Things my father taught me


My dad has been dead for more than half my life, but I think of him every day. He wasn’t perfect—he was only 22 when he became a dad, 25 when his third child was born. Growing up, he was a too-adored only child, so he had an ego the size of Texas. His mother once said with a straight face, “Your father was regarded as the Christ child.” My mom, on the other hand, is one of nine kids. She was able to rein in that perception just fine.

Anyway, my father gave me a lot of gifts, and here are some of them to celebrate him on Father’s Day.

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One of the very few pictures I have of my dad and me. I think I was about 7, which would’ve made him 32.

Believe in yourself. Back when I was a dorky kid with Coke-bottle glasses, my father would tell me I could be anything—doctor, President, astronaut. I didn’t believe him, but the fact that he did resonated somewhere in my heart, and when the time came for me to tackle a job that had a very high failure rate—writing—I channeled my dad.

Work hard. My father left for work before we were up, and came home after 6 p.m. every weeknight. He loved his job as a salesman, and he did it well. He was often the first one at work, in before his secretary, often the last to leave.

Be good to people. At my father’s wake, hundreds and hundreds of people showed up. Guys who worked the machinery at his company told us what a great guy he was, how he’d buy them a beer after work and ask after their families. His clients, too, said how thoughtful he was, remembering where their kids went to college or where they went on vacation.

Relax. When my dad wasn’t working, he was the king of rest and relaxation. He had this big ugly recliner, and he’d watch football and doze in it on the weekends, or sit out by our pool, reading a spy novel. He loved eating out.

Be adventurous. We were the kids who were treated to the drown or learn to swim method. Dad would take us out to a pond, tow us out over our heads and let us go. He’d stay just out of reach, and we’d paddle desperately toward him. If our heads went under, he was there…but he’d give us a chance to save ourselves first.

Here’s to you, Daddy. Thanks for everything from the bottom of my heart.

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The sad state of gowns in this country

Probably not this one...

Probably not this one…

I need a gown for an event this summer—I’m presenting the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award to Robyn Carr. How nice is that, right? I can’t wait; Robyn is a great friend, and I just adore her.

But…I need a dress. So Princess and I have been looking. First, I looked online and I found this amazing website that had such beautiful, unusual dresses. I was so excited! The problem was, I found, their sizes are not my sizes. In other words, everything was teeny. Their version of 36 inches is about six inches shy of my 36 inches. And that’s their biggest size.


But that was okay! I would go to The Mall (though I hate malls). Princess and I gallumphed off and hit the two stores that had gowns.

Not this one, either...

Not this one, either…

It seems that there are two brands of gowns in the world—gowns for prom, and gowns for great-great-grandmothers who hate the bride. And the colors were dreadful! Gray. Beige. Bile-green. Who wears bile-green to a wedding? What’s wrong with, I don’t know…blue?

Then there’s the beading. By beading, I mean bedazzlement. There was one very pretty dress, but the bodice was criss-crossed with sparkly crystals that, should I hug Robyn, for example, I would draw blood. Also, it was so heavy, that I’d have to walk hunch-backed, which I was hoping to avoid.

The prom dresses…okay, first of all, I’m not seventeen years old. So bubble-gum pink was out. Neon yellow, also out, since I didn’t want to look like I need a liver transplant. Fluffy tulle…out. A short dress…listen, I don’t mind a short dress. But short doesn’t mean what it used to. Today, I mistake short dresses for shirts. I’m 51 years old, people! I’m a Catholic school graduate! Absolutely not.

But maybe this one.

But maybe this one.

Being women, Robyn and I have talked about what we’re wearing. She said black, so black is out for my dress—I don’t want us to look like twins, or Puritans, or like we’re in mourning. White is out because A) I’m not a bride and B) my skin is so white I’ll look like a snowman. Beige and pale pink, ditto.


The seach continues.

Men have it so easy.

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The Evils of Phones, the Loveliness of Lilacs

IMG_3579McIrish and I were in Provincetown this weekend. It’s a new tradition—go to Cape Cod the weekend the lilacs are blooming. Ride bikes. Window shop. Sniff the salt air like a Labrador retriever. Hold hands. Wander aimlessly. McIrish goes swimming, though the temperature is maybe 50 degrees.

