squash pie—part 3

Read part 1 here and part 2 here.


Easter morning and the sun moves through orange and pink ribbons into the blue, blue sky. Cloudless.

“What a perfect morning,” says Jean’s mother.

Jean agrees and ties an apron over her pink dress. She smooths the glaze over the ham and pushes the heavy roasting pan into oven.

“Smells good already, dear,” says her mother.

Everyone comes for Easter dinner and the house is as full as it can be. All the siblings and nieces and nephews. The babies. So many children. Jean adores all of the little ones. They strip her of her thorns; render her smooth and sweet.

Evelyn shows up with her boyfriend at whom she makes eyes. She purrs around him, rubs up close.

“You’d think you were a cat,” Jean whispers to her once they are alone in the kitchen.

“What?” Evelyn snaps.

“You are like a cat in heat.”

“Shut up, Saint Jean.” Evelyn leaves the kitchen, her wedge heels wobble beneath her hips.

Jean hates it when her siblings call her Saint Jean, that old slur. Jean fans her flushed skin with a pot holder.

Helen arrives with two large casserole dishes. She sends one of her sons back out to the car for the pie.

“Don’t forget to grab the Cool Whip,” she calls after him.

Evelyn catches Jean’s eye, raises her eyebrows, smirks.

Jean thinks only, Pie.

“Get these in the oven, Jean, before they get cold,” Helen orders.

“There’s no room in the oven for two nine by thirteen dishes, Helen,” Jean says. “The ham is in there.”

Helen turns to Jean and widens her eyes, “I don’t want them to get cold and ruined, Jean.”

“Well, had you brought the one side dish I requested, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“Sorry I wanted to make sure there would be enough to eat. Sorry I wanted to make sure it would be a good Easter dinner for our family.”

“When have I ever not cooked a good meal for this family, Helen?”

Helen squeezes her face starting with her lips, a gesture imprinted in the wrinkles, the shape Helen’s face has come to be. She exhales a lungful, turns from Jean and opens the oven. She struggles to get everything to fit, stands, closes the oven door and stands, red-faced, crosses her arms, cocks her head and says, “Hmm.”

“Congratulations, Helen.”


This morning Jean found three crocuses pushing up through the dirt near the oak tree. She brought them inside and arranged them in a jelly glass which she placed on the windowsill behind the kitchen sink. It seems the purple of the crocuses sits on top of the yellow of the forsythia through the window. Jean stands in the kitchen alone, the drone of voices muted by the swinging door that closes the kitchen away from the dining room, her gaze on the place where the tall grasses sway to meet the fading blue sky setting sun.

“Marion says that Rosemary is pregnant,” Helen says as she passes the basket of rolls.

“How old is she now?”

“Seventeen,” Evelyn says.

“I remember when she was a baby,” Helen says.

“I used to babysit her,” Marion says.

“Who is the boy?” Evelyn says.

“I heard the youngest of the Tucker kids.”



Heat rises in Jean. “Is this appropriate Easter dinner conversation?” Jean pointedly eyes her parents, who eat steadily, their eyes on their plates. “The children,” she says, nodding her head over to the smaller table where the kids eat, their voices and surges of laughter loud.

“They’re not paying any attention to us,” says Marion.

Jean stands with an abruptness that causes her chair to scrape loudly against the wood floor. She tosses her napkin on the chair. “I don’t know why we can’t just talk about something nice!” She shoves open the kitchen door. Exhales when she is enclosed by herself.

She hears Evelyn say, “What’s her problem?”

There is more talk but Jean moves to the window, as far from the door as possible, so she won’t be able to hear them. Their talk makes her feel lighter than is comfortable. It is more than she can bear, which makes it seem as though what they propel upon her is something that carries weight. But the effect is an over-awareness of her insubstantiality. She might float away. She pins her eyes to the marsh grasses, rooted deeply and essentially in the sandy soil.

The door swings open.

“Everyone is done eating. We should start the coffee and get the dessert ready,” says Helen.

Jean does not move to help. She watches Helen at the coffeemaker and then as she removes the pie she brought from the refrigerator. Helen places the pie on the counter right next to Jean’s chocolate cake.

“Pie, Helen? I made the Easter cake.”

“We can have both.”

“Squash pie? It’s not even seasonal!”

“They make it all year 'round, it’s so good,” says Helen.

“Everyone hates that pie, Helen,” Jean says. “Everyone.”

Jean feels the breath moving through her. The bodice of her pink dress rises and falls. Helen fixes her eyes angrily on Jean, then turns and places the Cool Whip near the pie, removes the cover and sticks a spoon into the white fluff. She leaves, the door swings back forcibly.


The kitchen dark, empty.

The flowers from her cutting garden soak up the water in the little jelly glass, in the bigger vases. By morning, the bottoms of the stems will begin to soften; green tendrils leaching into cloudy water. She looks into the flowers, around them, through them. The textures of the petals and stems, one against the other, create entire landscapes. The whites are not white, they are tones of pale lime, there are hints of blue, hues of pink.

Jean rouses herself; there is the kitchen to clean.

She clicks on the light and surveys the counters. Her sisters did a lot of the work, she will grant them that. A few leftovers to spoon into storage containers. A few serving bowls and utensils to wash. She works steadily and comes upon the remnants of dessert. The cake has been reduced to a pile of rubble—nothing left to save. The pie sits, round and, except for one narrow slice, nearly whole in its aluminum foil pan. Jean is sure the one piece was eaten by Helen. She sighs. Just because she knew this would happen doesn’t make it any less irritating. She picks up the pie and begins towards the drawer where she keeps the plastic wrap. The pie will sit in the refrigerator, no one will eat it and she will be forced, uncomfortably, to throw it away in a week. Damn Helen. Damn her.

She picks up the pie and carries it over to the trash. Jean stuffs the pie in. She presses it down with the palm of her hand, smooshes it between her fingers. She shoves the pie down deep into the trash.

It will not be the last. She sees herself at Thanksgivings and Easters to come, pushing the pie that no one will eat down into the trash.

Jean washes her hands.

She looks out the window over the sink. The moon is full. It sheds blued light on the marsh grass, the forsythia. She leaves the house through the kitchen door, steps out into the moonlit yard. The amount of light from the full moon never ceases to surprise her. So much light. Even in the depth of night.

There is always much more to see than at first meets the eye.

squash pie—part 2

Read part 1 here.

forsythia“You know that girl is pregnant?” says Marion.

Evelyn inhales, then breathes out, “No-o-o.” She joins Marion at the kitchen door. They peer out the window together, one head tilted one way, the other the opposite.

Jean is making a three layer chocolate cake. It is the Easter cake. The frosting is chocolate buttercream and contains a pound of butter. She will spread raspberry preserves between one of the layers.

The evening is setting in. It is after supper and her parents doze in front of the television. The kitchen smells of the fish she broiled for supper. The scent of chocolate will replace the fish smell as soon as she can get the cake in the oven.

“I wish you two would let me get this cake in the oven,” says Jean.

“We’re just standing here,” says Marion.

“You didn’t even go to Good Friday service,” says Jean.

“What does that have to do with anything?” she looks back at Jean. “Anyway, I did go. I took my kids.”

“I didn’t go,” says Evelyn. She’s still looking out the window.

“I’m aware of that, Evelyn.” Jean turns to Marion. “I didn’t see you at Sacred Heart. I brought Mom and Dad.”

“We went to Saint Joe’s.”

Jean makes a face. “Saint Joe’s?”

“Yeah, Saint Joe’s. You know Frank’s family’s always gone there.”

“That girl is pregnant?” Evelyn asks, eyes still in the yard next door where the girl pegs sheets on the clothesline.

“Yeah. That’s what I heard,” says Marion. “Why would you hang sheets on the line at this hour? They’ll just get damp and heavy.”

“How do you know she’s pregnant?” says Jean. She cracks an egg too hard and then has to pick shell out of the batter. She sucks her teeth, irritated.

“I just said I heard.”

Jean walks over to the window and looks out. “She doesn’t look pregnant.”

“Well, they don’t start out eight pounds big, Jean.”

Jean goes back to her big sliver bowl. “I don’t believe it.”

“Why not?” says Evelyn.

Jean shakes her head. “She’s just seventeen.”

“What does that have to do with it?” says Marion.

“Everyone does it, Jean,” says Evelyn.

“Do you have to be so crude, Evelyn? Everyone does not do it. I don’t see everyone running around pregnant,” says Jean.

Marion rolls her eyes.

Evelyn laughs. “Some girls just get caught, but everyone is doing it.”

“I don’t believe that,” says Jean. “I’m not.”


Jean glares at her but says nothing. She turns the mixer on high. Its loud whirring covers the sound of her sisters’ voices.

Once they finally leave and the cakes sit on wire racks in the darkened kitchen, Jean settles into bed and turns on the small television on her dresser. She can’t seem to listen to any of it, her mind on the girl next door whose name is Rosemary. She tries to relax; she has a lot to do tomorrow. But she keeps thinking about Rosemary, who traipses around in her faded flared jeans, her tight tops. Jean remembers when Rosemary was a baby, a little girl, a gawky preteen. Could Marion be right?

She thinks back on herself at seventeen, cloaked in her parochial plaid. Her white cotton shirt buttoned up to the peter pan collar at her throat. The frowsy and bulky gray cardigan.

She did not do anything like Rosemary might have done.

Her last date—a set-up—had been disastrous. She had not known the right places to laugh. Men were not gentlemen anymore. His expectations came as a surprise to Jean. She was startled; she behaved abruptly at his advances. She was awkward. He did not call a second time.

“What’s the point of a wedding night these days?” Jean had said to her sisters earlier as they peered at the pregnant neighbor.

Evelyn laughed at her. “Oh, come on, Jean! Is that what you’re waiting for?”

Jean refused to meet her eyes, as if this simple gesture invalidated Evelyn’s sentiment.

No one knows the longings in Jean’s heart. That for which her body craves. Any knowledge of that she tucks deep.

Alone in her bed, the blue light from the TV outlining the shadows of her body beneath the blanket, she imagines the tiny seed growing in Rosemary’s belly. And she aches.

