Category Archives: Home Improvements

The Cow on the Wall

img_8666

The cow was hanging on the wall, opposite the checkout counter at the Sweet Charity resale shop in Vergennes, and I fell in love with it immediately.

That I was in Sweet Charity, without children, on a Saturday afternoon, was due to a series of anomalous events. My husband was in Chicago for work, so a generous friend had taken pity on me and invited all four of my children over to her house to play for a couple of hours.

Faced with two precious hours of free time after two days of single parenting, I did what any woman would do: I went shopping for home furnishings with my mother, of course.

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

Decisions, Decisions

Our family moved last week.

In fact, it would be more accurate to say that our family has been moving for the past year.

It all began with a dream: What if we lived with a little less house, on a little more land? What if we grew and raised more of what we eat?

After six months of searching, we found a little less house on a little more land. It was a mere six miles from our current house – six miles closer to town. The price was right. And the house was a mess. Although it wasn’t an old house – the first section was built in 1995 – it had undergone two tacked-on additions, had a wet basement, needed a new boiler, and appeared to be mid-way through a haphazard renovation: walls were half-painted, windows were without trim, most rooms lacked light fixtures, and (as I repeatedly pointed out to my husband) none of the bathrooms included towel rods.

“Mommy, I don’t want to live here,” my eldest daughter whispered to me as we walked through the house.

“Don’t worry, honey,” I whispered back. “I don’t either.”

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

The Summer of Patience

IMG_7471

The summer of 2016 may hereafter be referred to by our family as: “The Summer of Patience.”

Ah, patience! Defined as, “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset,” patience seems to be on the wane in 21st century America. Sure, we give respectful lip service to patience and toss around platitudes like, “Patience is a virtue,” but the truth is that our entire culture is increasingly constructed to discourage the practice of patience.

We have apps for everything. Want groceries? Restaurant reservations? Taxi service? Up-to-the-nanosecond traffic updates? Gasoline delivered to your car? A potential life partner? All these and more can be acquired with the touch of a finger. (It’s not even accurate to say, “With the click of a button” anymore. Buttons have been replaced by button icons on a flat screen, possibly because the effort of pressing an actual button wastes precious time.)

Remember when two-day delivery was a luxury? (I believe that was sometime last year.) Now we expect two-day delivery, and my Amazon.com account allows me to request same-day delivery for everything from diapers to dog food.

“Seize the day!” “Strike while the iron’s hot!” “Grab the bull by the horns!” These are old expressions, but they seem particularly relevant in our fast paced and competitive culture – a culture in which self-help gurus exhort us to “Be your best self, TODAY!” and nobody bats an eye.

The result of all this efficiency is that we begin taking it for granted that life will be as quick and easy as a drive-through Starbucks. Our collective capacity for patience has shrunk, and it shows.

Click here (or just touch your flat screen’s button icon) to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

California Sabbatical: This Old House

IMG_6594

About nine months ago, my husband and I decided to start looking for a place to live during our sabbatical in Berkeley, California. Sitting at home in Vermont, we assumed it would be no problem to find a furnished rental home for a family with four young children and a dog, within walking distance of UC Berkeley, on an assistant professor’s salary.

The first thing to go was the dog. It quickly became clear that four children were four strikes against us; our dog would be a deal-breaker, and would have to stay in Vermont.

The next thing to go was our budget, which turned out to be unrealistically low for most two-bedroom houses within the Berkeley city limits. Our upper limit edged higher, then higher still.

Several times, we thought we’d found “the one.” But multiple rentals slipped through our fingers, usually with landlords making excuses after we mentioned the children.

By late July, we were losing hope. Then my husband found an online listing for a two-bedroom house, walking distance to campus, at the uppermost limit of our budget. Without much optimism, he sent off an inquiry.

Click here to continue reading the latest installment of “Faith in Vermont, California Sabbatical” in this week’s Addison Independent. 

Five Misconceptions About Sabbatical

IMG_6148

And just like that, Thanksgiving’s over. Before we had a chance to toss out the dried-out autumnal gourd decorations and boil the turkey bones for broth, there were wreaths around town, Christmas carols playing in the stores, and – could it be? – Christmas trees blinking in our neighbors’ windows. With a mere two days between Thanksgiving and the start of Advent, the holiday season seems to be upon us in an even more breathless rush than usual.

But that’s okay: I can keep breathing. It’s not like I’m also preparing to move our family across the country for five months, during which major renovations will be happening on the house we’ll move into after we return, while at the same time our current house goes on the market.

Oh, wait a minute! That’s exactly what’s happening!

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

Scanning the Skies and Picking Up Messes

IMG_6112

Life has been busy here.

