Dearest Son

summer 08 008 (1)Dearest Son was due on Valentine’s Day; he came on December 6, an emergency c-section in the middle of the night requiring a two-and-a-half month stay in the hospital.

They didn’t show us his face when he was born— “It’s a boy, Kristan, you have a son,” Dr. Dolan said and handed him off to the neonatologist. No cry. Limp baby, not breathing. Please, I prayed to God, DSCN1257Jesus, my father, that one word that every mother has branded on her heart. Please.

We head a cry, a loud, sustained scream, and I burst into tears of joy. My boy. My tiny boy, one pound, ten ounces, full of sound and fury, signifying everything.

For the next 76 days, I sat next to his incubator, which we decorated with pictures of his big sister, and two beanie babies—a lamb and a pig. When his sister, not quite three, came to see him for the first time, she sang him the ABCs, and he turned his head toward her and opened his eyes.

 

DSC05993We were told about the chance of brain bleeds and GI problems, developmental delays and physical disabilities. “Don’t you worry,” I told my tiny son. “Whatever happens, we’ll take care of you. All you have to do is live.”

His name in Irish means gleam, and man of prayer, possibly the most fitting name for a baby ever, given the number of prayers said for him. His remarkable brown eyes gleam daily. As a toddler, he was full of energy, scrappy and mischievous. The day he learned to walk was also the day he learned to run. He loved to eat the cat’s food and hide in the cupboard, stealing
chocolate chips. His sister would bring him in for show-and-tell, and all her friends were his as well.

At his nursery school parent-teacher conference, the teacher started to cry. “I can’t tell you how much I love your son,” she said. It was a reaction we’d get again and again. In kindergarten, he donated all his allowance money to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He was the DSCN9104student who’d stay to help the teacher clean her room, or carry boxes. He has an innate kindness, a knowledge for knowing when someone needs a little more. He was always small, but he’d defend kids against bullies twice his size, furious at the injustice.

We insisted that both kids stay in karate until they had their black belts. To our shock, this boy who had to be forced to practice, whose sister had to teach him the with beardforms over and over, completely aced the grueling all-day test. He was eleven.

As he grew older, he learned that a sense of humor could diffuse tension better than outrage. He’s kind to the elderly—his high school community service consisted of writing memoirs with people at the local nursing home. Women love him—his curly dark hair, his eyelashes. He’s used to it.

Both kids were required by their parents to do a team sport, since it was good for the soul. Dearest reluctantly T&Dchose cross-country. He hated it. He would walk half the course. Shin splints, he’d say, or a tough course. “Just do your best,” we said.

In high school, he surprised us by staying on the team. At each meet, he’d gamely finish last, always smiling as the parents of the faster kids—and his own parents—cheered him on. There was that one time when I managed to say the right thing at the right time, driving him home after a meet. “It takes a lot of character to enter a race, knowing you’ll come in last,” I said. “I can’t tell you how much I admire that.”

 

D&TWhen he was a junior he started training extra, talking to the coaches. He no longer finished last. His work ethic and attitude were exemplary, and his teammates voted him captain his senior year. That was the year the regional qualifications changed, dropping the qualifying time, which meant our son would have to take his very best time and improve it by twenty seconds…in one mile. “Do you think you can do it?” I asked him. “Coach and I both know it’s a long shot,” he said.

During a meet on a cold spring day, his father and I leaned on the fence, watching the mile run. By the second lap, it was clear our son wouldn’t make it thedeclan time he needed; he was barely on pace, and runners
tend to get slower in the second half. But he ran a hard third lap, Coach calling out his time. And in the fourth lap, something happened. Our son’s stride lengthened. He started closing in on the runner 30 yards ahead of him. Dearest Son was breaking away, and his team and all the parents cheered madly for him that last half lap.

kids at christmasHe came tearing down the home stretch and met the qualifying time with four seconds to spare. His whole team went crazy, and our boy…well, he looked across at his dad and me and gave a little nod. “Get over here!” I said, sobbing happily, and he did, giving us sweaty hugs.

He loves his grandmothers and extended family, my sister especially. He plays with our dogs, poolteaches them odd tricks, woos the cat, bickers with and laughs with his sister, who is still his best friend. He can make me laugh till my teeth chatter, and does a dead-on impression of me. In many ways, he is father’s boy—hardworking, quiet, focused on the things he loves. I know he is mine as well—the sense of humor, the love of a lazy day. Mostly, though, he is himself.

