Ode to Providence

PACK UP THE MOON, my latest book, is set in Providence, Rhode Island, a small city with a lot going on. It’s home to eight colleges—Lauren and Josh both go to the Rhode Island School of Design (where the coolest people go), and Josh gets another degree at Brown University, which is one of the prettiest colleges I’ve ever seen.

I spent my first year of college at Providence College. I didn’t do a lot of college shopping back then…I was very attached to my family and didn’t want to go too far. (Advice for the youths reading this: go far.) I had gone to a Catholic girls school, so I figured I’d go to a Catholic college, too. PC was pretty, the Dominicans were very nice, and it was in a city that didn’t seem too intimidating to my young self.

Believe it or not, I was very shy once upon a time. For some reason, I got a single room, and I’d been kind of counting on my roommates being my first friends. I knew a couple girls from high school who’d also chosen Providence, and that was nice. But as far as making new friends, I wasn’t sure how to do that. I had missed orientation because my grandfather died, and for some reason, I didn’t get the flyer about signing up for things like chorus or the radio station or anything like that. I did make a friend—a great friend to do this day, my darling Catherine—and eventually, I felt comfortable on campus. It took quite a while, though.

But I had a bike, my graduation present from my parents. And so I rode throughout the city, out of the kind of sketchy area PC was in, downtown to the capitol area. The Rhode Island State House has the world’s fourth-largest floating dome in the world, the biggest being St. Peter’s Basilica. It’s wicked pretty. I’d ride up to the Hill, where Brown and RISD are, and look into the little shops and bars and restaurants, and I’d imagine what it would be like to live in such a neighborhood. The giant, graceful houses around the campuses, the walled-in gardens. I remember going past a beautiful old brick building, then empty, and thinking what a great place it would be for apartments or lofts. Almost forty years later, it is exactly that, and the place I chose for Josh and Lauren’s home. (If you’re interested, visit www.grantmill.com and see where they—and Creepy Charlotte—lived.)

Providence has the best Italian food, and also, an allegedly huge Mafia presence (I did go to college with a young man with a famous last name who was dropped off in a stretch limo and had his belongings carried to his dorm room by burly men, just saying). But the food on Federal Hill…my dad used to take me out for dinners there, and the eggplant parm…oh, man.

Two winters ago, before the pandemic, the aforementioned Catherine and I met in
Providence. It had been a long time since I’d been there, and it was a bitter cold day. We walked through the neighborhoods my characters would, checked out the views, talked about the price of real estate. We had coffee and a huge cookie apiece. It was a lovely day.

Researching places is one of my favorite things to do as a writer. I try to infuse my books with local color…in the case of PACK UP THE MOON, I mentioned Del’s Lemonade, and coffee milk, something I have not seen in any other state. I think I used the world “bubbler.” I hope I did. (It’s a water fountain to us non-Rhode Islanders.) I mentioned Josh and Lauren’s love of Dunkin. In Rhode Island, there are more Dunkin Donuts per capita than any other place on earth. I love that fact. The Big Blue Bug is mentioned—Rhode Island’s most famous resident.

Definitely something Josh would order.

If you’re not familiar with Providence, check it out. It’s the unsung gem of New England cities. Go to the Eddy, where Josh and Radley would have drinks. Walk along the greenway or down Blackstone Boulevard. You’ll love it, I promise. And I’ll always be glad for that year of bike-riding and imagining what it would be like to live there.

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Movie irritants

Now that is some fresh flannel.

There are often details that jerk me right out of an otherwise satisfactory movie or television experience. Sweet Tooth, a post-apocalyptic show on Netflix, for example. I had no issue with the idea that there was a virus that wiped out civilization and all the babies born from then on out had animal characteristics…horns and wings, etc. HOWEVER, the show lost believability because the kid, living in the wilderness with his dad for the past 10 years, had clothes that fit him. These garments were not made from animal skins or woven fibers. He had jeans. He had shoes. He had  a spiffy new flannel shirt that looked like it came out of a box from LL Bean that very morning. How could that happen, huh? I stopped watching the show for that reason.

