The joy of bad TV

McIrish and I have been floundering about, trying to find a show that A) has more than one season and B) we both like. We loved After Life, and we’re Game of Thrones fans, and we’ve seen some pretty good shows here and there.

But we’ve started to kind of love crappy TV, too. Without naming names, because I don’t like criticizing other people’s hard work. And yet…there are times when something is so wrong or unintentionally silly that it becomes fun.

FOR EXAMPLE…

tan franceThe show where the heroine has to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find her supposedly dead husband. Fans of Queer Eye (me!) will be glad to see she observes the French tuck, even after being lost in the jungle for four days and needing to kill a Bad Guy. Tan must be so proud! Also, our heroine hasn’t lost her ability to runway walk as she approaches Bad Guy Camp. You go, girl!

…the show where the Search and Rescue commander promises his nearly all-volunteer force that THEY WILL SAVE LIVES and he will teach them how.

search and rescue…and in that same show, where the doctor tells the husband, not the patient, what’s wrong with her, leaving it to the hubs to break the bad news.

…the show where the hero is a murderous thug, but it’s okay, because he was drunk when he killed all those people and shot his coworker, so it’s kind of funny (wrong. It’s not.)

…the show where the chemistry between the romantic leads was the same heat level as when I find a clump of dog fur under the radiator.

thames…the show where the cop intuitively knows where the child will be released by her abductors, but unfortunately, she’s the only person in London who knows where the Thames River is, and she has to drive all through the night to get to there, and by the time she does, there, the child is dead, leaving the cop devastated.

eyelashes…the show where the romantic teen lead professes nerd-dom and bullying, but is in fact the prettiest, smartest girl in high school, wealthy, from a loving home, well dressed and with eyelash extensions that could wrap you in a hug.

Lesson learned? Read more books! And watch Dr. Pimple Popper, because that’s just quality TV.

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Viva, Las Vegas!

 

buddiesI am not a Vegas type of person. I don’t like gambling, crowds, enormous buildings without clocks. I don’t want to see a fake version of Venice or the Eiffel Tower. I’m not really a show type of person, having been to all of two concerts in the past decade.

But I am kind of loving Las Vegas, where I’m visiting my longtime friend, Robyn Carr, and her good dog, Brodie, and her daughter, daughter’s family and many friends. They even threw a party to welcome me! My job was to make cosmos, which I did very happily. We sat outside by the fire thingie and watched the sky darken, and the little girls ran around, and we laughed and talked and it was so much fun!

rocks-261253_640Aside from the almost nonstop conversation Robyn and I have, here are a few more things I loved.

The wildflowers are in bloom.

The sky is so blue!

It’s amazingly quiet, even though we’re perched on a hill overlooking the city.

cozy spotDid I mention Brodie?

The house has high ceilings, and when Robyn and I laugh (which is pretty much all the time) it echoes a little, and what a happy sound that is.

When the sun rises, the rocks across the valley turn red. There’s still snow on the tops there.

lake meadLake Mead. Wow. I’ve never seen Lake Mead up close, and boy, is it beautiful. The Hoover Dam (which Robyn fondly calls the damn dam, because she’s taken so many guests to see it) is astonishing.

Robyn’s house is absolutely lovely, filled with desert colors and cheerful touches. I spent a few hours putting her family photos in order. Her granddaughters are ridiculously cute.

hoover-691114_640Tonight, we’re going out to dinner. The food is another thing I love out here, though I tend to love food wherever I go.

It’s been such a good visit! I made Robyn promise to come visit me next fall, when I can show off New England a little bit. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good time there, too ; )

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Maple Man

 

the bucket

tapping the trees

Almost every year of our marriage, McIrish has made maple syrup. He started by buying a few taps and hanging buckets on the maple trees. The kids would go with their red wagon and check the sap, and with his help, put the full buckets into their wagon and pull it back to the barn. For the sap to run, the weather has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. The first run of the year makes the best syrup (but is there really such a thing as bad syrup?). It takes a week or so to get enough sap for boiling.

