And here it is…

Ready for release, June 12, 2018, wherever books are sold. Be still my heart!


A whimsical, moving novel about a retirement home for literary legends who spar, conjure up new stories, and almost magically change the lives of the people around them.

Alfonse Carducci was a literary giant who lived his life to excess—lovers, alcohol, parties, and literary rivalries. But now he’s come to the Bar Harbor Home for the Elderly to spend the remainder of his days among kindred spirits: the publishing industry’s nearly gone but never forgotten greats. Only now, at the end of his life, does he comprehend the price of appeasing every desire, and the consequences of forsaking love to pursue greatness. For Alfonse has an unshakeable case of writer’s block that distresses him much more than his precarious health.

Set on the water in one of New England’s most beautiful locales, the Bar Harbor Home was established specifically for elderly writers needing a place to live out their golden years—or final days—in understated luxury and surrounded by congenial literary company. A faithful staff of nurses and orderlies surround the writers, and are drawn into their orbit, as they are forced to reckon with their own life stories. Among them are Cecibel Bringer, a young woman who knows first-hand the cost of chasing excess. A terrible accident destroyed her face and her sister in a split-second decision that Cecibel can never forgive, though she has tried to forget. Living quietly as an orderly, refusing to risk again the cost of love, Cecibel never anticipated the impact of meeting her favorite writer, Alfonse Carducci—or the effect he would have on her existence. In Cecibel, Alfonse finds a muse who returns him to the passion he thought he lost. As the words flow from him, weaving a tale taken up by the other residents of the Pen, Cecibel is reawakened to the idea of love and forgiveness.

As the edges between story and reality blur, a world within a world is created. It’s a place where the old are made young, the damaged are made whole, and anything is possible….



Filed under The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers

Looking Out the Window on a Rainy Day


It is ingrained in our DNA. Hide pain

so we don’t get eaten, picked out

of the herd, sent to

the bottom of the pack. Primitive instinct

at the core, always evolving.


We don’t want you to know.

We don’t want to see it in your face,

behind your eyes every time

you look at us. We don’t want conversations to stop,

or fall away when our subject is touched.

Eyes averted and cheeks pink, tongues stammering into silence.

We don’t want to be There but by the grace of god go I! 

In your hearts and in your minds. But we are.

We are. Compassion and pity are so difficult to tell apart.

We don’t want you to know, to hate

those we love, who cause us pain, and so we hide

what they do from you. We want

them to have a place in your heart when the chaos is over.

If it’s ever over. Sometimes it never is.

Fractals growing ever inward, ever outward.

*repeat chorus*


We hide our pain to spare ourselves, to spare

you the sometimes silent, sometimes shouted fury, to spare

us both pretending condolences don’t infuriate as much as

the blame, the co-dependent tags, the if-only-you-hads.

It all results in the same unavoidable circle.

You can’t do right. You can’t do wrong.

And so we hide behind smiles, behind tears, behind our own

averted eyes and pink cheeks and stammering tongues.

“I’m so sorry,” you say.

“Thank you,” say we.

Today, it may be just right. Tomorrow?

Maybe not.

*repeat chorus*


You don’t want to see our truth; trust me on that

You want us to hide; trust me on that.

Trust me. Trust me. Never trust me.

Pain hidden is an ugly thing, hideous, snarling

It’s contradictory and mean, pitiful and powerful.

Without an outlet, it’s deadly. This is mine, all

Mine. Borrow it if you need to, I give it freely, but don’t

worry it away from me. Don’t make me go silent. Don’t force me

to hide.

*repeat chorus*



Filed under poetry

Flowers From A Friend

I got a card in the mail last week, from a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I was so happy. We set up a coffee date. That was yesterday.

We met as volunteer Daisy moms when our girls were in kindergarten. Those girls–who once went around her neighborhood “raising money for Girl Scouts” by selling rocks they painted in her garage–are now twenty-six. We didn’t stay close, despite those Girl Scout years. Our kids went in different directions, and thus, so did we. There are hugs when we see one another in town, what’s news and how ares. The regular stuff of friends grown apart.

During those Girl Scout years, both our boys were unofficial Girl Scouts. Her son was a few years younger than Chris, so Chris got to be the “big boy.” They’d play, sometimes do activities with the girls. As they got older, they stopped coming to meetings, but that connection remained.