In less than a month, my son will go to college. I hope he’ll bring Lambie and Piggy, as the Princess brought Ernie, but he’s a rather dignified person, so we’ll see. He’ll run cross-country and study government. He wants to go into politics, and I’m glad, because the DJK seniorcountry could use someone with his integrity, intelligence and heart. He has a plan and a strategy for doing well, and I have no doubt that he will make the world a better place. He already has.

It will be odd, having a day that doesn’t revolve around my children’s schedule. Strange not to have my boy at the dinner table, or asleep upstairs in his messy room. I’ll miss him terribly, my little boy, and yet it’s time. He’s ready. He did what I asked of him eighteen years ago—he made it. He’s so much more than the boy who lived…he is the boy, the young man, who shines.

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Up in the Air

 

mosquitoNext week, I’m heading to Orlando for the national conference of Romance Writers of America! Yay for the conference! Boo for Orlando in the summertime! If you see me being carried off by a huge mosquito, please alert the authorities. That being said, if I am attacked by an alligator, I think I’m all set (thanks, Evil Boxing Trainer!).

Anyway, I have some air travel tips gleaned from a zillion hours spent on airplanes over the past few years.

tomWear comfy clothes on the plane. Don’t wear pajamas. You’re not four. Leggings, ballet flats, a shirt, a sweater, because it gets cold up there at 35,000 feet. Plus, what if you meet Captain Sully or Tom Hardy on the plane? You don’t want to look like you need a keeper. (Also, if you see Tom Hardy on your plane, you have my permission to do as you wish). That being said, you fashionistas (gazes in mirror) should go easy on the accessories. You don’t want to have to take off your necklace, four bracelets and that fabulous belt in line, because the people behind you will be forming an angry mob.

I’m pre-checked, so I get to glide through like a boss. If you’re not prechecked, and sometimes even if you are, remember that you have to take off your shoes. You might want to wear socks. Think of how many feet have been on that same floor.

Knitters and crocheters, be prepared to surrender your needles. I know, I know, you were going to make the most beautiful blankets in the world for Beyoncé’s twins during the flight. Write them a poem instead.

angry-mobRead and obey the TSA liquids policy. Again, remember the angry mob forming behind you as you plead your case for taking your hairspray with you. Do bring hand sanitizer (3.5 oz or less!) and antibacterial wipes. You won’t be sorry. They don’t clean the plane between flights anymore. I’m not sure they ever clean the planes anymore.

plane-crashKnow where the life vests are. Miracle on the Hudson, anyone? Also, I’ve found that watching movies featuring airplane crashes greatly reduces the chance of an airplane crash. This is my theory, and I’m sticking with it. I’ve watched Cast Away five times on airplanes. Not one crash yet.

Help with bored babies. It’s hard to fly with kids. I can’t tell you many parents have blessed me because I played peekaboo with their little ones. Sometimes, because I am a baby whisperer, I’ve even offered to hold the baby,
beywhich causes the child to coo in delight and then fall instantly asleep on my shoulder. (This is the talent of mine that will get me on the survivors bus during the apocalypse…forget the “writing of the bad date scene.”) Beyoncé and Jay Z, please take note.

Be nice to the flight attendants. Yes, we’ve seen the videos of those horrible people who punch passengers. 99.99% of flight attendants aren’t going to hit you, kick you, threaten you. They know their reputation has suffered greatly. That being said, if you do see someone getting roughed up, by all means, make a stand. Be helpful. Imagine that that the person being dragged off the plane is you, or your kid, and do the right thing.

Say hi to your seatmate. You don’t have to become their best friend (cough), but say hello. Civility is dying in our country. Let’s do our part to bring it back.

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Cozy spots

laundrybasketWhen I was about three, I locked myself in the bathroom closet. My dad was away with the Army Reserves, so my mom was home with three little kids. I’d been brushing my teeth, and for some reason, I decided to go into the closet, climb into the laundry basket and close the door.