Boiling Day is very exciting around here. We used to have a metal barrel with a hole cut in it, and McIrish would put in the evaporator pan. He’d add logs to the

The man, the legend

The man, the legend

barrel and sit there, listening to the radio (usually Car Talk). The kids would play and sometimes sled if there was still snow on the ground. We’d make popcorn. McIrish would throw a few hot dogs in the boiling sap and voila! Lunch was served. We upgraded our evaporator a few years ago to a proper stove (so we could get more syrup). The little shed where this all happens is the best outdoor man cave ever.

the boil

the boil

Friends often come and visit on Boiling Day. Many of them haven’t seen maple syrup being made before, including our little four-year-old twin neighbors. We showed them the boiling sap yesterday, and they were terribly excited. “I see it, Terence!” they exclaimed. “I smell the syrup!”

sap running

sap running

McIrish stands there like a benevolent overlord, chatting, adding sap, adding wood, sitting in the cool air, watching the dogs frolic in the mud and snow. I go out and sit as well, but I have a tendency to get too close to the stove and melt my fleece coat. I do love to hang out there with him, just talking, warming ourselves, rotating like chickens on a rotisserie. Sometimes, he lets me add sap, and I feel very important.

When the sap is reduced down enough, McIrish brings it inside for the final boil on the stove, and then, the somewhat terrifying filter, where he has to pour the superheat syrup through a cloth. and filter on the stove. The windows of the house steam up, and it smells so sweet. This year, we had the twins over for their first sleepover, and they were quite dazzled when McIrish brought us each a tiny glass of syrup to sip, still warm. The little boy spilled his and clapped his hands over his eyes. “Oh, no, what have I done?” he said, and we assured

Just beautiful.

Just beautiful.

him that these things happen and got him some more.

Maple syruping takes weeks. We only make a couple of gallons of syrup, but every time I make pancakes, which is something I only do when the kids are home, we get to have Daddy’s syrup. Weeks of work for a little sweetness throughout the year. True love in action.

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The month of Cape Cod

evening sky

I want to thank you, readers, for the past four weeks.

It was a very busy year. I wrote a book, went on two book tours, attended at least one writers conference, had a child graduate from college, took a lovely family vacation, and spent a memorable day in the emergency room thinking I was going to die and scaring the bejesus out of McIrish. I think I was on an airplane more than 50 times in 8 months.

winter capeThe Princess moved into her first apartment and started graduate school three hours away. Dearest Son had an internship for which he wore a suit and tie, and I realized that my little boy is a man.

This full schedule, and all these emotional upheavals, translated to the fact that I was having a hard time writing my latest book. And so, McIrish and I decided it would be good for me to get away. In the past, I’ve done this for a week or two, usually to someplace warm. This year, because I am a lover of skyscapes and the ocean, I rented a house at the edge of the Atlantic and discovered the wonders of winter on Cape Cod.

faithful friendI took sweet Luther, my better-behaved dog who wouldn’t charge into the ocean the way Willow does, and food that was easy to prepare and consume. Huggy Pillow. Lots of comfy clothes and my giant pink parka.

What happened then was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. The sound of the waves, the incredible clarity of the night sky, the comfort of Nauset Light’s beam swinging through the darkness. The howls of coyotes, the little fox that followed Luther and me on the beach, and reappeared in our yard the day we were leaving. The smell of salt air, the roar of a storm, even, remarkably, the feeling of a porpoise under my hands as a stranger and I tried to help her get back into the ocean. The exhilarating cold, the giddiness of being blown backward by the wind, unable to stand still in its force.

beachThere’s a holy feeling to being the only person on a beach, making the first footprints (and pawprints) of the day. Seeing sheets of snow gust past the house, to hear different voices of the wind coming from all directions all at once, and always, the ocean, like the earth’s heartbeat.

I know I sound romantic and poetic and maybe a little goofy. I felt that way, too.

IMG_9630There was the delight of visitors—my husband, my daughter, my sister. The long chats I had with my son. My dearest friend from college—our first solo sleepover in twenty-eight years, laughing so hard Catherine fell off the couch. A night with my cousins, another with my auntie. My wonderful, brilliant writer friends, Huntley Fitzpatrick and Stacia Bjarnason, the laughs, the stories, the ideas.

the cloudsI wrote most of my book this month—a book I’ve been struggling with for six months or more. I finally got to that place we writers live for, when the pages flow and the ideas leap from our fingertips. I cleared my head by walking my dog, through the woods, on the beach, going to the bay to watch the sunset, waking up every day to the sunrise flooding my house.