Another thing: movie toothbrushing. No foam. People can walk and talk for half an hour while brushing their teeth. Me, I look like a rabid dog after thirty seconds, as is recommended by the American Dental Association. But in the movies, there is no foaming, no trail of blueish spit down’s one chin, dripping onto the floor. “She’s not using toothpaste,” I might whisper to McIrish. “Irritating.” He ignores me and continues shoveling popcorn into his mouth.

I still love you, Tom Cruise. I always will.

Running. In the movies, people can run really, really far. And in real life, that can also be true (I hear). But there’s no gasping in the movies after the hero/heroine sprints six or seven miles. They’re slightly out of breath, perhaps dewy with a glaze of sweat, and recover in seconds. Listen. I watched 9 years of cross country meets. Where is the puking, the collapsing to the ground, the all-out sobbing that often accompanies running as fast as you possibly can for distances further than God meant you to, huh? I used to run. My face would stay red for hours afterward. Hours.

Foreplay. Two kisses, someone is picked up, and it’s multiple orgasm time. Also, her bra stays on. Please. I’d like to see a couple who’s a bit more invested, thank you very much. Take a little time, people. Show you mean it.

This fight lasted longer than the 2020 election.

Fighting. Despite our hero/heroine having all manner of weaponry skills, it all comes down to a slug fest. For the record, a skilled fighter can take someone out in one punch to the throat. Not being able to breathe tends to end a fight. This never happens in the movies. For two, these movie people can be punched repeatedly in the face, ribs, chest, kidneys, throat (see above) but they shake it off, ignore the knife /gun/ boxcutter/ spear/ crossbow/ lightsaber next to them and punch that villain for ten more minutes, by which time I’ve gone downstairs, gotten myself some ice cream, added rainbow shots, come back upstairs, and still the fight is raging. Yawn.

Giving a bad face to birthing women everywhere.

Rage-birthing babies. Many women have shared their birth stories with me because that’s what we mothers do when we get together. War stories. No one has ever mentioned screaming at top volume during labor. Why? Because we’re busy putting all our energy into pushing a human out of a very small orifice. There is no energy left over for screaming, cursing and punching spouses. Sure, we make noise. Just not screams of rage.

Hollywood, if you would like me to consult, I’m completely available.

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Dear Old Dads

In PACK UP THE MOON, Lauren is a self-described daddy’s girl. When her dad dies during Lauren’s sophomore year of college, she’s understandably wrecked. But being herself, she tries to make the best of it, to learn from her dear dad’s well-lived life and make him proud.

I know the feelings, because they’re mine. My dad died when I was 23 years old, and I’ve spent the past 33 years missing him. Here’s what Lauren says about Dave, her father.

No man was perfect, of course…except her dad. He was funny, corny, indulgent enough, strict enough, and went through life happily stunned at his great luck in marrying Donna, the love of his life. Daughters? What could be better than two perfect girls? Nothing! Lauren knew it was a rare dad who can make both his girls feel like they’re his favorite.

Daddy’s girl!

The only different between Lauren’s dad and mine is that mine (sadly) lacked the corny dad joke talent. My dad was a little on the smug side (my relatives reading this will snort and say, “A little?”). He grew up the overly worshiped only child/ son/ heir/ prince. My grandmother once said to me, “Your father was regarded as the Christ child in our house.” Okay, then! So you can see where it came from.

The other thing my dad was smug about was my mom. He married the prettiest, smartest, funniest woman in the world, a flashy redhead with a mischievous streak that

Sainted Mother is 25 here, clutching her sturdy middle child and either pregnant with or just past having my sister and she is SLAYING.

should’ve landed her in jail more than it did. The life of the party, the golden couple. By the time they were twenty-five, they had three kids and a mortgage, something that seems shocking by today’s standards.

Dad taught me to swim by towing me out over my head at Herring Pond, and then just letting me go, shouting that I just had to kick, and I’d be fine. I learned to ski by being chair-lifted to the top of a mountain, pointed downward and given a healthy shove. (Needless to say, this resulted in me drinking hot chocolate and reading Jane Eyre in the lodge for the rest of the day.)

The only one my horse would behave for was Dad.

When I rode my horse, he would smack her butt to make her gallop off, me clinging on in desperation, him laughing and telling me it built character. (Dad. Really?) He taught me to drive on a manual transmission, a skill I still lord over my tragic children, who lack this skill.

