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.


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



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 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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I dreamed a dream


queen-63006_960_720I’m blessed/cursed with vivid dreams. Last night, for example, I dreamed that my best friend, Catherine, had a famous grandmother. Who was this famous grandmother? Why, the queen of England! Elizabeth II herself! In the thirty-two years Catherine and I have been friends, she neglected to mention that she was a princess. But it didn’t matter! I asked the queen if she had watched The Crown on Netflix. She had not, but I filled her in. Then I told the queen that my daughter was a huge fan, and could I take a selfie with her to send to my own Princess? Of course, the queen graciously agreed. Alas, I couldn’t find my camera or phone, and Elizabeth got irritated; did I know who she was, after all? Also, she and Philip wanted to go out for dinner, and then I got lost following them, until I found them and told the maître d’ I was with the royals, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t wearing pants.

baby-1178539_960_720The night before, I dreamed that my daughter had a baby named Rosie. The baby was very cute (obviously) and had black hair, just like the Princess did at her birth. Rosie was short for Rosita, which Dearest didn’t like because of a certain character on The Walking Dead. The other name being considered was Elsinore. Norrie, we could call her. We all pretended to like that one.

I have recurring dreams that Robert Downey, Jr. is in love with me. Those are excellent dreams, let me assure you. McIrish is conveniently absent in those, and Bobby tells me yes, he’s loved me forever, he wants to be more than best friends, and people, I am in. Now, if McIrish told me he had a dream like that involving Kate Winslet, I would be mad at him for the rest of the day. He’s more tolerant than I am, understanding that this is my job we’re talking about. Dear McIrish. Such a good hubby.

Sometimes I dream that we get an unusual animal for a pet. Otters show up frequently. Baby animals with the potential to outgrow our house—giraffes, elephants. In my dreams, we figure this out. Of course we do! We’re not the type to give anyone away.

Once in a while, I dream about someone who’s died. My dad, my grandmother, my Poppy. Those are always so comforting, like visits from the great beyond.

Small wonder I list napping as one of my favorite hobbies. : )

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Heartbreak Hotel

The other evening, I was staying in a hotel for the board meeting of Romance Writers of America. I’d been out late the night before to visit a friend in the hospital, and I was tired, so I got into my jammies and took a nap.

This nap was interrupted by loud voices. There were a bunch of college kids staying in the hotel for a sports event, and it was pretty rowdy on my floor. But it sounded like these kids were right outside my door, so I went outside, prepared to go into full Get Off My Lawn mode.

Instead, I saw a young man and woman in the vending room right across the hall. He was sitting on the floor, sobbing, telling the young lady how much he loved her. To say he was sitting in a pool of tears would not have been an exaggeration. Clearly, she was breaking up with him, and he was utterly devastated.

“Are you okay?” I asked. They were, the girl assured me. “Have you been drinking, honey?” I asked the boy. No, the girl said. They didn’t drink.

The boy’s head was in his arms, so I couldn’t see his face, but he was crying and crying. I put my hand on his head as if I was his mama. “I have kids your age,” I said. “I’m sorry you’re so upset. I know it’s awful right now, but it will get better.” I told them my room number and asked them to get me if they needed anything. The girl thanked me; the boy did, too, and I petted his hair and told him I was sorry he was so sad. Then I left, feeling bad that I couldn’t do more.

I’ve been keeping an eye out for him, though I only know what his hair looks like; he never raised his head. I hope when morning came, he woke up feeling better; that he was able to have fun with his friends in this beautiful city; that he’s not embarrassed about crying in front of a stranger. I hope he remembers the punch of a broken heart, and it fosters kindness and understanding in him. And sure, I hope he remembers that a stranger tried to comfort him, even if she might’ve seemed a little strange with her pajamas and goofy hair, and that someday, if he sees someone in pain, he’ll stop, too.

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Advice to the Lovelorn Hipster Female



How cute are these two? Not going down in flames!

One of my most favoritest things to do in the entire world is eavesdrop on first dates. I cannot adequately describe my love of this activity, which irritates my husband for some unknown reason…he gets a rather constipated look on his face when I interrupt his poetic waxings on the New York subway system to whisper, “The date behind us is going down in flames!”

Hey. It’s how I make my living, pal.

piggybackAt any rate, as the veteran of many Harriet the Spy/Dating Editions, I have some advice for you young people, you hipsters, you kids, you. This comes from the (cough) vast wisdom of one or two relationships that ended a tortuous, agonizing, drawn out manner; a subsequent bolt of lightning kind of meeting resulting in a six-week courtship and 25 subsequent years of happy marriage; and fifteen years spent as a writer thinking about lurve. This advice is for you, my dear fellow women. Yes, just women, because who knows what guys are thinking? Probably about how great the subway system is.

Stop trying so hard to make a guy like you. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to present your best self. It means you are not a product to be sold. If he likes you, you’ll feel it. If he doesn’t, it’s not your job to change his mind. You have many lovely qualities, sweetheart. If he doesn’t see them, move along.

“Let me tell you about my ex.”

Stop talking about your past relationships so much. Save this for…oh, let’s say your tenth date, okay? Not the first! If I were a guy trying to see if I liked a woman, I wouldn’t want to hear about how her ex failed her, lied to her, disappointed her. In fact, I would imagine this guy’s testicles would be shriveling as you detailed the shortcomings of your ex, and/or he’d thinking about a beautiful subway system somewhere.

