Anxiety, Hand-Washing, and eye Contact: A Report From the Kids

The temperature hasn’t risen above freezing all day, but the sky is a brilliant blue traversed by wispy clouds and the sun is shining on the sparkling white snow. In our front yard, my four daughters are zipping around on their skates, playing broomball on the ice rink that my husband built to keep them outdoors and active during the winter months. After a disappointingly mild December, January finally brought the requisite three days of below-freezing temperatures necessary for skate-worthy ice, and my daughters’ joyful voices proclaim that it was worth the wait. 

They are young, happy, and carefree. 

Or are they?

Over the past week I’ve heard this question asked repeatedly: How will having lived through the COVID-19 pandemic affect this generation of young people? Surely it will have some impact on their outlook on life and their behavior, much in the way that the Great Depression, World War II, and the Vietnam War impacted the generations that lived through them. 

I’ve heard this question pondered by fellow parents, by elderly adults, and even from the (live-streamed) pulpit of my church. So, since I have a sample size of five children in my house, I decided to ask their opinion: How do they think they’ve been changed by COVID-19? 

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

On Thin Ice

This Thanksgiving, I wondered whether Californians discuss their lawns the way that Vermonters discuss their heat.

When our family had recently moved to Vermont, my husband and I noticed that a certain topic never failed to arouse interest and strong opinions during gatherings with Vermonters. (This was back in the days when there were gatherings.) This topic was: How do you heat your house? 

It’s not surprising that Vermonters are fascinated by heating methods, given that some form of manmade warmth is required for comfort over half the year in Vermont. Options include fuel oil, gas, heat pumps, and wood. Discussions about heating with wood could monopolize an entire dinner party (back when there were dinner parties), with topics like: What type of woodstove do you use? Where do you get your wood? How do you stack your wood?

The topic of heating never came up in California, where we lived before moving to Vermont and where half of our extended family still lives. 

The subject of lawns arose during a virtual Thanksgiving visit over Zoom with our beloved California family members. Like many Californians, our relatives live in suburban neighborhoods in which homeowners’ associations have certain requirements about how one’s house and lawn should look. The challenge is that California has been in a drought for years, which makes it difficult to maintain a pristine green carpet in the front yard. Options include using copious amounts of water, making use of native plants, or ripping up the lawn entirely and replacing it with fake grass. (I’m not kidding about that last one.) 

Any other year, my husband and I would find it difficult to relate to a discussion of lawns. On our property, we don’t have a lawn so much as we have a yard. For much of spring and summer the yard looks green enough — except for the dead brown patches and clusters of yellow dandelions. During the growing season, my husband keeps the yard mowed, although you’ll get a better idea of what this involves when I say that he uses a brush mower to do so. And our yard resembles a relief map more than a carpet, as it’s worked over daily by chickens scratching with their feet, ducks digging with their bills, and children excavating with their shovels. 

But this year my husband has spent the past few weeks on his hands and knees, studying every dip and rise of our yard, so he has something to say about lawns. The reason for this sudden interest? My husband is building an ice rink.

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

Stone Soup

When I began writing this column in 2012, my vision was that it would be a space to record the observations and anecdotes of my young family as we explored our new home state of Vermont. I never expected to still be writing eight years later; given that timespan, it’s hardly surprising that the column’s focus has shifted as my family became less young and Vermont became less new. Somehow, though, I never seemed to lack enough material to generate a new biweekly column. 

Until now.

It’s stating the obvious to say that the restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging in many ways, for all of humanity. In my own case, it’s difficult to write a column of observations and anecdotes when my world is now limited mostly to my own house, yard, driveway, and immediate family. (Granted, my immediate family is quite pleased when I include them in columns, but I’ve become more concerned with protecting my children’s privacy.) Still, when COVID struck, I determined to make this column a place where people could find beauty and respite from the stresses of life, the ugliness of the news and social media. Nobody needs more hopelessness these days; it felt like one tiny thing I could do to write a few words that might give hope.

But I’ve rarely struggled to find hope as I have this week. This week, as the unseasonably warm weather we’d enjoyed in Vermont gave way at last to a more typical chill, grey November. This week, as COVID cases surged around the world and in Vermont, prompting Governor Phil Scott to issue a mandate prohibiting all multi-family gatherings, whether inside or out. This week, as there is still seemingly no end in sight to the tensions swirling around the 2020 Presidential election, let alone the brokenness it revealed in our nation. This week, as I carry the weight and sorrow of many friends and family members who have recently received bad news or are awaiting diagnoses. 

This week, I was not sure I could write a column worthy of putting out into the world. 

And then a friend’s eight-year-old son reminded me about Stone Soup. 

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

summer of the wasps

Summer is now firmly behind us. It’s the time of year when I like to snuggle up in my fall uniform (jeans and a flannel shirt) with a cup of tea (I’m weaning myself from coffee after finally admitting that it affects my digestion — because why wouldn’t you give up coffee when you’re parenting a tween, a newly crawling baby, and three children in between? But that’s a subject for another column….) As the golden light of a crisp afternoon filters through the Vermont foliage, I’m contemplating the summer that just passed.

