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. 

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!

Appliance Angst

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Our first clue that the appliances were turning against us was when the oven refused to heat up. It happened at the worst possible moment, of course: A night when I was supposed to be going out for a belated birthday dessert with friends, and my husband would be getting home late after picking up our eldest daughter from a class and our youngest from a playdate. Feeling like I had it all together, I’d tossed some food into the oven to cook while I walked the dog and did the poultry chores. Twenty minutes later – just minutes before the other hungry half of our family would arrive expecting dinner – I checked the oven to find it still stone cold.

My husband saved the day, as usual, by cooking our dinner on the stovetop. In the process, he discovered that our microwave seemed to be acting up: It made a sound like a car revving up, indicating that it was working only intermittently.

It was dark by the time our dinner was ready, so we turned on the lights.

“Wait, are the lights flickering?” one of our daughters observed after a couple of minutes.

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

Adventures in Back-to-School Shopping

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Our family went back to school the day after Labor Day. The Addison County schools began the week before Labor Day, but since we homeschool I figured: Why be crazy? (My daughters take a great deal of joy in their delayed start; every year they fantasize about appearing on the Mary Hogan School sidewalk on the first day of school in their pajamas, munching doughnuts and waving to their friends as they get off the bus. What prevents them from putting this plan into action is that they’re not even closeto awake at that time.)

One of my favorite things about homeschooling is that I feel like I’m learning (or re-learning) right along with my daughters. As I remind them constantly, you’re never too old to learn, to grow, to change. Which may be why, this past weekend, I did something I thought I’d never do: I took my daughters shopping at big chain stores in Williston and Burlington.

I still remember our family’s first trip to the stores in Williston. We’d just moved to Vermont, and we needed to pick up a lot of cheap, basic home furnishings. We loaded our three daughters, aged three months through three years, into the minivan, and drove north for an hour. At those ages, an hour drive passes in dog years; we kept the minions pacified by tossing fruit chews into the backseat at regular intervals, and braced ourselves for long stretches of baby wailing. When we’d lived in California, an hour drive took us to wine country; driving the same distance for a bunch of chain stores hardly seemed worth the hassle. “I will do anything possible to avoid this drive,” I recall thinking to myself.

For eight years, I did avoid it. But now we have a tween, and our tween “needs” to go to Old Navy.

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!

School’s Out…Forever

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Last weekend, I had the opportunity to visit the District #5 School in East Washington, New Hampshire. This 1849 one-room schoolhouse is now maintained by the Washington Historical Society; it closed its doors in 1938, a year in which there was only one family with school-age children left in East Washington, but it holds a significant place in our family lore. The District #5 School is where my maternal grandmother, Helen Natalie Peasley, began her school career. She walked a mile to the school down Lovell Mountain, where she lived on the family farm run by her grandfather, who grazed his cattle on the mountain. She grew up to work for decades as a teacher, and she always enjoyed telling us about her early days walking to the schoolhouse.

Now, when I hear about the debate over school consolidation in Addison County, I picture the District #5 School sitting empty, its woodstove grown cold, its rows of seats and chalkboards on display for visitors like my daughters and me. Were my grandmother alive today, she would ride the bus 7.3 miles to Washington Elementary School.

Because I homeschool all of my children, people often say to me, “You must be so glad you don’t have to worry about that!” They say this about school-related issues like classroom discipline issues, consolidation, and school shootings.

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