Valentine’s Day—Bah! Humbug! or Bravo!

 

OK, Cupid! (No, I don’t mean the dating website that caters mostly to singles still paying off their college loans.) I’m giving two thumbs up to the Roman god of love, aka Eros to the ancient Greeks, aka the Hallmarkian creation of angelic romantic bliss that hovers in the air throughout the year and lands with a melodic flutter of wings (or a resounding thud) on February 14. 

Valentine’s Day is kind of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get until you sink your teeth into it. In the way that New Year’s Eve is the ultimate dating night of the year—candellight, wine and a midnight kiss with your sweetie—Valentine’s Day is the measure of how well you did selecting that sweetie. At the end of the day, did you revel in a rich, delicious truffle, or did you crack a tooth on an unexpected nut?

Have something sweet on Valentine's Day. The recipe for these cookies is on Nancy Baggett's delicious website: http://kitchenlane.com/?s=heart+cookies

Have something sweet on Valentine's Day. The recipe for these cookies is on Nancy Baggett's delicious website: http://kitchenlane.com/?s=heart+cookies

Valentine’s Day horror stories rival the spookiest Halloween tales. Here’s a Whitman’s sampler. Consider my friend whose supposedly exclusive boyfriend got his cards mixed in his envelopes. Madame X received Madame Y’s card. “Darling Arianna,” my friend Lauren read, and on to a flowery, very amorous poem above the sign-off that began, “Ever yours.” Which, as a result of this farce, boyfriend no longer is, at least for Lauren.

Friend #2 ‘s beloved broke up with her on Valentine’s Day. Imagine, 364 perfectly reasonable days to deliver the message, and he picks that one. To this moment, my friend defends the indefensible. Of course, he should have dropped the bomb sooner, or later. But work got in his way, or travel, or whatever was more important, which was—she sighs—probably everything. Because he wasn’t a bad fellow. Really. It’s just that his timing was lousy. And with a push-off like that, tantamount to getting shoved down a luge run on the Matterhorn, she had no choice but to move on.

Have all my friends been stabbed in the aorta by cupid's arrow? Indeed not. Decades ago, I attended a Valentine’s Day wedding that was done up in pink and cream, lace and satin. It featured bridesmaids dressed in flamingo peu de soie, matchbooks (this is how far back we’re going) imprinted with entwined hearts above the bride and groom’s first names, and a towering wedding cake frosted in pink and decorated with rosettes and hearts. True to their theme, the couple honeymooned in the Poconos where they revolved on a heart shaped bed that played “You Light Up my Life.” Chrissie and Jeff, now grandparents of infant twins, have been lighting up one another’s lives for thirty-five years. 

I personally know of two engagements sealed on the red letter day, one starring a heart shaped lollapalooza of a diamond. Which reminds me that in certain regions, every kiss does not begin with Kay. More likely, it begins with Katz. In New York, where I grew up, diamonds are purchased not at chain stores, but in Manhattan’s jewelry district where “this flawless pear shape just arrived from my cousin in South Africa,” or “this three carat marquise was cut personally by my uncle in Antwerp.” As I write this, I’m glancing at my own ring with its twist of two solitaires, one of which is the diamond my father gave to my mother upon their engagement.

My parents' story is one of those eternal ones, with an ending worthy of Dickens. My dad was a true romantic who found the love of his life in my mom. At seventy-five, he’d proclaim to all within earshot, “Look at that woman’s complexion. Still perfect. Isn’t she beautiful?” Valentine’s Day was his time to shine.  Now, he didn’t believe in gilding the lily. No fancy innovations, just “Tradition!” Unfailingly, he presented my mom with a dozen roses, though she wound up with eleven because he always pulled a single bloom to hand to me. And under his arm, two boxes of candy, Barton’s or Barricini’s, the prime purveyors in Brooklyn back then. A giant red satin heart crammed with assorted soft centers and chews for my mom. A smaller pink heart for me. 

So, when William Devens died on Valentine’s Day, I felt there was something fitting about his date of departure. Not morbid. Bittersweet. A reminder from him about how much he adored my mother and treasured his daughter. I always remember that, but on Valentine’s day, especially.

