About Linda

Author Archive | Linda

An Announcement

This announcement has been a long time coming, the project a long time reaching fruition. I think my modest success with my books has given me the courage and confidence to tap greater depths of my creative self. Most of you know that in addition to writing, I also enjoy painting, especially with watercolors. For quite a few years, I have painted custom greeting cards for friends and relatives for birthdays and holidays. For years these friends and relatives have been hounding me to turn this into a commercial venture. Finally, I’ve decided to do this. I am launching a line of greeting cards and frameable prints. I will be selling them in various shops throughout New England, as well as online, and at craft fairs and shows throughout the country.

In order to get this project off the ground, and because discretionary income is always at a premium, I have decided to use Kickstarter, a website devoted to helping aspiring artistic entrepreneurs raise funds to promote their endeavors. I have partnered with my young friend and neighbor, Sarah Purdy. Sarah will see to designing and managing a website specifically devoted to these products, as well as keeping an eye on the business end of things while I create the artwork.

Please peruse our project. See if it interests you, and if you would be interested in purchasing, ahead of actual distribution, a sample of our product, for a dollar amount of your choice. Thank you so much for your support. I love creating this project. It’s been a long time in the making, but I am proud of these cards and I am sure the public will embrace them as well

Project URL – https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2147207956/vermont-romance?ref=email

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Fun On The Farm

Okay, I don’t know how many people are going to even get this, but this is a glimpse into how I grew up. I am not making this up. Read at your own risk.

I grew up on a small dairy farm. The town where I lived was a mill town on the banks of the Millers River in Massachusetts. My family owned the only farm in the surrounding neighborhood. My grandfather, uncle, and father produced, processed, and bottled our own milk. We were the local milk source. We delivered milk to almost every house in town, to the schools, and to the surrounding businesses. My father was the milkman.

My cousin, my brother and sister and I grew up wild on the farm. Being removed from “civilized” society, we had to make our own fun. It was a different kind of fun than our town friends had. Our kind of fun was more like “Lord Of The Flies” kind of fun. And it was seasonal.

In the spring, our greatest fun was hunting for new kittens. We had a cat colony numbering about twenty semi-feral cats. There was no rodent problem on our farm. The cats would gather every morning at milking time to be fed, clustering around large, flat pans full of steaming fresh milk. We children were still very young, but we knew a pregnancy when we saw one. We would watch the females grow fatter and fatter as February grew into March. By April, we were on guard. Finally, we would see what we had been waiting for. A cat, rotund the day before, would appear at the breakfast bar as svelte as she had been in December. Kittens! They were almost invariably born in the hayloft above the cows. We clambered up the ladder to begin our thorough search of the tunnels between the thousands of bales of hay stored there. Stealth was crucial. If we were caught in the hayloft without express orders from an adult, punishment would be swift and unpleasant, not because our parents worried about our safety, but because they didn’t want us jumping around the bales of hay and perhaps breaking them. At any rate, the mewing of tiny kits would soon catch our ears. They were usually hidden at the end of some narrow tunnel between bales and we would have to send in my sister, about four years old, and the smallest of us, to bring them forth for our census.

She went in, head first. Sometimes she needed encouragement. My brother was the one who took care of this, stuffing her into the black hole with orders not to come out without kittens. Her screams, muffled by the hay, were never heard by our father or uncle, busy in the barn below, or half a mile away working the fields. Soon she would disappear, swallowed up by the blackness of the sweet scented tunnel. One shift in the stacked bales could have put her in real danger, but ofcourse we never thought of that, nor did my parents, apparently. Fortunately, it didn’t happen.

Sometimes, my sister would disappear. Things would go silent. No mewing. No screaming. Then, my cousin would have to go in. She was the second smallest. In she would wriggle until she found my sister’s foot to grab. I would be on the outside, holding my cousin’s foot until she yelled, “Pull!” Together, my brother and I would pull on her leg until we succeeded in extracting both little girls with their hands full of newborn kittens. We were in a state of ecstasy as we examined each kitten, naming it, trying to determine whether it was male or female, and committing to memory its individual markings and color. Our favorites were the calico kittens. After each kitten had received a thorough examination, they would be assigned an owner. We would lay individual claim to them. Since there were four of us, it was always nice to find four. If there were only three, we would share. We girls named our kittens Daisy and Star, or Mittens. My brother would name his Killer, or Brutus, or Bugsy, even if it was female. After the naming ceremony, the whole process had to be repeated and the kittens returned to the lair. My sister and cousin would repeat their journey down the tunnel, redepositing the tiny furballs in their nest.

This was only one way we entertained ourselves. In the next episode of Fun On The Farm, I will explain what a wonderful time you can have with the common barnyard hen!

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On Being Alone

photo (144)All of us feel lonely from time to time. Not so much because we are by ourselves, but because we feel misunderstood, or as though our thoughts or opinions are constantly being dismissed or ignored by the people around us. As often as not, this loneliness is dispelled by the everyday demands of life. There are jobs to do, dinners to get, children to ferry from one activity to another. The very pace of each day has the power to sweep loneliness from our individual wheelhouses.

Then there are those of us who are alone. We live alone, and often far away from those most dear to us. It is here I find myself. Here, as Spring struggles to persevere against a particularly stubborn Winter, I find myself on the edge of loneliness, battling sadness, striving to produce “happy” endorphins despite the frigid temperatures, muddy roads, temporarily limited discretionary funds, and the fact that I am widowed and my children and grandchildren all live three thousand miles away! I also live in rural Vermont, so even a visit to the neighbor’s is a car ride away. Sometimes the abyss of depression seems all too close.

