Living In Between

It’s Saturday morning, and I’m up early as usual, sitting in the dark with the dogs all sleepy around me. I love these mornings, but it got me thinking again.

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photo: William Wegman

On Thursday morning, a co-worker wished me a happy Thursday. Thursdays are early days for our clinic as we open and close an hour early, and it’s a running joke how much we drag coming in that extra hour early. I replied, “Happy Friday Eve.” And then I stopped.

It’s not the first time I’ve been struck by the fact that, recently, I seem to measure my life from Friday to Friday, with little to no memory of what has been happening in between. When I schedule patients, my life jumps a week at a time. All of 2017 leapt by me, as I watched it disappear week by week.

I don’t want to get old(er) and wonder where all those in between days went.

When my love and I first got together, we celebrated the eighteenth of each month as a month-versary. We went out to dinner and acknowledged that special day every month. We did that for probably two years, but at some point, I can’t remember exactly when, we stopped.

Our time together is now measured in fractions of a century, as we celebrated 25 years at our last anniversary. Yikes!

We recently lost the last of our parents, and we’re analyzing finances in preparation for retirement, if we can ever afford to retire with all the changes in the political and financial reality we find ourselves in.

But it hit me this week. We really need to make a renewed effort to live all of these in between moments, the days in between our weekends – the eighteenths and the sevenths and the twentieths – we need to live them all, not just breeze through them, waiting for the weekends, while life passes us by a week and then a month and then years at a time!

When I think back on the past, certain things stand out in my memory, but there is so, so much living that goes on in between those things!

Wishing you all a wonderful weekend, wherever you are, and a better week ahead – reading, talking, visiting, loving – just living your in between.

Pax

 

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Lucky 13!

My upcoming release, When the Stars Sang, will be my 13th published novel. I can hardly believe that. It really doesn’t feel that long ago that I was celebrating the publication of my first novel.

If you’ve followed my blog and my writing, you know I’ve been kind of immersed in fantasy for the last couple of years, with the three books in The Dragonmage Saga and The Beast That Never Was.

When the Stars Sang is a contemporary story, set on a fictitious island off the coast of Maine.

I’m really proud to show off this gorgeous cover, courtesy of Patty G. Henderson at Boulevard Photografica.

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Here’s the blurb:

Nearly twenty-five years ago, Kathleen Halloran’s brother drowned during the last summer they ever spent with their grandmother on a remote island off Maine’s coast. Like a siren’s call she can’t resist, Kathleen is pulled back to Little Sister Island. She leaves her job and her girlfriend, packs up her few belongings, and moves into her grandmother’s cottage.

Molly Cooper loves life on Little Sister, where the islanders take care of their own. Kathleen Halloran doesn’t belong here, and her arrival stirs up unwelcome memories for the islanders—including Molly’s brother. Molly is certain Kathleen will pack up at the first big blow. When she doesn’t, Molly begins to see maybe there’s more to Kathleen than she thought.

Sometimes, before you can move forward, you have to look back.

 

I’m aiming for a publication date of 1 March 2018. I’ll keep you all updated as the date draws nearer. In the meantime, for those who would enjoy a teaser, here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.

* * *

A blast of cold wind hit Kathleen, nearly knocking her over and misting her glasses with sea spray so that she could barely see. She couldn’t recall ever having such a rough crossing before, but she’d never made it at this time of year. She tried to ignore the little voice telling her this was a sign—a sign that she’d made a huge, impulsive mistake.

She jumped when a door slammed behind her.

“You should come inside.”

She held to the rail of the ferry and turned to the man who had shouted at her over the wind. “I’m okay. We’re almost there.”

She pointed to a hump of land only just visible through the gloom.

The man bent over at the waist, laughing so hard he nearly lost his balance as the deck heaved. “That’s Big Sister Island. We got nother hour before we get to Little Sister. Maybe more in this chop. It’s wicked cold. You’ll be froze by the time we get there.”

Her heart sank while her stomach rose uncomfortably. She followed him back into the little cabin. One bare bulb illuminated the interior. Two steps up, in the pilothouse, sat the ferry’s captain, his hands firmly gripping the wheel and the throttle.

“Aren’t there any other passengers?” she asked.

She took off her damp jacket and sat on one of the hard plastic benches that lined either side of the cabin. Using the hem of the T-shirt under her sweater, she wiped the droplets off her glasses and put them back on.

“Nope.” The man who had invited her in held out a cup of coffee in a dented enameled cup. “Just you and supplies.”

