Tips from a former cleaning lady

 

housekeeperI used to work as a housekeeper for a motel. It was disgusting sometimes…the things people left for other humans to pick up was mind-boggling. Other times, folks were quite tidy.

When the Princess was teeny-tiny, I cleaned houses in our neighborhood for some extra cash. I’d put my little one in a backpack and get to work. My grandmother taught me to clean house; it was a point of pride for her to have a tidy home, and because of her, I still love to clean. It destresses me, so my house is immaculate these days with all the ugliness in the world these days. I figured I’d share some tips.

Start from the top and work down. Knock down cobwebs, dust the lamps and the knickknacks on the high shelves, all the way down to the floor, so you can vacuum up all those dead spiders and such.

washFor a smelly carpet (thank you, dogs), sprinkle the surface with baking soda and cloves, then walk around the carpet till the powder is worked down. Leave it for 15 minutes or so, then vacuum slowly so you get everything up. The house will smell so nice, and so will the vacuum cleaner.

Nothing beats a toothpick when it comes to cleaning small corners on the stove, the mixer, around the faucet. It becomes a Zen-like activity.

Lemon juice and salt make stainless steel and copper look like new.

Rub wet coffee grounds into dark wood to erase stains.

laundryNothing beats Windex for glass.

For mold in a bath or shower, put on a respirator, spray with Clorox Clean-up or bleach (but be careful), let sit for ten minutes, then rinse with the hottest water you have.

Love smells like sheets hung out to dry in the sun.

Happy cleaning and calming!

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Sisters

hilly&meI don’t remember when my sister came home from the hospital; I was only fifteen months old. In fact, I don’t remember ever being without her. Even so, I took my responsibilities as a big sister very seriously.

Hilary, or Hilly, as I call her, used to get tired in the car. She’d put her head in my lap (these were the days when the seatbelts would be stuffed deep in the seats) and I’d pet her bangs. She’d suck her thumb and fall asleep, and I can still remember the tenderness I felt…my little red-headed sister, snoozing away.

We were only a grade apart, so we were almost always in the same school building. Hilly was more outgoing than I was, and it always reassured me to see her with her friends. Once, a boy named Brent pushed her down when we were ice skating, and I chased Brent with a fury in my heart that probably would’ve resulting in me sending him to the hospital, if I’d been able to catch him. Hilly became friends with him eventually. I never forgave him.

DSCN5892When we were about 8 and 9, we decided one day to share a room, and we moved my twin bed with its purple cover into her yellow room. We’d talk and giggle in the dark. We played in the woods and in the barn, making forts for the cat, brushing Jenny the horse. Hilly had her own language with our pets, and though I couldn’t speak it, I could understand it.

Our town is home to the biggest agricultural fair in the state, and the year I got to walk around without parents, Hilary was grandfathered in by our mom. “Stay together,” was her only warning, and we did. We’d save money all summer for the fair, swipe our dad’s change from the counter, plan to eat at the booths where our parents volunteered to save money for games and rides. We knew the fastest way to dodge through the crowds, where to rest, when the best time was to go through the fun house. The fair is this coming weekend, and McIrish will listen to me as I reminisce about being with my sister.

snuggle hilly and mePeople often think we’re twins, even though I look more like mom’s side of the family, and she looks more like dad’s. We have the same haircut, and now the same glasses. Time has erased those fifteen months, and I say things like, “When we were ten,” or “When we were in sixth grade…” She is and always has been my very best friend in the world.

This weekend, we’re together again, the first time in ages that we’ve been away just the two of us. I don’t know why we waited this long; we won’t make that mistake again.

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When you can’t think of a blog…

…you do this instead.

snoozeI admit it…I’ve had a quiet week and can’t think of a dang thing to write about. Those are actually some of the best weeks. I took a sick day (a migraine, my first and please God, only) and, um…well, I hung around a lot. Saw a movie with my mom. Washed the dogs. Made pesto one night. Exciting stuff, right?

But because I’m committed to this blog, I’m falling back on an old trick: five facts you might not have known about me. Always a good icebreaker at parties (or not). So without further ado…

blackie

  1. I used to be afraid of public speaking.
  2. The first time I got to name a pet, it was a black kitten, which I creatively named Blackie. (I was four; give me a break.)
  3. I have 25 first cousins, all younger than I am.
  4. I changed majors twice during my freshman year of college, from biology to psychology to English.
  5. Every time I get on an airplane, I look around for children and plan to shield them with my body in case we go down in a fiery crash. Hey! Everyone needs a hobby.