One of the things we don’t do is check our phones. Oh, we have them, of course. We’re parents. We want to check in with our kids once a day.

But after seeing so many people hunched over their phones in a beautiful setting, ignoring the people around them, I came up with some Miss Manners-style rules for phone usage.

No phones at the table. You’re eating. You’re with people. The only exception is if you’re eating alone and reading on your phone. Reading a book, preferably.

No phones while walking. It was with deep satisfaction that I witnessed a young man walk into a signpost because he was texting. This is Darwinism. He had the grace to admit he was an idiot when he saw me smiling.

baby with phoneNo phones while pushing your baby in the stroller. I say this as a mommy of elderly children who no longer wish to be pushed in a stroller. Those are such precious times, parents! Point out the birdies and the flowers and the sky to your little ones! Sing the Notre Dame fight song or the national anthem. Don’t be texting or tweeting. Don’t make your sweet child feel secondary to your phone.

No phones as pacifiers. Your little one is fussy. Surely you can do better than pass him your phone so he can kill angry birds or whatever. Please. If you don’t want to soothe the baby, pass him to me.

Okay, I’m climbing off the soapbox now. Got any additions, folks?

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It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Woebegone…

DSCN9952So let’s see…what’s been going on this week? Dearest Son almost hit another car when we were out for a drive, but luckily my maternal Spidey senses had me grab the wheel and avoid that disaster.

In an unrelated event, I threw out my back and can’t put my socks on by myself. Luckily, I am the proud owner of 13 ice packs in varying shapes and forms. The Princess is home from college, and that makes me so, SO happy, because I love having both kids under my roof. McIrish made a fantastic dinner last night, and we had cupcakes for dessert, and they were lovely.


Sadly, I have no waffles at the moment, which is a terrible shame. Kids! Make Mommy waffles, okay?

Right now, I’m lying on the bed with Willow and Huck; Luther Puppy is upstairs with the Princess—a new person to worship. Later on, Prinny and I are going to see a movie: her birthday present to me. I’m writing a lot and have shifted from that authorly point where I hate my book to where I love it (page 221 this time). The lilacs smell heavenly, and we’ve had a couple of cool, rainy days that make a person pull on a sweater.


I hope you’ve had a good week, too, gang. Thanks as always for tuning in. It’s an honor.

(The title of this post comes from Garrison Keillor’s lovely radio stories of the same name.)

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The Mother’s Day Blog (or Adventures in Shaving)


sasquatchWhen I was an infant, my mom had a nickname for me: her Gorilla Baby. That’s because I was a preemie, and I had hair on my back when I was born. Had I been given the extra four weeks I was entitled, to, that hair would’ve fallen off or dissolved or whatever happens with regular babies.

But Gorilla Baby was prescient, because I am—how to say this?—follically blessed.

And so, in middle school, Mark W. was kind enough to point out that my legs were hairier than his. I went home and relayed this information to my mother. “Huh, he’s right,” she said, frowning. “I guess you got your father’s hair.” She, of course, is a redhead with smooth, white, nearly hairless skin.

“Can I start shaving my legs?” I asked, naive little waif that I was. (I use the term “waif” loosely here).

il_fullxfull.729317138_1e30“Sure!” Mom said. “I have an electric razor you can use.”

Now, I don’t think Mom had intended on inflicting child abuse upon her middle child, but she plugged in her Lady Razor (or Soviet instrument of torture) and demonstrated how to use it on her nearly hairless legs.

Then it was my turn. My never-before-shaved, innocent, hairy legs awaited.

The Lady Razor got to work, ripping and snarling my leg hair, making sounds like a chainsaw stuck on a knotty oak tree.

40-year-old-virgin-waxI got through one patch before the pain made me woozy. “This can’t be right,” I whispered, looking at the dots of blood on my leg.

“It doesn’t hurt for me,” Mom said, confused. “But then again, you are my little Gorilla Baby.”

