Good to Know

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, and Vermont and got its first foot of snow for the season.

Skiers were giddy. The woodstove was roaring, and, almost five years to the weekend after we got back on the grid, the power was out (again).

I’d gotten up at 5a.m. on to get the apple cinnamon oatmeal slow cooking on the back of wood cookstove. While the apples melted into the oatmeal, the Big Guy and I went out to dig out one of the cars so Thing2 could get to work.

Wet snow had bent dozens of trees down to our driveway, collapsing the canopy layers of lace curtains and cutting us off from the little bit of civilization that starts 1000 feet up our road. The Big Guy and I laughed as we shook branch after snow-laden branch, shrieking as the snow exploded off the loosened limbs, onto our heads and down our shirts.

We’ve talked about leaving this place in a few years to be closer to better healthcare options and to wherever the kids end up. Part of me won’t miss the digging and lighting of candles, watching the batteries to make sure the fridge and the well pump hold out until the power company has cleared the lines.

The other part of me knows that there is magic in the snow covered branches. There’s something else — not quite magical but almost as good – about all the work. As we pull out water jugs from our emergency supply and check the wood bin, I realize that, if ever we leave this place, the one part of these challenges I will miss is having the regular reminder that it’s good to know that we can get through them.

How to Handle a Day

I love that the animals don’t need a weather report to know how to handle the day. They went out for their morning constitutional‘s, scanned or sniffed the sky, and were back at the window in less than five minutes, waiting to come in.

They’ve been curled up next to and on the couch in my office for hours. Some mystical meteorologist has told them that something big may be on the way, and a good, solid nap is the only way to handle this kind of day.

Saturday Gave Away

Friday the 13th rounded out this last week which also included a full moon and a lead into the upcoming week before Christmas creating what one meme called a “Teacher Trifecta of Terror” (it can be kind of scary for parents too).

Friday was actually pretty lucky for me. There were no meltdowns. Everyone got most of their work done. And, for the first time all week, I got to bed before one in the morning.

Teaching has turned into the toughest, best job I’ve ever had. The nature of our school population combined with a nationwide teacher shortage has translated into opportunities to take on more challenging responsibilities early on in my new career. The only drawback is that, some weeks, everything — creativity, fitness, diet, sleep — gets moved from the backseat to the spare.

Friday night, though, I headed out with a plan. Dinner, then Art, then sleep, followed by a day of creativity on Saturday. But, as I fought my heavy eyelids as I drove home, I felt the itinerary change. I got home and, in between moments of shut-eye interrupted by an iPad or iPhone falling to the floor, I managed to make myself a lovely burnt supper before passing out and bumping the rest of my itinerary to what I promised myself would be a “makers“ Saturday.

I kicked off Saturday, however, with an impromptu contest of “you get up first“ with my husband. After a late breakfast and laundry folding, I was determined to hit the studio. Lethargy has other ideas, keeping me on the couch long enough for the orange cat to settle on my lap (which everyone knows, by law, means staying in that exact same position until kitty is ready to move again). The day was ticking away, and guilt turned into doubt.

The sun set, and after a miraculously unburnt dinner, I thought I had just wasted one of the only unscheduled Saturdays we’ve had in months.

But the funny thing about brains is that letting them nap for a day is a lot like finally getting an overtired toddler to sleep. There’s a lot of fussing getting it to quiet. When it starts to wake up again, it can be disoriented and cranky at first, but then it really starts to acknowledge the recharge and wants to be friends again.

Mine fired up last night again about most peoples normal bedtime. After hours vegetating and dozing in front of the TV, sketchbooks started calling from down the hall. I retrieved a pad and a journal From the studio. For the next hour, my pen scratched, whispering ideas in my ear faster than I could scribble them, and reminding me that sometimes clearing your head — and your day – can be an act of creativity too.

Waylaid

I had a mountain of paperwork waiting for me at home, so when I got the text last night that a mountain of sand at the top of our driveway was blocking the last 900 feet of my trip home, I groaned. All I wanted to do was to get my work done and go to bed, but suddenly there was time to kill. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it soon turned out to be just what I needed.

