Where the Wild Things Are

It’s almost back-to-school time for me. I know I haven’t posted much anything about the Garden of Envy this summer, but trust me, it’s still there. It’s got flowers and bugs and other pests that both sting and bite, I mean surprise and delight.

There are my new friends, who come by to visit with I least expect them. This guy landed on my knee to chat about I don’t know what. He was darling but not very articulate: 170904 bees knees

I also have a regular meet and greet with a red squirrel whose picture I do not have due to an irrational fear of squirrels that developed suddenly when I was 5 and I was bitten by one. (I feel the same way about jellyfish thanks to an unfortunate run-in that same year, but I am less likely to run into one of those in my woodland garden.)

Anyhoo, here are some other new friends that live with me but do not pay rent. I’d call them squatters, but I’m not sure they even understand about mortgages and deeds and property law.


And even if you don’t get to meet them in person, the wild things let you know that they’re nearby.

170904 feathered friends

Though I love my little animal friends, it is the flowers and plants that give the garden life. The last two years out in the woodland have been about building the garden. This included lots of digging, planting, mulching, scratching unidentifiable rashes, and crying about the heat and the mosquitoes. I persevered, and the rewards I reaped this year were many.


And, as it turns out, I’ve got a veritable vineyard of wild grapes back there, as well as several blueberry trees that I had never met before.


After carving some walking paths into the brush, I found some white birch trees that make an excellent tea, and a bunch of blackberry bramble for tea and for snacking.

I also found a nest of bald-faced wasps and a bee hive, both of which I have left alone. I’ve grown wiser in my years as a budding gardener. This summer, for me, was about sitting and relaxing. Maybe next year I’ll get back to work.

My New World of Hygge

It’s been about a week since my girrl headed out into the world into parts unknown, and by parts unknown I mean Italy, which has Wifi and other modern conveniences like FaceTime and WhatsApp. She has used these modern conveniences to post pictures of the charming medieval village where she lives: the gorgeous architecture, the cobblestone streets. So, we’ve been in touch and it turns out she’s okay. Happy even. Who saw that coming?

I have decided to follow her example and experiment with new life philosophy. This week I’ve chosen the Danish concept of Hygge, which, loosely translated, means that I should be 100 percent comfortable 100 percent of the time.

Luckily, this has been easily accomplished. I have simply gone out into the woodland garden and created spaces where I can lose myself in complete comfort. I have cleared brambles from beneath a blueberry tree to create a spot for my morning coffee.


I’ve moved stones (sorry for the thunderstorms) to plant roses to enjoy while I take my mid-morning tea.


I have enjoyed reading time (which may or may not have turned into nap time) here.


Or sometimes I switch things up and do some reading or restful contemplating here. Though Hygge advocates for the comfortably familiar, I want to be careful not to get too complacent. (Or maybe that’s missing the point. I don’t know. I’m new at this.)


My late afternoon coffee is taken here, near my way-in-the-back vegetable garden, so I can meditate and tell the deer not to eat my spinach.


Or sometimes here, for a better view of the roses.


Late-night chamomile tea, taken to offset the late afternoon coffee, is enjoyed outdoors under the stars and the moonlight, which is not crazy at all, no matter what people say.


I’ve also made some lovely new friends, who also speak a language that I don’t understand.

In short, I have stopped at nothing to create a world in which I am always comfortable, all the time. I believe the complete and total physical comfort promised by Hygge is a worthy goal, and if I have to suffer poison ivy rashes, insect bites, burns, bumps and bruises to get it, then I’ll do what I have to do.

So you see? Though my girrl is far away, she’s still inspiring me. I’ve embraced a different culture and a new way of life right here in my very own back yard, thanks to her ambition and boldness.


By the way, I’ve found Hygge to be exhausting. Next week I’ll try something else.

Leaving Day

Well, today is the day. My girrl is headed to Italy on the adventure of a lifetime. I don’t think I’m ready, and not in any melodramatic or meaningful life-metaphor sense—I really don’t think I’m ready. There is still so much she hasn’t taught me.

I don’t know how to take a screen shot on my computer OR on my phone, for example.And only yesterday did I learn how to contact Siri. I need help shaping my eyebrows and wearing decorative scarves just so. I need encouragement, practice, and praise when I do things right.

