Maria the CNA

Image3_LonelySixteen years ago and change, I was in the hospital having my son, and I was wicked, wicked sick. Sick enough to be rushed into the OR in the middle of the night, sick enough to have an out-of-body experience where I watched myself having seizures from above. Sick enough that a nurse, who’d seen me on a Monday and came back on Friday, was surprised that I was still alive. I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks. Bedbound, too, unable to stand without fainting. Quite a mess, I was! All sorts of drama.

But who cares about that? I want to tell you about Maria.

Maria was my CNA, my certified nursing assistant. You know. The ones who do the dirty work. She’d get me from one johnny coat into another. She’d change the sheets without me needing to get out of bed, and on at least one occasion, she fed me. She didn’t speak much English, and probably didn’t know why I cried every time she gave me an efficient sponge bath. She used Dove soap, the same brand my grandmother used.

Maria took care of me like I was her daughter. I was alone in the hospital, McIrish taking care of our not-quite three-year-old and working fulltime, our one-and-a-half pound son upstairs in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. My mom would visit, but she was terrified, as any mother would be, seeing her formerly strapping child unable even to lift her head. But Maria had seen worse, no doubt. She’d sing to me, and tsk over my tears. “You okay, you okay,” she’d say as she did her job.

I got better, obviously. Once I got out of the hospital, I went back every day to see Dearest Son, who was a scrappy little thing. And then, one day on the elevator, I saw her. “Maria!” I said, my eyes filling with tears. “Maria, it’s me.” Then, realizing she took care of hundreds and hundreds of people, I clarified. “You took care of me.” She just smiled and nodded. Patted my back as I hugged her. I don’t think she recognized me.

The nurses and doctors at Yale were great. But they didn’t wash me. They didn’t feed me. They didn’t wipe my eyes when I was too weak to lift my arm. Maria did that.

huggingI don’t know that I’d recognize her again. She was a short Hispanic ladies in her 50s or so, and she worked in a big-city hospital filled with many women matching that description. It was sixteen years ago. But maybe, someday—maybe even when I die, because I’m schmaltzy and like to believe in any version of heaven that lets me thank people—I’ll see her again, and there will be no language barrier, and I’ll say, “Maria, I never forgot you.”


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Plotmonkeying around

10636949_1004543849575774_6940690192034434482_oI didn’t blog this weekend. I’m sorry! I was too busy rolling around on a floor, laughing till my teeth chattered. A plotting weekend with the women I call the Plot Monkeys, minus one of us, who was unfortunately unable to come at the last minute.

What does such a weekend entail, you ask? I’ll tell you!

Wine. Pajamas. Food. Comfortable seating. Ice packs (we all seemed to be sporting some kind of injury this weekend. It might’ve been wise to bring a very strong, non-English-speaking massage therapist along.)

There is nothing that can’t get the Plotmonkeys laughing. This weekend, conversations devolved thanks to bizzare acronyms (FASF…I will never tell you what that stands for); inadvertently pornographic word combinations; drum circles; body parts that were never meant to look like mushrooms; super-long toenails and the people who sport them; and hot flashes. As always, the word moist destroyed any sensible conversation we attempted to have.

And oh, yes, we worked! We worked a lot, and we had the most fun doing it. Times like this, I’m so glad I’m not an electrical engineer. Being a writer is the best! So thank you, readers, for giving me that.

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And good morning to you, too!

0181f75d35a7b9a230ac85c847233dbfI’m a vivid dreamer. Sometimes, that’s a blessing—Robert Downey Jr. and I have had several very romantic dates in the ether world, and Derek Jeter and I have gotten married not once, but twice. I’ve dreamt of my darling grandparents and my dad, who come to visit me from the afterlife. I usually dream between 5 and 5:30, when I wake up, so I remember a lot of my dreams.

But I also have weird, inexplicable dreams. And I’m a talker, so I tend to narrate them to my poor husband. And so…

Things Kristan Has Said to McIrish Upon Awakening:
(Note: I rarely mumble. I use my outside voice.)