I’ve dreamt of my father dozens of times over the past three decades…that he’s visiting me, that he’s watching my kids, that he met McIrish. Like Lauren, I believe he’ll be waiting for me when I die, grinning, handsome, thrilled to have his older daughter with him again. Sometimes, I get a feeling that he’s right here with me. That, and the twenty-three years of solidly believing in my intelligence, kindness, teaching me to work hard, urging me to do something meaningful with my life, of showing me as much of the world as he could…that’s more than enough. Lauren and I were awfully lucky in the dad department.

Thanks, Dad. I wouldn’t be the person I am without you.

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and in the Great Beyond. You are still so loved.

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Thoughts from the mother of the bride

Flannery is beaming! She is perfection. Look at that smile!

Aw. Mike is teary-eyed. Good.

What beautiful vows! They’re both so eloquent.

I’m so happy! Look at them! They love each other so much!

Look at his sisters. How lucky she is to marry into a family that adores and appreciates her. Ditto him.

Declan looks so handsome.

Great smooch! That’s the way to seal the deal!

I have a son-in-law! I’m a mother-in-law! I need a mug.

Why am I crying? I’m so happy!

Everyone seems to be having the best time! Hooray!

They’re here! They’re so beautiful. My heart is overflowing.

Speech time! I hope people cry. I’m crying, and they should, too!

How lucky she is to have such a daddy.

It’s so pretty! The flowers! The antiques! And it’s such a gorgeous evening. Oh, food! Yummy!

Is that my son, leading me onto the dance floor! Oh, Declan! You’re the best!

A mother-daughter dance for all of us mommies. We deserve it.

All this work for a few hours. Totally worth it.

My little girl found the person perfect for her.

My work here is done.

Time for bed.

We love you, Flannery and Mike!

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All grown up

My daughter, my lovely princess, is getting married on Saturday.

I am so happy.

They say that time flies by, that it seems like yesterday she was a tiny baby, but for me, that hasn’t been true. It doesfeel like she is 25, and that two and a half decades have passed, and every single day of those years, I have had the gift of utter joy at being her mother.

In what is the biggest and most impactful decision a person can make, Flannery and Mike have chosen so well. They are both kind, hardworking, funny and smart. They have loved each other since their freshman year of college, and knew they’d get married shortly thereafter. Their time together has not been complicated or with its ups and downs or like a roller coaster—it’s been smooth sailing. They’ve grown up together in that last phase of childhood—college—and on Saturday, I’ll get to say, “my son-in-law” and “my daughter’s husband.”

We hope the weather will be gorgeous and her hair will stay up and no one twists an ankle. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. Her dress could be splattered with mud, and the flowers could all wilt, and it would still be wonderful. During this long, dark fall and winter, a time marked by isolation and loss and illness, ugly actions and attacks and hate crimes, this little wedding has been a ray of light. Two young adults—a nurse and a firefighter—two kids who met their first day of college, two kids who have never been in love with anyone but each other, have chosen commitment and service, family and hope.

As a parent, my goal was to raise my kids to be happy and responsible. I hoped they’d choose the kind of partner McIrish and I have been to each other these 30 years. I hoped they’d choose someone who was kind and hardworking, who’d be by their side during the hardest, saddest times of life and during the moments of utter joy…but also during those long, sweet days and weeks and years of simple, unremarkable contentment.

My daughter has done this. So has her fiancé.

The flowers will probably be gorgeous, and the food will probably be great. Keep your fingers crossed for sunshine.

But it doesn’t matter. Flannery and Mike are getting married, and that’s the most beautiful thing of all.

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Pack Up the Moon

coverOne of the things that might not be immediately obvious about PACK UP THE MOON is that it’s a book about marriage, and how to do it right. Josh and Lauren are happily married in the kind of easy, uncomplicated way that I think love should be. They are each other’s favorite person, immediately committed to each other. There’s no waffling for either of them, no “I’m not sure if I’m ready” or “He’ll change once we’re married” kind of thing. They know each other, enjoy the same things, accept each other’s flaws and are each other’s biggest fans. They love each other’s families. As it should be.

