Monthly Archives: March 2020

A View from the Country

Clouds and BarnMy husband and I have lived in the country for almost a decade. I was chatting with another rural dweller yesterday, and we laughed a bit about how our lifestyles haven’t really changed that much with isolation. We are used to staying home. After all, we moved to the country for the peace and quiet and space, and we like nothing better than afternoons digging in the garden and evenings on the porch. Plus, in the case of my husband and I, two introverts married each other, so there’s that.  It’s a good day or week when we don’t have to leave the farm.

We are really semi-rural (I don’t want people imagining us in the middle of nowhere): we live on 18 acres at the edge of a small town. The house dates from the 1850s. The property has several old barns, a ceramic silo whose top blew off in a tornado years ago, and an old outhouse that is being reclaimed by nature. Our town has basic services like gas, milk, toilet paper and liquor, and so far things have stayed open.

But, even if they closed, we would be okay for at least a couple weeks. Our freezer is full of meat, mostly from a local farmer who slaughters a few cows and pigs each year. They also supply us with eggs and are raising a couple milk cows. (Fresh mozzarella, anyone?) We usually have access to goat milk although it isn’t my favorite.

We moved to the country when our little college town of Williamsburg became a retirement mecca, and there were suddenly traffic jams and lines at the grocery store. We both grew up in the country and love the freedom and privacy of living down a long driveway. My own parents escaped the city for the country when I was an infant, and I don’t ever remember a summer without a garden. We ate vegetables fresh and then “put them up,” which meant either canning or freezing. When my fraternal grandmother died, we discovered a basement full of jars: green beans, pickles, jams and jellies. Food was never wasted.

Farm to tableMy husband is retired and raises a fair amount of our fresh vegetables. We are fortunate to have a high tunnel, an unheated green house, where he can start spring crops early. With the mild winter, we’ve been eating spinach and kale for a couple months, and the cabbage and broccoli is coming in. (If you haven’t eaten freshly picked broccoli lightly steamed with butter, lemon and garlic, you have missed out. It is a completely different vegetable than what you find in the grocery store.)

The bumper crop this season has been beets. I love pickled beets and eggs, a favorite from my Pennsylvania Dutch Farm to tablechildhood. My husband does not like beets but grows them for me. I have canned a few jars, roasted some and put them in the freezer (I’m thinking borscht?), and I am going to try beet chips in the air fryer.

The house itself is made for growing food. The south side faces flat fields so gets full sun most of the day. The previous owner–the town doctor who was also a dairy farmer and actually started as the town vet–had put up sliding glass doors along the whole side. It is a natural greenhouse, and we take advantage of the passive solar to heat the house in the winter along with a wood burning stove in our main living area. On a day like today, the doors and windows are open to the world. I can hear birds singing along with early honey bees buzzing. My Farm to tablehusband already has tomatoes blossoming with one small fruit. You do have to tickle them to help them with pollination.

Staples like peanut butter and cleaning products and snacks either get delivered or come  from Dollar General or the IGA grocery store in the next town. The latter has a surprisingly good selection (sun-dried tomatoes, anyone?) but can be pricey. We go once a month or so or we may stop by a “real” grocery store when we are forced off the farm for some errand or other like dentist or vet appointments. We stock up so I was surprised when there was a run on yeast. I guess everyone doesn’t keep a pound in the freezer?

It turns out that my husband and I were made for self-isolation. Ironically, we were just beginning to plan a life of travel off the farm, imagining a sprinter van just big enough for the two of us and our dogs to travel the country.

After hearing stories of city folk fleeing to the country, I jokingly offered up our cottage for visitors who wanted to try it out. Will we start to see a long term migration? And what impacts–both positive and negative–might it bring? Certainly, we would welcome better broadband. But we don’t need much more commerce or entertainment. I guess if my town gets too crowded we can sell the farm and head west, maybe closer to the middle of nowhere.

Choose Carefully: Politics Over Friendship

Since my Twitter rant turned into a somewhat thoughtful blog post, I decided to do the same for a Facebook rant . I think this one is still pretty ranty so take it for what it’s worth. Mostly, let’s be kind to everyone.

Perhaps I am the last person in the world who hasn’t unfriended or unfollowed everyone with whom they disagree politically or religiously. To you, this  post will seem a bit outdated and naive and maybe even dangerous as I haven’t written everyone on the other side off as immoral and unethical.

