Friday, August 14, 2020

The life and times of Caroline Leavitt’s lucky talismans

HALLIE EPHRON: I’m so thrilled to welcome the fabulous Caroline Leavitt to JRW. I just finished her compulsively readable new book, WITH OR WITHOUT YOU, and I know it’s one I’ll be thinking about for weeks to come. Reviews are appropriately peppered with words like intense, astonishing, and  amazing. 

It's the story of a pair of 40-somethings, practical nurse Stella and her long-time husband and rock musician Simon. She falls into a coma and emerges… how? I don’t want to spoil it. Kirkus nailed it in its STARRED review, asking: “What if Snow White woke up and decided she didn’t much like Prince Charming?”

Welcome, Caroline!

CAROLINE LEAVITT: Uh oh. Here is it again, book tour time for With or Without You and that means I need a new talisman.

The whole talisman business started when I first went out on tour ten years ago. I was shy back then (Honest!) and the thought of having to stand in front of hundreds of people, or even two, made me panic. My hands shook. I was so nerved up that a friend suggested a talisman. “Something to make you feel you are empowered,” she told me.

So I went trolling through Ebay looking, not sure what I was looking for and then I saw it. A pair of short blood red cowboy boots. Ten bucks. I knew the woman who would wear those would be a kickass woman who would own any stage she stepped on. So, readers, I bought them.

The first time I wore them, my heart clenched. But then I looked down at my feet and strode onto that stage and for the 40 minutes I was up there, I was that woman. I stayed in character right until I could collapse back in my hotel room and be my own shy self.

And the funny thing was, the more I wore those red boots, the more I actually DID become that woman. I was braver! I began to share more, and when I shared the story of the boots, to my surprise, people began coming to my readings wearing cowboy boots of their own.

I’m no longer shy, but I still need something lucky to wear. I wasn’t sure what it was going to be, except that I was tired of the boots, and of the boots persona, too. I didn’t need them anymore.

Last week, my husband and I were in Costco buying boring staples when we passed the rack Costco always had for earrings. An earring connoisseur (I have 75 pairs, the more unique the better), I always scorned that rack, but this time, a pair drew me. They were long and golden, and they had subtle sparkle, and there on the spot, they called to me. The kind of woman who would wear them wasn’t afraid of anything, but not in the red boots kickass way—in the “I have nothing to prove and I love their earrings and I am wearing them” way.

Reader, I bought them. My talisman!

So far, I have worn those lucky earrings at three Zoom events. I fully intend to wear them for the thirty-rive more Zooms I have. And for any time I need to feel like I am special. Are they really magic? Do they really ensure that I feel special?

I don’t know. But I’m not willing to find out.

Do you have a talisman you love? Lucky socks? Unlucky ones or ones that wore out their welcome? (Perish that thought!)

I’d like to know. 



Caroline Leavitt is the New York Times bestselling author of Pictures of You, Is this Tomorrow, Cruel Beautiful World. Her latest just-off-the-presses novel With or Without You is a Good Morning America August Book Club Pick, and a best book pick, from Popsugar, Bustle, AARP, and LitHub. It’s also a Public Library Association Buzzed Book, and a Publisher’s Weekly Fall Book of Note. Caroline is a blogger/columnist for Psychology Today and her work has appeared in Lit Hub, The Millions, Modern Daily Knitting, Modern Love in the New York Times, New York Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Daily Beast, and more. She teaches writing online at Stanford and UCLA Writers Program Extension, as well as working with private clients. Visit her at www.carolineline.com

With or Without You
(Algonquin Books) is about a long time NYC couple in their 40s, Simon, a once famous rock and roller about to get another chance and Stella, a very practical nurse who wants him to settle down and grow up. While arguing, they drink and take a pill, and in the morning, Simon wakes, but Stella is in coma. When she emerges, she has a new personality and a startling new talent that gives her the game Simon yearns for, and she’s not so sure about, which impacts both the couple and Libby, Stella’s doctor and best friend. Based on a real-life coma experience Leavitt had after the birth of her son.

With or Without You is an August Good Morning America pick and is recommended as one of the best new books by Bustle, Aarp, Popsugar, Bustle, LitHub and more.

Our talismans...
Margaret Hamilton's toucan socks.
Hallie's mother's earrings
Hank's grandmother's watch
Pat's dream catcher
Gigi's ring

Send pictures to me! ghephron "at" comcast dot net


76 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Caroline . . . what an intriguing idea; I’m looking forward to finding out how things turn out with Stella and Simon . . . .

    Unfortunately, I don’t have [but I definitely need] a talisman or I will forever be the one lurking in the background . . . .

