Mundane Matters

Had a low grade headache for over twelve hours now. Thinking back, I might attribute it to a couple of glasses of wine last night. Been without it for a while, and thought it would be fun to have a glass as I endeavored to make our first all vegetarian meal (at Elihu’s request). Having found $25 while cleaning the house, I felt I’d hit paydirt, so off we went to the market to buy some tempeh and wine. To the dollar store for a pair of sweet little wine glasses. As Elihu settled in to watch another documentary by his beloved David Attenborough, I filled the pretty glass with my first taste of wine.

Now, at five am, I think I would have better without it. Too late, but lesson learned. Clean living is easier on the body. Tempting in its absence, the very thing that seems to offer a tiny spark of hope ends up to disappoint in its presence. Oh the quandary of being human.

Awakened by the constant pain, my mind starts going. And I realize that sleep is not going to take me away again. I rise and go to make a pot of tea, discovering two more dead mice in the new traps. Two last night, two this morning. Plus the nine last week that finally succumbed to my five gallon bucket trick. Merely the tip of the iceberg, but a good start. This brings me to a mundane, domestic matter that has troubled our little cottage for a while now. Mice. I have finally found the answer. A company called Tomcat makes these clever little traps – so easy to set my son can do it. Bulky, plastic things, they act just as traditional traps do; they snap closed on the mice as they investigate the bait within. It’s easy to pinch the trap open again, dumping the poor victim, its large, black eyes still staring at the world, into the garbage can with all the rest of our mess. I say a prayer, ask for its forgiveness, then try to shake it off. Never a pleasant experience, in spite of the fact that his tiny death was my objective.

I pour a cup of tea and step outside. As I watch the horizon grow light, I think back on Thanksgiving. My brother Andrew had blown up just before we were to sit down to dinner. It began when he brought my cat, Mina (who lives with my parents now as Elihu is quite allergic) to the table, and lowered her down to meet the eyes of Martha’s hound dog, who was resting at her feet. The dog whimpered with excitement, my cat hissed and fear blazed in her eyes. She’s a fraidy cat to begin with, and my heart jumped to see her distress. “Andrew”, I begged, “Please don’t do that to Mina! Please, don’t do that!” Instantly, he looked at me with wrath I cannot fully describe, nor understand. He erupted, and said something about my inability to stop talking, and that I was Satan himself. “Satan!“, he repeated. Then he told us he couldn’t eat with me here – that he wouldn’t come back until Satan had left. It got worse. Later on. Suffice to say, that when he did return, there was an incident which left my son sobbing in fear and confusion, had me running to dial 911. It was his worst blow up in years. Andrew is a dry drunk. He’d begun to taste the wine again recently, and with those first dangerous sips an anger began to loosen in him, an anger that has been for the past ten years directed at me. I am the reason his life sucks. I realized that night how strong he was; fueled by rage, I truly felt he might kill me. That night, and several since, Elihu has asked me if we could please lock our doors at night. We’ve been here three years and have never locked them once. Maybe this isn’t so mundane a topic after all, but it swims around in my brain alongside everything else that keeps me from sleeping.

I hear my son coughing in his sleep. He’s been a little asthmatic lately, and that is worrying to a mother. He’s a good kid, and will even do his nebulizer in the night some times without even waking me. He doesn’t want to trouble me. That’s ok, I tell him, that’s exactly what I’m here for. And it is never, ever trouble to me. I hope he gets that. There. He’s stopped coughing, I relax a bit.

A mosquito whines by my head as I write. We’ve had a rash of them lately. They seem to emanate from the toilet – or somewhere in the bathroom. But we flush often, we even turn on the tap to keep things moving in the sink. But still we seem to have a hatchery somewhere, and they escape into the bedrooms, their high, zinging sounds strangely out of place this time of year. Or maybe not, as it’s been so warm. Even seen some outside.

It’s the first day of December now, and yet the weather is still so mild. Global warming? I wonder. It just feels wrong. Rather than fret about this, I’d better turn my concern to filling the oil tank. Knowing my oil man has received his voucher from the state, I’ve called him to ask if he can deliver some. No response. It’s all ok for now – I’m grateful for the mild weather. But we have less than ten gallons now, and if it gets cold, it’ll be uncomfortable. Thanks to this past year, I can report we’re good at living in a house at 58 degrees. We’ve gotten used to it. I’m surprised. I like things toasty. But it is amazing what one can live without. One does adapt.

