Dispatch From the Field Hockey Sidelines

Field hockey season ended yesterday. 

Cue: Angel choirs, rainbows and unicorns, my husband and I holding hands and skipping towards the sunset through a field of wildflowers. 

Ever since field hockey season started in late August, we have clung to the promise of October 18 like a life raft on a stormy sea. To hear my husband and me talk, you’d think that after October 18 the peaceable kingdom would reign on earth: our family would be well rested and content, our calendar would have empty spaces, our vehicles could go more than a week on a tank of gas, and the lion would lie down with the lamb. “After October 18, everything will be easier,” we promised each other all fall. 

My daughters love field hockey, so they will be sad. And because we love them and want them to be happy, we will be sad, too. A little bit. 

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

Thoughts on Thriving

If you were reading this column back in 2020, you may remember that my “word for the year” – which I chose instead of making a New Year’s resolution – was “THRIVE.” 

When 2020 began, our baby boy had just been given the diagnosis of “failure to thrive.” This, combined with a mysterious respiratory virus, resulted in two hospital stays between December 2019 and January 2020, one of which involved the horrific experience of having our two-month-old intubated in the ICU. We needed to help him thrive; not only that, but our entire shaken family needed to figure out how to thrive together.

In retrospect, the word seems like an ironic choice: Two months later, COVID hit. 

In many ways our family did thrive in 2020, just not in the ways I might have predicted. Our little boy was the most obvious success: The months of lockdown kept him from getting sick while he gained weight and strength. He is now a hefty, active toddler. The rest of us worked hard to thrive as a family through the disappointment of cancelled plans and the monotony of housebound days. We tried to adopt behaviors that would keep ourselves and others safe during an unknown and rapidly changing pandemic situation, while still attempting to prioritize things that aided our mental, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual health. 

It was exhausting. And when the year ended, I looked around and realized that I had two adolescents in the house who were struggling to thrive.

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

Dog Days

It’s that time of year again.

Our family has now logged in eight straight weeks of summer vacation. We have spent countless sultry days at the lake, eaten gallons of ice cream, lit sparklers, chased fireflies. Our annual trip to the Maine coast has come and gone. I am tired of weeding the garden. My daughters have stayed up late binge watching “The Clone Wars” so often that it feels routine. “What are we doing today?” they ask each morning, and – although much of what I thought we’d do this summer has been left undone – I am running out of ideas. School remains weeks away.

The dog days: In our house, they aren’t so much about the weather as they are about a fuzzy, sultry, oppressive state of mind. 

This year, however, my daughters have taken the concept of the dog days literally, by renewing their campaign for a puppy.

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

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

This summer I cut off all my hair. 

It’s a long story, which began in the summer of 2019 when my aunt, who was battling cancer, told my daughters and me about wigs. We were together on our family’s annual vacation in Maine, all of us gathered on the sunny front porch. My aunt had begun losing her hair from the treatments, and she described the shop where she’d been able to choose from a wide variety of wigs made from donated human hair. 

I had no idea how much this conversation had impacted my children until several months later, when one of my daughters suggested that we all grow out our hair to donate for cancer patients, in honor of my aunt. (It was one of those mothering moments when I felt hope that my children might turn out to be kind, caring people despite all of my mistakes). 

When we committed to growing out our hair, my four daughters and I had hair that ranged from shoulder-length to longer. We did some research and learned that we’d need to provide between 10-12 inches of hair. It didn’t seem like a far-off goal. 

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

Early Summer Snapshots

The weather never seems to be normal lately: too wet or too dry, too cold or too hot, record this, record that. It could be that there never really was a “normal” – that weather is just prone to dramatic fluctuations from year to year. Or it could be that climate change is ramping up in earnest, like they’ve always said it would. Whatever the reason, it’s probably a good idea to pay attention.

I’m not always good at paying attention to things that aren’t screaming for my attention. But this year, the weather has gotten pretty close to screaming at me through a series of violent storms. 

Most dramatic was the tornado that ripped across our property in late March, toppling power lines and our neighbors’ buildings. Two months later, to the day, a severe thunderstorm blew down trees in downtown Middlebury and knocked out our power for about 15 hours – notable because it was the day of our daughters’ piano recital on Zoom, necessitating a scramble to find a location that still had power. 

Those two storms made us twitchy enough that when we got the bulletin about another severe thunderstorm headed our way last week, we sprang into action. This storm had a buildup that lasted for hours. As scary-looking clouds mounted in the sky, my husband cooked dinner at 3 p.m. in case we lost power, and I walked the dog through powerful wind gusts. 

Our efforts were puny compared with those of our neighbors, who were haying our field.

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

Pain in the Back

I’ve been middle aged for a while now, but it didn’t feel official until last month, when I threw out my back. 

My husband, who has spent much of his adult life sitting at desks and working on computers, was throwing out his back and neck on a regular basis long before he hit middle age. Sometimes he’d just roll out of bed the wrong way, and he’d spend the next few days with his head cocked to one side, moaning painfully. But I have spent much of my adult life chasing after children rather than sitting at desks; this was my first experience with severe back pain.