I drove around for a little while and finally pulled into the parking lot at the Wayside Country Store 5 minutes from the house. It was well past sundown and the light from the store cast a warm glow on the slushy snow. As I pushed the door open, the smell of roasting chicken blasted my senses, followed immediately by the aroma of baking scones and cookies.

Normally I go to the drinks aisle or the kitchen supplies to grab what I need and go. Tonight, however, I headed toward the deli where the gingham oil cloth-covered roundtable serves as a meeting place for farmers and contractors on their way to work in the mornings and knitters and time-killers like myself in the evenings and on the weekends.

The guy who normally plows our driveway was sitting there, recounting the tale of how the sand came rest at the top of our driveway, and I sat down, suddenly feeling an unexplainable smile emerge. Another friend was sitting at the table listening, and we talked about goings on around town. Talk turned to the quality of heat from the various woodstoves that were waiting for us at home. The sound of food being made in the deli was our background music, and I thought of how rare simple, comfy moments like this are – especially on a work night when the world outside our doors is at odds with itself. And, as suddenly as my schedule had changed, so did my mood as I realized I was glad to have been waylaid at the Wayside.

Winter Warrior

We woke up to about a foot of snow this morning. this time last year I was at work at home mom, and The news of a snow day what are you meant sleeping in for an extra hour before logging on for work. This morning, however, my new life as a teacher at a residential school where snow days just don’t exist meant the alarm was set the night before for 5 AM. call cement rediscovering a slightly more adventurous part of myself that has been buried for a long time.

I’ve had trouble with my eyes for the last few years which has limited night driving. In the winter when the weather is bad, I tend to be a homebody at night. combine the bad eyes with a little PTSD from two winter time accidents, and I am normally just as happy to keep my car parked in the driveway and my butt parks by the wood stove for most of the winter.

Two years ago when Thing1 was sick, I had to suck it up and find the nerve to drive over the mountains almost every week and a winter that miraculously had a major storm almost every single time we drove. My concern for my son help quell my fear, but today I didn’t have a bigger fear motivating me. There was just a knowledge that our students need us to be there whether or not the weather is bad.

So I got up and showered and got the car out. I was rewarded on the way down with a glowing early morning view of the snow. I had an emergency backpack packed in case I get stuck. I have heavy duty ice and snow scraper and shovel, and suddenly I felt less like a tired and nervous middle-aged hausfrau and more like an adventurer — a winter warrior.

when I got down our mountain, the roads seemed easier to navigate. I thought about some of the women in my family who have been happy adventures as they get into their 50s and 60s and how I always joke that I want to be then when I grow up. As I pulled into the parking lot at school, accident free and wrapping up my morning spanish lesson on tape, I felt my old fears fade as I took a step towards becoming a happier adventure.

Bring in winter!

but this morning I had someplace to go .

A Room with a View


Thing1 and I spent most of the day at Dartmouth- Hitchcock looking out the window of his room toward the great foggy north known as New Hampshire. The mountains disappeared and re-emerged from the clouds that has to around us all day, and they set the perfect view for our mood.
Thing1’s Ulcerative Colitis required him to be admitted to the hospital for treatment of a severe acute episode last night. The disease has escalated, and when we leave tomorrow, it will be with the knowledge that we need to decide between several long-term treatment options, each of which carry serious risks.

My gentle giant hasn’t shed any tears or wallowed in self-pity since his diagnosis a year and a half ago, but I could tell that the relapse and the treatment options presented had deflated his morale quite a bit. 

 Pep talks and platitudes are wasted on Thing1, so I steered the conversation back to his favorite topic – cars – until he was ready to talk about options. I worked my online day job while nurses came in and out with more medications and fluids, and the gray foggy day seemed to flow through the plate glass window.

Late in the day, the sound of a snow plow in the parking lot 5 floors below pulled our attention back to our view.

“The mountains are too populated,” said T1, “but they are beautiful.”

