Elihu and I knew he would perform at his school’s talent show. I wondered what he could do; my first choice was his busking-inspired djembe bit. That was too informal for his taste. From the start he knew what he would do. He wanted to play drums and sing. A snare and a cymbal would get the point across just fine. He knew all the polkas well… Roll Out The Barrel and The Happy Wanderer were good choices. And the embedded one-liners were his choice too. Clad in an Austrian peasant shirt his father brought back from a European tour, he belts out the tunes and jokes without missing a beat – in spite of failing microphones. This kid is a showman, and his mama is proud indeed. The Catskills got nothin on the Adirondacks!
left to right: Charlie (of Jill), Elihu (of me), Brigitta (of Cindy)
I’m sure this won’t hurt me as much in twenty years as it does now. It’s still hard to know that Cindy and I were pregnant at the same time with our children. Strange. It will be interesting to know these children as adults and learn how life felt from their perspectives.
I can’t sleep. Nearly every night, the same thing. I awake around 2, and am up for several hours. Not up enough to do dishes or file, to do the things that need getting done. This would be the perfect time, but I just can’t seem to summon the resolve to do anything. Before I admit my defeat to insomnia and commit to getting out of bed, I just lay there for a while and follow my thoughts as they traverse my life again.
Sometimes it seems the better part of my life was ‘back then’. When exactly was back then, I muse? While there was a long and happy window, I decide I know when ‘back then’ was. I was in my early 30s, in three bands I enjoyed, and was busy. Playing every weekend, rehearsing all week, had lots of side recording jobs. Lots going on. Felt great, looked great. My current life with chickens just doesn’t compare. I spend a lot of time trying to sell myself on my new country life, but when my mind wanders like this at 2 am, I just miss it so.
Here begins the monkey mind. Tonite’s perigee moon had prompted me to show Elihu a vid of Starbuck performing “Moonlight Feels Right”. He dug it, I dug it. Who were those guys? And the marimba player wore a unitard open to the waist. He had chops; was he like this skinny North Texas music major in a jumpsuit who only in that moment had became remotely cool? What were the stories behind the band? I remember so many of my own… then my mind wanders, turns a corner, and I’m reminiscing about the gear of my past.
It started with a red and black Farfisa combo compact with a knee reverb when I was 17. My mom was surprised when I told her I’d also need an amplifier with which to hear it. So came the Peavey duece with that crazy spring reverb that sounded like a thunderstorm when you moved the amp while it was on. My mind flashes forward. I’m at the Wild Hare reggae bar in Chicago. It’s a sunny afternoon, and I’m rehearsing. I took pride in my setup then. I remember I had structured soft cases for my keyboards which fit just so into the trunk of my boxy 80s Corolla. Hmm, what was that one that played the great (in its day the absolute bomb) piano sound? Ensoniq. Yes, an Ensoniq EPS. I remember how we’d all have to stand around and wait for that piano sound to load. And if I didn’t have enough room on board for the set’s ‘patches’ (yes, it’s all coming back – that’s what we called sounds!) then you’d have to re-load it, and usually during a song. Or in between songs, and the front guy would have to know where in the set that happened so he could rap a little to the audience, buying you time to load. I remember at that rehearsal saying how one day we’d tell our kids it took 3 minutes to load a piano sound and they’d just laugh at us. No one but me thought this was interesting. I remember being surprised at that. Imagine, a piano sound which took up nearly an entire 3″ floppy disc and took 3 full minutes to load. Hmm.
“You’ll love them, the vocals are so compressed” my girlfriend enticed after I turned down her invitation to see a show. That got me. I liked punchy vocals you could really hear. I ended up going to the show with her that night. Had a good time. The scene just pops into my head as my brain scans the past for tidbits. I remember Conley. I’ve never had real girlfriend. She was one of the few who kinda came close I guess. Always liked her name. Sounded like she was from the South, with a first name seeming more like a sur name. And I liked that she actually knew what compressed vocals were. She and I had a lot of the same issues. Insecurity, being a cute woman in a man’s world (music, gear, shows, etc. – even 20 years ago it was much less a woman’s place) and yet needing to be taken seriously, as a peer. Yeah, I remember all that. You want to be sexy, but you also want them to know you know. Are we FB friends, she and I? Yes, I remember, we are. But I have never communicated with her. Maybe now I will…. maybe…. here goes my monkey mind, hopping up to the next branch….
I just got it – the guy in Starbuck singing “Moonlight Feels Right” looks like Joe Zawinul. I remember meeting Joe in a cave-like restaurant in Perugia, Italy. His wife/manager was sitting next to him. My husband presented me, and Joe looked down at my boobs. I remember thinking 1) you dirty old man, and 2) you must be disappointed. Not much to ogle. Yeah, the guy in Starbuck looks like Joe Zawinul.
