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.

Favorite Scenes: Puffed Sleeves

There are so many wonderful scenes in the world of books, but one of my favorites includes the darling Anne of Green Gables and her yearning for a dress with puffed sleeves.

I read Anne of Green Gables when I was twelve at a time when I could most relate to wanting to be like the other kids. With my stunningly bad perm and gorgeous buck teeth, I always felt somehow that I came up short. But if Anne could find a way to fit in, maybe, just maybe, so could I.

Puff sleeves marilla“Puffed sleeves, Marilla,” Anne says dreamily in the scene when the dress she had always wanted materializes, thanks to Matthew, in her midst. I was so happy for Anne, who finally, finally gets something nice. Something that will make her feel pretty, like she belongs, like she’s as good as the other children even though she’s an orphan with red hair and freckles.

Oh, it’s a beautiful scene, but it only works because of the one a few chapters before it, when we learn about Anne’s yearning.

In it, Anne marches like a trooper to Sunday School all by herself. Until then, she is able to Sunday School dressimagine that at least one of the clean, neat, serviceable dresses that Marilla has made for her has puffed sleeves, but when confronted with the nine other girls in her class who actually have puffed sleeves, her powers of imagination fail her.


While Marilla thinks she is overreacting, I am utterly in agreement Anne’s feeling that “life was not really worth living without puffed sleeves.”

When Marilla chides her for indulging in her own vanity, Anne’s take on the situation is brilliant. “I would rather look ridiculous when everyone else does than plain and sensible all by myself.”

Oh, Anne, you deep-thinker, this phrase explains so much about humanity.  And also about me.

What are some of your favorite literary scenes? Please share in the comments. 🙂


The Smiles Returning to their Faces

My last post was a bit whiny and featured a promise to move more, to be more healthy and such.

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve moved all sorts of things, including numerous backyard stones, which I’m afraid has angered the garden gnomes or the stone gods or Mother Nature or whoever is in charge of the sun, because it’s been pouring for days.

I think it’s adorable that the cold and rain thinks they’re going to keep me indoors now that the calendar says spring is here, because . . . no.

I’ve been out in the sopping wet digging and shoveling and planting and mulching through it all. No, I will not post a picture of myself. I look ridiculous. I will say this: it’s a good thing I haven’t bothered with a manicure this year, because it wouldn’t stand a chance.

Since March, we’ve built a strawberry patch and an herb garden and two new flower beds. As I mentioned, it’s pouring rain out at the moment, so any pictures I could share of our endeavors would be sad and dreary. Instead, I’ll share these:

B morning glories

These morning glories from last year could be glorious once again, if only the sun would come out.

BLOG garden cherry tomatoes red

Sun-kissed cherry tomatoes from last year. Just add sun.

B rosebud

I don’t care what anyone says, a rose by any other name isn’t as nice without the sun.

Garden sunflower Sept 2015A sunflower brought to you by the power of the sun.

You just wait. The sun is on its way. And when it gets here, there will be more pretty things like these. It seems like years since they’ve been here.

The Curse of the Broken Tailbone: A 2016 New Year’s Resolution

More than 22 years ago after my first child was born, I visited a Kristin and Elsie June 1993chiropractor, thinking the whole labor and delivery thing had done something wonky to my back. The doctor took a few X-rays, reviewed them, and then had this to say:

“Did you know you that broke your coccyx and that it healed at a 90 degree angle?”

No, I did not know this, though I could well remember a certain painful fall while I was playing soccer that was likely responsible for this invisible disfigurement. Oh well, it’s not like I could travel back in time and put my tailbone in a cast. Best to move forward.

“Also, do you know that you have scoliosis?” he added. No, I did not know this, either. He assured me that it wasn’t a serious case, but he cheerfully predicted that it would get worse as I got older. He also promised that if I returned to see him for regular adjustments, he could do exactly nothing to help me with either of these two conditions, and so, I took him at his word, and since the baby kept me pretty busy anyway, I did not return.

