Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Vermont Wave

I have warned you about hats in Vermont. I have informed you that hats are a fashion statement too. I have told you that some people make a living making hats in Vermont. I have shown you my gigantic hat… and now I am going to share another hat with you (see picture.) This is Chet. Chet Baxter (Jr. or the III… I can never remember, and when I look his number up in the phone book to call him or his wife, I always second guess myself and call Chet’s father instead, every time.) Now Chet is what they call a “Real Vermonter.” He was born and raised here. His parents were born and raised here. It goes back pretty far, although I am not certain how distant into the past. He is also married to a “Real Vermonter,” and they have three “Real Vermonter” children… beautiful children. In fact Chet’s wife Nicole was the first person to be nice to me when we first moved here. She gave me insider information about the Cabot Hosiery Sock Sale to keep my family’s feet warm through our first winter. I have never forgotten that.
Did you notice his hat? It was made right up the road from where Chet lives in a town called Granville by a woman named Gert. This hat used to have four horns on it, but the front horn was removed because it sagged too much.
I have to return to my statement “Real Vermonter” that I threw around in the first paragraph of this blog. I never even heard that phrase until I lived here. This is basically what it means: the parents of your parents were born here, your parents were born here, and you were born here. None of these people ever moved out of Vermont, and in fact never even considered moving out of Vermont, because if you can’t find something in Vermont, it isn’t necessary to survive.
In my description, I only went as far back as parents of parents… there are those who believe it should go back even further. There are those who believe if your family wasn’t the first family who claimed the land when the United States was forming, then you aren’t a true “Real Vermonter.”
I know a woman who was born in Vermont in the late 1940’s. Her family bought land and she was conceived and born in Vermont. When I asked her if she was considered to be a “Real Vermonter,” she told me that the locals said she wasn’t. She quoted one man as saying, “She’s no Vermonter. Just because a cat has kittens in an oven, that don’t make them biscuits.” This same woman has a son. When I asked if her son was a “Real Vermonter,” she shook her head “no” quietly. “Maybe his children will be, but he can never leave the state if he wants that to happen, and he has to marry a ‘Real Vermonter.’”
You are probably thinking, “Who cares?” or maybe “What difference does it make?”
Well, it does make a difference, and here is why… because Vermont is a magical place filled with many special surprises that reveal themselves to you when you are ready to see them. There is no other place like Vermont for many reasons, but here is the reason I will share with you today: Vermont is the only place where a person can experience “The Vermont Wave.”
I did not notice for the first few years we lived here, but “The Vermont Wave” is an interaction that occurs among cars as they pass each other on rural Vermont roads. I call it “The Vermont Wave.” I am not certain if I didn’t pick up on it because no one waved at us until we lived here for at least two winters, or because I was too busy trying to keep my car on the road, or because I was too distracted by the beautiful scenery. But I never noticed the wave.
There are a few steps to “The Vermont Wave”: first the driver determines if the approaching car looks familiar, then they determine if the plate is green and white (Vermont,) then they figure out who is driving, and finally they decide if they should wave. All of this happens very quickly because there is a limited amount of time to wave on Vermont roads.
A friend (who lives in Vermont but came from Connecticut) asked me once, “What does the phrase ‘Everyone is famous in Vermont’ mean?”
I explained the best I could, “Well, when you go to the store, you always see someone you know. Every car you pass (especially on the back roads) is driven by someone familiar. Everyone knows everyone and their business, so everyone is familiar and thus everyone is famous.”
And that’s it, briefly.
I try to think back to when I got my first wave. The good news is that is has been happening for a few years now, so I don’t remember my first wave, but I do remember some classics, some waves that I would consider milestones. Read on, if you want to find out. I just think that getting a “Vermont Wave” means a lot. I feel honored. I feel lucky. I treasure each and every wave I receive.
It is important to notice which driver waves first. Occasionally, both drivers wave at the same time, which is probably best. It is also important to notice if both drivers actually did wave. If a driver waves to you, and you don’t wave back, they will think you are holding a grudge from the previous year’s Town Meeting (a topic for another blog.) I am new to the state (almost five years new now) and now that I understand “The Vermont Wave.” I always do it. I always wave. I wave to everyone. I wave to the guys plowing, I wave to every car with a green and white license plate that is coming the opposite direction, and I wave to the school bus driver (which by the way is the guy Chet whose picture you saw earlier.) I think I understand the whole “Vermont Wave” thing, but I am probably breaking some unwritten “Vermont Wave” rule written in a book somewhere. There is probably a book that I haven’t discovered in the library that I should have checked out five years ago. They are probably trying to all figure out how to get me to move to another county because I am way too friendly. I should actually wait until they wave to me first, but I can’t… though I do try.
I mentioned that Chet drives the bus. When he was young, his mother drove the bus. She probably waved to everyone too. He attended the same school he drives the bus for. One of his sons will be in my class next year (yes- we have a school next year- see my “Two-Room School House” blog.) I’ll be teaching a whole group of “Real Vermonters”, and that just doesn’t happen anywhere else other than Vermont, obviously.
I have to explain something about Chet and his waves. He has many waves. I figured it out recently and accused him of it. In true “Real Vermonter” fashion, he grinned and revealed nothing more to me. The “Vermont Grin” is a topic for another blog. And after a moment he did reveal a little bit more. He said he waves so much each day to every car that passes, that he needs one of those sets of hands that wave automatically so he can continue to drive the bus safely.
I have been using only one wave with people for each of the three years that I have been using my wave. I never realized that “Real Vermonters” like Chet have a different wave for each person they encounter on their trip down the road. My wave is simple. I lift my right hand off the wheel and hold it up. I don’t say anything, but I think to myself, “Hey… what’s up?”
Chet has the wave that he gives my husband every morning as they pass on Route 125: it is a “right hand completely off the wheel vertical wave.” Chet has the wave he gives to mothers who have children on his bus: it is a “both hands on the wheel but four fingers of his right hand are lifted off the wheel briefly wave.” Chet has another wave for my colleague Heather. She says she gets the “right hand straight up off the wheel wave.” And by the way to add to the whole “Real Vemonter” topic, Heather gave birth to her son at Dartmouth Hospital in New Hampshire and is “really bummed out that he was born 45 feet across the Connecticut River from Vermont.” So, her son does not have a chance to be a “Real Vermonter.” And by the way, when Chet drives his own family around in his own car, the wave is a “few fingers lifted up and wiggling and a slight nod of the head wave.”
