White Noise

 

Snow angel

Tuesday, we were looking forward to another  snowy night and day.  Like most northern regions, it takes a lot more than 6-12″ to get Vermonters flustered, but, to be perfectly honest, it’s not the snow that rattles my nerves, it’s the snow day.

I work from home.  Most of the time it’s a good racket – especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off.  It’s not all sunshine and lollipops, however, especially when Thing1 and Thing2 get the unexpected day off.   They’re good kids, but, try as I might, I have not found the trick to getting them to sit quietly with their hand folded over their laps while mommy deals with customers online (if you’ve found it online somewhere, send me the link).   But, as I found out over Christmas break (almost two weeks of expected days off), silence isn’t always golden.

Seven-year-old Thing2 – already plastered to the ceiling in anticipation of Santa’s visit – had spent the morning migrating from lego projects to torturing his brother.  At one point, he managed to combine activities, causing a crescendo of ‘MOM!’ from thirteen-year-old Thing1’s room.  Thing1 had ‘accidentally’ knocked Thing2’s lego sculpture out of his hand.  The ruins of his engineering masterpiece were strewn about the floor.  One of the witnesses to the ‘accident’ was red faced, the other was in tears. I was chatting online with several customers at once and decided there wasn’t time to call in CSI to determine if the destruction was accidental or premeditated, and I ordered Thing2 to the living room for a cool-down on the iPad.  

Lips pursed, arms folded over his chest, Thing2 marched to a corner of the couch after retrieving a blanket from his bunk. He stood on the couch, arranging the blanket just so and, when he had created his cave, grabbed the iPad from the table and retreated under the patchwork tent.

Thing2 has loved the iPad since it emerged from its sleek white box.  Like most kids, he knows more about it than a seasoned software engineer, and I’m ashamed to admit that it plays babysitter too often on days like this.  

The next day, each Thing retreated automatically to his own corner.  One was in his room working on a computer project with a friend in Maine.  Two was under his tent with headphones borrowed from daddy.  For most of the morning, the only sound came from my keyboard.

That night, I finished work on time and, with a small break in the depression that had been amplifying for months, I thought an after dinner post was in order.  But as the Big Guy took up residence on the couch for his winter’s nap and I began loading the wood stove to cook dinner, I noticed that it was still very quiet.  The dishes clanking were the only noise. 

Thing2 was still under the blanket and headphones, his legos and sketchbooks gathering dust.  There was no new dance routine to watch and animate.  There was no impromptu party waiting in his room.  And suddenly I was scrambling for something to write.  

Like a nagging housewife driving her husband to the arms of a lover, my quest for quiet had silenced my inspiration with electronic lithium. 

Cousins arrived the next day, and neither child was interested in anything electronic as we celebrated Christmas.  

The Monday after the family left, the silence was deafening, but the iPad was nowhere to be found.  Thing2 emerged late in the morning, dragging his tent.  He looked for his digital drug, but, not finding it, deposited his blanket on the couch and padded over to the Christmas tree where his latest Lego project was still sitting, the remaining 500 pieces sorted into empty ice cream buckets.

For the rest of the morning, he delivered a muted monologue of the building of his new starship.  Occasionally, frustrated tears punctuated the chatter and interrupted my work.  I broke up a few fights, but, when dinner time rolled around my inspirer-in-chief joined me in the kitchen to show me his latest dance moves.  And, oddly enough, the noise made the work day better.  

I didn’t write that night, but Tuesday morning, that probable snow day got me just rattled enough to get out of bed early and start tapping.   

Impractically Perfect

IMG 3937Winter isn’t officially here yet, but the wood stove is going every night just about. I love our wood stove. It’s an Amish made wood cook stove that heats not only our whole house but all of our hot water during the winter. I love it for its practicality, but I also love the romance of it.

Something about managing the hotspots on the large cast-iron cooktop and knowing where in the oven cookies will bake and not burn makes me feel like a real homesteader. 

