The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Hope Burning March 3, 2015

I’m trying to imagine how everything might look right now if I knew I were dying.

Tonight the moon is out, and from every window in my house I see a gentle, rural scene. Beyond my kitchen window to the north I can see a thinly wooded forest through which the moonlight passes, leaving slender shadows in the sparkling snow. To the right of that there is a deep swath of open yard which stretches up and over the rise; it’s defined at the far end by a stone wall and row of trees beyond which lies another large field. I can also see the lights from my neighbor’s homes in the distance, and it feels nice to know they’re not right upon us, but still, just close enough. I like knowing that. Through my living room window to the east I see the ridge of the horizon, and lights twinkle from the hills beyond the Hudson River. There are people living out there, under those twinkling lights, and I like knowing this, too.

It’s a modest house for sure, but it’s cozy, it’s comfortable, and I think that most of the people in this world would be happy to call this place home. For just a second or two I’m able to conjure the feeling that I’m looking at it for one of the very last times, and for however many times I’ve so deeply missed the homes I’ve lived in before this one, for however many times I’ve lamented ending up here, alone at the end of a long, country driveway – now, in this moment, this place feels like the most important place of my whole life. Tonight, this place is my only home. It’s where I want to be. And until recently, it’s where I’ve always felt safe from the world.

Less than an hour ago I heard that a friend, who’d discovered her breast cancer in what she’d thought to be its earliest stages, had learned through her recent surgery that it was worse than previously thought. The cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. A diagnosis I’ve heard many, many times in the past decade of my life… It doesn’t always end the same way, but it’s a long, difficult road to travel no matter the severity of the disease, and I don’t envy those who’ve had no choice but to take up the charge. I’ve seen friends fight tenacious cancers, some triumphing after incredibly brave battles, some succumbing after equally courageous campaigns. And in the end, who in hell knows why some people make it, and some people don’t? No one, of course, deserves to get cancer. And no one deserves to die of it either. But when the patient is either the parent of a young family or a practitioner of the healing arts, it somehow seems all the more unacceptable.

Last night, Elihu and I had dinner with a neighbor, who brought up the subject of another town resident who was, although putting up a kick-ass fight, dealing with a lethal cancer. His mother had died of it, and he himself hadn’t even discovered it until it until quite recently – when it was already stage four. He was a relatively young guy, and with three children, twelve and under, he had a lot to live for, but still, it didn’t look good. Truthfully, it looked bad. But in spite of how imminent his death appeared, my heart lightened to hear a new tone in our hostess’s voice as she offered rather brightly that of course he still had a chance. (Funny how one latches on to hope – however small or unlikely it promises to manifest.) I myself had only learned of his diagnosis a few weeks back – after, I’d seen him in a local liquor store and given him some grief about his newly launched vodka business. He’d cited some local lore on his product label about which I questioned his firsthand experience. But he sure showed me; he’d known more about it than I’d thought he would, and even had the class to acquiesce about a point on which he may have put something of a romantic spin for the sake of salesmanship.

After my needless challenge of his new product line had concluded, he cheerfully asked after Elihu, remembering his charismatic performance at the Greenfield Elementary Talent Show a few years back. Our kids had ridden the bus together for a few years, and Elihu, whether this man knew it or not, had fairly idolized his namesake son. Maybe I should have told him? I wasn’t sure how relevant it was at this point. Just as well I didn’t go on…. In hindsight, I so wished I’d have stopped babbling sooner, and just played it a bit cooler. I had remembered to congratulate him on the new business, but still, I guess I just feel as if I’d been a bit foolish, a bit trivial spewing all that ridiculous banter to fill the space. I know it’s the common, everyday stuff that matters – it’s banter mostly that keeps the world turning – I just wish I’d been a little less enthusiastic in my pursuit of it. After all, there was some serious courage on display right in front of my eyes, and here I was chattering on as if it was a day like any other. Of course it was a day like any other – and when you’re sick, don’t you wish for your life to go one all around you as if it truly were business as usual? But then clearly, it is not just another day. A confusing mix of realities.