“I’m being paralyzed. Why won’t you help me? I can’t move my arms!”

“There’s a tick in my back and it’s spurting Lyme disease into my spine!”

“I found the baby! Why aren’t you more excited?”

Unknown“You fix it.” (I hand him my iPhone, which serves as our alarm clock.) “It’s your damn cathedral.”

“Why did you divorce me? Don’t you love me anymore?”

“I dreamed James Franco and I were married and we were really happy!”

jackfrozen-thumb-500x374“My head is frozen.”

You may be shaking your head and thinking, “That poor McIrish is a saint.” But hey! At least we have interesting things to talk about over coffee.

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Weekend wanderings

DSCN7908One of the very best parts of writing books is visiting the location where my stories are set. The Blue Heron series is set in a fictionalized version of Hammondsport, New York, as you may already know. I feel like I know the area pretty well, and I haven’t been up for more than a year now.

McIrish and I decided to go again this weekend, a spur-of-the-moment trip, which is something we never do. We’re planners, generally speaking. But now that the kids are older, we can do this. So we booked a room for two nights and threw some things in a suitcase, and off we went. We listened to a call-in advice show on the way DSCN7900up, which always gives me ideas for future books. Then we just bopped around for the rest of the weekend, learning about microbreweries and eating great food. We went to a pub that reminded us a lot of O’Rourke’s (Flowers Café in Watkins Glen) and revisited Fulkerson’s Winery, which is the basis for Blue Heron. Bought a case of wine there; they’re my favorite. We saw a lot of beautiful deer, including several pure white deer, which was something right out of Narnia.

DSCN7903We did new things, too…went to Geneva and wandered into the Smith Theater, where a very cool drum circle was in progress. (I opted not to play, as my sense of rhythm is legendary, and not for the good reasons). Asked for restaurant recommendations, drove around some more, admiring the mansions and discussing why mansions were just not for us. J Had a fantastic dinner (Ports Café in Geneva, FYI, highly recommend!).

Today, we drove to Hammondsport, where I spend so much time in my imagination. Every time, I half-expect to see one of the Hollands, or Gerard from the firehouse, or one of the book club ladies. We went to the really lovely Brewery of Broken Dreams (great story behind the name) and had a great time talking about beer, how it’s made, and sure, we tasted some. Bought a couple of growlers for home.

On the way home, despite a state-of-the-art GPS system, I managed to get lost, so we saw parts of New York State that perhaps no human has seen before. It was snowing a little, and our son called to say that school had already been canceled for tomorrow (sigh).

By the time we got home, it was dark, and Dearest had made dinner for us. The dog was so happy to see us; the cat was so happy to see McIrish. Tonight the snow will fall, and we’re safe and home, and there’s no better feeling than that.

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A language all our own

Like most families, we have words that aren’t officially recognized by the Oxford English Dictionary. Most of them came from the kids’ delightful misnomers when they were younger, or from my fertile imagination. Thought I’d share a few.

Wenis: technically, the loose skin on your elbow. In our house, a stupid or irritating person. “Get out of my room, wenis!” one of my kids might say.


Snuzzle: The act of sticking your nose in someone’s ear unexpectedly. Meant to torture under the guise of affection.

Motherboy: any event in which Kristan and her Dearest Son are alone together. “We have Motherboy tonight! Are you so excited, honey? Honey? Where’d you go?”

Scobetty: spaghetti.

Food baby: The expanded tummy after a large meal.

Crink: The hybrid of a cramp and a kink. “I have a crink in my neck.”

UnknownBumoley: a bad thing to be.

Down comfortable: A down comforter.

The language of families…it always makes me happy to hear one of “our” words. Even if the kids are being bumoleys.