But I should say no more about it because a “Real Vermonter” reveals nothing, except that he needs a plastic hand to wave for him.
And then it happened. Yesterday our vehicles passed each other near the corner store. I was trying to find a parking space and he was driving the bus south on Route 125. Before I even realized it was the bus, or that it was Chet driving, he took both hands off the wheel and waved violently as if he was having a seizure. I laughed for at least five minutes.
And that is what it is all about. I can’t wait until our vehicles pass again, because I just don’t think he can top that one. And I rejoice because I think I have finally been assimilated into the little community. Their bus driver has shown me another side of his personality.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I have a truck. I learned early in my life, that all vehicles should have an identity and a name. I grew up with “Car 13,” “Old Yellar,” “Cupcake,” and so on. My husband’s noble Subaru is named “Shadowfax.” So when I bought this gas guzzling 1994 Dodge Dakota truck, I immediately began to call her “Trucky.” I invested in the personal plate (see picture) because I figured a truck worth its weight in rust driven by a woman, should at least have a feminine name. She has served me well. And yes, my truck is a “she,” even though she is a standard vehicle and has a stick shift.
I used to walk to work from my house on the mountain to my school in the valley. These 30 minutes were one of my favorite times of day because I was alone with nature and could think about whatever I wanted to without anyone calling my name. But this year, my older child has to ride the bus and my younger child has to be driven to preschool, so I drive all of us down hill in “Trucky.” As a family, we shared “Shadowfax” (my husband’s white Subaru) and survived with only that one car for a few years. But that changed recently because I didn’t think I could manage to walk two boys down the hill with me on a consistent basis in a timely manner… and have I mentioned it snows in Vermont? And although I walked every day in the snow for years (uphill both ways)-(ha ha)- I decided that getting a point A to point B vehicle would be necessary. So “Trucky” became a loved member of our family.
She is old… 14 years old in fact… which for a Vermont vehicle is pretty typical, at least on the back roads. But on some early mornings, she threatens that she doesn’t want to start. I’ll turn the ignition key and she will groan and moan and try to give indication that she wants to begin her day, but that it is difficult because it is really cold outside. We talk to her as she tries to start, “Come on ‘Trucky,’ come on girl. You can do it. You can start… we know you can.”
“Rrrrr.rrr.rrrr…..rrr.rrrrrr…rrrrrrr…RRRRRR….RRRRR….” She says back.
When the engine turns over and rumbles, and we know she is set, we say, “Yeah ‘Trucky!’ Hooray!” We applaud and rejoice that she is indeed stronger than the coldness of a crisp Vermont winter’s morn.
People recognize “Trucky” as we drive by. It didn’t take long for word to spread about her through town. She is a conversation piece. I know this because I get what I call “The Wave,” (a topic for another blog,) which in short means that if you know the person approaching, you must wave to them or they will think you are angry at them for something- small town politics-. We move along through the snowy back roads without trouble 99.9% of the time. My “Trucky” has only met with one ditch (the same ditch that swallowed my husband’s car and neighbor’s car, same ditch, different day.) But as I said, most of the time, she negotiates the tricky snowy conditions very well because she is a four-wheel-drive, absolutely necessary in this area.
I will confess however, that there was a “Learning Curve” with “Trucky.” I needed to get used to being able to see out of both side mirrors, and I needed to understand the overall length and girth of an extended cab pick-up truck. I am very comfortable driving “Trucky” now, but in the early days I had to make a couple mistakes. One thing I remember clearly was backing into a rock down by the White River. I didn’t realize how long “Trucky” was in her tail end. When I smacked into the rock, I caught on very quickly, and never made that mistake again. Expecting to see some damage when I got out and looked, I was thrilled to see that not even a blemish appeared on my bumper because “Trucky” is amazingly sturdy. I feel like my children are very safe when they are in “Trucky,” because she is like a tank. And having said that, I always make sure the boys are in “Trucky” whenever she moves anywhere so I don’t run over them since I can’t see through the cab very well. I should actually say right here that I am getting better, but if you are short like I am and ever try to drive a truck, you would understand.
Here is another reason why I make sure my children are inside of “Trucky” before I move her… I ran over my husband’s foot once. I did. It was in the early days of “Trucky” when I was still experiencing the “Learning Curve” that I referred to earlier. Here is how it happened. My husband was outside of “Trucky” saying good-bye to us as we were heading to a birthday party. He tried to shut the passenger side door. He slammed it and it popped back open. He slammed it again and it popped back open again. He continued to do this for a time, thinking that the harder that he slammed the door, the more likely it would be to stay shut. Each time it slammed, he got angrier… and so did I, and yet, the door continued to pop back open.
Now, I will pause here to talk a little bit about my husband’s philosophy of cars compared to my philosophy of cars. I mentioned earlier that I believe that a vehicle should get a person from point A to point B. My husband wants a bit more. For him, three things are important: all wheel drive, a good stereo and good gas mileage. Before we moved from Arizona to Vermont, he wanted a good stereo, and that was about it. Before kids, a small compact car with good gas mileage was also important to him because he used to commute great distances across the desert in lots of traffic. So… he wants more out of a car than I do. He also expects that a car’s door should be able to shut. He asks a lot, doesn’t he? “Trucky” doesn’t have a good stereo. She has an AM/FM radio that gets one station. Enough said about that.
So back to the story… he continued to slam the door until I begged him to stop. He tried it a few times before he decided that the door’s latch needed WD40… some oil… the latch was stuck and wouldn’t click as it should. I decided that working on the door’s latch would be easier if “Trucky” was on flat ground instead of my slanted parking space on our hill.
“Fine.” He said and slammed it again.
Now “fine” is one of those words that married people use sometimes. When a person says the word “fine,” that is really not what they mean. Usually they mean the opposite. What he really wanted to say is, “I am angry at this door. I hate this truck. I am going to slam this door until I can force my own will upon it until it fears me, listens to me, and stays shut!”
But that is not what he said. Instead he said “Fine!”
And then I backed over his foot.
I didn’t do it on purpose. Really, I didn’t. I backed up to leave my parking space after I thought he had moved his body back far enough, but the wheel was turned too far I suppose. At that point I had only owned “Trucky” for two days and had no idea of the girth of a truck that carries around a V8 engine. Again, it was still during my “Learning Curve” time. Please forgive me. I am a bad wife. I am a bad person.