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    1. Oh you HAVE to get one, even if it's a charm you tuck in your pocket! xxx

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  2. Congratulations on With or Without You, Caroline. The idea of emerging from a coma a different person is fascinating and frightening at the same time. This sounds like a read that will keep me spellbound.

    I don’t have a talisman, but it sounds like a great idea. My father always carried a buckeye in his pocket, and I actually have two of them. Maybe that would work for me, too.

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    1. Buckeye - I had to look it up - they look like chestnuts. Edible (always my question)? I realize whenever I have something to do that's especially special (like my daughter's wedding, a book launch), I wear a pair of my mother's earrings. But because they're clip-ons (I don't have pierced ears) I'm terrified I'll lose them. So far so good.

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    2. A buckeye! That's genius. Yeah, it works as a hypnotic I think!

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    3. Not edible for human or cattle. I looked them up too.

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    4. Sorry I didn’t get back to this earlier. No, the buckeyes aren’t to eat. I remember now my father saying something about carrying one to ward off arthritis or rheumatism.

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  3. Caroline, congratulations on With or Without You.

    I don't think I have a lucky talisman these days. Back when I was still coaching, I wore the logo T-shirt for the sci-fi movie Serenity and it did serve as kind of lucky talisman as my team won 21 games in a row while I wore it.

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    1. Jay, what did you coach? 21 games in a row! I'll say it was working.

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    2. Hallie,

      I've only ever coached basketball. I was coaching a girls team. We won the summer season with a perfect 9-0 record and then followed that up with a perfect 12-0 record in the winter season.

      I was particularly proud of that winter team (which was 3rd - 5th graders) because half the team had never played before and we were so dominant, we only gave up an average of 4 points a game for the entire season.

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    3. Hi jay, I love the logo t-shirt! Actually before I was published, when I was foolishly taking ballet in my twenties, I made myself a t to wear that said WrITER on it.

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  4. Welcome Caroline! Would love to hear more about how you wove your own experience with a coma into this book. I’m looking forward to reading it!

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    1. Second that... there are amazing descriptions in the book of the comatose character sensing and hearing but unable to respond. Caroline, I hope you're out there... that sounds amazing.

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    2. Oh my! Well I was given memory blockers so while my mind didn't remember, my body did. All of the descriptions came from my waking up slowly or from research. But look here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/coma-survivor-caroline-leavitt-found-solace-in-writing-with-or-without-you/2020/08/05/2138dcce-d340-11ea-9038-af089b63ac21_story.html

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  5. I'm glad you found the talisman you need for the place where you are. Those earrings look fabulous, as do the boots.

    I had a little Japanese talisman I carried for years, supposed to keep me safe while driving. It seems to have worked. ;^) And I have a pair of heavy silver and turquoise earrings I take good care of and wear often because they make me feel good!

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    1. You talisman does INDEED seem to be working for you, Edith!

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    2. I would, but... no photos in comments!

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  6. Congratulations Caroline!

    I was going to say I don't have a talisman, but that's not true. My critique group bought me a charm bracelet when my first book was released and I've added a charm for every new book since then. I wear it to all my events.

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    1. I LOVE THAT! Reminds me of the woman who was at Bouchercon every year and sold pins that she'd custom-make from your book cover. I have one for my first book with a tiny typewriter charm dangling from it.

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    2. I HAVE to see a photo, please, please!

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    3. If I could only figure out a way to post one, I would. I could email one - send me a message at lizmilliron AT gmail COT com.

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  7. Hi, Caroline! There is nothing as cool as red cowboy boots. And especially finding them at a bargain price. Most of mine came from antique stores, all for under $25, most barely worn, including the red ones. And those earrings are perfect for Zoom calls.

    When I started selling insurance in my 20's I had a gorgeous pair of oxblood Aigner t-strap heels. They were so flattering, and gave me just enough additional height that I could look most of my (mostly male) customers in the eye. I called them my lucky ruby slippers, because good things happened every time I wore them.

    Would it be too much of a spoiler to tell us about your own real-life coma experience? Intriguing!

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    1. Karen, you sold insurance?? And got to ask, were the shoes comfortable?

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    2. They were super comfortable, for heels, even. They weren't very high, maybe 2", but with a gracefully shaped heel.

      Yes, I was an independent insurance agent for nine years, specializing in business clients. I sold everything from auto, home, business coverage to life, health, and disability income, and I was a general agent for three life and health companies, so I had agents who sold for me. I went through all the chairs for the local Health Underwriters Association, and as one of the original dozen female agents in Cincinnati, all the chairs for our Women in Insurance Sales organization.

