A Connecticut Yankee in Texas

We Yankees tend to view Texas with a bit of confusion. It’s as big as country, for one. There’s the whole “Texas and Proud” and “Things are Bigger in Texas” thing. In New England, we don’t brag about our states. We just quietly believe it’s the best place to live in the world. We also like winter. I’m not lying about this. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

imagesBut I loved my time in San Antonio. First of all, the people are so friendly and nice! My heart was blessed many times when people saw my crutches. I appreciated that. San Antonians were very eager for me to love their city and often told me where the best guacamole was (Boudro’s), the best time to visit the Alamo.

The coffee is excellent. It had a different flavor. Maybe it’s the water, because I think the hotel coffee was Starbuck’s, which I generally don’t like.

Distances are different in Texas. “It was only an 8 hour drive,” one woman told me (she’d come from a tiny town on the other side of the state to meet authors). “It was nothing.” If I drove for 8 hours, I’d be in Canada. I’d be having coffee with Santa.

Unknown-1Cabbies have no idea where anything is. We’d get into a cab, say, “We’re going to Boudro’s (which is an institution in SA),” and the cabbie would have to Google the address. One cabbie dropped us off four blocks from our destination, so I DID get to walk the River Walk after all. Or hobble, as the case may be. In New York, cabbies know where everything is. In New York, I could say, “I’m going to my aunt’s house,” and he’d know where that was.

“It’s hot” in San Antonio has a completely different meaning than “It’s hot” in New England. Good God. It was 97 degrees the day I flew in, and one person said to me, “I’m so glad we have nice weather to welcome you!” In Connecticut, people tend to hurl themselves off cliffs when it’s 97 degrees.

UnknownCowboys love a woman on crutches. I highly advise my single friends to keep this in mind. I met three cowboys. I wanted to keep them, but then I thought about McIrish and figured I’d stick with my firefighter.

The food…oh, man, the food! Was! So! Good! Even as I write this, my lips are tingling from the green chile sauce on my breakfast burrito.

Much of where we stayed is considered haunted, because of the slaughter at the Alamo.

I love being called ma’am.

I was sorry that I didn’t get to see more of the city, as I’d planned before taking my tumble in the parking lot, but what I did see was lush and beautiful. Tropical flowers and old, twisting trees, some truly awesome cloud formations.

So if you ever get the chance to go to San Antonio, I’d highly recommend it. Just maybe not in July. ; )

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I Heart Hospitals!

2264226670_52b1c00ea2So I broke my ankle. You may know that already. And you may know that I went to the hospital and had a wonderful time. For the second time in my life, I got to ride on a gurney and in a wheelchair. No pain meds this time, because I’m so brave and strong and all that. And I got an adorable doctor who’s young enough to have had me as a babysitter, who said, “It’s always you heroes who walk around and say, ‘If I can walk on it, it’s not broken.’ But you’re wrong. You just have an incredibly high pain tolerance.”

(Higgins gives McIrish an insufferably smug look.)

Not only that, I got a snarky and hilarious nurse named Larry, who said things like, “When people make fun of you—and they will—”

Me: “Why do I always get the smart-ass nurses?”

Larry: “You tell them they’ll answer to me. I’m not just a nurse. I’m your muscle.”

(Higgins falls madly in crush.)

During the exam, Dr. Adorable pushed on my broken fibula and said, “So THIS doesn’t even hurt?” I said, “No! I’m amazing! Honey, see how amazing I am?” McIrish nodded photopatiently. He’s a patient man. He also knew I was living the dream. “I’m so glad I shaved my legs for you guys,” I told Larry and Dr. Adorable. They laughed. A captive audience.

When Larry wheeled me down to the car, he said, “You didn’t think it would be this much fun, did you?”

Wrong, Larry. I knew. Does this look like the face of someone who fears a little medical attention?

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The third child

photoNot to brag or anything, but we have a pretty incredible flower garden. This is thanks to two things: we can’t grow grass to save our lives, and I’m married to an Irishman, and the Irish love their gardens.

When we were first in this house, I was the gardener, because McIrish was too busy with his two jobs to do much in the way of recreation. So I bought a starter garden kit and went to town, and it was quite nice. I’d plant (my favorite) and weed (not so much) and water (always fun). I had a Zen attitude toward the plants, thanks to my sweet little Irish mother-in-law, who is a master gardener. Some things thrive, some don’t. If a plant wasn’t working out, I’d give it the old college try and nurture it, and if that failed, I’d dig it up and toss it in the valley (where inevitably, it would do just fine).

We have what I call the junk garden…plants that I didn’t really care for but that were thriving. Bee balm, tiger lilies, cat mint…that’s actually turned out to be quite pretty.