Next weekend I’ll be on the road again; Saturday at Turn the Page with Nora Roberts in Boonsboro, MD, then onto Dallas for a night with Fresh Fiction and a signing at Half Price Books. My schedule is on my website…hope to see you! Have a wonderful week.

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The urge to judge

fabulous apartmentWhen I was a young adult, I had a friend—Jane, not her real name. Jane was an editor at a big publishing house. Though my friend was only 26 (and I was 24), she had an incredible career. Meetings with famous authors each week, travel, an office in a skyscraper. She brought me to her apartment one time—it had a doorman! A lobby! She had a view and her own bedroom. She was making bank and had family money; I was going into credit card debt. She was incredibly beautiful. Seriously. She was—yes—Beyoncé-level beautiful.

mmm pizzaAt the time, I was living in New Haven, Connecticut, over a pizza parlor. Don’t get me wrong. There were many benefits to this, most notably the three brawny guys who ran it would give me pizza for free. “Yo, Kris!” they’d bellow up at my window. “You wanna pie? Some cavone didn’t pick his up!” Hell yes, I wanted a pie. But aside from pizza, it was hard not to want what Jane had. The job and apartment aside, there were the clothes. The shoes. The knowledge of the New York subway system, which seemed so urbane and hip. After all, I had wanted to be an editor, too. Sent in those “to whom it may concern” letters when I was a senior in college. Got no response, shockingly. I had no idea how to break in to publishing and satisfied myself by working in PR at a salary that put be below the poverty line. I didn’t go hungry; my parents saw to that, and I know how lucky I am. But you know what I’m saying. Jane lived the life I dreamed of. It was hard for me to imagine a day in the life of such fabulosity.

I didn’t resent Jane for having all that she did. I was happy for her. She wasn’t so happy herself, but I did my best to remind her that she was living the life. She was succeeding. She was awesome. But yes, I wanted some of that for myself. I hoped she’d help me get a job in publishing. She said she couldn’t, and I understood. A while later, she stopped being my pal.  I was hurt and sad and missed her. I wrote to her. She didn’t answer.

happy brideYears later, I saw her wedding announcement in a national newspaper. My heart leaped with joy—she was okay! She looked so happy, so beautiful. She was still a big deal in publishing—even bigger. One day, much to my shock, I saw her on TV, where she openly talked about those New York years, when she was overwhelmed, depressed, and isolated. How she was so sad and numb she could barely leave her apartment. She quit her job and found—made—happiness for herself.

I guess my point is that a lot of times, we make judgments about how great another person might have it. We might envy them, thinking, “You don’t know what it’s like, being down here, suffering the way I suffer.” We can even resent people who don’t seem to have the same struggles we do. But until we really know what their inner lives are like, we shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

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Mama’s home cooking

 

marley's mom's food

Mmm. Italian food!

In GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, there is no happier time than dinner at the DeFelice family home. Mom is a great cook and delights in making everyone’s favorite dish until the table practically sags under all the food. They feast every week: Marley, her sister, her brother, her brother-in-law, Mom and Dad, sometimes her best friend, Georgia. Mom makes penne alla vodka, eggplant parmesan, meatballs, chicken oregano, broccoli rabe and sausage, garlic bread…Writing those meals really made me wish I’d grown up Italian.

In my family, Gram was the best cook of all. Nothing that woman made was anything short of the best. Galuszka, whose deliciousness can be summed up with the words “at least one stick of butter.” Chicken paprikas, so tender! Mashed potatoes and meatloaf. Pot roast with that envelope of onion soup sprinkled in to make sure we all had enough preservatives. I’m not complaining! Plus, Gram could bake brilliantly, and bake she did. Taught me everything I know about dessert!

But as a kid, my sainted mother was not the chef she eventually became when her little birds flew the nest. I think she hated cooking day-to-day, because most evenings, she’d glance at the clock and say, “Shit! Carol, I have to make dinner,” hang up the phone, then bolt to the freezer to see what could be thawed in time. Mind you, when my parents entertained, she cooked like an angel… not that we three Higlets got to eat it. We had fish sticks and tater tots instead, then were shooed away to mournfully spy on rack of lamb or crown roast.

Please! Not the beef stew!

Please! Not the beef stew!

