Wednesday, September 8, 2021



 Next Steps 

December 2020

 Graduation is looming, years of preperation and hard work done.  Now the real work begins.  But what does that look like after you graduate from a Nurse Practitioner program?



Photographic Memories, 2019

I look at photos often. Sinking into a memory can be an emotional roulette of sorts. I see more than the single moment captured. Like a song, each photo brings with it the before and after. I cannot separate the photo from those book ends. The girl in this photo is so young. She is smiling-of course. She was taught young to not make a fuss, to smile like a good girl. Her eyes are closed, perhaps to block out a little of the embarrassment she feels at being the center of attention in a busy restaurant on Christmas Eve. It could be she is embarrassed about the fuss around her birthday or was it the attention of the classmate who happened to be sitting one table away, changed with time but familiar around the edges. High school was four years past and that was where she wanted it to stay- over. His face, watching as they sang “Happy Birthday” in front of 200 strangers made her stomach hurt but good girls smiled. Always.

I look at this girl, who in four short years had seen devastating heartbreak and violence and am filled with both sadness and a fierce pride. She is on the cusp of a new and beautiful life of healing and joy, but she didn’t know this yet. I wish I could whisper to her now, let her in on the secret that not all love hurts and not all damage is damaging forever. I wish I could tell her that I know she is alone among those who should know her the best. They will never share those secrets she keeps but that will be ok. Others will share them gracefully. I could tell her not one bit of that matters now, but I know her. I know it mattered then. Appearances mattered.

            I wish I could lean in quietly, whisper above the small pearled earing, pitch my voice just above the holiday din; and tell her that scar tissue makes a beautiful teacher.  I would tell her that her broken heart will not only heal but it will bloom and grow into a heart capable of holding space for others who are broken and hurting. She will leave this snap of time shortly, leave the mixing of perfume and candles, bourbon and steak; and step into the winter night. The air will feel cleansing, the anonymity of the street comforting. She will move through the next few months of life as she always does, doing what should be done until one night, when the dark cold takes on personality.  Everything will change the night death comes to wake her and set her on the road of life building.

I couldn’t have known that Christmas Eve that destiny has a maudlin sense of humor. Life changing moments hardly seem that at the time. I had been so sure I was broken beyond saving, that I had nothing to give anyone. I was destined to be mediocre at best. But time had more to teach. In that photo I was toeing up to the start line for the rest of my life. A little more than a month later I would find myself in another moment in time, no photo to capture the shift except the one imprinted in my brain. That night had been filled with routine with only ordinary motions and then time stopped.  When time began again everything was different in a million little and unmentionable ways. 

He had been walking home in the early February darkness. The black hoodie and jeans hid his tall, lanky body in the early northeast morning.  He was struck at 55 miles an hour, in the freezing dark.  His head hit the top of the sedan’s windshield, his face the glass and his legs the bumper. He shouldn’t have lived but he did. For better or worse, he lived through that night.  The actions taken by my EMS team that night was part of the 0.1%, a tiny slice of time when prehospital care made a life-or-death difference. This man lived because of us, because of me and my training. That night was a conjunction of time and space, when training met instinct, uncertainty of trauma met steely determination. It was the night a “nice girl” became a determined woman.

I look back to that moment. In our family we call it “Route 2.” My now husband had been senior medic on that call and witnessed the change that came over me that night.

“That was the night you were ready to move on,” he often tells me and anyone else who will listen, “You called the shots that night, stood up and took charge, you stopped being a good girl became a leader.”

Twenty-four years, four children, 23 years of marriage and a year from my FNP I look back to that photo as when my paradigm shifted irrevocably. It wasn’t an earthquake in the status quo of my thinking, more of a small and insidious crack that slowly loosened old programming.

Why does a woman being a “good girl” still have a place in our society? What does this mean for the profession of nursing and medicine? Can we be effective practitioners if we are first concerned with being liked? The girl in the photo wanted nothing more than to be referred to as good, dependable and nice. This woman is concerned with different adjectives. Compassionate has replaced nice. Competent and effective has replaced dependable. Morally sound and consistent has replaced good.

I was recently struck by a comment on social media about a female politician. “She just isn’t likeable,” said a political commentator. I was struck by this comment. We don’t hear about “likability” being an issue for men. Politicians don’t say someone is unelectable due to a lack of likeability. In healthcare, we don’t say men aren’t likable. We say they have a poor bedside manner quickly followed by “but I don’t care because he is a good provider.”  We don’t tend to label male providers difficult or opinionated when they disagree with one another. We call them strong, educated, confident. At worst a male provider may be called arrogant. Women providers are seen through a less positive lens when they exhibit the same qualities of confidence and assertive discussion. Why?  

As women, providers must work against old, long entrenched, expectations still shared by colleagues and patients. Be a lady. Smile. Don’t make a fuss. Look nice. Speak softly. We cannot serve our patients if we are constantly preoccupied with being likable. How do we function within a theatre that still expects, perhaps subconsciously, that we women providers give competent care while not rocking to boat? We can’t. We must be unafraid of who we were and proud of who we are now. I am lucky.  My training allowed me to work with providers of all genders who empowered me, mentored leadership, humility and encouraged my journey. Times are changing and I can be a part of that change for those who come next.

