Oh, the humanity!

After several family interventions and one emergency visit from the United Nations, my mother has agreed to relinquish chef duties for Thanksgiving this year.

knife‘Twas a battle, readers! The Queen of the Giblets was not quite ready to pass the torch, but after she melted plastic inside the bird last year (“You just can’t let that go, can you?”), after she “accidentally” splattered me with boiling gravy, dropped (or threw) a knife so that it stuck quivering in the kitchen floor right near pinkie toe, my sister and I huddled together and strategized.

turkeyWe would cook the big feast this year—maybe add some new dishes that didn’t require cream of mushroom soup, canned onion rings or Cheez-Its—but Mom would still host, since she has the perfect house for company. My sister and I would go to her as a united front, possibly sending in the Princess when talks broke down. And so, with the “safety in numbers” theory firmly in mind, approached in a tactical method that would hopefully reveal the facts:

  1. Turkey is better without melted plastic;
  2. Our kidneys could not again process as much salt as she likes to use;
  3. Think of the children; and
  4. It was time her two fifty-something daughters made the damn bird all by themselves.

Fine,” she said after our fifth intervention. “Go for it. I’ll make a side dish. Or two. And a dessert. And cranberry sauce. And stuffing, because my stuffing is best.” (She has us there).

elsa marsShe won’t disclose exactly what she’s making just yet, and when I pop in to see her, she clutches myriad cooking magazines to her ample bosom. “I don’t know yet,” she says. “But you’ve got everything under control, don’t you?” It’s an accusation. “Want me to help cook the turkey?” A sinister laugh follows. “And don’t forget to make…the gravy.” Everything sounds slightly terrifying, as if she’s Jessica Lange in American Horror Story.

Since my sister is coming from New Hampshire, McIrish, the Princess, Dearest Son and I will be doing most of the cooking. Do I think Mom is hoping for an unmitigated disaster so she can lord it over our bowed and shameful heads for the rest of our lives? Maybe! Will she have made an entire turkey dinner as back-up? Probably!

Will we have a lovely Thanksgiving with lots of laughs? Absolutely.

I hope you will, too, dear readers.

 

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A serendipitous ending

 

josie

Dear little Josie

The other night, I got a text from my neighbors and close friends Josie, their young and skittish doggy, had bolted, jerking the retractable leash out of the mom’s hand and dashing off into the woods. They searched and called her, but it was raining hard, and the first day of early darkness.

Well, I’d been watching the Great British Bake Off finale and didn’t have my phone turned on for the text alerting me that Josie was missing. It was after 11 p.m. I texted back, but my friends had gone to bed.

Hm, thought I. Maybe I’ll drive around the block and look for her. McIrish was already asleep, and besides, he gets to rescue animals (and humans) all the time. Our block is two-and-a-half miles long, and it’s very dark and rural out here. Maybe my headlights would pick up a forlorn little doggy dragging her leash.

They didn’t. I went home and got into bed, then had another thought. Luther is incredible at seeing and smelling critters. Sure, sure, it was now after midnight, but I pictured Tess, the teenage daughter of Josie’s family. I love Tess. I’ve loved her since the day she was born. Also, Luther had been rather naughty lately—rolling in the same dead animal twice within 24 hours, tearing a chair in his exuberance to snuggle, etc. It was time for him to start earning his keep. Allegedly, he’s part bloodhound.

The LLBean muck boots and raincoat were put back on. I took Luther and walked down the street and into the woodsy area where Josie had last been seen. Luther was quite excited indeed at this late-night walk. Figuring the vast wastelands between Josie’s house and the big corn field would be a good place to start, I started down the dirt lane. Peeked in the old barn, thinking Josie might’ve taken shelter there.

coyote

The coyotes around here are huge.

Suddenly, Luther began dragging me up the hill, past the former cow shed. Alas, the beam of the flashlight showed no reflective eyes, and my gentle calls of “Josie, Josie,” went unanswered. Then I wondered if maybe Luther was smelling a bear or coyote, fisher cat or skunk. I imagined my family learning that I’d been mauled to death by a mountain lion (we do have one or two in Connecticut). “That damn hero complex of hers. She just HAD to go out in the middle of the night and get herself killed.” My funeral would not be as I often picture it, not with my husband and children irked with me.

