Along Came The Muse. Enter the Tibetan Terrier

My theory is you shouldn’t apologize for believing in an idea-channeling muse. You should just be sure to feed her.” ― Laurie Seidler


The dogs of my life. I counted them one day and I came up with eleven. Twelve if you count Teal, the dog who dropped in for a visit and left four years later. As she was the one my husband liked best, I think I do need to count her, too. Twelve dogs who trotted gaily thorough my life strewing joy in their paths, beginning with Teddy who showed up shortly after I learned to walk. More than once we had several living with us.

“You know, I think I like dogs better than I like most people,” I once told my Aunt Joan. She studied me carefully for a minute as if to make sure I hadn’t lost my mind and then said, “Who doesn’t?” So now you can see that I am one of those writers who will always slip in a dog or two.

Two years ago in September we made the decision to let Grace, our English cocker spaniel, go. It was a hard decision but in the end it was kind. “Never, never, never again. No more dogs,” I said, through my heartbroken tears. My husband actually snorted. Really, he snorted.

We went to Ireland in November and there in Phoenix Park, Dublin we met a dog.

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

Murphy the dog from Phoenix Park

“Is that a miniature sheep dog?” I asked the gentleman at the other end of the lead.

Clearly affronted, he drew back and told me with no small degree of umbrage, “No. He is a Tibetan Terrier.”

Never having heard of the breed, I asked. “Is he friendly?”

Disgusted now, the man said, “Murphy, go say hello to the lady.”

We came back from our trip and I began to hunt…not that I wanted a dog but…there was something about these Tibetan Terriers.

Some times things happen as they are meant to. In December, I discovered Gamine Tibetan Terriers in Blandford, Massachusetts. Cute dogs…very cute dogs. But there’s more. Gamine Tibetan Terriers are neighbors of my husband’s cousin…really. And there’s more. A litter had been born the very day I checked the Gamine website. An unusually large litter so, yes, I could have a puppy.

And along came The Muse.IMG_1303

Her name is actually Arleigh Burke. Yes, I know it’s a man’s name but we thought we were getting a boy and then suddenly it was The Muse, already exerting her powers.

My husband retired from the Navy with the rank of commander. All three of our dogs have been named for U.S. Navy admirals: Halsey, Hopper and now,  Arleigh Burke, because, of course, an admiral outranks a commander. Every single time.

I have loved all my dogs and they each retain a special place in my heart but The Muse is the smartest. She is also pretty cute.

Her role in my writing process is to show up and inspire.

The Muse inspiring

The Muse inspiring

Midway through writing Francesca’s Foundlings, a black and white Tibetan Terrier whose name is Thatch trotted into the pages while I was writing. You will have to read the book to find out more but I credit his appearance completely to the powers of The Muse.

In Tibet, these dogs were known as ‘the little people” and believed to bring good luck. We treat The Muse like a little person, one with a lot to say, and she has certainly brought us good luck.

You will be seeing more of The Muse here on this blog. So stay tuned.


The Muse

The Muse






What they left Me

“There is no death, daughter. People die only when we forget them,’ my mother explained shortly before she left me. ‘If you can remember me, I will be with you always.” ― Isabel Allende, Eva Luna

This has been a cold and stormy winter. I have lived in New England all my life, first in Massachusetts and now in New Hampshire, with time off for good behavior on the coast of Maine. The cold and snow should not come as a surprise to me. This winter, however, has seemed endless with no sign of spring.

Last weekend, in protest against the continuing gloom, I decided to have a small dinner party as a belated celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. The color scheme was red and white and the weather, in a rare spirit of co-operation, provided a backdrop of pristine new snow.

I have noticed that many people set their tables with new dishes and contemporary glassware when we are invited out these days. I am told, “It was time for something new. We decided to get rid of that old stuff.”

Not me. I still use my old stuff. Setting the table last Saturday, as the snow fell outside, the ladies came back, as I knew they would, and watched me to make sure I was taking care of the things they left me.

I arranged the red and white roses in the cut glass vase my mother gave me when I was first married more than forty years ago, remembering, as I always do, the story of why it was given to her.

I grew up in Littleton, Massachusetts during the fifties when it was a small town referred to as “ going up to the country” by my Boston area relatives. Everyone knew everything about their neighbors and there was a fair bit of cattiness among the ladies.

That being said, people quickly banded together in times of trouble. The mother of one of mom’s friends was very sick and needed an operation that would require a blood transfusion. This was before blood was easily banked and available. The woman had the same rare blood type as my mother – A Negative. My mother went down to Concord and donated as much as she could. After the woman’s death, her daughter invited my mother to come and select something from her things as a thank you. Mom chose the vase. As my hands linger, fussing with the roses, I think as I always do when I touch this vase about my mother’s generous heart.

