And Now For Something Completely Different….

“Suzanna” by Michael Teel


An essay of mine, titled “Within an Inch of My Life,” has just been published in the Fall 2015 edition of Longridge Review, a journal of creative nonfiction that focuses on the mysteries of childhood experience, the wonder of adult reflection, and how the two connect over a lifespan.

That sounds pretty lofty; the more important thing is that this journal was founded by a gifted local author (and friend), Elizabeth Gaucher. I am honored to have my work appear in anything that she has a hand in!

So, I hope you’ll go over and check out my essay, as well as the essays by other writers and the stunning artwork by Michael Teel. Heads-up: This piece is a little different from what you’re used to reading from me — a little more raw and experimental. But I had a heck of a great time working on it!

Cutting Corners at the CROP Walk


“I don’t think we’re going to come in last this year!” my daughter marveled as we turned onto Main Street after taking our “shortcut.”

We were participating the 38th Annual Addison County CROP Hunger Walk. The CROP Walk, which is always held on the first Sunday in October, involves a 2.5 mile stroll around Middlebury: Walkers from various local congregations raise funds for their participation, of which 25% goes to support Addison County food shelves, and the remaining 75% goes to Church World Service to combat hunger and provide disaster assistance around the world. (The 2014 Addison County CROP Walk raised over $26,800, placing it near the top of all New England CROP Walks.)

It’s a good cause, and a nice community event. My husband and I were initially drawn to the CROP Walk – in which our own congregation participates – because it seemed accessible for young families. We want to involve our children in activities that support the less fortunate in our community and throughout the world, but many service opportunities seem impossible with multiple young children; we’d end up spending more time trying to control our offspring than doing anything helpful.

But a 2.5-mile walk through the glorious gold, orange and red of a Middlebury October? That we could do!

At least, that’s what we thought when we embarked upon our first CROP Walk, five years ago.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Take My Stuff, Please!

Stuff expands to fill the space available.

I’m not a physicist, but I’m pretty sure that’s a proven fact. It may even fall under Newton’s first law of motion: an object in motion will not change its velocity unless an external force acts upon it. Except in this case, the objects in motion are our family’s possessions, and the external force is me.

I am on a mission to get rid of our stuff.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

On Joyful Discomfort and Turning 40


A few months ago I announced that I was taking a break from blogging. The purpose of this break was to heal from a difficult physical, emotional, and spiritual spring; to work on some non-blog writing; and to survive summer with all four children home from school.

I survived summer. I’d expected summer to feel like an endless mountain ascent lined with detours for sibling fights and requests for snacks and rinsing out the bathing suits again; summer turned out to be not that bad. It was even fun. For the most part, I actually enjoyed spending all day, every day with my four daughters. We read a lot and played a lot and took some memorable trips.

What I didn’t get done were any of the projects that I’d planned to accomplish over the summer. These included: teaching my four-year-old to write her name, helping my seven-year-old sew a dress for her doll, and editing a book. I didn’t get much of anything written all summer long, aside from my bi-weekly column for The Addison Independent — and that was usually composed in a panic two days before deadline.

What I did get done was some much-needed work on my heart and mind. I’m going to share a little of that now, because I’m turning 40 today.

According to most measures of success, I haven’t accomplished much in my first four decades of life. Since graduating from college, I have not found my way into any definite career. I have made hardly any money. I have not started a company or written a sonata or published a book. In fact, the most tangible things I’ve produced this decade are my four daughters — and whether that counts as a “success” is highly subjective, depending on whether you like my kids. (And sometimes even don’t like my kids!)

But despite my lack of conventional success, I’ve learned something in my 40 years. I think that I’ve come some distance in the right direction. Maybe — hopefully — I’m gradually becoming more and more the person God created me to be.

Yes: I’m going to mention God a few times in what follows. I recognize that not everyone who reads this shares my beliefs, and I’m sorry if this makes you uncomfortable. But I honestly don’t know how to describe what happened to us this summer without bringing God into it. It’s my birthday and I’ll write what I want to. 