But at least at that point, the door slamming stopped and my husband hobbled over to “Shadowfax” to get some WD40, with a tire track across his foot and some blades of grass sticking out of his sandal. I found it quite bizarre that he could walk. I must have only grazed his foot or there must have been a hole in the ground or something because he was not hurt badly, and he probably should have been. He informed me that I ran over his foot, but then almost instantly, his foot puffed back up again as if he were friends with “Tom and Jerry.” And here’s the best part… he isn’t going to divorce me over it. In fact, he probably has forgotten about it by now unless he reads this blog and it reminds him of the event.
You see, he has his own problems with “Shadowfax.” The other day, the CD player stopped playing right in the middle of Bob Marley’s song “Stir it Up.” Also, the trip meter reads 0.0 miles, every time he turns the car off and then on again. The clock reads 1:00 every time the car is turned off and on again. The interior lights aren’t working either. So, he has his own problems, you see.
You must be thinking, “What the hell is wrong with these people?” And quite possibly you are also thinking, “Why are their cars so messed up?”
And if you asked those two questions, or even one of those questions, I have a simple answer, “Our house is on top of a hill, on top of a mountain, at the end of a back road, in rural Vermont.” If a car manages to survive that scenario without a scratch on it after one winter, I’ll eat my laptop.
As far as maintaining cars and accepting my frugalness, my parents taught me well; maybe you’ll remember I have mentioned in other blogs my “Pennsylvania Dutchness.” We PA dutch are thrifty. Growing up, my parents always went to the junk yard first to get a part before they would buy a new one because we also lived rurally. If something could be fixed with duct tape, they would rather do it that way because it was far more affordable. I am much the same way… in fact “Trucky” has a plastic strip that is “tucked in” right now because I didn’t know how else to solve the problem. At least the strip doesn’t flop along when I drive anymore. She’ll hopefully pass inspection soon. Maybe if I bring the mechanic some cookies, he’ll slap a sticker on for me. As long as the vehicle is safe, does it make a difference what it looks like?
I heard a comedian say once, “We can put man on the moon, but we can’t make a car that doesn’t break down.” I don’t even remember what comedian it was, but I do remember his words because they were good ones.
Which brings me to my whole point: cars (and “Truckys”) are a metaphor. Our vehicles represent the structure of our relationships and the nature of the world we choose to live in. To some, “Trucky” would be an unbearable prospect. To me, I choose to be grateful and love her for every mile of the back road she shares with me. The back roads are so pretty. For all of us, it is getting harder to keep cars on the road. Look at how much everything costs right now. At almost $3.50 a gallon, we struggle to afford to make ourselves go from point A to point B. We can choose what quality of gas we use, but no matter what, it is expensive to live right now. Cars need to be maintained just like we humans need to maintain ourselves and our relationships, but to me, I feel the priority is what is happening below the surface, and under the hood that matters. Although, I sometimes run over my husband’s foot in our relationship, he sometimes runs over mine. We love each other and even still we can’t get out of each other’s way on occasion. There is always a “Learning Curve” in an intimate relationship, right? At least that’s how I look at it… sometimes we slam doors and say things like “FINE” to each other, but the bottom line is, if we take the time to put duct tape on things, our longevity may join the ranks of a classic. And whether it is “Trucky” or “Shadowfax” or some other rusty jalopy, it doesn’t matter, as long as we know how to change a flat, or replace a wind shield wiper, or put some WD40 on a sticky door latch. Maybe one day, we may be more able to afford a fancier car and a bigger car payment, and we may work harder to keep it vacuumed… who knows? But I maintain that it truly doesn’t matter what something looks like. If we focus on the important things only, choose what to worry about, and pick our battles, in years to come, people will see us drive by and wave. They’ll see us as a unit, together, handling the bumps and frost heaves in the road, and we will get from point A to point B… together

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Size (of the Needle) Matters

I was about eight years old when my grandmother first tried to teach me to knit. She spent a good solid hour with me trying to get me to follow directions. It was completely futile, but not because of my grandmother. It was me. The problem was me. I couldn’t get it. Perhaps, it was my left-handedness, but I don’t think she realized it. She finally gave up. She had three choices: throw the needles across the room, commit suicide with them, or walk away. Since she wanted to be a good example to her youngest grandchild, she decided to gracefully get up and walk away.
It wasn’t until much later that I finally decided to come back to knitting. It was after moving to Vermont when I was in my mid-thirties. When we moved to Vermont, I spent the first winter in shock. But by about the next November, I started to notice that many women survived the winter with knitting needles in their hands. I was drawn to the fabulous fibers. The lovely knits that were created taunted me. I looked at hats and entered the world of design in my imagination. I can do that! I could make that! How hard can it be?
Well… it is pretty hard. But I can persevere.
It all began when my sister-in-law came to visit for Christmas, and she could sense that I was attracted to the idea of knitting. I talked about it and said that I really wanted to do it. She was supportive in my endeavor and sent me a package about two weeks later. She sent me a box with a gorgeous scarf in it and some knitting needles of my own. They were size 16… they were red… and really fun to hold in my hands. Once I got done playing with them, I opened up the little booklet of instructions she sent along, and set to trying to knit.
Trouble was… I was still left-handed. That part of me had not changed, but my brain had matured enough to be able to do things with my non-dominant hands. I actually learned to knit as a right-handed knitter. I became determined to learn. It was my new year’s resolution (I gave up on the “weight thing” ages ago,) “I will learn how to knit.”
It was all I did for days. I barely ate (though I made sure my family did.) I sat there and looked at the pictures in the booklet and followed along as best as I could. My mother told me that my first project should be a scarf. So that is what I did. I made a scarf. It was uglier than a baby rabbit, but it was my first scarf so I loved it. It was uneven, multi-colored and would frighten away anything. I mean it, but my sons took turn wearing it proudly (bless them.) Mainly they wore it because it is cold in Vermont and they were still pretty young and didn’t really know how hideous my first scarf truly was.
I moved on from scarves to other things, proudly and on a roll. I was a knitter, an official Vermonter. I was one of them, the knitting clutch, the girls, one of those who knew how to knit and belonged in the yarn aisle in the craft store.
But really, I didn’t belong, and unfortunately, I probably never will.
Here’s why.
Because I don’t follow directions! I skip the whole first paragraph about what size needle I should use. I skip it every time… though I don’t know why.