My mind stops. I get out of bed. I watch a Japanese cartoon on TV. I eat jalapeno soy cheese and flax pita bread. I pour a glass of wine. I look at the perigee moon for a bit. Then I post my link to the Starbuck video on Facebook. I play the video again, then proceed to choose a related video from the list that pops up. I enjoy a Starland Vocal Band performance. Next up, The New Seekers. “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”. Hmm. I was how old then? Man, they had a Coke endorsement back in the day. Pretty big. I search images and see them now. I ponder the changes in them. I ponder the changes in me. I am no different. I am aging. My ‘day’ seems to be a decade in my past. I wish I had a cigarette, I really do. Man I want one right now. I’m restless, I’m unsettled, what can I do? I sit to write. So many other thoughts fly through my mind. The to-do list, the money situation, The Studio, the divorce… It will all keep. I take 4 over the counter sleeping pills plus a homeopathic pill too, just to make sure. I finish my post and I’m still not remotely sleepy.
Maybe I’ll FB Conley (look – it’s become a verb!) and then go see where the members of Starbuck are today. There’s still time – the full moon has a few more hours in the sky before she sets….
Trying to get Elihu’s math homework done. Had a nice visit with some neighbors, met their horses and dogs, but it pushed dinner back, and consequently the math homework too. I pick it up and look it over and realize it’s a friggin craft project. This thing requires scissors, glue and the ability to see color. The first page involves coloring in even and odd numbered coins in a leprechaun’s pot, even in yellow, odd in brown. The color thing isn’t tricky here; yellow is light, brown is dark, and I’ve labeled most of his markers and pencils by now. The problem is that my son is an artist with high standards. I explain that his teacher simply needs to see that he understands the concept; he needn’t fret over the execution of the ‘coloring in’. “But I like to color” he says, diligently working at his second of nearly fifty coins. I give him two minutes – for that is as much time as it would take to separate even from odd – then I cut him off. Thankfully, he is most often a reasonable and intelligent fellow and he agrees without protest.
The second page required cutting out coins in another St. Patty’s day-themed handout. He was to then match the equation on the coin to the total on the paper, and glue the coin to the page. We got efficient. I cut, I glued, he did the calculation.
The following page required several colors, and dozens of shamrocks to be filled in. I suggested he underline the appropriate shamrock in the correct color. He didn’t bat an eye but went straight at it, surrendering the task of coloring in without a second thought. Good boy, let’s get this done. It is late, and he is yawning, but he did his math homework, and we made it without a scene. A triumph in the house tonite. He is getting ready for bed now, all is well.
Elihu just came to me with his completed homework, adorned with a full-color picture of a leprechaun. Buff-colored skin, black hat, silver buckle, red and white striped socks and green suit. This may seem a trifle, but he sees no color at all, and I am impressed he took the time to locate the colors, and that he knew which were the correct choice. He must memorize our use of colors, for to him they are merely shades of gray. I am proud.
Now we will get into bed and I will read a few chapters of The Burgess Bird Book for Children. A delightful tome, (and a first edition too – nearly 100 years old) replete with old-fashioned language and details that may seem uninteresting to most children of today. But thankfully, my son hangs on every word. I feel so lucky to have such a child. It goes without saying that I love him above all else, and I would add that I am grateful for all our moments together in this fast-waning time in his life. Childhood is brief, and I am treasuring every minute of his.
Elihu was born to polka, apparently. When we get into the car each morning to drive to the bus the first thing he says is: “Polka?” Now it’s bedtime and he’s singing along to his “Favorite Polkas of All Time” CD. I left the room briefly and when I came back he was trying to sing the tuba part. He said he was planning to be a really good tuba player by the time he was in fifth grade, as he was allowed to start in fourth. (I sure hope he’s big enough for the instrument by then.) “And you know in polka bands it’s not really the drums keeping the beat, it’s the tuba” he says to me as I write this. He is mesmerized by this particular style of tuba playing; short, punchy notes with a lot of groove. Really, some of these tuba parts are pretty swingin. After all this up energy, how do we end this polka jag tonite? Is there such a thing as a gentle, good-night sort of polka? Hmm, we have “She’s Too Fat Polka”, “Clarinet Polka” or “Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay”? I just gotta pull the plug… now he’s singing in Polish. Wow. Whoop De Doo – who knew?
Ok, so our driveway is still too narrow for the fuel truck, but some good did come of our day.