This year, of course, my daughter is getting married, just three days before PACK UP THE MOON is released. This year also, McIrish and I will celebrate thirty years of an overwhelmingly happy, solid marriage. And this year, I’ve written a book about a newlywed couple facing a terminal illness, determined to enjoy every drop of happiness they can possibly create, despite the knowledge that their marriage will be short.

yes pleaseBecause I’ve envisioned my own death daily since I was about seven, I gave Josh and Lauren all the things I’d want if I had a terminal disease. A supportive group of family and friends. Interesting, rewarding jobs. A great apartment and vibrant city to live in. Fabulous vacation spots. A rooftop garden.

Sure, there are those irritating people thrown in for fun—Mean Debbie, the gossiping “friend” who uses Lauren as inspiration porn. Lori Cantore, Lauren’s coworker who’s already vying for Lauren’s office. The mom who, upon hearing that her daughter has pulmonary fibrosis, says, “How can you do this to me?”

pebbles the puppyMostly, though, they have great friends and family—Lauren’s sister, Jen. Joshua’s mom and his “extra” parents. Josh and Lauren travel to beautiful places and do some exciting things—Lauren is a bit of a thrill-seeker, though Josh is not. They rent a house on the ocean on Cape Cod (my favorite place!), have lots of company and get a puppy. Lauren knows her illness is going to steal her future, but she’s sure as hell won’t let it steal her present.

When I had decided to write a book about this topic, I looked for documentaries about people living with a terminal illness. One of the shows I came upon was called My Last Days. It followed people who knew how they’d slip this mortal coil…people who were incredibly happy, positive and…fun. One couple in particular was so irreverent and so goofily adoring toward each other, I kind of fell in love with them. The show’s description says these people believe “a limited amount of time is not a barrier to making a positive impact on the world.”

How can they be so happy? Because they choose to be that way.

My kind of people.

SJ_LogoTaglineVert_RGBIf you preorder the book, I donate my proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. They ask for the donor name, and I put down “Kristan Higgins Readers.” Thank you for giving me this career, and the chance to give back to this very best of causes. No child is ever turned away from St. Jude’s because of an inability to pay. And for PACK UP THE MOON, it feels especially relevant to support kids facing a terminal illness. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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Ode to my sisters on Mother’s Day

 

hil and me 2021

Hilary and me

I have two sisters: Hilary, who is 15 months younger than I am and was a grade behind me in school. We were treated as near-twins by our parents…same bedtime, matching clothes quite often. We were addressed as “the girls,” whereas our brother was called by his name. Hilly-Bean, as I have always called her, has been and always will be my dearest friend. She is the kindest and best person I know, and one of my deepest fears is life without her, so I plan on dying first. “If you live to be a 100,” Christopher Robin says to Pooh, “I want to live to be a 100 minus one day so I never have to live without you.” That’s my plan, too, Christopher Robin.

hilly kayaking

The outdoorsy one

Hilary has spent time in France, lived in Germany for a year, New Hampshire, Iowa, Seattle, Georgia, Connecticut, and back to New Hampshire. She was far more adventuresome than I was as a youth. During her stint in Connecticut, her daughters were small—Claire was a preschooler, and Livvie was a toddler prone to some dramatic nighttime screaming bouts (sorry, Liv). Hil never lost her patience. I remember when, finally after an especially long battle for bedtime, Hilary came downstairs, exhausted, where I was sitting. “You’re the best mother I’ve ever seen,” I told her. It’s true to this day. She is simply the best, purest, kindest person I know.

the five cousins

The five cousins, remaking a pose from five years earlier.

Hilary never fails to put her two daughters first, to gently offer advice, to shine with pride at their accomplishments. I can’t remember her ever losing her temper with them. She loves them so thoroughly, so deeply and with such gentleness that it’s truly humbling to see. They are very lucky girls, my sweet nieces, to have such a mama.

jackie and me

Jackie and me

My other sister is Jackie, my brother’s ex-wife. When they were married, Jackie used to joke that if she and my brother ever split up, she was getting us in the divorce. Turned out not to be a joke, and our family couldn’t be happier or more grateful. She is a stellar aunt, the kind who always gave the best presents on birthdays. Jackie is one of the happiest people I know, despite the difficulties she’s faced (and conquered) in life. She is pure sunshine, always smiling, so funny. Everyone wants to be her friend as quickly as possible. She is especially close with the Princess, and during Flannery’s childhood, when a person might say, “I wish I had a daughter like that,” she’d say, “Get in line, pal. I was here first.”

beautiful jackie

Beautiful Jackie (with apologies to the person I cropped out!)