I informed you that I don’t follow directions because I am left-handed. I could tell you that I don’t follow directions because I am rebellious. I could blame it on my parents. Maybe I could even get away with blaming George Bush, because it has to be his fault somehow. But the important thing to know is that I don’t follow directions.
I tried though. I did pretty well making hats for my two boys. They wore them (and still do,) proudly. But then my husband wanted a hat. I had knitted all year by the time he asked for a hat. I was confident. I was strong. I was ready.
Here’s where I went wrong: I strayed from the pattern by using the wrong size needles. I should have followed the pattern exactly… but I didn’t. By this time, I knew that the bigger the needle, the bigger the holes, the bigger the project. But let me explain myself further. Before I started, my husband said, “Make it big. I want a big hat.”
If you have read any of my other blogs, you know that hats are a fashion statement in Vermont. Hats are part of the outfit. Hats are worn to bed. “Okay.” I said as we stood with our children in the yarn aisle in the craft store.
“No, really. I want my hat big.”
“OKAY.” I said again. I heard him, but I made no eye contact because when we were with our two boys in a store, time was limited.
It took over a month… hours and hours… to knit this hat. I followed the directions pretty well: I casted on as many stitches as I was told to, I knitted so many rows and purled so many rows… (I felt proud of myself.) The only place I strayed from the directions was in the size of the needles.
You are intelligent. I know you are aware of where this is going. It was the biggest hat ever knitted in the history of knitting. I took it off the needles on the next New Year’s Eve (one year later) (remember my resolution,) and began to laugh uncontrollably. I almost wet my pants because I was laughing so hard. My husband thought I was dying because I think I stopped breathing at one point. I could use this hat as a parachute if I joined the Marines. I mean it. My entire family could jump from a plane, and as long as we held onto each other and this hat, we would float safely to the ground…
I took a picture of my two boys wearing it, and I couldn’t actually see my boys. It covered them both like a blanket. In fact, I could have given it to someone as a blanket and they would be honored.
And warm. They would be honored and warm.
So, I did what any stubborn new knitter would do. I folded it over itself and stitched it… and folded it over itself again and stitched it again… and once more I did the same, until what emerged was somewhat hat-like and asked my husband to put it on his head. He put his hands together and chanted as if he was wearing a yarmulke.
Ripping it from his head, I decided to learn how to make a pom-pom and sew it to the top so I could wear the thing. Although it weighs about 15 pounds, and is very unusual, I wear this hat every winter since its creation. (See picture.)
Compliments? Yes… I get many. I have even had about 10 people ask me if I could make them one. But the truth is I don’t think I can. Have I told you I don’t follow directions?

Two-Room Schoolhouse

There used to be more cows per capita in Vermont than people. That is no longer true, but only because there are not as many dairy farms. And there are actually less people than there used to be, too, even compared to twenty years ago. Figure that one out. I have either confused you or interested you. It is up to you if you want to read on.
Having a low population breeds very few jobs and very small schools. I have a job (for now.) I teach first and second grade (for now) in the nation’s oldest two-room schoolhouse. (see picture) I keep saying (for now) because the lovely little place where I work as a teacher is in danger of closing down (next week.) There is a push from the state to consolidate schools, and so at the moment I am faced with the prospect of being jobless (next week). That is a very scary feeling, especially in today’s world when there are few available jobs out there and everything is so expensive. Aside from enjoying children, one of the reasons I became a teacher was because of job security… well, so much for that.
But, at the age of almost 40, I can reinvent myself and I am certainly trying to do that with my spare time. If I can’t be a teacher anymore, which is really sad, I want to be a writer. Can I get paid for doing that?
So, please read on only if you have an interest in history and politics, because that is mostly the focus of this blog. I mean, really… look at that school in the picture I showed you. Charming, isn’t it? Well, I suppose to some people, charm isn’t everything. And, apparently, a good education is not everything either.
It was about a year ago that the little village school almost closed. There was a vote on town meeting day on a particular budget that was set forth by the school board. Members of the school board said that if the budget didn’t pass, that they would get a message that the voters wanted the school to be shut down. The budget didn’t pass and so they decided to close the school. After 206 years of being in constant operation, they decided in one afternoon, after a verbal vote of “Aye” or “Nay” to shut down the operation. They decided on the first Tuesday in March, 2007 to end the legacy of the two-room schoolhouse.
Now you may think I am exaggerating when I use the word “legacy,” but I am not. The building was built when Thomas Jefferson was president. It lasted through the all the wars that this country has ever experienced and remained in operation during the Great Depression. We are going to shut it down now? It is because of George Bush… yes I blame George Bush. Why not? He is affecting this country in more ways than imaginable, and he has a hand in this because of his lovely “No Child Left Behind” movement. It is just so expensive to run a little place like this while keeping up with all the mandates and requirements that have been set forth. And then of course, you have the taxes… should I go there? And the price of oil… the price of health care… and the cost of books and supplies and food…
It didn’t close last year. A committee of people (The Support Our School Committee) gathered together and fought to keep the little school thriving. There was a petition signed to get another vote (this time a paper ballot in the evening) and the school remained open by two votes. I was a part of the group of people who worked to get grants and do fund raisers to pay for programs because I felt it was important not to shut it down so quickly. Something so longstanding should never be brought down in one afternoon.
It is time for me to climb up on my soap box and share my thoughts on the topic. Closing down the local village school would be a terrible thing for the community of Hancock. There are very few aspects to the small Vermont town already that would draw anyone in; getting rid of the school is like a nail in the coffin of the town. The closing of the school has become a metaphor. There are the people who “get it” and the people who “don’t get it.” There are those who are willing to see that the school is a part of the past and should be a part of the future, and those that only see the expense. If the school closes down, they have to pay the taxes anyway, because the children will be sent to other schools and the bill has to be paid. Getting rid of the school may actually cause the taxes to go up later on, and it will be out of the town’s control because they will lose their say in it, they lose their local control. Closing the school is not a solution. It is the beginning of many other problems.
But after say that, I need to add that I wish that people would not fight about it. I wish there was a commitment to keep the place going, no matter what. If the town could just agree on a budget that they could all live with and then make it work, it would be wonderful but they cannot agree. I cannot go through this same intense stress every year. I know there isn’t support there, and I cannot work for a town where the conditions are like that because it makes me sad.