How do we cope, those of us who live alone? Personally, I find it helps to face the emotional challenge head on. When I’m out and about doing errands and I see couples doing the same things I’m doing alone, I call up from my memory the times when my husband and I would do things together. This time of year, we would be planning the garden, or bemoaning the fact that there was yet a green blade of anything to be seen. While these memories can make me sad that he is not with me now, they more often make me smile, and grateful for the fact that I have the memories in the first place. I miss my children on a daily basis, but when I stop to consider the lives they lead, I am grateful again. They are all happy and productive, and while distance separates us physically, we make the most of modern technology to stay in touch as much as we can. I am grateful for that.

And I am grateful for what I do and where I am. My writing fulfills my creative urges. I live in a lovely home surrounded by my animals, meadows, lawn, garden. I know every tree and the birds who live in them. The quiet of Winter still persists, but I know it will soon give way to raucous Spring and I will have my hands full keeping up with things! My neighbors and I will get together more often. Sometimes dinner is at my house. Sometimes, it is at their house.

Life is a continuous balancing act. I keep my balance by confronting my sadness and being grateful at the same time. In the evenings, I miss the comfort of having my family close by, but the fire crackles in the fireplace and warms my heart, the dogs wag their tails every time I move. I sip a good wine and work on another story. And I always go outside and look at the sky. I see this and I know I’m not really alone

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When The Rooster Crows

NBC will soon be airing a live performance of the much beloved musical version of Sir J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, written in 1904. The musical debuted on Broadway in 1954 and starred Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. The television revival of this musical fits right in, albeit in a circuitous manner, to my blog today. One of my favorite songs from the show is “I’ve Gotta Crow”, in which Peter reveals he is so full of himself, and all his amazing accomplishments, that he must crow like a rooster to shout it to the world. It is a declaration of his supremacy, a challenge to all who might doubt him, an affirmation of himself to himself.

This brings me to the subject of my blog. Roosters. My family has always kept chickens. And so I keep chickens, as does my daughter. On social media, I communicate with other keepers of poultry. I must say, that all in all, keepers of poultry are quite a lovely group. We discuss many things about our birds, from their egg production to egg color, to growth rates, to food and medical care. We post pictures of our beautiful birds. It seems chickens are nearly like snowflakes. No two are exactly alike. Their plumage is breathtaking. Another thing we discuss is the intolerance some of our neighbors have for our spectacular roosters. Apparently, there are many people who dislike the sound of a rooster crowing in the morning. This leaves me incredulous. To me, and most of my poultry keeper compatriots, the sound of a rooster heralding the day is one of the most beautiful and comforting sounds in the whole world. I usually wake up at about 4:30 every morning. For an instant, I am tense and waiting. The world is dark and cold. Unknown things are abroad. I wait. Then, I hear the roosters. They crow, two, three, even four times in a row. Instantly, I relax. The roosters are crowing and all is safe and well. I can go back to sleep. This is what has been known for centuries as First Cock Crow. First Cock Crow is when the rooster crows just before daylight. It is his message to all who might mean harm that he is on guard. His challenge is clear. First Cock Crow lasts about five minutes. Second Cock Crow comes about two hours later. It is a different crow, a reveille calling everybody to meet the day, to rise and shine. This is fact. This is what roosters do.

In folklore, the crowing of roosters is the signal that banishes all boogiemen and all others of nefarious nature. The crowing of the roosters welcomes the sun which floods the earth with light, forcing the beings of darkness into hiding once again. This is a rule. Personally, I believe this as firmly and assuredly as I believe my clapping has saved Tinker Bell every time I see “Peter Pan”.

People as a whole were once a part of their own world. They held their babies close, appreciative of their creature comforts, grateful for their food, humble in their faith, taking nothing for granted. They listened for the rooster every morning and rejoiced in the sunrise. People, we cannot sit down to our breakfasts of eggs and our dinners of roast chicken and despise the crowing of the rooster. Such a separation from the things that really matter clouds reality and drains the humanity from us. It is my personal opinion that if more people kept chickens, there would be less trouble.

So watch “Peter Pan”. Crow with him. Take a lesson from roosters everywhere. Challenge the difficulties around you. Drive them back. Welcome the sunlight and watch the world open.

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A Discussion About Invalidation

Most of us are not aware when we invalidate somebody. We see it as providing emotional assistance, reassurance, encouragement, or even stating our own opinions. And while we may see ourselves as providing support, it is anything but that.
I have a friend who has recently suffered a tremendous loss. I have also suffered tremendous loss in the past. And while my friends rallied around me, I am here to tell you that some of the actions and comments of these friends, though well meaning and perceived to be helpful, were, in actuality, harmful invalidation, only serving to feed the depression and loneliness that swirled around me after that loss.
When a person who is depressed, or has struggled through any disheartening experience, is confronted by such phrases as “When the going gets tough, the tough get going!” or “You’ve got to (fill in the blank)”, “Find a hobby” or “You can’t just quit. You have to go on”, it immediately invalidates what that individual is feeling personally, on a level usually completely misunderstood by the person offering the advice.
Even in daily conversation, it is wise to be aware of how we talk to eachother. When we are with friends, are we talking at eachother, or are we truly listening to the other person, trying to understand the conversation from that point of view, and making the appropriate comments and responses? Friendship is a responsibility. Do not allow familiarity to breed contempt. Just because you’ve known the friend for years does not absolve you from the responsibility of walking in their shoes from time to time and honestly trying to see through that person’s eyes. Try not to dismiss what to you may seem a simple thing, with a flip or trite comment. To do so trivializes the other’s predicament and in minimizing the problem, invalidates their feelings. It makes them feel small and worthless. Your words, carelessly spoken, can make that friend lose faith in themselves and spiral deeper into the depression they may already be suffering.
If you have a real difference of opinion that you think would be helpful to share, try tempering it with the statement that the remark you are about to make is just that – your opinion that you are putting forth in the hope that it might offer some comfort or a helpful perspective.
The “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me” saying cannot be farther from the truth. In fact, physical bruises and bumps heal. The wounds inflicted by words are not so quick to disappear, and the hurt can fester for long periods of time.
So be careful when you talk to others on a personal level. What may seem trivial, even silly, to you, may be breaking the heart of your friend. We all have it in us to develop a sense of compassion and understanding. Perhaps if we begin with our friends and families, we may find that compassion and understanding is contagious. How nice to be able to see it spread

