Musings on Schrödinger and Other Things

This week marks one year since I retired. An entire year. That seems almost impossible to me, yet the calendar is right there. Bam.

(photo courtesy of Questions of Light Photography and Jane Morrison)

It has been a busy year, certainly. I finished a (very long) book and got it published. I’ve tackled projects around the house that I’ve been putting off for too long. I’ve taken up the violin (the poor neighbors…), and I’ve been exercising regularly to try and keep this grumpy back in line. This semester, I’m teaching again, which I love.

But as I look back over this year, it occurs to me that life does this. It’s kind of like Schrödinger’s cat, but for time. It creeps as you’re going through it. So much of our lives spent working, and every day can feel like a slog, until you realize the slogs have added up to years, and then the years have become decades. I don’t mean to imply that work wasn’t enjoyable. It mostly was. But alongside all of those years working were all the other things that make up a life: falling in (and out and back in for good) of love, getting married, buying houses, having dogs and cats move into – and sadly, out of – our lives. It all adds up waking up one day and realizing one entire phase of your life has passed by. Slogs and leaps – all at the same time. (Thus the Schrödinger analogy, in case you were wondering where I was going with that.)

That doesn’t mean the next phase isn’t just as full of promise and fulfillment. Maybe adventure. Travel was one of those things we thought we’d be doing a lot of once we were both retired, but an aging dog has altered those plans a bit. We’ve done some, but not as much as we’d planned. Plus, if you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a Hobbit. 🙂

It’s also kind of hard now to remember what life was like pre-covid. The world has been permanently changed in some ways, especially for those who lost loved ones in the pandemic, and yet some people carry on as if covid didn’t exist. Another Schrödinger thing.

If you’ve stuck with my musings this long, thank you! I hope you’re enjoying autumn in the Northern hemisphere, or spring if you live in the Southern hemisphere. Wherever you are, try to appreciate the slogs as you go through them, because one day, you’ll look back and realize life has handed you a leap when you weren’t looking.

Pax

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The New Shore

At last, we’re approaching the release date for The New Shore, the third book in the Little Sister Island series! This book was a joy to write. I loved returning to Little Sister, getting to catch up with the characters, even if some of them were going through some hard times. I’m aiming for a release date of 23 September 2022.

Here’s the blurb:

Life on Little Sister Island is idyllic. Until it isn’t.

Now that the island will have its own teacher for the first time in decades, Rebecca Ahearn is tasked with making financial arrangements to build a new school room. While on the mainland, she barges straight into her first—and only—love, a woman she hasn’t seen in over forty years. Suddenly, the choices she has made for her life seem empty, and she begins to wonder if it was worth the sacrifice.

For Kathleen Halloran, distance and limited communication have been the keys to maintaining a tolerable relationship with her parents. She’d like to keep it that way, but when her father needs her help to take care of her mother—the woman she knows never loved her—she’s forced to confront the pain and resentment she can’t seem to let go of.

Kathleen’s mate, Molly Cooper, galvanizes the islanders to pitch in and help Kathleen and Rebecca weather the stormy seas ahead. The question is, can wounds that deep ever truly heal? Perhaps the magic of Little Sister Island can do what humans cannot—and make the impossible possible after all.

The New Shore is the third book in the Little Sister Island series.

For those who like to read an excerpt (I know not everyone does), here’s Chapter 1:

Blossom lay tightly curled in his bed, his tail covering all of his face save one eye that opened every time Kathleen shifted to look out the window or got up to stride into the dining room, only to return a few seconds later.

Outside, the wind howled, screeching a little as it found tiny chinks in the seals around windows and doors, despite Molly’s best efforts to weatherproof the old bungalow. Though it was only midday, the heavy clouds and driving snow had turned everything into a perpetual dusk. If it weren’t for the gentle ticking of the mantel clock and its soft chimes every thirty minutes, it would have been impossible to tell morning from evening.

Kathleen tried to go back to her book, leaning a little toward the window for the extra bit of light it gave, but after a few minutes, she snapped the book shut and stood. Warily, she went to the dining room, where her laptop sat closed on the table. She glared at it as if it had done something to insult her. She pulled out a chair and sat for a few seconds, then started to lift the lid to wake the computer, but almost immediately shut it and stood.

“I’m going out to shovel again,” she announced. “You coming?”

Blossom was instantly alert, dancing impatiently in the foyer while she sat to lace up her boots, tucking her jeans into the gaiters and cinching them tightly. She wrapped a scarf three times around her neck, arranging one loop so it could function as a balaclava to pull over her nose and mouth. After zipping up her down jacket, she jammed a knit hat on her head and opened the door.

Blossom sprinted through and launched himself off the porch, where he promptly disappeared into the snow, so that only the tip of his tail was visible. He hopped, leaving Blossom-sized depressions in the snow as he made for the sheltering pine trees where the snow underneath was not as deep, and he could do his business.

In the time since Kathleen had last shoveled, less than two hours earlier, nearly a foot more snow had covered the walk, drifting against the porch stairs. She cleared them, making the mistake of throwing the first shovelful of snow into the wind, where it was promptly tossed back at her to coat her glasses. Half-blind, she tried to adjust her scarf over the lower half of her face. The snow already caking her gloves scratched her nose, but at least she could breathe. Slowly, she worked her way to where the Toyota was parked, Kathleen’s Nissan nearly buried beside it. They wouldn’t be driving anywhere anytime soon, but Molly could park the snowmobile on the protected side of the SUV when she got home and at least see a path to the porch.

By the time she’d dug her way out to the cars, the path she’d just cleared behind her was nothing more than a depression in the rest of the snow. Muttering behind her scarf, where her lips were rapidly becoming numb, she shoveled her way back to the cottage, where Blossom waited for her up on the porch. Gauging the drifts, she decided she needed to do the same for him or she’d never find him the next time he had to go out. She cleared a path to the pines, pausing under them to catch her breath and listen, certain she’d heard the rumble of a snowmobile.

Peering through her iced-up glasses, she caught the gleam of a single headlight piercing through the murk. Her heart leapt when the beam swept in her direction as the snowmobile turned into the drive. She plowed back the way she’d come to meet Molly, who was stiffly swinging her leg over the seat. Her goggles and balaclava were almost completely covered in snow, with an icy layer blanketing the hood and back of her jacket.

