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    August 2012
    11 - Nancy Martin
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The Joys of Going Home Again

I apologize for this post being late today. I was out of town until late last night, and was sick for half the trip, so I wasn’t up to trying to get online and think of what I wanted to say. Then, of course, I had to work today. Still not feeling great, but my brain’s working. 🙂

Anyway, the trip was from PA to Massachusetts for a family reunion and some college tours. On Sunday afternoon, we had a little free time, so we drove the half hour or so out of our way to my old hometowns, Feeding Hills, Agawam, and Southwick, Massachusetts.

It was the first real opportunity to show my kids where I grew up. They’d been up there a lot, but not since my mom died in 2003, so they didn’t really remember. I showed them my schools, the tiny apartments we lived in, the two miles I had to walk every day to junior high (“she definitely walked further than you did, Dad!”), and the convenience store across the street where my mother would send us to buy her cigarettes. (The girls were appalled. I had to explain that it was legal then. 🙂 )

What really amazed me wasn’t what had changed, but how little had. You kind of expect things to be different when you’ve been away from a place for a long time. Businesses close or change, buildings get torn down and replaced or new ones built in formerly open space. But I was really surprised at the number of little mom-and-pop stores and restaurants that were still there 30 or more years later.

The best part was going all the way back to Southwick. I lived there from the age of one, when my parents moved back to the States from England and took over my grandmother’s lake cottage, until they divorced when I was seven. The house and street were HUGELY different. Partly because I was teeny (at 7) when we left, so the size of my yard and house didn’t match my memories. But also actual change. They’d built a second story on the house, but the backyard was completely gone (homes built where there used to be woods). There’s a lake at the end of the street. When I was a kid, everyone could go down the path to a tiny little sandy beach with a swimming area they raked out every year. If you strayed from the raked area, you’d sink into ankle-deep muck from the leaves that fell in. Now, it’s still beautiful, with the trees and vegetation growing up to the edge of the lake, but it was private now, with boat docks built where the beach used to be. I wasn’t sad or anything, but it no longer felt like home.

But then we drove to town to see if my favorite place was still there, and it WAS! (See the picture above). The Summer House was just an ice cream stand when I was a kid. I would swear it was the Friendly’s Summerhouse then, because I was always confused that all the other Friendly’s were restaurants and this one was primarily a stand. I didn’t get the childhood favorite, pistachio, because A) they didn’t have it and B) it’s no longer a favorite. But I got one scoop of chocolate chip and one scoop of peppermint stick on a sugar cone, as when I was little, and I felt very gleeful as I sat there doing the frantic lick-and-spin to get the drips and tilts under control.

My husband kept trying to get me to get out of the car (in the rain!) and stand next to signs and buildings so he could take a picture, and I didn’t want to. I wasn’t being sentimental, just showing the kids where their mom grew up. But all bets were off when I saw The Summer House. I jumped out of that car so fast!

So where’s the special place from your past? Do you ever get to go back? If you have, what was it like?


Adventures in Not Going Anywhere

A Matt Cohen hug. (Not Number One receiving it, though.)

Last week was Number One’s 17th birthday. She has always been very easy as far as birthdays go. Never really wanted parties. Short gift lists. Dinner at Tokyo Diner. One year, I told her we could go to the Salute to Supernatural convention for her birthday, but then I made her pay for the ticket, so I felt guilty and got her photo ops with every celebrity she wanted, and took her to Ruth’s Chris for dinner. Once you’ve felt Matt Cohen’s back muscles, everything after that is anticlimactic.

So this year, when she asked for only one thing, I really wanted to give it to her. Chris Colfer (Kurt on Glee) had a book coming out *on her birthday*, and the launch of his book tour was taking place in Philly, and she really wanted to get a signed copy from him. So I said okay.

Then I started trying to figure out how to do it. I work 2-3 hours longer on Tuesdays, but I figured if I got to work early and pushed to do everything fast, I could get out early, pick up Number One and her best friend, and drive to the outskirts of Philly, which is about an hour and a half away, hopefully with enough time to get in line and get a book.

Then I found out it’s not actually on the outskirts of Philly, but in New Jersey. North of Philly. And east of Philly. and THREE AND A HALF HOURS away. Longer with traffic, which of course there *always* is.

I was determined to get on the road as soon as possible. We’d probably get there an hour before the signing, if we were lucky and never stopped to pee. Assuming I wasn’t underestimating the fandom, which I knew with absolute certainty that I was. I dreaded driving 7 hours round trip, getting home at somewhere around 2:00 a.m., and being empty-handed. But I would give my daughter her single request for a birthday celebration.

