Day 19. Random Observations

Toilet paper hoarding makes perfect sense. That tissue marks the thin line between the civilized and the primitive. We can suffer a lot of deprivation but that is one line we do not want to cross.

Preppers? You win.

The book The Three-Day Effect by Florence Williams explains how three days in the outdoors resets your brain. Our memory of recent events fades after 72 hours. Turns out three days even in a dusty house does the same. The classroom seems like a distant world to me, a dream I once had. It isn’t the first time someone’s life has turned an irreversible bend overnight. Getting married was that for me, since I moved far away and left behind everything. Still, it amazes me that the world I knew changed so quickly.

The Cuomo brothers are killing it.  Their brother banter is among the best entertainment to come out of this mess.

“Some have greatness thrust upon ’em…” Oh, I wish we had a Winston Churchill leading the nation in this hour. Some state governors have risen to meet the heroic need of the day. It is embarrassing, not to say appalling, to see how some in high places have not. Yay, Dr. Fauci! Yay, Surgeon General! Yay, Vermont governor and team!

Filled out the FAFSA for youngest son today. Impossible to answer without caveat:

  • How many dependents will you have for more than half of July 2020-June 2021? (Dunno; I have two that might be sticking around.)
  • How much do you have in cash in your accounts right now? (Will this be anything like what it will be next school year?)

Spring is helping with sanity. Daffodils will begin blooming this week. I can wear a sweater outside. The weather isn’t trying to kill us. What if we lived in Australia??!!

My daughter just came out of the closet today. She told us there is this fellow she has been seeing and it could be serious. Finally! Just one thing–she may be moving to a Scandinavian country.

Two Zoom meetings seems to be the max we can hold at one time before we get kicked off. We’re going to need a schedule.

Okay, that’s all for this Sunday. Back to work tomorrow. I wish you health and six degrees between you and any COVID casualties.

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Day 18. Family time: we paint

First we had a meeting to talk about what to do if we get the pestilence. Who should we call? Do you have enough in your checking account to cover bills that will come in? What is your quarantine room if you get it and which is the quarantine-dedicated bathroom? Pack a go-bag in case you have to go to the hospital. Write down your critical passwords and keep them in a safe place for us in case we absolutely need them.

Then on to brighter things. Each person was randomly assigned a square indicating color and shape for a painting. “Paint something that fits this pattern,” I said. They saw these:














The pencil marks were not part of the original.

And here is what came of it.

Robbo’s and John’s:










Abraham’s, representing Fibonacci’s spiral, and an unused road on which grass is growing:






























Let me ‘splain. The top one is a bedroom with a yellow and green quilt. Against the back wall is a mirror in which is reflected a creepy female figure. We were listening to the Dresden Files, Book 7, an atmospheric book with wizards and vampires in Chicago.

The second is the view of someone imprisoned inside with a view of the unattainable outdoors.

The third is what it is.

This is what I had painted the day before, a nine-patch representation of the log cabin quilt block. It is upside down.









And here it is all together! They will be hung on a wall in this order.







And I am going to find a better photo storage app than Google Photos! So much color was lost in translation.

That was fun. A refreshing break from school online and worries about the coronavirus.

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Day 17. The church in isolation

My husband and I started meeting with another two couples for a fellowship group every other week. We had only met twice before the coronavirus changed the rules. One fellow is deeply disturbed that the governor of our state can forbid the church from gathering. He asked that we discuss it.

As we compared the ban under which we live and the outright persecution of countries such as China, we could easily see that while totalitarian states ban the proliferation of unwelcome ideas, this ban just seeks to stop a virus. And thanks to digital technology, we can meet in one another’s home via video. We can dial into the teaching of knowledgeable and compassionate pastors through their live, at-home broadcasts. We can keep informed of our church family’s needs.

But then we talked about how frustrating it is not to be able to help people in person. Social distancing leaves many people vulnerable, as they can’t get to the store, or deal with a fallen tree, or provide for their child while they have to work. This dynamic young man felt frustrated by his forced inactivity.