On Holy Saturday, Jean wakes early, puts the kettle on for tea for her mother, snaps on the coffee for herself and her father. Then she walks outside to her cutting garden. She surveys, deciding which she will cut and arrange for the Easter dinner table.

Easter is late this year and it has been a very warm April. Her vegetable garden is not yet planted (there may still be frost, all the way through May) but some of the early spring flowers have begun to bloom from the fat papery bulbs she planted in autumn. Tulips, daffodils, crocuses, hyacinth, paper-whites and snowdrops grow at the bases of the trees in the yard, in rows out front, in surprising places she almost forgot she planted while the warm autumn sun shone on her back, the sky that impossible depth of late September blue. Here, there is order. Here, she can nurture, coax, sing softly and there is loving reciprocation. Her eyes move over the delicate petals with their saturated colors, the green of the stems and leaves, and time waits and she hovers in some suspended sphere, happy. Is it happiness? It is a thing that a simple word cannot button down.

Her hands move over the flowers without hurry as she decides which flowers will grace the table, the sideboard. A little jelly glass of which she is fond will sit squarely over the kitchen sink on the windowsill that overlooks the backyard where the row of forsythia is just beginning to bloom.

Then there are the meal preparations to begin before the Easter Vigil Mass.

The potatoes peeled and cut, placed in the big pot and covered with cold water. Carrots, green beans readied for the boil tomorrow. You can’t save all this for the morning; you will never be done in time to place it all, hot, on the table, an offering to the family.


The Easter Vigil candles glow brightly as the flame moves from person to person through the church. As the flame draws near, she closes her eyes for a moment. Wordlessly prays. She touches her unlit candle to the lit one being offered by the person nearest her in the crowded pew. She passes the flame along.

The world is lit and she, for that moment, believes in the light. Lives in the light, is enveloped. Consumed. She exhales, ecstatic. She lives.

Before bed, she kneads a yeasty dough for rolls and leaves them to rise in the warmest place in the kitchen. Now shut the light, remove the Easter dress worn to the Easter Vigil and hang it up for tomorrow. Sleep.

squash pie—part 1

pie “I love it. I could just eat it by the spoonful.” Which is exactly what she is doing. She heaps a glossy mound of mayonnaise onto a silver soup spoon while Jean makes the deviled eggs for Easter. The kitchen smells of sulfur. It is Good Friday. She is Jean’s sister, Evelyn. Jean has three sisters and two brothers.

“What did you ask Helen to bring for Easter dinner?” Evelyn asks.

“A vegetable side dish.” Jean does not look up from the bowl into which she measures ingredients.

Evelyn licks the last of the mayonnaise from the spoon. “You know what she’s going to do, don’t you?”

“Yes,” Jean says to her, ready to pounce if Evelyn tries to stick that spoon she just had in her mouth back into the mayonnaise jar. Jean whisks the egg yolks and the mayonnaise together, encouraging them to fluffy silkiness.

“She’s going to bring two vegetable side dishes and something to snack on before dinner. And pie. She always forces that terrible pie on everyone from that bakery she thinks is so great. What was it she brought at Thanksgiving?”

“Squash.” Jean keeps mixing and adds a few spoonfuls of mustard.

“Squash pie.” Evelyn frowns, her eye teeth show. “Whoever thought that would taste good except Helen.”

Jean’s hands keep working and she simply shrugs. That pie is terrible but she would not say so explicitly to Evelyn. Something stops her. An agreement in which she cannot take part, corroborate. A tightening in her chest.

Jean is the serious one. The serious sister. That is what is said. But that is not how she feels. She doesn’t feel serious, although this is the word others choose to describe her. Of all the words, she doesn’t feel it is accurate. But who is she to say?

She doesn’t feel serious. How she feels is as though she is above her surroundings wherever it is she may be. As though her presence in her own life is not required. Why does everyone seem more authentic? Their lives more solid? She suspects these are not original thoughts, which is neither a comfort nor a validation. She is not in color, not filled out, or something like that, as others are. She wonders why she thinks of everyone else as more legitimate.

It’s not as though she doesn’t have plenty to do, though.

The trick to good deviled eggs is to first boil the eggs right so there is no green ring around the yolk and how you do that is to bring the eggs to a gentle boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for twenty minutes. Then plunge them in ice water. Roll them gently on the counter to loosen the shells.

Then you must whip the yolks.

Evelyn moves to dip her spoon back into the mayonnaise jar, just as Jean knew she would. Jean does not take her eyes from the bowl of yolks when she says, “Evelyn, don’t you dare dip that dirty spoon into my mayonnaise.”

“Okay, fine.” Evelyn walks over to the sink where she turns on the water and rinses the spoon.

“Use soap,” Jean says without bothering to turn, because she knows Evelyn isn’t. She doesn’t have to look.

She hears Evelyn sigh and Jean listens for proper washing sounds. Jean is surprised it hasn’t occurred to Evelyn to get a new spoon out of the drawer rather than wash the used one. Evelyn’s laziness knows few limits.

Jean fills the concavity of every impossibly smooth and shiny half egg with a dollop of spiced yolk. She uses a pastry bag fit with a cake decorating tip. She makes beautiful globes of fluted yellow and dusts each with paprika, red-orange brilliance. Eggs for rebirth. Red spice the redemptive blood. It feels holy to her. Her petite homage. She covers the eggs with some waxed paper and places them carefully in the refrigerator. She cleans up the dirty dishes.

Evelyn watches her work while she licks another spoonful of mayonnaise. Jean screws the big round blue cover securely over the mayonnaise jar and places it in the refrigerator.

“I need to get ready for church,” she tells Evelyn as she removes her apron and folds it.

Evelyn makes a sound at Jean which means she thinks it is stupid to go to church today.

“It’s not even a Day of Obligation,” Evelyn says.

“I have never understood why the day our Lord died should not be a Holy Day of Obligation,” she says. “Of all days, you would think this would be one.”

“But it’s not. And it’s such a depressing service.”

“Well, Evelyn, of course it’s depressing. It’s the day Jesus was crucified. Would you prefer a disco ball and DJ?”

Jean is not trying to be funny but Evelyn laughs. She misses the point as usual. “Now that I might go see. Disco at Sacred Heart! Father Graves boogying on the alter!” Evelyn shakes her hips lasciviously and laughs from her belly. Jean rolls her eyes and goes to the bathroom to fix her hair and freshen her lipstick. There’s a good chance Evelyn will still be laughing when she leaves the house. Maybe even when she returns.

But when she gets home from church, Evelyn is gone. She looks in the sink and, yes, there is Evelyn’s dirty spoon.


Jean lives within sound and scent of the dark heaving Atlantic. The smell of the ocean wafts into the house at unexpected moments. Even though she has been here always, it still possesses the power to surprise her. The house in which she lives was built at the edge of a salt marsh. The house is almost one hundred years old; the salt marsh primeval. She lives there with her mother and father who have begun their descent into old age. Jean’s brothers and sisters all moved away and Jean is the one left. She wakes up in the morning, sets the kettle to boil for tea, scoops the coffee grounds, taking a moment to put her nose close to inhale the scent, and presses the button on the machine. She stands in the hushed kitchen, her gaze on the place where the tall grasses sway to meet the purpling sky rising sun.

And she waits.

Waits for her parents to awaken, for the coffee pot to fill, for the work day to begin, then end, to come home and fix the supper, clean the dishes, shut the light, Johnny Carson’s monologue, sleep.

Please come back next Thursday for part 2!

a box of notes

2014-02-03 22.03.18 Since high school, I have saved a cardboard box of notes. All are written on either spiral-bound notebook paper—with the frillies still attached on the left—or that pulpy newsprint on which they made us do math. (I never cease to get excited by the fact that I won’t ever have to do math for credit again. Or labor. Labor or math—never have to do either of those again. For the record, I was much better at labor.) I have carted these notes around for years. They were passed in class or in the hallways of my enormous high school. Many are from my sister. In every single one, she is A) talking about some boy, and B) starving. That poor kid was never not hungry. Or never not thinking about some boy.

At any rate, these notes live in this closet:

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This closet is that place in the house where crap is simply shoved and the door closed with no regard to tidiness or organization or anything but the idea of worrying about it later or when you need something that’s in there at which time it is very difficult to unearth the thing and you swear you are going to clean it up. (But you won’t.) The shelf contains (a generous use of that word) kind-of-folded-up spare curtains. That pink bag holds my wedding gown. Empty organizing containers and baskets of all kinds live in here as do the fans and a spare vacuum cleaner. And lots of other random crap. Here you will find the box of notes. I finally pitched the cardboard and upgraded to a plastic container.

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Why did I keep these? And why am I rambling about them? Alright, I’ll tell you.

First let me say that I am not a saver in general. I am more of a compulsive purger. One of my great loves in this sweet life is getting rid of crap we don’t need. I love it so much. Almost too much. Steve (not his real name) might just say I love it too much. He would be likely to say it especially when I force him to participate. Especially when it's his crap. I am not particularly sentimental about objects and I have no trouble parting with things and I mostly don’t save stuff “just in case.”

But I could never toss these notes. They are a way for me to look back at myself—at parts of me which I pretty much forget about until I read them again. And the language! It is the prose of a teenager. Of a teenager in the 80s. Vocabulary my brain cannot simply conjure now. They are sweet, smart, funny.

I could never let them go.

In The Mosquito Hours, there are 3 main characters: Vivian and her 22 year old twin daughters, Tania and Guin. Tania finds her mother’s old diaries—which contain Vivian’s musings as well as pasted-in notes from friends—and secretly begins to read them. So when I was thinking about material for Vivian’s diaries and notes, I remembered: the box! I cobbled together many of my favorite parts of those old notes as well as my own diary material (holy crap, some of that shizzle is embarrassing!) to create Vivian’s. Those real words and events and feelings add such a sweet authenticity to Vivian's fictitious diaries.

Even though I have been tempted over the years to pitch the notes in the recycling bin, I am glad something held me back. I am shredding those old diaries at some point, though ...