      I loved it, but once I'd had two more children it got harder and harder to manage working the hours I needed to be successful, especially since Steve traveled six months of the year. I quit in 1987, but I still get a dribble of commissions from policies I put in force all those years ago.

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    3. Nope, and here it is, Karen. I'm so happy you are interested. I'm also totally interested that you sold things--I think that's so brave!! https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/coma-survivor-caroline-leavitt-found-solace-in-writing-with-or-without-you/2020/08/05/2138dcce-d340-11ea-9038-af089b63ac21_story.html

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    4. Thanks for the link, Caroline. What an odyssey you went on. I love that your writing a new ending is helping you cope with your own less than optimal experience.

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  8. Congratulations on the new book, Caroline. It sounds fascinating.

    I have wracked my brain and I don't think I have a talisman. I am reminded, though, of a woman I knew in grad school. Our program had "qualifying exams" periodically that determined if you kept going in the program. When she sat for the first ones, she wore a lucky red tee shirt. After getting good results, she wore that shirt for all following major exams. When she got done with her dissertation and had to defend it, she stressed out because you really can't wear a ratty tee shirt to that event. The solution she came up with was to go out and buy herself a stunning red suit and matching red pumps to wear for the meeting. She knocked it out of the park -- probably completely unrelated to what she had on, but then hey, who wouldn't be on her game with the added confidence of a new red suit and pumps?

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    1. Red, sigh! My favorite color. And most especially in shoes.

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    2. Wow! With the kind of confidence it takes to wear a stunning red suit, it's no wonder she knocked it out of the park. You say her success was probably unrelated to what she wore, but I'll bet any secretly sexist member of her review panel had a harder time being condescending to a woman in knockout red than he would have had picking on a woman in conventional navy, black, or charcoal. Good for her.

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    3. Gigi, I think you hit it on the nose. Red is a power color!

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    4. I love this. And yes, red is a power color! I wear mostly black, but there is nothing like that splash of red. And of course, lipstick is NEVER lipstick unless it is red, right? xx

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    5. Well, SO agree! See my comment below! xooo

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  9. Caroline, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. Coming out of a coma sounds terrifying, especially if a part of you seems to be different from the you, you remember. I join everyone else who is asking if you will share your experience with us.

    I don't really have a talisman, so to speak. But, often I've worn earrings or a pin or necklace that was my mother's or grandmother's, and those items definitely do the trick. I feel like I've brought back-up.

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    1. So now I'm thinking I hope my kids will wear one of my pieces of jewelry when they need a talisman for moral support.

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    2. I forgot - I have been wearing a turquoise ring of my mother's for many years, and another one with a small piece of turquoise that my sons (then in high school) gave me the Christmas after the divorce. It means so much to me.

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    3. I am thrilled to be part of this community and to share! https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/coma-survivor-caroline-leavitt-found-solace-in-writing-with-or-without-you/2020/08/05/2138dcce-d340-11ea-9038-af089b63ac21_story.html

      And Hallie, I love the idea of someone wearing some jewelry of yours as a talisman. I always deeply regretted that my mom never had jewelry she passed down to me!

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  10. Congratulations on your new release! Love the cowboy boots.

    I have lucky socks with toucans on them.

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    1. Toucan socks! How completely perfect for Zooming.

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    2. Oh please, please photo. Please please. love, C

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  11. Congratulations on the new book, Caroline. It sounds intriguing. And I love the earrings and those classic red boots. I'm a big believer in dressing for the part. Over the years I've had a number of "ass-kickin'" outfits I've worn to work when I anticipated a confrontation. They worked so well, sometimes my antagonist backed down without saying a word.

    At the moment, my personal talisman is a turquoise ring. It was made by a friend's husband, and I first saw it in a photo she posted of some jewelry he was taking to a weekend art show. It spoke to me immediately and, when it didn't sell at the show, I bought it without even trying it on.

    I love large-scale, artist-made rings, and frequently wear them on my right pinkie finger. This one was too big for that, but it slipped onto my left ring finger like it was made for me. I took off my wedding ring about six months after my husband died, and hadn't worn anything on my left hand for fourteen years, but this ring . . . I decided it was a sign, and a reminder to keep a promise I'd made to myself as a new widow. Now I wear it nearly every day, as a reminder to stretch my boundaries, get out of my comfort zone, and grow at every opportunity. So far, so good.

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    1. Hi Gigi, oh photo please, that ring sounds gorgeous. I love that phrase, that it spoke to you. I think sometimes objects do that! love, C

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  12. Congratulations on the new book, Caroline and welcome to Jungle Reds. I have been seeing many posts about your new book from bookstagrammers on Instagram.

