Bittersweet memories

house in the snow

Little house in the big woods.

We’re taking down our Christmas decorations today. It’s especially bittersweet this year. McIrish and I are renovating our house this spring.

When we built our house 23 years ago, we living in a 600 square foot apartment with a baby and a cat. We slept on a futon couch with the Princess in a crib four feet away in a little alcove. Our table sat two; three with the high chair pulled up. A laundry basket held the Princess’s toys. There was one tiny closet. We didn’t mind.

view from the porch

Our porch will remain the same. Why tamper with perfection?

We had very little money, so McIrish acted as the general contractor on the new house and did much of the work himself. My dream had always been to live in a house with a front porch—my childhood home had a deck, but not a porch one could sit on. I wanted us to err on the side of too small, rather than too big. Three bedrooms, the master downstairs so we could grow old there and not have to worry about stairs. Two big bedrooms upstairs for the four children we hoped to have.

manger

Our manger. Please note that one of the Wise Men brought Baby Jesus a Golden retriever.

Everything was done as inexpensively as possible. McIrish and his brother put in the tin ceiling and hardwood floors. We sunk footers for a deck we never built. Our 700-foot driveway was gravel and dirt (my first book advance paid for its paving…so glamorous!). We ran out of money before finishing the second bedroom upstairs; the floor was plywood covered by paper, and it would remain that way for six more years. The kids loved drawing on that paper while I sewed a lot of little dresses, vests and pajamas up there. Wrote my first book on an old Mac there, too.

When we moved in, the house, all of its 1800 square feet, seemed cavernous. We had closets! Lots of them! A pantry! A mudroom! A washer in that mudroom (the dryer would have to wait till we could afford it, so I mastered the art of hanging clothes out to dry, a chore I still love).

Fast forward twenty-plus years, and the house is cheerfully worn. The wood floors are scraped from kitchen chairs, and the walls still look a little dull from being scrubbed (sticky hands were the bane of my maternal existence). The cellar door never got around to being stained. The black-and-white tile floor in the kitchen and bathrooms is veined with cracks from when the house settled.

So…a renovation. McIrish deserves a nice kitchen. We love having people over, so a bit more room will be lovely. I’ll have a tiny study with lots of windows…a psychic once told me my father wanted me in a room full of windows. The house will be mostly the same, but shinier, you know? Much needed new paint and trim. Better windows, screens that aren’t punctuated by cat claws. A two-car garage so McIrish won’t have to scrape his truck every time it snows. All good.

villageAnd yet, this Christmas, our little house glowed with candles and colored lights. The little village over the cupboards looks so cozy. If it was crowded, well, no one ever complained. It was, and has always been, and will always be, a house full of love.

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Merry Merry and see you soon!

Happy Christmas, Hannukah and Kwanzaa a little early, my friends!

christmas treeStarting December 12thand going through New Year’s Day, I’ll be taking a social media break for the first time ever.

I’m not one of those people whose phone is glued to her hand, but I’m on it often. I try to be really positive and entertaining—that’s my job, after all— and not use social media as a platform to complain, prosthelytize or gossip. Over the years, I’ve muted a few people who are too negative or upsetting, or who just post so much that they’re like that annoying relative who doesn’t let anyone else talk. But 99% of the time, I really enjoy it.

Interacting with readers, fellow writers and the world at large is something that brings me a lot of joy. But, as is the case with ice cream, sometimes you need to take a break. For the next three weeks, I’ll be focusing on my family, writing, baking, cooking, wrapping presents, snow-blowing, all that good stuff. And I’ll be thinking of you, dear readers and friends, and very grateful for you all.

If you want to reach me, my email is k.higgins@snet.net , and I will be checking that. Otherwise, see you in 2020! The very, very best to all of you. I hope the season will be filled with good friends, loving family members, good food, happy pets and memories that will last a lifetime.

xox

Kristan

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Being and doing

As has been well documented, I’m not a crafty person. I can bake really pretty things, but give me a pair of scissors, and injuries ensue. I can’t count the number of times I’ve glued my fingers together or burned myself with a glue gun. I’m still vacuuming up from two years ago, when I thought, “How hard can this be?” and tried to spray greenpainting! glitter on a styrofoam cone.

