Thursday, January 24, 2013

From ashes

We're in a cold snap, which mainly means I fight Elizabeth about keeping a hat on, I find my fingers getting numb as she fights me about getting buckled in her car seat, I keep the fire roaring at home, and, sometimes, the pipes freeze.

Right now the fire isn't roaring because I'm letting the furnace do the work of heating our old house, since that's the best way to get the warmth to the far flung and poorly insulated kitchen, pantry and bathroom. I'd love to have the stove cranking out heat that would warm me in a cozier way than the furnace can do, but the timing isn't bad in that we needed to empty out some ash anyway.

I haven't put wood on since this morning. The flames and all chunks of wood disappeared in early afternoon. After I got the kids to bed, I opened the stove and was surprised how warm it was. I raked over the gray dead ash and was met with warm orange glow of still live coals. A bit of tinder, a puff of air and—poof—we'd have flame.

Hope is like that. Beaten down, trampled, extinguished again and again until you are certain you can hope no more. And then a word, a thought, a possibility and the glow begins. When Henry was in the hospital I was amazed by how tenacious hope really was. My own hope burnt down to ash many times, until I was afraid to hope again, until I wasn't sure I could hope again, and then the fever broke, he moved one notch closer to coming off the ventilator, doctors began murmuring about going home . . . And then he died. Could anything quench a fire more thoroughly? I remember not wanting to hope when I was pregnant with Kathleen, but being unable to stop.

My hope burns fairly steadily these days, but I remember when it was reduced to ash. And I remember how amazing it was to see it spring to life again. To warmth and hope.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

My View 5: Making Space?

The glider-rocker I got before Henry was born is still hanging in there, though the way my girls climb on it, hang off it, and slam it too and fro, I wonder how long it has. I find myself back in this chair again more often come evening because this room is cozy.

In November, we got the insert stove we've been talking about getting since we got married. My fears of this room being intolerably warm weren't warranted, but we are still working out the kinks of getting the warm air circulating effectively. The bedrooms are warm, but I worry about the pipes at the other end of the house in the poorly insulated bathroom. We're in the middle of a cold snap, so I guess this is the test.

The stove means that the toys that I once housed in piles and bins in front of the fireplace had to find a new home. It means there are piles of wood and plastic buckets of sticks and wood chips and other debris. The stove has a blower, so if we're working on maximum efficiency, it's loud. I hated that at first, but I've gotten used to, as we do with most things. It also seems to have driven away the ants that usually start invading our living room in January. I remember sitting nursing Kathleen and with Elizabeth and watching lines of ants moving across the floor.

The stove means more sooty dust on the mantle, so I try to dust it more, and when I do, I stop to look at Henry's pictures there. I think about moving the two big collage frames that are there, though I don't know what I'd put there instead. I have a vision of family photos mounted on the walls by the bottom of the stairs (if I don't get the built in bookcases I'd really like), but I'm waiting until we finish peeling wallpaper and paint that wall. It's been in a state of half prepped for almost six years. That's the way of projects I guess.

I think too about replacing some of the pictures from those frames, mingling Henry with the rest of our family. My sister put together all our framed pictures—these two big collage frames and dozens of smaller, individual ones—for his funeral, when I knew I wanted pictures but couldn't do it. These pictures are still all over our house. I love having them, but I want Henry to be part of us, not an aside, much the way I have a tiny tree that is only his but also put his ornaments on our full Christmas tree. As I look around, I see the dried filler flowers from one of the arrangements from his funeral and wonder if I'm ready to compost them. I think of the dried white roses on the Henry shelf in my office and contemplate moving them upstairs and mingling them with the dried roses Brian has given me. These things that are tied not to him, but to his death—am I ready to let them go and make some space?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Getting out

We moved slowly down the hilly roads that turned at some point from blacktop to snow covered dirt. If I weren’t there, Brian would probably have careened down the hill a bit more, picking up speed, taking the turns faster. He’s not really reckless, but more of a risk taker than I am. We had passed a “Bridge Out” sign a while back, and I kept expecting to come around a corner and crash through a barrier into a creek or skid to a stop in front of it or slide off the road into a tree trying to avoid it.