And then Number One forwarded me a link to a Tumblr post where someone had called every store where Colfer was signing, and got all the details of the process. Our store was going to open at 8:00 a.m., an hour early. People were required to go inside and buy the book, then get in line and wait for the signing to start. At 7:00 p.m.

Okay, so I’d take the day off, even though I’d just taken a week’s vacation and would only be back for a day. We’d leave at 5:00 a.m. That meant Number One’s best friend would have to sleep over and skip camp that day. They’d hopefully still have books when we got there at 9:00, and then we’d wait in line.

For eleven. freaking. hours. And then drive home, arriving at 1 or 2 in the morning. I’d have to get up at 6 for work Wednesday. Ugh.

I asked Number One if it was worth it to do all that, and get about 10 seconds to talk to him. She admitted that it wasn’t, and hid her disappointment from me fairly well. She’s the best kid ever.

But I’m the worst mom ever, because I’ve been rejoicing ever since. I tried to order a signed copy because the store says you can do that, but they wouldn’t ship this one and were kind of jerks about it. Her father picked up the book on his way home from work that night, and she was incredibly happy to have it, anyway. So that’s something.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever done to make your kid happy?

“Vacation Highlights” is Probably the Most Boring Blog Title Ever

But guess what I’m giving you today? LOL

We just got home from Orlando, Florida. I have to admit, not much about the state appeals to me. We went for an extended-family vacation 10 years ago, and I’d have been quite content to never go back except that my husband’s youngest brother is down there with his two kids, and so is Harry Potter.

We couldn’t get down there in April for my niece’s quinceanera, so we decided it would be our vacation destination this summer to make up for it. It was a great excuse to visit Hogsmeade and Hogwart’s School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

We got there late afternoon Saturday and went swimming in the pool near our condo unit. At 6:45 p.m. For 45 minutes. In the shade. And it was cloudy. Guess what? All four of us burned. Guess what else? I was the sunscreen Nazi all week after that. We got little scorches here and there, but no major burns, thank goodness. (Note: Fed up with substandard sunscreens, I recently read this article and followed their guidelines. They worked!)

Monday we dragged Number Two to Cocoa Beach. She hates it.

Raised-in-New-England Me: “I have to admit, even though the water’s too warm, it’s clearer than back home.”

Number Two: “No, it’s not. It’s full of sand.”

But her father likes it, and Number One does to a certain extent, and that two hours was the only time I completely relaxed and felt at peace. I could lounge in the ocean for days.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. I think overall we liked Studios better. The layout is SO much more walking friendly, especially for people who hate crowds, and the rides were better. Though by the end of the day we were really tired of the format: Shuffle into a room. Wait. Get talked to, either by a video or a person. Shuffle into another room. Wait more. Get talked to more. Go into the main ride/room. Enjoy the main feature. Leave.

Our favorite ride was the Mummy. Number Two hates roller coasters, too, but she proclaimed this one “awesome!” Why? It was indoors, and in the dark. They could have done anything to her as long as she didn’t have to see it coming. 🙂

But the real highlight of the whole trip was Hogsmeade and the castle.

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, this is a must. Yeah, it’s the most crowded area of the more crowded park. But it’s FANTASTIC. The details they’ve put into it are incredible. We couldn’t stop staring up at Hogwart’s. The Hippogriff and Dragon rides are fun, too. But the most cool things (besides the castle) were drinking Butterbeer and shopping in Honeyduke’s, Zonko’s, Dervish & Banges, and “Filch’s Emporium,” the latter of which is the main store at the end of the castle ride. We skipped Ollivander’s because we have wands and they had a long line outside.

Okay, you have to overlook that they combined Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley in one place. 🙂 And I’ll admit, most of the things we bought we could probably have gotten elsewhere, possibly for less. But there’s something special about buying a Marauder’s Map mug under Hogwart’s, while on a fantastic vacation with my family. It’s a symbol, not just an object.

I know the Internet is full of reviews and advice about attending the parks and everything, but here’s mine anyway.

Buy the Express Pass. If you go for two days, get it for two days. And buy in advance. We saved $80 doing that, though the cost of tickets and express pass combined choked me. The line for Despicable Me was a wait of 100 minutes. We got on the ride in 20. It’s the best way to be sure you get to do everything you want to do, and not spend your entire day waiting. It gets you preferred seating in the shows, too.