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For anybody who has ever loved a dog

Should you, while wandering in the wild sheep land, happen on a moor, or in a market, upon a very perfect gentle knight clothed in dark grey habit splashed here and there with rays of the moon, free by right divine of the guild of gentlemen, strenuous as a prince, lithe as a rowan, graceful as a girl, with high king carriage, motions and manners of a fairy queen, and should he have a noble breadth of brow, an air of still strength born of right confidence, all unassuming, and, the last and most unfailing test of all, should you look into two snow-clad eyes calm, wistful, inscrutable, their soft depths clothed on with eternal sadness, know then that you look upon one of the line of the most illustrious dogs of the North

Alfred Olliphant wrote this, referring to the collies of the sheep country, but I think it applies to our Ringo

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Something New For My Readers

Trying something new. Here is the first installment of the continuing story of a group of friends. Let me know what you think. Next installment is next week!

Sorting It Out

It was a special day on two accounts. It was the third anniversary of my move to New York City, and more special than that, it was the third anniversary of Living On My Own in my own One Bedroom Apartment. I can actually say I was feeling a bit cocky, three years in New York, making my own living juggling public relations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Like a real person. During my first two years in New York, I did not feel like a real person. I felt like a pinball, pinging from one domestic disaster to another. I moved six times, always in tears. I lived on a couch in the apartment of a drunken Irish documentary film maker until I moved, to avoid his lechery, to an apartment where I actually lived with four male students, all of whom smoked, in an apartment with no windows. This turned out to be useful because I learned how to hold my breath for four months at a time. It came in handy when I moved to a studio apartment on 23rd Street which wasn’t big enough to hold any air.
Now, at last, I had my own place, which meant I could slam the door in anyone’s face. I had my own address, which meant I did not have to receive huge Express-mailed envelopes from my mother, with two or three months’ of my mail, delivered to her address. My own income was very cool to own because it meant that I was now making enough money to pay all my own bills and still afford to eat. Bonus! My own life.
I pulled a buttery yellow camisole over my head to reflect my sunny feeling. Today, not even sadistic Mrs. Hilliard who was my immediate supervisor at the Museum, nor the wretched Roy, my chronically depressed co-worker, could put me off my high. I pulled on a flirty little skirt and some strappy stilettos and stepped out into the world.
I don’t know how it happened. I think my heel broke first, and then I fell down the steps onto the sidewalk, but it could have been the other way around. I could have mis-stepped, tumbled down the stone steps and broken the heel off my shoe that way. Whatever happened, there I was, splattered on the sidewalk with two bleeding, scraped knees. A kindly mailman helped me to my feet.
“You O.K.?” he said, looking genuinely concerned.
“Yes, yes,” I mumbled, “I’m fine. Just a scratch, really.”
A concerned young matron pushing a carriage with one hand and holding a small child with the other also stopped. “Are you O.K.?” She echoed the mailman. I nodded. The child, a boy about five years old, said, “I saw your bottom.” Everyone politely pretended not to hear, so he punctuated his own remark by saying, “She has a thong on like you, Mommy.” Apparently Mommy did not want her underwear discussed on the street. She put the carriage into high gear and whizzed away, dragging the child fiend with her.
I limped back into my apartment, changed shoes and made my way to the Museum. I was half an hour late. Roy looked sorrowfully up from behind his desk, which he had wedged into the darkest corner of the office. He opened his mouth to say something, but Mrs. Hilliard had seen me enter and she came barging in to the room to demand an explanation for my tardiness. When I explained, she said, “You’ll have to clean those wounds up. I’ll get the first aid kit.” She left the room, but was back in two minutes carrying a World War II vintage white box with a red ”x” on it. She made me sit in my chair and she proceeded to clean my scrapes with antiseptic ointment that must have been twenty years past its sell-by date. She then covered my scrapes with garish, flesh-colored sticky, square bandages. I looked like a giant six-year old.
Make no mistake; Mrs. Hilliard was not motivated by concern or affection. She knew it would sting like hell and she thoroughly enjoyed scrubbing away at my bloody knees with a caustic substance. She kept looking up into my face. She so wanted to see me in pain.
The process seemed to fascinate Roy. He got up from his desk and sauntered over. “You fell on the sidewalk?” he asked. I nodded.
“People spit on the sidewalk,” he remarked. “Pigeons crap on the sidewalks. You’ll be lucky if you don’t get something really bad, like tularemia.”
“That’s why I’m washing her, you idiot,” snapped Mrs. Hilliard, not taking her eyes off her task. “Don’t you have something better to do?”
Finally, Roy went back to his desk and Mrs. Hilliard returned her torture instruments to the white box and went back to her own office. I sat behind my desk. My knees were stinging so badly I had to grit my teeth to keep my eyes from watering. I also had sustained a scrape on my allegedly exposed bottom, but I kept that to myself. It hurt to sit there, but I had a list of names twelve pages long to email, so I could only hope I was not bleeding enough to ruin my skirt. I wracked my brain, but I couldn’t recall that there were any major arteries in a person’s ass.
I looked out the window. I could see the Park. The leaves were sprouting on the trees, daffodils were brilliant in the gardens, and the grass looked soft and fragrant. I sighed. How such a special day could have swirled down the toilet with such a flourish was beyond me. I suddenly felt lonely and bereft. I watched as two pigeons carried sticks to the ledge of the small round window near my desk. They were building their ramshackle little nest. They seemed so happy. I sighed again and painfully tried to straighten my legs under my desk before they atrophied. My personal phone line rang.
“Hello?” I said.
“What’s the matter with you?” It was my friend and neighbor Sarah Wykoski. “You sound like you’re totally exhausted and it’s only 10:00.”
I recounted my story. “I was calling to invite you to a party tonight,” said Sarah, “Are you too wounded to come?”
“Oh, I would love to come,” I exclaimed, “I think that’s just what I need.”
“Good,” said Sarah, “Because we have to have it at your place.”
“What!” I couldn’t believe her audacity, but if truth be told, I should have known!
“Yes, you see, I went and invited all these people and now your brother clogged his toilet or something gross and all this sewage is backing up into my bathtub.1 The plumbers are in here now, but it’s horrifying. I can’t possibly have people here. It’s only a tapas party and I’ll do all the cooking and buy the food. You don’t even have to be there until eight. Kisses!”
And that was that. Sarah Had Spoken. I sighed again. I guess it wasn’t so bad. At least I had a place to go after work to nurse my wounds and be among friends. I was grateful for that. Here in the city, we made our own families from clots of people with whom we came in contact. There was no formula, rhyme or reason, for the way people fell together in these groups, but it was a phenomenon that existed. It was comforting.