DSCN3520But in the past couple of years, when McIrish gave up his second job in order to (in his words) “take care of you,” the garden has become splendid. “Taking care of you” consists of sifting dirt, fertilizing plants, deadheading, watering, relocating and weeding. I ask my husband, “Can you go to the market today?” and he gets this pinched look on his face. “I was gonna work in the garden,” he says, and I sigh and continue typing.

The kids call the garden “Daddy’s Third Child.” I think that says it all. But everyone who comes to visit comments on the garden’s beauty, and at any time from April through October, I can pick a bouquet of beautiful flowers. Sitting on the porch has never been so relaxing.

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Vacation

This past week, we were on vacation…the last vacation before our Princess Daughter starts college. It was a wonderful, nearly perfect time; we brought our niece with us for a few days, and my sister came up for a couple nights, and we ate lobster and rode bikes and hiked and swatted mosquitoes and tried to talk with the Malone-like lobstermen (which went about how’d you expect).

bassharborWe deemed our little rented cottage utterly darling and did things there we don’t do so much at home; McIrish surprised the kids by playing guitar, and I played the piano. We (well…I) got up before six, drank coffee and watched the lobster boats come and go. We visited the folks who brought me to Maine as their nanny, and their grown son, who once held my hand and asked me to read the subtitles on Return of the Jedi so he wouldn’t miss anything, was there with his two beautiful kids. That family was awfully good to me…treated me like one of them, and still do. They took us out on their beautiful boat, served us lobsters and we brought wine, and we tore into those poor crustraceans like starving animals. Ben’s little daughter took a shine to Princess and me, and his son adored Dearest  Son. Nothing like old friends.

viewfromcranberryWe hiked up Cadillac Mountain one day, ate chocolate croissants and blueberry scones from the tiny bakery and went to the bird-carving museum. A lady cutting her lawn got her tractor stuck in a sinkhole, and McIrish helped her get it out, and she rewarded us with cold drinks in the living room of the house her grandfather built. When the town fireworks were canceled, we were nonetheless invited to come down the marina and watch the unofficial fireworks, which were just as good. Maybe even better.

flannery&mommyYesterday, we drove home through Tropical Storm Arthur, which gave way to sunshine and fresh air in Portland, boys in the truck, girls in the car. Princess and I talked and laughed, sang along with the radio and got milkshakes at a rest stop. It was good to get home to Willow and Huck and our beautiful garden.

More than anything, though, this week was that age-old glimpse of what if. McIrish is not a lobsterman, and I don’t run a diner. Our kids don’t know their way around a boat. We don’t live on Great Cranberry Island, where you have to stock up for the winter in both wood for the stove and groceries, because you might be there alone with the other 43 residents for a couple of weeks before the ferry and mail boat can get there. We’re not summer people, and we’re not locals.

roadWe’re just passing through, supporting the local economy, snapping a thousand pictures and overtipping. We probably ask too many questions, and we’re not from far enough away to be all that interesting. But our kids don’t carry their cell phones on vacation, and neither do their parents, and we never litter, and we try to leave places as we find them. Hopefully, as summer nuisance goes, we’re not too bad.

But, being a writer, I imagine that road not taken. The bittersweet imagination, blessing and cursing me again with the life I didn’t lead and the places I haven’t been.

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And they’ll live happily ever after

Love2A couple of weeks ago, I got a letter from a guy named Mike. He said his girlfriend was a big fan of my books, and he was wondering if I could help him out. He wanted to pop the question, you see, and he wanted to make it memorable…and he wondered if I could help. He had it all clear in his mind, but he needed me to write a letter.

So, being a complete sucker for love, of course I did! (I asked if I could tell their story on a blog, and they said yes, just for the record. In fact, they suggested I write a book about them!) Here’s what I wrote

“Dear Paula,

Hello! How are you?

Your boyfriend wrote to me and told me that you’re a big fan of my books, and I just wanted to say thank you so much! I can’t tell you how much it means to hear that. I’ve saved every single note from readers since I started writing, and each time I get one, I get a thrill. I’ve had a few boyfriends and husbands of readers send me an email, and I always think it’s so lovely that these guys took the time to write. It’s awfully sweet of them, don’t you think?

Mike told me a little bit about the two of you…he said he’s known you since second grade, and that he had a huge crush on you in high school but was too shy to say anything. (It sounds like a romance novel in the making, doesn’t it?) How wonderful that you ran into each other again so he got another chance! Sometimes, it’s all about timing. From the way he sounded, he’s completely smitten with you. He says you’re absolutely wonderful…in fact, he went on quite a bit about you, so to this romance writer, it sounds like a case of the real thing.

mike&paulaIn fact, you should probably turn around now, because I think Mike has something he wants to ask you.”

At this point, Mike got down on one knee, ring in hand. Paula burst into tears. The answer was yes.

Ah, love! Mike & Paula, wishing you a lifetime of happiness!