Kathleen reached for her hand to lead her to the porch, but Molly paused, shielding her face with her gloved hand to peer at their roof, where a small wind-turbine whirled madly. Apparently satisfied, she followed Kathleen to the cottage where they both stomped their boots and swept each other’s backs free of most of the snow.

Inside, Molly dropped to the bench and worked her hands free from her gloves. Kathleen knelt to wrestle with the frozen laces of Molly’s boots and pull them off.

“Let me see your hands,” she commanded.

Molly held out one, the fingers almost blue. With her other hand, she pushed her hood back and tugged her icy balaclava over her head, her black hair sticking up every which way. Kathleen helped her out of her jacket and snow pants.

“Go upstairs now and change. I’ll have hot tea ready when you come down.”

Wearily, Molly stomped up the steps in her socks and thermals. Kathleen wrestled with her own icy zipper to get her jacket off. She hung their jackets and scarves up on pegs to drip and dry over the mat on the floor. All of the gloves and hats she arranged along the warm cast-iron radiator that sat below the front windows.

She padded into the kitchen in her slippers and turned on the burner under the kettle. By the time the kettle was screaming, Molly had come back downstairs in sweatpants and a heavy wool sweater. She dropped into a kitchen chair. A single oil lamp burned on the table.

“You look exhausted.” Kathleen poured two steaming mugs and set them on the table with a plate of molasses cookies.

Molly stuffed a whole cookie into her mouth, dunking her teabag up and down with her other hand. “This is the heaviest snow we’ve had in years,” she mumbled, spraying a few cookie crumbs. “Half the wind turbines on the houses have frozen. Thank goodness the big ones are churning, cause most of the islanders’ solar batteries are down to nothing after three days of this. Dad and Joey and I had to make sure the island’s generators were topped off and working okay.”

Kathleen nodded toward the counter. “I’ve been reserving all of our power for the essentials—the slow cooker and the fridge. The oven if we need it.”

Molly cradled her mug in her hands. “Thanks. One less thing to fix.” Blossom laid his head in her lap. She smiled down at him and played with his ears. “Times like this, I wish we could pick this island up and move it a few hundred miles south.”

“Tropical sounds good about now,” Kathleen agreed. “I’m so glad Miss Louisa isn’t alone in this.”

“I know. If Aidan and Meredith and her folks weren’t living there now, I’d’ve had to sling her across the back of the snowmobile and drag her home with me.”

“Along with her dad and sister’s ashes.”

She watched Molly’s eyes, half-closed as she sipped her tea. Kathleen stood and pulled her to her feet. “The soup will be ready in about an hour. You go rest in your recliner. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

Molly went without argument, stretching all the way back in her recliner, a heavy woven throw pulled up to her chin. Kathleen kissed her lightly, tucking the throw under her shoulders. It seemed Molly was asleep within seconds, her breathing deep and slow.

Kathleen, drawn back to the dining room, sat at the table and faced the laptop again. This time, she opened it. The screen woke to the email she’d received earlier.

Kathleen, we missed you at Thanksgiving. It was quiet, just your mother and I. I think you should come home for Christmas. We miss you and would love to see you if you can arrange to get offisland. Think about it, Dad

She stared out the window at the swirling snow, driven sideways by the continued wind. How long had it been since she’d seen them? She had to think back. Her first birthday after returning to Little Sister, her tar abháile, her homecoming. A year and a half. Probably the best year and a half of her life. Even now, she could see the wraithlike expression on her mother’s face as they’d gathered in the island’s ancient stone circle to perform the ceremony that would link Kathleen to Little Sister forever. While everyone else had celebrated Kathleen Halloran’s life, Kathleen had seen in her mother’s cold eyes that she only wished it had been Kathleen’s brother, Bryan, standing there.

That day had marked twenty-five years since Bryan’s drowning, but it had done nothing to diminish Christine’s resentment that her beloved son was dead, while Kathleen had felt more alive than she had since Bryan died.

And now, they want to pretend that we’re a happy family for Christmas?

She jabbed at the Delete key and closed the laptop with a snap.

* * *

Louisa woke and listened for a moment, expecting to hear the continued howls and moans of the blizzard, but all was quiet. She rose and went to the window. The sky, just going from pink to pale blue, was cloudless.

A few minutes later, wearing her favorite fuzzy slippers and her heavy robe, she got the coffee started. While she waited, she hastily twisted her silver hair into its usual bun, secured with a few bobby pins. The others would be down soon. Jasper got up from his warm, padded bed—one of several scattered around the house to cushion and warm his old bones. He stretched, his tail wagging when Louisa bent to give him a rub.

“Morning, old man.” She let him out the back door, where he stood on the porch and looked over his shoulder in disgust. “You go on down. I know the snow’s deep, but there’s nothing else for it.”

He gingerly picked his way down the porch steps, lifted a leg, and immediately trotted back into the kitchen to eat.

“Morning, Daddy. Morning, Ollie.” She shifted two wooden boxes to a windowsill where they sat in the weak sunlight.

As much as she’d looked forward to the Turners’ return to Little Sister to live with her, the reality of their arrival three weeks ago—their houses in Oregon sold and their vehicles loaded to the max with their remaining possessions—had been more of a shock than Louisa had expected. Unbeknownst to her, she’d become accustomed to having a quiet start to her day. A couple of cups of coffee over breakfast, maybe reading or sitting in her rocker on the front porch if the fall chill wasn’t too much. But with Irene and Roy now occupying Mama and Daddy’s old room, and Meredith sharing the spare room with Aidan Cooper—only he isn’t a Cooper anymore, is he? At least not for much longer. They’ll all be Woodhouses soon.

Louisa knew Aidan’s decision to become a Woodhouse must have been a bit of a blow to his parents. Jenny and Joe still had Molly and Joey and Matty to carry on the Cooper line, and men who bonded into families on this island had always taken the woman’s name if they weren’t from here, but still. 

She sat at the table with her coffee and a piece of toast spread with some of last summer’s strawberry jam. Her quiet lasted only a few minutes before Irene and Roy’s voices reached her. They descended the stairs, apparently continuing a discussion they’d begun earlier.

