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. 

Garden Guilt

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Please, don’t tell me that you’ve spent all day working out in the garden.

I see you, anyway: out in your yards, industriously raking leaves out of your garden beds, shoveling mulch, setting up your floating row covers.

I see you out my minivan window as I’m driving my daughters to piano, or theater, or a friend’s house, or Girls on the Run. Girls on the Run, indeed.

Those are my weekday afternoons.

And I’m not quite sure how this happened, but it appears that every single weekend between now and June is booked up with something: a Library Board retreat, a trip to see family, some sort of culturally enriching experience. Unless it’s raining; those days, I’m free.

Speaking of rain, this month seems to be taking the concept of “April showers” to an extreme. Only our ducks are happy.

Please, don’t tell me that you’ve already planted your kale.

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

 

From a Faculty Spouse to the Middlebury College Faculty, With Respect

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Despite the fact that my husband is employed by Middlebury College, our family has a fairly distant connection to campus life. The majority of our friends are not employed by the college; they’re our neighbors, members of our church, or people we’ve met through our daughters’ involvement in the homeschool community or other activities. That said, we do number some of my husband’s colleagues among our close friends. We have students over to dinner throughout the year. Our daughters have taken swim lessons from members of the Middlebury College Swim Team, and our eldest daughter is currently studying Latin with a student from the Classics Department.

All this to say: Every interaction our family has had personally with Middlebury College faculty, staff, or students has been positive.

Most of our friends are swamped with issues like how to survive the high cost of living in Vermont, how to keep their relationships healthy, or how to raise children and care for ailing parents. Just as Middlebury College is isolated geographically from the rest of the town, campus issues tend to be of little concern to most Middlebury residents, myself included.

Unless they’re really big issues. Which is what happened when my husband came home from work last week and said, “Well, there’s another brouhaha at the college.”

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

Life vs. Liberty

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It all started with 11 secondhand chickens that friends packed into plastic bins and drove to our house.

Those original 11 birds reproduced themselves, and the widescale slaughter we’d expected at the hands of predators or disease has yet to occur. At the moment, my family shares our property with 23 chickens and seven ducks; another three ducklings arrive later this month.

We raise poultry for a variety of reasons, including:

-Half of our daughters have a deep affection for these birds. (The other half is either ambivalent or wants nothing to do with anything poultry-related.)

-Poultry-keeping chores teach our children the value of hard work and responsibility. (That is, when they’re willing to drag themselves out of bed on cold, dark winter mornings to do their chores.)

-We haven’t had to buy eggs in two years – and we have eggs to spare. (Current tally: six dozen eggs in the refrigerator and another couple dozen in a bowl waiting for a carton to open up. I choose recipes based on how many eggs they use.)

-It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Whatever the reason, once we’d invested in the birds, coops, feed, and fencing, we felt a certain responsibility to keep them alive. Our dog did not share this sense of responsibility. Our dog wanted to do what came naturally: Snack!

One of the challenges of living with multiple species is navigating the fine line between the freedom of one species and the survival of another.

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