Category: Updates


Hello lovely people. Months ago now I subscribed you all to my new thing: The Hearthling. Some of you have been receiving it now for a while now. Thanks for reading! But I’ve lately learned that some of you have never heard of it and are sitting here, right now, wondering what’s become of me.

I’m sending you the latest post, in the normal way we used to do things around here. But, if you haven’t been receiving The Hearthling in your inbox, and you’d like to, please subscribe using the button provided below. The version you are receiving will look pretty decent on a phone, but if you are reading from a desktop computer, I would love it if you would click to read the Substack version which is way more pleasant to read.



Philipp Baum, Carneval 9, Wikimedia Commons

Imbolc descends from Celtic tradition. On the days that I call February 1 through sundown February 2, on the Earth’s northern hemisphere, we are halfway between the shortest day of the year and the spring equinox, and one-quarter of the way from the shortest to the longest day of the year. Day length is a result of the relationship between the earth and the sun.

In 10th century Irish poetry, Imbolc was noted as the time of year when sheep begin lactating — spring’s beginning in 10th century Ireland and Scotland — providing hope of future warmth via meat, milk, wool, and manure, the possibility of surviving another winter. I am related to people who would’ve set fire to bundles of oats and rushes, performing purification rites in honor of Brigid, goddess of poets, wisdom, healing, protection, and domestic animals. Their survival resulted in me.

And they/we are related to people who would have revered St. Brigid, one of Ireland’s three patron saints, purported friend of St. Patrick and Ireland’s first nun whose skull and hand rest in a Portuguese church. Their piety resulted in me.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is one my favorite movies. It was released in 1993, which means that I would have seen it for the first time with my friends Shannon and Jennifer in a theater in Birmingham, Alabama. I am related to Jennifer and Shannon because we all took English with Ms. Phares and read Catch-22 at the same time. I knew their parents, and their first boyfriends, and they knew mine. Their musical tastes, and the way they ate pizza, resulted in me.

As for the other Groundhog Day, the newspaper stunt arranged in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania on February 2, 1887 is most likely an adaptation of a German Candlemas tradition involving a badger. Candlemas, an early Christian tradition, was also a purification holiday celebrating the return of light after the dark of winter and it can be traced to 4th century Greece (and probably back to the Roman holiday Februalia).

In Teutonic (and Norse) mythology, Ratatoskr is a squirrel who climbs the world tree, Yggdrasil, and carries messages, including weather reports, between worlds. By medieval times some Germanic peoples had assigned badgers with this weather-prediction role, and this is thought to be related to the complexity of badgers’ dens reflecting the entrances to the nine worlds in Teutonic myth. When the earliest Germans arrived in Pennsylvania, lacking sufficient badgers, their eyes alit on the groundhog.

Via my mother, I am related to early Greeks who cleaned in the returning light, asking life to provide what was needed for the coming year, and to people who would’ve lit candles in places that were not yet called Germany. And via my father I am part Viking, which may explain why the fascination with rodents. The stories and hope of these people resulted in me.

Speaking of rodents, a groundhog is a rodent. (As is a capybara, the largest of all rodents.) Badgers are not rodents but belong to the weasel family where they are related to otters and wolverines. Wolverines are related to the X-men and also to the movie Red Dawn which I accidentally saw too young. Red Dawn is related to Patrick Swayze who is related to my husband (love is love is what I say) who is related to me by means of offspring, a pandemic, and joint debt.

La Chandeleur

I made crepes for breakfast on Sunday. Dave’s father had a stroke and so Dave is in the UK visiting and making arrangements. His father is paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to speak. And we live an ocean away. Maggie was out of town skiing with her scout troop so Sam and I made crepes. He ate one filled with nutella, one with eggs and bacon, one with cherry preserves and chocolate sauce, one with lemon juice and sugar, one with nutella and raspberry jam, one plain and those are the ones I remember. Sam is related to his father who once ate an entire chocolate football, and to his father’s father, who can no longer speak, but whose voice, and love of Welsh cakes, resulted in my son.

When Maggie came home, Sam mentioned the crepes. Oh, we had crepes in French class on Friday, she shared. Because February 2nd is National Crepe Day in France. I became curious and learned that National Crepe Day is also called La Chandeleur, or Candlemas. In one modern explanation: the round shape of the crepes represents the sun and the circle of life, while eating and sharing with others commemorates popes giving food to the poor each year on February 2.

What had prompted me to make crepes? Well, it was Sam, channeling his great-grand’mère. Her love of cooking resulted in him.

Mardi Gras

The date of Easter each year is related to the moon. Roughly (because it is complicated), Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. The equinox, though variable depending on locale, for church purposes is March 21. So look for the full moon after March 21, add one week = Easter minus 47 days = Mardi Gras.

This year Mardi Gras falls on February 13.

Mardi Gras is related to me because my grandmother was born in New Orleans and her father’s father’s father’s father as well…. My grandfather, her husband, was born in Mobile, Alabama, capital of Louisiana in 1703 and the location of the first Mardi Gras celebration in the (not yet) U.S.A. I spent five years of my childhood living in Lafayette, Louisiana and my best friend at the time (another Jennifer) moved away to New Orleans. Because her father still worked at the bank with my dad, after they moved he would sometimes fly to my town in a small plane. Once I flew in that tiny two-seater next to him, right in the front, to visit my friend. Many times I ate beignets and gumbo and sat at picnic tables covered with steaming crustaceans that made my lips sting.

I think I went to the parade twice. I know my brother and I made our own floats at home and threw necklaces wearing old dresses and fancy coats. My brother’s companionship resulted in me.


Before refrigeration, the winter meat was slaughtered in November and was preserved via the cold of winter, nature’s freezer. But then the days get longer, the sun gets closer, nothing is growing yet, and this meat won’t keep for much longer. So what to do??

Carnival is a time for eating all the carne (meat). A Carnival feast was the last opportunity for many people to eat well before the annual end-of-winter food shortage that lasted around 40 days, that is, until spring produce was available. Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, was the last day of Carnival when all the remaining winter stores of lard, butter, and meat were shared in feasting, because otherwise they’d rot. After this came Lent, in the Catholic tradition, the more restricted 40 days before the arrival of Easter.

Valentine’s Day

Once I wrote a letter to St. Valentine letting him know that on February 14 every year, in his name, my culture has a tradition of exchanging $18.2 billion dollars worth of cards, sugar, seatrash, and unseasonal and exotic flowers with friends and loved ones. The modern tradition may date back to Chaucer who wrote a few lines referencing an imaginary day celebrating romance, probably linked to Roman Lupercalia, a celebration of the first day of spring.

I studied English literature and Chaucer has been called the father of English literature. He was born in London. I decided to marry my husband in St. James Park. He’s buried at Westminster. I’ve walked on top of Charles Dickens’ skeleton there. Chaucer’s imagination, and willingness to share what he saw, resulted in me. So did Hallmark and Hershey.

Braiding Something

For the past two years my children have had units at school where they are asked to describe their culture. Who are they? Where do they come from? What do we practice? I usually joke to a nearby adult that my best response is “alcoholic fundamentalism.” Which isn’t a fair representation of my husband’s half. And not said with any disrespect to my bloodline. It’s just a cynical joke about some of the reasons why I have distanced myself from some of the culture that I grew up around. And then the other hilarious joke that I have with myself is to say that we, our family, our community, practice “commercialism.” I use this as a way of explaining my discomfort with psychotic clown worship and the like.

I don’t want to live as a cynic. And here I am in suburbia, between a groundhog and cupid, the sunshine on this overwarm February day pouring in as the bulbs start to peek their green tips out of the ground.

What is my culture? I live amongst refrigerators and electric lights. I’m linked through my body to all of these ancient peoples, and I’m linked through my family and country to a set of traditions, and I’m linked through love and shared life and a world economy to 8 billion humans with libraries full of lovely ideas, all now translated at the touch of a button.