Don’t try to control the conversation. This includes things like interrupting, speechifying and dismissing. Sure, you have many thoughts to share, but this is not the You Show, starring You. This is a date. You’re exchanging words, not just delivering them. Of course you are smart and passionate, but…come on. I overheard one guy say that he thought Breaking Bad was the best show ever (I concur). His date’s response: “Clearly. We don’t even have to discuss it, it’s so obvious. Next.” Sweetie? He wanted to discuss it. Why’d you have to be so rude?

Don’t waste your time. If the guy says something that’s truly offensive (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.), tell him you don’t wish to spend more time with him and leave. Don’t worry about being nice to a person who is, let’s be blunt, an ass-hat.

Don’t sleep with someone on the first date. I know, I know. It’s 2017 and you’re a powerful woman who’s fully embraced her sexuality, but you’re looking for a spouse, remember? Not a human vibrator. Show this guy that you’re worthy of an investment of time and thought. Remember, you want relationship, not a hook-up.

Be open to the people who might not seem like your type at first glance. Talk to the guy before you meet. Don’t rely on texts or messages. Use those vocal chords. Skype or FaceTime, even! You may quickly realize that this is a nonstarter (see #4). Good for you! You didn’t waste your time!

love-382533_640Or, you might find that even though he prefers cats to dogs and didn’t care for Breaking Bad (freaky, but not sociopathic), he might be charming and interesting in his own way. I never thought I’d marry a blue-collar guy who was younger than I am, didn’t go to college and—horrors—STILL is unsure about the proper usage of the words went and gone.

But I love him like crazy just the same.

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Tales from the marital bed

Not those tales. Please.

I don't think I have this brand. Quick, let me go to Sephora!

I don’t think I have this brand. Not yet, anyway.

Like many couples, McIrish and I have our bedtime rituals. His involves brushing his teeth, then getting into bed and lying down. Mine involves brushing my teeth, taking my weird neurologic medications, putting the last glasses in the dishwasher, because if I were to die, those glasses would stay on the counter into perpetuity. Then I wash my face with whatever miracle product I’ve bought that week; moisturize—no, I’m sorry, apply elixir, THEN moisturize, then maybe smear on another miracle product or two.

hotel-room-1447201_640Thus—glowing—I venture into the icy cold bedroom. We sleep with the windows open because we are hardy Yankees, thank you very much. This doesn’t keep me from complaining about the frigid floors and yelping about my poor chilly feet. I then get into bed, tell McIrish to move over and make room for Huggy Pillow and me. I fix the blankets perfectly so they come up to my chin and no further.

“All set?” McIrish asks.

“Yes,” I say, then remember that I didn’t apply hand cream. I get out of bed and smear my hands with cream, then get back into bed.

“All set?” my sainted husband asks again.

“Yes. Except can you tuck in the covers so the cold doesn’t get me?”

He does. He turns out the light.

“I think I have a brain tumor,” I say. “That, or I’m suffering from nervous exhaustion. At any rate, I need some anesthesia and a nice long coma.”

McIrish at rest.

McIrish at rest, more or less.

“Okay. Good night.” He falls asleep instantly, which irritates me, because I’m planning my funeral and /or lengthy hospitalization. So I do my magic trick (don’t tell him). I touch his foot with just one frigid little toe. He jolts awake.

“What?” he says.

“What?” I answer, all innocent and adorable. “Wanna cuddle?”

polar-bear-196318_640McIrish is not a cuddler. I am. This means I snuggle next to him, and he moves away, and I snuggle closer because I’m so cold, and he inches away, and I snuggle closer, certain that my death from hypothermia is imminent, and he inches away.

I snuggle closer—I always win this game—then fall into vivid dreams of Robert Downey Jr. or Meryl Streep or tidal waves and sharks, which I generously narrate for him.

It’s never boring. Is it restful? Not really, but so far, so good! Twenty-five years and counting.

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Gettin’ hygge with it


As you may know, the Princess is spending this semester in Denmark, allegedly home to the happiest people on earth. The Princess concurs. “Everyone is so smiley here, even at the grocery store!” she reported. Denmark has also given us a word I’ve seen more and more these days—hygge, pronounced hoogeh (or something like that).

We are no stranger to these bunnies.

We are no stranger to these bunnies.

Hygge is the art of coziness. That’s a thing! Don’t you just love Denmark already? It seems I must have Danish blood flowing through my veins, because I am gifted in the art of cozy. Ask my kids about being sick. They loved being sick, because I would tuck them in with supersoft blankets, assemble many stuffed animals, and serve them cinnamon toast on a silver tray, cloth napkin and flower in vase. It’s a wonder they ever recovered.

Candles are a big part of hygge, and I love candles! I love them! Especially the smelly-good kind (also known as scented, but I think smelly-good is more hygge, don’t you?). Citrus candles are my favorite.

Just this very morning (fine, fine...afternoon).

Just this very morning (fine, fine…afternoon).

Comfy chairs for reading are the essence of hygge. And please. Comfy chairs is practically my middle name. Delicious coffee is also hygge, or any hot drink. I’m in! Scarves (see photo!) and socks are oft-mention hygge elements. I think we all know I’m a master in sock-ownership.

Mostly, hygge is a way for the Danes to make their long, dark winters a season to cherish, rather than dread. For those of us who get the blues during the winter, I say let’s hygge together.

Wishing you a very cozy, fragrant, comfy, happy hygge, my friends.

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