Category Archives: rural
In December, 1,500 toys were collected one by one for the children of our Vermont town’s “sister city” in Ukraine. Once again, our town thought it would be a miracle if our shipment made it. Once again, we gave it a go anyway.
Thought it might be nice to remind people of the good in this crazy world. Thank you to everyone who helped make it happen. Here’s a great little video from the woman behind the sleigh. Break out the Kleenex®.
There seems to be some pushback this year, in various media, against the “Magic of Christmas.” I understand. Times have changed. It’s not Bing Crosby’s holiday so much any more. Hallmark’s cookie-cutter Christmas movies seem woefully out of touch. (The personal assistant saves the day and wins the heart of the widowed billionaire… again! The guy on the Snow Ball committee helping the down-and-out girl, able to value her quirky ways, is secretly… a prince… again! With the requisite cookie-baking scene…flour on his and her noses… adorable!). What happened to the good stories? They used to be good.
This year perhaps more than most, money is an issue, germs remain an issue, and weather, fuel costs and world events are bringing us down. Power outages have caused many people and businesses real hardship. Perhaps a creature or person you love died. It’s hard to care much about the Perfect Gift—or even wrapping it. I, for one, used to get very, very into wrapping.
They say nostalgia glosses over the past. Makes it seem prettier or more enchanted than it was at the time. As a nostalgic, who talks to other nostalgics, I don’t buy that. We say it was in fact enchanted. The following story illustrates when Christmas was pure magic.
I preface the tale with my own childhood proclivity for holiday snooping. Driven in part by our keen sense of smell, my siblings or I would notice something in December when we went to, say, get a towel from the closet. That smell. Sniff, sniff. Why does it smell like that in here? The unmistakable smell of… fun.
The smell of toys. Plastics. Whatever they pumped into the air in toy stores to make you want live there. That smell was, weirdly, right in our own closet. Let us get a step stool and investigate! Dear Reader knows where I’m going with this. Snooping for presents secreted away by the parents during the weeks leading up to December 25th. Many of them mercifully already wrapped by the grandparents and aunts who’d mailed them.
On to the story. I hope to do it justice.
My Vermont friend was a little boy growing up with his older brother in the 1960s. Remarkably, their parents took seasonal nighttime jobs in addition to their already demanding day jobs in order to pull together a nice Christmas for their two sons. Which left the sons entirely to their own devices several nights per week. At which point the snooping naturally began.
They found in a closet one year a well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. Overcome with excitement, they got on the step stool and brought it down. Very, very carefully, they unboxed it. And proceeded to put it together. It was complicated and took a long while. Then they played with it happily for hours. With an eye to the clock, they very, very carefully re-boxed it, got on the step stool, and put it away. Each night they went through this ritual. Each night they got faster at assembling the set, and at re-packaging it perfectly.
On Christmas day the boys could have won Oscars® for the gleeful surprise they displayed upon opening the well-made and elaborate Lionel train set they had badly wanted. They were eager to put it together, this time without fear that they might get caught. The train set was finally theirs.
The parents were beside themselves with the Christmas Day delight they had brought to their sons. All their hours of hard work had paid off. They felt as much joy as their sons. Their joy was overtaken by astonishment. Look at them go! Our boys! How could our sons be this clever, this talented, that they could assemble the thing with such rapidity? They must be advanced, possibly even geniuses! Clearly, they must go into engineering.
I love that story. I don’t know if they ever told their parents—ask David Atkinson for the full story. For now, it stands as is: a charming, true tale told at dinner one night at a holiday party in Vermont. It brought the house down. Magical times revisited.
The story takes me back to our own childhood. When Mommy would make a huge deal about snowfall, illuminating the outside lights and opening the curtains so we kids could gaze at the different sizes and shapes of the swirling flakes. When Dad building a fire was a thrilling and special occasion; even the dog got excited. When hot chocolate was made by us children with 50% marshmallows—the big, fat, “jet-puffed” kind—as tinsel clung to our polyester pants and dog, and the parents sloshed brandy into their eggnog. Our hearts soared at the holidays.
