My happy place…

 

On my way to the hospital

On my way to the hospital

…is the hospital. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be a doctor, and, failing that, now love being a patient. On Friday, I had a rod inserted into my foot and a ligament repaired because I was born with crappy feet and have seen my sainted mother’s feet and the future is grim.

To the hospital I went, chauffeured by McIrish, attended by the Princess, who is conveniently home on break and quite enjoying having me as her guinea pig patient. I cantered up to the receptionist, who commented that most people weren’t quite so merry upon coming in to have their bones broken. “I’m special,” I told her. McIrish rolled his eyes.

Beautiful Nurse Shannon gave me my favorite garment in the world—a johnny coat—and then brought me warm blankies.

Having some Bran time

Having some Bran time

Alas, my doctor was running late due to an emergency or something, so I had to wait. McIrish read to me from David Sedaris’s diaries, and the Princess duly listened to my DNR instructions. We pretended I was Bran from Game of Thrones, since I could only sit there with my IV in.

I got a headache, since I couldn’t have my coffee that morning, and was getting hungry. My mewling cries for a cheeseburger went unanswered. I covered myself up so as not to see the light and to look like a corpse to scare the staff (as one does. I don’t think I tricked anyone). The Princess had a cold, so she thoughtfully had covered her face with a mask. This did not prevent her from dancing when I got bored. She is truly the world’s best daughter.

Entertainment provided free of charge

Entertainment provided free of charge

Then Handsome Dr. Paul, the anesthesiologist, came over and discussed my options. “I want it all,” I said. “Nerve block, Fentanyl, throw it at me. I can’t wait.” He told me my leg would be completely dead with the nerve block, to which I said, “Cool!” (More eye-rolling from the family.) “I’ll give you some medication to relax you for the nerve block,” he said. It can be a little painful. “That’s okay!” I replied. “I love it here.”

Then Even Handsomer Dr. T, my surgeon, came in. He asked me the fun questions that I always get right—name, birthday, which foot. “I’m so excited,” I said, and he smiled, causing me to swoon a bit.

Then off I went to the OR, kissing my husband and blowing kisses to my baby girl. Leapt upon the OR table, chatted with the nurses, apologized that they had to work in such a chilly room and got those drugs. Fell blissfully asleep.

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

When I woke up, I said, “Am I still in Ireland? I hear rain! Oh, no, I’m here in Connecticut, but my husband and I did just go to Ireland, and it was great! Did I talk in my sleep? How am I doing? Are we done? Can I take another nap?” Then I promptly fell asleep again.

McIrish was grocery shopping so I could have my cheeseburger later, so the Princess was my responsible adult. This was a good thing, since I remembered nothing from my conversation with Handsome Dr. T.

I was wheeled out to the car (so much fun!) and deposited back into my bed for a snooze.

It was a happy day, gang. A very happy day. And soon, I’ll be walking much better than perhaps ever before in my life, which means I won’t be listing into strangers and pieces of furniture.

Thanks for all your good wishes! Please know I’m doing just fine.

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Fun Facts about Ireland

 

To honor an Irish saying—never let the truth get in the way of a good story—here are a few anecdotes from my befuddled, jet-lagged, Ireland-saturated brain about the past week.

spire of londonThe Spire of Dublin is a newer monument, bucking the tradition of statues of Irish heroes. Nicknames for the Spire include Stiffy on the Liffey, Stiletto in the Ghetto, Monument to Nothing, Erection at the Intersection and the biggest waste of $5 dollars in European history. McIrish and I found it to be, well…tall.

Street signs in Dublin are optional. When they appear, they’re usually on the building, and at night, no light shines on them, so best of luck getting where you’re going and God bless.

highway signHighway signs are in Irish and English. The Irish comes first. Gaeilge, which is the official term for Irish Gaelic, has many silent letters. I think the Irish did that to confuse the rest of us. “Let’s put in five extra vowels, all silent, and four consonants that sound like V,” I picture them saying. “The English eejits will never figure it out.” ‘Twas true. Sligeach… “Slig…each?” I’d attempt. (It was Sligo, for the love of God!) Cill Chainnigh…“Sill…chain…ig?” (Killkenny) Some navigator I was. Hey! You try reading that at 120 km per hour! My iPhone similiarly struggled, and so we ended up in towns we still cannot pronounce.

brown breadOnce, I pictured Irish people eating brown bread for their tea and felt very sorry for them. The tragedy of it, having only bread to eat! Now, I realize Irish brown bread is the best kept secret in the culinary world, and am devoting my life to perfecting it here in the States. (Picture and my first recipe attempt is from here: https://www.tastecooking.com/brown-bread-spine-ireland/).