Forgive me. Despite the political and religious divide in the world, I have attempted to maintain friendships with folks from the whole spectrum. And, while I don’t share overt political posts or rants on social media, I suspect my own politics are pretty clear from what I do share. (Let’s just say a lot of stuff from The Zinn Project and The Equal Justice Initiative.) I will admit to using the mute button liberally.

Mostly, I try not to be judgmental. We all have pasts and stories and cultures that define who we are and are difficult, and perhaps, impossible to shed.  I genuinely care about the people I follow, and I try to put relationship ahead of politics or religion. But, yesterday, as I scrolled through my Facebook feed, two posts, in particular, just seemed incredibly out of line: a ridiculous “I’m just sayin” kind of conspiracy theory post and then one that showed real hatred towards those on the other side. Mean and ugly posts about people like me from people that I regarded as friends. Granted, they did not originate the thought, but they shared it and pretty cleared agreed with it.

One of the women who posted checked in with me via Messenger almost every day as I was recovering from my surgery last year. Yet, her rhetoric in a public forum was really hateful. She genuinely seems to find people like me repugnant. While I am no snowflake, my feelings were hurt. Had she considered me at all before sharing the post? She knows me to be a good person, I think, and must be aware that her post was going to hurtful.  She has chosen politics over our relationship. I considered a confrontation, but I pressed mute for now. It is tempting to try to engage her, but if her ongoing posts and comments are any indication, she does not appear to be open to ideas outside her echo chamber.

I guess I feel a little betrayed: I stuck with these friends even though we disagreed on larger issues because I wanted to know about their lives and support them as friends and even be aware of what others outside my own echo chamber were thinking. Part of the reason I don’t do “those people on the other side are horrible” kinds of posts is because I do care about their feelings. I know I’m not going to change their minds and it would just be hurtful.  How could we still be friends if I took that path. I wonder if these women stopped to ask that question of themselves?

Here’s my plea: can we, just for a little while, focus on what connects us. I love the posts from families about surviving quarantine and doing simple gardening at home. I look forward to the posts from a friend who is asking daily questions about what we are learning or cooking or thinking.

Today, we all shared pics of meaningful art from our homes. Here’s mine: my favorite poem from Wendell Berry seems so appropriate now. It is done as a collage, and I know I purchased it at an art festival in Corolla, NC, a very long time ago. There doesn’t appear to be an artist’s name on it:

If you have managed to maintain any friendships with people with whom you disagree, try reaching out in a positive way. Or at least unmute them for a few days to wish them well.

Be safe out there.



Keeping the Gaps From Getting Bigger: Randomly Connected Thoughts

I don’t know about others, but I have been having trouble mustering much energy or enthusiasm to do anything that required concentration. I’ve kept up my daily journaling (hard to break a habit of a lifetime) but putting together something for outside consumption seemed too hard. But, I do have a few public things I would like say:

Stop shaming teachers and schools for anything, especially if you were not actively involved in public schools on a daily basis prior to the virus. I have seen several pundits shaking their heads over printed instructional packets. One actually used the word “shame” to describe teachers who used them. They may not be the ideal pedagogy, but they are the lowest common denominator in a world that largely gave digital equity lip service until last week. Now, suddenly, educators are supposed to be transforming their education online despite a lack of devices, access and preparation. Schools are busy figuring out how to feed kids. Give them a break.

Read that again: schools are busy figuring out how to feeds kids. Our schools play a much larger role in the community than just teaching and learning, and we consistently underfund them, especially for the most vulnerable children and families. Ditto for public libraries.

Now is when we will discover the true gaps in our broadband access maps and surveys. If you are a teacher connecting with your students online, be sure to do an equity check now and then. Who isn’t showing up either synchronously or asynchronously? Is it because of access? What can you do to open access by using low bandwidth tools that are phone-friendly?

Just as they are feeding kids, schools are working on closing the equity gap. Schools  without 1:1 are doing what they can to get devices to kids. They are sending home mifis and keeping wifi up and running in schools parking lots. I’ve seen lots of tech coaches offering support for both their own faculty and generally for others. The Virginia Society for Technology in Education is offering just-in-time coaching in partnership with UnisonEDU.

There is so much more to consider here. Forget digital equity. I suspect many children in my low income community are being left home alone or in the care of older siblings as parents cannot afford to stop working. The library and community center where they accessed analog, digital and adult support are closed.

I have been meeting with VSTE leaders over the past week, and I am so proud of how they are leading their schools and communities. They were given little or no time or resources to prepare, but they, along with so many other educators stepped up, as they always do, because they understand that they are the first line of defense for so many of our children.

Be safe out there, my friends.