Now Mommy is gone and Dad can’t build a fire. But there is still something about snow falling, seeing someone drive by with a carefully selected tree atop their car, children terrified or overjoyed to meet Santa at a town gazebo, and the first few bars of pretty much any Bing Crosby carol. It legitimizes our nostalgia. There was holiday magic. There was. I was there, I felt it. As, hopefully, Dear Reader, did you. If we can’t feel it this year, for whatever reasons, let us quietly watch others feel it. It’s out there. Even if we’re taking a year off ourselves. Good (holi)day to all, with love and memories.
Tip for Parents: Hide the step stool.
All the old Vermont post cards depicting fall foliage had on the back the phrase, “ablaze with color!”
Ever since I had a tiny bush at my then-house go ablaze 20 years ago, I’ve looked for the underdogs during foliage season.
Look at this runty little feller, admired by none.
Virginia Creeper, I presume.
Truly sad. But it’s happy you’re looking at it!
This is some kind of weed. But ablaze.
I love this thing. No idea what it is. Wait –there’s an app for that (“Seek”)!
It’s a Smokebush. I highly recommend. Obviously can stand nasty winters and summer drought. Doesn’t grow too quickly.
It drops mini tumbleweeds. And it’s turning…maroon.
Surprised you made it this far.
Every dog has its day? Not always, IMHO, but today they did.
THANK YOU from the underdogs of foliage.
This time of year, the romantic love promo machine kicks into high gear. People without a partner, or a partner that seems not to care, feel Less Than. It’s enough to make you irritable.
But then everyone is irritable lately, so you’ll blend right in. Even Siri is cranky. “Ready to send it?” she asked this week. I did not respond quickly. READY TO SEND IT?? she repeated. I said never you mind, Missy, I’ll send it myself.
The reality is you don’t need romantic love to be happy. You can love all manner of things. Your home. The arts. A creature. Night. Friend Denise said that in 2022 she wants to do more things that bring her joy. Smart. Maybe you love a sport or hobby. Doing good deeds. Cooking. Napping.
Me, I love bargains. Like discounted grocery items (expired oatmeal: the other ancient grain), and buying used medical supplies on eBay. Also watching the Olympics, much as the winter sport crashes terrify. Resting. Learning an instrument or language. Sending unexpected gifts. And reading those three little words that form the perfect sentence. More on that later.
Angels among us
In December I searched online for Flash Mobs because my niece had suggested we do one at a Catholic christening we were to attend. I gazed at Youtube, entranced by mall shoppers suddenly ripping into Ode To Joy. As one will, I got sucked into other Youtube recordings, and came across Angels Among Us by Alabama. Despite the corny 80s filming and styling (sunglasses indoors) and overt whiteness, I dug the song; the images of simple people who had done great deeds (including two children) had me bawling. I dare you.
Never trust a snow bank
In a recent storm, I drove through a slender snowbank in a parking lot, which sadly concealed a curb I had never seen before. In nautical terms, I ran aground. After frantic calls to the manly men I know, no one could help beyond some best-guess suggestions, including Trusty Editor who was, I think, impressed with my trick driving. I sped on foot to NAPA for pro advice, where two manly men were eating pizza in a large pickup, the kind of rig that means business. You could tell they were the sort of men that know…everything. I explained my car was on a curb. Expressionless, they set aside their pizza and followed me.
At the scene, one instructed, “You’ll throw it in reverse and we’ll lift it.” (You’ll LIFT it? A car?) Sure enough, after briefly analyzing angles, they lifted it exactly right, off the curb. I gushed, “I wish I could embrace you without COVID!” One replied, almost amused, “There are nice people out there.” With no ado they returned to their truck and pizza pie, which I’d have paid for if I’d had any cash. While they looked like the type of men that don’t accept much in the way of thanks for a good deed, I nonetheless should have offered. Gentlemen, if you see this, I owe you a pizza. Good people indeed. Angels among us.
So, Dear Reader, stop being cranky, shop local for your Valentine, whoever or whatever that is, and do things that bring you joy. Lie down outside and look at the stars. Help or be helped by a stranger. Build a snow fort. And, oh, the perfect three little words? Reduced To Clear. Bring on the bargains. Good day.
