Sunday, November 29, 2015

Happy holidays!

Pakeha New Zealanders often feel some ambivalence about Waitangi Day, our day of national identity, related as it is to the impact of colonisation on our indigenous population.  Yet as the preparations for Thanksgiving kicked into gear this year, I saw little evidence of a similar ambivalence here. My reactions to this were mixed - surely we should recognise, acknowledge the damage caused by colonization? And yet, the idea of a day where a nation could feel unambiguous gratitude seems to me such an opportunity for grace.  

And so it has proved. These last four days have been so relaxing and sociable, and such fun. We have enjoyed the company of many friends, starting with a day out with Susanmarie and Sofia:
The girls objected to being part of political photography: "This is history in the making," I said firmly, "go stand by that cow!!"

A trip to Shelburne Museum with Susanmarie and Sofia (joined by Ellen and Bruce once we settled in for lunch in Shelburne Village)

Thanksgiving Day was spent with Bill, Dee and their wonderfully hospitable family and friends - a day of feasting and good company.

The girls are keeping an eye on the resting turkey

The turkey was amazing - tasty, succulent - and HUGE. Bill, you are a turkey chef extraordinaire!

A Thanksgiving tradition...note the "kiwi pie".
 My friend Kathy and I spent a morning in a cafe in Vergennes, catching up on news and comparing cultures. And then that evening, we were invited to a dinner at the beautiful home on Coyote Ridge of our friends Sharon and Gary, where the wine flowed and the conversation was sparkling!

Thank you for such a lovely evening!
We have watched Zombie movies (at Lizzy's insistence!).

Because, of course, zombie movies fit into a holiday weekend...???

We joined the crowds in the Mall on Black Friday (where I learnt the hard way about queuing in American shops).

I have enjoyed long solitary walks around Long Point  (many photos of which appear in my previous post). Now that so many people have left, I get to explore their decks and walk on their private beaches (don't tell!).

The girls have been doing homework in a leisurely fashion.

 And today, we got up very early and set off for Underhill, home of Poorhouse Pies. We first encountered a Poorhouse Pie when we visited Jericho to take a look at the local artisans' craft market. We stopped at the General Store (which is a delight in its own right) on the village green, and there on the counter was a peach-cherry pie which really wanted to come home with us. After that, we made it our mission to find some more.

Poorhouse Pies are made in the middle of nowhere, and one of their well-kept secrets (divulged by Susanmarie - no, I stand corrected, Sharon) is that, on holiday Sundays only, they sell an amazing range of doughuts, available from 8am until they're all sold out (before 10am). Their flavours are eclectic: Boston cream, French crullers- regular and salted caramel, peanut cream softys, s'more softys (gluten free), pumpkin spice, lemon pistachio crudnuts, jelly filled, maple glazed, maple bacon, cider, mocha, cinnamon twistys, doughknots, and cinnamon cheese rolls were amongst the delicacies advertised for today.

 As we drove through the countryside just after sunrise, it felt as if the whole of Vermont was asleep. Soft sun shafted through the trees, lighting tiny white churches, red barns, shuttered russet homes set in forests, rocky streams, and silent villages: we saw no-one.

Towards Underhill, the signs started to appear at intersections: "Pies this way." We turned into the street housing the pie shop - and there was the ...(pause while I make a translation in my mind) line. It was -4 C, but people were standing happily outside the tiny shop, chatting and blowing on their hands.

Lizzy has her own approach to standing in line...

Occasionally the door of the shop was opened by people with happy faces carrying boxes of doughnuts. Finally we made it inside the warm shop, with quick decisions to be made!

Meanwhile, Bruce found the self-service pie shelter just along the road: it contained two large freezers, a set of prices, and a place to put the money. Apparently that is how the pies are sold on days that are not Holiday Sundays.

Now, we're home.  The girls are back at their homework (at least I think that's what the noise from upstairs signifies). My thoughts must turn to work - this week is going to be a busy one - though I could happily use a nap. And as the holiday comes to an end, we have two visitors.


And it snows.