When I left you back in May, I was deep in a morass of depression and self-pity: a norovirus had attacked our family for six weeks, I was exhausted, I was attempting to arrange housing and homeschooling materials for a sabbatical in California that I didn’t really want to take, we’d lost three local houses that I’d been interested in based on my desire to move somewhere with more land, and Erick and I seemed out of step on our visions for the future.

In short: I had expectations about how life should be, and life wasn’t keeping up its end of the deal.

My expectations seemed entirely reasonable to me, so I couldn’t understand why God kept shutting them down: I just want our family to be healthy! I just want to grow vegetables and raise animals! I just want to stay where I’m comfortable! I just want what I want! 

You may be thinking that my blind spot was a mile wide, and it was. But I wonder whether most of us don’t have similar blind spots, especially those of us who are living privileged upper-middle-class existences in the West.

We expect to be comfortable. We expect to be able to do what we want. And we think that those are reasonable expectations. 

ARE they? At what other time in history, and in how many other places in the world today, do people EXPECT to avoid sickness and physical discomfort? To live where they want, and get a job that they like? That they shouldn’t age? To be able to take vacations and have two-day delivery and buy citrus in February?

In most other times and places, most people were grateful simply to live past the age of five.

Where do we get these expectations, this sense that we’re entitled to comfort?

(I’ll tell you one major source: The folks who want to sell us things.“Because you’re worth it.” “You deserve a break today.” “Have it your way.” “No more tears!” We’ve been programmed to expect comfort and immediate wish-fulfillment so that we’ll buy more stuff.)  

This summer I had to deprogram myself in order to heal the rage, self-pity, and depression that consumed me when life didn’t hand me what I felt I was due.

Because the truth is that nobody — least of all God — ever promised me that life should be comfortable. The only people who ever told me that were trying to sell me something.

Erick and I had gotten too comfortable. After a decade of graduate schools and switching houses and adding babies every couple of years, we’d found the place where we wanted to settle, and we settled. So this summer we set out on a long and challenging journey of unsettling ourselves.

This journey mostly involved changing the way that we prayed. A wise friend said to me, when I told her that we’d been praying fruitlessly for a place to live during sabbatical, “Maybe you’re praying the wrong prayer.” As Anne Lamott wrote: “God is not a short-order cook.” As my own daughter — who apparently learned in 7 years what took me 40 — said: “Don’t pray for something to happen or not to happen; that’s cheating. Just pray to do what God wants you to do.”

If there’s an all-powerful, all-loving God who’s worth worshipping, doesn’t it stand to reason that sometimes we don’t understand what God’s doing? Instead of me asking: God, why are you shutting down my plans?, doesn’t God have just as much right to ask: Faith, why aren’t you living according to my plans?

So that became our prayer: That God would make us do what God wanted.

And we’re getting what we prayed for. Not in an “And they lived happily ever after” way, not in a way that will make us comfortable, and not in a way that will make sense to many outside observers.

It became very clear to me that, no matter how uncomfortable I felt about it, spending Erick’s sabbatical in California was the right thing. But for several months following that revelation, it looked like we might not find housing: we pursued multiple leads, none of which panned out. Finally, a place opened up: A small two-bedroom house. It’s going to be “cozy,” it may not be totally comfortable, but it will certainly be an adventure.

I figured that cementing our sabbatical plans meant setting aside any thoughts of a local move for at least a year; after all, three potential homes had already been whisked out from under our noses.

I thought wrong: On the very day that our house-sitter (and fifth Gong girl!) moved in with us, a house came on the market. Erick thought we should look at it. I’ll write more on this later; suffice it to say that we put in an offer with fear and trembling, and every single door opened. We close at the end of this month. It is both the house we wanted, and not at all the house we wanted: It’s 40% smaller than our current house, it needs a lot of work to be safe and finished (which will have to be done during our sabbatical), and it sits on 12.5 acres of beautiful open land in a great location close to town.

It’s going to be crazy, it may not be totally comfortable, but as Erick said — to my disbelief — when we first saw the house, “This could be a neat adventure.”

