Starting Over

April 1, 2012

As you probably know, I love writing about the dynamics of a small town. I was born and raised in a small town, and I live there today, though it’s not quite the same as it used to be, of course. SOMEBODY TO LOVE goes back to Gideon’s Cove, which is definitely a place I’d move, if it only existed. I’d eat at Joe’s Diner at least three times a week, and my girlies and I would go to Dewey’s for a night out once in a while. I’d watch the lobster boats go in and out and ride my bike up to the Pines. I’d listen for the cries of the loons and chat with the librarians, same as I do in my own town.

But here in my own little town, there are treasures, too…the ice cream stand is a personal favorite, of course. There’s a state park not far from where I live with a blue, blue lake and some excellent climbing rocks. When I was a kid, we’d go down to a river that seemed so wild to us, so pure and hidden that we were sure no one else knew about it. The feed store is another favorite place, where the daughter of my sixth grade math teacher advises on special pet toys and how to train a dog. And of course, the library.

In the new book, Parker’s a stranger in Gideon’s Cove—that’s another fantasy of mine, going somewhere unknown and tiny and living alone for a couple of months (don’t tell my family). I think a lot of us picture a time when this might happen, when life will send us to parts unknown to see how we do on our own.

(thanks to the supremely talented Donald Verger for the use of the first photo!)

 

Wanted: Burner/Purger

March 25, 2012

One of my favorite books as a kid was Mandy by Julie Edwards (also known as Julie Andrews, who is, of course, Maria Von Trapp and Mary Poppins!). In it, an orphan girl finds an abandoned house and begins to lavish it with love and elbow grease.

That’s always been a dream of mine, so I guess it’s no coincidence that Parker Welles, the heroine of SOMEBODY TO LOVE, gets to do it for me. In Chapter One, she finds out that all her savings have been lost in an insider trading scheme. She only has one asset left: a house. Alas, the previous owner was a hoarder.

I watch all those hoarding shows, not because I’m fascinated by the psychology…but because I love to clean! I love to clean and throw things away. I’m not a hunter and gatherer type at all (that’s McIrish, prince of dumpster diving and tag sales). I’m what every hunter gatherer needs for balance. A burner and a purger.

I can’t help it. I have an obsessive need to tidy things. I love cleaning products! I love vacuuming! Parker and James definitely could’ve used my help. Oh, the joy of tossing unusable garbage! The giddy logic of knowing that no, they never would need those six dozen extra coat hangers! The intoxicating scent of Lemon Pine-Sol!

And, as Parker and James discover, the deep satisfaction of finding a house under all that rubble. Of making something valuable of something thrown away. And yes, the joy of a sparkly clean kitchen. : )

 

Blind Dates

March 18, 2012

I’ve been on exactly one blind date in my life. It was— how shall I put this—horrible!

Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful to my friend for fixing me up. My boyfriend had recently dumped me in dramatic fashion, sort of an ice-floe approach to ending things. But that’s another story. At any rate, I was unattached, and my friend Sue set me up with her husband’s friend. We’ll call him Joe.

Now, there’s an element of ego in fixing someone up. I know this, because I’ve set up many people with absolutely no results. That being said, I’m convinced I can find my brother-in-law/cousin/friend the person of his/her dreams, if only they would cooperate and do everything I say. Sue was the same way. I believe I even remember her rubbing her hands together, envisioning the wedding, herself as matron of honor, no doubt.

So Joe and I agreed to meet at a marina restaurant. He was tall and blond, I’d been told. I spied him through the window. My heart sank. He was good-looking, don’t get me wrong. But I knew in one glance that nope, it wasn’t going to work. How’s that for being open-minded?

But…I would never stand someone up. Into the restaurant I went. Greeted Joe, kissed him on the cheek, sat down.