After having been a teacher there for five years, I have to say that I feel the power of the history in the old building and its longevity. It has been around for over two hundred years. Many generations have learned inside its walls. I can’t stop thinking about the history because I feel it, every day when I am there.
I know that if it closes, I will figure out what else to do with myself. I may continue to teach, or a may be able to figure out a way be a writer. I am not worried about me, I never do. I also know that the students will be just fine too. They are wonderful children and they will learn in whatever environment they are in. But I am sad for the school. Yes, I said the school. It is a very unique building and has served its people well. We have made a decision as a country to go for the convenient things, the shiny and new things and throw away the old. We feel like the old things are not good enough anymore and we feel consolidating with other towns may be the solution. It is sad to be that something of such quality that is part of our history is being crumbled up and thrown away.
I’ve been other places. Consolidating is not the solution. It is the problem. We already had the solution right in front of us and I wish the town of Hancock would hold onto it. It has served them well for 207 years so far, and they should fight to maintain it. They should hold onto that bit of history with both hands and appreciate what so many other places don’t have anymore. Why lock the door and stop ringing the bell now?
Well, I suppose I can look at the bright side… maybe my classroom can be part of a historical tour for people from out-of-state to walk through. Like I said, it is charming, after all.
“Follow me folks. And over here we have a real slate chalk board where a teacher used to actually write with real chalk.”

Bread Loaf and Rona Jaffe Applications

I read the application for The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, one of the most prestigious conferences. The main application was only two pages. It was a typical application with expected requirements: name, address, phone number, occupation, which seemed easy.
But then, arriving at a specific section of the application caused me to feel a twinge of concern. “What do you hope to gain from attending the conference?” Nervous instantly, I worried about these amazingly intelligent writers on a committee criticizing my every word. Please don’t be insulted, I know rationally that it doesn’t happen that way. You know what to look for, and you know what you are doing. It is my issue completely. As soon as I know there is a particular type of audience, I start to second guess all of my answers and try to use words that make me sound smart, but the truth is I want to scream out to all of you and say “PLEASE PICK ME! I AM DESPERATE! I WANT TO BE ACCEPTED. I WANT TO BE CHOSEN!”
But that would be unorthodox and out of control, wouldn’t it?
So I sat and stared at the application and wrote what came into my mind.
But I did the same thing this time. Again, I thought about how to say things and tried. I sat back to read my answer, but it didn’t sound like me at all.
So, here goes…this is the one that counts.
What will I gain from Bread Loaf?
Since I am a writer… I will tell you some history in order to answer that question.
My childhood was spent without television. I was raised Mennonite (which meant that I was secluded from the world.) As a result, I developed what people refer to as an “overactive imagination.” At a young age, I knew how to read and write and did both of those things a lot.
The summer I turned twelve, I wrote a mystery that was 125 pages in length. I shared it with friends, who at the time were my colleagues. I was determined to grow up and become a writer. I was going to publish the great American Novel. My colleagues agreed. Who wouldn’t? I was young and still naïve then.
But then, I entered high school, Mennonite High School, and my teachers did not know how to handle me because I had a “dark voice.” I didn’t write about God and they were not sure what to do with me. They did not comment on the content or ideas of my writing. They only worked with me on grammar. I did not share my writing with people as often, but I filled notebooks with my thoughts.
I went to college and focused on becoming a teacher. I kept writing, by contributing to the college newspaper and local literary magazines. I even wrote a fashion column and wrote music reviews for a near-by record store.
I got a teaching job and contributed to the world by teaching little children how to read and write. Others say that should be good enough to satisfy me because I write a newsletter every month to parents.
But suddenly, it is twelve years later and the writer inside me keeps waking me up before the alarm clock. Since March of last year, I have written five drafts on a novel, four short stories and one children’s book. None of these works are published yet, but I am determined to make that happen. All I want to do is write about the fictional characters in my book. I talk to people about my work and expect them to know who I am talking about. I have shared my book with five colleagues and welcomed feedback. It helps to do these things, however I need more. That twelve year old inside of me has been quiet long enough. She wants to be heard.
So, what do I want to gain from attending The Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference? I want to gain some answers about me as a writer. I want to learn more, practice in context, network, talk about writing, and put Bread Loaf on my resume. I want to connect with other writers. I have been writing in isolation for long enough.
That’s my honest answer. Sorry it took so long to answer that question, but hey- I’m a writer. It’s what I do.

Rona Jaffe Scholarship Application

I qualify for this scholarship. As a writer, I am emerging like a thirteen year old who just had her braces removed.
Allow me to elaborate quickly in less than 500 words:
1. I am a woman. I can prove it… I gave birth twice. It hurt.
2. I have never been to Bread Loaf, although I have driven by many times. Oh, and I did crash a cocktail party and a few readings last year.
3. I do not work in academia, unless teaching first/second grade counts.
4. I yearn for creative support, although I hope it is gentle.
5. I could use some financial support. At Town Meeting this year, Hancock, Vermont is voting on whether or not to close the school where I teach. There is a push to consolidate small schools all over the state- and if this happens, I will lose my job. This school year we stayed open with help from grants and fundraisers. At a recent staff meeting, they told us to polish our resumes.
You found my Rona Jaffe application inside a bag. It is not a bribe; it is actually part of my application. I have been making these bags as vessels to house and promote my writing. I have been selling them with a copy of something I have written inside in order to share my writing and invite feedback. This “BLAG” is designed with Rona Jaffe’s character Caroline Bender (from her book The Best of Everything in mind.) Whenever I sell a BLAG, I put the money aside to send myself to Bread Loaf if I get accepted.
My apologies if I accidentally broke any rules. This is the context of how I have been writing. Good luck with your decision and thank you for your time.

Oh, I See

This is only my third blog I have ever written. You hardly know me, so allow me to elaborate slightly about my style. I will take awhile to come to the point of what I am trying to make… but I do eventually get there. Hang in there only if you have nothing else better to do. Grab a cup of coffee with me and sit down as I share my thoughts with you. Feel free to email me with comments.
I have two kids. Boys. Two of them. They are 6 years old and 4 years old and are great little guys. They have been the center of my world for some time now. But today, my world was a little off center. In fact, I could hardly keep up with my boys. I could hardly find them anywhere. Am I getting old?