This may not sound like a big deal: a sabbatical journey and a downsized home with upsized land. But it feels like we’ve tossed up all the pieces of our life and are waiting to see where they land; it feels like trust. We don’t know what’s next, but we feel like we’re finally on the right path.

So I’ve learned to distrust comfort. When I’m comfortable I usually buy into the illusion of control, which eventually leads to entitlement and self-pity. There’s a joy and a peace in being uncomfortable again, in having to rely on what I can’t see instead of on my own expectations. I hope to be uncomfortable for a long time to come.

How School Does Not Solve All Problems


At the start of every summer, I focus all my hope on the first day of school. When school begins again, I tell myself, everything will be okay. I can survive those long, hot days of summer vacation because the first day of school will arrive to usher in a new era of sanity. On that day, I will bid a fond farewell to my oldest children at 7:30 AM, and greet them as they thump down the bus steps at 3:20 PM, exhausted and full of knowledge. I picture myself leaving their school after that first morning drop-off like a Disney princess: birds singing sweetly around my head, deer approaching me shyly – maybe I’ll even attempt a twirl for good measure.

And every year I am shocked — shocked! – at how school fails to be the happy ending I’d expected.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

The Second Day



The two oldest Gong Girls started 1st and 2nd grades today. We did it! Or, as Dora would say: Lo hicimos! We survived another summer vacation!

Of course, it’s not all that clean and simple. I have complicated thoughts about school starting. For instance, all day I have had to respond to the repeated query of my lonesome two-year-old: “Where sisters?”

As I was mingling with other liberated parents over coffee and muffins in the school gym this morning, I remembered this post from a few years back. All of the parents were swapping stories about that first drop-off: Some children had been fine after suffering from weeks of anxiety, some had had terrible mornings, some had raced into their classrooms without looking back.

This was my fifth first day of school, and our morning went quite well as it turned out. But I’ve learned never to trust the first day: It’s always, always the second day — and the month that follows — that requires true parenting elbow grease. 

For the record, most of this essay still rings true: The chickens are no longer with us (for now), and Campbell has graduated to saying “poop” instead of “poo,” but the rest stands. 


Fiona and Campbell started preschool at the end of August. For Fiona, this was a return to the same preschool, same classroom, and same teacher as last year. Her fellow students, however, were almost entirely new to her. (Because of Fiona’s November birthday, she was placed in the four-year-old class last year; because the cut-off date for kindergarten is September 1, Fiona and a few other classmates will spend another year in the four-year-old class, while most of their peers from last year move on to kindergarten).  For Campbell, starting out in the three-year-old class next door to Fiona, the whole experience was new.

Both of them were hugely excited for the first day of school — but not as excited as I was!

There’s a lot of build-up before the first day of school each year: anticipation, nervousness, new clothes and shoes and supplies. Even I felt a little nervous, although my main priority was just getting the kids out of the house. I hoped and prayed that Fiona would make friends and be happy with her new peer group. I hoped and prayed that Campbell would respect her teachers and be kind to the other students and avoid inappropriately using the word “poo-poo” — at least for the first day.

But, having done the first-day-of-school thing last year, I also knew this: It’s not the first day of school that’s the issue; it’s the SECOND day.

See, the first day, everything is fresh and exciting. There may be jitters, there may be wrenching goodbyes — but in my experience, adrenaline mostly carries everyone through. I’ve been the mom patting myself on the back after the first day of school, proudly relieved that my child had NO PROBLEM saying goodbye.

And then the second day hit.

By the second day, the kids have wised up. It’s not fresh and exciting anymore; instead, they can see past the new clothes and school supplies to the rules, expectations, and social minefield that they’re going to have to navigate EVERY SINGLE DAY. You mean I have to KEEP GOING?!? their eyes seem to say.

I was thinking about this as school began, and I realized that much of what makes life hard has to do with The Second Day. It’s not always literally the second 24-hour day, but it’s the state of mind we face when the newness has worn off. Think about it: You get married, and at first you’re swept along through the wedding and honeymoon, but pretty soon comes that Second Day, when you stare at your partner across the table and think, You mean I have to KEEP GOING?!?