And something interesting happened: we discovered little services we each were providing that work within the limitations but bridge the moat to other families. The pastor in our group streams live on Facebook and is reaching people who would never go into a church. They deliver food boxes from schools to families that can use them. The hard-working fellow stuck at home is doing errands for his neighbors who can’t get out. Robbo helped a neighbor with a shed roofing issue. I write a daily blog. (Does this count?)

On Saturday when I take a walk I’ll be delivering a letter to my neighbors. We live on a gravel road outside of town and have six or seven houses on a three-quarter mile stretch. It is embarrassing to admit, but we have had very little contact with any of them over the last twenty years. It is time to break the silence.

Knowing they won’t be comfortable with a visit to the door, I am affixing the letter to the mailbox with a magnet. (Did you know the space in a mailbox belongs to the U.S. Government and it may not be used for personal deliveries?) It offers my email and suggests I collect theirs into one group so we can communicate safely about day-to-day issues. I would like to know that they each have everything they need and that there is a way of keeping current. Most are alone at home. What if one gets sick? Who makes sure they get the intervention they need? These are the questions I have when I walk by their silent homes in the early morning.

Reader, have opportunities for service opened up to you? Have any ideas you can share in the comments?

Northerners, can you imagine how dreadful this isolation would be if it were November? We’d be falling into the cold, dark winter with nothing to look forward to but months of hardship. What kind of Christmas would we look forward to? No shopping, no traveling, no concerts. But here we are in April–every day is a little longer, the light a little stronger, and daffodils are pushing up from the thawing ground.

So many blessings in all this. These are terrible circumstances, and our real suffering may be ahead of us, but I can’t ignore the light beams punching through the dark clouds.

It reminds me of the third and fourth verses of this hymn. It begins with a widely ridiculed first line but those who are intimately acquainted with God’s ways and character have experienced the truth of it.

God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

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Day 16. Pshaw, Cuterie

If you make a meal of many little dishes and if adorable family members all gathered around it, you have, let’s say, a ‘cuterie’. Pshaw, you can’t help but smile at these pictures of the family hamming it up. My night to provide the meal; I put out a charcuterie.

Finally got to use the jar of fig jam I had on hand. I also put out a little can of Deviled Ham. (Believe it or not, Mom, I can remember encountering it for the first time in the kitchen on Warner Hill Road, at about seven years old. You explained what it was. That, and your penchant for moistening sandwich bread with butter instead of mayonnaise, demonstrated your roots still drew nourishment from your English ancestry.)

Slipped in the squid, too.

Tomorrow, I am going to take a break from thinking about my music classes. I am really struggling with the work needed to get a virtual choir going, since I would need to create files for individual parts for my somewhat inexperienced singers (some could sight-read anything but most need to learn aurally.)

I’m going to listen to St. Matthew’s Passion in its entirety and spend time at the easel.

I’ve invited the household to a mystery painting activity on Saturday. Sent an ecard to get their attention and whet the appetite. I have some work to do tomorrow to get ready for it.

They are going to paint one or more of these nine frames, using a rough outline I give.

Lewis Lavoie, a Candian artist, created a rough shape-and-color outline of an ark, and cut it into small squares to give to other artists. Their task was to paint a 12″ x 12″ tile using these values and incorporating an animal of the world. They had no idea of the final image. In the aggregate, it is a joyous celebration of the diversity of God’s creation. They gathered all the images in a booklet, out of which we cut every one and glued them onto a sheet of plywood.

Here is a closeup of one area. Can you imagine the plain square the artists were given, indicating hue and geometry?

I couldn’t find the conceptual original (it is out there; I have seen it) but I found this one of another project:










I found it here

As keeper of the home, that is my contribution to social sanity this week.

