“The Table Where Rich People Sit”

“But my mother thinks if all the rulers of the world could get together at a friendly wooden table in somebody’s kitchen, they would solve all their arguments in the half the time.”

As I read Byrd Baylor’s words aloud over the weekend, this sentence stuck with me. Perhaps the next presidential debate should happen in someone’s kitchen.

I was introduced to The Table Where Rich People Sit at my first post-college “real job.” For an entire school year, I read it nearly every Friday to my departing group of students. The gist of the story is that our experiences in nature- like seeing cactus bloom or hearing coyotes- can be assigned a monetary value so that we realize how rich we are, even if our cash is low.

The book has a serious, contemplative, poetic nature to it. I’d never had someone laugh out loud as I read it (okay, except maybe some kid who was only paying attention to the kid next to him and not my reading). That changed this weekend as I read it out loud to a group of parents.

In the beginning, the narrator talks about why she called the family meeting to talk about money and “I say we don’t have enough of it.” She goes on about her “worn out shoes” and how her parents need more ambition; different jobs. When you read this to kids, they are probably all thinking “OMG, So true, I’m going to go home and use this on my parents.” These parents were cracking up, also about how true it is, that their child might say this to them.

It struck me how perspective is everything.

Of course, that is the whole point of the that book, as the discussion of the family’s actual cash flow gets brushed aside by the larger conversation of “a special plan where we get paid in sunsets, too, and in having time to hike around the canyons and look for eagles nests.”

If you’ve been able to fall asleep immediately following watching the presidential debate, I’d love to know your strategy. Debate yoga? As for me, last night you could find me on the couch, reading Byrd Baylor’s “The Table Where Rich People Sit.” If there’s anything I learned reading it aloud to adults this weekend, it’s that we are never too old to enjoy a children’s book.

“These Days”

When I first read it, I was sitting on my sister’s couch in Boston, watching what I thought might be some of the worst news of the week- the hostility of the Presidential Debate. That was far from it. As it sank in that five local teenagers had been killed by a driver intentionally going the wrong way, I had many thoughts, and yet didn’t know what to think.

Perhaps some of your thoughts were the same. If you are a parent, I know some of your thoughts were different. “This could’ve been my child.” If you knew these youth, I can’t imagine what was and is going through your head. I don’t know you, but I’ve been thinking about you a lot.

I also thought, and not for the sake of dismissing the sadness, I hope the concert was good. When someone dies in a ski crash or the like, we all take solace in the fact that they died doing something they loved. I’m guessing that these teenagers did not love driving on 89, and from reading about them I know they had many passions they shared with their classmates. But driving on the highway this night enabled them to see what I sincerely hope was the best concert they’d ever experienced.

I had never heard of the hip-hop artist Mike Stud before, and I didn’t google him until I was talking to a high school student I work with and realized this student had been in the very same place that night. He was wearing a hat that said “These Days.”I watched the music video for the song by that name on youtube. Currently, its tune is stuck in my head but the only word I remember from the lyrics is f*ck.

I think that’s fitting. Days like these, it’s hard to know what to think but f*ck.

The same student tells me that Mike Stud was an accomplished college baseball player destined to go pro, until he was sidelined with a major injury. He never would have guessed he’d have a music career.

Likewise, so many never would’ve guessed they’d be mourning five teenagers like they are right now. I wonder if there is some glimmer of hope in that analogy.

“These days”, I’m thinking of everyone effected by this tragedy.

It Could’ve Been Me

I could’ve been struck and killed by a falling tree while camping on Basswood lake. I could’ve been the trip leader in a group with a casualty. Perhaps I’ve stayed at the very campsite where two Boy Scouts died last night. I’m sure that in my four years of guiding in the Boundary Waters, I paddled past it.