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Car Talk

As an American, I love driving. I don’t like the five minute-trips to and from Dearest’s school, but I love going somewhere far. Today, for example, we drove to New Jersey—a two hour trip that took three and a half hours, thanks to Mother Nature and Massholes and a 20-car pileup (definition of Masshole: a driver from the Bay State who goes at least 15 mph over the speed limit in icy conditions and causes a 20-car pileup).

But it did give us the opportunity to talk, McIrish and me, our Princess (Dearest Son had to stay home to study for midterms). Subjects covered today were: Massholes; would there be an opportunity for Kristan to save someone’s life today (it seemed so close, but no…every accident we saw, and we saw at least 25, was being handled by professionals, dang it all); which restaurants we would like to eat at; how hungry talking about restaurants made us; Great Snowstorms We Have Driven In; where we plan to move to avoid crappy winter driving; and tips for crappy winter driving so Princess can be in the snow-know.

On the way home, we talked about the niceness of my brother- and sister-in-law, my MIL, and our niece and two nephews, who were utterly charming and wonderful. Baby Nephew has learned how to give kisses and hugs and isn’t shy about doling them out. Princess-in-Training Niece and I talked about books vs. movies and spirit animals (hers is a jaguar; we determined that mine is a house cat). Impish Nephew allowed my Princess to make him into a unicorn and took a dozen selfies with her. We felt rather smug, having braved the roads and earning such a lovely reward as a great day with our family.

And it was cozy, driving home in the dark and rain (well…being a passenger as McIrish drove). Sometimes spending six hours in a car is totally worth it.

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images-1Picture me, walking Dearest Son down our long, long driveway. It’s a dark winter morning, and some of our best talks happen during this time. Dearest doesn’t need an escort (though, being me, I have imagined rescuing him from a coyote attack and killing the beast with my bare hands). But I like to think my son enjoys the company. In the olden days, I’d watch him get on the bus, and we’d do the sign for “I love you,” and I’d blow kisses, but his dignity is at stake now that he’s a teenager.

UnknownSo this is a nice scene, isn’t it? Dearest Son and his mom, walking and talking. I offer bits of gentle wisdom and encouragement, assure him that he has many gifts and fine qualities. We might admire the moon or the stars or the sunrise or the fog (I can find something good to say about just about any type of weather).

Except ice. I hate ice. For reasons unknown to me, I am convinced I will die on ice. Maybe I died under the ice in a past life or something? Who knows.

So instead of the above, we have this instead:

Me: “Slow down, Seabiscuit! I might fall.”

Him: “Would you like to hold onto my arm, Mother?”

Me: “Yes. You’re a good son. Watch out, watch out, there’s ice!”

Unknown-1Him: “Don’t worry. I’ve got you.”

(I can feel myself aging into a crone with his every word.)

Him: “You know, you don’t have to come with me. You can stay inside where it’s nice and warm…”

Me: “Of course I have to come! What if a coyote attacks you, huh? And did you know there’s a mountain lion somewhere around here? You clearly need my protection. Oh, God, I slipped! That was a close one. Let me put my arm around your shoulder, honey.”

Him: “Will you be able to make it back up by yourself, or should I call someone? The ambulance, maybe?”

Me: “Aren’t we funny this morning. Here comes the bus. I’ll shuffle away to save you from the humiliation of your friends knowing you have a mother who loves you.”

imagesHim: “Love you, too.”

He’s a good boy.

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One dark night long ago…

illustration_of_santa_with_little_girl_postcards-r5936a0e64e9f4ccb9346055d3b51ab88_vgbaq_8byvr_512…Santa Claus woke me up.

I’m serious. I was seven or eight years old, and we were in our new house, the one where I’d spend the rest of my childhood.

I felt a hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me, and I opened my eyes. The hall light was on, and there he was. “Santa!” I said groggily. I reached up and touched his beard, and it was bushy and soft.

“I wanted to wish you a merry Christmas,” he said.

“You’re real!”

“You keep being a good girl. Now go back to sleep.”

sleighAnd I did. I didn’t spring from my bed, screaming for my siblings, or ask to see the reindeer. I just closed my eyes as I was told (ever the obedient middle child) and was asleep again.