Sarah had been one of my first friends in the city, a round little dark-eyed girl with curly dark hair and the complexion of the Madonna. She lived three floors below me, in the basement level of the old brownstone. As a result, she was often plagued with leaking below-street-level windows, flooded plumbing, and moldy shoes. She was a buoyant person, however, and rose to each occasion heroically. She was the only person I’d ever met who kept her shoes on top of the refrigerator. “The only place they won’t get moldy,” she explained early in our friendship. Sarah was from Chicago, the daughter of blue collar millionaires, plumbers to be exact. Her father had finished the eighth grade and her mother had managed to graduate high school, but they had worked hard and after plumbing most of the Chicago suburbs built after 1969, the family was well-to-do. However, both parents embraced Midwest Morality and felt the need to teach Sarah “life lessons”. Even though they supported her attending NYU Film School, they felt that until she married, she must learn how to support herself. They urged her to come back to Chicago and work at the NBC affiliate, where her uncle was president, but she bravely chose to remain in New York. As a result, immediately after graduation she was cut loose to make her fortune with nothing but a small trust fund (a commonality we shared) upon which to navigate the sea of employment opportunities and housing crises. She finally secured a position as a producer in a New York television station and settled into her moist little swamp of an apartment like a pretty, plump, self-possessed amphibious princess.
It was Sarah who had let me know when the third floor one-bedroom had become available and it was she who had determinedly turned away prospective tenant after prospective tenant with sneaky stories about rats, leaky plumbing, and suspect neighbors, until I could bundle together the necessary funds to snag the apartment myself. I loved Sarah and we cemented our friendship the day I moved in with a bottle of Champagne and by exchanging keys to our respective flats, knowing we could count on each other.
The phone jangled again, and again, it was Sarah. “Hey, I’m a wreck here at work today and I want to leave early to get the food. Will you call everybody and tell them to come up to your apartment? I’ll email you the list of our usual suspects.”
Two minutes later I was scanning the email. It was a list of the regulars. No one new and exciting, but at least we were a familiar group although our nationalities and personalities were as diverse as the city itself.
Sarah and my brother Charles and I were the only Americans, although we might as well have been from different countries in the face of the fact that she hailed from Chicago and Charles and I from New England. Gigi was Brazilian, the only daughter of an extremely wealthy plastic surgeon from Rio. Gigi had wanted to be in fashion. Certainly she had the looks for it with blonde hair down to here and legs up to there, but her parents stuck to their guns, determined to give her an education and a career. Gigi was sent to finishing school in Switzerland, but, poor dear, it was obvious that even though she managed to graduate, she wasn’t finished. She came to New York and attended the Fashion Institute for awhile, then began to call herself a jewelry designer. She drew up little pencil sketches of earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and rings. She sent them to her father and mother in Rio. Several weeks would pass and she would receive a package and there would be the actual pieces, ready for sale. However, because she truly was obsessed with, and attached to, sparkles and large stones, she managed to ace a gemology course at Sotheby’s and did know what she was talking about. She sold them to her friends and about four times a year, her father would make a call and she would be invited by Bergdorf’s or The Pierre or The Plaza to do a trunk show. She lived with her credit card (the statement from which went directly to her father) in total luxury in a new apartment building with every accoutrement. To the envy of Sarah and me, Gigi was regularly invited to “social engagements” and often was pictured on the society page of this publication or that website. Gigi was always great in an international crowd because she herself was Brazilian and not only spoke both Portuguese and Chinese fluently, but also had no trouble joining a conversation in English, Spanish, or French. It baffled Sarah, who had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Notre Dame. 2 She maintained Gigi could remember all those languages because there was nothing else going on in her head to interfere. I said I thought she was being a little harsh.
All things considered, Gigi was a pure heart in a loving soul and the only thing she really wanted from life was a rich husband to love her and give her children. Everyone is familiar with the Native American warrior’s tradition of saying to themselves every morning upon waking, “Today is a good day to die.” Every morning when Gigi awoke, she said to herself, “Today is a good day to find my husband.”
I scanned down the list. Phil and Larry were coming. They were gay, a couple since they met in college at NYU, eight years before. They were the proof that opposites attract. Phil Reuben was a completely cosmopolitan man. He was Jewish and had grown up on New York’s Upper East Side in a huge spotless apartment with white carpeting where he and Larry always went to celebrate every Jewish holiday. Phil was at ease with himself, as was his family. In fact, Phil and his father were partners and owners of a large insurance agency. Phil was very good looking with black, sparkling eyes. He was quick to smile and although it appeared from his high hairline that he might be starting to bald, it didn’t seem to bother him at all. He dressed in expensive clothing, but wore it at ease, never appearing stilted. He was one of those rare people who never judged another person so long as they weren’t hurting anyone. Any opinion he developed concerning any individual would be based entirely upon how that individual conducted themselves, and how they contributed to the society in which they lived, rather than who they were, where they came from, or the number on their bottom line.
As the other half of one of life’s more puzzling contrasts, Larry Williams judged people immediately. In fact, within five minutes of meeting a new person, Larry would have them judged, labeled, trussed up and stuffed into the little pigeon holes he kept in his mind. The labels were rarely, if ever, flattering. Instead, they read “Boring”, “Rich”, “More Money than Midas”, “Bourgeoisie”, “Ill bred”. Sarah and Gigi and I were certain that we had been stuffed into the “Silly” or “Dumb Girl” file for a long, long, time. Sarah maintained we were still there.
Larry had grown up in middle class, mill town Connecticut, Waterbury to be exact, and he was terrified of being found out. 3 He always referred to Waterbury as “Ringworm” and if one of us was whining about something, Larry would stand over us, hands on hips and say in a disgusted voice, “Well, what about me? Think about me! I grew up in Ringworm, Connecticut!” Larry had never discussed the fact that he was gay with his family and tried as hard as he could to avoid visits or any fraternization with them. There was always the obligatory Christmas visit, to be sure, but Mary, Larry’s mother, continued to introduce Phil in the same manner she had been introducing him for eight years – as Larry’s college roommate. 4