I am sitting here now in shock, one week after paddling out of the very same wilderness, past crews of boy scouts, past the Boy Scout Base, thinking it could have been me. I am a Girl Scout, a former canoe guide at the Girl Scout base just down the lake from the Boy Scouts. While I’ll be the first to point out that the Girl Scouts USA and Boy Scouts of America are indeed very separate organizations (especially when it comes to how they’ve handled sexual identity of members), the scouting movement is one and the same. Two of my own died last night in a place I hold dear to my heart.

I’m a straight, white, ciswomen with so much privilege it oozes out of the holes in my crocs. While hate crimes and systemic discrimination are far too abundant and deeply disturb me, my place in society affords me not to have to process the repeated shock of “it could have been me” every time the news comes on. I can’t imagine being in someone else’s (say an African American man’s) shoes. I have far too much privilege. But for a split second, a moment where time stops and I am late to my dentist appointment, I know what it’s like to grieve one of my own whom I’ve never met. It could’ve been me.

Storms happen, trees fall. There is no entity to be angry with, no cultural shift that needs to happen, no authority that needs to be questioned. The difference is glaring. Perhaps I shouldn’t even have made the comparison.

There are deaths we can’t stop and those we can. Perhaps that is the lesson here. That because death sucks so bad, we must do everything in our power to stop what we can. We must figure out how to stop the hate crimes, the brutality, the culture we have that breeds them. Maybe instead of letting my privilege ooze out of my crocs I should use it to make the world a better place. That’s the Scout way. That’s what our movement is about.

I’ll start by offering up the same sweaty hugs advertised in yesterday’s post.

Come find me if you need one. I’ll be here; my heart is on Basswood lake.

Where to begin? With the youngest people around

I spent the last week canoeing in the Canadian Wilderness and out of contact with anyone. Upon my return, my mom pointed out the real advantage to my trip- missing out on a week’s worth of tragic news.

Police shootings, shootings of police, mass shootings, terrorism, rapes…tragedy has touched so many recently as in the past. I try to remember in each of these instances that not only were humans turned to victims, but that the shooters, the rapists, the terrorists are also humans. Humans with feelings. I am say this not to diminish the feelings of the victims and their communities. I say this because I wonder how could these humans have ever become so crazed, fearful, angry, lonely, confused, sad, numb, or whatever emotion they were feeling that they acted so violently?

Each of these humans was at one point in time a 3 year old, a 7 year old, a 16 year old, and everything in between and beyond. As an educator, I can’t help but wonder, how did the adults around them responded when their three year old self was angry? When their 7 year old self was afraid? When their 16 year old self was lonely? How had the adults around them coached their peers to respond? How have we, as a human society, let individuals grow up to respond to their emotions with violence?

Emotions are tough. Helping kids deal with them, while we as adults deal with our own, can be even tougher. The research is there on just how important a task this is. Going about it is easier said than done. I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

So yesterday, when a six year old girl on the first day of camp was close to tears because she missed her mom, I knelt down and talked to her. First, I tried the normal distraction topics, talking about things like favorite foods, what she did at camp that day, and how independent she is riding the bus from camp by herself.

She was still on the verge. I was running out of distraction topics. It’d been thunder storming all afternoon and we’d been stuck in a hot, stuffy building with lots of noise. Quite frankly, I’d rather be with my mom right then, too.

Then, I thought about how healthy it is for kids to know and understand and feel their own emotions. And then learn to cope with them. I’d been to training’s on this; I’d read up on it. And yet here I was, trying to make both of us pretend she wasn’t sad.

She broke down sobbing. Ok, maybe I didn’t actually think about the psychology in the moment preceding, maybe I just ran out of things to distract her. But as I looked at this six year old breaking down, trying to snuggle up against me (yuck, it was so HOT, but I let her lean on my shoulder anyways), I knew that I’d failed at keeping her distracted from her sadness. More importantly though, I’d succeeded in helping her overcome this sadness by first letting her experience it.

I looked her in the eyes and told her that “it’s OK to be sad.”

