The Quiet Place

higgins pond 003

A long time ago…

For the first time ever, neither of my kids will be home for the summer. The Princess is in Boston at her graduate program and has two part-time jobs; Dearest Son is working in Admissions at his college, doing tour guides and answer phones.

It’s strange. For all these years, summer has been about the kids. The house rhythms and sounds change—creaking floors late at night as they settle into bed after McIrish and me, two rounds of breakfast. Last summer, Dearest worked at Dunkin Donuts and opened the shop, so he’d get up before 3:00 a.m., return home around 10 a.m. and go to bed. The Princess worked a long day last summer, 10 hour shifts, but would be home for dinner every night.


Her Loveliness

But this summer, the house is quiet. No one is upstairs. Their rooms are both tidy and clean. There are no damp towels on the bathroom hooks. No child drives up or down the driveway, and there is no question about who will sit where on the porch in the evening.

It’s a little bit strange. It’s peaceful but a little lonely, in that wonderful heart-achey way…my kids are doing really well out there in the world, happy and independent, as I always hoped they’d be. As I taught for them to be.


My handsome son

So many times, I’ve heard moms say, “I wish they were little again,” in regard to their kids. I vowed never to be one of them. It would be ungrateful to mourn the fact that time had passed, that our kids were alive and thriving, to imply that simply because of the passage of time, children had lost their shine. I love having older kids. Love seeing their names on my phone, love when they text me a picture of what they’re doing, love visiting them. I love the adults they’ve become.

Those summer days when a dishpan of sudsy water could entertain them, when going to the library was an exciting outing, when I’d draw the blackout shades in their room at 7 p.m. and sing them their bedtime songs…those were magical. I know now that remembering those happy, long summers isn’t regret that they’ve grown up. It’s simple appreciation. I don’t wish my kids were little again. I was there for that time, and I loved every day.

the twins

Two little friends, running in our field

But last week, when the four-year-old twins from next door came to visit, I pushed them on the swings my kids had so loved. I took a little movie of the boy and the girl, squeaking in glee, and sent it to Dearest and the Princess. “This brings back happy memories of my two favorite kids,” I said, and both responded. “Aw!” said Dearest. “Hooray!” said the Princess.

How lucky I am to have two such good people as my kids, who understand their mom being a little sentimental, who still refuse to call any place but this house “home.”

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In my little town…

Yesterday, our town held its Memorial Day parade, as I imagine yours did, too. I love the parade. It’s almost exactly the same year after year, and I try never to miss it. This year, I went with my mom; the roads were closed, and she had to drop me off and drive around to park at the church. I crutched it down Main Street; my neighbor and friend, Lois, ran over to say hello, commiserate about crutches and compare our red, white and blue outfits.

majorI made it to the church lawn and sat on the curb, not coincidentally next to a therapy dog and a puppy. Everyone was quite nice about my crutches; one young dad offered me his chair, but I opted for the curb. My other mom, Carol, found me, and then we watched as my sainted mother looked and looked for us, ignoring our bellows of “Mom! Noel! Over here!” It was only my whistle that got her attention.

grand marshalThe parade’s grand marshal was Mr. Rea, a veteran, driven in a car by his son, a former state police officer, and accompanied by his son, an active duty soldier and my son’s classmate. “I babysat him,” I said of Officer Rea. “He loved me.”

“He pulled me over for speeding once,” my mom said. “I said, ‘I taught you catechism, young man,’ and he let me go with a warning.”

bandWe stood for the veterans—a few from WWII, more from Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East. The board of selectman walked past—Laura, our first selectman who knows everyone by name. There was Kim, who makes the best cakes and is always so delighted to see everyone. Jen, who started thousands of kids running in her Go Far program, and her beautiful daughter, dressed as Game of Thrones characters with a dragon behind them. My dear friend Christine, the head librarian, dressed as the Cat in the Hat and having a ball on her float. A fleet of antique tractors, as we are a farm town. The three bands—middle school, junior high, high school, filling the air with music and drumbeats, and the flag team, looking so festive. The Boy Scouts carried huge photos of two Connecticut soldiers who died in combat; they didn’t look much older than the Scouts themselves.

The kids on the sports teams pelted us with lollipops, and the orchard folks tossed donut holes in little plastic bags. Carol caught one like she was an MLB outfielder. The firefighters blasted their sirens and air horns, which I love. An old military propeller plane, heavy and gray, thrilled us as it nearly buzzed the parade route.