However…I’ve discovered that I like to paint. By “paint,” I mean move paint around on a surface, not actually create something that looks like something else. Stick figures are about as accurate as I ever got (very cute stick figures, mind you).

But paint is very forgiving. You can do abstracts…smears and globs, swishes and dots. Just about anything blue can be passed off as sky or ocean. Shades of red, orange and pink? It’s a sunset. The joy is really in colors. Recently, I smeared some purples and blues on a piece of paper. The Princess, being a faithful, kind and lovely person, gasped and said, “That’s beautiful! Can I have it?” She framed it and hung it in her apartment. (Dearest Son has not yet requested one of my pieces, which I’m chalking up to the fact that he lives in a dorm room. His day will come.)

smears
The Princess’s joy gave me the idea of making paintings for Christmas presents. When I told this to my mother, she said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Everyone’s tastes are so different. You’d feel bad if you saw them in the trash.” (This is the same woman who told me I was too much of a klutz to take ballet lessons when I was five. But I digress.) Hey. I could be an artistic genius. They laughed at Van Gogh, too.

Undeterred by a lack of maternal enthusiasm, I’ve been painting. Since I know nothing about art, I don’t have a style, so I’ve been experimenting. Does that look like a boat, or an elephant? A lighthouse, or a phallus? Would a smear of red improve it? (Not unless I was painting a bris.)

heartThe best part of this painting-their-gift thing is this. The whole time I’m doing it, I’m happy. It’s fun to do something different. I think about the intended recipient and how much they mean to me. I’m not binge-eating Christmas cookies (yet), and I’m not on a device or watching TV. I’m just…being. Being and doing, with a heart full of love.

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Prayer for Thanksgiving

pieDear God, thank you for my family.

Guideth my hand, Lord, as I roll out the dough to make some sexy-ass pies, and forgiveth me for using the term sexy-ass in this prayer.

Please, dear Lord, use thy divine powers to keep the kids from bickering in the car. Granteth me deafness so that I do not leap from my seat onto the New Jersey Turnpike. Maketh my husband remember that he driveth his entire family in the car, and letteth him not tailgate or speed.

Help me remember, Father God, to wear stretchy pants and a bulky sweater so that I may partake of all the stuffing.

juice cleanseHeavenly Father, I implore you keep relatives from detailing their health deficits, procedures and bowel habits while we eat. Let my father-in-law refrain from lecturing my children about any subject but most especially about healthcare and cleanses. Indeed, sweet, blessed Lord, let the word cleanse falleth from no one’s lips. Ever.

Grant us strength, oh God, to not discuss politics, since rage and frustration is antithetical to all that Charlie Brown hath taught me about Thanksgiving.

Lord my God, giveth me self-control to say no to a fourth slice of pie. Alloweth my sister-in-law to accept my offer to clean up after dinner so I am not a lazy, four-slices-of-pie kind of person and guilty of the sin of gluttony (and then cut me some slack when I am).

hedgiePlease, Lord, let there be babies at this dinner, wherein I can commandeer them and snuggleth with them, giving their parents a chance to eat and me a chance to sniffeth their little heads. If thou canst giveth me a baby, Lord, please granteth me a hedgehog instead (as long as I’m here, dear Lord, I figured I’d ask).

Grant me happy conversation with elders, pleasantries with strangers and the fortitude not to eat all the stuffing myself.

And Lord, please accept my sincerest gratitude at the bounty thee hath granteth me.

 

 

 

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Stupid things ex-husbands say

 

wedding ringIn the past three years, sixteen couples in my friend group have gotten a divorce. Sixteen! Granted, I know many people, but that does seem like a lot. Statistics say 50% of marriages end in divorce, and sometimes, it’s the absolute right choice.