The dishes I use are cream-colored and sprinkled with nosegays of spring flowers. The pattern is called “ Old Ivory Selma” and it was made by the Syracuse China Company. Below the label is stamped “Made in America”. These dishes belonged to my great-aunt and godmother, Viola Duggan. She wanted me to have them, her son told me, because my mother and father had given her the set as a wedding gift in November 1940. I think of the many happy, boisterous meals these dishes have served our family. Whenever I use them, I see my mother and her Aunt Vi, standing at the kitchen sink deep in conversation washing and drying them by hand. I hear my Aunt Vi say as she often did, “Now listen, Gertrude.”

There is a wealth of Waterford crystal on the table. Water glasses, wine glasses, salt and pepper shakers in the Lismore pattern, crowned by the glittering chandelier hanging overhead. My mother-in-law, Bernice O’Connor, gave the Waterford crystal to us and whenever I use it, I think of her. Waterford has a gem like quality, glittering brightly in the glow of the candles. Even the most pedestrian wine tastes better when it is served in Waterford; it makes everything seem more festive.

Bernice was like that, too. She was a military wife who carefully collected and protected the crystal as she moved from one army base to another, rounding out her collection when her husband was the Military Attaché to Ireland. She could make having a cup of tea at her kitchen table feel special. I miss her and when I stand back to admire her crystal, I remember how welcome she made this late-to-the fold daughter-in-law feel.

“Why do you keep that old stuff?” I am sometimes asked. “The kids don’t want it.” Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. I keep it and I use it for me. Standing in the doorway making sure the table is set correctly, those three much-loved ladies are back with me again and I love it.


A table set with memories.

A table set with memories.


The Squeak Who Roared!

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack in will.”― Vince Lombardi Jr.

Among the many treasures my marriage brought to me were eleven nieces and nephews. My blog today is about one of them: Brigid McEvilly Wilson.

Her uncle nicknamed Brigid and her younger sister, “The Squeaks” because like most little girls they talked in high-pitched voices when they were excited.  Despite the nickname, Brigid tended to be on the shy side. While she was reserved, in everything she did, be it Irish Step Dancing, swimming, or her beloved horseback riding, she always participated with her whole heart.

One day I was sitting on the deck with my mother-in-law watching a swirl of grandchildren racing around and she leaned over to me and said, “Kathleen, you watch Brigid.”

We offered all of our nieces and nephews the opportunity to go to Outward Bound when they turned sixteen. Brigid was one of the kids who decided to go even though it involved getting on an airplane something she was terrified of and avoided whenever she could.

My husband and I picked her up at the end of her course. I was horrified to see a raw and painful abrasion on one of her legs extending from her ankle to mid-thigh. At that point it was several days old and it still looked awful. We asked her what happened.

“I slid down the rock face and scraped it. They said I could go home but I promised Gib (her grandmother) I would finish. So I stayed.”

Yesterday, she participated in the Timberman Ironman 70.3 in Gilford, NH. There were 2000 participants competing in an open water swim, bike race and half-marathon. Watching to see her as she came out of the water after her swim, I was slapped smartly on the arm as she flashed by me as if to say, “Hey, pay attention.”

Waiting for her to finish the bike race, the chair next to me was unoccupied, as her yellow bike streaked around the turn, I thought I heard her grandmother say,“Kathleen, you watch Brigid.” Her grandmother is gone now and when I turned the chair remained empty.

Brigid finished her race with a time of 5:57:48. We had such a wonderful time watching with her dad, Eamonn McEvilly and her husband, Todd Wilson, our brave and beautiful Brigid.



Be the Heroine of your Life

Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron From Wellesley Commencement address, 1996

Nora Ephron died last week. In reading the many reprints of her written material and in listening to rebroadcasts of earlier interviews that have appeared since her death, I was reminded of something that I already knew; she was a very funny lady whose insights were usually right.

Nora was older than I am but I grew up in the same era, a time when all young girls aspired to being nice. Oh the potential of so many young women that was embalmed and entombed by nice. How many of you reading this remember when it was important to never outshine a man, to always appear dewy, and above all, to keep your mouth shut and smile?  We were encouraged first and foremost to marry so that some man could take care of us. What was not stated but definitely implied, was that he also would tell us how to think.

Nora’s essays, as well as quotes like the one above, can’t help but make you think. The results of those thoughts can sometimes be bittersweet. The truth is, that once I hit adolescence, it became harder and harder for me to even fake pulling off nice. Not having achieved being nice, exacted a steep price. That price was a lack of confidence that riddled my twenties and thirties making me question every decision I made. Belief in myself has been hard won.

Women have been hammered into being victims since time began probably because historically we have been smaller, weaker, and more fragile. It is only by becoming the heroines of their lives, and arming themselves with knowledge and experience, that they have learned they can go anywhere and become anything they wish. It is important to remember that you don’t have to be nice to be kind.

I am not a rabid feminist but I am increasingly bothered by the frisson I sense today that women are being pushed backward toward those good old days of being nice. I urge you to encourage all the young women you encounter to follow Nora’s advice to become the heroines of their lives.

