Last summer, bits and pieces of a novel started floating around in my head. That’s often how it starts. A song, a flash of an image, a smell, a memory of the ocean, or camping in the Redwoods – whatever. Sometimes it’s a phrase that comes to me and then before I know it, a story forms.
It can (and often has) taken years for some of these to form. I have a file folder on my laptop with several different novels. I’ve mentioned this before. Because I can’t write them all at once, I write as much as I can – when an idea comes to me. I store it up, so to speak – for a time when I can finish writing the thing.
I’m a “seat of the pants” writer and don’t care much for outlining every little bit of a book. It’s in my head. But as a writer who writes character-driven novels, the plot is secondary to the development of the characters themselves. And so I find that the overall outline in my head is enough.
But I digress. In October I started writing A Thousand Years. And then in November, I wrote the bulk of the 50,000 word novel. It was complete – but not. As I began to edit it, I found some pretty serious issues. But far more importantly, the book just wasn’t coming together in the way that I expected it to. Something was missing.
I’ve had a really hard time letting go of it, however. Though I did consider throwing the baby out with the bath water. I started working on another novel to see if it would catch fire and I could set this novel aside. It just did not. A Thousand Years was still it. This novel is one that’s truly on my heart to write. I’ve prayed some quick, but desperate prayers to God – show me how to make this work – I asked over and over. Well, I think He has. And I am grateful.
I’ve yet to write a summary about this novel – but I’ve shared bits and pieces here, including some of the poetry or short fiction that’s found here. Any post with a tag of “A Thousand Years” fits somewhere into this novel on my heart. While many of the scenes I’ve shared here in the past, are now being altered to fit my re-write – the heart of the novel is the same.
And what’s the heart of the novel? It’s about the messy and complicated way our lives don’t follow a linear trajectory. In the midst of the mess – finding love, family, and healing is possible. One of my favorite gemstones is an opal. Opals are beautiful because of the cracks and fissures in their surface. The messy & complicated in life could certainly mar our lives if we allow it to. Or it could actually be what makes us the best version of ourselves.
I am excited to finish this draft and see what comes next for A Thousand Years.
I didn’t ask the hot football player out. And he didn’t ask me out either. I was a little confused. But then again, I’m not exactly batting a thousand in the dating department, so I chalked it up to harmless flirtation. And then, a few weeks after our opening, on another Saturday we were open to the public, Nolan returned. I was about to give a tour of the winery when he showed up, looking hot as hot as he had the day of the opening. As sometimes happens, in the chaos that is a family run business and being a single parent, Jackson ended up with me in spite of the fact that I was working. Nolan jogged over to my tour, after my Granddad pointed him in my direction. I smiled, because I couldn’t help myself. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if I blushed too. He is quite the sight. All 6’4 of him. He is so very different than Gray. Gray is lean and average in height. He is fair-skinned, with the prettiest blue eyes I have ever seen. Nolan has dark brown hair and the deeply brown, warm eyes. He’s also got a pretty magnificent beard. And though I couldn’t tell the night we met, today – his white collared, long sleeved shirt sleeves are rolled up, exposing an arm full of tattoos on both arms.
“You got room for one more?” he asked.
“If you’re willing to babysit,” I say, mostly joking.
“Sure thing,” he says, making his way toward me from the edge of the crowd. He puts his hands out to Jackson and without hesitation, Jackson goes to Nolan excitedly. I’m a little jealous actually. Throughout the tour, Nolan and Jackson stay close. I’m not going to lie – watching my son with a man – someone other than family or the men on the ranch – who I’ve known my whole life – is an experience I didn’t know I’d need to prepare myself for. I’m oddly emotional. I stuff the feelings and we finish the tour in the tasting room where I ask one of our tasting room staff to take over.
“Do you want to join the tasting?” I ask Nolan.
“No. I came to see you. I wandered off the night we met and lost you in the crowd somewhere around the time the fireworks started. I had every intention of asking you out to dinner. I’ve had some work obligations the last couple of weeks so this is the first I could get back.”
“Well thanks for hanging out with the kid again. I was totally kidding when I said that, by the way.”
“No you weren’t.”
“I wasn’t?” I ask.
“No. I think you were testing me.”
“Is that right? Why would I be testing you?”
“To see if I’m an asshole athlete or if I’m as nice of a guy as you want to believe. And the answer is yes to both. I also know you want to have dinner with me. So, how about it? Will you have dinner with me? This Saturday?”
