Hotel Noël

In case of apocalypse, head for my mom’s. She’s got a few of these stashed in the freezer at all times.

While I recently was on Cape Cod, commuting back and forth to my marriage, McIrish was exposed to COVID. Sigh. I was supposed to come back, pick out backsplash tiles for our house reno and get surgery on my wrist. There was only one option: Sleepover with Sainted Mother and stay the heck away from my husband.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my childhood home, but having lived next door for…um…27 years or so, I’ve never needed to sleep over. My sister and her family, my mom’s out-of-state siblings and friends—they’re the overnight guests. Not me.

 

Not *quite* this bad.

My sister and her hubby had come down over Christmas and left one-and two-star reviews for the mattresses in Mom’s two guest rooms. One caved in, trapping the sleeper; the other arched outward, rolling the sleeper off the bed. Irked with the bad reviews, Sainted Mother finally got a new mattress—the old one was only 43 years old, so it bothered her that she had to replace it, but enough with the jokes about springs sticking into her son-in-law’s recently reconstructed spine.

The new mattress is lovely, I’m happy to report. Plus, Mom’s house is a bit drafty, we’ll say kindly. Some of the windows don’t close all the way, and she likes to be able to see her breath upstairs. When I was a youth, I complained about this for decades, but once menopause hit, I embraced my mom’s love of the Arctic. I piled blankies on the bed and made a cozy little nest, as nature instructs us to do in the winter.

The actual floor in our bathroom. Holding up great, I have to admit.

Taking a shower in my childhood bathroom, which still sports the Harvest Gold/Avocado Green of the 1970s, was a blast from the past. I fondly remembered stomach viruses and shoving matches with my siblings. I found some decades-old toothpaste tubes, hardened skin care products and children’s Tylenol from when my now twenty-something nieces were tiny and tossed them, though if Mom knew, she may well have snatched them back. That Noxema just needs a little water, she might say.

Mom watches Jeopardy!—she is a two-time champion—and while I don’t love the show like the rest of my relatives, I’m not bad at it and can give funny, rapid-fire wrong answers to delight my mommy.

I think Jonathan has a slight lead…

We cooked spaghetti sauce and meatballs. I introduced her to the magic of Queer Eye, and she is now trying to decide if she loves Antoni or Jonathan more. Every time she comments on Antoni’s handsomeness, I remind her that he hugged me. Twice. (We met at a book party once, and he was incredibly sweet and kind and even Facetimed the Princess!).

After my surgery on Friday, I had one more night at Hotel Noël before McIrish could definitively test negative. Mommy kept fetching me glasses of water and Pepperidge Farm Coconut Cake, great slabs of it, God bless her. Though I may have become slightly diabetic during my stay, it was worth it.

I’m back with McIrish and the pets now, heading for the Cape tomorrow yet again to stay out of the way of the contractors and my husband as they try to finish our house. But I’m awfully grateful for the fun I had these past few days. I guess sometimes you just need your mama. Thanks, Mom! I had a great time!

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An unexpected angel

Well, it’s that time of year, so I’m going to tell you a Christmas story. It’s not the happiest story, but maybe it’s a good story anyway.

When my father was killed many years ago by a drunk driver, I was just out of college at the time and worked for his  company. My dad was a  printer and made those coffee table books and posters for museums like the Met and the Smithsonian. He loved fixing a shadowhis clients. Dad was the king of long-term business relationships…he remembered where a kid went to college, remembered special anniversaries, asked after parents. His clients loved him too. As my father’s employee and especially as his daughter, I felt I owed it to his closest clients to go down to D.C., where Dad did most of his business, and see them in person.

You can imagine how it felt to sit in their offices six weeks after my father’s death and have those folks tell me how wonderful my dad was, to have them cry and shake their heads in disbelief that their old friend was gone. But I wanted to make Dad proud—doesn’t every daughter?—so I let them hug me, thanked them for their kindness and told them how much my father had always loved working with them, and how much it meant to my family and me to know how highly they regarded my dad.

washington-dc-85539_640It was awful. To this day, it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Add to this, I didn’t know anyone in Washington. I didn’t want to go back to an empty room, so I walked around, found myself in Georgetown, which was bright with Christmas lights, awash in wreaths and ribbons, all those posh shops and beautiful restaurants, the elegant townhouses and wrought-iron fences. Snow was falling, and the whole scene looked like a Christmas movie. Georgetown truly is one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in America.

