Half Baked: Adventures in Feeding My Family


Our family consumes a lot of food.

We are, after all, a family of six. But you might be thinking: Come on, how much food could four little girls possibly put away?

You’d be surprised. I’m surprised, because whatever it is they’re eating, I can assure you that it’s not dinner.

To give you an idea, in the average week our family goes through: two bunches of bananas, two loaves of bread, one gallon of milk, two dozen eggs, two packages of bacon, six sticks of butter, and roughly 40 apples. Cartons of berries of any sort disappear after one meal. Two of my daughters can devour three packages of dried seaweed snacks in a single sitting. This week, I baked five dozen chocolate chip cookies; they lasted three days.

One could say that many of our lifestyle choices have been determined by our family’s diet.

Click here to continue reading about the agony and the ecstasy of my sourdough starter in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Clowns vs. Love


On Thursday I received an email from the principal of my daughters’ school. This email was sent to all parents in order to reassure us – and, by extension, our children – that we should not be afraid of clowns. Although reports of clown threats and suspicious clown sightings across the country had been whipping our nation’s population (especially its younger members) into a frenzy of fear, our principal dismissed the uproar as a hoax. No threats, he went on to say, had been made against any school in our district.

Then on Friday, the news broke that Donald Trump, the Republican Presidential candidate, had been recorded on a 2005 videotape speaking about women in shockingly offensive terms and laughingly boasting about making unwanted sexual advances.

As a parent, as a citizen, as a human, what do I do with these things? How do I explain to my young daughters that they don’t need to fear clowns, but the real danger is simmering underneath the surface of our country? That the scary clowns aren’t the ones in white face paint and red noses, but are instead running for the highest elected office in our land? That I am bequeathing them a country in which power continues to rest unequally with the white, the male, and the rich, and where this power is defined too often as, “You can do anything you want?”

The question running through my head throughout that weekend was: What is happening to my country? This question was followed closely by: What even IS my country, and was it ever mine to begin with?

Click here to continue reading my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Insects We Have Loved…and Lost


Our new wood stove arrives today, not a minute too soon. We no longer open our windows at night; instead, we’re sleeping in socks and pulling up the comforter. The mornings are dark and cold. The world is turning gold as every day more leaves decide to shed their chlorophyll and show their true colors. ”I think you girls are keeping us in business!” Mary at Happy Valley Orchard exclaimed when we showed up for the second day in a row, after two of my daughters put away seven apples between snack and lunch. This weekend there was a Canada Geese superhighway crisscrossing the airspace over our house.

Fall is well and truly here in Vermont.

Our family is outside more than ever, clinging to these beautiful days before freezing temperatures drive us inside. I’m putting old garden beds to sleep, and preparing new garden beds for spring. My husband is playing with his new weed whacker and brush-cutting attachment. And my daughters are just playing.

Last week, somebody asked me if we’d put up a playground in the yard of the house we’ve occupied for two months. I’m afraid I stared at him more incredulously than his question warranted before answering, “No, that’s not in the plans.” We have no need for a playground. Our daughters are in talks with their grandfather about building a tree house together, which would be great, but for the time being they have 12 acres to call their own. They dig holes and make mud bricks. They climb trees. They swing in the hammock. They roast marshmallows in the fire pit. They ride their dirt bikes up and down the back hay field, the topographic features of which they’ve named in honor of various Star Wars characters. And they catch critters.

Click here to continue reading about why my daughters have terrible taste in bugs, in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

First Things…and Wedding Rings

My immediate thought, after my three-year-old daughter swallowed my wedding band, was: Well, I guess there really IS a first time for everything!

This past month has been full of firsts for our family, which is typical of early September. There were the first days of the new school year, with one daughter entering a new third grade class, one daughter beginning kindergarten, one daughter starting part-time preschool, and the remaining daughter resuming homeschool. We visited new classrooms for the first time, packed our first lunches, navigated the first day jitters (and completely forgot about the requisite first day photos!)

Three weeks into the school year, and everything still feels new as we struggle to find our footing, figure out who’s going where and when, sign up for extracurricular activities, and help our exhausted daughters transition out of their lax summer sleep schedule.

We are experiencing additional firsts since moving to a new home in early August, figuring out how things work in this house and how our land is best managed.

And, in less happy news, one of our daughters is undergoing treatment for her first bout with Lyme disease.

So many firsts, so much newness! But the wedding band incident trumped it all.

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

Hello, Again! An Update.

My view every day while washing dishes.

My view every day while washing dishes.


Today is my birthday. Last year, when I turned 40, I used the occasion to write an update on the topic of discomfort. My husband and I had just concluded a very difficult, uncomfortable year hashing out what we should be doing with our lives and whether that included moving homes, and we were gearing up for a potentially difficult, uncomfortable year. Added to the regular chaos of raising four young children was a 5-month sabbatical in Berkeley, California (including a venture into homeschooling), followed immediately by summer “vacation” and a local move, and then the start of the new school year.

If you’re a regular reader, you know this.

A year ago, I embraced this discomfort as an opportunity for growth and change. I still believe that, but I have to admit that part of me was expecting a break sooner or later. If you’d asked the me of a year ago how I thought I would feel on my next birthday, my honest answer would’ve been: “Relieved and settled.” With multiple moves behind me, and with our family and our stuff installed at last in what we hope will be our final home, I anticipated that this would be the year when I could relax and breathe again.

Turns out that just because you’re not moving doesn’t mean that you’re settled.