 

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How to have a lovely day II

Last September, I blogged about how to have a lovely day. Figured it was time to do another list, because I love lists, and I love having a nice day.

rose-bush-252603Smell the flowers. I know, it’s a cliché, stop and smell the roses, but seriously! Stop and smell the roses! Or the lilacs (if lilacs bloomed all year long, I think the makers of Prozac would go out of business). I would bet that there’s something physiologically linked between good smells and happiness. No flowers around you? Bake some cookies.

muffinsSpeaking of baking, how about you bake something and give it away? Bring muffins to work, or the soup kitchen, or your neighbor.

Tell someone their baby is beautiful. Because their baby is beautiful. Ask what the baby’s name is and tell the parent you love that name, even if you don’t. “Zoltan? Oh, fabulous! What a gorgeous name!”

Listen to classical music. I recommend the Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello. You don’t have to know anything about classical music to benefit from hearing it.

happy-old-lady1Write a note to an older person. A real letter, on paper. Describe the weather, or where you are, and a memory of a time with them that was special. I did that to my grandmother, whom I saw often, after we’d baked cookies together at Christmastime, and she was so excited by that note that she called me to thank me for it. After she died, I found that letter. She’d kept it all those years.

Take a walk. Just for fun, not to get anywhere, but just to be outside and see stuff. Buildings or fields or woods or the ocean, it doesn’t matter. Strolling is just so underrated.

Look in the mirror and admire something about your face. It’s easy to be hard on ourselves, so let’s reverse that trend, shall we?

bookstorepictureGo to the library or bookstore. You don’t have to buy anything (though for me, it’s impossible, I’m like a junkie), but just look at books, read back covers and let your mind wander. Bet you’ll leave with an armful.

Rearrange your furniture. It can freshen up the room and make you feel energized.

Tell someone he or she did a good job. Whether it’s your kid cleaning his closet or a coworker finishing a presentation, people need to hear their efforts were noticed and appreciated.

Hope your day is just splendid!

 

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McIrish

There’s really nothing more appealing than a good dad, is there? We all sigh over Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hardy with their kids, and it’s the dream of a lot of women in romance novels to find that guy who’ll make a wonderful father.

Thought I’d show you what they’re hoping to get. McIrish, in fictional form. : )

declan and terence

He is a Lego master and though Dearest Son has received approximately 938 Lego models, McIrish never complained about helping him assemble them.

daddy's little girl

His favorite event of the year is the Father Daughter Dance. Here he is with Princess four years ago.

terence

When there’s a snowstorm, he gets his chainsaw and gets to work and never, ever complains about having to do it.

daddy dragging at pond

He’s not above being goofy in public if it gives the kids a laugh.

DSCN3170

terence copy

He doesn’t need extravagant things to make him happy. He’s wise enough to know that beautiful morning on the porch, healthy kids and a loving wife are all that really matter.

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My home away from home

As you might know, I’m ridiculously enamored of my office, which is a tiny attic apartment down the street from my house. Every day when I go up there, I feel a little rush of glee. My place, where my stories are born! So here’s a little bit about my little place, and some of the things I love here.

duckyYou probably recognize Rubber Ducky. No home is complete without one.

My office is very poorly insulated, so it gets very cold in the winter, and very hot in the summer. Sometimes it gets into the 90s. I have an air conditioner, but I only use it if death is imminent, you know?

I keep a Pilates ball in the shower. You know. Just in case I feel the urge to exercise (or just roll around on the ball for the heck of it).

peopleOn one wall hangs the New York Times bestseller list the first time I hit it. If I ever hit #1 (which seems to be in the same league as winning the lottery), I’ll frame that one, too. There’s the People magazine cover when they reviewed Somebody to Love, and the wall going up the stairs. I frame each original book cover, and at the bottom is the New York Times Book Review, when they reviewed The Perfect Match and said, “Higgins only gets better with each book.” I keep these things as trophies to buoy the spirits, because writing for a bookcoversliving is hard (and wonderful, but still hard), and it’s nice to see reminders that I’m not a hack. A different kind of trophy in my office is a little rose made from duct tape, given to me by the neighbor’s daughter because she loves me. If there was a fire, I’d save that rose before the NYT review. Priorities and all that.

 

Once in a while, I take a nap on the floor. Willow really likes that. She’s a cuddler.

I have a total of thirty-two pictures of my kids in my office. A bunch of my nieces and nephews, too.

gramHere’s a red ceramic polka dotted chicken on a shelf in the kitchen, because it’s just so goofy and cheerful. Also, a cow-shaped spoon rest. My farm roots, you see. That’s a picture of my grandmother, the Princess and me about 12 years ago.

Because my dad is my guardian angel of sorts, I keep a little shrine to him in one bookcase. The rock he brought from Ireland, a little bag of marbles that were his, and a picture of him riding my horse, so long ago.