Not long after Chris’ accident, while he was still wheelchairbound and trying to process what life was going to be, I saw an archery competition set up to take place nearby. It was a local club thing, but open to the public. Chris had an eye! Whew. First time I ever took him to shoot, he got a bulls-eye. He could still shoot from his wheelchair. I thought it would be good for him. And it was. He out-shot all the other archers, grown men who’d been shooting most of their lives, and won two pumpkin pie trophies. It was a great day for him.

My friend’s husband and son were there that day, too. It was the first time the boys had seen one another in a few years. It was adorable, watching the old dynamic reassert itself. Her boy’s little bit of hero worship; my boy showing hers how to do something with his bow. My friend’s husband and I watched them a minute or two, chatted. There was nothing significant about the moment. Or so it seemed, at the time.

It wasn’t long after that her son died. Chris took it hard. He would have, anyway, but he’d recently seen him, and that connection was still there, and he was trying to process the death of his own identity. How he cried.

Fast forward ten years, and Chris was gone too. I’d seen my friend as I always had over the course of years. At the gym, in the grocery store, at Village Fair Days. As it had been with Chris and her son, the connection was always there. And now, we’d both lost our boys, those boys who used to be unofficial Girl Scouts. No one wants to have that in common.

She brought me flowers, and cookies she’d baked. We sat together over coffee, talking about this and that. Every now and again, one or the other of us would say something about our boys. They were tentative steps toward sharing deeper hurts neither of us can quite express. I might do fine on these pages, but only because the brain to fingers connection is far more adept than the connection brain to mouth.

And maybe we don’t have to actually say anything. We both understand the other’s pain, and sometimes just being in the presence of someone who truly knows is enough. It’s a relief.

This thing we have in common sometimes makes interactions with family and friends uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do when we’re sad. Do they talk about our missing sons? Pretend there isn’t an empty place at the holiday table? Talk about their own kids, thriving and growing up? Downplay all their familial happiness to spare us? They act from a place of kindness, of course, and that ramps up the pressure, because we’re the cause of their discomfort. And while I’m so very, very grateful few of them will actually understand, they will, nevertheless, never understand.

We all need those people who get where we are, with whom we don’t have to explain things, or tip-toe around, or endure getting tip-toed around. It’s not about like minds, but like experiences. Whether a mommy/daddy group or a writing group or a survivors-of-something group, those who understand our experiences intimately are vital to navigating this world. It’s not a place to dwell on the pain, but a place to be liberated from it.

Find your group. Free yourself. And in the process, free others.




Filed under Life's honest moments

On Being Strong

I just read Jamie’s article, Motherhood Has Changed My Idea of Strength. I got halfway through the article, saw the pic of her in the red leather jacket, braces, unibrow, and lost it completely. A great sob rose out of me, and then I laughed, and then I called her and told her she was a beast of a child for doing that to me.

How I adore her.

I’ve been a big mush about my kids the last week or so. I have my ups and downs. Most of my downs are quiet, kept to myself, and brief. But Jamie, Scott, Grace–they’ve seemed especially attuned this week, because I got random texts, an invite to tea, phone call out of the blue, always at the exact right moment to derail the sorrow creeping through me.

How I adore them.

In Jamie’s article, she writes: Motherhood will swallow you if you’re not strong, and it’s easy to see how and why. We fling ourselves into it, we want to do it well, and, often, we like it. This frequently means putting the needs of our children and others before ours. That can look strong — taking on absolutely everything for someone else — and, in its own way, it is. But it’s not sustainable without a cost, and that toll is ourselves as individuals. When we do that all the time, to the detriment of our own interests, limits, and desires, we become a background player in our own lives. It takes courage to pull ourselves back and assert time and space for ourselves.”

Jamie once told me that one of the greatest things I ever taught her was that I am a person. An individual. I have interests and desires and aspirations outside of my family. I wasn’t sure if she ever understood how hard that was to do, until now. It may be the hardest part of my experience as a mother, because my instinct put them first. Always. And partly because of that, I wanted all my children to know that they, too, are individual beings with interests and desires and aspirations outside of their families. If I sacrificed everything I am to be everything for them, what would they do when it was their turn?

