Dorktastic

kittyI’m leaving tomorrow for the Romance Writers of America conference, and I’m feeling like the dorky sixth grader I used to be. My clothes are slightly better, and the haircut definitely is, but there’s something eternal about being that kid who never felt like she belonged a hundred percent. Even now, even when I’ll know literally hundreds of my peers and professional colleagues, I’m terrified I won’t have anyone to talk to.

 

 

that face you makeWhat is it about never feeling good enough? Birth order? Something from my youth? Strangers who dislike me on social media? Anne who used to beat me up every recess in sixth grade? I have no idea. I want to lean in, own my power (not sure what that really means), channel Serena Williams and all that good stuff, but there’s also a very strong argument to be made for staying in my room. Tragically, this Marriott doesn’t have room service, so I’ll be forced to come out.

I know I’m extraordinarily lucky in my career, and I’ve been blessed with the affection of many, for which I’m incredibly grateful. And yet, I can’t quite shake that dorky middle school version of myself, who loved horses and hated school dances, who gladly babysat on weekends so my calendar wasn’t empty. I kind of liked that kid when she was on her own. It was only in groups that I felt less than. I’d look at my own mother, so socially graceful, so fun,with awe and wonder. I would never be like that.

i know one personExcept I am, sort of. It took a lot of practice, and I’m still a work in progress, but I’ll be out there, meeting and hugging and encouraging. One thing I’ve learned in the writing world—there’s plenty of room for success. Cheering on other authors is absolutely my favorite thing to do at these conferences, whether I’m meeting the next big name or saying hello to one of my idols.

To my twelve-year-old self—hey, kid! You turned out okay. All those books you read…time well spent! Keep working hard. And listen It’s not a bad thing to remember those awkward, misfit feelings if they make you keep an eye out for people who might be feeling the same way.

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Crappy Grandmothers

seriouslyfinalcoverGenevieve London, one of the protagonists of LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES, is not a warm and cuddly grandmother to Emma, her only grandchild for twenty years. She’s critical, opinionated and frosty—not what an eight-year-old needs after the death of her own mother, and not what anyone needs, ever. And yet, Genevieve does her best. She provides every opportunity for Emma. She takes her in, tries to instill certain qualities, but Genevieve’s heart was broken by the loss of her older son decades ago. She admits she’s not a great candidate for child rearing.

If you read this blog, you know that I had a nearly perfect grandmother—my mom’s mom, Gram. My daughter is named after her, and I dedicated a book to her just after she died. She taught me the beauty of the simple pleasures in life, and I adored her.

I had another grandmother, of course. My father’s mother, Nina. We didn’t get along so well. That’s not completely accurate. I liked and loved her just fine for the first decade of my life, maybe more. She didn’t like me. She viewed my birth as my mother one-upping her; Nina had had only my dad. My mom had my brother, but then went on to have first me, then my sister. My birth irritated Nina. I was named after my mother’s family and a clone of that side; my sister had the smarts to resemble our dad a bit more.

I could never understand why Nina didn’t like me, but my childhood was marked by mean little comments and snubs. One Easter, she bought presents for my brother and sister, but not for me, and I hid behind a chair and cried. I think I was four. My dad chewed her out when he discovered this, which didn’t make her warmer or fuzzier toward me. My sister and brother were lovely, as far as she was concerned. I was the sore thumb just by existing. To be honest, I didn’t notice, because my grandfather, her husband, was another perfect person in my life. But after he died, and five years later, when my father died, it became awful. Of course, Nina had suffered the worst thing anyone can suffer: the loss of her only child in a terrible accident.

But rather than take comfort in a granddaughter—or, God forbid, share our grief—she’d call me, full of accusations. “You’re just like your mother. You stole your father from me. I knew. Oh, yes, I knew.” Creepy, wasn’t it?