This summer we were overjoyed to revisit our most beloved spots, events, and people – before the snow flies and COVID handcuffs us anew. Yet another winter where we don’t get to hang out with people indoors? Oof. We’ve gotten clever, though. We’ll find new ways not to lose our minds.
Temporarily freed this summer, we jetted around like dragonflies suddenly winged. We went to Chandler, the Bethel Drive-In, Montague golf course, Vermont’s rivers, ponds, and lakes (nice and full due to RAINS), White Cottage, Blue Moon, and Red Door (free jewelry cleaning and inspection! Watch batteries!), hardware stores, and pizza joints, to name a few. Now we’re scrambling to do things outside even when unmotivated because, suddenly, the sun is low in the sky. Winter is coming.
Which is good news because sometimes summer goes on a little too long, no? Maybe not for college kids, whose schools summon them earlier and earlier, but, growing up, the last two weeks of summer were just painful. That lingers today for me, though I still manage to be saddened by the closing of each pool, park, festival, and outdoor eatery at end of season.
Like many, I hates change and was crushed to return to Vermont and see Belmains and the Woodstock yarn store gone forever … among other places … poof! But gladdened to find other joints afloat or nascent, with open doors and rules in place. Randolph’s Playhouse Movie Theater and Chef’s Market and Rumor Has It. Colorful Life Creations in Bethel. Libraries, public pools, and post offices. Hair salons galore. Must be more heads around here than are evident.
Togetherness made a comeback, carefully. People got together in ways they have been unable to for a long time. With travel still iffy, looking for ways to connect? Try a chorus, or house of worship – before the COVID numbers go up and make things go virtual again (one church in Randolph is in a thrift store—I’ll bet it’s good). It can give you a real boost. Most Sundays I cry at incredibly poetic or moving words, spoken by ordinary folk. Or try volunteering with youth. That’s cheering, for whatever reason. Their little faces? Their energy? When they listen to what you have to say, and you listen back? Another option: talk to strangers, where convos are very surface-y and likely to be upbeat and interesting. There was a great article in The Atlantic on this.
Or create togetherness. Start a blog. What’s that? A Web-log. You’re reading one right now. No one does these any more, some say. But I believe that everyone who wants one should make one. It’s easy and free. You can count your viewers and countries of origin. Heartening. My most popular search terms people use are hilarious (to me): The Mullet is Making a Comeback, Dear Certified Finalist, and Skinny-dipping in Vermont.
I have not actually seen the mullet make a comeback, but other things have. The Rolodex® (you can’t mistype what you’re entering into it, repeatedly – it’s paper!); the flip-top desk (hide your mess from view with a swing of your arm!); going to bed early (why stay up soaking in bad global news?). Also a resurgence in nature: birds, bees, and butterflies everywhere.
Other things making a comeback, from the nutters I call friends: puzzles, Pinochle, cribbage, bridge. Sundays at the lake. Eighties fashions, overalls, rompers, hair scrunchies, hair bonnets, high-waisted jeans, hot dogs, fanny packs, the ukulele (again?), state fairs, tumbleweeds, saying Eureka!, steak sauce, shoe cobblers (let’s hope), fascism. My boyfriend when they were invented loathed the term “fanny pack.” He swung his around to the front and called it a Crotch Pouch.
Mercifully, Randolph’s New World Festival made a delightful, controlled comeback. Mental snapshots I won’t forget: women dancing in the rain; the little boys talking to their idols, the big boys; Le Vent du Nord whipping the dance floor into an otherworldly frenzy. These musicians are intergalactic beings sent by God to uplift.
Next up, Tunbridge World’s Fair. Catch you there, even if we don’t recognize each other masked. Name tags might make a comeback. Good health, and good day.
Here you can see he’s getting angular. Clearly something is going on inside. I’ll paraphrase from this gory article. Enzymes are digesting the caterpillar! Inside him are embryonic-type cells growing called “imaginal disks.” One imaginal disk will become, for example, a wing; a butterfly has 4 wings. There are imaginal disks that form the legs, antennae, and other parts.
Inside this thing, until a few days ago, was a — yuck — “bag of rich fluid media” that the cells started growing on. He has been getting shorter.