“I told you, you can’t ask her that,” came Irene’s voice.

“Why not?” asked Roy.

“Because we just got here. We’re still practically guests.”

The voices hushed as they neared the kitchen. Louisa glanced up with a smile.

“You’re not guests, and what did you want to ask?”

Irene flushed in embarrassment at having been overheard, but Roy poured a cup of coffee and joined Louisa at the table.

“Would you mind if we had a satellite dish installed?”

Louisa stared blankly. “A satellite.” Her mind churned, picturing orbiting spaceships firing down at them like in the science fiction movies.

“A dish,” Roy clarified, “To receive an internet signal. So we can use our computers.”

“Oh.” Louisa nodded. “I don’t mind at all, but I don’t think it can happen until the weather warms. We don’t get many repairmen from the mainland until the ferry runs more than once a month.”

“Oh.” Roy’s shoulders slumped. “Hadn’t thought of that.”

“Wilma and Nels don’t have any guests at the hotel now,” Louisa said. “I’m sure they’d be willing to share their internet with you.”

Roy brightened. “That’s a great idea. I’ll gladly pay.”

Louisa waved a dismissive hand. “I’m sure you’ll work something out. You talk to Wilma when you get a chance.”

“I’ll do that.” Roy got up and busied himself making more toast while Irene fried up some bacon and eggs.

“You don’t have to do that,” Louisa protested when Irene slid an egg and a couple of slices of bacon onto her plate.

“You don’t eat enough to keep a bird alive,” Irene scolded gently. “A strong wind could blow you away.”

Louisa chuckled. “That’s what Ollie always said.”

“Wish we could have known her,” Irene said wistfully.

“Wish she could have met you.” But Louisa’s eyes stung at the thought. She could almost hear Ollie say, “And whose fault is it we never met?”

The floorboards overhead creaked, followed by footsteps on the stairs as Meredith and Aidan came down. They entered the kitchen, hand in hand. Louisa hid a smile at the dreamy look in Aidan’s eyes. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was drinking himself silly nearly every night, trying to erase the memory of Bryan Halloran’s death when they were teenagers—the death Aidan had blamed himself for. Even now, Louisa caught him brooding every so often, but those moments were becoming rarer now that he’d found Meredith.

“Good morning, everyone.” Meredith poured two cups with the last of the coffee in the pot, handed one to Aidan, and began making a fresh pot while Aidan cracked another half-dozen eggs into the frying pan for the two of them.

“I’m going to talk to Wilma about using their internet until we can get a dish installed here,” Roy announced.

“That’s a good idea.” Meredith gazed out the window. “Not sure that’s happening today, though.”

When the eggs were over easy, Aidan slid them onto plates, and Meredith added the toast.

“Oh, the trucks with plows will get out, start clearing everyone’s drives,” Louisa said, passing the butter and jam over to them. “Might not make it to us till tomorrow, but they’ll be here.”

“Do you contract with someone to do that?” Irene asked.

Louisa frowned for a moment. “You mean, pay? Heavens, no. Those who can help out, do. Then when we can do something for them, we do. Ollie and I always baked our orange-cranberry bread and gave a few jars of our preserves.”

“If you’re going to bake today, I’ll help,” Irene offered.

It lifted Louisa’s heart to think of baking with her daughter, even if they hadn’t established a real mother-daughter connection. Yet. It seemed too much to hope for, but a year ago, she’d never imagined she’d meet the baby she’d given up for adoption in 1960.

“Do you really have to leave today?” Meredith asked Aidan.

“Got to. I’ll boat over to Big Sister. Their ferry is due in today. Catch it back to the mainland and stay with my uncle for a week, till ours comes next week. We’ll be loaded down with everyone’s Christmas packages, so everyone on the island will be down to meet it. It’s a big deal here.” He shoveled the last of his eggs into his mouth. “Anyone need anything from Big Sister or the mainland while I’m there?”

Irene perked up. “Yes. I hadn’t planned well enough for the holidays. We weren’t sure how this worked with the ferry only coming once a month now for the winter.”

Aidan nodded. “With Big Sister’s running every two weeks, we can alternate well enough, but that boat ride over is colder than a witch’s—”

He broke off and cleared his throat.

“Aidan Ahearn Cooper,” Louisa chided. “Watch your language.”

“Sorry, Miss Louisa.”

Meredith laughed. “Anyway, I think you’ll have a shopping list to keep you busy.”

“That’s great.” Aidan gave her a forced smile, looking very sorry he’d offered.

* * *

Rebecca Ahearn stomped her snowy boots on the front porch of the library. The blizzard had blown snow across it, but mostly the snow had drifted against the west side of the building. She swept the porch free of the white stuff and went inside. Dropping her hat and scarf on one of the long tables, she took her down jacket off and draped it over the back of a chair. She went behind the librarian’s desk and let herself into the back room, where the island families’ genealogy books were kept, along with a few other antiquities.

With her hands on her hips, she stood where she could see both rooms. The main room, filled now with floor to ceiling bookshelves that held the island’s collection of books, used to be the island’s schoolroom. But when Maine had decided to “retire” Miss Louisa as the island’s teacher—and after all the failed attempts to attract a younger, certified teacher to live onisland—they’d turned this larger room into the main library, leaving the smaller back room to be hers. As Keeper of the Record for Little Sister, it fell to her to keep the family histories up to date, to perform other island rituals and ceremonies, such as recording the Passing of anyone descended from an island family who wanted to come and live here, as the Turners had done last summer.

Not that that decision had been without controversy—mostly from me, Rebecca had to admit. They’d never had anyone like Irene Turner. Woodhouse. Whatever. Given up for adoption, not raised on the island. She hadn’t even known about Little Sister until her and Meredith’s dreams had led them here. No matter how Rebecca had tried to justify that they didn’t belong, it seemed the island felt otherwise.

And now, the island council was going to have to consider Meredith’s proposal to let her teach here. As hard as the islanders had fought to get another teacher, just about all of the island families with children had since made the transition to schooling their kids on the mainland, some boarding at school, some living with friends or relatives. A few families home-schooled, but the kids got lonely with all of their friends gone except for the Yule and summer holidays. Most of the children were home now, having returned on the last ferry with the Turners. Little Sister always felt more complete when the children were here.

