Southeastern Update

Well, it’s beyond ridiculous how long it has been since we’ve blogged about our traveling discernment adventures. Here are some brief highlights, accompanied by a promise to post more frequently from hence forth…

Southern Virginia was…Southern Virginia.

VA

Beautiful Southern Virginia

It was beautiful and filled with the bright colors of fall foliage. It was heart-breaking to see this beauty hampered by Confederate flags, soggy with endless rain, billowing systemic racism to all who pass by. We experienced some amazing people, like Jack and Nancy, who just happened to stop at our campground amidst the downpours because their camper leaked while moving. Parked and properly covered, we struck up a conversation only to discover that they live, not only on the east side of the Big Island of Hawaii, but precisely one mile away from where we’re staying during January and February. What a wild, small, beautiful world we live in. We also experienced a fair share of closed-mindedness, the likes of our queer family raising myriad eyebrows and causing some to assume that I must be Riah’s grandmother or aunt since we simply both couldn’t be his moms.

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Stunning Fall Colors

Because of all the rain, we joined a gym in the closest town and by the end of our month in Virginia, we decided it was the best money we’d ever spent! Riah had time with other kiddos in the childcare, we were able to work out even in the rain, and they had a heated indoor pool; plus the entire gym had stunning views of the Jefferson National Forest.

Riah’s fabulous birth parents came to visit for Riah’s second birthday. We had a blast celebrating together with Lindsey’s new rescue dog, Papaya; my mom and brother also helped with the rescue, but that’s a story for another day.

riah bday

Celebrating with Riah’s birth parents!

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Riah turns 2!!!

We also managed to become the talk of the town of Sugar Grove one evening. Our Carbon Monoxide Detector rang for a few seconds before shutting off. We vacated the camper (fortunately it was just cold and not raining). Our camper’s handbook indicates that you should call 911 anytime the detector rings. Since it only rang for a few seconds, I thought this was a bit extreme, but still wanted to take precautions so as to not kill us all in our sleep. So, using the landline phone hidden beneath a bucket for protection (there’s no cell service), I called the local sheriff’s station. I was informed that they’re required to dispatch the fire department. I pleaded with them not to send a fire truck, or blaze sirens. Five minutes later an enormous red fire engine roars into the tiny campground, lights blazing, followed by four pick-up trucks. A total of 14 volunteer firefighters showed up; one managed to figure out how to work their Carbon Monoxide tester. Everything was fine, but the “two ladies with a toddler in a pop-up camper” were certainly the talk of the town for weeks to come.

While in Virginia, I also led several retreats, had an art show, and preached in Boone. It was meaningful and fun to work with the justice-centered community at High Country UCC. It also whittled my traveling Holy Women Icons art show down from 18 to 11, which is always helpful to our bank account!

HCUCC art show

Holy Women Icons show at HCUCC in Boone

 

Atlanta was…full of family…and traffic.

From Virginia, we went to Lake James for a few days to spend time with Elizabeth’s mom and Papa Steve. Next we drove to Atlanta where we stayed at Elizabeth’s dad’s garage apartment behind one of his rental units. Though we spent a lot of time with my family, training for and running a half marathon, we mostly oscillated between the steam shower and soaker tub. Seriously, after four months of camping—3 of which lacked running water—we had some dirt deep in our pores. After almost a month in Atlanta, I’m convinced we’re clean and ready to get dirty again on our cross-country road trip.

half marathon

Post Thanksgiving Half Marathon in Atlanta

For one week during our Atlanta-stint, we drove to Florida to have an early Thanksgiving with John and Jackie, Elizabeth’s brother and his fiancé. Then we celebrated Thanksgiving with four generations of the Harrell side of my family at my papa’s farm after Elizabeth, my cousin Katie, and I ran the Atlanta Half Marathon. And then we began our cross-country adventure by stopping in Birmingham to visit the Rodriguez side of my family. Between our families, and especially Riah’s grandparents, we have enjoyed having multiple babysitters as Riah has soaked up being the center of attention, and we enjoyed some much-appreciated grown-up time.

While in both Virginia and Atlanta, we checked out some potential retreat properties, expanding our search to include the rural areas surrounding Winston-Salem since we may simply be priced out of Asheville and Boone. There’s so much possibility and we’re excited about what may be in store for the little ecofeminist retreat/education center we’re creating.

Now we’re…off on an epic cross-country adventure.

