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Thoughts as I warm my feet before the fire

21 Feb

The socks are SmartWool, a from a pack of six pairs, now worn and mismatched, as they are comfortable in all weathers and don’t cause sweaty feet even if I wear them all day inside my sneakers or shoes. Most have lost a mate to heel wear, and then to repurposing as white board erasers.  “That’s a sock!” a student will say.” “A sock! That’s grosse, it’s an eraser, silly!” I rarely wear boots, even in cool weather–not even cute leather ones that would go well with the short skirts and tights I like to wear; my feet get too hot. Today I wore sneakers to work, and still had to remove my shoes to cool my feet off after lunch. It was during my planning time, so no one was there to see me, except there was then an earthquake drill. We evacuated to the gym, and I brought my sneakers, and because I had no students, I decided to rescue one of my classroom plants too, being the color one flashes at the end of the evacuation to show all’s well. All the little children lined up–it was a junior academy day, and smiled or looked curious at my plant. Not much of a plant, really, just a leaf stem that my fifth grade class got to grow a few roots when we were investigating asexual reproduction in plants. Some of the others we propagated are much more lush. This one a high school girl named Herb. Also in the class are Chris, the Christmas cactus, Flora, rescued from my daughter’s room and so grateful to be cured from a ferret mauling that she raised a delicate white rod covered with white florets. Palmer is the one that looked a little palm-ish, and there’s a spider plant on top of the supply cabinet beside the cow skull that wears cat-eye glasses. The plant wears them, that is. The cow’s eye sockets have fake eyeballs.

I keep as many plants in the room as possible for their aesthetic, because there are no windows in my classroom and it gets stuffy, the carbon dioxide level rising all day (from about 300 to 1300 ppm–we measured), and the plants grow better there than in my house because of the fluorescent light and extra CO2. Every time I find an acceptable pot at the second hand store I visit most weeks on the way home, I start another piece of vine or rooted cutting. I’m thinking of starting a plant for each student who comes in as a freshman and handing it over, much grown, when they graduate.

I sit with my feet on the hearth each morning as I eat breakfast, and each evening after work. I grew up doing that by a real wood fire, and it feels right, even through this is a gas fire. The tiles get warm, and one can spread out chilled fingers to restore feeling after a mail box run or snow shoveling session. The thermostat is set to 23 degrees Celsius, so my feet get cyclically overheated and I slide them to the side periodically. It’s the only heater working these days, the main furnace having died, though there are space heaters, and I use an electric pad to warm my bed before I slide my feet under the sheets.

At the hearth I sit in a chair I got for $10 at our local recycled building supplies store, refinished and reupholstered in beautiful wavy striped warm tones. The seat is pretty grimy after hard use, but if I can’t get it clean, I can use the extra fabric I bought and re-reupholster it. The best spot to sit basically blocks the circulation in the room for walking. That’s one of the design improvements I’m working on for the house remodel. I want there to be cozy space for two or three right up by the fire if wanted. I will probably also go with an efficient wood stove, with gas for another room, probably in the new upstairs studio. My current gas insert is almost at the end of its useful life too, and is only working because a friend of my brother-in-law did him, and especially me, the immense favor of hunting down and patching on a part that gave the igniter a few months more of utility. It would have cost over $900, but the charge was waived out of kindness. I’m a widow, yes, but my brother in law is the most amazing finesser I have ever seen, and makes people want to do him kindnesses. Even though I know this, he can still get me to give him more of my summer beet harvest than I should. He’s been very kind as well to us, in his deep grief at losing his twin brother so young. They were fraternal, in many ways opposite, but very close.