With a nod of thanks, she accepted, trying not to grimace at the dark stains that dyed the interior of the cup. The black coffee itself was so thick, it was in little danger of sloshing over the lip, no matter how the ferry pitched. She turned the cup so that the handle was away from her, telling herself no other lips had touched this part of its chipped rim.

“Fred,” the captain called, holding out an empty mug of his own.

Fred obliged by refilling it with more thick coffee and handing it back up before taking a seat across from Kathleen.

“So you’re Maisie Halloran’s granddaughter.”

Kathleen, who had just taken a sip of scalding coffee, could only nod through watery eyes as she tried to swallow the bitter sludge. She forced it down. “How did you know that?”

Fred shrugged. “Small island. Not much happens everyone don’t know about.”

Up in the pilothouse, the captain raised his own cup in a kind of toast. “We were sorry to hear about Maisie’s passing,” he said over his shoulder. “Not many left like her. Kind lady.”

Kathleen nodded again, cradling the cup in her chilled hands. She decided it worked better as a hand warmer than a beverage. Below them, the ferry’s engine vibrated as it churned them onward. “You both knew my grandmother?”

“Oh, we know most all the islanders. Not too many folks live there. Bobby here,” Fred pointed to the captain at the wheel, “he was born and raised on Little Sister. Still got family there.”

He nodded toward the rear of the ferry where Kathleen’s car was now thoroughly drenched in seawater. “Good thing you got to the landin’ when you did. We was late pushin’ off or we’d’ve already been underway.”

“I could have caught the next ferry,” Kathleen said.

Fred bent double and guffawed again. She wasn’t sure what she’d said that was so funny. He gestured with his cup, proving her wrong by slopping some coffee onto the stained linoleum tiles of the cabin.

“You’d’ve had a long wait. Ferry don’t run again for a week. We’ll probably have to put in overnight ’fore we go back.”

She frowned. “But the ferry schedule had lots of ferries listed.”

“Yup.” Fred nodded again, rubbing the backs of his fingers over the gray stubble bristling along his jaw. “For Big Sister. Only boat goin’ to Little Sister is this one. State ferry runs once’t a week once the season is over. Once’t a month come winter, and that’s weather permittin’.” He turned to look out the droplet-covered windows, but Kathleen couldn’t see anything through them. “Tons o’ folks go to Big Sister. Not many wants to go the extra to get out to Little Sister. Get some tourists in high season, but usually the only passengers we carry this time o’year is just the islanders goin’ to the mainland for a few days and back home.”

Kathleen watched a rivulet of spilled coffee run toward her feet as the ferry rolled with the waves. She clutched her coffee cup, trying to keep the semi-liquid inside from splashing onto her jeans.

Fred tilted his head as he regarded her. “Weather’s gonna be turnin’ soon. When you plannin’ on goin’ back?”

“I’m not.”

“Not what?”

“I’m not planning on going back.” She pretended to take a drink from her coffee cup. “I’m moving to Little Sister to stay.”

Fred’s bushy gray eyebrows rose as he lifted his cup to his lips. His silence clearly communicated his surprise. And his doubt, she realized when he scrutinized her over the rim of his mug.

Just as quickly, his eyebrows scrunched together in a puzzled frown. “If Maisie was your grandma, how come you didn’t recognize Big Sister?”

She turned to gaze out the window behind her, though the only thing she could see in the harsh glare from the naked bulb was her own pale reflection staring back. “It’s been a long time. Almost twenty-five years.”

If he was waiting for further explanation, he was going to be disappointed. A moment later, she heard his heavy boots clomping and then the cabin door opening and closing with a gust of wind.

She took advantage of his absence to quickly dump her coffee in the little sink near the coffee pot, grab her jacket, and slip out the rear door of the cabin. Grasping railings and crates to keep her balance, she made her way to her car. She got in and closed the door just as another heavy gust of spray washed over the windows. The cabin’s yellow glow floated in and out of focus through the wet windshield.

She pulled her phone out of her jacket pocket and opened the last text she’d received as she’d sat on the ferry dock.

“Don’t do this to us. I know we can work things out. I didn’t mean what I said. Please call me. Please come back. I love you, Suze”

She powered the phone off and put it back in her pocket. She closed her eyes and drifted into a restless sleep.

It was dark when a rap on the window scared the life out of her.

“We’re here,” Fred called through the glass.

She knuckled the sleep from her eyes and turned the ignition. Following his hand signals, she drove off the ferry and onto the island.

The sweep of her headlights sliced through a heavy fog, and she realized she hadn’t the first clue where she was.

“It’s a small island,” she muttered to herself. “It can’t be hard to find one little cottage.”