But this blog is for my friends who’ve been betrayed by the spouses they loved and supported. It’s for the women and men who have been blindsided, whose lives have been ripped to shreds because their partners sucker-punched them in the heart. Hint: there might be a bit of this in my upcoming book, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

In the case of the couples I know, the cheating spouses have been male, but of course, women can cheat, too. Substitute pronouns as fits.

If you’ve divorced with kindness and grace—as one couple in my friend group has—God bless, and good for you.

And now, on with the show.

“I haven’t been happy for years.” Translation: I’m bored and tired of myself, so I’ll have an affair, rather than admit that I need to get off my ass. Mister, if you really haven’t been happy for years (and that’s not true, is it?), why didn’t you say something? Do something? Get counseling? Nope. Instead you chose an affair, Monsieur Cliché. How unoriginal.

musician“You have stifled my dreams.” Translation: I want to be irresponsible, ignore the kids, become an Artist with a capital A because yes, I am that talented. Also, I will create an Empire, now that I am rid of you, thou killer of my awesome potential. Yeah, sure, buddy. She supported you through grad school. She moved six times for your career. She signed a mortgage on the house to finance your “dreams.” She worked two jobs. She raised your children. She put your career before hers. She helped you every step of the way. Stifled, my ass.

smiley face“I can’t talk to you anymore.” Translation: I’ve found a woman who kisses my ass and agrees with every word out of my mouth. She thinks you’re rich, doesn’t she? And hey! You might be! Prepare to lose everything when she divorces you a couple years from now. Hint: She has at least one ex-husband in her rear-view window.

“We can stay friends, because I wish you well.” Translation: I’m not going to take any responsibility for your heartbreak, fear, financial struggles, loneliness because I am a Good Guy, and you can tell this because I just said we can stay friends. Sorry, bub. You’re not going to be friends. You are not worthy of her friendship.

sad kid“I deserve to be happy.” Translation: Everyone else can suffer—our kids, grandkids and certainly you, former wife of mine, because I am the most important person in the world, and my happiness is all that matters. If our kid is sobbing into her pillow, I don’t want to hear it. She’ll get over it because I am happy and this will make her happy, because the world rotates based on my happiness. Jeez louise. The hubris. You want to think every parent would put his or her kids’ happiness first, and of course, we’re wrong. It’s amazing how people can justify the worst behavior because of what they think they’re owed. 

yoga teacher“The kids will love her.” Translation: Lalalala! I don’t want to hear anything that will interfere with my New Self and This Exciting Time because I am a New Man! My piece on the side and/or new wife is super nice, so the fact that I was cheating on my children’s mother doesn’t matter. She is a yoga instructor/rides horses/surfs/is an Artist and/or Great Thinker, like me, and everyone will get along just fine. Dude. You are pathetic. A cliché. Also, your kids hate her. No, they do. If they pretend not to, it’s because they still love the person they thought you were and are clinging to the shred of hope that their father isn’t an ass. But you are an ass, and they will find out.

lonelinessSomeday, Cheating Spouse Wrapped in Your Own Selfishness, this will all come back to bite you. You’ll be alone, divorced again. Your kids and grandkids will merely tolerate you, and your former spouse is truly happy now, having built a full life on the ashes you left her. You’ll remember the time when you threw everything away because you were lazy and bored, entitled and self-involved. You’ll shake your head at your stupidity for leaving a good woman because you thought there was something shinier out there. You’ll call your kids, but they’re very busy and can’t talk, let alone visit.

So you’ll have plenty of time to remember the life you tossed out the window. That life was pretty damn good, wasn’t it? Too bad, idiot. You don’t get to go back.

To everyone suffering from a betrayal, who’s struggling to get back on their feet after a divorce or separation, hang in there. Better days are ahead.

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The lies of HGTV

 

Good at buying stuff: check.

Good at buying stuff: check.