It was a few more months before I learned about regular old leg shaving and the chemical burns you can get from Nair. But that’s a story for another time.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! Thanks for trying!


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Visiting Schools


Recently, I spoke at a middle school. One of the teachers there is a girl I’ve known since she was a teenager, and it was Career Day. She thought the kids might like to meet an author and hear what I do for work. It was fun—I love doing those types of things, and kids always have the best questions.

This class also wrote me thank-you notes. Here are some of the cute things they said:

I have always wanted to be an author. I am writing a book. It is only six chapters and it won’t be as long as yours. It is about aliens.

It was so lovely to learn that it takes about 4 months just for a first draft.

Your strategies will help me in the future. In fact, we had to type a paper for language arts, and I didn’t know where to start, so I began by asking myself “what if” questions. This helped me write the best story ever!

I think it is so cool that you know Miss Russo.

I will always treasure the signature you gave me.

You are a very nice and pretty lady, and now I am going to buy one of your great books!

You did great on your presentation!

Thank you so much for coming to our school’s Career Day. It gave me a break from all the boring academics.

You can see why I love doing this.


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Teaching Dearest to Drive

12004888_1125246350838856_4523433888525962291_nMe to Dearest Son as he practices his driving: “When we’re in the car, I’m not your mother. I’m the voice of God. Got it?”

Dearest: “Yes, Mother.”

Me: “Try again.”

Dearest: “I’m not going there.”

Me: “I think you meant to say, ‘Yes, God.’ I would also accept ‘Yes, my Lord.’”

Dearest suppresses a snicker, then remembers he is a world-weary teenager. “Don’t tell me anything. I’ve been driving for eight months now. I know what I’m doing.”

Me: “So you don’t want me to tell you when you do something that would fail you on the driver’s test?”

DS: “No, tell me those things.”

Me: “You just went over the line. Fail.”

DS (another heavy sigh)

And so it goes.

The truth is, Dearest is a very safe, competent driver. Having lost a family member to a car accident, we take this stuff very seriously. We started off driving in empty parking lots back in the fall, then graduated to roads where he’d clench the wheel and say “What do I do? What do I do?” when a car approached. Sometimes, I’d have to reach over and gently (or forcibly) steer him away from the curb/tree/pond, but I kept calm.

When I was learning to drive, my mom used to grab the door handle as if she were about to launch herself out of the car; I tried not to do that with my kids.

I never yelped or shrieked in terror, though I’ve been known to say, “Slow…slow…slow down…slowslowslowslow!” Otherwise, it’s been kind of a piece of cake.

IMG_2763When Dearest gets his license, I’ll miss our drives together. We’ve had a lot of great conversations in the car, same as when he was a little guy and never stopped talking. The other day, when he successfully backed into a parking spot five times in a row, he put the car in Park and jumped out and hugged me tight.

These are the moments we mothers live for.

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Dear Kiddies

I was asked a question in an interview this week. “What do you wish you could tell your younger self?”

Oh, my GOSH! SO MUCH! Like, don’t believe that thing with the toothpaste on your pimples, the Listerine for your pedicure or cleaning your teeth with a lemon. Don’t use your teeth as tools, especially when trying to uncap a soda. Don’t hold the puppy’s leash between your teeth when there are squirrels around. Don’t rub your eyes after cutting jalapenos.

0030b1141f93fec285079d06914dc2b7This week, however, I was on a train car that was filled with teenage girls. It was Dante’s fifth circle of hell, because they were all trying to out-impress each other. But it was also a learning experience. I wanted to sit down with each one of those girls and say, “Honey, relax. Stop trying so hard. You’re good enough already. And stop saying ‘like’ all the time.”

And sure, I wish someone had told that to me, back when I was an appropriately miserable teenager. There are so many things that would’ve helped to know, things I’m still learning.

For example…

3373720570_4a7f7782a6_oSome people are nasty, irritable and rude because that’s just who they are. It’s okay not to like them. Your niceness won’t change them. They like being ogres.

35f923991aaa5b6ad6929737c4f0f929Two people in a relationship should be equals. Relationships—romantic and friendship—shouldn’t have mother/child dynamics. One should be able to expect the same caring, time and thoughtfulness as one gives.