“The entire internal contents of the caterpillar — the muscles, the entire digestive system, even the heart…the nervous system — is totally rebuilt. It’s like you took your…Ford into the shop and left it there for a week and it came out as a Cadillac.“
What’s nerve racking is the black line at top. I can’t tell if it’s a discoloration or an open slit. There are parasites that bore a hole, but I’ve read nothing about a slit.
I add this shot because it shows a little better that the dots along the slit are an exquisite gold that goes beautifully with the chrysalis’ green.
The nail biter continues, folks. I do hope he’s still alive in there, parasite-free. This is why we don’t watch nature shows. Who can take the anxiety?
It won’t be long now, either way. We’ll know by Friday, you and I.
I read recently how having a smartphone is like having a slot machine in your hand. Every time you pick it up, you wonder what you’ll get. You’ve just got to know what you’ve received since you put it down. On your email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. Three cherries?
A friend said, “Having this object within your reach is addicting.” I thought she meant that having the Encyclopedia Britannica in hand to answer your every question in the moment was addicting. She meant the slot machine.
There are other effects: texting neck, thumbs supposedly growing larger, people losing the ability to read facial cues, families texting instead of talking within the home, device lights bedside ruining sleep, mysterious waves irradiating our brains…who knows? For sure: teens hiding in their darkened rooms gaming (weird) instead of fleeing their parents (normal) to run around in the woods (healthy).
A woman on a plane told me she’d instructed her grandkids, “Leave those things in the car.” Horrified, they asked, “What will we do?” Her response: Talk to each other.
When people go on such “screen diets,” limiting their hours on devices, they feel freed yet perilously untethered. When we misplace our phones we absolutely panic, the cost and nuisance aside. We are disconnected, lost at sea. An animal cut off from its herd. Danger!
I once asked a techy friend a techy question and he said he knew the answer at one time but no longer needed to commit anything to memory because his External Brain had all the answers. How many times have you looked up a fact on your device and immediately forgotten the answer? Because you don’t need to know it any more.
Your “multi-purpose mobile computing device” has crazy stuff inside: a magnetometer, proximity sensors, barometer, gyroscope and accelerometer (Wikipedia!). Is all that in our internal brains?
The stats about smartphone use – 3 hours daily for adults, way more for teens – boggle. A decade ago it was 90 minutes. Apps are designed for addiction, with intentionally varying (slot machine!) reward patterns that tease your brain’s reward circuitry. We’re hooked.
With my phone, I mainly communicate – a lot. I’m hooked on communicating. I stress when I realize I haven’t responded to a missive, when the reality is that people send so many that they are hardly waiting for my answer.
If your kid constantly consulted an encyclopedia, you’d be thrilled. That’s the gorgeous Internet. But how many people are doing this? I do searches and read various newses, but mostly I’m texting and forwarding funny stuff. I “Google” with tremendous urgency things like, “Who’s hosting SNL?” or “What does Serena Williams weigh?” Not: “What is a Rhodes Scholar?”
So despite what most impresses about our devices — the world at our fingertips — many use ours mostly to spread joy. Nice! Until: suddenly the day’s over and your free time went down the iDrain. Your room untidy, tasks incomplete…and that class you were gonna take? The bridge club you were to form? All gone. When I’m in Boston I’m texting Vermont and when in Vermont I’m texting Boston when, really, who cares what I’m up to? Why do I have to “report in?” Send a photo? Suggest a restaurant?
I mostly quit Facebook. Because every time I went in, OOPS, there went another :45. I could’ve learned a musical instrument in the hours I wasted reading rampant, silly pandering in there – “Beautiful!”, “That roast looks delicious!” or, the worst, “You look like sisters!” where a woman and her daughter are pictured. Madness.
The line for phone etiquette is ever moving. First, it was rude to talk on your phone in an elevator with trapped others listening to the asininity of your half-convo. Then that became fine, then to be on your phone at a meal. Then to set your child up at a restaurant with an iPad, no earbuds. We don’t look up from our phone when people speak to us. We answer their questions while typing. Lately, I don’t look at them while we’re talking no matter what I’m doing. I first ascribed that to the increased concentration required in your 50s for word retrieval and recalling the names of celebrities. I’m staring a chair leg trying to describe a movie (Ryan … Gosling? Wait: Reynolds … er … O’Neal? Let me check my External Brain.) No, I’m not old; I’m just rude.