Okay, confession time: I did not finish the edits on that story I promised you for this week. I said there was only a 50-50 chance I would come good on my promise, so don’t say you weren’t warned. But I am serialing a short story called “Squash Pie” that was originally posted on Her Circle Ezine a while back. The main character is in one of my novels-in-progress, so the story gives a little glimpse into one of my future works, in which I am fooling around with female archetypes. So, look for that on Thursday!

still cleaning

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Putting things together hurts my thinker a little. (A lot.)

I am STILL cleaning.

Not really. But I did just finish up a few hours ago. To be fair, I accidentally moved from normal housecleaning mode to obsessive need-to-reorganize-the-socks-or-the-world-will-end mode. I never know how that happens. But it does. And it’s terrifying. I’m okay, though. I emerged and the house looks much improved, if I do say so myself, and there is no dust anywhere and if anyone dares to drop even a cracker crumb on the floor, I will have a fit. Just kidding. (No, I’m not.)

So, here are our assembled cubbies! I decided to put them in front of the window seat instead of under the work tables. Why? Who knows. I cannot be held fully responsible for what I do whilst in the clutches of obsessive need-to-reorganize-the-socks-or-the-world-will-end mode. It's like labor: you can pretty much say or do anything and get a free pass.

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And look:

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only all this was left over! Also some glue may have been utilized that was not included with the hardware because these (non)directions

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I don't understand this.

are pretty much indecipherable and super-glue totally is—decipherable, that is. So I used the Force and I am certain these are fully operational! And completely safe! More than likely. These were probably just extra parts even though Steve (not his real name) says they never give you extra parts. And can I share with you the deal I got on the storage pieces?! Let me start by saying I went to Home Depot and Target and found some nice canvas cubes. But they were too tall. So I hit the Dollar Tree and grabbed some little bins. But I really wanted some baskets or canvas cubes, too. So I went to the Christmas Tree Shops and found all these things and they were insanely cheap! The boxes were $2.50 and the canvas cubes (which possess the PERFECT dimensions for these cubbies) were—Are you ready? NO you are not! It is a trick question as you never will be ready because it is so crazy amazing!—ONE DOLLAR A PIECE! I am still reeling. Could be an inner ear infection but I think it’s the crazy amazing deal.

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ONE DOLLAR A PIECE! See—I was totally telling the truth.

So, I have been diligently working away at the short story I promised you. Or maybe I am totally lying and have instead been immersed in obsessive need-to-reorganize-the-socks-or-the-world-will-end mode. (It’s the second one.) But I will have that story ready for next week—this I promise you! Pretty much. At any rate there is at least a 50-50 shot at it. I never know when a thing like obsessive need-to-reorganize-the-socks-or-the-world-will-end mode might strike and I am still editing The Mosquito Hours, but I do promise.

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I might, however, be busy picking away at the outrageously sticky and ridiculously fall-apart-y stickers required to tell the pieces of the thinker-hurting furniture apart. Seriously.

red step-stool—part 3


Here is Part 3 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." If you want to go back and read Part 1, here it is! And here is Part 2. Enjoy!

When they paid off their mortgage, she and her husband burned the mortgage papers in an old coffee can and drank bubbly wine. They invited their children and grandchildren. She suspected her children must have no idea or at least no more than an inkling of what this meant to her and her husband.

The house is a four-bedroom cottage. Sky blue aluminum siding and white trim. They bought it from a family who had come upon hard times. A sad story about a sick child. She was never sure what happened to the child and she is rather glad not to know. The house cost thirteen thousand dollars—a small fortune to them. It sits on an acre of land that butts up against a small expanse of woods and behind the woods, a rural highway.

When they moved in, the house was brashly decorated—bright colors and fussy wallpapers. Not exactly filthy but not reasonably clean by any means. She recalls weeping over all the work they had to do to straighten it out. She left the kitchen and went outside, her hands raw from the bleach and the scrubbing. It was late June and a nearly full moon was above and she sat in the dewy grass of her new backyard. Even with all that moonlight the stars still poured down. And she cried which was not her manner and her husband came, sat down next to her in the grass, put his arm around her shoulders and said, “Don’t cry, sweetheart. It’ll be alright.” Things were said in a simpler way then. And she did feel better. And it did turn out alright.


After 9/11, her granddaughter asked her if this was what Pearl Harbor felt like and she said, Exactly. It felt exactly like this.

When do you feel old? Her granddaughter asks her. She wonders this herself because she doesn’t know the answer. You would think by mid-eighty you might know the answer to this question. Maybe you only know right before you die or as you’re dying.

But there are differences—they are all physical. She gets tired more quickly but that’s okay because she’s not in a hurry. What is there to hurry about?

When she does her laundry she must be careful. Her best girlfriend has the washer and dryer on the main floor of her house in a big closet. Her daughters have looked into moving her washer and dryer upstairs but it won’t work in her house. So she must do her laundry as she has always done in her basement. She used to just scurry up and down those stairs with the basket in her arms. Now she uses a cloth laundry bag and she fills it with the dirty laundry she needs to wash and she tosses it down the stairs to the basement floor where it lands with a soft thump. This is when she must be careful—she places two feet on every step and holds the rail firmly. She wears shoes that don’t have slippery soles. She won’t end up in the nursing home with a broken hip. That could be the last thing she ever does and over dirty clothes? No, no. Not me, she thinks.

No doubt she has slowed down. She can’t go all day long like she used to. Used to be she could spring clean the house in a weekend. Now it takes her a week and a half. Everything done in bits and pieces. Even the weekly cleaning. Now, she washes the floor and at the end of the day feels like she built a house.

But her step-stool. Her daughters won’t let her climb up on it, yet she thinks she could still do it, if she were very careful. She won’t, but she just knows that she still could.

The main thing is that in her head she feels the same. In her head she is sixteen, she is twelve, she is thirty-eight, twenty-two, eighty. In her head, there is no difference.


Her parents emigrated from Madeira. A beautiful Portuguese archipelago. Flowered and warm. She never visited until her retirement when she went there on vacation with her husband. Then she saw the village where her parents were born and raised and met some cousins. It touched her deeply, this connection, and it made her think of her mother, of whom she had not in years in a way that felt like her mother’s own warm hands upon her. That made her think of her mother’s hands on her childish body. Her mother’s hands in the family garden, cooking their food, washing their clothes and bedding in a washtub with a washing board. Imagine women had to do that once! Of course, her daughters can’t believe they ever lived in a house without running water. But when she was living it, it never seemed like such a burden. It just was what it was and they did what must be done and never really thought about it. Maybe because they never conceived of it being a different way. Maybe because it wasn’t so bad, especially when you were used to it. Maybe life is only as hard as you think it is.

Her mother gave birth to ten children, nine of whom lived. The first one was a boy, but he died. She then gave birth to seven girls before she had her two boys. She sometimes wonders how often her mother thought of the boy who died at birth—the stillborn baby. She has always hated that word, stillborn. It sounds too much like what it is and it has always horrified her. Her oldest sister’s first baby, also a boy, was stillborn. She carried a secret fear that her first would also be stillborn, as if this fate were inevitable. She was neither in her youth nor in her old age one to think like this. She is not and never was superstitious. Except about this. She wonders if her mother nursed a deep and enduring wound; carried it until the day she died. She doesn’t know. She imagines she would have but, like her mother, privately held it close. She was never the type inclined to hysterics or showy displays of emotion. It’s one thing to watch it on television and another to be like that.

That’s not how she was raised.


On Saturday nights her husband liked a hot bath and every Saturday night she drew the bath.

She told both of her daughters on the eves of their weddings, “Don’t start anything you don’t want to be doing for the rest of your life.” She was thinking of the baths. He was a good man, but somehow she came to bear a grudge about the baths.

Sometimes he came to her in the evening while she sat in her easy chair, knelt in front of her and placed his head in her lap. She scratched his head and the top of his back as far down as she could reach from where she sat.

This she would do willing for as long as he chose to be there with his head resting in her lap.


One of her daughters called her and said she might have some time in the next weekend to help change the curtains. “I’ll see what I can do, Mom,” she told her.

Yes, there are people who keep the same curtains up year ‘round—she knows. But she is not one of them.

She thanked her daughter then moved the step-stool into the parlor adjacent to her front room where she spends much of her time, her television remote and cordless telephone, the daily newspaper near to her hands.

That was Monday when her daughter called. Now it is Thursday and still no definite answer about the curtains. How can she plan?

She eyes her step-stool, chipped and faded red paint, dented metal. No—she won’t step up on it. She’s no fool. Even though she really believes she could do it.

She moves aside the lap quilt draped over her legs and walks slowly toward the step-stool. She lifts it carefully and carries it to the small utility closet off the back of her kitchen. It takes her a little while—she stops to catch her breath, stretch her back.

She returns to the living room and settles herself back in her chair.

Used to be time was her foe—it flew right by and she had to rush, rush, rush. Now what she does is wait. Time is loopy and streams slowly around her and the television marks the hours. She does not feel sorry for herself—that is not what her noting of time means to her. It is simply different and sometimes she envies her busy daughters just a little—their hours stack the way hers once did. There was too much to think about then but now it is difficult to conjure things to occupy her mind.

The dust gathers in the folds of the curtains. No matter, she thinks, and tries her best to believe it.

red step-stool—part 2


Here is Part 2 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." Come back next week for Part 3. If you want to go back and read Part 1, here it is! Enjoy!

On Sundays, her best girlfriend comes over for dinner then coffee and pie. Her friend still drives but she herself gave it up some months ago. She had a near accident about which she told no one. Instead she said the mechanic told her that the catalytic converter on her car was No good anymore and will cost more than a thousand dollars to replace. I don’t have that kind of money! No, that’s it. A swipe of her hand. Her children said they would help her get a new car but she refused, waved them away saying they couldn’t afford it any better than she, even though she knows this is not true. She thinks she has fooled them. She thinks she has convinced them.

Who knows what anyone else is really thinking?