The meal deal works, but I wouldn’t do it again. We did it for the first day and got more than our money’s worth since we stayed to park close. We wanted to eat in the Three Broomsticks the second day, and ended up eating in another sit-down restaurant, too. The prices for the Meal Deal restaurants aren’t low, but they’re more reasonable than I expected. It’s nice to get dessert, but that was the weakest part of the meal for me. There was a good range of choices, and the food was decent, but I wouldn’t have minded eating less.

Wear a hat. I think it saved me. We were lucky, because it was only super-hot in the mornings. Wednesday it was actually cool after a storm went through (while we were in Hogwart’s! Bonus!). Thursday not so much, and the hat made the sun half tolerable.

Did you go on vacation this year? Where, and how was it? If you ever visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, what did you think?

Excerpt Wars

I’m on vacation this week, so instead of a full post, I’m posting short excerpts from my three romantic adventures, the first scenes with the hero and heroine together, and I want you to vote for which one you like best!

Fight or Flight

“Nice buds.”

Regan snapped her phone shut and shoved it guiltily into her pocket. Kelsey had been at school for weeks, and you’d think she’d have adjusted by now. But it didn’t matter how many times she told herself to leave Kelsey alone, she couldn’t go more than a few hours without checking on her. It was borderline psychotic.

But not something she wanted to explain to the man lounging against the wooden fence between their yards, leering at her. She groaned at his lame attempt at innuendo and shielded her eyes from the sun.

“That was really bad,” she told him.

“I know. They’re not buds, they’re bulbs.”

She shook her head and stood. “Why do I put up with you, Tyler Sloane?”

“You don’t have a choice.” He paced her down the fence as she walked to the end and grabbed another handful of bulbs. “Where’d you get those moves, anyway?”

She frowned and returned to her original spot. “What moves?”

“You stood up all at once. You know, one move. You used to be a dancer or something?”

Regan sighed. Ever since Tyler had moved in next door two years ago, he’d quizzed her like this. She never told him anything—had, in fact, fed him quite a few contradictory lies. He seemed to find the game delightful. She was tired of it.

“Not a dancer? Maybe a ninja.”

She snorted. “Leave me alone or this dirt I’m digging might fly a little far afield.”

“Yeah, right. You can’t get me from there.”

She flipped the trowel, and lumps of dirt hit him in the chest.


“Told you.”

“All right, I give.” His bantering tone disappeared. “Actually, I wanted to ask you a favor.”

“You can ask.”

“I’ll be going out of town soon. Can you pick up my mail and paper and water my plants while I’m gone?”

“You don’t get the paper and you don’t have any plants.” She’d caught him stealing her newspaper enough times, and he just wasn’t the kind of guy to nurture houseplants.

“Oh, yeah, right. Mail, then? And just keep an eye on the house?”


He didn’t say anything else, and she stopped digging to look up. He stood there, studying her.

“You still seeing that Alan geek?”

“He’s not a geek, and yes. Why, you interested?”


She laughed, but he didn’t. She set down the trowel. “Seriously?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You never were before.”

He shook his head, the smile sitting sadly on his mouth. “You weren’t paying attention. Anyway, thanks for taking care of the mail. I’ll bring you a key before I leave.” He tapped a fist on the top rail of the fence and turned to go into the house.

Behind the Scenes

Rogan watched the group striding toward them and weathered a surge of adrenaline. The guy and two
women wore nearly identical expressions of determination, and though he’d watched them come in
and knew they were with the new security team, they didn’t inspire warm fuzzies. More like fight or flight.

The bodyguard who’d been assigned to him for weeks stiffened and stepped forward, putting himself in front of Rogan. He checked his instinctive move to the side to see better. Being protected wasn’t coming easy to him, but he was learning.

The tall brunette in jeans and a leather jacket seemed to be in charge. She held out a hand to Rogan’s bodyguard.

“Kennedy Smyth, SmythShield. This is my team.”

She gestured to the group that had fanned out around her. “Anything we need to know?” she asked the
bodyguard, who shook his head.

“It’s all in the briefing report.”

“Okay, then. We’ll take it from here. Thanks.” She patted the man on his upper arm, closing in on Rogan and dismissing her predecessor.

Whether it was the patronization, the touching or the dismissal, Rogan wasn’t sure, but the man’s face darkened an instant before he grabbed Kennedy’s arm, swinging her around. Her guy—about half the size of the one he was replacing—crushed Rogan back against the wall, shielding him. Somehow, in that second, his old bodyguard wound up on the floor, Kennedy’s foot on his neck and his arm twisted between her hands.