In midlife, I find I am less like Scrooge (Bah! Humbug!) and more like Marley's ghost, floating on memories of good Valentine’s days past, schlepping the chains of not so wonderful ones. My history is mixed, but bottom line, I’m all for romance and for the day dedicated to celebrating it. So bring on the flowers. Bring on the candy. Hold the diamonds (my insurance premiums are high enough). And hold on to this thought: If you have true love, cherish it. If you’ve ever had it, be grateful. If you’re looking forward, well... you never know. Happy Valentine’s Day and may Cupid bless us, everyone. 



 Time to Think out of the (Sand) Box


     Winter at the beach. Hard sell? Well, sure, because summer at the shore is engraved in our collective memory like the grooves of a scallop shell. The sun baking away stress. The seductive scent of coconut oil. The exuberant sounds of vacationers released from the daily grind. The setting is familiar and cherished by all our senses. 
     Winter—now that’s another season and another story. Where’s the charm of it?  The hot, endless party of it?  Then again, consider walks on nearly deserted shores with the caws of sea birds piercing the chilled, crystal-clear air. Black velvet night skies showcasing stars so close they seem touchable. Blazing sunsets against pewter skies. Snow frosting rocks. The sting of cold saltwater spray and the smoky aroma of bonfires which are prohibited by some beach regulations in summer, allowed in winter. Dogs, too, get the run of some winter beaches.
     Sound lovely? If you want a taste of solitude amid a huge helping of natural beauty without the crowds, the colder months offer both, plus a welcome escape from the pre-holiday madness back home. Ah, but you love the festivities surrounding the December celebrations. You just want them played out against a different background. Then visit the winter beach.  
     Beach towns all across the map are sparkling with holiday activities. Check out the light- festooned Avenue of Trees in Ocean City, Maryland and take a horse drawn ride with Santa in the drivers seat. Nearby Rehoboth Beach, Delaware hosts a Christmas Village Winter Carnival and Gingerbread Decorating with Mrs. Claus. Up the coast in Cape May, New Jersey don’t miss the Dickens Christmas Extravaganza and the Candlelight House Tours.
     On the California coast, you can spot surfing snowmen and Santa arriving in an outrigger canoe. Marvel at the caroling sand sculptures around Waikiki. And there are holiday bazaars, Christmas markets, craft shows and Christmas parades from sea to shining sea. If you stay for New Years Eve, fireworks are at their most awesome over the ocean.  Keep in mind that whether your intent is for a short escape over a long weekend or a full holiday getaway, beachside hotels promote off season discounts and transportation/lodging packages that don’t break the bank.
     One more budget-friendly option: you can escape to another time and place without leaving the comforts of home. Curl up in front of your very own fireplace or under your grandma’s handmade quilt with a book that takes you away. How about the highlands of Scotland when clans ruled and romance flourished among the heather? I love Waiting for the Laird by Willa Blair.  Mary Hart Perry writes about English royals in her engrossing Victorian thriller, The Shadow Princess. For just the right amount of Christmas spirit, read Rebecca York’s White Christmas: A Christmas Fantasy Novella. Or if you’re still craving the summer beach but not the travel, if sleet is battering your windows and local streets are hemmed with slush, cozy up to my latest novel published by Penguin Random house this past - of course - summer.  Feel the sun, the fun and the excitement with Nora (she owns a summer zumba and ballroom dance studio), Margo (she acts and directs at the Driftwood Playhouse, and Emine (she operates a Turkish restaurant), their families, frenemies and close calls with life and love at Barefoot Beach.
     I’ll meet you there.   

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Recent Interviews

 

USA Today: Happily Ever After

What food fuels me through long hours of writing? When percolating a story line, am I a "panster" or a "plotter"? What TV shows do I binge watch? And how did a Groupon discount help my research for Barefoot Beach? These quirky/incisive questions and more are answered in my interview with Joyce Lamb on this USA Today book site

Harlequin Junkie

Different questions posed in another fun interview on a blog that reaches thousands. I talk about the happy surprise I got when I visited forums for wounded combat veterans. Why there's at least a mention of Brooklyn in every novel I write. And what I want readers to take away from Barefoot Beach. Check it out here. (And, yes, there was a book giveaway accompanying the piece. It's over now, but others are frequently posted in the Contest segment under Fun Stuff on this website.)

SOS Aloha Book Reviews and More

Aloha and welcome to this Hawaii-themed site that features a Q & Ain which Kim Lowe explores my writing background, the inspirations for Barefoot Beach, and how I gained fifteen pounds on my first job as an editor-reviewer for a city magazine.  Read all about it here

The launch of Barefoot Beach also inspired invitations to guest on other sites. So...

