Category Archives: Vermont Life

Spring, Tweens, and Other Liminal Things

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Photo credit: Arianna Graham-Gurland

I‘m writing this on the day after Ash Wednesday – a day for which there is no official name in the liturgical calendar. Outside, the weather is doing what my New England relatives call “spitting snow,” meaning that small flakes are swirling down from the sky without amounting to much on the ground. The sky is the same dirty-white color as the patches of old snow; the same color as the white birch from which our bird feeder hangs with just a thin crust of suet remaining inside. There’s no point in refilling the feeder now; there are rumors of spring, which means that the bears will start stirring on Chipman Hill again.

“Last night, I dreamed it was spring!” one of my daughters announces at breakfast. “I could feel how warm it was!”

Spring will arrive. But for now, snow clouds obscure the Green Mountains, and there’s still great sledding on the north face of our back hill. We hover in this liminal space, the threshold between an ending and a beginning, the almost-but-not-yet.

I feel this liminality in the weather, in this Lenten season between Ash Wednesday and Easter, and in my eldest daughter.

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

Tall Tales

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My daughters often ask for stories about me when I was young, and I often disappoint them. There are a few classics that they never seem to tire of, consisting mostly of the handful of misbehaviors in my otherwise dull, law-abiding life (like the time my protest over the new door color of my childhood home ended in a paint spill all over the driveway, for instance, or the time I helped friends smuggle a drum of ice cream out of our college cafeteria.)

The surprising thing is that, as a writer who traffics in stories, I seem to have a terrible memory for stories of my own. Or perhaps that’s one reason why I write: Any stories that I don’t set down on paper quickly enough are at risk of vanishing into the swirling mists of to-do lists and calendar details in my brain. Just the other day, my eldest daughter told a story about our family.

“That didn’t happen,” I said.

“Yes, it did,” she insisted. “I read it in one of your columns.”

So, there you go.

Click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column (which just won first place in the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s Better Newspaper Contest for “Best Blog on a Newspaper Website!”)

“It’s January”

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My 11-year-old daughter, usually my most centered child, was seething. Her hands clenched and unclenched at her sides, her breathing sped up, and she was gnashing her teeth – actually gnashing her teeth. (I’d never really witnessed teeth-gnashing until I had children of my own.)

“I just feel like I haven’t learned anything today!” she spewed out, throwing her pencil to the floor.

We’d passed hour three of our homeschool morning. Thus far, she had watched a portion of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech before writing a short essay about her own dreams; she had read a chapter of the historical novel Johnny Tremain; she had completed a math lesson in which she learned why bees use hexagons to build their hives; she had spent 20 minutes working on her second semi-autobiographical novel; she had read and discussed a history chapter about the early Puritans, including a comparison of the various forms of government; and she had finished a page in her Latin workbook.

But she hadn’t learned anything.

If there’s one thing that parenting and homeschooling have taught me, especially as we enter the “tween” years, it’s that these outbursts are neither logical nor personal. In response to my daughter, I said, “I’m so sorry,” and went about my business.

I decided to follow up later, after she’d cooled down. That afternoon, when I was able to get her alone, I said, “So, that thing this morning about not learning anything? Was that just a blah morning, or was is something more long-term that we should discuss?”

She shrugged. “Just a blah morning. It’s January.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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

Our Newest Addition

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According to our family’s well-loved edition of D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Hermes, the “merriest of the Olympians, was the god of shepherds, travelers, merchants, thieves, and all others who lived by their wits.” That’s a diverse set of patronages; the bottom line is that, although best known for zipping around in his winged shoes and winged helmet, Hermes was a bit of a trickster.

So it’s particularly appropriate that my daughters named their new kitten Hermes, since we were basically tricked into adding him to our family.

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

Small, Sharp Things

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Not that there’s ever a good time, but the “low tire pressure” light came on in our minivan at a particularly inconvenient time.

It was a chilly, overcast Saturday morning in early October, the kind of morning that makes you want to pour another cup of coffee and curl up on the couch with a good book.

Unless, of course, you have children, in which case you have to get your little Girl Scout out the door by 8:30 AM so that she can meet up with the rest of her troop for a morning hike.

As I ushered the Girl Scout and her little sister (who wanted to come along for the ride) into the minivan that morning, I was feeling pretty good about myself: Not yet 8:30, and my entire family was dressed, breakfasted, and brushed up. The dog had been walked, and the poultry were fed.

Then the “low tire pressure” light came on.

I drove my daughter to her hike anyway, of course, because I’d rather be on time on three tires than late on four.

We took the car to the mechanic later that morning. A few hours later, my husband gave me the report: Two porcupine quills.

I cannot imagine how I ended up with two porcupine quills in my tire. I’m fairly sure I didn’t run over an entire porcupine, so there must have been a few spare quills lying on the road somewhere; this is Vermont.

Isn’t it amazing how a couple of small, sharp things can take down a massive, powerful vehicle?

I’m not just talking about porcupine quills; I’m also talking about flu shots.

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

Why Not?

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Our telephone rang towards the end of dinner one night. My husband picked up the receiver; our neighbor was on the other end.

“Are you hearing noises in the morning?” he asked.

It was an odd question to ask a family with four energetically verbal daughters, 19 chickens (including two roosters), seven ducks a-quacking, and one dog who barks at the slightest provocation.

Are we hearing noises in the morning? When are we NOT hearing noises?

My first response, when my husband repeated our neighbor’s question to me, was guilt. Were our roosters — who crow not just at sun-up, but throughout the day — becoming a nuisance? Did this have to do with my daughter’s ninth birthday party the previous day, when we’d had six rambunctious youngsters telling silly stories and dancing to the music in their heads around our fire pit long past bedtime? Or to that very morning, when four of those rambunctious youngsters awoke in the tent where they’d camped out in our yard, demanding assistance at 6:30 AM?

The answer, it turned out, was none of the above. Our neighbor was simply inviting us to come over and see the white peacock that had settled in his yard.

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

A Life Lived Deeply

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Until our family moved to Vermont, I had very little exposure to people aged 65 or older – the demographic often referred to as “senior citizens,” but which I prefer to think of as “elders.”

I wasn’t alone; our ultra-mobile society, with its emphasis on education and achievement, encourages young people to follow educational and employment opportunities. As my husband and I moved from college to early jobs to graduate school in major metropolitan areas, we were primarily surrounded by members of our own generation – give or take a decade at most.

Vermont, as many Vermonters know, is aging faster than the rest of the United States: The 2015 census put Vermont’s median age at 42.8, which ties Vermont with New Hampshire for second oldest state in the nation (after Maine.) Caring for the aged is a growth industry here.

That Vermont is an elderly state may have something to do with why I came into closer contact with my elders after we moved here. But the main reason is our church.

The church that my family attends, Memorial Baptist, has an age distribution of roughly 12 months to 91 years in the pews each Sunday. Because the congregation is small — about 60-70 people in church on a given week — there’s little opportunity for people to form cliques based on age; you rub shoulders with babies and nonagenarians alike.

This June 7, our church and our community lost one of our best elders: my 91-year-old friend Persis Rowe.

I’d love to introduce you to the extraordinary Persis Rowe; click here to continue reading this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent.