That slightly tragic air

victorian-widow-7Here’s a secret: I imagine being widowed all the time.

Don’t worry. McIrish knows. He understands. First, he’s a firefighter, so he puts himself in harm’s way all the time. One time, he was late coming home, and he didn’t bother calling. His phone was off, so obviously, I assumed the chief would be pulling up the driveway any second to deliver the tragic news. When McIrish finally did walk in, I didn’t look up from my computer, as I had reached the “You’d better be dead or I WILL KILL YOU” phase of grieving. “What are you working on?” he asked, all innocent-like.

“Your eulogy!” I said and burst into tears. (Fun fact: He’s never forgotten to call again.)

Also, my dad died when he was 47, so for more than half my life, I’ve see my mom dealing with widowhood. Two of my friends have been widowed far, far too young. And I’m writing a character who’s a widow right now.

50s-actress-adorable-audrey-Favim.com-2805017So it’s only natural that I think about these things myself. I’ve teased McIrish about the things I’ll do if he dies before I do: I’ll buy an electric griddle to make pancakes and use the 15-pound cast-iron monstrosity we have now as his headstone. I’ll paint the living room wall electric blue. I’ll travel to lots of great places, but I’ll always have an air of sad mystery about me. Men will find me more attractive than they do now, drawn to that slightly tragic (but still so brave) vibe I give off. I’ll lose those pesky ten extra pounds and dress better to, uh, honor his memory (or something, but I’m always turned out very nicely in these imaginings). I’ll buy a horse and ride elegantly across the grounds of Pemberley. I’ll date, but I’ll never marry again, because who could ever take his place?

hbbugles01McIrish listens to these tales with a slightly sardonic expression. He doesn’t come out and say what he’s really thinking—that I’ll become a hoarder, eat only orange food and adopt far too many dogs.

It goes without saying that I hope to die in my sleep at the same exact second as my beloved husband, holding hands in our old age. I guess it’s the curse of the writer’s imagination to picture all those other things. As for me dying first, well, let’s just say I’ve already picked out his second wife. No mysterious air of tragedy for him.

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Bucket list item checked!

A terribly exciting thing happened to me at the Romance Writers of America national conference this past week, gang. Terribly exciting!

I saved a child.

I saved a child! Yes! I’m serious and everything!

Revolving Women

Not the doors, but close enough

Picture this. The Marriott Marquis has giant revolving doors. Three or four adults can get in and shuffle around, or you and your giant suitcase that contains 11 pairs of shoes, for example.

There I was on Tuesday, about to depart for a business lunch. I got into the door along with an incredibly beautiful little boy about three or four years old. “Hey, cutie,” I said, as he was indeed adorable. He beamed up at me. True love! The doors started to move.

Then Mr. Cutie began screaming. Screaming, I tell you! His adorable little sneaker-clad foot was stuck under the door. And the stupid doors kept going.

Luckily, I had been preparing for this moment my entire life. I threw my super-strong awesome farm-girl self (see recent blog on the Jaunty Quills about fat-shaming) against the door and pushed with all my might. The door was still trying to revolve, no automatic cut-off, and though I’d stopped any further momentum, the boy’s foot was still caught, and he was screaming like…well, like his foot was being crushed.

“I’ve got you, I’ve got you,” I said, straining with my mighty shoulders and wicked strong legs against the door. I couldn’t stop, or the door would move forward. No hotel staff seemed to be around. Probably twenty or thirty seconds had passed, and Little Cutie still couldn’t pull his foot from the door. His father was on the other side, yelling “Kamir!” or “Come here!” or “Take your sneaker off!” or something. I couldn’t hear, because the automated voice was saying “Step forward. Step forward. Step forward.” Which, of course, we could not.

manish dayal

Am fairly certain that my little friend will be this cute when he grows up.

My eardrums were cringing, so I reached down—still bracing my shoulder against the detestable door, mind you—and grabbed Little Guy and tugged. Tugged once, twice, three times and popped him right out of his shoe and into my arms, so his screams were now right against my left ear. He reared back (stranger danger, you know?), and it was like holding onto a live tuna, and I almost dropped him, but then I shuffled forward and deposited him into his father’s arms.