By the end of the parade, we were best friends with both dogs and their people. Mom helped me get up, then I helped Carol get up, and she handed me my crutches, and we made our way back to the car.

normandyBut what stuck with me most was the sight of the little old man with the World War II Veteran’s cap on, sitting on a float, waving his gnarled hand as we cheered and wiped away a few tears. I hope he knows we remember his service. That we know what he gave. More than likely, he saw friends die, and thought he’d die, too, and that he saw things that he can never forget, no matter how much he might want to. Though it’s a million to one shot, maybe he crossed paths with my grandfathers.

He was probably my son’s age when he did his part to save the world.

It’s good to remember.

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Slug masks

Last week, the Princess and I once again indulged in our love of miracle skin care products. This time, it was slug masks.

We did not look quite this glam.

We did not look quite this glam.

Well, probably not actual slugs. But that’s what they felt like. On a night when McIrish was at the firehouse and we were once again determined to refresh, renew and revitalize, we applied slimy, cold patches of unknown materials with slime made from unknown…slime to our under-eye region.

We sat. We waited.


People really buy this stuff? (Er…yes.)

People really buy this stuff? (Er…yes.)

And then…the reveal. She went first, peeling off the slug patches from her face with little trouble (unlike the gold masks we tried in January, which removed a great deal of flesh and eyebrow hair). The results?

The Princess, gazing upon herself in the mirror: “Look at me! I’m 12 again!”

Me: “It’s incredible!”

Princess: “I look so much younger!” (She’s 23.)

Me: “You do! You look 22 and a half!”

Then it was my turn. I peeled off the first slimy little sucker, handed it to my child, since I’m still immobile, and took up the mirror. “Oh…my…God! Oh, my God! One half of my face is completely unrecognizable from the other! Look at me! I’m beautiful!”

Me and my little bunny rabbit.

Me and my little bunny rabbit.

At this point, we were laughing so hard that I had to crutch it to the bathroom. The packet instructions said to let the slime absorb into our skin for extra benefit. We opted to wash our faces instead.

Verdict: For laughs with your lovely daughter, A+.

For under-eye puffiness, F.

In other words, we can’t wait to do it again.

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My happy place…


On my way to the hospital

On my way to the hospital

…is the hospital. Maybe it’s because I wanted to be a doctor, and, failing that, now love being a patient. On Friday, I had a rod inserted into my foot and a ligament repaired because I was born with crappy feet and have seen my sainted mother’s feet and the future is grim.

To the hospital I went, chauffeured by McIrish, attended by the Princess, who is conveniently home on break and quite enjoying having me as her guinea pig patient. I cantered up to the receptionist, who commented that most people weren’t quite so merry upon coming in to have their bones broken. “I’m special,” I told her. McIrish rolled his eyes.

Beautiful Nurse Shannon gave me my favorite garment in the world—a johnny coat—and then brought me warm blankies.

Having some Bran time

Having some Bran time

Alas, my doctor was running late due to an emergency or something, so I had to wait. McIrish read to me from David Sedaris’s diaries, and the Princess duly listened to my DNR instructions. We pretended I was Bran from Game of Thrones, since I could only sit there with my IV in.

I got a headache, since I couldn’t have my coffee that morning, and was getting hungry. My mewling cries for a cheeseburger went unanswered. I covered myself up so as not to see the light and to look like a corpse to scare the staff (as one does. I don’t think I tricked anyone). The Princess had a cold, so she thoughtfully had covered her face with a mask. This did not prevent her from dancing when I got bored. She is truly the world’s best daughter.

Entertainment provided free of charge

Entertainment provided free of charge

Then Handsome Dr. Paul, the anesthesiologist, came over and discussed my options. “I want it all,” I said. “Nerve block, Fentanyl, throw it at me. I can’t wait.” He told me my leg would be completely dead with the nerve block, to which I said, “Cool!” (More eye-rolling from the family.) “I’ll give you some medication to relax you for the nerve block,” he said. It can be a little painful. “That’s okay!” I replied. “I love it here.”

Then Even Handsomer Dr. T, my surgeon, came in. He asked me the fun questions that I always get right—name, birthday, which foot. “I’m so excited,” I said, and he smiled, causing me to swoon a bit.

Then off I went to the OR, kissing my husband and blowing kisses to my baby girl. Leapt upon the OR table, chatted with the nurses, apologized that they had to work in such a chilly room and got those drugs. Fell blissfully asleep.

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

Powerful painkillers make a happy patient

When I woke up, I said, “Am I still in Ireland? I hear rain! Oh, no, I’m here in Connecticut, but my husband and I did just go to Ireland, and it was great! Did I talk in my sleep? How am I doing? Are we done? Can I take another nap?” Then I promptly fell asleep again.