Storytelling is a way of life. From shopkeepers to aunties to restaurant servers, everyone had time to chat, tell you you were grand, make you smile and say, “Tanks a million,” as you left. “Come back and see us again, won’t you? Elsewise, you’ll break my heart.”

the mckeevers

My beloved mother-in-law, first row, second from the left, and 12 of her 13 siblings.

Thank you, Ireland, and especially McIrish’s family! Go raibh maith agat! I have no idea how to say it, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We’ll be back to see you again, and you’ve always got a warm bed and a good cuppa tea waiting for you here.

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The Emerald Isle

irelandIn all the years we’ve been married, McIrish and I have never gone to Ireland, where most of his family lives. I’ve only met three or four of his aunts and uncles when they came to New York. For the record, he has (or had) 18 aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and children, and their children.

But on Friday, we’re heading to the Old Sod.

When I was in college, I went to Ireland for three weeks. It was lovely (and cold, and damp), but the people were welcoming and uncannily able to mark me as a Yank just by pubmy clothes. I remember giving money to little kids in Limerick, because “we have no shoes, miss!” only to see them take my offering and run to the candy store, the clever wee brats. I fell madly in love with a boy named Patrick Mulligan, who said his heart would break when I left (we’d known each other all of 48 hours, but still). I stayed with a family with four little red-cheeked kids who loved me on sight, and I them. I saw the Blarney Stone, drank my Guinness, visited Trinity College and genuflected in front of the Book of Kells. I’ll try not to adopt an Irish accent, though I can’t promise. It’s not on purpose…it’s just my thing.

whiskeyThis time, McIrish and I will meet up with his brothers, sister-in-law, niece, two nephews and my beloved mother-in-law, Polly. We’ll have a meal with one side of the family one day, then it’ll be Easter, and we might go to the horse races, because that’s a tradition, apparently. The next day, we’ll be with the other side of the family. Then, he and I will traipse off to Dublin for a few days and do lots of touristy things—a Viking boat ride on the Liffey, a tour of a distillery, shop for pretty Irish things on Grafton Street, walk across Ha’Penny Bridge, pay our respects at St. Patrick’s and, on our last night, have dinner with the lovely author Monica McInerney and her husband, John. Monica and I met 12 years ago and became instant friends, and we haven’t seen each other since.

But mostly, this trip is about my sweet and wonderful mother-in-law getting to see her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews again. Letting them spend time with her fine pollysons and three of her five grandchildren (the Princess and Dearest are in school, alas). For McIrish and his brothers, it will be returning to the land of their parents and ancestors. For me, it will be looking into those familiar faces, putting names with Christmas cards, and finally, finally meeting my Irish husband’s family.

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The joy of bad TV

McIrish and I have been floundering about, trying to find a show that A) has more than one season and B) we both like. We loved After Life, and we’re Game of Thrones fans, and we’ve seen some pretty good shows here and there.

But we’ve started to kind of love crappy TV, too. Without naming names, because I don’t like criticizing other people’s hard work. And yet…there are times when something is so wrong or unintentionally silly that it becomes fun.

FOR EXAMPLE…

tan franceThe show where the heroine has to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find her supposedly dead husband. Fans of Queer Eye (me!) will be glad to see she observes the French tuck, even after being lost in the jungle for four days and needing to kill a Bad Guy. Tan must be so proud! Also, our heroine hasn’t lost her ability to runway walk as she approaches Bad Guy Camp. You go, girl!

…the show where the Search and Rescue commander promises his nearly all-volunteer force that THEY WILL SAVE LIVES and he will teach them how.

search and rescue…and in that same show, where the doctor tells the husband, not the patient, what’s wrong with her, leaving it to the hubs to break the bad news.