See my list of "Perfect Summer Reads" on Shelf Pleasure(Don't you love the name?!) I chose five books--fiction and non, brand new and legendary. I guarantee every one's a page-turner (or the e-book equivalent).

Every novelist lives in two worlds. Read about mine and why I'm a happy neurotic "who wouldn’t even consider trading places with the normals who are bound to a single existence" in "My Parallel Universes."  Love this site. We Heart Writing is UK-based with a word-wide reach.  

You'll also find me online daily at https://www.facebook.com/tobydevensauthor/ and on Twitter @TobyDevens   

Stay in touch!


One Reader's Amazing Email

 

 

 

 

   I love receiving letters from my readers! You come up with such wonderful comments and questions. Sometimes, what you write makes me see the book I wrote in a whole new and exciting way.
     Of course, I answer every email personally. If you take the time to read my novels, think about them and send your insights, you certainly deserve a response. So keep those emails coming through readers@tobydevens.com. They make my day!
     Dr. Kim Goodsell’s email did just that. So many coincidences! (My lead character is Judith Soo Jin Raphael; Kim’s grandmother’s name was Soo Jin—now that’s incredible.)
     I’m especially thrilled by the last line, the quote from Kim’s mom! Now Myung Moon Goodsell has her own copy of Happy Any Day Now inscibed to her.
     Stay in touch, everyone.

I loved your book!

Hello Toby,

I just finished your book Happy Any Day Now, and absolutely loved it! I live in Modesto, CA, and was at work one day and saw your book on a coworker's desk and was immediately interested in it. I'm half Korean, almost 50 years old, grew up in Bowie, Maryland, went to medical school in Baltimore (U of MD), and my grandmother's name was Soo Jin. So, although I'm not a musician I identified with your main character. (My 51 year old sister is an engineer and pianist and took lessons at the New England Conservatory while she was in graduate school, so there's sort of a music connection too.) 

I loved all the specifics about Baltimore. Thank you for writing this book, I'm looking forward to reading more. My mother read it too and can't believe you're not Korean, you have too much insider information!

Best regards,
Kim Goodsell


Nora Ephron ~ Everything Is Copy

In her childhood, when Nora Ephron was going through tough times, her screenwriter mother (Carousel, Desk Set, There’s No Business like Show Business) repeatedly gave her a chunk of sage advice: “Everything is copy.” In other words, take your misery and translate it into art. Or, in my words, “Writing well is the best revenge.” Or, on a more benign level, putting it on paper or on the screen makes for a mighty catharsis. As soon as you translate suffering into something witty, or amusing, or simply two dimensional as opposed to the living, throbbing three, it loses much of its power to wrench your heart and mess with your brain. Nora worked through her angst in public. So there is Heartburn, her roman a clef relating the collapse of her marriage to reporter Carl Bernstein, and there are her collections of essays that vibrate with her presence. Her clever, insightful romantic comedies When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail reflected her attitude and drew upon her own experiences—everything is copy, after all.  So her rich and productive life, and how she lived it, seemed to be exposed to a large audience. Seemed. But there was more, and the “more” has been captured in the documentary Everything is Copy, which had its TV debut on HBO March 21 and is available on demand from the 22nd on. 

The piece was written and produced by Jacob Bernstein one of two sons by her marriage to the Washington Post writer who blew the lid off the Watergate scandal. In this fascinating documentary, interviews of Nora’s friends, family and colleagues, old home movies, and clips of her TV interviews invite us to open a door to the good Hollywood and Manhattan times, but also to the days we hadn’t known about when she was fighting leukemia, the final stretch she uncharacteristically cloaked in secrecy. For Meryl Streep and a host of people who counted themselves as close friends, this turning away, turning them away, is inexplicable. For the rest of us, well, we also wondered why she hadn’t chosen to share, to allow us to metaphorically hold her hand, send her cards, drop off, heaven forbid casseroles, but a good bottle of sauvignon blanc. To thank her for being our friend.

