The woods are lovely, dark and deep

pathAfter a very long winter, spring is in its full glory around here. Our valley is shadowy and mysterious and full of life. Dearest Son saw a black bear cub the other day, can you imagine? The owl family is loud and, I like to imagine, tight-knit, the adults hooting, the little ones in their funny, screechy answering whistle. The wood thrush sings until dark, the last bird to go quiet for the night, and the nuthatch seems to be the first one awake, at 4:17.

fairyhouseWhen I was little, our valley and woods seemed brimming with magic. I was convinced that I’d find a cave with no end, or a tunnel leading to someplace other, where maybe unicorns lived, or where I’d find the secret to flying. I even had a little bag should I find such a place, a patchwork drawstring bag I’d made in Girl Scouts. Inside, I had all the necessities: a pocket knife from my grandfather for tools and self-protection; a candle and matches for that tunnel or cave; and a Twinkie, in case I needed food.

owlI studied uprooted trees for secret entryways, and noted which moss beds seemed to have a shimmer of magical power. I looked for fairy rings (and found a few, I’m quite sure). Like a Druid, I could feel the life of the trees around me, all that green, the shadows and the sunshine. Once, as I sat on a hillside, an owl flew right over my head, its wings silent, and landed in a branch so close to me I could see it blink.

fernsIn our woods, I’ve seen deer and turkeys, coyotes and foxes. Once, I saw a moose, and once, the elusive and sinister fisher cat.

The other day, I went for a walk by myself in the woods, remembering those times when I yearned to find that secret passage to the magical world. Now that I’m an adult, I can see that I was living in it all along.

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Things My Mother Said

By the time my mom was 25, she had three kids in diapers…three kids in three and a half years. To keep things exciting, she also had a new house and a puppy.

YankeesYou’ve loved hearing about how she gets burrs stuck in her hair, how she calls me the wrong name, how she feels about small rodents, bats and birds. She loses things a lot, and sometimes leaves the frying pan on the stove and then gets in the car to run errands, starting a small fire. She likes to tell me how drowsy she gets behind the wheel of the car and, in case that results in her death, to bury her with her Yankees blanket.

She’s a lot of fun. Life is, er…more exciting with her around. And I love her dearly. But because it’s Mother’s Day, rather than tell you a funny story about her, I thought I’d tell how truly fantastic she was when I was a kid. And so, without further ado, here are some of her words of wisdom.

Unknown-1“Work it out.” My mother did not listen to our bickering like a judge, calmly listening to each side’s many complaints about our siblings. Instead, she’d say, “Work it out. I don’t care.” This taught us to do just that…or to ignore the sibling in question. Mom was also famous for saying while driving, “If you don’t knock it off, I’m gonna turn around and smack someone.” Working together…and also keeping it down while someone was trying to drive…were the lessons of the day.

Unknown-2“Go play.” In my memory, we were barely allowed in the house as kids. Every day, we’d play. Outside. We’d run around with the neighbor’s kids, climb trees, brush the horse, make forts. At dinner time, Mom would stick her head out the door and bellow, “Supper!” and we’d come running. After supper, it was back outside until bedtime. This is the formula for a happy childhood, FYI.

“Make it yourself.” Mom cooked for us almost every night. My father never did. Ever. If we wanted a snack, or if it was the weekend and we were hungry for lunch, she’d say, “Make it yourself.” Why, after all, should she stop doing her thing? She had other interests and responsibilities. “I’m not your servant,” she’d also say. We did our own laundry and cleaned our own rooms. Of course we did! Why wouldn’t we?

“It’s none of your business.” This was actually pretty cool…the secret life of adults. Being an adult was mysterious and fascinating. We didn’t live in a household where kids were treated like little bonsai adults. We were children. There was a difference. We were sent to our rooms when big conversations took place. Mom protected us from knowing too much, too soon. Her worries were not our worries, because she was a grownup, and we were her kids.

34-a-daughters-kiss“Go kiss your father.” My dad wasn’t as hands-on as Mom; he worked long hours and valued his space. But Mom made sure we didn’t forget about him as he nursed a glass of wine in the living room. Dad always got his kiss, even if he was too deep in a book to remember to ask for it himself.

“I love you.” My mom wasn’t perfect. But she was pretty damn good. I never once doubted that she loved me. Not for a second.

I love you, too, Mommy! Happy Mother’s Day!

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Marital spats

You guys know I adore McIrish, my sainted husband. He’s the best. He adores me, tookyjfh. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move onto the good stuff.

Fighting! Oh, yes, it happens! Usually over the same things, lo these 23 years. For example…

The You Didn’t Tell Me That. This is a common theme for fights in marriages, I believe. “I’m going out with the girls,” I might say.

“You didn’t tell me that,” he’ll answer.