But she hadn’t been here since she was ten, and it all looked turned around in the dark and the fog. She crept down what she remembered was the main street of the island’s only town. She supposed things could have changed in twenty-four years. A trash can appeared out of nowhere, and she jerked the wheel away from the curb.

Cursing under her breath, she put the car in park and got out. Most of the shops along this stretch of the street were dark, but there, like a beacon from a lighthouse, was a larger building with lights glowing a welcome. She got out, locked the car, and made her way toward the lights.

She peered through the glass door into a cozy dining room. About a dozen people were seated at tables and along the counter. Every single one of them turned at the tinkling of the bell on the door as she entered.

Kathleen stood there a moment until a rosy-cheeked woman bustled from behind the counter, the lights glinting off the streaks of silver running through her dark hair.

“Land sakes! What a cold night!” she said, taking Kathleen by the arm. “Table, dear?”

Kathleen nodded even as she was being propelled to an empty table.

“You’ll want something hot,” said the woman, her fists propped on her wide hips. “Coffee or tea? Or hot chocolate maybe?”

“Coffee, please.”

The others all watched her with open curiosity as the woman hurried back behind the counter and returned a moment later with a white mug filled with coffee.

“Thank you,” Kathleen said.

The woman slid a menu in front of her, pulling a pencil out of the bun at the nape of her neck. “You look that over and let me know what you want. We still have a little of the chicken and dumplings left.”

“That sounds wonderful,” Kathleen said, not even bothering to look at the menu.

“My name is Wilma. You just holler if you need anything.” Wilma stuck her pencil back in her hair and hurried off.

The bell on the door tinkled again, and Fred and Bobby came in.

“Hey, Wilma,” said Fred loudly. The locals all nodded in their direction. “See you already met…”

He looked in Kathleen’s direction. “She’s Maisie’s granddaughter we heard, but never got her name.”

Kathleen felt like a zoo specimen as the curious glances intensified. The heat rose in her cold cheeks. “I’m Kathleen Halloran,” she said, apparently to the entire diner. “And you never really said. How did you know I’m Maisie’s granddaughter?”

Fred chuckled as he and Bobby took stools at the counter. “Sadie, at the ticket window, told us.”

Kathleen remembered now, the nosy young woman wondering why anyone would go to Little Sister Island this time of year.

Her eyes widened in alarm as chairs scraped and stools swiveled. Every person in the dining room got up to come to her table and shake her hand, some with murmurs of condolence and others of welcome. A few people mentioned remembering her from when she was a girl.

Wilma shooed them away as she bustled back over with a steaming bowl. “Let the poor thing eat. She looks half-froze.”

“Thank you,” Kathleen said.

The coffee—she wondered if Fred noticed the difference as he gulped his down—and the chicken and dumplings were all delicious. With hot food and drink and the cozy warmth of the diner, she began to feel drowsy.

“Can you tell me how to get to my grandmother’s house?” she asked when Wilma brought the check.

“Land sakes,” Wilma clucked. “You can’t go out there tonight. We didn’t know you were coming. No one’s been out to start up the furnace.”

Kathleen hadn’t even considered that there might be things that would need to be tended at the house after sitting empty in the months since Nanna’s death.

“Well…”

“How about a room here tonight,” Wilma suggested. “And we’ll call Mo Cooper to meet you out at the cottage tomorrow and set things right.”

Kathleen hadn’t planned on spending money on a hotel, but she supposed it was the smart thing to do. She went out into the cold night and tugged one bag loose from the crammed back seat of her car, trying not to cause an avalanche of boxes and suitcases.

Wilma led the way through a door at one end of the dining room, up a wide staircase padded with a faded Persian runner with old-fashioned brass rails holding the runner in place. Upstairs, the long hall had crisp white woodwork and a series of rooms with open doors.

“You’re our only guest at the moment,” Wilma said. “Do you like morning light?”

“Sure,” said Kathleen, following Wilma into one of the rooms.

“We keep the doors open to air them out this time o’year.” Wilma switched on a bedside lamp. “You can flip the bolt to lock up. Breakfast starts at six. Welcome home.”

She pulled the door shut behind her, leaving Kathleen alone in the clean, simple furnishings. She stepped into the bathroom and groaned when she saw her reflection in the mirror.

“I look like a drowned cat,” she muttered, staring at her lank auburn hair, courtesy of the dried sea spray from the ferry. “Nice first impression.”

She rinsed her glasses under the tap to wash away the salty film coating the lenses and dried them before stripping to take a quick shower.

A short while later, she lay under clean sheets, covered with a heavy quilt worked in nautical patches of cloth. She stayed stiffly on the left edge of the mattress, listening to the continued howl of the wind outside. She swept her arm out over the empty mattress beside her and shifted to lie sprawled across the middle.