“I will. If I can find a babysitter.”
Nolan laughs. He’s a cocky one that’s for sure. “You have babysitters crawling this place. And a nanny. So shall I pick you up at 6?”
“That sounds like a plan,” I say, smiling. “I can’t be out too late, you know? I hope you don’t take it personally if I turn into a pumpkin, early.”
“I understand. I mean, not exactly. I don’t have any kids. But I get the gist. I’ll have you home at a reasonable hour, I promise. How does Deetjen’s sound?”
“Perfect,” I say. “Thank you for coming by and babysitting for a few minutes.” I put my hands out to Jackson – who never turns down an opportunity to be held by his mama. Except he turns away, by turning into Nolan, putting his arms around his neck. But then, as if it’s a joke, he giggles. “Jackson Ford, you brat. It’s time for a nap, Bubba. Come on.” Jackson giggles again and then Nolan tickles him. Pretty soon, Jackson is in fits of laughter as Nolan teases him and pretends over and over that he’s dropping him.
Becky, Jackson’s nanny, breaks the spell. She’s just arrived for the day and as I’ve asked her to do, she takes charge without asking for direction. “Hey kiddo. It’s time for your nap!” Becky, one of Jackson’s favorite people in all of the world, is enough to break up the laugh fest.
“Looks like the boss is here, Bud. You have a good nap, okay?” he says to Jackson. Becky reaches for Jackson and whispers, “Say bye-bye.” Jackson, my sweet boy, who babbles a lot, but rarely speaks clearly, says, “Bye-bye!” It’s as clear as day.
“Always full of surprises,” I say, kissing him on his cheek. “Bye, bye baby,” I say.
“Bye-Bye, ma-ma!” he says waving. The tears well up in my eyes and spill down my cheeks. This kid. I blow him a kiss as they walk off toward Becky’s car. Sometimes the littlest things take my breath away. I can’t believe he’s mine.
Before I can wipe my tears or figure out what to say, Nolan reaches into his pocket and pulls out a handkerchief. Such an old-fashioned gesture, from such a tough looking guy.
“Here,” he says. He doesn’t take his eyes off me. He reaches out and puts his huge hand on my arm. He squeezes my arm a little. “I’ll see you Saturday evening.”
“See you, Saturday,” I say, smiling. I clearly don’t know where this is going, but for the first time since Gray walked out on the life we were building, I’m ready to find out.
There’s been a great deal going on these days. My writing has been fairly non-existent (which actually infuriates me). But I hope in the next couple of weeks, I can get back to where I was. Here is “Now I’m Intrigued” a scene from my novel A Thousand Years. You can read other excerpts, here.
The funny thing about life is that you usually can’t imagine that healing is ahead when you’re in the thick of the pain. In the grief – in the anger and hurt of lost love and unplanned single parenthood – you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how good things might be someday. But you do wake up one day and life looks different – different, better. It has been a slow burn – truth be told. I’m happy now. I am content with life as it is. That’s something that may even be better than happiness. Today is our grand opening at Tierra de Dios. I woke with the sun – I’m sure we all did. I’ve been in the barn ever since, prepping tables with center pieces and making sure everything looks exactly like I planned. In the year we’ve prepped and planned for this, I found some purpose and meaning beyond being a mom. It’s not that it’s not okay to find purpose and meaning as a mom – I just needed something more to keep my mind busy. And opening Tierra de Dios has been what I needed. My grandparents caught my vision – between my research, sketches, and the time I’d invested in a business plan – they haven’t once questioned my choices here. They’ve given me this project to run with. They gave me a budget. They gave me some constraints. But for the most part, this has been my baby. They’ve followed me wholeheartedly. It is a good feeling. Racing through final finishing touches, I check the time again – I’ve got an hour to drive back to the house and get ready. Dammit. Why am I like this? I can’t be on time to save my life. I should have been getting ready an hour ago. Though the winery is on my grandparent’s ranch, it takes about twenty minutes to get back to the house – which means I have twenty minutes to look like I’m opening a world-class winery and event venue. Note to self – use the bridal room bathroom to get ready on event days. I have been late all of my life. Being late is how I met Gray Ford. I sometimes still don’t know how to be thankful for that day, without the hurt that follows. I’m thankful because it gave me Jackson Ford Langston. If only all that other stuff had never happened.
