Kristan’s blog: French toast and fluffy pillows

img_2932The Princess and I have a little thing we do—we talk about when we’ll live together, just the two of us. She hasn’t yet had a place of her own, being a college student, and so far, she’s come home each summer. But the time is not that far away from when she’ll be a real adult. Someday, I hope, she’ll be married and have children of her own. But before that happens, we share a little dream.

Because we share our home with gross boys—Dearest Son and McIrish, that is—we like to talk about how neat and clean “our” place will be. How there will be no clods of dirt on the floor from work boots, or strange smells wafting across the upstairs thanks to a once-wet towel that has now hardened into a concrete mass on the floor of a certain teenage boy’s closet. We talk about the delicate wine glasses we’ll have (McIrish breaks things a lot, so we currently buy sturdy stuff).

But pink-chairPrincess and I will have adorable hedgehog-shaped creamers and retro flowery aprons. Our place will be a townhouse, perhaps, with a tiny, adorable garden. We’ll have pretty, pastel couches where we can read, complete with fluffy decorative pillows. We’ll have a lot of cats, and they’ll all have wonderful names like Kifli and Uncle Rico.

Our little nest will have plants, too—succulents and potted herbs, roses and hydrangea and lilac trees. Wind chimes will hang in the garden. I will make lavender martinis, and Princess will have a collection of teapots. No one will snore or forget to flush. We’ll make French toast every Sunday.

img_3128It has occurred to me that the odds of me living with my adult daughter, just us two, are perhaps small. It may have occurred to her as well. But we both love to think about this happy, girly, tea-filled time, when we can be together every day.

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Ed and Abe and Billy

Of all the stories from September 11, the one that gets me the most is of Abe Zelmanowitz and Ed Beyea, computer programmers in the World Trade Center. They were friends and colleagues. Ed used a wheelchair; he was quadriplegic. Abe had designed him a tray so he could read in bed. Ed loved to laugh and tell jokes.

On this worst day when the sky was so blue, when the planes hit, when there was fire and terror and horror all around them, when the first tower came down and the elevators in the second tower stopped working, three people had nowhere to go. Ed couldn’t go down the stairs. Abe told Ed’s assistant to go. He would stay with Ed until the firefighters got them out, but she should get out while she could.

She left. She lived.

Ed told Abe to go. Abe didn’t listen.

Firefighter Billy Burke came up the stairs, knowing the building was about to fall. Ed and Abe had called their families, assuring them they were fine, and they were together. Billy Burke assessed the situation and gave the command that saved his men’s lives and made him a legend, a hero among heroes. He ordered his men out, then told a lie. “I’ll be right behind you.”

Billy stayed. Firefighters don’t leave the helpless, and he knew they had no chance. He probably could’ve gotten out, but Abe wouldn’t leave Ed.

I picture these two friends, maybe holding hands, heads bowed. The firefighter, too, maybe turning off his radio and taking a knee. I think of those last few minutes, knowing what was about to happen, praying that their friends and coworkers made it out, praying for their families. I think they must’ve felt a little better with Billy there, that they hadn’t been left all alone. I think of their friendship and love, and that when the unspeakable roar came, that these three looked into each other’s eyes and smiled, and that peace came over them. Friends till the end. The best of humanity in the face of the worst.

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Gratitude, the Attitude

 

Some of my friends keep a gratitude journal, which sounds very lovely to me, and very old-fashioned—I picture my friend Nancy sitting in a pool of sunshine, writing with a fountain pen as the breeze caresses her tousled curls. Her handwriting is lovely, her journal is beautiful and contains odes to her daughter, muses about her travels, drawings of birds and flowers and, um, other pretty things. Nancy is like that.

Me, I’m more of a list-maker. I often do think of the things I’m grateful for, but I get superstitious. It always goes like this:

  • Healthy children (please, God, keep the kids healthy forever and ever, Amen. Also, happy. And their future children, ditto. Amen.).
  • Wonderful husband (Please, God, ditto, plus also that he never leaves me, Amen).
  • Cozy home (Please, God, don’t let the house burn down or explode, Amen Especially if I’m the cause of the fire and/or explosion. Amen.).
  • Lovely mother (Please, God, don’t let her fall down the stairs and break her leg and lie in a pool of blood for three days before I find her, because she’ll be so mad, and then I’ll never be her favorite, Amen).

So you can see, it does more to fuel my neurosis than make me grateful.