It was exceedingly hard for me to be “selfish.” I come from a long line of selfless mothers whose entirety was comprised of their children, their children’s children, and so on. Identities were not a “thing.” They were someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, grandmother. I claimed my individuality for my kids, especially for my girls. But first and foremost, I did it for me. I always hoped they knew that. I think I can safely say, now, they do.

I raised individuals. Kind. Compassionate. Open-minded, always-learning, often stubborn individuals. They don’t go along to get along. Their drummers not only have their own beat, but an entirely different song. I didn’t do everything right; I’ll assume my kids laugh behind my back about all the things they survived despite my bumbling or backwardness or simple lack of knowledge. But I got this right. So right. And, damn, I’m really proud.




Filed under Family

She Wakes in Beauty…



home2It’s going to be very difficult to leave here. There isn’t a season in the whole wheel of the year I don’t open my eyes each morning to insane beauty right outside my bedroom window. In the spring, I wake to lilac blossoms. Come summer, it’s a swathe of yellow, brown-eyed-susans. Autumn is a blaze of sugar maples that go from amber to russet  to scarlet. And this is what I wake to in winter. White. A fresh canvas. The silence of snow.

I’m the country mouse heading back into town, where there are all sorts of perks I don’t get out here in the back of beyond. As I said to my Frankie D yesterday, I’m still equal parts excited about and dreading the move. I can’t imagine the last night here. Just trying to seizes me up inside. To never see those lilacs, the brown-eyed-susans, the autumn leaves and untouched snow. To never hear the peepers across the street in the marsh those cold first days of March, the cacophony of crickets in August and September, or the owls hooting in quiet October. To step out of this house, away from this land, and know it’s no longer mine; the memories made are finite after all.

I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again, and yet, I’ll never look out on Christofer’s tree again. The splatters on the wall, the roof he built, the little reminders of him every day will no longer be right there where I can see them–and yet, they’ll no longer be right there where I can see them.

There is always a before, and an after. Before Brian died, and after. Before Frankie D, and after. Before Christofer’s accident, and after. Before he died, and after. There are hundreds of before and afters in all our lives, some joyful, and some shattering. This before leaving the log house on the river and after comes with equal parts. There is no better, no worse to it, but a balance of both.

I am aware that staying here is remaining static, while moving away from it is going forward, and so I move forward. I promised my bear, my amazing children, and myself. I’m ready to leave, it’s just not going to be easy.



Filed under Life's honest moments

Coming to Terms

Here we are. 2018. What will it bring? I find myself looking forward hopefully, rather optimistically, despite the fact that our financial situation is precarious.

I can’t hate 2017, despite getting kicked in the teeth yet again. We went to Spain, France and Italy. Frank and I enjoyed the best summer we’ve ever had together. Relaxing. Rejuvenating. An all around peaceful time. Jamie and her family moved back to Connecticut. Two years had gone by since we lost our son; there had been time to reflect, to heal. To get used to him not being here, though that’s not an accurate way to put it. I wish I had one. After five minutes staring at the cursor, trying to figure it out, that’s just the closest I can come.

I sold (what was then The Pen) The Bar Harbor Retirement Home For Famous Writers (and their muses) to William Morrow, and Bastei Lubbe. The experience has been sublime. Every step has been familiar, and yet entirely different from my past experiences in publishing. I could go on citing all the good stuff of 2017 of, but there is only one best.

Since my bear dream, I’ve found the sort of peace I didn’t think I ever could, concerning Christofer John DeFino. My son. My beautiful, chaotic son. Deciding to leave this house was directly related to that dream. Whether it was Chris giving me a shove, or my own brain sorting through things in its mysterious way, it worked.

Chris is gone. Really gone. Since bear-dreaming, I haven’t felt his presence the way I used to. I truly believe he “went north,” to where dream and reality mix and merge, to find his next adventure. Wherever that is, I can’t follow him. I can only send him off with all the love in my heart, because it’s what I’d have done had he lived. That’s what mothers do.

