I'm back from the book tour for

Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog

, and thanks so much to all of you who came to a signing. To those of you who didn't, here's the recap:

The crowds were happy to see Francesca and me, but they were happier to see Mother Mary. Even though she's 86, she made it to every nighttime event for 10 days. And, yes, she wore her lab coat and wielded her back-scratcher like a scepter, to thunderous applause.

Of course, it went to her little gray head. By the second signing, she wanted a limo, and by the third, a cut of the royalties.

I told her to get an agent.

At each signing, she wowed everybody with the story of how she became Earthquake Mary, when she was the only person in South Florida who felt an earthquake that happened 300 miles away from her, in north Florida. I wrote about that in one of these columns, but I'm not sure anyone believed it until they heard it from the horse's mouth. And, of course, when I gave her the microphone, I couldn't get it back.

At one bookstore, I physically had to wrest it from her tiny grasp. There's nothing like a karate chop to your aged mother to warm a crowd.

Not only did she tell stories, she signed books. At many stores, the audience numbered as many as 200 people, and Mother Mary signed every book in her adorably shaky script. She also took the time to meet everybody, kiss cheeks, and give out Tastykakes, which is my thank-you gift to my readers, because she taught me that if you love people, you feed them saturated fats.

She was on her best behavior. She made faces behind my back only once. Her single slip was when she met an elegant woman reader who asked her if she was really 86, and Mother Mary answered, "Yes, and still horny!"

After that, I cautioned against the Dirty Grandma routine, in no uncertain terms. Raising your parent is harder than raising your child.

Francesca, of course, behaved flawlessly. She did more than her share, even wrangling the dogs. We brought Little Tony and Pip, though we didn't make them wear lab coats.

Also we couldn't find any small enough.

Francesca gave a speech about why she loves to write her columns and answered each question with typical grace. In other words, she told the audience that I was a great mother and didn't say that we had eaten dinner at McDonald's four nights in a row.

Nor did she mention that I didn't give the dogs a bathroom break because it would cost me book sales.

I'm an animal lover until my mortgage is involved.

Then they hold it in.

When the tour ended, Mother Mary said it made her feel like "a rock star," so imagine my surprise when she announced that she wanted to return to Miami early.

"Really?" I asked her. "Why?"

"I'm cold, what do you think?"

"I'll turn up the heat," I said, but it was already set at 73 degrees. Even the cats were having hot flashes.

"It won't help. I want to go home."

"But you're supposed to stay for Christmas."

"Sorry, I'd rather be warm. Who needs winter?"

I tried not to take it personally and had her at the airport the next day, where I got all teary. It wasn't until the drive home that I realized I shouldn't be sad. Francesca would be home for Christmas, and there were plenty of families who wouldn't be together at the holiday. I thought of people who had lost family members they loved, and still others who had family serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, and all around the world.

We would all be alone, together.

And that's not what family is about, anyway.

Family may not be there on the holiday, but they'll be there when you need them, like on book tour.

Family will help you out, even if it means eating a bag of cold french fries in a car, after a three-hour book signing.

At age 86.

So to those of you who won't be with your family this holiday, I share your pain - and your love.

Family is with us whenever it really matters.

And the rest of the time, they're inside.

Happy holidays, with love, to you and your family.

Look for a collection of Lisa Scottoline's columns in her new book, "Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog," in stores now.