Yes, it’s ok to be sad. Emotions are tough. The news is tough. The news makes us emotional and yet all those people in the news have their own emotions. There are so many underlying societal issues leading to these tragedies- racism, homophobia, access to mental health care, objectification of women…too many to list…..

If we can’t even list them all, how can we even begin to solve them all?

I don’t have all the answers. I don’t think anyone does. But I figure the best I can do is to try.

Here’s one way to try to heal our world: Listen to the needs of the six year old in your life, wipe their tears, and let them go in for a hug, no matter how sweaty it is.

VT Paid Sick Leave Law Explained

There is a pie sitting in my fridge right now. Why? Because while discussing the state of our nation and our economy with a friend, I roughly cited how dismally low the federal minimum wage was. Living in a state where our own minimum wage is a whole $2.35 higher than the FMW (but still nearly impossible to live on), my friend couldn’t believe the FMW was possibly as low as I’d stated. A bet ensued, and I won a pie. The FMW, if you were wondering, is $7.25. If you don’t believe me, please bake me a pie.

This is to say that I enjoy reading and talking about labor laws as a past time. But googling news stories on some of them makes it really hard to determine just exactly how they will effect any given individual, such as myself. So, I’ve gone straight to the source for you, and am open to bets on my accuracy of interpretation.

So, I looked at the exact legislation that our governor signed into law regarding paid sick leave. VPR actually had a fairly good post that answered some, but not all of my questions.

The VPR post mentions that employees that work 18 or more hours a week and 20 or more weeks a year are entitled to paid sick leave. Personally, I was very enthusiastic to hear that some seasonal employees (like me!) would be covered. But, I was curious how it would actually break down.

The answer is: for every 52 hours an employee works, they earn one hour of paid sick leave.

This is why when the media has talked about it, they sum it up that, in 2018, employees will earn 5 paid sick days. Here’s the math:

52 weeks a year * 40 hours a week = 2080 hours worked in a year

2080 hours / 52 (the mandated accrual rate) = 40 hours of paid sick leave

40 hours sick leave / 8 hours a day = 5 days of sick leave

Why did I say in 2018? Well, because although the law goes into effect in 2017, employers can cut you off at just 3 days in 2017. Also, in 2018 and beyond your employer can also cut you off from accruing more than 5 days a year, if you work more than 2080 hours a year.

Sick days roll over year to year. This is not true for a seasonal employee, like myself who is technically terminated each spring and rehired each fall at a ski resort. I will start each November with 0 sick days, however, the sick time I earn in November and December will carry on to the next calendar year and the remainder of that ski season then, when I transition to my warm season job, I will start back at 0 again, even if I worked there previously. (My current warm season job, because it is a small business, doesn’t have to let me use paid sick days until 2019. More on that later). Then the next November, back to 0. And the November after that.

But of you work the same job all year, they roll over year to year. Pretty cool.

Employers can make you wait up to a year to use your sick days if you are a new hire. During that year, however, you will accrue sick leave.

Those salary employees who are overtime exempt (which starting December 1st, will include less employees than it does now), may be limited to having a maximum 40 hours per week counted toward the 52 hours needed to earn 1 hours off.

Small employees with 5 or less employees do not have to offer paid sick days at all until 2018, and even then, all employees can start accruing sick days but can be made to wait until 2019 before they are able to actually use a paid sick day.

Per diem employees are not covered.

Of my six jobs in 2015, just one of them would qualify me for paid sick leave in 2017. (To be fair, one job was in New Hampshire, so this VT law wouldn’t apply. One job was per diem, two were too short of a season, and one was too few hours a week).

Phew! That’s a lot of details. No wonder the media outlets assumed no one cared. But to the folks who may be earning sick leave for the first time in their lives, this is HUGE. We want to know when and how! Because we’ve worked when we’re sick and it sucks.

And now some more math, for those wondering how much this will cost employers. Let’s say you make $10.40/hour. We’ll pretend its 2018 and you’re getting the full 5 days per year.

