Here’s to the power of female friends

Besties. The Plotmonkeys at one of our writing & laughing weekends.

Besties. The Plotmonkeys at one of our writing & laughing weekends.

The most poignant, difficult parts of my books always come from personal experience. In NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT, one of those passages is Nora’s experience in high school, where she’s a lonely kid, uncomfortable in her rapidly changing, adolescent body, a loner at a time of life when being a part of a group seems hugely important.

 

 

Robyn Carr and me. We talk on the phone for hours at a time!

Robyn Carr and me. We talk on the phone for hours at a time!

There was a girl in my neighborhood who went to the same school, and we’d share a ride. She was very, very beautiful and struck me as a little tough. She had a boyfriend. She smoked, in front of her parents, even, which was so bold and foreign that I could barely wrap my brain around it. She knew how to wear makeup; I didn’t even start with that stuff till I was 20 or so (and have made up for the lost years many times over, I’m sure). In a nutshell, she was everything I was not, and our proximity and her confidence made me feel…well, invisible.

 

 

 

Kathleen and me, about 30 years after graduation.

Kathleen and me, about 30 years after graduation.

Then one day in my freshman year, a girl I didn’t know well turned around and said, “You’re funny,” She smiled at me. She had a mouthful of braces, a pretty face and the best laugh ever. Her name was Kathleen, and all of a sudden, I had a best friend. And man, did I need one! (Hi, Kath! Miss you!)

In college, when I was horribly ill-prepared to leave home, where I didn’t drink alcohol and had never kissed a boy, I basically hid in my room and went to classes. Sometimes I skipped dinner because I didn’t have

Between us, Catherine and I have 5 kids, four of them preemies. (Yes, they are holding a skeleton.)

Between us, Catherine and I have 5 kids, four of them preemies. (Yes, they are holding a skeleton.)

someone to eat with. But then, Catherine and I found each other. We’d get enraged over social injustice, listen to David Bowie, nurse each other through relationship woes. She’s the godmother to the Princess, and when I had Dearest Son, she walked me step by step through mothering a preemie, since she’d had three of her own. We talk or message each other every few days.

 

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Never a dull moment with this pair.

Never a dull moment with this pair.

At my very first job out of college, I met Heidi, a few years older, already married, so pretty and vivacious. When my father died, she came to his wake, her newborn in the car with her husband as she waited in line at the funeral home. I babysat her little ones, pretending they were mine, and last year, I went to the oldest daughter’s wedding. In February, I’ll go to California and see Heidi again, and I can’t wait.

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Blessed to have a daughter who is also my best friend.

Blessed to have a daughter who is also my best friend.

Life has given me at least a dozen best friends. When the chips are down, my pals rally around me like an army, and I do the same for them to the best of my ability, which I think is pretty good…otherwise, why would I have the greatest friends ever?

One of the things I so liked about Nora from NOW THAT YOU MENTION IT was that she knew how to be a good friend…and accept friendship, too. Girl power, yo. There’s nothing quite like it.

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Being dumped

 

Nora! He's a jerk! Dump him!

Nora! He’s a jerk! Dump him!

In the opening chapter of NOW THAT YOU MENTION, Nora Stuart, M.D., finds herself in an emergency room, not as a doctor, but as a patient this time. She’s been hit by a van from Beantown Bug Killers, a pest control company, and thinks she’s probably dead. I mean, all signs point to dying. She saw a light (CAT scan) and feels floaty (pain meds plus concussion). As she considers which outfit would look best for open casket, she hears her boyfriend flirting with another woman. Over her corpse (well, not really, but that’s what she thinks, anyway). Suffice it to say, their relationship comes to a grinding halt.

Which brings me to my own best breakup story: John of the Rock, as my plotting friends call him. I do have to say I think I won “most humiliating way to be dumped” on one of our weekends when I shared this story, and ever since, my girlies have been waiting to see J of the R used as a character in a book.

Girlies, wait no longer.

