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Picking My Battles Posts

Happy Homemaking

If the Perfect Housekeeping Channel ever did a show about how NOT to maintain the perfect house, my life would give them enough fodder for 10 seasons of episodes like “How to Create Clutter in only 5 Minutes a Day” or “Make It from Microwave”.

The irony is that as a mom with one of those highly-coveted working-at-home-for-very-pleasant-people jobs, you’d think my husband would walk in the door of a perfectly-ordered house, with two smiling, clean kids and a perfectly-coiffed and aproned wife waiting to hear about his day. Instead, he drives down a dirt-and-gravel road to a dirt driveway and walks up the gravel pathway to our door where it seems that our unfinished concrete floor has acquired magnet properties that allow it to attract any type of mineral or organic material as long as it’s in toy form or has already been converted to dust.

I didn’t start out like this. When we first moved to Vermont and to our first real house, I was going to be the perfect country mom. I didn’t work from home back then (my husband got to be Mr. Mom for a bit), but a 40 hour workweek and a one year-old were not going to keep me from growing all our own heirloom gourmet vegetables, making my own bread from Vermont made flour to be served with homemade maple syrup in our perfectly-restored (and clean) 200 year-old farmhouse decorated with quilts I was going to make by hand. And it was all going to happen while we prepared our perfectly-mannered toddler (who had not yet hit the terrible twos) for private school and then, naturally, Harvard.

We did get the garden going, and even managed to find time to make a couple of gallons of maple syrup, but the quilting quickly became an excuse for collecting fabric that looked nice in clear plastic boxes in a shelf, and we were buying our sliced bread at the country store before the first snow fell. I had already mastered the art of maternal guilt by then, and each successive little concession was just another reminder that I was failing SuperMom 102 (I had only made it through 101 on probationary status).

And then, on our first anniversary as Vermonters, we went to our first Ox Roast – the town’s annual potluck feast whose centerpiece is a spit-roasted side of beef fresh from the field. At the time, I thought the homespun meal and the square dancing with our new neighbors were just what I needed to get my country skills back on track. But it wasn’t until a few nights later, when the hostess of the party called with 75 pounds of extra beef to sell (at $1 per pound), that I learned the most important country – and mom – skill of all.

Even divided into 75 single pound packages, 75 pounds of beef takes up a surprising amount of room in your freezer, and it was just the excuse I needed to buy the appliance I coveted most – another freezer. Our budget was tight so I turned to the Want Ads and found a promising listing for $50. It was just a town over, so one Saturday morning I strapped my almost two-year-old in the car and took a little field trip. When we got to their farm, my son and the seller’s adorable daughters toddled around her yard while she showed me her garden and the freezer, which was sitting in her barn right beside its successor. Possibly just to reassure me that she was selling because of a desire for better features and not any malfunction, she opened the new freezer which was already fully stocked with produce from her garden and healthy selection of distinctly unhealthy, un-homemade pre-packaged dinners.

“Have you ever tried their fried chicken?” She asked, pointing to a bright red box of frozen fried chicken. “It’s not as good as mine, but who has time to make it from scratch every night? I have too many other things at the top of my list.”

After that, I didn’t make concessions. I slaughtered sacred cows.

High Society


Now I wish I’d bought one of the posters.  The artwork and layout didn’t jump at me, but the pictures and the very existence of the posters perfectly embodied the improbable event they commemorated.

The Colonial Carriage and Driving Society’s Pleasure Driving Show was not a spectator sport.  Rather, it begged participation, and its participants defy easy classification.  At first glance, its members were mostly female, often mature, or even older, but they came to this historic sport from countless directions.

Set against a carefully-crafted backdrop of bucolic splendor on a private farm in Stockbridge, MA, the competition consisted of well-dressed, drivers in phaetons and buggies driving their equally well-groomed horses or ponies through a series of obstacles.  Drivers were judged only on speed and accuracy.  The early 20th century clothing and bonnets are a tribute to the sport’s inspiration.


The first easy impression would be be that only the well-inherited could afford to participate in a competition like this and, to be sure, there are quite a few well-heeled entrants.  However, there were plenty of spunky enthusiasts who had found their way in through horse rescue organizations, or through different types of crisis survival groups.  There were salty grandma’s barking at their chargers, there were young girls fresh off their first introduction to “My Friend Flicka.”  There was a horse therapist with a pony name Ohio.  And all of them were as colorful than their ribbon- and flower-festooned bonnets.

At first I kept reminding myself that this quaint tableau was just an illusion, but the day’s organizers and competitors pulled our whole family into their world, sharing its history and introducing us to our own.  And when we started on our way home, we took with us a renewed conviction that substance can still beget beauty.

News of the World

Today the UN suspended its mission in Syria and the killing continued as an indifferent human community said, “These things happen”.

Today the President and the loyal opposition engaged in another pointless pissing contest that will only leave the people they serve all wet.

Today Chicago’s murder rate eclipsed Kabul’s.

And today, the mountains were impossibly green. The sky was crystal blue etched with feathery clouds. The air was crisp and, as the wind thundered through the permanently-open windows of the beat-up SUV that was one of millions of contributors to some of today’s events, the news of the world was mercifully drowned.

Never Look Down

Wearing a double XL running tank that should have been marked L and with an iPod strapped to my arm, I slowly shift shapes as a bland but firm male voice interrupts my music with alternating commands to run and walk. Racing and then creeping through the forest, I am now a deer – slender and swift. I begin to eagerly anticipate the cues for each sprint as jealousies and regrets evaporate with my sweat.

And then the forest becomes field, and my shadow joins the race. I set the pace and manage to stay in front until we round the tree at the bottom of our drive. Suddenly my shadow is beside me – a thin curving line – more of a cantaloupe shape than the hourglass I was just imagining, but still slender.

We make the turn back up the dirt road, racing toward the cover of the trees with the rising sun behind us. I glance at the ground just before the trees swallow my shadow whole, but I have ample time to see that it the slender cantaloupe has morphed into a walrus. On stumps. It is a blob that is a tutu shy of a starring role in Fantasia number. My sprint slows to a walk well before the next command. The trees have fully consumed my shadow when the next sprint begins, and I am no longer fleet, but now I know enough to never look down.


O to be a nearly comatose cat lying on one’s back on a rug in front of a red-hot woodstove, arms and legs outstretched to the world, the only movement made by a tail twitching just often enough to be reminded of how nice it is to be warm and lazy and nearly comatose in front of a red-hot woodstove.

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