Still, I felt the adventure in this. It’s bit sad maybe that this is an adventure, for we were still in town, looking for entry to the state forest to snowshoe, but I hadn’t been up this road. We haven’t hiked much in the past five years. Our snow shoes and cross country skis and backpacks have gotten dusty. So there we were on a snowy road maybe five miles from home, maybe, and I was full of anticipation of what we might find, what new place we would see. I didn’t fret that we were running out of time, that we might spend our whole babysitter afternoon driving rambling back roads, I just watched and noticed and imagined living out here with more dispersed neighbors, but woods as a backyard, more land, just enjoyed being out and in the unfamiliar.

“Is that a trailhead?”

“Looks like it.”

Brian stopped the car and I hopped out. Yep. Henhawk Trail. I remembered reading about it in front of the fire a few days back, anticipating this outing. Watershed land. No dogs. Well broken trail.

I sat on the back of the car to pull my gaiters on. Scrrrrritch, I adjusted the Velcro and Brian got his set. I got lightheaded bending over and fiddling with my snowshoes. There was pressure on my left foot and I struggled to tighten the back strap and loosen the one over the arch of my foot. Brian upon request bent down and gave it a tug. I shrugged. Good enough.

We set off with the scratch-crunch of our metal claws on the snow. We walked single file, though the trail at the beginning probably would have accommodated two. It was quiet and still, that quiet stillness you get in the woods with no cars nearby, no other people, that quiet stillness that is really full of movement and noise: a brook bubbling and murmuring under plates of thin ice, trees swaying and creaking in a light breeze, the drip of melting snow. It was sunny and warm for January, more like March and sugar season.

As we walked, the land sloped upwards, more than I had expected. I made a mental note about walking this with the kids come spring or summer. I considered throwing Elizabeth in the backpack for a quick walk some day after I drop off Kathleen.

The water sounds grow louder as we climb. We mostly stick to the main trail, which has enough of a pack to make snowshoes superfluous, but where the water spreads on the trail, we hop up to the bankings on the side and step through the unmarked snow. We pause now and then, a quick kiss, a brief conversation—something about the kids, how far we want to go, how its gotten cooler—me leaning into Brian as we look up at the trees. 

I find myself breathing in the cool air like energy, a current running through me. It seeps into me, pours into me, more quickly than the cold. I want to run. I want to stay out here all day and make cocoa. I want to trudge through the snow until I am exhausted and go home to a roaring fire. I want to write it all down. I want to just be. I breathe in the energy again. I am full of possibility.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

2013, Enough

I’ve been contemplating the idea of a word of the year. I toyed with the idea last year, but never found anything that felt right. This year as I was thinking and writing and playing around with different things, this word seemed to settle in around me:


I wasn’t crazy about it. It felt almost defeatist. What about my goals to be focused on writing my memoir or taking a chance on rejection and actually sending my writing somewhere or getting back in shape or spending more time offline or letting go of anger? What about ramping up as my energy expands? How about a more inspiring word?

Enough is what I need right now. I am good enough. What I do is good enough. How much I do is enough.

Enough is the reminder that my girls are still little and here all or most of the time, but they won’t be for long. When my “want to do” list seems impossibly far away, enough is my reminder to enjoy this time and acknowledge what I can and do accomplish. If I write less or run less but am present with them instead, that time is well spent.

Enough is my reminder that my girls are still little and don’t need a lot. They do better with fewer toys and a schedule that isn’t overpacked.

As I feel my energy return and feel more ready to tackle projects, I don’t have to go all out, push myself to the limit. Today, I started cleaning my office. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the piles and the futon buried under holiday debris and empty boxes and stashed away toys, I put away all of the wrapping stuff and recycled some papers. It was a start. I still can’t see the futon, but it was enough.

I’ve gotten better over the years, but I have a tendency to try to do too much. So this year I’ll remind myself to let go and let it be enough.