I can’t undo the programming for that girl in the photo. She is in the past, frozen forever at 22, smiling and stuck in so many ways I can’t change. But I am not her now. I have learned to balance assertive with respectful. I have learned to care less about likability and more about competence, effectiveness, compassion, and endurance. To make big decisions with patients about health care one needs confidence and humility of equal proportions. I can’t claim to be an authority on what it takes to be a recovered “nice girl.” I will be forever learning how to navigate roads laid by outdated paradigms of our world.  Yet I know I am eons away from that girl in the photo. I am not her and she is not me. She is the core of who I am, a germinal center locked in time. I wouldn’t be me without her.  I often wish I could let her in on the conspiracy- you don’t have to be a "good girl" to strive towards doing great things.  



By Rebecca M Holdsworth

As published in The Kid Turned Out Fine: Moms Fess Up About Cartoons, Candy, And What It Really Takes to Be a Good Parent (Paperback)
by Paula Ford-Martin (Editor)Adams Media Corporation (April 30, 2006) Language: English ISBN-10: 1593375174 ISBN-13: 978-1593375171

I have just come to a rather startling and self-effacing conclusion: I was a much better parent before I had children. Over the past five years I have traveled the twisting and turning road of parenthood and the reality of raising four young children is far different than my preconceived notions of what real parenting should be.

When I began thinking about having children I did what I imagine many potential parents do: I stopped; I took a good look around me; And I blasted every perceived slip-up of every parent I saw. Leaving my house was no longer the innocent journey it once had been. I was watching and my mental checklist was working overtime.

Restaurants and shopping malls became my hunting ground. See that mom with the screaming two-year-old in the men’s section of the department store? That will not be me. If my child ever behaves that way I will pick him up immediately and march his little screaming self to the car. All of my shopping would have to wait. I will show my child who’s the boss! Me.

Then there was that “monster” in my favorite restaurant. The one over at a table in the corner. There she was, screeching that she “wasn’t going to eat that!” Then she crawled underneath the table not to be hauled out again until the check was signed and the tip left. NO, no. My husband and I would tsk tsk, shake our heads and say, “Oh No”. Our children will eat what they are given. They will behave as proper ladies and gentlemen. They will use their utensils, speak in a properly modulated voice and always say “please” and “thank you.” Our children will behave properly.

The problem with today’s children as I saw it was a lack of manners and respect. I saw this as a direct result of the “I’m ok, you’re OK” parenting style so popular with some of my parent’s generation.

I remember it something like this:

“Oh no. Our little one is not behaving badly by hitting little Bobby. He is simply trying to express his natural athletic ability and don’t you think we should find a suitable outlet-like boxing?”

Bah! That was all a bunch of malarkey, pure lazy parenting on their part. Or so I thought. Did you ever hear the old adage about walking in another’s shoes? Or, how about the one about throwing stones in glass houses? Well honey, stand back because the stones are flying and the walls are comin’ down!

What I didn’t realize during those years of sticking my nose in the air and damming the bedraggled parenting masses was someone was listening. Someone was up there with a notebook and pencil chuckling to himself as he recorded each time I swore my child wouldn’t behave that way. And boy did I get my just due for all that pre-parenting smugness.

Do you remember that poor mother in the men’s department store stoically pushing her screaming toddler up and down the aisles of modern fashion? What I didn’t realize between the wails for candy and shushes from mom was if she came home without socks for her husband, she would have to tell him why he was missing all twelve pair of work socks and why his sock drawer still held a residual smell of diaper cream. I know this because that was me. And right after the socks mommy had to buy more diaper cream- and put it up higher this time-away from curious hands.

Remember that lovely couple with the child in the restaurant screeching about her meal? What I couldn’t possibly have known while I was calmly munching on my appetizers and sipping on a cool glass of Chardonnay was this family hadn’t been out of the house in what seemed like forever. Only their acute and unrelenting desire to eat somewhere where the meals didn’t come in a folding paper box with a prize at the bottom drove them to take such desperate measures. This was how they found themselves sitting in an elegant seafood restaurant with a little tyrant masquerading as their lovely and gracious three-year-old.

What I didn’t hear while I was enjoying light conversation about the state of the economy and our upcoming jaunt to the shore was that said three-year-old swearing she would be good if she could just have a lobster like Mommy and Daddy. Only too eager for a quiet dinner, the parents took the bait. As the waitress set the glorious steaming delicacy under her little upturned nose the precious little angel began to shriek “I’m not eating that bug!” in a voice loud enough to rattle the windows. I know this because that was me and I was the one wanting to duck under the table and come out only after the meal was over.

It was also me who, while sitting in another restaurant talking to a friend while our children ate, heard a ripple of laughter pass through the dining room. I looked around to see what joke I was missing only to see my sweet and delicate daughter sitting demurely by with two french-fries jammed up her nose. The joke was on me.

It was me who stood watching in the mall as my child threw herself onto the floor kicking and screaming after being denied another ice cream cone. It was me waiting in line at the upscale boutique while my little girl stood in the display window gaily waving and dancing for all the shoppers as they passed by. It was also me who turned to my friend and announced loudly so the cashier could hear “Will you go and get your daughter!”

I think it is much too easy for those who don’t have children to turn their noses up at those who do and add to their mental list of what kind of parent they will or will not be in the future.

As for all of those things my husband and I swore we would or would not do? We have dragged the occasional child out of a mall for bad behavior but that was usually after the major purchase had been made and all bribery with lollipops had failed. Let’s face it. How often can you find the time to even get to the store much less find an opportunity to go again? Where food is concerned, we do insist our children try everything but you do have to admit a lobster “in-the-rough” does look an awful lot like huge insect. A girlfriend of mine recently confided she is frequently seen roaming the aisles of her local grocery store trying to sing to herself loudly enough to drown out the sound of her screaming toddler.