But I wasn’t really in the mood for a proper dinner. I spied to a Roy Rogers, figured I’d get a burger and maybe go to the movies and distract myself as long as I could before going back to my room. In front of the restaurant was a homeless man, sitting in the slushy snow on the sidewalk. “Can you spare some change, miss?” he asked. “Sure,” I answered. “But I don’t have any right now. Come in the restaurant, and I’ll get some.”

homeless manThe guy was white, and he was dirty and skinny, reddish hair. I don’t remember his face too well, but he had a scruffy beard. He followed me in uncertainly—clearly he wouldn’t have been sitting on the street if that restaurant had welcomed the homeless. Up at the counter, I ordered two of everything—burgers, fries, coffee, milkshake (he could use some fattening up). Then I brought the tray back and asked him to eat with me.

He couldn’t believe I’d bought him food. He admitted that he would’ve spent my money on booze, and told me it had been a long time since he ate a square meal (if you could call it that) in a restaurant. “Most folks wouldn’t do this,” he said. “They wouldn’t let me eat with them.”

Before you think this is a story of my goodness, let me tell something. It isn’t. I was nervous. He did not smell good, this guy. I told him I was married (I wasn’t) and that my husband was meeting me in half an hour. I could’ve afforded to give him a hundred dollars, put him up in a hotel for the night, at least paid for cab fare to a shelter, and I did none of those things. I could’ve bought him a lot more than a hamburger and fries.

burger and friesBut he was thrilled, and I admit that it was kind of nice, sitting there under the disapproving gaze of the Roy Rogers manager. My new pal liked that we were breaking the rules…the rule was, he told me, that you had to buy something to come in the restaurant, and he couldn’t afford even a cup of coffee, being that he spent all his money on alcohol. He slept in his car most of the time, though he would go to a shelter tonight. He showed me a very old and tattered picture of a girl—his daughter. She would be in her twenties now, but he hadn’t seen her in a long time, and indeed, didn’t know where she was anymore.

At the end of the meal, I gave Ted the change from my twenty. He thanked me, and I waved as I crossed the street, sort of concerned that he’d follow me, take my purse, kill me, whatever. He didn’t. He just waved, a huge smile on his face. “God bless you, nice lady!” he shouted.

I’m guessing that Ted has died by now. Life on the street, alcoholism, illness…I’m quite sure I’ll never see him again. But I wish I could, because if I did, I’d thank him for giving me the chance to do something decent. I’d tell him how grateful I was that he showed me his most precious possession, that worn picture of his child. I’d apologize for being afraid of him, and thank him for reminding me just how much I had.

starsMost of all, I’d thank him for being nice to me. I was a lost soul that night with an awful ache in my heart…and Ted, he helped me. In the season of angels and miracles and hope, I think that Ted was a sort of angel, because that homeless man gave me a place to sit, a person to talk with, a chance to look outside of myself, at least for a little while.

 

So here’s to you, Ted. Hope you’re okay, wherever you are. And maybe someday, we’ll meet again.

 

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Those slutty closets

My closet will not look like this, alas.

Part of our house renovation means that McIrish will finally get his stuff out of my closet. Oh, back when we were young, it was “our” closet, but please. It was really mine, and his stuff was taking up valuable space. So now he gets his own…or half of his own, because I plan to use mine plus some of his. Also, the kids’ closets upstairs need to be redone since they no longer live with us (you hear that, Dearest? Come May when you’re done with grad school, you can sleep in the GUEST room for a couple of weeks before you become a fully fledged adult and move into your place, wherever that may be, and Godspeed, son).

Anyhoo, closets. The kids’ closets have a sloping ceiling the long way, but are fairly deep. They also have an eaves (an eaves? Or an eave?) on both sides of their room, since we don’t have an attic. When they were little, they called them the beehives, and the name stuck. They drew on the walls and ceilings and stuck glow-in-the-dark stars all over them. I plan to keep those as is and save one to use as a tiny fort for future grandchildren. Okay, okay, for myself and future grandchildren. Every adult needs a hidey spot where they can stretch out and sleep or read for a while. But otherwise, the spaces will have to be put to good use.