I leave you with more words of wisdom from Nora Ephron to the young women of Wellesely College:

“Whatever you choose, however many roads you travel, I hope that you choose not to be a lady. I hope you will find some way to break the rules and make a little trouble out there. And I also hope that you will choose to make some of that trouble on behalf of women.”

Thanks, Nora. We will miss you.


The Chief in Charge of Keeping us Happy

“Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” – Aeschylus

I love rocks. There is something about them that speaks to me. They are all beautiful in their own way, even the forbidding, native granite ones found here in New Hampshire. I think that I like them because  they demonstrate a stoic endurance in the face of  whatever life dishes out. While it’s true, they are eventually worn down and reshaped by the elements around them, they hold their own for a long time, longer than most of us do.

You may not be aware of this if you’re not a rock person, but rocks are expensive. I suppose that’s only fair for something that will be around longer than I will be. My last trip to the rock store, I coveted a chalky white rock, large enough to sit on, shot through with veins of green, looking very much like a big chunk of cheese, only to discover that it cost $1200.

I am drawn to the pretty rocks, the pinks or the sparklers, but one particular stone kept calling me back, so I asked the rock man, or perhaps I should say the purveyor of rocks, which sounds more mysterious, how much it cost. He was delighted with my choice. He told me, “I picked out that rock myself.” And then he laughed, “Of course, I pick most of them out myself.”

Pink Quartz

Rose Quartz - one of my "Pretties"

My choice, it would seem, was one of a kind. It had been mined in Wyoming, (a long way from New Hampshire) on land that Native Americans held sacred. And, the rock man told me, very seriously, NO MORE would be mined there. This was IT. Slashed through with black tourmaline known as Schorl, the stone appears to be wearing war paint. The rock man said that it is very unusual to find the tourmaline laced within the rock and that the Native Americans believed this stone warded off negativity. Really.

The rock was in the group marked $3.00 per pound. It weighed in at 32 pounds but because the rock man liked me (he said so),  he gave me a deal – $90.  Fellow homeowner was not impressed . I ask you, who would not spend $90 to ward off negativity and live in harmony, sunshine and serenity?  NOT ME.

I like to sit on the patio with my coffee and study The Chief in Charge of Keeping Us Happy.  And he does make me happy just by being there.

Rock with black tourmaline

The Chief in Charge of Keeping Us Happy

I also bought this very small version of the cheese  rock that “spoke” to my fellow homeowner. And right away the influence of The Chief could be felt  because THAT made HIM happy.

Fellow Homeowner's Rock - you have to look hard for the green but it's there.

Have you ever bought anything on a whim?




Circle of Girls

Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Lyrics from a traditional Girl Scout song

This was a weekend that reminded me about the joy that comes from sharing our lives with other girls. This circle of friendship, celebrated by countless girls in the song I have quoted above, is the true heart of women’s fiction. This is why I love writing it.

silver and gold

Links of friendship

Much is written today about the culture of “mean girls” and the long-term damage that culture causes, so much that the other side, the positive side of female friendship is often lost. I am the first one to admit that it’s a long time since I was a girl; but the ability to establish those all important friendships with other women, friendships that sustain us as we move through life, begins with the discovery, when you are a girl, of how much fun sharing life with a girlfriend is.

My granddaughter came to visit this weekend. She will be eight years old in September. We had a lot of fun with her father and grandfather but she also insisted that we have “girl time”, carefully shutting the “boys” out, allowing only the dog (a girl) and the cat (a girl) into our inner sanctum. There was dressing up, dancing, yoga, a lot of giggling and sharing of secrets and cupcakes. Everyone wore a hat. There was a lot of pink. It was,  she told me, “So fun.”

picture of a little girl

Feeling the power of being a girl!

Sunday morning, I had more fun with more girls, albeit older ones.

I was twenty-five years old when, shortly after moving into town, I joined the fledgling Bedford Junior Women’s Club. It was still okay then to refer to yourself as a girl even if you were not. I remained a member of “the Juniors” for the next eleven years, only resigning from the club when I went to work.

This was a group of smart, hard-working, compassionate women who strove to make a difference and fill whatever need they saw in their community. They had brains, talent and time. With that firmly in hand, they acted and things got done. They also took care of their own. When my husband died suddenly, the club provided my daughter and I with meals every day for the next month.

Ten of us met for brunch. Two of the women sitting at the table I count among my BFFs. One dropped her kids off with me on the way to the hospital to have her baby. I have not seen the other seven in more than twenty years. After greetings and exclamations about how great we all looked – amazingly true – we stood back and the years fell away. We were “the Juniors” once more.

Around the table we went, one at a time, sharing where our lives had taken us. The stories reached across the spectrum from joy to tragedy. Children and marriages had not always turned out as we had hoped, but grandchildren, exciting and sometimes unexpected careers, and new loves had.

Looking around the circle of vibrant, interesting women, it was clear that we had not only survived, but that we had thrived. We were happy to see and celebrate one another. Such is the power and the secret of the friendship of women; born and nurtured from the time we were girls.

It was, as my granddaughter had told  me the night before, “So fun.”

Cups on the table.