“Yes, I did.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“I did. I was sitting on the stool right there, and you were making eggs, and I said, ‘I’m going out with the girls,’ and you said—”

“No. You thought you told me, but you didn’t.”

We stare hotly at each other. This works both ways, just so you know. He’ll say, “I told you I have a union meeting,” and I’ll say, “No, you didn’t,” and we go back and forth, each convinced to our dying breath that we are right. (The staring hotly gets kind of fun, to be honest.)

UnknownThe Why Can’t You Do It My Way? Behold, the bed. It’s not that hard to make. A man who can build a house and fix a car and bandage a wound should be able to make a bed without it looking like a two-year-old tried to help Mommy. I think McIrish does this to spite me. I know I use soap on the cast iron frying pans to spite him. Listen. That “seasoning”? It’s grease. I wash the pan with detergent, then dry it, then rub a little olive oil on it. If we lived in medieval times, McIrish would cut off my hand for this offense. But ha! I still do it! I’m fifty years old! I know how to wash a pan!

Unknown-1The Call Your Mother. Clearly, it is McIrish who must call his mother, since I see mine almost every day. I say, “Call your mother. She loves you.” He says, “I will.” A week passes. I remind him to call his mother, as she is sweet and wonderful and he in fact loves her very much. “I will,” he snaps.

“When? Before her death?”

He glares at me hotly. I glare back. I remind him that I too have a son who had better call me at least once a week or I will lay all that blame at McIrish’s feet, since he didn’t call his mother enough. He picks up the phone and has a lovely chat with his mom.

The thing is, we’ve been married long enough that these fights are pretty much autopilot. I don’t expect McIrish to remember everything I’ve ever said (though he should), and he doesn’t expect me to buy into the seasoning argument. S’okay. Keeps things spicy.

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Fly the friendly skies

I love airports. O’Hare is a special favorite, there in the heartland, and that’s where I am now, sitting in a Chili’s, drinking bad coffee, about to head for Savannah via Milwaukee, where I spent a lovely, wonderful weekend with readers and writers at the Barbara Vey Reader Appreciation Weekend.

The first time I flew somewhere as an author, I didn’t know how to go through security. I was so nervous…that person who didn’t realize you couldn’t take hairspray on a carry-on unless it was travel size, who didn’t have her license ready. That was 9 years ago…I’ve been on an awful lot of flights since. This morning, the guy at security said, “Been at this rodeo a few times, have you?”

I guess I’m an experienced flyer now. I know how to pack, and I know how to read signs, and where you can actually sit down and be served a meal. Once, I went to one of those massage places between a long layover and had a chair massage. I know that Seattle has the best restaurants. I know how to get free wifi.

But the wonder of flying never leaves me. All those people, going all those places. Home, or to a wedding or funeral, or a vacation, or to a meeting or job interview. It’s the best place to watch people, which is a great hobby of mine…What does that woman decked out in Coach and Prada do for a living? That sixty-something flight attendant…wonder what her favorite place is? The people who can go through the restricted access doors…what’s back there? The couple with the baby of a different race.

And the captains. I wonder if they’re overtired or if they’ve been drinking, if they still love their jobs, if they could pull a Captain Sully if need be. I feel very safe in the air, as well as that fatalistic view of “Everyone dies someday.” I hope I’d have time to call my family. I hope I’d be calm and comforting to my seatmates. Clearly, I’ve thought about it a lot. : )

Well, it’s time for me to head off, gang! Hope that wherever you are, you’re having a wonderful day. And stay tuned to my Facebook page for pictures of beautiful Savannah, Georgia!

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The gift

harriet_the_spy.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxI straddle the generational line in my extended family. Some of my aunts and uncles are closer to my age than my mother’s. I have one uncle who’s two years older than I am; my grandparents were only in their 40s when I was born. I have 25 first cousins; I’m three years older than my oldest, and 33 years older than my youngest.

When I was a kid, the grownups would crowd into one room, chattering and laughing and bickering, and I’d herd the little ones in the next. I was old enough to understand the adults’ discussion, but I wasn’t quite allowed. Besides, I loved kids even then, and my cousins loved me back.

As I gave horsey rides to my cousins or played chess or read to them, I’d listen to the grownups, their stories and jokes, always feeling a little melancholy that I was still in the other room, never quite cool enough to be with the grownups.

It’s a dynamic that’s still true today in some ways; we never outgrow our childhood identities within our family. I don’t think I’m viewed as a good mom or a successful author in my extended family; I’m just Kristan, the sweet, dorky kid who was so good at babysitting. One of my uncles once said to me, “Of all the people in the family to be a writer, who could’ve guessed it would be you?” Insulting, but there you have it.

