Curiouser and Curiouser

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“The flags are lowered again! What happened this time, Mama?”

I was driving three of my daughters along Route 7, down to Brandon for a rehearsal of their homeschool production of Alice in Wonderland.

The last time I’d attempted to frame tragedy in age-appropriate terms had been only a month before, when area businesses flew their flags at half-mast to mourn the deaths of 59 people after a mass shooting in Las Vegas. This time around, we were mourning the shooting deaths of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

I took a deep breath, and tried to arrange my words.

***

Lately I’ve been interested in how nature seems to be mirroring the prevailing mood in this country. Or is it the opposite: Is the prevailing national mood a reaction, at least in part, to natural events? Further: Am I overgeneralizing when I write of a “prevailing national mood?” Is it most accurate to state that nature seems to mirror my mood, or the moods of myself and my nearest friends?

You see how written expression can become complicated.

Click here to continue reading my latest attempt at written expression in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

I Feel Sad About Target

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It’s not often that Vermont makes the national news, but on October 19, Vermont leaped to the top of my NPR news feed with the headline: “After 55 Years, Target Will Finally Open a Store in Vermont.”

It may shock out-of-state readers to learn that Target, the retail giant with over 1,800 stores across the nation, lacked a Vermont location before now. But it’s true: When my eight-year-old daughter heard me relaying the news to my husband, she asked, “What’s Target?”

(My eldest daughter reminded her: “Remember? It’s that store in California that has special escalators for your shopping carts.” This is true of the Target store nearest our old home in Berkeley, California, but the shopping cart escalators will likely be absent from the Vermont Target, which, at 60,000 square feet, is considered a “small” Target.)

A Target opening elsewhere would hardly be newsworthy, but Vermont’s capitulation makes it the 50th state to welcome Target. Until now, Vermont’s been the lone holdout, but no longer.

To learn why I’m not doing a victory dance over Target, click here to read my latest “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.

Doing All the Things

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“You should write about this in your next column,” my nine-year-old daughter said.

She was huddled together with her three sisters and our two neighbors, attempting to walk in lockstep across our backyard while cupping their hands to shield a monarch butterfly from the wind whipping through our little valley. They’d discovered the monarch minutes earlier, clinging to a blade of grass in the field. It kept trying – and failing – to fly; whether it was newly hatched or had a problem with its wings, we weren’t sure. The huddle of monarch rescuers was attempting to get the butterfly onto a flowering plant by our front door, where it would be more protected from the wind.

It was a lovely scenario, to be sure: an example of communal compassion. But here’s what really struck me: My daughter was suggesting that I write about it. My daughter, who next month will enter double-digits when she turns ten, is now reading my columns and offering feedback.

It’s just another example of how we’ve moved up to the next stage of childrearing.

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

 

My Interview for “The Story Matters”

This morning — after I fed the poultry — I had the pleasure of taping an interview with Len Rowell for his program on Middlebury Community Television, “The Story Matters.” We talked about libraries, children, storytelling — the good things of life. If you’d like to watch, here it is! (And if not, you’re in good company: My own children, whom you’d THINK would be a little excited that their mother was on TV, have absolutely no interest. Nada. Zilch. My little humblers.)

Change and the Library

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“Is that a new cash register?” my eight-year-old daughter asked the woman behind the counter at Otter Creek Bakery last week.

I do take my daughters to the bakery on a semi-regular basis because “they” need treats — but I don’t take them so often that I’d expect them to notice a different cash register.

The woman behind the counter seemed as surprised as I was when she answered, “Why, yes….Yes, it is!”

My daughter threw her hands in the air and turned to me. “See! Everything in town is changing and getting more modern!”

Change is hard for kids, who tend to crave routine and predictability. But my daughter was right: By any measure, the past year has brought a dizzying array of changes to Middlebury, especially from a kid’s eye view.

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

Apples, Fall, and the Future

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 My husband arrived home one evening during the first week in September after a stop at the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op. He raised his arm in triumph, clutching the handle of a small brown paper bag filled with Macintosh apples and bearing the stamp of Shoreham’s Champlain Orchards.

“Vermont apples are back!” he announced joyfully.

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

A Tour of the Farm

It’s the time of year when we are all asking each other, “How was your summer?”

As the season changes, we re-emerge from the long, unscheduled days. Gone are the late, light nights and the mornings when various family members rolled downstairs to breakfast anywhere between 7 and 9 AM. Now it is dark when we sleep, and dark when we wake. Our days are snapped back into the structure of a schedule. We meet friends whom we haven’t seen for months. And, now that we’re back to “normal,” we ask them, “How was your summer?”