What’s the solution? Tweet suggestions to #rudeandgoingblindfromlooking10inchesawayallday. Happy Pesach, Happy Easter, and good day.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @uvgvt. Or by opening your mouth and forming words I receive with 2 sensors on my head.
Another week, another protest. This one against the “non-ban.” Alt-facts and the temporary lift of the “non-ban” aside, Winooski gathered for the smallest, proudest protest of the Land, held in the center of its infamous rotary. Even the sun participated.
True fact: the Burlington area is famously refugee-friendly, has been for decades. That’s Vermont for you. First in so many things, including outlawing slavery, allowing blacks and women into its (first in the nation) private military college, first state college, and of course the first rope tow. Let’s not forget: first in civil unions. Yay, ‘mont!
Here’s some more signs, mostly last-minute, with heart.
Fall is a time of endings. A time to bask in nostalgia and perhaps mourning. Some exceptional people have left our plane recently and it’s easier in autumn, somehow, to wallow in the loss. I go right down to bottom; I’m not a shallow diver. Anything less feels like I’m not getting the job done right.
In middle age, I try not only to navigate but enjoy life’s vicissitudes. When I’m up I know I’ll go down and – mercifully – vice versa. Our experience on earth is to be a rich one. We are not to be stuck in one mood; that would be annoying. So when Stick Season gets a tad dreary, just picture how we all recently hopped aboard the Foliage Express, cruising around in awe in a magical world of dappled, colorful light and canopied dirt roads, the sun low in a Superman-blue sky as we wondered how musicians who penned all-time great songs (Billy Joel; Phil Collins) also wrote such toads (Tell her About It, 1983; Sussudio, 1985).
Living here has mental health advantages. As an auctioneer at a fundraiser recently put it while auctioning off a dinner at someone’s home, “And their back yard is a gorgeous natural wonderland … which describes about 97% of Vermont.” True. Most of us can walk less than a mile and see a lovely slice of paradise. Of help during dark tymes.
And like humans everywhere, Vermonters throw feel-goodevents. Randolph’s New World Festival, Woodstock’s Lobster on the Green, the Tunbridge World’s Fair. All that dancing and eating and merrymaking, the grease of many nations, the musicians and animals and maple and historic historicness of it all … we just had that. We’ll have it again. For now, in blustery weather, why not lift your voice in song? Join a choir or chorus or hospice group. Sing in the car. Public restroom. Feed store. Do it. Cheering!
A friend sent me an article about High Functioning Anxiety. The poor person who wrote it was clearly living a life of self-loathing eased only, if cleverly, by X-treme busy-ness. No stranger to combatting distress with busy-ness myself, I felt bad for the author but had to wonder: why are so many people so miserable in modern tymes?
A Dalia Lama op-ed piece noted that modern man has more literacy, less infant mortality, less poverty and less hunger. He suggested our despair stems from people not feeling they are needed or contributing. Add to that, IMHO, the unreal images of love and careers projected on all our screens, plus Lord knows what environmental stressors. Hell, when mankind had few choices, struggling to survive pestilence and droughts, we were grateful for a meal and a bed and a set of teeth. Now, that’s not enough. The friend writes: “Laura Ingalls Wilder had a terribly hard life, but did she sit there and worry? No, she did not! She went and twisted hay for fuel during the Long Winter.” So what’s the answer?
A trip to Bethel. Whodathunk? The renovations of its town hall and churches, the post-Irene bridge, cozy eateries, good meats at the Central Market, the Little Library in a cleaned-up downtown, pop-up “university” Bethel U, … cheerful progress! I’ve been a fan of Bethel since 1969, because we could exchange our parents’ beer cans for fishing lures and because I hate change and it never, ever changed. But this change is good. You and Bethel: perfect together.
So once you’ve sufficiently enjoyed your dark, autumnal introspection, bask in Vermont’s boggling natural splendour, ponder fun tymes you’ve had, read Little House on the Prairie, consult the Thanksgiving Argument Generator online, daytrip to Bethel, and for God’s sake, sing. Time marches on. Before you know it you’re in your 50s keeping a bladder diary. Good warbling, and good day.
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