Mission accomplished.

“Thank you, thank you so much,” the father said and sat down with the little guy. He took off his sock. The foot was bruised, but not broken, and the cutie’s screams dropped to sobs, then to sniffles.

“You were very brave,” I lied to him, patting his knee.

The father kept thanking me, and though I wanted the mayor of New York to give me a medal of valor or something, I had to go to lunch. So I did. But not before I called McIrish AND my mother and said, “Guess what? I saved a kid!”

Or a kid’s foot, maybe. But still. It was awfully nice to be in the right place at the right time.

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Pajama Land

I was wondering what to write this week…it’s been both a very busy and very quiet week for me, lots of errands, but nothing really going on. Lots of porch-sitting; I copyedited ANYTHING FOR YOU (Blue Heron #5) entirely on the porch. The weather was lovely for the most part.

The thing that this week really featured was my vast pajama collection. Most days, I don’t work in PJs, but this week had a day or two where I stayed real, as it were. And so, let’s talk pajamas.

polloshermanosCurrently, I am gracing my family with pink plaid pajama bottoms bought from Target many, many years ago. Also, a Los Pollos Hermanos t-shirt (Breaking Bad fans will understand).  Other t-shirts include a pink Derek Jeter (I’ll never let go, Derek!), Body by Ben & Jerry’s, Blackbeard’s Bait & Tackle and Joe’s Bar: Big drinks, good food, lots of fun.

Not the author

Not the author

I am probably most known for my leopard-print pajamas, which I always wear on Plotmonkey weekends with the girlies. Wouldn’t want to let anyone down. Those were a Christmas present from McIrish about 8 years ago. The elastic waistband is shot, but I’ll persevere.

Then I have my Kate Hepburn pajamas: white and pink striped, very classy. I am not the type to appear in public in pajamas, but if I were, these would be a fashion statement.

floral with sharksAnother gift from McIrish: the floral print pajamas. I feel very old-fashioned in these. (Please note the shark slippers. I gave the same pair to my then 6-year-old nephew.)

During the school year, I often walk Dearest Son down our long driveway to the bus stop, so we can chat. I always have my pajamas on, and he gently and lovingly stops me at the curve and says, “This is far enough, Mother. Bye! I love you.” I understand. My bedhead alone makes me look like a crazy person, let alone the PJs, LLBean muck boots and McIrish’s Carhartt jacket.

One time, I had to chase after my dog in pajamas, because she was going after a fox. Fittingly, I was wearing the leopard-print jammies that day—it was all very food chain, very predator-meets-prey. Another time, I got lost in a hotel in a bathrobe. A few weeks ago, I was walking Willow on the Cape, early enough that I wouldn’t run into anyone. Of course, I ran into someone. He kindly didn’t mention the fact that my pajama bottoms were on inside out, and if he too was on Team Daryl, as my t-shirt proclaimed me to be, he didn’t say so.

This week, I’ll be at Romance Writers of America’s national conference. Chances are high that I will lock myself out of the room in one of the above ensembles, if history is any indicator.

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Enforcing family fun

IMG_1637

The “stop touching me” posture known to big sisters everywhere…

There was a mandatory family walk the other night in the Higgins household. It was a beautiful summer night, Dearest Son was heading off to camp for a month, and it was the last night for a while that the four of us would be together. What could be nicer than a walk, right?

The children skipped merrily down the driveway… well, okay, that’s not strictly true. They were herded out the door, and prodded, and words like adoption, illegal and unfair might’ve been thrown around. There may have been a brief scuffle once or twice.

I attempted to walk with my arm around Dearest, and of course he agreed instantly. Actually, I might have heard the words child protective services, but in his heart, I’m sure he loved it. Princess kept commenting on the beautiful night (or begging to go home, I’m not sure which).

Princess pointed out that my sweatpants were on inside out, and Dearest told me he thought it was “just your 80’s sense of style.” I offered to take the pants off and turn them right-side out, and their laughter quickly ended.