Our house is homestead in a lot of ways. Everything about it’s design was practical, initially. We designed it to be off grid, so that the multiple winter power outages would no longer affect us. We built it to be earth sheltered so that we would not be subject to the whims of the utility companies. We designed it to be a home where we could live if as we age,.

The wood stove was also a practical decision, initially. It was a source of cheap heat. It would do all the things that the woodstove has historically done throughout our nation’s history. It heats our water and our space and cooks our food.

But the pleasure I derive from standing in front of our red-hot practicality as the smell of fresh apple crisp in the oven and black bean stew on the cooktop tickle my nose hairs is anything but practical. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Woodpile

Woodpile

We don’t have a furnace, but we do have an amish-made wood cookstove that burns about five cords of wood every winter.  Over the last few years, thirteen-year-old Jack has increasingly enjoyed the triple-warming feature of our chosen heat source.  

As Jack’s body has grown, so has his part in the stacking, hauling, and burning.  Some years he even takes on the lion’s share of the stacking in hopes of earning some cash.  Even the small income, however, has not taught him to appreciate the woodpile.

Monday we each had a day off.  I decided to lend him a hand.  After lunch, we each donned work gloves and earbud and started ferrying logs to the woodshed.  

It was quiet work.  Each of us was listening to music, but, as Jack has grown taller, he has also become more introspective. Spontaneous utterances are rare.   He meets most of my queries these days with monosyllabic answers.

As the first cord formed in the shed, however, Jack volunteered the remark on the increase in speed when there were two stacking.  I concurred, adding that it was almost pleasant when you got moving.  Jack retreated to silence again.  I asked what music he was listening to, extracting an answer after repeating the questions several ways.

I entertain no illusions about my hipness as a mother (only my fitness as one), and I was glad just to know a little about Jack’s evolving music tastes.  In the next hour we would chat about his English grade, the computer he’s been working toward over the last year, and his favorite video game.  In the end, the wood stacking warmed each of us, but in completely different ways.  For Jack, it was still just a chore.  For me, it was one more thing in my life that reminding me to feel thankful.

Small World

Kitchen table

I don’t have a career.  I have a job.  It’s not a bad job at all, but it’s not the kind of work that changes people’s lives (for good or for ill) or – like a doctor’s or lawyer’s or reporter’s – is filled with action or big issues.  It is the kind of work that lets me work from home and put food on the round pedestal table in our open-floorplan kitchen.

It’s 5:00 AM and an hour and a half from now, there will be scrambling and a mad rush out the door to meet the school bus at the end of our dirt road.  Then there will be a brief calm before the workday begins.  Except for the days I go to the country store, I won’t see another human being until the Big Guy rolls in with our two boys after the school bus brings them home.   It’s literally a very small life.

But somewhere among the eat-your-peanut-butter-sandwich and passing-the-potatoes, at some point during the how-was-your-day’s and even on nights when the Big Guy or I might be licking a wound from a careless comment or Thirteen-year-old Thing1 is barely speaking to us because of a lost privilege, we each know our small life is pretty good.  

There aren’t any late model cars in the driveway.  I can’t remember the last time we sat down to dinner with 4 matching plates.  There’s always dust spontaneously generating around furniture, and the next big bill is always just waiting around the corner.  

But there’s also always safety.  There’s always food on the table.  There’s always a fire in the wood stove warming us when we need it and when we don’t, we’re still at the kitchen table making our own magic.

So, this morning, even though it’s not cold outside and even though I have a room designated as an office down the hall,  at 5am, I’m already settled at the kitchen table near the wood stove.  It’s not just the heat that draws me here.  For me, the kitchen table is where the action – valuable and small – happens.

it is NOT Cold

IMG 3020

At this time of year, the big challenge of living off-grid in an earth-sheltered (read: 3 feet of insulation on 3 sides) is to remind yourself 69 on the thermostat would be T-shirt weather if it were describing the temperature outdoors, but when the only thing reflecting light back at you as you let the cat in at 5AM for his morning nap is the frost coating the world outside your door, it’s hard to remember that it’s too early in the year to light a fire.