In the Flesh

February 28, 2013 § 7 Comments

For anyone who would like to meet in person, maybe share some conversation and/or a beer, I have updated my sorely neglected appearances page. There will be more dates coming, as scheduling for the SAVED world  anyplace-I-can-get-to-and-back-in-an-evening tour has only just begun.



Let Them Eat More Cake

February 27, 2013 § 4 Comments


I would like to add a brief addendum to what I wrote yesterday regarding kids and money.

In short, I believe there is tremendous value in having your children bear witness to a certain amount of struggle, if only because I’m pretty well convinced that struggle is foundational to the development of both character and gratitude. This is particularly true when kids are allowed to be part of the process of resolving struggle. I do not want Fin and Rye to grow up immersed in the expectation that life should be only plenty, and that they are entitled to the many comforts and conveniences that even we, in our embrace of patched-together rural rusticality, avail ourselves of.

The key, I suppose, is finding the correct balance between struggle and struggle, between something that is occasionally hard, yes, but also in a strange way uplifting, and something that is merely grinding and dispiriting.

And believe me, if I knew exactly what that balance looked like, I’d shouting it from the high hills of Cabot, Vermont.

Let Them Eat Cake

February 26, 2013 § 8 Comments


Yesterday, I received this comment/question:

I’m not sure if this is the appropriate place to put this question, but my husband and I are just starting the ‘when are we going to procreate’ conversation, and we think that we need to gather some info about how much kids really cost. We don’t have any friends with kids who live our kind of home-steady life, but I know you just wrote a whole book about money. Did you talk about money in the context of kids? Any chance you have some thoughts on the topic that you’d be willing to share here? My husband is specifically worried that if we don’t buy land and build our little cabin before having kids, we’ll be renters for the rest of our lives.

Goodness me. Where to begin? First, to the question of whether or not SAVED includes a discussion of money in the context of kids, the answer is absofreakin’lutely, although there are so many aspects to the intersection of these two life-defining forces, I can’t really say that anyone in particular is going to find the answers they’re looking for. I know that’s not much of a sales pitch, but hey: At least it’s honest.

I guess I’ll start with a little story. Fin was born in January, 2002, right in the messy midst of constructing the addition to the humble shack that had served as shelter for Penny and me for the previous half-decade or so. He was born at home, and I clearly remember a hurried attempt on my part to tidy up the construction zone in preparation for the midwife’s arrival. This was to be her first visit to our home, and since I already sensed that she didn’t like me all that much, I wanted to make a particularly good impression. (I should note that this is entirely out-of-character for me, but what can I say? I was about to become a father; I wasn’t thinking too clearly)

So whilst Penny was laboring in the unfinished upstairs bedroom (which is to say, there was a bare room with a mattress on the floor on which we slept, so we called it a “bedroom”), accessed via a set of unfinished stairs (which is to say, there was a ascending set of wobbly rough plank treads, so we called them “stairs”), I busied myself humping the table and chop saws to the basement and consolidating the various piles of debris. Anyway, the midwife arrived, took one look around the place, and said “Well, you’ve certainly got a long ways to go.” At which point she proceeded to park herself in a rocking chair and drift off to sleep in the middle of the damn doorway to the bedroom. Every time I sucked in my gut and squeezed past her chair on my way to bring Penny something or other, I felt like tickling the tender insides of one of her big, snoring nostrils with a knitting needle. Needless to say, we retained the services of a different midwife for Rye’s birth.

I suppose the point of this story is to note that beyond being warm, fed, and clothed, kids need ridiculously little. Fin was born into a construction zone, with few of the assumed conveniences of contemporary American life. His first nights were spent in between Penny and me, on a mattress in an otherwise bare room. We had no kitchen counters, no shower, and in many rooms, there was no drywall. But he was warm, and well fed, and we held him constantly. It was plenty.