Parenting is a challenge. It is a joy, but it is a challenge. My husband likes to repeat the adage, “The first casualty of combat is the plan.” In other words, nothing ever goes completely to plan-not even parenting. Especially not parenting. You can dream and wish and plan how you as a parent will handle your future brood but until you are there in the trenches you will never be sure. After all a family is the meshing of many different personalities in many different situations. Take two parents, one child, seven days in a week, fifty-two weeks in a year- (you can see where I am going with this)- and the possibilities are endless.

I am not saying parenting should be likened to a battle although some days it sure feels like one. It is actually the opposite. In my case, being an effective parent is more about not fighting. It is about choosing when and where and why I want to “fight” and when to retreat.

I was a much better parent before I had children. Then it was very simple. It was black and white. Yes and no. Then again, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe now that I am a parent I have changed my definitions of what a good parent is. I know now it isn’t about appearances. They are going to scream. They are going to embarrass you. They are going to stick french-fries up their nose. They are going to be…well, kids. The trick for us as adults is to remember if it isn’t fatal it isn’t, well, fatal. We need to remember to cut ourselves a break once in a while. These kinds of things are what being a child and a parent all are about. It doesn’t make us bad parents and it doesn’t mean we have failed to be the parent we thought we would be. Here the greatest tool we have in our parenting bag is a sense of humor.

As for all of you out there who are not yet convinced of the potent karmic nature of parenting I have one last note of caution. As all of you sit watching all of us floundering in the murky waters of parenthood; cut us (and your future selves) a break. Remember. When ever you feel a bout of judgment coming on as you witness some poor soul and his half-pint charges navigating through the mall or your favorite restaurant, be careful. Any judgment you make may prove to come back to you in time- threefold. Remember: Someone is listening. He is taking notes and He has a sense of humor too.

This article can be found here:

But this book : The Kid Turned Out Fine, edited by Paula Ford-Martin here:


Originally published in the Life At Home section of The Boston Globe

July 18, 2002 –modified from its original form




By, Rebecca Holdsworth


I have been dealt a mortal blow. I have been insulted so completely that it has shaken my entire idea of who I am and who I strive to be. What, may you ask, could be so earth shattering?  It was, in a word, perfection.


A friend of 10 years, one who I thought I knew so well and, more importantly, knew me, one who went through my darkest hours of college angst with me and yet our friendship still resurfaced on the other side, called me the worst name any mother can call another: perfect.


Perfect: an adjective. "Without defect or omission," according to Webster's. "In a condition of complete excellence."


As in: "You are the perfect mother. I can never hope to attain your level of perfection in the parenting of my child."


Pardon? Me? Are we talking about me? I let out an indignant "I am not!" and proceeded on a 20-minute tirade on just how horrible a mother I really am.


After hanging up with her, I called a good friend. She was a true friend, a dear friend, a realistic, down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-is friend.  I told her my greatest insult: I was thought to be the perfect mother, cringing as the word came out of my mouth.

There was a bit of silence but that didn't worry me. It takes time for a good, true, honest friend to find a tactful way of saying, "You stink as a mom." I waited eagerly for those words.


"Well," she began, "you are kind of the Martha Stewart of parenting."


I was dumbstruck. I was aghast. I was horrified. So what if my curtains match my couch? So what if I have knickknacks artfully arranged over my kitchen cabinets? Who cares if my children's rooms are themed and there just so happen to be a few fresh herbs tucked in between the plants in my window boxes? That isn't what makes me a good parent!


"Hey! Don't get me wrong," she continued. "I've seen you lose your cool. I know what you look like after a full day of the Ringling Brothers and Three under Three Circus. But you seem to pull it off so effortlessly." She apologized for making me feel worse and said she had to go. "I have to wash off my kids and hose down the office wall now. Too much alone time and a little blue paint has gotten way out of control."


Perfect. Why does the idea of being seen as a perfect parent seem like such an abhorrent thing? Is it because the simple nature of perfection raises the bar and makes it that much harder on the next one in line? I don't want the responsibility of being a parental yardstick. I don't want to be the reason someone else feels lousy. I don't want to be different. I want to be down in the trenches with the rest of the parents, complaining about diapers and hunger strikes and potty training gone wrong. I want to be one of the gang.


Here is the thing: I am one of the gang. I am not perfect, a long way from it. I lose my temper and a stray four-letter word is repeated gleefully at the next family dinner. I have realized my kids have gone a week without a bath; and their brown color isn't from a lack of sunscreen at the beach yesterday. I have left a diaper on so long as to necessitate a life preserver for the wearer and a shampoo for the carpet. I'm not perfect and I don't want to be.


Ask any parent about perfection and you'll hear something like, "Honey, I gave that up years ago. I'll settle for convincing my kid to eat something other than corn flakes."


I tell people I am not saving for college but for the therapy they will surely need after 18 years with me as their perfect mom.



Rebecca Holdsworth writes in Shirley.

Copyright (c) 2002 Globe Newspaper Company

Record Number: 0207180034

Monday, September 23, 2013

Secret Surviving

Clio, Muse of Writing and History
Greek Muses

It’s hard when Passion grabs you by the throat and makes you pay attention, forcing everything else to fall away.  Life fades into the background as you become a thrall to whatever has taken control of your waking mind and dreaming soul.   As a creative person I find it difficult to balance life when Passion takes the wheel.  It's even harder when it doesn’t.