I ponder our dependency on outside help. For food, for heat. My mind wanders to an email I received recently from an adult student of mine. While she thought she was being funny – and no doubt thought I’d share her amusement – I did not. It was something to the effect of ‘we good guys’ carrying the weight of all the country’s ‘indigent’ folks… paying for their food, their heat. Not sure she realized – maybe it’s hard to see me as one of the ‘indigent’, what with my gleaming, new grand piano, harpsichord and view of the mountains out my living room window – but if it weren’t for the benevolence that still remains embedded in our system, my son and I would be on the street. We are her ‘indigent’ folk. Really. I consider whether to address it or not. Maybe at our next lesson I will. Maybe I will also remind her that she cancels a lesson for every two she schedules, and that this reduces my income, making it even harder to ‘pull my own weight’. Maybe I should have her pay up front. Another thought in the maelstrom.

Christmas. It’s coming, and I have less than $30 to my name. A friend in the Midwest recently sent us some money to put towards Elihu’s gifts. After some internal debate, I ended up disclosing the amount to him, and telling him he may use half for a toy of his choice. (House rule: spend half, save half. That goes for Elihu and his money – mine is gone towards living costs almost before it comes in.) He, being about all things that fly, began to research in earnest the options before him. He read product reviews, watched test flights on Youtube – all on his own – until he arrived at the perfect, affordable remote controlled helicopter. Lest I think I do not have a ‘boy’ boy – this recent experience has me smiling to myself at this newly revealed aspect of my son. He has spent a fair amount of time watching videos of flying toys, he has learned new terms; he is immersed. He ordered his helicopter on Friday, and each morning it’s the first thing on his mind when he wakes. So he’s got that gift for which I am so very grateful, but what else? I’m glad I had the presence of mind to purchase little bird-related items through the year, when I had just a bit of extra cash, but what now? His father probably won’t send our monthly support for a week or more yet, and I cannot buy a thing until then. I look to new students; there’s one possibility. But then I must pay for Elihu’s drum lesson, and that will simply cancel out the new income. Argh.

There’s really no end to the matters that swim around in my head. Thankfully, I’d taken some pain reliever an hour ago, and now my headache, while still there, is only a shadow of its former self. That’s good. And really, everything is good. As the new language of our culture tells us, all we have is the moment. And right now, I mean right now, it’s ok. It’s good. Elihu is sleeping quietly, I got all the dinner dishes washed last night, I have my long-awaited vacuum cleaner bags (the house has been quite dirty this past month as I was out) – plus I finally have a way to reduce the mouse population. Bald Mountain, our dominant rooster, is crowing. It’s now light outside. Soon I’ll get dressed and let the birds out for the new day.

But for now I’m going to let all my thoughts alone for bit as I enjoy a moment of stillness on my couch. The giant living room window faces east, and from my seat I can see a wide, sweeping expanse of hills and sky. Although I don’t, I could choose to see this every morning if I wanted. So this too, I suppose, is mundane. Nonetheless it is a good thing. And it matters.


This morning the air was deceptive. It was one of those odd fall days that smelled of spring. With the subtle scent of new growth and soil, I felt my heart lift. Ah, Spring… But no, this was November… These days I’ve been trying to get a better grasp of what November really is, trying to rediscover it’s essence; I’ve been trying to redeem it from the dismal thing it seemed to be in my childhood. This is a start.

As a child of seven or so, November seemed gray and endless. Trees were bare, the wind stung, and often there was no snow on the ground to make the cold worth it. Sometimes there would be snow on Thanksgiving, sometimes not, but I remember it always being cold. I can remember the Miller family playing a game of touch football in the school field across the street on Thanksgiving weekend. I can remember the silhouette of the oak tree limbs against the white of the sky. I have images in my memory of the leaves we’d cut from yellow, orange and brown colored construction paper, taped to the windows of our classroom, long after the real things had fallen from the trees and lay in sodden, depressing clumps on the ground. I don’t remember feeling much hope in that month. To me, as a young child, Christmas may well have been a year away. November was long and dreary.

So far this November we’ve had several nights well below freezing, we’ve had snow, and we’ve even seen tender shoots appear from beneath the fallen leaves. As I try to take a new inventory of what this month is from my adult perspective, I come up with a short list, and I feel I’m getting closer to reconciling with the month.

It seems November is a leafless month, a month of transition before the final closure of winter. The weather experiences a sort of climatic ambivalence. It’ll get down to business, and I’ll pull out the box of hats and gloves one morning in a panic, then the next day we’ll leave our coats indoors as we tend to our backyard chores. There is no color in this month to speak of. (That is consistent with my memory.) Whether related to climate change or not, I can’t say, but my current day experience of this month is that it is not brutally cold. The cold that November has presented us with so far gently reminds us of the cold that is yet to come. It’s a month to really hunker down in earnest. To finally drain and put away the garden hose. To cut back the butterfly bush if you haven’t already.

Ok. I think I am good with November now. She’s doing her job. She wasn’t trying to pull a fast one on me this morning with all that fresh-scented air. She’s not quite ready to get down to business. I understand. So I’m going to enjoy this day as best I can, but tonight I’ll make sure that we know where our gloves and hats are so we’re ready to go when she is.