Both my parents have had cancer. My cousin’s been undergoing repeated rounds of chemo over the past several years in an effort to keep her colon cancer at bay. Our grandmother died of colon cancer. I myself, for the second time in as many years, have pre-cancerous polyps growing inside of me which need to be removed. The office gal at the gastroenterology group is nonplussed at my status; it’ll be months yet before I can even get in for a first appointment, much less get the things lopped off. “They’re slow growing” the gal on the other end of the phone tells me in a near monotone, the subtext being “We know what we’re doing. Don’t freak out here.” In past years it’s been another thing to tick of the to-do list, this year it’s something that begins to really frighten me. I mean, what if? What’s to say it shouldn’t be me too? There is no fucking justice in the assignment of disease. I am just as human as the dad down the road with the young family, or my friend and acupuncturist with the breast cancer. I am just as unsafe as they are from a surprise diagnosis. Nothing saved my old college beau from dying of Leukemia before he turned forty, or my dear musician friend dying from esophageal cancer shortly after that, or my old childhood pal passing from lung cancer before fifty. None of those jovial, loving and spirited young men deserved to go, nor did their loved ones deserve to lose them. From my earth-bound perspective these good souls deserved none of the shitty hands they were dealt.

In spite of the cheery demeanor that goes out before me in the world, I live my life in an ever-present, low-grade state of fear. And lately, I’m more keenly aware of just why. Making my way through life feels like I’m walking through a field of land mines. And now that I’m past that fifty mark, people in my life have begun to leave at an increasing rate. Right and left I hear stories, I learn that ‘so-and-so is gone’, or ‘didn’t I hear that she had only months to live?’ or ‘it was so sudden, and then he was gone’… It almost doesn’t shake me quite so much – at least not as much as it did say a couple of years ago. And also because many of my friends who have died have been out of my immediate, day-to-day world, their deaths have seemed somewhat unreal and distant. But the frightening reality of death has settled in all around me now, and I find that I’m even giving my eleven year old son simple directives should it be learned that I too have something possibly terminal. I’m not sure how comprehensive Medicaid is, but I am surely at its mercy. If a treatment isn’t covered, it isn’t going to happen. I feel a growing pressure to archive the work of my life, to get it organized clearly – so clearly that someone other than me could go through the mementos and understand their context and stories. I want my footprint to be tidy and identifiable, even if I know it will only eventually recede back into the rolling sea.

We passed a house today that I’ve always liked; it was a small cottage nestled into the side of a mountain, part of it was made of local stone, the rest a deep gray clapboard with white trim and tidy black shutters. Many were the daydreams I’d had about what life might look like if I myself lived there… Today I saw that it had recently suffered a fire. Gutted. It was black with soot, and dusted with the flurries that had started to fall again. I know most people’s first hope would have been that the residents got out safe. Somehow, I always take that as a given. Instead, my first thought is usually I hope they were able to save a few favorite things. But this time, after a moment’s more thought on the matter, I changed my mind. No, that wasn’t what I hoped for this time. This time I really did hope that they’d made it out safely, and hadn’t dawdled on account of the memento box.

My arthritic hands have started to make playing the piano painful; they’re beginning to twist in different directions and ache all day long. My vanity had already given up, but this new physical challenge of simply playing – of doing the only thing in the world that I’m truly qualified to do – is breaking my heart. It’s making me fear for the shape my fingers will be in ten years from now if they continue at this rate. But then, I remember my friends and what they face. And as with everything in life, when the road gets harder than you could have ever imagined in your worst dreams, the unimportant stuff somehow falls away. It’s not about living so much pain-free as it is about just plain living. It’s not so much about grabbing a box of mementos on the way out. It’s about steeling yourself, gathering your courage and getting the hell out of harm’s way.

Tonight I’ll be thinking of my friends – all of those who face deeply frightening health challenges at this time – and I’ll be sending them as much love as the airwaves can hold. I’m surprised to find I’m not quite out of hope yet, in fact I’m turning up the dial now, and I’m emitting as much hope out into the world as best I can… I pray they receive it, and like some sort of beacon, it will help them find their way out of the burning house in time…

 

 

Stone Cold Busy March 1, 2015

From what I understand, the frost now reaches five feet down into the ground here in the Northeast. And as if things weren’t already taxing enough what with foot upon foot of snow covering every last rooftop and sub-zero temps occurring daily, now water mains are freezing, adding inconvenience to insult and injury. Thank goodness we ourselves haven’t experienced a loss of power or water on top of it all. I suppose we should count ourselves as lucky. And even though I might be the busiest poor person I know, once again, I suppose I should count myself a lucky gal to have a life filled with unending industry. After all, we still have food and heat and more than a few instruments around to play. So things aren’t truly dire. But some days, I swear it just feels like too fucking much. Some days all I want to do is to succumb, to whine, to moan and pound my fists on the responsible person’s chest, to get some answers, to get an apology for all this unending winter, my relentless to-do list and the continued lack on income… Just when I’m at my wit’s end, it does help to know I’m not the only one about to lose it…

