The Hart Home│I Wrote This 13 Years Ago Today

Facebook reminded me of this private note that I wrote myself 13 years ago today. It was my senior year of college. I was accepted into several graduate programs, one that was going to take me abroad for two years. My high school/college boyfriend of 5 years and I had broken up for the last time, it was such a period if change and coming into my own. I sometimes wonder how different my life would be if I had gone, but then I look at my two little boys and my husband and realize my life is really good so how can I ever think about changing it? This reminded me though of that after college life and that promise of all things new and exciting:

***

“Graduate School”

I think back to my Sotheby’s interview (still nothing from them or Christie’s) and I remember walking through the streets of New York and feeling like this was going to become my world be it at Sotheby’s or elsewhere. I just felt it all fitting and making sense to me for the first time since I was at the Louvre in a tiny room with a cute curator who asked me what I wanted from life and art.

I never dreamed then that a year later I would be preparing to move to Paris. After all, I was the girl who loathed French class after freshman year of high school. When I got to college, I wanted nothing to do with it until I found art history and got accepted into Gopin’s class for the summer. It was like finding an old lover that knew me better then anything else I have dared to reach for in my lifetime.

It knew me. It knew me from the moment I stepped off my hellish flight from London and now I’m going back to be a EuroLush for two more years. I can only wonder what this is going to bring me. Will I fall in love? Will I meet the man I’m supposed to marry? Will I meet a best friend? Will I want to live there for the rest of my life? Will I be offered a position at the Wallace Collection or some other swanky auction house? Will I find where my soul lies?

I’m swaggering on the promise of a life about to be reborn away from anyone I have ever dared to love and it does upset me, but at the same time it brings with it such a sweet and lasting freedom. I have always lived in the past, afraid of letting go of old relationships and memories, but I feel as though that fear is slipping away and I am becoming the woman I always dared to be.

And I am doing this in Paris, London, Florence, and Brussels. I am living. I am living more so than I ever thought that I would.

View from my flat in Paris. Summer 2007.

The Hart Home │The One That Ends in A Lot of Dog Shit

Picture it.

It’s 7:30 PM, both kids are in bed snoring. My husband puts on Call the Midwife.

We settle in, tucked underneath our feather quilt and my favorite cat blanket. I am half watching the show and half reading the Reddit I am currently addicted to: WattsOffTopic.

My husband falls asleep. The house is blissfully quiet. I decide to sneak out of bed for some of that alone time I never get. I am envisioning writing, maybe reading a little, perhaps even taking a deep dive off into Reddit. The sky is the limit.

Only, Logan wakes up and it’s 10:00 PM so that means he has to nurse right away and go back to sleep or he’s going to be up.

I am not fast enough. He is up. So, I make him a peanut butter and then a peanut butter and jelly. I fill his water bottle with a little grape juice, he takes his tablet, puts on his songs and we go back upstairs.

Rory has also started baby led weaning, which is important to a later part of this story. Molly, our cane corso, has always enjoyed this age with our kids because it means she gets snack droplets rained upon her if she’s sitting by the high chair. Molly also has a sensitive stomach.

Logan eats most of his food, drinks his juice, wants more boob. He’s settling again. My husband wakes up, and sits playing on his phone. Then…

“Do you smell shit,” he asks, taking the phone away from his face.

“Uh, no. I smell bleach though from cleaning the bathroom.”

“I definitely…I definitely smell shit.” He gets up to investigate, shaking his phone to get the flashlight on. “I smell it to the point of almost tasting it that’s how— OH GOD.”

And there before him lie the beautiful, brown mound. Molly was kind enough to relieve herself on my husband’s sweatpants and then hide under the bed.

“SHE SHIT IN MY SWEATPANTS. IT’S NOWHERE ELSE BUT IN MY SWEATPANTS!!!”