Yesterday Elihu had a friend over. A ‘boy’ boy. By the end of the day every single bloody rc toy we had in the house – which had been neatly mated with their controllers, thank you very much – was out somewhere on the floor or kitchen table. Man, this is one reason I’m glad to have only one child. I’m pretty pissed about it today. I’d spent hours getting them all organized, and then in a matter of one unsupervised hour some stupid little nine year old boy has undone all my work. My kid, on his own, would put things back. He’d try them one by one, ascertain what worked, what didn’t, and put them back. Easy. Apparently, I am lucky to have such a child. So now I can’t get a toy to work and I’m missing a bunch of the panels that secure the batteries.

My handiwork in the coop has not turned out to be so handy. Last night the roosting bars I’d made a few weeks back succumbed to the jostling of our 17 flighted birds. This morning they were merely a tumbled mess of over-priced lumber covered in poop. Not sure I have screws long enough to fix them properly.

This is day three of a stopped up bathtub. I used the plunger as best as I could, but it made little improvement. Don’t have any liquid plumber around, so I’ve just kinda put it at the bottom of the list. I would really like to take a shower today. Not sure how yet.

I’ve taught a lesson today day, done the laundry, washed the dishes and made meals, so will finally get to the coop fixes now, with only an hour left of daylight. I can’t find two good double A batteries that work, I’m out of inspiration to fix the roosts, I need a shower and I’m getting crabby. Plus my kid is bored and wants me to entertain him.

I’ll do my best. Then, after it’s dark and the birds are safely in, I think we’ll make a trip to Walmart for some batteries and drano. Can’t wait for that shower.

Thankful Toast

My parents are both still alive. And they live next door. My son and I are having Thanksgiving dinner with them later today, along with my only sibling Andrew. Martha will be there too. Martha has known me since before I was born. It was she who taught me how to read music. She is 85 now, and has had a lot of health issues this past year. That we six will all be together around the table again this year is something I don’t take for granted.

However grateful I am that we are all still here together, I gotta be honest. As it is with so many families, the dysfunction is still there, well hidden behind the polite things we say to each other and the correct things we all do. My family members are good at pretending all’s well when it’s not. Maybe it’s not healthy, but I sure am grateful for their skill at this. I’d just as soon get through it all without incident.

While I’m being honest here, I must also say that Thanksgiving has begun to take on a less than joyous feeling these past few years as my family ages. Picking up Martha is rather a chore. While I love her and appreciate the time I have left with her, I must prepare myself mentally for the day ahead, as things will take longer. It can take an hour just to get Martha from her house to ours. It takes a good 20 minutes just getting her into the car. (I hope someone can muster the oomph to do this for me one day.) When I’m finally there, helping her with coat, her walker, her last minute requests before we leave her house, I do it with genuine love. It’s not so bad. But still, it makes for a long day. I fill my lungs with the fresh, cold air and look up at the new winter sky, waiting for Martha to pull her reluctant feet into the car and I think of all the thousands of people out there just like us at this very moment on Thanksgiving day. It’s a day of logistics and old people. A day for slowing down I suppose.

My brother Andrew is a depressed sort of fellow, a hoarding hermit of a man who harbors a lot of repressed anger which usually finds its expression in a surprise blowup at me, triggered by something which none of us can guess. He is two years younger than me. He was blonde, blue-eyed and skinny as a boy. He was quiet. Smart. Serious. Rather the polar opposite of me. I suppose in his eyes I got all the attention. I probably did. This family history plus some as yet undiagnosed physiological condition have combined to make him acutely disdainful of everyone – and pathologically convinced that I personally am responsible for every bad thing that’s happened to him over the past thirty years. In years past I have tried to confront his holiday blowups with sane, measured counters to each accusation. But rather than remain the calm and centered voice of reason I’d intended, my energy and yes, rage, rises to match his and it all ends up a disaster. So I’ll try to keep it simple and polite today. Never sure what it is that sets him off in the first place. It’s a tricky game. But I’ll play it as well as I can.

Mom’s back is killing her. She can no longer stand up straight. While she’ll take pills for her high cholesterol, and a myriad of medicines for other blood-related issues, she refuses to add pain relief to her daily prescriptions, citing ‘liver’ damage. My thought is that should be the last of her worries. Why worry about your liver when it hurts every day just to be here? I’d worry about quality if I were her. But I’m not her. And no, I don’t know the ins and outs of her medications. She’s worked in a lab most of her adult life and knows the medical jargon. We, the rest of the family, do not. So her power lies in her knowledge and our absence of knowledge. She knows, we don’t. She must bear her pain, there are no options. And so she soldiers on, an arthritic finger resting on her lower back all day long as she makes her way from task to task. In the end though, she’s more than an amazing cook. She’s a classy cook. From the copper pots down to the Limoges china. She knows old-time recipes from the generations even before her own mother, and she keeps alive the out-of-fashion foods that might otherwise die quietly in our world.