When Jackie was pregnant, she asked me to be with her in the labor and delivery room. It was one of the greatest honors of my life, watching Graham come into the world. As a mom, she is nearly perfect—both my sisters are, in my eyes—and despite the rocky years with my brother, Jackie kept Graham first in her heart and her life. He is such a wonderful kid, now 18 and finishing his first year of college, and I give her all the credit for his personality, humor and intelligence. A couple of years ago, someone asked Jackie if I was her sister-in-law, and she said, “We just go by sisters now.” How I love that! That’s how I introduce her, and only explain the non-biological relationship when pressed.

Happy Mother’s Day, my beautiful sisters! I can’t wait till the three of us are together again, and I love you with all my heart!

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The 10,000 step journey

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a woman in need of a dress for a special occasion must be condemned not to find one.

nah

Kid, you’re fired.

That’s right, dear readers. I took my mom shopping for her flower grammy dress, God bless me. In case you missed it, my dear daughter is foregoing flower girls in her wedding and having four grandmothers instead—her two biological grandmothers, her not-related-but-de-facto grandmother, and her fiancé’s grandmother. The Flower Grammies! (Of course I’ll post pictures when the time comes.)

nana

For Nana, it’s all about lunch.

The first flower grammy outing was for Nana, who found a dress at the first store, the third dress she tried on. It’s lavender with a little white sweater. Adorable, and something she can wear any time she wants. She also told at least forty people in the store that she was going to be a flower grammy, and wasn’t it wonderful, and even though she’s not related, Flannery is still her granddaughter and always has been, and isn’t she a beautiful girl? Easy peasy, and Nana had seven new best friends by the end of the hour. We went for lunch at PF Chang’s, ordered martinis and had a great time.

But for Sainted Mother…well, let’s just remember that the last time the Princess and her grandmother went shopping, the poor child returned, tossed back four Motrin and said, “I’m never doing that again.” And, because I love my daughter, and because she has a very full work schedule, I took one for the team this time. Spur of the moment works best for my mother…I say, “Let’s go shopping!” and hustle her into the car before she can process my words.

Off we went to the same store where Nana had luck. But for this momentous occasion—the wedding of her first grandchild—Mom was going to be different. She’d wear anything. She had no preferences. For Flannery? Anything the precious girl wanted.

blues

Any color is fine, as long as it’s blue.

These were all lies.

Now, there’s just one requirement of the flower grammy dresses…that they not be the same color, and that preferably, they’re pastel for the sake of the photos. Nana bagged lavender, which is great, because my mother hates all colors except blue, and my mother-in-law doesn’t have her dress yet. We found a few blue dresses, but none was right. Either Mom hated that shade of blue, or she didn’t like the pattern, or it looked like something a teenage girl would wear, or it was too long or too short, and why couldn’t she wear electric blue again? We left the store and traipsed over to Macy’s.

“This one?” I begged on the fifteenth or sixteenth dress she tried on. It was peach and quite pretty.

“I hate this color,” she said. “I look like a crone.” Crone is one of her favorite nouns for self-description, despite the fact that she is deemed universally beautiful and looks 15 years younger than she is.

To Ann Taylor. Nope. To J. Jill. Too casual. To Nordstrom’s. Not a damn thing.

“You said you had no preference,” I reminded her. “You said anything for Flannery.”

toe to toe with sam

My mom? Or Samuel L. Jackson? It was hard to tell at that moment.

She gave me the most powerful stinkeye known to mankind. Thus chastened, I unzipped her and returned the dress to the rack. We walked and walked through the mall. Brooks Brothers? Please. Their biggest size is meant for a silph-like teenager, not a crone…er, woman of a certain age. Banana Republic? Nada. Talbots, which has a zillion options for petite women, stuffs the options for us bigger gals in the back…mostly giant shirts and pants. Not a dress to be found. I commiserated with my mother—it’s difficult for me to find clothes in regular stores, too, and Mom is short and plump with the significant boobage that I inherited. “This is very body-shaming,” my mom said, and I put my arm around her shoulder.