Now, as 2015 winds down, I am trying to get a head start on my 2016 New Year’s resolutions, and I think maybe one of them should be about my back. After all these years, there’s nothing really wrong with it that putting the seat back while I’m driving can’t fix, but as the saying goes, “Nothin’ ain’t wrong, but somethin’ ain’t right.”

Before I knew I had scoliosis and an oddly shaped tailbone, I was very flexible and could do things like handstands and backbends. Then, after having more babies and working long hours to support them, I discovered the benefits of sitting down and resting for long periods of time. While this has improved my quality of life immeasurably, it has done nothing for my poor, sad, little back.

So this year, I plan to sit (slightly) less often and move around and bend (just a little bit) more often, not so much as to diminish the magical quality of life I’ve achieved through persistent, excessive resting, but enough to keep me from looking and feeling like Quasimodo.

Please wish me luck with my New Year’s Resolution, and I wish you the very best for success with yours.

B blue rocking chairs
I know that I should move around and exercise more. It’s just that I so love to sit.
A place to sit
Sitting is lovelier, more restful, and let’s face it, much, much easier than not sitting. In fact, I highly recommend it.
B break room
You can’t blame me, can you?
BLOG GT blue vignette I want it
Oh, it’s a tough path I’ve chosen, indeed, to move more and sit less in 2016.
BLOG GT Japanese maple at Alyce Pedder's
You will sit by me and offer encouragement, won’t you? Oh wait, no . . .

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

When Good Writing Plans Go Bad

I’ve written about my snake-bitten writing retreats in the past, but his one is really something.

So, my friend Laurie and I are staying overnight at darling, old-fashioned hotel in anticipation of attending writers’ workshop tomorrow morning.

Getting out the door this afternoon was a bit of a challenge, but once I

Kristin at hotel
Me with all the luggage Laurie and I needed for one night. 

packed everything I own for a one-night stay and found my car keys hiding the basement, Laurie and I were on our way.

On the drive, we enjoyed one of those never-ending conversations where you talk and talk until you have to draw a breath and then your companion jumps in and does the same, and before you know it, you’re all caught up and more up-to-date on how the other is doing than you’ve ever been. We never even turned the radio on. It was fabulous. That’s not the snake-bitten part. Just wait.

Then, we went to dinner, and the waitress was just lovely, and so, so patient. Laurie and I were still engaged in our barely-stopping-for-a-breath conversation and ignored our menus in favor of gushing at one another. The waitress came over and said, “Have you decided what you’re having?”

I replied emphatically, “YES!”

Laurie said, “Oh no, I haven’t even opened the menu yet. Have you?” she asked me.

“NO!” I said, just as emphatically.

The waitress couldn’t contain her mirth at our silliness, and she promised to come back when we’d left the secret signal that we were ready to order: we placed our menus, closed, and the end of the table. I ordered chicken pot pie and Laurie had a salad. I know her order was healthier than mine, but that’s really none of your business and I don’t know why you’d even bring it up. That’s not the snake-bitten part either. Almost there.

So, we filled up on our delicious dinners to the point where we had no room for dessert, then we retired to sweet, little lounge on the second floor where we chatted again at length and where I decided, later, would be a good place for me to go and write once Laurie, who is not a night owl like me, turned in.

And here is where we get to the snake-bitten part.

As it turns out, November 20 is a very special day. It is the owner of the hotel’s daughter’s birthday. I’m not sure exactly, but I think she turned 13. This is my best guess based on the number of middle-schoolers running around the hotel dressed to kill in high heels and prom dresses.

To take a big, class-sized picture, they sat down and completely covered the staircase that led to the lovely, little writing lounge. No biggie. I took the elevator.

I sat and wrote for a little while, but I was distracted by the ambient conversations. “This is just like a middle school dance,” said one guest, and I heartily agreed, though not out loud. It wouldn’t do for me to be seen talking to myself.