The next morning, I announced my incredible news. “Santa woke me up last night!”

“Really,” Mom said, unfazed. She too had seen Santa as a youngster. “How wonderful!”

“You must have dreamed it,” my cynical older brother said. My sister couldn’t remember Santa waking her up and thus sided with our brother on the dream theory. Because I didn’t want to make them jealous, I let it go. Besides, I was the well behaved kid in the family. I speculated that if Santa was going to visit just one of us, obviously it was going to be me.

It wasn’t a dream. I had touched that beard, and Santa had spoken to me on the busiest, most important night of the year.

Jeff, who lived next door and knew a lot about life, had a theory. “It was your father. Anyone can rent a red suit.”

santaPlease. One would think a child could tell the difference between her dad and Santa Claus. Probably, Jeff was jealous.

I never saw Santa again, though I hung in there year after year, hoping.

But one year, my son woke up and saw the light from Rudolph’s nose, turning the air red outside his window. And another year, my daughter was awakened by Santa, too, and told him she loved him. “I love you, too, honey,” he said with a chuckle (at least, this is how she reported it).

While I’ve known for some time who puts those presents under the tree, it seems to me that every Christmas Eve, I’m awakened by a some strange sound, some small clatter, and I think, “He’s here.”

Sky-sky-mooonAnd just like in the olden days, I close my eyes and go right back to sleep, safe in the knowledge that St. Nicholas is still watching over me and mine.

Safe travels, Santa Claus!

I’ll be taking a week or two off from blogging, gang. I wish you a warm, safe and happy holiday, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for the honor you’ve given me by reading my books. Happy New Year!


Note: My sister wrote today to correct me: She remembers Santa waking her clear as day, and she was thrilled. : )  Makes sense, since she was (and is) a very sweet person.

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Observations from a happy marriage

The flowers McIrish brought me today!

The flowers McIrish brought me today!

I don’t know much about how to make a happy marriage. All I know is how to make my marriage happy, you know what I mean? But today is my 23rd wedding anniversary to McIrish, and we are very happy, so I thought I’d share a few things we do to stay that way. It wasn’t just Cupid shooting arrows. We’ve worked hard at this, and we still do. We’re not kids anymore, after all. One of us will turn 50 next year (me. I’m a cougar).

Appreciate. I remember a day when McIrish asked me to move a pile of gravel from one place to another (there was an actual reason for this, not just a feat of strength). It was a long, hard job, and when I was done, he said, “You moved about a ton of gravel today. Not everyone could do that.” Another time, when I was wicked sick, he said later, “I’ve taken people to the hospital for less pain than you were in.” Those comments made me feel like a superhero. And who

The laddie's favorite: apple pie.

The laddie’s favorite: apple pie.

doesn’t like that? For my part, I love to brag about McIrish online, telling you guys when he saved a dog or did something special. (He loves your comments, you know.) My mom was widowed young. Two of my friends lost their husbands this past year. We can’t just assume that we’ll always have each other, so making every day count…it’s really important.

Compliment. After a couple of decades together, it’s easy to forget this, because you’re so accustomed to each other. “You smell nice” or “your hair looks cute today” reminds your spouse that you still notice.

The two of us in Sydney, climbing the bridge.

The two of us in Sydney, climbing the bridge.

Be spontaneous. Doing things spur of the moment is always fun. Get in the car and go to a town you’ve never been to and have lunch. Open the door naked (but not to the UPS man…an important difference).

Prioritize. Yes, your kids are the most important people in the world to you. Nothing is more important than raising them right. It is our sacred duty to do our best on that front. But don’t forget that someday, those little fledglings will leave the nest. Make sure your marriage is given the time and importance it deserves, so it will last a lifetime—not just until the kids go to college. I recently had dinner with a couple who’d been together for more than 40 years, and their life is so full, and their love so obvious that it made me excited to get older and be married longer. (Hi, R&B! Yes, I’m talking about you!)