Our family’s summer was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, political turmoil, gratitude for our newly installed heat pumps, afternoons spent in our inflatable pool, and the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (referred to in our house as “the show that saved summer.”) But the thing that most defined our Summer 2020 was: wasps.

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

A tale of two roosters

Fall has arrived suddenly and dramatically in Vermont, with plunging temperatures and nighttime frosts. This shouldn’t have surprised, me, as this has hardly been a year of subtlety; nothing seems to have happened “just a little” in 2020. 

But whether we tumble into it headlong or ease into it gradually, fall is always a season of change. This change is evident in the weather and the leaves, but also in our lifestyles. Children are heading back to school, which this year is a bigger change than usual for most families as they adjust to remote learning or virtual/in-person hybrid arrangements. In my family, fall marks the start of field hockey season – the one athletic activity that has ever gripped my bookish, artsy brood – so four afternoons a week I am shuttling (masked) girls to practices with the town’s youth program or at the middle school. And fall means that our local apple orchard is open again, which adds a weekly errand to pick up fresh apples, cider, and cider doughnuts. 

There’s another change at my house this fall: We’ve got a new rooster. 

Cluck — er, CLICK — here to continue reading the latest “Faith in Vermont” in this week’s Addison Independent.

Maintaining

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We went to Maine this summer. It felt like a minor miracle that we were able to pull off this trip: the only normal, scheduled event that hasn’t been cancelled in our lives since the COVID-19 pandemic wiped our calendar clean and confined us to our home. I will be reminding my children about our Maine trip anytime they complain of boredom for the rest of the summer.

Gong Child: “I’m SO BORED!”

Me: “Remember how we went to Maine this summer?” (Unspoken, but implied: “You ungrateful wretch!”)

Oddly enough, one of the best parts about going to Maine was coming home.

“Ah!” we sighed in wonder as we drove across the Green Mountains and saw Vermont’s familiar fields stretching out before us.

“It’s so good to be home!” we exclaimed as we entered our house, unpacked our bags, and settled back into our own beds.

Our house, which had begun to feel like a prison in the weeks before the trip to Maine, reclaimed its cherished place in our collective hearts after a week’s absence. It was nice to feel that we wanted to be at home, not just that we had to be at home.

The warm glow of homecoming lasted approximately 24 hours. Then I went outside and looked at my garden.

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

Beauty on the Driveway

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For the past 65 days, one of my lifelines has been a quarter-mile strip of sandy gravel. Its surface is mostly white, except for the places where we attempted to patch the potholes with cheap grey gravel. From the look of things, the potholes are winning.

My lifeline has been my driveway.

Our family has developed a daily routine around the driveway. First thing in the morning, while I’m fixing breakfast, my husband takes the dog for a run several times up and down the driveway. After breakfast, I strap the baby into a chest carrier and set out with my daughters for a single pre-school lap up and down the driveway – me walking, them usually on bikes. In the late afternoon, when the baby wakes from his nap, I put him in the stroller, put the dog on a leash, and walk as many laps up and down the driveway as time permits until dinner. Sometimes I’m joined by my daughters, sometimes by my husband, but often I’m alone.

The driveway gives us exercise. It allows us to breathe in fresh air and soak in Vitamin D. It takes us to the mailbox, which holds the treat of letters from the outside world or packages of online purchases more often these days.

But the greatest gift that the driveway gives me is beauty.

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

Why Keep a Garden, Chickens, or Children?

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This will likely be a short column, because we are in the midst of putting in our garden.

I have a complex relationship with my garden – as, I suspect, do many. Starting around March, a feeling that has lain dormant throughout the winter begins to stir in me: panic. Suddenly, I feel the urge to start drawing up a planting schedule and ordering seeds. This feeling intensifies as the days lengthen. By the time we start planting, usually in late April, my panic has been replaced with a lingering guilt. I feel guilty if I’m not out working in the garden when the weather is fine. When the forecast calls for rain, I am almost always relieved; nobody would expect me to be out working in my garden in the rain, would they?

Yet I will tell you that I love gardening.

This year, our gardening season has overlapped almost exactly with the COVID-19 quarantine. I hear that more people are planning to put in gardens this year, driven perhaps by the desire to have a food source that doesn’t involve navigating grocery stores, or inspired by more unscheduled time at home. But I wonder how many people shared this thought along with me, as I pulled on my garden gloves and picked up my shovel: Finally! Something I can control!

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

The Greater Good

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In order for me to have time and quiet in which to write this column, my husband took all five of our children to ride bikes around their grandparents’ neighborhood.

Once upon a time, this would have been a normal occurrence on a Sunday afternoon, but not today.

This is the first time I have been alone – really and completely alone, without a single member of my family in the house – in over a month.

This is the first time my children have been in a vehicle, the first time they have pulled out of our driveway onto the main road, in over a month.

“I forget what it’s like to ride in a car!” exclaimed my eldest daughter as they prepared to leave. “How do we do it?”

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