Still, I drove her to doctors’ appointments and occasionally took her out to lunch, enduring her endless litany of complaints and criticisms, from my haircut to her nasal polyps. And yet…the last time I saw her, after one of these lunches, I walked to my car and looked up at her apartment. And there she was, waving to me, a big arm-swinging wave to make sure I could see her. She was smiling, which was rare. I waved back, bemused. Why couldn’t Nina be nice to me? Why had she been so miserable all morning, only to wave and smile now? Would she call me later and rail at me for being a thief of my father’s affection?

She died a few days later, a massive stroke that dropped her where she stood…a good and merciful way to go. I was glad she was with my dad and Pop-Pop, but I can’t say I grieved her loss. My duty to her was over, and I had been a good granddaughter.

Genevieve is a more complicated and impressive person than my grandmother, but maybe they share some traits, too. The inability to say “I’m sorry.” The dashed expectations of how their lives were supposed to be. Having to deal with an unwanted child. Genevieve shows up and does her best, and as she looks at her long life and meets her great-granddaughter for the first time, she finds herself dealing with an unfamiliar emotion: regret. But maybe this summer, she’ll get a chance to do better.

I hope you’ll love LIFE AND OTHER CONVENIENCES! Don’t forget: preorder, and proceeds benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital. www.kristanhiggins.com/life-and-other-inconveniences 

I’ll be swinging through the country on book tour and would love to see you! My tour dates are here. https://www.kristanhiggins.com/appearances

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Heart’s home

sheerwaterIn LIFE AND OTHER INCONVENIENCES (August 6!), there’s a big old house on the water in Connecticut. It has a name—Sheerwater—and is based on an actual house that was for sale a few years back when I was just forming the book. It has twenty-two rooms, a turret, a yoga studio and ten acres of land on a rocky point overlooking Long Island Sound.

rosesWhen I was sixteen, I babysat for a wealthy Connecticut family, and I got to go to such a house for a party, where my job was the herd the children and save their ickle lives should they fall off the private dock. I did so admirably, as I recall…no fatalities, lots of happy kids. But I remember my wonder, even then, at the fact that this family had a massive, beautiful house on the water. I wondered how the heck anyone could afford such a place, let alone as a second (or third) home. It was so beautiful. If it had been mine, I thought, I’d just sit there and look at the ocean and never leave.

 

hydrangeasMy family does have a little house on the Cape…a sweet little place with wall-to-wall carpeting, a fireplace you can’t use, and knotty pine walls. We’re about a mile from the ocean, but you can see the lighthouse beam at night, and the stars are brilliant. Little bunny rabbits run through the yard, thrilling Willow and Luther. Our yard is overgrown, but the Cape Cod roses still drape over the fence. Yesterday, I spent an hour cutting vines out of the big cedar tree and got quite sweaty and scratched and was very proud of my accomplishments.

It’s not Sheerwater, which is staffed by a housekeeper who hasn’t worked in 20 years and has a cook who seems to hate food. There’s a solarium and a wisteria bower, a library. I wouldn’t mind staying in a place like Sheerwater, but our little Cape house—which we uncreatively call the Cape house—this is my heart’s home.

And by the way, pre-order LIFE, and proceeds will go to St. Jude Children’s Hospital. www.kristanhiggins.com/Life-and-Other-Inconveniences

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Live, love, laugh, scream.

 

My family has a tradition: whenever possible, scare the bejesus out of someone. One of my earliest memories is my dear old dad, banging on my window with a devil mask tied to the end of a rake. Corpses in the pantry, snakes in the toilet, the good old fashioned Boo!…it makes us happy.

PrincessThis weekend, I was visiting the Princess in Boston, and we happened upon an antiques store. We love antiques and weird old things. This was a wonderful antiques store, because it was bursting with stuff, from old lace to Japanese artwork to furniture and jewelry.

And dolls.

Dolls have a bit of a history in my family.