IMG_1650The light was fading across the corn fields. We ran into two sets of neighbors: one, my childhood friend who rides his bike everywhere he goes; the other, the guy whose kids I babysat long ago, and whose grandchild I got to snuggle this at the Fourth of July at the party he hosts for the entire neighborhood. We petted his dogs and talked about how nice the party was, then continued on.

IMG_1661The kids poked each other and used the extremely unique nicknames they have for each other, and McIrish and I proved we could still carry our younger son. (The Princess declined our offers to carry her, being far too dignified for such things.)

When we got home, McIrish said to me, “This was a great idea.” And, though they hated to do it, the kids had to admit he was right. : )

 

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Get outta the water!

shark_wave

I didn’t see this. But I expected to.

McIrish is one of those irritatingly logical people. I’m one of those wonderfully emotional people. It’s the old opposites attract thang.

We were on Cape Cod this past week, as you might know, and here’s the thing. Sharks. Right? The first time we went to the beach, there were many, many seals in the water, and a convenient rip tide, so no one was allowed to swim; not just by my decree, but by the decree of the lifeguards. The second time, I didn’t have a bathing suit (I forgot to pack mine, Dr. Freud.) So whilst the children and husband were in the water, I used my telephoto lens to scan the waters near them in case of a certain terrifying silhouette or gaping mouth. I must’ve looked like the paparazzi when Hugh Jackman goes to Bondi Beach.

hqdefault

Still didn’t see this. But that didn’t mean it was safe! Not when you’re me, nuh-uh.

Everyone made it out alive, thanks to my vigilance. And I bought a bathing suit the next day.

The third time, we went to the bay side, and everyone knows there are no sharks on the bay side. Even so, I would only go out in my inner tube, which I quite enjoyed until the tide started sucking me out to sea and McIrish had to swim out and tow me back in. That’s because I didn’t want to put my feet in the water. It’s the first thing a shark might see. But technically, I did go in, and I got wet and everything. Victory! That night, our last night, we made the kids watch Jaws, and we all quite enjoyed it.

maxresdefaultAnd then, on the last day, I vowed not to let my fears conquer me. Hadn’t I swum at Bondi Beach in Australia, after all? Hadn’t I swum (and nearly drowned) on the Great Barrier Reef? Hadn’t I gone into this very same ocean at this very same beach every year for most of my entire life?

Yes. So McIrish and I went down to the beach. No seals. No shark warnings. No rip tide. Just beautiful, clear water and lovely waves.

I went in.

The water was 56 degrees. Oh, people…that’s so frickin’ cold! And there was McIrish, relentlessly and cheerfully towing me in, and every time a wave came, it threatened to get me wet! (I know, I know…I’m not terribly logical about swimming). So I did what any sane shark_weekwoman would do: I screamed, laughed, I begged him to save me, then climbed onto his head to avoid the frigid North Atlantic (and any sharks that might’ve been swimming in there).

“You were so brave,” my honey said when we got out.

“Thanks, babe,” I answered. Because for me, that was brave. Even if it looked like idiocy to everyone else.

Happy Shark Week, everyone!

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Eulogy for a tree

The big white oak was between 350 and 400 years old, the biggest tree in my town, the second biggest in Connecticut, according to a tree expert.

When my parents first bought the land where they would build my childhood home, it was immediately apparent that this tree was the reason the property was special. Our woods were once a farm; most of the trees are only 100 years old or so, but this tree had been growing before white people came to America. My parents bought the land from a farmer; his daughter told us that she used to bring her father lunch every day in the summer, and they’d sit under that tree and talk.

The author, age 7

The author, age 7

The base of tree was 20 feet in circumference. About ten feet up, the tree separated into three massive parts, two close together, one a little further apart. The gap between the twins and the third made for a nice saddle, and my sister and I would sit there and pretend to be riding horses. Burls made saddle horns, and good hand-holds when you climbed up. There was plenty of room to sit and read, and a hollow spot where you could put your copy of Little House on the Prairie. A vine hung from one branch, and if you ran down the hill, you could grab it and swing out like Tarzan.