This blog has sat dormant for almost a year.  It isn’t that I don’t have things to say or thoughts to share.  I don’t know why I haven’t been able to put all the thoughts running through my head down in words.  I know part of it is the feeling no one is really interested in my musings and worries.  How vain is it to think someone would want to hear what rolls around in your head on a daily basis?  Part of it stems from an inability to find the right words to grapple with all that I have been trying to sort out.  I have a book, a series of books actually, that I have been working on for almost five years.  I have short stories and essays I have written.  I have words, stories, thoughts, feelings and fears but I don’t seem to have the ability to get them out.  What the hell is that all about?

Pandora's Box by Waterhouse

I also have a secret.  Well, not so much a secret, some people know but it isn’t something I talk about unless life forces my hand.  I wonder though if keeping my struggles to myself, holding the silence, is somehow gaging my voice.  Could it be that secrets bleed silence into more than the object of the secret itself?  So, I suppose the only thing to do is let go of the secret, make it less, give it light, let the monster out of the closet because when we keep our fears and weaknesses in the dark we are only allowing them room to grow.

In 2008 I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Ankylosing spondylitis- a disease where your immune system attacks cartilage, fusing bones over time.  When I moved to New England in 2009 I was on a medication that depressed my immune system.  I caught H1N1 and became very, very ill.  I recovered but, in changing doctors, I also had a diagnosis change from AS to Fibromyalgia.  I will be honest.  It really pissed me off!  Fibromyalgia is a diagnosis many doctors and people alike consider fake and affecting only the weak minded.  AS was scary but it was real.  I felt hopeless and hurting not to mention crazy.  Depression creeped into the edges of my life until it took over almost completely. 

Between the pain of daily life and emotional pain the depression has caused, every day since then has been an excruciating challenge.  I am grateful for the fighting “screw you “spirit I inherited from my parents.  This “never say die” attitude has been my greatest weapon but also my biggest challenge as I resist the very things that help-medication, rest and relaxation.  I have been blessed with a husband who not only accepts my limitations but encourages me to rest when I don’t want to let go; but I see the toll it takes on him when he feels like the whole world is on his shoulders and it hurts my soul.  I don’t want my kids to have their childhood memories tainted with a pervasive image of Mom sick in bed or not at This Game or That Function because she didn’t feel well. 

I am lucky.  It isn’t cancer.  For now it doesn’t seem to be AS- a disease that progressively destroys the axial body- even though there is the chance that my diagnosis will change as a possibly slow progression of AS shows itself over time.  I am grateful for what I have but I want more.  I want to write.  I want to be able to think without struggling to find simple words.  I want to wake up with the energy to take on the world.   I want to let go of the shame of not being enough and embrace my life and my future with the passion I once had. 

I used to say “I will do it later.  There is time.”  It’s later and I am tired of waiting.  I want the world and I want it now.  I am not afraid to work for it, to risk and fail and rebound. I am only afraid this never ending struggle to push through the crap of everyday will overwhelm me.  I can’t bully my way through this as I have always done with life’s inevitable challenges.  Brute force doesn’t work anymore and I am so very tired of trying.

Maybe that is the lesson here.  In the past, I  have reached every goal I set for myself through sheer determination and moxy.  I pushed.  I pulled.  I clawed.  I never gave up.  Maybe this time it is about giving up and letting go.  I don’t mean letting go of my dreams. I don’t think that option is in my DNA. Rather, it’s about letting go of control and learning to steer the boat on the river rather than pushing so hard against the current.  It’s about trusting in the future, letting go of the past and really living in the now.  It’s about letting go of the shame of not being perfect

The secret is out- I am not Wonder Woman.  Not such a big one, is it?  So then why do I feel like I am standing here in my underwear? 

The first step to writing is having something to say. The second step is being honest about what you say- brutally honest.  Writing is about Truth.  So here is my Truth:  I have limits, boundaries and that has to be ok.  I have good days and really sucky days.  There are days when I hurt so much that I can barely move.  There have been days when my depression was so severe I didn’t even care that I hurt.  But there are days like today when I remember that I am on this earth for a reason.  I am a writer and I tell the truth.  
I  teach my children to, above all else, do everything with truth and compassion.  Perhaps it is time I give some of that gift to myself.  Truth: I am human. As for Compassion?  That is a work in progress but it is a worthy work accomplished by love and patience and there can never be enough of that in this world. 


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving from our garden of characters to yours.

Norman Rockwell

Brrr!  It is chilly here today.  Thanksgiving is on the horizon and Christmas is in queue behind.  Brimfield is bustling to get ready for Turkey and stuffing, cranberries and pie and each table set across the small harbor town will be as unique as the people setting them.  Mary spent most of October finding the perfect turkey and cranberry stuffing recipes.  She bullied Burt, proprietor of  Burt’s Fine Meats and Charcuterie, into calling all over New England and most of the mid-Atlantic states for an organic, free range Narragansette bird.  Mike stopped by the butcher early this morning, the bundle now sits deep in the recesses of Mary's fridge, wrapped tight in paper and string.  Mary won’t discover her prized poultry is actually a veniparkey until Thanksgiving morning.  What is a veniparkey, you ask?  It is a curious mix of  turkey around a partridge around a venison roast of course- a Burt Brooks specialty.  The butcher seemed quite happy to change the order when he spotted Mike perusing the glassed displays, too happy in my opinion, but don’t tell Mary.  Mike wants it to be a surprise. Tonight Burt will sneak Mary’s abandoned turkey home and into the smoker behind the barn, far away from his vegetarian wife Sylvia.  He will then guard the location of his contraband jerky with all the finesse of a cold war spy.   But enough about Brimfield and Thanksgiving. It’s time to wrap up our tale of  Mary's garden.  Do you have your tea?  Maybe a quilt or blanket?  Good.  Now, let me tell you a story. -Rebecca

