49 degrees

It’s Thursday morning and I’m moving slowly.  If I’m lucky I won’t have to leave the house today.   It’s -3 degrees outside and our 1970s-built house is struggling to hold the heat.  Yesterday when I got home from work I discovered that I’d shut the woodstove down just a little too tightly and the fire had gone out.  The house was cold—a mere 49 degrees—and I had to devote my evening to warming the place up.  Today I have the luxury of staying home.  I’ll tend to the fire; cook something slow and savory.   I’ll have time to work on my story and go for a walk and read.

Funny how staying home feels luxurious these days.  When my children were small and I didn’t work away from home I was always looking for reasons to leave the house.  I needed to get out.  I rarely had time to read or write so I had to go searching for ways to stimulate my brain.  I needed to converse with other adults, go to performances and seek out activities that gave us a break from the routine of being home all the time.  I had to go away to find the space I needed in my life.

The other night I met with a group of writers at the library to discuss our projects and ambitions for the year.  My friend Bill, an elementary school teacher and poet, talked about how last year he had more time for creativity in his life with his middle child on foreign exchange and his older child at college.  He described it as having more “bandwidth.” I could relate.  I’m starting to feel the effects of more bandwidth in my own life.  Less than two weeks ago my son left for college and my sixteen-year-old daughter has taken a huge leap in self-sufficiency now that she has her driver’s license.

It’s a slow, gradual process, this gaining extra bandwidth.  It’s an hour of not driving to town and back.  It’s a night at home with my husband while Adella is gone on a DDF (drama, debate and forensics) tournament.  It’s more frequent evenings with no Netflix or television.  It’s a little less cooking, a little less cleaning.  It’s a lot less time spent waiting.

The extra bits of time are small, but they’re adding up.  There’s a part of me that feels I should be using this extra time to write more prolifically or get to work on our never-ending list of home projects that have been put on hold for the last several years, but so far that’s not what I’m doing.  So far with my extra time I’m doing a lot of wandering around, staring out the window, reading, thinking.

I have a suspicion that most people my age, especially parents, have a hard time allowing themselves much unqualified time.  I think about my friends around town.  Some of them homeschool their own children (which is a full time job with very few breaks and no pay) and yet they still manage to keep their families well fed and their houses in order.  One of them directs a nonprofit agency and spends her weekends shuffling her daughter around the state for hockey tournaments.  One wrote a book and earned an advanced degree while teaching school.  A co-worker of mine volunteers in her children’s classrooms on her days off and then at night, when the rest of her family is in bed she studies for a couple of hours.   It’s probably best if I don’t compare myself to these friends of mine who seem to use their time so efficiently. At least not right now.

In a society that measures productivity by the number of dollars earned or tasks completed, I’m falling terribly short.  I could be looking for ways to earn more money.  I could go back to yoga class or involve myself with one of the many nonprofit organizations that are doing great things for our community.  But for now, I just want to stay home.  I want the company of my dogs.  I want to walk around my property and notice all the things that go unnoticed in a hectic life.  I want to take naps and drink tea and sometimes play the same fiddle tune a hundred times until I get a certain part just right.

For now, the little bit of extra time and space in my life feels good—nourishing even, after many intense years of raising children.  Of course there are still bills to pay and debt and chores and work, but there is more space around each of those things as my children move on with their own lives.  So today my tasks are to play my fiddle, make dinner, keep a hot fire in the woodstove and finish this blog post.  Tonight I’ll spend the evening with my daughter before she heads off to Anchorage for another tournament this weekend.  I probably won’t set any productivity records or add anything of great value to this world, but for today it’s enough.  Sometimes in the middle of winter, in a poorly insulated house, it’s enough just to keep the temperature above 49 degrees.

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Venturing out

It’s officially the time of year when I start daydreaming about living in New Mexico or somewhere, anywhere, where a person can leave the house without wearing ice-cleats and a headlamp.  Between the moose bedded down twenty feet from where we walk, a two inch layer of solid ice and the darkness, the most difficult part of each day can be getting up or down our driveway.   My response is that I never want to leave the house.  I would be perfectly happy to stay here.

I realize that staying home all the time is unrealistic.  Money must be earned.  Children must be driven around. Groceries must be purchased.   But I do find myself minimizing my outings during the darkest part of winter, and oftentimes I regret the commitments I’ve made that require me to leave the house.  That’s how I was feeling yesterday.  I just wanted to stay home with my computer and my books.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed another evening at home, but last night I was  reminded of why it is that I love this town, and why I stay here even when the winters start to make me a little batty.

The son of a friend of mine plays basketball on the Homer High School team and because of district funding issues the kids have to pay their own travel expenses for their games.  My friend decided to hold a contra dance after the game against Seward yesterday, with all of the proceeds going toward the team.  She and her husband asked me to play fiddle with their band for the dance.

The coach required that all the boys attend the event, and invite their friends and families, and of course girls, so they would have someone to dance with.   He told them they didn’t have to dance, but if they chose not to he would make them run 500 suicides at practice next week.   The parents of the team brought chili and cornbread and a table full of desserts, possibly to make the idea of a contra dance more appealing to the boys.  I fully expected the high school commons to be full of eye-rolling, arms-crossed teens, waiting impatiently until they could safely get out of there and onto whatever else they’d rather be doing.  But I was wrong.

At 8:00 we played our first tune, to get the kids attention mostly.  Then the first dance was called.  About twenty tentative couples made their way to the dance floor.  Before the caller finished teaching the dance the number of couples doubled.  It continued that way all evening.  Each dance seemed to have more participants than the one before.   And people kept showing up all the time; parents, friends, basketball supporters, the regular contra dance crowd.  The coach mandated the boys’ participation but he never said they had to stay until the end.  They were still going strong when we had to wrap things up at eleven.

There was much to enjoy about the evening; the food, the conversation, the mixed-age group socializing together.  I’m glad I didn’t miss it.  I’m sure I would have enjoyed staying home, getting lost in another good book, but instead I got to watch a room full of laughing people dance to the music of my own making.  I don’t think I’ll ever find a book that makes me feel as good as that.