UnknownThe thing is, of course it was going to be me. Invisibility has its perks. I can’t tell you how many inappropriate conversations I overheard as a kid. Instead of trying to be the storyteller, I was absorbing the stories, tucking them away for someday, though I didn’t know it then. Battles over loyalty, stories of heartbreak and disappointment, accusations of lying, hurt feelings and tightly held grudges…but also memories of relatives gone, adventures as children, the days of childhoods past. I remember hearing the swells of laughter as my aunts and uncles competed for who was funniest, fastest, sharpest. Nothing could be more wonderful than being there in the kitchen where I wasn’t quite allowed, where conversation would quiet if I sidled into the room.

I managed. The back hall was great for overhearing things, as was the little space beside the radiator and the stairs landing.

Today, as I was working, I could hear my mother and aunt as they talked, their voices rising and waning on the breeze that blew through my windows. I couldn’t make out their words, but it was lovely, my aunt’s husky laugh, my mom’s higher voice. It was like old times; I was there, but not quite, and still wondering what the grownups were talking about.

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By any other name

Kristan Higgins is my real name. I didn’t change it when I married McIrish for the simple reason that I didn’t want to. I don’t have many Higgins relatives, my dad had died recently, so I figured I’d keep my name. Plus, I liked how it sounded better, to be honest.

bunnyKristan is my mother’s maiden name, the last name of her Hungarian grandfather. So both parents are fully represented in my name. McIrish rarely calls me Kristan; I’m honey or, even better, The Bunny. Adorable, is it not?

The thing is, Kristan…right? Or Kristin, Kristen, Christen, Christin, Krystin. It was a hugely popular name, though my mom swears she didn’t know a single child with the same name. Aside from my family origins, I found my name quite uninspired throughout my childhood. It was neither hip enough, unusual enough nor classic enough to be a great name, I thought. I yearned to have another name.

UnknownMisty, for example. Oh, stop laughing! I loved that name! The fact that I also loved Misty of Chincoteague probably had something to do with this. But I knew a girl named Misty, and she was so pretty and knew how to dress, and also got kissed by boys in public and everything, so clearly she was all I was not.

Jessica. That seemed like the ultimate perfect name. Never mind that every other girl was named Jessica, I too wanted to be Jessica! Or…Jesse. How cool would that be! Note: Jesse Hayworth, aka Jessica Andersen, my friend and fellow author, is totally living my dream.

Sarah. This is a lovely, perfect name, simple and pretty. My best friend’s mom is named Sarah, as well as a sweet girl I once babysat.

nameBut when the time came that I had good reason to use another name—authorhood—I opted to keep Kristan Higgins. Seemed like a rose by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet.

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No whining

UnknownThe other day, some friends and I were whining in the manner that friends whine to each other. Subjects included hot flashes, muscle pain, weather, children, work, writing, weather, boredom, professional organizations, siblings, parents, weather, coworkers…uh…kind of everything under the sun. And it was funny, because just recently, I’d been aggravated by a person who’s very negative. I was complaining about a complainer. Whining about a whiner.

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Then, in the manner that the universe sometimes lets you know you need to snap out of it, I saw something on the internet: the 24-Hour No Complaining Challenge. “I’m not complaining for 24 hours!” I immediately announced to McIrish. “Oh, boy,” he said, which made me wonder just how much of a little black rain cloud I’ve been lately.

Unknown-1And so it began. Weather was the first challenge; it hasn’t been beautiful around here, all that melting, gritty snow, and then rain, and then more snow. But that was okay! Because complaining wasn’t going to change it! Besides, it builds character. Then came parking in a city notorious for bad parking. Not a problem! The parking gods smiled on us, and we found a spot. Already, it seemed, my karma was being returned.

Then a serious challenge: the Apple store, which I’ve previously called Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell. But no! I didn’t even make fun of the hipsters and their indoor hats. I was feeling the bliss. I was Miss Ray of Sunshine! Our genius actually fixed our problem! And you know, I did feel happier.

Denzel Washington CryJust deciding not to vocalize the little negatives for this window of time made be feel extremely optimistic. I bounced into a restaurant, made friends with the maître d’ just like that, cheerfully ordered a jalapeno martini, and proceeded to have a great date night with McIrish. When the guy next to me failed to be as friendly as I was, I didn’t even tell McIrish about it. Messy house? Not a problem. I cheerfully enlisted the boys to help me clean up. Cat barf? That’s okay! It happens. McIrish inviting 20 people over without telling me? I will bake cookies for everyone! (That one was a little hard, I admit. But it was done, so why whine?)

No-whiningThe 24 hours flew by. I decided to go for 48. Seconds after announcing that, I walked into the garage door, which wasn’t up all the way, hit my head, and the streak was over. But guess what? I can start my 24 hours again at any moment.

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Day at the museum

As you may know, Princess and I are terribly cultured. We demonstrated this by going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Snippets from our conversation include:

armourIn the Arms & Armory Wing: “I love that sword! Think of all the people I could smite with that!”