Lest you think this post is about to veer into whiny ingratitude: Don’t worry. I have a loooong list of things to be grateful for, and I know it. I have a loving, supportive, and healthy family. My husband likes to cook. My daughters are growing up, and becoming more fun and interesting and enjoyable every day. As of this year, all of our girls are in some sort of school at least a few days each week, and I even get to homeschool one of them, which is one of the most special, fulfilling, and challenging things I’ve ever done.

And this new home: A year ago, I could never have imagined what a gift it would be. It is full of light, and its size, layout, and spirit just work for our family. Then there’s the land. I’m not sure that I can even begin to do written justice to the land yet: the beautiful rolling green fields that I see out every window, where we walk the dog and watch butterflies and collect milkweed pods in order to send their feathery seeds into the wind.

All of this is so, so good.

But moving a family of six takes an awful lot of cleaning, and packing, and unpacking, and cleaning again. We spent the better part of a month lifting boxes and climbing stairs and pushing vacuums and wielding paintbrushes, and we are exhausted.

Our old house is still on the market, and we expect it to sit on the market through the winter: The Vermont real estate market is slow on a good day, and it appears that we may have chosen a bad day to put our house up for sale. We will survive, but obviously this isn’t ideal.

And that land, that beautiful land: We have plans for it. Plans that involve garden beds and brush hogs and tree cutting and chicken fencing. My to-do list these days includes things like: Research building compost bins from pallets, and Borrow Tricia’s pickup truck for bulk mulch and soil. 

Then there are some days that are just mice-in-the-glove-compartment, beavers-felling-backyard-trees, blueberry-bushes-mysteriously-dropping-leaves, one-child-has-Lyme-disease type of days. I’m not kidding: That was one morning. Later that day, my husband came in and said, “There’s a rabid skunk in the shed,” and I just shrugged in resignation, because of course there was. (There wasn’t: He was kidding.)

Some of our girls had difficult transitions to school. My husband is stressed about going back to teaching after a year’s sabbatical, with tenure looming a year away. We have aches and pains. And there are still big, huge “What are we going to do next?” decisions that we need to discuss, but we can’t quite seem to find the time because once the girls are (finally!) asleep at night we’re just too sore and exhausted to do anything other than eat popcorn and read.

What I’m saying is: One year later, we’re hardly “relieved and settled.” We are still smack in the middle of uncomfortable.

So, in a way, I got my wish: I concluded last year’s birthday blog post with:  “I hope to be uncomfortable for a long time to come.”

But, you see, I didn’t really believe that. In my heart of hearts, I thought that discomfort was like a mountain peak. Maybe you spent a year struggling uphill, but then you got a break. You got to look around at the stunning views, celebrating how far you’d come. You got to catch your breath.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in a year’s time, it’s that life doesn’t guarantee you a break. Sometimes you don’t get to catch your breath. Life is not plotted out like a race, with water stations for optimal comfort.

have known all of this. I have written versions of this same thing before. Still, every time I’ve climbed up one mountain only to find that there’s another peak right in front of me, or that the descent is even more difficult than the ascent, my knee-jerk reaction is: “That’s SO UNFAIR!

But here, I think, is some good news:

With age does come the opportunity to learn from our past in order to shape more realistic expectations for the present. We consider things unfair when they’re unexpected. But if I channel my four decades of experience into the expectation that life will be hard, then it won’t seem so unfair when it is. I’ll waste less time being angry when I don’t get a break, and I’ll be gratefully surprised when I do find rest.

And a word on rest: Because life doesn’t simply hand us moments of relief and comfort, we must become adept at grabbing them for ourselves. I’m slowly learning to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier so that I can claim more quiet hours, to say no to things that will clutter up our family’s calendar with needless busy-ness, and to spend as little time as possible  in front of screens.

So my birthday prescription for optimal mental, physical, and spiritual health combines lowered expectations with being proactive about rest.

How am I doing with that? Honestly, I struggle. (Also, my children seem hell-bent on destroying any chance I have to rest.) But I cling to the rope of knowing that I am not alone on this climb.

It is all a work in progress: Our family, our land, life. Frequently uncomfortable and exhausting, with quick and surprising moments of joy and relief. But I’ll leave you with this quote by Henry David Thoreau, which I’ve been reflecting upon this birthday week: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”

The More Things Change


At the end of August, as has been our custom for the past three summers, our family spent a weekend at the Highland Lodge, on the shores of Caspian Lake in Greensboro, Vermont. Travel with four young children is never easy, so when we find a location that works, our tendency is to return to it again and again. We began an annual pre-school stay at the Highland Lodge shortly after the birth of our fourth child, and it has become one of our happy places.

Returning to the same vacation spot year after year provides the comfort of knowing what to expect. It provides a coherent chain of memories: Remember what we did here last year? And it provides an encouraging sense of perspective and progress: Every year the children are older, easier, more self-sufficient. Remember those things we were so worried about the last time we were here? Everything turned out okay!

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

Of Ticks and Fear


“Mommy, is that a tick?” my seven-year-old daughter asks. She’s looking in the bathroom mirror, pointing to a small black speck under her chin.

Our family’s move earlier this month from the woods to the fields has not only entailed a change in scenery, but also a change in the pests that plague us: We’ve moved from Mosquitoland to Tickville.

Click here to continue reading about ticks — and how they relate to the current election cycle — in my latest “Faith in Vermont” column for The Addison Independent.