The other female SmythShield operative shielded Bailey, while Bailey’s former bodyguard laughed.

“Nice work,” the guy on the ground said, grudgingly. Kennedy let go and helped him up, and the guy on Rogan eased off so he could at least breathe.

“Just testing,” his former guard said in a clearly insincere apology.

“SmythShield doesn’t need to be tested.”

He shrugged. “Reputation sometimes exceeds ability.” He motioned to Rogan and Bailey. “They’re all yours.”

“Thank you.”

Dismissing him for real this time, Kennedy turned to Rogan and his costar. “Let’s try this again.” She flashed a smile, and gone was the warrior she’d been a moment ago. Rogan was impressed despite himself. He wouldn’t have guessed she had any charm in her, from the way she’d taken control.

“I’m Kennedy. We have a three-person personal detail on you two and M.J., where the threat has been focused. We’ll be doing pretty much what your last personal security did, but we’re probably more intense. Similar rules. You don’t go anywhere without one of us. You don’t enter a room, outside of this building, without one of us checking it first. If you see anything suspicious or of concern, signal us. We’ll be watching. Don’t worry about looking paranoid. You won’t get laughed at. You will get scolded for not communicating with us. Got it?”

They nodded, Rogan suppressing an ill-advised grin. Kennedy focused on him. “You have any problems being guarded by a woman?”

“No, ma’am.”

Acceptable Risks

Lark dropped the hose and picked up a clay pot, swinging it at her attacker’s head.

“That’s enough.”

Startled at the voice behind her, Lark pulled her swing and spun.

The man was young, only a couple of years older than her, and good looking in a sparkly-blue-eyes, pale-blond hair, tennis-muscles kind of way. But the glee on his face almost made him look ugly.

“What the hell is going on here?” she demanded, still angry. “How do you people keep getting in?”

“Yeah, we’re gonna tell you.” The blond eyed the other man, who whimpered and rubbed at his face. “Did you blind him?”


He tsked. “That doesn’t make me happy.”

Lark didn’t say anything. If these guys knew anything about her, they weren’t surprised by her response to their attempt to steal her work. And her, apparently.

“Oh, well. Come on, Donald.”

The man tried to follow the command. The tennis blond reached for Lark’s wrist. She attempted to jerk away, but he was ready for her and held on.

“Ah-ah!” He held up a finger. “Your father taught me well. And unlike you, I’ve used what he taught me for years.”

Lark frowned at him. “You—what?” Her mind raced as she leaned away from him, her arm stretched out. Pieces came together, clicking quickly into place. Her father’s business might be struggling, but he had few true enemies. Her heart sank. “You’re Isaac Kemmerling.”


He smiled. “Daddy talks shop at home. Great, that saves us the whole getting-acquainted period.” He laughed and tugged on her arm. “Come quietly and no one gets hurt.” He turned to leave.

A man Lark hadn’t seen creeping up on them slammed his fist into Isaac’s face. He crumpled without a sound, his slack fingers sliding off Lark’s wrist. She gaped at the new guy. He was blond, too, but a darker color that would bleach into streaks in the sun. His skin tone was “computer geek” but his body was—well.

Then he looked up, and all the edges of her vision went fuzzy and dark. She swayed and blinked fast to bring it back. A hard, warm arm wrapped around her back, grounding her, and she stared up into the green-gold eyes of a dead man.

“Jason,” she breathed.

He grinned. “I guess Matt didn’t tell you.”

Before she could respond, blue-uniformed security men flooded the building, fanning out and scampering up aisles, peering under tables.

“They’re over here!” she called.

“We have to go,” Jason said, his arm tightening around her.

“I can’t, I have to—”

“We have to go now.”

Lark didn’t argue. She should stay with company security, talk to the police, make sure the two men on the floor—one still, one writhing—were taken into custody. But this man was her father’s best friend, and though she hadn’t seen him for years before he died, she trusted him.

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Maternity Leave Stories!

Shawna’s not quite ready to come back from maternity leave, so you’ll continue to get a little more of me on Tuesdays. 🙂 In honor of her full attention being on the new addition to their joyfully full household, I thought we could share some of our own maternity leave (or other baby-related) stories here.

Four days after I found out I was pregnant (surprise!) with Number One, I got laid off from my job (surprise again!). I already knew I was going to be a militant breastfeeder, so I didn’t look for another job until my husband was panicking over my unemployment running out at about the same time we’d have diapers and everything else to buy. Long story short, I lucked into a job where I was going to be able to take the baby to work with me every day.