In the past my father might make his way to the piano in his office and play some Debussy while mom was cooking. Or maybe he’d sit at the harpsichord and play some Bach, some Scarlatti. This was often the way he’d bide his time in the final few moments before it was all on the table, ready to go. After dinner (any dinner) dad always falls asleep at the table. A fine dinner is not complete until his head falls forward over his chest and he sleeps while still seated upright in his chair. Everyone knows that. While it’s been a good year or more since I’ve even heard dad go to an instrument and play, in spite of the oncoming dementia he still knows what’s going on, still has a twinkle in his eye and is still fully present at the party. And it goes without saying that he falls asleep in his chair at the end of dinner.

Elihu, poor kid, he’s odd man out in this aging family. There is a box of wooden blocks at mom and dad’s which used to belong to Andrew and me when we were small. That, and a set of wooden train tracks gives him something to do while we sip our bloody marys, nibble at cocktail shrimp and say virtually nothing new to each other. My folks have five cats. For twenty-five years they’ve had cats in that house. Elihu is very allergic to cats. Although my mother protests any meaningful dander being present as she’s vacuumed the place only just days ago, I know this is far from the truth but have long since given up trying to prove otherwise. Although I dope him up pretty well before we go over, three hours in that environment is about all he can take. He’ll hold out until we’ve made it to the pumpkin pie, then all at once his eyes will be puffy and he’ll be tugging at my sleeve, begging to go home, unaware that my mother’s feelings are hurt and Martha believes I’ve raised a boy without manners.

But that’s all yet ahead. I have it easy today. My mom is 76 and I still have never done so much as cream an onion for Thanksgiving. No wonder her back hurts; she carries the load alone. I offer help, but I admit it’s without much expectation that she’ll delegate a task. I’ll set the table. And I’ll make a skyscraper of blocks. I’ll ask dad and Martha to tell us their stories again. I’ll ask ‘whatever happened to so-and-so’ and sit back as the elders volley anecdotes back and forth. I’ll eat. I’ll clear the table.

We’re not the kind of family that easily says ‘I love you’ nor the kind that says grace before a meal, but rather the kind of family that cloaks its prayers of Thanksgiving in a toast, wine glasses raised like good, secular, left-wing folk. Today, when we raise our glasses I’ll know the real intention behind our toast.

We may not say so, but I know it’s true. We’re all thankful to be here.

Pantry Party

Tonight I’d had it. I was out of steam. Couldn’t summon the inspiration to cook a meal. I was just out of ideas, tired at the idea of conjuring something clever and tasty for my son’s dinner yet again. I’m usually a pretty good cook, and I take some pride in being able to offer my child healthy, home cooked food. He is a fun person to cook for; he’ll try anything, he’s free with honest opinions and so we two make a good culinary pair. My approach, stripped down to the very essentials, involves seasoning or marinating a portion of meat for my son, pulling together some form of lightly cooked vegetable or salad and adding a starch of some sort. Elihu doesn’t prefer time-saving casseroles (the pot-o-glop style of cooking that my near ex and I relied on for years). Elihu doesn’t really care for rice or pasta either, and yet I’ll offer it to him, knowing full well that it is I alone who will polish it off – with so much sauce, butter and salt. (I try to fool myself, joining him in a lone salad, but my current dress size can vouch for the dishes of pasta and rice that I make for him, but consume mostly alone. Not sure why I continue to make them; is it the influence of my mother’s list of must-haves in a proper dinner? Culture? Just an excuse to eat it myself? Something I should address one day, no doubt.) I can make some tasty dinners, and do most every night, but just not today.

It was completely dark out by the time we’d done our chores and had come in the house, laying our books and bags on the big kitchen table. “I’ve had it!” I whined. “I just can’t do it tonight.” Usually supper doesn’t start for another hour yet, but the black of the kitchen windows told me it was time. Elihu suggested we find some munchies and just kinda snack instead. He’d already found the loaf of fresh bread I’d bought earlier in the day and was busy eating out all the soft centers, leaving a pile of round crusts for me. (Like Jack Sprat and his wife, we too have a symbiotic eating relationship – I adore the crusts alone, he does not.) “Let’s just do this” he said. “What?” “You know, just kinda eat what we can find”. Maybe not such a bad idea. I began to forage around in the pantry. I had to offer my growing kid protein, right? Snacking was fine, but what of substance could I add to the picnic? I must have wondered aloud, because Elihu shouted with instant enthusiasm “Spam!” Huh? Spam? That’s silly. Who actually has Spam? We don’t have any Spam. Then I remembered he’d come shopping with me a few days ago, and upon seeing the famous tin he’d recalled the Monty Python bit and had thrown it into the cart. I obliged if only for the humor of the moment. And now, here it was. Spam had become the cornerstone of our impromptu dinner. The rest of our feast consisted of a can of baby corn, a can of sauerkraut, some smoked almonds and bread. Done.