Year after year, a pair of raccoons made their home about thirty feet up, and we could see the babies sticking out their sweet faces. Many an owl sat in the upper branches and called at night.

DSCN8047When I was thirteen, the third trunk of the tree had to be removed. The tree had rot in it, and I sat on our deck, watching accusingly as the arborist cut it down. It was like The Giving Tree, except instead of me being the ungrateful brat who abused his friend, I adored my tree, and wanted every branch to remain inviolate.

In the summers of my childhood, I’d ride my horse around our yard, through the woods. One afternoon as the cicadas buzzed and Jenny grazed lacksadaisically, I lay back against her and looked up at the sky, laced through the branches of the big tree. A red hawk circled overhead. It was the first time I remember thinking, “This is a perfect moment. Don’t ever forget this.”

But nature was taking its toll. Oak trees don’t live forever. When I got married and moved back to Connecticut, next door to my mom, McIrish assessed the tree. We cabled the two trunks way up high so if one of the massive branches broke, it wouldn’t come down on Mom’s roof. “The tree really isn’t safe,” McIrish said, but there was of course no way we would take it down.

Our kids sat in the crook of the tree, boosted there, proud and happy and giddy to be up so high. It was like a benevolent god, that tree, lord of the forest, unmatched in every way.

The tree withstood all the storms in recorded history. It survived the Hurricane of 1938, which devastated Connecticut. It endured the ice storm of 1976, when we slept in the family room because so many branches were coming down. Three years ago, a nor’easter dumped a foot of snow in October, and younger, stronger trees all around us snapped and fell. A recent hurricane left us without power for 6 days, trees down all over town, but still the mighty oak stood, watching over us in every blizzard, every hurricane, every thunderstorm.

Until Tuesday. We were sitting on the porch, fully intending to enjoy the thunderstorm, but I had a feeling this one was different. “Get in the house,” I said to my family. “This isn’t normal.” The thunder was right overhead, the trees suddenly waving and bending.

And before we could get inside, a tremendous tearing sound, and the big oak ripped in half, crashing down so hard it shook our house. My daughter wailed; thunder roared and lightning spat and hissed. I was terrified it had hit my mother’s house, but there are too many trees in the way for me to see. I called her, frantic; she didn’t answer. The power went out, and all was black except for the lightning.

When the storm passed, McIrish and I went to see the damage.

IMG_1550In its last act, the big oak fell away from my mother’s house, away from her pool, away from the giant spruce pine, away from the Japanese maple that was my father’s last gift to my mother. Instead, it fell across the lawn, gouging out huge chunks of earth and grass, taking out part of a smaller maple on our property.

It was done.

The next day, we all four got to work, clearing another tree off Mom’s driveway, cutting up the branch that fell in her front lawn. And then, when we were done with the lesser trees, we started on the big oak.

terence and treeAll day, we worked, dragging the branches, stacking logs. McIrish smelled like my father used to, that manly combination of chainsaw oil, sweat and freshly cut wood. I realized I was doing the same job I’d done when I was five years old: dragging the brush to clear the land.

At the end of the day, I asked my family to go over to our house, and I climbed on the fallen oak. Though I am a somewhat ungainly adult, my feet had no problem finding a place, and my balance was sure as I walked up the trunk. Once again, and for the last time, I was in the embrace of my old friend, and I knew I wouldn’t fall. After all, kids know trees. I sat there, some ten or fifteen feet above the ground, and cried, wiping my eyes on my t-shirt.

kidsintree

The kids, standing in what is essentially 1/3 of the tree trunk.

And I was glad, all of a sudden, that the tree had crashed down in a final, tremendous, awe-inspiring act. I was glad it hadn’t been chunked apart by strangers from a tree service, branch by branch. The old oak tree deserved a mighty end, to go out with a roar, and so it did.

My siblings and I will take some of the wood from the tree and make something from it. McIrish and I will plant a new white oak in the crumbling soil and compost of the original, and maybe someday, people will gaze up at it in awe, and touch its bark with reverence, feeling the life within.