McIrish consoling me at Derek Jeter's last home game.

McIrish consoling me at Derek Jeter’s last home game.

Show kindness. The other night, one of us (not telling you who) woke up feeling crummy. It was three o’clock in the morning. Suddenly, it seemed quite reasonable that the cause was Ebola. (Damn that 3 a.m. Everything seems so much worse at that hour.) The other spouse reassured and soothed and got an extra blanket and promised all was well. There was no, “Not this again, you crazy hypochondriac.” No. Because we love each other.

Take action, and not just the nooky kind. There was a study recently that said being hugged for 20 seconds causes oxytocin to be released. Oxytocin is the happy drug, the same that floods a woman’s system when she gives birth. Little touches, like stroking your honey’s hair or neck, or holding hands, reinforce your bond in actions. And you know what else does that? Filling up the gas tank without being asked, or baking cookies for no reason.

23 years ago!

23 years ago!

Profess. Not a day of our 23 years of marriage has passed without us telling each other “I love you.” Most days, those words are said three or five times. Because it’s true, and it’s a gift, and we know better than to take it for granted.

Happy anniversary to my honey! Thanks for 23 wonderful years!

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UnknownUntil I became an author, I rarely had a professional manicure. I had my nails done for my wedding, I think. Otherwise, nah. I’m a Yankee! I garden. I had little kids and had to wash hands constantly. What’s the point?

But now, I do signings and go out in public, and I figured I should have decent-looking hands. Doing my own nails is too much of a challenge in the hand-eye coordination department, so I generally end up looking like a marbled-nails-fail-400x400toddler—a blind toddler—did the job.

Hence, I now go to a salon fairly regularly, and Sophie (not her real name) does my nails. She’s Korean, very beautiful and tiny, with long, long hair and very strong hands. She’s also very patient as I explain why all her hard work from two weeks ago has been sullied. “Oh, is that cookie dough?” I might ask. “Sorry. Oh, wow, that nail is torn. I was wrestling with the dog, and it got a little crazy. It’s always been funky, ever since I lost a chunk on a fishing lure. A lure? You know, fishing? For large mouth bass? It was a scum frog. Scum frog? I almost caught something that day.”

Sophie just gives me a little smile, then says something to her coworker in Korean. Probably, “This idiot still doesn’t realize I speak perfect English. And not another story about the funky nail. When’s my coffee break?” I overtip to compensate.

My feet are not actually this hairy, for the record.

My feet are not actually this hairy, for the record.

About twice a year, I get the dreaded pedicure. Picture Frodo Baggins. Now, picture his hideous, leathery feet. If only I could grow kidneys the way I grow calluses, there would be no need for transplants ever again. She gave me a pedicure after I broke my ankle and it was all black and blue. I thought she was maybe going to throw up, but she bravely powered through.

To make Sophie’s job easier, I bought a tool this winter. It’s sort of a cheese grater/pumice stone/scrubbing brush/sander. About four weeks before I need a pedicure, I go into training. I even bought some mysterious callus remover that you smear all over your feet, wait five minutes (or until you can’t stand the burning), and then “wipe your calluses away!” It doesn’t actually work, so I bought a rather dangerous razor blade thingie. You know, just to shave off a few centimeters so Sophie doesn’t get a permanent hunchback working on my hobbit feet

“You let me do,” she said this last time, frowning over my too-pink feet (which were almost done bleeding. “No more tool. Okay?”

I took that to mean “No more being such a tool, Kristan.” Chastened, I agreed.

Unknown-2Sophie has the quietest voice I’ve ever heard on a human. She’s very sweet, and laughs a lot. She seems to be the most popular manicurist, and I only go to her. I like to think that makes her happy (because of the overtipping, you know?) The last part of the manicure is when she rubs lotion onto my hands and massages my fingers. I always feel like hugging her when she’s done.

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