Joe was the silent type. As in really silent. Not hot, Malone-esque silence…just awkward. He nodded a few times. Answered my questions with one-word answers. Looked at the table. Me being me, I said, “I guess you’re pretty shy, huh?” His answer: a shrug. Was he bored? In agony? “Am I boring you?” I asked. “Are you in agony? Blind dates suck, don’t they?”

No answer. Okay! So, because he was my friend’s friend, I stuck it out. We ate dinner. I talked. He may or may not have listened. Finally, when the check came, we split it. “It was so nice meeting you,” I said. “Take care!” I fled. Growled all the way home like a rabid dog. Men! You’d think he could have at least asked me how I was doing. Or if I had siblings. What I did for work. Men! So! Inept!

Imagine my shock when Sue called me a few days later. “He’s in love with you,” she said.

“What?” I screeched. “He barely spoke to me! Sue, it was horrible!”

“Will you go out with him again?” she asked, unfazed.

I sputtered for a few minutes. “Yes,” I said eventually, as I believe in second chances. “But he has to call me himself.”

He never did.

Men. Humph!

Did you ever go on a blind date? Did it work out?

 

My daughter’s hair

March 10, 2012

Like most mothers, I think my daughter is extraordinarily beautiful. She has huge green eyes and remarkably thick eyelashes, and the sweetest smile you can imagine. She’s been called Snow White and Audrey Hepburn; she has fair skin, dark hair and pink cheeks, along with an inner glow of sweetness. Virtually everyone who knows her comments on her goodness. She is truly the best of McIrish and me, with an extra dose of grace thrown in by God, I think.

When she was born, she had a shock of thick, dark hair. We called her Wolf Baby…that hair stood up straight and made her look like a wild child. Then came the ringlets—dark brown and silky. For more than a decade now, I’ve done her hair: French braids or ponytails, ribbons and sparkly hair clips.

Today, my daughter’s hair is extraordinarily thick, wavy and shiny, dark brown with mahogany streaks. My own mom compares my daughter’s hair to a mink, it’s so luxurious and glossy. Even at age 16, my little one asks me to braid her hair, though she’s quite capable of doing it herself. She knows I love the task. When my daughter goes to the hair salon, the stylists ask her if she’s sure she wants to cut it. They stroke it and play with it and ask her again.

When my daughter was eight, she donated her ponytail to Locks for Love, and she did it again when she was twelve. At the end of this month, she’ll do it for the third time, but she’ll take it a step further—she’s shaving her head as a fundraiser for St. Baldrick’s, an organization that raises money to cure childhood cancer. She asked to join my husband’s firehouse team; she will be the only female on the team. On her first day of fundraising, she brought in more than $500.

All her life, my daughter’s hair has been part of her beauty, had garnered her attention and compliments. In three weeks, she’ll be bald to raise awareness of and money for the kids who lose their hair while fighting cancer.

I know she will only be more beautiful.

If you’d like to donate to her team, please click on the link below.

http://www.stbaldricks.org/search/everythingresults/searchValue/south+fire+l3918/submitEverything/Search/

 

Why Daddy Only Has One Eye

March 4, 2012

McIrish picked me up at the airport late last night. His eye was red from a burst blood vessel. “You poor thing!” I said when he showed me. “What happened?”

Well, it seems he was pulling nails from a board, when the hammer slipped and whacked him in the eye. “And you got hurt that badly even through the safety glasses?” I gasped, horrified.

Er…no. He wasn’t wearing safety glasses.

The well of sympathy dried abruptly.

Safety glasses are a thing with me. McIrish works with power tools a lot. Despite St. Norm of Old Yankee Workshop’s frequent admonitions (and my frequent threats), McIrish doesn’t always see the need for safety glasses. Back in the early days of our children’s lives, I would remind him to don the #1 safety tool. “Do you really want me to have to answer the question, ‘Why does Daddy only have one eye?’” I’d say.

So he was good for a long time. Until I was away, that is.

“How many times have I pulled nails from a board?” he said (irritably, I might add) as I reminded him of The Importance of Using Safety Glasses.