Our family had a wonderful summer, but it was unlike any other that preceded it. We celebrated a year in our house — a house that was the result of a dream of having more land on which to raise plants and animals. Much to my delighted surprise, this was a summer when we saw the fruition of many of our plans for our home and land.

Although there is now a sign at the top of our driveway proclaiming your arrival at “Gong Girls Farm,” I remain hesitant to use the word “farm.” We’re such novices, we have so much still to do, and we’re certainly not attempting to do this in order to make any sort of a “living.” Still, this morning when we remarked that the rain was good for the farmers, one of my daughters said, “We’re farmers!”

What follows is my visual answer to the question, “How was your summer?” It’s my attempt to explain why, although we spent an unprecedented amount of time at home, although we only took a week’s “vacation,” this was a wonderful summer — a model of what we hope our summers will all become.

First, an apology: In preparing this post, I realized that I have taken almost no “before” photos of our house and land. I meant to, I thought I had, but in the end I was just too busy with the actual doing to document! Here is a photo from the real estate listing of our house instead:

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What you’re meant to notice in the above photo is the predominance of nothing: There is the house, a shed, a vast lawn, and some trees, but nothing else. No gardens, no flowering plants around the house, no animals, just…nothing. (Also, I’m not sure those clouds are real!)

Now, here are some views of that same flat expanse of lawn from this past summer:

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The main vegetable garden, with fence installed by Erick, his father, and friend. Also note two small, circular gardens in the lower right corner, which two of our daughters planted.

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Another view of the vegetable garden, with one of the four gates that Erick built this summer. (Gates are challenging to build and install!)

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The view down the garden path.

 

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Pole beans and cucumbers — we still have tons of both!

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Melons in foreground, with some raspberries (right) and and a morning glory/petunia bed (left) started by two of our daughters.

Erick is starting to make noises about expanding the vegetable garden, and putting infrastructure in place so that we can “extend our growing season.” This makes me nervous and giddy in equal amounts.

One of my ongoing projects is to put in nice-looking flower beds along the front of the house. This is still very much a work in progress, since the house is laid out “railroad-style” (i.e. it’s very narrow and long) and there’s a LOT of front to plant!

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Peonies, cranesbill, and hydrangeas that I brought over from our previous house.

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Hydrangea and two rhododendrons in front of what was supposed to be a lovely mass of wildflowers, but which is now just dirt and weeds because the chickens and ducks ate all the wildflower seeds!

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Lots and lots of daylilies!

Now, let’s move along to the animal portion of our little homestead:

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The poultry yard, with duck coop, chicken coop, and fence constructed and electrified by Erick and his father.

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The duck coop: Constructed by Erick and his father, decorated by the girls.

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Our six Campbell Khaki ducks.

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The view inside our chicken coop, with some of our laying hens getting busy. (We currently have 8 laying hens, 4 chicks, and 1 rooster.)

Finally, we’ll walk around the poultry yard to the back yard, which is slowly becoming an orchard of sorts, with fruit trees and bushes.

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A view of the backyard fruit gardens, where we’ve planted blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and 5 apple trees.

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Another view of the back, with the herb garden in the foreground (and the girls’ sandbox and target for archery practice up against the shed back!)

No account of this summer would be complete without mention of the TREEHOUSE (which I also like to call: “The project that ate Erick’s summer!”)

The treehouse began as a dream of our daughters, and quickly became reality when my father enlisted the help of his friend (and our neighbor across the road), an octogenarian retired contractor named Ernie. Ernie drew up plans and whipped Erick and my father into shape. Almost every day this summer, from 8-11 AM, they’d be out back working on the treehouse. Often another octogenarian friend and neighbor (and former dairy farmer), Harley, would join in the fun.

Here is the finished product (minus the green and yellow stain that have now been applied to the house itself, and some ongoing plans for rope swings and bars to be installed under the deck):

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It’s pretty magical up there, and I’m already looking forward to the day when the girls get bored with it and I can convert the treehouse into my writing cabin.

You may notice that Erick gets a great deal of credit for the things that we’ve accomplished this summer, and that’s well deserved. Erick has stepped up to this whole lifestyle — which began as my dream — in a way that continues to astound me. In the course of three months, he’s transformed from a suburban-raised economist who preferred hiring out for the simplest of tasks, to a confident and handy builder/mower/installer. He’s now finishing up a “chicken tractor” to enable our flock to move around freely but stay safe from predators, and just this weekend he became the proud owner of a chainsaw (which our daughters promptly christened “Daisy.”)

What can I say? This was the summer I realized that there is absolutely nothing more attractive than a man in ripped, dirty jeans, waterproof boots, and a John Deere cap who’s holding your 3-year-old on his hip and discussing building projects with your father.

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The Man, far left, in his John Deere cap, sitting in front of a fire that he built in the fire pit, with the treehouse in the background.