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.

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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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Motherboy

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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Sophie

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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My other true love

700-fill-power-down-pillow-A-mdI had one of those making-out-with-my-pillow moments the other day. I live for these. No, I do!

First of all, my pillow is very special to me (obviously). Huggy Pillow, I call it. McIrish threw the original Huggy Pillow out about 15 years ago in a fit of rage and jealousy…well, okay, it wasn’t that. It was that all the feathers in Huggy Pillow had broken down, and it was this sad, limp thing and not very hygienic, either. He gave me a new Huggy Pillow, but it took about a year to get that thing into shape. But Huggy Pillow is named that for a reason; I’m always very cold at night, so I clutch the down pillow to my chest and have McIrish or the dog snuggle up to my back.

goose-down-pillows-hong-kongAnyway, Huggy Pillow also serves as my fake boyfriend when I’m writing a book. So the other day, I was flopped on the bed, where some of my best work is done, talking to Huggy Pillow (also known as Connor O’Rourke these days, as he is the hero of my current work-in-progress), and voila! A scene was born. A really great scene that involved a few difficult admissions, some tender words, and yes, kissing.

shoppingI talk to Huggy Pillow a lot when McIrish is at the firehouse every fourth night. Huggy is an excellent listener; sometimes better than McIrish himself, who has this tendency to fall into a deep coma the second he lies down. I’m usually the first one in bed at night, so even if McIrish is home, Huggy and I may have a nice long conversation. “What did you say?” my sainted husband might ask.

“I’m not talking to you,” I answer. “It’s none of your business.” I then continue with my deep, loving talk with the inanimate object.

A martyred I can’t believe I’m married to a writer sigh comes from my husband. Huggy and I ignore this rude intrusion and continue with our soul revelations.

Is it weird? Of course it is. But hey. You’re reading this blog. You must like my books. We’re in this together, gang.

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A Connecticut Yankee in Milan & Paris

Okay, here’s the thing. Women in Milan dress incredibly well. Better than we American chicks can ever pull off, I think, and that takes some pressure off. It was very inspiring! Even old ladies and little girls have flair. Also, it seems to be the law that they wear a scarf tied in a fabulous, interesting way that we Americans will never master. A lot of hats. Colored tights. Gray, black and white clothing. Everyone has a fabulous bag and a leather coat.

The food. Is. Incredible. The men are short and good-looking, and boy, do they know how to talk to a woman. There’s a little charge with the men in Milan, from the guards who checked my bag and called me bella to the concierge at the hotel who told me I must think of the hotel as my second home to the waiter who told me I couldn’t be finished, because then I would leave him. It was incredibly flattering. I often felt like purring.

Drivers seem to enjoy jamming their foot on the gas, then slamming their foot on the brake. There is only speeding and screeching to a halt. Also, the highways? Oy. I’ve never been in a car going that fast.

And onto Paris. (I’m skipping Hamburg, because I wasn’t there long enough to make a full impression. Next time, I hope!)

Paris is a lot like New York to me in that things move very fast. Everywhere you turn, there’s a monument and a statue and a building that’s more beautiful than the last one you just saw two seconds ago. The beauty of the architecture is quite staggering.

Parisian women have great hair. Tattoos seem far less common than in the U.S., but so many people here smoke! There are beggars with dogs everywhere, though they weren’t as aggressive as the beggars in Venice. The subway system was actually easier to use than New York’s. Seriously. Parisians have heaters blasting everywhere you go, even in the outdoor cafes. I think they feel the cold more. If you go into a restaurant and wait to be seated, you may just be ignored, because the custom is to sit yourself down. Service is much slower than in the States because French people actually like their food. There’s not a lot of obesity here, even though Europeans clean their plates and eat late in the evening and drink a lot more wine. I think we Yanks are doing something wrong.

They’re also incredibly helpful and polite. All those rumors about Parisians not liking Americans and scoffing at your attempts to speak French? Absolutely not true. A lot of people complimented me on my accent (thank you, Mrs. Williamson!) and every shopkeeper said “Bonjour!” when I came in. They were just lovely, whether I bought something or not.

Oh, I loved being abroad! And you know what? It’s thanks to you, my beloved readers. It’s because of you that I was given this magical trip; you’ve made my books popular, and I thank you for that with everything I’ve got.

To the readers in Milan, Hamburg, Lyon and Paris, a thousand thanks for coming out to see me in your free time (or skipping work!). Thanks for the many gifts—your generosity is quite remarkable! Thanks for the pictures and tweets and blogs and posts. Thank you for saying nice things about my hair and accent, and thanks for the food recommendations and directions. To those of you who were nervous to meet me…well, I was a little nervous to meet you, too, and it turned out to be for nothing, didn’t it? Feels like we’re old friends already.