I knock on her door frequently to ask if my hair looks presentable and am I young enough to get away with a certain pair of shoes. I’m sure she just loves these interuptions because she is always honest. Brutally, painfully honest. Who will take care of me now?

And even though she really doesn’t need it, I still like to parent every now and then. I think it’s something I do automatically. My cruise control is set to “parent.” Did you charge your phone? Did you eat? Would you please feed the dogs? Will you go get me a coffee? Okay that last one isn’t exactly parenting, but it is something I’m going to miss—a LOT.

Potatoes June 2015And though I love it, taking care of the garden, specifically the potatoes, really isn’t the same. For example, the kind of care my potatoes need involves throwing dirt on them so they will make more. This is not the kind of parenting my girrl needs or would ever allow. So you see, the garden really isn’t at all a good substitute.

In any case, the bon voyage day is here. Elsie leaves in a few hours for fantastic adventures. She will eat delicious Mediterranean cuisine, speak and hear foreign languages, see and appreciate the exquisite art and architecture from one of the world’s most ancient civilizations. I’ll be sure to give you frequent updates on how I’m doing.

This is what I think Elsie still looks like:

Elsie baby pink dress0625 Elsie with duck

But the fact is, she has one of these now:

Elsie degree


So, in fact, she’s more like this girl:




Elsie trip 3

But now it’s time for me to step aside.

Time for an April Fool’s Snowstorm

Sorry. I’ve missed you. I took some time off from blogging to have some quiet time.Zen frog 2

I spent my quiet time being quiet, in the garden and in the greenhouse mostly, meditating and resting.

Also, I was on a treasure hunt for the cause of some weird health issues. The whole thing is not completely sorted out, but I’m on the mend after months of doctor visits and blood tests that left me looking like a boxer who punches solely with her inner elbows.

Also, I worked very hard at work, because I love it so much. When asked to take on an overload, I can’t resist and won’t say no. I know am blessed to feel this way.

Also, I wrote a series of nonfiction children’s books on the U.S. military, which I found to be challenging because military information is, by nature, classified and top secret. I learned some kind of gross things that didn’t make the final edits, but I can’t un-know them and they’re really fun and gross, trust me.

Okay, I see it now. My quiet time was not all that quiet, but it was quiet enough for me.

Now I’m back. I supposed there’s no better time celebrate the noise and chaos of a busy life than right before an April Fool’s snowstorm.

Elsie and Nick April snowstorm 2

This picture is from the last time we had an April Fool’s snowstorm. Elsie is a college graduate now and Nick is in his junior year at UConn. May it be that long before we have another one.

Happy Anniversary, Garden of Envy!

It’s been a year since I celebrated Father’s Day by going off by myself and enjoying a local garden tour.

BLOG GT roses at Jackie Marro's I want them

I saw things that filled me with envy: strawberry patches, flower beds, climbing roses, sun-dappled frog ponds. I wanted them all, and I’m pleased to say that following a year of dirty, itchy, back-breaking work, I now have them, but they come with a price.

The strawberry patch has brought with it a game of drama and suspense. The strawberries are delicious—when I’m allowed to eat them. The chipmunks swoop in and grab them just before I decide they’re ripe enough to pick. So far owl decoys have not worked. I’m thinking of installing a motion sensor security alarm.

160619_strawberry pink                     160619_strawberry red


160619_coneflowers2I love the flower beds. Love them. But they’re new, so they’re not yet yielding anything I’m willing to cut. In fact, I wonder if they’ll ever yield anything I’ll be willing to cut. I planted those seeds, watered them, nurtured them, talked to them (yes, I do this constantly; do with that information what you will) and I can’t imaging going at them with a scissors. So much for fresh cut flowers in the house. You can only see them if you go down the hill in my back yard and sit among them on the bench next to this little fairy.

160619_fairy      160619_honeysuckle

Oh, and the climbing roses. I wanted them so much. I’m so happy to finally have them. 160619_roseskyHere’s the thing though, they attract caterpillars. Caterpillars turn me into a barbarian.

Never before have I gone after a species with such violence. I step on them indiscriminately. I squeeze them with my bare hands. None are spared. I’ll take my life in my hands and climb to the top rung of the ladder to squish one single caterpillar. One. No leaf is worth sacrificing, and no caterpillar will be left behind. I look in the mirror after a killing spree and think, “Who am I?”