Paul Klee, Carnival in the Mountains (1924), Wikimedia Commons

I’m looking for a way to root into place, and into relationship, with the people and the world, the physical world, around me. And I have a feeling that regeneration is more than restoring forests and kelp beds that exist outside of us, that are found in a place you can go to. It’s not only lush grasslands and mangroves that keep the planet in balance. Regeneration is restoring connection, within ourselves between our bodies and our minds, within our communities recognizing the humanity of the person who cuts you off in traffic or has different beliefs, different stories, a different way they got here than you. It’s restoring connection between generations, respecting where we’ve each come from, knowing something about that, becoming curious about other ways of relating to what was and how that is a part of what is and what is becoming. Rooting our days, our practices, our traditions in connection with each other and with what is real – the concrete – our relation to the sun and moon and the ground we stand on. Our awareness that we are here, with all we have, as a result of so many miracles. So many survivors. Our gratitude for the ways what has come before has eased our paths, and our recognition that mistakes have been made, harm has been done, and our love for life and the world shows up as the ways we point our effort towards healing, ourselves, our families, our communities, our nations, our home.

Maybe I’ve been too focused on what is missing, on what is hard for me to accept in my culture, instead of seeing what remains: The sun and the moon and their relationship with our planet, the rhythm of the seasons, the annual patterns of dark and light. How we weave these into a celebration of life. Our bodies need for and celebration of nourishment, how this relies on community. The threads connecting ancient peoples to my life today and all of the hopes pain love effort imagination that became me and you. And I think I’m recognizing that this is what gratitude is: an awareness or recognition of where you stand in relation to life, and how life has carried itself into you, and how reciprocity is born in that recognition, that gratitude. If life will carry me, how might I give thanks? How might I see myself as life loving life back?

Today’s Answer

I’ve never celebrated Mardi Gras with my children, living up here in Virginia. The drunkenness, the feeling of excess, the revelry — we are a bookish people, maybe more influenced by the “rationalism” from the British side of the family, or maybe it’s a primness from the Baptist side.

This year, I am making red beans and rice with Conecuh sausage from Alabama and Camellia beans from New Orleans that my parents brought to me, and have brought to me, many times. But it never occurred to me to use them in this way before. I have enlisted my family to help clean the house since none of my ancestors disagree that February is a time for that. We will invite friends. We will eat a king cake with the purple and green sugar I remember from third grade. Someone will find the baby. The moon will be a sliver in the sky, just beginning to wax. The earth will be turning towards the sun.


Laissez les bons temps rouler.

The noble woodchuck
The noble woodchuck
  1. In the 1880s, groundhog was the cuisine of choice at the Punxsutawney Elks Lodge.
  2. Hedgehogs and porcupines are not related. That is, they are both mammals, but not of the same family.
  3. A groundhog (the same thing as a woodchuck) is a MARMOT! Marmots are just big squirrels active in the summer but not the winter. Sam and I used to make up stories about marmots after seeing them together on Mount Rainier, one of my favorite places on this planet.
  4. Condé Nast explains La Chandeleur.
  5. Carnival: This is a FASCINATING Wikipedia page and it may make you feel kinda weird about humanity. Parades are clearly something important to our species.
  6. Februalia was a month-long purification thing (Lentish). Lupercalia was a specific day (February 15) marking the beginning of spring.
  7. Seatrash is another word for themed plastic junk given to kids, briefly handled, glanced at, or thrown against the wall before deposition in a waste receptacle.
  8. The commercialization of Valentines Day. I enjoyed this.
  9. I was considering all of this, and it occured to me to look at a particular chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass (emphasis mine):Each of us comes from people who were once Indigenous. We can reclaim our membership in the cultures of gratitude that formed our old relationships with the living earth. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to Windigo psychosis. A deep awareness of the gifts of the earth and of each other is medicine. The practice of gratitude lets us hear the badgering of marketers as the stomach grumblings of a Windigo. It celebrates cultures of regenerative reciprocity, where wealth is understood to be having enough to share and riches are counted in mutually beneficial relationships. Besides, it makes us happy.
  10. “the badgering of marketers” – just wondering if you also noticed this word pop up in the Braiding Sweetgrass quote.
  11. February 10 is Lunar New Year for 2024, per the lunisolar calendar, a celebration of the arrival of spring and the beginning of a new year in many cultures. My son’s class, led by his teacher who was born in Korea and is a transplant to Virginia, like me, will share how different cultures celebrate the Lunar New Year, provide some Korean snacks, and teach the kids how to play traditional Korean games. I am related to Angela because she has loved and nurtured both of my kids and I’ve known her daughter, growing up alongside my son, since she was four.

Thank you for being here and reading The Hearthling. If you’d like to receive future posts and stay connected, please subscribe by visiting my Substack page.

On roses, by any other name

Hi there friends, it’s me. Hoping you are doing very well. I just re-read something I wrote one time. It was so many words and while I liked what it said, at heart, it also felt a little bit like blah, blah, blah. I don’t want to write fancy. I want to try to understand…something. And writing is a way to sit here and place one thought, in a loosely focused way, next to another and see what happens. What road will it lead down? What will I learn if I’m mostly still, except for my little tapping fingers, and plumb the depths (or what often these days feels like the shallows)?

So, hello again. What happened to that writing streak of mine from the spring? Dave went away, which threw my rhythm a bit, and then he came back from a trip abroad bearing COVID. That was back in the old days when the kids had to stay home from school for a week if someone in the house had COVID. I think now they just ask you to pack extra tissues and not lick anything in crowded theatres, but this was 6 months ago. So he had COVID and we locked him outside on the deck (it mostly didn’t rain that week) and the kids thought it was the best time of their lives because in desperation I sequestered them into their bedrooms with electronic devices. Maggie’s class had a big camping trip coming up and I didn’t want her to have to miss it. No one else caught it, so that was cool. Then what happened? A lot of life. People getting sick. People having emotions. People using chocolate while having/avoiding their own emotions and/or witnessing and not immediately trying to “fix” the sometimes challenging emotions of others. People traveling to the UK. People traveling to France (!) People starting new jobs. People starting middle school (!!!) Inflation. Cheese.

I’m writing today for multiple reasons. Maybe the best way to begin is with a new header.

I have missed this

And by “this” I mean how much fun I was having back in the spring with creatively using headers in blog posts.

I’m not starting something new or making any promises

I have already started a thing. It’s called The Hearthling and I’m going to be publishing on Substack rather than via my own website. What does this mean for you, dear reader? It means I’m going to subscribe my whole mailing list automatically to receive The Hearthling. If you are reading this as a result of opening an email that was sent to you automatically, you will be subscribed to The Hearthling. So if you get something called The Hearthling in your inbox, it’s from me. It’s a little different from these notes, and if it isn’t your cup of tea, I still love you. I’m looking for something — out loud — and maybe you will be curious to come with me. You are cordially invited.

Now I have to leave to pick Sam up from school

But not Maggie because she is playing basketball on the JV team.

I’m home again but about to leave to pick up dinner. We’re having barbecue because Dave is out of town.

I hope to see you over at The Hearthling soon. I will start by sending the first three posts that I wrote in the spring so that the complete archive is available at Substack. After that, new posts may come every two weeks. I took a new job, starting in August, ostensibly to be able to afford to give myself a little bit of time each week to write. I’m not sure it will work out that way but the job is very interesting.

What about the ideas? Didn’t you sit down here at the computer because there are two specific topics that you have been thinking about writing about for six months?

The first I’ve mentioned briefly already: “Secret?” replied Llonio. “Have you not already guessed? Why, my luck’s no greater than yours or any man’s. You need only sharpen your eyes to see your luck when it comes, and sharpen your wits to use what falls into your hands.”

My pot of salt, the one that sits next to my stove, was running low. I will need to procure some salt, I thought. I am running out of salt. I need to buy more salt. The way to solve this problem is to write ‘salt’ on a list, drive to the store, collect the salt of my choice in the usual box or bag, etcetera. Llonio had other ideas: There is salt in the pot today. Enough salt. What might life do next?

Let’s say this was a Monday.

My neighbor was moving. Not the wood elf who chopped the logs but from the house on the other side (this neighbor also happens to be the mother of the elf). Seeing her in her front yard, she asked if I wanted to take a peek at the large quantity of things she would not be brining to her new home. Maybe there was something I might like or need. This was on Tuesday, the day after low-salt Monday. I know you have already guessed what happened next. It was salt. Jars of salt. Coarse sea salt, fine salt, flavored salt. So much salt. I am still flush with the salt left from that bonanza. So we’ll consider Llonio in an upcoming Hearthling.