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Day 15. National Poetry Month

I was looking forward to sharing poetry with my secondary school music students this year. While my Classical Conversations students were used to conversation sloshing across all subject boundaries, my Music students are only now getting used to it. (I remember once connecting Mozart’s lifetime with a local colonial period event on the Connecticut River. They looked at me as though I had forgotten who I was. Good times.)

Looks like I’ll have to get creative about sharing poetry with them via Google Classroom. But how hard can it be? It is not like I have to listen to their groans. The good thing is if I share frequently, eventually one lands. One hits home and expresses what they feel or think.

At one time I collected several Magnetic Poetry boxes. I eventually organized them by word function. Here are the verb (bottom half, alphabetical), to be verbs, personal pronouns, and nouns sorted in categories.























Here are more pronouns, prepositions, adjectives, conjunctions, odd nouns, and suffixes.

And this? This is what you get when you give a Math Major a marker. He’s thinking about something, not sure what, but it looks wicked smart. (Pam, you may remember him doing the same during lunchtime at Classical Conversations.) It dawned on me today I do not have my future retirement plan in my youngest after all. Not if he becomes an academe.

That is where I left room for assembling materpieces. (Pieces assembled by the mater, of course.)

So, my first COVID poetry:















No seriously, here is one for us. Camille, I am still not tired of this one.

God’s Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

–> For all this darkness we’re living, there does exist something new and redeeming in it. Slice along the withered bark and the green sapwood glistens. God has not abandoned us.

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Day 14. An Hour and a Half of Grins

I sang old familiar songs with my school children today and it was good for all of us! First, I spent time with preschool through second grade, and then immediately with grades three through six. After some excited chatter–I left them unmuted for a few minutes–we sang songs together. To avoid being out of sync, I always muted their mics when we sang, knowing they would be singing with my audio as if in real time.

We sang

  • Jenny Jenkins
  • On my toe there is a flea
  • Five little bunnies in the bakery shop
  • Kye Kye Kule (with leaders)
  • some Bible verses I have set to music that we have sung before

The older kids sang

  • The Creation Song, which we performed at the Christmas concert
  • Ground Hog (oops–I sent the words too late and most didn’t have it)
  • There was a great big moose
  • some Bible songs we’re working on
  • Yellow Submarine

Now, there’s a perfect song for isolation!

And our friends are all aboard
Many more of them live next door
And the band begins to play [band plays]

We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine
We all live in a yellow submarine
Yellow submarine, yellow submarine

Each rectangle on my Zoom screen was a peek into a different submarine! They looked happy and excited. Mom or Dad was just out of sight but I could hear their voices and picture their faces. I have had departure duty on Monday afternoons and got to know just who went with each student. Lovely, wonderful people who are committed to our school, and I miss them too.

After class we got to talking again. I know I didn’t want to let go, but for some of them Zoom classtime is a daily part of the morning. I asked about movies and wasn’t surprised to hear many of them had seen Frozen 2. I am so proud of the way my families have taken up homeschooling.

Excitement of another sort came when our tax accountant called with a lot of questions, and we discovered some important information had never reached her. Made a huge difference to the bottom line, let me tell you. I have to get these things to her, which I can do pretty easily by scan. I could also drop them off in a box at the building and we got giddy at the idea of taking this opportunity to safely get out of the house. But nah. I did that yesterday and it’ll be a while before I risk an experiment with ‘community spread’ again.

I am not checking the news every hour as I was last week, because after all, how else can the governor change my life? It is already turned upside down. So I don’t read as many comments as I once did. The ones that 1) think this is a huge hoax or 2) see this primarily as a power grab fascinate me. Where are they living, in some kind of universe where they only get the comments to stories on Foxnews? Do they not have access to the world through the web? Do they think these Italian mayors are part of a huge conspiracy?

You can tell from their body language if not from their words–which are hyperbolic at times for emphasis–these men and women carry a heavy load on their shoulders. They know people who were healthy last month and are now dead from this pestilence.

By the way, the collection of Italian mayors makes me really proud to be third generation Italian. If I had grown up knowing my Italian family, maybe I would know how to use my hands to make my point!