 We felt like friends, so much so that the first blog I ever posted, a week after she died, pays tribute to the intimacy she engendered among women she’d never met. I wrote then: “We called her by her first name. Obviously, she hadn't known she was part of our circle, though from the intimate tone of her writing, I imagine she appreciated that what she said and wrote resonated at the deepest level with women. She touched the damaged chord in all of us. You think your neck is crepey? Mine looks like a turkey wattle.” Just what a BFF would say. This new HBO documentary roused old feelings. I miss her. But meeting up with Nora even in retrospect is a wonderful experience. Catch it if you can.


Ten Ways to Beat the Winter Blahs!

December holidays are long past, Valentine’s Day is a memory, and spring is still over the cold and snowy hill. So if you’ve got a nasty case of winter slump, here are some tips to brighten even the longest night.

1. Lighten up! Really. People with clinical mood issues like SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) find they perk up from exposure to full-spectrum/white light that mimics sunlight.  But even simple winter blahs might benefit from this inexpensive method of extending seasonally short days. Prices start at under $10 and a variety of lightbulbs and lamps are available from online sources and at your area’s home and hardware stores.

2.  Sweat it out!! You know exercise produces an endorphin high, right? So head for a workout. Or bundle up for a brisk walk outside. Outside’s too chilly or you’re snowbound? Enough with the excuses. Power up some music and dance your blues away. Zumba to salsas and mambos like the dance studio director, Nora Farrell in my upcoming novel Barefoot Beach. Or achieve inner peace and oneness with a frosty universe through yoga. Beginner instructions are available online

3. Laugh at it. Watch Family Feud, The Big Bang Theory or Mozart in the Jungle. Or tune on favorites from long ago. Enough time has elapsed so everything seems fresh. Re-see Gilligan’s Island and Love Boat for a taste of the tropics. Take in Little House on the Prairie and feel grateful for modern innovations like cell phones, laptops and indoor toilets. Or read for fun. Dorothy Parker’s short stories elicit knowing snickers. Dave Barry is always good for a laugh. And the novel My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet) has been called “witty and wise” by a number of people besides its author (that’s me). 

4. Warm it up. Turning up the heat can be expensive, so bundle with something soft and cozy. Heated throws make a bed or chair warm and toasty and heated wraps can be your own personal “blankie.” Just don’t leave electric warmers on all night. And before closing your eyes, sip a cup of herbal tea. Chamomile has calming properties, and lavender and lemon balm gently ease you into dreamland.

5. Heat it up. Roast a turkey (confession: even deli sliced works). The all-American bird is loaded with the essential amino acid tryptophan which changes brain chemistry and boosts feelings of well being. A turkey and cheddar cheese sandwich doubles the chemical lift. Indulge in other foods that elevate mood: soy products like tofu; eggs—both the whites and the higher-tryptophan yolks; and that miracle fish, salmon, of course.

6. Plan a trip (even if you wind up not going). Browse the contents of 1,000 Places to See before You Die and highlight the hotspots: Los Cabos, Mexico; Bora Bora; Hawaii. Prowl the internet for videos of Bali and Israel’s Eilat Beach. Search online for Gaugin’s paintings and bask in his interpretation of island beauty. Then close your eyes and fantasize.

7. Adopt a pet forever or only for a day or week. Nothing lifts your spirits like someone who loves you unconditionally. Humans do it—but usually only with babies. Pets do it, though snakes and chameleons not so much. Dog and cats (despite a standoffish reputation, cat are super cuddlers) love to curl next to you and most dogs are instant friends. Many shelters foster their charges out for short periods. Or pet-sit for friends while they ski Aspen or sun in St. Thomas.  

8. Buy something blooming. Flowering plants hint of spring which, mid-winter, seems far from inevitable. Try beautiful cyclamen or check out winter-blooming jasmine like J. polyanthum which requires bright daylight, but tolerates cool nights. And don’t forget the stately amaryllis. I especially like the trumpet varieties with “Pink Floyd” a favorite. And leaf (forgive the pun) through bulb catalogues, filled with color and rich with promise.

Get this decadent recipe from cookbook writer and blogger Nancy Baggett. 

Get this decadent recipe from cookbook writer and blogger Nancy Baggett. 

9. Bake something. The act of baking is creative and fulfilling and the scent is comforting. Also, the instant gratification you get from experiencing other people’s pleasure as they consume what you’ve baked (yes, you slaved over it for two hours and they demolish it in two minutes. But still…) creates satisfaction for both of you.