But the other day, I had a moment. It was the first day this year when I felt fall was in the air. Dearest was at school, Princess back at her college, McIrish was at the firehouse, and it was so peaceful and quiet here. The leaves are still bright green, and the wind was just enough to get a few quiet notes from the wind chimes. I was sitting on the porch—my outdoor office—and the hours of writing stretched in front of me.

It was one of those perfect moments that I want to press into my heart.

You, my dear readers, gave me the gift of this career, these moments of working on the porch, or in my office on a rainy day, or in my comfy chair with a dog at my side. And while I really did love being a cleaning lady, writing wins hands-down. Thank you. Thank you so, so much.

 

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The last week of summer

fireworks

The kids and pals at the Fourth of July neighborhood party.

I hate the last week of summer.

Summer, as we all know, truly ends when the kids go back to school. Forget September 21. It’s meaningless. Fall means new notebooks and pencils. Dearest Son will have to clean his room so his desk has actual workspace. Princess has to pack.

Every day is imbued with melancholy and love. On the blackboard in our kitchen, I wrote “What a beautiful summer we’ve had!” and the Princess drew flowers and swirls all around it. I took one godchild shopping for clothes; my niece left for orientation at her college, which is ten hours away. Dearest will be a senior. A senior in high school! We’ve been discussing The Walking Dead, a sure sign of the changing of the seasons.

My littlest nephew, vacuuming the cellar. Hey, he had a great time!

My littlest nephew, vacuuming the cellar. Hey, he had a great time!

But this last week…oh, it hurts! I don’t want summer to end. We’ve had so many guests, so many lovely little trips, a few days in Maine. So much sitting on the porch, so many dinners cooked on the grill in the backyard. Every day I wake up thinking, “Just a few more days. Please.”

By mid-September, when the weather starts to change and I’m used to the quieter house, I’ll be fine. By October, when I can wear sweaters, I’ll be in love with fall, posting pictures of our trees and getting leaf-drunk.

 

F&D maine mansion

But for now, that old maternal yearning—to have my kids around me—is awfully strong, and I resent their schools for taking them away. I don’t want to go back to looking at the calendar every day, calculating where Dearest is and when he’ll get home. I don’t want to count the days till Parents Weekend at Princess’s school. I want this week to last forever.

 

flannery & mommyAnd the damned thing just won’t. The eternal conundrum of parents—go off into this big world, be kind, do well, live your life…and know that Mommy can’t wait till she can hug you again.

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Check out my ride

8768bfab38b310e2b0a2002fa9cf3282_crop_northAs you might know, I was in a car accident a week ago, resulting in my car (which is named Derek Jeter) going in the shop. The repairs have taken longer than I expected, which was a bit of a problem, since in the past five days, I had three trips planned—Philly with a couple of cousins and the Princess; the Princess’s college so she could visit with her sweetheart, who’s in football camp (I’m sucker for love, what can I say?); and today, to Maine.

We had to rent a car. I asked for a sedan, since that’s what Derek Jeter is, but they didn’t have one. Instead, they gave me a hybrid luxury SUV thingie. Black. Tinted windows. I hated it. But then… “Oh,” breathed the Princess. “It’s a Secret Service mobile.”

ssMy hate changed to love. Suddenly, my coolness factor jumped a thousandfold (it was pretty low to begin with, but hey). I did look like a Secret Service agent, just by putting on sunglasses and pretending to talk into my fist! “The Princess is in motion,” I could say. “On our way to intercept the package.” Or something equally mysterious and confusing.

Being higher up than usual gave me a sense of power. The tinted windows gave my daughter a sense of celebrity. Driving home from both Philadelphia and Princess’s college, we encountered biblical downpours and highway flooding. Not a problem. Not in the Secret Service mobile, heck no! We went through those waters like a modern-day ark. We were so full of awesome.

american-eagles-picsI’ll be driving to Maine today. McIrish will have to sit in the passenger seat. I’m assigning us all Secret Service nicknames. Snacky Cat. Potatoes. Pork chop. Me, I’ll be Eagle One. Obviously. If you get to make up your own Secret Service nickname, it’s going to be Eagle One.