Sigh…

Sigh…

John of the Rock, you’re saying. That sounds kind of noble and saintly. No. It’s not. He wasn’t. I mean, to his credit, he was a nice person and had a good sense of humor, yadda yadda whatever. But this is how he dumped me, people. Pull up a chair and listen to your Auntie Kristan.

We’d been dating a couple of years. John and his buddies rowed single scull boaty things…you know, crew and all that snooty prep school stuff. We went to someone’s house for the weekend and the guys decided to have a mini-regatta (race to you and me, the great unwashed). Since I didn’t row and was a girlfriend, not one of the gang, I offered to be timekeeper. John rowed me out to a rock (you see where this is going, right?).

I would not have been sad if a shark had eaten them, to be honest.

I would not have been sad if a shark had eaten them, to be honest.

I arranged myself attractively, smiled and for the next hour or so, I dutifully called out times as the skinny little boats went past, pretending to enjoy the Prep School Glory Days Reenactment.

Then…the boats stopped coming. I guessed they were taking a break. It was fine. A lovely day. Fine. I kept looking at my watch. More minutes passed. Then some more. And still more.

It dawned on me that John and his pals had forgotten about me. I was not in view of the lake shore, so I couldn’t stand up and wave. I was in the middle of a lake, in shorts and a t-shirt and sneakers.

I waited some more.

How I may have looked that day.

How I may have looked that day.

Then, finally, fury kicked in, as it will when you leave a woman on a rock in the middle of a lake. I jumped in the water, swam to shore, stomped through the woods and bypassed the little lakeside party altogether. Walked back to the house where we were staying, sodden and murderous.

Suffice it to say, John and I broke up that day, and a few months later, I met a cute Irish boy while standing in line. Next week, that Irish boy and I will have been married for 26 years, and he brings me

McSweetie and me

McSweetie and me

coffee every morning, tells me he loves me at least three times a day and has never once abandoned me in a body of water.

So thanks, John of the Rock! And thanks for being good fodder, too. As my friend Huntley said, “It’s about time you used him.”  : )

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What could possibly go wrong?

sighI think it’s clear by now that I’ll buy just about any beauty product. My latest, however, was something of a disaster, but being a discerning consumer has never been a strength of mine. Yes, I bought Baby Soft Foot Peel (and have zero regrets), and the ice pack for my eyes that resulted in near-frostbite. The acid scrub that left me unable to go into the sunlight for a week. The self-tanning lotion that made me look like a Dust Bowl farmer during the Depression.

toothbrushBut today was probably the worst.

There’s a disconnected between store-me in the store and home-me. Several months ago, I saw this little product. “Ooh! Charcoal tooth whitening powder!” I exclaimed, showing the Princess. “Want to try it with me?”

“No,” said she.

“Your loss,” I said, tossing it in the cart. When we got home, I put it away and promptly forgot about it, as one does.

This morning, I rediscovered it and thought, “What could possibly go wrong?”

9:35: Open the packet to discover they weren’t kidding about charcoal. Realize this will make a great blog and grab phone for pictures.

9:36: Dip brush in and get to work.

hilarity ensues9:37: Surprise McIrish with big smile (he has since generously agreed to stay married).

9:38: Read instructions, and learn that I was supposed to keep my mouth closed, not trot around the house, laughing and drooling.

9:39: Spit. Rinse. Spit. Spit some more. Rinse more. Note my resemblance to a 19th century coal miner.

9:42: Wonder why spit is still gray and if teeth will remain blackened forever.

9:43: Rinse with regular old chemical-rich mouthwash. Feel gums begin to burn.

9:44: Notice that spit is now pink.

cheese!9:45: Curse self for being so gullible.

9:46: Brush teeth with Crest.

9:48: Floss. Brush again.

9:50: Check tooth color. No discernible difference.

9:51: Clean up bathroom, which is spattered with black powder and spit. Throw away pajamas (don’t worry, I have a backup pair).

9:52: Chastise self once again for buying what is essentially snake oil.