$10.40 an hour * 53 hours = $551.20

Why 53 hours? because, assuming that sick day is actually used, it ‘s like getting paid for a 53rd hour for every 52 you work.

So let’s divide $551.20 by 52 hours to get $10.60. Remember, you only actually worked 52 hours, but got paid for 53.

To really over simplify things, this paid sick day law, for an employee making $10.40 an hour is the equivalent to a 20 cent raise. Once again, that assumes that the paid sick time is actually used. Some folks rarely get sick, and might prefer the raise, but the paid sick time is the law. Don’t forget that new employees, who generally wouldn’t be eligible for raises, don’t have to be allowed to use sick leave until a year is up.

Might it mean some folks see less of a raise than they would have otherwise as this goes into effect? Of course. This math was to show the potential magnitude . There really is not such thing as free lunch. Because realistically, if we gave everyone 20 cent raises instead of paid sick days, they may spend that money (rather than saving it for when they need a day off) and still show up at work sick. Which, keeping people home when they are sick is the entire point of this law.

One more caveat- remember the minimum wage? You’re actually only guaranteed to get the state minimum wage while you are out sick. Which would make the above math moot except my hope is that employers would take the high road and give the same rate as the hourly pay.

Heck, employers are welcome to take the high road all over the place and give employees more sick leave then required! Who knows where this might lead!



How to Prepare for a Greenhouse Job

This is written for my mom, who is excited to start her first farm job (besides coming to work with me) this week.

  1. You already know it’s warm in a Greenhouse. Being in there all day will make your skin shrivel up from the heat and humidity and soak your shirt with sweat. Dress in light, loose layers that allow for sun protection and won’t make you overheat! Scrub pants and woven button ups are easy to find at Goodwill.
  2. You will sweat more than you ever thought possible. If you aren’t sure about proximity of potable water to your workstation, I love the Igloo half gallon jug to refill my 1 liter bottle that I carry with me. The Igloo jug is always on sale at Dick’s for Little Leaguers this time of year, and it’s insulated and will keep you water cold. For my 1 liter bottle I often opt for refilling seltzer bottles or making my husband drink a gatorade so I can have the bottle (their more durable than seltzer). Sure, I love my Nalgene with the Bernie sticker as much as the next UVM grad, but I love it enough to not want to loose it. On the occasions it does come to the farm with me, I can rest easy knowing it is bright orange. Never use a green water bottle.
  3. A bandana around the neck, drizzled with some ice water from your Igloo Jug can be your best friend.
  4. Sun hat. Sunscreen.
  5. If you’re anything like me, you will water the plants, as well as your shoes. Even if you don’t, your feet will sweat buckets. Bring a change of shoes or at least socks and change at lunch time.
  6. Wear comfy shoes. Sneakers or the like are fine and breath well, work boots are probably what OSHA thinks we should wear. The temptation is there and I’ve seen it done, but DON’T wear sandals.
  7. Bring sandals for the drive home!
  8. If you plan to run errands after work and this kind of thing bothers you, bring a change of clothes in case you are covered in potting soil or smell like fish emulsion.
  9. Food. Lots of it. You may want to think about snacks you can eat quickly with dirty hands like cheese sticks or bananas. I like to put my lunch in a hard sided cooler so I look bad@$$ like a construction worker. Low blood sugar + heat and humidity is not good.
  10. Plastic trays may not look like something you’d cut your hands on, but nor did a stack of paper before you got the first paper cut of your life. Wear gloves or at the very least know where the band-aids are (if not in your pocket).
  11. Cut your nails short. I don’t mind a little dirt under the nails but when they start to catch on things and get all funky its no fun. I suppose wearing gloves all the time might prevent this, too.
  12. Work gloves to me are like workout tank tops. You can never find the perfect one, can never have enough, and need a full quiver to have the right pair at the right time. Some folks swear by the rubber palm type because they allow great dexterity but they make you sweat a lot. I find the knit with painted dots gardening variety to be more breathable than rubber and more nimble than leather.
  13. Bring a knife. My favorite is a simple single blade buck knife with partial serration. Leave the full blown Leatherman at home, its weight may pull your pants down and, like the Nalgene, you’ll be bummed if you loose it.
  14. Take no offense to any critique of how you water plants. You may hear a lot of “water the soil, not the leaves,” but find in practice this is not possible. I have heard conflicting opinions of what individuals consider too wet or too dry for a plant so just do your best and take it all in stride.
  15. Go get ’em!!