Who folded these clothes? I need you right away.

Enter Pinterest. Oh, Pinterest, you Jezebel! You seductress! You liar! I mean, please. As pornography is to real-life nooky, Pinterest closets are to human closets. If I needed a closet to store all my coach bags and Christian Louboutin shoes, Pinterest is my girl. However, not owning any Coach bags or CL shoes, it’s not helpful. Ditto the four cashmere sweaters in various shades of white. Honestly, who are these people who own so few clothes and use closets and statement pieces? Where are the sweatshirts? The stained t-shirts you use while painting? Where are the jeans, the yoga pants, the mashup of colors? We don’t all wear tasteful neutrals all the time, Pinterest! Some of us have muck boots and actually use them!

Do not trust the person who lives here.

It’s the same with mud rooms. Every mud room they show contains a straw basket, a gardening hat, a bouquet of peonies and a pair of those tall red boots Martha Stewart wears. Perhaps a docile and immaculate Irish setter. Giant pink parka that keeps you warm in -20 degrees? Kristan! How tacky! Grubby dog bed with mutilated toys? Please. Don’t be so crude, Higgins! These dog beds were made by Ralph Lauren himself. Husband’s Carhartt overalls used for lumberjacking? Not in those mud rooms.

Also, Pinterest wants me to buy signs announcing where we are. “Welcome to my closet!” Er…whom am I welcoming, exactly? The cat? Another suggestion: “Laundry.” Why? Yes, I’ll be doing laundry for the rest of my life. No, I don’t need a sign announcing that. “Kitchen,” in case the stove, sink, countertops and fridge didn’t tip you off.

Neither do I want a sign that tells me I’m blessed. I am, and I know that, and I thank the dear Lord for that every day. I don’t need a sign hanging over my couch saying anything, really—thankful, grateful, blessed, family, love. Winter blessings, spring blessings, summer blessings, autumn blessings, pumpkin spice and everything nice. That being said, I do sometimes forget what season we’re in, but then I look out the window and remember. I recently saw a sign that said, harvest blessings. Harvest blessings? Sounds like something they’d say in The Handmaid’s Tale. Very Children of the Corn, very creepy, those harvest blessings. Also, did you really harvest anything? Did you? Are you an actual farmer? If so, you can have that sign.

We do have one sign. It says “Welcome,” and it will hang by the back door. Brief and to the point, like the Yankees we are.

Well, I have to go buy some neutral clothes and leopard print shoes so my closet is glamorous. My real stuff will have to live somewhere else, I guess.

 

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Sainted Mother v. Thanksgiving

Sure, it’s a neck.

Tragically, I will not be able to chase my mother around the house with a turkey neck this year. I know. I’m sad, too. After all, how many times have I convinced her that it’s not really a neck at all? There was the time I pretended the raw turkey was giving birth to the giblets, and she laughed (and screamed) till tears ran down her legs.

It’s not due to her age (40×2), because as we’ve often said, she should die as she lived, cackling inappropriately, being tormented at the hands of her middle child and/or grandchildren. It’s certainly not due to the fact that I’m cooking, because I stand by my solemn vow of never cooking a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s because my beloved and near-perfect sister is hosting this year, so we’re all heading north to her house for what is sure to be a gorgeous spread.

hilarious photo by Judy Olaufson

But back to raw turkey.

How I love watching my mother heave a 22-pound poultry corpse up from the cellar, or, in the olden days, from the trunk of my father’s little British sportscar, which we kept as a shrine/turkey storage unit for decades. I love how she could never quite thaw it out in time, either rolling the dice on all of us getting salmonella, or getting up at 2 a.m. to put the “Damn Bird”—its esteemed title— into the oven.