McIrish was grocery shopping so I could have my cheeseburger later, so the Princess was my responsible adult. This was a good thing, since I remembered nothing from my conversation with Handsome Dr. T.

I was wheeled out to the car (so much fun!) and deposited back into my bed for a snooze.

It was a happy day, gang. A very happy day. And soon, I’ll be walking much better than perhaps ever before in my life, which means I won’t be listing into strangers and pieces of furniture.

Thanks for all your good wishes! Please know I’m doing just fine.

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Fun Facts about Ireland


To honor an Irish saying—never let the truth get in the way of a good story—here are a few anecdotes from my befuddled, jet-lagged, Ireland-saturated brain about the past week.

spire of londonThe Spire of Dublin is a newer monument, bucking the tradition of statues of Irish heroes. Nicknames for the Spire include Stiffy on the Liffey, Stiletto in the Ghetto, Monument to Nothing, Erection at the Intersection and the biggest waste of $5 dollars in European history. McIrish and I found it to be, well…tall.

Street signs in Dublin are optional. When they appear, they’re usually on the building, and at night, no light shines on them, so best of luck getting where you’re going and God bless.

highway signHighway signs are in Irish and English. The Irish comes first. Gaeilge, which is the official term for Irish Gaelic, has many silent letters. I think the Irish did that to confuse the rest of us. “Let’s put in five extra vowels, all silent, and four consonants that sound like V,” I picture them saying. “The English eejits will never figure it out.” ‘Twas true. Sligeach… “Slig…each?” I’d attempt. (It was Sligo, for the love of God!) Cill Chainnigh…“Sill…chain…ig?” (Killkenny) Some navigator I was. Hey! You try reading that at 120 km per hour! My iPhone similiarly struggled, and so we ended up in towns we still cannot pronounce.

brown breadOnce, I pictured Irish people eating brown bread for their tea and felt very sorry for them. The tragedy of it, having only bread to eat! Now, I realize Irish brown bread is the best kept secret in the culinary world, and am devoting my life to perfecting it here in the States. (Picture and my first recipe attempt is from here:

Storytelling is a way of life. From shopkeepers to aunties to restaurant servers, everyone had time to chat, tell you you were grand, make you smile and say, “Tanks a million,” as you left. “Come back and see us again, won’t you? Elsewise, you’ll break my heart.”

the mckeevers

My beloved mother-in-law, first row, second from the left, and 12 of her 13 siblings.

Thank you, Ireland, and especially McIrish’s family! Go raibh maith agat! I have no idea how to say it, but I mean it from the bottom of my heart. We’ll be back to see you again, and you’ve always got a warm bed and a good cuppa tea waiting for you here.

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The Emerald Isle

irelandIn all the years we’ve been married, McIrish and I have never gone to Ireland, where most of his family lives. I’ve only met three or four of his aunts and uncles when they came to New York. For the record, he has (or had) 18 aunts and uncles, plus their spouses and children, and their children.

But on Friday, we’re heading to the Old Sod.

When I was in college, I went to Ireland for three weeks. It was lovely (and cold, and damp), but the people were welcoming and uncannily able to mark me as a Yank just by pubmy clothes. I remember giving money to little kids in Limerick, because “we have no shoes, miss!” only to see them take my offering and run to the candy store, the clever wee brats. I fell madly in love with a boy named Patrick Mulligan, who said his heart would break when I left (we’d known each other all of 48 hours, but still). I stayed with a family with four little red-cheeked kids who loved me on sight, and I them. I saw the Blarney Stone, drank my Guinness, visited Trinity College and genuflected in front of the Book of Kells. I’ll try not to adopt an Irish accent, though I can’t promise. It’s not on purpose…it’s just my thing.

whiskeyThis time, McIrish and I will meet up with his brothers, sister-in-law, niece, two nephews and my beloved mother-in-law, Polly. We’ll have a meal with one side of the family one day, then it’ll be Easter, and we might go to the horse races, because that’s a tradition, apparently. The next day, we’ll be with the other side of the family. Then, he and I will traipse off to Dublin for a few days and do lots of touristy things—a Viking boat ride on the Liffey, a tour of a distillery, shop for pretty Irish things on Grafton Street, walk across Ha’Penny Bridge, pay our respects at St. Patrick’s and, on our last night, have dinner with the lovely author Monica McInerney and her husband, John. Monica and I met 12 years ago and became instant friends, and we haven’t seen each other since.