It locked. I don’t remember why we had a closet that locked from the inside, but such was life back then. The door had slats on it, so some light came through, and it was dim and cozy there in the dirty clothes—ask my cat, because he does the same thing quite often.

huckleberryMy mother found me and tried the door unsuccessfully. “Can you open it, honey?” she asked. I couldn’t, or I didn’t try…it was nice to be alone in the quiet closet, away from my siblings. Maybe I would sleep in the closet all night. “We can slide baloney slices under the door,” my brother suggested. “You can eat toothpaste.”

I contemplated a life spent in the little closet. I could climb up on the shelves and sleep in the towels, play with Mom’s hot rollers, which were very fun. Take many naps, because unlike other, less savvy toddlers, I loved napping.

firefighter toyMom shooed my sibs into their rooms and called the fire department. I may have dozed off as she talked to me through the door. Then the firefighters were there. “Do you have a toothbrush?” one of them asked my mom, and she handed one over, and just like that, he popped the lock.

My little adventure was over. Mom picked me up, walked the amused firefighters to the door. I believe they gave me a toy. Mom let me stay up a little longer, so I got a little extra time with her, just us two.

All my life, I’ve loved small spaces. Cozy spots, I call them. I guess we know why.

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That old Cape magic

cape houseWhen I was a little kid, my parents bought a house on Cape Cod. It’s a simple little place—absolutely nothing glamorous about it except that it’s on the Cape. The furnishings are battered, the windows rattle and the screens have holes in them. Knotty pine abounds. The kitchen table is in the living room, since it can’t fit anywhere else. My mother is overly fond of blue, so everything is a little like camouflage—the blue pitcher on the blue counter, the blue carpeting and the blue bathroom. There is no air conditioning, just a few moldy window fans. It’s poorly insulated, so it gets both hot and cold. The cellar smells like dampness.

sunset on the bayAnd yet, the house the most wonderful place in the world. The sky never seems so blue as it does on Cape Cod, and the smell of crispy fallen pine needles is the smell of summer to me. The crows wake us at six a.m., and no matter how early you go, there’s always a line at the donut shop. At sunset, people flock to the bay side to watch the show, and when it’s dark, the beam of Nauset Light sweeps over the tops of the pitch pines. You can always hear the ocean.

rosesRight now, the climbing roses are blooming, those crazy plants that wind up telephone poles and cedar trees and eat fences (there’s a split rail fence in this picture somewhere, I promise). Rabbits wander lazily through our yard, unused to humans and dogs. When it rains, there’s no hope your towel or hair will dry without electricity. On sunny days, we all smell like the beach—salt and sunscreen, with a hint of coffee thrown in as well. When you ride your bike down the rail trail, you catch the wonderful scents of fried seafood and garlic, burgers on the grill, the bay at low tide.

There’s not a lot of space in the house, so by the end of our week here, with five humans and two dogs in residence, it will be cluttered with magazines and newspapers. The camera locust treewill sit on the counter because there’s no better place for it, really, and flyers about whale watches or real estate will litter the coffee table.

I love cleaning the Cape house for the next residents here. I leave it tidy and sparkling, always with a lump in my throat and a heart full of gratitude that my father gave us this home away from home.

Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like the Cape house.

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McDaddy

 

the fireman returnsWhen Dearest Son was born, he was very tiny. I was terribly sick, pretty much out of it for a few days, needing to stay in the hospital for two weeks to recover. Those days seemed to last for months.

In hindsight, I don’t know how my husband did it. He was barely thirty years old, had a toddler at home, a wife who was battling seizures and kidney failure, and, upstairs in the neonatal unit, a baby who weighed one pound, ten ounces.

F&TMcIrish did everything—the grocery shopping, the cooking, the laundry. He worked twelve or fourteen hours a day, soothed our little Princess when she cried for her mommy, visited our son and reported back to me when I was awake enough to ask how the baby was. “He’s doing great,” McIrish would say without fail. “He’s such a cute little guy.”

T&DWhen I came home from the hospital with the world biggest c-section scar slicing across my abdomen, McIrish scoured the bathroom to kill every germ. Until I could drive again, he was the one who shlepped me the thirty-minute drive to and from the hospital every day. He read stories to our daughter, took care of our kitten, and, in the NICU, ticked our little preemie’s feet and told him he was brave and strong. When Dearest came home from the hospital 76 days after he was born, it was one of the happiest days in our lives.