“Welcome home,” she whispered to the dark room. “If only.”

© Caren J. Werlinger 2018

 

 

Pax Tecum 2017

“Pax tecum”… Peace be with you

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That phrase has been my Christmas message on this blog for the past few years. I was torn about whether to use it this year, because I haven’t been feeling very peaceful. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry for such an extended period of time.

It, of course, began last year after the election, and it has only continued. If anything, it has increased as we’ve witnessed this administration’s systematic barrage against every human value the majority of us hold dear. We’ve watched them alienate our allies around the world and attack people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, non-Christians (I should make that non-evangelical Christians), science, the environment.

Don’t get me wrong. I think we all should be angry. This kind of anger sustains us as we protest and call our representatives, as we march and demand answers from our government, as we try to hold this administration accountable to us, the citizens of this country, the majority of whom did not vote for the current occupant of the White House.

My partner and I have never watched the news so obsessively. We’ve never spent so much time and energy following politics, and there have been a lot of sleepless nights over this past year. I was starting to feel as if something was wrong with us. And then I found this blog by pastor John Pavlovitz (HERE) that let me know we’re certainly not alone. I swear, if we lived closer to him, I’d belong to a church again.

But this is also a season that is supposed to be a season of hope, of peace, of reflection. All of those things have been in short supply lately. I’ve had to actively look for them. Maybe you have, too.

We can’t not stay current on what’s happening in the news. If we look away for even a few days, it feels as if more of our freedoms are being yanked out from under us. But in my reading, in my writing, in my on-line presence, I’m choosing to focus on stories of kindness, of people doing good things. I’m going to remember to cherish the time I’ve got with my partner and our crazy dogs and extended family. I’m sending more Christmas cards this year to do a bit better at staying in touch with friends.

Posted below are the links to two songs that mean a lot to me. Enjoy. And I wish for all of you – whether you’re celebrating Chanukah, looking forward to the Solstice, or getting ready for Christmas – peace and joy. For now. But don’t forget to stay angry, keep fighting, don’t give up!

 

The Least of Us

“I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40

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It’s that time of year, when the holidays are staring us in the face, along with the bombardment of Christmas commercials and displays in the stores.

I do love the holidays, but not that part. I love the music (which I was listening to in July). I love seeing the lights on the houses as we walk the dogs in the dark now (and yes, some houses in our neighborhood already have their trees in their windows).

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If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you know that since I founded Corgyn Publishing, I’ve been doing twice a year fundraisers for two charities: the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank and Pets of the Homeless.

So many people support food banks at the holidays that I have chosen to dedicate my winter fundraiser to Pets of the Homeless. They have collection centers at pet stores and vet offices all around the country. They help the homeless with food and veterinary care for their furry (mostly) family. These people have so little, that it’s especially devastating to them when something happens to what may well be the only family, the only source of mutual comfort they have.

I’ll be donating 100% of all of my November and December royalties to Pets of the Homeless. Please, if you’ve thought about buying any of my books (Amazon), this is a great time to do so. (This blog also has links to Ylva Publishing and Bella where most of my books can be found) If you’ve already read my books, thank you! (Books make great gifts, just sayin’)

I hope you and your family are safe and warm and fed this holiday season. But there are some people who aren’t any of those things. Please think about helping out. A direct donation to Pets of the Homeless or your local food bank would be a fantastic way to celebrate this season’s true meaning.

Pax,

Caren

Drops of Water

“Can we be like drops of water, falling on the stone, splashing, breaking, dispersing in air, weaker than the stone by far but be aware, that as time goes by, the rock will wear away.” Meg Christian & Holly Near

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Who knew those lyrics, 40 years later, would be so apt? (see below for a link to the entire song)

I’m young enough that I came on the tail end of the women’s and feminist movements of the 70s and 80s. But I knew enough to appreciate the struggles and sacrifices of those who fought for the rights and freedoms I came to take for granted.

I think for many of those women, it has been an ongoing sore point that young people, especially young women –  lesbians or queer (or whatever of the million other words they’re using, because, you know, they don’t want to be labeled…) – have no appreciation of what it took to gain what they take for granted. And I know older black people, those who marched with Martin Luther King, those who remember segregated doors and water fountains and everything else, feel the same way about young African-Americans not having a sense of the history that those older folks fought through.

But maybe that’s the way it should be. Maybe young people should be able to take for granted the expectation that they will be treated equally under the law; that they will not be discriminated against at work; that they will have full access to their medical care and decisions about their own bodies and reproductive rights; that they will have the right to marry whomever they choose.

