History Repeats

Today is the first of March — Women’s History Month — but I’m thinking of it as Lesbian History Month.

Oh, for the heady days of finding your first Gay & Lesbian bookstore, or even better, a Women’s bookstore. Because in the former, all the gay stuff filled most stores with just a small corner reserved for the lesbian books we devoured. Which meant we had to wade through aisles filled with posters and videos and books featuring naked or near-naked men till our eyes bled.

My first exposure to a women-only space was in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1983 when I was attending West Virginia University. A group of women, mostly lesbians, had banded together to get a grant to open a library and gathering place. They called it Sisterspace. I walked in the first time to find shelf upon shelf of mostly lesbian pulp novels, but also biographies, non-fiction books like Our Bodies, Ourselves. Most of the novels had been donated by one woman named Carrie K. I wish I could find her now to thank her for the world she opened up for me.

My family still lived in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio. With Ohio State’s campus, there was a vibrant women’s community and a gay bar on High Street. But there was also a women’s bookstore called Fan the Flames. Another haven in a very straight world. There was something so healing about being in a female-only space. I still have many of the books I purchased there, along with some of the bookmarks.

Those of us who lived through those years remember the secret symbols we wore as jewelry or as bumper stickers (if we were brave) on our cars, things like a labrys pendant on the flag above. It was so hard to find and identify one another, to know who to trust. Gatherings were only communicated by word of mouth to those we trusted. It was just too risky to be out and public in most places. I came along on the tail end of the struggle women had fought for decades to claim their identity as lesbians.

By the time we moved into the 2000s, when civil unions became legal in some places, and then marriage in certain states, these secret signs slowly disappeared, along with the bookstores and most of the bars. They weren’t needed any longer when it was (theoretically) safer to be out in many places. When marriage equality became federal law in 2015, it felt we had truly achieved a social milestone.

But then things began to change.

If you pay any attention at all to the news, you know that the right has ramped up their determination to take away LGBTQ rights, but the erasure isn’t only coming from that direction.

Today, terms like “sapphic” and “women loving women” have replaced “lesbian” in many quarters. (Funny that hasn’t happened with gay men.) I know that there are some women for whom those other terms resonate, but they don’t for me. They chafe and feel like a shirt that doesn’t fit properly. Others are welcome to use the other labels if they wish, but nothing will ever replace lesbian for me. It describes me and my books.

So I will celebrate March as Lesbian History Month.

Comment below and tell me which bars, bookstores, or other safe spaces you remember from days gone by.


That Tricksy Muse

In ancient Greek mythology, there were nine muses who were the inspirational goddesses of literature, the arts, and science. However, since the Greeks didn’t recognize much in the way of literature other than poetry, I suppose we’d have to consider epic poems like “The Odyssey” to be their version of a novel. Calliope seems to be the closest thing to the muse for writers of fiction.

I’ve written stories for just about as long as I can remember. When I was young, an idea for a story would hit me, and I would close myself in my bedroom for days, writing until my hand cramped. I even illustrated most of my stories. For some odd reason, none of these epically wonderful tales achieved wide readership beyond my mother and, sometimes, my teachers. Of course, there was that time my teacher gave me an F on a creative writing assignment. I can still remember how much of a gut-punch that grade felt at the time. When my mother asked her why the F, the teacher explained that, because there were no grammatical or spelling errors, she figured I must have plagiarized from a real book. Her explanation eased the hurt of the grade some, and she corrected it after my mom told her how I’d spent hours writing that story, but still…

Fiction writing took a long break for me from the time I graduated from high school until well after I’d finished physical therapy school, where my only writing was research-based—not nearly as much fun, believe me! I picked up a pen and began writing again, probably in the mid-90s, and I’ve been working almost continuously on at least one story since then. And since my first novel was published in 2008, I’ve published seventeen more. (That still sounds a bit surreal.)

But after completing that eighteenth book this past June, I hadn’t written anything new until this past week. Six months without writing is a virtual eternity. And yet, it hasn’t been because I haven’t felt the itch to do something creative or artsy. Rather than the muses abandoning me totally, they just switched which one was poking me.

One of the other things I’ve loved all my life is music. My mom insisted I take piano lessons at about age six or seven, but it never really took. She had to keep after me to practice, and it was a chore. When I was maybe ten, my uncle gave me his old guitar. That was it! The instrument I really wanted to play, and I have ever since. I played in church groups growing up, and even performed at a few coffeehouses while in college (those halcyon days of ignorance). I think my mother was pleased that I’d found an instrument I was enthusiastic about. She found the plaque above and said it reminded her of me.