We’re taking one month to pull the camper across the country with stops in New Orleans, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Las Cruces, Tucson, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area. Once in the bay, the camper will hang out at the home of the one of my former congregants while we fly to Hawaii for three months.

drive

Along our drive through the Pisgah National Forest

Adventure. Beauty. Family. Challenges. Learning. Gratitude. The Year-of-Adventure-Discernment has given us so much already and we can’t wait to see what is to come! More soon…

mist drive

No shortage of amazing views while traveling…

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Conversations with Riah, Volume III: In Which Riah Tells Jokes

Joke #1: The Noodle

[Scene: We are in the pool, and Riah is playing with a foam noodle.]

Riah: Noooooodle.

Riah: Eat!

Riah (smiling): Joke.

 

Joke #2: The Cup of Milk

[Scene: Riah finishes a cup of milk. He knows he only gets one cup before bed.]

Riah: More?

Elizabeth: No, you already drank your cup of milk.

Riah: Milk? Milk? More?

Elizabeth: No, you already had your milk.

Riah (whining): Moooooorrrreee?

Elizabeth: No, you know you only get one cup.

Riah: Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk.    Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk. Milk.

Elizabeth (defeated): OK, you can have a little bit more.

(Elizabeth pours more milk and hands it to Riah. Riah pushes the cup away.)

Riah (smiling): Joke.

 

IMG_1495

Telling jokes is exhausting.

Joke #3: The Startle

[Scene: Riah sees a stuffed Mickey Mouse in the store.]

Riah: Mouse!

(Riah pets and snuggles Mickey.)

Riah: Soft.

(Riah turns around and puts his back to Mickey.)

Riah: Hiding.

(Riah turns back around to face Mickey)

Riah (to Mickey): Boo!!

Queering Family: On Gratitude for Grandparents

It has been far too long since we’ve posted about our journey. Since Elizabeth’s last post, we’ve left Vermont, traveled to Rehoboth Beach to visit Riah’s birth grandmother, gave a lecture at Wesley Seminary in D.C. on the exact same dates the pope was in town, and resettled in the Jefferson National Forest in southern Virginia. After nearly 10 days of non-stop rain, the sun is shining and the trees are changing into their feisty red and orange outfits for the season.

While in Vermont and traveling to Virginia, we’ve had some tremendous opportunities to share time with all eight of Riah’s grandparents. That’s right. Riah has eight grandparents. In our list of Guiding Principles, we include the broad category of “family,” and the past three months have affirmed this decision. In Vermont, six of Riah’s grandparents visited at different times…

Riah and papa paddle in Silver Lake

First came papa, who was headed to Canada on his motorcycle, laden with cans of organic beans, a tent, and about 13,000 varieties of flashlights. Amidst the rain and mosquitoes that filled our first few weeks in Vermont, papa pitched his bright red tent near our camper. Every morning, when Riah rose before 6am, papa would be waiting to take him on an adventure so that Riah’s road-weary moms could sleep in. Together Riah and papa hiked, climbed, canoed, and explored. Mama and mommy got to go for a long hike, watch the sunset, sleep in, and go on a date night: things we cannot do without help.

Next arrived Deeno and Gamma, laden with more flashlights, Diet Dr. Pepper for mommy, and hotel reservations. Specifically, they made hotel reservations for us! After a month with no running water, Deeno and Gamma surprised us by treating us to, not one, but two nights in a hotel. Hot showers, splashing in the pool, working out in the fitness area, and watching television accompanied our visit, as did delicious meals in Middlebury. Oh, and they got up early to watch Riah one morning so we could sleep past 6am! These are all things we cannot do without help.

mimi vtIn time to celebrate Mimi’s and mama’s birthday came Mimi and Auntie Margaret, laden with at least eight new outfits for Riah, bags of birthday goodies for mama, trail mix and vegan marshmallows. After beautiful hikes, waterfalls, covered bridges, and blueberry pancakes, Mimi treated us to a hotel in town, as well. Mimi and Auntie Margaret watched Riah so his moms could work out, do laundry, and rest. These are all things we cannot do without help.