Now, I have energy. I have a lot of energy, according to people who know me well, and in the last six years, I have tried to keep up with my boys. On many days I even try to outpace them by staying up later and getting up earlier than they do. But this risky practice of chronically sleep depriving myself comes at a cost; it is about $10.00 a month. It comes in a colorful box that has a lovely model (who probably doesn’t have two active boys) tilting her head to the side, visually boasting her perfect locks. She’s smiling at me suggesting with her coy expression that buying this $10.00 box of hair dye and applying it to my head late at night will solve of the world’s current problems. Check it out the next time you’re in the “I’m getting old” section of your grocery store. Hair dye temporarily covers the battle scars of gray hair that appear at my scalp and dries my hair out, but it is a band aid to cover my age. I fall for it once a month at least, all while I try to keep up with my boys as they run through the grocery store throwing things into the cart.
It is deep winter right now and I live in Vermont so people don’t see my hair very often anyway. In Vermont, wearing hats is trendy. In Vermont, hats are a fashion statement. In Vermont, people wear hats inside. In Vermont, people wear hats in bed. In case you were not aware of the climate in Vermont, is can be very cold for almost 365 days a year. In Vermont, there are people who make a living (I’m not kidding,) knitting hats out of attractive fibers and selling them to people who come to peep at the leaves. There is a woman in my town who (almost) sold a hat to my husband for $125.00… yes, over $100! She allowed him to leave the store with it (puppy dog sale,) to show me before he paid for it. I laughed at him because of the price (and the weird things dangling off of it) and taught myself to knit almost immediately. (That’s a topic for another blog.) Anyway, practically everyone in Vermont knits. I think it is a requirement to live here.
But there I go again… let me get back on track. Where was I? Oh yes. Living in Vermont.
I have a week off in February every year because the snow piles up and it is good to take a break from having to go out in it. I usually take this time to paint rooms and take my kids to the dentist. And this year, I had to acknowledge to myself that I needed to go to the eye doctor.
Drum roll please… here comes my age. I am almost 40 (for now,) and with that I have “tired eyes.” I made the appointment and brought my two boys with me. We chatted in the car on our way to the appointment about what an eye doctor does. They brought toys, and I (silly me) brought something to read (ha ha.) The eye doctor’s name is Dr. Soreas (yes… pronounced “Sore Eyes”.) Great name and he was great as well. I recommend him if you happen to live in Vermont and know how to knit. I was uncomfortable about the whole thing so I did what I normally do when I am uncomfortable… I talk a lot and crack jokes that very few people understand. Everyone did their job well by telling us where the bathroom was, escorting me from room to room, putting all sorts of drops in my eyes and pretending to laugh at my jokes. My eyes became numb. The made me rest my chin on a chin rest donned with lovely chin rest tissue and shined their blue laser lights in my eyes. As one of the machines moved away, I was suddenly only able to see far away. They escorted me back to the waiting room. I think someone held my hand because I was asking for a seeing-eye dog. My son’s allergic to dogs. I must have been desperate.
Now… here is where this blog will take a twist. Continue on only if you have nothing else better to do. At the end of this paragraph, you will no longer posses any more of the letter “i” in this blog because as soon as the drops took effect, everything in my life changed. Things close to me became blurry. My children’s faces became blurry and the things they were playing with on the floor became blurry. New people in the waiting room became blurry. And now you will know what I felt like for four hours because for the next four hours, I did not have full use of my eyes. Prepare yourself. For the remainder of this blog, you will not have use of any “i’s” either.
You can do _t.
Just f_ll _n the blanks. That _s what _ d_d.
They made me wa_t _n the wa_t_ng room for awh_le. _ got on the floor w_th my sons to bu_ld a tower. _ could not see how tall the tower was or what color the blocks were for that matter. My sons got bored of the blocks and dec_ded that they wanted me to read them a story. “But _ can’t. _ can’t see anyth_ng close by.”
My son moved the book across the room. “Can you see _t from here?”
Someone came and got me aga_n, and brought me to another room for yet another test. Now, _ don’t know about you, but _ rely a lot on fac_al express_ons when _ have a conversat_on. _ couldn’t even compl_ment p_ctures of the Dr’s k_ds. They looked cute from my perspect_ve… but truly, what d_d _ know?
He then asked me about glaucoma and whether or not _ had a fam_ly h_story or not.
“_ don’t th_nk so. But _’m not sure. _ can f_nd out.”
Shrugg_ng, we moved on. He took p_ctures of my opt_cal nerves. The camera flashed. _ th_nk _ saw a wh_te c_rcle. He told me th_s was a basel_ne photo for my f_le and that we would see each other three years from now. He told me _ should go to a store and try on var_ous glasses unt_l _ found a pa_r that worked for me. Very normal, he told me.
“You’re almost 40, r_ght?”
“That’s what they tell me!”
We moved to the front desk to make another appo_ntment. The woman at the desk sm_led, (at least _ th_nk she d_d) and told me that _t was up to me to remember to come back _n three years.
“_s _t safe for me to dr_ve?”
“Oh, yes. You’ll be f_ne. People do th_s all th time. Use these.” They handed me fash_onable plast_c bendable glasses.
“Everyone w_ll th_nk you are a mov_e star.”
My k_ds sa_d, “Please take them off mommy. _f you take them off, you can see better.”
“No , honey. Mommy has to wear them. Th_s _s the only way mommy can see.
Want_ng to forget the whole exper_ence, we moved out the door (w_thout my travel coffee cup because _couldn’t f_nd _t-, go figure)… and proceeded through the park_ng lot. Hold_ng t_ghtly to both of my boys, we moved to our car. As _ buckled them, _ touched the_r faces to make sure they were my boys. Although _ couldn’t really make out the_r faces, _ was pretty sure they were my boys. Concentrat_ng _ntensely, w_th blurry v_s_on, we drove down the road to a café so _ could rega_n some of my s_ght and share a hot chocolate.
Stop s_gns, road s_gns and oncom_ng cars were v_s_ble. How fast _ was dr_v_ng wasn’t. No, _ d_dn’t get pulled over. But _ d_d have to ask a complete stranger the pr_ce of the hot chocolate because _ couldn’t see the menu board.
“Eye appo_ntment.” _ sa_d.
“Dr. Soreas?” He asked.
“He’s great.”
He nodded… (_ th_nk.)
_ could torture you and descr_be the rest of my four hours w_thout eyes_ght… but you’ll be spared. You are smart enough to get the _dea.