I can now smell it too, and it is overbearing. I start laughing so hard I am crying. Logan, now distracted from his tablet starts coughing and shaking his head. It STINKS! And just when you think it can not get much worse, my husband takes his pants into the bathroom to shower them off before he washes them. The smell only permeates more as the hot water and steam infuse with the l’eau de dog shit. We are all now gagging.

Rory wakes up in the middle of the chaos. My husband is now yelling about the nose burning scent of dog poop and his frustration that the baby is up.

“There is just going to be so much shit,” he’s fuming as he scrubs. “When she gets sick like this it goes on for DAYS.”

I am trying to quiet down both kids and get them back into bed. “Her old cage is in the garage. We can just put her in there until she’s feeling better.”

My husband scoffs, irritated, like I said the dumbest thing. “We CAN’T put her in the garage! SHE WILL DIE!”

Trying to be a better wife and not roll my eyes, I take a slow breath before I explain: “No. I meant the cage is in there and we can get it and put her in the house in the cage so if she goes again it’s a simple hose down of a kennel and not shampooing new carpeting.”

He mumbles and eventually disappears to get the cage. I get the kids settled and take out both dogs.

“If you EVER BRING A DOG HOME AGAIN…”I hear him griping as I let the dogs in.

Fans are all full blast. Both kids have yet to fall back to sleep. Molly is in her kennel. And then I remember that I didn’t put Behr back into his belly band and he has had 20 minutes of bandless free reign as I sat to write this.

And then I hear, “BEHR!!”

He comes back into the office with his belly band several minutes later…

Welcome to the chaos and the night that ended with 5lbs of dog poop in one pair of sweat pants.

The Hart Home │The Fastest Winter of My Life

As our family was sitting down to dinner today, my husband lamented about just jacking the heat up because he was tired of being cold. We bought this gorgeous house with two beautiful fireplaces thinking they would get us through winter, only by the time the chimney sweep came to clean them, we found out both need work before we can use them and gas for heating, is expensive. We have been drafty this winter, but next winter, we have a new game plan and I reminded him that March was already next Monday and we wouldn’t be using the heat that much longer anyway. So, stick on your sweater and your fuzzy socks because spring is almost here!

“Seriously? Wow. This was the fastest winter of my life,” he exclaimed.

And of mine too. We moved into our new house over Thanksgiving weekend and then it was suddenly Christmas, even though that really didn’t feel like Christmas either, I blinked again and here we are.

View of one of the lakes in our town. Courtesy of Google Images.

I am still virtually teaching and being a mom at the same time. I view this year at home as a blessing in that I got a whole year home with Logan and I have been home with Rory since he was born. I wouldn’t trade this time for anything, even on the difficult days where Logan is losing his mind and Rory is too. It’s hard to only ever be home with two little boys that want to explore and run and play.

I enrolled Logan in a toddler gymnastics class which he seems to just love, I wish we were able to go more than once a week. He loves getting to run around and play with other kids. Rory has entered the all about mom stage. He has to be with me at all times or the world is ending. It is the most flattering “I love you so much,” but also can be hard when I just want 20 minutes to myself to shower, or to read or blog or even just change the cat box.

I am supposed to be going back to in-person teaching in May and the thought actually makes me sick. I can not imagine the stress and the tears of having to adjust 8th graders, who are graduating in a month at that point, to being in school with masks on all day in a building with no AC after having been out of the physical building for more than a year. Oooof…is all I got. Compile that all with the thought of leaving my babies for the first time in over a year too, I don’t know. Part of me wishes I could just teach online until my kids are in school so I don’t miss anything, but I know that’s wishful thinking.