All that was because of you, because you read my books and have given me this beautiful, fulfilling, remarkable career. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my very full heart.

 

 

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A rather exciting afternoon

Luther's other true love

Luther’s other true love

So…My plotting friends had just left, and the ocean was wild, the tide very high. I thought, hey, I’ve been inside most of the past two days, plotting and laughing (and laughing and laughing) with Huntley and Stacia, eating lots of carbs and such. My doggy, who was in mourning because his two other mommies had just left, could use the exercise. And hence, I rode my bike to the beach.

As I walked down toward the waves, a man called to me. “Miss! Miss! There’s a baby dolphin stranded on the beach! Don’t let your dog get too excited!”

Baby? Dolphin!?! Stranded, as in needing rescue?

We were on the job.

dolphin!Turns out our baby dolphin was actually a harbor porpoise, but Ivan (my new best friend, despite his Boston Red Sox baseball cap) and I didn’t know that. I called 911 and reported it, then got a call from Animal Rescue, but the call kept dropping before I could give the information. I didn’t know if they got the location, or if they were coming, or if it was just Ivan and me.

The tide was coming in, and the waves were rough. No one else was around. Poor Flipper! She was wriggling and breathing through her blowhole, making Luther so, so excited to play. But, given that she’d probably never seen a dog before, and he definitely had never seen a dolphin before, I tied him to an iron pipe and went over to the beautiful little creature. “Don’t be afraid, honey,” I said. “We’ll help you..”

ocean“Let’s turn her,” said Ivan, as she was facing the beach, rather than the ocean.

And so, we gently, gently, tried to turn her. When the next wave came, it sloshed into our boots, and we got Flipper a little closer to the water. Then a huge wave came in, and pushed her right back…and knocked me down.

Let me tell you something about the northern Atlantic in February. It’s not warm. On the other hand, it never is, not even in August. Ivan helped me up, laughing, also drenched, and we tried again. And again. “The tide will take her into the ocean eventually, right?” I asked.

“As long as she doesn’t dry out, I think she’ll be okay,” he said.

my little friendBut it was hard to watch her struggle, so we tried again. She was cool and slippery, and the whooshing sound of her breath from her blowhole was strange and beautiful. Both Ivan and I had taken to calling her honey by that point, and every time a wave came, we pointed her to the ocean, hoping she could get deep enough to get back in, cheering her on. But she just wasn’t big enough to overcome the power of the waves.

Then, blessedly, we heard a shout! It was the real animal rescuers, and they had a sheet to carry her. We lay the sheet next to her and gently rolled her onto it, then carefully, carefully, lifted her up and carried her to the sand.

“They’re coming with a pickup truck,” the rescuer explained, and they would examine her to see if she was sick, then release her if she was healthy. I wish I had more photos, but my phone was drenched and irritable and didn’t want to turn on.

Did I mention I was soaking wet? Hair, glasses, pants, phone, parka, everything. I went to my faithful pup, who was terribly excited, and emptied the saltwater and rocks out of my boots. “Did you drive here?” Ivan asked.

“No, actually,” I said. “I rode my bike. But it’s not far.”

“I’ll drive you home,” he said, and because he was the type of guy who would go into the Atlantic Ocean to save a small mammal, I figured he was good people. And he was. Not only did he let me ride in his Jeep, sopping wet and grinning, but he let Luther in, too, and put my bike in the back, then drove me down the long dirt road to my house.

“What an experience!” he said, as exuberant as I was. “That was incredible!”

good luck, flipper!We shook hands and then hugged, and he said goodbye to Luther and went off.

I have a lot of laundry to do now, folks. Both Luther and I needed baths. I hope my boots will dry eventually, and that my parka can be washed in the machine.

But being so close to a porpoise, hearing her breath, talking to her, and feeling like you had, maybe, a small part in helping her…I’d do it again tomorrow.