The final grandparents to visit Vermont were Grammy and Papa Steve, laden with local candies grammy vtand cookies and yet another hotel reservation in our name. It’s possible that all the grandparents were beginning to spoil us with the luxuries of running water and wifi…either that or they didn’t want to deal with how badly we smelled after living in the woods! Together we relished every moment in Middlebury and at Silver Lake, hiking, canoeing, and picking blueberries. Grammy and Papa Steve treated us to meals, a beer tasting, a hotel stay, and watched Riah so we could get work done. Again, these are all things we cannot do without help.

page and kristin vtBefore leaving, one more set of visitors arrived. They aren’t officially family, but they might as well be! Page and Kristin, our beloved friends from Winston-Salem, drove up the east coast, laden with more vegan marshmallows, books for Riah, and soy milk from Costco. They know the keys to our hearts: books, treats, and sugar-free non-dairy milk for our child. Together we hiked, played, roasted those vegan marshmallows, and watched the sunset. They watched Riah so we could have a date night, making it a blessed two times the moms got to escape for a date while on our adventure thus far! These are things we cannot do without help.

As we left the Green Mountains and made our way south, we stopped to visit Riah’s remaining grandma colleengrandparents at their fabulous beach condo in Rehoboth Beach. Birth Grandma Colleen and her wife Jeanine welcomed us with abundant hospitality. Slippers waited by our beds, wine flowed, the refrigerator was stocked with vegan food, delicious meals were shared, and they treated Riah to quite a shopping spree. These are things we cannot do without help.

Between adoption, divorce, and remarriage, Riah has lucked into having eight lovingly fabulous grandparents, three fun uncles (and a soon-to-be aunt-in-law), two absolutely amazing birth parents, and a slew of awesome friends who are like family. We have the great privilege of having family by both choice and blood. We know this is a luxury most queer families do not have. Both experience and statistics remind us that the love and acceptance our extended family has shown is the exception and not the norm. As a pastor, I cannot tell you the number of queer congregants I know who have had parents kick them out of the house upon coming out, or who have beaten them and told them they are no longer a part of the family, or who shame them and tell them they’re destined for hell. In the LGBTQ community, family is often a tenuous, even volatile notion. Being disowned by family happens all the time. Physical violence is often a reality or concern. Sometimes parents go decades without knowing their child is queer because the fear of violence, revulsion, or exclusion is so real. Sometimes parents never know. Sometimes families are “ok,” but still shame, exclude, undercut, and treat the queer person as thought their identity and/or relationship is less worthy, less real. Lying, blaming, tricking, excluding, disowning. These are often the ways queer people are treated by their “families.”

I recently read Janet Mock’s stunning memoir, Redefining Realness, and I think her statement sums up perfectly the reality for so many queer people who struggle with the notion of family: “I think of the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ youth who are flung from intolerant homes, from families who reject them when they reveal themselves. Of the estimated 1.6 million homeless and runaway American youth, as many as 40 percent are LGBTQ [when LGBTQ folks actually only comprise about 10% of the overall population]. These young people are kicked out of their homes or are left with no choice but to leave because they can’t be themselves (109).”

These realities make us acutely aware that what we have and what we have created as family is unique; it is something we must never take for granted. Are our families perfect? No way. Do we always agree on everything? Nope. Have there been times when our queerness has been a struggle for some of our parents? Absolutely. But here they are, making the trip to Vermont from Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida, welcoming us into their home in Delaware. Here they are with flashlights, hotel stays, babysitting, vegan marshmallows, and house slippers.

Being queer is a beautiful, revolutionary, life-changing gift. My queerness helped my father and I become closer. Our queerness has helped both of us open our eyes to the ways in which others are excluded and marginalized in society. Our queerness led an absolutely brilliant, thoughtful pregnant woman to choose us to parent her child, not in spite of our difference, but because of it. And now we are a big, loving, expanding, queer family. Queerness is often used within the LGBTQ community to mean “to transgress, to act differently than the status quo.” I can think of few better ways to parent and to be a family than by transgressing the exclusionary patterns posited by society and acting differently than the status quo.

Conversations with Riah, Volume 2: Notes from the Backseat

Because Angela gets carsick easily, and because a lot of our driving in Vermont is on winding and bumpy dirt roads, she usually drives. That means I often sit in the back with Riah and read to him. Below are three brief conversations that have unfolded in the backseat.

In which Riah sees increasingly exotic animals out the window

Scene:

We are driving along a dirt road lined with trees. There are no animals in sight.

Riah [pointing out the window]: Owl?

Elizabeth: Oh, do you see an owl?