Last year, my wife and I decided to take up a new challenge—the violin. We knew going in that this would be a tough instrument to learn, but my PT brain reasoned that it would challenge us cognitively and physically. I wasn’t counting as much on how it would also challenge my patience! After having achieved a modicum of competence on one instrument, it has been truly humbling to start completely from scratch on a new one. Last week was our one-year anniversary of starting lessons with a wonderful teacher, and I can honestly say there has been some progress. Our Irish fiddle tunes sound somewhat fiddle-y. At least our dog, Maxwell, no longer comes into the room after we’ve been practicing for fifteen minutes with an expression that clearly begs us to stop! 🙂

The funny thing is, taking a break from writing and turning my creative focus to music for a while has relit the desire to write. For the past couple of months, story ideas have been gamboling about in my head. This is the usual process. They gambol until one pushes itself forward and the story, the characters begin to take shape. Last week, I sat down and started to write.

I know many writers describe “writer’s block” as something they struggle with. I just went with the flow and let the muses have their way for a bit. I don’t know, maybe I pissed Calliope off somehow, and now she’s decided to forgive me.

Here’s to creativity, whatever form it takes!


Pax Tecum 2022

I don’t know if everyone feels like this, but 2022 has been a very strange year. It’s the third year of the pandemic. Granted, covid cases aren’t raging in the numbers they were, but this isn’t over, and it feels we’ve lived with covid forever. On the other hand, this year has flown by. I cannot believe that tomorrow is the last day of this year.

photographer: unknown

With the continuing war in Ukraine, and the financial hurt so many are experiencing, this winter is promising to be a long, cold, hard slog for many. In contrast, my love and I are blessed to be living in a warm house with plenty of food and no fear of bombs dropping on us.

We’ve donated to many good causes, but there are always too many more. More people who are hungry. More animals who have been abused and abandoned. More kids who are ill and whose families need help. More war-torn countries whose people need so many things.

I have a friend whose husband is ill with a chronic, progressively debilitating illness. She’s juggling taking care of him and her ninety-something mother as well as trying to work and guide a struggling teenage son. I once mentioned that I felt guilty that my life was so easy in comparison. She said, “Don’t feel guilty. Just never take it for granted.”

I think of her words often, and they help me to remember to be aware of all the blessings in my life. The big and the small. I shared this blessing in my 2021 Pax Tecum post, but I love it. It’s still so appropriate for my life, and maybe for yours, too.

My wish for all of you is that you have the serenity of seeing the blessings around you. The big and the small.



Today is the Winter Solstice, Yule. It’s a time of year I love as we prepare for Christmas. I don’t know if it’s the long, dark nights or the cold dog walks huddled deep in my coat or the way the winter stars seem to gleam more brightly than they do in the summer, but this time of year always seems to be a time of introspection and remembering.

(photo credit: unknown)

This year, my beloved and I are staying home for the holidays, maybe the third time in my adult life I’ve done so. Usually, we’re on the road to be with family, but, as often happens, the kids have grown. Many are now married with children of their own and in-laws to split their time among. Both sides of the family are scattered now, so that crazy Christmas dinners with 15-20 people all talking over each other are most likely a thing of the past.

I’m going to relish not being caught in traffic with thousands of other people traveling the same highways. I’ll love that the dogs get to stay home with our pack and that I’ll get to wake up Christmas morning in my own bed. And yet…

My mind this year is full of thoughts of Christmases past, and the ones who are no longer with us. All four of our parents have passed now. My biological mother is also gone, but my siblings on that side of the family have graciously extended Christmas greetings to us, including our mother’s tradition of giving ornaments.

I have several friends who have lost spouses or parents or grandparents in this past year, and for them, I know the holidays will be hard. I have one friend in Europe who is in the midst of moving from one country to another, leaving behind family she loves. And I know there are many for whom the holidays have never been a joyful time.

But I find myself spending much of the last several days reliving Christmases past, remembering times spent with those I love, even if they’re not with me any longer.

I wish all of you peace through this longest night of the year, this ticking of the wheel toward more light and longer days.

Pax, Caren

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.


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.


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…


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 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.