Also by Judy Olaufson

Those happy, happy memories of Sainted Mother dry-heaving as she rubbed cold butter into the skin of the raw bird, or tried to pry the frozen giblets from the tundra of the interior. I am quite sure that at least once, the bird was cooked with giblets inside, though whether that was Sainted Mother or one of her sisters, I cannot be sure. The annual panic inspired as the Damn Bird’s little done button would pop four hours before the guests were due, resulting in Mom turning off the oven, then turning it back on, then turning it off again. The bits of potato skin shooting into the air as Mom hand-peeled ten or fifteen pounds. The terrifying glare she’d give me if I offered to help, always putting me in mind of Samuel L. Jackson.

“Get out of my kitchen,” she’s been noted to snarl. The last time we had Thanksgiving there, she splattered me with boiling gravy as I attempted to clean up a little, something I’m quite sure was a calculated move. The time someone requested a vegetable other than green bean casserole, so Sainted Mother threw some broccoli in a baking pan, covered it in melted cheddar and topped it with Cheez-Its. Mmm.

Then, the dinner itself. Sainted Mother prefers to serve herself last, as she has to get down from the cross. “Don’t wait for me!” she snaps. This ensures that (A) her dinner will be cold, something she enjoys announcing, and (B), most of us are done by the time she sits down.

My mom’s twin, at least in attitude

Afterward, we attempt to help to clean up, which results in her pitbull-like reaction. “No! You don’t know where everything goes!” she tells me, her next-door neighbor who grew up in that very house where nothing has been reorganized since we moved in when I was seven. “Please! Get out! I like to do it.” Another Samuel L. Jackson look, and most guests skulk off, sufficiently terrified. I then sneak back into the kitchen to wrap up and scrape off and wipe down, only to be berated by Sainted Mother when caught. “Kristan! Really! Get out! I LIKE to DO it MYSELF.”

Oh, Mommy! I miss your Thanksgivings! I promise we’ll come to your house next year!

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Back from whence we came

Booey, my bear since I was two, remains with us. Of course he does!

Our house renovation has now started on the inside, so McIrish moved into my office, the little apartment over our neighbor’s garage. That’s where we lived when we were building the house, and when I was preggers with the Princess, and where she spent the first year and a half of her life. It’s 600 square feet. We were all over tiny houses way before they were a thing, people!

Anyway, I’ve been living at our cozy little place on Cape Cod, which dear old Dad bought way back in the 1970s. Long distance marriage is something at which McIrish and I excel…we coo at each other in the mornings and tell each other about our days at night, and sprinkle the long distance time with conjugal visits.

Photo courtesy of my sister.

Yesterday, though, the nor’easter on the Cape and the many downed wires in my neighborhood forced me to come home. Which was fine! I missed my honey, for one, and for two, was not mentally prepared to go four days without heat, running water, refrigeration, etc. After a wild morning clearing the road in 60 mph winds and getting soaked the skin trying to extract a stick from beneath my car, I drove home. The 3.5 hour drive took 4.5 hours, but hey. Also, shout-out to the Eastham firefighters, who gamely extracted that stick, getting drenched in the process. You guys are the best!

I brought the tub of chicken salad back from the Cape. Too good to waste!

At home, I went to my office, eager to see how McIrish had fixed it up. The TV was on the coffee table, and there was a queen sized mattress on the floor. Otherwise, it was pretty much the same. I looked in the little fridge. Wine, 3 half gallons of half-and-half, a half gallon of whole milk, cheese sticks, and a huge cabbage. The essentials, you see. (Cabbage? I didn’t have cabbage on my bingo card.)

So I got to work rearranging, and will continue that today, to make sure we have a pleasant spot for the next couple of months until our house is done. We may spend Christmas here, as we did so many years ago. Or at our daughter’s new house, because as we renovate ours, the Princess and the Firefighter have just bought their first home. I’ll be helping them pack and paint and all that good stuff. It’s really sweet, this strange parallel…them newlyweds, moving into their first place, McIrish and I back in our first place in Connecticut.

Those slanted ceilings present a challenge… i.e., concussion warning ahead!

Last night, as we spent our first night together in the Apartment Part II, Luther paced anxiously, then tried to get on the bed between the two of us. Huck scratched the walls, but eventually settled in a basket. McIrish was asleep in seconds. It was, I admit, very cozy.