Last night Elihu and I snuggled onto the couch, my legs on the table, his on mine, as we settled in for our weekly dose of Prairie Home Companion. The sound effects always make him giggle, and the anecdotes remind us of our life back in the midwest. Stories of fishing shacks on the ice, wide expanses of fields stretching out to the horizon, and people who speak using pinched, nasal-y vowel sounds (interestingly, the local rural accent is similar in many ways to the rural folks ‘out there’.) This week the program was centered around the host’s very same lament: an unrelenting season of cold that had gone on long enough. It made us laugh to hear his take on the ceaseless winter, and in some small way helped to make our own burdens a little easier to bear.

Earlier in the day we’d tried our hand (or feet, as it were) at snow shoeing. I’d only just tried it for the first time a couple of weeks back, and had enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it with the kid. He was excited – which is very rare for Elihu because he really does NOT like winter (Think bright, bright, bright. Headachey, hospital white all around. Exhausting for an achromat) – and so I jumped at the chance to get out in the woods with him. Out the trail we trekked, til we found a spot to don our shoes so we could go off trail. But that, dear readers, became a good twenty-minute process fraught with bindings that broke and straps that would not loosen, nor when finally loosened would tighten up satisfactorily. The whole thing was a comedy of errors, and I felt the clock ticking on Elihu’s patience. In the end, we bagged on the shoes and walked the trail to its end. Elihu asked where the wetlands were, and I told him they were at the end of a different trail. He was very disappointed. His expectation was that we had been headed there all along, and I apologized if I’d lead him to believe that. We took from this a lesson learned: identify your expectations up front. Not a total wash though, the woods were beautiful. The forest does look pretty in snow, I gotta say.

We’d had another miscommunication the day prior too. A friend had needed help driving to some errands, as he was without a car. He kindly offered lunch in return, but since my jam-packed day couldn’t allow for that, I suggested we do errands after school, and he made lunch into dinner. So when Elihu and I arrived at his place to find no one home, I panicked. Our friend’s not in great health, so I began to freak out. I imagined him on the floor, unable to respond. I began to wonder – just how do I dial 911 on my phone? It’s in a different area code – so what exactly do I dial? I made a mental note to figure this out just as soon as I got home. Without a smart phone sometimes things become tricky; over the next hour we made a couple of trips to the local library to use the computer so I could check Facebook. Again, nothing. Cold adrenaline followed us back to his house again. Poor kid was tired, and hungry too. He lamented not being able to go out for dinner. I knew it wasn’t a prudent move, but did it anyway. I took us out. Used the lesson money I’d just made – earmarked for the gas tank – and splurged. We had a good time, but the consensus was we didn’t need to go there again. Another lesson learned I suppose. When I got home I found out that my friend was fine, and he was upset with me for not getting his call. Double checked the log, no call was received. I was upset that he’d invited me, that I’d fit him into my schedule, I’d worried about him for hours, ended up spending money I didn’t have to spend, and then got scolded after the whole fiasco. My call log still shows no missed calls, and I don’t know who’s right, or what happened. Just another frustration on the list. I pray that soon clarity and peace come to my life. Because I am exhausted. (And broke, too.)

The things I’m doing these past few weeks – and the weeks coming up – are all important, necessary things. Costume and prop help for my son’s play (Six foot potted palm, check. Burlap sacks from the coffee store, check. Eleven tunics and sashes, check. Headscarves, check. Oversized gold coin for comic moment, check.). Mammograms and colonoscopies and appointments with arthritis docs, dentists too, for both me and the kid. Piano students to teach, rehearsals to attend. Trips to the feed store, the grocery store, the music store, the hardware store. Check-ins with the loggers, with the carpenters at the Studio, with the lawyer, the town clerk, the accountant, the county department of public works. I bought a computer in December which has yet to recognize the printer, let alone the piano keyboard. So it’s trip number three to the computer repair guy, this time with tower, printer, piano and cords all in tow (Windows 8.1 seems to be rife with problems). And then there’s this tuba in my living room which needs a case and a teacher to go along with it.