If they decided to bring school back to the island, they’d need a classroom. Rebecca didn’t want to get rid of the books. The Keeper needed to maintain control of the back room, and there were no empty houses, waiting to be put up for lottery. The island rules meant no new buildings, but she thought, perhaps, the islanders would be willing to grant permission to add on here.

She paced off the dimensions of the larger room, jotting them down. She’d call Molly and get her to help draw up a floor plan, with estimates for needed building materials. Then, they’d have to figure out how to pay for it.

In the back room, she went to a particular shelf and removed the large, leather-bound books sitting there. Behind them, she pressed on the back panel, and it sprung toward her to reveal a hidden compartment. She reached inside to retrieve another book, one passed down from the first Keeper in the 1770s to all the Keepers since. She closed the panel and replaced the larger books. Taking the Keeper’s book with her, she bundled up and trudged back to her cottage.

copyright Caren J. Werlinger 2022

I Am a Hobbit

I’ll begin this post by cautioning readers that I’m on the eighth day of a cold that began while away from home, and I’m (still) very grumpy.

Whatever…

This all began with plans three years ago to attend the Golden Crown Literary Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Along came covid, and you know. Two years virtual con, but this year was in person. So plans resumed. Time for the con in Albuquerque, then on to Santa Fe for a few days. Flights were booked months ago, before the freaking global disaster that is the airline industry.

This trip began with a two-hour delay before we even left the gate at our departing airport, caused by a malfunctioning weather radar sensor. “Everybody off the plane.” “Everybody back on the plane.” Anyhow, we arrived in Denver twenty minutes after our connecting flight to Albuquerque. All other flights that day were full, and rerouting would have put us on stand-by. Maybe one of us gets on the plane, but probably not two. So, the airline put us up at a hotel near the Denver airport overnight. Fine. Except our rescheduled flight for the next day wasn’t going to get us to Albuquerque in time for the presentation I was supposed to give.

So, there followed a mad scramble of texts and phone calls and emails to explain, see if we could reschedule the presentation, let the Albuquerque hotel know we wouldn’t be checking in as scheduled, blah, blah, blah.

By the time we did arrive at Albuquerque a day late and got to the hotel, things were looking up. It was good to see con friends we hadn’t seen since 2019. I did my two Thursday afternoon things (a reading and the presentation last thing that afternoon), and we went out to get some dinner. While there, we met a couple from England, also attending the con. Delightful women we’ve now become friends with.

But by the next morning, my throat was full of marbles and my head was full of… we won’t go into details. I had another panel to do. I stayed masked everywhere except while eating. The covid test we’d brought from home was negative, and it really did feel like a cold, but these days, I guess that doesn’t mean anything.

Anyway, I stumbled through Saturday, think I might remember some of the Awards ceremony, but it’s kind of blurry. And Sunday we left for Santa Fe with our friend, Danielle, who really likes to travel. Together, we’d planned to fill most of our days there with things on hers and my wife’s must-see list.

But, I gotta tell you, at this point, I was like, “Hey, desert with scrubby bushes.” And a few minutes later, “Oh, more desert with the same scrubby bushes.” And then, “Oh, look! A rock sticking up out of the desert, among the scrubby bushes.” I’m sure my cold and feeling generally lousy affected my lack of appreciation for the scenery. After three and half days of staring at the hotel room walls in Santa Fe, limited to fifteen minute walks before my energy was all used up and I had to return to stare at the same walls, I was so over it.

Which brings me to my desire to be in my home, among my books, with my chair that my back likes, our dogs happily snoring away. Thus, I’ve decided that I am not an adventurer. Adventures do more than make you late for supper. They take me completely out of my comfort zone. Don’t tell me that’s good for me. I’m not in the mood. I love my bed…

Hope

Today is Good Friday and the start of Passover. Every few years, those solemn holy days coincide. Good Friday is also the day I commemorate my mother’s passing, the 36th year. It was in March in 1986, but this end of Holy Week, the beginning of Easter weekend, this has always been the time I mark in my memory. A time of darkness before the light.

This year, though, it seems difficult to find any light. The long shadow of the pandemic still hangs over us. The war in Ukraine has cast a pall over much of the world. It feels as if we’re heading in the wrong direction in so many ways.

Times like these test our faith—faith in humanity, faith in the basic decency of most people, faith that good will ultimately triumph over evil.

We look to many sources to help bolster our hope in these times. Scripture for some. Stories like The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter saga. Tales to show us that light endures even during times of great darkness.

This passage from Isaiah has always touched me:

“Yahweh is the everlasting God, he created the remotest parts of the earth, he does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming. He gives strength to the weary, he strengthens the powerless. Youths grow tired and weary, the young stumble and fall, but those who hope in Yahweh will regain their strength, they will sprout wings like eagles, though they run they will not grow weary, though they walk they will never tire.

I recently came across this video of Itzhak Perlman playing the hauntingly beautiful Theme from Schindler’s list. It’s a melody I’ve been listening to a lot when I need to get into my own quiet place.

I wish each of you the peace of hope, wherever you find it.

My Other Half

Despite the title and how much I love my wife, this is not a blog post about her.

I’ve been having dreams lately. Or maybe, they’re memories. Of things that never happened. Neither good nor bad. They just fill my nights.

If you’ve read this blog or my novels, you probably know that I’m adopted. My parents adopted three of us before my mom got pregnant, which wasn’t supposed to be able to happen. My youngest sister was born on my seventh birthday, and that connection has always made us close.

My childhood was fantastic—kind of a typical 60s middle-class upbringing. My mom stayed home with us. We lived in nice neighborhoods, the kind where we kids could safely run around all day, and every mom had her own bell or whistle. The kids all knew the sound of their mother’s signal to run home for dinner. I’m sure it wasn’t as magical as I remember it, but my memories are pretty great.

We always knew we were adopted from the time we were little. Mom and Dad made us feel special, that they chose us specially, something I teased my baby sister about—”They picked us, but they had to take you!”