I wanted six weeks off. They wanted me to take two. We compromised with four. Somewhere in the third week, after my husband was back at work and my mother was back in Massachusetts, I called him, sobbing hysterically with a screaming Number One on my shoulder. She’d been like that all day. Just generally unhappy with anything I tried to do. And while I had accepted the reality of that for one-on-one care and could handle it at home, I was freaking terrified of trying to do it at work. We had people on the phone! And doctors seeing patients! How the holy hell was I going to be able to take care of my demanding child and answer phones and transcribe reports and do everything else?

Well, as is usually the case for new mothers, I just did it. We figured it out. People helped me. The patients that came in where generally grumpy workers’ compensation patients being forced to endure an Independent Medical Evaluation, but a smiling, cooing baby cured even the worst attitudes. Our neurosurgeon would carry Number One around between patients, chatting with her while he scanned medical records. We had our moments, and the days were long and exhausting, but they were also pretty tremendous.

By the time Number Two came on the scene, I was secure in my position and had the leverage to demand the full six weeks maternity leave most new moms get. I cherished every single one! (And don’t tell Number One, but her sister was a bit easier to handle, too!)

Your turn! Tell us an enduring memory about your maternity leave, or something you want to share about your babies, however old they are now.

Goody Bag Winner

Thanks to everyone who commented on my entertainment post on Tuesday! The winner is ERIN! I’ll e-mail you, Erin, but if you don’t get it, please contact me at natalie AT nataliedamschroder DOT com.

Scroll down to the last two posts to see all the Romantics’ pets and who belongs to whom. 🙂

The Continuing Complications of Entertainment

I read recently about this new technology called AutoHop that Dish TV is offering to its DVR subscribers. It allows them to press a button and skip all commercials on a recorded show (with restrictions). This has led to court shenanigans between the cable provider and the broadcast networks. Vivek Khemka, VP of product management at Dish TV, says “People have been fast-forwarding through commercials since the beginning of DVRs.” Ha! How old is she, 22? We’ve been fast-forwarding through commercials since the invention of the VCR, which is quite a few decades longer.

I’m actually pretty bothered by the whole thing. I mostly watch TV via DVR, so yeah, I fast-forward commercials. But at least I’m still seeing them. People watching live get up to go to the bathroom or get a snack, so they often don’t see them at all. AutoHop means you have no idea what commercials there were and don’t even have a chance to happen upon one. Fast-forwarding means if something looks interesting, I’ll stop and watch it. Doesn’t mean I’ll buy the product, but that’s a whole ‘nother discussion.

This case is just a symptom of bigger issues that have been plaguing the television industry for a long time. Broadcast TV (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, and the CW) is still free, but it’s not easy to capture. So most of us pay for cable or satellite. We pay them for access to networks, and they pay the networks. Many people are moving to Internet TV of some sort, or watching online days or weeks or years after the original airing.

Revenue streams are complicated. Non-“reality” TV is expensive to produce. Studios produce a show, then contract with networks to air it. Networks present it to advertisers to get income to offset the costs of the production contract. If advertisers know we’re not watching at all, they’ll stop paying the networks, who then can’t pay for original content. *poof* goes quality television.

There have been skirmishes of other sorts, too. The owner of two of our local network affiliates fought with DirecTV a few months ago, so they shut down our access for a few days. Both blamed the other for greed. That happened with the owner of two other local affiliates back in January and Verizon. Dish and AMC are now doing that dance. I wonder how the advertisers feel about that.

All of this is mirrored in other industries, too. For a while, there was fear the movie industry would collapse because of competition from Blu Ray and surround sound, affordable DVD, and on demand. Even though things have evened out a little, only certain kinds of movies turn a big profit. Music companies and their performers make most of their income through live shows rather than sales of albums and songs. At least, until the performers have to cancel gigs because burnout has made them sick. And we’ve all seen how this manifests in the book industry, with the tidal wave of available books and the intense debate over pricing, with the behemoth, would-be world conqueror Amazon being treated like a bullied little mom-and-pop, and with agents struggling to stay relevant.


All of this chaos has its pros and cons for consumers, but I’ll stop talking now and see what you have to say about that. This should be my last fill-in post for Shawna, so let’s go out with a prize. All commenters will be entered into a drawing for a surprise pack of goodies! So weigh in with your thoughts on the state of the entertainment industry today! (Comments through midnight Friday, June 29, EDT, will be included in the drawing.)

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