When my sister was four, she fell off the kitchen counter and split open her chin and nearly bit off her tongue. She was stitched up at the hospital and given a little puppet to distract her from the pain. A hideous thing, really…something rejected by the carnival for being too creepy, I think. The next morning, as my mom used the puppet to try to get my sister to take sips of grape juice, my sister kept saying, “Stoppy. Stoppy!”

In hindsight, she was probably saying, “Stop it! Stop it!” but we thought she was naming the puppet Stoppy.

Whatever. Hilary got better and Stoppy was relegated to a messy corner of her bedroom.

A few months later, our aunt was babysitting when my sister woke up to a scary sound. Our aunt investigated and found our Irish setter chewing on Stoppy’s face, puncturing it with her strong teeth. “It’s still nice,” our auntie lied, and Hilary loved Stoppy more than ever. Someone had to.

santa?So anyway, there we were this weekend, when I found an utterly terrifying Santa. (This picture doesn’t really do him justice, because you can’t see his deformed, tube-like, alien head.) Princess texted my sister with my message: “This hideous Santa reminded me of Stoppy.”

My sister responded a minute or two later: “Oooh. Stoppy is raging mad right now. I can’t guarantee your safety.”

Terrified at the idea that my sister’s deformed, hideous, wounded puppet would somehow come after us, the Princess and I staggered around the store, laughing and trying not to break anything.

dollyOne floor later, we retaliated, saying we had found my sister’s Christmas present—this horrifying doll. (Who would keep this? What kind of monster would try to SELL this to an innocent person?)

Having clearly met Stoppy’s match, my sister begged for mercy, which we only quasi-promised if she’d remove the Curse of Stoppy.

 

 

She sent us this instead. Version 2

Ah, love! Family! Laughter! Creepy antiques! There’s nothing better.

I hope you had a nice weekend, too, gang.

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The Quiet Place

higgins pond 003

A long time ago…

For the first time ever, neither of my kids will be home for the summer. The Princess is in Boston at her graduate program and has two part-time jobs; Dearest Son is working in Admissions at his college, doing tour guides and answer phones.

It’s strange. For all these years, summer has been about the kids. The house rhythms and sounds change—creaking floors late at night as they settle into bed after McIrish and me, two rounds of breakfast. Last summer, Dearest worked at Dunkin Donuts and opened the shop, so he’d get up before 3:00 a.m., return home around 10 a.m. and go to bed. The Princess worked a long day last summer, 10 hour shifts, but would be home for dinner every night.

flannery

Her Loveliness

But this summer, the house is quiet. No one is upstairs. Their rooms are both tidy and clean. There are no damp towels on the bathroom hooks. No child drives up or down the driveway, and there is no question about who will sit where on the porch in the evening.

It’s a little bit strange. It’s peaceful but a little lonely, in that wonderful heart-achey way…my kids are doing really well out there in the world, happy and independent, as I always hoped they’d be. As I taught for them to be.

declan

My handsome son

So many times, I’ve heard moms say, “I wish they were little again,” in regard to their kids. I vowed never to be one of them. It would be ungrateful to mourn the fact that time had passed, that our kids were alive and thriving, to imply that simply because of the passage of time, children had lost their shine. I love having older kids. Love seeing their names on my phone, love when they text me a picture of what they’re doing, love visiting them. I love the adults they’ve become.

Those summer days when a dishpan of sudsy water could entertain them, when going to the library was an exciting outing, when I’d draw the blackout shades in their room at 7 p.m. and sing them their bedtime songs…those were magical. I know now that remembering those happy, long summers isn’t regret that they’ve grown up. It’s simple appreciation. I don’t wish my kids were little again. I was there for that time, and I loved every day.

the twins

Two little friends, running in our field

But last week, when the four-year-old twins from next door came to visit, I pushed them on the swings my kids had so loved. I took a little movie of the boy and the girl, squeaking in glee, and sent it to Dearest and the Princess. “This brings back happy memories of my two favorite kids,” I said, and both responded. “Aw!” said Dearest. “Hooray!” said the Princess.