In a normal world – the world we enjoyed just a year ago – they were entitled to all of those expectations. But a few people have always realized that we cannot take those rights for granted. That realization has been driven home forcefully these past several months, but especially in the last two weeks with the attempt to dismantle women’s rights to birth control and reproductive decisions under their healthcare, and the chipping away at legal protections for LGBTQ people, and the continued controversy over black Americans exercising their First Amendment rights by protesting racial injustice.

Now, more than ever, we really have to stay aware. We have to protest and, when the time comes, VOTE to change things!

Individually, we may be only drops of water hitting back against those who would hold us down but, as the song says, over time, the rock will wear away. And if enough drops fall, the water can turn into a flood – a flood of protests, a flood of outrage, a flood of righteous indignation as we demand the return and the protection of rights we should be able to take for granted.

 

 

 

Sassenachs and Broomsticks

We just got back from a trip to Scotland. I mean just. Like last night. I’m still muddle-headed, both from jet-lag and from the cold we shared while there. Despite the fog in my brain, I had to start writing about our time there. It really was incredible.

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Gorgeous scenery in the Highlands

I know some people go to Scotland to trace their clan connections, but I’m Irish, so no family connections there. When we went to Ireland two years ago I blogged HERE about how it was a terrible beauty – wild, desolate, lonely, and lovely beyond words – all wrapped up together. Scotland was much the same. I know America’s history is bloody, but Scotland’s seems more so. I think maybe part of the mystique about Scotland is that there’s so much more of it.

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A not-so-wee Highland bull

We’re kind of Outlander fans, but not nearly as rabid as we are Harry Potter fans. The fun thing is, there are lots of signs of both everywhere! We were blessed to have found the services of a wonderful guide, Kirsten, who runs Secret Scotland Tours. She is a real Outlander fan, and the number of local sites they’ve used for filming is absolutely amazing! I think we’ll find the series more interesting to watch now that we can say we’ve seen and been to some of the locations they’ve used. Still not into hunky Highlanders, though… but Claire on the other hand!

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Doune castle, which serves as Castle Leoch in Outlander

We saw all kinds of places and things that helped inspire JK Rowling as she wrote the Harry Potter books: the statue of St. Mungo at Kelingrove in Glasgow; the closes and crooked buildings of Edinburgh; the wild hills and lochs as you travel north into the Highlands. It was so easy to see where the inspiration for Daigon Alley and Hogwarts came from.

When I wrote The Dragonmage Saga, I did a LOT of research into Irish history and geography. But when I wrote the third book of the trilogy, in which Caymin and Péist travel beyond Ireland, I had to dig more into Scottish history and geography. It was gratifying to visit these places and have it feel familiar enough that I got it right.

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The Standing Stones at Clava Cairn

Our last day touring with Kristen took us to Culloden, the somber moor where the Jacobite rebellion brutally ended. It’s a sad, beautiful place.

We got to other places as well, Stirling and Rosslyn Chapel. I’ll blog more about those soon, but for now, wanted to share these thoughts and images with you.

Thanks for reading!

Pax

 

 

Ode to Peanut Butter

Jif

 

Every person in this house likes PB a lot,

But one, one especially, loves it and not

Just for breakfast. She loves it on crackers, on bananas so much,

She eats it by spoon, on bread and muffins and such.

For years she bought Jif in the four-pound tub,

Until one day, they had none, and there was the rub.

The store wanted to sell its own brand, it seemed,

Only the small jars of Jif were now deemed

The thing they would stock. “I know what we’ll do,”

The store managers said. “We’ll keep just a few

Jars of Jif on hand,

But if they want more, they’ll buy our brand!”

The one who loved peanut butter so much was sad,

And the one who loved her wanted to help so bad.

“Can you just buy the small jars?” she asked, though she knew.

“It’s just not the same,” said the other. “I go through

them too fast.” This was a dilemma she’d not had before.

So she thunk and she thunk till her thunker was sore.

Then she had a thought she hadn’t thought of before.

“Maybe peanut butter,” she thought, “doesn’t have to come from a store.”

So she opened her laptop and held her breath.

There! There they were! Her hopes weren’t dead!

The internet had Jif. They had Jif galore!

She didn’t have to buy from a store!

She ordered not one, not even two tubs of Jif.

“What if they run out? What if they get lost? What if…”

She decided this was serious. Too serious to gamble.

She ordered four tubs. And prepared a preamble.

“Are you happy?” her partner asked. “Yes, yes I am.”

The first tub torn open, the spoon in her hand,

She cradled her peanut butter and sighed a deep sigh.

Peanut butter, she now knew, could come from the sky.