Off to a New Battle

You know? We could make her really angry! Shall we try? Alice, from Alice’s Wonderful Adventures in Wonderland.

I had planned to write a post today describing my memories of how Memorial Day was celebrated when I was a child growing up in a small New England town. There was  a parade with school bands playing patriotic songs, Gold Star Mothers being driven by in open convertibles, veterans of foreign wars poured into uniforms pulled from steamer trunks in the attic, sentimental speeches, and the haunting echo of taps. I worked on it in my head all the way home from Maine where we spent the holiday weekend.

As we pulled into our driveway, my husband said, “Look! There he goes. He’s a big one.”

“There who goes?” I asked seeing no one.

“The woodchuck. He just took off across the backyard.”

“Oh.” I really didn’t care about this woodchuck having only barely recovered from the Battle of the Bat who had turned up in our upstairs hallway last week.

In New England, the old rule is no planting before Memorial Day. I had cheated a little by putting my lettuce (three kinds) in about ten days ago. Trust me when I tell you it was flourishing. I finished up planting my other vegetables late on Friday. This year, I went to the Farmer’s Exchange and bought a bale of straw so I could mulch my plantings. I have to say that I was pretty impressed with myself. I was embarking on a season of serious gardening.

“Unh, Kathleen, look at the garden.”

So I did. Horror and devastation followed. The woodchuck had been very busy. Eating. Everything.

When I left on Friday, my lettuce looked like this.


My beautiful lettuce on Friday



Today it looks like this.


The same lettuce today!


Also eaten were the feathery tops of my fennel, one pepper plant, and some of the cucumber plants.

As the nation around me remembered those lost in old battles, I went to war with this sneaky little thief.

I hopped onto Goggle to see what I could see. Here are the suggestions:

  • Fake Snakes (I have already started looking for one.)
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Kitty Litter (Used. They don’t care for it.)

Please let me know if you have any better ideas.  Comrade Woodchuck may have won this battle but he is not winning the war.













What I am Reading – I Couldn’t Love You More

To be sure a stepmother to a girl is a different thing to a second wife to a man! Elizabeth Gaskell

What would you do if your daughter and her half-sister, your stepdaughter, were in danger and you could only save one of them?  This is the question that Eliot Gorden must answer in I Couldn’t Love You More.

This is a timely story recommended by Jodi Picoult about what it means to be a stepmother, a role in which many women find themselves today. Eliot, unlike the stereotype made infamous in fairy tales, is a great mother to the three Delaney sisters, Charlotte, Gail, and Hailey. Her instincts are those of a mother and she treats them all as if they are her own. What remains true is that she is not the two older girls’ mother. Beth, the ex-wife of Eliot’s partner, is.

Any women who has ever been a stepmother, no matter how well-loved, has been told, “You’re not my mother.” This is brought home to Eliot in a devastating way as she attempts to deal with the sudden reappearance of her first love, Fin Montgomery and what this means to her life.

The relationship Eliot has with her mother, Dolores, and with her two sisters, Sylvia and Maggie, forms the background of this book. Jillian Medoff makes these relationships, messy, volatile and very real. The three adult Gordon sisters provide the perfect balance for the three young Delaney girls and serve to remind us of the almost unbreakable bond that exists between sisters regardless of how different they are or how well they get along.

I admire Medoff’s courage as she plotted this story through several unexpected twists and turns not all of them happy ones. In the “Interview with the Author” at the end of the book, she tells the reader that she has one daughter and two stepdaughters. It was clear to me early in the story a stepmother wrote this book.

This is a book that will make you question what you think you know about being a stepmother. I think you will come to agree with me that it’s not for the faint of heart.

I Couldn't Love You More

A Great Beach Read







What Do You Want to Be?

It’s time to start living the life you imagined.” Henry James

What is it that you wish you were that you are not? Regardless of how old you are, I know that there is something. We all have a secret list of “I want to be…”s.

One of the things that consistently shows up on my list is to be a gardener. Yes, that’s right I want to be a gardener. Every time I turn the corner of the street leading to my own, I am reminded of this. I live in a gardening neighborhood. Everywhere I look there are beautiful and unique gardens. The neighbor in the house on the corner gardens in the rain and drives a serious lawn tractor. She also has beautiful weed-free garden beds. I want to be her.

My fellow homeowner is a natural, if somewhat haphazard, gardener so we do actually have gardens, largely his creation. But, I want to garden, too.  And I have tried, both in this house and in others I have lived in, with limited success.  I don’t really know why. I start strong and then I seem to lose my motivation. Gardening is a lot of work.

Does this ever happen to you? Is there something you have tried to do and never accomplished?  I always wanted to be a writer and now I am. So why can’t I also be a gardener? This year I intend to try.

Several years ago, I planted a shade garden and have continued to expand it  each year with new plants. This garden is composed mostly of Hosta and Heuchera commonly called Coral Bells. I have had moderate success, with the exception of two years ago when all the Hostas were eaten by a plague of slugs. I tried chemicals (bad, I know) salt, and hummus containers filled with beer. Nothing worked. Those disgusting fat slugs just got drunk and kept on chomping.

