That other life

IMG_2619Having come back from sunny San Diego, I’ve pictured a different sort of life for myself. Because I’m a writer, I’ve put my imagination to good use in this little fantasy. You ready?

I’ll live in a house with a view of the ocean. It’s tastefully decorated in a way I can’t imagine, because I’m not real good at interior decorating, but it’s chic yet warm, interesting yet uncluttered.

I’ll totally overcome my fear of the ocean and, indeed, now know how to scuba dive and snorkel without having to surface every minute yacking up sea water. Sharks will seem majestic and graceful and won’t cause the kind of hysteria McIrish had to put up with when we tried to go swimming the other day (note to McIrish: sorry I climbed on your head again).

I’ll learned to love every type of seafood. Even sushi. Even fish with skin still on it.

DSCN9272I’ll grow orchids, and they won’t die.

I’ll love cooking, because there are so many fresh veggies and fruits and fishies and stuff. There is no dry-heaving when I have to handle raw chicken.

I’ll run along the rocky shore every day for exercise without twisting my ankle or breaking any bones. (Hey, this is my fantasy. Let’s go with it.) After my run, I might just leap into the water and swim to a buoy and back, hence totally earning dessert every single night.

The majestic pelicans (Heidi's opinion was slightly different, but hey. I like them.

And every night after the sunset, I’ll say thanks for the beautiful world we live in, and my beautiful family, and my many friends and blessings.

Which, you know, I actually do, wherever I am.

Happy Thanksgiving, gang!

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Wish you were here

Am fast becoming addicted to these sunsets.

Am fast becoming addicted to these sunsets.

I love to travel, as you probably know. I think there’s nothing I can do that better stimulates my imagination than go to a new place. Luckily, my job is flexible that way. For the past few days, I’ve been in between duties—I had a board meeting for Romance Writers of America in San Diego, and this coming weekend, I’ll be speaking to the San Diego chapter. Rather than fly back and forth across country twice in ten days, I thought I’d hide out here in SoCal. I’d never been to San Diego, after all.

Demonstrating our singing chops to Greater San Diego

Demonstrating our singing chops to Greater San Diego

So I rented a little house in La Jolla, just down the street from the ocean. One of my oldest friends, Heidi, came to stay for a couple days. I’ve been writing and writing, then laughing and laughing with Heidi, and it’s been the best! We go back 28 years, we figured. Long enough that she knew before I was dating a certain Irish boy, and I knew her before she was a mom. As is the case with so many friends, we never ran out of things to say. Au contraire.

The majestic pelicans (Heidi's opinion was slightly different, but hey. I like them.

The majestic pelicans (Heidi’s opinion was slightly different, but hey. I like them.

Here are a few pictures from the area. And that blurry one of Heidi and me? Well, it’s hard to take a good photo when you’re in pedi-cab, dancing to Greased Lightning, getting cheered on by pedestrians. : )

I hope you all have such a good friend as Heidi, and that you get to spend time in a place as beautiful as La Jolla. Have a great week, gang!

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Observations from 26,000 Feet


Yeah, right.

Yeah, right.

We are still on the runway an hour after boarding at 8:07 a.m. today. The woman next to me has been asleep almost since the moment we sat down. I envy that skill. Despite getting up at 4:15 this morning, I’m wide awake. She’s out cold, open-mouthed and drooling and everything. Lucky.

That being said, I have no idea how to climb over her when I have to go to the bathroom. Speaking of the bathroom, I have an irrational fear Charlie_Pace_-_Lostof the plane crashing while I’m in there, like the rock star drug addict in Lost. I don’t want to be found with my pants down, you know?

I can see the Tappan Zee bridge from here! McIrish will be so jealous. Hello, West Coast Lifter, biggest crane in the world! And thank you, McIrish, because I know far more about bridge construction that I ever guessed I would.

The coffee is surprisingly delicious. Thank you, Delta! Also, I shouldn’t have drunk so much coffee. And I should stop asking for refills. But the coffee is so good, and the flight attendants are so nice! This is not the case on United, where I swear, a flight attendant almost bit me once.

I forgot to say my Hail, Mary during takeoff. The fact that this blog is up is proof that God gave me a pass this time. Thanks, God! It won’t happen again.

Minion-Wallpaper-1They’re showing Minions on the tiny little screens. I think they should show plane-crash movies to lower our odds of crashing. Because really, what are the odds? “There we were, watching Cast Away, and right as the Fed Ex plane goes down, so did we!” Highly dubious.

I have successfully climbed over my seatmate. I had to basically straddle her and do a little jump, and then I staggered a little into the guy across the aisle, earning a glare. He’d look better without he beard. I may tell him that if he keeps up with the stink-eye. She didn’t even stir when I crawled over her to get back, bless her heart. I won’t have to worry about sexual harassment charges being filed.