How lucky I am to have two such good people as my kids, who understand their mom being a little sentimental, who still refuse to call any place but this house “home.”

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In my little town…

Yesterday, our town held its Memorial Day parade, as I imagine yours did, too. I love the parade. It’s almost exactly the same year after year, and I try never to miss it. This year, I went with my mom; the roads were closed, and she had to drop me off and drive around to park at the church. I crutched it down Main Street; my neighbor and friend, Lois, ran over to say hello, commiserate about crutches and compare our red, white and blue outfits.

majorI made it to the church lawn and sat on the curb, not coincidentally next to a therapy dog and a puppy. Everyone was quite nice about my crutches; one young dad offered me his chair, but I opted for the curb. My other mom, Carol, found me, and then we watched as my sainted mother looked and looked for us, ignoring our bellows of “Mom! Noel! Over here!” It was only my whistle that got her attention.

grand marshalThe parade’s grand marshal was Mr. Rea, a veteran, driven in a car by his son, a former state police officer, and accompanied by his son, an active duty soldier and my son’s classmate. “I babysat him,” I said of Officer Rea. “He loved me.”

“He pulled me over for speeding once,” my mom said. “I said, ‘I taught you catechism, young man,’ and he let me go with a warning.”

bandWe stood for the veterans—a few from WWII, more from Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. The board of selectman walked past—Laura, our first selectman who knows everyone by name. There was Kim, who makes the best cakes and is always so delighted to see everyone. Jen, who started thousands of kids running in her Go Far program, and her beautiful daughter, dressed as Game of Thrones characters with a dragon behind them. My dear friend Christine, the head librarian, dressed as the Cat in the Hat and having a ball on her float. A fleet of antique tractors, as we are a farm town. The three bands—middle school, junior high, high school, filling the air with music and drumbeats, and the flag team, looking so festive. The Boy Scouts carried huge photos of two Connecticut soldiers who died in combat; they didn’t look much older than the Scouts themselves.

The kids on the sports teams pelted us with lollipops, and the orchard folks tossed donut holes in little plastic bags. Carol caught one like she was an MLB outfielder. The firefighters blasted their sirens and air horns, which I love. An old military propeller plane, heavy and gray, thrilled us as it nearly buzzed the parade route.

By the end of the parade, we were best friends with both dogs and their people. Mom helped me get up, then I helped Carol get up, and she handed me my crutches, and we made our way back to the car.

normandyBut what stuck with me most was the sight of the little old man with the World War II Veteran’s cap on, sitting on a float, waving his gnarled hand as we cheered and wiped away a few tears. I hope he knows we remember his service. That we know what he gave. More than likely, he saw friends die, and thought he’d die, too, and that he saw things that he can never forget, no matter how much he might want to. Though it’s a million to one shot, maybe he crossed paths with my grandfathers.

He was probably my son’s age when he did his part to save the world.

It’s good to remember.

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Slug masks

Last week, the Princess and I once again indulged in our love of miracle skin care products. This time, it was slug masks.

We did not look quite this glam.

We did not look quite this glam.

Well, probably not actual slugs. But that’s what they felt like. On a night when McIrish was at the firehouse and we were once again determined to refresh, renew and revitalize, we applied slimy, cold patches of unknown materials with slime made from unknown…slime to our under-eye region.

We sat. We waited.

 

People really buy this stuff? (Er…yes.)

People really buy this stuff? (Er…yes.)

And then…the reveal. She went first, peeling off the slug patches from her face with little trouble (unlike the gold masks we tried in January, which removed a great deal of flesh and eyebrow hair). The results?

The Princess, gazing upon herself in the mirror: “Look at me! I’m 12 again!”

Me: “It’s incredible!”

Princess: “I look so much younger!” (She’s 23.)

Me: “You do! You look 22 and a half!”