“I’m sorry fashion isn’t kinder to us,” I said, six inches taller and with what I call linebacker shoulders in addition to the boobage. “It’s hard for me, too.”

Screen Shot 2021-05-02 at 3.37.10 PM

Is it not adorable?

Exhausted, dejected and irritable, Mom and I walked back to the store where we’d first entered, to get to my car. I’d have to ply her with Liebfraumilch to make up for this fruitless excursion, I thought, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but…well, it wasn’t blue, and it was long, but…it was so…pretty? Could it be?

Mom tried it on like a true champion, and readers, she looked beautiful. The dress was light and flowy and comfortable and not requiring difficult shoes. “It’s not blue,” she said.

“Do you want to come back another day and try again?” I asked.

“Sold,” she said. “Now get me out of here.”

I obeyed, dear readers. I obeyed. Pop open that Liebfraumilch!

 

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All you gotta do is dance

dance-1940245_640

You betcha.

Last night, dear readers, McIrish and I endeavored to practice our dancing skills.

Let me set the scene for you.

I consider myself to be a fair dancer. Solo, that is. I know my moves—keep the feet simple, head-bop, use the hands for some flair. My sister, God bless her, is an amazing dancer—sort of Julia Stiles-meets-Jim-Carrey. Her husband is also a good dancer, and several years ago, they took dance classes to hone their skills. It’s a lot to live up to. The Princess asserts that she and Mike are excellent dancers. The pressure is on.

latin-929819_640

Nope.

McIrish and I also tried a dance class. Beginner’s salsa. After the introduction and warm-up, the instructor approached us and asked us to leave. I am not even joking about this. We hadn’t mastered the one-two-three-snap, five-six-seven-pause bit. “But this is a beginner’s class!” I protested.

“Okay, bye,” he said. We resentfully left and went to eat cheeseburgers.

Fast-forward to this spring. With our daughter’s wedding approaching, I felt the need to up my game. Or, if I’m being truthful, up McIrish’s game.

McIrish’s dance style is best described as injurious. Not to him, readers. To anyone in range of his wild elbows and flailing arms. Delighted, oblivious, without the rhythm given to his Riverdancing ancestors, he needs about a ten-foot safety zone from others. “Be careful!” I’ll say at any event. “You’re going to give someone a black eye!” He doesn’t listen, caught up in Uptown Funk or Stayin’ Alive (like those around him must endeavor to do).

Screen Shot 2021-04-19 at 9.06.55 AM

My husband, ladies and gentlemen.

He most resembles those strange tube inflatables in front of car dealerships, flailing joyfully and erratically, oblivious to those around him.

When we dance together, I lead because all he does is bend wildly from side to side. We bicker. “Stop leading!” he’ll say. “Then stop hurting me!” I hiss. Between the hardware in my wrist, my much-beleaguered knees and his shoulder, we are one misstep away from the ER.

And so, online dance lessons. What better way to fill the pandemic evenings and give us some moves?

broken-arm-2117980_640

What could possibly go wrong?

The system is basically a series of spins, first me, then him. Immediately, we ran into trouble. We stopped the video. Tried again. He spun me. My arm nearly dislocated. “Other way, other way!” I yelped. “Turn me away from our hands. Away from the hands.” This became our chant—don’t spin in, spin out, away from our joined hands, not toward. Ten minutes later, exhausted, dizzy but proud, we felt we’d progressed.

Next step…circling. One just can’t spin and spin without looking possessed by a demon, after all. We tried circling. Okay, not too bad, so long as no one is around us. Away from the hands. Away from the hands. McIrish tends to laugh and double down on his efforts when dancing…he does not take instruction well, dear readers.

And then, the dip. “Let’s skip this part,” I said, immediately wary. I have a fear of falling under the best of circumstances, let alone with my laughing, slightly maniacal husband holding my life in his hands.

“We can do this,” he said, and we very carefully and slowly imitated the instructors. Put your hand here. Your foot here. Arch back over his leg. It felt like a game of dirty Twister, but guess what? We did it! Relieved, sweaty, we cut our losses and ate some dinner.

