The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Chill of It All January 27, 2014

How does the oil go so fast? We had a delivery less than a month ago and yet tonite I see the telltale signs of a tank below the intake level; the thermostats dipping below fifty and that ominous blinking green light on the furnace. So it’s time to share a bedroom again, time to heat the kitchen with the Brady bunch double ovens. We’ve ridden out times like this before, and I know it’s ultimately going to be ok, but when I got back from checking on things in the basement, Elihu was in tears. He said he could ‘just feel the negative energy in the house’. ‘Well, kid’, I think, ‘waddya want? I can’t fix everything all the time. I do my best, and that’s all I can do’. I don’t say what I’m thinking though. I keep my mom cool and put a positive spin on it – it’ll be like camping, it’ll be cozy – like it must have been in the old days. I remind him we don’t live in a tent or a longhouse – can you just imagine? (I don’t think I have the stuff to live like that.) So no matter how the next twenty-four hours pan out, we have electricity, and at the end of the day it’s a lifesaver. Glad we have Mario Brothers on a night like this. Need a distraction besides homework.

Our heating oil guy is wonderfully reliable, and if he can see his way to a delivery of less than his usual minimum, or if I can get a bit of assistance from mom, it’ll be crisis averted. I’m not thrilled about needing him so often though (nor do I feel good about always going to my mother when the shit hits the fan), and it’s got me scratching my head about our oil use. I turn the heat down to fifty when we leave during the day times, and at nighttime I don’t usually go above sixty-eight, and in fact try to keep it closer to sixty-five most nights. So what’s going on here? I don’t know, and not knowing has me a bit panicked. Mom had told us to go ahead and look into pricing out having the attic insulated, but this past year it just didn’t seem an expense worth getting into. Now I think I might have to take her up on it. Can’t do anything about it now, but I’m certainly motivated to get moving on it as soon as we’re able.

But for now we just gotta get over this hump. I look ahead to my own long-term life plans and I find myself yearning for a life without all this relentless cold and snow. I never thought I’d be one of those folks who gave up the great Northeast for North Carolina, but it’s beginning to feel like an option. I’ve always loved the seasons, and I’ve felt incredibly blessed to live where we do. And I’ve always thought our modest house was just perfect. But will it always be? I reflect on all the upkeep. Hmm. Maybe I might return one day to apartment living. That has its appeal, too. Who needs a garden and chickens? It’s all so much work – plus it’s the kind that gets harder as one grows older. I begin to flesh out this idea for a minute. Imagine having no driveway to plow, no shoveling, no frozen water troughs to keep on top of, no threat of frozen pipes or the reality of a house with frost on the inside of the windows. Although the thought of a simpler life appeals in this moment, it also kinda feels like giving up, wimping out. But right now – from the inside of my rapidly-chilling house – it seems like a Utopian existence. My mother speaks with contempt for those who flee the northern states for the south. They’re clearly not made of very strong stuff. And while I myself had never seriously considered spending my aged years anyplace other than this house, or at least this part of the world (this latitude, more accurately), I begin to long for a more moderate climate with less rigorous heating requirements. I know the globe is heating up, but tonite it sure doesn’t seem like it.

Other stuff’s weighing on my mind tonite too. A friend responded to my recent post, the last one in which I called attention to my tip jar. I had thought it a fairly polite post, nothing terribly whiney about it (not so much more than the usual, I suppose), but she pointed out to me that most people had it hard. That it wasn’t just me – and that folks weren’t in a position to help with all of their own burdens. Yeah, I can totally see that. I’m sure many folks are working extremely hard at surviving. But you don’t hear about it, cuz they’re not writing about it on a public platform. And I get that not everyone will agree with what I write. But that’s kinda the point here – my goal is to express myself without censorship. Guess I have to be ready to accept the occasional consequences. But I still stand by my post; the point remains that I have had tens of thousands of visits and only five donations. Ya know?

