Kristan’s Blog: 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

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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.

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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!).

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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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Easter back in the day

s-l225When I was a little kid, Easter was all about the clothes. I mean, yeah, we went to church and had dinner at my grandparents’ house afterward. The Easter Bunny came.

But mostly, it was the clothes.

My sister and I would wear matching dresses; my brother wore a suit. The dress always seemed to have smocking, and it would be so much prettier than any other dress we had. We’d wear a slip or an itchy underdress petticoat thingie. White tights, which my mom managed to get on us only by sticking our legs in, then grabbing the waistband and shaking us the rest of the way in. Even so, they were never pulled up high enough, causing my sister and me to waddle like little ducks.

imagesThen came the gloves. Little white gloves that we’d never wear again. Still not sure why we had those, but they were part of the Easter package. White shoes with straps that buckled. I had to have uglier shoes than my sister, because I had problems with my feet, but even mine seemed so pretty.

Then, the hat. Again, itchy seemed to be required, but damn, we were cute. White plastic with an elastic band under the chin, a ribbon fluttering in the breeze.

And finally, the purse. Oh, the purse! A tiny little white straw confection with a clump of pastel flowers on it. Mom would put in a tissue and a quarter for the collection basket. My sis and I would spend mass opening and closing the purse, fascinated by the catch, because we were five and four, and we didn’t generally carry purses. The pressure of having that quarter ready would build throughout mass, and I’d always feel limp with relief when I got it in the basket.

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Not my sister and me, but you get the idea.

After mass, we’d run down the hill with the other kids at our church, compare fancy clothes, and head to Nina and Pop-Pop’s, where, blissfully, we could take off our tights and run around like normal kids.

Pop-Pop would make leg of lamb with mint jelly, and he’d often fondly comment that I could eat like a horse. Some things never change. I might fall asleep on his lap after dinner; I adored that man.

We’d get home after the long car ride, our Irish setters overjoyed to see us after half a day apart. Taking off the dress was a relief by then, though it was sad to see it go away, knowing next year I’d be too big for it. We’d go to bed before it was fully dark, full of candy, tired and happy, and a little sad that the special day was over.

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Happy times!

About 25 years ago...

About 25 years ago…

This week, I got to see my eldest godchild. I have six godchildren, something I’m very proud of, but Julia was my first, and my flower girl when I got married. She’s now a mom of an adorable tot and an ER nurse.

Now, as you may know, I once had dreams of working in medicine that were quickly dashed when I learned how much math and science I’d have to study in college and med school. But I never lost my fascination for the human body. I’m a bit of a rarity in my vast extended family; out of dozens of us, only about four aren’t squeamish. And two of us LOVE that gross stuff—Julia and me.

ht_melissa_morris_after_thg_120130_wmainWe were in Princess’s college town, where I was the professional in residence for the day, and Julia and her tot, the Princess and I went back to my hotel after dinner. My 600-Pound Life was on TV—a shared fascination, that show—and as her little tot discovered the wonders of pushing a chair around the room, Julia educated Princess and me about the challenges of taking care of patients in this situation. “See what you’ll get to do?” she told my daughter. Then, to me, “Oh, I have a great pus story for you!” she said. You can see why I love her.

These are not real! They're for Halloween, and have a battery that enables them to crawl. Yes, I own one.

These are not real! They’re for Halloween, and have a battery that enables them to crawl. Yes, I own one.

I shared two amputation stories with her—both times when McIrish had to retrieve a severed limb. She was duly impressed, but as an ER nurse, definitely had a comeback story. We spent a happy evening playing with the World’s Cutest Toddler, swapping tales of gore and blood and watching TV. My current work-in-progress opens with a scene in the ER. Julia is my consultant. Good to have a nurse in the family. ; )

Julia was one of my practice babies: I was 18 when she was born, and I love her so much, and her little one, too. It was lovely, having both my girls with me for the evening, feeling maybe getting a preview of grandparenting.

Happy times. Happy, happy times.

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A Connecticut Yankee in Atlanta

 

IMG_3010This was the first time I’ve done what I just got back from doing…I rented a house and stayed there for two solid weeks, writing away. I loved it, despite a hearty case of homesickness. It’s the eternal dichotomy of loving to travel and being a homebody, too.

A few observations on what’s different here…

Traffic lights last longer, attesting to the slower pace of the gentle South. In New York, you get, I don’t know…15 seconds to cross? Four? In Atlanta, the lights last for ages. And apparently, Atlanta drivers are colorblind when it comes to yellow: I didn’t see ONE SINGLE DRIVER stop for a yellow light, and indeed, flying through the red seems a time-honored tradition.

I found that I had a cloak of invisibility called “being a pedestrian.” My friend came down for the weekend, and we saved each other’s lives at least a hundred and eleven times from you crazy Southern drivers. Yikes!