McIrish, my sister and I have spent a lot of time at our little house on Cape Cod this past month, doing something Joss Dey calls zhoozhing. I was totally into it…at first. HomeGoods and I are well acquainted and in fact, deeply in love. I bought throw pillows and soft blankets, a shelf with hooks, a new bedspread. I could be an interior decorator, probably! This would be easy-peasy. I loved zhoozhing!

Then came the lies of the DIY world, of HGTV, of talented, coordinated people.

 

  1. “A new coat of paint will make that look gorgeous!” Lie. Painting is way harder than it looks. The drips, blobs, dog hair that ends up on what previously seemed like a pristine blanket of snow. The splotches on the ceiling from when your roller slipped. You missed a spot. No matter what you think, smarty-pants, you missed a spot. And it takes three coats. And you still missed a spot.
  2. "You know what would be so helpful, hon? If you put these tissue boxes on the shelf. Good girl!"

    “You know what would be so helpful, hon? If you put these tissue boxes on the shelf. Good girl!”

    “Let’s pull out this cabinet and put in a new—” Nope. Not gonna happen, because that old cabinet? It covered a pipe, and the new cabinet won’t fit, and you have to cut the wall, then patch it, then patch it again, then let it dry, then smooth it out, but it won’t be smooth, you naïve fool, you. But you won’t be able to tell till you paint it. Also, you missed a spot.

  3. “Don’t throw away that old table! You can repurpose it with some lace and crap!” It took three days for the super glue to wear off my fingertips. Enough said.
  4. “If you measure twice, you only have to cut once.” Said who? Huh? Because I measured FOUR times, and I had to cut five. Old furniture is not straight.

 

"Here, honey! You like to peel stuff! This is a great job for you!"

“Here, honey! You like to peel stuff! This is a great job for you!”

We soon discovered that I was really best at the “step and fetch” kind of jobs as Hilary and McIrish did the harder work that required…you know…skill. I bought pretty things and organized cupboards. I scuttled back and forth to Ace Hardware so often that the resident dog would leap to greet me and the guys would say, “We missed you! It’s been, what? Three hours?”

I tore out and screwed in small things that didn’t require too much accuracy…the idiot jobs, as my sister fondly called them (or me). I whipped out my credit card, soothed McIrish as he cursed when something didn’t go right and insisted that we go out for a nice dinner. I bought wine. When all was done, I sent my husband and sister home and cleaned that house till it glowed.

We all have our strengths.

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Country roads, take me home!

shenandoahMcIrish and I went away for the weekend. It was his birthday (happy birthday, honey!), and I had a lovely reader event in Maryland at the warm and beautiful Inn Boonsboro, so I figured, hey! Let’s make this into a road trip! We love our national parks, and we’d never been to Shenandoah, so off we went.

But this little story isn’t about the wonderful weekend we had. It’s about the 12 hours in the car and the seven states we drove through: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. 563 miles in a day. My car, which I named Derek Jeter, since we got it the day of Derek’s last home game (and because I like to say the words Derek Jeter as often as possible), is quite comfy, so there was that. We had podcasts booted up. We were ready. We were determined to see a bear; Shenandoah and the area is famous for them, but we had seen only two squirrels in the park as far as wildlife was concerned.

streamThe hotel where we stayed was in the Middle of Nowhere. Seriously. Country roads, take me home…yes. Winding roads through forests and farmland and forests and, er, farmland. The occasional house. Beautiful black Angus cattle. No bears. Hours till we reached a major highway. I was in heaven.

We found it rather hilarious that the speed limit was 55 on roads that were gravel and about as wide as our driveway. Because I still get carsick, I had to drive. It was rainy and cool, and the drive was placid and pretty. We stopped along a river so McIrish could pick up a rock or two, his hobby. I got three mosquito bites, as is my way.

