I wake these mornings without the daily dread of a deadline. Like the dog that sleeps in the bed with you, I sigh and turn onto one side for ten minutes to look out the window. Then I sigh again and turn to my other side. I think about Time. Then I shift to my back, take up my phone and read about the daily horrors as recounted on the various news sites. After that, I really sigh, and as antidote, read my book for ten minutes, which right now is The Boys in the Boat.

I read this book both because a young person to whom I am deeply committed recommended it and because as a lover of old things – see awesome photo – I delight in being transported back to a long-ago time like the 1930s, when the action in that true story occurs.

old house

You wonder who once sat on these porches of a summer night, with the dews descending and the fireflies winking.

Speaking of summer nights, this summer just ending has been a strange one for me, because for the first time since the years when gals wore poufy hair like this…


…I have not been filing a weekly column. And as it stands I’m not going to be filing any, until October at the soonest.

I both chose this non-writing path and had it chosen for me in that the parent company that owns most of the papers I appear in announced in July it had no budget for freelancers at least until then. I know I could have done a Gandhi and kept writing for free but to do so would break solidarity with my brothers and sisters in the scribbling game. For about six hours after hearing the news though, I did feel I should go on sending a fresh column to the other papers that subscribe to me column and are not part of this giant chain. But then, sitting outside the dry cleaners at around 4 that afternoon, it dawned on me that this could be the universe sending me a message.

I asked the editors of these independent papers if they‘d mind my taking a break and they couldn’t have been nicer. “Take it!“ they said. “Take it by all means and we’ll be glad to have you back in October.”

And so I decided, I would take the time, and wouldn’t I have scads of it!

I didn’t have scads of it, of course. For one thing, our span of time is brief and swiftly passing no matter what we are doing. And for another, there were some family events, some joyful in the extreme and some that same degree of terrifying and to them I turned all my attention.

But over these weeks I did learn this, I did learn this: I learned that I feel at my happiest when I write, and that I feel most lost and somehow lonely when I don’t.

So, I’m back, ready to catch more small moments of Time in my little net and tell of them here.

Of course we writers never know who is reading what we write, if indeed anyone reads any more, but that’s fine. It’s the writing that counts, the saying what we saw. I have always felt my purpose in life was to do just that. Just as it says in that early-days Elton John song with its lyrics by the great Bernie Taupin, “My gift is my song and this one’s for you.”



Just Say…. No?

I’ve been taking so many drugs this last week it’s a wonder I haven’t begun having ALL the side effects, from compulsive lip chewing to random head movements to tongue swallowing – the whole terrifying litany.

These are the meds that handsome young doc gave me in at Mass. General a week ago today:

my many meds

There’s this Flucticasone Proprionate, the real name for the drug you see advertised as Flonaze, which sounds so much like the opposite of what the drug is meant to do – I mean do you seriously want more fluids FLOWING out of your NASAL passages? -It’s a wonder the team that came up with that name wasn’t immediately fired.

Then there’s Iophen, basically Robitussin with Codeine, which I had to practically produce a passport and birth certificate to take delivery of.

And finally there’s this stuff called Benzonatate, which I guess I was saying wrong. Someone my age, raised on declensions and conjugations you’d pronounced that word BEN-zo-nuh-TAH-tay. I had to look it up in Wikipedia to see how you really say it (be-nZO-nuh-tate.

Either way you say it doesn’t it sound like every Christmas carol about the birth of the Baby Jesus?

Who says the Latin Mass is dead? Give a click here. Pretty beautiful actually!

Because He’s a Pro

My tactic in the face of trouble: whine for a while, then curl up with a book and forget about it. In a kitchen that is for the third night in a row  far too cold to cook in I say the heck with everything, make a fire in the living room fireplace and do just that.

Old Dave has been doing this for hours already and is now cozily reading one of his bizarre futuristic semi-sci-fi tomes. His solution for any frozen pipe: let God thaw it. Sooooo on this third cold night, I suggest a plumber.

“He’s not going to tell you anything different,” sez Dave.  “How do you know?” say I. “Because I know” sez he. “So now you’re the Energy Czar? I mean, you’re no professional” say I. “Yeah but I’m right,”says he.

Then about ten minutes later up he gets and disappears down into our 1890s cellar. When he comes back up he asks if we have a space heater but – ack! – I have just hours earlier donated our one space heater to a family in much worse shape than we are with our books and our fireplace and the wise-cracking wife giving continuous grief to a nice quiet man.