T&kidsSince then, McIrish has taught the kids to swim, to change a tire, to drive a nail, to plant vegetables. He has embraced—every day–the old adage that the best thing a man can do for his children is love their mother. His example of constancy, hard work and everyday heroism is something the kids will carry with them all their lives.

christmasMy readers often tell me how lucky I am to have McIrish. Rest assured, my friends. I already know. I’ve known since the very start.

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Fun at the Grocery Store

McIrish does most of the grocery shopping in our household. He is something of a control freak about this, bless his little chef’s heart. But I like to go for completely different reasons than feeding our family. It’s more of a social outing for me.

declanThis is the store I’ve been going all my adult life, so I know all the cashiers. “Hi, Mala! Hi, Barbara! Hi, Yolanda!” Yolanda is especially dear to me, since my son proposed to her when he was five, and she was, oh, thirty-six, and she said to look her up when he was 21. I might show Yolanda a picture of Dearest. If my son is with me, he always goes over to say hi, the sweet boy.

I like to stroll through the market. I visit the orchids in the florist department and consider buying another. I pretend to wash my hair in the mist that sprays the veggies, which used to delight and now mortifies the kids. I go down every aisle, smiling at babies, wondering if I can justify buying Pop-Tarts.

Inevitably, I see an old friend and stop to chat. “Hi, Nancy! How’s Gerry?” or “Nana! Hello! What are you making for dinner?” These chats are half the reason I go.

robyn&meBeing tall, I am inevitably asked to help a tiny little old lady to get something off a high shelf, which makes me feel holy. If I see a gentleman with a veteran’s cap on, I thank him and asked what he did in the military. I linger in front of the baked goods, then decide I can make everything better at home and move on. In the book section, I check to see if one of my titles is for sale. If I see friends’ books, I take pictures of them and text them. “Look! You’re famous! You’re in my grocery store!” I’ll say.

I go to the human check-out lines; I hate the automatic ones, and that voices: “Yogurt, eighty-nine cents. Yogurt, eighty-nine cents. Yogurt, eighty-nine cents,” drives me crazy. Plus, I can’t read the tabloids if I go to self-checkout. What’s this? Prince Harry is still adorable? And this? Angelina Jolie is on her twentieth marriage? Oooh, a gardening magazine! Should I bring it home for McIrish?

cimg3405I probably spend five times longer at the market than my dear husband, and I inevitably forget something critical, like half-and-half. He gives me that Irish martyred look he’s perfected over the years, adding a sigh to ensure I know I’ve let him down.

But I don’t mind. “Look!” I’ll say. “I bought some new Clorox Cleanup! Floral scent!” I’m in my bliss.

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Paging Dr. Freud

Because I like the ocean in theory, and because I have this fantasy about retiring to La Jolla, California, I decided to take a scuba diving class.

shark-2102330_640Here’s the thing, though. I’m terrified of swimming in the ocean. I’m convinced that A) I’ll drown; B) I’ll be attacked by a shark; C) all of the above and more—I’ll drown as I watch my disembodied leg float past my face, dying in the jaws of a shark, not quite dead yet, as a riptide carries us out to sea.

My fear of the ocean began pre-Jaws; I remember a wave knocking me down and not being able to get up when I was tiny, my mom having to come in to get me. Another time, my father told me to hold on to his hand in what was called “the sailor’s grip” and we wouldn’t get separated in the surf. I think me made up this term, as he was wont to do, and sure enough, a wave crashed over us and I came up sputtering a good 20 yards away from my dad.

Sure, it SEEMS so benign, so peaceful.

Sure, it SEEMS so benign, so peaceful.

There was the time I almost drowned in the Great Barrier Reef, saved by McIrish and the all-too-amused Aussie crew. The time I went to a beach and my dear husband neglected to tell me there’d been a shark attack just a few weeks before. There are movies like Jaws and Open Water, which feed my paranoia. There’s Shark Week on Discovery. And worst of all, my imagination.

hummingbird-2139279_640

Note the needle-sharp beak.

However, once upon a time, I had a bird phobia, hummingbirds being especially terrifying. After I was attacked by a redwing blackbird in Ottawa, I realized that while a bird diving at your head, flapping its wings against your hair and scratching your scalp with its tiny claws was not pleasant, it wasn’t fatal, either. I decided to take this progressive attitude to the sea. Immersion therapy or something.