11:44: Write blog. : )

I’ll be off next weekend, eating turkey sandwiches with my family. Happy, happy Thanksgiving, my friends!

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Girls Weekend NYC

 

ourhouseI’m a great lover of renting other people’s places. This weekend, my friends Julie and Mags, also writers, and I went to New York City to do a little writing, a little sightseeing. I was put in charge of housing options, and sent them three—one ridiculously fabulous apartment that would’ve only cost a couple of major organs each; a place in Brooklyn; and a place on the Lower East Side. We picked the Lower East Side.

socksIt was love at first sight. Sure, sure, the door to the apartment was a little, er, colorful with graffiti and stickers, and the flights of stairs were something out of an Escher painting, but once we got up, it was heaven, gang! We were instantly cooler, just by being in a brick-walled NYC apartment. Jules and Maggie, being friends for ages, shared the master bedroom, and I slept in a little twin bed in the tiny bedroom next door, separated only by a thin wall, almost like their kid, listening to my two moms chat late at night. For NYC, it was really quiet, and the place was so cozy and charming!

abrahamNeither of my friends had ever been to New York before, so I became their tour guide. We took the Staten Island Ferry for the views of the city, went to Ground Zero, Tribeca, SoHo, Greenwich Village Washington Square Park, had dinner at my favorite restaurant—Porto Bello on Thompson Street. We talked about books and friends and family…all of us lost a parent too young, all of us love children. Maggie and I are happily married to wonderful men; Julie is single, but a palm reader told her that won’t last long.

your husbandThe whole weekend was wonderful and invigorating and so, so much fun—especially karaoke in the world’s sketchiest place, but man, did we rock the house! (Enthusiasm counts for so much!) Julie and I should cut a single of Endless Love because yes! We were that good, and no! It wasn’t just the margarita talking!

Now the girls have left, since they needed to catch flights, and I’m sitting alone in the sweet little apartment, a little sad to go, but eager to see McIrish and the dogs (and cat). Staying in this apartment, hearing about my friends’ lives, eavesdropping on strangers, making friends with the crazy singing guy on the subway…there’s nothing better. And now I’m dying to get home and write. There’s a lot to be said for filling the well with love and friendship.

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Quiet time

IMG_4843This past week, I’ve been blessed by staying at my family’s little house on Cape Cod. The weather has been in the 60s and 70s, clear and sunny, and I’ve taken the dog to the beach every day. For the first couple of days, I was joined by my friend, Huntley Fitzpatrick, another writer. We talked, we wrote, we asked each other questions about our stories, we wrote some more, we read each other’s first chapters. In the end, we decided we are sisters of the heart and will be little old ladies together, preferably in a seaside cottage, along with the other fine women in our plotting group.

Then I was alone for a couple of days until McIrish came up with Luther.

Although I’m alone fairly often, I’m interrupted by the usual things—my husband coming and going, my sainted mother with a question about her computer, the dogs, the phone, the laundry, a friend popping in.

IMG_4826But here at the Cape, it’s different. I have a friendly relationship with the folks across the way, since we’ve owned this house since I was little, but otherwise, I don’t know a soul up here. I recognized a tall woman who seemed to go the beach at the same time I did, and who properly acknowledged Willow as the prettiest dog in the world. I bought half-and-half one night. Otherwise, no human interaction.

IMG_4863My kids text me maybe once a day, or they email, but we’re not in constant contact, which I think is appropriate—they’re growing up, almost there, and while I’m always here for them and love hearing about their lives, I like that they don’t need me to hold their hands through their college tasks.

So. Solitude. On Thursday, I took Willow to the beach in the late afternoon and let her run into the waves, catch her leash in her mouth and lead herself out, an act she repeated 20 or so times. Then we walked and walked as the shadows grew, and the wet sand reflected the deepening sky. I figured it IMG_4879would be a nice sunset, so I put my wet doggy in the car and drove over to the bay. The tide was out, leaving rippling sand. The sun set without too much glory, but then, about ten minutes later, the sky lit up with pink and gold.