I never felt any driving need to know who my biological mother was. I was told she was in her early twenties, and after I was born, changed her mind about giving me up for adoption. She kept me for six weeks, I’m sure trying to figure out the best thing to do, before finally making the hard decision to give me up. I’ve always felt incredibly grateful to her for everything—for having me, for loving me enough to hold onto me for those six weeks, and for finally having the courage to let me go.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I was researching adoption records searches for one of my novels that I realized New York state had recently passed a law allowing adoptees to request their pre-adoption birth certificate. I mailed my application in the spring of 2020. Of course, covid disrupted staffing in just about every government office, so I didn’t receive mine until that September.

I remember how my heart pounded as I held that envelope, kind of afraid to open it. This was a “no going back” moment. My hands shook as I unfolded those documents and saw, for the first time, the name of the woman who had given birth to me. I think I sat there for the longest time, just staring at her name, the name of the hospital where I was born, my birth weight. All the normal stuff most people know about their beginnings, but I never had.

A cousin who has done a lot of work on our family’s genealogy was able to look up a good bit of information on her. To my profound disappointment, we found that she passed away in 1996. She’d married four years after I was born, and she and her husband had four children—three boys and a girl. My cousin was looking at the girl’s name, and he said, “I think I know her.” He did a little more digging and confirmed it. San Diego, late 90s. He and my biological sister had been in Customs and Border Patrol training together. And then we found that the man my biological mother married had been a state trooper with my uncle. Talk about few degrees of separation!

But even with everything we learned, I wasn’t ready to make contact. I found my siblings on Facebook, but what if they hated knowing about me? What if they destroyed every fantasy I’d had about my biological mother? So many reasons NOT to reach out. So I didn’t. I sat on the information I had for a year. Not until the next September did I reach out to my biological sister and a brother.

It took a little while for them to realize I’d sent messages, and when at last, my sister contacted me, my hands shook again as I typed a long email explaining our connection. And then I waited. It turns out she’d been told about the baby girl given up for adoption, so my version of events rang true for her, but it was more of a shock for her brothers. My brothers. See how weird this is?

Turns out my new-found sister lives only an hour from me, and only about ten minutes from my same-birthday sister! (Without using names, this is likely to get confusing.) We’ve met up a few times, and she’s absolutely wonderful! It’s been such a joy getting to know her, hearing stories about our mother, what she was like. It makes me even sadder I’ll never know her, but I’m so happy to have even this much.

I’ve spoken on the phone with one brother, and also with an aunt and a cousin. It really touched me to hear my cousin say, “We’ve been waiting for you to find us.”

Between them, I’ve been sent photos. For the first time in my life, I see people I look like!

Which brings me back to those dreams. My nights are filled with conversations and images of people who now make up a side of me I’ve never known—a side that’s always been there, just hidden in my genes, maybe in my genetic memory.

I count myself blessed that they seem to be truly good people. I can’t wait to meet the rest of them in person, perhaps this spring. In the meantime, I’ll let myself absorb these newfound connections. Who knows? This may all end up in a future novel! 🙂

Pax

Pax Tecum 2021

I have to admit, when I wrote my Pax Tecum 2020 post, I had no idea we’d still be this mired in so many difficult things. At that writing, I was scheduled for my first covid vaccine injection in a few days. There was the anticipation that, with the coming vaccines, we’d soon be well on our way – not to eliminating covid – but to managing it. Joe Biden had been elected by a huge margin, and there was a feeling of euphoria at the knowledge that a change in administration was coming in a couple of weeks.

photo credit: unknown

Looking and thinking back over this year, it is almost unbelievable how much has happened, both good and bad: the Capitol insurrection, the rollout of vaccines, wildfires out West, hurricanes and floods and tornadoes globally, the Delta variant and now Omicron, my own retirement, and the discovery of new family I had never known.

The enormity of it all has felt overwhelming, crushing at times, but then, there have been moments of absolute delight.

It’s so easy to focus on the bad, glued to the news for the latest breaking story, thinking, “What’s happened now?” Why does the bad grab hold so much more strongly than the good?

We’ve had to consciously make the decision to look for the good, to see and count the innumerable small blessings that surround us every day.

I don’t make resolutions at the New Year, but this year, the thing I have determined to do is to make more time to be still…

photo credit: unknown

My wish for all of you is that you will find the stillness to see the good and beautiful things in your life, and that there will be many of them.

Pax

Do What You Can

As Thanksgiving draws near here in the US, the joy of that holiday is dampened by continued surges of covid cases and deaths, by court cases and events that seem to elevate darkness and violence and an assault on our rights. I know I’m not alone in having to take a break from the news to focus my energies on more positive things.

photo: anncapictures, pixabay

I’m writing (not very fast) the third Little Sister Island book, tentatively titled The New Shore. I’m learning to enjoy the freedom of being retired – though my wife laughs at my tendency to make lists for myself of the things I want to get done daily. And I’m trying to take better care of my grumpy back.

Unlike last Thanksgiving when we could only zoom and FaceTime, we’ll be going to my sister’s house to share that meal with family, including my brother-in-law’s mother, who is here from Belgium.

We’ve been able to continue supporting our local food bank and Feeding Pets of the Homeless, both charities I used to donate to with spring and fall fundraisers back when the world was a friendlier, or at least a more predictable, place.

I long for that sense of what used to be predictable and normal, but I don’t know if that will ever come back. At times, it seems we’re headed for days of greater darkness, more threats to our rights and our freedoms – things we have long taken for granted. I don’t think we’ll ever take those things for granted again.

When the world feels like too much, when bad things are happening that are beyond our control, all we can do is do what we can.

Wishing you all a safe, healthy holiday with your loved ones.

Pax

Bemused by Time

(Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory 1931)

Back in July, I wrote HERE about how my life was being abruptly pushed in an unanticipated direction with my bad back forcing an earlier-than-planned retirement.

This past Thursday was my last day at work. It was kind of bittersweet, as I imagine those last days often are. I adore my co-workers, who gave me a wonderful gift of a Creative Block. This cool little box contains little prompts for finding creativity when it feels elusive, but they also included little hand-written messages to me. I’ve only let myself read a few at a time, trying to drag things out. But this is a perfect gift for me. I told them, I’d change the names if any of them make it into a future book! 😉

I’ve worked as a physical therapist for thirty-two years, and now…

How can thirty-two years have passed so quickly? And why did it feel it was creeping by as I was going through it? How can time do both things simultaneously?