Her friend comes over and brings a pie or a sweet of some kind and as it is her own house, she makes the dinner. It is always typical Sunday Dinner faire. The kinds of dinners she used to cook when her children were still at home and then, when they were gone, the kinds she continued to cook for her husband when he was still alive. Every food separate on the plate and meat at the center of the meal. The food always very hot. Not too much salt.

No cold drinks—the food turns to paste in your stomach if you drink cold drinks with hot food. The doctor told her that years ago.


When her her children were small, she lived on the third floor of a tenement. There was no running hot water. On Saturday nights when she and her husband wanted to bathe the children, she boiled an enormous pot of water on the stove. Her husband called out, “All kids on the couch!” when it was time to carry the pot of boiling water to the tub already filled partway with cold water from the tap. And the children sat obediently on the couch, legs dangling. The cleanest kid went first, then those whose filth was of a greater level and the dirtiest kid last.

She worked first shift and her husband worked second. This way there was always one of them available to look after the children. She arrived home just in time to say goodbye to him. She tried to stay awake and wait up for him. Often, she sat up in bed and prayed the rosary. When he got home to find her asleep, he would gently remove the rosary beads from her hand and pick up where she left off before he got into bed himself.

She never knew this until he told her many years later.


When she needs to go to the department store or the pharmacy, she has to ask one of her daughters. She has two daughters. She tries to break it up: one daughter to take her here, another to take her there. Her sons don’t live locally anymore, but she would not be inclined to ask them even if they did. At least that would not be her preference. She finds her sons to be a puzzle. She recalls their infancy and it doesn’t feel as long ago as it is and somehow it feels longer ago than it actually was. She can still summon with great clarity specific particularities of their small and fresh bodies: the indentation in the skin of their inner thighs, the exact shape of their hairless heads, the exquisite softness of their bare skin. And the way they smelled! There is nothing like the scent of a new baby. She recalls a time when they belonged more to her than they did to themselves. She also remembers when she thought she might scream if she heard someone calling Mommy yet again. Four children. Four!

Her husband had a cousin who was barren. That is what they called it in those days, although she knows there are nicer words for it now and things they can do to fix the problem. But her husband had a cousin who was barren who wanted a child desperately, enough so that it made her a little imbalanced. A little loony, although she thinks this is another word that must be improper to say now. In those days, adoption was a rare thing. You didn’t ever know anyone personally who had adopted a child and if they did it was probably a secret. So much used to be secret. Now, she knows, you can get an Oriental baby pretty easy, but not then.

This loony cousin, who was called Mabel, once said to her, “Your little girls are so beautiful.” To which she said simply, “Thank you.” She was accustomed to being told her children were beautiful, but modesty and humility are qualities she has always held close. The cousin then said, “You could give one of them to me. You have others. You could have more.” As if children are too many zucchini that cropped up in the kitchen garden and must be handed out to the neighbors! Here—make a quick-bread! Imagine someone thinking they could just have one of your children. Like giving away a cat! She told the cousin, “You’re crazy!”

On the ride home, her husband told her that Mabel wanted to visit them at their house sometime. They still lived in that third floor apartment in those days and she told him, “If she comes, I’m going to push her down the stairs!” Mabel never did come to visit and she was never sure if that was Mabel’s lack of follow-through or her husband’s doing, and she never asked.


She sewed most of her children's clothes. She especially loved making the really elaborate outfits for holidays. Her children always looked just so. She doesn’t completely understand why mothers of young children now seem so scattered. She always got everything done and more. She doesn’t remember how. She just did. Mothers now think about everything so much; worry about everything so much. They didn’t know what to worry about back then so she supposes they just didn’t. There were things but they were everyday cares and life was more difficult overall. Well, certainly less convenient. But there was no global warming or organic food and non-organic food and these new diseases kids get, child molestation and abuse. Many of their troubles didn’t have names and not as much was known and people didn’t talk about everything on television at four o’clock in the afternoon.

You just carried on.

As best you could.

And some days were better than others.

You did the best you could.

Sometimes when she goes to bingo or a Teamsters meeting, she and the other women talk about how they did it all when their children were small. “How did we do it?” they ask each other and they really don’t know. They truly do not have any inkling of how they did it. It makes them laugh that they can’t recall. They can’t imagine ever having had that kind of energy.

Then the children grow. And sometimes she knows she aggravates her daughters and gets the sense that they tolerate her but don’t always enjoy her. And her sons, who never forget her birthday or Mother’s Day and always get her something thoughtful on Christmas, and call fairly regularly, have in truth drifted away. Floated away like a leaf on a big deep lake. And she knows she doesn’t really know them at all. Sometimes when this knowledge gets her down, she wonders if any mother knows her child once they have grown, once they have done that necessary separation. What mother does? And why does no one tell you that this detachment is inevitable and might hurt you more than anything you ever felt? Worse than birthing them in the first place.

The funniest thing of all is that children think they know their mother. They are unfalteringly convinced they possess this knowledge. Of this she is certain. But nothing could be less true. She tries not to get angry when they treat her as if she is an infant; as if they have her pegged. They try to placate her. At times, they make her second-guess herself. She is being reduced.

Maybe it was better when people died at earlier ages—when folks died in their prime or at least closer to it.

Now if she needs to go get a prescription or a few groceries, she must ask one of her daughters.

The winter curtains still hang. She tries not to think of the dust that she knows is accumulating. She hopes it does not permanently discolor the fabric. That’s the kind of thing that happens in homes where things are not well-cared for—in homes where cleaning is haphazard.

All that dust that she knows is up there.

a change of plans

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Messy homeschool room.

Had this really philosophically heavy couple of days—but in a good way. And my thinking is clearer now and I feel a hundred times lighter.

But that was precipitated by a bunch of crummy days.

Let me start off by saying I am fully aware that mine are first world problems. And now that I have gotten that piece of guilt out of the way ...

Lately, I have felt as though I am always—ALWAYS—2 steps behind. In every single area of life. My fiction writing, my blog, our homeschool, the tidiness of our house, cooking meals. Shaving. (Oh my word, shaving. Who the frick-frack has time for that?) Seriously everything. I am probably even forgetting something. Or several things. Bottom line—I have felt like I simply cannot get it all together.

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Pizza boxes on the chair. Empty pizza boxes. And a pile of dirty laundry on the floor.

Conferring with my sister, who also frequently shares this sentiment, was not helping. Usually it does—knowing she is out there also screwing everything up usually makes me feel better. But this time it did not. I just couldn’t shake the feeling that everything was off. I was trying to get my foothold in our new home and city (I am not so good with change, which is an understatement of enormous proportions) and our new homeschooling community and a book to be published in the spring and trying to achieve NaNoWriMo again this year.

In July, Katie Fox of The Art of Simple wrote this lovely blog post about grace—the everyday kind we take for granted. She called it “common grace.” And this idea pops into my mind now and again and whenever it does, it gives me pause. Because I think remembering the small everyday beauties might be the key to happiness. Not forcing, not fighting, not freaking out about everything that is not getting done. (Which is what I usually do ... )

“For after all, the best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Right around the time I first read this blog post, I experienced just this kind of moment that she means. I can’t recall the exact circumstances now, but I was sitting on the floor with my kids and we were talking and laughing and they each naturally moved on and off my lap. I simply allowed them to move as they wanted, stealing hugs and kisses from each. Their happiness that I was being present with them in that moment was palpable. And it occurred to me that this was the most important thing I could do: BE THERE. That this was a big part of what they need to be happy right now in this their one precious childhood: ME. It occurred to me: I make them happy—I am so lucky. I need only to show them kindness and give them my full attention—that's all. It's so simple and so fragile. A huge responsibility, but also the easiest thing on earth. There is nothing to worry about if I can do this. And I can do this.

There is so much common grace if only I take the time to seek it. I have a really nice life—I am so fortunate. And allowing unnecessary worries to seep in (or work I don’t really need to do to stomp in) and cause unhappiness makes little sense.

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So, I changed my plan this month. I am dropping NaNoWriMo. Was I getting a lot of writing done? YES. Almost 20,000 words at the time I decided to stop. But was it worth the sacrifices to my time with the people I love and the stress I was feeling to get it done? Nope. I think the breaking point came last week when I found myself thinking, “I don’t have enough time to visit Mem,” and I that I didn’t have the time to go see some good friends we really miss on Thanksgiving weekend. No! I thought. Stop! No goal is worth these kinds of thoughts. So I let it go.

I set a new goal: finish a draft of this book by the end of the year. I can do that. In the meantime I will be with my kids fully and visit friends and do Christmas crafts and work at enjoying this one precious life.

I don’t have to facilitate the perfect homeschool—I just need to read and cuddle with them, sit on the floor and play games with them, do fun crafts with them and give them a lot of freedom to play and explore. I don’t need a “cleaning day”—I have been a very successful guerrilla cleaner for years. I don’t need to keep a strict writing schedule—I will write this new manuscript after the kids go to bed and while they are busy on the playground and at red lights. I will visit Mem whenever I want. I will keep it simple. Life is not organized—I have to stop trying to force it to be so. Ahhhhhh!

(I’m probably forgetting something. Oh, well.)

Please come back on Friday for part 2 of my serialized short story “Red Step-Stool”!

red step-stool—part 1


Here is Part 1 of my serialized short story, "Red Step-Stool." Come back next week for Part 2 and the following week for Part 3. And enjoy!

The last year to bake Christmas cookies will come. It will be just like the last day of summery weather each year; with enough warmth and light remaining in the day to go to the beach. You don’t really ever know it will be the last beach day until October when the season has firmly changed and you recall, oh yes, that was the last beach day. Maybe greater note might have been taken of that moment if you’d known it was the last. She will get to next Christmas and decide that she is done making cookies even though she has made them for decades and last Christmas she would not have known it was the last time. (Decades, she will reflect.) The buttery ones she fashions into snowflakes, the ones with dates and maraschino cherries, the kind with the chocolate kiss pressed into the center of the pale sugared dough. The cookies she has baked every year since her children were small.


From another vantage point, it seems a simple falling off of things. But nothing is quite so plain or smooth; nothing is so unadorned.

Who wants to think themselves as unfussy or light—effortlessly understood. Wouldn’t that be a humiliation?