And so, yesterday, I went off to my first scuba lesson. I “couldn’t find” my bathing suit (paging Dr. Freud!). By the time I pulled into the land-locked parking lot, I was already terrified. Seeing all those flippers, those snorkels and tanks, reminded me that I can’t breathe underwater.

I went in, immediately asked to use the bathroom, where I did yoga breathing and told myself I couldn’t drown since I wasn’t yet in the water, and calmed down enough to hold a conversation.

debunk+true+story11“Have you ever lost someone?” I asked, side-eyeing the wetsuits, which are just a reminder that humans don’t belong in the ocean. The woman laughed (and did not answer).

Lo and behold, I’d been given the wrong time! There was no 12:30 scuba class! They’d have to call and reschedule!

The hand of God, saving me from a premature death in an indoor swimming pool? I kinda think so.

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Greatest Gram & Coffee

greatgram copyMy love affair with coffee began when I was twelve years old in my great-grandmother’s kitchen. She was an amazing woman—about 4’ 10”, solid as the butcher block on which she cleaved chickens using tools of dubious cleanliness. She owned a little grocery store called Kristan’s Market, and her magical apartment was in the back.

I still remember the thrill of going into her secret chambers. Great-Gram (not to be confused with Plain Gram, my mother’s mother) immigrated by herself from Hungary when she was 14 years old. She had about a third-grade education, but I’m not sure she ever went to school. She learned English the hard way, but enough to read the paper and play the stock market, which she did with somewhat shocking success. I doubt Great-Gram owned a pair of pants. She wore sturdy black lace-up shoes and an apron, unless she was going to church, in which case the apron came off. She never cut her hair, which she’d braid and wrap around her head.

Anyway, back to coffee. I sat at her enamel-topped table, and she poured me a cup of coffee (the kind of pot that sat on the stove) without asking if I wanted any. “Great-Gram, I’m only twelve!” I said. “It might stunt my growth!” (I was a meager 5’ 7” at the time.)

She laughed, stirred in two heaping teaspoons of sugar and added about a quarter cup of half-and-half. “Try,” she said. “You’ll like.”

firstAnything Great-Gram’s made was always better and somewhat exotic—tiny hamburgers served on Saltines; buttered Saltines sprinkled with sugar; stuffed cabbage so good you couldn’t stop eating until your intestines rebelled.

The coffee was no exception. So sugary it crunched, strong and creamy. I started having a cup every morning. My growth was not stunted.

Years later, when I was a nanny, the mom of my little charges suggested that too much sugar wasn’t good for a person (it was revelatory news at the time). Because I loved and admired her so much, I went cold turkey, finding that coffee without sugar was A-okay. My friend Heidi tried to get me to drink coffee black, which would be more convenient, but I found that it was Satan’s drink. Besides, I love dairy farmers. They need me. I don’t like frou-frou coffees, though I’ll drink cappuccino once in a while. But my favorite is a simple, basic cuppa joe. Half-and-half. Never milk.

Well, gotta go make another cup. Sure, I’m an addict. It could be worse.

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Damn you, Pretty Woman

 

shopping

Ladies! Prostitution does not generally lead to happily ever after and shopping sprees!

I think Pretty Woman ruined shopping for every woman in the world. You know…that idea that if you just had the right john, your life would be great. You’d have that polka dotted dress, the shoes, the gloves, the red gown. You’d swing down the street, able to carry an entire wardrobe without the bag handles cutting off the circulation in your gloved hands, and you’d be alight with the joy that only prostitution can bring. Whoops! I mean that only shopping can bring. (Can you tell I didn’t love Pretty Woman? I know, I know, it’s practically a sin in Romancelandia to hate that movie. We’ll talk.)

I myself suffer from what I call stress-induced panic-shopping. Say, for example, I’m going to give a speech, as I am this week. Suddenly, magical thinking sprouts in my brain like a fungus. The speech will only be great if I have the right dress, clearly! And a new necklace! None of the umpteen dozen earrings I own will suffice. A new bra is a must. Spanx, or no Spanx? Tights, or pantyhose? Elegant, or funky?

“Honey!” I call. “I have to go shopping!”

This is Mariah Carey's closet. I think someone needs to give more to charity, don't you?

This is Mariah Carey’s closet. I think someone needs to give more to charity, don’t you?

