Category Archives: Vermont Life

(Not) Wheeling and Dealing at Barter Day

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When we began homeschooling our children about two years ago, it was a choice born of necessity: Our family would be spending five months in Berkeley, California while my husband was on sabbatical, and in order to have the flexibility to make the most of our stay (and to avoid navigating the Berkeley public school system), homeschooling seemed the obvious solution. I assumed it would be a contentious, stressful, and painful experience. More than once, I assured myself (and my daughters), “We can survive anything for five months!”

When we returned to Vermont and continued homeschooling our children, it was a choice born of love. The actual experience of homeschooling my children proved my expectations wrong: It felt nothing at all like ‘surviving,’ and more like thriving.

Homeschooling in Vermont has meant that our family has become part of a group known as the “Addison County Homeschoolers.” That’s the name assigned to the group’s email list and its Facebook page, but the group itself is a bit diffuse. In a style that I’ve come to identify as very Vermont, our homeschool group is more like a loose collective of families who tend to do their own independent things, but who gather on occasion for community events.

These community events include a couple of theater productions each year, weekly open gym and sharing times, an annual spelling bee, and a monthly meeting.

This month, the Addison County Homeschoolers came together for something that was once an annual event, but that hadn’t happened in a year or so: Barter Day.

Click here to continue reading about our Barter Day experience in this week’s “Faith in Vermont” column in The Addison Independent. 

Riding in the Death Star

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“I bought us a truck,” my husband announced one night as he walked into the house after a day at the office.

My daughters reacted to the news as if we’d just announced a candy-only dinner, a week off of school, and a trip to the beach, combined: a squealing, jumping, hands-in-the-air impromptu dance party. The first two questions they articulated were:

“What color is it?” and, “Can we ride in the back?”

“It’s black,” he answered. “We’ll call it the Death Star.”

Just like that, we became the owners of a pickup truck.

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

 

Oh, My Dog!

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Of all the human and non-human species that make up our family, I’ve written the least about our dog, Gracie. My daughters always do nutty things, the ducks and chickens teach us about life and death, and my husband is the “straight man” in the midst of the chaos.

But Gracie, our five-year-old labradoodle, is complicated.

The contributions that a dog is expected to make to a family typically include: companionship, affection, and exercise. My daughters insist that Gracie adds all three to our lives: Their interactions with Gracie mostly involve snuggling on the floor, feeding her treats, and dressing her up in funny costumes, all of which Gracie submits to dutifully. “Gracie’s the best dog in the WORLD!” a daughter exclaims daily.

My husband and I would agree that Gracie adds exercise to our lives, because one of us has to walk her on a leash at least twice a day. We have to walk her on a leash because we don’t have adequate fencing at our house, and we can’t trust Gracie to be outdoors off-leash. We can’t trust Gracie to be off-leash because, for the five years that we’ve known her, Gracie has demonstrated repeatedly her inability to control her emotions.

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

Safety

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It was this year’s peculiar cocktail of sub-zero temperatures, accumulating snow, thaws with mixed precipitation followed by a return to freezing temperatures – combined with the heavy clay soil and topography of our property – that turned our yard into a skating rink.

If you didn’t know any better, you’d think we had three ponds on our land, when what we really have are three huge frozen puddles. This distinction means nothing to my daughters, who slip and slide with abandon over the smooth expanses of ice in their snow boots. Where air has gotten in between the ice, they stomp on the top layer so it fractures into thin shards that they pick up and eat — nature’s original popsicles.

My husband and I, with higher centers of gravity and work to do, snap metal crampons onto our boots when we go out to walk the dog or feed the poultry. We walk gingerly and drive slowly. We play it safe.

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

Typewriters, and the Future of Vermont

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Last Sunday afternoon, a friend invited me to accompany her to a screening of Doug Nichol’s new documentary film, “California Typewriter,” at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater.

Sunday afternoons are usually times I set aside to write this column, but the opportunity to go with an (adult!) friend to watch a film (for adults!) was too good to pass up.

As you may have guessed, I don’t get out much. The last film I saw in a theater was the animated Disney feature, “Moana,” watched a year ago in the company of my children. So you may take my film criticism with a grain of salt, but I’d encourage anyone who’s able to see “California Typewriter” to do so. It’s a beautifully made and thought provoking documentary — an excellent way to spend two winter hours.

“California Typewriter” is a love song to typewriters, specifically the manual typewriter. Its praises are sung by voices including actor Tom Hanks, musician John Mayer, historian David McCullough, and playwright Sam Shepard. The film’s title is taken from the name of a family-run typewriter store in Berkeley, California — one of the last standing typewriter repair shops in America. And the tension that the film explores is: Will the peculiar retro charm of the typewriter enable it to endure (and California Typewriter to remain in business) in our fast-paced digital culture?

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

This Little Light

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One week ago, my daughters made beeswax candles for the first time. Before you get impressed, this was not the sort of candle making that involves dipping wicks into a vat of hot wax; our sort of candle making involved ordering sheets of colored beeswax and a spool of wicking. Cut a length of wicking about one inch longer than the beeswax, lay it at one end of the sheet, and roll. Voila!

It’s one of the simplest and most satisfying crafts our family has ever done. Everyone – from our four-year-old on up – was able to produce nice-looking and useable candles. The older girls got fancy, rolling their beeswax sheets into spiral tapers and cutting shapes from different colors to decorate their candles.

My parents hosted the candle making in their mudroom, perfect because the floor’s radiant heat made the beeswax more pliable. All together, my daughters and some friends spent two hours rolling beeswax on that floor, producing an impressive number of candles.

Most of these candles were gifts for friends and teachers. That’s the beauty of winter candle making: No matter what you celebrate this time of year, it involves candles.

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

Missing Santa Claus

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Our family missed Santa Claus this year.

Ever since we moved to Vermont seven years ago, our family has attended the “Very Merry Middlebury” festivities in downtown Middlebury on the first Saturday of December. This annual celebration, designed to welcome the winter holiday season, includes a hot chocolate hut, horse-drawn carriage rides, a scavenger hunt for themed ornaments in Main Street’s shop windows, and various craft fairs. The Sheldon Museum’s spectacular model train diorama is open to the public, as are the impressive entries in the Vermont Folklife Center’s gingerbread creation contest. Inspired children can make (and eat) their own graham cracker “gingerbread” houses at Ilsley Public Library.

Santa Claus himself begins the day, riding into Middlebury atop a town fire engine.

We look forward to the Very Merry Middlebury tradition every year. But this year, there was some consternation among the adults in our family when we noticed that the schedule listed Santa’s arrival at 9:15 AM.

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