Also, “That armor is so pretty! Now I want armor, too.”

In the Impressionist area: “I like how everything is so swirly and smeary.”

In the sculpture garden: “Want me to take a picture of you in front of that naked boy statue?”

UnknownIn the furniture wing: “Oooh! Narnia!”

In front of the lamppost in the American Wing courtyard: “Oooh! Narnia!”

In the Egypt wing: “That mummy case looks like Kim Kardashian.”

“There’s your sarcophagus. Time for bed! In you go!”

In the modern stuff, in front of a painting of large blue square: “Ah. Art,” and also “I could do that in about five minutes.”

We went out for dinner, pleased that the restaurant had us sitting next to each other, instead of facing so we could see the same patrons and speculate about them. We both had IMG_0878cappucinos, which proved to be a bad choice when we got the super-caffeinated giggles on the train ride back to Connecticut, annoying everyone around us (which, unfortunately, only made us laugh harder).

The nicest part of the day was this, though…we still hold hands. She’s in college now, becoming a wonderful adult, but she still holds my hand. Maybe to look out for me as I try to jaywalk, or maybe just to make sure I know she’s still my little girl.

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Blood sport

UnknownMy sainted mother loves to hate shopping.

The last time the Princess was home from college, my mom called me. “I need some clothes,” she said. “Will you—”

“Absolutely not,” I said. Because yes, she was about to ask me to go shopping with her. Years of experience have taught me that without a flask and some powerful narcotics, I should not go shopping with my mother. Let’s put it this way. There’s a store in the mall where we’re greeted with, “Oh, God, you two again.” Maybe more than one, now that I think of it.

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Not my mother

“Do you think the Princess will go with me?” Mom asked.

“Sure!” I answered, blithely throwing my daughter under the bus. After all, Princess has a pretty easy life. Time for her to tote that barge. Also, there was the faint possibility that my daughter, who is lovely and sweet and kind and has great taste in clothes, could help my mother more than I could.

So off Princess went, naive and happy. Several hours later, she returned. “That was horrible,” she said, tossing back a few Motrin. “I’ll never do that again.”

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“What happened?” I asked mother. “You’ve crushed my child’s spirit.”

“Nothing!” Mom said, gleefully feigning ignorance. Turned out that Mom did the old I hate all clothing ever made, sack cloth and ashes will do just fine routine for which is rightfully famous.

wineMy mom’s friend Jill sometimes takes her shopping. God bless Jill, I always say. She can usually convince my mother to buy something. Sometimes, I’ll see her after such an outing, and Jill will give me a grim look, widening her eyes at me in the universal I need a drink look that we all have after going shopping with my mother.

I know what you’re thinking. My poor mother. Don’t be fooled. She loves doing this. It’s a blood sport—Go ahead. Find me an outfit. I dare you. And listen, if you feel so bad, you can go with her next time.

 

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Like fine wine…

Unknown

Dear Lord, thank You for making Idris.

Sure, sure, I’m madly in love with Tom Hiddleston, Tom Hardy and that hottie who plays Thor.

But I’m also a woman of a certain age, in the last throes of her 40s, and so I give you my age-appropriate crushes. There’s just something about a man with staying power.

 

54c83278b0a366cdd543e875fa882f5bTopping the list, of course, is RDJ, who often appears in my dreams (thanks, Bobby.) I call this picture “the ovary destroyer.” I loved him when we were both young. I felt so bad when he went through his bad days. I feel so proud of him now. Those eyes don’t hurt my adoration.

 

1johnAnd here’s John Stamos. Who knew, right? I mean, really, the mullet from the 80s, the bad movies, the saccharine TV show…and then we get this. Those yogurt commercials? Thank you! More please!

 

 

EB7BDA08A8BNorman Reedus, or Daryl of the Amazing Arms from The Walking Dead. The first time I saw him, I thought, “Oh, dear Lord, take a shower, honey.” Then I heard him speak. Oooh. Very nice! That growly, sullen, bad-boy thang…yaas, bae! Stay dirty, Daryl! (My children cringe when I talk like that. So what? Let them cringe!)

 

Unknown-1Hugh “Perfection” Jackman. I’m gonna be honest here and tell you something shocking. His looks…not my type. Yeah, yeah, he’s perfect, but were I in a bar with Idris and RDJ and Norman Reedus and Hugh (ehrmagerd, yes, let’s run with this!), Hugh would be last on the list of men I found attractive. Until I realized it’s St. Hugh of Perfect, married for more than two decades to the same woman, father of two adopted kids, and by all accounts, the nicest man on the planet. So it’s his heart that makes me love him. I’m not always shallow.

Well, that’s all the eye-candy I have today. Enjoy! Back to work for me.

 

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