Riah: Whoooo whoooo

[Several minutes pass]

Riah [pointing out the window]: Cow?

Elizabeth: Oh, do you see a cow?

Riah: Mmmmooooooooo

[Several minutes pass]

Riah [with a sly smile]: Wolf?

Elizabeth: Is there a wolf outside the window?!

Riah: Awwoooooo

[Several minute pass]

Riah [pointing out the window]: Elph?

Elizabeth: An elephant out the window?! Oh my!

Riah: [Grinning and pointing out the window]: Jaff?

Elizabeth: A giraffe!!??

[Riah chuckles and drinks some milk. End scene]

In which Riah passes gas

Scene:

Riah passes gas

Riah [giggling]: Toot.

Elizabeth: Riah, what do we say after we toot?

Riah: Toot!

Elizabeth: I think we say “excuse me.”

[Several minutes pass. Riah passes gas again, this time much louder. If you just heard the sound and had to guess whether it came from a toddler, and adult, or a whoopee cushion, you would guess a whoopee cushion.]

Riah [smiling]: Toot.

Elizabeth [stifling a laugh]: What do we say after we toot?

Riah: Toot!

Elizabeth: I think we say “excuse me.”

Riah: Uh oh.

[End scene]

IMG_0786

Reading and raisins

In which Riah wants inanimate objects to talk to him

Scene:

We are reading a book entitled My Truck is Stuck, which Riah was given the last time he went to the doctor. It involves a dump truck, driven by a dog and loaded full of bones, that gets stuck in a hole. Several cars come along and try to help. All the while, woodchucks are stealing the bones. We are never told the source of the bones, where the dog is taking them, or why the woodchucks have taken such a keen interest in them.

Riah: Dog! Talk?

Elizabeth: You want the dog in the book to talk to you?

[Riah grins]

Elizabeth: Hi Riah, I’m a dog. I’m trying to deliver this big truck full of bones.

[We continue reading. Riah points to a flag on one of the cars in the book]

Riah: Flag? Talk?

Elizabeth: You want the flag to talk to you?

[Riah grins]

Elizabeth: Hi Riah, I’m a flag.

[We finish reading the book. Riah points out the window]

Riah: Tree. Talk?

Elizabeth: You want the trees to talk to you?

Riah: Yeah!

Elizabeth: Hi Riah, we are some trees.

[Riah grins]

Riah [Pointing to the ceiling]: Ceil? Talk?

Elizabeth: You want the ceiling to talk to you?

[Riah grins]

Elizabeth: Hi Riah, I’m the ceiling.

Riah: More!

Elizabeth: Uh, hi Riah, I’m the ceiling, and I keep the rain off of your head.

Riah: More!

Elizabeth: I also keep the sun off of your head.

[Riah babbles at the ceiling, as if in conversation]

[Several moments pass. We begin to read another book entitled Good Night, Vermont.]

Riah: Bird. Talk?

Elizabeth [wearily]: Hi Riah, I’m a bird.

Riah: Fly?

Elizabeth: Yes, the bird is flying.

Riah [Throwing the book]: Fly!

[End scene]

 

Bucket List Contest

So, Bear Naked Granola is having a Bucket List Contest. Basically, you just have to tweet at them to let them know what’s on your bucket list, adding the hashtag #livebearnakedcontest. Then they select winners based on creativity, feasibility, fun, and relevance. We’ve been tweeting at them for the past month with all the items on our bucket lists. Ultimately, we decided that making a video would best capture the essence of what we’re currently doing and what we hope to do: our ultimate bucket list. Check it out if you’re interested and send some good vibes toward Bear Naked so that we might win!

Noisy Nights and Birthday Blessings: Lessons in Gratitude

It’s usually pretty quiet around here. Volunteering in a National Forest with a backpack-in campground tends toward tranquility in the evenings, with its stunning sunsets, starry nights, and tired campers. At night we hear crickets, loons, owls, bullfrogs, and the occasional moose. Every once in a while there will be some loud campers, but it doesn’t last too long. And then there was Friday night, August 21.