Elihu loves polkas. A lot. And so, he will be singing “Roll Out The Barrel” for his elementary school talent show. Only problem was he wanted to actually roll out a barrel on which he would then stand and sing. Finding a barrel proved more daunting a task than we’d thought. En route to teach my continuing ed class at the high school tonight, we ran across some men making sets for the high school musical. I inquired if they might know where we could get a good, old-fashioned oak barrel. When they learned our mission the fellow in charge gave us the number of a woman who could supply us just such a barrel – and since it was for use in the school district it would be free! How bout that.
So we don’t have heat yet, but we do have a barrel. So we got that goin for us. Which is nice.
I’ve been told that the mounds of snow flanking our driveway need more oomph to move than usual. What to do? I don’t know. This is a good way to meet neighbors… I’ll just keep knocking on doors til I find someone with the machine for the job. I’m not upset, in fact it is kind of adventure. I am convinced that some interesting surprises await. I feel I must mention, however, that I am rather done with a chilly house. There’s no thrill to a cold toilet seat first thing in the morning.
“So what’s the story with the heat?” Elihu asked me when I got off the phone. “Well,” I answer, “You’ve got a sense of humor, right?” Ok. I’m finding this amusing this morning. Maybe I should be bummed, but it’s all ok. So. The almost ex agrees to send me $150 for oil, the oil man agrees to front me the oil til the money comes in, and it’s lookin good. Then the truck guy wants to know if my driveway is plowed. Oh. Kind of.
The huge dump of snow we got two days ago closed schools and caused the plow guys to sigh with the rest of us. We had all thought it was over. My plow guy (we call him dumb Mike because he’s called me Lisa for years in spite of my having written him checks with my actual name on them) was done with the season too and so just barely cleared a path for my vehicle. But a huge tank truck? No way. As it is my side mirrors are barely clearing the three foot banks of snow. Sigh. One more thing to do before our house will be warm again.
Thankfully, it happened after dinner, after our house-bound snow day was over. I swear I’ve been economical about our use of heat; the house is kept at 60 during the days, lower at night. Having been through this now three times this year, I knew well what was going on when the thermostats began to drop. Phooey. We’re out of oil again.
I checked the oil just day before yesterday, and it seemed we were experiencing a Biblical type of respite; it looked like we had nearly six inches left. My frugality had paid off. I figured that I had til mid week to face the dilemma – I would find some oil before we ran out cold. But no. I must remember that the four inches on the bottom of the tank lies below the intake pipe – it counts for nothing. Six inches really means two.
Thankfully, Elihu wanted to sleep with me tonight, in my bed. While we have finally found our way into our own beds these past six months, Elihu pouted uncharacteristically about sleeping alone tonight. “It’s scary in my room” he’d said. “And there’s a big owl on the ceiling”. Geez. His owl kite was scary? I didn’t say anything. He was feeling a bit clingy and melancholic tonight, so I agreed without any discussion. Usually he’s a happy, bouncy kid with a quick wit and a Monty Python-esqe take on things. Although the dark and angry attitude of an unsatisfied artist lurks not too far below the surface, he is not a child who needs too much coddling or intervention. He knows himself, and his needs pretty well. (He’s often more honest with himself than I am about this.) While I refuse to debate the hot topic of ‘co-sleeping’ I will however offer that our situation – living in a tiny house far off the road, just the the two of us – makes sharing a bed feel very natural, cozy and reassuring. Good that he chose this sleeping arrangement tonight, because now, once again, my room is the only warm one in the house. God bless our portable electric heater.
I fight with myself to keep my mantra an upbeat one. We don’t live in a war-torn country. We’re not hungry. (My dark side rises up – we’re still one day away from food stamps and we’re out of milk and produce.) Oh, be quiet! I say to my dark voice. “I am supported. I am supported” I say, guided by the advice of a counselor I knew in my first, frightening year here. I must remember that the universe always supports me. I must not succumb to negative thoughts. Shit, I’m out of everything. I’m out of toilet paper, toothpaste, milk… and heating oil. Crap. No – be positive. Maybe all my years of over-tipping waitstaff and rounding up will manifest in some assistance now. I’d had a couple of old friends offer help. But how do I accept it when I have no ability to pay them back? And what about my husband? How does he expect us to live on $750 a month? Round and round. The voices battle.
The snow has resulted in hundreds of lost dollars in piano lesson income. Just today I lost another $55. Last year my ‘buffer’ – the extra bit of money that helped us pull through each month – had been social security income for Elihu’s ‘disability’. But since the court had allocated our monthly support all for him, (rather than for me, the head of household) he was disqualified, and we lost our extra $220. That hurt. But then the new students made up for it. Now, with both sources gone this month, it’s been very tight indeed. I remind myself that I have a house in which to live. The mother of one of my students has very kindly offered me the job of feeding her horses while she vacations in Florida. That will bring in some money, just not soon enough.