I’ve begun to fantasize about taking a vacation. I’m fifty-one and I have never once in my life had a real, stay-at-a-hotel-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation. I begin to wonder if I am even able to sit on a beach for a week with nothing to do. Could I? I’m beginning to think I could. It’s not close to being an option, but I can’t shake the idea. I’ll bet it would feel great to step off a plane somewhere warm… My son sticks his face in the humidifier’s cool output, telling me that it feels like the air in Florida, only better, and says it almost makes him want to cry. I so get it.

This week is our hump. He’s got a lead part in his play, and I’m playing piano for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production at the local elementary school. Both of these things don’t usually happen at the same time, so it will be a tricky week for us. Lots of logistics. Me, I don’t like lots of stuff to do. I don’t like stress, I don’t like fast-paced schedules. Just gotta get through this week.

Yesterday Elihu asked the logger how much longer they’d be there, in his answer lay a great gem of hope for all of us in snow territory: Not much longer. “Why?” Elihu had asked. The logger explained that soon the ground wouldn’t be cold enough to support all that heavy machinery. In a few week’s time they’d be sinking into the mud. My kid looked at me. I couldn’t see past his big, dark glasses, but I kinda knew what was registering in his eyes. The fishing shacks on Lake Desolation will get pulled in sometime soon too. Here was evidence that things were not going to remain like this forever. And hard as it might be to envision now, all of our planning and building and fixing will one day come to an end too. We’re all just waiting it out, preparing for the big changes that are headed our way. Like the tiny seeds that sleep all around us in a bed of frost, we too contain the promise of a changing future.

It’s cold for now, but we all know that ‘now’ never lasts… And in this case, knowing that makes me stone cold relieved.

IMG_2997Elihu, tooting his own horn. Sounds pretty good for just a couple weeks.

He was kinda fatiguing here, but you get the general gist. Oom pah.

IMG_2757Off to see the cutting job in the woods. This is the main (and widest) of all five trails.

IMG_2769We run into John on the skidder, who offers Elihu a ride into the woods. Cool!

IMG_2772It’s a long way up!

IMG_2782There they go…

IMG_2785…pulling entire trees behind em.

IMG_2791Most of the remaining woods looks like this. Not bad for post-harvest. Also, they’ve cut in such a way that it will encourage new growth. Elihu or I may do this process again in another twenty years.

IMG_2794Some parts have remained more densely wooded.

IMG_2802But the main ‘road’ out looks a little open. The forester assures me it’ll ‘green back in nicely’.

IMG_2809Show shoes under his arm, Elihu makes his way over the waiting tree tops to the landing.

IMG_2848It’s impossible to fully comprehend how much power this takes. I mean, those are entire trees. !!

I get a little nervous seeing how banged up my ‘keeper’ tree has become through this huge loading process.

IMG_2874Onto the truck they go. This is all hard wood, and it’s going to Finch Prime, a paper mill in nearby Glens Falls. Folks, use your paper with respect and gratitude. I wish my trees to have been cut for good use. Sigh.

IMG_2899Small heart = Good wood.

IMG_2898Big heart = Not so much.

IMG_2916I like this pattern – I see two birds flying away at right…. However because of the heart it’s probably not worth as much.

IMG_2901This is what thirty-six tons of hard wood looks like. Hard wood is heavier, resulting in a smaller-looking load. Pine would have been stacked to the very top. (Either way, it’s safe to say it’s a lot of elephants.) Not a penny’s come in yet from the harvest due to the many tiers it must go through, and even when it does get here – it goes to mom first (it’s her property after all). She’ll be financing the rehabbing of the Studio from the lumber sales, and in turn the Studio (as a 501(c) 3 in the state of New York) can give her the tax deduction for her gift. I’m hoping a slight trickle down might aid us a little, but the Studio may turn out to be a bigger money sponge than I think, so if any cash makes it to us it’ll be a nice surprise.

Here’s the driver telling us this is a lot of paper here…

IMG_2942Checking in at the Studio. Took a previous day’s digging (not by me!) to access it.

IMG_2924Doesn’t look like much, but insulation’s in and drywall’s going in now.

IMG_2927There’s been some major settling – the carpenter thinks a heavy roof load of snow might be making things worse…

IMG_2928Yikes. Will have roof shoveled this week.