Cleaning is near and dear to her. Cleanliness is a pronouncement on morality. Recently, she has been barred from climbing up on her old red step-stool to change the curtains. Her doctor and her children are the ones who decided this. They worry she might fall. She wonders how she will change her curtains when she does the spring cleaning. Her daughter says she will help and she tells her daughter that the she doesn’t want to put her out but the real problem is that she cannot plan this way and do things in her own manner. She cannot follow her timetable.

During the Depression, she was a young girl. When they changed the sheets, they alternated them every week so that one would be the top sheet one week and the bottom the next. This way the sheets wore evenly and lasted longer. All sheets were flat then—none of these fitted bottom sheets that wore out sooner than the flat top sheets. What are you supposed to do with a worn-out fitted sheet and perfectly good flat sheet? Used to be they thought about things such as this.

She says at Christmas, she and her sisters and brothers got oranges and cheap little toys that fell apart almost right away. Her father, who died in his fifties, an age they thought of as old then, grew a family garden to help feed his large family. Money was not abundant. He grew many things, among them pumpkins. They ate the pumpkins. And not just pie. Roasted and boiled. And pumpkin soup—a thing she despised. But she ate it because it was expected of her. Because it would have been unacceptable not to eat it. Because she would have gone hungry if she had not eaten it.

That terrible steaming bowl of pumpkin soup.


Choice is a new idea. This is what she thinks. Alternatives, she thinks—that is a new sentiment.


She worked as a seamstress in a clothing shop. When she was seventeen she started working in the shop to help support her family. The work conditions were good and they got regular breaks—she didn’t complain.

She lied and told the manager she knew how to operate power machines so he’d hire her. She got fired when he found out she didn’t know—it became obvious right away. She thought she would figure it out quickly, but it was more difficult than she’d expected. So she went in and worked for free to learn the machines with the help of her older sisters who also worked in the shop. This is what women did—they came of a certain age and worked in the shops. Women worked the machines and men supervised.

At first, it was standard hourly pay. Then piecework came in—a system for which she was perfectly suited. She made more money with piecework because her work was accurate and she was blisteringly efficient. The girls who griped were the ones who were too lazy to make the money. They wanted the hourly pay back. But not her; she thrived on the challenge of it. It bestowed an entirely new slant on the work. It made it less tedious. She sewed collars and shirt fronts for more than thirty years. She made the same thing, five days a week, all day for those thirty-something years. Once they began promoting women she became a supervisor and watched the girls sewing the same things, five days a week, all day.

The girls in the shop took their coffee break at nine-thirty but she did not engage in their theatrics. As if their lives were like the movies, they made much of nothing to see what they could come up with. Not much, she often noticed, even when they didn’t. But overall, it was pleasant working with the girls. Coffee and sandwich breaks steeped in the baked goods they made and shared with each other. They thought about each other in a very unconscious way—it just was the girls in the shop. And on a Saturday afternoon if you had some peace from the children, you’d bake a batch of blondies or a quick-bread to share at work next week. They did think of each other, even if it was just as a piece of everyday life. That is something—more than something. To be thought of in a way that is easy and graceful. An unrippled, but steady stream through the mind.


She eyes the step-stool. It is old and made of metal; has three steps. It used to be red and shiny but now most of the paint has worn off and it is dulled and dinged-up, but sturdy and still works fine. Everything today is made from plastic. It is late May. The winter curtains are still hanging in the windows. She eyes the red step-stool. She needs to wash the windows, too. She is a widow on a fixed income and she can’t hire anyone to do this. Her daughter says she will help.

She eyes the red step-stool.

mem’s red step-stool

Today I saw a commercial for a new cat litter in which they articulate the kinds of odors their product eliminates: urine AND ... well, you know the other. She said the actual biologically correct word! Thanks cat litter company! I know I could never have deduced to which odors you might be alluding if you had been a bit more cryptic. No need for nice, pleasant euphemisms anymore! I am no delicate flower who requires smelling salts regularly, but come on. The cat litter lady said it like 3 or 4 times! It's like the commercial with the British lady running around asking people to talk about their bums and toting adult baby wipes to be used along with toilet paper as if that is some kind of dream team. Or those animated bears with the animated pieces of toilet paper lingering on their animated bear butts. Seriously. Enough. I think there are just some problems that can be solved quietly and discreetly without the aid of commercials spelling it out so succinctly.

When I was 20 I worked at a CVS and all these old folks would come in for their creams and ointments and powders and salts and what-not. Until then I had been blissfully unaware of the necessity of the human body for such products. I could have lived happily ever after never knowing these ailments could erupt. These elders would detail the afflictions to me and I would have to listen in polite horror. I did not want or need to know that [insert horrific ailment] could happen to that [insert what up until that very moment had been an entirely innocent] body part. There I was with my perfectly functioning 20 year old body not needing to know any of this.

Bottom line: please stop saying biologically correct words while I am trying to eat my lunch and watch The Chew. Thanks. Also no weird and disturbing bum issues. Also don't say “bum.” Even if you are British. That fact makes it no more charming and no less gross. Please stop.


These cats are British and they ARE cute and charming. Additionally, they are hilarious!

Wow, where am I going with this rant? Nowhere, actually. I just needed to rant. Thank you.

(And sorry. Unless you enjoy a good rant, in which case you’re welcome.)

What I really wanted to talk about today is my Mem’s red step-stool.


Here it is!

It has always been a fixture in this house. It was painted red when I was a kid. I remember the paint being chipped, bare metal peeking out from beneath. When I found it here, it had been painted a dark gray that looked a little worse for the wear. I went out to Lowe’s and got me a nice can of Sunrise Red spray paint and cleaned this baby right up! I keep it right against the wall in the kitchen. It really reminds me of the days when I was a kid and Mem and Pep lived here. Mem kept it in the pantry closet, but I like it right out in the kitchen. It is so bright and cheerful and of course useful.


OOOH, look! The little step pivots out and then pivots in!
And not just the one time—you can do it over and over again!

A couple of years ago, my Mem had to stop using the step-stool. She had become a little too unsteady on her feet and the additional height did not help the situation one bit. She has always been a super-cleaner—I would bet few people hold cleaning as near and dear as she does. Every spring and every fall she cleaned all her windows and she changed all her curtains. And the red step-stool was a necessity—at her tallest, Mem was 4’ 11”. Just yesterday she told me she has shrunk to 4’ 8.5” and my 12 year old niece is now as tall as she is.

When she had to slow down her cleaning, it got me thinking about aging and how it might feel and it inspired a story I call “Red Step-Stool.” It is a fictionalized account of Mem and some of her life. Some of the details are stories she has shared with me and some is made-up and I am really imagining what it might feel like to be in your 80s when your body takes a turn away from what it could always do.

I split the story up into parts and will serialize it over the next few weeks. I broke it into nice little bite-sized peiece. I hope you enjoy it. Expect the first installment on Friday. And enjoy!

book cover inspiration

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These fences are put up to prevent beach erosion over the winter.

As some of you know, my novel The Mosquito Hours is being published in spring 2014 by Thorncraft Publishing, an amazing new small house that publishes literary fiction by women writers.

(Wow—it is really surreal and exciting to say that! My novel is being published! There—I said it again. Still surreal and exciting.)

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All the lifeguard chairs collected for their winter rest!

Last week my sister was visiting and we took all the kids out to the beach. It was one of the last really warm days of October (by “really warm” I mean maybe about 60 degrees). In spite of the relative warmth of the day, we still layered up for the beach, as the wind off the water never ceases blowing which it makes it feel a good deal colder.

It is really strange to visit the beach once summer has passed—it’s a vastly different vista. Still beautiful, definitely more wild. Beach-combing is a whole other world, too. We found giant conches, horseshoe crab shells, spiral shells, and more. Treasures you don’t normally find during the summer. So the kids had a wonderful time exploring this beach they know so well from a new perspective.


Can you see my sister and my niece over there on the left?

My personal mission on this autumnal beach visit was somewhat less innocent. I needed to sneak all the way up the beach to the place where the shore is cut off by a jetty—the place where some of the old beach houses sit in the sand a mere 50 feet from the high tide line. Technically it’s private property up there. But this ain’t Malibu, people. Not many folks are hanging around the beach once the fall sets in. And I needed to send my publisher—who is in Tennessee, a very different landscape than ours here in Southern New England!—some photos of the area so we can brainstorm some book cover ideas. I wanted her to see the inspiration for the house in which my protagonists live. A house that has been in their family for several generations. A house that survived the Great Hurricane of ’38.

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We left the littler kids with my mom down the beach and my sister, niece and I sort of, well, trespassed. But we didn’t get caught and I think that makes it totally okay. I had an excuse prepared, as I am not quick with the lies under pressure. But as I suspected, no one was around anyhow.

There is so much more to do to turn the manuscript of The Mosquito Hours into a real book. I had NO IDEA how much there would be to do until I received the publication schedule. But I look forward to every step in this adventure. And I can’t wait to hold the book in my hands!


nano5 We have a little municipal airport in my city. A new playground was just built and we have been waiting for it to open. Well, it did! And here we are. You know what’s great about this playground? The parking spots are, like, 3 feet from the playground itself, so I can stay in the van! Don’t judge—it’s cold all of a sudden (not cracking 50 degrees today) and also it’s November so you know what that means...

National Novel Writing Month!

This is really a perfect situation I have going on right now. I can keep an eye on them (actually they are so loud, all I need to do is listen and if the din dulls, then take a look to see if anything is amiss), work on my MacBook and stay warm! AND catch my favorite afternoon radio show!

Five days in and I remember vividly why I like NaNo so much! It’s fun and the momentum keeps me focused. How could I have forgotten the power of momentum?

In 2009, with initial trepidation bordering on panic, I agreed to participate in National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as NaNoWriMo, or simply NaNo. It was the idea of one of my graduate school friends. She managed to get (coerce) about a half dozen of us on board.


What made me think I could write 50,000 words in the space of one month with three little kids, a part-time job and a home to care for, I have no idea. Blame it on four and a half years of sleep deprivation, but I thought, “Yeah, that sounds cool!”