Shade Garden

My Shade Garden

Here is my current challenge: a jungle of weeds surrounding my Oriental Poppies, We  established this bed several years ago and have neglected it.


The reason that I can't call myself a gardener

I have discovered that gardening is very conducive to writing. It gives you a lot of quiet time to think, create dialogue, and work through plot points.  It turns out that a lot of writers are also gardeners.

My brave and lonely little poppy

The only problem is that Grace keeps disappearing and I have to stop what I am doing to track her down. There is a ground hog the size of a small sheep that lives in the bushes next to the fence. So where is Grace?

Grace hunting ground hogs

I have always believed the first thing to do when you embark on a new role is to dress the part. At least you look like you know what you are doing. I am a dedicated costume person. Here are my latest accessories.

My gardening stuff

Is there anything that you really want to be? If so, why not go for it?
























What I am Reading – An Unexpected Guest

The world wavered and quivered and threatened to burst into flames.” Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

I bought An Unexpected Guest written by Anne Korkeakivi for two reasons: I fell in love with the cover and the story is set in Paris. I have tried to explain the affect that my trip, two years ago, to Paris had on me, but words always seem to fail me. You have to go. If you already have, you know what I mean.

An Unexpected Guest takes place over the course of one woman’s day. Clare Moorhouse, the wife of the British minister in France, second only to the British ambassador, learns at the last minute, due to the illness of the ambassador, she is expected to host a dinner at her home for the permanent under-secretary. If it goes well, it will result in the likely appointment of her husband, Edward, as ambassador to Ireland, a position that he has waited for and richly deserves.

Clare knows her job well and organizes this crucial event like a general mounting an army about to go into battle. Reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, we see her efficiently dealing with difficult servants, surly French flower vendors, last minute guests, and the unexpected arrival of her troubled younger son as she goes about her day. There is, however, much more going on with Clare.

Edward describes his wife as “Tall, cool, white, smooth and wonderfully classic.”  Dressed in her beige cashmere cardigan, fountain pen in hand, carefully writing the place cards for her dinner, Clare is all that. The reader also knows from the first paragraph of An Unexpected Guest, that Clare is darker and more complicated. With skillful use of flashbacks, Korkeakivi tells the story of the young Clare who meets and  falls in love with Niall, “some cousin” from Ireland who is staying at her uncle’s home for the summer.

Slowly, Clare’s youthful mistakes, mistakes that carried her to 83 Portobello Road, Dublin are revealed. As the clock ticks relentlessly down toward her dinner party, her past sins race to catch up with her.

I always know that I am reading a great book when I start to read faster. This was the case with An Unexpected Guest. The pace quickens as the story builds toward a surprising and (for me) deeply satisfying climax underscoring, that, while we cannot undo the mistakes of the past, we can, if we choose to do so, learn from them.

I hope you enjoy it.

An Unexpected Guest

Enjoy the Paris scenes...







Remembering my Mother

Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world a mother’s love is not.” – James Joyce

Last year, I wrote a blog post on Father’s Day about my dad. It makes perfect sense that I would write about him before I wrote about my mother because he was the sun around which the rest of us revolved. My mother was content to stand in his shadow. It wasn’t until after she was gone, I realized that he was the sun because she put him there at the center of our universe.

When I am stuck trying to figure out who a character is, I will take his or her first name and list all the adjectives beginning with the same letter that describe the person I am writing about. My mother’s name was Gertrude, and she hated it. She compromised by going through life known as Gert – never Gertie or Trudy. Here are some of the adjectives that describe her: gentle, generous, gifted, grateful, and gorgeous. But mostly, she was just good.

Picture of my mother

My mother - Gert Ferrari - probably taken around 1941

Good is one of those small, self-effacing word that gets stomped on by more glittery words like “Awesome” and “Amazing”. But it is the right word for her. I have a clear memory of my fourth grade teacher, fingering the collar of my school uniform blouse, saying, “Your mother starches this. She is so good.”

She was a good wife, a good mother, a good worker, a good Nana, and a good friend.

She taught me to always send a thank you note and to bring a meal to a home where someone was sick or bereaved. I still make her “from scratch” brownies because they taste so much better than the ones made from a mix, and because as soon as I begin to bake them, I am awash in memories. I see her carefully trimming the edges – “You never give those to guests.”- and placing the perfectly cut squares into a Filene’s box lined with wax paper. When she was satisfied with how they looked, she would stand back and smile.

She was not quite a year old when her mother died in the 1918 flu epidemic. She inherited her pedal sewing machine as well as her talent as a seamstress. She used this machine, considered to be state of the art when it was first purchased, from the time she was a girl. The sound of her feet pumping that sewing machine was the background music of my childhood. I believe now that she continued to use it, long after it had become obsolete, because it was her one tangible connection with her mother.