Recently, I have been focused on fixing up our new house. I started with the kitchen. As I get money together, I have been upgrading appliances, painted the cabinets and updated the knobs and have been slowly pealing off the popcorn ceiling. And for the record, we have it in EVERY. SINGLE. ROOM. Why was this such a fad? Now it’s old, crumbly and tacky looking in every room. It’s easy enough to get off, but I am limited to only working when both kids are napping so what would have taken me an afternoon when it was just Phil and I can now take me up to a week to get done, but I will get it done! I am determined to finish the kitchen this year. This summer, I know I will have to paint the outside of our house and if I have any energy left, maybe I will be able to scrape the popcorn off in our dining room and living room and paint in there. It would be cool to have an entirely spruced up outside and downstairs by next fall. Hopefully, the kids cooperate.

Other things I am looking forward to with the warmer weather: taking the kids down to the lake, taking the kids to the zoo, having dirty martinis on out screened porch with my husband, watching Logan getting to play with his favorite sprinkler in his backyard, planning our kids’ birthdays, enjoying Easter and spending more time with friends and family

Book Review│Contempt by Michael Cordell

Thane Banning is a former real estate attorney who has spent the last five years of his life in prison, some of it on death row over a murder he claims he did not commit. Released on a technicality, Banning is determined to clear his name and prove that he did not murder Assistant District Attorney Lauren McCoy, that they are claiming he did. However, life on the outside is proving just as hard as it was for him on the inside. The victim’s father wants him dead and everyone he comes into contact with are either scared of him or want him to pay for his crime since he was released on a technicality and not because he cleared his name. Banning is up against a lot as he tries to navigate his life after prison and prove his innocence.

Then, he gets a call from his old jail friend and fellow ex-inmate, Skunk. He has been charged with the murder of retired police Detective Ted Gruber who also happens to be the officer that arrested Thane on the night that he was charged with the murder of Lauren McCoy. Despite having no experience in trying murder cases as an attorney, Banning decides to take on Skunk’s case which is where this legal thriller really takes off.

Not only does the powers shift with Banning’s taking on of Skunk’s case, but the DA that put Banning away for McCoy’s murder is not only trying Skunk’s case, but is also up for re-election. District Attorney Stone’s re-election, however, is not looking too promising as he won his first election on the back of winning Banning’s murder trial years before. Stone becomes obsessed with winning Skunk’s murder conviction to win public favor and thus, his re-election as district attorney.

Alongside the murder trial, there is also the personal life of Thane Banning. He is trying to put prison behind him, clear his name as well as navigate his relationship with his wife that he hasn’t seen in three years because he wanted her to move on from him. All of which is extremely difficult to do when you have the general public believing that you got away with murder and have the victim’s father out to ruin you because he wants justice for the loss of his daughter. All spun together, this makes for a well-paced legal thriller that will keep you turning the page.

Cordell is a trained screenwriter and it shows throughout the novel. He is also a playwright and novelist, and has sold three screenplays to Hollywood including “Beeper,” which became an action-thriller starting Harvey Keitel. He has an extraordinary ability is casting a scene that yo can easily visualize as you read. Contempt does not disappoint!

Book Information

Contempt by Michael Cordell was released on July 27, 2020 by TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610805. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review│The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn

At the heart of this legal thriller, are the family dynamics between two brothers: Travis and Jake Lynch. The two have been at odds for ten years and even their mother nor their wives can seem to get the two to make a mends. However, outside events are going to bring these two feuding brothers together whether they like it or not. Fate has an ironic sense of humor when the death penalty is what makes the two brothers face each other after being torn apart for years over the very same thing.

Years ago, Travis begins to turn his back on his privileged upbringing when he was working on a capital murder case. He goes so far as to even hide evidence to get the killer out of facing the death penalty. This is his turning point where he becomes a virtue-singling jerk bent on living in poverty and taking on any and all pro-bono work at the expense of his family and marriage. In stark juxtaposition, his brother Jake becomes a staunchly masculine character that is prone to heavy drinking and who has maintained his weekly lunch dates with his parents while Travis as remained distant and obtuse. Thrown into the mix is their successful sister, Claire as well as their wives, Shirley and Rita and crime reporter, Christine Morton who are all well-written characters who help drive the plot of the story with their own bits of drama and manipulations.