I took a few pictures. Put my phone in my pocket and stood there for a long, long time. Didn’t text anyone. Just took it all in, the wind and sea and sky.

In a busy, tumultuous world, it was the best feeling I’ve had in a long, long time.

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Happiness is a warm puppy…

 

porch pup

Sitting on the porch couch in the sun,    living the life.

Except when that puppy is sick. And stoned.

Something happened to our dear Luther today. When we left for breakfast, he was A-okay. When we came back, he had a bump on his side and couldn’t lie down or walk. We whisked him off to the emergency clinic and waited and waited and waited.

Because I am me, I couldn’t bear his trembling and so lay on the floor next to him to keep him warm, and so he’d have me to lean against. It took hours, which was both reassuring and terrifying. Twice, I had McIrish get a tech because I thought he was getting worse.

But he did get seen, and they gave him some IV pain medication, which has made my sweet, friendly puppy utterly wasted. He is akin to a frat boy pre-puking…that far-away stare, those sleepy eyes, the wobble to his legs, the drooling.

Loving up a new friend the other night.

Loving up a new friend the other night.

His diagnosis isn’t quite clear—maybe a bug bite of some kind, or a puncture wound. He’s on antibiotics and some doggy anti-inflammatories and is currently drooling into the carpet at my feet, sound asleep.

Hopefully, Luther will be all better in a day or two. I know you will be keeping good thoughts for him, my friends, and for that, I’m very grateful.

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Love letter to my mother-in-law

 

polly & bacon

She loves bacon.

My mother-in-law, Polly, is 81 (don’t tell her I told you). She’s about five foot nothing, maybe 100 pounds, grew up in Ireland, the fourth of fourteen children. She didn’t have a particularly happy or easy childhood…she had to live with relatives after a time and didn’t get to see her family as much as she wished. There wasn’t a lot of extra money. She went hungry sometimes.

She moved to the US in the late ’60s, all by herself, and found work at a bank. She loved New York, made friends (one of her first American pals is McIrish’s godmother). She sent money home, and, after a few years, went back to Ireland to save the family business—a pub that had gone under. She worked like a dog, pouring her hard-earned savings into the place, cleaning it, fixing it, getting it up to code, then bartending and waitressing, tossing out those who became too rowdy. She got married, and after a couple years, they came back to America. McIrish used to sleep in the bottom drawer of a dresser, because they didn’t have a crib.

polly at football game

The tall and the small!

Polly works harder than anyone I’ve ever met. There’s no task too small, humble or dirty for her. She can stretch a penny till it screams for mercy, and because of her financial smarts and work ethic, my in-laws were able to live the American dream—buy a house, put two of their three sons through college, thanks to her financial savvy.

She’s a master gardener and has transformed her backyard into a tiny Eden. I think she works too hard, maybe, and doesn’t relax enough, so nothing makes me happier than the chance to spoil her a bit. We bought her a recliner a couple of years ago with strict instructions to my father-in-law that this was Polly’s chair, not his. I like to have her visit us as much as possible, so she relax on the porch, drink sweet wine and visit with my own mom. They are great friends, those two.

the princess and polly

With the Princess

This weekend, we brought Polly to Family Weekend at the Princess’s college. Polly loves being part of a crowd, and she got to spend lots of time with her beloved first grandchild and celebrate the 21st birthday of the Princess’s beau with his family (she loves him, of course, and his lovely Irish family). She ate a cheeseburger that was bigger than her head, and watched what she calls an “American football match,” and slept in a big hotel room, in a king-sized bed all by herself. I’m pretty confident she had a great time.

the bunny

She feeds wild bunnies.

I’m so lucky my husband was raised by this smart, kind, brave woman. She is adored by her three sons, two daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. Polly, we love you! You’re the absolute best.

(Here’s her little wild bunny friend. She planted lettuce just for him. I told you she was the best!)