Some of her hall of shame meals…Beef stew. God, we hated beef stew. Was it the fatty beef my grandfather (a grocery store owner) had offloaded to my mom at a 90% discount? Was it the half can of Budweiser Mom would pour in it, the other half for her? The overcooked carrots and undercooked potatoes? Whatever it was, I would chew…and chew…and chew, my poor little molars failing to break down the gristle.

Did someone say beef stew?

Did someone say beef stew?

Thankfully, we had three Irish setters lurking under the table, and slipping them a chunk of meat became an art form. Once, I whispered to my sister my strategy. For reasons still unknown to me, she said loudly, “No, Kristan, I will NOT pretend to swallow, then put my meat in the napkin and give it to the dogs.” Traitor.

 

chicken

Hauntingly familiar

Broiled chicken. This was one of those “Damn it, I have nothing for dinner” dinners. Mom would jack up the oven to 450 or so, stick some frozen chicken breasts in a pan and open a box of whipped potatoes. Maybe a can of beets, which, oddly, I loved well before loving beets was a thing. Sometimes the cranberry sauce that made the most satisfying schlupas it slid from the can. A box of Birdseye corn, because we didn’t know corn was a starch, not really a vegetable, or worse, frozen green beans, which I still can’t bring myself to eat no matter how fresh they are. Emotional scars, yo.

Mom was a fan of spice in a jar. I was in college before I saw a garlic clove, but garlic powder? I’m a big fan. Mom still has many of the powders and spices from my youth, and when I suggest that perhaps it’s time for a purge, she gives me a look and tells me expiration dates are for the weak. She is such a bad-ass.

Hooray!

Hooray!

So that my mom won’t come over and beat me, I have to give her a shout-out for some of her best dishes. Her lasagna rocked. Swedish meatballs. Pancakes for supper if Dad was on the road. And if we were really good, chicken paprikas and galuszka, just like Gram used to make.

 

Love you, Mom! Thanks for being such a great sport! Come over for dinner sometime!

 

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Thank you! (and some book recommendations!)

SCIt’s been a busy week, hopping and bopping around the country on book tour! It’s so much fun—I love seeing you guys, and it’s such an honor and sometimes I get choked up to know that you gave me your time and attention. Thank you! And hope to see you as the tour continues. All my appearances are here.

The notes and reviews I’m getting about GOOD LUCK WITH THAT are so beautiful and humbling and…well, I don’t have the words to tell you how much it means to me. If you want to read more about my influences and journey in writing the book, Amazon featured an article here. I hope you’ll read it.

But enough about me! Here are a few author recommendations for when you’re finished with GOOD LUCK WITH THAT.

Intercepted_2Intercepted by Alexa Martin. Guys…rom-com at its finest. Smart, sassy, hilarious, a hero to melt your unmentionables. Loved it from line one onward. Also…football! But not so much football that if you don’t like football you won’t be inundated with football, if you know what I’m saying. It comes out in September, but you can preorder it now.

 

36679612The Advertisements for Love series by Vanessa Riley. I’m a sucker for arranged marriage tropes, marriage of convenience, etc., and I adored books one (she owns a flower farm!) and two (heiress meets actor). If you’re a lover of Regency romance, boom. I got you right here.

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean. She’s one of the best historical romance writers around, ever. And this is about a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and a woman with a tarnished reputation and an unusual skill set…you’ll love it.

 

A1jFG2Rf+4LThe Lady Sherlock series by Sherry Thomas. Sherry is brilliant. This series is amazing. You think you loved Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock? (I know, I did, too). But wait till you meet Charlotte.

Happy reading! Hope to see you soon! And to those of you who’ve posted reviews on GOOD LUCK WITH THAT, a special thanks!

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Good Luck with That

small FINAL COVERSo…it’s here! My new book is out, not without some controversy.

I wrote GOOD LUCK WITH THAT for a number of reasons…to explore how interlocked body image and self-esteem are for most women. To write a book about the struggle for self-acceptance. To explore the life of a person struggling with addiction…in this case, food. And to write a book for myself—the little girl who was booted from a beauty pageant at the age of four because she was chubby. The teenager who always felt wrong in her own skin. The girl who was mocked by family members and schoolmates who felt I was too fat. The woman who always looked down the road and said, “I need to lose weight before that happens.”

