Wrestling With Monsters

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This morning, I collected our family’s weekly order of library books at the pickup spot in Ilsley Public Library’s back garden (an event that inspires a level of excitement in my children just a notch below Christmas these days.) Included in our bag of books was my book group’s pick for the month: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. So today, a cloudy grey day when the temperature has dipped into the 50s and it feels more like the last days of autumn than the first days of summer, I am thinking about monsters.

More accurately, I am thinking about evil. Monsters are the embodiment of evil; beings that give form to our fears.

The past few weeks have been dark ones for our country. It may be June across the nation, but it feels more like November, with heavy grey clouds swirling over our collective mood as we reckon with our evil history of slavery, racism, and injustice. As part of this process, Confederate war memorials have been singled out as objects that give form to our fears: Robert E. Lee is the monster to be toppled.

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

Of Quizzes and Identity Crises

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My children have done many things to amuse themselves while staying at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. They have read, read, and read some more. They have logged in countless hours on our trampoline and ninja slackline. They have played games: chess, poker, Apples to Apples, Unstable Unicorns, and Monopoly Deal. They have made art, baked, finished embroidery projects, and all four of my daughters are currently at work on novels.

But one of their most enduring hobbies throughout this time has surprised me: The taking – and making – of personality quizzes.

It started back in March, when a friend emailed me a link to a quiz that inventoried your personality traits and produced an extensive list of the book and film characters you most resembled. Thinking it would be a fun diversion, I shared it with my daughters. Little did I know that they’d take the concept and run wild with it.

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

Beauty on the Driveway

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For the past 65 days, one of my lifelines has been a quarter-mile strip of sandy gravel. Its surface is mostly white, except for the places where we attempted to patch the potholes with cheap grey gravel. From the look of things, the potholes are winning.

My lifeline has been my driveway.

Our family has developed a daily routine around the driveway. First thing in the morning, while I’m fixing breakfast, my husband takes the dog for a run several times up and down the driveway. After breakfast, I strap the baby into a chest carrier and set out with my daughters for a single pre-school lap up and down the driveway – me walking, them usually on bikes. In the late afternoon, when the baby wakes from his nap, I put him in the stroller, put the dog on a leash, and walk as many laps up and down the driveway as time permits until dinner. Sometimes I’m joined by my daughters, sometimes by my husband, but often I’m alone.

The driveway gives us exercise. It allows us to breathe in fresh air and soak in Vitamin D. It takes us to the mailbox, which holds the treat of letters from the outside world or packages of online purchases more often these days.

But the greatest gift that the driveway gives me is beauty.

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

Why Keep a Garden, Chickens, or Children?

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This will likely be a short column, because we are in the midst of putting in our garden.

I have a complex relationship with my garden – as, I suspect, do many. Starting around March, a feeling that has lain dormant throughout the winter begins to stir in me: panic. Suddenly, I feel the urge to start drawing up a planting schedule and ordering seeds. This feeling intensifies as the days lengthen. By the time we start planting, usually in late April, my panic has been replaced with a lingering guilt. I feel guilty if I’m not out working in the garden when the weather is fine. When the forecast calls for rain, I am almost always relieved; nobody would expect me to be out working in my garden in the rain, would they?

Yet I will tell you that I love gardening.

This year, our gardening season has overlapped almost exactly with the COVID-19 quarantine. I hear that more people are planning to put in gardens this year, driven perhaps by the desire to have a food source that doesn’t involve navigating grocery stores, or inspired by more unscheduled time at home. But I wonder how many people shared this thought along with me, as I pulled on my garden gloves and picked up my shovel: Finally! Something I can control!

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

The Greater Good

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In order for me to have time and quiet in which to write this column, my husband took all five of our children to ride bikes around their grandparents’ neighborhood.

Once upon a time, this would have been a normal occurrence on a Sunday afternoon, but not today.

This is the first time I have been alone – really and completely alone, without a single member of my family in the house – in over a month.

This is the first time my children have been in a vehicle, the first time they have pulled out of our driveway onto the main road, in over a month.

“I forget what it’s like to ride in a car!” exclaimed my eldest daughter as they prepared to leave. “How do we do it?”

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

Breathless

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I’ve seen several articles lately in which mental health professionals explain the emotions that humankind is experiencing right now – when the worldwide death toll from the COVID-19 virus continues to rise and the social distancing guidelines under which we have been placed stretch out indefinitely – as grief. Collective grief. If this is the case, then it looks like I’ve reached the anger stage.

I don’t consider myself an angry person, but I suppose we are all angry people; some of us just deal with or bury our anger better than others. My own anger is usually hidden deep beneath layers of trying to be “nice” and desperately wanting everyone to like me. There’s something about this global pandemic, however, which is causing my anger to bubble to the surface.

What am I angry at? It’s not that our family’s life has ground to a standstill, our movements confined to our home, and our social interactions limited to digital platforms. We spent a lot of time together as a family before quarantine, we’ve been homeschooling our children for the past four years, our homestead comprises twelve acres and a quarter-mile driveway, I enjoy having my husband around the house, and I’m an introvert. I have very little to complain about in this arena, other than bemoaning the increased time we’re spending in front of screens to maintain extra-familial relationships.

My anger is a result of our family’s experience with illness – illness that may or may not be COVID-19 – over the past three weeks.

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

Letter From Quarantine

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I wasn’t sure what this column should be about. Then, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to write it.

Last week, I thought, “Everyone’s writing about the new coronavirus, so perhaps I shouldn’t. Maybe my column can be a refreshing break from the news of the world.” But it quickly became clear that to write about anything other than the COVID-19 pandemic that’s sweeping the world would be to ignore an enormous elephant in the room, as the number of confirmed cases rose across the nation and entered Vermont, and as the first Addison County resident tested positive.

As the COVID-19 numbers climbed higher, our family’s world got smaller each day. Middlebury College, where my husband teaches, began spring break a week early and will recommence classes remotely. Appointments and events were crossed off our calendar until there was nothing left. Our typical movements around town were restricted as restaurants, shops, and the library closed their doors.

At some point, it hit me – as it probably hit all of us – that this was a BIG DEAL. By the end of the week, I was suggesting that my daughters keep journals to record their experiences during what will surely be considered an historic event.

So, although there’s surprisingly little material to write about in being at home with five children – at least, not much material that I haven’t mined already — I decided to try.

Then we got sick, and suddenly I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to write anything for a long time.

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

Comfy Chair Wars

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I’ll be honest with you: It’s not easy for me to focus on writing this column. Last night, we turned the clocks ahead one hour, but the baby seems not to have noticed. And it’s 46 degrees and sunny outside, with only a few patches of snow on the ground. (If you’re not a Vermonter, that’s amazing spring fever weather this time of year!) I’ve sent my family off to open barn at the sheep farm, and about the last place I want to be is inside forcing my exhausted brain to transcribe coherent thoughts while the ducks are having a party on the lawn outside.

But these signs of spring give me hope that we may be approaching a truce in the Comfy Chair Wars of 2020.

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

Pajama Games

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Now that we have a new baby in the house, one of the first questions I get asked (on rare occasions when I appear in public) is: “How are you sleeping?”

The implication is that, because babies are known for waking multiple times in the night to eat, my husband and I must not be getting a full night’s sleep. This is true, but it’s nothing new: My husband and I haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep in almost thirteen years.

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