The thing about being the only Mexican owned winery on the privileged central coast of California, is that it gets you a lot of attention. The kind that has folks waiting in line for your gates to open, reporters from all over the state swarming, and handfuls of celebrities and athletes – waiting on your grand opening day. Our friends in the community are here too. This is the place to be today. Our opening has been the talk of the coast. The acreage that we own here is some of the prettiest along this rugged Big Sur coastline.
Our barn, on a hill overlooking the Pacific, is in a sweet meadow that gives unobstructed views of the ocean. This land, with its freshwater streams, creeks, and ponds is an emerald green shining beauty. Along the south side of the barn, redwoods and Monterey cypress reach and bend toward the coast. On the north side of the barn, a huge California live oak provides shade and a perfect ceremony spot for outdoor weddings. Stretching further to the north are yucca, sagebrush, native wildflowers, shrubs, and even some cacti. It’s all of California’s beauty in one sweet spot. If you follow a short trail behind the barn, some of our newly planted vineyards stretch up over the hill toward the rest of ours vines, that have been growing on this land since the 70s.
This is a stunning piece of land. And I am beyond joyful that we get to share it now. Driving around back access roads, normally used when we’re moving cattle from one pasture to another, I skirt around the waiting line of cars and park in our staff parking area, out of sight from the barn. My mom has given me crap for so long about my tardiness. I do wish I could change it – but even when I have the best of intentions, I still end up running at the last minute. Which is what I do – I run toward the barn where the rest of the family, and my boy are waiting.
I pride myself on my ability to create a beautiful party. It sounds so trivial when there are so many other things in the world that cry for our attention. As an artist, I feel deeply. I feel other’s pain. There’s injustice all around us. Sometimes I think I can’t make a dent in the world by throwing parties and creating this place of tranquility and beauty in the midst the chaos of the world. But like art, sometimes it’s the beauty that becomes the foundation for lasting change. There’s an overwhelming amount of ugly in our world. Creating time and space for the small joys of good food, good wine, sweet memories with friends, and family – is no small thing. And that’s what we’ve started here. I have shaken more hands, hugged more people than seems normal, and have loved every second of this wild and crazy day so far. The music, the breeze blowing off the water, and the wine and food, are creating this sweet spot of joy in my heart I didn’t know I needed.
It has been hours since our gates opened and between the music, food, and wine – the party is still going strong. My sweet new nanny has patiently hung out – chasing my boy all over – for hours. But I know it’s time for her to take him home. The last time I looked, she’d found a table and contained him long enough to feed him. His busybody ways are nearly impossible to control when people are around. I look back at the table and realize they’ve moved on. I search around through the crowd to see if I can find them. I don’t see them in any of the usual spots. I turn – my eyes searching everywhere. A brief moment of unexplained panic rises up – as if he’s in danger here on land he already knows so well.
When I finally find him, he’s having an in depth conversation with a man I don’t know. Becky, our nanny, is standing with them. Jackson is standing on the stranger’s lap, talking a mile a minute, as if he knows how to talk, and is best friends with a man I can barely see. This kid. I head their way quickly to relieve the patient stranger. “Jackson Langston Ford, you silly boy,” I say, mid-babble, Jackson turns to face me. His smile widens, as if that’s possible. Joy personified this kid. “It’s time for you to take a nap and let this nice dude here, enjoy his Saturday.”
I take a step closer and realize the man he’s suddenly become best friends with is Nolan Carter – a San Francisco 49ers Linebacker. I only know this because someone pointed him out to me a couple of hours ago, as if I’d know who he is. I don’t know sports. At all. Not even a little. So when he looked up at me from his chair, my kid as comfortable as if he’s known him all his days, I didn’t expect the smile or the genuine reaction. This burly professional football player, is clearly enjoying my kid. And people who like my kid are number 1, top of the heap – perfect, in my book.
“Oh he’s fine. I mean, a nap is a nap and I’d never want to interrupt that, but he’s not disturbing me at all. He walked right over here a few minutes ago and told me what was what. I have no idea what we’re discussing, but it is very important just the same, I will have you know.”
“I’m sure it is,” I say, smiling at this charming and very attractive man, playing with me kid. “He’s not known for discussing trivial matters with perfect strangers. Nonetheless, my little hooligan here needs a nap, or tonight and tomorrow will not be pleasant for me or the members of our household. Thank you for entertaining my boy, Mr. Carter,” I say, extending my hand to shake his, after I’ve taken my boy back – where he’s propped on my hip.