6:45pm

Our enormous green canoe

Our enormous green canoe

The evening was supposed to be fabulous in every way, seeing as how it was my birthday eve. Elizabeth was in the camper cooking up some delicious vegan rice crispy treats to kick of the celebration. I was playing outside with Riah. A group of rambunctious hikers ascended the hill, we all waved and continued to play. They walked toward the lake, as most hikers do. I wasn’t paying much attention, but I heard “canoe,” “sticks,” “maybe we should ask the hosts,” and “nah.” Uh oh. I’m not really one for confrontation, but I didn’t really want anyone stealing my canoe and/or trying to paddle it with sticks. I’m actually happy to loan it to pretty much anyone who asks, paddles, life vests, and all. I heard some ruckus and a splash. Riah followed me in their direction. Since I’m not a confrontation fan and I didn’t really know what to say when I saw 5 people inside my green canoe with sticks in their hands, their 2 additional friends pushing the laden ark into the frigid waters.

“That’s mine,” I uttered.

“Oh. We didn’t know. We just assumed it was an abandoned canoe,” they scrambled out.

“It’s not a big deal, but if you want to use it, you can just ask and I’ll loan you the paddles,” I responded, a little annoyed.

“We wouldn’t want to inconvenience you. We couldn’t possibly,” they forced as they walked away, stick-paddles in hand.

11:10pm

Riah is asleep. We’re in bed, beginning to doze when we hear rumbling outside and a flash of light illuminates the camper. It’s a large truck driving down the road. Our “road” is a gated hiking path. The only cars permitted to drive on it are those with 4-wheel drive and keys to the lock—Forestry Service, Power Company, Sherriff—and all these groups only drive the roads during the day. The truck parked just in front of the camper and slammed the door. It was the police. Lovely. I head outside to scope out the situation. If there’s an escaped murderer or ravage bear on the loose, I think we may prefer to go into town and stay in a hotel. It turns out that some backpacker got lost and called 911. The reception was bad and all they heard was “lost” and “Silver Lake.” The officer asked me if I’d seen a 50-something-year-old woman named Linda from New Hampshire. They traced the cell number to find this information and were trying to find her. Alas, there were no 50-something-year-old women named Linda from New Hampshire staying in our camper. He continued his search, which included shining flashlights in backpacker’s tents and asking if they were lost women named Linda from New Hampshire. I didn’t find this to be the most useful tactic, seeing as how lost people generally don’t sleep in their found tents, but I didn’t offer any alternative suggestions and instead retired to enjoy my last evening of sleep as a 33 year old.

Sometime between 11:10pm and 2:20am

The loons and owls are going wild. They must know something is amok.

2:20am

Riah, Elizabeth, and I are all asleep. A rambunctious group of hikers bounds up the hill with shining flashlights, loud guffaws, and a lot of yelling. Lovely. It wasn’t a full moon or anything; I have no idea why they were doing a long, steep hike in the middle of the night and I certainly wasn’t interested in them waking up my toddler with all their hollering. I threw open the camper door, clad in disheveled pjs.

“Sssshhhhhhhhh,” I hissed, hoping this “calming” noise wouldn’t wake Riah.

They immediately got quiet. I don’t think they intended to be rude and probably didn’t realize there were 2 moms and a toddler sleeping next to the lake where they were likely going skinny dipping.

2:45am

We are awakened by a loud banging. Someone is knocking on our camper door. I try not to overreact or jump to conclusions, but even as a hardcore radical feminist, I’m still a little nervous since we’re 2 little women living in the middle of the woods with our toddler and nothing but a screen protecting us from the person banging on our door at 2:45am.

“Ssssshhhhhhhh,” was my immediate reaction. Don’t wake the damn baby!

I jump out of bed and stand in front of the door and whisper.

“We have a sleeping baby. Please be quiet,” though it crosses my mind to say, “Are you a 50-something-year-old woman named Linda from New Hampshire?”

“I’m sorry,” a manly sounding voice responds, “My flashlight is out of batteries and I can’t find my camp. Can you help?”

I rustle around for AAA batteries and step outside to greet a young man in shorts and t-shirt with 3 empty Gatorade bottles and a dark flashlight.

“Did you call the police earlier?” I ask him.

“Yes. They found me.”

I was puzzled as to why he was standing at my door after being found.

“Are you a 50-something-year-old woman named Linda from New Hampshire?” I asked him.

“What?”

I repeated the question, adding that the police told me that was the description of the person they were looking for.

“Oh that’s my mom,” he tells me.

He then informs me that he can’t find his camp. When I ask him what number camp he’s staying in, I learn that he decided it would be more fun to camp in a random spot off a trail, and he can’t remember which trail it is. This is not allowed, but I figured that didn’t really matter at the moment.