Mothering Nature, Part I
Mothering Nature, Part II

Norman Rockwell

 Mary took to gardening with an intensity most people reserve for national sporting events and primary elections.  For Mary, the idea of gardening brought pleasant images of rubber shoes and pitchforks; fat, orange pumpkins; homespun scarecrows; and grateful children chomping on long, crisp, carrots.  So she was surprised to find gardening to be less zen and more Sun Zu’s The Art of War.  During one of rainiest springs New England had seen in decades, Mary stood outside, braving a vindictive nor'easter making desperate deals with belligerent tomatoes.
"I know the weather stinks,” said Mary.  “I get it!  But can't you please perk up?  Just a little?"  She tucked a blanket of seaweed around their shivering roots.  "I am not asking for much, just some good ol' New England spunk!" Mary wrapped the plants in plastic and considered a space heater.  This wasn’t working. 
Now there are times in one’s life when all you want to be is a grown up.  You want to handle life on your own, call your own shots.  Then there are those times when all you want is to crawl under the blankets and call your Mother.  As the storm battered Brimfield, Mary decided it was time to call Mom.  Armed with a box of tissues and a cup of tea, Mary called her from beneath four quilts.
“Mom,” said Mary, “Mother Nature hates me.”
“What did you do this time?” asked Margie, Mary’s mother. 
Mary sneezed.  “I didn’t buy vegetables and I don’t like the Mayor’s wife and gardening is the pits.”
“Hmm.  Well, that is a lot for her to take I suppose although I don’t understand where the Mayor’s wife fits into it all.”
“It’s just that,” Mary hesitated, sneezed again, and continued.  “Everything I thought gardening would be is wrong.  Corn doesn’t rustle in the wind.  It falls over.  Those stupid rubber boots leak and the bugs eat me and garden.  Mother Nature is a petulant brat.”  Mary sighed.  “Then there is the scarecrow.” 
“The scarecrow?”  asked Margie
“His name is Bob.  The kids made him for me. We have the only scarecrow in 5 counties with a Disney princess tiara, Tinkerbell wings, a light saber and an egyptian cotton head.”
“Bob sounds great.  So what’s the problem?”
“I came down one morning and Bob was tearing across the front lawn.  I thought maybe I was getting a migraine, you know what those do to me,” said Mary, “Then I saw Tex had Bob’s stick in his mouth.  He was trying to play fetch with Alex.”  Tex is the Sullivan’s 140 pound German Shepherd.
Mary laughed into the phone.  “You should have seen it, Mom - Tex tearing across the lawn with Bob the scarecrow dancing above him like some demented Disney character and Alex screaming bloody murder.”
Mary wiped at her eyes with her sleeve.  “We had to lock the Wizard of Oz DVD in Mike’s filing cabinet before Alex would go to bed that night.  I keep picturing Bob and Tex chasing that poor kid.”  Mary took a sip of her tea between giggles.  “Did I mention Alex was wearing his monkey pajamas?” asked Mary.  “I swear, I will never look at that movie the same way again.”
Mary hung up the phone sputtering and laughing so hard tea came dangerously close to coming out her nose.  Worst parent ever, thought Mary, that’s me!
The Great Gardening debacle of 2012, as it would come to be referred to in later years, came one month later over dinner.
"Can anybody tell me what this is?"  Mary held up a long leaf.  Five sets of eyes shifted nervously around the room.
"Um…  A leaf?" asked Molly, sneaking a napkin to her lap to feed the dog her peas.  Mary said nothing.  The dog hated peas.
Mary smiled "Yes, very good.  A leaf.  Have a brownie."
"Well duh!" complained Margaret, the oldest at 13.  "She can't get a brownie for that! It was too easy."
“She’s a baby!” countered Alex.  “That’s like E=MC paired in baby language.”
“MC-squared.” said Mike. 
“I’m not a baby,” argued Molly.
"Shhh!"  Mary said, "Quiet.  It’s a leaf, yes; but, here is the catch."  She waved two double fudge brownies in the air for inspiration.  A hush moved through the dining room.  You could hear a pea drop.  “What color is the leaf?”
“Seriously Mom?" mumbled Margaret.  "It's green.  Even the baby knows that."
“I am not a baby!” yelled Molly.  The dog spit something onto the rug.
"OK, OK.  I know it is green, but…" Mary paused for effect and held up one finger.  "But,” she said again.  “Is it yellowish-green with dark green lines or bright green with yellow lines?"
She searched the faces of her family for understanding and received nothing but vacant stares.  A sick feeling rolled in the pit of Mary’s stomach. 
There it is, she thought, my life in a sad, little nutshell.  I give my blood, sweat and tears to these people every day; but ask for a little support in my time of need and all I get are blank faces, rolling eyes and peas on the floor.
"Great, just great!" said Mary and flung the leaf down.  "Thanks for nothing.  When you don't have anything to eat for lunch but Twinkies and red dye #8 don't come crying to me."
A cheer went up around the table.
“You think she means it?” whispered Margaret to her father.
“Red’s awesome!” Alex cheered.
“What’s a Twinkie?” asked Molly.
“Oh dear,” said Mike.
Mary took a brownie, trying not to look her salad in the eye.  She had failed, failed her garden, failed her children, failed the environment.  Worst of all she had failed to live up to her image of what a practical, sensible, self-reliant woman should be.  Mary figured she might as well hand in her journalism degree and cancel her Martha Stewart subscription.  How could she face the Maven of Home Making now?
"Uh, Honey?” said Mike, looking from the leaf to the brownies and back to Mary.  “Does it really matter? It’s just,” Mike shrugged his shoulders, “green.  Leaves are green."
"Yes it matters!" Mary shrieked, slamming a manual the size of a pickup truck onto the table and opening it to a marked page.
"One means too much calcium and another not enough iron,” Mary read from the manual.  “A bright, greenish-yellow with purple spots suggests a magnesium deficiency.  How could you not know this, Mike?  You’re a doctor."  Mary picked up the leaf brandishing it like a sword.  "Do you see purple spots?"
Mike seemed to think for moment before he rose and moved to the cupboard.  He reached inside, pulled out a large plastic bottle, walked back to the table and set it down in front of his wife.  Colorful bears danced across the white label.  Berrygood Bearivites, A day of energy in each smiling bear” it said.  Mary glanced at the bottle and then back at Mike. 
“They are organic, too,” said Mike and held out his hand for a brownie.
Much later, after the last of double fudge brownie had been scraped from the ceiling fan, Mike and Mary sat together on the porch swing sipping a glass of wine looking out over their gardens.  The house was quiet.  Flowers nodded in the warm night breeze. 
“I don’t know,” said Mary after a while.  “I don’t know what got into me.  I guess I figured bad farmer equaled bad mother.  You know, like if I can’t raise corn how the heck am I going to raise kids?”
Mike smiled and kissed his wife on the head.  “You do just fine, more than fine.”
“But I don’t know what the heck I am doing!” wailed Mary.
Mike laughed.  “Well, if you don’t know what you are doing we are doomed because I sure don’t,” he said. 
“I’m serious Mike.  I can’t grow a cucumber.  How am I going to raise a teenager?”
“Lots of counting to ten,” laughed Mike, “and antacid.”
“But it’s more than that,” she confessed.  “I am supposed to know what I am doing.  People read my columns and assume I am some kind of expert when all I ever write about is how I don’t know what I am doing.”
“Babe, I’m pretty sure that is why they read your stuff, to feel better about their stuff,” said Mike.
Mary leaned her head back to stare at the night sky.  “Do you know Alex went to school yesterday with two different shoes on?  They weren’t even the same kind of shoe - a sneaker and a dress shoe- and they were both the left foot; and he didn’t have any socks on! His pants had a hole in one knee and he was wearing his pajama shirt- not even a clean one! I didn’t notice until he got out of the car in front of the school.”  She lifted her hands up in a helpless gesture and let them fall to her lap again.  “If I can’t get our kid to wear the same shoes to school how will I get Margaret through dating, and peer pressure and college?  Ugh.”  Mary groaned.  “All the other moms seem so put together, so capable.  I’m just - not.  And their kids-“ She trailed off helplessly. 
“Look,” said Mike, turning to face his wife.  “I don’t know what the answer is.  But I do know it isn’t broccoli and brussel sprouts.  We will figure it out together and who cares if Sylvia Brooks serves organic tofu with heirloom tomatoes.  I happen to know her kids stash beef jerky in their violin cases.”
Mary sighed and leaned back into her husband.  “I just want to do it right,” she said. “You know, not damage them too much.”
“If we did everything right,” teased Mike, “years from now, a perfectly nice therapist would be denied his Mercedes.”
Mary laughed.
“You know what they say,” said Mike.  “What ever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
“At least we will go together,” said Mary. 
“Always,” promised Mike.  “Always together.”  He squeezed her hand and held onto it.  They both fell silent, listening to the small noises of one world going to sleep and another coming alive. 
On Monday morning, Mary pulled up to the carpool lane just behind Sylvia Brooks.  As the kids piled out, Mary nearly sprayed a mouthful of coffee across the instrument panel of her Suburban.  Someone had added their own flair to the yellow bumper sticker on Sylvia’s silver Prius.  Instead of reading Go vegan and no one gets hurt, the sticker now read Go vegan and no one gets Burt with a sad face emoticon instead of a period.  Mary smiled all the way to the grocery store.  She was low of frozen beans.