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is a story of three women who battle self-esteem issues related to their size and looks. Two of them win that battle; one does not. Early in the book, Emerson dies at the age of 35 from complications related to what is medically (and heartlessly) called super-morbid obesity. She leaves her friends the list the made in weight baf4137a7bf598b48375fb0e428c83dcloss camp 17 years ago…all the things they’d do when they finally achieved that perfect physical idea. Because they promised they would, and in because they’re still stuck on some issues, Marley and Georgia decide to take on the list, which is filled with adolescent longing of what they feel is thin privilege. The book is not about losing weight; in fact, it’s about the opposite. It’s about not waiting to achieve an unrealistic ideal before going after the things they want, and dealing with some unexamined issues from their pasts.

It’s hard to write about this stuff. It’s hard to talk about. Every person should love and value herself exactly how she is. But a lot of us do struggle. Not everyone grows and changes for the better. Not everyone wins the battle for self-love and kindness.

difficult storiesLife is filled with difficult moments and sorrows. But if we turn away from those experiences, we invalidate the people who live them. Just because someone’s story is hard or sad doesn’t mean it should be silenced.

Emerson, Marley and Georgia have so much going for them, and their friendship is the light that leads them. They see the best in each other, and they come through when others fail them.

One of the things that’s always defined my books is what one reviewer called emotional honesty. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is the most honest book I’ve written so far. For a long time, I struggled with liking my physical self. A really long time…until finally, I decided to stop being so hard on myself. My heart is smeared on every page of this book. GOOD LUCK WITH THAT is a love letter to my younger self, and, hopefully, a light on the path for those who are on the journey to loving themselves.

GOOD LUCK WITH THAT addresses how hard it is to be a woman in a society obsessed with looks and beauty and food. How it feels to be judged because of size. How ashamed we can feel when we give into cravings. How hard it is to feel confident when you feel physically wrong. It’s a story about families and friendships and how they shape how we view ourselves. And of course, it’s a story about finding that person who sees and loves you for all the reasons that matter.

not there yetheartI hope GOOD LUCK WITH THAT breaks your heart and puts it back together, stronger than ever, full of resolve to take care of yourself in every way that counts. I hope you love this book, ugly-face cry while reading it, laugh out loud while reading it and close it at the end with a glow in your soul because you felt it all the way down to your bone marrow. I hope that with all my heart.

With love,

Kristan

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Bonding with (and to) the Princess

My heart leaped this morning when the Princess said, “Mommy, will you help me with something very fun and important?”

“Of course!” I answered.

“Will you wax my armpits?”

beforeOh, readers! Such joy followed those words! She had been growing out her armpit hair for 10 days for just this occasion. Of COURSE I would wax her armpits! Isn’t that what mothers are for?

Since I’m a Sephora whore (Sephora whore-ah?), I own a home waxing kit. Well, not a kit, really…I own wax. And ever since the Princess was a wee little sprite, she’s loved wax, dipping her fingertips into soft candles as a tot, later doing the hand-dip on Mother-Princess nights, and the best part…peeling it off.

And so it began. She found the aged jar of hardened wax and attempted to unscrew it, eventually handing it over to her brawny mother, who used her superior strength to wrestle it open.

“Lie down on my bed!” I commanded, and the poor innocent lamb obeyed. I looked at her beautiful green eyes, so trusting. “Are you sure about this?”

“Yes! I asked you,” she replied. “Will you blog about this?”

“Of course not!” said I.

“You can.”

“Hooray!”

And so I smeared the honey-colored wax on my precious girl. “Ow,” she said as the wax pulled at the hair.

“Just wait.”

She did. And then, when the wax was cool, I peeled it back a bit.

“Rip it off!” she whimpered. “Like a band-aid!”

duringI did. She screamed, always one to become furious in the face of pain.

“Wait till you give birth,” I murmured. I showed her the wax glob I had torn from her perfect skin, and she laughed till tears ran down her face. Several hairs had come out. Ninety-five percent had not. A few follicles were bleeding.

“Let me blot the blood,” I said.

“No! The tissue will get stuck.” We snorted some more at the vision of her armpit dotted with shards of Kleenex.

“I think we’re done,” the Princess said. I soothingly dabbed her underarm with olive oil, since we didn’t have baby oil. Then, to show my solidarity, I smeared some wax on my arm and pulled it off (remember, my own mother dubbed me her “little gorilla baby,” as I was a hirsute infant). “Didn’t work for me, either,” I said.

afterThe Princess hobbled up to her bathroom, returning (eventually) with clean-shaven underarms.