This life didn’t work out for him. I can toss all the whys and why nots through my head a million times between now and my own end of days, but there’s no way to know if there was anything I could have done to change his fate. If only. Maybe. I could have. Should have. Didn’t. Wishing does nothing. Crying doesn’t either. I’ll have to stop wishing, even if I can’t promise not to cry anymore, but I’ve come to a point that remembering him doesn’t bring instant tears. And while I write this, my eyes are a bit wombly, but I’m not crying. I can smile, knowing he’s off doing whatever it is he needed to do, to be. I miss him. I’ll always miss him. I just can’t be sorry he’s no longer here, suffering. Causing chaos that caused him even more suffering. I don’t know what he’d have become, had he stayed. I never will. But I do know my Bear is okay where he is, even if he misses us, too.

And now come the waterworks making the screen blur. But I’m smiling too. My boy. My sweet, brilliant son. I’m off into new adventures too. A new house, new town, a new phase in my life he’ll never be part of. I can’t wish him near me in spirit, because that only holds him back. Life held him back in more ways than anyone knew. Death won’t. I believe that in depths of my heart I never knew existed.

He’s gone north. How funny, I’m heading south. His journey is going to be way longer; I’m only moving to the next town. I won’t anticipate our paths crossing, but if they do, I’ll know. And I’ll be able to cherish whatever fleeting moments I get, then let go again without holding too tight, holding him back. Holding myself back.

Here’s to 2017. And three cheers for 2018. May the ups sustain you through the downs.




Filed under Life's honest moments

Twas the Day After Christmas

Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the house,

Not a creature was stirring, except for my mouse,

Not a real one, of course, but the one by my hand

The kind that helps navigate throughout cyberland.

Frankie’s out really early, a coffee he’ll share

With a potential employer, no sugar plums there.

And me in my shorts, in my oversized shirt,

Being alone in my loft, I’ll tell you, it doesn’t hurt…


It’s been six months Frank’s out of work. His final paycheck went into the bank last week. Thank goodness we had the severance, but now that safety net is gone. 2018 looms, both scary and so full of potential. New job, new home, the release of The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers in June, the German translation release in the fall (or winter) season. Part of me says, “Everything’s going to work out just fine.” Then there’s the other part that whispers mean things I hear, but won’t give the time of day to.

I miss him way more than I ever imagined when he does go out, like he did today. Of course, I want him to find a job. One that will fulfill him personally and professionally. I can’t help wishing he could retire, even though he’s bored silly now that there’s no yard work to do. I don’t get as much writing done. There are far fewer lunches with friends. The noise level is way outside my preferred silence. But egads, I love the man. I love how much he digs grocery shopping (there are few days we don’t end up in Aldi, Stew’s, or Shop Rite), and that he calls me down for lunch when I’d have worked through it. I love that he comes with me when I babysit the grands, and puts the laundry in the dryer before I get to it. I love it when he talks to the cats rather than interrupt me, even though I’m pretty certain he’s not really expecting Gyro and Toulouse to know if mommy would be interested in going to Five Guys for a diet cherry Coke. (The answer to which is always, “yes!”)

Whatever 2018 brings, we’ll work with it. We’ve weathered the worst of things without breaking. This certainly isn’t going to break us.


He hopped into his car, to potential employer gave a wave,

And homeward he flew, like Batman to his cave.

He called twice on the phone, ere he drove into sight,

“Should I stop for proscuitto? Or do you want Jersey Mike’s?”



Filed under Frankie D Stories



I just watched a “soldiers coming home” meme on Facebook, meant to draw a few tears, a sad smile, a thank goodness. I cried, not over those soldiers and their families, but because I felt what they felt, once. In a dream. I was sitting at my kitchen counter, and I felt him walk in. I turned, and there he was, standing in the doorway. There he smiled. There he held out his arms for me to launch myself into. Watching that stupid meme, I remembered the mindbending joy of those people in it. And I remembered how empty my arms remained as I launched.


It’s been hard to post in here, lately, ever since my weighted house and bear dream. My days are full of so much happiness, so much happening. It’s not all fucking rays of sunshine, but who can let the heaviness devour when your son and his lovely girlfriend come home to visit, when you see your family more than usual, when your grandkids are adorable, and your oldest daughter makes you tea, and your youngest one has a new puppy and a one-eyed cat? When all your literary aspirations are, daily, happening and happening and happening? And so I don’t leave any of myself here, because there’s just too much to contain, or set loose.