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McDaddy

niceypieIn honor of Father’s Day, I figured I’d tell you a few little secrets about McIrish and his paternal skills.

When the Princess was born, he cried. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him cry from happiness. They have a special bond, those two. When I was at my part-time job and Princess was about three, I’d call and ask what they did together. “We sat in the field and looked at the sky,” Princess would report, and really, what could be more wonderful than that?

When Dearest Son was born (emergency c-section, me very, very sick and maybe dying, our son weighing in at 1 pound, 10 ounces), he stayed calm. He was a frickin’ rock, that guy, and when I came out of my seizures every once in a while, I could only ask one question: “The baby…?” wondering if our son was still alive. “Oh, he’s doing great!” my husband would say. “I was just up there, tickling his feet, and he’s really squirmy and lively. Don’t worry.” I would sink back into the nether world for another long while. He never doubted that Dearest would make it.

withdeclanDearest was small for his age for a long time. When McIrish taught him to ride a bike, he’d put his hand out on Dearest’s shoulder and steady him, giving him a push up the hill. When Dearest fell, McIrish would scoop him up and praise him for his bravery, and put him right back on that bike. If there’s a better metaphor for fatherhood, I don’t know what it is.

He made up two strange games for the kids, that only a father could make up. One was called “Wake Up Daddy,” in which he would pretend to sleep and snore loudly as the kids tickled him and wormed their little hands under his shirt to pull his chest hair, and he would laugh and laugh but never open his eyes. The other game was called Wild Pig Ride. The kids would sit on him and he’d buck and jump and they’d scream with joy (and I’d stand by with my hand on the phone in case we needed an ambulance). But everyone was always okay, as it tends to be when a daddy horses around with his kids in a way that a mommy never would.

DSC05985At the first Father-Daughter Dance, when Princess was a freshman in high school, he bought her a corsage, and they both got all dressed up. But she twisted her ankle going out of the house, spraining it, so he carried her back inside, iced and wrapped the ankle, then went out and got them Indian take-out, her favorite. They watched a movie and declared the night much more fun than if they’d gone to the dance.

When we took Princess to college last fall, he was pretty stoic, comforting me the whole ride back, until we turned onto our street, going home without her for the first time. The tears came then. “I can’t believe our little girl is so grown up,” he said, as fathers have said for thousands of years.

When we go to a track meet and Dearest chugs stolidly to the finish line, usually the last of his team, McIrish cheers for him as if he’s about to win the gold medal. Unlike some fathers, McIrish isn’t invested in our son’s athletic prowess. The fact that our boy is there, alive, healthy, amiable and (to our eyes, anyway), running like the wind is more than enough.

Here’s to all you dads out there who are doing it right. Wishing you a nap and lots of hugs and maybe a piece of pie, too.

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Oh, Canada!

IMG_1473I had a great time in Ottawa last weekend! I’ve been to Montreal before (once, with McIrish), and Waterton National Park, and a strange little place called Fort McLeod, but Ottawa was new to me. It’s an old city and a new city too—lots of construction on shiny new buildings, but the castle-like Parliament building and cathedrals that made it feel very old-world.

Here are a few things I noticed:

IMG_1474Ottawans don’t jaywalk. They wait patiently at the light for permission. I do jaywalk, and the Ottawans gazed upon me with awe and wonder as I looked left, right, then walked, light or no light, as they remained at the curb, dazzled by my brash American courage (or so I told myself).

Speaking of traffic, a yellow light doesn’t mean slow down and stop in Ottawa. It means, “The poor guy four cars behind me isn’t going to make this light.”

IMG_1492There is no litter. The city is sparkling clean and puts places like Manhattan and Seattle to shame. I didn’t see a single piece of trash.

It’s very flat and therefore excellent for bike riding along the canal. This was such a pleasant experience! On Sundays, the city closes down a few roads, so bicyclists, roller-bladers, runners, and walkers can get out and enjoy.