And then I want to think about trees and their names. To ask if knowing the species to which a tree belongs is the best way to get to know one better. If the way to build a relationship with something is to figure out the boxes it belongs in or maybe to pay attention. To notice the spaces you share and anything you have in common. To become curious on a somewhat regular basis.

I hope you are enjoying the change of the season. There is so much change happening in the world right now. And so much goodness and beauty. Lots and lots and lots of people caring for one another and for other creatures. Like you. Lots of new ideas and transformations. I hope you are noticing little things, like the email from your dentist that they are no longer giving bags of ocean trash to every patient at the end of each visit. So much good we can support. So much beauty we can notice. So much healing we can nourish.

Take care,



Of course there must be lots of Magic in the world,” he said wisely one day, “but people don’t know what it is like or how to make it. Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen. I am going to try and experiment.” 

I have loved The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, both by Frances Hodgson Burnett, since the third grade when my teacher, Ms. Begneaud, suggested I read them. Begneaud is a Cajun name and my teacher had sparkly eyes and very curly hair.

In A Little Princess, Sara Crewe’s father dies leaving her a penniless orphan, and the sour Ms. Minchin moves Sara into the cold attic to live in rags, underfed, and work as a servant in the school where she had been the star pupil. Fictional Sara always treats others with care, sharing when there is anything to share and using her vivid imagination to help those around her, and herself, to bear misfortune. (In rodent news, she also befriends a rat whom she names Melchisedec.)

The conditions of Sara’s life continue to decline. She grows thinner, shabbier, hungrier. Yet even on her worst day finding a coin in the gutter she shares her good fortune (and five out of six fresh buns) with a girl who is hungrier than she is.

And it happens that someone takes notice. An invalid who lives next door to the school becomes interested in this little girl and her situation. He thinks: maybe I’m in a position to do something. And secretly he hatches a plan to leave her gifts in her attic room, dropped in from the skylight — food, blankets, a warm fire in the grate — all anonymously. She goes to sleep one night and wakes up later and there it is, appearing to her as a gift from life itself. Amazed, she says: The Magic has come and done it.

But that's not magic

No, you say, (if you are my child), that’s not magic. A guy came in through the skylight with some food and put it on the table. We saw him planning it. She only thinks it’s magic. Science has a clear explanation and we can logically assign causality.

Yes it is

And to think I used to pretend and pretend and wish there were fairies! The one thing I always wanted was to see a fairy story come true. I am living in a fairy story. I feel as if I might be a fairy myself, and able to turn things into anything else.

The magic part is how it makes her feel about life. That things can come to be in unplanned, unexpected, unimagined ways.

A wood elf

Do you remember my giant tree pieces?

(As a quick recap: I had 2.5 100-yr-old oaks cut into giant rounds and left sitting in a reptile-inviting heap at the bottom of my yard, too heavy for me to budge, awaiting some uncertain destiny.)

Since January I am reminded of this physically challenging question mark each time I look out of my office window. As I sit here typing, the tree segments are arranged below my line of sight, just hidden from my view. I roll the chair towards the window, or sit up tall and lean over, to look out and see them. Most days I gaze at the mound of wood, wondering what it is there to teach me. I’ve considered mushroom farming, I’ve looked into hugelculture, I’ve taken multiple long, deep breaths. I love the wood. I just don’t know what I’m going to do with it or how I’m going to find the physical strength to move any of it anywhere.

On Monday I looked out of the window and almost rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing clearly. A small stack of neatly chopped wood sat in the middle of the yard. As I’ve mentioned, we don’t own an axe and Dave grew up in a country where all the trees were cut down hundreds of years ago so he’s not an experienced log splitter, but very manly nonetheless.

It was like Rumpelstiltskin had been here, or some shoe elves.

Two days later, I looked again and the pile had grown. I am in the house what feels like all the time but I never heard or saw anyone splitting those logs.

I’m pretty sure I know who is cutting the wood. I’m pretty sure it’s not a gnome or a genie.

I haven’t confirmed this yet, though, or even said thank you. I wanted to write this first, and even more than that to let myself live in the Magic for just a little bit longer.

It's not the wood, it's the choppedness

“When Mary found this garden it looked quite dead,” the orator proceeded. “Then something began pushing things up out of the soil and making things out of nothing. One day things weren’t there and another they were… ‘What is it? What is it?’… I don’t know its name so I call it Magic. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden — in all the places.”

“Magic is in her just as it is in Dickon,” said Colin. “It makes her think of ways to do things — nice things. She is a Magic person.”

I don’t know what magic is, but I know what it feels like.

Magic is not the sudden materialization in space of atoms that were not there moments before. It is not the “free-thingness” of something that makes it magic.

Magic feels like a surprise, like a gift that shows up in its own way, and you didn’t figure it out yourself. One day something wasn’t there and another day, it was. You didn’t know what might happen and then something did.

Aspiring magician how-to

I don’t think my neighbor was trying to be a magician (that is, if it was not a wood elf, still unconfirmed). Maybe magic exists because we exist in relationship with others, maybe it is a feature of the uncontrollable, unpredictable, unknowable nature of life. Maybe it happens when there is a question mark and someone else takes an action to help. And you feel in yourself, with delight and surprise: The power of life can be benevolent. I am supported by unseen forces.

“Never thee stop believin’ in th’ Big Good Thing an’ knowin’ th’ world’s full of it—an’ call it what tha’ likes.

Keeping a promise

Hi friends,

It’s Friday at 11:20 and, so far, I haven’t written anything to share with you this week. No Hearthling #003, no note. It has been a full and intense week. A tired week. A week full of learning and working. I think the best way to proceed is to write a new heading, that usually seems to help.

Think, Jennifer

When I came to my computer to stare at it blankly and wish for something hopeful that I could send to your inbox, my website was down (sort of). I couldn’t log in, it looked broken. I could see old posts but could not get in to the “back end” to write one. This reminded me of the number of times I have lost beloved work because of inadequate backups. So, while I waited on the phone for tech support, I copied every single post I have written since publishing the book and now I have everything safely stored somewhere other than online. Well, when I typed that last sentence I had actually not SAVED the file. I had just made it but it was just sitting there with no name.

NOW I have saved the file and all of the words I’ve written here since 2019.

Tech support was amazing. I love talking to computer nerds. They are beautiful, patient people who help me even though I don’t know the right words to say.

Maybe that’s enough for now

In the treehouse agreement, I promised to write to you once a week until June 21. I said Thursday, this is Friday. I am learning to trust the things I say to myself. It’s okay that this is Friday and I am happy, now, that these words are written.

If you haven’t seen it yet

The Hearthling is underway, with three issues written. I’ll post links below.

What I have in mind for Hearthling #003

“And yet,” Taran said, as he swung astride Melynlas, “alas, you never told me the secret of your luck.”

“Secret?” replied Llonio. “Have you not already guessed? Why, my luck’s no greater than yours or any man’s. You need only sharpen your eyes to see your luck when it comes, and sharpen your wits to use what falls into your hands.”

See you next week.


The Hearthling issues 000 – 002 can be read by clicking right here


Hi friends,

The ratskin bracelet is resting peacefully under the fig tree in the front yard next to the blossoming lilac and in other good company, back in the flow of the life of the world.

Nothing has happened lately with the tree parts in the backyard.

A story about a squirrel

Right before the Covid lockdown began we strung two rows of peace flags (that’s what we call them) on our deck. Officially known as Tibetan prayer flags, they are the lines of colorful triangles you see bedecking the landscape in Himalayan scenes. One set I had brought home from Nepal in 2005 after I had gone there to plan a biological survey. The survey was being funded by Disney as part of their launch of a new ride — Expedition Everest — and while documenting plants and animals during the survey we were also to keep our eyes open for any possible signs of Yeti. One set I had purchased just outside of Mount Rainier several years later at the same Nepalese shop where I found my joy-sparking red snow hat.

Just before the Covid lockdown, coincidentally I think, I had asked Dave to help me figure out a way to put them outside. They are meant to be moved by the wind and, in their movement, to spread compassion to the surrounding area. They have been outside doing just that for the past two years and had started to wear thin.

Dave and I were sitting on the deck, on a Saturday, discussing what to do with the disintegrating flags. Out of respect you are not supposed to let the flags touch the ground, and certainly they should not go in the trash. When they have finished their good work they are to be either burned or buried. I declared my intention to bury the flags and we agreed we would like to replace them, but weren’t sure of an appropriate source.