I don’t have the software to support an in-flight movie, and my Mac security won’t let me download it. Figures. A pox upon you, Mac! Ah, well, I’ll work on my book instead. Usually, I don’t, but since Rip Van Winkle is my seatmate, there’s no reason to be self-conscious.

I’d better get off to it, then! Have a wonderful week, gang!

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The String Method

I wasn't QUITE this adorable. Also, I had crooked bangs. Close enough.

I wasn’t QUITE this adorable. Also, I had crooked bangs. Close enough.

When I was five, my first tooth became loose, a common enough event in a five-year-old’s life. I loved it. To this day, I still have deeply satisfying dreams of loose teeth, the satisfying eradication of that itch with a good hard wiggle. I wanted to join the elite club of gap-toothed kids in my kindergarten. Also, the tooth fairy. Finally, I’d earn a little cash.

Perhaps I wiggled a little too hard because when I presented my lower jaw tooth to my parents after supper, there was blood. “Oh, God, oogey,” my mother said, using one of her trademark words. My father dashed into another room.

It was determined that my tooth was too loose to stay in for the night. What if I swallowed it in my sleep and choked to death? Neither parent was able to squelch their heebie-jeebies enough to yank it out, and I was inexperienced in these matters, so the decision was made. We’d go to the store.

My great-grandmother, Martha Kristan.

My great-grandmother, Martha Kristan.

The store was owned by my great-grandmother, a short, stout Hungarian immigrant universally revered by everyone in the family. My grandfather, Poppy, worked there; while he had a degree from Notre Dame and master’s from Yale, he was a good and dutiful son and went into the family business. With nine children of his own, there was little that fazed him.

So we made the trip. It was thrilling for me, going to the store after suppertime, when my siblings would be going to bed, the rare treat of being alone with my mom. The ride over the hills to the store had a whole new feel, since it was evening now, and we never went over to the store at night.

The store was a tiny corner market that sold everything from chicken breasts to scouring powder. It was a magical place; rows of candy behind the counter, a bread display that we could hide behind and spy on the customers, billkristansthe sepia-tinted windows of the deli case. My great-grandmother let us drink Yoo-Hoo and eat nut candy, and visit her strange and mysterious apartment in the back, filled with soft couches and lace doilies and the magical drinking bird.

We went to present my loose tooth to Poppy. He touched the tooth—just grazed it with his big, thick butcher’s fingers. “It’s ready,” he said. Oh, the joy!

We went into the back, into my great-grandmother’s kitchen, and Poppy got his tools. Thick black thread, scissors, some tissues for the blood. With great patience and surprising delicacy, he tied a loop around my baby tooth and knotted it. For some reason, he tied the other end around the doorknob of the open kitchen door. “On the count of three,” he said. “One…two…” and he slammed the door shut.

I felt a tug, heard a ping, and my tongue found the wondrous, fleshy cavern.

But my tooth was gone. We all got down on our hands and knees to look for it, but it must’ve fallen into the heating grate, because we just couldn’t find that sucker in Great-Gram’s immaculate kitchen.

“I’m sure the tooth fairy will still come,” my mom said, and Great-Gram told me to go to the store freezer where the ice cream was kept and pick out whatever I wanted. (I got a toasted almond bar.) The tooth fairy did come that night; I think I earned a dollar and got a new toothbrush, besides.

My Poppy, Jules Kristan.

My Poppy, Jules Kristan.

But the best part of that night was my grandfather, such a busy man, so many kids, so many grandchildren, with his gentle focus only on me. It was rare to have that kind of undivided attention from him, and I loved him so much that I didn’t have words for it.

I saved every loose tooth I could for Poppy and his string method. And when he was very old, a widower after 67 years of marriage, and I was staying with him one night to make sure he was safe, because he was forgetting things and people, I said, “Poppy, do you remember when you pulled out my first tooth?”

And he did. Right down to every detail.

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Winter is coming

starkI was watching Blade Runner the other night with Dearest Son. The movie is set in 2019, and once again, technology has sadly failed us. Instead of flying cars and robots to do our housework, we just have the Internet so we can watch cat videos. Sigh.

It got me thinking about inventions that would really change my life. They all have to do with staying warm. Winter is coming, as those cheerful Starks like to say. As I write this, I’m wrapped in a scarf and am sitting under a blanket. Heat is still a challenge, Blade Runner. The old put on another sweater just ain’t cuttin’ it.

Clothes that adjusted to body temperature. You’re chilly? Not a problem! Your clothes warm up to suit you, automatically sensing your goose bumps. Those heating blankets they use in the ER if you’ve been in frigid water for an hour or two? I gotta get me some of those and make them into pajamas.

matt-damonLava Cubes. These would be the opposite of ice cubes. I’ve tried all those mugs that promise to keep my coffee hot to no avail. With the handy lava cubes, you just drop in the magical little thingies—let’s say they’re made out of radioactive decay (hey, it worked in The Martian!) and voila! Hot coffee for hours.