“How many eyes do you have?” I countered.

“It was a freak accident,” he said.

“So you’re good with an eye patch, then?”

He tried the old guilt maneuver—putting ice on his wounded eye—when we got home, but it didn’t work. He was dealing with Princess Safety First, who has never—never—driven a car without first fastening her seatbelt. Who reads all those long, boring side effects sheets you get with prescription drugs. Who always runs a used match under water, just in case. Who washes her hands 12-20 times when preparing chicken.

You won’t see me with a hammer in my eye. No, sir.

 

Compare and Contrast

February 26, 2012

One of the things I love best about Catch of the Day (which is being reisued Tuesday!) is that Maggie is an identical twin.

I think everyone who’s not an identical twin has wanted to be one. Christy, Maggie’s sister, is the “good” sister. She went to college and got a degree she could actually use, went on to get a master’s, had an interesting and meaningful job, then met Dr. Wonderful, her husband, bought a fabulous house and popped out Violet, the world’s most perfect baby.

Maggie, on the other hand, is in love with a priest, has her excellent dog for company, and the entire town of Gideon’s Cove is waiting to hear about her latest misadventure in the world of romance.

Am horrified to say that I can relate. I come from a big family; some of my aunts and uncles are closer to my age than my mom’s. I used to pretend my baby cousins were mine (and yes, occasionally claim them as mine, what the heck). I was single at an age when my parents had already had three kids and a mortgage. My grandmother would remind me that she’d gotten married at age 19.

I’d find a boyfriend, sure, envision marriage, but nothing seemed to stick. I suffered a number of blind dates, though perhaps none as bizarre as Maggie’s date with Roger, the pet medium. And I yearned for a family of my own. Being a mommy was the one thing I always knew I wanted with all my heart. And, of course, finding the One, which at times, seemed dang near impossible. Sometimes, it was hard not to compare myself to friends who seemed to have everything, and who didn’t have to work quite so hard to get it.

Maggie doesn’t want Christy’s life, though, and that’s another thing I loved about Catch of the Day. Maggie knows who she is and how important she is to her family and all of Gideon’s Cove. She’ll hang in there. Love does indeed have a way of sneaking up on people. I found mine in line in New York City. And Maggie…well, Maggie finds hers in a parking lot, more or less.

Well worth the wait in both cases. : )

Hey, I’m giving away a gorgeous lobster dinner in honor of Catch’s reissue! Click here to enter.

 

Coming up empty

February 19, 2012

There are writers out there who are utterly fascinating, who’ve had lives that defy belief, who are so colorful and crazy and fun…I’m going to be honest here. I’m not one of them. I have a very cool job, stellar children and a wicked nice husband. And I bake really good cookies. Other than that…um…nothing. I’m obsessed with Jeremy Renner these days. Also, I haven’t shaved my legs in recent memory. That’s about as fascinating as I get. I know. Someone, call Barbara Walters!

The other day, a lady from town said she’d wanted to introduce me to her grown daughter at the library fundraiser. Her daughter was—get this—too shy to come over. “You know what?” I told the lady. “It’s better this way. This way, there’s still some mystery left. Let her cling to her illusions.”

When I’m interviewed, sometimes I’m asked to reveal “something readers don’t know about you” or “something interesting about yourself.” No! Oh, snap! That’s the hardest question of all! Um…I make out with my hand on a regular basis? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have admitted that here in public. I, uh…well, I talk to my huggy pillow, pretending it’s the hero of my latest work-in-progress, when my husband’s doing a night shift at the firehouse. Sometimes when he’s home, too (I whisper.) Both my middle toes are double-jointed. My pinky fingers, too. No one knows why. Hey, it’s something.

So if someone asked you what was an interesting fact that no one knew, would you have one? Would you want to tell the world?

 

Alejandro

February 12, 2012

Soon, I’ll need a new car. Yawn.