“That was fun,” I said, and she agreed, and we threw away the wax together, until the next time I’m tempted by the idea of doing I have no business attempting in the first place.

(photos taken and approved by the Princess)

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The thief of joy

rockiesI’m off to the national conference of Romance Writers of America this week, gang! I’ve never been to Colorado, and I’m wicked excited to see it. McIrish is coming to the conference this year, because he loves the Rocky Mountains, and we’re staying a few extra days to see some elk, hopefully. Maybe a grizzly bear, too. I’ve already planned how to save McIrish, so don’t worry about us. : )

teddyI’ve been thinking a lot about the writing community, and mostly how wonderful it is and how I can’t wait to see so many of my friends. But it’s also a time when comparison kicks in. There are some of the bestselling authors in the world there, and some who’ve been working away for decades without ever breaking out. There are household names, and there are folks who won’t ever finish a manuscript, and there’s everyone in between. Comparison, as Teddy Roosevelt said, is the thief of joy, and it can be hard not to feel down about the writing game—or life—from time to time.

Recently, one of my wise friends gave us some great advice on one of our girls nights. Instead of saying, “My career isn’t nearly as good as hers,” add on a little word. Yet.  Or right now. It puts things in a better perspective, doesn’t it? And it’s not just for career stuff…it could be anything. I am in a horrible depression…right now.Right now says it’s temporary. That it’s not a life sentence. I’ve never found the one sounds so final. Change that to I haven’t found the one yet, and it feels like much more of a real possibility, doesn’t it? Attitude, as I tell my kids, opens a lot of doors.

A few years ago, an author friend of mine was so frustrated. She’d written a really gorgeous book, and it just wasn’t selling, and she didn’t know why. It had everything going for it a book should…except sales. She told me she felt like she was shouting into the wind, and all she wanted was for people to read the book and let it touch their hearts. I commiserated; been there, done that. Some things are out of our control, I told her. Try to let it go.

TheTemporaryWifeWhat I should’ve said was, “The book’s not a bestseller yet, Jeannie.” Because lo and behold, a few years later, the book, which had been out for years now, suddenly hit a nerve, and landed on the USA TODAY bestseller list. Jeannie had kept at it. She’d kept writing. She hadn’t given up. For the rest of her life, she’ll have that title, and that’s a pretty great title to have: USA TODAY bestselling author.

Try not to compare yourself to other people and let yourself to feel small. There’s always a path to finding your way. You can do it. I know you can.

(To order Jeannie’s book, which is absolutely fantastic, visit www.jeanniemoon.com.)

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Mean girls

 

The other day, I was at a block party, talking to a person I only see once a year or so. She’s very pleasant, and we were just chatting when her daughters came up and demanded the car keys, which she didn’t have.

angry-1296476_640Without going into details, suffice it to say that the resulting exchange demonstrated these girls, both older than sixteen, to be the rudest, nastiest girls I’ve ever encountered. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them. I felt so bad for their mother for A) having to live with them; B) being humiliated in public by them; and C) having raised them in such a way that they felt this was okay. Their disgust for her, their lack of respect, and what even seemed like hatred was just horrible to witness. These girls were not sullen or hormonal or sassy—they were cruel. Nasty, careless and snotty. In my experience, their parents are not any of those things. They’ve always seemed quite nice, but the girls have long had a reputation as being utterly horrible.

Had they been my children, I would’ve taken their phones, tossed them in the pond, told them they could walk home, kicked them out of my house and stopped paying college tuition. I recognize that the girls talked that way because they knew they could get away with it, which is sad and distressing. What kind of people will they be in society when they treat their own mother that way? Crappy people, that’s what.

Mostly, I felt like hugging the mom. “I’m sorry your daughters are so hateful and horrible,” I wanted to say. “I’m sure you did your best. This must hurt so much.”

IMG_6755McIrish and I have been blessed with our kids. We know that. They have an innate goodness, and we poured our hearts into raising them to be decent, kind people. However it happened, luck or hard work or both, it worked. They are good people, working to make the world better.

But I know more than one parent who has to deal with a wretched child, who is confounded by what to do now, who apologizes for their kids, who feels helpless and humiliated and ashamed. A parent who did their best, who maybe didn’t have the tools or knowledge to rein that kid in when it would’ve done some good.

baby-17327_640It’s so sad. When you give birth or adopt your baby, when you cuddle them close and read them books, you never imagine the day that they’d break your heart without so much as a second glance.

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