One more thing and then I’m shutting down for the day.

If you have listened to the BBC radio program Cabin Pressure, from A to Z, then you’ll be thrilled to see John Finnemore’s quarantine video-from-home series he is putting out daily: Cabin Fever.  It is delightful!

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Day 13. Escape

Today I drove an 80-mile loop doing necessary errands, through rural countryside and into our large retail district. The world I knew has changed in some eerie ways.

I mailed my father-in-law’s tax return from the post office where it could be weighed. At the counter hung a heavy clear plastic curtain between me and the postal clerk. I felt like an intruder when I reached my hand under it to operate the credit card machine.

I left my checkbook at home so I wouldn’t have to hand over pieces of paper that had been in my hot little hands. I simply packed my credit card and driver’s license in my back pocket, clipped my remote entry key on my belt loop and left the handbag at home. As I strolled briskly away from the post office I noticed how free it felt not to have a sack hanging on my left shoulder! That felt terrific! I could get used to this.

Next I went to my school. I traveled rural roads for half an hour and it felt–odd. Like an overcast Saturday lifted from November, after foliage season but before skiing opens. A dreary time when people are sitting at home, resigned to the onset of winter. This was not the spring-hopeful place I lived in just 13 days ago.

I pulled into the empty parking lot of school. Now that I know we are not coming back and that my Music program is about encouraging the community, I need my songbooks. I have nothing here. So there I went and when I walked into the building my heart sank in grief. It doesn’t have the clean school’s-out-for-summer feel; it has the sense that life here was brutally cut short. It is bereft. It weeps.

I culled what I needed from my room and packed it all in my car. I looked around at the room I left as it was on St. Patrick’s Day, thinking we’d be back in a few weeks. Boomwhackers scattered in the corner. Someone’s guitar leaning against the wall. Music Theory students’ quizzes on intervals stacked on their table. What is probably my second-to-last school year cut short this way. So many plans turned to dust.

I had a brief but slightly uncomfortable conversation with the office staff. We can never forget that we are each potentially contaminated with a deadly plague. I thought they’d be more comfortable with me gone. I did not linger.

The next stop completed a Buy Online, Pick Up Curbside transaction at Michael’s. At one of our family morale-boosting events this week or next I want to have everyone paint a small frame to hang together. So, I ordered supplies at home and they put the order together. When I arrived at Michael’s I saw a big cheerful sign, whose subtext read, “Don’t come any closer. Push the button and we’ll gingerly come to you at a safe distance.” I did and she did. She unlocked the massive glass doors and shoved them carefully aside just enough to stand in the gap. She entered my name in her gadget and then retreated, reversing the process. When she returned with the bag, she held it out at arm’s length so I could take it at arm’s length and then phew! the risky transaction was over. On to the next stop.

Grandpa, my 87 year old Father-in-law, needed things from Walmart and the grocery store. I parked far from the door, needing the exercise and just maybe wanting to distance myself from others. I was surprised at how many people were in the stores. Some had gloves or masks. I wore plastic gloves to put people at ease about those sweaty hands. Someday twenty years from now my kids will see a picture of people wearing gloves and face masks and go, “I remember that! That was the COVID pandemic!” It’ll be like big hair and shoulder pads–so dated.

It was at the grocery store when I realized the world had finally, if temporarily, adapted to my preferences. When I enter my shopping fog I want a big bubble around me and thanks to COVID, it is a whole 12 feet in diameter! How cool is that!

At Market Basket the kiosks have been removed so we can stand in self-isolation. There is a black line I was told to stand behind. It sounded…terse.

But look what I found in the ice cream aisle! Vanilla lovers, unite! When everyone has taken the popular stuff, we’re left with all the vanilla we could want.

Do people not see its value as a condiment?? Just this week we had it on Abraham’s baked apples. Yowsa!