Over the years, we have worked to maintain our boys’ modest expectations regarding material goods. This is not to say they don’t have stuff; they do. But they rarely get new stuff, and the sheer quantity of what they own pales in comparison to pretty much every other child I know. We have been vigilant, if not militant in compelling our parents to comply. They simply are not allowed to give them toys or other baubles. The rules are: homemade, books, or music. Otherwise, they can pretty much forget it. Regarding clothing, I literally cannot remember the last time our boys got anything that wasn’t handed down, made by Penny or a grandmother, or came from a thrift store. Actually, that’s not true: About two months ago, Penny bought them some socks at the annual Darn Tough factory sale. I think she paid $1.50 per pair.

Look, kids are expensive, there’s no question about it. Relative to most, our kids are cheap keepers. We grow most of our own food, we don’t spend much on stuff, and they generally don’t ask for things, ‘cause they know they ain’t gonna get it, anyway.

But of course that’s not the whole story, because certainly there are expenditures. Right now, between music lessons and Fin’s wilderness school, we’re shelling out a couple grand annually. Not only that, but by choosing to educate at home, in the absence of distractive technologies such as television and other digital entertainment, we allocate enormous quantities of time to the boys. If we were of the mind to equate time with money… well, then we’d probably have the priciest offspring in town. Thankfully, the lie that time is money is one we got wise to some time ago.

Look, without knowing the gritty particulars of someone’s financial situation, it’s hard to know how to advise them. And even then, it just seems so damn personal. Really, who am I to say?

To which I will add only one more thing: I don’t know anyone who wishes they hadn’t had kids because the little buggers are too expensive. Doesn’t mean these people don’t exist, only that I haven’t met them. And if I did, I sorta suspect we wouldn’t have much in common.

What, No World Peace??

February 25, 2013 § 4 Comments


Overheard this weekend:

Fin: “Rye, if you could wish for any three things in the world, what would they be?”

Rye (without hesitation): “A donkey, traps, and a cabin.”

Speleng Bea

February 22, 2013 § 2 Comments

Let’s say you’re wicked bored tomorrow night, or just have a charitable bone or two in your body. In either case, come on down to the Kellogg Hubbard Library in Montpeculiar for the inaugural Cabin Fever Spelling Bee. It’s a fund raiser for the library and me n’ a bunch of other VT authors will be in the hawt seets.





A Good One

February 21, 2013 § 11 Comments


This morning it was 5 degrees and blustery, with a noncommittal snow flurry swirling in the arctic air. It had snowed the day before, too, and what with the snow and the wind, the front hill of our quarter-mile driveway was host to some impressive drifts. I hadn’t plowed the first storm, since I’d yet to replace the lift chain that had broken a few days prior, leaving us with little choice but to scrape clean a mile’s worth of gravel road before pulling into Will’s barnyard. “Hey, Will,” I asked, “Would you be able to run us home?” Instead, he scrounged in his workshop for a random assortment of bolts and washers and chain and we cobbled together a temporary fix that would allow us to traverse the remaining four miles of road that separates our place and Will’s. This is one of the things I so appreciate about living in a rural community populated by resourceful folk: Things don’t stay broken for long.

Still and all, the fix was unlikely to hold up to the sort of thrashing a good plow session delivers, so I’d procured the hardware necessary to effect a more permanent repair. Which is how I came to be bent over the plow at 7 this morning, drilling and wrenching and pushing and cursing, at least some of which required the dexterity of bare hands. By the time I had everything up and running I was as cold as I’ve been in a good long while, and I ain’t talking the life-affirming sort of cold I spoke of a couple weeks back. No, I’m talking a cold so deep and settled I swore my bones hurt. With the plow fixed, and chores finished, I retreated to the house, where Penny had fried up a mess of bacon and a big ole pan of scrambled eggs, and toasted the two remaining sourdough bialys I’d made when we’d had company a couple nights prior. The boys love bialys, which, for reasons that thankfully elude me, they’ve taken to calling “toilet knuckles.”