    Tailsman? I remember that when I was in college, I had this dress that I called "my power dress" and it fit me like a glove, which was unusual for me. Whenever I knew that I had to be somewhere that would make me feel uncomfortable, that dress gave me to confidence to stand up to the bullies. I do not know what it was about that dress.

    Your book sounds intriguing. After I finish the regimen of medications (sinus infection and body pain), I would like to read your book.

    Interesting about coma. I was in a coma because I caught pneumonia, which developed into meningitis. (this was years Before the meningitis vaccine). I was in the children's hospital for 7 weeks. It's strange because I remembered that I had toys in my baby room when I came home. This was before my 2nd birthday. As far as I know, I have NO memory of my life before I went to the hospital. My grandmother died the day I recovered. I have NO memory of meeting her. I have NO memory of anyone else I've met before I was in the hospital. However, whenever I went to see the doctor for the next few years, my parents noticed that I did NOT like anyone in a white coat. LOL.

    Ironically, I have vague memories of Hearing because I was still talking after I came home from the hospital. I was diagnosed with a Profound Hearing Loss in both ears about three months after I came home from the hospital. I was lucky that they discovered my hearing loss early because I've met Deaf people whose hearing loss was undiagnosed for years!

    Diana

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    1. Diana, what a story! It's amazing what our memories do or do not do. And you know what? The wonky meds they had me on for a year damaged my hearing so badly, I now have to have hearing aids. Except that in the pandemic, I'm home all the time and it's just Jeff and me so I never do except if we are watching a film that doesnt' have closed captioning. And then everything seems so suddenly LOUD that it startles me! love,

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    2. Diana, I was also in the hospital as a small child for pneumonia, and a case of blood poisoning (no idea how those two ailments occurred at the same time, and my mother can't remember). I was just three, but I also have vivid memories of the hospital room. Not much else, but I even recall that there were no toys in the crib with me.

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    3. Caroline, do you wear digital or analog hearing aids? Yes, it is amazing about our memories. I always wear movies with closed captions. If it does not have captions, it has to be a silent movie because it is easier for me to follow. If you saw A Dog's Life with Charlie Chaplin, there is a Deaf actor in the movie. He was also a famous artist. His name was Granville Redmond.

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    4. Karen, although I do not specifically recall the hospital room, I remembered white bed sheets. If you saw the futuristic film ? the sleepers ?, there is a scene that reminded me of being in the hospital. I have no memory of looking for my toys at home to make sure that they were still there. I think the toys were on a window seat or in the corner, not in my crib.

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  13. Congratulations on your new book Caroline. It calls to me as your earrings called to you.
    I don't have a talisman but I'm for whatever can help someone to go forward.

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    1. Hi Danielle-mom, Me, too. I don't knock anyone's talisman unless it's like carrying around a dirty sock or something! love, C

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  14. OH MY GOD, how I LOVE this group! Thank you for making me feel so welcome, and for being so fascinating yourself. Hallie, I am so glad you introduced me to this group, and group, LOVE BEING HERE. xx C

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  15. I wouldn’t callit a talisman but on my first trip abroad I bought a Celtic cross on a chain in Ireland. Now I frequently wear it when I go on trips. I have a dreamcatcher (authetic. Not made in China!) I hang on my rear view mirror in my Jeep. Your book sounds amazing! I wish I could hibernate until this stupid Covid thing is gone. No coma for me!

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    1. Sorry. Typing on my phone and I blame that on all the typos.

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    2. Oh I know, i cannot wait until this is over! We have a dreamcatcher in the house that we bought when our son was 5 and was having nightmares. The dreamcatcher worked for him! (Alas, not so much for me and my sleep issues...) xxx

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  16. Caroline, I'm really looking forward to this book--what would you do if you woke up and weren't exactly yourself any more? Have you read Anne Perry's William Monk series? In book 1, he wakes up from a coma and has to piece his life back together--and learn what kind of person he was then--and decide what kind of person he wants to be now.

    I love your red boots and your earrings, too! Who says you can only have one talisman? I have a blue elephant bead that has traveled with me from one car to the next over the years, a small angel heart in my purse given to me by my sister years ago, and a turtle bead and another elephant bead that represent my two youngest nephews that also go wherever I go. And yes, I've had some empowering outfits over the years that never failed to lift my confidence.

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    1. HI Flora, and you are right, you can have more talisman's. It's funny how we attribute powers to them and then they come through for us! xx

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  17. Love the boots, Caroline! And I really love the idea of a talisman. Shyness is not really an issue for me - could probably use a spot of it, truth to be told - but maybe I need a talisman to know when to hush. LOL. I am so excited for your new release. The waking up from a coma premise is a big old "Heck, yeah!" Looking forward to it!