I poured us each a glass of seltzer water, and we sat at the tiny kitchen island munching away happily, with Elihu taking breaks to read from his new favorite book, Charlie Bone. It was such a contented meal. I was able to relax. Dishes would be easy. This was kinda nice.

What a lovely little party from our humble little pantry.

Barn Red

My son, Elihu, is colorblind. It’s not merely a case of confusing red for green. He sees no color at all. However he is keenly interested in color; as a prolific artist he seeks to use color as accurately as possible. He knows the colors, shades and nuances of every bird without being able to see them for himself. His love of birds is a great motivator. He has simply memorized them all.

When it came time to choose a color to stain our new chicken coop, I’d thought I’d like a lovely dark gray, a color I’d hoped would create the likeness of cedar weathered by the seasons. And I had to include my child in the decision, even if he didn’t see color for himself. So I told him my plan, my objective. It was met with fevered and immediate disapproval. “It’s a barn! It needs to be red!” I offered that he couldn’t see the difference, so really, what did it matter? “What good is having a barn if it isn’t red?” he continued, near tears. “A red barn is a cozy barn! Everyone knows that!” Ok. I was the one who would have to adjust. So I did. I bought a gallon of semi-transparent stain in barn red.

But the bucket of paint sat unopened for several months as I continued to postpone what appeared to be a bigger project than I’d first thought. Thankfully, in the very nick of time a solution presented itself. Yesterday, a classmate of Elihu’s came over for a play date. His father is a painter. Before his father left, I asked if he might be able to help me with the project, as the mild temperatures seemed to be fleeting and the coop needed to be sealed before the snow came. In fact, he could – the next couple of days would work fine. And his brother might be available too. We went online a made a quick check of the weather. Mid to high 40s through the week. Just in time.

When I went to purchase more stain today (I was advised we’d need more), the man at the counter strongly advised against it, as it was now too cold for staining outside. To make things a bit dicier, the paint department was out of the stain I’d wanted. All they had left was the top of the line stuff. I assured him I knew what I was doing and gave him the go ahead to mix up the fancy stuff. I could only afford one gallon. If it wasn’t enough, the rest of the project would have to keep until spring.

By the time I pulled into my driveway this morning with the extra gallon of stain, the men were here, ready to work. Inside of two hours the coop was finished. Two gallons had turned out to be just enough. Standing back and taking it in I was thoroughly pleased. Barn red was perfect! And now I think that gray might well have looked tired, cold – a bit uninviting.

Elihu, hat’s off to you, my little colorblind son. I agree; a red barn is a cozy barn.

Puffins and Perspective

The day started with a fresh dusting of snow. Elihu and I had a cheerful morning, a really lovely one in fact, and as I watched his school bus disappear down the bending road I had hope in my heart for a good day to follow. The sun shone, and I set about to get some things done which I’d long postponed.

With the help of some local men I had dad’s harpsichord moved from the unheated Studio back to his home office. (Thankfully, south-facing windows had let in enough sun to prevent the room from becoming as cold as it was outside.) I then had them move the prehistoric suitcase Rhodes from my basement to the Studio. And finally, I had my new buddies transport a treadmill, a gift from a very kind piano student of mine, to my own home. My heart was euphoric when I fired it up for the first time. Walking, back in the day, was the only real exercise I ever took to. It was the key to my first major weight loss, my first 10K, even my mental health. I am determined not to use it as a giant clothes rack. And now, what with a family membership in the local Y costing upwards of $800 a year, my opportunity for a fresh start seems once again possible. I hope.

After that I knocked a few tedious errands off my list, and by the time Elihu’s bus dropped him off at home, I was feeling light of heart. While I try to keep my spirits hopeful in spite of things around me, my heart does not often feel like this. And I remembered again today that it feels good to feel good.

On top of all that feel-good stuff, Elihu and I went to the mall to enjoy a plate of bourbon chicken from the Cantonese family that runs the Famous Cajun Grill (what they serve is in no way Cajun inspired) and to see Happy Feet 2 in 3D. We arrived early to stake out our seats and were greeted at the door by our next door neighbor (such a nice surprise!). To pass the time until the movie started, Elihu went to jump around and get all sweaty in the large bouncy-bounce set up in the middle of the food court. I indulged in reading some energy-zapping tabloid for a bit, then we collected ourselves and made it to our seats in time for an epic run of previews.