When someone comes to you draped in red flags, it’s okay to back off. I used to have this theory: I would be friends with anyone. I would never be elitist or judgmental, would always be kind and welcoming. But listen to Auntie Kristan, kids. It’s okay to be discerning. Just because someone wants to attach to you doesn’t mean you must let them.

You don’t have to solve the problems of everyone you meet, nor do youhave the power to do so.

2299c2c44faa67e2333432cb5365c37dPeople who enjoy food and wine and puppies are generally more fun.

There are people who thrive off being victims and feed off the attention their stories attract, and these are usually not very fun (or honest) people. When people always look at the glass as half empty, they’re going to drain you, too.

Oh, and one more thing. Take time to be alone, just you and your thoughts. Turn off the phone, TV, computer, radio. Take a few breaths and remember that you are someone’s best thing.


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Good celebrity couples


will-smith-4-435I don’t care that much about celebrities and their love lives. I’m pretty pro-marriage: I admire couples who stay together a long time, but I also recognize that Hollywood is its own strange world, and couples who stay together for 10 years are heralded as role models.

But there are some couples I really like seeing together. Will and Jada Smith, for example. Jada seems strong, outspoken and intelligent; Will is incredibly talented and gives off a sense of contentment and pride for his family.
article-2764027-141D6469000005DC-944_634x819Tom Hardy and Charlotte Riley. I admit, I know very little about them, except that they met while playing Heathcliff and Cathy in BBC’s Wuthering Heights, a book that has tormented me since I first read it at age 14. H&C’s inability to stay together despite their epic love just broke me, so seeing Tom and Charlotte together eases that hurt a little. (Thanks, you two.)


hughHugh and Deborrah Jackman. They’ve been married a long time. They adopted their children. She’s not a supermodel 20 years younger than he is. Look at how he’s smiling at her. Oh, Hugh! I love you all the more!

Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson. When she died, I cried, too. I loved them together, these talented, beautiful people. Every
year when I watch Love, Actually, I cry again at the prescient scene when Liam’s character has to give the eulogy for his wife. That tragic face gets me every time.

mgid-ao-image-mtvBernie and Rhonda Mac. I loved Bernie Mac. His comedy was right up my alley. And let’s be honest. He was dating out of his league. Funny? Sure. Brilliant? Yes. Handsome? Not so much. And Rhonda is beautiful. It’s clear she loved him for his personality. Le sigh.

The couples I don’t much care for are the cheaters-turned-spouses. I have strong feelings against infidelity, so Brangelina…nah. Those who’ve been married three or four times…don’t you feel kind of silly during the vows? Why are the tabloid magazines celebrating these marriages? I know, I know. I’m old-fashioned. But then again, I believe in happily ever after, not happily till someone better comes along.

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Happiness is a warm puppy


Licking McIrish

We weren’t really planning to get a puppy. I mean, I love dogs, but our house is smallish, and puppies are a lot of work, and I travel a lot. All good solid reasons not to get a puppy. But then my friend asked if she could bring her foster pup over for a visit with a dog who was friendly to other dogs—Willow has never met a dog she didn’t love.

DSCN9874 (1)

Winning hearts and minds.

And so she brought a little black and tan puppy who licked me and was a little scared of Willow at first, but then realized Willow knew all sorts of fun doggy games, and they romped and raced around my office. I asked McIrish if he wanted to come see our friend’s
foster puppy…evil genius on my part. Checked in with Dearest Son to make sure he still wanted another dog (yep). Called Princess at college to see if she would feel left out if we got a dog while she was away. (Her response: YES TO ALL DOGS! DO IT NOW!).


Sleeping next to his new mommy (me, that is).

And so, meet Luther. His birth name was Squash (please), and his next name was Dozer, which was kind of cute, but we wanted something with a little gravitas. Martin Luther, of course, who reformed the church. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. And, er, Luther from BBC.

Perfect combination: genius, heart, kindness, physical beauty, all in one barky little package.

Here’s to you, Luther! Long life with your loving family, little buddy.

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