When the mountains disappeared into the night, I was able to do my own research into T1’s options. Number crunching and phone calls to experts made us more optimistic, and a chance conversation with a nurse with the same disease helped T1 marshal his morale.  

Tomorrow is supposed to be cold but sunny, and the view should get better as things become clearer.

Wednesday Storm

Wednesday Storm, Watercolor, 5×7

It’s been about two weeks since I made the decision to resurrect a creative routine. The decision was the result of a webinar hosted by a friend, but the fuel to keep it going beyond the first day or two came from an unwelcome source.

Saturday morning we rushed Thing1 to the emergency room because his chronic illness had generated an overnight weight loss of over 10 pounds. I knew he had not been feeling well for the last day or so, but most of his flareups have resolve themselves in a day or two. 

This one is still playing out, as we continue with fluid replacement and hospital visits. 

I’ve been trying to find a silver lining–acknowledging that the umpteen phone calls and emails and texts are signs that — unlike too many Americans — at least we have the resources to help him. Like any parent, however, my  focus has been on the cloud over the lining.

I worry how long he will have access to the care he desperately needs. I worry for all the parents of children with chronic illness who don’t have adequate health coverage and wonder how they handle that impact on their child’s health or life.  

And I paint. When I’m frustrated on T1’s behalf, I paint. When I get off the phone with the insurance company wondering if his treatment will be compromised by what they are willing to cover, I paint. The painted pages don’t express tears or shouting, they exist instead of those things.

Art has always been a therapy for me, channeling worry or depression into something productive. Inspiration is a dubious gift, however, and right now I am eagerly anticipating the moment that my new creative routine must be fueled by discipline instead.

Rejoice and Be Glad

It was a sunny six degrees by the time I got Thing2 to the school door, and, after a weekend of sub- sub-zero temps, the sky was so gloriously blue that I had to stop myself from blurted out how much it felt like spring. Knowing the mention of the five-letter S word would scare it off like showing a rodent its shadow in February, I silently ran my errands, making mental paintings of the trees and the shadows on the still-crisp snow.

Even a text from Thing1 reminding me he needed to practice driving stick (in mom’s car of course) couldn’t dim the feeling that it was as close to a perfect day as anyone could ask for. I’m not religious, but whenever Mother Nature is putting on a show like that, the greeting from Psalms that opened services at my parents’ old church runs through my head:

“This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Whether you think a beautiful day was made or just happened, there’s something to be said for the missive to rejoice and be glad for it.

I admit to being a bit of a worrier. I worry about Thing1’s healthcare prospects as he’s starting to leave the nest. I worry about ever being able to retire. I worry about the growing number of displaced people around the world or if we’re moving closer to blowing up the human race with every single day.

I’ve been guilty of not rejoicing for days on end and even contemplating throwing away the rest of my personal collection of days.

My failure to rejoice in the moment — even for just a moment each day — is being rectified. Over the last few months I decided to make a change in my life and go back to school so that, in the long run, I would have more time to work on art and to feel like my life work will make a contribution. I’ve enjoyed school as an adult but as soon as I was immersed in study, I felt as if a fog was clearing.

The world started opening up, and I suddenly started to see the possibilities as well as the dangers. Despite a new mountain of work and all the same worries, I had more energy everyday. Without even realizing it, I was rejoicing.

Even if yesterday had been the last day, not rejoicing in the beauty of sun on the snow would not minimize any current troubles. Acknowledging the gift of that day, however is a recognition that there is always beauty, and worry cannot diminish it, even if it tries to obstruct it sometimes.

Old Habits

 

Back on The Wagon horizontal Web

I’m enough of a yo-yo artiste that I know bad habits don’t die, they just wait for winter to regroup.  Case in point, the last few weeks I’ve been treating my body like a bit of an amusement park, and I can’t be too shocked when I feel like I’m looking into a funhouse mirror.  

Still, when, in honor of spring and impending swimsuit season (which, for me, is a misnomer as I rarely wear a swimsuit anywhere), I stepped on the scale this morning, I realized it’s time to get back on the wagon.   