IMG_2922Storage will be a challenge. Live music and visual arts both require stuff. Not sure what we’ll do.

IMG_2951 A quick visit with grandma (and cat Annie).

IMG_2976Mom goes through a photo album from the ’30s. Amazing the number of anecdotes I’m hearing for the first time.

IMG_2953Mom and dad found Annie on their anniversary, hence her name. Annie is the most kitten-like cat you’ll ever meet. It is, however, beginning to creep into all of our minds that she is now very old, in spite of her kittenish demeanor. She’s got some health problems, and is as light as a feather. I can see concern in my mother’s face when the subject comes up. It will be an enormous loss when Annie leaves us. (Her toungue is almost always sticking out. So cute, and so Annie. !)

IMG_2993At the end of a long, cold week, Elihu gives up just a few feet short of the back door and falls on his back into the snow. Hard to believe by the time he turns twelve it’ll all be gone. At least one hopes. !

 

Paperchase February 23, 2015

Paper has followed me closely throughout my life. Of course it started for me as it does for all my brothers and sisters here on the planet; there were the requisite forms my parents filled out on my behalf shortly after I arrived, and the stamp of my inky footprints in lieu of a signature to kick things off… And before I knew it, my relationship with paper had begun.

In my earliest years the collection took the form of preschool art gems. Over-sized pieces of thick, fuzzy paper frozen into stiff waves by watercolor paint… Next came the phonetically spelled messages that immediately preceded my learning to read, and shortly after that I was in school and churning out a respectable daily output of used paper. In high school I filled my paper with far less academic focus; endless doodles lined the margins of my Latin notes, I drew floor plans on any remaining space in which I didn’t doodle, and I wrote the name of a certain cute senior boy (who played bass) – both forward and mirrored backwards, too – across every page of my notebook during sophomore year. I was a doodler. Later came sheets of classical music, lead sheets, chord charts, string arrangements, production notes and set lists. More paper, much of which is now deeply infused with the memories of those projects and the time in my life which they represent. I find it impossible to simply toss the stuff. And so instead, I file it away. I can totally understand hoarders. It’s a safe feeling to have tangible evidence of your life’s favorite moments within easy reach. For the most part, it’s not a drag. What to me is a drag are those piles. The ‘to-do’ piles all over your office that don’t ever get done.

But that’s only one kind of paper battle. There’s the other sort that most folks deal with daily. The better part of my mother’s life these days is spent just keeping up with the shit that she finds stuffed in her mailbox each day. Unlike me, she takes her mail up to the house and goes through each and every piece, whether it’s a solicitation for money (free dream catcher inside!), another outside agency offering to provide electricity at discount prices (never a deal) or life insurance offers (for just pennies a day and no medical questions to answer!), she gives each its moment of consideration. Piles of envelopes wait patiently on the desk for her attention, while correspondence of a similar sort over at my place gets unceremoniously dumped into the recycling bin on the way back to the car. More than enough crap has made it past my front door – I have no desire to give myself yet more things to purge. If I ever become flush with cash, I’ll give some to my friend who digs wells around the world. That’s it. Real results, no waste. If I ever need a discount on my electric, I’ll consider going solar. And as for insurance, they can keep their brochures. If I die, my kid gets all my stuff and then goes to live with his dad. Nuff said.

Having finally put ‘like with like’ over this past, kid-free week (Elihu’s been in Chicago with his dad for winter break), I am finally able – after living here over six years – to know where everything is. Got my old files down low, new ones up high. Seriously old stuff – as in those doodles from the early years (along with Elihu’s thousands of bird drawings) are sealed away in labeled boxes. I know where they are, but they’re tidily out of sight. Finally I have a handle on it. And the relief is almost physical.

Between the logging, the random life adventures and all the organizing I’ve been doing this week, I’ve been going nonstop. Elihu returns tomorrow, and I’m finished with the office just in time. (I have spent several hours trying to get my computer to see my piano keyboard to no avail, and am also having some deep frustration with my new computer and it’s ‘non relationship’ with my printer. So in truth, nothing’s truly resolved and over. I’ve just reached a nice, temporary hiatus of sorts.) Elihu will return this time with his new tuba in tow, so of course we’ll be off into a whole new adventure as soon as he steps off the train.