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Summer of the porch

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This has been a very full and lovely summer, and quite old-fashioned in some ways. We’ve done a lot of porch-sitting—we do have the most wonderful front porch, with hanging baskets and a couch that was purchased specifically so McIrish could nap on it. My great-aunt’s bouncy old metal chairs suck you in so you don’t want to get up, and iced coffee, a house specialty, is often served. In the afternoon, we crank DSCN0036down the porch shades so the sun doesn’t drive us inside. A few hours later, we roll them back up, watch the bats fly out of the barn and listen to the wood thrush sing the last song of the evening. Dearest Son runs around the field with the dogs, and Princess reads.

My oldest friend came over yesterday—we grew up next door to each other. She brought her mom and her younger daughter. Princess braided the little girl’s hair, and my nieces and son went swimming. Today, my best friend from college will visit with her triplets—I visited them in the hospital when they were born; in a few weeks, they’ll start their first year of college.

DSCN0027My sister-in-law came up the other day with her three, bringing along my beloved mother-in-law, Polly, and my brother-in-law. My friend Stacia is a frequent guest here, being a lover of both iced coffee and porches. My mom walks over sometimes, too, and my friend Shaunee is always game to come for an evening, so long as I make her a well-crafted martini. The Princess and her sweetheart have spent many hours reading here; he was not a reader when they started dated, but she’s converted him via Harry Potter.

The dogs too love the porch. While Willow was recovering from her leg surgery (she is such a delicate flower), we blocked the stairs, so she could be outside without straining her legs. Once in a while, one of the dogs will sneak up on McIrish’s couch. The cat doesn’t have to sneak. He owns us all.

DSCN8614Since I overcame my fear of hummingbirds, we bought two feeders, and I watch and listen to their busy wings. McIrish, as he seems to have some magic in him, held up a flower one day, and a hummingbird drank from it. Perhaps, the kids surmised, the hummingbird community remembered about how he rescued the baby hummingbird last summer from the pool, and word had spread that he was to be trusted. I’ve tried to get the hummingbirds to do the same with me, but to no avail. Maybe next year.

IMG_3834Next summer at this time, we’ll be getting ready to send Dearest Son to college, and Princess will be in her final year. But for now, I’ll just enjoy the last few weeks of this peaceful, happy, friend-filled time, listen to my kids laugh, pet my dogs and get another glass of iced coffee.

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The temperature wars

comasleepMcIrish and I are…how shall I put this?…climately opposed. In other words, when he’s hot, I’m freezing. I like a sheet covering me no matter what; usually a blankie, too. He’d sleep suspended in mid-air if possible, nothing and no one touching him.

This has been a beautiful summer, more or less, and when it gets hot, I like to do what my grandmother did—use a window fan at night, and then close all the windows first thing in the morning, pull the curtains and turn the house into a cool, cozy cave. In the evenings, after the sun goes down, I open the windows again. Simple genius, yes? My other tips include washing my hands in cold water (my grandfather used to say the cold water cools off your blood, and I believed him for a good long time); an ice pack to the back of the neck; and sitting very, very still so the heat can’t find you.

McIrish's dream job

McIrish’s dream job

McIrish, on the other hand, works outside on the summer’s hottest days, often with a pickaxe or shovel, just for fun. For some reason, he hates our cool, cozy cave, despite it being THE PERFECT SOLUTION. He says it’s stuffy (it’s not—it’s cool and cozy). Everyone who comes into our house says, “Oh, it’s so nice in here!” Except himself, that is. Around 3 p.m., when the sun is laser-beaming at our house, McIrish starts flinging open windows. “It’s beautiful outside!” he announces.

“No, it’s horrible outside! It’s 94 degrees!” the children and I protest.

“No, it’s not!” he lies merrily. “There’s a breeze!”

Twenty minutes later, the house is so hot he can’t stand it anymore and puts on the air conditioner. He had a love/hate relationship with the air conditioner, but he’s usually the one who breaks first each summer (see my curtain method above). After the air conditioner comes a complex series of fans placed throughout the house to allegedly propel cool air into all the corners. It doesn’t work at all, but this doesn’t stop my husband from placing fans in doorways. The noise is deafening.

doggysnuggleWhat has saved our marriage is that every fourth night, McIrish has to work a 24-hour shift at the firehouse, which is why he will never be allowed to retire. On those nights, Willow and I have a little slumber party (Luther is still too excitable to sleep with us). The cat comes in somewhere in the night and curls up next to my feet, and Huggy Pillow has all the room in the world.

No one complains about the temperature. Not one word. : )

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Oh, the humanity!