The weight of this house still presses on my shoulders, but I’m better at bearing it now. Deciding I’m okay leaving has built up some sort of muscle, or muscle memory, that keeps me from going down on my knees. Bear is gone north, without even a glance over his shoulder. He can’t. I know he couldn’t. But still it skewers me, a kebab on the fire roasting low and slow and inexorable. Maybe he’ll be back. Maybe he won’t. I never did like kebabs all that much.


I want to be done here, to be in the new, to leave behind (only a safe distance) this dream of life I’ve led all these years. Turn the corner, the page, the bend in the road, the wheel of the year. I’ll be patient, faithful that things will work out in a way I’ll be able to work with. It’s what Tiggers do best, after all–roll with the punches, make lemonade out of lemons, always look on the bright side of life.


Filed under Life's honest moments

Bear Dreaming

     I dreamed a bear came to my window. It was dark; his teeth were the first thing I saw, only making out bear’s huge outline after. He first appeared at my bedroom window (south), then my front porch window (west). Last he came to look in my kitchen window (east) and was gone, leaving, I felt but did not see, from the north.
     I know the science behind dreaming, but, “There is no cognitive state that has been as extensively studied and yet as misunderstood as much as dreaming.”  I dream and know my brain is processing events into memory. I dream and know it’s trying to work through thoughts and feelings I’m struggling with. I dream and know my inner storyteller is at work. And then there are those dreams that seem like more. Maybe I just want them to be, but It’s my brain; I get to decide.
     This dream felt like more.
     I’ve read several “meanings” for bear, and they all differ slightly, but the gist is strength, leadership, and taking conscious control of your future. It’s powerful symbolism that could well fit with my life right now. But that’s really secondary to the fact that Bear is also Chris.
     He always associated with bears. He was a big guy, often misunderstood. He once wrote a story about a grizzly bear who befriended all the little animals being picked on by the bigger ones. In it, the grizzly was sad because, though he loved the little animals, he wanted to be friends with everyone else, too. He didn’t want anyone to be scared of him, not even the bullies.
     Christofer’s little boy love of bears morphed into aspirations of being a biologist studying bears in the wild. It was his whole life. After the accident, it was his impetus to regain the use of his leg. He worked so hard. He endured so much pain. The leg just wouldn’t mend. But he didn’t give up. We took him for a college visit his junior year in high school–Paul Smith’s College up in NY State, his goal still intact. Once there, he had to face the fact that his dream was well and truly done. Getting to his “classrooms” required several mile hikes over rough terrain. He had enough trouble getting from class to class in high school to know it wasn’t happening. He had to let it go.
     But his love of bears never quit. When he started working Girl Scout Camp (archery), he chose the name Grizzly for his camp name. He had a bear paw tattooed on his biceps. When I asked him to choose a charm for my bracelet to represent him, it was, of course, a bear.
     So naturally, the bear in my dream was Christofer. I’ve said before that sometimes I dream of him and it’s just a dream, other times it feels more like a visit. That he came to windows south, east and west felt significant, but I had no idea what that significance could be. It dogged me all day. Finally, I wrote to my friend, a biologist with a witch’s soul, and asked her if she had any insight.
     As some reading this might recall, the dollbabies use Medicine Cards every year as a tool to ground us in the week. I won’t go into all that, but it’s pertinent to the response my friend sent. This is what she responded:
SOUTH: “The South is the Path of Trust and Innocence and is sometimes referred to as the Way of the Child – the part of us that can establish relationships through faith, trust, and innocence….The South is the direction to help you see things in clear detail and to begin to perceive your own nature….In the South you are going to rid yourself of the encumbrances that obscure your true self and prevent you from seeing your own self in its true light.”
WEST: “…the emphasis of the West is on change and transition. It is also where we have to face the truth about Death, and to recognize that every change is the death of what has gone before. Death is a transition to that which is a new beginning….[in the West] we can prepare for renewal.”
EAST: “When the adventurer comes to the East, a realization begins to dawn – the realization that living is meant to be enjoyed, not suffered or endured. Life is intended to be pleasurable….East is the direction of fresh, vibrant energy – the kind that can seemingly work miracles. It is the place for undergoing self-renewal…”
(From The Medicine Way by Kenneth Meadows)
I responded back to her:
That the bear appeared first South (trust, innocence, the way of the child etc) feels, to me, like Chris was announcing himself, telling me, “MOM! It’s me!” Big and strong and fierce, but still his sweet self. That was ever Chris. Fearsome to behold, all mush inside. But he was outside (in all sightings), telling me that the barrier between where he is and where I am is flimsy, but impassable.
Bear next appeared West. Change, transition. This speaks to both recent events in my life as well as bear’s opinion of it. Like he was saying, “Mom! It’s me!” he’s also saying, “Mom, I’m dead. You have to accept that.” It’s time to accept his death, and that holding on to the past is only holding us BOTH back.
Bear then moves East. Living is meant to be enjoyed. Renewal. Joy. And that it is also my kitchen–the heart of my home–speaks volumes.
But Bear left North open, and I feel that’s the direction he chose to go.  I’m curious to know what North means, within this same cannon.
Her response back to me:
“In the North we ‘stop the world,’ we silence the chatter and confusion of the airwaves all around us and come into harmony with the creation from which we have been isolated…[the North] is also a place of Purification and Renewal in preparation for new beginnings – for ‘rebirth.'”
     There is so much more within those meanings, and my dream. We dream, and those we remember, we interpret–or let go. I choose not to let this go. Not when it speaks to me so brilliantly. Silencing the chatter and confusion was everything Chris strove for those last years of his too-short life. To be one with everything, like the grizzly bear from his story. Bear went north to his new beginning free from those things that cost him this life, here, with his family. It’s time to move on. We both know that. But I’ve been clinging so hard to things, to a way of life, to a home, to him. It’s all encompassing, the imprint he’s left, that imprint I make bigger and bigger every day. It has come to a point that there isn’t an inch of this house, this yard, I don’t associate with him. Four of our children  lived here, made this home–and yet I’m having a hard time recalling memories of them. They’ve become secondary characters in this story of our life in the log house, on the river, in the mountains. How many kinds of wrong is that?
     Bear came to me, from all directions but north, because that is where he was going. “I have to go, Mama, and you can’t follow here.” Bear gave me permission to let go of all I have been clinging to, to make my own way out of the crushing grief that has been burying me without me noticing. I don’t care if it sounds silly, I believe it with all my heart.