Imagine if Every Girl Grew Up in a Place Like Connecticut

Think about the last time you went to watch a sporting event. High school, college, semi-pro, pro. Any sport. For me, it was a Mountaineers baseball game this summer. I assume for many of us, myself included, that the athletes you watched were male.

I grew up in Connecticut where, when people watched sports, talked sports, and breathed sports, the chances were slightly higher it was female athletes they were following. In Connecticut, “did you watch the game?” in February probably means did you watch the UConn Women’s Basketball game.

Sure, people from Connecticut watch males play sports, too. They love the Patriots, they are loyal to the Red Sox or they despise them, and they are all in a tizzy over the new minor league “Yard Goats” team. It turns out, UConn even has a men’s team. Remember 2004 and 2014 when both the men and the women were national champions?

Imagine being a girl, growing up in a place where not only were your role models female athletes, these athletes were household names. And not just in your slightly progressive sports-obsessed nuclear family household. Back then, not knowing who Rebecca Lobo or Svetlana Abrosimona was in Connecticut, would be the equivalent of not knowing who Tom Brady is. Now it’s Brenna Stewart and Morgan Tuck. Say those names where I live now in Vermont, and people look at you like you are speaking a foreign language.

Growing up, my sister, Abby, and I were obsessed to say the least. We went to live games, we went to my Grandma’s to watch games before we had cable, taped Sports Center recaps and watched them on repeat on the VCR over our school vacation. I’ve seen more Liberty Basketball games than any other professional team. Did you catch that part about going to my Grandma’s to watch the games?

My grandma watched the games, too. Everyone did. She’d been a school nurse and we always joked that she knew everyone in town so going to the grocery store was a multi-hour affair by the time she got through chatting. She loved those Huskies as much as she loved chatting, and women’s basketball was one thing we could count on talking about. Shopping was another pastime of hers, and she made sure we all had UConn t-shirts to wear on game days.

And my grandpa on the other side of the family. He was from a generation that would’ve made him a prime candidate to roll his eyes when Title IX came about and took away funding from men’s team in order to support women’s teams equally. He was no progressive feminist. But he’d talk UConn Women’s Basketball for days. He’d play HORSE with us in the driveway and pretend to be Svetlana. For him, watching women’s sports meant watching not only the Huskies, but also my sisters and I.

We grew up believing that we, as girls, could be strong, powerful, successful athletes. My attempts at rec basketball didn’t go so well; I switched over to track and field. But I never stopped watching UConn, nor did the rest of my state.

In Connecticut, the culture of obsessing over a women’s sports team brought us together and brought our daughters belief in themselves. What if every girl grew up in a place like that?

What if we all gather our friends and go watch a women’s sporting event, be it high school, college, semi-pro or pro? Think of the message it would send to the young girls in our lives. Take them, too, but take others so they know that girls’ sports aren’t just interesting for girls.

Because, for those of us who grew up in Connecticut during the time of Geno Auriemma, girls sports are for everyone. Uconn, congrats on your 11th NCAA title. And thank you, from all the girls who grow up believing in themselves (and all the boys who never questioned that) because of you.

**Thanks, Dad for the edit (and the years of UConn Fandom). I will say it was in the spirit of my late grandpa that my previous post said Jen Lobo instead of Rebecca Lobo or Jen Rizzotti. Bopper, as we called my Grandpa, was forever butchering names and thanks to his awesome sense of humor you’d never know if it was a mistake or a planned joke.