I gave him my super bright lantern, asked him to return it in the morning, and wished him luck.

Sometime between 2:45am and 4:15am

The loons and owls are going wild. They must know something is amok. I hear a moose in the distance, “Moosamaloo!”

4:15am

Said noisy hikers tromp back by the camper. They weren’t really noisy, but I never really got back to sleep and could hear their footsteps and whispers. I appreciated that they remembered to be quiet on their return trip.

6:15am

Riah wakes up. This kinda sucks for Elizabeth because it’s my birthday and I get to sleep in. They go off on an adventure while I sleep until 8am.

8:30am

Someone is banging on the door. It’s the 20-something guy with my lantern. He found his camp and shares both his gratitude and embarrassment.

It seems that every possible thing that could be noisy and out of the ordinary managed to happen in one night. Weird. But now it’s my birthday and I got to sleep in and I’m ready for a fabulous day. After some writing I head off to teach my Saturday morning yoga class by the lake. I’m greeted by a super cool family who backpacked in and recently moved to Vermont from Alaska. We do yoga together overlooking Silver Lake, surrounded by birch trees, saluting a warm sun, and opening our hearts up toward a bright blue sky. Life is good. As we rise from final shivasana and chat, Elizabeth and Riah greet me with birthday hugs. Riah and I play on the beach with the cool family and their dogs while Elizabeth goes back to the camper to make a surprise brunch.

Oh. My. Goodness. It was good!

Vegan French toast with Vermont maple peanut butter, Vermont maple syrup, and wild apples and berries from around the forest. A set of 3 and 4 yellow candles flamed atop my serving. I made a wish and chowed down.

Steep trail run to Falls of Lana

Steep trail run to Falls of Lana

During Riah’s nap I took a beautiful, long, steep trail run to a stunning waterfall and returned to hop into my canoe for a quick paddle. Fortunately, neither rowdy hikers with sticks nor snakes were awaiting me. After a “lake bath”—see Ode to Campsuds—we put on our “going into town clothes” and headed to Middlebury for some delicious curry.

When we returned, Elizabeth put Riah to bed as I hiked up to Lenny’s Lookout to take in the sunset. It was pretty much the perfect day. I think 34 is going to be a wonderful year.

Birthday sunset at Lenny's Lookout

Birthday sunset at Lenny’s Lookout

I’m generally not a big fan of the word “blessing,” though I used it in the title of this post. When most people hear “blessing,” they think of some Transcendent Other—usually God—blessing some people. Many claim that said God blesses them if they get a promotion or if luck is in their favor or if their favorite sports team wins or if they find a suitable mate. For me, this is bad theology. For if this God is blessing some, that means the same God is withholding blessings from others. And while I loved my French toast, I don’t think some Transcendent Other was giving me a birthday blessing me because of it. Nor do think some Transcendent Other is withholding blessings from those without tasty French toast, or those with no food at all. That’s bad theology. But I think I’m at a place, in my 34th year, to reclaim this word: blessing. I’m not associating it with some Transcendent Other who blesses and/or curses. Rather I’m associating it with our abilities to bless others. And by bless I mean show love, compassion, empathy, joy, hope, and peace. My beautiful little family showed me love, joy, compassion, laughter, thoughtfulness, and peace on my birthday. They blessed me. And it is because of these beautiful people in my life—the people who bless me daily—I think my 34th year is off to a pretty great start.

Enjoying delicious birthday curry in front of Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury with my 2 favorites

Enjoying delicious birthday curry in front of Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury with my 2 favorites

Ode to Campsuds

After fourteen years ministering in local churches, I developed a knack for rewriting hymn lyrics, either to be more inclusive or to better fit the progressive theology of the communities singing. Along the way, it’s possible that Elizabeth and I developed the sacrilegious habit of replacing hymn lyrics with everyday words: silly songs about cleaning, cooking, going to the store, or complaints about politics. My incessant love for the non-toxic soap, Campsuds—which cleans our bodies, hair, laundry, dishes, and everything else without polluting the lake and earth—combined with this blasphemous behavior to create the hymn below. It’s sung to the well-known hymn tune Ode to Joy, often called “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee.” Sing it with gusto, as we do while scrubba-dubbing in Silver Lake. And if Campsuds Corporation likes it, perhaps you can use it as a little jingle in advertising. It’s sure to be a smash hit.

campsudsOde to Campsuds

Hymn Tune: Ode to Joy

Composed by Ludwig van Beethoven

New lyrics by Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber and Dr. Elizabeth Lee

(Sung with gusto)

Campsuds, campsuds, we adore thee

In the lake or in the stream,

You wash all our dirty sundries,

Crusty pans now sparkling clean!