The movie, being about birds who can groove, could not possibly have been more appropriately tailored to Elihu, my bird-loving, djembe-playing son. I watched him watching the movie. I watched as he lifted his arms in flight, as he tapped out rhythms on his lap, as he clasped his hands together in joy, marveling at what he beheld. Our day had been good, our evening perhaps better.

In the car we talk about the themes of the movie. He is the one who begins the discussion. He is outraged about what we are doing to the planet, to animals, to each other. Together we lament humanity’s situation, and together we reaffirm our resolve to live in the most loving, responsible way we can. The evening continues in warmth and joy.

But then I get home and after changing into my comfy bed clothes while Elihu works on a penguin drawing, I check my email to find I posted a rather personal message on someone’s Facebook wall. My ears get hot. So far, I’ve not done something this careless before. I tell myself we’re all human, things like this happen to everyone sometime. I tell my ego that I’m done with her, and that at the end of the day this crap doesn’t matter. Yet here I am, at the end of my day, and it I find it is mattering. Ugh. It’s been such a wonderful day, and now I’m here wallowing in embarrassment. It feels a bit as if I just hit the ‘reply all’ button. As I’m dwelling on it, alternating between making cases for feeling bad and cases for letting myself off the hook, Elihu comes into my room and interrupts my internal chaos.

He wants to show me what he’s just drawn.  His eyes are wide with anticipation of my audience. A smile begins to spread on his face. He hands me the paper, waiting for me to take it in. It’s pretty spectacular. He has drawn a puffin in the foreground with a vast, sweeping expanse behind. I can feel the space, the distance. The puffin has wonderful details – tiny white dots in the eyes, textured lines throughout his plumage – and he stands out, crisp and authentic. He has drawn a picture with such an impressive sense of perspective.

Ok, I think I can forgive myself this small mistake tonight. It’s been a blessed day, and there’s no need to ruin it. Thank you, Elihu, for reminding me what matters. Thanks for the perspective.


Last night without my son. Taking advantage of an unstructured day. Although I’ve not made it out of my pajamas, I’ve been out. Communed a bit with the birds. Held my goose. Checked in with nature. Mostly worked on organizing my writing, both personal and professional. Getting a method book together. Students have always enjoyed my class, and I’m fired up by the idea of communicating how music works to those for whom it seems intimidating. But seriously, does the world really need another fucking method book? Seriously? Probably not. I begin to lose my fire as I sit here, hours into the project. Sometimes it’s hard to keep my enthusiasm and convictions when I live in such isolation. So I take breaks, wandering in and out of websites, Facebook, You Tube… Looking for what I don’t now. Maybe I’m searching for hope, for inspiration, for relief.

I see old friends and musicians I’ve worked with who are still doing what they love. I envy that. I suppose if my son were here there would be less time to dwell on it. But I’m alone, at my computer, staring out into the big, big world and seeing that lots and lots is still going on out there, but it’s all going on without me! I console myself by remembering the hundreds of wonderful projects I’ve been a part of, all the great friends I’ve made through the years, all the places I’ve traveled – reminding myself that I’ve been a pretty lucky girl. But still…

Guess tonight I’m also having a hard time with getting older. I’d like to think I was better than that. I’ve worked hard these past couple of years to identify the grip of ego and become aware of the wasteful way in which it uses my energy. I’ve spent hours in thought, in meditation, in reflection. But I’m still trapped; I’m not good with knowing my hair is thinner and my waist is thicker. I should know better, yet I keep worrying the wound. I search out ancient videos of beautiful young artists and then zip off into the web to see what they look like today. I see the changes, I marvel at the transformations. I fear the changes in spite of myself. Life seems so fleeting tonight. I should be more graceful about this, really. I should show some class and just stop this nonsense. But I continue to wander, tetherless, visiting the vibrant world out there and observing the passage of time in faces I know, something mournful and unnamed relentlessly tugging at me…

I don’t have regrets. I’ve lived the shit out of my life so far. And I haven’t stopped learning by any means. It’s just different. Apples and oranges. Can’t compare the old life to the current one. Yet I seem to be doing just that…

I gotta shake it off. I may not be creating music these days, but I’m creating. Tonight I’ll just have to take my peace in that. And my son. And my birds. And that gorgeously sublime moment when it all disappears as I fall asleep, absolutely unable to do any more work.

Sometimes it feels so good to float away.

A Good Tired

My arms and shoulders are tired, in fact my whole body is tired, but I’m feelin good. It’s Elihu’s first day away – first of five – and I’ve knocked the garage and the coop off my list. After discovering some ‘loose poop’ recently and learning it might mean worms, I’d intended to clean the coop and all the food and water containers of the potentially infected stuff on my first free day. I also had a bunch of other outdoor jobs to do while the kid was gone and the weather was good. It took a while to get my butt going this morning – I found all manner of tiny jobs around the house to stall – but after an hour I was taking it on full steam.