Socks that actually keep my feet warm. Every Christmas, my sainted mother optimistically buys me what claims to be the world’s warmest socks. Still, my poor little feet languish, ice-cold, inside them. I’ve tried the lamb’s wool slippers, cashmere, wool, cashmere/wool, fluffy, fluffy with slippers, all of the above. McIrish bought me battery-operated insoles, but they only work if you’re walking around, and since I sit most of the day, they are, sadly, a fail.

crochet_bedjacket_bed_jacket_shrug_bolero_2321_pattern_pdf_de60e179The reverse bed jacket. Did your grandmother have one of these? But see, it opens in the front, allowing cold drafts to ruin your happy mood. Also, mine would have to be made out of down. I’d put it on backward, but as my bed is up against a window, my neck might get cold, so I’d need it to wrap around. Sure, sure, it would look like a straight jacket. That’s a fashion risk I’m willing to take.

In the meantime, I’ll look like good old Bob Cratchit, sitting in my office with socks and my shark slippers, my blankie and my scarf, my little fingerless gloves. Maybe the cat will throw me a bone and lie on my feet. But hey. It’s a living. : )

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The idea

Tom-Hiddleston-2Some books come easily. An idea pops into my head. Sometimes, it’s a character, often based on a face (Tom Hiddleston, I’m looking at you, big boy).

But most books don’t. Not for me. I almost have to transmogrify into my characters, and that takes some time. The outline, on which I spend a lot of time and feel is a necessary part of my writing, sometimes doesn’t hold up when I’m 200 pages into the story.

I was on a panel once, and got a question from a reader—how do you pick the idea for the next book? I answered honestly: I have a file of about 50 possibilities. Some are fleshed out, some are one lines, some are snippets of conversations I’ve overheard.

But the one I pick is the one I think about when I go to bed. When McIrish is at the firehouse, and I roll over and there he is, the hero. And my heroine wants to talk to him. And smooch him.

And, as I say to my editor, sexy time ensues. (For the characters, that is. Just to be clear.)

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Maternal recognition

urlYou know those mothers who just sense when their child is near? My mom is not one of them. No, she  is completely unable to hear or recognize me in public. It’s quite something, this habit of hers.

For example, this morning, Dearest Son and I went grocery shopping. On the way into the parking lot, we saw my mom leaving in her cute little car with her cute little vanity plate and half a dozen Yankees stickers. I was coming into the parking lot; she was going out. “It’s Grammy!” I said, and called, “Mom! Hi, Mom!” Her windows were open; so were mine. I waved my long gorilla-like arm. “Mom! Mom!”

“Grammy! Hi, Grammy!” Dearest yelled.

Nothing Nada. She didn’t even flick an eyelash in our direction. I’m telling you, I could’ve touched her car.

vtifz2duvlajw9kd7haf“Ouch,” Dearest said. “She is stone cold!” There was quite a bit of admiration in his voice, as if his little grammy could be an assassin—just neutralize the target and walk away. “She looked like a robot.”

This is not the first time my mom has missed seeing me. A few years ago, she nearly ran me off the road during a run. “You didn’t see me?” I asked.

“There are so many runners these days,” she said. “How can I tell you all apart?”

“Because I’m your daughter? A tall brunette with glasses wearing a Yankees hat and a firefighting t-shirt running with a black dog who looks hauntingly like Willow because she is Willow? No? Nothing? Didn’t ring any bells?”

Another time, I was Christmas shopping at a mall and spotted a beloved little figure clutching her purse and bags. “Mom!” I called. Nothing. “Ma! Ma!” Nope. “Noel!” I yelled. Still nothing. So I ran over to her, about fifty feet, the whole time laughing and saying, “Mom! It’s me, your child!” She was oblivious until I touched her shoulder. “Jesus, Kristan, what are you doing here?” she yelped, clutching her purchases a little closer, as if I was going to mug her. (I wasn’t. Not that time.)

imgresOh, I know she loves me. She just invited me to have dinner sometime this week. Galushga, too. My favorite. I think she’s feeling guilty.

I’ll take it.

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The Universe of Fair

IMG_2258Today, I went to our town’s fair, the biggest agricultural in the state. It’s great—cows and chickens and baby goats and giant donuts and little kids getting their faces painted. The weather was perfect; cool enough for a jacket in the morning, which was wrapped around my waist by the afternoon.

But there were a few things that were just completely wrong for the day, the venue, the spirit of the fair.

For example…As McIrish and I walked down the big hill, eating our giant donuts, we saw something terribly out-of-place and, indeed, ridiculous.

pitchforksA yoga demonstration. Listen, you yoga people. We’re here to eat blooming onions and pulled pork sandwiches and funnel cakes and drink blue liquid! Take your limberness and green tea and get out! How dare you remind us that we’ve just eaten 1200 calories! I’m surprised they were even allowed in. Never again, if I have anything to say about it.