Filed under Family

The Weight of This House

I first stepped foot onto this property a little more than fifteen years ago. It was dusk. There was no driveway. Just an undeveloped two acres of wildflowers, forest, and the river. Thrills ran up the back of my neck, prickled my brain. “This is where I’m going to die.”

Beside me, Chris said, “So am I.”

He was eleven. All that was to come was still years away, not even a momentary consideration of a path on our horizon. I laughed. “I sure hope you’re not still living with us by then!”

I don’t remember exactly his response, but he said something about it being his house by then. We were moving into this new adventure, into this dream come true–a log home on the river, in the woodsy mountains, in this town we love–with every expectation of those in the prime of life with nothing but more good stuff coming our way.

Things don’t always turn out the way we anticipate. The weight of this house and all its echoes rests so heavily on me now.

ambivalent: n. in psychology, ambivalence is defined as the mental disharmony or disconnect a person feels when having both positive and negative reactions regarding the same individual, situation, or object.

This is what I am. I want to leave here so badly, leave behind this shattered dream, this too big house, the expense, the echoes of all the good and bad that happened here. But the thought of leaving rips me apart. How can I leave this beautiful piece of land, this house I dreamed of all my life? How can I leave Chris’ tree, the roof he built, the splatters on the wall from the chemical explosion that stunk up my house for days? How can I stay with those things, and not feel the weight of them forever? I want to go. I want to stay.

We need to go.

This house is too big. The property, too much. With Frank possibly retiring, our expenses need to narrow down to what we need, while still having some semblance of the life we’ve worked so hard to live. I WANT small. Cozy. A place just mine and his. No echoes of kids’ laughter in the rafters, or bangs in the night that meant catastrophe had fallen…again. I know this is right. And yet…

Ambivalence at its most visceral. It hurts. And it’s heavy. And I need to let it go. I know that underneath all the churning in my gut, my heart, my brain. In writing this, all that churning makes the computer screen blur and my flying fingers skip keys.

I know it’s right.

I know it’s right.

It’s time for a new adventure. We just have to take that leap.



Filed under Family, Life's honest moments