Category Archives: Home Improvements

Floored by Vacuuming

When I was growing up in Northern Virginia, I had a number of friends whose families were of Asian origin. Whenever I visited these friends at home, the rule was to remove one’s shoes immediately after walking in the door, leaving them in the front hallway, vestibule, foyer, or whatever the entryway. Back then, this seemed like an exotic practice, one that I associated with bamboo floor mats, Hello Kitty!, and rice served in delicate blue-and-white porcelain. In my own house, we wore our shoes all the time.

Just typing that last sentence fills me with horror: We wore our shoes all the time. Now, I can’t imagine ever wanting to wear shoes inside the house. Now, it goes without saying, the rule in my own home is to remove our shoes immediately after walking in the door and leave them in the mudroom. This has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I’m married to a man whose family is of Chinese origin; it has everything to do with the fact that I know where our shoes have been.

Click here to continue reading about our house of horrors in my latest “Faith in Vermont” column for The Addison Independent.

Planting Panic

Next year, I tell myself, I’ll know better.

Next year, I will commit to very little between April and June, and I will clear our family’s schedule for an entire month beginning two weeks before Memorial Day.

No signing up for preschool snacks. No dinner or birthday parties. No expectation that dishes will be washed, laundry folded, or floors swept. No newspaper columns!

I knew that gardening and poultry raising would be a lot of work. I expected labor. What I didn’t expect was the massive to-do list that seems to regenerate endlessly within my brain: chop off some tasks and, like an earthworm, it just grows more. I didn’t expect to track the weather forecast like a day trader tracks the stock market, my heart dropping with every raincloud icon that threatens to keep me out of the yard (yes, I know the rain is good for the plants.) I didn’t expect to feel intense frustration whenever I’m not outside digging or dumping or planting — the sense that all life not involving dirt is somehow wasting my precious time. I didn’t expect to rush off to so many meetings with dirty fingernails, muddy knees, and hat-head hair. I didn’t expect to keep finding myself outside, staring at a patch of dirt, until my husband or children call me in to dinner.

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

Agway Adventures

I am sitting in Carol’s Hungry Mind Café to write this column, as I do nearly every Saturday afternoon. Usually I crave this time, when my husband takes our daughters so that I can have a handful of silent and solitary hours – usually my only silent and solitary hours of the week – in order to “work.” (“Work” is in quotations, because being alone to write feels more like play to me.)

But today I had to force myself to come here. Today it was only the threat of a looming deadline that compelled me to drive over to Carol’s. The light rain helped, too. Still, I couldn’t resist stopping in at Agway before landing at Carol’s.

It was my third visit to Agway this week.

Right now, I am not craving silent time to write so much as I am craving time to start seeds, dig and weed, compost and mulch, reseed the lawn, and help my husband finish off the poultry fencing. I want dirt under my fingers more than computer keys.

I’m distracted because it’s spring, of course. Really and truly spring – I think. In Vermont, April is still on the risky side of spring: We are still balancing along the wire of the average last frost, still unsure that Mother Nature won’t throw us one final snowstorm for good measure. But my online forecast shows evening temperatures above freezing for the next ten days, so I’ve taken the plunge and put my spring planting schedule into play.

Spring planting means plenty of visits to Agway, our closest lawn, garden, farm, and pet supply store. And because the only time I’m guaranteed freedom from my children is Saturday afternoon, I usually visit Agway with at least some of my daughters.

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

The Cow on the Wall

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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

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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

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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.