These are the questions that keep roiling around in my head as I try to get a grip on how to structure my days now that there are fewer outside things imposing structure on them. I know myself well enough to know I NEED structure, and perhaps a schedule, even if it’s of my own making. There are so many things I’ve longed to have more time to do, as well as many projects around the house that have needed more time than I had.

Later this month, Beth and I will celebrate twenty-nine years together. Holy cow! This, too, feels as fresh as it did when it was new, and yet, it feels as comfortable as if we’ve spent a lifetime together.

A couple of days ago, a friend lost her husband of forty years to a sudden heart attack. I can only imagine how devastated she and their children are. News like that cannot help but remind you how quickly life can change. It makes you want to cling to the one you love, just hold her and never let go.

Add in a pandemic that has kept many of us from seeing family and friends face-to-face for over a year and a half, and those connections to the ones we love feel even more tenuous.

However time moves for you, I hope you have time to see the people you love, to do the things that bring you joy, and some quiet moments to just sit and ponder the mysteries of time.

Pax

An Unlit Candle

For the past nine months (yes, I feel as if I am giving birth), I have been writing my latest novel. Ever since I published In This Small Spot and it was suggested to me that I write Mother Theodora’s story, this book has been slowly taking shape in my mind. It was daunting to write. Mother Theodora is such a beloved character. But how did she come to be the woman she is? What were the things that motivated and shaped her early years? What are her secrets?

Readers also begged to know what became of Lauren after the end of In This Small Spot. I couldn’t leave her out of this continuation of the story.

An Unlit Candle is the result of all of that ruminating, soul-searching, wondering about these characters. I had no real idea where this story was going as I began. I admit, it was probably the most challenging novel I’ve written thus far – how to span fifty years in a character’s life? I am very pleased with the result. I hope you will be, too.

The anticipated publishing date will be 1 October. I’ll post updates as we get closer.

Here’s the blurb:

The long-awaited follow-up to In This Small Spot

Patricia Horrigan is the eldest daughter of a family determined to gain entry into the upper echelons of Rochester society as the 1950s give way to the turbulence of the 60s. Born of an Irish father and a French-Canadian mother, Pip inherited the stubborn pride and fierce determination of both. With her life in the family business all planned out, she is most definitely not interested in throwing it all away to become a nun. But some calls will not be ignored, no matter how hard she tries. Fifty years later, she can’t help but wonder if her choices and sacrifices were worth it.

In present time, Lauren Thackeray has managed to put her life back together—in a manner of speaking. She has her weaving, her home, her chosen family, and she has the monastery and the lasting friendship of the nuns there. The one thing she doesn’t have, she doesn’t want. She won’t open her heart again after she barely survived the last time.

Gail Bauer is questioning her own vocation as an Episcopal priest. How can she minister to others when she’s not sure she believes anymore? In desperation, she flees, hoping to find answers.

In the shadow of St. Bridget’s Abbey, three very different women will need one another—to come to terms with their demons, to heal, and to rekindle the light that life has all but snuffed out.

For those who like to read excerpts (I know not everyone does), here is the first chapter:

The heavy weight of yards of velvet swirled as Pip tried to take a peek over her shoulder.

“Now, Miss Patricia, you stand still.”

“Oh, Felicia, why am I doing this? A bunch of people playing dress-up to try and impress each other.”

Felicia tutted from where she was kneeling, smoothing out the folds of the voluminous skirt. “They may be playing at dressing up, but they can’t help but be impressed when they see you. Mark my words, the men’s jaws will drop when you walk in, and all the ladies will be so jealous.”

She winced as she tried to get to her feet.

Pip bent to help her up. “That’s not going to happen. Can I look now?”

Felicia tilted her head, giving her creation one last inspection. Finally, with a nod of approval, she said, “Okay.”

Pip turned and couldn’t suppress a pleased gasp.

“Told you,” Felicia said proudly.

The reflection in the mirror was someone Pip almost didn’t recognize—her nearly black hair and dark eyes striking above the deep red velvet of her gown, the bodice tucked and molded against her curves. An embarrassed flush added color to her cheeks, contrasting with the luminous curve of ivory skin from neck to bared shoulders, accentuated even more by the upswept hair Felicia had agonized over.

“It’s too much,” Pip said, touching her fingers to the swell of her breasts above the plunging neckline. “Or not enough.”

“It’s perfect.”

She raised her eyes to see her father standing behind her in the mirror.

He stepped forward to share the reflection. “You’ll be the most beautiful one there, Pip.”

“Dad—”

“I know. You think this is silly.”

She turned to face him directly. “This is silly.”

“It might also be your ticket in. You know what these people are like.”

A frown creased her forehead. “I do know. And I don’t want in.”

He raised a finger to smooth the crease. “You say that now. But this is what we’ve been working for. Ever since my grandda worked his way over to America—”

“I know, I know,” Pip said, rolling her eyes. “With only an extra shirt and the family Bible, he got a job as a cook’s mate on a ship.”

“That’s right,” her father said. “And from there, worked his way across New York to start his own mill here in Rochester.”

“Pip, it’s time—oh…”

Pip’s mother stood, her hands clasped to her mouth. “Dieu, you look just like your grandmother. Doesn’t she, Patrick?”

“Aye, Marie. She does.”

Pip opened her mouth to correct father’s Irishism, as she liked to call them, but changed her mind. Between both her parents, there was never a chance she’d forget where she came from. A nervous tingle ran down her spine as Felicia gave the gown a last few swipes to remove imaginary bits of dust.

“You look so grown up, Miss Patricia.” Felicia dabbed at her eyes and sniffed.

Patrick offered his arm, and Pip couldn’t help but laugh as she took it, enjoying the way her skirt swept the stairs as they descended to the marble-floored foyer.

“Garrett, your sister’s ready,” Marie called, trailing behind them.

“About time.” A lanky young man unfolded himself from the sofa in the den where a gaily decorated ten-foot Norway spruce filled the bay window.

Loud footsteps echoed from the direction of the kitchen, and a girl skated around the corner, one hand clutching a spoon thickly covered with fudge. “I still don’t see why I can’t go.”

Pip smiled at her little sister, her cheek smeared with fudge. She reached out to steal a bit of chocolate off the spoon and popped it into her mouth. “Believe me, Josie, you’ll have more fun here than we will. Save me some fudge, will you?”