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Though I’d never buy a Tiffany diamond (just can’t go there), they sure are pretty to look at!

Yesterday, I went to New York for a reader lunch, part of the sweepstakes package won by the lovely Ashley and Becky. We met in SoHo and felt very cool indeed, had a great time swapping celebrity gossip and talking about books. Afterward, my friend Margo (who’s
an editor at Harlequin) and I wandered around, looking at shoes and diamonds and window shopping, having a great time, despite the heat.

Okay, it was very, very hot yesterday, and New York is a heat-sponge…all that concrete, all those shiny buildings reflecting the sun. So we were sweaty, but hey! How often do we get to hang out like that?

 

GCSAfterward, I found a cool café and worked a little, then joined two friends for a wonderful dinner. Before I knew it, it was time to go, and I realized if I grabbed a cab lickety split, I could make the 8:34 express and be home in time to snuggle with McIrish. So I used my awesome whistling skills (one of three life skills), jumped in a cab, told the driver NOT to drive through Times Square (he disobeyed), glanced at my watch, thought “Crap, I’m gonna have to run, and my shoes, and my dress, and oh, well.” Got out at the light, ran a block to Grand Central (but snapped this picture just the same because I’ll always be a dorky teenage girl in love with NYC in my heart of hearts), ran through the crowd, dodging, dodging, panting, bag flapping, there was my track, and boo-yah! I made it and the train started moving, but dang it, I had to go to the bathroom, and there was no toilet paper, but I had tissues, and hand sanitizer and recognized that life could be worse. Phew!

Alas, there were no seats in the first two cars, except next to an apparent gang of very scary-looking thugs who did not answer when I gave my trademark “Hello!” I waited for the train to stop at 125th Street to go to the next car. The sign says “Do not use this door if the train is moving,” and I’m the obedient middle child.

Not the guy I sat next to...but close enough.

Not the guy I sat next to…but close enough.

I got into the next car. There were two seats available. I took the one where the guy wasn’t manspreading and sat down. “Hello!” I said. He mumbled hello. I sat down. Noticed had some homemade tattoos on his arm. Hey. I watched Oz. I got it. He opened up his water jug and took a swig. The jug’s fumes were not those of water. Okay, so he was blotto drunk. He also didn’t smell that good. No one did; the train was full of overheated, disappointed, beer-infused Yankee fans.

When my seatmate began to snore and drool, I slid over to the other seat. “Hello!” said I. “Hello!” said my new seatmate. He had one tooth. He too was nowhere in the neighborhood of sober. He also wore a Yankees t-shirt.

Then…the train stopped about 20 minutes out of the city. This happens; I wasn’t worried. Not until the conductor came on the PA and said, “Folks, there’s police activity on the tracks up ahead. It’s gonna be awhile.”

solimageMy seatmate leaped up. “I need to investigate!” he said. I hastily got out of his way. A few rows ahead, one man (also in a Yankees t-shirt) could not believe the injustice of us being stuck. He began yelling and dropping the F-bomb, even though there were kids around. “Shut up!” his friend began to yell. I began to see why people hate Yankees fans. I opened my laptop and started playing solitaire.

Then the conductor accidentally came on the PA as he was talking to dispatch. “I got 550 people on board! You gotta be kidding me!” The entire car groaned. There was more yelling, more cries of the unfairness of life, of how this would make people late. Me, I was playing solitaire on the computer, and it was air conditioned, so I didn’t care.

“Folks, you’re gonna have to get off the train,” the conductor said. “Stand on the platform, and we’ll send another train for you as soon as we can.”

d61881fe-f181-4464-84fa-cfca7bec59a5Like lemmings, we all filed off. And my God, the smell. Rotting trash? Sewage? Decaying corpses? Whatever it was, it was horrible. One woman immediately threw up. I stopped to help her; oddly, she was retching while talking on the phone. (Teachable moment: don’t puke and talk on the phone at the same time.) I took a note from the Princess’s coping skills and thought of Harry Potter.

We waited for the other train, as the local train that I didn’t take flew past. There was more cussing, more yelling, more fury at the suffering.

I’m not gonna lie. I was thinking of Munich, and Dallas and Baton Rouge, of Charles Kinsey and Alton Sterling and Kabul. Things could’ve been a lot worse than the Yankees losing, it being hot and our train being delayed. As a firefighter’s wife, I know that when there’s police activity on the train tracks, it’s probably because someone is suicidal or dead. I wished I had a bullhorn to do a little speechifying.