Then it was my turn. I peeled off the first slimy little sucker, handed it to my child, since I’m still immobile, and took up the mirror. “Oh…my…God! Oh, my God! One half of my face is completely unrecognizable from the other! Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

Me and my little bunny rabbit.

Me and my little bunny rabbit.

At this point, we were laughing so hard that I had to crutch it to the bathroom. The packet instructions said to let the slime absorb into our skin for extra benefit. We opted to wash our faces instead.

Verdict: For laughs with your lovely daughter, A+.

For under-eye puffiness, F.

In other words, we can’t wait to do it again.

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My happy place…

 

On my way to the hospital

On my way to the hospital

…is the hospital. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be a doctor, and, failing that, now love being a patient. On Friday, I had a rod inserted into my foot and a ligament repaired because I was born with crappy feet and have seen my sainted mother’s feet and the future is grim.

To the hospital I went, chauffeured by McIrish, attended by the Princess, who is conveniently home on break and quite enjoying having me as her guinea pig patient. I cantered up to the receptionist, who commented that most people weren’t quite so merry upon coming in to have their bones broken. “I’m special,” I told her. McIrish rolled his eyes.

Beautiful Nurse Shannon gave me my favorite garment in the world—a johnny coat—and then brought me warm blankies.

Having some Bran time

Having some Bran time

Alas, my doctor was running late due to an emergency or something, so I had to wait. McIrish read to me from David Sedaris’s diaries, and the Princess duly listened to my DNR instructions. We pretended I was Bran from Game of Thrones, since I could only sit there with my IV in.

I got a headache, since I couldn’t have my coffee that morning, and was getting hungry. My mewling cries for a cheeseburger went unanswered. I covered myself up so as not to see the light and to look like a corpse to scare the staff (as one does. I don’t think I tricked anyone). The Princess had a cold, so she thoughtfully had covered her face with a mask. This did not prevent her from dancing when I got bored. She is truly the world’s best daughter.

Entertainment provided free of charge

Entertainment provided free of charge

Then Handsome Dr. Paul, the anesthesiologist, came over and discussed my options. “I want it all,” I said. “Nerve block, Fentanyl, throw it at me. I can’t wait.” He told me my leg would be completely dead with the nerve block, to which I said, “Cool!” (More eye-rolling from the family.) “I’ll give you some medication to relax you for the nerve block,” he said. It can be a little painful. “That’s okay!” I replied. “I love it here.”

Then Even Handsomer Dr. T, my surgeon, came in. He asked me the fun questions that I always get right—name, birthday, which foot. “I’m so excited,” I said, and he smiled, causing me to swoon a bit.

Then off I went to the OR, kissing my husband and blowing kisses to my baby girl. Leapt upon the OR table, chatted with the nurses, apologized that they had to work in such a chilly room and got those drugs. Fell blissfully asleep.

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

When I woke up, I said, “Am I still in Ireland? I hear rain! Oh, no, I’m here in Connecticut, but my husband and I did just go to Ireland, and it was great! Did I talk in my sleep? How am I doing? Are we done? Can I take another nap?” Then I promptly fell asleep again.

McIrish was grocery shopping so I could have my cheeseburger later, so the Princess was my responsible adult. This was a good thing, since I remembered nothing from my conversation with Handsome Dr. T.

I was wheeled out to the car (so much fun!) and deposited back into my bed for a snooze.

It was a happy day, gang. A very happy day. And soon, I’ll be walking much better than perhaps ever before in my life, which means I won’t be listing into strangers and pieces of furniture.

Thanks for all your good wishes! Please know I’m doing just fine.

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Fun Facts about Ireland

 

To honor an Irish saying—never let the truth get in the way of a good story—here are a few anecdotes from my befuddled, jet-lagged, Ireland-saturated brain about the past week.

spire of londonThe Spire of Dublin is a newer monument, bucking the tradition of statues of Irish heroes. Nicknames for the Spire include Stiffy on the Liffey, Stiletto in the Ghetto, Monument to Nothing, Erection at the Intersection and the biggest waste of $5 dollars in European history. McIrish and I found it to be, well…tall.