So I went back home. At least, I thought, Luther’s smell was out there. If Josie was stuck, as we believed she was, hopefully the scent of a big male dog would keep the coyotes at bay.

In the morning, Tess came over; the schools were closed for election day, and both her parents had to go to work, unfortunately. She was trying hard to be brave, but she adores that dog. I tried to reassure her and, being Miss Hyper-Organized, had already googled “how to find a dog lost in the woods,” posted on Facebook and started a “lost dog” poster. I gave Tess something to eat, called the vet, the animal control officer and a kennel where lost dogs show up sometimes. Sometimes, pragmatism is the best balm for a worried heart.

the hero dog

Have nose, will travel.

Then we loaded Luther into the car with treats, an extra leash, and one of Josie’s toys for Luther to sniff for her scent (Hey. I watch movies. It could happen.) “Let’s start where Luther got excited last night,” I said, and so we went to the corn field entrance, where my dog again proceeded to charge up the hill. Tess headed toward the stream, calling “Josie! Want to go for a ride?” as suggested by the Google.

At the edge of the field where the wild stretch began, Luther started sniffing and leaping and trembling. Looking out over the bracken and snarls of pricker bushes, I said to Tess, “I think she’s in there somewhere.” We peered into the briars, but the undergrowth was so thick, we couldn’t see two feet in front of us. “Call her,” I said, and Tess did. We watched to see if any of the undergrowth moved, listened for a whine or bark. But there was nothing.

undergrowth

The undergrowth around here. Oy.

Then Tess’s young, healthy eyes caught a glimpse of something turquoise. “Josie?” she said. After a second or two, we heard a small jingle. Not Luther’s dog tags…but dog tags still. “Josie!” Tess said again, and crawled her way into the snarled, thorn-riddled brush. I tied Luther to a tree, and by the time I got back, Tess was so deep in the growth I couldn’t see her. “I’ve got you, Josie!” she said. “I’m here!”

josie and me

Hooray!

The leash was so tangled Josie could barely move. Tess unclipped her, but she couldn’t get out…honestly, we needed a machete. But I am a rather large and brawny woman, so I crashed into the briars and vines toward my brave little friend and her doggy, hefted Josie into my arms and carried her out to the field, Tess now able to follow the path of destruction I left.

Luther was thrilled to see Josie, and the two dogs, blithely ignorant to the emotional suffering the humans had endured, romped for a few minutes before getting their muddy butts into my previously immaculate car. Tess and I tore up the lost dog flyers and hugged…then noticed that Josie was in dire need of a bath. Back to my house, because I’m kind of an expert at washing stinky dogs. We fed Josie and toweled her off, and I took Tess home so she and her puppy could get some sleep.

from tessieLuther proved himself to be a true hound dog after all. I think he knows he did something important. Josie’s owners called me a hero and promised a case of Annie’s Mac and Cheese (they know me well) and many hugs as reward. But sometimes, all you need is to remember the face of a kid who found her dog after a long, cold, rainy night, and you don’t need a single thing more.

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Heartbreak dreams

Today is the thirtieth anniversary of the day my father was killed by a drunk driver.

He didn’t get to meet the man I’d marry, or see any of his three kids get married. While my wedding was very happy, there was a stone in my heart that day. When I lost a baby, he wasn’t there to comfort me. He didn’t get to fall in love with his first grandchild, the Princess, or sit next to Dearest Son’s incubator and marvel at the miracle of him. He didn’t get to cuddle any of his five grandchildren. He didn’t get to see his daughter’s name on a book cover.

I think about how my dad would’ve been…a doting grandpa, smug and proud, always encouraging the kids to be great, work hard, dream big. He would’ve loved McIrish and his care of the land, his work ethic and love of outdoors—qualities they shared. I think of how proud my books would have made him. He would’ve come to all the awards ceremonies, and being my dad, he would have had a big bouquet of roses each time, whether I won or lost (but being my dad, he would’ve been confident that I’d win).

Sometimes I dream that my father is back, and that I’m introducing my kids to him. Those are hard dreams. Heartbreakers.

My dad had a special nickname for me only he used. No one calls me that any more. No one has called me that in thirty years. No one will ever call me that again. I’m older than my dad ever was. He’s been gone for more than half my life, and you’d think I’d be used to it. But I’m not, even though my memories of him are foggy now. I can’t really remember his voice. I miss him every day, but three decades have passed, blurring my memories.