The logs from our property are ending up going in all directions and will be put to many uses. A local school will be burning the chipped tops in their furnace, some nice looking butternut made its way to a local clock maker, and some of the fine, long hardwood will even find its way across the globe to far-away furniture makers in the not too distant future. And some of the haul will even be made into – you guessed it – paper! Let the chase continue…

IMG_2192My little aviator, ready to fly.

IMG_2204How is it that this never grows old? A plane is always an exciting, enticing sight.

IMG_2222There goes my baby…

IMG_2241Lost in the snow.

For me, this never grows old either.

IMG_2265Leaving the airport I saw hundreds of puffy sparrows hunkered down in the trees, just waiting out the brutal, sub-zero weather as best as they possibly could. Poor creatures!

IMG_2308I had planned to have a mammogram one morning, but found I was driving on a totally flat tire and ended up cancelling. I suspected the loggers might have some compressed air to get me to the garage…

IMG_2320Easier said than done. Their equipment is always breaking down. Steven did a good job of nursing the compressor pump motor along. It took some real patience in the frigid weather. And see – he’s not even wearing gloves. But given the finesse he had to use in getting the engine going, I can understand why. Even I took off my gloves to unscrew some nuts on the tire. Sometimes you gotta feel what you’re doing.

IMG_2342My tire was truly busted. No repairs to be made there. Time to use that spare. So unbelievably cold in spite of the sun, and again, no gloves! These guys were so kind and helpful, and I am extremely grateful for their help. I’ve changed tires myself before, but I was a lot younger then – and it was a whole lot warmer out too! I think I’ve finally reached the age where I can comfortably allow younger people to do things for me.

IMG_2370Now I’m heading out into the woods with forester Dick, so he can show me how the cut looks. (The hat I’m wearing was knit by Lydia, my maternal grandmother. I like that I have something functional – and quite attractive – that she made. She’s been gone since I was twelve, but this makes me feel connected to her.)

IMG_2376Here comes the skidder. Sometimes you can hear the engine but can’t see it for all the trees – until it’s right up on ya.

IMG_2354They cut and drop em in a line…

IMG_2358…then grab em with that giant claw and drag them back to the landing where they’ll be sorted and stacked.

IMG_2383A load slips by while Dick checks out the cut.

IMG_2395It’s the fellow manning the claw who makes all the decisions about what trees should go to what vendors. He stacks them, cuts them to size and then either feeds them to the chipper or loads them on a truck as logs. One full 40′ semi trailer holds 30 tons of chips. Think 15 elephants. !

IMG_2411The dark center is called the heart. While this looks pretty here, this soft red Maple (which is a hard wood – go figure) is not worth as much because the ratio of heart to light wood will make the resulting cut wood irregularly colored. Apparently people want uniformly colored wood.

IMG_2409Now these guys look pretty good. The smaller the heart, the more value to the log.

Love listening to these guys talk.

IMG_2405Dick goes over the pile to see if he agrees with the head logger.

IMG_2423I head home to assess my mess.

IMG_2420Gotta keep at it. Put in over 30 hours just filing. Whew.

IMG_2427Ahh.

IMG_2428Three ring binders are this girl’s best friend.

IMG_2480And finally… at week’s end! Not once in my six years here has my office ever been so organized. Maybe I’ve finally chased the bump under the rug into the next county. Maybe. At least my paperchase is done for now.

 

Shift February 17, 2015

IMG_1599

Big shifts are underway. Frustratingly, the two I’m most keenly interested in are difficult to pinpoint and identify. Although the changes are slow-moving and subtle, sometimes it seems they appear overnight.

My own face and body are morphing into a form I never expected to see myself inhabiting, and my son, while still just a boy, occasionally evokes shadowy premonitions of the years ahead. I’ll catch a glimpse of his back and shoulder and understand it to be the sculpted shape of a young man, but then that idea falls away again and I’ll realize that it’s still just my little boy. A subtle turn of the head or bending of a limb will look somehow new and different, and again the approaching future reminds me that it’s coming. But still, it’s only a hint – nothing I can define, measure or quantify… And after my vision fades, it’s still a young boy’s body I see, and I’m relieved. Yes, I know big changes are coming, and deep inside I’m beginning to get ready. But my feelings remain mixed: being a single mother to a young child is exhausting; am I not indeed ready for the next chapter? I know that I am, and in fact I’m so looking forward to seeing what kind of young adult my son is to become – but I also know how terribly I’ll miss aspects of this intimate, magical time in our lives. Getting ready, breathing in….