Another voice that (I hope) belonged to a chaperone said, “I’m not sure if he’s married. I know he’s got a twenty-one-year-old son. Or maybe he’s twenty-three.” I never did find out why it mattered if “he” were married (or why his son couldn’t possibly be 22) because then, inexplicably, Frank Sinatra tunes started to play. I could no longer hear much else, but suffice it to say that all dialogue was delivered in urgent, middle-school staccato, and so I can tell you that the conversations were about very, very important things.

I’ve been on snake-bitten writing retreats before and I know when to give up. It wasn’t long before I headed back to my room to listen to the middle-schoolers knock on one another’s doors and party in their suites. Since I am working on a middle grade manuscript, I consider this a golden opportunity for research, and not at all irritating in any way. Really. Seriously. I mean it.


Memories of Paris

Memories of Paris:

In 1989, on my first trip to Paris with my mother and sister, I sat across from a schoolgirl from Burgundy on an overnight train car, and I kicked her in my sleep all the way from Madrid through the Pyrenees to Paris. She was delighted to see me go in Paris, and she presumably slept, kick-free, for the rest of her trip back to Burgundy.

Originally, we were booked in a coach car on this train, but when we opened the door, we saw that the other travelers had chickens with them. Uncaged chickens. Certain we couldn’t cope with such fowl traveling companions, and we did our best to convey to the ticket collector that we needed to upgrade to first class tickets right away. We kept putting francs, pesetas, and dollars into his hand, and no matter what he said to us (we didn’t understand him anyway), we kept saying “oui,” “si,” and “yes,” to him until he led us to the chicken-free train car with the unfortunate schoolgirl from Burgundy.

Very little was open when we arrived in Paris early the next morning, but we walked along and window shopped until we found one little place whose door was open because the shopkeeper was sweeping. We went inside. She did her best to tell us that she wasn’t open yet. We explained that we would shop while she swept and would buy our things when she officially opened. She hated us because we were stereotypical, boorish American tourists. I don’t blame her. We bought some wonderful souvenirs from her when she officially opened seven minutes later.

After walking the Champs Elysees, we were starving, and where better for hungry Americans to eat while in Paris than McDonalds? We got in a cab and tried to mime to the cab driver that we wanted to eat at “the golden arches.” He was deeply offended, as you can well imagine given what the “golden arches” looks like when mimed, and he pulled off to the side of the road, said, “I’m feeneeshed,” and kicked us out.

Luckily, we saw a Burger King and decided to get our fast-food fix there. There was only one free table and we took it. French children sitting near us dashed to their mothers, who hugged them protectively. We didn’t notice until after they started to sing that we had sat down in the middle of a child’s birthday party.

We went to the Louvre and rushed around trying to find a painting, but we were lost in the hall of sculptures and never actually saw a painting (on this trip). We rushed because clearly there was something exciting about to happen on the main street outside and we wanted to know what was going on. We found a spot on the sidewalk just in time to see President Mitterrand in a motorcade with Mikhail Gorbachev. Raisa Gorbachev waved to us (and 10,000 other people). It was very exciting, but we’d have to return years later, which we did, to see the paintings hanging in the Louvre.

We also saw the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, but I can’t describe them to you, because it was the first time I saw them both, and the experience was too magical for words. You have to go see them for the first time yourself to understand.

When we arrived back at the train station to head back to Madrid, we were hot and droopy in the searing July heat, and were we ever dirty. Oh, the dust on our legs from walking all over the city. But guess what? The train station had private showers, and for a few francs, we could cool and clean off right there in the station before getting on the train.

The shower attendant lady tried to explain to me that there was no hot water, and I think that maybe the showers were even closed because of the lack of hot water, but we had already proven that we didn’t understand “closed” and my sister and I enjoyed the iciest, most wonderful showers we’d ever had while my mom watched our bags.

When we got back to her, we told her she had to go in and cool off. She demurred, but we insisted, and we all agree that it is one of our happiest memories of Paris: cooling off in a private, urban waterfall in the heat of the day.

Paris was so civilized all those years ago.  So sweet, and patient with us, and exciting, and beautiful. It still is. Please, please, World, we must do everything we can to keep it that way.

Vive la France. 11/13/2015