16MaygardendayfrogThe frog ponds are the best.

They started out as vernal pools. They were always there, filling up in the spring and emptying in the fall; I just never paid them much attention. Now that I’ve cleared paths around them and created places to sit, I see that they are frog ponds. Frog ponds!

The music is majestic. Come sundown in my back yard, you’ll hear the birds, crickets, and frogs all singing together. It’s gorgeous, and worth every thorn, poison ivy rash, and muscle sprain.

I’ve spent a year creating the Garden of Envy. Now it’s time to sit and enjoy it.

Favorite Scenes: “Throwaways”

It’s that time of year again.

Time to thin the carrots and the beets. 16Maygardendaybeets

I hate doing it. It’s so hard to decide who goes! And yes, I gave the tiny seedlings a personal pronoun because by this point, I’ve grown so attached to them that they feel sort of people-ish to me.

I planted them months ago, watered them, and spent mental energy hoping they’d germinate, sprout, grow, and thrive despite bugs, temperature fluctuations, and my own inability to figure out if they’ve been watered or over-watered.

b carrots and beetsI know if I’m brave and determined about it, they will one day look like this, but by the time they’re big enough to cull, I’ve invested too much time to be carefree about ripping some of them out.

Every year, this process reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in Kimberly Newton Fusco’s Tending to Grace. In it, the pragmatic Agatha thins her carrots without a second thought, but the rejected and abandoned Cornelia has a strong reaction: “I look at her throwaways and I see myself.”

I’m not the only one who loves this scene. I’ve taught Tending to Grace a number of times to high school students and even in a college-level ESL class. This scene elicits strong reactions from readers who know what it feels like to be left behind or tossed away.

Kim posted some of my students’ written responses to this scene and others in the novel in a blog post. There are many places in the story where readers feel a connection to Cornelia and her struggle for love and acceptance.

People need to connect, to make eye contact, to be called by name, to be seen, heard, understood, accepted, and cherished. Tending to Grace explores those basic human needs and the ways we can fulfill them for one another.

As I head out to do the dirty but necessary deed, I’ll think of the people who made me feel included, loved, and cherished, and I will consider ways that I can care for and be more careful of others.

Beet and carrot seedlings (with much prevaricating on my part!) can be discarded. A person cannot.

Garden 2014 036


Favorite Scenes: Cringing over Cake

Cringe scenes are the best.

They grab me and bring me right into the world of fiction and make me imagine, believe even, that I can help. Take this one, for example, from Little Women:

Younger Amy March: [Jo is curling Meg’s hair] What’s that smell? Like burnt feathers.

Jo: Aaahh!

Meg: You’ve ruined me!

When I read this scene for the first time, I imagined traveling back in time to save the day. Maybe I’d warn the daydreaming Jo to pay attention with the curling iron? Maybe I’d offer Meg a pretty bonnet to hide the damage? Who knows? The fact is that I dripped with compassion for poor Meg, and I would have done anything to fix the terrible cringe-worthy moment.

Oh, life would be so much better if we could all be polished, lovely, and mistake-free all the time.

But where is the conflict in that?

The best cringe scene I read recently is in Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree.

Fish in a Tree is a fairly new book, just out last year, so I don’t want to spoil it. But, oh, I must!

Without giving away too many details, let me tell you this: there is a lunchroom scene flashback that explains the hostility between Ally and Shay. Ally tells the story in a raw, honest, vulnerable voice that makes you want to reach into the pages and hug her. I was crying and laughing as I read it.

Ally and Shay’s relationship is not a boring, old, cliché between a bully and a bullee; no, they’ve come by their animosity toward one another honestly, in the most deliciously cringe-worthy scene I’ve read in a long time.

It’s fabulous. How could it not be? It involves cake. It trumps even the opening scene when Ally gives a less-than-appropriate card to her teacher. Come to think of it, Ally suffers more cringe-worthy moments than I think I could bear, and that’s saying a lot, considering when I was in 7th grade, I looked like this:

BLOG Kristin jr high

Readers will want to hug Ally and to find a way to make her path in life easier, and they will also want to shake and tell her to get a clue. Either way, they will be drawn to walk her conflict-fraught path with her, and that’s what makes her character so magnetic and Fish in a Tree so impossible to put down.

Go read it and have yourself a good laugh, cry, and cringe.