“Come down and see,” he says and so I go down and  see what he has done which is to stand first on a rickety old chair and then on a very tall radiator and then  pry off a two-by five-foot length of paneling fat with pink insulation to reveal the bare earth floor under the kitchen addition , where running its entire length is the skinny ice-filled pipe that is causing all the trouble.

“Let’s see if this helps,” says Dave, turning the antique black knob on this radiator we have never used, and back upstairs to the fireside we go and whaddya know, what do you know, what DO you know, within 30 minutes we suddenly hear hot water coursing  through a well-thawed pipe and into kitchen baseboards. Hurrah!

So maybe he IS the professional after all, what do I know? But hey: I’m the Queen. Oh and I meant to say: this is Dave at the top  with that ‘I told you so’  look he so often gets  … And down at the bottom here, well that’s  me in the rocking throne from which I rule this roost, allowing my subjects to sometimes approach (as  long as they stay on their hands and knees. :-))

Angela’s Ashes Comes to Old No. 9

Frank McCourt grew up the most wretched of  Limerick’s wretched and for sure he and I have something in common – or we would if he hadn’t gone and died on us  a few years back.

This passage from Angela’s Ashes says it all, now that  frozen pipes have  made us retreat to the second floor entirely: we’re living in ‘Italy here.’

This is how it was for the McCourts back then (and with a fresh foot of snow coming in and no thaw in sight this is how it’s going to be for us too (all but the part about the Pope):

“Two weeks after Christmas Malachy and I come home from school in a heavy rain and when we push in the door we find the kitchen empty. The table and chairs and trunk are gone and the fire is dead in the grate. The Pope is still there and that means we haven’t moved again. Dad would never move without the Pope. The kitchen floor is wet, little pools of water all around and the walls are twinkling with the damp.

“There’s a noise upstairs and when we go up we find Dad and Mam and the missing furniture. It’s nice and warm there with a fire blazing in the grate, Mam sitting in the bed and Dad reading The Irish Press and smoking cigarette by the fire. Mam tells us there was a terrible flood  that the rain came down the lane and poured in under our door. They tried to stop it with rags but they only turned sopping wet and let the rain in. People emptying their buckets made it worse and there was a sickening stink in the kitchen.  She thinks we should stay upstairs as long as there is rain. We’ll be warm through the winter months and then we can go downstairs in the springtime if there is any sign of dryness in the walls or on the floor. Dad says it’s like going away on our holiday to warm foreign place like Italy. That’s what we call the upstairs from now on. Malachy says the Pope is still on the wall downstairs and he’s going to be all cold and and couldn’t we bring him up? But Mam says No, he’s going to stay where e is because I don’t want him on the wall glaring at me in the bed, isn’t it enough that we dragged him from Brooklyn to Belfast to Dublin to Limerick?”

As I say we  don’t have the long nose of the Pope in here with us – and our bed isn’t quite as sad-looking as The McCourt bed below but still: things feel pretty droopy around here. Maybe we’ll take up smoking too or anyway go buy a bunch of ice cream and get in our own little nest of a bed and eat it all straight from the carton like that pair in Grey Gardens.

ha ha

Snow Day (early morning)

abe-takes-it-easyI’m sitting in the little corner bedroom where our babies all slept and the snow is coming down hard. Dave fell back asleep waiting for the snowplow and the cat has spread herself out like a fur stole at my side here. The house is so quiet I can hear the clock ticking all the way down in the kitchen.

I have to file my column today and compose the entire ABC newsletter. I feel like the editor of a small town paper, gathering the news, taking the pictures, writing the stories, doing the paste-up but it’s such a great organization and I am in love with all eight boys that have come to our town as part of it.

I also have to enter the annual column and bogging contests conducted by the National Society of Newspapers today and  check on Uncle Ed who is 88 and hurts a lot when the weather is wet, then fight my way to the car and bring it to the service station because last night as I drove down Washington Street hoping to go to the grand opening of the brand-new Next Door Theater there was a loud BANG! and my window disappeared. I screamed. I thought I’d been shot, and even circled back to see if I saw glass on the street but no. The window, frozen shut with yesterday’s snow, had suddenly let go and disappeared down into the door.

It was a mighty cold ride home and it‘ll be a colder ride to the service station with no window and all this snow and the winds gusting to 50 miles an hour – and that’s if we can even get out of the driveway.