Two days after this conversation I was standing in the kitchen by the window. Noticing movement, I looked towards the flags and saw the line was broken. Then I saw the squirrel. She was holding a bit of the line with about five flags trailing behind. I stood very still. She took her front paws and gathered one flag into a ball under her chin. She kept working until all five were a large ball. Leaping onto the still leafless maple tree, she kept her balance while holding tightly to the ball of flags. She ascended carefully to her hole and disappeared into what must be a spacious cavity. Moments later she reappeared, flag-free.

The next day more of the flags were missing. By the end of the week, it was as if the flags had never been there at all. A few bits of string are all that remain. 

It has been a remarkably cold spring. I love that there is one cozy squirrel living in a maple tree that, through no plan of mine, is continuing to spread compassion throughout the ravine.

In other news

Sam continues to love dancing to songs by Journey. Maggie wants a drum set.

I think soon The Hearthling will become a newsletter on Substack. I wonder what I am doing and I love writing it.

Tolkien, continued

‘Yes, I am with you, Master,’ said Sam, laying Frodo’s wounded hand gently to his breast. ‘And you’re with me. And the journey’s finished. But after coming all that way I don’t want to give up yet. It’s not like me, somehow, if you understand.’

‘Maybe not, Sam,’ said Frodo; ‘but it’s like things are in the world. Hopes fail. An end comes. We have only a little time to wait now. We are lost in ruin and downfall, and there is no escape.’

‘Well, Master, we could at least go further from this dangerous place here, from this Crack of Doom, if that’s it’s name. Now couldn’t we? Come, Mr. Frodo, let’s go down the path at any rate!’


How I built this

Hi friends,

In case you have noticed the 300% increase in correspondence of late, I herein provide context for my recent loquaciousness.

A couple of weeks ago I held what will henceforth be known as “The Treehouse Accord” (of 2022). I sat outside in the treehouse that Dave built for the kids during Covid. I had: my notebook and my laptop, my favorite pen (a freebie from a doctor’s office), a water bottle and some watercolor paints. I lacked: a comfortable seating arrangement. The day was not warm but it was sunny and there were many ambient sounds. I managed to tune in to the birdsong amidst the clamour.

I shall post something every week, I agreed with myself, until June 21 at which point I shall allow myself to, once again, reassess the trajectory of my life. I may post WHATEVER I WANT (while out in the treehouse to make a plan of action to start The Hearthling, this “Life is Tricksy” clause was agreed in recognition of having had many good intentions and detailed plans in the past that often have not come to fruition). The rules are: start a draft on Monday, publish on Thursday. I shook hands.

Wiggle room

I have set up a ‘campaign’ on MailChimp so that when I publish a new post it is automatically sent to subscribers at the next available 1:00 PM (EST). So that means if I publish something on Thursday at 2:00 PM (EST), it is sent to readers the following day at 1:00 PM (EST).

I meant to have issue #001 of The Hearthling ready to send out today (Thursday). I’m well underway. Problem is, it’s, um, complex (see below). So here’s my plan: I’m posting this note today, Thursday, thereby fulfilling my agreement to post each week on Thursday. I will provide a link in the notes below, following my new “don’t interrupt them with a link in the middle of reading” policy. This link will take you directly to Issue #001 of The Hearthling which currently (as I type these words) DOES NOT EXIST but will exist by the time this note gets automatically sent to your inbox tomorrow (Friday) at 1:00 PM EST. (Now I’m laughing like a Sicilian engaged in a battle of wits.)

It's complex, or maybe just complicated

I’m also experimenting with new layout options. So there’s a fancy new header and potentially even some new fonts coming your way soon. But that’s not what is complex. 

Here’s the thing:

When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

— John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Ratskin bracelet

Once I made a bracelet out of a rat’s skin including the entire head. This was scholastically encouraged, it was not my own idea. But I approached the project with my usual savoir-faire.

It turns out savoir-faire doesn’t mean exactly what I thought it did. Well, I did it with my usual carte blanche? (also no). Let’s just say enthusiasm. 

I have tidied my home repeatedly since first encountering KonMarie. While virtually every piece of jewelry I have ever owned or been given has found a new home (or been saved in a box for Maggie, that note is for you mom), the ratskin bracelet has survived every round. Something about this bracelet sparks joy.

I will save the rest of the story for The Hearthling. But my ratskin bracelet is where I choose to start the journey. I have a hunch we will find it hitched to everything else in the universe.

You might want to read this first

By the time this post gets emailed there will be TWO issues of The Hearthling. If you did not read it last week, may I humbly suggest that you read Issue #000 first because Issue #001 will make more sense in context. I also really like Issue #000. Enough that I feel it should probably become Issue #001. But it will not. You can find links to both issues in the notes below.

If you aren’t sure whether you’ve read Issue #000 already the answer is probably not. It is about Sam Gamgee and his box from Galadriel.

Headers are fun

I decided not to leave you with a devastating quote from Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I don’t find it devastating personally, but out of context it could be hard to take. 

Instead, let’s end with this:

I’ve come to think of writing as an act of reciprocity with the living land. Words to remember old stories, words to tell new ones, stories that bring science and spirit back together to nurture our becoming people made of corn.

— Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer 


  1. The Hearthling #000 (Read this one first)
  2. The Hearthling #001
  3. No offense meant to real-life Sicilians, this was a reference to the film The Princess Bride

Introducing… The Hearthling

(rhymes with Earthling, not Darthling)

Well friends, I know you know by the fact that I’m writing to you on two consecutive weeks (let alone months, or quarters) that SOMETHING IS UP! After my gas station revelation during the winter, I have been pondering long and hard. I have been listening inside, I have been balancing my chakras, I have been researching urls. 

And today, with excitement and trepidation, I introduce you to my new thing: The Hearthling.

What is The Hearthling you ask?? I invite you to come along on the ride, maybe helping along the way, as we figure it out.

Backstory: About fifteen years ago I met a former boss, someone I admired, for lunch. I had an idea, a tiny kernel of a glowing seed inside of me — not a quick thought I had dreamed up that morning but something deeper that had been whispering to me for a while. The purpose of our meeting was just to catch up, not to discuss my idea. But during the meal, when he asked about my plans, I mentioned it. Something like: I have this idea to write something, like a blog, called Hearth: Heart, Art and Earth. I have no clarity on any details yet, but it might have a category called Stone Soup.

My boss was a practical type. I think he nodded and made a suggestion of something more rational, more well-traversed, that I might pursue. And that was that. I didn’t have the confidence or vision or experience or whatever I needed then to take a tiny step in its direction.

Fast-forward 15 frequently satisfying if at times tumultuous and increasingly unpredictable years. In February I was asked a question: What three words best express what you value in life? Three words? But there are so many things to value, I thought. I could write a very long list. But I struggled to write a short one — to choose.

And I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I was tidying again. Holding the things, asking if they sparked joy. Only this time it was different. This time I could tell. I knew that my red knit hat with the multicolored tassels that I got at the Nepalese restaurant near Mount Rainier felt different to hold than almost everything else I picked up in the house.

I could feel a different energy, that something was moving and something was being let go. I wanted to take the time to see a clear answer to the question. Eventually I was sure. I wrote my words:

LOVE: The spark in me reaching towards and nurturing the spark in others (and in myself). This includes Contribution, Connection, Collaboration, Care, Effort, Persistence.

CREATIVITY: Responding to life and the moment awake-ly using practices and tools for active, celebratory listening and expression. Creative practice is like a treasure hunt for understanding and a means of listening and sharing. I value learning from the creative practice of others, including creativity in ideas, solutions, systems. I like seeing the variety of possibilities and the different ways different people understand and approach questions. This includes Celebration and Playfulness.

NATURE: Being aware of myself as a small part of the beautiful, interconnected whole of the living world and feeling a part of the cycles and richness of nature. I have made many of the most significant decisions in my life to spend time with people who have a similar feeling about nature or to do work that protects or restores nature.

Later that evening I was standing at a derelict gas station on a busy road overlooking an unkempt stream. Petroleum fumes wafted while traffic lumbered past, slowed by ongoing construction. There was a soft breeze and it was not bitterly cold. I saw an unidentified group of birds lifting into the sky and flying over the stream. My eyes followed them in the sky.

Heart, art, and earth, I thought to myself.