As I eat, or drink tea or my own mixed concoction of juice and soda (some of the juice is from my berries), sometimes plain and sometimes with a dash of vodka or wine, I look at the flames, read and think. I just finished The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. Not finding much interest an very many Christian topics, I was surprised at how it captivated me, so I read it in about a week. I thought about one of my Catholic friends, who is particularly alive and devoted to her faith, and who has had many masses said for us, especially during my husband’s illness. She would be pleased that I enjoyed the book. I thought of my Jewish friend too, as the liturgies and spirituality seemed very similar, to my Protestant eyes at least. The former invited me to hear mass at her church, and my husband went for healing prayer and discussion with her priest. The latter invited me to shul a few times. Both types of services were very meaningful, especially the sense of community, the chanting and music, but I did not see to allowing their call to penetrate very far. I am in fallow state as far as religion is concerned, though the reasons are complex, and have nothing to do with my husband’s death due to cancer. As I’ve written before, for me that is not a reason to lose one’s faith.

This evening my son asked if I minded if he took the chair so he could wind down before bed with a cup of tea. I yielded the place to him, stood near the fire for a while, then took the couch. I was hoping to chat with him about this and that, but after a few exchanges, he politely asked that we not talk, so he could clear his mind and hopefully then sleep better. I don’t see much of him, just a few minutes in the morning, a few in the evenings before he retires rather early to bed (he is a very early riser). I acquiesced, but then forgot, and as I started to tell him about a funny conversation with a fifth grade student having his mind blown by fraction multiplication, my son, mid-sip, tried to remind me that he didn’t want to converse, and choked on his tea, spitting up a bunch on the floor. He got angry, blamed me, and slammed his door on the way to bed. He came out to apologize, but was still upset and worried that wouldn’t sleep well. He’s troubled in his sleep these last months. Holding in his grief, and distracting himself with podcasts and social computer gaming and role play. He’s a good fellow, and he’ll be okay. He’ll be sixteen in a few months, and could have really used a dad for many years to come. After he left I felt particularly heavy hearted and had a bit of a cry. But I thought of what I’d heard so far of the audiobook I just started, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. I meditated on just a few of my blessings, and soon felt more peaceful.

Also on the hearth tiles are a few home design books, and several on woodworking I just got from the library. I got distracted from the audiobooks section I was headed for, and now I am inspired to set up my own wood shop, with a custom made workbench and tools storage as my first projects. Right now the garage is a semi-dismantled quasi-bedroom full of bins of fabric, photos, furniture parts, and off season clothing. I have a lot of organizing to do. The shop isn’t a new idea, but it may come about a little earlier than planned. For the house remodel, I plan to do any of the work I can do well, enjoy, and which can bring significant savings, so I’ll want to have everything organized when the time comes. It could be as soon as this fall, but more likely next winter or spring. I might rough in some more shed storage space in the meantime, as well as patch up my little garden shed.

The fireplace is framed with ivory stone tile. This was done about twenty years ago, so it’s surprising how well I remember the installer explaining and showed us how one must lay out the tiles beforehand to plan their arrangement, not just place them any old way. It was important to balance and vary the shade and veins through the granite surfaces, he said. He was our first hired workman. Despite our having done so much work to the house over the past twenty-two years, there have not been many. There was a father and son carpet installation team, a fellow hired to help with some of the more structural concrete work, and when my husband got very busy with work, he consented to a handyman to install window and door trim (until I learned how and he consented to allow me). A local craftsman made and installed a few more cabinet pieces for our expanded kitchen and replaced our interior doors and trim. And a young man repaired our fence after a windstorm. My husband did basically all the rest, with the help of family members and a few friends. he built the mantle, installed all the windows, closed in the car port, poured and finished the front and back steps, patio and driveway, updated lighting and electrical, replaced flooring, knocked down and rebuilt walls, insulated, installed and finished wallboard, added oak flooring to what we had (which I refinished), redid all the plumbing and fixtures (I did the tiling), put on a new roof, felled trees that were too close to the house. A few years ago he leveled about a hundred of feet of fence line and built a six foot cedar fence, putting each panel together by hand. His last job before shifting his focus to healing was to build a base and electrical lines for a new hot tub. After I finish my tea by the fire, I’ll go out there, where I will relax under the stars listen to the wind and the sound of distant traffic. It’s the same effect as a cozy fireplace, except by immersion, and, when one exits and returns to the real world, it has a bracing effect.

 
 

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