The Darlings are a warm, loud, slightly boundary-challenged family of 4 adult sisters and a brother. The first in a 3-part series, All Right Here, is about Ivy Darling and her husband Nick Mason, a couple with a crumbling marriage, who struggle with infertility. When the 3 kids next door are abandoned by their mother, Ivy & Nick unwittingly become foster parents to the only black children in the town of Copper Cove, Maine. Even as Ivy grows more attached to the kids, Nick refuses to accept their unorthodox household as a permanent family. With their relationship spiraling down fast, Ivy has to decide whether or not she still cares enough to try to save her marriage. A book about faith, family and most of all, forgiveness.

…an honest and delicately navigated novel... Gardner writes with raw insight… a beautiful journey that is both heartbreaking and hopeful.” ~Booklist

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Christmas happens in one week, and I have done exactly zero shopping. I mean not one, single gift bought.

Partly, this is on purpose. I keep thinking that if I avoid it, it will all just go away. I hate shopping during the other 11 months of the year, but in my mind, the Tenth Circle of Hell must look something like The Maine Mall between Thanksgiving and January 1st.

This is the time of year when all our talk of “peace on Earth” flies right out the window, in the face of cold, hard, American consumerism. Gotta get those gifts bought, wrapped, and under the tree by the deadline. Santa’s own elves can’t possibly face the same kind of stress we put on ourselves to deliver, every Christmas Morning.

In the midst of all this angst, I am celebrating Advent for the first time. It’s a season I never paid attention to before. I always thought it was a Catholic thing. I’d filed it away in my mind with words like “Michaelmas” and “St. Stephen’s Day,” and “penance.” 

But last year, my publisher sent me a book of Advent readings as a Christmas gift, so I thought, “Okay, that could be kind of an out-of-the-box experience. Let’s do it!”

And Advent has absolutely blown me away.

It helps that the bottom has actually fallen out of my world this month. In my immediate family, I mean. In the last 3 weeks, our world has been flattened. You cannot imagine what life around here has been like. And through this long, painful period, I have been surprised to discover just who does and doesn’t seem to care. Which Best Friends don’t even ask. Who doesn’t check up. Yet others, whom I hardly know, are right there alongside me. It’s puzzling. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, this thing about who’s there and who’s not, in your world, on the days and weeks and months—and maybe years—when the bottom falls out.

Yet…I’m learning that it’s a grace to not have your usual support systems shoring you up. It leaves you all kinds of alone and naked with just…God. It makes Advent come to life. Advent: that original season of great expectation, when the whole world was lying near-dead, and abandoned-feeling, and in a huge, cold, and muddy ball of mess. Hopeless.

And after a long, long time of this, there was a group of night shift workers, tending sheep on a hillside, on the outskirts of a no-name little town. Since I worked night shifts for so many years, I have a special love for this part of the story: that the night shift was the first to hear the news.  Suddenly, on a night that was just like the other 364 before it, the black air split open with light, and all these improbable creatures—more improbable even than Bruno Mars’ backup singers—burst out of the sky and began to cry out, “Glory to God! Peace—Finally, peace!” These angels (which is what they turned out to be,) gave these shepherds MapQuest directions. Being people who took care of livestock for a living, the shepherds, presumably, weren’t surprised by what they found when they got there.

A barn. And a teenaged girl, far from home, who’d just given birth there. What in the world did she wrap the baby in? A borrowed blanket? Strips of her own robe? Something she’d brought along on the journey, just in case? But we know she laid him in a feed trough, for a crib. Why not? Once, when my family was traveling, and my second child was a baby, we used the bottom drawer of a dresser, in a hotel room as a crib. When you’re desperate, you do what you have to do.

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About Carre

I write from the big small town of Portland, Maine, where I’m the mom of 3 teenagers and 2 dogs I wish I didn’t own. (Only the dogs, not the teenagers.) The most interesting thing I’ve ever done is to live for a few years in Russia, studying the language and doing humanitarian work. I wish I remembered more Russian than I do.

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About the Books


The Darlings are a warm, loud, slightly boundary-challenged family of 4 adult sisters and a brother. The first in a 3-part series, All Right Here, is about Ivy Darling and her husband Nick Mason, a couple with a crumbling marriage, who struggle with infertility.

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The Blog

Some reflections on family, faith, and the foibles of life. Stop by and leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

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