“One day, you’ll be invited to all the balls, ma petite,” Marie said.

Felicia fussed some more as she straightened Garrett’s bowtie and smoothed the wrinkled back of his tuxedo jacket. “I could steam this right quick.”

“We’re already late,” he protested. “If we don’t get there soon, there’s no point in going.”

Marie ran her hand over his glossy black hair to brush it off his forehead. “This ball will not get started on time. You’ll be fine.”

He scowled and squirmed out of his mother’s reach. “Well, let’s go.” He bowed with an exaggerated flourish of his arm. “If you’re ready, princess.”

Pip gave him a punch in the arm. Felicia wrapped a lustrous black silk shawl over Pip’s shoulders and joined Patrick and Marie on the front porch to see them off. Garrett helped Pip into the Thunderbird idling in the driveway, making sure to tuck her skirt in before closing the door.

Rochester hadn’t had any recent snow, so the streets and sidewalks were dry. Streetlamps glowed, golden orbs in the inky darkness as the T-bird rumbled its way toward Mount Hope Avenue, where the grand houses were all decorated, each more beautiful than the last. The house with all the traffic—their destination—was the grandest of all, with garlands of pine twined in gold and silver hung suspended between porch pillars, and glowing candles in every window. A brightly-lit tree sat on the porch to welcome guests.

“I feel like a fraud,” Pip admitted.

Garrett reached for her hand. “If I weren’t your brother, I’d be asking for the first dance.”

She squeezed his hand. “Thanks, Garrett.” She took a deep breath as he pulled into a semi-circular driveway, joining a queue of other cars. He came around to get her door for her, and a pimple-faced valet appeared.

Garrett handed him a folded bill. “No dents, no scratches.”

The valet’s face lit up. “Yes, sir.”

They joined the gaggle of young people entering the house—“it was more a mansion than a house,” Pip would tell Josie later. An air of anticipation washed over everyone. When the Wassermans had sent out their Yule Ball invitation list, all of Rochester had buzzed with who was included—“and who isn’t,” they whispered.

When Patricia and Garrett Horrigan’s names were included for the first time, Marie and Patrick had been elated. Not so, Pip.

“This is 1959 in America, not Jane Austen’s England,” she’d insisted. “I am not going to be presented. They’re not royalty.”

“In Rochester, they are. All the best matches are made by those invited to this ball.” Marie’s nostrils had flared in a foretelling that she would not be denied.

“Let’s just go and have a good time,” Garrett had wheedled. “It could be fun.”

Now, standing in line, ascending the mansion’s stairs to the lights and voices and music spilling through the enormous front doors, Pip whispered, “Still think this is going to be fun?”

Garrett snorted. “Just pretend we’re in one of the plays you used to make me put on with you.”

When at last they stepped inside, Pip forgot to pretend. It might have been 1859. The grand double stairs swept up to a balcony, the banister wrapped in garland and tinsel and red holly berries. In the center of the foyer stood another Christmas tree that must have been twenty feet tall. Servants in uniform were waiting to take coats and hats, while others glided by, holding trays with flutes of champagne and exotic hors d’oeuvres. Women in elegant gowns were accompanied by men in tuxedos, promenading about before wandering into one of the many rooms that opened off the foyer. To the right, couples were dancing to the strains of what sounded like an entire orchestra. To the left, a richly paneled library held several men, smoking and talking. Another room, definitely more feminine in its décor, held long tables groaning under the weight of the food just being set out by yet more servants.

Pip’s head swiveled as she tried to take it all in. She was startled when Garrett said, “Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Wasserman. Garrett Horrigan. May I present my sister, Patricia?”

Pip wondered briefly if she should curtsy but settled for an extended hand. “Your home is lovely. Thank you so much for inviting us.”

Mr. Wasserman looked rather like an overstuffed penguin, a bored smile pasted on his bearded face as he nodded vacantly, propped dutifully beside his wife to receive their guests.

Mrs. Wasserman, regal in a silver lamé gown that perfectly matched the silver of her hair, said, “Your father has become one of the city’s most important businessmen, my dear. We’re so pleased you could come. Enjoy yourselves.”

Garrett squired her away.

“Holy moly,” Pip murmured. “Have you ever?”

“Josie would give her eyeteeth to see this,” Garrett said with a chuckle.

Before Pip could reply, another young man bounded forward. “Hey Garr, Pip. Isn’t this crazy?”

“Hi, Andy,” Garrett said. “Any more of our gang here?”

“Yeah,” Andy said, his eyes glued on Pip. “Wow, you look so…”

“Watch it,” Garrett warned. “And keep your eyes on her face.”

Andy’s plump cheeks, already pink from excitement—and a bowtie that threatened to strangle him, Pip thought—turned a more brilliant scarlet.

“May I have this dance?”

Pip turned around to find herself staring into the handsome face of another of their friends, John Baldwin. “Why not?”

With a wave to Garrett and Andy, Pip allowed John to escort her onto the dance floor, joining the other couples dancing to a waltz. They swept around the room, twirling like figures atop an old-fashioned music box.

“Who knew those cotillion lessons would ever come in handy, huh?” John asked with a dazzling smile.

“I was just thinking the same thing,” Pip said, giggling.

The music had barely faded before another young man had asked Pip to dance. For the next two hours, she didn’t sit out a dance. John came back for four more. At last, breathless and warm, she begged off.

“I have got to sit for a few minutes.”

John escorted her to a line of chairs at the edge of the room. “I’ll get us something to drink. Be right back.”

Pip felt glances being cast in her direction from a clutch of women of mixed ages. She smiled and nodded in their direction, but they turned their backs and continued to whisper with their heads together.

The miller’s daughter.

To them, that’s all she would ever be. No matter that all of them, regardless of where their family’s money had originated, were the recipients of some ancestor’s hard work and dreams.

She needed air. Wandering from room to room, she found her way to one with a door out to a dark balcony. She slipped outside into the welcome cold air, taking a few deep breaths. A set of stairs led down to what seemed to be a small garden, barren now. She descended and walked along a gravel path. Turning to look back toward the house, its windows spilling light down upon the garden where she stood, she thought again this was all like something out of a Regency novel.