The po_nt _s that today was a b_g day for me… today was the day _t was conf_rmed by a doctor that my body _s get_ng older.
Later on, we went to a store to p_ck out glasses. We walked to the reg_ster _mmed_ately. “Where do you keep the read_ng glasses?”
“Over there.” She po_nted far away to a rack, some d_stance away. _t was v_s_ble, thankfully.
“Okay. Thanks”
My ch_ldren behaved l_ke normal ch_ldren and grabbed at everyth_ng. They tr_ed to conv_nce me that we needed to buy everyth_ng _n the store. My blurry reflect_on _n stared back at me from the small m_rror, so _ let my oldest son p_ck out my new pa_r of glasses.
“Look at these mom. Do you l_ke these?”
(Look)… (ha ha ha)
“Sure.” Not be_ng able to see them or see myself, “we” settled on (_ real_zed later) a pa_r of colorful and flowery half-glasses. He knows me. He knows what _ l_ike, so here’s what I f_gured… _ may not be able to keep up w_th my k_ds anymore, or see them for that matter, but at least _’ll look cool to my s_x year old.
We moved to the reg_ster. Beneath my mother radar, my four year old clutched two handfuls of permanent markers. Th_s act of shopl_ft_ng had to be po_nted out to me by the clerk because _ couldn’t see. She handed me a cred_t card rece_ipt to s_gn as _ thought to myself, “God only knows what the total _s…”
Now that’s bad. On a good day, _ would catch my son shopl_ft_ng. How embarrass_ng! The hours of blurry v_s_on just couldn’t go by fast enough. _ began to expla_n our pecul_ar behave_or to th_s stranger, who probably tr_ed to call the author_t_es to take me away. _ was probably effect_ng bus_ness.
As we left the store, _t occurred to me that _ d_dn’t buy any ha_r dye. Before long, _’ll have to deal with my real problem… my age. Only last week (_t seems) they gave me an eye exam before _ got my dr_ver’s l_cense. Th_s almost 40 year old mother was just 16… (_t seems.)
The drops are wearing off.
Now I have use of my eyes again. You can have “i’s for the rest of the blog too.
I’ll try not to take my eyes for granted again. Wow. I can really see my scalp. So, that’s why people start to lose sight as they get older… so they can’t see themselves aging.
Was it better not to see? Perhaps I’ll manage to lose my glasses just like I lost my travel cup. I’m getting older. I can blame it on memory loss.
I need another cup of coffee. Where did I put my coffee cup?

Snow is a four-letter word

Living in this lovely state is a decision. It is not a place that you pass through and stay casually. It is difficult, inconvenient, and gorgeous all at once in practically every direction you choose to gaze at almost any time of day. The beauty exists mainly because there are so few people who decide to live here. When you live here you are gifted with gazing upon nature in all of its glory; it is primarily unchanged by man.
This blog entry is called “Snow is a four-letter word” because we have snow in Vermont. A lot of it. Lots and lots of it. Have I mentioned it snows here? Many people make their living from the tourism that exists because of the snow. We have booming ski resorts and entire ski towns that thrive only in the winter, and only about ten people live in these towns the rest of the year. These resort towns built up to be what they are because “flatlanders” (a topic for another blog) come from out-of-state to pay a lot of money to slide down our beautiful mountains. Skiing, obviously, is one of our biggest attractions, but people also seem to be pretty attracted to the ditches too. (Like my husband and I for instance.)
We are both from places other than Vermont, but we are grateful every day to live here. We love the narrow dirt roads, the quiet nights, the lack of cell towers and knowing every person we see when we go grocery shopping.
Just recently, we got a big storm. I got a call (from the person above me on the phone tree) at about six o’clock in the morning telling me we had a two-hour delay. They provided us extra time that morning so we had a chance to shovel our way out and for the plow trucks to do their jobs clearing and sanding the roads. When school is delayed two hours, or dismissed early, we do not have to make up a snow day, so a day like that is like a gift of extra time. But as I explained earlier it is not a gift of extra time really, because the extra time is absolutely necessary to shovel and scrape and dig out of the snow that has piled up outside (insert four-letter word here.)
Six times this year, that person called to tell me we didn’t have school. We were given six days because it just wasn’t safe enough to be out on the roads. The guy who makes the original phone tree call has to make his decision by about 5:30 each morning. He then has to inform the radios and television stations, the various schools, and the top name on the phone tree. That man is the superintendent to the entire school district, a school district that is divided through the middle by a large mountain. Any meteorologist will tell you that weather patterns vary depending on which side of the mountain you are on. Kids live on the mountains and the schools are in the valleys. This decision is not easy for the man who makes the call. In fact, there was one snow day this year, (it was a Friday) when he called a snow day based on the bad weather we were supposed to be getting later on. He can’t win. People were furious because we wasted an entire day and there was no NEW snow on the ground. But, everyone complains about his decisions because he’s the boss. Being good at handling people being mad about your decisions is in a superintendent’s job description. They complain about him no matter what he decides. Truth is everyone is just very tired of winter this year.
This is how the whole snow day thing works: at the beginning of the year, we are given a schedule of how the school year will look (until further notice.) They planned for us to be in school until June 19, 2008, but only if we don’t use any snow days.
Here’s the bad news: we used 6 snow days, so we will be in school in June an extra week and then some. I have already asked if we will have to watch the July 4th parade from the playground. An old timer-Vermonter, named “Shorty,” (he’s my height) told me that he remembers a July 4th where he didn’t get out of his car to watch the parade because he didn’t have a coat and there was a dusting of snow on the ground. I know “Shorty” pretty well, and he doesn’t lie. One day when we chatted at the post office, the day he told me about snow in July, he carried a tape measure in his pocket and happily informed me we received 8 inches the night before.
“And that’s in the Valley.” He pointed up to the mountain where I live. “I’m sure you got more up there.” That’s what Vermonters do when they are retired… they measure snow fall and keep us people in the work force informed.
Before I continue, I have to explain that we live in what I call “The Real Vermont.” We live in the White River Valley. It is a valley that winds itself through the “Heart of the Green Mountains.” It was formed by glaciers that cut through the area during the ice age. Scientifically, I think it is crucial to note that the glaciers that moved along were a mile thick, so this valley is about that deep in most places.