But mostly, this trip is about my sweet and wonderful mother-in-law getting to see her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews again. Letting them spend time with her fine pollysons and three of her five grandchildren (the Princess and Dearest are in school, alas). For McIrish and his brothers, it will be returning to the land of their parents and ancestors. For me, it will be looking into those familiar faces, putting names with Christmas cards, and finally, finally meeting my Irish husband’s family.

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The joy of bad TV

McIrish and I have been floundering about, trying to find a show that A) has more than one season and B) we both like. We loved After Life, and we’re Game of Thrones fans, and we’ve seen some pretty good shows here and there.

But we’ve started to kind of love crappy TV, too. Without naming names, because I don’t like criticizing other people’s hard work. And yet…there are times when something is so wrong or unintentionally silly that it becomes fun.


tan franceThe show where the heroine has to go to the Democratic Republic of Congo to find her supposedly dead husband. Fans of Queer Eye (me!) will be glad to see she observes the French tuck, even after being lost in the jungle for four days and needing to kill a Bad Guy. Tan must be so proud! Also, our heroine hasn’t lost her ability to runway walk as she approaches Bad Guy Camp. You go, girl!

…the show where the Search and Rescue commander promises his nearly all-volunteer force that THEY WILL SAVE LIVES and he will teach them how.

search and rescue…and in that same show, where the doctor tells the husband, not the patient, what’s wrong with her, leaving it to the hubs to break the bad news.

…the show where the hero is a murderous thug, but it’s okay, because he was drunk when he killed all those people and shot his coworker, so it’s kind of funny (wrong. It’s not.)

…the show where the chemistry between the romantic leads was the same heat level as when I find a clump of dog fur under the radiator.

thames…the show where the cop intuitively knows where the child will be released by her abductors, but unfortunately, she’s the only person in London who knows where the Thames River is, and she has to drive all through the night to get to there, and by the time she does, there, the child is dead, leaving the cop devastated.

eyelashes…the show where the romantic teen lead professes nerd-dom and bullying, but is in fact the prettiest, smartest girl in high school, wealthy, from a loving home, well dressed and with eyelash extensions that could wrap you in a hug.

Lesson learned? Read more books! And watch Dr. Pimple Popper, because that’s just quality TV.

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Viva, Las Vegas!


buddiesI am not a Vegas type of person. I don’t like gambling, crowds, enormous buildings without clocks. I don’t want to see a fake version of Venice or the Eiffel Tower. I’m not really a show type of person, having been to all of two concerts in the past decade.

But I am kind of loving Las Vegas, where I’m visiting my longtime friend, Robyn Carr, and her good dog, Brodie, and her daughter, daughter’s family and many friends. They even threw a party to welcome me! My job was to make cosmos, which I did very happily. We sat outside by the fire thingie and watched the sky darken, and the little girls ran around, and we laughed and talked and it was so much fun!

rocks-261253_640Aside from the almost nonstop conversation Robyn and I have, here are a few more things I loved.

The wildflowers are in bloom.

The sky is so blue!

It’s amazingly quiet, even though we’re perched on a hill overlooking the city.

cozy spotDid I mention Brodie?

The house has high ceilings, and when Robyn and I laugh (which is pretty much all the time) it echoes a little, and what a happy sound that is.

When the sun rises, the rocks across the valley turn red. There’s still snow on the tops there.

lake meadLake Mead. Wow. I’ve never seen Lake Mead up close, and boy, is it beautiful. The Hoover Dam (which Robyn fondly calls the damn dam, because she’s taken so many guests to see it) is astonishing.

Robyn’s house is absolutely lovely, filled with desert colors and cheerful touches. I spent a few hours putting her family photos in order. Her granddaughters are ridiculously cute.

hoover-691114_640Tonight, we’re going out to dinner. The food is another thing I love out here, though I tend to love food wherever I go.

It’s been such a good visit! I made Robyn promise to come visit me next fall, when I can show off New England a little bit. I’m pretty sure we’ll have a good time there, too ; )

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Maple Man


the bucket

tapping the trees

Almost every year of our marriage, McIrish has made maple syrup. He started by buying a few taps and hanging buckets on the maple trees. The kids would go with their red wagon and check the sap, and with his help, put the full buckets into their wagon and pull it back to the barn. For the sap to run, the weather has to be below freezing at night and above freezing during the day. The first run of the year makes the best syrup (but is there really such a thing as bad syrup?). It takes a week or so to get enough sap for boiling.