It happened in the least glamourous way possible. My husband and I had to participate in the same meeting on Zoom, so we were sharing a single laptop screen. Attempting to hide from our children, we chose to attend the meeting in my “office” (a desk and chair set up between the washer/dryer and the sewing machine). My husband arrived first to set up, so he took the chair; I arrived several minutes late, after getting the kids settled, so I perched on a stepladder. I spent the entire 90-minute meeting atop that stepladder, hunched slightly forward and to the right so that I could see the laptop screen. When the meeting ended, I could barely stand. 

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

After the Tornado

Words I never expected to say: “After the tornado went through our front yard….”

Yet I heard myself say exactly that to my children on the evening of March 26, 2021. It sounded so ludicrous, so absolutely unbelievable, that I broke down in giggles.

“Uh, Mommy,” my daughter asked, “do you have post-traumatic stress?”

Maybe. Probably. I suppose some degree of trauma is inevitable in a year when I’m learning that no matter how ludicrous, how absolutely unbelievable something seems, it can still happen. “Is this actually happening?” I’ve wondered numerous times over the past year: when the COVID-19 pandemic began, when I saw news coverage of mobs storming the U.S. Capitol building, and when I watched a tornado pass by our house – in Vermont, in March. 

Vermont is not known for tornadoes, although they do happen: The state has averaged one tornado a year since 1950, which makes Vermont one of the ten states with the fewest tornadoes in the nation.  Only one other tornado in history has been recorded in Vermont in March, a month not known for thunderstorms or tornadoes.

The forecast on March 26 called for a chance of severe afternoon thunderstorms. It rained off-and-on all morning, but by lunchtime the sun was out. My daughters headed outside for their weekly (masked, distanced – we’re still in a pandemic) “nature group” playdate with two friends. Because of the forecast, I settled the six girls with painting and games in our backyard yurt, with instructions to stay in the yurt at the first sign of thunderstorms.

As I walked back to our house to put the baby down for his nap, the rain had started up again. When I reached the kitchen, the power clicked off. “That’s strange,” I thought. “It’s not all that bad outside; the storm must be much worse somewhere nearby.”

Then I looked out the window.

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

The Pod Swing

The pod swing hangs from a beam in our living room like some overripe fruit in a tropical rain forest. It is tear-shaped, made of durable lime green fabric with electric blue trim. You enter the swing through a narrow opening in the fabric; when you settle onto the round, electric blue cushion inside, you are surrounded by lime green on all sides, encased like a pupa in a chrysalis. 

The pod swing was not an intentional act of interior decorating. I never cast a critical eye on our living room and said, “You know, what this place really needs is a pod swing.” We purchased the swing on the advice of our son’s physical therapist; it’s supposed to give him practice in “not feeling in control.” 

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

A Diary of Housekeeping in Three Acts

I’m going to begin with a thumbnail sketch: 

My 7-year-old daughter came downstairs the other morning to find that my husband had cleaned out the oversized “comfy chair” in front of our woodstove while she slept. He’d taken up the seat cushion, removed the detritus that tends to gather underneath, and wiped the smudges and stains from the upholstery. 

“Daddy, where’s my baggie?” she asked.

“What baggie?”

“The one I put under the chair cushion!” she said, increasingly agitated.

“The baggie that you put under the chair cushion?” he repeated. “I don’t know. I probably threw it out when I was cleaning.”

WHAT?!?” she wailed. “NOOOOO! Why would you throw that out?!? Why wouldn’t you ask first?”

“I’m sorry,” my husband replied, getting agitated himself. “I didn’t know it was yours. What was in it that was so important?”

“My fingernail!” she sobbed.

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

my 2020 LITERARY Favorites

2020 was a LOT of things, but for me it was (among other things) a year of READING.

I always read more during years when we have a new baby in the house, as we did this year. I find that frequent feedings — particularly those that happen in the wee hours — lend themselves to reading. The drastic narrowing of our lives due the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t hurt, either. I read for at least an hour each day of 2020, and usually had both a nonfiction and a fiction book going simultaneously.

Inspired by friends, I kept a list of the 43 books I read this year. Almost none of them were recent releases; the theme of my 2020 reading seems to be that I either re-read books from my past, or read classics that I’d always wanted to read but never gotten around to. It is not the most edgy or diverse list of books and authors, but I feel fairly unapologetic about that: There was enough edginess going on in my real life. These books were the literary equivalent of a cup of something warm and a freshly baked treat. My 2020 reading gave me comfort and challenged me in gentle ways to think deeply about community, family, and love. Because reading was one of the highlights of my year, I decided to share some of my favorite books with you. (NOTE: I am including links on Amazon, though I would encourage you to buy these at your local bookstores or used bookstores.)