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Tales from the empty nest

 

nest-918898_640Today, the Princess asked how the empty nest was going, and I said, “It’s great! We’re having a lot of fun.”

She said, “Are you just saying that because you’re afraid to tell me the truth?”

I laughed. Repeated the question to McIrish who also laughed.

“We’re doing just fine,” I assured her. “Limping along.”

sleepyThe truth is, the empty nest is wicked awesome! Now, this is largely because both our kids are happy, well adjusted and enjoying college, and we’re very grateful for all those things. But it’s also because McIrish and I genuinely like each other. In the empty nest, adult snuggling can happen at any hour. We’ve been sleeping a lot later. All those hours our kids stole from us are finally getting repaid.

There’s not a lot of laundry or dishes to do. The grocery bill has plummeted. The house is very tidy, and if I leave the house and come back, it’s still tidy!

We eat later. We’re like cool Europeans, even. We stay up later.

We get to watch TV on the big television set upstairs, in the family room…not like animals on the tube TV downstairs. (Actually, we prefer the old TV for some reason, but if we want to watch the flat-screen, we can.)

We’re really embracing a gentle, uneventful middle age with both arms. “Look!” McIrish said the other night. “The clouds are so pretty.” We stood, arms around each other, and admired the clouds. They were so pretty!

huckDuring our biweekly phone call with the kids, we report things like seeing three deer in the valley. We give them an update on the monarch butterflies that grace our garden. The state of the cat (unchanged, omnipotent, attractive). The thrilling linen closet reorganization. The dogs’ new chew toys. The excitement of my upcoming knee MRI.

Of course, I miss my babies. But as I remind myself daily, our job was to raise them, and we have.

And luckily, they’ll be coming home soon.

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The things you do for love

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-03 at 11.47.25 AMThe other day, the Princess and I were in Sephora, that den of temptation. My darling girl had to get something before she went back to college, and we were in the line, when I saw…it. The Thing That Would Change My Life.

Baby Soft Foot Peel.

Now, I’d seen Baby Feet before, and looked at pictures online, but the packaging was not in English, and given the hideous pictures of what seemed to be foot-based leprosy, I was hesitant.

Now, however, the instructions were in English. I bought two packages, one for me, and one for…me. Or possibly my friend Shaunee. The Princess recoiled when I offered her one, but did say she wanted daily updates on the peeling process.

Here’s how it works. You put on these wet plastic booties. You sit for an hour or so. You take off the booties, rinse your feet, and wait.

What followed were the most disgusting and deeply satisfying four days of my life.

Day One showed nothing.

IMG_4309Day Two, I thought I stepped on some paper or a tissue…,but no. It was a flap of my skin. Oooh. I looked at the sole of my foot and nearly wept with joy. If you’re the type of person who enjoys, say, peeling sunburn, as I am, this product is for you. Long, thin strands of dead skin, slipping easily off my leathery hoof, revealing normal, human skin below. It was so much fun, people!

Immediately, I sent a photo to my sister, mother, daughter and best friend. My mom dry-heaved; my sister wept; my daughter texted, “OMG, I’m so excited!”; and my best friend oohed and ahhed.

 
However, there was a problem. As you might know, I’m in a knee brace and on crutches. Mobility is not my thing. So, I sat on the porch and peeled away. “What are you doing?” McIrish asked as a piece of his beloved floated past on the gentle breeze.

porch“I’m sending out Kristan seeds into the world,” I said dreamily. “Little Kristan trees will grow everywhere, and you’ll never be without me.”

“Can’t you do that somewhere else?” asked he.

“No. Also, I can’t reach my left foot, so…” I held up my injured extremity. “Honey? Would you peel me?”

Ah, the empty nest! “If only Dearest was home, he could help,” I said, settling back into my chair as my husband did what can only be termed “marital duty.” Such a beautiful day! Such a blissful feeling, that skin being removed! “Oh, that felt like a big one,” I said, and my sainted husband held it up for me to observe before letting the wind take it.