Grief has is a presence unto itself—the absence of him is more acute than my old memories are, worn down by thirty years. The shock of losing him in such a brutal crash, such a stupid, preventable way has given way to the weary acceptance that he’s simply gone. The facts of my life have shifted. I’m a middle-aged woman who lost her dad so long ago that it’s normal now. That doesn’t seem fair.

Yesterday, I was driving back from New York, and I glanced at the car next to me. The driver was texting as we maneuvered through the difficult traffic—traffic caused by a car accident, ironically. I thought what I always think when I see someone driving stupidly: If you crash, I hope it’s only yourself that you kill. It’s a merciless thought because in that respect, I am without mercy.

Maybe, if you’re one of those people who texts while driving, or gets behind the wheel after a few drinks, hoping you’re sober enough, you’ll think of my dad, and me, left alone to figure out life without the one person I really looked up to.

I share a lot of my life with you, my friends and readers. I wanted to share my heartache on this wretchedly significant day. Don’t drive distracted. Put your damn phone in the back seat and ignore it. Don’t drive drunk or stoned or impaired. Be watchful. Be careful. Be smart.

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Better left untried

 

Last night, McIrish and I had the unique experience of sharing the family house on Cape Cod with my sister. We’d been there all together in the past, but with kids…this time, it was just the three of us to do a few final chores before we close the house, to hang out and get silly and yes, drink some wine.

doggyConversation turned to nudism. One of us had heard of a nude cruise vacation—nuises, as I started calling them. My sister enacted possible conversations and situations…sitting in recently vacated chair, for example, or bumping against someone in the hall as they’ve just left the bathroom. “Everyone would get Parvo,” I wheezed, ever thinking of cleanliness. My sister obliged us by demonstrating potential poses to keep certain parts off certain surfaces. She has a very strong core.

oceanTalk turned to swimming nude in the ocean, which I did once, in Sweden for a grand total of 12 seconds. (It was after being in a sauna, and when in Sweden…) I said it was something men think is sexy, but women have to consider the real-life complications. McIrish began to mansplain why there would be no complications, to which I said, “In a porno, you’re right. In real life, we have to think about these things. Also, you’re a man, so you lose this argument, since you don’t have the right parts.” He conceded.

cloroxBack to the nuises…did people take towels to sit on, as they do in the saunas of Sweden? Was the crew also naked? Did they hand you a container of Clorox Clean-Up wipes as you boarded? How much more sunscreen would you use? What if you were eating something hot, and it fell off your fork? The disco nights…the shuffleboard.

This morning, McIrish told me I had agreed to go on such a cruise. Listen. I might have had a little wine last night, but there’s not enough Chardonnay in the world to make me agree to that. Still, if you’re a nuiser, hey. Whatever floats your boat.

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The blues

bluesThe other night, I was feeling blue. No real reason…just blue. It wasn’t fatigue or sorrow or anything in particular. Maybe it was because I had just been to Cape Cod, and that’s my favorite place, and now I was back in boring old Connecticut. Maybe it was because I hadn’t been particularly productive that day, since I’d had myriad errands to do, and none of them was all that interesting. I’d also been thinking about my lost baby, and even though it’s been nearly 24 years, I still miss him. That would give anyone the blues, I think.

So the blues it was.

I decided to indulge. Had a bit of a cry, which is rare for me…I’m a happy weeper more than one who cries for sad things. Took a long drive, which failed to cheer me. I got a quarter pounder from McDonald’s; the first time in decades. Stopped at a Kohl’s and wandered the aisles, finding nothing of interest. Not even socks, which should tell you how blue I was.

It’s that time of the year when summer is abruptly gone, and the sky gets dark so early. I sighed a lot and just…felt sad.

rainy dayAnd there’s nothing wrong with that.

The next day was stormy, and I went to my office and listened to the rain on the windows, made a cuppa joe and felt happy once more. For no real reason. What comes around, goes around, as the saying goes.

I hope you’ll all have a happy week, my friends, and if you don’t, I hope it passes quickly.

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Forever young

last summerI have a cousin with special needs. She was born when I was thirteen or fourteen, and I’ve been kind of crazy about her ever since. She’s nonverbal and has Down syndrome and some other things that we don’t quite understand.