A beleaguered sigh is his response. McIrish, being Irish, is the master of the beleaguered sigh. He comes to our closet, where I stand fretting. The normal-sized closet is fairly  jam-packed with adorable dresses, skirts, pants, sweaters and shoes. “Look,” he says patiently. “You have so many clothes that all my shirts are squished into this corner.”

“That’s because your stuff is in my closet!” I say. “Get your own closet and this won’t be a problem!”

I try on eighteen outfits, trying this belt with that dress, this skirt with those shoes. Unlike Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, the clothes fail to bring elation and joy into my life. Unlike Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I am not a size four, 23 years old with a smile that melts the heart of creepy men who pick up prostitutes.

Nothing wrong with spiffy.

Nothing wrong with spiffy.

I am a believer in the old adage of dress for the job you want. Put in a little effort. Don’t look like you just rolled out of bed. Show that you cared enough to look spiffy, a term my dad often used to describe his own wardrobe.

In the book I’m writing now, one character has finally lost enough weight to shop in “regular stores.” When she finally looks at herself in the mirror, she discovers something shocking. They’re just clothes—cute clothes, but just clothes. Her life has not changed. She’s still herself. It’s oddly reassuring.

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A Connecticut Yankee in Queen Margrethe’s Court

 

Just one of many beautiful residential streets in Copenhagen.

Just one of many beautiful residential streets in Copenhagen.

 

We had the most wonderful time in Denmark this past week! The weather was brisk and mostly sunny, the food superb, the scenery absolutely lovely.

A few observations about my new favorite country…

Danes seem to have a reserved politeness. They are helpful, kind, but not effusive or determined to win you

Lots of ice cream. Lots and lots and lots, and always with waffle cones.

Lots of ice cream. Lots and lots and lots, and always with waffle cones.

over in one conversation. When you enter a store, the shopkeeper greets you with “Hi!” and leaves you alone until you ask for help.McIrish and I generally greet someone with “Hello! How are you?” This is not a common question in Denmark, and was usually received with a charmed chuckle—Isn’t this American adorable, asking how I am! “I’m doing very well, thank you, and how are you?” Everyone is tri- or quadrilingual there. It puts us Americans to shame.

bikes

Bikes are everywhere.

Denmark, and especially Copenhagen, is made for bikes. People bike everywhere. Toddlers can bike without training wheels. 50% of people get to work on their bikes. And what I loved particularly is that bikes are not status symbols. No one wears the silly Tour de France gear that Americans so love, as if they can’t go for a bike ride without their special pants, shirt, gloves, shoes, sunglasses, helmet. Nope. In Denmark, you just get on a bike—any kind, any year, any outfit, any number of gears—and just go. Which happens to be exactly how I ride my bike. : )

FullSizeRender copy

The Princess (mine, not Denmark’s) demonstrating the Danish art of scarfery.

There is an understated beauty to everything Danish. The architecture is quietly beautiful with a few awe-inspiring buildings thrown in here and there. The people…my goodness, yes. Danes tend to be very beautiful. That whole Nordic thing is true. Their sense of style is quiet and elegant—not as much makeup, tattoos, pink and blue hair. But the scarves, oh, the scarves! Danish women (and men) can rock a scarf in a way we Yanks cannot. Not yet, anyway. I’m trying. Nearly hanged myself, but I’m trying. The food, too, is beautifully presented, layered with subtle flavor, fresh and thoughtfully prepared, the portions small but the courses many. We ate so well, gang. So well.

botanical garden

The beautiful cherry trees outside Rosenborg Castle

There’s a Danish concept of trust that we found very lovely indeed. Most bikes are not locked or chained; they’re just left. According to what our Princess has learned, this is a national point of pride. The royal family sends their children to public school, and apparently the kids ride their bikes like any good little Danes. They are not stalked by paparrazzi; people are allowed to pet the royal horses and wander among the crown jewels.

Who wouldn't be happy living in such a beautiful city?

Who wouldn’t be happy living in such a beautiful city?

The idea that the Danes are the happiest people on earth is a little misunderstood, according to the Princess’s take on Danish life. Danish happiness is satisfaction with what you have, and quietly cherishing it. The Danes were not like, say, Australians, where everyone seems to be your best friend waiting to happen, or American Southerners, where there’s no such thing as a stranger. Instead, there’s a deep contentment and pride in their way of life, and it’s very appealing. Every Dane we met was so pleased that we were visiting their city…but they already know how lucky they are.

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