To me, a car is about as exciting as…a vacuum cleaner, let’s say. It has a job to do, and if it doesn’t break, I’m grateful. That’s about it.

I currently drive a gray sedan. We bought it because it had rear-seat airbags and a good warranty. Gray was an inoffensive color that would blend in with dirt and salt, we thought. It’s a mom car. Big enough for three children in the back—our two plus guest or dog. There is nothing wrong with it and nothing interesting about it.

The only problem is that it looks very much like every other car out there. Many are the times when I’ve repeatedly pulled on a door handle, wondering what the heck, I pushed the “unlock” button, why can’t I get into the dang car? Once, as I was yanking and struggling, a woman approached me. “Can I help you?” she asked.

“Oh, no, I’m fine. Just can’t seem to get into my car.”

“It’s my car,” she pointed out, rather coolly. I babbled on to explain that my car looked very much like her car, wasn’t that funny, hey, it wasn’t like our cars were red Mazeratis, right, oh, there was my car just over there, funny, huh? She just stood there, waiting for me to move, unconvinced that I wasn’t about to smash a window and steal her radio.

My car does have a cool name, however: Alejandro. I know. Sex-ay, inn’t it? It was Zorro’s first name. Frrooow! The car isn’t sexy, heaven knows, but I had to give it a little pizzazz. “Alejandro!” I call out in parking lots, making sure to trill the R. “Where are you, Alejandro?” Once, a security guard came running up, afraid that I’d lost my child. “Nope, just looking for my car,” I explained. He gave me a disgusted look and walked away.

But in the not-too-distant future, Alejandro and I will have to part ways. And because I’ve driven a boring sedan for so many years, I don’t know…maybe I’ll go for something with a little more verve.

Are you attached to your car? If you could have a new car, what kind would you pick?

 

New Year’s Resolution

February 5, 2012

I made a couple of new year’s resolutions this year. One was to stop clicking around on the TV so much; to actually watch one entire show rather than parts of three shows. I know what you’re saying. “Wow, Higgins. How did you manage?” Very funny. It’s harder than you think. But another was to do something unrelated to family or writing. So I thought about what I wanted to do (kiss Gerard Butler, be rescued by dolphins, ride a horse that could fly) and found something that was a little more realistic: learn sign language. So I signed up for a class at the American School for the Deaf.

Once upon a time, I was on a bus in San Francisco. A deaf family was also on the bus, and I watched as they signed and laughed. They were gorgeous, all of them blond, the little girl braids in her hair, the two boys very impish. One of them played peekaboo with me.

I know a very little sign language; one of my cousins is nonverbal, and I used to take care of her, so I know just a few signs—eat, drink, bathroom, more, help, thank you. I love you, of course. I also know beautiful and children. I wanted very much to tell the parents how beautiful their children were, but I felt shy; if they’d started signing back to me, I wouldn’t have been able even to say, “Sorry, that’s all I know.”

But those kids were so cute, and they liked me, and I loved them. When I got off the bus, the mom waved. So I figured, what the heck. I signed Your children are beautiful—crudely, perhaps, but she got the message. Her face changed to shock and happiness, and she gestured to the kids, and their little faces appeared in the window immediately, and they all waved furiously to me as the bus pulled away.

So now, twenty-one years later, I’ll finally start learning sign language. But for that one moment, how happy I was to be able to speak to that mom.

 

My Oscar Picks

January 28, 2012

Who cares what I think, right? No one. So, want to hear my favorites? You do? Let’s pretend you do. Here they are:

Best Supporting Actress: Melissa McCarthy for her role in Bridesmaids (she was the hi-larious one…the one with the air marshal, okay?). Why? Because I haven’t seen any other of the movies in that category, for one (The Help is in my Netflix queue, however, so I’m getting there). But I loved MM in her brave, funny role. Her character started out as a farce; she ended up with a tremendous amount of heart. And I just love that.