She rounded a turn in the path and was startled to find she wasn’t alone. A sudden cloud of cigar smoke enveloped her, and she coughed.

“Oh, my dear, I’m sorry.” Mr. Wasserman waved one hand in a futile attempt to waft away the smoke, a fat cigar clamped between his teeth.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“Not at all.” He gestured toward a bench behind him. “Won’t you join me?”

She sat down.

He held up the cigar. “Do you mind?”

She shook her head, but he took the precaution of sitting on her downwind side. She noticed his bowtie was undone, and his shirt collar was unbuttoned.

“Got a little stuffy in there, didn’t it?” she said.

“Stuffy.” He gave her a sideways glance. “Yes, it’s stuffy.”

Pip started to laugh but choked it back, afraid she was being rude, but Mr. Wasserman let out a belly laugh and shrugged out of his tuxedo jacket. He puffed on his cigar and eyed her.

“You’re… the Horrigan girl.”

“Yes, sir.”

He nodded and puffed some more. “Here looking for a husband, I suppose, like all the others.”

“Oh, gosh no.” It burst out before Pip thought about what she was saying. “I mean, I may get married someday, but I want to work, live my life before that.”

He frowned as he flicked some ash off the end of his cigar into the decorative ashtray beside the bench. “You say that as if your life will be over once you marry.”

“Won’t it?” Again, she sought to pull her words back. “It’s just, I watched the girls ahead of me in school, smarter than most of the boys. Either they didn’t go on to college at all, or they did but never finished or just never used their degrees. They got married and had children and never did anything for themselves.”

He shifted to look at her more closely. “And what do you want to do? Work for your father?”

She tipped her head to think. “I could, I suppose, after I graduate in June. Garrett, my brother, already is. The mill will need to be updated to stay competitive. But we don’t need the canal or rivers for transport anymore, not like my great-grandfather did. I think my father should buy a bakery, make our own brand of bread and rolls, control the entire thing, practically from field to stores.”

Now that she’d been sitting still for several minutes, she shivered in the cold. He noticed and reached for his jacket.

“Here,” he said, draping it around her shoulders.

“Thank you.”

“Why a mill?”

“What do you mean?” She pulled the lapels of the jacket together and settled back against the bench.

“Why did your great-grandfather start a mill?”

“He was only twelve, the last of his family to survive the Hunger. When he buried his last baby brother, he left his home in Connemara, worked his way to Belfast, and got a job on a ship.”

She turned to Mr. Wasserman. “Are you sure you want to hear this?”

He nodded, and she continued.

“The ship’s cook was German and took my great-grandfather on as his mate, taught him all kinds of things, but what my great-granddad loved best was baking. The flour on the ships was riddled with bugs and had lots of chaff—the leftovers after the fine flour went to rich people. Eventually, on one of his voyages to America, he decided to stay. He worked his way across New York, mostly on the barges, but when he got to Rochester, the mills here were producing such good flour that he hired on, eventually became a manager, saved every penny he could, until he had enough to buy one of the smaller mills. And that was that.”

From somewhere behind them came the sound of raised voices. They both got up and hurried to find the source of the commotion. Rounding the corner of the house, where the kitchen apparently was, one of the uniformed servers had a Negro woman by the arm as she struggled to pull free.

“What’s going on here?” Mr. Wasserman demanded.

“Caught this one going through our cans,” the waiter said.

Pip spied a small girl and an even smaller boy, hiding behind a hedge, watching everything. The woman herself was wearing dirty, stained clothing, her eyes large and terrified.

“Call the police,” Mr. Wasserman said, turning to leave.

“Wait,” said Pip. “Please. She’s just hungry.”

The kitchen door opened, and another server emerged, carrying a tray with half-eaten food scraped from the plates of the guests inside. He paused at the strange sight before him.

“Look at all the food going to waste,” Pip said. “They weren’t stealing anything.”

“They? They who?” Mr. Wasserman asked, looking around.

Pip pointed at the hedge, where the children’s frightened faces could be seen peeping through the branches. “This is all being thrown away. Please.”

Mr. Wasserman’s whiskers bristled as his jaw worked back and forth for a moment. “Bag it up.”

“Sir?” said the first server, still holding the woman’s arm tightly.

“I said, bag up everything on that tray.” Mr. Wasserman pointed his cigar at the second waiter. “Give it to her. But,” he turned to jab a finger at the woman, “I want you to take it and leave, hear? Don’t go telling your friends they can all show up here for a free handout.”

The woman gave a tiny nod.

The second server went back inside while the first let go of the woman’s arm. A couple of minutes later, the second man returned, carrying a large paper bag and handed it to the woman.

“Thank you, sir,” she squeaked and backed away. Her children scurried to her, and they all disappeared into the darkness.

A few more heads had appeared in the kitchen doorway, wondering what all the commotion was.

“Back to work, all of you,” Mr. Wasserman said.

He led Pip back into the garden.

“Thank you,” Pip said.

He tried to puff on his cigar again, but it had gone out. “Blast.” He tossed the stub of the cigar into the ashtray and sighed. “Best get back in there, or there’ll be hell to pay.”

He buttoned his collar and fumbled with his bowtie. “Blast.”

“May I?” Pip stepped closer and tugged the two ends to get them even. “I always tie my father’s ties for him.”

She slipped out of the jacket and handed it back. He frowned at her as he donned it.

“Don’t you go telling everyone about that, either,” he said, jerking his head toward the kitchen.

She hid a smile. “No, sir.” As she stepped back into the lights and music and conversation, she thought she heard him mutter something that sounded like “baby brother” and “ship’s cook”, but when she turned around, Mr. Wasserman had disappeared into the crowd.

copyright 2021 Caren J. Werlinger

Face the Wind for the Win

Many of you were aware that the Golden Crown Literary Society had to hold this year’s conference virtually again this year due to continued covid precautions. The Awards ceremony was held yesterday, and I am really humbled and thrilled that Face the Wind won in the General Fiction category. This is always a difficult category, populated by really top-notch books.

To celebrate, I’m going to offer 5 audio codes to commenters on this blog post.

Just comment below (don’t include an email address in the comment), and I will pick 5 winners Friday, 6 August at 8:00 pm Eastern time.

Help me celebrate!!!