…the show where the hero is a murderous thug, but it’s okay, because he was drunk when he killed all those people and shot his coworker, so it’s kind of funny (wrong. It’s not.)

…the show where the chemistry between the romantic leads was the same heat level as when I find a clump of dog fur under the radiator.

thames…the show where the cop intuitively knows where the child will be released by her abductors, but unfortunately, she’s the only person in London who knows where the Thames River is, and she has to drive all through the night to get to there, and by the time she does, there, the child is dead, leaving the cop devastated.

eyelashes…the show where the romantic teen lead professes nerd-dom and bullying, but is in fact the prettiest, smartest girl in high school, wealthy, from a loving home, well dressed and with eyelash extensions that could wrap you in a hug.

Lesson learned? Read more books! And watch Dr. Pimple Popper, because that’s just quality TV.

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Viva, Las Vegas!

 

buddiesI am not a Vegas type of person. I don’t like gambling, crowds, enormous buildings without clocks. I don’t want to see a fake version of Venice or the Eiffel Tower. I’m not really a show type of person, having been to all of two concerts in the past decade.

But I am kind of loving Las Vegas, where I’m visiting my longtime friend, Robyn Carr, and her good dog, Brodie, and her daughter, daughter’s family and many friends. They even threw a party to welcome me! My job was to make cosmos, which I did very happily. We sat outside by the fire thingie and watched the sky darken, and the little girls ran around, and we laughed and talked and it was so much fun!

rocks-261253_640Aside from the almost nonstop conversation Robyn and I have, here are a few more things I loved.

The wildflowers are in bloom.

The sky is so blue!

It’s amazingly quiet, even though we’re perched on a hill overlooking the city.

cozy spotDid I mention Brodie?

The house has high ceilings, and when Robyn and I laugh (which is pretty much all the time) it echoes a little, and what a happy sound that is.

When the sun rises, the rocks across the valley turn red. There’s still snow on the tops there.

lake meadLake Mead. Wow. I’ve never seen Lake Mead up close, and boy, is it beautiful. The Hoover Dam (which Robyn fondly calls the damn dam, because she’s taken so many guests to see it) is astonishing.

Robyn’s house is absolutely lovely, filled with desert colors and cheerful touches. I spent a few hours putting her family photos in order. Her granddaughters are ridiculously cute.

hoover-691114_640Tonight, we’re going out to dinner. The food is another thing I love out here, though I tend to love food wherever I go.

It’s been such a good visit! I made Robyn promise to come visit me next fall, when I can show off New England a little bit. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good time there, too ; )

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Maple Man

 

the bucket

tapping the trees

Almost every year of our marriage, McIrish has made maple syrup. He started by buying a few taps and hanging buckets on the maple trees. The kids would go with their red wagon and check the sap, and with his help, put the full buckets into their wagon and pull it back to the barn. For the sap to run, the weather has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. The first run of the year makes the best syrup (but is there really such a thing as bad syrup?). It takes a week or so to get enough sap for boiling.

Boiling Day is very exciting around here. We used to have a metal barrel with a hole cut in it, and McIrish would put in the evaporator pan. He’d add logs to the

The man, the legend

The man, the legend

barrel and sit there, listening to the radio (usually Car Talk). The kids would play and sometimes sled if there was still snow on the ground. We’d make popcorn. McIrish would throw a few hot dogs in the boiling sap and voila! Lunch was served. We upgraded our evaporator a few years ago to a proper stove (so we could get more syrup). The little shed where this all happens is the best outdoor man cave ever.

the boil

the boil

Friends often come and visit on Boiling Day. Many of them haven’t seen maple syrup being made before, including our little four-year-old twin neighbors. We showed them the boiling sap yesterday, and they were terribly excited. “I see it, Terence!” they exclaimed. “I smell the syrup!”

sap running

sap running

McIrish stands there like a benevolent overlord, chatting, adding sap, adding wood, sitting in the cool air, watching the dogs frolic in the mud and snow. I go out and sit as well, but I have a tendency to get too close to the stove and melt my fleece coat. I do love to hang out there with him, just talking, warming ourselves, rotating like chickens on a rotisserie. Sometimes, he lets me add sap, and I feel very important.