But in spite of all the reasons why (and there were many) I may not have accomplished it, I did. And it wasn’t even all that difficult. I didn’t think too much, I simply forged ahead. And the amazing thing was, once immersed in the writing so deeply, it flowed easily. Was it the ritual, the deadline, the panic? Probably a combination, but it worked. I’ve done it every year since.



And now that I am no longer a novice, I have some words of wisdom to offer:

Before you start, tell everyone you’re doing it. Announce it on Facebook and Twitter and promise frequent updates. Set yourself up for having a lot of explaining to do if you bail out.

Find a little community. Ask a friend to do it with you. Look for write-ins in your area. The NaNoWriMo website offers opportunities to connect with other NaNoWriMo writers in your area.

Break it into manageable pieces and don’t go to bed until you meet your daily goal. Even on Thanksgiving. Eat more pie to stay awake. (You know want to eat more pie.)

Check your word count no more than every half hour or so. Definitely do not check it every thirty seconds. (You will.) Definitely not more frequently than every thirty seconds. (You will.) Try not to do that.

Keep writing, even if it’s junk. (It’s probably not junk. Or at least not as bad as you think.) Go off on tangents, write weird scenes that seem to have no place in the story, introduce new characters just to have something to write about. Flashbacks are a good tactic. Write anything. In December and January, you can revise. The good writing comes out in the editing anyhow. Have fun with this in November and then worry about perfecting it later.


Love my fingerless mittens! My auntie knit them for me!

The wonderful thing about NaNo is that it helps you to remember the simplicity of ritual. The simple sentiment, just get it done. Just do the work. Almost every night this week, I have been in bed in the dark, the room lit only by my laptop, just getting it done. If I would rather read a book and relax, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather watch an episode of Homeland, too bad. Do the work. If I would rather just go to sleep, too bad.

Do. The. Work.

I guess this is what they call discipline?

Yes—who can’t use more of that? Maybe Oprah or Lady Gaga or overachievers of that ilk. (That ain’t me.) NaNo provides it. And, as with any habit you are trying to form, give it a few days and then you might find yourself craving it. I think that’s a bit of what they call ritual.

Maybe that’s what it takes: discipline and ritual. I am going to try to remember that after November 30th. I wonder, if I can do it all month, can I keep the momentum going? Well, maybe that will be a goal for December and January and thereafter. One thing at a time.


To all the WriMos out there: keep NaNo-ing! And more than anything else, embrace the joy of fearless writing!

(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on www.HerCircleEzine.com)

meet my new counter!

mems_house We moved into my grandmother’s house almost a month ago. We’re pretty much settled in and getting used to all the changes. The first week I spent a lot of time standing still, looking around with boxes piled around me, figuring out where everything would work best. I thought a lot about the places my grandmother kept her things.


This is my new kitchen—my grandmother’s kitchen.


The counters are a sort of cream color. My grandmother’s kitchen is a bit of a hybrid—old paneled walls and linoleum mixed with a counter and cabinet upgrade completed sometime in the 80’s. The cabinets were a warm honey color before, now a deep chocolate. I can’t recall the color of the old countertops. My grandmother—Mem we call her—was a meticulous cleaner, right up until she moved into her room at the nursing home. (By the way, she is happy there and very well cared-for, which is a great relief to those of us who love her.) She gives us her house in beautiful condition. I found some cool old stuff in the cellar, an awesome old tablecloth bordered with wide red rickrack (!) in a kitchen drawer, my grandfather’s dog tags from WWII in a small white box in the linen closet.


My DIY crate shelf in action!

I grew up next door, in the house in which my parents still live. Mem’s house holds a great many memories for me. My grandfather—Pep—who died 20 years ago, laid the wood floors with his brothers, built the laundry room, renovated the master bedroom with his good friend. His tools still rest on his workbench in the corner of the cellar. My sister and I used to sleep here most Saturday nights—buttered popcorn, Lawrence Welk, falling asleep to The Love Boat glowing from the portable black and white which had been moved to the bureau in the guest bedroom.


Virginia Woolf wrote a book, A Room of One’s Own, in which she extols the importance for women writers to have both literal and figurative space in which to write. She wrote this essay in 1929 when women enjoyed far less equality than we do now. (Not that the work is over, mind you...) I do have the support of a good husband who encourages my creative work, and even though I don’t have the kind of literal space Woolf wrote about, it is how I think of my kitchen.

Carving out a writing life, piecing my time together into some sort of quilted whole, amidst the busyness of my children, homeschooling, the care of my home, freelance work (when I can get it), this blog and my creative writing work is challenging on the most productive days and (most) other days entirely overwhelming.


The kitchen is very important to me. I rarely leave it for very long. That’s okay—everything I need is here. As I type this, I stand here at the counter and I prepare food for my family. I clean, I fold laundry, I make appointments with doctors, I answer emails. And I write. I have all my tools at hand: laptop and notes and notepads fanned out, my pots and big bamboo spoon at the stove, my cutting board and favorite knife, my crock of compostables. My ever-chattering radio. I begin each morning with great vigor and ambition and then, in the end, I do the best I can. I write in fits and starts. Scraps of paper, scrawled ideas, thoughts, lines, beginnings of chapters pepper my counter.

My domestic moments are miles removed from the writerly life I once imagined: a room of my own, money and opportunity flowing, big fat publishing contract, hours of stimulating conversation with other writers. An endless stream of unfettered time. But, even in my most frustrated moments, I am certain that’s not what I really want now that this good life has found me. I’m a mom, a home education facilitator, a homemaker, a writer, a reader. (And that’s only some of it.) This life I have now and the life I once imagined have blurred lines, not strong delineated borders.


Pep's hat still hangs in the entryway.

Before we moved in here, I worried that maybe this house would only and always feel like Mem and Pep’s house with us as intruders in their space. But it’s starting to feel like ours. The best thing is that our family life is not overwriting the lives that unfurled here—instead, like Mem’s kitchen, it is more of a lovely hybrid.

Mem loved (loves) this house well. This kitchen is very special to me. It is Mem’s and it is mine. I will feed my family here, fold laundry here, watch Felicity here. I will write in here.

A kitchen of one’s own—that is what I have.

(Parts of this blog post appeared originally in a somewhat different form on www.HerCircleEzine.com.)

loved places

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Things to count on.

Swimming in warm water as the sun goes down, sand pipers pecking the shore when beach-goers begin to leave for the day, dune grass yellow green flowing waves in the breeze, brilliant blue hydrangeas like soft jewels, footprints in the sand hinting their silent stories, sand arranged in intricate random patterns on ankles and toes like bridal henna, beach glass, the Point, riptides and undertows, seagulls fighting over leftovers in the sand late in the day, a warm shower after a day on the beach, seaweed and sand stuck to the white skin under your bathing suit.

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We are on vacation—2 weeks at our favorite beach. We rent a big cottage. It has expansive views of the ocean. We share this vacation with my sister and her family and my parents. This cottage is really big. When people visit, they are impressed by its size and quality, its contemporary design and decor. But it used to be a tiny shack with faucets that were cold on one size and hot on the other, a very temperamental septic system and walls that didn’t reach the ceilings. And it was a third of its current size. We're New Englanders—we stuck it out. The footprint is the same, but not much else.

It did always have an outdoor shower and if you don’t know the glory of an outdoor shower, I simply don’t think I can do it justice here.

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I possess an unending adoration for this place. I would say inexplicable, but I have no trouble explaining my love of this beach. I write it into my fiction over and over. I can think of countless ways to to describe it. I have visited beaches in Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest and up and down the East Coast from Maine to Florida and none compares to this one. I don’t expect everyone to share this opinion—it is a symptom of being in love with a certain piece of Earth.

If you are lucky, there is a place on Earth that says home to you. When your eyes are filled with this place, it is akin to religion. You get what they mean by Tao, by Nirvana, by Heaven. In this place, you are more you than you can understand or articulate. When the sun began setting and the beach clearing of people, the light at a particular slant, a particular butter color still sparkling on the waves, the air a touch cool, I’d put on a long-sleeve shirt, and be perfectly at peace. It was me. I was in it. My soul clean, my heart slow and steady. It was my place.

I harbor a secret sympathy for people who live inland. I harbor a secret pride that we are beach people. That my children can navigate the strong pull of the tides, that they are salty, that sand decorates their feet and knees and elbows. I know my arrogance is unfair—merely a circumstance of my birth. One I think of as lucky.

Loved things.

Should we go for a walk? was what Mom always said and stood up. She wore her long white button-down collared shirt. She reached into her little cloth bag and removed her coral lipstick, applied a coat to her lips. She didn’t need a mirror. Her hands pulled off the cap and swiveled the coral cylinder up. Mom’s hands were beautiful, delicate and seemingly fragile. When I learned about the hollowness of birds’ bones, I thought immediately of Mom’s hands. Light, like birds’ bones. Flying, touching, walking lightly on sand. Mom’s skin looked even more tan against the white of her shirt and the white of her teeth in her coral smile. We walked to the shore.

At the Point, the sand curved up to the right around some dunes. Tucked on the other side of the curve was the harbor. Sail and fishing boats and tiny dinghies were tied to the weathered gray of the docks.

Along the way, we watched sandpipers dart in and out of the surf on their fast little stick legs. We scanned the shore for interesting shells and beach glass. We watched the sun sparkle on the waves. Listened to the surf, regular and strong like a solid heartbeat. We talked or we didn’t. We laughed and splashed or we enjoyed the suspension of our voices. We didn’t notice the time pass. Every time, we turned and went back once we reached the Point.

When it first touched us, the water felt cold on our sun-warmed skin, but before we knew it our feet and shins became accustomed and the water felt comfortable and warm. The transition happened without making itself apparent; suddenly we’d simply be aware of the change. We never experienced the change itself.

Here, I am my most authentic self. I am inspired and relaxed. I am happy.

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I hope you have a loved place, too.

All quotes are from my novel in progress, Talking Underwater.

cream-colored ponies and crisp apple strudel...