I’ll be so happy to be back with McIrish and Dearest Son, to spend Thanksgiving with the Princess home. But I’ll miss you, and these incredible cities so rich with history and good smells and better food, and I’ll carry these memories with me for the rest of my life.

Grazie. Danke. Et merci beaucoup!

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Venezia!

DSCN6948[1]Random thoughts on my new favorite city…

There is no such thing as an Italian speaking in a monotone. Everything sounds terribly exciting when said by an Italian. She might be saying, “I need to buy shampoo,” but it sounds like the most passionate and beautiful thing in the world.

Venetians do not have their phones implanted into their hands, ignoring what goes on around them. They talk to each other. A lot. Nonstop, in fact. No one has their phone out during meals. No one. It’s very refreshing.

DSCN6929Ask four Italians for directions to the same place, and you’ll get four very different answers. “Take the 4.1 to San Marco and change to a southgoing boat.”

“Take the 4.2 north. It goes all the way.”

“The 4.2 doesn’t go to Murano. Take the 3 to Plaza e Roma and change.”

“Get off at San Samuele and walk.”

“This boat no longer goes to San Samuele. It did an hour ago, but it doesn’t now.”

DSCN6858In Venice, one cannot walk in a straight line from A to B. Instead, picture a bumblebee. A drunken bumblebee. That’s how the streets are laid out. And many streets and bridges look exactly the same.

Venetians enjoy tricking tourists by naming streets and bridges the same thing. “Campo Santa Maria Formosa,” “Campo Santa Maria del Giglio,” and “Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini” are all (supposedly) legitimate places. Google Maps was as confused as I was. You know that little voice feature that guides you? “In 60 feet, take a left onto Main Street.” Well, it kept saying, “Turn around and head 0 feet for Ponte della Something.” For the record, there was no bridge in front of me. I’d turn around. It’d tell me to turn around again. And again. I was getting dizzy.

The dogs are not as friendly in Venice as American cities. Neither do they go on leashes. They just run ahead of their people. And they never get lost. True Venetians.

No one wears jeans or sneakers except tourists (but not this tourist, I’m proud to report).

I only saw one cat the whole time I was there.

Men are very friendly here. They sing to you, tell you you’re beautiful, stop talking to each other to give you the eye and call you bella.

cappaVenice seems like a small town. Everyone says, “Ciao, Paolo, Ciao, Maria, Ciao, ciao, ciao.” Makes the city seem so welcoming.

The cappuccino is beyond compare. Eat your heart out, Starbucks.

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Don’t worry. Be happy.

Unknown-1Worry is the song of my people. We’re Hungarian. And Catholic. That means I’m twice blessed in the worry department. So this week, I took out accidental life insurance. What if my plane goes down? What if I fall into a canal and am run over by gondola and drown? What if I get hit by a bus in Paris?

I already have life insurance (please, of course I do!). But now I have accidental life insurance, too. I called my guy at Fidelity, and he immediately remembered me—the romance writer who has written her own eulogy four times and keeps an active list of songs to be played at the wake. (It’s all good stuff—U2 and Dave Matthews and The Boss, don’t worry. You will not hear On Eagle’s Wings.) Anyway, Ken happily sold me more life insurance, just in case.

And then the fun began.

My family is covered. Princess, Dearest and McIrish will be wealthy in their grief, you know…just in case.

Unknown-2No, this was the fun life insurance, when I can give out money posthumously. Fisher House Foundation. Yale-New Haven Hospital, where both my kids were born. My nieces and nephews and godchildren. My book club—a weekend away, on me, with really good martinis all around. My aunt and uncle who have cooked us dinner so many times—a fabulous vacation. A high school girl who wants to be a writer when she grows up—a scholarship. My plotting friends—another weekend away, on me. May they cry sloppily and laugh more. The girls down the street, who have long played dress-up with my fabulous shoes—my fabulous shoes. My mother-in-law, who is wonderful, and her best friend—a travel fund, so they can have lots of fun on me.

I can’t tell you what a good time I had, typing away, making my list, instructing McIrish to honor my wishes. I became quite bossy, specifying what the money could and could not be used for. How old a person had to be before spending it. What would happen if the heir (yes! Finally, I had heirs!) couldn’t use it.

UnknownI pictured the Reading of the Will, to be done in a fabulous library somewhere, read by…oh, I don’t know, I envisioned Morgan Freeman. “And to her godchild, Margaret…” “And in honor of her children, a sum of…” “And so her mother will finally cut down those rhododendrons and reseed that lawn, a gift of…”

Listen. Everyone has to have a hobby.

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