And then over supper Elihu disclosed to me something that one of his classmates had expressed to him about his mother not being thrilled with me. This child is delightful, and he and Elihu each ask me all the time to organize a play date. I haven’t done so in a few months only because I’ve been rather beset with life – but it seemed we were approaching a good time to get it going. But apparently, I’m not seen as ‘Waldorf enough’ by this kid’s mom for her to feel comfortable with setting one up. Or at least that was the gist of things in this kid’s words. And I know we’re getting into second generation, he-said, she-said territory here, but nonetheless the news was a bit shocking. I know that I do allow my child to play video games – but damn, he has chicken chores, practices his bass without prompting and finishes his homework. Plus he reads like crazy. And can identify hundreds of birds (without benefit of color) because he looks through field guides as a hobby. And he honors and thanks his food before he eats. Honestly, what is the problem here? Again I run a little internal monologue to myself… ‘you probably live on your smart phone, lady. That sure aint very Waldorf…’ Hell, I don’t even have a smart phone. How low tech can one get?

My life is generally a sweet one, and I know I have the love and support of so many friends, but I find myself stuck on these two things tonite. Man. I try to be a good person, I try my very best to show kindness to everyone I interact with – truly, I do. And I’m not full of shit here – I sincerely want a good, equal and honest relationship with everyone I deal with. My main goal these days is to live with as much transparency as possible. So I don’t get it. Maybe in my desire to please and get along there’s some element of timidity apparent in my demeanor – or perhaps even an impression of seeming aloof. I have been misinterpreted in the past for appearing unfriendly when the truth of the matter was that I was just trying to be neutral and unprovocative. It seems here I may have had the opposite effect. Oh crap. I am at heart a big fucking wimp. I can’t tolerate not being liked very well. Maybe I need thicker skin. Hmm. Maybe that. Or Xanax. !!

Gotta get back to it. Dinner, homework, a little time going over my new music on the piano. Bedtime will be sweet relief. A big, warm bed and a little time to just forget it all and chill.

Post Script: The heat’s back on, but not without a few glitches in the form of micro leaks which may be compromising the system’s ability to work at maximum efficiency. Ah, but it’s working. Seems with this super cold of late we’ll have to economize even more with lower temperature settings. I’ll end up sounding just like my mother… “if you’re cold – put on a sweater!” 


Out Cold January 24, 2013

Well, now I can understand a little better how my poor chickens feel. Somewhere around four this morning my nose woke me up. My nose was cold. The room was cold. The kind of cold that tells me something’s up. I knew that kind of cold. It got me out of bed to inspect the thermostat, which was now dipping below 50. Crap. I’d done the math – I’d allotted two gallons a day, and I’d kept the house at 50 when we were out, and near 60 when we were home – we weren’t due to need fuel oil til middle of next week. I’d planned it all out; a couple of students’ pay plus my next paycheck from Waldorf and I could afford a small delivery. While I’m pissed at myself for once again needing help, instead of wallowing in it I need to learn the lesson. Otherwise it’s a wasted experience. The lesson? Apparently it takes a tad more fuel just to keep the house at those modest temperatures when it’s super cold out. (Note to self: if it’s lower than 20 degrees out, you’re burning another half gallon a day easy. Check.)

I didn’t want to ask my mom for help, but today I did. The state has already given us our $600 ration of fuel assistance for the year (try heating a house on that for eight months!), so until next week I have no options. If it weren’t for the very real risk of a burst pipe I’d tough it out. Year before last Elihu and I went for nearly two weeks without heat. We just hunkered down in my bedroom and camped out with a small electric heater. Wasn’t the worst experience – in fact we ended up having fun, making up games and reading entire books cover to cover. But in that it’s in the single digits outside right now, I can’t afford to wait.

I was a little preoccupied at school this morning as I hadn’t yet heard back from the fuel guy. As soon as I finished my classes I zipped home, where I thankfully found a receipt from him stuck in my door. They fronted me the oil! Wow. Sometimes it’s good to live in a small town where people know who you are. I ran downstairs and restarted the furnace right away.  So thanks to my mom, and Charlie and Steve, the oil guys, our house will be comfortable again soon. Warm hearts and fuel oil have saved us from being out in the cold.

Post Script: Now I’m doubly inspired to help out those poor hens. I’ll put up a curtain over the drafty door and get another heat bulb hung before tonight.