The chickens lost their heat today too. When I went out to shut them in for the night I smelled burnt plastic. Kinda wonder why it hadn’t happened before this. Yup, the heat lamp had shorted out in the muck. Not sure how, but the plug was melted and just gone. One more thing to fix, to buy.
I will not succumb. Or will I? (How did I get here? I’ve always been a good person!) “The universe supports me. I am supported” (How can this be happening?) “I have everything I need right now”. (I don’t deserve this!) “I bring to my experience what I give energy to.” (Seriously, does Jill have to go without toilet paper and heat?!) “I choose to feel supported”. (How is it that Fareed is in Indonesia staying in a five star hotel and eating out every day when his son has no milk for breakfast?) “We have what we need in this moment”. (You’re right. I give.)
Hookay. I guess I do have what I need for right now. My heater is purring along, the room is comfortable. I am thankful that we played board games inside rather than make snowmen outside, because Elihu’s coat and snowpants will be dry tomorrow. I will regroup and re-assess after he’s safely on the school bus. For now, I will be thankful for what I do have. And I will climb into bed beside my dear son, and be grateful I’m not alone.
As my son and I happily made our way across the wet parking lot, hand in hand, he said ‘I can smell Spring. I can just smell it. I smell dirt.’ I did too. And we two had a new, hopeful kind of joy beginning to grow within us, just like the seeds we were starting in our living room for our garden. We were ready for spring. Were not all our neighboring residents ready? That was day before yesterday. And today, it is a snow day.
Last night, as I walked to the coop to close the chickens in for the night, the wind blew so strong it made that enormous sound of a menacing engine approaching. A loud, dark groan wove its way through the forest. Wet matter, a cross between rain and snow, was coming down nearly sideways. I liked the drama. I felt like a pioneer woman securing her farmstead, taking care of things, making it safe. In our language here, I was being ‘Mommy-Daddy’. With my farm coat, western-style hat and bare hands (it was just a quick trip to the coop) I enjoyed my role. I found it was less poetic when I collected eggs, some covered in fresh, unfrozen poop, and had to wrestle with the catch on the coop door, which was covered in ice. In fact, I was a little tired of it all. It really was unending. With chickens, one must always be around, both morning and nightfall, to let the chickens out or in. If you are tired, and let yourself off the hook – just once – you may lose a bird or two, and even the whole flock, to predators. I have my new groove, and I don’t mind. Most days.
Today it is March 7th, and it is a snow day. I’m glad I fashioned a little lean-to structure over the platform bird feeder outside our kitchen window before our last big snow, for there is a puffy pile of snow atop it, some 8 inches high. The titmice (oh-so-cute with big, black ‘love me’ eyes) and friends come in under the shelter and find seeds easily. I wonder, why don’t they stay longer? Why don’t they take a load off? I would like to see them gather, as if around the water cooler, to eat and chat and rest awhile. But no – they dash in and out again, many flying with their seed to crack it on a branch of the maple tree above our house. And the squirrels – the bane of so many feeders of birds – I don’t begrudge them their seemingly greedy behavior today. I see a squirrel, biting off large chunks from the suet feeder, and I stay myself. My knee-jerk reaction is to shoo them away – and truly, if there weren’t a foot of snow on the ground, I might. But today, my heart feels for them. How can I shoo away a creature who is just trying to feed her empty stomach? I can’t. In fact, I grab a block of suet, chop it into pieces and place it outside the kitchen door.
I’d come in to dry off, to rest and get ready for the coop walk. Today it’ll take some doing. The muck around the door sill is no doubt frozen, and I may have to whack at it with a sledge hammer before I can open it. The bedding in the nesting boxes is tired and wet and needs to be changed. The overall smell of the coop begs for a good spring cleaning. While that will have to wait, I need to do my best to dry up the place. It’s getting full – of, well, you know…. I have been adding bedding material – straw, wood chips – during the winter, and now the floor of the coop is raised up so high it spills out when I open the door. I must find a new routine for the next wintry season. But for today it’s the band aid approach. More wood chips, some tasty alfalfa on top. I can hear Bald Mountain, the mixed breed rooster, crowing. I can hear him from inside the house. (Sometimes I must use ear plugs if I’m wanting to linger in bed a few, peaceful minutes.) I’ve rested enough. It’s not spring yet. I’m off to the coop now, and this time I’m wearing gloves.