Sentimental Journey

Blog  sappy

We’ve had a few weeks of frigid temperatures and, after a few years of almost no snow – a return to a normal Vermont winter. This morning greeted me with perfect pink skies that can only come from the promise of a perfect sunny day. Even though I should know better, I couldn’t help thinking it’s almost spring, and as I navigated the mud pit that is our road, I starting humming something from ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. Pretty sappy, right?

It gets sappier. I’d gotten up early, escaping to our favorite diner for uninterrupted writing before the Big Guy and Thing1 and Thing2 woke up. The guys met me for breakfast a few hours later. Thing1 and Thing2 argued over who’s turn it was to sit with Mom, and, still euphoric from hours of typing, I basked in the glow of being with my guys. But it was going to get even sappier.

The Big Guy took the little guys to find a part for vacuum, and I headed back towards our neck of the woods in my car. On my way back, I noticed a few pickup trucks parked up on a hill. There was a group of men – some young, some old – congregated around a blue cistern next to a tree. Still feeling sappy, I thought didn’t notice the blue tube connecting the tank to the tree and thought, instead, how nice it was to see teenagers not too embarrassed to spend time with their fathers.

It wasn’t until I turned onto the last paved road on the way to our house that I had the sappiest moment of the day. Then, there he was. An older man standing in the bed of his pickup sorting a pile of tin buckets with tent shaped lids on them. I drove on and noticed he had already driven in the taps for at least a dozen trees.

I turned onto our road feeling extremely sappy and sentimental (and suddenly craving something maple). Even the mud didn’t bother me on my way back up our hill because even though there’s still a good eight inches of snow in our yard today and single digits forecast for a few nights next week, I know spring is here. I saw it on the way home from the Diner, clear as day.

 

When in Vermont

Ski jump

Last Sunday we took a much-needed family stay-cation to Brattleboro for a ski jump competition. We chose the destination because it’s been a stopping point for many Olympians, and, in the forties, for the Big Guy’s dad.

The temperature was brisk, and the sun was out. Food vendors and tailgaiters created delicious grilled odors that bouyed the four of us on our climb up the 150+ snowy steps that lined the jump hill.

Twenty feet of snow-covered hillside and path separated the top of the stairs from the wall that bordered the jump area. We staked out a spot just below the jump-off just as the first round of jumpers whooshed past us.

Seven-year-old Thing2 watched a few jumpers and then, his awe subsiding, focused on the consistency of the snow and it’s suitability for sliding and ammunition.

The first round ended, and he began begging for permission to slide down the massive hill next to the steps. Noting the abundant opportunities the hill afforded for an impromptu ambulance ride, I naturally said, ‘No’. Thing2 pouted, but kept his silence.

The loudspeaker announced a break in the action, and we decided to move to a lower part of the hill for a different view of the action. The Big Guy and I began navigating down the hill towards the stairs. Half-way down, I turned around to offer a hand to Thing2. Still standing at the wall, he grinned at me.

“Mom, I want to slide down here!”

I hesitated for a minute and scanned his intended course for any objet d’injury.  Noting the incline leveled enough near the bottom for him to stop himself, gave my permission. Thing2 sat on his snowpant-covered butt and slid.

“You are a true Vermonter,” I told him as he coasted to a stop at my feet.  He is.

Despite the Big Guy’s deep roots in Vermont (from his father back to a time before “Vermont” existed) and Thing1’s maple syrup-steeped childhood, Thing2 is the only “real” Vermonter among us (I’m a recovering nomad). Local tradition confers the label only on those born in-state. The smile on his face as he sat in the snow, however, proved his status better than any birth certificate.

The path had been packed down, and Thing2 decided it was another slower sliding opportunity. I inched along behind him, keenly aware of the aging tread on my boot.  

Finally, the eternal adventurer in me decided that since we were in Vermont, I should do as my native-Vermonter had just done. The slippery path was much more easily negotiated on my butt. The path from nomad to settled Vermonter is one Thing2 will be showing me how to navigate for some time.