Personally, I recommend baking something chocolate. The sensation generated by dark chocolate mimics that of falling in love, or so scientists say and I believe, having had my share of both.  Here’s a great, decadent chocolate recipe from cookbook writer and blogger Nancy Baggett.

10. Read novels set at the beach to thaw out and, in some cases, steam up. Some of my favorites: Nancy Thayer’s Moon Shell Beach; Elin Hilderbrand’s Beautiful Day; the brilliant Beach Music, Pat Conroy’s tour de force; Ten Beach Road by Wendy Wax, and may I suggest pre-ordering Barefoot Beach, my summer-set page-turner of a novel at your local bookstore or online. 

So don’t just hang in through winter. Celebrate it with sunshine and warmth of your own making and appreciate all of life’s beautiful seasons.

Next time in Fun Stuff: a great giveaway and spring cleaning tips. Visit soon; visit often.


Here he comes, the Roman god of love, aka Eros to the ancient Greeks, aka the Hallmarkian creation of angelic romantic bliss that hovers in the air throughout the year and lands with a melodic flutter of wings (or a resounding thud) on February 14th.

Valentine’s Day is kind of like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get until you sink your teeth into it. In the way that New Year’s Eve is the ultimate dating night of the year—candlelight, wine, and a midnight kiss with your sweetie—Valentine’s Day is the measure of how well you did selecting that sweetie. At the end of the day, did you revel in a rich, delicious truffle, or did you crack a tooth on an unexpected nut?

Valentine’s Day horror stories rival the spookiest Halloween tales. Here’s a Whitman’s sampler. Consider my friend whose supposedly exclusive boyfriend got his cards mixed in his envelopes. Madame X received Madame Y’s card. “Darling Arianna,” my friend Lauren read, and on to a flowery, very amorous poem above the sign-off that began, “Ever yours.” Which, as a result of this farce, boyfriend no longer is, at least for Lauren

Have something sweet on Valentine's Day. The recipe for these cookies is on Nancy Baggett's delicious website. 

Have something sweet on Valentine's Day. The recipe for
these cookies is on Nancy Baggett's delicious website. 

Friend #2‘s beloved broke up with her on Valentine’s Day. Imagine, 364 perfectly reasonable days to deliver the message, and he picks that one. To this moment, my friend defends the indefensible. Of course, he should have dropped the bomb sooner, or later. But work got in his way, or travel, or whatever was more important, which was—she sighs—probably everything. Because he wasn’t a bad fellow. Really. It’s just that his timing was lousy. And with a push-off like that, tantamount to getting shoved down a luge run on the Matterhorn, she had no choice but to move on.

Have all my friends been stabbed in the aorta by cupid's arrow? Indeed not. I personally know of two engagements sealed on the red letter day, one starring a heart shaped lollapalooza of a diamond. Which reminds me that in certain regions, every kiss does not begin with Kay. More likely, it begins with Katz. In New York, where I grew up, diamonds are purchased not at chain stores, but in Manhattan’s jewelry district where “this flawless pear shape just arrived from my cousin in South Africa,” or “this three carat marquise was cut personally by my uncle in Antwerp.” As I write this, I’m glancing at my own ring with its twist of two solitaires, one of which is the diamond my father gave to my mother upon their engagement.

My parents' story is one of those eternal ones, with an ending worthy of Dickens. My dad was a true romantic who found the love of his life in my mom.  Unfailingly, he presented her with a dozen roses on Valentine’s Day, though she wound up with eleven because he always pulled a single bloom to hand to me. And under his arm, two boxes of candy: a giant red satin heart crammed with assorted soft centers and chews for my mom; a smaller pink heart for me. 

So, when William Devens died on Valentine’s Day, I felt there was something fitting about his date of departure. Not morbid. Bittersweet. A reminder from him about how much he adored my mother and treasured his daughter. I always remember that, but on Valentine’s Day, especially.

In midlife, I find I am less like Scrooge (Bah! Humbug!) and more like Marley's ghost, floating on memories of good Valentine’s days past, schlepping the chains of not so wonderful ones. My history is mixed, but bottom line, I’m all for romance and for the day dedicated to celebrating it. So bring on the flowers. Bring on the candy. And hold on to this thought: If you have true love, cherish it. If you’ve ever had it, be grateful. If you’re looking forward, well... you never know. Happy Valentine’s Day and may Cupid bless us, everyone.