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There are flowers everywhere. Spring comes in February. Magnolias, camelias, Rose of Sharon, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths—it did a body good.

 

 

28141_10151723037421418_603208953_nThe sidewalks are death defying. You know how Indiana Jones has to hop and jump on the stones, or he’ll die? Same here! In my neighborhood, they were either this odd puzzle of sextagons, pushed up by frost or tree roots. Sometimes, there’s plywood covering sinkholes. Sometimes there’s not.

 

IMG_3002The food will kill you, but you will die smiling. Biscuits, eggs, grits, greens, everything cooked with butter, glorious butter. Meatloaf, fried chicken, apricot cake, mac and cheese that would make God Himself cry with joy. Collard greens, sausage, steak and cheese, hamburgers…and tater tots! I didn’t know tater tots could be so good!

The art of conversation is vastly superior here. It just leaves even this friendliest of Yankees in the dust. For example, I was taking a stroll and came upon a tree service crew. “Hello!” I sang out in my adorable way.

“Hey, how you doing today?” said the gentleman.

“I’m great!” said I. “How are you?”

tree_service“I’m doing wonderful,” he said in his gorgeous drawl. “Even better, now that a nice lady took the time to say hello.”

The gauntlet of friendliness was thrown. I had to up my game.

“Isn’t this a beautiful neighborhood?”

“Not as pretty as you, ma’am.”

Oh! Shot through the heart with Southern charm! But I wasn’t done and had to erase the notion that Yankees are bad at this sort of thing, so I said, “You have a lovely day,” to which he said, “And you do the same. It was a pleasure talking with you.”

He won. Defeated and crushing on him, I went on my way.

But you know the saying. There’s no place like home. Even if it’s 40 degrees colder and there’s still snow.

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Getting away

DSCN9793I get what I call the winter blues. I don’t want to go so far as to call it seasonal affective disorder, because that sounds too official. I love spring—I’m kind of a spring junkie, and summer is the BEST, and autumn in New England is a holy experience. And then comes winter. Snow. Cold. More snow. Melting snow. Mud. More snow. Dirty snow. Mud. Crusty snow. Icy snow. No leaves on the trees. No flowers in my garden.

Last year, on April 17, the last of our snow finally melted. APRIL! Come on! “I can’t do this again without going on a killing spree,” I told McIrish, and he readily agreed that yes indeedy, I needed a little time away in the winter of 2016.

houseI chose Atlanta for a few reasons: it wouldn’t be that hot. It was a direct flight from Connecticut. I wouldn’t need a car because they have public transportation.

Yesterday, I took an Uber taxi to my house for the next little while. Dragged my suitcase up the steps and kablammy! I was in love. It’s a cute little apartment in a three-apartment Victorian, on a street filled with lovely little bungalows and Victorians. Oh, the strangeness of it all! The little galley kitchen, the stained-glass transom in my bedroom, the leather recliner upstairs!

I left my suitcase and took a walk, admiring the lovely houses, the blooming magnolia, the live oaks. I bought some groceries and lugged them back, unpacked, settled in.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.51.57 AMFor me, nothing stimulates my writerly imagination as being in a new place, in someone else’s place. A new neighborhood, different furniture and wall colors, throw pillows and comforters different from the sweet familiarity of home.

So this is where I’ll be, gang! Staying in my PJs most days, eating when the mood strikes, hunkered down, writing you a book. xox

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The perks of being single

 

Since it’s Valentine’s Day and the emphasis is on couples, I thought I’d buck the trend and talk about how much I truly enjoyed being single back in the day. The perks were many.717161acd78e0793192a2d8c86ff5063

  1. No one messes up your stuff.
  2. You can eat what and when you like. From a giant bowl in front of the TV, if you want.
  3. Speaking of TV, there’s no judgment when you’re single. You want to watch a TLC marathon on born-again virgins? Go for it. You want to recite the lines from Bridget Jones’s Diary with Mark and Bridget? Enjoy.
  4. You can travel at the spur of the moment. Tickets on sale to Santa Fe or Brussels? Why the heck not?
  5. You can move. Got a new job offer? Just feel like living in a different part of the country? Go for it.
  6. You can adopt a dog or cat or iguana without having to argue the case.
  7. You don’t have to consult anyone before making plans with friends. No “Are we singlefree on Tuesday for drinks with Mark Darcy? Oh…right. Dinner at your mother’s. Poop.” Nope. Not in Single Lady Land. You say yes to Mark Darcy. Hell’s yes, you do!
  8. You can sing at top volume whenever you want without earning a glare.
  9. Your mood is yours and yours alone. You feel like a good sulk? Indulge. Ditto a naked dance party with the dog. The dog doesn’t read sexy time or insanity into it. It’s just dancing.
  10. You’re not in a crappy relationship. No one standing you up, no confusion, no putting up with less than you deserve. Good for you!
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