I totally, totally want to complain about the insane and/or dopey comments prospective buyers make after they’ve viewed our house. I totally want to complain so much, you have no idea. But I won’t because Steve (not his real name) told me to do yoga instead and bought me an annual subscription to YogaDownload.com. FINE.

(But if you really want me to complain, I will totally unleash. Just leave your request in the comments. I am nothing if not accommodating to my readers.)

Carrying on...

...doorbells and sleigh bells and schnitzel with noodles!

No, it’s NOT a trip to the Austrian Alps—it’s a blog post of some of my favorite things!

(I can totally hear Julie Andrews’ voice in my head. If you read this with an English accent and I think it will enhance your experience.)

While Ms. Andrews liked some weird stuff—doorbells?—I, on the other hand, like only cool stuff! Come with me on this journey, won’t you?

2013-06-18 15.07.48 These are my kitchen shelves of jarred non-perishables. No, I neither grew nor canned any of this stuff. (I’m much too afraid of botulism for such an endeavor as canning. Oh—that could be the seed of a fantastic post: “things of which I am afraid.”) I did buy these things in bags and empty them into the jars. It makes me feel like a pioneer woman when I look at them.

2013-06-18 15.40.14 Here is my beloved green tea latté. My love of the green tea latté is not news here, but please allow me to expound. The green tea latté is not only delicious and refreshing AND a perfect mid-afternoon snack, but green tea is high in antioxidants. And honey (a crucial ingredient in my recipe) is a natural antibacterial, contains flavanoids, boosts the immune system, fights carcinogens in the body and can even contain probiotics! And I am ready to share my recipe. Once I hit 10,000 unique daily visitors! I average about 80 right now, so you should probably get to passing this blog around. I am terrible at math, but by my calculations this shouldn’t take long at all. You will be sipping this delicious nectar in no time. In the meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy them in great anticipation of sharing the joy with all who visit my blog.

(I cannot wait to tell you this recipe!)

2013-06-18 15.14.11 NEW TECHNOLOGY ALERT!

(Well, new to me at least and all the people like me who figure stuff out way after everyone else does. If that describes you, then get ready for a new technology alert!)

This is Evernote. Evernote allows you to create “notebooks” in which you can stash individual notes. Instead of having bazillions of random documents cluttering your desktop lest you forget all the important crap you'd better NOT forget and then have your life fall apart as a result, you can save them all in this one easy place. You can sort and search and accumulate more information than you could ever put to use. But at least it will all be organized. Also, Evernote most likely does way more than I even know since I am not good at exploring technology. If you discover anything you think I might like, please let me know. 2013-06-18 15.07.29 (Above is my uncluttered desktop. If I planned anything well and had a little foresight, I would have taken a photo of my cluttered desktop to show you the difference. You’ll just have to take my word for it that it was a holy mess before Evernote.)

2013-05-08 15.04.09 Target steno pads. Love ‘em. Love ‘em, love ‘em, love ‘em. Like most writers, I have my preferred pad and pen. The pen I use is fine point blue ink from Bic. I am immovable on this. You will not move me. Go ahead and try. For many years, I have used regluar old college ruled legal pads. ‘Cause the thing with those is that you are always working from a fresh sheet—tear the top written-upon sheet off and you are left with a brand new, clean, glistening page. Good energy, people. But with a legal pad, as you tear a sheet off, you have to put it somewhere and risk it being lost or going out of sequence and no writer enjoys losing work. Just ask one. S/he will agree, I promise you. I dealt with it. Then I found these steno pads at Target. Wire-bound, people! Just flip the sheet over, and voilà! Brand new, clean, glistening page! Brilliant. And $2.99. $2.99!

2013-06-18 16.43.22 Cube bag. Do I even need to explain this one? It’s a cube. It holds its shape. Also it collapses down flat. Is there anything left to tell you? I really think I’ve said it all.

(And it was $4.99. $4.99!)

2013-06-18 15.16.32 This is the new (again, I use that word loosely) Gmail “default” inbox. Holy crap, this is awesome. The inbox I have always wanted. I am beside myself with excitement. I’m not even exaggerating. It is comprised of tabs wherein you can teach Gmail where to direct your emails. What? Are you kidding me? Now as the emails flow in, they go to the tabs wherein I want them to go. (And I got to use the word "wherein" twice!) Seriously. This is almost too awesome. It not only creates less work, but keeps me organized. When I am organized, I feel sane. For me. Which might not be saying much, but it’s better than nothing.

So, these are a few of my favorite things. (You totally just sang that in your head. I know you did.) Please let me know if you want me to complain about the insane and/or dopey comments prospective buyers make after they’ve viewed our house. I am totally dying to do it.

(I'll just go do some yoga now.)

i do not want to do it—just you try to make me

You know what would be fun? Adding all kinds of accents no one could possibly pronounce to your name. Then use that crazy business as your username on Facebook. Like "Mëĺĭşŝæ." Try to say it. Go ahead—see what it sounds like. I have no idea. You don’t even have to go as far as that—something simple like "Mèlissæ" would suffice. You could totally keep it simple. Then you can let people wonder if you’re being weird or ironic or if you’re one of those ones who takes things very seriously. (Sorry if I am being insensitive. I know some of you really do need an umlaut. Yes, I don’t really know what that is.) This has nothing to do with anything. I should be editing The Mosquito Hours but that’s hard and procrastinating is easy.

I went to my cousin’s 25th wedding anniversary party the other night, which was something of a family reunion, as not all of us are in the same room very often. I heard lots of great family history stories and I am blatantly stealing some of them for future novels. I texted them to myself from the bathroom so I wouldn’t forget. I have no shame. Don’t hang out with a writer if you don’t want to show up in some form in her work. We’re thieves, people. Unapologetic thieves.

This also has nothing to do with anything. I should be editing The Mosquito Hours but that’s hard.

And procrastinating is easy.

I should totally write a post about procrastinating. I have many good ways to do it. If you’re gonna do it, do it right, I always say. Oh, wait, that was Wham! (yes, you have to use the exclamation point—it’s their proper name... you need to take these things very seriously, people) and it was, “If you’re gonna do it do it right—do it with me.” My sister loved Wham! when we were in high school. We made up a dance to “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.” I wish I could remember it. We could embarrass our kids so much by performing it at family parties, the beach, the playground, various parking lots. Anywhere really. Oh! Target! I would totally do that. Does that make me a so-so mother? I think it makes me awesome. Someday they will appreciate my high-jinks. And speak of them fondly at family reunions.

Edits... I just have to get the edits done. Blaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh... I feel very fussy. Talking about how fussy I feel is another means of procrastinating. Boring you to death with this train of thought is yet another.

(I’m sorry.)

Here’s the trouble. I want to self-publish so I can retain full creative control, earn higher royalties and plan publication on my own timetable. Also, philosophically, the bad-ass in me loves a spicy renegade method and the New England Yankee in me loves the DIY aspect of indie publishing. But I also want someone to tell me exactly when my novel is perfect and do everything for me so that I don’t mess up EVERYTHING and RUIN MY LIFE!

Also the snotty little English major and holder of MFA in me wants Random House to sweep me off my feet and tell me how much he loves me.

(Does anyone do angst better than I?)

UGH... must do edits...

I wonder what’s new on Netflix? Oooh! The L Word—I love that show!

(Don’t want to do whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing right now? Here—watch some Wham!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W0d9xMhZbo

(You’re welcome.)

what’s ordinary about ordinary?

2013-05-27 21.43.57 An update on my novel’s latest adventure! The Mosquito Hours has been with an editor for the last month and now has returned to me, full of fresh, new ideas. It is invigorated and excited (so to speak) and so am I! I had a terrific Skype meeting with my editor last evening. (How much do I love saying my editor?? A LOT!) I have some work do to, but I am getting very close to the final edit. Which means you (yes, lucky you!) are getting close to being able to read it!

I remember how I felt when this manuscript was in the early, dreamy time of the creation process—when the story is beginning to take shape, although very loosely. When characters are emerging as if from a steamy room into clear air. It’s a point when I don’t want to know too much, just enough to begin. Then I allow the momentum to carry me along, because the story knows best where it’s going.   One thing I am always pretty sure about is the likelihood that my characters will be ordinary people to whom pretty ordinary things will happen.   Does that seem dull?

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Well, here it is: I am almost never interested in writing about the big things—horrific atrocities, murders, jilted brides, war, abducted children. I prefer to write the small, familiar ruptures, hurts and joys. I write about everyday people and everyday life. I can write pages and pages about the way a character thinks and feels about and reacts to ordinary life.

(The trick? I try to create characters people care about.)

Even when I choose a book to read, I shy away from those brimming and expansive plots and gravitate to the quiet stories.

Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to write the big stuff...

But whose life—even the most ordinary—is lacking in trajectory and meaning? I feel safe in saying these is no life with such lack.   I think there is an importance in moving focus to the lives of the people who seem commonplace, one of the masses, contributors to the stereotypes. Individuals, whose lives symbolize a wider significance in our history and can rise out of anonymity in being given a name and a place in the collective consciousness. The people I want to write about are the people who, in real life, would probably be ignored, but in the creation of whom readers will be able to connect with the everyday-ness of their stories. Find something of their own stories within.   I suppose I am much more interested in the “nothing” that happens. I am eager to witness what is revealed in the everyday. I believe authenticity surfaces from the details. Right now, everything that is ordinary is, well, ordinary. But as time passes, a picture is created. A history collects.   A curious thing happens when I set out to write the ordinary: anything but emerges. Vivian, Tania and Guin (the protagonists of The Mosquito Hours) are not ordinary whatsoever. And yet nothing particularly out of the ordinary comprises their lives. What happens are the things that do not possess the scope of power to reveal themselves as immediately life-altering, but with time prove out to be just that.   And so I wonder: is anything really ordinary?