Our house is on top of a hill on top of a mountain. No, I mean it. It is steep. Our driveway was made by hippies (a topic for another blog) and it is steep and narrow, on a very steep incline. I will rant for a little bit: My kids and I fall and slip daily as we trek down to my truck from our house. It is slippery because it is snow and that is what it does best. That is why people ski in Vermont.
Our family’s two vehicles have been in three ditches (so far this year.) My truck has been stuck on ice, and our doors to our vehicles have frozen countless times. You can only imagine the four letter words that puff forth in a whisper when I try to get into my truck while my children fight over who gets to climb into the truck first. I dig my mittened hands into the crack on the door and think to myself, “No one is getting into the truck first because no one is getting into the truck.” This winter I broke a passenger window crank due to ice (completely my own fault because I tried to skip the scraping stage and just tried to open the window) and lost my tailgate on my truck into some nearby pile of snow, (to be found when all of it melts.) I have also been stuck in my truck (yes, inside), because the snow pile outside the door is so high and closed in that the door won’t open enough to let me out. And one time, when scraping my truck, I fell underneath it while my older son watched me disappear from sight. He laughed uncontrollably; I could hear him through the window. I got up and fell again two more times that morning while still holding the ice scraper in my hand. I don’t know how I didn’t stab myself or at least bruise an internal organ that morning. The only thing that helped me not say any four letter words, was my son’s belly laugh. I had to hear it as we drove down the mountain to the bus. It must have been a sight. He still brings it up and stills laughs in much the same manner. One morning, my husband was putting our computer into the car because it (the computer) had to be repaired. He had the computer in one hand and tried to open the car door with his free hand. His door was frozen and so he began to struggle. I watched this from a distance while I tried to get inside my own truck (which was also frozen.) I heard a grunt and looked uphill to my husband. All I could see was the computer, which was being held up by one gloved hand. My husband fell into a ditch, but managed to keep the broken computer out of the snow. Another time, as we hugged good-bye as a family by the truck, my husband grunted again and suddenly shrunk about a foot in height as another ditch swallowed him. I have stepped onto snow piles and sunk up to my hip to give my children room to walk past me with their big backpacks. Under my breath, I said a string of four-letter words.
But most of the time, like my son, I try to laugh when all of these things happen. It is a challenge because whenever we are out there, we are usually on our way somewhere and on a time constraint. When I fall, I have added 30 seconds onto my commute. When I laugh, I double-over manically and have added three minutes. When I am stuck or in a ditch, I have added an hour. Oh, and I forgot to mention that just yesterday, I broke my longest fingernail shoveling. It took most of the day to get over that one.
It can be cumbersome, to say the least, to go from point A to B with children who would rather throw snowballs and eat snow.
And we moved here from Phoenix! Out west, you simply get into your car and drive. The worst possible thing that could happen would be that your steering wheel might be too hot and your palms may get scalded.
We went from one extreme to the other. Now we live in the polar north east.
If you live in Vermont, you know Mark Green. He is our public radio meteorologist. The program is called the “eye on the sky.” He gives the weather report from the basement of The Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vermont. We love him because he is our connection, our touch-stone (if we can find a stone under all that snow.) He prepares us for what we will face out there in the elements. He is just downright weather-wise. From a tiny little battery-powered radio in our kitchen, he tells us the weather before the sun has risen. When we hear his voice, it is still dark outside and we can’t tell what it will be like out there. But he knows.
I love his voice. He has one of those radio voices that changes tone to keep the listener’s attention. I met him once when my class was on a field trip to The Fairbanks Museum. He uses that same voice all the time, even in casual conversation. I talked to him for about five minutes because I was curious about it.
“Do you live nearby?” I asked him.
“I live” (Insert dramatic radio pause here) “outside of town.” He smiled. He sounded just like he would sound on the radio, and he looked just like I pictured he would with his glasses… long hippie hair… and a smirk… Now that I know what he looks like I feel like he is sitting in our kitchen having coffee with us each morning while we listen to him talking about the weather.
The other morning, he (Mark Green) made me laugh. I thought you would like to hear what he said. Maybe you will laugh too, but maybe not. Maybe I laugh because I am seeing just a little bit too much snow piling up outside the window and it is the way I cope. So, here goes. I’ll try to quote him, word for word. “Sunrise this morning,” (Insert dramatic radio pause here) “though we won’t see it,” (Another pause) “is at 6:33.”
What Mark Green? We won’t see it?
He went on to explain, “Weather today,” (Dramatic pause) “Snow.” (pause) “The storm clouds today will be so thick that we will not see the sun. The sun will set this evening, but we won’t really see it until tomorrow.”
Here are some general statistics he also shared:
“This has been Burlington’s snowiest February.
This winter has been in Vermont’s top ten snowiest winters on record… ever.
Oh, and remember that the ground hog did see his shadow.”
Wasn’t that in Pennsylvania where I used to live before I got tired of snow and moved to Phoenix? I thought there was snow in Pennsylvania where a storm was 2 inches of snow.
But they don’t have an “Eye on the Sky” in Pennsylvania. I mentioned the stars here in Vermont. We can put our eyes on the sky in Vermont and we can clearly make out the constellations at night. We have clearly seen Northern Lights and Lunar Eclipses and shooting stars. We can look up and see magical beauty because there are no city lights lighting up the sky. When I put my eye on the sky I feel like it is just me and the sky. I can breathe fresh air. When the snow falls, it lands sweetly on the trees that surround my home. I see the softness as it reveals the pretty shapes and the loveliness of nature. On days when we can’t go to school, we slide down our driveway on sleds and savor the flavor of hot chocolate with marshmallows when we are done. And when the temperature is just right, the snow sparkles. I have stood and stared at it sometimes. It sparkles like the glitter my kids love to put all over the craft table.
So, I have learned to do this. I stare at the glittering snow until I can no longer resist. I jump into it and I roll over in it to make a snow angel while keeping an eye on the sky. I could never do that in Phoenix.
Here is the four-letter word I had in mind… LOVE… I really do love the snow. I have accepted the snow. It is part of my life here in Vermont, and if there wasn’t so much of it, Vermont would be just like Pennsylvania. If there was none of it, it would be just like Phoenix, and I left Phoenix because I wanted to experience some type of weather other than summer. And while summer is great… I LOVE the snow.
I’m looking out the window right now, and more of it is falling. I have to run some errands today, so I better start shoveling and scraping. If I am lucky, I’ll fall under the truck and make my son laugh. He loves it when I do that.