Life is always busy, of course, but the past few months of our family’s existence have felt like a three-ring circus: preparing for our semester-long sabbatical in California, planning the renovations that will happen in our new house while we’re away, and readying our current house for sale (also while we’re away.)

Then, this week, our 4-year-old daughter caught pneumonia when the cough-and-congestion bug making its way through our entire family decided to park in her lungs.

She’s fine now — the worst part of the whole ordeal has been convincing her to take 9 mL of amoxicillin three times a day — but there were two days during which I was mostly housebound, save for a couple of trips to shuttle other daughters to their activities.

On the afternoon of the day her fever broke, my girl and I walked down to the end of the driveway to meet her sisters’ school bus.

“Look!” I said to her as we stood there, blinking in the strange sunlight, “Almost all of the leaves are off of the trees now. The branches are all bare. Winter’s really coming.”

This should not have surprised me. For one thing, we’ve enjoyed an autumn that an octogenarian friend informs me has encompassed one of the loveliest and longest foliage seasons in her memory; we are overdue for those leaves to hit the ground. And for another thing, earlier in the week I had spent upwards of an hour sweeping piles of dried leaves off of our deck.

But my nose had been so buried in my earthbound tasks that I hadn’t taken the time to scan the skies; I hadn’t noticed that the season was really and truly changing.

Something similar has been happening with my children.

This past weekend I arrived home from a full morning out (shuttling a daughter to activities, meeting with a Middlebury College student) in order to prepare for company that afternoon, only to find that our house, by no means perfectly tidy when I’d left it, looked as if it had been torn apart by hooligans. Because it had, and the hooligans were three of my daughters.

My first response was to get angry with my husband, who’d gone outside to blow leaves off of the lawn (those leaves again!), leaving three young children — including our terrible 2-year-old — unattended in the house, and then neglected to have them pick up the resulting, inevitable mess.

Then I realized that, as valid as that anger may be, my husband was not solely responsible for the situation. The terrible 2-year-old has almost no impulse control, but my other children are old enough to know that they need to clean up after themselves.  Next week, my oldest daughter will celebrate her eighth birthday; that is more than old enough to take responsibility for household tasks.

My children were growing up, and I’d been missing it. The season was changing and I hadn’t noticed; I hadn’t scanned the skies.

So part of the fault for the situation in which I found myself, having to spend 45 minutes cleaning the house for our guests (not making it perfect, mind you, just making it somewhat welcoming) — part of that fault lay with me.

Children rarely take responsibility for themselves, for their possessions, for household tasks, unless they are given that responsibility. And I had clearly been lax in equipping my children with responsibility.

I had been lax because I had been dealing only with what was right under my nose: the logistics of a year involving three houses and three moves, shuttling daughters around to activities, trying to keep the 2-year-old from playing in raw sewage. Those are important things, but I’d neglected the big picture: I didn’t have a plan for my children growing up.

And more important than a plan — Because who really has a plan for parenting that doesn’t get chewed up and spit out by our offspring? — I hadn’t made time for my children growing up.

It takes time and effort to confer responsibility. It is so, so much easier to just keep buying velcro sneakers rather than to teach my children to tie their own laces. It’s much easier to pack their lunches myself rather than endure the mess of a 4-year-old attempting to make her own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. And, I confess, it’s easier to pick up their messes myself rather than nagging them to pick up after themselves. It’s also quieter, because you skip all the screaming.

But the season is changing. If I sent my daughters outside in tank tops and flip flops in December, people would consider me an irresponsible parent. How much more so if I unleashed children upon the world who wouldn’t clean up after themselves?

So we sat the girls down, and we had a talk that went something like this:

“You know how we always try to be on time, because if we’re late we’re showing that we’re inconsiderate of other people’s time? Well, cleaning up is like that, too: If you don’t clean up after yourself, if you just leave your mess laying around, then you’re showing that you’re inconsiderate of other people’s time. Because if you don’t clean up your own mess, then somebody else has to — somebody who didn’t make it in the first place. Back when you were much younger, Daddy and I would clean up your messes because that was our job. But just like it’s not our job to change your diapers anymore, it’s not our job to clean up your messes anymore. 

“So from now on, when you take something out to play with, you need to put it away when you’re finished playing with it, and we shouldn’t have to remind you of that. If you want to come back to it later, put a little note on it that says ‘Save.’ Otherwise we’re going to assume it’s trash, and that’s where it will end up.”

These course corrections in parenting can feel like turning a cruise ship around, but they’re well worth the effort. When I take the time to scan the skies, I find so many areas in which I can start training my girls in responsibilities commensurate with their growing maturity: they can cook, they can clean, they can help their younger sisters — they can even, with adult supervision, use knives and light fires in the wood stove.

And you know what? For the most part they relish taking on these responsibilities. They feel proud of themselves. So do I.

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.