But all this effort is for later. For now all is quiet. The cat and the husband are faintly snoring, the coffee is perking, the clock is  ticking and I am writing to you.


Go With the Flow, or 3 Rivers Run Through It

It was so cold for so long the pipes in our downstairs bathroom froze.  “Do something!” I squeaked to David when this first happened. “Ah, well. January you know,” said Mr. Implacable, troweling a mortar of mustard and mayo onto some cold cuts.

Then another foot of snow came, then that same day a thaw, then such downpours it started raining INSIDE the house. Water streamed down the window pane and formed a triple-branched river that coursed across the living room floor.  Was our house turning into to city of Pittsburgh perched on three rivers? In which case build us a stadium and send us to the Superbowl.

But “Do something!” was all I could again yip at the sight of the three rivers, the lace curtains I labored so to make now sagging with water wicked up from the floor.

“Hmmmm,” said Dave. “But then this kind of thing happens – and what can we do tonight but put down towels?”

So…. we put down towels. Then, since it’s 55 degrees at best in our downstairs come night we effected a strategic retreat: repaired to the upper levels to climb aboard the fair ship Forgetfulness where Old Dave went instantly horizontal.

Hell I thought, and kicked off my boots, shed my clothes fast and slithered quick into my high-necked nightie. I spread the heavy quilt on this life-raft of ours the SS Beautyrest.

The cats, already in their PJs, came aboard too. Outside, the rain still pelted. Inside, the floorboards gave off a smell like ancient documents.

I sighed and turned over. What can we do tonight? I thought too and in ten minutes’ time was asleep like the rest of them, two-legged and four.

Frozen Pees

flasherIt’s been so cold here the flashers are describing themselves, ha-ha old joke but man it’s been cold. 17 below zero at the lake yesterday where we foolishly went thinking ‘Oh we’ll just take a spin up to our summer place and check on things.’ FLED IN FEAR 24 hours later, not just because of the cold but because of this brand new snowstorm bearing down on us. Packed up the cats and the cooler and drove home fast as we could last night, the storm’s wet breath cold upon our necks.

When I was a high school teacher on study hall duty, a kid taking Latin sat right in front of my big desk and I’d look at his book sometimes – to see how much I remembered of that knuckly old language and admire the prints of Roman statues with their noses all rubbed off.

Once though, he came in with a book called Voyage to the Top of the World or some such name about this dogsled bunch up by the North Pole trying to carry on in all that cold. It was kind of a babyish book but I loved it,  especially the parts where they’d pee into the air, and their pee would freeze into sticks which they’d then use to repair broken parts of the sleds.

Just kinda gets you thinkin’ huh? Weatherman gives ya lemons, make lemonade. Or at least some novelty swizzle sticks to serve in the drinks of your enemies. 🙂


It’s Winter – What Can We Say?

etand-drewIt’s snowing again and everyone’s sick. This time it seems to be the Green Death as we call it in our family. In one friend’s household a college-age child fell ill last Sunday and within 36 hours all four of his family members were also clenching and writhing – drivin’ the porcelain bus as they say.

My friend’s body must’ve thought it would be funny to add fainting to the mix too. Anyway, it shut the lights out inside his head just as he was making his midnight way toward the john so that THERE HE WAS in a heap on the floor trying to regain consciousness when one of the other kids, en route to the bathroom himself, stepped right on him. Then they BOTH screamed, which made me picture that scene when the very young Drew Barrymore comes upon ET in her brother’s closet. Aaaaaah! AAAAAHHH!

The January I was in 6th grade a whole shelf-full of books fell on my head in the school library. Then the next day I broke out in cold sores, my specialty that year as my school picture eternally attests. The day after that we had to go to my cousin’s in Brockton and on the ride back I got so sick, so truly limp-as-a-skinned-bunny-sick I couldn’t even put my legs down on the ground once home. My mom carried me up the stairs and put me in my new red pajamas and I knew I looked small and scared and skinny-necked – a lot like ET in the closet myself, come to think of it.

I knew I wouldn’t be going to school the next day either but would have one, maybe two days in bed with hourly Room Service and a little bell to ring if I thought I might throw up.

My bed was right up against the window and I turned on my side to look out it at the old elm tree I looked at every night of those little girl years and felt empty…. lucky….safe. And it was snowing then too.

the-old-elm(the tree died the next year – The men who took it down said it dated back to Revolutionary days. I still see it in my mind.)