Which brings us to last night. I was in my silky pajamas, and we’d just come in from having a lovely glass of wine on the porch. “Let’s practice dancing!” said I.

“Okay!” said he.

bruno

Why can’t everyone be more like Bruno?

We joined hands. He tried to spin me. “Wrong way, wrong way!” I said, and he began with that slightly evil, out of control laughter. We tried again, nailing it as I chanted “Away from the hand, away from the hand.” If not graceful, perhaps passable.

And then, the dip.

We assumed the position. He dipped me. And then, he dropped me. In slow motion. Slowly, slowly, I slid down his leg, perhaps because of my silky pajamas, perhaps because he was not taking this seriously, but there I was lying on the floor, my husband wheezing with laughter over me. “Oops,” he managed, and we laughed, frozen there, till we cried. “Hope that doesn’t happen at the wedding!” he said when we could speak again.

latin-929823_640

Sometimes, you have to know when to quit.

“You dropped me,” I said.

“Oh, no. You fell.”

I guess I’ll have to slap some Velcro on the back of my dress. Or we could just skip the fancy stuff. But you know what? A good laugh with the spouse, even after he dropped me, is a hundred percent worth it.

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The Zen arts

beautiful tree

This should only take a hundred years or so…

My friend Joss bought a house last year in the middle of the pandemic. It’s tiny, in an adorable neighborhood, perfect for one woman and her dog. Since Joss was in my pandemic bubble, I got to help her unpack and install some shelves. She let me do a makeover of her study a month later…you know, where I forbid her to come in while I drag the furniture around and arrange things attractively on the shelves, then allow her in to express her delight. So much fun! I used to do the same with my kids when they were little.

And now, Joss has given me another gift—design her backyard garden. Unlike me, Joss is not the gardening type. And unlike my husband, Joss has complete faith in all my choices. “It’s yours,” she says. “Do what you want.”

the buddha

Wouldn’t be complete with the Buddha!

McIrish, despite his near-perfection as a husband, is the son of an Irish master gardener. He has opinions. He has lots and lots of opinions about which bushes go where, which trees to buy, which color flowers to plant. Once upon a time, the garden was my domain, but as my writing career heated up, he took over. We have exchanged some cruel words at various nurseries throughout New England. “Enough with the orange flowers!” I’ll snap. “How many hydrangeas do we need?” he’ll snap back. Dark times, readers. Dark times.

But Joss…she has no opinion other than her garden requires very little involvement from her. She has a black thumb. She killed an air plant. Let’s not talk about El Jeffe, her late betta fish. This spring, she excitedly told me that tiny purple and white flowers were bursting from her lawn. “Those are crocuses,” I said.

“They are?” she exclaimed. “They’re so cute! I didn’t know I had flowers!”

“That’s why they’re still alive,” said I.

bridge

Could I make this? I probably could, right?

And so Joss has given me carte blanche over her small, square backyard. I do not have to debate hosta choices with a spouse, and she doesn’t have to do anything other than smile and wave from the deck, perhaps give me some water from time to time. I love getting my hands dirty. I love digging holes and picking out carefree plants, especially without my evil overlord making disapproving noises in the background.

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I found a free design program online. Watch out, world!

I—I mean, we—are going with a Japanese garden vibe. Lot of shrubs, lots of evergreens, lots of moss and ferns. In other words, lots of stuff that will just grow to the delight of the homeowner each spring and summer. There may be a water feature. Definitely some statuary…the Buddha, and maybe St. Francis. Aslan. We’ll see.

dogwood

The simple beauty of a dogwood, my favorite tree!

Joss’s house is the opposite of mine—mine is a farmhouse with a big front porch, woods all around, a field, lush cottage gardens. Hers is a one-story little ranch with a nice square backyard, ripe for planting. “Let’s keep this groundcover,” I say. “Plant some more bulbs out here. I’m thinking a slate path with moss.” Joss nods and murmurs, glancing at her watch. “You get back to work,” I say, and she happily goes back inside, amused that  her friend is traipsing through her yard with a tape measure and a rake. It’s therapy for me. The road not taken, being single and solo, free to buy whatever the heck I want. In the end, I’ll have been happily indulged, and my dear friend will have something lovely to look out upon. Thanks, Joss! You’re the best!

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