Or rather myself said to me.

And there was a quickening. Heart, art and earth. Love, creativity and nature.

It’s time myself said to me.

And ever since then I have been determining what it is time for.


  1. I have a whole other website,, that you might not know about.
  2. It’s not a great looking site and not the best for reading text either, which I acknowledge is not ideal for a text-heavy site.
  3. That is where The Hearthling is currently living while I figure out some other logistics.
  4. The current issue of The Hearthling is not the first issue but rather the almost first issue.
  5. If you click that link it will take you to a page with words that I like.
  6. Please know the formatting will be improved and that I do care about your reading experience.
  7. Subscribers (that’s anyone who got this post directly as an email), for now you will get notified in this manner (a link in a Jenny Goodguts post) when there are new issues at Hearthling. There is currently no way to subscribe to the newsletter.
  8. Eventually the list will be segmented and you’ll be able to choose to stay on this list and also join that one or receive one or the other or none.
  9. I wanted to write (sad face) at the end of the preceding line but decided against it, I wasn’t sure if I want cutesy to be my style. But then I added this line, for transparency.


Hello friends,

Rather than begin with an apology for the length of time that has passed since sending the last note, today I issue a prediction: By 2032, “lead” (rhymes with “bread”) will become an acceptable spelling for the past tense of the verb “to lead” rather than a ubiquitously misused homonym that most commonly refers to a soft metal that is undesirable in paint, gasoline or aqueducts. Look, I don’t like it anymore than you do, but we do what we must in learning to roll with life’s caprice.

What else are we adjusting to in 2022? In the paragraphs that follow I will share a developing story in the life of one suburban Virginian.

As background, and perhaps I’ve mentioned this before, one time in the sixth grade I won an entire jar of candy for most closely estimating the number of candies the jar contained. It was during a well attended school Halloween carnival, so competition was stiff. I imagine I stood there like a real nerd counting rows, eyeballing the height of the candies and their width and then doing some kind of calculation. Obviously this victory impressed itself into the depths of my memory since otherwise I currently remember nothing — especially not a six-digit robo-code that keeps changing every time I need to access my financial information.

While my significant powers of estimation may suggest otherwise, it would not surprise my ninth grade math teacher, Ms. Balch, that I lack a certain geometrical aptitude. If I have some leftover lima beans I usually choose a jar that is too small and then am faced with deciding if those extra few beans are worth dirtying a second jar. Why don’t I start with a jar that is bigger than I think necessary? Well what if I need a bigger jar later and I already used it for not enough lima beans to fill it?? Wouldn’t I regret that choice?

But today we’re not talking about candy or lima beans (though today I have already eaten both). Heretofore I have mentioned the declining health of the trees that my family assumed financial responsibility for when we naively signed a large mortgage for what could only be referred to as “a poorly maintained house slowly crumbling into a ravine.” I don’t expect you to remember the trees, I know you have your own things going on, so no hard feelings.

While some of the trees are thankfully still perky and up to their old tricks, those of the oaken variety have not fared so well in the past few years. We’ve asked multiple arborists and foresters (three) about the probable cause of death/irreversible decline of the oaks in our vicinity to which they have each replied: not sure, could be an insect, amplifying our confidence in the formidable powers of scientific inquiry. One theory is that the fungus (amongus) are staging a revolt against humanity for our incorrect assumption (leading to flagrant insanity) that the world was created solely for our use and benefit. So far the fungus theory hasn’t caught on with many experts, but that might be because this is the first time anyone’s ever mentioned it (me, it’s my theory). (I hear you saying: that’s not a theory, most likely it is an untestable hypothesis.) Okay then.

With multiple dead trees and the slim but unacceptable prospect of crushed children (did I tell you about the time Dave stood directly underneath a tree and pulled on a rope thrown over a large dead branch in an epic feat of man against branch that resulted in a trip to the ER on Christmas Eve?), it was decided that something had to be done. So we called the tree guys for an estimate and after meeting with us and looking at the yard they never called us back.

Hmmm…I thought, maybe this is the new normal. When I called the piano tuner he told me he could be here in six months. It’s been eight months since I called our plumber (multiple times) and he still hasn’t called me back and I’m pretty sure he’s still alive. So as we awaited an estimate from the tree people, per my new normal, I wondered for weeks whether there was something wrong with us and our yard, or something wrong with them, or whether this is just how things are done now.

Eventually (this was back in January), we found an outfit willing to come to our yard and remove (some of) the dead trees. Clarification: they were willing to remove (some of) the trees for a considerable sum of money. Alternately they were also willing to cut (some of) the trees down, aka to remove the danger of being crushed, while leaving (all of) the wood in our yard. Great! (I thought.) Um?? (Dave thought.)

We can use some of the wood for hugelkultur and make buried tree wildflower gardens like our friend Clay made while locked down with and homeschooling his kids during Covid year 1!! And then we can use some more to make, like, steps or something, sort of natural-type yardscaping. And then we could always roll some of it down the hill into the ravine to be broken down by fungus and provide habitat for all the critters. And then, if there’s any left, we could put it on Craigslist — free wood! Surely lots of people would be happy to take some free wood. Right?? (I thought.)

(Um…) (Dave thought.)

(That’s a lot of wood.) (Dave thought.)

Also it would have cost two thousand extra dollars to have the men haul all of that wood from the backyard (way downhill) to a chipper in the front yard (way uphill). I didn’t want all of that beautiful wood chipped when it could be used for something that was different from being chipped but also completely undefined. Finally the cost saving argument carried the day. We would try it my way!

Here we are in April and Maggie’s interest in learning to whittle seems to be on the wane. Our neighbor has chopped one logs’ worth of intensely wet, suffocatingly smoky wood. There are about 200 circles of tree (certain overestimate) remaining exactly where three burly men, using formidable strength and also power tools, positioned them. I can’t wrap my arms around most of the pieces. We’ve already touched on my powers of estimation but, 200+ pounds a piece? My back goes out if I even imagine trying to move one of the pieces and we’ve already sent more tree down the ravine than I care to admit.

I remain determined that this wood is here to teach me something. I look out of the window as it very…slowly….ages, wondering about reptile habitat among other things. I’ve asked my neighbor if he might show us how to chop wood. (Though we don’t have an axe. Or a working fireplace.) I haven’t tried the Craigslist “free wood” idea yet. Truth is, I kind of like it there. And maybe we will bring firewood as gifts to friends who invite us for dinner for the next 30 years. (Honey, why don’t we invite the Holes, they always show up with a charming stack of reptile-laden firewood?)

In other news, Dave recently had his first long trip away from home since Covid began. While he was gone Maggie sprained her ankle and knee and I may, to some degree, be implicated, certainly not intentionally but still one never likes for these things to occur while one is solely at the helm. My wood-chopping neighbor came to her rescue. Sam has acquired a menagerie of squishmallows under which he buries himself each night while I lie awake, wondering if inhaling polyester is a significant culprit in microplastic concentration in lung tissue.

I had the opportunity to help a poet get a beautiful book into the world. We went to Asheville and had the best piece of cake of my whole life at Well Bred in Weaverville. So many other things I’ve thought to tell you about but I’ll have to leave it at this and trust life to provide more fodder as it is wont to do.

I have an idea that I’m excited about. I don’t know what it is exactly, but when something occurs to you while you are pumping gas on Glebe Road during rush hour at the end of a difficult day and watching some kind of birds that fly in a group in the winter, maybe geese or something else kind of large, could be ducks but not crows, when you are watching them as the sun is about to set and a thought suddenly flashes across your mind in answer to a question you’ve had for the past fifteen years, you can’t just walk away from that idea.

I’ll write more soon.


  1. Note on this new format: I have decided as a test not to put hyperlinks in the text of my notes. When my eyes pass over a hyperlink that I’m interested in I find that it divides my attention — keep reading and come back or click now? To protect your focus while providing further resources, I am going to try it this way.
  2. More about hugelculture
  3. My friend’s book of poetry is called Dwelling Place and I helped her to edit and design it. It is very beautiful.

Hi! Thanks for reading! I’ve also written a book (The Rise and Fall of Jenny Goodguts) available on Amazon in print or as an ebook. You can subscribe here to get new posts directly in your inbox.