Among my many, mini projects today I finally ‘wired’ the coop for heat lamps. That just means I untangled the mess of outdoor extension cords and finally got them properly tucked out of harm’s way and arranged so that I can plug in the heat lamps with ease. I’ll need a couple of 3 way extension cords too, as I’ll need to plug in the crock pot (keeps the drinking water from freezing) and may have to give Max, our goose, his own heat lamp, as he sleeps on the ground by himself.

I spent some time cutting various pieces of lumber and adding them onto my homemade nesting boxes. The gals really do like privacy when laying, and if you don’t give it to em they’ll just take their business outside. I once found a good 30+ eggs in a huge mound inside the mower’s leaf receptacle. I’ve found a stash of eggs behind the wood pile and even dozens laid under the coop itself. The gals won’t do this if you give them the proper feeling of security in which to lay. In that production has been way, way down of late, I thought it time I set out to fix the place up proper. (I would like to add that I’ve kept them penned in to remedy this, but they got me back. They just boycotted and stopped laying altogether. So today, since it’s nice out, I had pity and let them roam, praying they’ll reward me with eggs laid where they’re ‘supposed’ to be laid.) I peered inside the little rooms, checking for breaches where the light got in. I patched them all up and even inserted some pieces of black card stock left over from Elihu’s Anchiornis costume just to add more privacy. Cozy. Then I replaced the old bedding with a fresh layer of wood chips adding new hay on top. Super cozy. Within minutes of having finished my work in the coop the gals were returning to check on my work. Four eggs in short order. Success!

Now to the garage. I still don’t understand how a building in which one does not live can become such a mess. What further confounds me is that I’ve undertaken several intense clean-outs of the garage in the three years I’ve lived here – yet the place still needs tending. The first time was really cleaning up after the many tenants before me, yet the subsequent few projects were all about my crap. Seriously, where does it all come from? I consider myself a rather simple woman. Yet there’s just all this stuff. So once again, I begin to wrestle it all under control again, telling myself that this time it’ll be easy to maintain. This is the last time I’ll have to do this…

Thankfully I’m supported by a constant companion throughout my day: our goose Max. He stays ever near, turning his head to the side and fixing me in the gaze of one eye when I lean down to say hello. He watches me as I work, occasionally nibbling at my boots when he needs a moment of attention. I crouch down, put my arms around him and simply relish the love of a goose. He tucks his head under my arm. We sit like this, unmoving, for several minutes. Then, when we are ready, we separate and go back to our activities. I am humbled; I never imagined I would be invited into the trust of a bird like this. Despite the tedium of my chores, Max keeps me working with a soft kind of happiness in my heart.

In the past, before we had our new swanky coop, the chickens would take any opportunity to sneak into the garage. If I had my back turned and the garage door was open, they would escape from the run and fly into the rafters of the garage, thereby ensuring a night of luxury accommodations. The morning after my tools and work space would be covered in droppings. Although they didn’t do this too often, and I did try to keep up with the mess, the amount of dried crap just kinda piled up. This summer, while I managed to establish a pretty good system for putting things away, I never seemed to have the time or energy to face the project of de-pooping my work space head on. Today I did. I turned my ancient boom box to the local NPR station and got to work.

I soon remembered why this project had been so easy to avoid. Several glass jars of nails and screws had been accidentally knocked to the floor and broken by the errant chickens and the floor had become a nasty mess. I’d swept it to the side many times, but today I would get down to it. It took a while, but finally I got it all sorted out, down to the last and tiniest screw. I liberated tools from twine, pulleys from bungie cords – I got everything wrested from its neighbor, identified and returned to its proper place. I gathered every last scrap of wood together in a box. I put the good lumber in one place, all the rakes and shovels were leaned against the wall in a row, the tomato cages were hung back on the walls. I stepped back after several hours’ work and was very, very pleased.

I’ve since had a shower and a chance to enjoy some down time. A little blog posting, a little crap TV and I’m feeling pretty good. I look out, checking on the sky. It sure does get dark out fast now. Gotta go close everyone in before the predators beat me to it. Wow. It seems getting out of my chair will take some doin. I just realized how pooped I am. I don’t always sleep too well these days – but I bet I will tonight. Cuz I am tired.

You know, that good kind of tired.


Tonight I am unable to sleep. I have a vague, sick tummy. Was it the acidic, vinegar-based Greek chicken that was supper? Or is it the stormy mess of to-do lists and impending life issues – a severe lack of money being foremost in my mind – that has me feeling so unwell? Another question floats to the surface as I take a moment’s fresh air this moonlit midnight to sort it all out… just what the hell is it that I am supposed to be doing here on this planet?