This morning, McIrish helped me off the mattress on the floor. “We can do this,” said I, “because we’re still young, damn it.” We both pretended not to hear my various joints cracking. For now, I’m going to figure out what to do with that cabbage, and make a little more space on the shelves, and once again, make this tiny space a happy home.

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Demolition man

I may have mentioned that we’re renovating our house…the first home improvements we’ve done since we’ve moved in, back when we were young and poor. Now, nearly 25 years later, we’re upgrading a bit. McIrish will get to park in the garage. Our cracked, vinyl tiled kitchen floor will be replaced with wood. A second closet in our bedroom, and a tiled shower.

It’s surprisingly sentimental, even though our house will be mostly the same, in terms of layout. We had thought we’d expand, but we nixed that idea when the architect made the house too glam for our humble tastes. The renovation will definitely kick the house up a notch, but I’m going to miss some things. For more than two decades, I’ve joked with McIrish, telling him the problem with our closet isn’t that I have too many clothes, it’s that he insisted that he puts his stuff in with mine. Our little shower has been home to many dog baths, one very memorable cat bath, too many post-operative showers done with great care, and a hundreds of little cartoons and love notes drawn on special waterproof paper.

Yesterday, I cleaned out the baking cupboard, which is big enough that I could crawl into it and hide. There, I found many boxes of baking soda, three containers of cocoa, a few boxes of tea, origins unknown. When was the last time I used molasses? Best not to speculate. That cupboard, where the kids used to hide and eat chocolate chips and brown sugar, was a curse, but also so much fun. It’ll be replaced by something much more user-friendly, but I’ll never forget the cat and my son sitting in there so happily.

Tomorrow, when the demolition begins, my plan is to run back to our little house on the Cape and hide from the sight of sledgehammers taking out the island McIrish built, the broom closet where we kept the Scrabble game, the bedroom walls I painted red when McIrish was at the fire academy. That’s asking just a little too much.

I can’t wait for the new look and all the conveniences and beauty it will bring. But with apologies to our lovely and kind contractor, I don’t want to see the destruction live and in person.

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The Derma Sucker

I had a week off, gang. A week of real vacation time, which is unusual for us authorly folk. We usually have writing, editing, revisions, promotion—sometimes all at once. Then there’s social media, which is always delightful, but can be a rabbit hole, too, sucking up the hours.

This time, I took a real vacation. No social media, no new book to get started, appearances and interviews for PACK UP THE MOON officially finished. So what was a woman, alone for four days with her dog, to do?

Obviously, the answer is buy a weird skin care product. Yes, it is a skin care product, no matter what else it might remind you of (dirty minds, all of you). Derma Suction! It was in the As Seen on TV aisle of my local Walgreens, and its price had been cut from $20 to $1.99 (which should have told me something right there). I had to have it.

And so, I texted a photo of it to the Princess, who shares my love of weird skin care products. She said, “You have to get it!” and I responded with “Oh, I did.”

Clearly, this thing would work, because A) look at the woman in the photo. She has beautiful skin. And B), well…it would suck the gunk out of my pores! It was battery powered, so you knew it was legit. Also, C) look at the cartoon woman! She also has flawless skin.

Thus, I began my process with great joy and excitement, ready to suck the yuck out of my skin, as advertised. First step, open those pores with a warm face cloth. I dozed off and woke up to a cold face cloth, but hey. Then, onto the deep clean the brochure promised. See that plastic well? Soon, it would be filled with impurities, which I could then photograph and send to my children and sister as torture.

I began.

The Derma Suction did suck my skin. It was like having a tiny vampire clamp onto my face. Then I’d pull it off, and move it. I kept yelping in surprise, which made Luther come into the bathroom to check on my wellbeing.

I used as directed, waiting for the yuck holder to fill up with impurities. After a half hour or so, I checked the results. The plastic well was tragically empty.

Aside from looking like I’d been in a fight with a small octopus, my skin was—shocker—not noticeably different. I had no nasty chunks of…I don’t know…pine sap or salt from the ocean in the Derma Sucker. Just small rings of red dotting my face.

Totally worth those two dollars. I can’t wait to make the Princess give it a whirl.