Welcome to Autumn and Brimfield, Maine

Fall is swiftly fleeing, autumn leaves streaming from her colorful heels with winter's wind in fast pursuit. Here in Maine, snow has come and gone with a promise to return soon. This morning I walked my son to the bus and found Jack Frost had graffitied our truck, affectionately known as The Beast, in lovely silver-white swirls and crystalline swoops. Old Man Winter's calling card has arrived here in New England.

When I began working on a freelance writing career, I found most of the stories bubbling to the surface of my creative cauldron revolved around my experiences in life and family. Bored with writing a constant operatic warm up (you know: Meee, me, me Meeeee,)I created a cast of characters and set them to play out their lives within a world very similar to my own. Mike and Mary were born as was the Small and sleepy harbor town of Brimfield, Maine. These stories are meant to be read aloud in the spirit of Garrison Keillor or Stuart McLean.  However, I have read as well as listened to both Keillor and Mclean and have enjoyed the tales equally.

While the following story may not be seasonally pertinent, I think the worries, cares, successes and perceived failures will resonate with all times of the year and many readers locked in the daily struggle of living, loving and laughing. So please, come, sit at my table. Can I get you a coffee? Tea? Something a little, well, more? The fire is in the hearth, cookies cooling over there on the counter. Come, sit, and let me tell you a story.

Wishing you joy and luck on this day and every other, but most of all I wish you laughter. After all, a sense of humor is the only thing that makes sense at all. -Rebecca


Spring arrived in Brimfield, Maine on a Saturday morning riding a capricious, sea-scented breeze.  The winter had been full of long nights and cold days.  But on this day, memories of ice fishing and snowshoes, blizzards and sea smoke melted away with the last of the gray snow banks. 