Melon tales / What I’ve learned during Covid / Back in School (Part 2)

Hi friends,

After sending you a rather long note back in September, and promising a part two wherein I would discuss the new traffic light, I received a note from one amongst you suggesting that I consider sending more frequent, shorter notes.

Having jotted down over the past two months a long list of items I’d like to tell you about, one item in particular came to my attention yesterday morning. I added it to the list. I knew I wouldn’t have time to cover everything on the list this week. It’s Friday after all. And then, my friend/reader’s note came back to my mind. What if you tell them this one thing? And then tell them another small thing some other time that is sooner than 2022??

Noting it is unlikely I will be able to write without mentioning at least two of the things on the list, first I wanted to share a lesson that I’ve learned during Covid.

This summer we spent some time with my parents in Alabama. That’s not really relevant to the story, but that is where it happened. I suppose you could buy a watermelon in many places in the summer months. I didn’t buy the watermelon actually which, in my mind, partly explains what happened next. Someone buys a watermelon. A huge watermelon. And someone cuts open that watermelon, sharing juicy, pink slices with the assorted family members present at the time of fruit puncture. It’s summertime. There’s lots of fruit around. Peaches, blueberries. That is to say, there’s no rush for watermelon. It’s one of the options and it requires a cutting board and a large knife. Time passes.

I didn’t buy it. I didn’t slice it. I guess I thought whoever did (p.s., I know who did) would put it away if he wasn’t planning to cut more soon. So it sat there for multiple days, maybe three. In the middle of the counter, in the middle of the kitchen. Waiting for someone to make the next move.

I’m not certain who finally got tired of looking at that giant half watermelon and cut the rest of it into slices, nobody is here to place blame (I think it was me). I do know I picked up one of the slices and took it outside to eat while talking on the phone. I took a few bites. It wasn’t delicious. It was undelicious, like fizzy. I put the rest of my piece into the compost. I mention the phone call so you will understand why I did not go back into the kitchen and discuss the fizzy nature of the watermelon with anyone else.

Later that same day, my dad and Dave took the kids swimming, or attempted to. On the way into the pool Sam vomited all over the walkway. He vomited again when he got home and again later that night. Repeatedly. It turns out that you can’t leave a melon out on the counter for days and then serve it to a child who likes melon.

I’m happy to have learned this lesson because yesterday while I was engaged in one of my least favorite weekdaily activities which is making school lunches for the kids, I saw some cantaloupe and thought: great! Someone other than me had also bought this melon and it was November. November is not melon time, everyone knows this. But the melon was bought and it was hard as a rock. It tasted like biting into celery without the strings.

Sometimes, if I cut into a hard avocado, I might leave it out on the counter for a day to soften before trying again. I guess that’s what I thought when I cut into the canteloupe. I’ll just leave it out here and it will improve, maybe. So I did. And then on Thursday, I picked it up and pressed my index finger into the orange flesh. It was softer. Great, I thought! It worked. I started to find a container to put slices of now softened canteloupe into the lunchboxes.

And then a voice from the unknown, somewhere in the soup that my mind has lately become, reminded me of another melon left on another counter. I think it wasn’t a voice, but maybe an aroma. I think what happened was that I also left some slices of cantaloupe on the counter to soften in a container and when I took the lid off I noticed a faint aroma.

The aroma was what reminded me of having poisoned my child only months prior. I took all of the slices and the remaining half of a melon and put them in the bucket for the compost. And when I carried them outside, it occurred to me that this was something I could share with the world. A pride that I can no longer be fooled by or be party to poisoning my own children with counter-sitting melons. You probably already knew this, but just in case.

The second thing I wanted to tell you about was the traffic light. There’s a new one. Every single time I pass it I think about humanity. Somebody knew there should be a light there. That sitting in a lefthand turn lane on a six-lane road that is crossing to a four-lane road with a bike path that goes across it and no left-turn arrow and no red hand for the pedestrians and bikers is a situation crying out for improvement. Somebody said something and then some other people agreed. And now there’s an arrow. I sat at that lefthand turn so many times, with no arrow, in the evening, with bikers and walkers and traffic. And now, I’m whistling a merry tune every time. Someone worked to make that safer.

Four times each week I get to celebrate that something is easier. Something is more peaceful, more thoughtfully designed. I don’t have to warn my kids each time before we get to that light that mommy needs to concentrate. I don’t have to concentrate. I just have to sit there and wait briefly for my own safe turn.

Why am I sharing this? Because it feels good to notice the work other people do to make things better.

Thank you beautiful stranger, whoever you are.

Emergence / Back to school (Pt 1)

Hi friends! I wrote this gigantic note to send you round about June 11 of this year. I thought about sending it, or something, for many, many weeks. It wasn’t ‘finished’ I told myself. I needed more time, I told myself. Well, here it is, just the same as it was, but much later. By calling it Part 1 I intend to convey that there will be a Part 2, at least, in which I plan to tell you about the new traffic light. And also some other things. But first, let’s travel in our time machines back to the end of school, just a few short months ago…

I received my second injection of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on May 12, 2021, seated in a booth at Charlie’s, a local dining establishment that I have yet to but certainly will someday patronize. This is where Mommy got her vaccine, I will say as we look around like people arriving in a new world sitting there together inside a building that is not our house. 

May 12 + 2 weeks = May 26

May 26 = Full vaccine effectiveness (approximately)

May 26 + 2 weeks = Yesterday

As of yesterday morning, I was still firmly entrenched in my highly monotonous while also shockingly unpredictable Covid lifestyle. Dave working from an old table set up in our bedroom. The two of us here all day every day together. No one leaving to go to work. No one leaving to see a friend. Sometimes we would drink coffee (the dog knows this as “mugs time”). Sometimes we would drink whiskey (the dog knows this as “crystal time”). Sometimes we would sit on the deck and listen to birds. 450 days worth of month after Covid month. Talking about cicadas or pipelines or political shenanigans of various stripes or migrating birds.

He would do the weekly grocery shopping, initially because he was deemed the more careful half (and I deemed myself the smarter half who was willing to not have to go to the grocery store anymore). But eventually, after 450 days, after my first dose of the vaccine, and then my second, and then the passage of four more weeks, why hadn’t I been to the grocery store, my regular grocery store, in 14 months?

But before we get into what changed yesterday, let’s catch up on a few highlights in roughly chronological order:

Covid vaccination, shot #2: When I arrived at Charlie’s there was one nurse giving shots and a short line of folks waiting. It turned out he (the nurse) had been there since 7:30 that morning (it was 2:30 pm) giving shot after shot after shot because the other two nurses had not ever arrived and the line had never stopped. The only thing I knew to do was to try to help that man laugh, and I’m pleased to say that it worked. 

I came home with a rapidly sore-ing shoulder and listened to Maggie play the piano while my eyes started closing (in broad daylight, that’s when I noticed Dave googling “reaction to Moderna vaccine”). I read several chapters of Pride and Prejudice and went to bed. I couldn’t figure out where to put my shoulder. I was overwarm but couldn’t take off the covers either. After a dozy but restless night, when Maggie touched my forehead her hand felt particularly cold. Low-grade fever. Made the children’s lunches (they got hot dogs and sliced apples that day), got back in bed, and stayed there until I had finished reading all of Pride and Prejudice. Walked downstairs. Ate some rice. Kids came home. Started watching Pride and Prejudice (BBC version, 6 hours). (Only day during all of Covid that I have watched daytime tv and also probably the only time I’ve chosen the film to be watched, except that one time we all watched Willow and the children were horrified when the dog/wolves chased, caught, and presumably ate the nice old woman at the start of the film. I tried to remember a time when seeing a nice old lady chased and eaten by dogs would have been shocking to me). Finished watching all six episodes of P+P and by the time it was over I was feeling pretty much like myself again. A little woozy on occasion but mostly no big deal.

Colonial pipeline. Incidentally (is it incidental? I think it is not), the morning that I was due to get my second shot, I received a text from my friend and neighbor. She had driven to multiple gas stations that morning and had had trouble finding fuel. If I wanted to be able to bring my children to school and back, I should check to make sure I had enough gas to last for a few days. Maybe we should consider carpooling to save gas in the meantime, even though it is currently frowned upon by the school due to Covid concerns, etc. 

(Sept 21 note: Shockingly, when I have mentioned Colonial Pipeline during recent conversations with friends about The End of Days, frequently they don’t know what I’m talking about. In May, Colonial Pipeline shut down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S. leading to shortages across the East Coast, after hackers, affiliates of a Russia-linked cybercrime group known as DarkSide, gained access to their network through a single compromised password.)