Finally home after all the running around. I feel weary from all the sadness. At first it was fun to drive around with my sunroof open (38 degrees and heater blowing) but about the time it started a cold rain I was done with the changes in town and ready to be in our castle with the bridge drawn up. When the rain turned to snow, it was icing on the dreary cake.

But…tomorrow I get to sing with my elementary students via Zoom for the first time! Can’t wait. That is a part of the new normal I could enjoy getting used to.

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Day 12. Home, Sweet Home

Yesterday I described the cast of this drama. Today I give you something of the setting.

Well, who could have guessed that my obsession with hygge two years ago would pay off so profoundly! I take my role of hygge-cultivator very seriously.

I read that Walmart and Market Basket were offering early hours for shoppers 60 years old and older, 6 – 7 am. I didn’t quite get out in time because of this:

I got to the grocery store at 7 am. The store was sparkling clean! Empty-nesters no more–I filled a cart to overflowing. It was like the good old days, shopping for a family of eight.

I bought flowers to cheer us up:

And even an orchid (don’t judge me):


Now that I am home all day, even though I am working hard trying to figure out how to deliver a music program online, the clutter we lived with has been tamed. Our table used to be the landing spot, where papers that needed action lingered for days or even weeks. no more:

You can’t see it but I moved a flip top desk made by my son years ago into this room, and mail goes there, along with anything else that needs attention. The top stays down–clutter gone! This makes me feel inordinately happy.

I have created a workstation for myself in the parlor, near the window where I can watch chickadees grab seed from a feeder. As you may guess, we’re still waiting on delivery of spring.

Now, what you see here is my desk, the bags in which I brought home school books and supplies (see Cinnamon, my classroom puppet, peeking out), and a side table with financials to deal with (TurboTax time for grandpa and two kids!) Behind that is an easel at which I am painting as often as I can. It is set up and ready to go.

I brought in blooming plants and set out acrylic paint because we’re still locked into the sepia of late winter. But I did find crocuses peeking out when I raked the garden!

I can’t see them from here either, but in a few days’ time, they’ll bloom.

I trust you all are finding ways to make your home inviting, comfortable, even cheery. Considering how much stress we are carrying, I think it is important to create a clean, tidy, and beautiful environment. To that end I also play music, and burn scented candles once in a while. We’re using lots of fragrant spices in our food too–no more thrown together meals! Everybody is chipping in to make our living quarters pleasant.

Happy hygge-making to you!

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Day 11. What I did on my COVID Vacation

Dear reader,

It has been some time since I invited you into my home for a story. Let me give you the cast:

College son #1 who is a senior at a tech college. His hands-on education just ended as he has gone to online classes. He knows he won’t walk the stage to graduate but he’s okay with that. His NASA internship due to start in June is uncertain. He was sent home over two weeks ago and classes begin on Monday.

College son #2 who is a sophomore at a college near Boston. He was home on break when this all went down, and was told to stay at home. He had only brought a few things home (including his desktop computer–whew!) so he misses his math textbooks. He carries 20 credits so now and again he has to firmly remind us that he is in the college pressure-cooker and needs to focus on his work. He is the one who most misses the social interaction.

The word is that college is closed to them for the rest of the year. Keep in mind these sons were homeschooled and college was their first chance to ‘go to school’ and have a robust social life.

Daughter moved back, Uhaul truck and full car, from Maryland on Tuesday. Another son who lives in Maryland helped her drive up. Everybody unpacked her household effects into the barn on the next day and the day after that son #3 rode his Suzuki back to Annapolis, where he has no job, but has some savings, a ladyfriend, and the opportunity to serve his community. He is assistant manager at a specialty ice cream-chocolate-fudge shop in a tourist town, shut down for the duration. Daughter is welcome here and is converting the girls’ old room into an apartment for herself. She is looking into teaching jobs for the fall.

At home we also have the two formerly bored former empty-nesters, who now find food disappears a lot faster and clean towels are always in short supply. It is good to hear laughter and bad puns again. The governor of Vermont names the forest industry as essential in regards to fuel supply (firewood, woodchips) so his work may continue in some fashion. He keeps our part-time employee occupied for now.