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The Aftermath

Last week, I finished my twenty-second novel. This one was a tough one to write for good and bad reasons. On the happy front, I was busy planning the Princess’s wedding, which was worth every second I spent on it, to see those two so happy, having so much fun, so in love, so perfect
together.

On the difficult front, it’s hard to be creative when the world seemed to be falling apart in great chunks—the storms, the politics, the pandemic. My wonderful, kind “other dad” endured a long, long sickness, and while I knew the end was coming, I was crushed just the same when I got the call. It made those last couple of days of writing all the harder.

But then, I was finally finished. The book is with my editor now, and I will admit I have never been so relieved to pass in a book in my career thus far. I hope it takes her a long, long time to edit.

So what does this author do once she’s finished?

Well, the first thing was to attend to the family, since our dear Hank had died. This entailed making sure Nana was okay (you know her as one of the Flower Grammies). I went over, brought her some top-shelf gin instead of flowers and had her over for dinner the next night. My job is to make her laugh, something that’s easy, because she’s so wonderful. My son came home from graduate school to see her, and we had a spontaneously full and wonderful weekend.

The next thing was to sleep. There is a mental exhaustion that goes along with book writing, at least for me. Soggy brain, I call it. I really believe it’s like recovering from a sickness. So lots of naps for me.

I also cooked and baked. I love doing those things, but when I’m closing in on an deadline, they get pushed to the back burner.

Then there’s the house renovation, which I’ve been ignoring, since I had to do my job. Yesterday, McIrish and I picked out tiles and flooring, looked at paint colors, put down a deposit on countertops. I had to introduce myself to one of our carpenters, because though he’s been working here steadily, I’ve been a ghost with a laptop.

I’m calling my various and sundry doctors, making the appointments I missed. Neuro, GI, ortho…all the fun specialties. I hope to get the hardware in my wrist taken out and have full range of motion back.

Friendship…all those friends who’ve put up with my silence, postponed visits or outings. It’s awfully nice to see them again. One of my besties had a few of us over for a feast of snack foods…nachos and fried mozzarella sticks, and just sitting there without this book hanging over my head, it was wicked pissah!

So here I am, waiting for my daughter to take me to the doctor for a little procedure that I was supposed to have sometime last year, doing nothing, and man, it feels good.

 

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The not-so-great outdoors

Oh, sure, I love the great outdoors as much as anyone! As long as I can go back to a comfy room with hot water and plumbing and a mattress, that is.

Maybe I’m scarred by my childhood memories of camping, five of us in one canvas tent, the rain dripping on my head at night, our sleeping bags fetid and moldy. There was my mother hunched over a smoky fire not quite hot enough to cook our hamburgers all the way through. There was my father, insisting that we were having the best time ever.

Mom still has nightmares about this item.

Maybe it was the portable toilet seat/garbage bag my father gave to Mom as a birthday present (his next gift came in a small velvet box, I can assure you). Maybe it’s because I’m a blood bank where mosquitoes are concerned. Maybe it’s because my sister, then four, fell out of our pop-up camper while asleep, and when I heard the pathetic mewls and scratching in the leaves, I thought it was a wolf and started crying myself.

Whatever the case, I vowed never to go camping as an adult, a promise I broke only once. There was a young man involved—not McIrish, who knows better than to offer this as ‘fun,’ but another young man, who preceded McIrish and was subsequently not in the running to be my husband.

But at the time, I wanted to be seen as one of those “I’m up for anything!” types (a lie), and so when this young man proposed camping, I said, “Sure!” and tried not to let the dismay show on my face.

I did my part, readers. I marinated chicken and made potato salad. I brought a Stephen King book to read aloud around the campfire. I made brownies or something, and bought eggs and bread for breakfast. He brought a frisbee and the tent.

Once we’d set up, we found that we had very little to do. We tossed the frisbee a few times until it sailed off the mountaintop where we camped. We ate at five, since we were bored, and it was then I realized I’d forgotten utensils. “Let’s eat with our hands,” said Young Man, and so we did. Being sticky is the worst feeling there is for me. I’d rather have stitches in my head than sticky hands. But I soldiered through, counting the hours until I could return to my apartment.

