The rain is really pounding outside.

It’s a good night for the first fire of the season in the wood stove. Outside, a cold November rain is falling–no, pounding–marking the end of a damp, bitter Veteran’s holiday. Kelly and I took the kids down to Concord mall to walk the great loop of stores, their festive decorations already out, sleigh bells alighting from upward in the rafters, a pervasive, fragrant spice following us from one shop to another, no agenda whatsoever.

I am not usually a fan of taking the children to the mall–mostly because it involves them jumping about on a soft, indoor playground while I sit at a table with the other parents, left to thumb our way around our phones while the kiddos chase each other around their walled dominion.

The Concord mall lacks a large, designated playspace, so we shopped, and the kids enjoyed looking–looking, not buying–and I made notes of what they lingered over most. Notes for later.

Today caps a long weekend, something I needed more than I knew. October was a busy month, noted here in this journal by a lack of entry, and while November isn’t as heavily scheduled at work, the combination of grad school assignments and the looming holidays compacts time anyway.

Earlier this weekend we had our friends Bill and Danielle and their children over for supper. I’d worked in the yard all day, blowing leaves and making the first pass over the yard since it had been re-seeded and fertilized, and that morning I’d put together a big pot of chili. I’d let it simmer while I’d worked outside. At the table, I realized I’d never been quite as disciplined with my time as I had been in the past few months. Grad school has helped make that shift, helping me not only find time for my family, my day job, and my volunteer commitments, but also for reading and journaling and writing papers. And thinking about things from a higher plane.

I’ve enjoyed that part. Every week I have the privilege of designated time preserved only for thinking and discussing. I haven’t had that in a decade and a half, and it feels good.

Sixteen hour days wear on a body, though. And a Monday off was welcome.

Last week Dad shared a minor medical concern, the kind which is (hopefully) nothing to be too concerned about but the kind which Dr. Google will terrify you with his digital diagnosis. I have mostly contained any emotions tied up with that and put them on a shelf until further analysis and testing is complete. That’s mostly for my own good, but also because I refuse to set foot into that part of my life–the part in which my parents become mortals.

I think about my morning routine–sit-ups, planks, stretches for my tender lower back, and 24 minutes on the elliptical while I watch the news–and how I have felt my body start to stiffen up with age, how I’ve begun to question whether the physical limits I’ve encountered might best be left alone rather than broken. Just when I began to sense the confidence one needs to push himself physically, too.

Sometimes I wonder what my cells think, what they’re learning as I hold the button on my smart watch to officially start my basement workout. Are my nucelotides coming or going, stretching or shrinking? Are the chromosomes keeping an eye on the clock? Are they waiting on me to open the door to the second half of my life?

It is troubling to remember I am five years younger than my father was when his father died. So I’ll keep that door closed for right now.

The rain is really pounding outside.

We came back from the mall in the late afternoon, all three of the kids asleep in my car. Kelly stayed out there with them, working on a crocheted scarf, her favored distraction this time of year, and I came in the start a fire. I’d promised Friday (Saturday? Saturday.) that we could build one, and it didn’t make sense Saturday, and we got back from Dad’s house too late Sunday, and then I realized tonight I’d told a friend I’d meet him for drinks at six tonight.

But I was resolved, so I came down and carried in some wood and opened up the wood stove for the first time in many months. I’d left myself plenty of ash to bed down the cinders. The wood was bone dry and sprang to life without much prompting, and Julia and Thomas woke up and came in and found me downstairs. They lazed about, and first we watched the flames licking inside the stove, and then we queued up a few movie trailers to watch.

Soon it was six and time for me to drive downtown to the 220 Cafe, where I met Will and we listened to each other. People like Will, and there are a growing number of people like Will, make me grateful to live here. We spent a couple of hours together before I donned my rain coat and hat and ventured back out into the cold, wet darkness, turning the wheels back home to read to the kids and tuck them in.

Now I’m here, in the recliner with the laptop, the last log on the fire slowly making itself into light and ash. There’s work to be done, and I’ve committed myself to ensure it will be finished. But for now, I think I will watch the flicker across the room and listen to the rain splash against the roof and close my eyes and breathe.