She lives in a lovely house in Massachusetts, and I visit her when I go to Cape Cod. The minute she sees me, she smiles, gives me a hug, then takes my hand and leads me to her room, where she takes off her shoes and presents me with her feet, which I rub. When she’s had enough, she takes my hands and makes me clap them, and I sing her a variety of songs: Rubber Ducky, Baby Beluga, maybe a few show tunes. I do a hand-clapping game, which she seems to like.

My cousin is pretty short, and I’m pretty tall, so she still seems like a little kid to me, though her hair is prematurely gray. Silver, really, like her dad’s. Sometimes we walk around the block if she’s up for it, and I narrate what we’re seeing, holding her hand, steering her this way and that. She often tries to get into my car, but I don’t have the proper safety harness for her, and I often have a dog with me. She doesn’t like dogs, though Luther may have won her over a bit the last time we went.

meeting lutherThe hardest part of visiting her is saying goodbye, because I can’t. She gets too upset, so her aides distract her, and I just slip out the door. Sometimes I cry a little bit in my car. My heart always feels achy and swollen after I visit, but I keep going. She’s my little sweetheart, after all.

A few years ago, I dreamed that my sweet cousin could talk. I said, “I love you, honey,” and she said she loved me, too, and I ran to get her mother, so my auntie could hear her talk, too.

And someday, in the next life, I hope I’ll get to hear her voice for real.

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Tips from a former cleaning lady

 

housekeeperI used to work as a housekeeper for a motel. It was disgusting sometimes…the things people left for other humans to pick up was mind-boggling. Other times, folks were quite tidy.

When the Princess was teeny-tiny, I cleaned houses in our neighborhood for some extra cash. I’d put my little one in a backpack and get to work. My grandmother taught me to clean house; it was a point of pride for her to have a tidy home, and because of her, I still love to clean. It destresses me, so my house is immaculate these days with all the ugliness in the world these days. I figured I’d share some tips.

Start from the top and work down. Knock down cobwebs, dust the lamps and the knickknacks on the high shelves, all the way down to the floor, so you can vacuum up all those dead spiders and such.

washFor a smelly carpet (thank you, dogs), sprinkle the surface with baking soda and cloves, then walk around the carpet till the powder is worked down. Leave it for 15 minutes or so, then vacuum slowly so you get everything up. The house will smell so nice, and so will the vacuum cleaner.

Nothing beats a toothpick when it comes to cleaning small corners on the stove, the mixer, around the faucet. It becomes a Zen-like activity.

Lemon juice and salt make stainless steel and copper look like new.

Rub wet coffee grounds into dark wood to erase stains.

laundryNothing beats Windex for glass.

For mold in a bath or shower, put on a respirator, spray with Clorox Clean-up or bleach (but be careful), let sit for ten minutes, then rinse with the hottest water you have.

Love smells like sheets hung out to dry in the sun.

Happy cleaning and calming!

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Sisters

hilly&meI don’t remember when my sister came home from the hospital; I was only fifteen months old. In fact, I don’t remember ever being without her. Even so, I took my responsibilities as a big sister very seriously.

Hilary, or Hilly, as I call her, used to get tired in the car. She’d put her head in my lap (these were the days when the seatbelts would be stuffed deep in the seats) and I’d pet her bangs. She’d suck her thumb and fall asleep, and I can still remember the tenderness I felt…my little red-headed sister, snoozing away.

We were only a grade apart, so we were almost always in the same school building. Hilly was more outgoing than I was, and it always reassured me to see her with her friends. Once, a boy named Brent pushed her down when we were ice skating, and I chased Brent with a fury in my heart that probably would’ve resulting in me sending him to the hospital, if I’d been able to catch him. Hilly became friends with him eventually. I never forgave him.

DSCN5892When we were about 8 and 9, we decided one day to share a room, and we moved my twin bed with its purple cover into her yellow room. We’d talk and giggle in the dark. We played in the woods and in the barn, making forts for the cat, brushing Jenny the horse. Hilly had her own language with our pets, and though I couldn’t speak it, I could understand it.