When the mosquitoes had drained me of a couple pints of blood, we retired to the tent. I attempted to read a story by Mr. King, but the flashlight batteries died. We decided to go to sleep, and sleep we did…for maybe ten minutes, until a racoon tried to get inside with us. You think they’re cute? They’re not cute when they’re an inch from your face, my friends. And looking for food. Young Man was not the type to get out of the tent and scare it away, so we huddled in terror as it scritch-scratched on our tent, me reconsidering so many decisions.

Many, many hours later, when dawn broke, I got out of the tent, damp, exhausted, aching from sleeping on acorns and rocks, smelling of smoke and barbeque sauce. Shower? Yes, please! This campsite had showers with running water and everything.

Or so they said. Into the urine-smelling “ladies room” I went. Toilets were essentially props over sewage holes. The showers were prison-style, rows of broken faucets in a cement wall, all sorts of algae and mold growing in great abundance.

I passed on the shower. Young Man was still asleep, so I packed the car with everything else—the cooler, my sleeping bag, the backpacks. When I started breaking down the tent, Young Man awoke. “Time to go!” I announced in a steely tone, and while he wanted to stay another night, I like to think he was rightfully afraid of that look in my eyes.

Today, I tell McIrish that I’d be willing to “camp” for 12 hours only, in either the North Pole or the South Pole, and only to see the stars and Northern Lights. I’ll take my chances with polar bears and freezing to death, but I must be able to have coffee and a hearty breakfast afterward, followed by a drive to a hotel. Otherwise, don’t even think about it.

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Talking with myself

As you may know, I’ve been alone quite a bit this summer, working away. I love solitude.  I always have. As a kid, I’d hide in the cellar and read. When I babysat, I loved that magical hour when the little ones would be tucked in, and I’d be alone in the house, pretending it was mine.

As Sainted Mother is fond of saying, expiration dates are for the weak.

But I seem to be crossing a certain sanity checkpoint these days. Maybe it was because I was alone during the first five or six weeks of the pandemic, but I have learned to be alone as in “The zombie apocalypse finally came, and this is it forever.” I can forage food like a boss—and by forage, I mean open the fridge and wonder how old these hotdogs/vegetable patty/frozen mac and cheese are and yes, summon my courage
and take that chance. So far, only one case of mild food poisoning.

I talk to myself incessantly. “Where were we? Come on, Microsoft. Don’t be a jerk. Who’s hungry? I am! Great, let’s make dinner!” (see aforementioned hot dog).

I took a spill the other day, stepping on a rogue pine cone and scraping my knee against a stump. Quite nasty-looking, plus a bruise and swelling. “Be a hero, Higgins,” I said out loud. “Get into that house and patch yourself up.”

To self-amputate, or not self-amputate?

I obeyed myself and indeed, felt quite brave and noble. Texted a picture of my knee to the kids and McIrish to make sure I had my full share of sympathy. (The nurse in the family was underwhelmed, the ungrateful child, whereas the firefighter knew to ask if I had called 911 already).

Debates are common when I’m with myself.

Should I turn on the AC?

No, it’s too cool for that.

But it’s practically raining in here!

So? You’re a Yankee? Deal with it!

There is far less trash when I’m alone, since I eat like a raccoon on whatever’s been left behind by my sister or niece or uncle. Because I’m a neat sleeper (unlike my thrashing husband), making the bed takes five seconds. Far less laundry—staying in one’s pajamas for three days is good for Mother Earth, and if the neighbor’s feel like an insane women lives next door, dressed in tattered and colorful PJ bottoms and snarky t-shirts, muttering to herself on the deck, hey. We were here first. (They’re actually quite nice and have adorable grandkids…and they know what I do for a living).

If I write enough pages, I reward myself by going to the bay side to see the sunset, often in my PJs.

The reason I go away when I need to write lots is because I can focus only on the book. There are no friends to see, no spouse asking if I want food, no children coming in and out, no mother who can’t figure out how to view something online. This past time, I didn’t even have a dog, since Dearest Son is heading to graduate school soon, and I let him have custody of Luther. One day, I was talking to a friend, and she said, “What day is it?” There was a pause. Neither of us knew. “Sunday?” I guessed? It was Tuesday.

But gang, you know me. I love every minute.

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