“Our goal is to make money and not creating problems for society,” (per the DarkSide website). I totally relate guys. I too would like to both have money and also not creating social problems. Thankfully, DarkSide has announced that “From today, we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”

Besides for the fact that these guys seem to think they have a legitimate business model (and maybe they do, that would be an interesting question to consider in the future. I mean, if they are going to attack companies that make money off of selling death chemicals through false marketing then, I don’t know, who being the bad guys?).

But I’m not here to question the particular business model at this moment. I’m here to talk about my carpool dilemmas at this juncture during the crisis of 2020/2021/TBD (aka what life is like now, even for people who used to think there was such thing as a bubble, which there still is but it is a less convenient and predictable bubble than it used to be but still a hell of a lot safer).


4.4 million dollars in Bitcoin later everything was okay. Though Dave did drive around looking for gas one night, using more of our carefully guarded petrol than I was comfortable with while also not locating a supplier. I know I don’t need to mention the people putting gas in garbage bags and how that made me feel. I don’t know how that made me feel. 

There is a chance that the Colonial Pipeline is going to be feature prominently in my future writing. I considered moving somewhere we could live off grid. I thought about getting on my bicycle again (do I know how to put air in the tires?).

Ladies and gents, and also not ladies and not gents, we are living in a new era. The post-Colonial Pipeline era. Have you seen DarkSide’s website?

I copied this screenshot from the BBC. I hope writing that last sentence makes it legal to do so.

This is not from a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

It seems clear to me that we can no longer go on pretending that life can ever be predictable. Well, I guess that in itself is predictable though. We can predict with confidence that completely unexpected things will always continue happening day after day, things we just can’t plan for or be prepared for.

But let’s move on to Brood X cicadas: I haven’t googled this or anything but i’m told this is a wide-reaching but also bounded phenomenon. If you are missing out, here’s a synopsis: there are dead bugs EVERYWHERE. Also living bugs. They land in your hair and hold on with their sticky little claws. If you went out at night, around 10 pm, you could literally hear them emerging from the ground. I recorded it. It sounded sort of like someone unwrapping the cellophane from a box of frozen croissants. They climb up trees and at some point decide to split their back open and then sort of lie backwards as this very juicy white caterpillar thing with wings and dark spots that look like fake eyes and then flip over to get in the right direction so their wings can dry and then go somewhere else to hang out for a couple of weeks before starting to all sing in unison but not harmony. I also recorded that. This multi-pitched sound that starts before sunrise and goes on all… day… long. It’s fine and also quite loud. Then they die. Also they die while walking to the tree, trying to get up the tree, if their wings don’t open right, if something eats them, if a child becomes interested in science, if your husband wants to cook them, if they emerge somewhere that used to be wooded but now is a road, if your tires are the tallest place they can immediately find to climb, if something like a fungus eats their butt. 

I see them frolicking outside my window right now. Soon they will mate and die and then the eggs will drop down into what is now wooded and then live underground for 17 years before the next time. Where will I be then? I was in downtown DC last time. There were a few extra bugs around but my life then was not so attuned to the natural world. (I call them bugs with a sense of irony, as we all know they are technically ‘insects.’) I was working in nature conservation, but in other places, far away places, not watching the signs of nature daily out of my window.

I had already met Dave though, last time the cicadas came. I had recently met him and thought he was just a dashing British scientist who had too many shoes for a man. And now we are walking around in the dark harvesting cicadas that we have talked about cooking but not yet cooked. They are in the freezer.

End of the school year + human emergence: So tomorrow is the last day of school for my kids. Against my better judgment I agreed again this year to be a class parent. Organizing gifts for my nearest and dearest is not a strong suit, to say the least. My parents both still have an IOU for their 70th birthdays. So organizing a class gift = trauma. (Not really, for anyone on this list who is a former teacher for whom I was class parent, you are certainly an exception.)

School is ending and I have accepted responsibility to procure a gift for my son’s teacher, who I adore. Nothing short of my appreciation for this person, plus my lifelong fear of displeasing and not living up to the expectations of others, could have motivated me to leave my home in my one pair of real pants and enter “the real world” (meaning, not my home and not Trader Joe’s). 

Friends, I could definitely write a whole other thing about the three hours of my afternoon yesterday. There’s a lot to unpack. Let me try to share the highlights:

  • There are a lot of things available to buy in the real world that, when I don’t see them, I don’t need them. When I see them, I wonder if I need them. I mostly don’t, but this uses some of my decision power and I don’t have a whole lot to spare.
  • There are a lot of pictures of people who look happy or like coolly unhappy but smug and unsatisfied in just the way they desire to be and massive pictures of these people are all over the place, telling me stories about what life is or should be that are not the stories I choose to live by when I don’t see these pictures. Such pictures are confusing, especially when your daughter is with you and trying to figure out what a person is, what we aspire to as a culture, what gives life value.
  • You might buy a pack of fancy gum at REI because the mint is grown in the pacific northwest and when you get home wonder who is even going to eat that gum. Why? Why the gum? 
  • Target is like a ghost town. You walk in and don’t know where anything is and also shelves are both full and empty and it seems there is no one working there and is your daughter a child? The clothes for children look so small. Do they have a juniors department? What is a juniors department? She wants to buy a doll with her own money. This is the first time she’s been to a store since March of 2020 so you let her. You go through the self-checkout because again, no people seem to be working there. Is this the trend of the future? Robots will stack the shelves with whatever is available given global supply shortages and you will self checkout your one box of Rice Krispies and pornographic doll (details to follow)?
  • If you have to walk any distance on the sidewalk to get where you are going, this is confusing. You know you are vaccinated so you don’t really need a mask. Especially on the sidewalk. Except you didn’t take a shower and you are liking the anonymity of a mask, definitely. But then again the humidity. So sometimes you keep the mask on, so you can hide from the men sitting at the outdoor bar and freely using profanity and sometimes you take it off and think you might want to smile a friendly smile at the other living beings passing you but that also feels like a little too much. Then you go into the store and put your mask on, to keep others comfortable I guess. Also the sidewalk is uneven and you realize you haven’t done that much walking lately. 
  • If you are a woman, maybe also if you are a man, you might recognize that you have enjoyed not having to walk down the street and want to be not seen. This is a whole can of worms but not being in this situation for many months made me realize how uncomfortable I am – and have been – as a woman being in the world, see below for details of pornographic doll.
  • It all feels so crazy: what people wear, what we’re shown, the stories we’re told, the crowding, the so-much, the need, the excess and the lack, the hyper-sexualization.
  • Also I bought my favorite kind of rice cakes. 
  • And, don’t you think it would be funny if I told all the parents in my son’s class that the only kind of gift card left was for the Cheesecake Factory? I’ve been laughing all day about the idea of a $200 gift card to the Cheesecake Factory. I don’t know why. Maybe I just need something to laugh about.

So then I came home and Maggie had this new doll. She played with the doll for a while. Eventually all of the dolls clothes were removed. So we’ve got a nude doll. Except her earrings were still on. Also her knee-high black socks and tiny pink underpants (these two features are not removable). This doll has a tiny waist and large hips and a reasonably sized chest. She has blue and pink hair in braids (four) and a sort of Scandinavian thing, or maybe Indonesian, going on with a fancy arrangement of hair knots. She looks a bit like a huge-eyed anime stripper. This is the sexiest doll I’ve ever seen (or as Dave and I both remarked, maybe we’ve just been stuck inside for too long). My ten-year-old is holding this nude doll who she purchased today in the toy section at Target. I guess I don’t know how I felt. I mean, the doll is curvy so I think we’re supposed to support that. But she looks like a tiny sex doll.

I neither binge-ate ice cream sandwiches nor did I pour the world’s large gin and tonic. I sat in Maggie’s room with her and answered a million questions about my first boyfriend. If I ever rode in a car with a boy on a date. Bowling.

Dave has his interview for US citizenship tomorrow too, so we reviewed his citizenship questions. I’m wondering if you know one thing that Benjamin Franklin is well known for? Out of about 100 questions to become an American citizen that is one. I find that interesting. Susan B. Anthony is the only woman mentioned, though answers to two questions currently happen to be the names of females at this juncture of history. 