The feuding brothers are reunited in court under a drug-deal gone wrong. Dubbed “The Rich Kid Murders,” Jake acts as prosecutor wanting to put behind bars the sociopath that killed two “rich kids” and left a third one paralyzed, Sam Park. Travis in contrast, eagerly takes on Sam as a client because he feels indebted to Sam because he failed Sam’s brother years ago. We learn early on that both Sam and his brother are sociopathic killers who gleefully committed their crimes which seems odd since Sam’s parents are described as being sympathetic to him, but yet still managed to raise not one, but two cold-blooded sons.

Hartshorn weaves an intricate crime scene with a killer that is not overly discoverable at first and casts it among a group of well-written characters and family dynamics that are not only believable but interesting in their own right. Overall, Hartshorn creates an in-depth legal thriller that will leave you wanting more after each page. It is well-paced and filled with scenes that will keep you reading– there were many where the tension between characters, especially the two brothers became almost palpable.

Book Information

The Guilty Die Twice by Don Hartshorn was released on March 1, 2020 from TCK Publishing with ISBN 1631610732.This review corresponds to a paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

The Hart Home│9 Days…

Where we began…our little house by the ocean.

One of my goals for myself when I was in college was that I wanted to own my own home by the time I was 30. I also wanted to live at least a year completely by myself before I got married. Ultimately, both things came to be in my life. I lived a life as a single girl in my apartment in Bordentown, NJ for a year before I bought my first house at the shore a year later and made a huge commitment to my husband who at that time was only my boyfriend by moving in together.

Our engagement photos.Asbury Park, NJ 11/2016

Our home here always felt transitory for me. It is an hour away from my job, from my side of the family and from most of my friends. We bought it as a foreclosure with the idea that we would live here and build a life together before ultimately selling it. I was ready to sell it once we got engaged, but ultimately, we wound up staying three years into our marriage and two kids later.

Our Wedding Day. 11/2017

It worked out in the end for us though and I am so incredibly excited to be moving into our forever home in just 9 days. However, I am sad that we are leaving our little house by the ocean. We moved in here just as a boyfriend and a girlfriend when I was just starting my first PhD classes and from that, we got our first dog, then another dog, and then we got engaged. Then, we were married, and before we knew it Logan was here, I was graduating with my PhD and then, we had Rory. This is the home of our beginnings and as eager as I have been to leave it for our much nicer home in South Jersey, there is part of me that will miss this little house that we fixed up from the ground up.

Welcome Logan! Summer 2018

We’re leaving it now as a family of four with our tiny zoo. I am sad to see this chapter of our lives ending because in so many ways it felt like it just started. However, we’re trading in our life here to start a new one with a much easier commute for me and much more room for our boys…and who knows what kinds of surprises our new home will bring us. It is also exciting.

Hello Rory! Summer 2020.

The next 9 days will be bittersweet.

Our forever home.

Book Review │ The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis

Anyone else feeling the pressures lately of the pandemic? I know it is getting the better of me. It is very hard to be buying and selling a home while teaching from home at the same time with two babies underfoot. There are days where I just want to scream because I feel myself getting pulled in a zillion directions. I must have repeated over a hundred times, “I just need 20 minutes to myself” to my husband…daily.

When I finally started to get those 20 minutes daily, I knew I needed more of an escape so I picked up Ida Curtis’s The Nun’s Betrothal. I was immediately transported to ninth-century France where Gilda, is just about to take her vows to enter the convent. A long cry from my modern working-mom life in New Jersey!

However, just as Sister Gilda is about to take her vows, she becomes tasked, along with the handsome Lord Justin, to investigate the marriage of Count Cedric and Lady Mariel for evidence of the need for an annulment. Together, they uncover that Lady Mariel believes that she actually married Cedric’s half-brother, Phillip, at the their marriage ceremony and that Cedric is planning to marry Lady Emma once the annulment is granted.