Parts of this post originally appeared in a somewhat different incarnation on Her Circle Ezine.

some mindful thoughts for a friday

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Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. Ralph Waldo Emerson

As usual, I have a HUGE list of things that haven’t gotten done this week. I have an even longer list of things that have not gotten done in the last month. I can’t seem to carve out writing time, yoga has slipped out of my life lately (NOT good for anyone, at least in this domicile) and as I sit here attempting to write this post, I have been interrupted at least twenty times by my kids who needed: juice (my personal favorite), snack, water, red sharpie, snack, to show me a book that must be read right away, to inquire how Darth Vadar eats with that mask on all the time, snack, to discuss a story we need to write and illustrate immediately about the Little Ponies. ETC. (Did you actually think there wasn’t more?) And once I got to say “Don’t run with scissors!” which is always fun. For me.

As usual, I feel behind with my tasks and I cannot imagine how I am going to get caught up.

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And I have been dreading sitting down to write this post because I simply had no ideas. Add lack of inspiration to absence of time to write and you can imagine what ends up. When there is so much going on, tapping into creativity is extremely difficult.

I started to think about the origin of creativity. From where do the new ideas emerge? In this hectic world filled with an overabundance of information and distractions and an endless list of work that needs to be done—the business of life—when is there time and space for replenishing? If creativity (whatever that might mean for you) is like water in the well, what happens if it runs dry?

I heard a story on NPR a while back in which a scientist spoke about water, its origins and supply and management. Apparently, all the water we have is all the water we’ve ever had—it cycles over and over again. Time and circumstances are irrelevant to its movement.

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I’d like to think of creativity that way. Maybe I will take some time to wander slowly, allow that deep well to stir and ripen. Maybe practice some self-kindness and do some light contemplation about nourishing my creative self. Answer some questions: what is nourishing and what is robbing? I know that the act of creation is itself nourishing and that creativity is elusive—try to look at it too closely and it will slip away. Maybe I spend a little time on this rainy, dark day being quiet and idle and uninvolved and unconcerned with the workings inside. Perhaps creativity is nothing within my control and all I need do is wait patiently for it to come and flood the well inside me with inspiration.

I am publishing this early on this Friday morning; it is a new day. Time to carry on.

"A Cool Dry Place"—part 6

read part 1read part 2 read part 3 read part 4 read part 5

“Hi,” Mandy says softly. The tight smile she forces to her face gets stuck there. Her muscles work on their own, she needs to retain no consciousness of them.

“Hi, Nicole,” Mandy’s Mom says. “How are you?”

“Good, Mrs. Logan. Out for dinner with the family?” She is very sweet.

The food in Mandy’s mouth grinds to paste. She sips her orange soda, but everything inside her is thick and gluey.

“Yes. Every Friday unless there’s a game Mandy wants to go to.” Mom smiles. The things that are harmless for adults to say always astound Mandy. Something curls up inside her. The last thing she needs is for Nicole to know more than she already does.

“That’s nice.” She turns on Mandy. “Mandy, me and the other girls are over in the corner. You should come over to our table and say hi.”

“Go ahead, honey,” Mom says. “Not too long, though—your food will get cold.”

window_frost From the corner of her eye, Mandy sees Nicole smirk. Her mother would dismiss it as a simple smile if Mandy were to mention it later (not that she will). Mandy knows Nicole better. She slides out of the booth and follows Nicole. She is amazed she is able. Her body is so heavy.

She would rather stay with her family. She looks back; just a small glance. Lara looks into her eyes, watches as she walks away with Nicole. Lara knows. And that does not require words.

“Hey, guys! Look—Mandy’s here. With her family!”

Giggles. “Cool,” says Tara. Mandy knows it is not cool. But it’s not the validity of her family on the line here. It is uncool that she would rather be with them than with the girls. Not that she was invited. And she doesn’t want to be with them, so it’s a relief she wasn’t invited. But it’s not okay not to be chosen. There is a longing, mournful feeling that she is missing something. At the same time she knows she is missing nothing of which she wants to be a part. She has been included enough times to know.

But still.

“So, what’re your plans after this?” one of them asks Mandy.

“Um. Nothing really,” she shrugs. She’s going home and Dad will start a fire in the wood stove and she and Lara will have bowls of ice cream and Mom will make herself a cup of hot tea and they will watch Friday night TV. This is the kind of thing she likes. She knows it’s not the right thing. Liking your sister best of anyone, wanting to be with your Mom and Dad at Friendly’s and in front of the TV on a Friday night. None of this is right and she knows it. She also has a vague and undefined idea that she should not, at her age, be expected to have “plans.” It is an unnamed feeling I am too young, I am not ready for plans.

“Oh. We’re going to the Mall.” The Mall is adjacent to the restaurant. She says Mall with a weightiness she attempts to temper with nonchalance.

This is all new as far as Mandy knows. She knows they would have talked about it at school if they had done this before. She knows it will be the Big Topic on Monday.

“Cool,” Mandy says. All she can think of is getting away, back to her table. “Well, I should finish my food before it gets cold. And I’m really hungry. See you guys.” She turns back and adds, “Have fun at the Mall!” She hopes this comes off as breezy and I don’t care what you guys are doing! I’m really busy myself! But she hears a pinched tone in her voice and knows they, too, with their preternatural ability to hear things like that, to know what others are thinking, hear it. She knows they will talk about it later, as they paw through racks of clothes, through top-ten audio cassettes, through the latest teen magazine photos of heartthrobs over whom they will loudly exclaim. Ever eager to call attention to themselves, ever hungry for eyes to be upon them, ever needing to soak in all the available energy around them.

She won’t look back at them, even though her skin burns for a quick look. As she rounds the corner she risks a glimpse. Their heads are close together, they laugh loudly. Mandy walks faster to her table. She sees her family talking and smiling and Lara sips her root beer.

And she feels better.

crescent_moon_over_pines She slides in next to Lara. The girls start to disappear a little, they start to fade around the edges. And they float on the air. Float off on the french fry and chocolate ice cream smelling air of Friendly’s. She watches as the faded color pieces of the girls float away. She looks out the smooth cool glass into the night. Watches the air clear of it until all that is in front of her is the black black sky with its sliver moon and pinpoint stars. The blackness stretches out and out.

She wonders where it all settles.

holy crap i almost bought a $50 trash bin

Holy crap I almost bought a $50 trash bin. fancy_trash_bin

It never made it out of the van.

I woke one day and decided our white plastic Rubbermaid flip-open trash bin was too ugly to reside in my kitchen any longer. (That’s how it happens—I wake one day and certain things are no longer tolerable. Could happen to almost anything around here. I do suggest Steve watch himself. I mean, I can’t ditch the kids—you can’t just run around being a bad mother. No, I have to keep them. But bad wife really doesn’t carry the same stigma.)

(Steve knows I’m totally kidding. Or am I?)

I considered decoupaging the trash bin—even found instructions on Pinterest and bought a jar of Modge Podge. But then I thought that project might be too crazy even for me. At any rate, that ugly trash bin had to be relegated to some other, less visually obvious duty—such as laundry lint collection—and a new bin would have to be procured. But those stinkin’ fancy stainless trash bins are expensive. And their purpose is to collect trash—I am not immune to that irony, people.

Typically, I try to find fun, frugal ways to solve dilemmas such as suddenly hating a trash bin I’ve lived amongst for several years in perfect but suddenly defunct harmony. I am hesitant to declare that I’m cheap, but I’m kinda cheap. I like bargains, I like consignment shops, I like finding discarded items on the neighbors’ lawns. But that ugly white trash bin had to go and I happened to possess an expired Bed Bath and Beyond coupon! Pretty frugal right there! I called them up and Chantal, who answered the phone, promised to honor the expired coupon and I set off to peruse their glorious inventory of beautiful—not ugly—trash bins. Shiny and sleek, they seduced me, they beckoned with their come-hither loveliness and I chose a stainless beauty with rails to be secured inside the cabinet. That glorious trash bin would swoosh in and out and I could almost pretend there was no trash bin! (Except when I had trash to dump in it.) The measurements were perfect. Clearly, this was fate. I carried it to the counter, lovingly held it close, presented my expired coupon (which the good people at Bed Bath and Beyond did indeed honor) and $54.99 plus tax later, I placed my pretty trash bin in the back of my van and as I pulled away from the store, I suddenly thought Holy crap I just spent $54.99 plus tax on a freakin’ trash bin. Luckily, Target is in the same shopping plaza and I went right in there and bought a white plastic trash bin whose dimensions could be accommodated under the sink (that part of the idea was still good) for $4.97 plus tax (a lot less tax) and returned the shiny one the next day lest I seem nuts having just bought it. I prefer to exhibit my brand of crazy in more subtle, less conscious ways.


Look how gross the floor of my van is. Popcorn, anyone? It's covered in dirt and filth and dead bugs. Yum! Kids just have a knack of knowing how to enhance everything.

This trash bin triumph leads me to relay a less victorious moment. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had entered my novel, The Mosquito Hours, into a writing contest—big prize, publication with Amazon, waves of accolades. The book made it through the first round, 2000 entrants down to 400—not too shabby.

But that was as far as I got.

I spent about a half hour telling myself it was all over, maybe I was simply no good, I should give up all aspirations and hopes. It was a pitiful 30 minutes.

Then I readjusted.

And that’s what I want to tell you, good people. There is no failure—there is only readjustment. I don’t intend to get all sickly sweet here on you, but one of the things I keep reading and thinking about in all my homeschooling learning and experiences is that there is no failure in homeschool. In homeschool, when you don’t yet know how to read at the age of 7 like you’re “supposed to,” there is not failure in it. There is no comparison. There is only tomorrow and tomorrow to keep on doing. Doing the things that will lead to the reading. There is doing, observing the outcome, doing more.


Do or do not. There is no try.

Where there are no expected outcomes, there can be no failure.

Failure is merely another word for fear. Master Yoda also said, Named must your fear be before banish it you can.

This writing life of mine—this life—is an adventure of doing. I cannot fail. I can make plans, execute them and observe the outcome. I can make adjustments. There is not one singular, right, exact way to do this. There is no try. There is do. I am doing! Look for The Mosquito Hours for your summer beach reading pleasure! It’s happening, people! Fear of failure, hereby banish you do I!


I don’t need the shiny bin, the flashy prize. All I need is to do, readjust, observe and do some more. Place trust in the power of doing.

And never, ever spend $50 on a trash bin.