This year he also began to teach at Vermont Technical College, a one-day hands-on course in forestry that, to his dismay, has to go online entirely. NEver mind practice in the field; he has to teach solely by lecture and conversation. This shift is taking a lot of hard work, but it sounds like he has found his way out of the corner.

Two years ago I became the music director of a small Christian school. We closed the doors at the end of the day on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. We had three days to put something together and I have just finished my first week. In that week, roughly keeping pace with the extraordinary rate of announcements of further changes to life in Vermont (the latest of which is that schools are closed for the rest of the year) I have come to realize my program needs to make a profound shift. Since all my families are forced into homeschooling now, they don’t need the extra burden of keeping up with a music lesson weekly. Some of them have to work and can barely get through Reading, Writing, Arithmetic. I am not assigning anything, at least not to the Elementary School children.

What I am doing instead is offering (optional) live classes that will be sing-alongs of cheerful, fun, uplifting songs. I also plan to have have a family sing-along one evening a week. Beyond that, I will be pulling together a virtual choir performance with at least my choir and possibly opening it up as far as I can reach. I’ll launch that this week.

So, that is the cast of this blog’s drama. Our two other children got married within the last six months–my youngest daughter on March 1, just before the madness began. Such amazing timing! Hence, she is able to finish up her senior year of Art school in her college town, where her husband has just entered the city police force. They would not be able to see each other until this was all over if they had not tied the knot.

That’s it for the first installment of the News from Heart’s Content.

I would love to hear your story in the comments. And if you want to read the comments, I believe you have to click to get to that page. Perhaps it is time to upgrade my Theme from the one I picked up in 2010, to one that actually displays comments!

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Dance at Holleran Hall

When I wrote my last post I was still giddy with what happened at the wedding reception: I ‘called’ country dances without anything but a dancer’s experience and saw a listless party come to life. On the drive home, the family and I  kicked around an idea of hosting a dance party here at Christmas.  And we did!

We emptied the parlor, a room 16′ x 32′. When we built this addition, my husband and I sat looking over the freshly varnished floor and thought we should host a dance on it sometime. 13 years later we made it happen!


See the open French doors on the left? That opens to our dining room, which we also cleared for overflow. After our first couple of circle dances involving every guest, we created a long line with about eight couples in the parlor, and a smaller line in the dining room. Here is a view from the smaller ring (looks like this was a circle dance):


Another one:

And in the large hall:

The dance is “Haste to the Wedding”. If you know the show Irish RM, you will recognize the tune. It comes from the New England Dancing Masters album Chimes of Dunkirk.

Look at all those young people! There were about 32 dancers. We all enjoyed the evening very much. Some stayed after, and way past my bedtime, to play guitar and sing together. Such a rich time!

Because we live in such rural towns and since most were homeschooled, social gatherings have been scanty. Most of the guests had no previous experience, so I taught dance figures through the evening, easy to challenging. Dancers also heard tips that make great dancers, such as “aim to glide when dancing in a figure with others”. Bounce and stomp all you live when you move alone, but make a right-hand star or a swing work smoothly.

The advice that seemed to come as a surprise was my “rules of engagement”. That is, the gents ask a lady to dance, and she accepts with a smile, with the understanding that this is a commitment to a brief contract that is over when the dance ends with a bow and courtesy. In other words, fellows learn to take responsibility to guide a gal, and ladies nurture the fragile ego of young men who feel like dodos among swans. Whether dork or dynamite dancer, you get your partner for one round and then share with the rest of the company. When we dance with people of different styles and ability we develop dancing chops.

So now I am looking for a local venue so I can offer family dances regularly –once a month–through the winter and spring. For now, I’ll continue to use the recordings of New England Dancing Masters but perhaps I can arrange for live music and a small door charge.

Looking forward to seeing these high school and college students shutting down their computers and getting out of the dance floor on a Friday night!


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