The Hole in the Wall, and Other Adventures in Home Improvement

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While there were many things that attracted us to our current house, the house itself was not one of them.

Our house was built in three distinct installments, and it shows. The interior layout is a rambling railroad of rooms. The exterior, when we purchased the house, was covered on three sides with grey vinyl siding and red trim, and on the back side with unfinished wood. Neither vinyl nor wood siding was installed correctly, so water was getting underneath and causing rot.

We bought it anyway, because my husband tends to make decisions based on his vision of what can be, as opposed to what’s right in front of him. (Presumably, this is also why he married me.) His vision included re-siding the house after our budget had recovered from the initial purchase and the more immediate, necessary renovations.

I required some convincing on the house purchase, but was on board entirely when it came to the re-siding. Aside from the obvious issues of mismatched, poorly installed siding, the grey and red color scheme just didn’t seem in line with our family culture. Whenever I contemplated our house’s exterior, the two words that unfailingly came to mind were: Shark Attack.

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

“A Sigh is Just a Sigh”

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Our families know us best. The people who live with us, who see us first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, who have front row seats to what bubbles up when we’re squeezed – they’re the ones with the true insights into our character.

This is why, whenever a non-family-member says to me, “Oh, you always seem so patient, so calm, like you have it all together!” I picture my daughters rolling on the floor, laughing. They know the wild-eyed woman who stands in our mudroom, waving her arms frantically and yelling, “Time to go! We’re running late! You should’ve used the bathroom ten minutes ago when I told you to! GET IN THE CAR NOW!!!”

And it’s also why I took notice when my daughters started doing impressions of our family around the dinner table.

These impressions are not mean-spirited, and are always performed in the presence of those being imitated. Sometimes they begin in a haphazard fashion and spread around the table at random; sometimes they take the form of an organized game, in which everyone performs an impression of one particular family member, who judges the best impersonator.

What emerged from their impressions of me is that my family thinks I sigh a lot.

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

The Only Alpine Slide in Vermont

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Vermont is a small state, so it’s easy to assume that after living here eight years we would be aware of all the attractions Vermont has to offer young families. But a couple of weeks ago, we were surprised when a friend told us about Bromley Mountain’s alpine slide.

I’d never heard of an alpine slide before, and for a good reason: There are only 37 such slides in the world. Alpine slides dot Australia, Europe, and Asia, but the United States slides tend to be located out West, and the Bromley slide is the only alpine slide in Vermont.

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

Dispatch from the West Coast

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I’m writing this at the dining room table of my brother- and sister-in-law’s home in Orange County, California, on the final day of a weeklong visit with family on the West Coast. From where I sit, I see the clear blue sky that hasn’t changed all week; the Southern California weather has been perfectly sunny, warm, and dry. I see the red tile roofs of neighboring houses in this suburban development, where nearly every day we’ve walked a few steps across the lawn to the neighborhood pool. I see a row of palm trees; despite having spent five years as a California resident myself, I never get over the palm trees.

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

Walking the Labyrinth

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Were you to ask me what our family has done this summer, my response would be, “Very little.”

This summer, my daughters decided they wanted to do nothing. With the exception of a handful of brief or sporadic local activities, they shook their heads at any sort of camp or sport. Many of their friends head to sleepaway camp for weeks on end; not one Gong daughter has even a passing interest in such a thing – and, as a former miserably homesick camper myself, I’m not inclined to push it.

Sure, there was the weeklong vacation in Maine. A couple of trips to the lake and the pool. A few outings to local museums. And that’s about the sum total.

Now, this isn’t my first rodeo: When it became clear that our summer calendar was going to have its fair share of blank spaces, I printed out a nifty little sheet for each daughter with the heading, “My Summer Goals.”

“Just think of three things you want to accomplish this summer, and write them down,” I instructed them. “That way, you won’t feel like you didn’t get anything done this summer.” This is parent code for: Good Lord, we’ve got to have at least a little bit of structure or we’re all going to KILL EACH OTHER!

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

Of Anniversaries and Trampolines

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The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing also happens to be the 17th anniversary of my marriage. Laying the two events side by side, I’m not sure which is the greater miracle: the amount of planning, coordination, brainpower, technology, and skill required to land a man on the moon, or the amount required to pull off our wedding (to say nothing of the ensuing marriage!).

The 17th anniversary is apparently the “furniture anniversary,” so it seems fitting that this week my husband installed a major piece of outdoor “furniture” that allows our family to defy gravity just like those Apollo 11 astronauts. That’s right: We got a trampoline.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent — now on the op/ed page!

Why Build Sandcastles?

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Ever since I was pregnant with our first child twelve years ago, with a few exceptions, our family has spent a week of every summer at the Maine coast. This summer was no exception. Our daughters consider Maine one of the fixed points of their year, and look forward to our summer week there all of the 51 other weeks.

This year brought some changes, as is inevitable with the passage of time and the aging of people. Some were bittersweet: Due to a combination of busy-ness and illness, my extended maternal relatives visited Maine for only a day instead of staying the entire week. But some were sweet: My growing daughters no longer wake at dawn demanding entertainment, being now content to sleep late and spend slow, quiet mornings reading, drawing, and talking. They can apply their own sunscreen and help lug beach paraphernalia. For the first time, we were able to enter the gift store in town that’s full of breakable items, where my daughters chuckled over the card that said, “Let’s get this party started (because I’d really like to be in bed by 11!)” – which they suggested getting for their father – and debated over which welcome mat would be most appropriate for our house: “Welcome to the Jungle,” “You’ve Made it This Far,” or “The Neighbors Have Better Stuff.”

But the beauty of our Maine week – and the reason I suspect it holds such a special place in our daughters’ hearts – is how few things change year to year. For the past six years, we’ve stayed in the same house, with a big climbing rock out front. Each visit entails several nonnegotiable activities: multiple visits to Perkins Cove Candies and the Corner Café, daily beach and rock climbing time, and an excursion to Dunne’s Ice Cream (formerly Brown’s) and Nubble Light, with dinner at Fox’s Lobster House (where their Nana spent a summer hostessing during high school.)

And when we go to the beach, the girls always build sandcastles with their grandfather – my father.

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