IMG_1486All the signs and announcements are in English and French. “Fourth floor,” said the elevator. “Quatrieme étage. Fifth floor. Cinquieme étage.” It was like a Sesame Street language lesson. Rideau Canal, one sign said, and underneath that, for the French-speakers, Canal Rideau.

The notion that Canadians are incredibly nice definitely held up. People were happy to suggest restaurants, guide me to the bike rental place and direct me to the best place for beaver tail. The fact that I was from Connecticut elicited excitement and questions about my exotic homeland (and really, I never get that, being that I’m from Connecticut…we’re not really known for, um, anything). My dinner companions sat back happily to see if I would like their beloved poutine. “Do the cheese curds squeak?” they asked. “It’s best if the cheese curds squeak.” I wasn’t sure if they did, but I can see myself scarfing down more poutine at some happy point in the future.

IMG_1510So if you’re looking for a lovely city to visit for a long weekend, consider Canada’s beautiful capital. And make sure you eat beaver tail and poutine! And ride your bike along the canal. And watch out for the birds at Parliament. But that’s another story.

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In case of disaster

dwayne-johnson-fast-and-furious1I saw San Andreas tonight because I love disaster movies. Dragged the family with me, too, so they too could wince and cringe. We had a wonderful time!

Disaster movies reassure me, because (I think) they prepare me for the dreaded tsunami/earthquake/cruise ship overturning/100 foot wave/getting my arm stuck under a rock and having to self-amputate.

True story: my editor and I recently reenacted this pose. Miss you, Susan!

True story: my editor and I recently reenacted this pose. Miss you, Susan!

Remember, I grew up in the 70s. Earthquake (in Sensaround). The Towering Inferno. The Poseidon Adventure. The 90s, too, were rich with disaster preparedness—Armageddon, Deep Impact, Twister. Titanic, the motherlode of disaster movies. (That headboard could’ve held two, Rose. Just sayin’.)

So here’s what I learned tonight.

  1. Find a father who is a helicopter pilot/veteran with arms the size of small children and have me adopt me, quick. This means my mother must marry Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I don’t have a problem with this.
  2. Never throw out the push-button phone in the upstairs closet.
  3. If a giant shard of glass slices inches deep into a new friend’s leg, just pull it out. Don’t worry about arteries or anything. It’ll be fine.
  4. Should my mother divorce the aforementioned father and start dating a billionaire architect with a private jet and limo, do not trust him.
  5. When a tsunami rolls through Connecticut, quickly get a rigid hull inflatable boat and race toward it. This is essentially my most terrifying nightmare—big waves—but one does what one must.

Okay, lesson over! Time for me to read a book. I’m choosing Worse Case Scenario Survival Guide, in case San Andreas missed anything.

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The greatest week

me and my bannerThis week I was at BookExpo America and BookCon, both giant book shows held in the Javits Center in New York. My family came in, because my publisher had done something special for me, and I wanted McIrish and the kids to see it. My banner. I got quite choked up when I saw it. So did McIrish. : )

Here are a few other things I got to do while in New York…

Thanks so, so much to everyone who came to BEA and BookCon! It was utterly thrilling. There’s no other word for it.

 

Got to have dinner with my great friend, Robyn Carr, and the family!

Got to have dinner with my great friend, Robyn Carr, and the family!

the line

Got to say hi to all these wonderful people who stood in line to get a book from me…Thank you so much, folks! It’s such an honor for me!

Got to see the beautiful and funny Mindy Kaling and snap this picture just before Security told me to scram.

Got to see the beautiful and funny Mindy Kaling and snap this picture just before Security told me to scram.

I got to pretend to be the publicist for my friend, Katy Lee. It was easy; she's up for a Daphne and a RITA this year in romantic suspense.

I got to pretend to be the publicist for my friend, Katy Lee. It was easy; she’s up for a Daphne and a RITA this year in romantic suspense.

Also got to shill for Regina Kyle, another friend, by holding up her book and saying, "Steamy and delicious!" to all the appropriate-age people who walked by.

Also got to shill for Regina Kyle, another friend, by holding up her book and saying, “Steamy and delicious!” to all the appropriate-age people who walked by.

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