After a couple of hours, we hit a freeway, and by then, I was getting hungry. I hadn’t eaten what I consider Southern food yet, so I was determined to find something I couldn’t get in shaffersNew England. Ah ha! We saw a sign for this little charmer—a former gas station turned restaurant. Lots of trucks in the parking lot, clusters of workmen in overalls and Carhartt, so we knew it would be good. And it was! I had fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and brussels sprouts in some kind of thick white liquid that I believe Southerners call gravy. In New England, gravy is brown. It was delicious! The manager was so nice and even came into the parking lot to wish us safe travels. Our accents and fascination with their hominy selection marked us as Yankees, I think.

mennonitesIt’s our habit to raise our feet across every state line, for luck. We did this religiously. I texted our kids funny pictures, and McIrish and I talked about how great both kids are. talked about where to stop next. At some point in the afternoon, we pulled off to check out a shearling shop, but left after seeing too many much fur. We went to a Pennsylvania Dutch specialty shop and learned about hex signs but didn’t buy any (this time).

We happened upon a fabulous antique store staffed by extraordinarily friendly cats. Seriously. There was no human, and I was just starting to wonder if the shop operated on the honor system when a very nice lady pulled up. She had been at the market and apologized, but we said we’d been loving up the cats and didn’t mind a bit. Her store was a wonder…clean and organized and full of amazing treasures. I bought a turquoise ceramic fish and three antique Santas for my collection. We wanted to take a cat, but the shopkeeper was rather attached to them.

Another state later, and we stopped for dinner at a diner we’d seen taking the Princess to college. I had pancakes and they were delicious. McIrish had spaghetti and meatballs, which were mediocre. The poor lad is spoiled, since I make killer spaghetti sauce.

foliage in the rainFinally, we crossed into Connecticut. An hour and a half later, we were on our street, where we saw a deer and a fox—more wildlife than we’d seen in the past four days. We laughed, greeted our dogs and cat, tossed some laundry in and had a drink of water, then went to bed. Good old Huggy Pillow was happy to see me, and vice versa.

Home sweet home. Good doggies. Beautiful foliage. A cozy, chilly rainy day for writing.

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Little Friend

LF 2When I was a wee little kid, I made an imaginary friend for myself and my sister. Little Friend.  Make your index and middle fingers walk on the arm of your chair. Voila. You have met Little Friend.

Little Friend was used mostly to amuse my sister. He—I don’t know why, but Little Friend was always clearly male—would sit on the bridge of my sister’s nose. She would give him elevator rides on the palm of her hand. When she got bored in the car, Little Friend would “run” alongside the car—my skinny white arm extended, index and middle fingers running in the air. Little Friend had to leap over the driveways of the houses we drove past, since he was unable to walk on asphalt. Grass only, that was Little Friend.

Little Friend was also a champion blackmailer. If Hilary didn’t want to play with Little Friend anymore, he would start to curl up and die. If he made it into fist formation, it was lights out for Little Friend. My sister would have to kiss him, or death would ensue. Sometimes she left it to the last minute, and Little Friend might not respond immediately. “You shouldn’t have taken so long,” I’d say. “I’m not sure he made it.”

Inevitably, however, her pleas and love would rouse Little Friend, and they would play again.

IMG_2291When I moved into my house years and years ago, my sister gave me a little metal statue. “This is how I imagined Little Friend would be,” she said. He sits on my bathroom shelf.

Today, when McIrish and I were driving back from New York, Little Friend again began running alongside the car, vaulting effortlessly over the driveways and exit ramps. It was wicked fun. I’m happy to say Little Friend hasn’t lost his touch.

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Book recommendations

 

I’ve been reading a lot this summer, and I thought my recommendations with you…

baby teethBaby Teeth by Zoje Stage. Gah! It’s terrifying in the most wonderful, creepy, believable way! Hanna is a seven-year-old girl who chooses not to speak. Her mother, Suzette, senses something is off about her daughter’s selective mutism…and her daughter’s obsessive love for her father. Suzette loves her kid, even when she fears her. Is the story over the top? Sure! Give me an evil child story any day for escapist chills and thrills. (Waves to Damien, who still terrifies me.