Best Actor: George Clooney. It’s time. Plus, no one rocks a tux like that beautiful man.

Best Supporting Actor: Kenneth Branagh. I had a crush on him back when he was Henry V (or Hank Cinq as we English majors called him, having no jobs to distract us from clever nicknames of Shakespearean characters). I wouldn’t be sorry to see Max von Sydow win, or Christopher Plummer, either.

 

Best Actress: Meryl Streep. I want her to win every award, every time. I’m convinced that, if we just lived a little closer, Mer (as I call her in my mind) and I would be great friends. And let’s face it. She’s the best actor of an entire generation, of an entire age. Maybe the best there ever was and will be. Talent like that doesn’t grow on trees. That being said, I’d be pretty happy to see Viola Davis win, too.

Best Movie: The Descendants. I loved that movie. Plus, I saw it. I also saw Moneyball, and though I do love baseball, I didn’t fall in love with the flick.

 

Best Achievement in Sound: Okay, I have no guesses on this one.

Do you like the Oscars? Do you have a tradition about watching them?

Life Skills

January 22, 2012

I don’t have a lot of life skills. McIrish is riddled with them—cooking, building, fixing, giving medical care, handling hazardous materials, carrying people and dogs from burning buildings. Me…not so much. It’s very unfair.

This disparity concerns me. Say the meteor is coming toward the earth, and everyone who can be useful gets to live. I wouldn’t be on that bus. I often voice my sorrow about this to McIrish, telling him how I’ll try to be brave and to take good care of the children. He assures me that I do indeed have life skills. “Really?” I say. “Name four.”

“You’re good with children,” he says.

That’s true. I could nanny the gifted children on the ark. But is it enough? “What else?” I ask.

A long pause follows.

“I’ll miss you,” I say.

One of my bosses once told me that though I was being paid poverty wages (I worked at a museum), I would make up for it through the life skills I’d learn. Like…hanging a picture so it’s nice and straight. And…er…okay, give me a minute…

And there goes the bus.

 

 

Hooky Day!

This week, I went to the home of a very dear friend to watch a movie during the day. Nothing feels more like a hooky day than this. I’d never been to my friend’s house before, and it was cozy and warm and fun and immaculate, despite her claims that she was a terrible housekeeper. I brought cookies; she made pizza.

 

We rented the movie because it starred an actor we both, ah, admire greatly. It was one of his early movies…I doubt very much it ever made it into theaters anywhere (and no, it wasn’t a porno!). It was, however, an ogle-fest and there

was a great kissing scene, but no, I won’t tell you who it was. It would be too embarrassing for my friend, myself and the actor involved, who has gone onto great things. But look hard enough, as my friend and I did, and you can find some really terrible movies starring some really great actors.

And so we whiled away the hours, chatting, commenting on the adorableness of the actor, the breathtaking horribleness of the movie. Food, friend and film, and all on a school day. Doesn’t get better than that!

Do you ever take a hooky day? What do you? Or have you ever seen an early, early movie of an actor who went on to something great?

 

What would Sigmund say?

January 8, 2012

I’ve been having the strangest dreams lately. In one, a 30 foot crocodile was charging me, so I snatched up my trusty rifle (I’ve never even held a gun) and shot it right between the eyes. Boom! One enormous, dead crocodile. The President, who was standing behind me, said, “That was a helluva shot.” I murmured modestly and wondered if I might get a medal.

 

In another, my late father and I moved into a beautiful house. I was a kid in this dream. The furniture kept moving of its own accord, which terrified me but amused my dad. I said to him, “Dad! Haven’t you read Stephen King?” and the realization dawned on us both that our house was possessed by Evil with a capital E (thanks, Steve. Another ruined night of sleep, courtesy of you!).