Now it is today. The last day of school. Pouring rain. Also the day of Dave’s citizenship interview. He just came back. He passed. Monday he will be a citizen of the US of A. Sam went to school with exceedingly careful instructions about delivery of the teacher’s gift. We role-played it over breakfast. The gift was placed in an extra layer of plastic bag protection and I showed him the envelope that does not contain a gift card to the Cheesecake Factory and pleaded, since I am not allowed to deliver the gift in person, that he suggest his teacher put the envelope somewhere safe on this rain-filled day where all of the assorted paperstuffs of a 2nd-grade year in which the parents haven’t set foot into the classroom are to be organized and somehow conveyed home in the arms of a gorgeous and highly distractible 8-year-old.

On his way out of the door this morning I said: Imagine you are Link and you have a very special mission. And he said: to deliver a gift to Zelda. And I said, yes, nodding vigorously.

I sit here in the pouring rain awaiting some confirmation that the bag, and in particular that envelope, made it safely to its destination. I will lavish him with praise.

School lunches: I know some of you are vegetarians, so I’m sorry in advance but I wanted to tell you one of the nicest things Dave has done for me in all of Covid. Making school lunches has always been tricky for me. No nuts so there is no PB and J. My kids don’t eat sandwiches (?!) and believe me I’ve tried the thing where you just send the food and let them go hungry if they won’t eat it. They go hungry. And there is a steep price to pay, and I feel that I’m the one who pays it. My kids will eat minestrone, they’ll eat kale and chickpeas, oatmeal, eggs and whole wheat toast. They eat salmon and they’ll even eat a raw oyster or two. But school lunch is different. There’s a playground when you’re done, there is conversation to be had, and it just isn’t a time for eating something creative. We had a bagel phase where they were eating bagels but that ended. We tried beans and rice. We’ve tried pasta. 

YES, it is a planning deficiency on my part. If I made a plan for the week and bought a variety of fresh fruits and made a fancy wrap in a tortilla, maybe. I don’t know. But Tuesday morning would come and I would see the lunch bags and want them to eat something but I couldn’t just send a bag of cookies. Enter the hot dog. A hot dog is a never fail lunch option. At first it was a one-time-a-week deal. The day that it was easy to make lunch. And then, about a month ago, Dave came back from the store with two sleeves of hot dogs. Unpacking the bags I saw them there and I think tears came to my eyes. I think I even hugged him at that point.

You think it is okay if I send them with hot dogs, more than once a week? 
Fill your boots, he might have said. That’s when I knew he really loved me.

(Note to feminists, et al.: Dave makes dinner at least half of the time and does all the grocery shopping, so I find this lunch-making arrangement is a pretty fair deal, in case you’re wondering why the burden falls on my shoulders).

This week the children have had three hot dogs. Well, for lunch that is. Hot dogs today, hot dogs yesterday. They are the fancy kind, grass fed, maybe even supporting regenerative agriculture. I don’t know. Whatever the associated ethical or health questions associated with this practice, I forgive myself. It’s okay Jennifer. You are doing your best.

We are doing our best. Heck, probably the DarkSide guys are doing their best.

Borrowing. Maggie had a trip for school, an overnight campout that is usually three nights but this time would be one, masked, with each child bringing a parent along. I signed Dave up knowing it would involve sleeping on the ground under a tarp in a heavily ticked area. Also he really likes birds. 

They had to drive out there and we own one car. Sam had to get to school and back while they were gone and as mentioned earlier we aren’t supposed to be carpooling. The obvious answer was to rent a car for two days, right? My hesitation upon checking out the rental option resulted from the exorbitant cost combined with the inconvenience of having to pick a car up and return it somewhere and also a tiny whisper of either ethics or inadequacy.

You… must… reach… out… to… a… human.

So I asked my neighbor. She could get him there, but not home. Okay, think girl, think. I think I checked rental car options again.

I texted a friend I haven’t seen or spoken to since the fall. I was horrified to do it. Both because I had been so out of touch and because I didn’t want to impose my possibly germ-ridden child or make her uncomfortable if she wanted to decline. Certain my request was both humiliating and unreasonable, I sent a similar message to a second friend. And then, at the moment of my greatest desperation, I sent a text to another neighbor who has always been friendly and I (gulp) asked her if she might have a car I could borrow for one hour one afternoon to pick my child up from school. It felt like a bold move, but my child isn’t supposed to be in cars with other children per school policy. I was confused but also desperate to have two days of eight hours each with no one else in my house. The first eight hours I would have had in 450 days.

These three messages out in the world, I sat in my chair rocking. How dare I impose on these people? Now they are super uncomfortable because they have to respond and deny my ridiculous requests. We should own two cars. I should have kept in touch with more people. I should have been different, better, something so that I could be a one-woman island. So that I don’t need anything from anybody!!!!

Text notification: We’d be happy to drive Sam home on Thursday
Second text notification: We’d love to bring Sam home Friday.
Third text notification: We have an old Camry that we aren’t using, want to borrow it for the whole time Dave is gone?
Knock on the door: Since we can’t bring Sam home, do you want to borrow our other car for the two days (second offer of borrowed car).
Another knock on the door: Here are the keys to the Camry.
Follow-up text: If the weather is bad on Friday and you don’t want to drive our car, let us know and we can pick Sam up.

I’ve written about this before. It was so hard to ask for help. It felt so… vulnerable. And it felt



to be supported. To feel support. All felt right with the world. I have people and people have me.

We had friends over for dinner last weekend for the first time since February of 2020. We grilled and sat outside.

We had forgotten how you do things. Dinner, which included tater tots, was not ready until about 8 pm. And it was one of the best nights ever. I said it then and I’ll say it now. Maybe the pipeline will stop working again. Maybe there will be a new variant. Maybe we’ll be inside for another 18 months. I don’t know. But last Saturday night we were sitting outside, it was not raining, we were eating and laughing with friends. I appreciated that night so much because I’m not sure, I’m not taking for granted, that it will always be possible. My enjoying it isn’t dependent on it happening again. Just that it is happening now.

Oh, one more thing that I also haven’t mentioned during the Covid Chronicles, but that, before whatever comes next, whatever phase we enter now where things are going to be changing in some unknown and unpredictable way, I would like to document. I haven’t told you about the man in the van: During much the Covid era, there is a man who has been living in a van next door to me. I can see the van right now, maybe 30 feet from my desk I would estimate. It’s a blue van and the top can open and there’s a bed up there. He can cook in the van too, I wasn’t sure but he can.

The van comes and goes. I don’t know where he goes. Something about Colorado. Vanman is about my age, a bit younger. He is a friend of the family who own the house next door and his van is in their driveway. I think he uses their wi-fi to work from the van. I’m so full of questions. Does his living in the van have anything to do with Covid, I’ve wondered. I’ve thought about living in my own van multiple times during the past 16 months. He’s been there all of this time, and I haven’t asked. 

I know his name, I say hi sometimes but we’ve never had a conversation. When he goes away, there’s an empty space in the driveway and, maybe because I don’t know where he’s gone or when he’ll come back, I feel like there is something missing.

Yesterday when the kids came home from school Sam ran upstairs to check the weather app on the iPad. He ran down excitedly asking me if I would come outside because there was a major thunderstorm on the way and he wanted to see if we could see the clouds. We could, a little. But the house was a mess, there were gifts to organize, dishes to put in the dishwasher, stuff to get ready for the last day of school. Sam stayed outside to watch the storm come in.

I loaded the dishwasher and wiped off the counters. I unpacked the backpacks. I thought about Sam. I thought about how hungry he is for interaction. How much time he spends at home drawing and reading and imagining. He hasn’t been able to play with friends after school. We are busy around here with Maggie’s homework or cooking or working or, I don’t know what.

I looked outside in the usual places. No Sam. I went back to the front yard and there he was, standing by the van. He was asking the vanman questions — where do you sleep? where do you cook? I heard the vanman answering him: well, one good thing about the van is that it encourages me to spend more time outside. It started to rain. Sam remained outside talking to the vanman. Sam, curious. Vanman, patient. Both of them seeming at peace with the water falling from the sky.

I felt happy. Held by the world.

I don’t have to be everything for Sam. I don’t have to engineer everything for Sam. Look, outside, there is the world. He is loving the world, and it is loving him back.