NOT chewing dead skin off the soles of my feet (unfortunately)

NOT chewing dead skin off the soles of my feet (unfortunately)

I had to wear socks for the next couple days so as not to have the dogs eating bits and pieces of me. My friends and female relatives received daily photos of the bottom of my feet. I sent my sister a card with some skin samples taped to it; my niece reported that she screamed. I’m so proud.

The peeling is over, alas, and yes, my feet are smoother than they have been since I was a chubby little tot. I’ve allowed McIrish to feel my feet. “Aren’t they smooth? Aren’t they nice?” I ask. He gives me a look and sighs.

I think I’ll save the second package for Thanksgiving, when the kids will be home so we can all share in the fun.

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The Knee and Me

crutchesMy knee and I have an on-again, off-again relationship. For 25 years, it’s occasionally bothered me, and I limp around tragically for a couple of hours until the pain magically disappears in the blink of an eye. Since hitting the big 5-0, though, it’s taken longer. A day. Then three days. Then a week.

Being my mother’s child, I ignore it. It’ll go away, I think (the pain, not the knee). It’s a strange kind of discomfort—it doesn’t hurt as much as it feels out of alignment. I have four very beautiful knee braces, and my favorite one has hinges and straps and looks a little S&M/steampunk.

Gotta get me one of these.

Gotta get me one of these.

The Knee (I think it deserves a capital letter at this point in the story) held up when we dropped Dearest Son off at college, but was making itself known as the Princess’s move-in approached. Nevertheless, I persisted in being Super-Mom—cleaning Dearest’s room with a shovel and bleach, taking Prinny to the mall, baking her banana bread to bring with her to college.

The Knee fooled me on Friday, though, and decided not to work at all. I got my crutches—rather, the Princess’s crutches from sixth grade, because they have the names of all her friends written on the arm pads, so they’re more cheerful—and went to the urgent ortho clinic.

“Oh, how fun!” I said to myself, mentally fluffing my hair. “I’m the youngest person here!” One woman wore a t-shirt depicting a wolf in front of a full moon. Beautiful. Another woman in a wheelchair and had an oxygen tank. She loudly told her martyred grandson that if he took her to the dollar store she’d consider Wendy’s for lunch. His expression was tortured (just like my son’s when I ask for a foot rub). An older gentleman smiled at me and tipped his hat, and I felt adorable.

Finally, my turn arrived. “My knee’s out of whack again,” I said cheerfully, because I love going to the doctor’s. The PA moved it around, proclaimed it a little swollen and said I had arthritis.

Tabitha_Teratoma_by_lucylovebiscuit_5

Tabitha Teratoma, because real teratomas were too much even for me.

“It’s not arthritis,” said I. “I mean, yes, I have a little, but it’s not that. I think it’s structural.” I like to diagnose myself (and others). “Possibly a neurological weakness.” Tumor, I thought. Or, even more thrilling, one of those collections of hair and teeth that I saw at the Mutter Museum of Medical Weirdness.

“Ice, Motrin, elevation,” the PA chanted. Like I didn’t know that already! “Go easy on that knee.”

“Okay,” I lied. After all, I was moving my baby girl into her first apartment the next day. I would be folding and fluffing and nesting with her.

Alas, the Knee decided to declare war after all these years of our uneasy truce. I couldn’t sleep, groaned a lot, woke McIrish and whined, then drove down to Pennsylvania with my girl the next day, swallowing my pain quite nobly, I thought. Folded, fluffed, nested, all with crutches and the S&M brace.

IMG_4273

Ice, ice baby.

Today, the Knee is punishing me. It’s swollen and lumpy and seems to mock me when I check it. Told you I was trouble, it seemed to say. I give it the same look Tyrion Lannister gives his brother Jaime—I love/hate you, how could you do this to me, want to have a flagon of wine later on?

And so I sit here, watching the news, waiting for Game of Thrones, McIrish and the dogs waiting on me as if I were their wounded queen—all in all, rather happy in my empty nest.

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