When the sap is reduced down enough, McIrish brings it inside for the final boil on the stove, and then, the somewhat terrifying filter, where he has to pour the superheat syrup through a cloth. and filter on the stove. The windows of the house steam up, and it smells so sweet. This year, we had the twins over for their first sleepover, and they were quite dazzled when McIrish brought us each a tiny glass of syrup to sip, still warm. The little boy spilled his and clapped his hands over his eyes. “Oh, no, what have I done?” he said, and we assured

Just beautiful.

Just beautiful.

him that these things happen and got him some more.

Maple syruping takes weeks. We only make a couple of gallons of syrup, but every time I make pancakes, which is something I only do when the kids are home, we get to have Daddy’s syrup. Weeks of work for a little sweetness throughout the year. True love in action.

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The month of Cape Cod

evening sky

I want to thank you, readers, for the past four weeks.

It was a very busy year. I wrote a book, went on two book tours, attended at least one writers conference, had a child graduate from college, took a lovely family vacation, and spent a memorable day in the emergency room thinking I was going to die and scaring the bejesus out of McIrish. I think I was on an airplane more than 50 times in 8 months.

winter capeThe Princess moved into her first apartment and started graduate school three hours away. Dearest Son had an internship for which he wore a suit and tie, and I realized that my little boy is a man.

This full schedule, and all these emotional upheavals, translated to the fact that I was having a hard time writing my latest book. And so, McIrish and I decided it would be good for me to get away. In the past, I’ve done this for a week or two, usually to someplace warm. This year, because I am a lover of skyscapes and the ocean, I rented a house at the edge of the Atlantic and discovered the wonders of winter on Cape Cod.

faithful friendI took sweet Luther, my better-behaved dog who wouldn’t charge into the ocean the way Willow does, and food that was easy to prepare and consume. Huggy Pillow. Lots of comfy clothes and my giant pink parka.

What happened then was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. The sound of the waves, the incredible clarity of the night sky, the comfort of Nauset Light’s beam swinging through the darkness. The howls of coyotes, the little fox that followed Luther and me on the beach, and reappeared in our yard the day we were leaving. The smell of salt air, the roar of a storm, even, remarkably, the feeling of a porpoise under my hands as a stranger and I tried to help her get back into the ocean. The exhilarating cold, the giddiness of being blown backward by the wind, unable to stand still in its force.

beachThere’s a holy feeling to being the only person on a beach, making the first footprints (and pawprints) of the day. Seeing sheets of snow gust past the house, to hear different voices of the wind coming from all directions all at once, and always, the ocean, like the earth’s heartbeat.

I know I sound romantic and poetic and maybe a little goofy. I felt that way, too.

IMG_9630There was the delight of visitors—my husband, my daughter, my sister. The long chats I had with my son. My dearest friend from college—our first solo sleepover in twenty-eight years, laughing so hard Catherine fell off the couch. A night with my cousins, another with my auntie. My wonderful, brilliant writer friends, Huntley Fitzpatrick and Stacia Bjarnason, the laughs, the stories, the ideas.

the cloudsI wrote most of my book this month—a book I’ve been struggling with for six months or more. I finally got to that place we writers live for, when the pages flow and the ideas leap from our fingertips. I cleared my head by walking my dog, through the woods, on the beach, going to the bay to watch the sunset, waking up every day to the sunrise flooding my house.

All that was because of you, because you read my books and have given me this beautiful, fulfilling, remarkable career. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my very full heart.

 

 

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A rather exciting afternoon

Luther's other true love

Luther’s other true love

So…My plotting friends had just left, and the ocean was wild, the tide very high. I thought, hey, I’ve been inside most of the past two days, plotting and laughing (and laughing and laughing) with Huntley and Stacia, eating lots of carbs and such. My doggy, who was in mourning because his two other mommies had just left, could use the exercise. And hence, I rode my bike to the beach.

As I walked down toward the waves, a man called to me. “Miss! Miss! There’s a baby dolphin stranded on the beach! Don’t let your dog get too excited!”

Baby? Dolphin!?! Stranded, as in needing rescue?

