Food, Freedom, Forgiveness: A Thanksgiving Meditation

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Well, here we are on the other side of Thanksgiving. A rather counter-cultural holiday, isn’t it? Or at least counter to what American culture has been becoming.

To begin with, Thanksgiving seems to have resisted much of the commercialization that’s hijacked other major American holidays. Traditions may differ for some, but in my family no gifts or greeting cards are exchanged on Thanksgiving. Unless you traffic in turkeys, cranberries, or decorative gourds, there doesn’t seem to be much of a market for Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is focused on a meal. Again, traditions differ, but most Thanksgiving celebrations involve gathering family members and friends together around a table to share food – and not food out of a box or a microwave, but food that’s been prepared by hand. For a time, many of those who sit down to a Thanksgiving meal talk to each other, presumably without electronic devices or screens. All of this – the gathering together, the conversation, spending an entire day preparing and enjoying a meal – is radical, because it happens so rarely in our fragmented, isolated, screen-focused, fast-paced society.

And the reason we gather for this meal? It’s there in the name: giving thanks. To sit around a table and feel gratitude for what we have, right then.

How weird is that? At no other time are we as Americans encouraged to say, “Thank you; this is enough.”

In fact, it’s such an uncomfortable feeling that we have to counteract it by making the very next day Black Friday, when all Americans are encouraged to binge shop for everything retailers say we need to feel like we’re enough.

There is a tension to all of this; a very American tension. A good way of uncovering this tension is simply to ask the question: What exactly are we giving thanks for on Thanksgiving?

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

Daylight Savings

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“Could somebody please explain Daylight Savings Time to me?!?” my nine-year-old daughter wailed last week. “I mean, I just figured out how Leap Year works!”

We were in our minivan, driving a favorite babysitter home through the darkness that had settled upon us at five o’clock in the evening.

I explained to my daughter that Daylight Savings Time is a little bit like Leap Year: Both are systems invented by people to structure our seasons and our days. Leap Year insures that by rounding our years to 365 days, the seasons don’t get off-kilter with the weather; Daylight Savings insures that the shifting hours of sunlight remain within the working hours of each day (if you’re a farmer.)

As I explained these systems that I’ve come to take for granted, I felt awed by the impressive amount of coordination they represent. For centuries now, most of humankind has agreed to adhere to a calendar and a clock that are really nothing more than manmade constructions. We agree that it’s November of 2018. We agree that if it’s 6 PM in Vermont, then it’s 3 PM in California. Think about that for a minute: In what other realm of life, these days, can we see people cooperating to such a degree? Not many.

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

Our Newest Addition

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According to our family’s well-loved edition of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Hermes, the “merriest of the Olympians, was the god of shepherds, travelers, merchants, thieves, and all others who lived by their wits.” That’s a diverse set of patronages; the bottom line is that, although best known for zipping around in his winged shoes and winged helmet, Hermes was a bit of a trickster.

So it’s particularly appropriate that my daughters named their new kitten Hermes, since we were basically tricked into adding him to our family.

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

Small, Sharp Things

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Not that there’s ever a good time, but the “low tire pressure” light came on in our minivan at a particularly inconvenient time.

It was a chilly, overcast Saturday morning in early October, the kind of morning that makes you want to pour another cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with a good book.

Unless, of course, you have children, in which case you have to get your little Girl Scout out the door by 8:30 AM so that she can meet up with the rest of her troop for a morning hike.

As I ushered the Girl Scout and her little sister (who wanted to come along for the ride) into the minivan that morning, I was feeling pretty good about myself: Not yet 8:30, and my entire family was dressed, breakfasted, and brushed up. The dog had been walked, and the poultry were fed.

Then the “low tire pressure” light came on.

I drove my daughter to her hike anyway, of course, because I’d rather be on time on three tires than late on four.

We took the car to the mechanic later that morning. A few hours later, my husband gave me the report: Two porcupine quills.

I cannot imagine how I ended up with two porcupine quills in my tire. I’m fairly sure I didn’t run over an entire porcupine, so there must have been a few spare quills lying on the road somewhere; this is Vermont.

Isn’t it amazing how a couple of small, sharp things can take down a massive, powerful vehicle?

I’m not just talking about porcupine quills; I’m also talking about flu shots.

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

Just Two Pages a Day

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Last weekend, I did something I’ve never done before: Packed my family into the minivan and drove up to Burlington for a book-signing event. I would do this for very few authors, but I did it for Kate DiCamillo.

For those who don’t have children under age 18, Kate DiCamillo is a children’s book author known for an impressive array of beautifully written and moving works, from picture books to young adult fiction. I taught her novel, Because of Winn-Dixie, to my third grade class before I had children of my own. My own children have devoured her Bink and Gollie books (co-authored with Alison McGhee), The Tale of Despereaux, and – our family’s favorite – the Mercy Watsonseries, about a pig who lives with the Watson family on Deckawoo drive and will do anything for toast with a great deal of butter on it. (I consider one of the Mercy Watsonspin-off books, Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, to be among the most perfect books ever written, period.)

Needless to say, when I learned that the Flying Pig Bookshop was hosting an event with Kate DiCamillo and New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator Harry Bliss to promote their latest collaboration, Good Rosie!, I deemed it a worthwhile way for our family to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Out of the entire afternoon, one moment stuck in my head:

When asked by a young girl in the audience how she handles writer’s block, Kate DiCamillo explained that she doesn’t getwriter’s block, because her working day involves sitting down to write two pages. Just two pages a day.If those don’t turn out well, she said, it’s not writer’s block, “it’s just a bad writing day.”

This moment stuck in my husband’s head as well; my long-suffering husband, who has spent a decade listening to me bemoan my lack of writing time.

“Two pages a day,” he said to me as we exited the event.

“Yup,” I said, smiling in an attempt to look brave. “That seems pretty manageable.”

Inside, I was thinking: HOW can I find the time to write two pages a day?!?

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

Mother’s Little Helper

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“Wow, your girls sure are comfortable around the kitchen.”

The friend who said this to me was visiting us with his family. He would repeat the statement several times over the course of the weekend, but I believe the first time he mentioned my daughters’ culinary confidence was while watching my seven-year-old slice herself an apple at the kitchen island.

I nodded and smiled in response, acting every bit the proud mother.

What I thought – but did not say – is that the five words that most strike terror into my heart are: “Can I help you, Mommy?” followed closely by, “I’ll do it by myself!”

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

I Just Can’t Get That Song Out of My Head

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“I want to play you a song, to see if you know it,” my husband said to me at breakfast last week.

My husband is what we jokingly call a “binge listener”—he’ll latch on to a song or the oeuvre of a particular artist, and listen to it on repeat for weeks on end, until the rest of us are clutching our heads in desperation, praying that he’ll move on to a new obsession.

If my husband and I shared musical tastes, it wouldn’t be so bad. To be fair, there are artists that weagree on, but over the nearly two decades that we’ve known each other, our tastes have diverged dramatically. When I’m able to listen to music thatIenjoy (rather than what my daughters are demanding from the backseat), it’s usually something in the alternative/folk genre; anything heartbreaking with a banjo, fiddle, and a twangy voice will do. My husband, on the other hand, likes music that he can play (on repeat) while he works: jazz, classical, rhythm and blues. One of his constants throughout our relationship — and a song that I will never be able to embrace, no matter how much I love my husband — is Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out.”

So, as my husband hunted down his latest favorite on his tablet and pressed “play,” I braced myself.

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