Rather quickly, Gilda and Justin are thrown head first into the dramas and struggles of courtly life as they try to sort out the truth while fighting to ensure that everyone gets their happy ending. Curtis shines in her mystery of being able to set the mood of a historical period well. It brought to life the court of King Louis, the Pious and really illuminated the mystery that Gilda and Justin were working to solve. Along the way, the two do fall in love and there is a separate romance that develops between them.

Unlike other romance pieces, Curtis takes a different approach and rather than having an overbearing father or even the King, disapprove of their match, she rather has the struggle be Gilda’s desire for her own freedom to be what causes tension between the two. Gilda has to decide if she wants the freedom that life as a nun would give her in terms of her independence or if she will too find that in Justin and in true love. I enjoyed the breaking away from traditional romance tropes and that Curtis allows her characters to marry for love or decide to not marry at all…which realistically probably would not have occurred many times during this time period, but it was a fresh approach overall and if you’re also like me and can do without the bodice-ripping genre of romance…then you will enjoy this novel.

The Nun’s Betrothal is the second book of a series with Song of Isabel being the first. Ida Curtis was a Connecticut native that went on to call both Canada and Seattle her home. She was a retired college advisor and a polio survivor. She resided in Seattle with her husband Jerry until her passing in January 2020.

Book Information

The Nun’s Betrothal by Ida Curtis was released on July 7, 2020 by She Writes Press under ISBN 1631526855. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │Have you Seen These Children? by Veronica Slaughter

As this pandemic feels like it will never end in New Jersey, I am struggling to balance virtual teaching, a newborn, a toddler, selling our house and buying our new one all while trying to keep myself writing. It is a crazy time in the Hart Home for sure. Sleep is a short lived commodity, so it was a very big deal for me to give up a night of it to finish Veronica Slaughter’s Have You Seen these Children?.

Her memoir tells the story of how her American father kidnapped her and her siblings from their mother in the Philippines, bringing them to the USA where they moved constantly from state to state to avoid being found. They lived a life full of fear and abuse as the hands of their father. As a mother, I was immediately drawn to the story because I wanted to make sure that these children eventually got home to their mother and away from their abusive father. I was taken down a late-night roller coaster of emotions that left me sobbing in parts reading what Veronica, Valerie,Vance and Vincent endured and lived through at the hands of their manipulative father.

As a mother, this memoir encapsulated my worst fears: having my children kidnapped and having no way of protecting or rescuing them. They were taken from their mother at such pivotal ages that even after being reunified, their experiences at the hands of their pathological father shaped their adult lives and their future trials. Veronica was 8-years old at the time she was taken, and while not the eldest still had the maturity to know the importance of keeping them all together as well as raising and protecting her younger brother. In many ways, it is her wherewithal that keeps the children together and makes this tragedy one that could have had a much worse ending.

Overall, Have You Seen These Children? is a bitter-sweet memoir that will keep you glued to its pages until you have finished it. It will make you laugh and cry as well as play on some of your worst fears. At its heart, it is a tale of love and the trials that we face in ensuring that love remains even if we don’t all get a Hollywood ending. Even in all of the hate and tragedy, the message is still clear: love and sibling bonds can and will survive even when evil wants to destroy them.

Book Information

Have You Seen These Children?: A Memoir by Veronica Slaughter was released on August 18, 2020 from She Writes Press with ISBN 1631527258. This review corresponds to an advanced paper galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │ Dopeworld: Adventures in the Global Drug Trade by Niko Vorobyov

Written as a travel log meets commentary on the state of the global drug-trade, former drug dealer Niko Vorobyov weaves a true crime narrative that asks the age-old question: why aren’t drugs legal?

Born in Leningrad during the last days of the Soviet Union, Niko Vorobyov enjoyed a comfortable upbringing from two well-educated parents before falling into the drug trade in London. His crimes would take him all over the world from the streets of St. Petersburg to the mountains of Chile and into the suburbs of Colorado. Vorobyov weaves together his experiences with the history of drugs from around the world including the policies and laws that dictate them.