From the stately painted houses on Main Street to the country cottages and farmhouses of the western boundaries, mothers everywhere banished the last remains of the mythic New England winter.  All over town windows were thrown open, porches swept, flowerbeds raked and countless boots, hats and scarves were packed away in bins and boxes by the winter weary Brimfieldians.   New England was ready for Spring, and it seemed Spring was ready for New England.

Perhaps the penultimate harbinger of spring had arrived just this morning. 

“Birdfeed Battle, Bears ON!” declared the local newspaper.  Morris-1, Greeley’s birdfeeders-0.”  Greeley was Mrs. Glenna Greeley, local librarian and town matron.  Morris was a black bear with a taste for birdseed and a penchant for breaking and entering. 

“Go get ‘em Morris,” said Mike to his paper.  

Mike Sullivan was Brimfield’s pediatrician and no one was happier to see the tail end of winter than he was.  Mike was weary of the gray skies and solemn moods, of colds and the cold.  He understood poor old Morris, just woken up from a long nap, hungry and eager to be out and about.  Mike was tired of the unique claustrophobia that came with the annual hibernation all Northerners must endure.  

Rather than an epilogue to old man winter’s deep freeze, Mike welcomed the fine weather as a prologue of what was to come.  It was the kind of April morning that spun dreams of sun drenched beaches, backyard barbeques and ball games governed only by weather and streetlights.  It was the kind of April morning that made people restless and itchy for something, well, something more. 

Mike leaned back from the yellow enameled table ignoring the creaking protest of the old chair.  He stretched his hands behind his head and sighed.  Life was good.  He had his favorite chair, his favorite newspaper, his coffee, his family and most importantly he had absolutely nothing to do today.  He closed his eyes for a moment, drinking in the warmth and light streaming through the kitchen window and allowed his mind to wander back to a similar day many years past now.

Mary and Mike Sullivan lived here in the town of Brimfield with their three children in one of those proud, painted ladies on Main.  The Sullivans were “from away” as they say - “They” being the generations of tough Mainers born with the sea in their blood and ingenuity in their bones.  It has been almost 16 years since Mary found the house one sleeting, winter afternoon.  A freshman reporter for the Boston Globe, Mary had followed a story concerning the declining fishing industry to the small harbor town.  She had spent most of that morning unsuccessfully gathering information from the notoriously tight-lipped Mainers when she wandered past Sixty-Four Main Street, the “For Sale” sign poking above a two foot snow drift. 

Mary was instantly entranced. The porch had drawn her in, its wide wooden bulk wrapping its arms around the blue Victorian in a white gingerbread embrace.  But it was the grand staircase and stained glass windows that had captured Mary’s heart and soul.

“Buy it!” she had told Mike, “It’s perfect.”

Mike hadn’t been so convinced.  While Mary was charmed by the turrets and slated roof, Mike worried over ice dams and leaking rafters.  Where Mary smelled lemon polished history in the old oak paneling and lavender in the sun soaked kitchen, Mike caught the distinct scent of cat and something else.  Formaldehyde wondered Mike? 

But Mary had wanted the house and Mike wanted Mary.  So, on a blustery spring day, the couple moved into Sixty-Four Main and spent the next decade polishing and plastering the old Victorian while working their way into the hearts of the close knit community.

Mike took a job as the town doctor, with an office just down the block - house calls as needed.  Mary kept on at The Globe but transferred to the local paper when Margaret was born.  After Alex was born two years later, Mary freelanced for a number of local papers chronicling the trials and tribulations of small towns and family life, eventually becoming a syndicated columnist.  The town had been good to the Sullivans and the Sullivans worked hard to repay that kindness. 

But on this shining Saturday morning, Mike wasn’t worrying about cats or renovations or doctoring.  He had nothing ahead more strenuous than wondering what kind of fancy new bear-proof feeder Mrs. Greeley would try this year.  Today was a day of possibilities, a day where anything – or nothing- could happen. 

Nothing is exactly what this doctor ordered, thought Mike as he glanced through the headlines. 

“Morris is winning already,” said Mike to Mary when she wandered into the kitchen with her section of paper and a cup of tea. 

“Hmmm?” she asked and joined him at the little yellow table.

“Morris, the bear.  Got Old Lady Greeley’s Ultra-feed 4000 in under 12 hours.  Think that’s a new record.” Mike laughed.  “Saw a big box from Amazon at the Post Office yesterday.  Whaddya’ bet that’s an Ultra 5000?”

“Mmm,” said Mary and sighed.

Mike watched her over the top of the paper with a wary eye.  “You all right?”  Something told him his day of nothing was sliding into something.  Many years of marriage had given him a kind of sixth sense when things were about to go sideways and Mary seemed to be in a sideways kind of mood. 

“It’s nothing.  I’m being silly.”  Mary sighed again and the slapped her section of the paper down onto the table.  “It’s just, ugh.  It’s that Lauren McAlister.  She really fries my cookies,” said Mary, fiddling with her mug of tea.

Mike smiled.  “I think you mean burns your cookies.”

“Whatever.  She drives me crazy,” mumbled Mary.

“What did Our Lady of the Haughty Attitude do now?” asked Mike.

“Ugh, just because her husband is the Mayor she thinks it is her job to be the social conscience of the world.”

“The whole world?”

“Well, maybe just the town but don’t underestimate her.  Total world domination is on her To-Do list.”