And last night, after taking my son to see Mission Impossible, I dreamt that Tom Cruise wanted to date me. I wasn’t interested in the least, but wanted to be polite—he was so earnest in his declarations of love! When he announced our engagement to the press, I went along with it, gradually realizing that there might be benefits to being the wife of a zillionaire actor, yet unsure of how to inform McIrish that I’d married another man while still married to him.

Sometimes I dream about the characters in my books; I heard Sharon Sala say that her plots reveal themselves to her in her dreams. Lucky! This doesn’t happen to me, but sometimes I get to be in the story for a little while.

What about you? Do you remember your dreams?

The Coma Cloud

January 1, 2012

I often believe I’ve come up with an invention the world should know about (remember the Thumbie in My One and Only? Don’t you wish you had one? See?) Other inventions include a closet-type of shower called the Portal, which would not just wash you but moisturize your skin, shave your legs, dry your hair and put on your makeup, all in about 5 minutes. I’m working on that.


Recently, I came up with another invention: the Coma Cloud. Now, now. It’s better than its name. See, I’m always cold at night, and for whatever reason, I shiver violently upon getting into bed. McIrish thinks it’s for dramatic effect/guilt inducement, and we argue amicably about the involuntary nature of shivering until I press my ice cold feet against him to demonstrate that I am indeed freezing. He seems incapable of believing that if he personally is warm, anyone who claims to be chilly is lying. This irritates me greatly.

Anyway, back to the Coma Cloud. It would take up half of a double or queen-sized bed, so if one has an annoying partner who has a body temperature of around 120, one doesn’t have to deal with him shoving off the covers. The Coma Cloud  is sort of a sleeping bag made of down and lined with flannel (but no slippery nylon, like real sleeping bags). It has a base made of thickly packed down, like a mattress topper. It’s lined with flannel zips up around you. There is a sort of drawstring around the neck; somehow, you’d be prevented from strangling yourself, but still, you could close the covers around your neck for when that pesky spouse starts flopping around like a tuna pulled from the ocean and cold drafts shoot down your back. It prewarms to a temperature of your setting, so when you slip in at night, you’re essentially back in the womb. Warm, snug, comfy and isolated. So relaxed that you slip into a deep, deep sleep and wake up completely rested and very cheerful.

Admit it. You want one.

 

Tradition

December 18, 2011

Tomorrow, I’ll start baking Hungarian cookies. This is no easy task.

Hungarian cookies are rolled cookies with three or four types of filling: apricot, prune, nut and cream cheese. The dough itself has more than a dozen ingredients. These cookies must be made in mass quantities; they are too difficult to do for just a few dozen. No electronic devices may be used. Measurements are vague: handfuls of sugar,

a few spoonfuls of sour cream. You might add an egg if the dough “isn’t right.” Prep work take two days before you actually start rolling and baking.

My grandmother passed away a few years ago, but until then, I was her apprentice. All through my twenties, I’d go to her house, first just to watch and learn, then to help, then, after many years, to work by her side as an almost-equal. The entire kitchen was converted to a small factory. Poppy was not allowed in. Aunts and uncles might pop over, spend a few reverent minutes watching and inhaling the magical scents, steal a hot cookie or two, then leave, aware that serious work was taking place.
Gram was extremely chatty when she baked; it was one of the few times when her attention wasn’t going in ten directions. She would teach me some Hungarian (cookie terms, the really important stuff), tell me about her parents, how her own childhood Christmases, when Santa would leave an orange and a dime in her stocking. Then, the holidays were about food, family and church. A sparkling clean house indicated a reverent soul; a perfectly cooked chicken showed your love of family. Noodles were homemade. Clothes and tablecloths were ironed to perfection. There was no Christmas china, no trips to the mall, no lavish gifts.

I am now the only one who makes Hungarian cookies in my family, though my uncle Steve may give it a try this year. It is a labor of love, a celebration of my heritage and my ancestors, and an homage to my dear, sweet Gram.

I’ll be off next week, gang. Happy Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza and New Year! And thank you for your friendship. It is one of my most precious gifts.


 

 

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