Or, say, you have a baby, and you’re all jazzed up because you survived labor and now you have this cute little munchkin and you’re getting all sorts of attention and your house is stuffed with nifty new baby supplies…but then you come home from the hospital and have to face the Second Day, when nobody cares anymore that you have a new baby (except your parents — they’ll always care), and all your clothes are covered with bodily fluids and that munchkin is STILL waking up every two hours and you think, You mean I have to KEEP GOING?!?

OR maybe you do something really great in your profession/vocation/calling/art: you win an award, or obtain a degree, or invent something new, or create a painting/performance/book/film/play/blog post that people really like. Congratulations! You feel like your existence is finally validated…for about 24 hours. Because then comes that Second Day, when you have to sit at your desk or computer or easel again, and you think, You mean I have to KEEP GOING?!?

OR EVEN, let’s say you move to a small town in Vermont, and everything is new and wonderful. You love your new house, your new friends, the new landscape — your entire new lifestyle. But then the second year rolls around, and suddenly nothing’s quite so new anymore. You’ve seen all these seasons before, done just about everything there is to do at least once. And one dark and freezing winter morning, when you’re heading outside to feed those damn chickens AGAIN, you think, You mean I have to KEEP GOING?!?

Hey, it could definitely happen.

That Second Day is no joke. Based on the examples above, I’d venture that it’s the root cause of many cases of divorce, postpartum depression, and personal and professional burnout. I myself have experienced it plenty. In fact, I abandoned my first profession — teaching — because after four years I just couldn’t face a lifetime of Second Days in the classroom.

I have no tips for avoiding the Second Day phenomenon. It’s an inescapable part of life. Nothing stays new forever; if every day were a FIRST day, life would eventually become hyperactive and exhausting. All I have is this insight: the Second Day is difficult and depressing, but if you persevere through it, that’s when things start to take root and get really interesting. Marriage and parenting will always be HARD WORK — filled with multiple Second Days — but when I think back to my husband on our wedding day, or my kids when they were first born, I realize that I love them now with much more richness and complexity. I wouldn’t go back to that first day for anything.

I suppose the best way to handle Second Days is to anticipate them. I know now that I need to be just as prepared — if not more — to help my kids navigate that second day of school. I need to linger with a few extra hugs and kisses at the door, maybe even slip a little love note or special chocolate treat into their lunch bags. I need to offer encouragement that the most worthwhile thing in life — deep and genuine LOVE: for others, for what you do, for where you live — requires pushing past that Second Day. Perhaps we should all treat ourselves accordingly when we face life’s Second Days. Especially the extra chocolate treat.

So, now I’ve thought this through, and I feel more equipped to tackle those Second Days. But you know what?

I still have to get up tomorrow morning and feed those damn chickens.

Once More to the Water


“It only gets really hot in Vermont for about one week every summer.”

That’s what we tell ourselves here in order to make ourselves feel better about Vermont’s widespread lack of central air conditioning.

It’s not true, of course: This summer, like every other summer since our family moved to Vermont, we experienced at least three distinct bouts of uncomfortably hot and humid temperatures. But, you see, it’s not worth investing in central air because it’s only really hot for about one week every summer.

This summer we did what we’ve done every other summer since moving to Vermont, and we headed for water. We logged numerous hours at Lake Dunmore, a mere 20 minutes from our front door. We took our annual mid-summer trip to Ogunquit, Maine, where we met extended family for a week of seaside vacation. And just this past weekend – the final weekend before the Addison County school year would effectively end summer – our family returned to the Highland Lodge, on the shores of Caspian Lake in Greensboro, Vermont.

Because we make these same aqua-centric outings every summer, they serve as yardsticks for our family’s growth and development. We remember the first trip we took to Ogunquit, when I was pregnant with our first child. We recall our first summer in Vermont, when Lake Dunmore was a weekly escape. And we look back with fondness on our first visit to Caspian Lake three years ago: our first vacation after the birth of our fourth daughter.

This year, all of these trips offered clear proof that my children are growing up.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.