“You’re very welcome – Carolina, right?”
“Yes. Thank you for coming today. And again, thank you for being sweet to my kid.”
“It’s my pleasure,” he says, smiling. My stomach lurches. He is one fine looking man. I walk off with Becky and Jackson – giving her a few instructions for the rest of the evening. She has been sweet enough to agree to stay overnight as I expect a very late night. Though I’d initially been reticent about hiring someone to take care of Jackson, I know it’s the right call. She is the perfect person to understand our lifestyle and that we don’t always need her to be off somewhere with him. She is prepared to be part of the action with my boy, as often as possible. I love her already. When I return to the party, after sending them back to the house, I smile as the mariachis start playing. I decided on a unique take – I’ve hired an all-girl mariachi band from Southern California. The lead singer’s voice floats above the crowd, after the band plays its gentle guitar and trumpet based instrumental, opening. Everyone stops what they’re doing to listen to her beautiful voice. As a little girl, my Grandma would play these songs for me, long before I understood their words. The velvety voice of the lead singer, comforts me in an unexpected way, as the music floats up into the night sky. “Great party.” I instantly recognize Nolan Carter’s voice. I turn in his direction, still not 100% certain I’ve heard him correctly.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I said, great party,” he says.
“Thank you. It has been a labor of love to get to this point. Thanks again for being sweet to my kid. He’s never met a stranger, that one.”
“I could tell. Cute kid.”
“He is, isn’t he? He doesn’t look a thing like me.”
“Your husband is fair-skinned with blue eyes?”
“I mean, yes. I mean, no.” Nolan laughs. He has a deep, belly shaking kind of laugh. He’s a bear of a man. I guess that’s why he’s a linebacker. I feel ridiculous standing next to him – all 5’4 of me next to his 6’4-ish.
“Whatever, lady,” he says, winking at me.
“Ah. Got it. You didn’t have to answer, by the way.”
“Oh, it’s okay. I am so used to everyone around here knowing, that I’m rarely asked questions like that.”
“I was really just trying to figure out if you were single or not. I didn’t see a ring but you never know.”
I laugh, because I can’t help myself. I’m not sure how it’s possible that this terribly good looking man in front of me is flirting with me. I’m a single mother – with a toddler at that. “Yes, I’m single,” I say rolling my eyes. “Single parenthood is not usually high on the list of qualities most men are looking for, you know?”
“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been watching you for a while.”
“What does that mean?” I ask, suddenly a little weirded out.
“You’ve been making some waves in the city – with the winery and hiring Chef Silva.”
“Have I now?”
“Yeah. You pissed a lot of people off picking off the Chef from one of the hottest restaurants in town. I kept hearing your name come up and then a friend pointed you out to me at Mulligan’s a few months ago. I’ve been determined to meet you ever since.”
I laugh nervously. How is this even happening right now? “So you’re apparently into the food scene? Wine, too?”
“You could say that. I am hoping to end my football career soon and open a restaurant. I have an Associates from the CIA in St. Helena. They’ve been very patient with my weird lifestyle. I’m also a sommelier. My original degree was in Business Administration. I have big plans for rocking the boat when I retire. So yeah – anyone who shows up on the food and wine scene that rocks the boat, attracts my attention. Mostly because you came out of nowhere.”
“I do like to rock the boat. That is for certain.”
“I can tell. Today has been fantastic. And the food is incredible. You’ve got something really incredible here. The thing is, I think you’ve got way more in you than this. This is the start of a hospitality empire,” he says. Now I’m not certain if he’s attracted to me or he wants to go into business with me.
Reason was my goal in this longing. I am failing. I wanted to see through the fog and confusion to understand. But no matter how much correct thinking and logical reasoning I muster, it’s still you. I don’t hold it against you. I didn’t then and I do not now. In the fog and confusion, I tried to reason myself free, but you can’t tame wild things. I don’t want to be tame anyway. The truth is, I don’t want to lose my ability to understand and live well in the greys. I don’t need black and white and perfect little boxes that I fit my life and feelings into. That’s not who I am. I tried to reason. I’ve failed. It’s still you.
“I live here in this tension, with what will not be, settling into the cold, wild – alone.”