Street signs in Dublin are optional. When they appear, they’re usually on the building, and at night, no light shines on them, so best of luck getting where you’re going and God bless.

highway signHighway signs are in Irish and English. The Irish comes first. Gaeilge, which is the official term for Irish Gaelic, has many silent letters. I think the Irish did that to confuse the rest of us. “Let’s put in five extra vowels, all silent, and four consonants that sound like V,” I picture them saying. “The English eejits will never figure it out.” ‘Twas true. Sligeach… “Slig…each?” I’d attempt. (It was Sligo, for the love of God!) Cill Chainnigh…“Sill…chain…ig?” (Killkenny) Some navigator I was. Hey! You try reading that at 120 km per hour! My iPhone similiarly struggled, and so we ended up in towns we still cannot pronounce.

brown breadOnce, I pictured Irish people eating brown bread for their tea and felt very sorry for them. The tragedy of it, having only bread to eat! Now, I realize Irish brown bread is the best kept secret in the culinary world, and am devoting my life to perfecting it here in the States. (Picture and my first recipe attempt is from here: https://www.tastecooking.com/brown-bread-spine-ireland/).

Storytelling is a way of life. From shopkeepers to aunties to restaurant servers, everyone had time to chat, tell you you were grand, make you smile and say, “Tanks a million,” as you left. “Come back and see us again, won’t you? Elsewise, you’ll break my heart.”

the mckeevers

My beloved mother-in-law, first row, second from the left, and 12 of her 13 siblings.

Thank you, Ireland, and especially McIrish’s family! Go raibh maith agat! I have no idea how to say it, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We’ll be back to see you again, and you’ve always got a warm bed and a good cuppa tea waiting for you here.

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The Emerald Isle

irelandIn all the years we’ve been married, McIrish and I have never gone to Ireland, where most of his family lives. I’ve only met three or four of his aunts and uncles when they came to New York. For the record, he has (or had) 18 aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and children, and their children.

But on Friday, we’re heading to the Old Sod.

When I was in college, I went to Ireland for three weeks. It was lovely (and cold, and damp), but the people were welcoming and uncannily able to mark me as a Yank just by pubmy clothes. I remember giving money to little kids in Limerick, because “we have no shoes, miss!” only to see them take my offering and run to the candy store, the clever wee brats. I fell madly in love with a boy named Patrick Mulligan, who said his heart would break when I left (we’d known each other all of 48 hours, but still). I stayed with a family with four little red-cheeked kids who loved me on sight, and I them. I saw the Blarney Stone, drank my Guinness, visited Trinity College and genuflected in front of the Book of Kells. I’ll try not to adopt an Irish accent, though I can’t promise. It’s not on purpose…it’s just my thing.

whiskeyThis time, McIrish and I will meet up with his brothers, sister-in-law, niece, two nephews and my beloved mother-in-law, Polly. We’ll have a meal with one side of the family one day, then it’ll be Easter, and we might go to the horse races, because that’s a tradition, apparently. The next day, we’ll be with the other side of the family. Then, he and I will traipse off to Dublin for a few days and do lots of touristy things—a Viking boat ride on the Liffey, a tour of a distillery, shop for pretty Irish things on Grafton Street, walk across Ha’Penny Bridge, pay our respects at St. Patrick’s and, on our last night, have dinner with the lovely author Monica McInerney and her husband, John. Monica and I met 12 years ago and became instant friends, and we haven’t seen each other since.

But mostly, this trip is about my sweet and wonderful mother-in-law getting to see her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews again. Letting them spend time with her fine pollysons and three of her five grandchildren (the Princess and Dearest are in school, alas). For McIrish and his brothers, it will be returning to the land of their parents and ancestors. For me, it will be looking into those familiar faces, putting names with Christmas cards, and finally, finally meeting my Irish husband’s family.

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