Thanks for coming to visit! It was lovely having you!

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Ah, humiliation!

This week, something very embarrassing happened to me. I know what you’re saying. Why should this week be any different, Higgins?

a-fitts_20111105_1258-editedWell, two (or so) embarrassing things happened. One, I decided to run once again in the 10K race my town sponsors. So I did. Granted, I haven’t run since last summer, but how hard could it be? The thing is, back in the GOOD OLD DAYS of the race, there was only the 10K. It was all or nothing. Sort of a medieval religious torture kind of thing…show your unworthiness to God and He’ll take mercy on you. If you ran, even sluggishly with frequent stops for near-death experiences, you’d still finish ahead of the walkers or the professionally unfit.

But in recent years, the sneaky organizers have done something different. They offer a 5K. Therefore, everyone who’s not quite up to running 6.2 miles can just turn onto Pickett Lane and run 3.1 instead. Smart, right? The less-than-stellar runners—runners who haven’t run since last summer, for example—can easily turn and run the shorter course and finish without too much pain and humiliation.

I chose not to turn. Nope. Hey, I’ve run 10Ks before! Surely I could do it again!

To sum up how I did in the race, here’s an excerpt from my conversation with my mom:

Mom: “I was very worried about you when you ran past. You looked horrible.”

Me: “Thanks, Mom.”

davidbowie

David Bowie in “The Hunger.”

Mom: “But even worse than you was this really, really old man about 30 yards behind you! Kristan, I thought he was going to drop dead.”

Me: “He passed me.”

Mom: “You’re KIDDING! How embarrassing. Well. I’m proud of you, I guess. Just don’t run again next year.”

But no, that wasn’t the end of my humiliation. I was running behind a woman I’ve known for decades. She’s quite nice. We’ve had many, many conversations when I visit her workplace. Sometimes I call her for advice on my pets, because she’s very knowledgeable. At any rate, I was chatting with her after the race, trying to avoid going into the tunnel of light.

Hello_my_name_is_by_KubahBut the thing is, I thought she was someone else. You know how that is? You know you know this person, but it’s out of context, so you can’t remember who the heck they are. Was it Anne, Erin’s mother? I thought it was. Anne has long hair, and so clearly this must be Anne. “Hey, how’s it going?” I said. “How are the kids?”

She gave me a strange look, probably because she doesn’t have kids. She brought me an orange slice (probably correctly assessing me in some state of blood sugar crisis). “Thanks,” I said. That Anne. So nice.

“Where’d you get that orange slice?” Princess Daughter asked.

“Anne got it for me,” I said. The Anne person gave me another look.

A few minutes later, I remembered her name. Gina. From the vet’s office. Right. But now too much time had passed for me to acknowledge that I thought she was Anne, Erin’s mother. So I just said, “Thanks again, Gina!” and hobbled off with my children, who offered to carry me, as I was breathtakingly sore and very close to death.

Napping ensued, I’m happy to tell you.

Will I run the 10K again next year? You bet I will.

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More life-changing inventions

???????????????????????????????????????I like to tell McIrish that he’s sitting on a fortune waiting to happen, if only he’d listen to me. I consider myself not just a writer, but also an inventor, you see. Well, I’m the concept kind of inventor. Some of the things I’ve come up with are the Thumbie (please refer to My One and Only for more  on that handly little gizmo), the Coma Cloud, ensuring marital sleeping harmony, and the Portal, which would save countless hours of time by being what is essentially a car-wash for humans (including blow-drying and moisturizer application…why hasn’t this happened yet, right?).

But I have more. Oh, yes, many more! For example…

A scroll for the rearview window of your car, so you can tell other drivers what you think. You know those signs on the highway that say “Click It or Ticket?” This would be the same idea, except you could choose such pithy sayings as “Stop texting, idiot” and “You need to marry me if you’re going to follow this close.” There would be nice sayings, too, such as “Thank you for your service” to those folks who have veterans plates or military stickers. Or just “Have a great day!” or “I love your hair!” I’m not mean, after all.

o-COUPLE-IN-BED-facebookThe Husband Tazer. Okay, I need to work on the name, I understand that. But this handy little device would gently zap your hubby should he fall asleep in the chair while you’re providing colorful narration to Downton Abbey or Orange Is the New Black. The HT would also work when Mr. Right starts to snore. It’d be on a sensor, even, so when he jerks awake, his hair curlier than usual, you’re still blissfully asleep and not contemplating his untimely death. (See? Works for this happy couple.)

momThe Teenage Son Closet Odor Detection System. I think this one speaks for itself, don’t you? Save Mom from turning into the Kraken, boys! She’ll never have to know just how long those damp towels have been moldering on your floor. Order yours today!

See? A fortune waiting to happen. I’d better get to work on those patents.

 

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