Godspeed, Flipper! May you live a long and healthy life!

 

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Days alone

skyIf you’re a writer, there is something that I think is almost always necessary to do what we do…solitude.

For each of my books, I’ve needed to be alone. This does not include a faithful canine companion. Just alone from other people. When I was a baby writer, my children were tiny—six and three—so my alone time happened when they napped, or at  night. Bless them, they were the type of little ones who went to bed at 7:00. On the nights when McIrish worked at the firehouse, I’d jump on our big old clunky desktop in the bedroom we couldn’t afford to finish, and lose myself in story.

winter capeAs the kids got older and my writing became more lucrative, McIrish and I decided to allot some more serious alone time for me. He built me an office in the basement, which I fondly called the Pit of Despair. Cement walls, that one little prison-like window…but hey. It had a door, and that door closed. As the kids grew older, I would go to the Cape for a night or two in March, which served two purposes—I’d open our little house up there, the house my parents bought when I was little, and have two whole days to write without human contact. We didn’t have wi-fi back then. It was writer heaven. As the kids grew older, the days at the Cape became longer…two nights. Three. A weekend with my plotting buddies.

foggy dayWhen the kids were elderly and my writing responsibilities grew to become more than just stay at home and type, and I had to figure in things like book tours and speaking engagements, I started to go away in the winter. I probably have seasonal affective disorder, but I call it the winter blues. Our little house in the woods can feel claustrophobic, all those trees. My office isn’t well insulated, so I sit under blankets when I work there. Since I walk to my office, any kind of snow or ice makes it hazardous to someone as clumsy as I am.

So I rented an apartment a few years ago, first in Atlanta, then in La Jolla when a speaking engagement took me out there. I went back a couple years later, because La Jolla is so beautiful, and so warm.

beachThis year, I’m away for the longest I’ve been. A month. Both kids live away now, Dearest a sophomore in college, the Princess at nursing school in Boston. Rather than try to go somewhere warm, which would require a flight and more effort for McIrish to come see me, I rented a house on Cape Cod, back to my roots. Our little house isn’t winterized enough for a month there, so I found a pretty little house on another dirt road. The ocean roars, and I wake up to the sun streaming in through the windows, and the sky…the sky is so beautiful. At night, the stars are bright enough for me to understand why we’ve always looked to them as proof of God, as our heroes immortalized.

the cliffLuther is curled up on his mat as I write this. McIrish will come visit me today. My plotting friends will pop in—my sister and Huntley already have. But mostly there’s just me, my story, my good dog, the ever-changing voice of the ocean, the bracing wind and the glorious, endless sky.

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The white stuff

 

dame helenI’ve been going gray since my twenties, but things sped up after I had my kids (not blaming you, Princess and Dearest, but if the shoe fits…). Since I hit 50, there’s been a white streak in the front, which Robert, my hairdresser, has wrestled with. Do we make it look like blond streaks? Do we let it be? Do we try to make it gray (totally on trend) instead of white?

jamie leeFor decades, I’ve colored my hair, which in its natural state, was sort of a dark brown with some red in it, courtesy of my mom, who once had hair the color of an Irish setter. I was in a permanent state of hmmmph, having brown hair, as my sister and mother were regularly told what gorgeous hair they had, how stunning, how beautiful (still bitter much, Higgins?). As an act of rebellion, I colored my hair darker. Medium Golden Brown. 5G, as I recall. A rather boring description. Medium.

But since this summer, I’ve decided to let nature take its course. Same as when I threw away all my Spanx. I am what I am, and I’m gray. White in places. I don’t mind aging, frankly. I mean, sure, there are parts I’d do without. But then I remember Theresa and Melissa and David, friends who never got to hit middle age, and I start to love my gray hair. Several other friends never colored their hair, and were way dame judiahead of the “young people with gray hair” trend. Oh, the money and time they saved! Neither of my grandmothers felt the need to be anything other than what nature intended. My mom’s red has faded to strawberry blond, and I think it’s a shock that her child has more gray that she has. “Are you going to keep it that way?” she’ll ask. “I mean, it’s very pretty! I love it!”