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    1. Nope, no one should hush you ever, Jenn! Keep talking! xx C

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  18. Sadly Blogger doesn’t have a graphics option for comments ... but everyone email me photos of your talismans and I’ll post them with the blog (ghephron “at” Comcast dot net)

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  19. Wow, Caroline, your book sounds fabulous. It's going on my list immediately. Such a fascinating premise! Love your red boots, too. I'd never had a pair of cowboy boots (I know that's weird from a Texan) but spring before last I saw a pair of vintage dark red Wranglers in a shop at Round Top (the big antiques fair in central Texas.) They were my size, they fit like glove, and I just had to have them. I work them to some of my book launches last fall (I'm wearing in my profile photo on Instagram.) Other talismans: I always wear silver earrings for book events, and usually silver bracelets. It feels so weird now, all these months with no jewelry... So looking forward to your book!

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    1. Love your books, Debs... I need to come to Texas and shop for boots.

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    2. Hallie, you would love Round Top. (Although it might be dangerous to take Jerry...) We should make a plan when we can do things again...

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    3. Tagging along, don't notice me... :-)

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  20. Love, love, love, the boots and the earrings, Caroline. The book sounds so intriguing. I've sometimes wondered the same thing when I read the stories where someone recovers from a long coma.

    Talisman - yep, always! I have a small guardian angel with me. I love the idea of the boots though, and am thinking if I find an equally kick ass pair...well, you know.

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    1. I am so glad you love the whole idea, Kait. And Ebay is a treasure trove! Mine were really only ten bucks so I figured, well it can't HURT, right? love, C

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  21. SO fabulous, and SO thrilled with all your buzz--yay. ANd you are SUCH a rock star with A Mighty Blaze! Your generosity and your joy and ALL THE WORK that you and Jenna and everyone put into it--wow. I adored my interview, a true life goal--and I am so grateful for what you've done for me and all of us.
    ANd FANTASTIC--I am seeing this book everywhere! (And so incredible how it connects with your own breath-taking story.)
    As for talismans. I am absolutely in. Some wise person once told me--it can be ANYTHING red. Which I adhere to relentlessly. Sometimes it is visible, and sometimes it isn't.
    The downside: when I wear something and the event is less than perfection, I cannot help but blame it on the outfit. This is very difficult to undo. Any ideas?

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    1. Oh it is NEVER the outfit's fault! But I am the same way, there are c ertain earrings I wont' wear anymore, and I keep thinking maybe I can cast a spell?

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    2. That could work. Okay, thinking about that. Maybe wear it INSIDE OUT around the house for 32 seconds to undo? Or--put sage in the pockets?

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  22. And my Gramma Minnie's watch. She taught me how to type, and gave me my first typewriter. The kind in a little suitcase! Hallie, I will send photo.

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    1. I posted it below - GORGEOUS watch! Does it work??

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    2. No....I like to think it's how Gramma left it, you know?

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    3. And it's seven o clock--time to rise and shine? Or time for a martini? Both pretty perfect.

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    4. I love this, I do have a necklace from my grandmother too!

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  23. I remember the 1st Christmas after mom died, a friend turned to me as we were vesting for the service and said "I missd your mom". She'd died about two weeks earlier but having Alzheimer meant she had been "gone" longer than that. My answer was always "me too". After the service, when we were hanging up our vestments, I turned my hand over and I showed him the ring I was wearing, "She's been here the whole time, this is her ring".

    I seem to have a large amount of bears in my life, mainly teddy bears. There are some who say I may have too many bears, and I might agree, and I have given away some... for lack of a better word, "common" bears. But tghere are special ones that I keep. The first bear I ever crocheted is still here. It's kind of ratty, definitely dusty and has ends hanging out but it's the first bear I ever made. That bear, from 47 years ago, has given me the "Deana likes bears" identity. I have a necklace my niece and nephew have me for birthday. It is a teddy bear in a short chain and I wore on my first day as a temp employee some almost 30 years ago, they hired me and I keep that job for 8 years, until the company closed. I'd switched the chain to a long one and was wearing it when I met HR during my departure process. The rep remembered seeing that bear on my first day. I still wear the bear, always on trips, often forgetting to remove it before going through security.

    Caroline, your book sounds fascinating. Waking up is one thing but with a new talent? I get to take myself book shopping for the first time in months tomorrow. My list is long but I'm definitely adding your book to it.

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    1. That made me cry. She's been here the whole time. This is her ring. And thank you for adding my book to your list! love, C

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