Of course, my brother Charles was coming and bringing Gordon Clark. Gordon Clark is his dog, a Bavarian Mountain Hound, whatever that is. We never learned exactly why he had decided to call him Gordon Clark, nor did we bother to ask. Sarah and Charles had once, for a short time, been a couple, but it was Gordon Clark who ended up stealing Sarah’s heart. At any rate, Charles and Sarah were still friends, and that was convenient for me. Sarah said she always actually invited Gordon Clark, but since he did not have opposing thumbs and could not manage a phone of his own, she had to send the message through Charles and include him, too. Charles was a very happy person, not serious about anything. He had been in school since he was five years old and was now at work on his master’s degree in education from Columbia. He was ecstatic when the dark little studio became available in our building, on the upper most floor. He didn’t seem to mind fifth floor walk-up. He slept most of each day, anyway, and the studio was cheap. Charles liked school and school liked Charles. Since our trust fund paid tuition and housing, it was nearly like a job. He currently did not have a girlfriend, insisting he would never marry because he could not possibly cramp his style in any way. We often tried to arrange dates for him with various girls, but he always had a reason why he couldn’t possibly see her again. “Her ears are too big.” “She’s too loud.” “I’m too busy to think about a serious relationship.” Charles was busy, alright. Busy answering emails and drawing his animated online comic strip which he sold to an entrepreneur friend for publication in an online how-to site for college students. Charles got pocket money which he spent on huge, multi-meated sandwiches, while the friend collected the big bucks, but it didn’t seem to bother him. He was too busy. Busy thinking. Busy sitting. Busy being cool. Charles was very cool. He was rail thin with wild, wavy dark hair, very bohemian looking. The only exercise he seemed to get was walking Gordon Clark, but he ate like a horse and never gained weight. Sarah claimed that was the initial attraction for her. Perhaps, she thought, if she had Charles for a boyfriend, she could absorb his metabolic character by osmosis and not have to be constantly watching her weight. It didn’t work, however, and she continued to fluctuate between guilt when she ate and hunger when she didn’t.
Carlos was on the list. Carlos was a handsome Argentine.5 Carlos worked in the New York office of his father’s investment capital firm and lived in a spectacular apartment on the Upper East Side. It was even more spectacular than Gigi’s, because although Gigi’s flat was located in a new midtown building complete with doorman, gym, rooftop terraced gardens, and a small grocery-pharmacy, Carlos’s apartment was in a beautiful prewar brownstone, replete with gargoyles. The crown molding in Carlos’s living room was gilded and it was furnished with European antiques lovingly tucked amongst modern, comfortable furniture. There were also two working fireplaces. Once settled on the sofa in Carlos’s home, it took every bit of will power for a person to get up to leave. Carlos’s family had owned the brownstone for three generations and it was truly a home, in spite of the museum pieces. It was a comfortable house, with bedroom suites, a den, and a dream kitchen with a butler’s pantry. Best of all, Carlos’s mother and father preferred their ranch in Argentina where they raised polo ponies and thousands upon thousands of cows, so Carlos, generous by nature, often invited all of us for dinner or for a drink in the evenings, just to keep him company.
Despite his great job and fabulous home, there was a serious glitch in Carlos’s life. Carlos was in love with Sarah. The glitch was that Sarah saw him only as a close friend. Perhaps things would have developed differently had Carlos’s cousin Miguel not been with him the first time he and Sarah met. The three met at a party. Sarah was introduced to Carlos, and then, before she could even draw another breath, Miguel stepped forward and kissed her hand.6 And so Sarah fell in love with Miguel just when Carlos was falling love with Sarah. Miguel did not live in Manhattan. We were never sure where he did live, exactly, but he traveled the world doing reports and investigations for National Geographic and the Explorer’s Club and Green Peace. He knew the size of the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica and he knew how to measure it.
When Miguel came to town, Sarah turned to mush. All her mid-west practicality evaporated as fog before the morning sun. The rest of us were left with a friend who giggled at inappropriate times and couldn’t follow the simplest thread of a conversation. Miguel was smooth. He squired Sarah around New York in limos. He sent her flowers every day while he was in town and he bought her little presents. Expensive little presents in blue boxes. She stayed with him in his hotel and by the time he left on his next assignment/adventure, she was so addled she could not see the pain in Carlos’s eyes as she told him everything she and Miguel had been doing.
Carlos covered his anguish by consorting with Amy, a stockbroker with whom he worked. She may have been a shrewd trader, but the rest of us could find nothing else to recommend her. She was pretty on first impression, but after the first few words were exchanged, one began to see that her skin looked pasty and thick, as if she had been raised eating Velveeta cheese food and Hamburger Helper. More disturbing than that, however, was the crafty look in her eye. We all suspected her of that most heinous of female crimes, Gold-digging. Sarah could not stand her and voiced her concern to Carlos himself (she’s the only one who could have), but he stared at her with a blank face. We could only hope that circumstances would reveal themselves over time.
That was our little family. We clung together like shipwreck survivors as we forged The Rest of Our Lives.
I arrived home at seven o’clock. Sarah had been busy for awhile in my apartment and despite her haphazard style, things seemed to be coming together. There were fresh tulips in a vase on the low round table in the living room. There were grapes and figs on a plate on my tiny eating table and a board of cheeses beside the wine glasses on the sidebar which stuck out into the living room. The sun was low in the sky and filtered through the window, casting a golden light throughout. Also, the apartment smelled glorious.
“What are you cooking?” I said. Sarah came out from my little galley kitchen, wiping floury hands on her jeans.
“Oh, I think you’ll like this menu,” she said, gesturing towards heaps of chopped things and sizzling pans on the stove. “We’re having flat breads with prosciutto, olives, Parmesan cheese and cherry tomatoes, hummus and pita – that I just bought – don’t tell anyone! All with a big salad. For dessert, I got fresh berries and soaked them in red wine syrup and topped them with crème fraiche. I did them first – they’re in the refrigerator chilling. Carlos is bringing the wine.”
It was a lovely, relaxing meal with real friends. After we ate, we all sat quietly, sipping an elegant dessert wine brought by Phil and Larry, reputedly after a slight domestic dispute. Larry claimed the wine was too expensive for an impromptu spring dinner, while the more magnanimous Phil incessantly prodded him to come up with a scenario worth saving the wine for. As Larry could only repeat his answer, “Something Special”, Phil quietly tucked bottle under his arm and walked the five blocks to my apartment with Larry yammering in his ear the entire way. By the time they got there, Larry was yammered dry. The evening progressed through sunset into the soft spring night. In the end, dishes were piled in the sink, Gordon Clark ate the last of the cheese off the board before anyone noticed, cheeks were kissed and I locked the door behind Carlos as he left. Only Sarah remained. She had fallen asleep on my couch, being much too afraid to face her bathtub at 2:00 in the morning. I covered her with a quilt and went to bed.