Hot tubs. Do people say, “You know what I’d love as a souvenir from today? A hot tub!” I don’t get the appeal of buying a hot tub at a fair, but there are the hot tub dealers, year after year.

Llamas. Fine, fine, they’re considered farm animals. Just not in my book. In my book, they’re terrifying nightmare animals who bite and spit. And my God, the smell.


A walking stick! Or is it?

That Weird Thing Everyone Buys That Year. One year, it was the rubber broom. My mother bought one. Supposedly, it would sweep up dog hair in a way that a mere broom-broom could only dream of doing. Mom bought two. “These don’t work as well as I thought,” she confessed the next week. Shocking. This year, it was walking sticks. I thought they were broom handles (perhaps from the rejected rubber brooms), but apparently not. These were special and different from broom handles because they had a loop on one end. Someone is getting very rich off this idea.

Oh, but it was a wonderful few hours! There’s nothing like our fair. (By the way, the title of this blog was swiped from my friend’s book: The Universe of Fair by Leslie Bulion. A great story for middle-grade readers!)

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The greatest love of all

pocketsThis weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting Pockets, this overjoyed cat. No, seriously, the cat was very happy. Apparently, Pockets’s daddy—an adorable hipster with a skateboard—took his best friend with him everywhere. I know this because I asked. “He’s my best bud,” said adorable hipster skateboarder. “We go everywhere together.”

birthday presentAt last, I know what to get McIrish for his birthday! See, Huck, our cat, is something of a loner. He likes me a little bit (if McIrish isn’t home) and will occasionally grace me with his presence by lying on my keyboard. Sometimes, he’ll sit on my lap (if he’s cold, and McIrish isn’t home), but if I pet him, he generally jumps off and gives me a disgusted look. He likes the children (I tell them that, at any rate)
, and demonstrates this by allowing them to feed him, and occasionally gnawing on their fingers.

niceyandhuckBut for my husband, this cat is a total slut. I’m serious. Every night, when McIrish sits in his chair, Huck jumps up and—yes—presses his little kitty face against McIrish and breathes in the wonder of it all. He purrs. He gazes deeply into McIrish’s eyes. He will leap from the floor into my husband’s arms. If McIrish is working in the garden (which he usually is), Huck is there too. If McIrish is in the basement, Huck is lying on the hot water heater. If McIrish is in the barn, Huck is sitting on the tractor seat. If McIrish is sitting in his office, the cat is sprawled across his lap.

headcatAm I jealous? Yes! First of all, I would like to be a cat, napping all day, rising only once in a while to be worshipped, fed and petted. Secondly, McIrish didn’t even want Huck! The children and I did an end-run around him and went to the shelter when he was working. If anyone should be worshipped, it’s clearly the kids and me.

article-2572856-1C06E00900000578-393_634x424But cats are cats. They choose people, not the other way around. So if Huck and McIrish have a love that cannot be denied, I’m just gonna sit back and watch them, hiking off in the woods, best friends forever.

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Beauty Tricks!


Based on the number of hours and dollars I’ve spent in the beauty aisle of CVS, Walgreens, Rite-Aid, Target and every department store ever built, I hereby decree myself a beauty expert. Well, a beauty trick expert. Let’s get right to it, shall we? Note: I also hereby declare myself free from liability if these tricks don’t work.

Preparation H for bags under your eyes/puffy eyes. This is a no. A no! Don’t do this. It’s hemorrhoid cream, people. Let’s just think about that for a moment. It’s gross. (To a certain beloved person in my life: I’m talking to you.)

imgresVicks VapoRub for bags under your eyes/puffy eyes. Yes! But beware! A little goes a long way, and if you get this IN your eyes…well, let’s just an eye patch or two will come in handy. Keep it on for a minute or two, then carefully wash the Vicks off. Life has shown me that Vicks Vapo-Rub is in fact the only thing I’ll ever need—moisturizer, cough medicine, beauty product, aromatherapy. Probably, if you were trying to survive on Everest, you can eat it, too. Do not try this unless you’re stranded on Everest.

slappingBrisk slapping. Listen. It works. Under the chin, on the cheeks, on the eyes. Does the effect last? No. But it’ll wake you up, at least. The slightly swollen skin makes your face look young and firm and, well, slightly abused if you don’t restrain yourself.


wrinkiesWrinkle prevention via Scotch tape. Okay, I actually haven’t tried this…but I did see these at the Vermont Country Store. Same thing, sort of. Next time McIrish is at the firehouse, I’m gonna give old Scotch tape a whirl. It may be the next Vicks VapoRub.

Have a great week, guys!

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