We were on the job.

dolphin!Turns out our baby dolphin was actually a harbor porpoise, but Ivan (my new best friend, despite his Boston Red Sox baseball cap) and I didn’t know that. I called 911 and reported it, then got a call from Animal Rescue, but the call kept dropping before I could give the information. I didn’t know if they got the location, or if they were coming, or if it was just Ivan and me.

The tide was coming in, and the waves were rough. No one else was around. Poor Flipper! She was wriggling and breathing through her blowhole, making Luther so, so excited to play. But, given that she’d probably never seen a dog before, and he definitely had never seen a dolphin before, I tied him to an iron pipe and went over to the beautiful little creature. “Don’t be afraid, honey,” I said. “We’ll help you..”

ocean“Let’s turn her,” said Ivan, as she was facing the beach, rather than the ocean.

And so, we gently, gently, tried to turn her. When the next wave came, it sloshed into our boots, and we got Flipper a little closer to the water. Then a huge wave came in, and pushed her right back…and knocked me down.

Let me tell you something about the northern Atlantic in February. It’s not warm. On the other hand, it never is, not even in August. Ivan helped me up, laughing, also drenched, and we tried again. And again. “The tide will take her into the ocean eventually, right?” I asked.

“As long as she doesn’t dry out, I think she’ll be okay,” he said.

my little friendBut it was hard to watch her struggle, so we tried again. She was cool and slippery, and the whooshing sound of her breath from her blowhole was strange and beautiful. Both Ivan and I had taken to calling her honey by that point, and every time a wave came, we pointed her to the ocean, hoping she could get deep enough to get back in, cheering her on. But she just wasn’t big enough to overcome the power of the waves.

Then, blessedly, we heard a shout! It was the real animal rescuers, and they had a sheet to carry her. We lay the sheet next to her and gently rolled her onto it, then carefully, carefully, lifted her up and carried her to the sand.

“They’re coming with a pickup truck,” the rescuer explained, and they would examine her to see if she was sick, then release her if she was healthy. I wish I had more photos, but my phone was drenched and irritable and didn’t want to turn on.

Did I mention I was soaking wet? Hair, glasses, pants, phone, parka, everything. I went to my faithful pup, who was terribly excited, and emptied the saltwater and rocks out of my boots. “Did you drive here?” Ivan asked.

“No, actually,” I said. “I rode my bike. But it’s not far.”

“I’ll drive you home,” he said, and because he was the type of guy who would go into the Atlantic Ocean to save a small mammal, I figured he was good people. And he was. Not only did he let me ride in his Jeep, sopping wet and grinning, but he let Luther in, too, and put my bike in the back, then drove me down the long dirt road to my house.

“What an experience!” he said, as exuberant as I was. “That was incredible!”

good luck, flipper!We shook hands and then hugged, and he said goodbye to Luther and went off.

I have a lot of laundry to do now, folks. Both Luther and I needed baths. I hope my boots will dry eventually, and that my parka can be washed in the machine.

But being so close to a porpoise, hearing her breath, talking to her, and feeling like you had, maybe, a small part in helping her…I’d do it again tomorrow.

Godspeed, Flipper! May you live a long and healthy life!

 

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Days alone

skyIf you’re a writer, there is something that I think is almost always necessary to do what we do…solitude.

For each of my books, I’ve needed to be alone. This does not include a faithful canine companion. Just alone from other people. When I was a baby writer, my children were tiny—six and three—so my alone time happened when they napped, or at  night. Bless them, they were the type of little ones who went to bed at 7:00. On the nights when McIrish worked at the firehouse, I’d jump on our big old clunky desktop in the bedroom we couldn’t afford to finish, and lose myself in story.

winter capeAs the kids got older and my writing became more lucrative, McIrish and I decided to allot some more serious alone time for me. He built me an office in the basement, which I fondly called the Pit of Despair. Cement walls, that one little prison-like window…but hey. It had a door, and that door closed. As the kids grew older, I would go to the Cape for a night or two in March, which served two purposes—I’d open our little house up there, the house my parents bought when I was little, and have two whole days to write without human contact. We didn’t have wi-fi back then. It was writer heaven. As the kids grew older, the days at the Cape became longer…two nights. Three. A weekend with my plotting buddies.

foggy dayWhen the kids were elderly and my writing responsibilities grew to become more than just stay at home and type, and I had to figure in things like book tours and speaking engagements, I started to go away in the winter. I probably have seasonal affective disorder, but I call it the winter blues. Our little house in the woods can feel claustrophobic, all those trees. My office isn’t well insulated, so I sit under blankets when I work there. Since I walk to my office, any kind of snow or ice makes it hazardous to someone as clumsy as I am.