The options were to go blond. Not for me—I’d spent my life trying to feel that brown hair was just as good as red hair, so blond felt like committing adultery. To have Robert dye it forever, which is not cheap in either time or money, or do a crappy job at home (for which Robert always chastises me).

“I want to go gray,” I told him a few months ago. “I’m either going to shave my head, or you’re going to help me.”

To his credit, he was excited. We are the same age, Robert and I, and he’s gray and very distinguished, you know? Because he’s a man, he gets to be distinguished. Another stylist, nice and graya woman, had told me I’d go back to coloring because gray would age me…but hey. I’m 53. I’m aged already. I don’t want to be 75 years old and have chestnut brown hair. I wouldn’t be fooling anyone.
So I’m salt and pepper now, with a silvery-white streak like new-fallen snow in the moonlight (she said, whipping out her author similes). My daughter says my hair sometimes seems to glow, which I quite like. When the sun hits it, there it all is—every year of my life, every wonderful experience, every sorrow, the map of my life in sparkling, shining, unapologetic evidence. My name is Kristan Higgins. I’m 53 years old, and my hair is turning white.

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The subtle art of not flirting

lurveI recently had a college-age reader write to me and share the fact that she’s never had a boyfriend. She professed to be ignorant of how to flirt, let a guy know she thought he was cute, talk to a boy in “that way” other girls seemed to know instinctively. Could I help?

I could! I was that girl! I remember in college, being completely oblivious to the fact that any guy liked me at all, helplessly and silently in crush with boys I never spoke to, sitting in my room reading on Saturday nights when my friends were at parties, because I dared not enter those social waters. I had never had a boyfriend. My first kiss came when I was 18 and three-quarters, at the tail end of my freshman year of college, and I only had the guts to let him kiss me because I was transferring (thank you, Brian! You live in my memory as an incredibly sweet guy).

Obviously, that changed, since I’ve been married for eons and have two children. I have lived and learned in good ways and in bad. My advice to her was…

flowersDon’t worry about flirting. It’ll come or it won’t. Flirting implies a comfort and sense of humor (to me, anyway). If you’re not comfortable, don’t force it. There’s no rule book here.

Make eye contact.

Smile at your romantic interest. It conveys interest, and in my experience, works better than pretending not to see him or her, which was my go-to move for years (and why I had such a hard time getting a damn boyfriend).

Ask questions that require more than a one-word sentence. Follow up “Where are you from?” with “How did you like growing up there?”

Be polite, positive and thoughtful. You can hold the door, too. While doing so, say, “Have a great day!”

Be complimentary. “I thought what you said in class was really smart.”

readFill your alone time with cool things. Ride your bike. Play an instrument. Read something not assigned for class. Take a walk. Watch the lunar eclipse. People who enjoy being alone give off an air of confidence and security, which are very appealing qualities.

Organize something dorky and fun, or go along on something dorky and fun. Did anyone ever have a bad time bowling? I think not. If your romantic interest doesn’t go along, that’s okay. You’re still out with people, showing the world you can do dorky and fun things.

Be sympathetic. We’re all in this human thing together. Those folks who are getting drunk or being too loud or sitting in their rooms playing video games…we’re all the same. Hoping people will like the real us, and maybe a little scared to show just who that is.

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Fika my life

 

swedenThis weekend, I had the opportunity to talk to the Philadelphia Romance Writers, and, being good writers, they took me to a bar afterward. I was having a lovely conversation with author Kim Golden, who lives in Sweden. She was telling us about how dark it gets in the winter, how cold it is. “Do you have hygge in Sweden?” I asked. Hygge is the Danish art of coziness, according to my daughter—candles and throws and pretty lights, and since Sweden and Denmark are neighbors…

“No,” said Kim. “We have fika instead.”

coffeeWhat she went on to describe made me want to pack my bags and move. Fika is a coffee break, as best as can translated. But it’s so much more. It’s about slowing down. Taking a break. Interacting with humans, not computers or phones. According to my understanding, it’s mandated by law that companies provide fika breaks—not one, but two. Morning and afternoon. One does not do errands. One does (or maybe has) fika.