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The Romance (And Humor) Of Language

Here I am in Scotland, visiting my daughter and her family in their big 400 year old country house.  Surprisingly enough, the weather has been beautiful, with blue skies and high wispy clouds and warm breezes drifting in off the Gulf Stream.  The whole countryside is alive with verdant foliage, flowers, nesting birds, baby calves, and skipping lambs.  Not much different from what is happening in Vermont, where I have my home.  This very familiar and comforting scenario surrounds me every day and yet, as many similarities as there are, I still find myself in a foreign country.  They drive on the left hand side of the road.  They compliment us on our “soft” American accents.  They trade in pounds and pence, but they do speak English, or do they?

The Scottish dialect coupled with the accent embraced by the likes of Sean Connery is both charming and sexy.  However, it can also be confusing.  Upon our arrival, my daughter went to rent a car.  There were six of us, and my grandson also had his car seat.  We need a minivan, she explained.  The clerk looked puzzled.  My daughter repeated that she needed a minivan.  You know, something to carry at least six passengers.  The clerk smiled as the light went on.  “Oh, aye,” he said, “You mean a People Mover!”  Yes, actually, I guess that was just what we needed.

Many of us Americans know that soccer is called football, and lines are called queues, and the car park is not a place for cars to play, but a garage or parking lot.  These are the common ones.  When you are here for an extended period of time, you begin to learn the more subtle differences.  The trick is to avoid making a mistake based on a wrong interpretation!

For instance, when we went to Tesco, the large chain grocery, I read the motto, “Every little helps”.  Every little what?  Bit?  Bit of what?  Are there “littles” somewhere, dusting and stocking shelves?  And what is a little?  Ah, well, ye see, it means evera little penny, evera little savings ye can get.  Inside, the fun continues.  We look for orange juice.  I see the carton and read, “Orange juice made from squash”.  Now how can orange juice possibly be made from squash?  Wouldn’t it then be squash juice?  And how would that taste?  My daughter explained.  “Squash” is concentrate.  You know, the stuff that they “squash” the oranges into and then add water to later to make the juice that goes into the carton.  Okay.  On to the produce aisle.  We want turnips, eggplants, potatoes, and zucchini.  We get neeps, aubergines, tatties, and courgettes.  Don’t forget the snacks, but get it straight the first time.  Chips are crisps and french fries are chips.  I don’t know what a crisp chip would be.  And if you want cookies for dessert, you’d better go to the biscuit aisle.

The barnyard is a bit different as well.  A cow is a coo, a draft horse is a cuttie, and the young male sheep that we would call rams are called tups.  Tups.  I never did get an explanation on that one.

Going out tonight?  Remember to wear your trousers over your pants.  Pants being the blanket word for panties, boxers, or tightie whities!  Maybe, if you’re going on a date, you might want to wear your best sweater, except here, it’s a jumper.  And maybe, if the date goes particularly well, you could get jumped, which means you may find yourself in a romantic encounter.  So, wait, if you enjoy a romantic encounter in your sweater, does that mean you get jumped in your jumper?  Hm.  Anyway, whatever you do, when you go to the chemist (pharmacy) to prepare for the possibility of getting jumped, don’t ask for a rubber or you will get an oblong chunk of soft material commonly used by children to erase pencil marks.