For our laundry, bowls, or tushies,

You provide a cleansing power!

We adore non-toxic bubbles,

Good for bodies, safe for flowers!

 

Campsuds, campsuds, we adore thee

In our hair and on our face,

Even on our grubby toddler,

Dirt and poop on clothes: erased!

Take away those nasty parabens,

Give us Campsuds to stay clean!

Always bring that deep green liquid

On your every camping dream!

 

Campsuds, campsuds, we adore thee

And your tear-free washing power!

Just a dot of your pure liquid

Makes my laundry look less dour!

Even after hiking steep trails

You make sweaty moms stink less!

Every time I go backpacking

Campsuds help reduce the mess!

Painting Herstory: Our Lady of Silver Lake by Angela Yarber

angelaIt has become my new routine during the first phase of my queer little family’s year-long journey. After completing my chores, I run along the trails surrounding Silver Lake and once I’m thoroughly drenched in sweat, I grab a book and push our enormous 15-foot canoe into the frigid waters of the little lake we’re calling home for three months. With a smile that has yet to wipe off my face, I paddle fiercely. I’m typically the only person on the lake.

It’s a steep mile hike from the trailhead, and we’re the only ones “living” here for the summer, so my giant green canoe ripples the silvery waters in solitude. Once I find the right spot, I stuff my life vest behind my head and cozy down into the belly of the canoe, book in hand, goofy grin still spread across my flushed face. In the warmth of…

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“We’re camping”

–We’ve been here for a week and haven’t had access to a shower. We’ve gone into town to do laundry. “Do you know if there are public showers anywhere in town?” Angela asks the manager of the laundromat. She looks over at us, a little wary and somewhat disgusted. “We’re camping,” Angela adds. The manager’s face softens, and she nods as if she has just understood something. “I’m not sure,” she says, “but you could ask at the co-op.”

–Days later, I stop at a gas station. I look a little grubby. “Do you have a hose where I can get some water?” I ask the attendant. He frowns and looks at me quizzically. “I’m camping,” I add. “Ah,” he says. “We don’t have a hose, but you can use the sink in the back.”

–A few weeks later I take Riah to storytime at the local library. We haven’t showered in 4 days. His hair is greasy, and there is dirt under his fingernails. His clothes are perpetually dusty. My shirt has a hole in it. I haven’t brushed my hair in a month. I haven’t put on deodorant in 10 days. I can feel the other parents looking at us, wondering. The storytime singer is doing the itsy-bitsy spider, so I can’t say anything, but I wish I had a sign that read, “We’re camping!” so that everyone will understand.

Understand what, exactly? I’ve come to find that those two little words—“we’re camping”—serve to signal our privilege to other people and put them at ease. We’re stinky and dirty because we’re living in the woods. We’re not…poor. We’re not…homeless. You don’t have to feel uncomfortable around us.

As we’ve left the comforts of running water and air conditioning and clean clothes, people’s perceptions of us have changed. They look at us more warily. They’re less friendly. We’ve been experiencing, to a very small degree, the social and psychological toll that actual poor or homeless people face every day.

But we do not feel the same economic toll. We retain our class privilege. We have money in the bank. We can pay our bills. We have a car. We can buy all the food we want. We can pay our medical bills. If we wanted, we could get a hotel room and take long, hot showers.

We can also utter that short phrase—“we’re camping.” We can correct people’s perceptions of us. We can get them to see our humanity again.

We all make snap judgments about people. We make assumptions based on negative stereotypes. If you are poor or homeless or disabled or a person of color or gender nonconforming or Muslim or in any way perceived as “less than” or not “normal,” you face this every day, sometimes with deadly consequences.

So, let’s try not to judge people so quickly. Let’s examine our unconscious biases. This is a personal transformation. And let’s confront the egregious inequality in this country. Let’s spend more money on education and healthcare. Let’s put fewer people in prison. Let’s raise the minimum wage. Let’s make college affordable. Let’s feed people. This is a social transformation.

