, even when that choice is difficult.
And they love in truth. Uncle John will tell you, to your face, when he thinks you’ve done something stupid. But then he’ll pull you in for a hug and do whatever he can to help you fix it. Aunt Terry will defend you to the death, no matter what, even when she’s helping you to solve your problems.
Romance is wonderful. You know that I’m a big advocate! But it’s even more wonderful when it spreads over the world in the form of a love that never ends.
Happy anniversary, Aunt Terry and Uncle John.

Blame it on Pearl Jam

I believe 'cause I can see . . .

You know, there are songs and then there are songs.

The first time I heard Pearl Jam’s Future Days, I was speechless. Breathless. I cried. This song . . . the music and the lyrics . . . they utterly destroyed me.

At the time, I was writing I Choose You, the third book in the Perfect Dish Romance series, and the song influenced the very end of the story.

I almost never use the same song twice in two different books’ playlists, but when I began naming the books in the Keeping Score Trilogy, I kept coming back to Future Days. I’d already decided on When We Were Us, and it was important that the third book incorporated an ‘us’ or . . . a ‘you and me’. As I listened to the lyrics of Future Days, I knew I’d found the title of Book 3.

I believe,
And I believe ’cause I can see,
Our future days,
Days of you and me

This is so much Quinn, and Leo, and Nate. Leo could have sung this song. It is a song of love, of forgiveness, of reaching a place of acceptance and looking forward . . . it IS this book.

And so there was no doubt that this song had to be part of the play list. I’ll admit, too, that I listened to it rather a lot as I wrote Days of You and Me. 

This playlist is one of my all-time favorites. I have a feeling I’ll be playing it for a long time to come, and I’ll never hear it without thinking of Nate, Quinn and Leo.

 

Two weeks until football–let’s talk parties and food!

 

Football

Is there anything that goes better with football than food? The perfect Sunday afternoon party has to include dishes that are delicious, fun and easy to eat. Each dish is the perfect opportunity to score big for the home team!

The top five must-serve football foods for the 2016 season are:

  • Beermosa Let’s face it: mimosas aren’t really football drinks. In those prissy little flutes, they don’t hold up to yelling at theIMG_2732 refs or chest bumps when your team scores. But a beermosa, served in a sturdy mason jar, is just what you need for a Sunday late morning or early afternoon gathering . . . or basically any time.  My recipe is simple: two fingers of orange juice, then fill the jar with my favorite beer. I used Bud Light with Lime, to add a little more citrus kick.
  • Buffalo Chicken Pinwheels Wings are a football party staple, but they’re a mess to make and to eat. These pinwheels give you a taste of buffalo and bleu cheese together without all the napkins! They’re quick and easy to make, and they go a long way. There are many variations, but this is one I like.
  • Roasted Garlic Cheese Dip Football party dips have to possess enough ooomph to knock down a linebacker. This one seems delicate enough, but it packs a punch. The cheese is rich, FullSizeRender 22but it’s the roasted garlic that makes this dish soar like the pigskin through the uprights. Serve this dip with toasted croutons, and you can’t go wrong.  Find the recipe here.
  • Tot Skewers Plain old French fries are so 2014. And even if you dress them up with cheese and bacon, they tend to become soggy–and hard to eat. But these tot skewers are a step up: they stay crispy, and they’re super-yummy, too. The ranch seasoning is the secret here–get the whole story!
  • Bread Bowl Chili Having a football celebration without chili is a definite flag on the play. But serving it up in a way that’s new and fun is the real challenge. That’s why these adorable bread bowls are perfect. They contain just enough chili to satisfy–and these crusty sea salt and rosemary rolls are just the thing to add both flavor and a brand-new way to enjoy it. Pipe a little sour cream over top to form the football stitching and add FullSizeRender 20some creaminess.  Use your own favorite chili recipe, scoop out the rolls and dish it up.

I’ll be serving all these dishes on September 27th, when we celebrate the release of DAYS OF YOU AND ME. I think Leo would approve of this menu!