And so it goes.  “House” apparently rhymes with “goose”, and “head” rhymes with “heed”.  You can’t get limes from the lime trees that grow here because they’re actually linden trees.  If you order lumber to build a bespoke (custom made) hen house, it will arrive in a lorry (truck).  After awhile, you become very adept at figuring out these subtleties quickly by process of elimination.  In the end, it all works out.  The Scots are a gregarious, smiling people, happy to have you visit their breathtakingly beautiful piece of the pie that is our diverse world.  They also wear sexy kilts and play the bagpipes, so visit this lovely land whenever you can and enjoy the sights!

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Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day.  People spend it in different ways.  They have barbeques and cook-outs with friends.  They go to family cemeteries and tend the grave sites.  My mother always replaces the flag on my father’s grave and leaves flowers.  It is especially sacred to the families of people who served in the armed forces and many towns have parades to honor them.

I traditionally spend Memorial Day in the garden, remembering, as I work, those members of my family who have passed, every one of them a dedicated gardener.  Each one taught me something about gardening and the greatest tribute I can pay them is to memorialize them every year in my own garden

 

In the spring, the time between the first hint of thaw and the day I can actually get into the garden and put my hands into the dirt is almost more than I can bear. Of course, there are the seed catalogs and the gardening books that offer some relief. Also, every year during this purgatory-like time I take up graph paper, a straight edge ruler, and a fine point pencil and draw garden grids and plans, trying to improve or change last year’s configuration. These practices are like turning the mattress without changing the sheets, but they offer a little relief from the urge to dig up the still frozen ground.

The actual first days in the garden are the same every year. I take out my soul and shake all the dust out of it. I hang it up on one of the apple or pear tree branches and let it bake in the sun and blow in the warm breezes until it smells sweet and clean. When I take it back I can see things again. I am rejuvenated like the earth around me.

Like Robert Frost’s neighbor, I am a believer in and a lover of, fences. I fence my gardens. There is a picket fence around the vegetable garden and a temporary, albeit effective, fence around the herb garden which stays in place until the infant plants mature. These fences keep the parameters of the garden. They give the garden a place of its own that it needn’t share with anything else. Because of the fences, romping dogs can’t squash little seedlings. Small (and sometimes big) children can’t trespass, either, but must wait until specific invitations are issued. Don’t misunderstand. I love both dogs and children, just not in the garden. Dogs and children possess and demand a different kind of energy than that found in a garden. Once I’m inside that garden fence I can indulge in the aura that is specific to gardens and the beings who live there. I can go into the garden, shut the gate, and shut out the rest of the world.

Did you know that weeds can disguise themselves at will? They can. I see it every spring as I weed the rows of delicate seedlings. A dandelion caught my eye this last spring. She grew in amongst the spinach, taking great care to minimize her toothed leaves in order to mimic her broader leafed row-mates. I stared at her for a long time. She had not yet flowered. My hand reached out, but the bravery and cunning of the plant caught my heart and I let her stay. She stayed all season, growing into an Amazon of a dandelion, maintaining her camouflage as best she could. She could dull the sharp tips of her leaves. She could affect the dark green of the Savoy spinach on either side of her, but she could not hide her blossom. It gave her away at last, exposing her for what she was. What she was was beautiful. She was not spinach, but there was plenty of that and the radiant blossom greeted me every day, opening with the sunshine and closing at night against the dew. In the end, her hair went grey, then white. I picked the bloom then, and stood up straight in the spinach bed. It was evening and a warm south breeze was bringing on the night. I held up the head and along with the breeze, blew with all my might, releasing hundreds of baby dandelions. They floated blissfully away, the setting sun making their little parachutes seem like spun silver. Next year they would make their appearance on my lawn, and why not? She had been such an exemplary plant, why not spread her children far and wide? After all, dandelions are food, too, and beautiful at that. It was dandelions that had provided the earliest people with their first greens of the new year and dandelions continue to do this today. In spite of my love of cultivation and straight rows, I still dig dandelion greens in the spring and cook them in boiling water. I serve them buttered and salted and as I savor their bitter, wild, grassy taste I can feel my strength, diminished by the long winter, return.

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Love In A Small Town

 

 

 

A romance author talks about the inspiration she finds in small town New England

 

Of the two most important factors that shaped my development and evolution as a writer, the first was the relative absence of adult supervision in my early years. I had the unique experience of spending much of this time outside on the family farm in the company of dogs, horses, and any other animals I might happen across. Darkness and extreme weather were the only things that could drive me inside voluntarily. Hunger wasn’t much of an issue because for three seasons of the year, a plethora of fruits, nuts, berries, and the bounty of vegetable gardens, grew in abundance. I foraged for everything from the first black raspberries and bright red wintergreen berries in early spring, to apples, peaches, and pears in summer, and butternuts in the fall. All summer long there were cucumbers, baby squash and carrots, and sun-warmed tomatoes filched from the garden.

Usually mounted on one of our small, fat ponies, and accompanied by at least three dogs of various ages and lineage, I rode the length and breadth of our farm like a wild child, conjuring all kinds of games. Sometimes I was a cowboy. Sometimes a knight, sometimes a horse or a dog myself. My adventures would turn the hair of most parents these days gray. Almost daily, I rode down to banks of the Connecticut River where I would build rustic shelters out of pine boughs. I rode deep into the woods to gather acorns that became everything from treasure to pretend feasts, depending on the persona I had adopted that day. Often, I tethered my pony and climbed high into the trees to examine a bird’s nest or just have a look around. I never would have allowed my kids to do much of what I got away with, but apparently, my mother and father had no such concerns for me. However, these long hours spent alone with my animal companions whetted not only my imagination, but also honed my abilities to observe the world around me. I’ve always found it fascinating.