Boiling Day is very exciting around here. We used to have a metal barrel with a hole cut in it, and McIrish would put in the evaporator pan. He’d add logs to the

The man, the legend

The man, the legend

barrel and sit there, listening to the radio (usually Car Talk). The kids would play and sometimes sled if there was still snow on the ground. We’d make popcorn. McIrish would throw a few hot dogs in the boiling sap and voila! Lunch was served. We upgraded our evaporator a few years ago to a proper stove (so we could get more syrup). The little shed where this all happens is the best outdoor man cave ever.

the boil

the boil

Friends often come and visit on Boiling Day. Many of them haven’t seen maple syrup being made before, including our little four-year-old twin neighbors. We showed them the boiling sap yesterday, and they were terribly excited. “I see it, Terence!” they exclaimed. “I smell the syrup!”

sap running

sap running

McIrish stands there like a benevolent overlord, chatting, adding sap, adding wood, sitting in the cool air, watching the dogs frolic in the mud and snow. I go out and sit as well, but I have a tendency to get too close to the stove and melt my fleece coat. I do love to hang out there with him, just talking, warming ourselves, rotating like chickens on a rotisserie. Sometimes, he lets me add sap, and I feel very important.

When the sap is reduced down enough, McIrish brings it inside for the final boil on the stove, and then, the somewhat terrifying filter, where he has to pour the superheat syrup through a cloth. and filter on the stove. The windows of the house steam up, and it smells so sweet. This year, we had the twins over for their first sleepover, and they were quite dazzled when McIrish brought us each a tiny glass of syrup to sip, still warm. The little boy spilled his and clapped his hands over his eyes. “Oh, no, what have I done?” he said, and we assured

Just beautiful.

Just beautiful.

him that these things happen and got him some more.

Maple syruping takes weeks. We only make a couple of gallons of syrup, but every time I make pancakes, which is something I only do when the kids are home, we get to have Daddy’s syrup. Weeks of work for a little sweetness throughout the year. True love in action.

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The month of Cape Cod

evening sky

I want to thank you, readers, for the past four weeks.

It was a very busy year. I wrote a book, went on two book tours, attended at least one writers conference, had a child graduate from college, took a lovely family vacation, and spent a memorable day in the emergency room thinking I was going to die and scaring the bejesus out of McIrish. I think I was on an airplane more than 50 times in 8 months.

winter capeThe Princess moved into her first apartment and started graduate school three hours away. Dearest Son had an internship for which he wore a suit and tie, and I realized that my little boy is a man.

This full schedule, and all these emotional upheavals, translated to the fact that I was having a hard time writing my latest book. And so, McIrish and I decided it would be good for me to get away. In the past, I’ve done this for a week or two, usually to someplace warm. This year, because I am a lover of skyscapes and the ocean, I rented a house at the edge of the Atlantic and discovered the wonders of winter on Cape Cod.

faithful friendI took sweet Luther, my better-behaved dog who wouldn’t charge into the ocean the way Willow does, and food that was easy to prepare and consume. Huggy Pillow. Lots of comfy clothes and my giant pink parka.

What happened then was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. The sound of the waves, the incredible clarity of the night sky, the comfort of Nauset Light’s beam swinging through the darkness. The howls of coyotes, the little fox that followed Luther and me on the beach, and reappeared in our yard the day we were leaving. The smell of salt air, the roar of a storm, even, remarkably, the feeling of a porpoise under my hands as a stranger and I tried to help her get back into the ocean. The exhilarating cold, the giddiness of being blown backward by the wind, unable to stand still in its force.

beachThere’s a holy feeling to being the only person on a beach, making the first footprints (and pawprints) of the day. Seeing sheets of snow gust past the house, to hear different voices of the wind coming from all directions all at once, and always, the ocean, like the earth’s heartbeat.

I know I sound romantic and poetic and maybe a little goofy. I felt that way, too.

IMG_9630There was the delight of visitors—my husband, my daughter, my sister. The long chats I had with my son. My dearest friend from college—our first solo sleepover in twenty-eight years, laughing so hard Catherine fell off the couch. A night with my cousins, another with my auntie. My wonderful, brilliant writer friends, Huntley Fitzpatrick and Stacia Bjarnason, the laughs, the stories, the ideas.

the cloudsI wrote most of my book this month—a book I’ve been struggling with for six months or more. I finally got to that place we writers live for, when the pages flow and the ideas leap from our fingertips. I cleared my head by walking my dog, through the woods, on the beach, going to the bay to watch the sunset, waking up every day to the sunrise flooding my house.

All that was because of you, because you read my books and have given me this beautiful, fulfilling, remarkable career. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my very full heart.



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