Pretty Revenge by Emily Liebert. Two female anti-heroines struggling to shed their pasts, seek revenge and recreate themselves against the backdrop of the obnoxiously rich of New York. Juicy and delicious fun. You really don’t know which woman to pull for, since no character is just one thing.

we were the lucky onesWe Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter. An amazing, heart-pounding story of a Jewish family’s struggles to survive in Poland during World War II. Two parents, five grown children, their spouses and babies…the odds are not in their favor. I read it on one day.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella. Everything you love about Sophie Kinsella—the insecure heroine struggling to be heard over the din created by her self-centered siblings, a lovely hero, hilarious shenanigans in the family-run kitchen goods store. It was like visiting with an old friend.

 

meg & joMeg & Jo by Virginia Kantra. Only VK could pull this book off. An homage to Little Women, but told in present day with beautiful characterization and fluid, graceful writing, Meg & Jo filled me with happiness and did something not even the original didn’t do: deliver an ending that made me believe every character was living her best life.

Happy reading, guys!

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Tales from book tour

readers!I just finished up the tour for LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES and thought I’d tell you a little bit about it.

First of all, if you came to see me, thank you! Thank you so much! What an honor and thrill it is that you spent your time listening to me and getting a book. I never, ever take that for granted, and I so appreciate you! Truly. Thank you. I’ll stop now (but thank you!).

yoga roomO’Hare is one of my favorite airports. I wandered around, wondering if I wanted to eat something, and saw a sign for a yoga room. A yoga room? Obviously, I had to investigate, and there it was, a tiny little room with a mirror (no need, O’Hare, okay? We all know how flexible we are or aren’t). I went in, since I had time to spare, parked, my bags, turned off my phone and did a little stretching. Next to me was a young man who had to be part snake, because he was doing all sorts of joint-defying poses. Me, I excel at corpse pose. Still, it was nice to do something different.

stripesPart of LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES is set in Downers Grove, Illinois, because I fell in love with that town in tours past. It was so nice to be back! Snug houses, lots of little bungalows like the type Pop owns in the book. The town is the type of place that seems to welcome people from all walks. Kansas City seems like a lovely place to live. Good trick-or-treating neighborhoods, pretty gardens, lots of barbeque. Michigan looks a lot like Connecticut, strangely…pastoral and calm, at least in the parts I saw. Houston was so humid my glasses steamed up, but the food was amazing, and I got to see my friend Heidi (this book is dedicated to her!) and her lovely daughter, Dylan. As you can see, we all wore stripes that day!

skyOn airplanes, I always look around before sitting and see where the kids are, in case we go down. This is so I can use my body as a human shield and save the little ones. I envision my funeral—it’s beautiful, FYI—and settle in to play solitaire or read before takeoff. I can’t sleep on planes. I might watch a movie or show on the free Wi-Fi. To wit, I’ve never had so much as mild turbulence, but on one recent flight, a bunch of alarms went off, causing me to text my husband with messages of love for him and the kids, as well as some heart and bunny emojis. The captain came on and apologized eventually; someone had hit the wrong button (so he said. I was still ready to save lives.)

talkI like to talk to people on airplanes and in airports, and always make friends with my driver. One young man who drove me from O’Hare to my hotel was shocked when I said I loved airports. “Me too!” he exclaimed. “I want to be a pilot someday!” People love to share their stories to an interested party, and I have a friendly face. It’s part of my job, listening to stories of people’s lives, jobs, marriages, losses. The act of talking to a stranger is becoming more rare, since we all have phones now. I did see a young man walk into a pillar because he was staring at his phone. It was deeply satisfying, I won’t lie. I did ask him if he was okay. I’m a mom, after all.

As I write this, snug in a blanket on my porch, since the weather had turned, book tour seems far off. It’s very quiet here, just the birds and the occasional plane overhead. I’m not wearing makeup, and I’m in my pajamas, my good doggy at my side, McIrish reading the Times. Book tour was fun and fantastic, but there really is no place like home.

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