The other important influence on my personal evolution was reading. When I absolutely had to be inside, I read. I can’t remember when I couldn’t read. When my mother read the newspaper, I would sit on her lap and she would teach me the letters. I was a voracious reader. I read anything, anywhere. I read in my bed at night and when it was lights out, I read under the covers with a contraband flashlight. I read at the breakfast table, in the bathroom, and on the school bus. I read in class, my paperback novel hidden in the pages of the big textbooks. Maybe that’s why I’m not a whiz at math, but I feel I could sail from island to island in the Mediterranean Sea and I would know exactly where Odysseus had been. My teachers disapproved of comics, but my mother did not. Reading is reading, she said. So when my own son took the pains to explain who Wolverine was and how he got to be that way, I smiled indulgently and didn’t burst his authoritative bubble.

When I started school, my world became more social. I made friends, visited them in their homes, had them to my home. The powers of observation and the curiosity I had developed as a child running wild in the woods served me well. I grew up in a town of 2,500 people. My parents had a dairy farm and my father was The Milkman. We had a Doctor, a Lawyer, a Dentist, a Grocer. Each person was defined by their occupation and their lineage. My father, who also grew up there, would refer to somebody as, “Irene Smith, she-was-a-Baker.” Irene’s brother was “Ted Baker, he-married-Joan Brown.” It kept things straight. The people of my town fascinated me. Through the years, I learned their stories and their relationships, their personal tragedies and triumphs. To this day, if I were to drive you through that town, I could point out the houses one by one and tell you the stories of the people who lived there, every story worthy of the telling.

I left that town after college, bounced around, married, had three children, buried my husband. And once again, I find myself in a small town, not too far from that town I grew up in, and only five miles away from my sister. I guess I’m comfortable in this kind of environment. It’s not a surprise I’ve incorporated it into my novels. My children are grown and have left the house. I’m alone with my animals, on the farm, and, once again, I find myself spinning stories. This time I’m writing them down.

I always wrote stories. At first, they were about my animals because I knew them best. As I grew older, I wrote fantastic adventures about the fictional characters I had created as a child. I took jobs writing grants, ghost writing articles for professional journals, and when my children were small, I wrote a children’s book. I was thrilled when it was published by Down East Enterprises in Maine but I was busy raising three little kids at the time and I didn’t bother to write another one. It wasn’t until I found myself alone that I began to write books again.

The romance genre spoke to me. I hadn’t read much romance written after the Brontes and Jane Austen. The most current ones I had managed were Victoria Holt and Nora Roberts. However, when my husband was ill, I found myself escaping into this world of romantic struggles and the dramas of myriad relationships. I mostly read the happily ever after ones and it’s the kind I like to write. When my husband was sick, these books offered me shelter, and when he died, they afforded solace and comfort.

It was years before I actually sat down to write a romance. The responsibilities of daily life and the ongoing challenge of raising three children created such a cacophonous milieu that I pretty much shelved any creative writing. It wasn’t until I found myself rattling about on my own that I sat down at the computer and began, in all seriousness, to write.

I started with a few short stories. I tried to keep in mind those tried and trite “rules” for writers. Write what you know, write what you’ve experienced, write what you love. Well, I know a lot about New England. Except for short residential experiences in Denver and Miami fueled by a hopeless romance of my own, it’s been my home, from Western Massachusetts to New Hampshire, to Vermont. I’ve traversed all six states. I know them so well, you could blindfold me, deposit me anywhere in any of these states, and I could tell you where I was. There’s a charm specific to each one, a sense of place that acts as stage and backdrop against which the stories and romances of indigenous individuals can be spotlighted. The beauty of the New England states never ceases to thrill me, and a little bit of that beauty, at least, rubs off on the inhabitants once in awhile.

Another interest I draw on is history. In all of my stories and novels, I like to weave in some history. New England is one of the older parts of our country, an integral part of its beginning, and so home to some of our more dramatic historical events. Often, the characters in my books, though contemporary, carry with them accounts of their familial histories. Writing these accounts gives a character depth and helps lay the foundation for who they are as well as contributing a teaching moment within the entertainment.

New England makes a fabulous canvas upon which to chronicle small towns and the intricate social fabric represented there. The human condition and how is applies to the individual is easier to observe here and offers more personal impact by focusing on personalities with distinct issues which may or may not be specific to a reader, but the depiction of that personal struggle always allows the reader to identify in some way. Small town life is not extinct. It still thrives throughout the country, and more and more people are seeking it out, comforted by the familiarity and support systems that can only evolve and flourish within such a diorama.

Yet perhaps the one component that inspires my novels the most is true love. I believe in true love. I believe in the fairy tale, of people falling in love with their soul mates, rescuing eachother, and bouying one another through life. I was aware of this very early in my life. I watched cats with their kittens, dogs with their puppies, birds wearing themselves to a frazzle feeding their fledglings. I observed the long-standing marriages around me and felt the tide of daily existence ebb and flow down the years, continuing eternally.

This is love. This is what I try to portray in all of my writing. It’s fun and entertaining as a writer to whip up the batter that will become a spicy love story from the ingredients in my own cupboard of experiences. From a childhood spent in the honesty of the natural world, through a dull and debilitating educational career, heartbreak over the wrong man, finding the right man, the births of my children, more heartbreak over the loss of the right man, and the powerful feeling of being able to express all these things in a creative endeavor, I take great comfort in crafting my stories and novels, in using bits and pieces of my own life to flesh out the lives of fictional characters. It gives me pleasure to think I am providing a moment’s escape to a busy mother, or an affirmation to a lonely person hoping for love. My romances are portraits of people, and more importantly, portraits of people finding love.

As long as we look for love, we will continue to see it in action. We will see it in the bond of a mother and child, the respect between a couple married sixty years, the expression on a dog’s face when he looks into the eyes of his owner. We must learn that we can consciously cultivate love by not being afraid, by reaching out, taking risks and living with an open heart. In a world screaming to us for pragmatism and reason, we must learn to give ourselves over to our instincts and trust in the wisdom within. We have reasonable minds, but love does not need reason. Love has knowledge

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