For years, the United States has had a war on drugs and has dealt out harsh punishments with most of our criminal justice system overrun with drug dealers and users, however, the US is still one of the hardest hit nations when it comes to the drug epidemic. Vorobyov brings to the forefront the fact that countries that have legalized drugs have lower drug-related offenses and even lower drug abuse overall which will leave you wondering…what is the “right” way to handle controlled substances?

In Dopeworld, we’re taken on a mixed ride of personal experiences, historical facts and the social and economic divides that make someone who is able to control a drug habit versus someone who is quickly labelled a crack whore and written off from society. Told in an Anthony Bourdain type of voice, Vorobyov blurs the lines between cultures and people, bringing to the light the taboo subject that has divided people for ages: drugs and how we use them.

About the Author

Niko Vorobyov is a former drug dealer turned writer who spent time incarcerated over his dealings with drugs. He has written several articles for numerous websites with Dopeworld being his first novel. Born in the former Soviet Union, he currently resides in the United Kingdom.

Book Information

Dopeworld by Niko Vorobyov is scheduled to be released on August 18, 2020 with ISBN 9781250270016 from St. Martin’s Press. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Book Review │The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

If you are someone who enjoys horror novels that build on suspense and intrigue throughout before delivering a by your seat kind of ending, then The Only Good Indians is a summer read that you’re going to have to pick up. In a similar vein to Stephen King’s It, Jones plays on the idea that what you uncover years ago will eventually come to find you. There is no running from your past and what your past has created or in Lewis’s case, manifested by his younger self’s poor decision making to elk hunt in a place where they had no right to do so and, who along with his friends, took more than they would ever need. Their kills manifested something powerful that now, a decade later, is wanting its revenge.

We meet up with Lewis, a Blackfeet, who is now in his 30’s. He has lived off the reservation for sometime and works for the post office. He is happily married to Peta and has a solid life. One night, a light appears above the mantel in his home and so he climbs a tall ladder to see what is causing it. When he looks down, he sees the bloodied body of an elk that he has killed years ago and still holds its hide. Startled, he loses his footing and is sure that he is about to meet certain death on the brick beneath him when his wife intervenes and saves him. His friend Ricky, an accomplice to the illegal hunt years ago, is not so lucky, however. He has already met his end in the parking lot of a bar at the end of an elk’s antlers.

Thus, we are thrown into the world where Lewis and his remaining friends are fighting for their lives along an unseen force that is bent on revenge for their choices they made when they were young. These group of men are relentlessly chased by the monster they manifested when they killed the elks years ago. We shift from third person to first person as the she-elk-monster seeks her revenge on them and then back to third for the grand finale. There is much blood and gore and yes, if you are like me, the killing of the dog and the descriptive nature of the scene will leave you marred for days afterwards, but overall, this horror novel that mixes with Native American lore is a great pick for a late night read when you’re looking to stay up late and have your darkened living room feel like a creepy den of subtle horrors.

What I liked most about this novel is that it was not only a well-written horror piece, but it was also generally well-crafted and invited higher literary elements into the text such as the use of Native American lore, symbolism and several themes that helped to drive the tension of the novel including Lewis’s guilt over marrying a white woman, life outside of the reservation and the plays on sanity versus descent into madness.

“Death is too easy. Better to make every moment of the rest of a person’s life agony.”

About the Author

Stephen Graham Jones is a Blackfeet Native American author with over 20 titles to his name. He holds degrees from Florida State University, University of North Texas and Texas Tech University. A native of Texas, Jones is currently the Ivena Baldwin Professor of English at the University of Colorado Boulder. For more information be sure to visit his website.

Book Information

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones was released on July 14, 2020 from Gallery Saga Press with ISBN 9781982136451. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review.