Favorite Classic

This is a tie between the two works that bookended my year, both of which I hope to re-read in the future:

Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch was tough going for me at first: I read and re-read the first few pages while struggling to keep my eyes open during midnight baby feedings. But I stuck with it and was richly rewarded. It is an epic story of the choices we make, and their consequences. When I read the powerful final lines (while in the hospital with the baby), I sighed audibly with satisfaction and sorrow: “But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” Yes.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

I am not a rabid Dickens fan: I found Oliver Twist to be overwrought, and when I read Great Expectations (perhaps too early) my life remained unchanged. But David Copperfield, the final book I read in 2020, was such a delightful and stirring journey through a life that I was genuinely sorry to reach the final, thousand-something page. I plan to read more Dickens in the future.

Favorite Fiction

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

The sleeper hit of my year: A quiet book about an unremarkable life that becomes remarkable in its ordinary beauty.

Favorite Non-Fiction

Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

This is part memoir of Kristof’s childhood in working-class Yamhill, Oregon, and part laser-eyed examination of why so many Americans are slipping through the cracks of our society into addiction, poverty, and chronic hopelessness. I found it to be a balanced and fair look that shed light on much of what is happening in the country right now. And, while it’s not pretty, Kristof and WuDunn write with hope and make practical suggestions.

Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler

A young wife, mother, and rising star at Duke Divinity School (as a historian specializing in megachurches and the “prosperity gospel”), Kate Bowler was living her best life. Then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer at age 35. Her account of that experience is painful, funny, and unforgettable. Highly recommended for those going through difficult times, or those walking alongside the difficult times of others (which is everybody) — it will change how you approach life’s hardest moments.

Favorite Biography

A Light So Lovely: The Spiritual Legacy of Madeleine L’Engle by Sarah Arthur and Charlotte Jones Voiklis

I’m not sure I can give words to how beautifully written this book is, or how it turns the traditional biographic form inside out. A gift from a friend (Thanks, Deborah!) it inspired me to embark upon a mini “L’Engle splurge” over the summer, which was well worth it.

Favorite Book About Education/Parenting

The Call of the Wild + Free: Reclaiming Wonder in Your Child’s Education by Ainsley Arment

Every summer, I indulge in what I consider “professional development reading” before we begin a new homeschool year. I’ve read a LOT of great books about education, homeschooling, and parenting, so it’s getting harder to inspire me with anything new, but The Call of the Wild + Free did just that. It’s a physically beautiful book, with gorgeous photographs and drawings, and it’s full of facts, inspiration, and practical tips for giving your children the gift of a childhood.

Favorite Series

Again, a tie:

This year, I re-read the entire Harry Potter series, as well as the entire Anne of Green Gables series. Both were the perfect pandemic reads: Harry Potter for its magical-world escapism, struggle between good and evil, and the saving power of love; Anne of Green Gables for its humor, endearing portrayal of human foibles, and depiction of our capacity for resilience under the most trying circumstances.

Favorite “New” Author

This was the year that I “discovered” Elizabeth Goudge (although she’s been dead since 1984!) I had encountered Goudge previously when I read her children’s book, The Little White Horse, to my daughters a few years ago. They adored the book, but I was lukewarm: It felt a little too fantastical, and everything tied up too neatly at the end. This year, I began reading Goudge’s grown-up fiction, and her writing takes my breath away. I began with Green Dolphin Street, which is an epic, globe-spanning story about what love really means, even when you marry the wrong person (literally the WRONG PERSON, not just “Gee, I wish I hadn’t married him/her!”) I’m now nearly through The Scent of Water, in which Goudge somehow manages to embed very tough topics (mental illness, marital strife, disappointing children, death, and disability, among others) into a charming novel about an English country village. Nothing is tied up too neatly; her books make me marvel at both the beauty and pain that co-exist in life. Next up for me is Pilgrim’s Inn.

Favorite Children’s Books

We read together a LOT as a family; I can usually be found reading aloud to all of our children on school mornings, every night before bed, and at moments in between. Our wonderful children’s librarian, Ms. Tricia (HI TRICIA!) categorizes children’s literature as either “mirrors” (books that reflect your experience back to yourself) or “windows” (books through which you can get a taste of a different experience/person.) I’ve decided to list one of each type of book here.

Favorite “Mirror” Book: The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser

This is the fourth and latest book in the Vanderbeeker series, and you should read them all. The books center around a bi-racial family with five children (mirror!) that lives in Harlem (okay, that’s a bit of a window for us.) The Vanderbeekers face real-world challenges but — sometimes through misguided efforts — manage to bring light and love to everyone around them.

Favorite “Window” Book: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

I read this to the girls as part of our history unit on Africa, and it made a huge impact on all of us. Park interweaves the stories of two 11-year-olds from Sudan: Nya, who in 2011 spends most of her time fetching water for her family, and Salva, one of the “lost boys” who becomes a refugee when the civil war separates him from his family in 1985. Not light material, but Park presents the stories with beautiful sensitivity. It opened up some wonderful conversations in our family and even inspired my daughters to try carrying water up to our house from a nearby stream (hilariously hard!) An excellent companion read is the graphic novel, When Stars Are Scattered.

Nobody knows what 2021 will bring, but I do know that it will find me reading more books! I wish you all many wonderful books in the new year.