At the end of this holiday, I'm back to thinking about Thanksgiving and what it means. Perhaps it is right that there is so little ambivalence about this day. Maybe there should be days atonement, for grief or anger - and days for simply loving the world as it is, and all that has made it so. For my family next year, Waitangi Day will be a day of Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude and celebration. You're all invited.

ps please say hello to the newest member of our family. This is Luca. We can't wait to meet him!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

A poem for Thanksgiving - excerpts from Messenger by Mary Oliver

 My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast;

there the blue plums.

Here the calm deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?

Let me
keep my mind on what matters,

which is

my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Frost country

We've settled in now. We have a clear weekday routine in the household, with an early start: Bruce takes me to the bus stop on Route 7 at 6.45am on the days I'm working at UVM, the girls are out of the house by 7.10am. Bruce luxuriates in 8 or 9 hours of peaceful work, accompanied only by the birds and assorted wildlife in the back garden, until the girls tumble out of the bus at around 3.40pm, and then he comes up to Route 7 to pick me up from the bus at 5.30pm.
I've had two fruitful weeks at work: it's exciting to see the results of my research put into action in a new context. The opening lecture was well attended, and workshops have been going well - lots of enthusiasm, lots of discussion about writing and science, and now we are starting the meetings about where to go next with this material.

The weather so far has been unseasonably mild and clear (to the frustration of our energetic friends who are polishing their skis and willing the forecast to signal that snow is on its way). Saturday was the first morning since we've been here that we've woken up to temperatures firmly below zero. We set off in search of a dead poet early in the morning under a clear washed-pink sky and fields frosted (appropriately) in white.  

Robert Frost is one of my favourite poets. My very first English assignment at university had a Robert Frost poem as its subject, and I've read many of his poems so often that they're almost part of the way I think. Last time we were here, we visited his country cabin in Ripton and walked the trails that inspired much of his poetry. This time we were heading to Bennington, for his grave, and for the house he lived in from 1920-1929, where he wrote some of his most famous poems, including my favourite, "Stopping by woods on a snowy evening".

 Overshadowing Bennington is a giant phallic symbol...uhum, did I say that out loud? - sorry, obelisk on the top of a hill. The Bennington Battle Monument commemorates the Battle of Bennington, a hard-won fight in the War of Independence:  set amongst beautiful, historic, colonial mansions, the monument casts its shadow over the humble homes in the valley. Bennington seems an unlikely place to be be held in thrall by so much testosterone: it is a small, quiet town which feels weighted down by its history. 

We found Robert Frost's grave in the lovely cemetery of the Old First Congregational Church.


The grave was in a quiet place, and fringed with nickels placed by visitors. So, as well as adding nickels of my own, I left a New Zealand coin to say that we'd been there.

We enjoyed Bennington: the locals were friendly, and there was a lot to do in such a small town. We ate in laid-back cafes which served locally grown food and were furnished with old, squashy sofas.

 We visited two amazing chocolate shops.
Emily wishes to consume the chocolate moose

So much to choose from!! Chocolate turkeys anyone? Salted caramel chocolate snowmobiles? Curried chicken cashews??

We visited the Bennington museum, which hosted a collection of Grandma Moses paintings...

This was my favourite, named "The sugaring".
 I asked Bruce as we walked around the gallery if he liked them and he said "Not at first - I thought they were too Christmas-cardy, but then you look closely and they're so full of life." And that's what I love about her paintings too: the way they portray the energy of a community life.

The museum was guarded outside by (don't blame me, it's the testosterone) a rather iffy "Spirit of America". Hmmm. Really?

We drove through three beautiful covered bridges.

Finally, we made our way to Robert Frost's house outside Shaftsbury.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall (thanks, Jerry!)
 We couldn't go inside - like everywhere else now, it is "closed for the season," but to sit on the stone walls and look out at the birch and apple trees, all features of Frost's poems, was all pleasure.

How many times in this blog have I returned to this theme of "the road not taken"? But let's not go there today. Let's simply say that this was such a satisfying day, walking through a sleepy old town full of ancient memories of battles and glory, and poetry.