After breakfast, the boys and I set out to plow, and almost immediately I commenced to dropping the front end of the truck into a ditch at the furtherest end of the driveway. We hiked back and I got the tractor going and puttered out to the truck, whereby I proceeded to extricate it with the log winch. I was warm now, and furthermore strangely pleased by this complication; I have always loved the honest challenge of a stuck vehicle, particularly when I have an arsenal of pulling implements at my disposal. With the truck freed, Rye and I finished plowing (Fin was off to his weekly wilderness skills school), then walked back to retrieve the tractor and there was a moment, with him seated on my lap and me piloting the big beast down the freshly plowed driveway and the sun almost breaking through the clouds that I thought it might be the most perfect morning of my winter. It made no sense and yet there it was. I’d been up since 5:30, gotten both fires going, made coffee, milked and done chores, fixed the plow, gotten stuck, gotten unstuck, scraped snow off the solar panels, and eaten breakfast. It was just a bit after 8 and in many ways, my day had not yet begun.

But already I knew it was gonna be a good one, that even if it somehow turned to shit I’d have the memory of that moment on the tractor with Rye, one of those immersive moments when I am somehow able to harmonize with all the disparate strings of my imperfect life and it feels as if everything is in tune. I love these moments, but am never able to predict or concoct them, and they seem to strike at the most unlikely times.

So I slowed the tractor down a bit to try and draw it out and Rye put a hand on the steering wheel and we rode home.






The World at Hand

February 19, 2013 § 5 Comments


It was warmer this morning than it has been for the past few mornings – the thermometer nudging a balmy 10 degrees above zero – and Rye was up and out before it was fully light. The boy has caught the “fever,” which is the preferred colloquialism for the affliction that strikes a certain subset of the population preparing to spend the next three or four weeks engaged in the blood letting of sugar maples. For the past month, he has been amassing a pile of slabwood scraps off the sawmill, and yesterday he arranged a small stone firepit, over which he intends to boil away the 39 or so parts of water it will take to make 1 part of syrup. Concerned that Fin might beat him to the more productive trees before he got a chance to have at them, Rye marked his territory with strands of yarn. It looked as if the trees wore necklaces around their trunks. The other day, while he and Penny were driving home from his banjo lesson, Penny mentioned that there were times she still wished to travel – the girl can’t quite rinse herself of the last few strands of wanderlust woven into her DNA – and Rye said sure, he’d be fine with that, so long as we were home for his two favorite times of year: Sugarin’ and haying. Attaboy.

I don’t really believe in having dreams for my children, if only because it seems unfair to burden them with the weight of whatever hopes and expectations I might harbor on their behalf. Oh sure, I wish for them to be healthy and happy, although to be perfectly honest, there are times I’m not sure even this is appropriate, if only because I sometimes wonder if a full appreciation of their lives and the world around them might neccesitate a broader range of experience than simple health and happiness (this is not a fully formed opinion on my part, and I reserve the right to live out my days being nothing less than a cheerleader for their unreserved physical vigor and excellent spirits).

But despite all this, despite trying – sometimes rather desperately – to escape the trap created by the sense that my emotional wellbeing is somehow dependent on any particular outcome relating to my children, I can’t help but divine a certain satisfaction from these moments. I look up, out the window above the kitchen sink, the stars still just visible in the brightening sky, and I see Rye tromping through the snow, laden with the implements of tapping, the remedy for his fever: A cordless drill, a hammer, a small bucketful of taps. Or I see Fin, bent over his trapper’s education manual, penciling in answers to the often-inane questions put forth (What clothing will you wear while trapping? We had a good howl over that one, let me tell you) his hatchet and belt knife on the table beside him, and I feel that unique sense of peace that comes from having witnessed your child immersed in something so deeply important to them that their world has folded in on itself.

It occurs to me that while we are socialized to the belief that our children’s lives should be constantly expanding into new horizons and opportunities, could it be that we are ignoring (or simply ignorant of) the value in having their world contract? In short, what of providing them the freedom to immerse themselves in the small experiences of the world at hand, rather than constantly distracting them with the possibilities of the world at large?

This, then, is the dream I can’t kick, and I freely admit it’s a selfish one: Our boys will not chase the infinite possibilities of the world at large, but instead will continue to find fulfillment in the world at hand.

Where Am I?

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