My family is spending a year in the woods because we have the economic privilege to be able to do so. We are having an awesome time, even if we get some funny looks. All families should have the opportunity to live out their dreams and to not be judged by their appearance. Let’s bring about the personal and social transformations necessary for that to happen.

Challenging Our Values: Vegan Pacifists Vs. Mosquitoes

Written by Angela

I try not to be a whiner. I really do. This life we’re living is pretty wonderful. We’re in a beautiful National Forest. We eat delicious food. We get to hike, canoe, swim, and run on trails every day. I have a sweet little toddler who is adventurous and funny, with an affinity for laughter, raspberries, dirt, and twirls. I love my wife. I’m healthy and happy and doing this thing—this year of volunteer travel discernment—that we’ve been hoping and dreaming and planning for all this time. Hear this. I am grateful. And privileged. And lucky. Truly.

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We’re having fun!

But these damn mosquitoes.

There are so many of them. After spending over fifty dollars—yes, you read that correctly—on various mosquito repellents, we’ve finally found one safe and natural enough for Riah’s baby soft skin, yet aggressive enough to ward off those bloodsucking beasts swarming around his little blond head. It’s actually pretty humorous.

“They should be getting better any day now,” Vermonters tells us.

“The mosquitoes are usually gone by this time of year,” regular Silver Lake hikers inform us. “I’ve never seen them this bad,” mud-soaked mountain bikers insist.

Vermont has had more rain this summer than in the past 130 years. 130 years! June was the hottest June on record for the entire planet; I’m so glad climate change isn’t real (insert side eye). The mosquitoes aren’t bad three miles up the road, or on other hikes, or in town. They just swarm around Silver Lake and our camper and our toddler’s poor little noggin. Seriously.

As seen on our “Guiding Principles” page, there are certain values, virtues, principles by which we try to abide. Like the ethical systems of all people trying hard to be good, sometimes we fall short. But these damn mosquitoes are killing me. We’re a little vegan family, for example. Don’t worry, we haven’t been tempted to eat the mosquitoes. But an obvious undergirding principle of veganism is not killing things, like animals, often even bugs. I’ve been known to catch a spider, even a gross roach (tucked carefully between a cup and a box and not near my hands, of course), and to rush outside flinging them wildly, yet lovingly, into the grass while shouting, “You’re free!” Elizabeth made a non-violent trap to catch fruit flies without killing them, for crying out loud. It’s not really in me to kill something, even a bug, when given the choice. And I’m a pacifist, which is closely linked to my veganism. Do no harm. Try to leave things better and more beautiful than you found them, and if you can’t, at least let them live. Life is valuable, worthwhile and meaningful, even if it’s small, unseen, or seemingly insignificant to me. Even if it’s mangy or gross or unwanted. Life is valuable. I want to respect and honor that.

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Our anti-mosquito arsenal

And yet in recent days you could have found me, the vegan pacifist, clenched fist flying toward the canvas walls of the camper, while shouting, “Die mother f*$#%er!” and crushing the life of a helpless mosquito, his/her blood now splattering across the canvas and onto my knuckles. “That was quite out of character for you,” I thought of myself.

It didn’t start quite so violently. It began with essential oils, which actually smelled quite nice. And the mosquitoes nibbled Riah’s neck and legs. It progressed to swatting and a “natural” bug spray. And the mosquitoes attacked the poor little dude’s forehead. I’d say, “Sorry mosquito,” while uttering a little prayer of gratitude for the bug’s short life as I squashed it in a wash cloth. I tried to be nice. I tried to follow my principles. I really did. But no matter how many times Elizabeth swatted and said, “Don’t you sting my baby,” they just wouldn’t listen.

Now there are at least six blood stains on the inside canvas of the camper and the carcasses and various severed limbs of slain mosquitoes can be found throughout our belongings. We do a thorough squashing each night before bed as we literally hunt for any bloodsuckers that found their way inside and render their bodies lifeless in a wash cloth specifically set aside for killing mosquitoes. Really. The wash cloth isn’t for washing dishes, or counters, or bodies; it isn’t for wiping up spills. The sole purpose of said wash cloth is the utter annihilation of mosquitoes who happen to fly into the confines of our living space. For them, it is not a living space. It is a dying space. Our camper is a mosquito graveyard.

I suppose I’m more of a situational ethicist than I thought. I’ll set the spiders and non-biting bugs free, but the mosquitoes must die. Hashtag: #sorrynotsorry