And then there’s the actual coffee. Kim says no one in Sweden puts sugar in their coffee; it’s almost an insult. Milk is okay, but she says the coffee is so superior, you don’t need much. Swedes scoff at us Americans with our caramel and whipped cream coffee drinks (making them just like me, since I also scoff at those drinks, finding them a sign of moral weakness).

cookieThere’s coffee…and pastries. Yes, Higgins, I thought as Kim described the flaky cookies, the almond paste, the butter, you must move to Sweden. Soon.

I guess what I loved most of all is that it’s culturally expected—you take a break. It’s good for you. When I was in Europe a few years ago, I remember how no one had their phones out, because why would you? You were with humans, right there in the flesh. How in France, the waiter only brings the check when you ask for it, because he wouldn’t dare imply that it’s time to go. How the Danes ride their bikes to work and school, and make things at home cozy and cheerful.

We Americans could learn a lot from these practices, methinks. I think we’d all be kinder to each other if we were a bit kinder with ourselves.

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My delicate flowers

wonder womanI like to give blood; it makes me feel holy and heroic. “One pint saves three lives,” they like to tell you. Friday was a rainy day, and I’d just finished reading a book, so I was in that book hangover mode. I’d made the kids an appointment to give blood—they have the rarest blood types, and since Dearest received two transfusions in the hospital, we owe the world, right?

Right. So a grumpy son and an amiable daughter were off, when I said (perhaps because of some maternal instinct), “Why don’t I come, too?” I usually give platelets, which takes longer, but what the heck. Into the car we three went.

The blood drive was quiet, and they were happy to have us. As you might know, I love medical attention, and I was chatting up the phlebotomist. Since the Princess fainted the first time she gave blood when she was 17, I kept calling out, “How you doing, honey?” Dearest was a champ. The staff kept praising me for bringing my kids in, and I was preening happily and agreeing that yes, they were rather fabulous.

Dearest sprang from his bed and went to the snack table, the only reason he really does this. He also got a t-shirt, which was just extra. When I was done, brawny peasant stock that I am, I too sprang up and went to see my baby girl.

delicate flowerWhen the phlebotomist had taken the needle out, some blood squirted on her arm. “It was so dark and red,” she said, and then her eyes fluttered, and her face went white. “She’s fainting,” said the tech, and because I imagine the fainters are more exciting than we brawny types are, there was a sudden cluster around her. A cold cloth was put on her head, and the Princess, being her mother’s girl, was rather enjoying the attention. She felt sleepy and had a tummy ache but didn’t think she’d puke, God bless her.

Dearest Son, who is a good brother, came over and patted her shoulder, but because he is also a little brother, whispered, “Go into the light.” Thus assured of his sister’s good health he went back to eat more CheezIts.

red blood cellsI patted the Princess and murmured reassuringly, then instinctively glanced at Dearest. He was green. “Honey?” I said, then leaped over to him, just as he started listing to the left. A tech grabbed his shoulders and gently pushed his head to the table. They got him a mattress and he lay on the floor. “Give me my phone,” he whispered. What horrible last words.

“You fainted,” I said.

“I’m fine. My phone?” I kept it in my pocket, wiped his sweaty face and kissed his cheek, as he was helpless and I like to grab an opportunity whenever possible.

The Princess was sitting up, but then they quickly lay her back down, so I cantered between her gurney and my son’s mattress, patting and dabbing their sweaty, pale little faces. Shot off a text to McIrish, telling him his (Irish) children had both passed out, but their (Hungarian) mother remained strong as an ox and was caring for our offspring, but would be longer than expected. Back and forth betwixt children I went. Dearest was thrilled, as he hadn’t been too happy when I told him he was donating blood that afternoon. “You can never sign me up for this again,” he said smugly.

I pulled the car around, and the nice techs rather proudly escorted my children to the car, where we all thanked them for being so kind and helpful. The kids agreed that they’d had a great time, that karma had made Dearest faint, and that they could guilt me about this for quite some time. “I’m so sorry, kids,” I said.

FDM post blood“It’s not your fault,” said the Princess.

“It’s sort of your fault,” said Dearest, but with a smile in his voice. “But I will give blood again, don’t worry.”

“Me, too,” said the Princess.

They’re such good kids.

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