Our town is home to the biggest agricultural fair in the state, and the year I got to walk around without parents, Hilary was grandfathered in by our mom. “Stay together,” was her only warning, and we did. We’d save money all summer for the fair, swipe our dad’s change from the counter, plan to eat at the booths where our parents volunteered to save money for games and rides. We knew the fastest way to dodge through the crowds, where to rest, when the best time was to go through the fun house. The fair is this coming weekend, and McIrish will listen to me as I reminisce about being with my sister.

snuggle hilly and mePeople often think we’re twins, even though I look more like mom’s side of the family, and she looks more like dad’s. We have the same haircut, and now the same glasses. Time has erased those fifteen months, and I say things like, “When we were ten,” or “When we were in sixth grade…” She is and always has been my very best friend in the world.

This weekend, we’re together again, the first time in ages that we’ve been away just the two of us. I don’t know why we waited this long; we won’t make that mistake again.

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When you can’t think of a blog…

…you do this instead.

snoozeI admit it…I’ve had a quiet week and can’t think of a dang thing to write about. Those are actually some of the best weeks. I took a sick day (a migraine, my first and please God, only) and, um…well, I hung around a lot. Saw a movie with my mom. Washed the dogs. Made pesto one night. Exciting stuff, right?

But because I’m committed to this blog, I’m falling back on an old trick: five facts you might not have known about me. Always a good icebreaker at parties (or not). So without further ado…

blackie

  1. I used to be afraid of public speaking.
  2. The first time I got to name a pet, it was a black kitten, which I creatively named Blackie. (I was four; give me a break.)
  3. I have 25 first cousins, all younger than I am.
  4. I changed majors twice during my freshman year of college, from biology to psychology to English.
  5. Every time I get on an airplane, I look around for children and plan to shield them with my body in case we go down in a fiery crash. Hey! Everyone needs a hobby.

Next weekend I’ll be on the road again; Saturday at Turn the Page with Nora Roberts in Boonsboro, MD, then onto Dallas for a night with Fresh Fiction and a signing at Half Price Books. My schedule is on my website…hope to see you! Have a wonderful week.

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The urge to judge

fabulous apartmentWhen I was a young adult, I had a friend—Jane, not her real name. Jane was an editor at a big publishing house. Though my friend was only 26 (and I was 24), she had an incredible career. Meetings with famous authors each week, travel, an office in a skyscraper. She brought me to her apartment one time—it had a doorman! A lobby! She had a view and her own bedroom. She was making bank and had family money; I was going into credit card debt. She was incredibly beautiful. Seriously. She was—yes—Beyoncé-level beautiful.

mmm pizzaAt the time, I was living in New Haven, Connecticut, over a pizza parlor. Don’t get me wrong. There were many benefits to this, most notably the three brawny guys who ran it would give me pizza for free. “Yo, Kris!” they’d bellow up at my window. “You wanna pie? Some cavone didn’t pick his up!” Hell yes, I wanted a pie. But aside from pizza, it was hard not to want what Jane had. The job and apartment aside, there were the clothes. The shoes. The knowledge of the New York subway system, which seemed so urbane and hip. After all, I had wanted to be an editor, too. Sent in those “to whom it may concern” letters when I was a senior in college. Got no response, shockingly. I had no idea how to break in to publishing and satisfied myself by working in PR at a salary that put be below the poverty line. I didn’t go hungry; my parents saw to that, and I know how lucky I am. But you know what I’m saying. Jane lived the life I dreamed of. It was hard for me to imagine a day in the life of such fabulosity.

I didn’t resent Jane for having all that she did. I was happy for her. She wasn’t so happy herself, but I did my best to remind her that she was living the life. She was succeeding. She was awesome. But yes, I wanted some of that for myself. I hoped she’d help me get a job in publishing. She said she couldn’t, and I understood. A while later, she stopped being my pal.  I was hurt and sad and missed her. I wrote to her. She didn’t answer.

happy brideYears later, I saw her wedding announcement in a national newspaper. My heart leaped with joy—she was okay! She looked so happy, so beautiful. She was still a big deal in publishing—even bigger. One day, much to my shock, I saw her on TV, where she openly talked about those New York years, when she was overwhelmed, depressed, and isolated. How she was so sad and numb she could barely leave her apartment. She quit her job and found—made—happiness for herself.

I guess my point is that a lot of times, we make judgments about how great another person might have it. We might envy them, thinking, “You don’t know what it’s like, being down here, suffering the way I suffer.” We can even resent people who don’t seem to have the same struggles we do. But until we really know what their inner lives are like, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

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