So I rented an apartment a few years ago, first in Atlanta, then in La Jolla when a speaking engagement took me out there. I went back a couple years later, because La Jolla is so beautiful, and so warm.

beachThis year, I’m away for the longest I’ve been. A month. Both kids live away now, Dearest a sophomore in college, the Princess at nursing school in Boston. Rather than try to go somewhere warm, which would require a flight and more effort for McIrish to come see me, I rented a house on Cape Cod, back to my roots. Our little house isn’t winterized enough for a month there, so I found a pretty little house on another dirt road. The ocean roars, and I wake up to the sun streaming in through the windows, and the sky…the sky is so beautiful. At night, the stars are bright enough for me to understand why we’ve always looked to them as proof of God, as our heroes immortalized.

the cliffLuther is curled up on his mat as I write this. McIrish will come visit me today. My plotting friends will pop in—my sister and Huntley already have. But mostly there’s just me, my story, my good dog, the ever-changing voice of the ocean, the bracing wind and the glorious, endless sky.

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The white stuff

 

dame helenI’ve been going gray since my twenties, but things sped up after I had my kids (not blaming you, Princess and Dearest, but if the shoe fits…). Since I hit 50, there’s been a white streak in the front, which Robert, my hairdresser, has wrestled with. Do we make it look like blond streaks? Do we let it be? Do we try to make it gray (totally on trend) instead of white?

jamie leeFor decades, I’ve colored my hair, which in its natural state, was sort of a dark brown with some red in it, courtesy of my mom, who once had hair the color of an Irish setter. I was in a permanent state of hmmmph, having brown hair, as my sister and mother were regularly told what gorgeous hair they had, how stunning, how beautiful (still bitter much, Higgins?). As an act of rebellion, I colored my hair darker. Medium Golden Brown. 5G, as I recall. A rather boring description. Medium.

But since this summer, I’ve decided to let nature take its course. Same as when I threw away all my Spanx. I am what I am, and I’m gray. White in places. I don’t mind aging, frankly. I mean, sure, there are parts I’d do without. But then I remember Theresa and Melissa and David, friends who never got to hit middle age, and I start to love my gray hair. Several other friends never colored their hair, and were way dame judiahead of the “young people with gray hair” trend. Oh, the money and time they saved! Neither of my grandmothers felt the need to be anything other than what nature intended. My mom’s red has faded to strawberry blond, and I think it’s a shock that her child has more gray that she has. “Are you going to keep it that way?” she’ll ask. “I mean, it’s very pretty! I love it!”

The options were to go blond. Not for me—I’d spent my life trying to feel that brown hair was just as good as red hair, so blond felt like committing adultery. To have Robert dye it forever, which is not cheap in either time or money, or do a crappy job at home (for which Robert always chastises me).

“I want to go gray,” I told him a few months ago. “I’m either going to shave my head, or you’re going to help me.”

To his credit, he was excited. We are the same age, Robert and I, and he’s gray and very distinguished, you know? Because he’s a man, he gets to be distinguished. Another stylist, nice and graya woman, had told me I’d go back to coloring because gray would age me…but hey. I’m 53. I’m aged already. I don’t want to be 75 years old and have chestnut brown hair. I wouldn’t be fooling anyone.
So I’m salt and pepper now, with a silvery-white streak like new-fallen snow in the moonlight (she said, whipping out her author similes). My daughter says my hair sometimes seems to glow, which I quite like. When the sun hits it, there it all is—every year of my life, every wonderful experience, every sorrow, the map of my life in sparkling, shining, unapologetic evidence. My name is Kristan Higgins. I’m 53 years old, and my hair is turning white.

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