Mike put down the Local Happenings section of the Coastal News.  “So what is the new crusade?  Whooping cranes?  Yellow-bellied sap suckers?  Can’t be spotted owls, we did that last year- still have the calendar.”

“Vegetables,” said Mary, head in her hands, pout on her face.

“Vegetables?” asked Mike and laughed.  “Is she for or against?”

“I guess that depends on where you buy them.”  Mary got up from the table and moved across the kitchen.  “She joined this co-op.  They bring you different vegetables each week.”  Mary pulled a bag of green beans from the freezer and banged it on the counter.  “Lauren was going on and on about how great the produce is and how co-ops reduce your carbon footprint.”  She banged the bag again.  It sounded like a sledge hammer.  “So, I got to thinking.”

Oh boy, thought Mike.  Sideways.  He gestured for Mary to give him the bag and she brought it over.  “What are you thinking?” asked Mike, working the block of frozen vegetables loose with his hands. 

“What do we do for the environment?” asked Mary, hands on hips.

Mike blinked.  “What do we do?  Well,” Danger warned Mike’s brain.  Defensive positions.  “We recycle.  We have a compost pile,” he said, “and the Molly never get new shoes.  Hand-me-downs are an institution in this house.”

Mary took the bag from her husband.  “No, Mike, I mean really do something.  I spent years writing about other people doing things, but what have I done?  Haven’t you seen those bumper stickers plastered on every carpool car? “Go Organic! Buy Local! Sylvia Brooks has one that says “Eat vegan and nobody gets hurt.”

Mike snorted and shook his head.  Sylvia Brook’s husband, Burt, was the town butcher.

Mary poured the beans into a glass bowl.  “How can I hold my head up in the carpool lane when our kids think vegetables are naturally frost-bitten?”

“So, you want to join a co-op?” asked Mike

“No.  I want to do her one better.  I want a garden,” answered Mary.  “If she can buy them, I can grow them.  That will put Our Lady of the High and Mighty in her place.”  Mary shoved the bowl into the microwave and pressed start.  She turned to her husband.  “What do you think?”

Now, it would be a full year later, over a pint of Guinness at Smith’s Pub, when Mike would recall that one question - “what do you think?” - and mark it in his memory as the point where everything had gone terribly wrong.  He would tell the story of Mary’s garden with the kind of sentiment men reserve for survival stories, hunting escapades and college drinking tales.  But on this morning, Mike could only register one thought - Run!

Mike felt it coming like a bad head cold.  He recognized that look, that unholy light shining behind her eyes.  It was a light that said many weekends would be lost in the name of family bonding.  It was a light that said cancel your golf game, Mike.  It was a light that said run, Mike, run!  Husbands and children for themselves!

That same light had shone a year before when Mary had embarked on her Zen period.  She had filled shallow bowls with sand, tiny stones and rakes and moved all the furniture according to the principles of Feng Shui.  One night, after a long evening of house calls, Mike thought he was crawling into bed only to fall into the laundry hamper.  The next night Mike tried to put his socks into Aunt May’s potted palm. 

Mary went on to tie little silver bells to all of the doors and windows.  Every time a breeze blew or a door opened there was supposed to be a light, energy cleansing chiming throughout the house.  With three kids, a dog and an ocean breeze, the house sounded like the test room at a miniature gong factory.  The cat had not come out for months. 

Breathe, thought Mike, returning from his gong-filled memory.  It’s only gardening.  How bad could it be?  Mike smiled, relaxing.  Gardening might be just the trick to keep Mary busy this summer.

“Sounds fantastic,” said Mike and kissed her on the head. 

Mary let out a long breath.  “I am so glad you get it.  Lauren said her husband Cliff didn’t understand any of this but I told her with you being a pediatrician, for God’s sake, of course you would understand it.”

“Of course I understand,” said Mike returning to the table and his paper.  “You know me, Mr. Environment.”  Mike ignored Mary’s raised eyebrows.  He was warming to the idea. 

On Sunday, Mike purchased a Farmer's Almanac at the Tractor Supply for his wife - his contribution to the cause.  He gave it to her that night along with two seed catalogs bound together by a red ribbon and a card. 

The card said: I love you Mary, Happy gardening.  Love, Mike. 

Monday morning, Mike followed the smell of French Roast into the kitchen to find Mary at the table.  She was wrapped in a fuzzy pink bathrobe, her seed catalogs spread out before her, coffee in hand.

“What do you think about escarole?” asked Mary.

“Escarole?” asked Mike, fumbling with the coffee pot.  “You want to grow snails?”

“Escarole, not escargot,” said Mary, shaking her head. 

“Oh,” said Mike.  He poured the coffee into a mug with a blue painted handprint on the side.  “Sure.  What’s escarole then?”

Mary smiled and made a check in the catalogue.  “I was thinking I need a theme- maybe Asian,” said Mary, flipping the pages.  “I can’t wait,” she said. 

“I am sure what ever you do will be wonderful,” said Mike and he kissed his wife on the head and spent the remainder of the chilly morning congratulating himself on a job well done.  His beautiful wife was happy and his golf game was safe.


Thank you for joining me in the inaugural post of Brimfield, Maine and the town's character and characters. Look for part two of Mary and Mikes adventures in gardening tomorrow, same Bat time, same Bat channel. Of course now I have dated myself as ancient and totally uncool. But wait! Batman is cool! Batman, bow ties and fezzes- they're cool. Good thing Retro is always back in style. Now where did I put those legwarmers and cassette tapes? The kids will love them!  -R
P.S. If you would like to listen to a master storyteller at work please visit Stuart Mclean at  You won't regret it!