Our substitute next train came. It was a local, and already full of people—more heat-stroked Yankees fans who’d had too much beer. They weren’t happy to see us (or smell us). One 20-something woman started to cry because there were no seats. I said, “Sweetheart, do you want to sit here? “No,” she said, continuing to cry. Sigh.

We stopped at every possible station from New Rochelle all the way to the end of the line in New Haven, where I had parked. I drove home, eyes sticky with fatigue, to my quiet house in the woods. Everyone was asleep except the doggies, who were very happy to see me.

2261460I took a long, long shower. It felt so good to be clean and smelling of grapefruit once again! And despite my long ride home, I had the best time in the city! Also, I’m getting really good at solitaire. : )

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Things I Learned About Myself at Conference

 

As you might know, I was at the Romance Writers of America National Conference in San Diego this past week, piggybacking with an RWA board meeting beforehand. I was gone for eight days, which is significant for me, especially given my propensity for slutty shoes when I’m off authoring it up. Here are a few things I learned about myself.

  1. I like people. Some authors are shy and are clearly wishing they were elsewhere; some give off a “Don’t look at me, I’m with my friends” vibe; most (cough) still can’t get over the fact that people want to meet them. Just for the record, if you ever want to talk to me or have a photo together, say the word! I will never stop being grateful for my readers.cheeseburger
  2. I love cheeseburgers. When you’re at a conference, you either eat the food they give you at the lunches and breakfasts, or you choose carefully based on the people around you and whether or not the food has onions or garlic. Cheeseburgers tend to be sloppy, and I don’t want people to see me wolfing down a half-pound of meat with juice and tomato sliding down my wrists, so I didn’t get to eat a cheeseburger until I was at the Atlanta airport, at which point all bets were off.
  3. I don’t know how to use a king-size bed when I’m alone. I missed sleeping with McIrish, so I made a fake husband out of the many pillows on my bed, and slept on my regular side. I should sleep like a starfish, or at least roll over a couple of times, but instead, I’m draped over my fake husband, using about 25% of the space allotted to me.
  4. I can wear slutty shoes and cool dresses for a total of seven days, breaking my previous record of five days. On Day 8, it was leggings and flip-flops, baby. Today, we’ve downgraded even from there to pajamas and bunny slippers.
  5. 7247fb5c9206d4aac6f409d3e9d21eddI love my fellow authors. New friends and old, experienced or greenhorns, we’re all the same inside—those nerdy kids who loved to read more than they loved to play, who still crush on Rhett Butler, and who find love in the pages every single day.

Thanks to my fellow board members, RWA committee members, the amazing RWA staff and everyone who came to the conference and  made this such a wonderful, memorable experience! I’m so grateful!

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The writer at rest

IMG_3873 2 9.11.39 PMFor the past nine years, I haven’t taken a break between books.

That’s a long time. For nine years, I’ve had a book to work on, whether I’m on vacation with my family, on book tour, off somewhere at a conference. My laptop is always with me. A book is always in progress. I always have a looming deadline.

It’s hard. It’s not horrible, not by a longshot…but it is hard. Writing books takes a lot of mental energy.

DSCN0142A couple of weeks ago, I passed in the last book on my contract—my seventeenth manuscript. I now have two books with my publisher that will come out in 2017, one in January, one sometime after that. I did my copyedits, my author alterations, I wrote a speech for Romance Writers of America’s national conference, I worked on the four workshops I’ll be participating in, I read the agenda and made notes for the three-day RWA board meeting that precedes the five-day conference. I packed up my promotional stuff and gifts for librarians, since I love librarians who love romance.

And…I rested. For the first time in nine years, I’m not working on a new book. It didn’t make sense to start something, then have to leave it for a big conference all the way across the country. I’ll start after the conference, but for now…nah.

DSCN0082So I’ve been normal. It’s kind of strange. I’ve had a real vacation, despite all the other stuff named above. I’ve slept late. I took a few naps. I even cooked! I watched a sunset. I visited friends and talked on the phone. I painted. I picked flowers. I’ve been reading a lot. Sitting on our porch. I weeded. I love weeding.

In our busy world, where there are always more demands to do more, do better, do faster, seize the moment, get things done, be everything to everyone…well, it’s awfully nice to take a breath.

I hope you get to do the same.

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