My mother sewed beautifully. She made slipcovers, curtains, clothes, doll clothes and supplemented her income for many years by making and selling Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls. She could also knit, crochet, embroider, braid rugs and quilt. She tried her best to pass these talents on to me but I was a disappointment. Much to her frustration, I always had my head in a book. Fortunately, my sister would prove to be as talented as she was and carries on the tradition of making beautiful things.

The gift my mother gave to me was the example of her perseverance. She faced life with determination and grace. No matter how difficult her life was, she carried on, trusting God and her own ability to keep on moving forward, to make it through the day. She wasted no time feeling sorry for herself. Her faith never wavered. During the darkest days of my life, it has been mother ‘s voice, I have heard in my head telling me to get up and to keep going.

I am embarrassed to say I took her for granted, never stopping to realize that she would not always be there. There is not a day that goes by, I don’t think of her, and wish I were more like her.

Like I said before, she was good.




What I am Reading – One True Thing

I realized that, while I would never be my mother nor have her life, the lesson she had left me was that it was possible to love and care for a man and still have at your core a strength so great that you never even needed to put it on display.” – Anna Quindlen

Still obsessed with Anna Quindlen, I went back and reread my favorite of her books, One True Thing. This is the story of a daughter who discovers who her mother really is when it’s almost too late. This Sunday is Mother’s Day. I thought I would suggest you read it or, if you already have, read it again. First, buy a box of tissue. You’re going to need them.

Daughters fall into two categories: those who want to be like their mothers and those who don’t. Brilliant, driven, self-admittedly cold, Ellen Gulden definitely does not. It is her father who she idolizes and wants to be like. And, it is his approval she craves. This need succeeds in dragging her from her exciting job as a journalist in New York  City back to Langhorne, the college town where she was raised, to care for her dying mother. Not a role she wants, she does it for “Papa”, not her mother.

Reluctantly, with a bitterness that makes the reader wince, she steps into her mother’s shoes and attempts to run George Gulden’s house so that his world is disturbed as little as possible by the messiness of his wife’s dying. It’s all about George. Thoroughly unlikeable, it is only when Quindlen makes it possible to see him through the  loving eyes of his wife that the reader is able to view him in a kinder light.

While the men, George, Ellen’s boyfriend Jonathan, and Ellen’s brothers, Jeff and Brian, play a role in this book, it is a mother-daughter story. Ellen learns the the cliche is true. You can’t  tell a book by its cover. Sweet Kate Gulden, baker of pies, refinisher of furniture, reader of garish romance novels is not who Ellen dismissively thought she was. It is this discovery, played out against the relentless timetable of Kate’s dying, that will keep you reading until you’ve turned the last page. You may wonder if Kate and Ellen are really so different, after all.

One True Thing was published in 1994, before cell phones, laptops, Facebook and Twitter, but there is a timelessness about the story that makes it as readable today as it was then. All women have a mother and many also have a daughter. It should remind us all to look deeper.

As a writer, I can only wonder how much of Ellen is Anna. Only Quindlen knows for sure, but  her experience caring for her own dying mother informs this story and makes it very real to her readers.

I also bought the movie  (at my fingertips in the iTunes Stores) and watched as Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger brought Kate and Ellen to the screen. Both performances are flawless. We are talking about Meryl, after all. But the story, as it so often is, was changed for the movie. The book is better, but I always think that it is.

If you do read this book, I hope it reminds  you, this Sunday, when you stop to think about your own mother, to take a moment and let her out of the neat little box where you may have so lovingly placed her, and wonder who she really is or was.

One True Thing is dedicated to Prudence M. Quindlen, Anna’s mother.

One True Thing

Get your tissues ready.


















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?




What I am Reading- Defending Jacob

“Nothing you become will disappoint me; I have no preconception that I’d like to see you be or do. I have no desire to forsee you, only to discover you. You can’t disappoint me” Mary Haskell

Defending Jacob is a story about a man who loves his son.

What parent has not struggled against the news that his or her child has done something wrong? Lying, cheating on a test, unkindness to a friend or classmate, rudeness to a teacher – a parent’s first reaction is always, “not my kid.”

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber insists that his son, Jacob, is innocent when he is accused of murdering a classmate. His horror and disbelief would resonate with almost any reader, but if you are a parent, this is enough to keep you reading until the book’s shocking conclusion.

Set in the affluent Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, the story unfolds as fourteen-year-old Jacob is arrested and brought to trial for the murder of  Ben Rifkin. William Landay, a former district attorney, breathes authenticity into the legal aspects of the book that could only come from the halls of Boston College Law, his alma mater, and from his years of practicing criminal law.This is not a book where you will find irritating mistakes describing the way things are done.

Integral to this story of a family coming to terms with the unfathomable is the question of the possibility of inheriting a “murder gene”.  Is young Jacob his murderous paternal grandfather’s true heir?

Defending Jacob is a brilliantly executed story that builds to a conclusion that was, at least for me, totally unexpected and, at the same time, understandable.

The question that lingers long after you finish the last page is: To what lengths will a parent go to save his or her child? To what length would I go to save my own?

I think you will find yourself unable to put this one down.

Picture of Defending Jacob