I am a mother, and I know that I am a good one, a creative one. I know that I’m helping to build the complex and inspiring world of a very unusual and special child who will one day be a remarkable adult. I know that for now that is mainly what I’m here to do. Yet that doesn’t satisfy the question for me. Tonight I am remembering music, and how it once occupied my life.

Melodies and harmonies, lines and parts, lyrics and tempos swirled about my consciousness and kept me aloft, satisfied and forward-looking for all of my baby-less adult life. I derived such pleasure creating and performing music. A kind of pleasure and satisfaction that is absent in my current life. While I’m able to lift my spirits with little windows of time spent at the piano here and there, coaxing my fingers and brain to revive favorite pieces, that just doesn’t scratch the itch. I miss the collaboration, the kind of creating that occurs only when that certain mix of talents and personalities is present. The unique dynamic of a particular group of musicians. Truthfully, I’m feeling alone. Tonight I miss the family of a band. I miss my old life.

I see many of my friends still on that path – some even have children. I wonder, with a slightly jealous heart, how on earth are they able to do that? I wonder if a partner makes it possible. Must be. How can one make dinner, do the laundry, check homework and then run off to rehearsal without some assistance? Much less find time to write, to arrange – to perform? And I grumble to myself that it’s not fair. Even if I physically lived among musicians, how as a single mom, would I find the time, the energy? Then I scold myself; all my post husband-leaving, inward-looking self-study has taught me to know better than to indulge in fruitless self pity. But there it is. I am without any musical peers or partners, and tonight I am mourning it.

A couple of years ago, having made it through my first year of isolation and the setup of a new household and basic routine, I set out to find someone with whom I could at least do a couple of singing gigs. After some calls and searching, I finally met a jazz guitarist in the area. Immediately, it felt we were old friends. He, like me, knew songs. And their verses. He, like me (although he did it years longer and much more hard-core than I) had hosted his own radio program. He had a great sense of humor (most musicians do – you kinda have to) and we just grooved. I learned later, that he had that sort of relationship with nearly everyone in his life. I would have expected that. He was easy to like, and this new friendship promised to be lifelong.

He called me one day asking if I could do a gig the following weekend. I drove to his house and we began to talk tunes. In my former life as a singer, I’d made a point of doing mostly lesser-known tunes; the standards were kinda done to death and there were hundreds of charming and beautiful songs that deserved an audience. Not all musicians know them. Sam did. And he knew all the lyrics. He knew nearly all of my book – several hundred tunes, most of which were a bit off the beaten path. My heart was light with the possibility of our future that bright December morning – I had found my new duo partner. I was back at home. Voice and guitar, Ella and Joe. I had one less reason to miss my husband.

We had one gig. A nice little job, complete with really good food and a few laughs. Our thing was effortless. That comes when working with a pro. I don’t think I realized til then how lucky I’d been to have cut my teeth in Chicago, with its world-class jazz professionals. Thankfully, that didn’t really matter once I’d met Sam. Fast-forward to a fine summer evening when Elihu and I walked the warm Saratoga streets, the night when we passed the club Sam and I had played – the club he himself was playing in that very night. The night I uncharacteristically opted not to check inside to see who was playing and so walked right by. The night Elihu and I went instead to the Adelphi Hotel, and I alone, as if receiving some heavenly warning of things to come, inexplicably smelled the scent of hyacinth in the empty upstairs library.

I scold myself soundly for indulging in my own private perspective on that night, for it was not so much my life that changed, but the lives of Sam’s own family. Sam had Leukemia, and had experienced a bad nosebleed on the gig that night after a recent blood transfusion. Feeling weak and ill, he’d been taken by ambulance from the club to Albany med. That night also happened to be his 16th wedding anniversary. His wife was with him at the hospital several hours later when he died.

The news was stunning. Many have lost dear friends and family and know the horror of learning news like that. It’s just such an impossible thing to comprehend. It’s so permanent and unforgiving. It knocked me off my feet for months. It’s been over a year now, and I still push his death to the back of my mind, thinking that somehow Sam will call some day and we’ll play together again. I cannot even fathom how life has been for his wife and two children since then. I pray for them and send them my love whenever Sam crosses my mind.

Tonight it all washes together in a queer mix of regret, gratitude and ‘what’s next?’ There’s little I can do about it for now, because tomorrow I must hit the ground running. I’m soon to settle for poverty-level support from my near-ex, bringing our three year divorce process to a close and so must check in with my attorney. I wrote a check on Friday with no money in the bank to cover it and that worries me; I have a check from my weekend student which I must deposit first thing in the morning, but they’ll hold it for three days – in the meantime will I get an overdraft fee? I’m out of milk again and I need to find enough change around the house to buy some. I need heating oil and a piano tuning too, but spare change won’t cover those. When, oh when, will life feel lighter, happier, more hopeful? When will the music return to my life? I miss it so.

I hope it’s still there, just waiting for me to come home one day.