Unlike the vaporous nature of the visions I have of my son, the snapshots I see of my own body are not momentary illusions, nor do they portend for more lovely visions to come. The relatively new jowls bracketing my jaw line are not an aberrations caused by the light. In fact, with more light and more careful scrutiny the changes appear more advanced than I might otherwise have thought. Low res pictures and dimly lit rooms may offer comfort and push the truth off to a comfortable distance, but I can’t fool myself for long. I know what’s going on here. And yeah, I know I’ve said it before, but likely I’ll say it again a whole lot before my run on this planet is through: This wasn’t really supposed to happen to me. Of course I know that’s not exactly true; I knew age would befall me, it’s just that somehow I imagined the whole process would be a tad bit, well, sexier. Aging didn’t seem all that bad when I saw the relaxed elegance of over-fifty models carrying firewood or sipping tea in LL Bean catalogues, or when women of a certain age happily rode bicycles alongside their silver-templed life mates during insurance commercials. It was possible to age with style and ease! It was really all about attitude, right? Yeah – the right attitude, a good head of hair, a long inseam and a snappy, clean jaw line. ! If I had those goin for me, I’d happily take the wrinkles around my eyes and the mane of silver. But age doesn’t manifest so neatly in most of us. Sigh.

At the risk of belaboring this discussion, I feel I need to completely clear about things. In order to become more comfortable with the subject of aging, I wish to blow the goddam top off of all this polite, tip-toeing around that folks do when talking about getting old. I have a low tolerance for euphemisms…. Please, friends, can we be as honest as possible with each other? I once knew a man who said that “woman don’t go gray. They go silver.” And while I still think it’s kinda cute – it obscures the truth of the experience. I’m sorry, but unless you look something like Emmylou Harris, gray hair for you will likely detract from the drama of your look rather than add to it. (I do know one person who has been blessed with a head of truly gorgeous gray hair. In this case I might even be tempted to call it silver. Yes, Francine, I’m talking about you.) I will not have this ‘glass half full’ nonsense about how beautiful a person’s wrinkles are, how the lines around one’s eyes are ‘earned’…. Bull fucking shit. I’m sorry y’all. I don’t find them ugly per se – wrinkles do not diminish my love for or attraction to a person – but they don’t demand my admiration as does the dewy, smooth skin of a young person. Come on. I am so tired of pretending shit’s what it isn’t.

Having said all of that, I’m going to need a way of living inside this wrinkling body while feeling somewhat ok about it. It’s been a while since I fell off the workout wagon, and I know that once I’m back on the horse again, that’ll help me feel better. And one day, I’m tellin ya now, if I should ever come across $5K that doesn’t need to go out as soon as it comes in, I’ll be making an appointment at a local surgeon’s office to get some help pulling things up again. Yeah, I’m not above it. Just not rich enough yet to put it on the list of options. So for now, it’s all about going inside to make the needed adjustments. And also – it’s about living for something else besides me, which brings me to another shift that’s underfoot these days…

Any moment I’m going to get a call from the forester, and I’ll don my snowshoes and join both him and the head logger in the woods. These guys are fantastic and fastidious and they’ve stayed in communication with me throughout the job. My parents got screwed over by the last outfit they had harvest their woods, some twenty-odd years ago, and this time I made it a top priority to find folks I could trust. The logger had some questions and asked that I accompany them on a walkabout, so he could make sure that he didn’t cut what I’d hoped to keep. So far the process has been as unobtrusive as I believe logging can be; the very roads on which they remove the trees recede from view into the forest from just a few feet away; the roads themselves are few and the cuts selective. (Might be one reason we’re not making the big money that we could if we cut more dramatically.) The other day I explored our property as I hadn’t since I was a child. It was thrilling, inspiring, and from the newly formed trails had me expanding my ideas about hosting nature walks in tandem with art classes. In the past I’d been asked by small folk music groups if I could offer camping space… Soon the answer will be yes. And there’s a huge basin of wetland that my parents had once discussed making into a pond (at the time there was state money available for it if it was to be left a wild area. Something to re-investigate.). There’s some gentle topography to the woods and even a creek – which one of the workers noted to me was not yet ‘categorized’, meaning it had yet to be named. ! See what I mean? So much potential has opened up now, there are so many options before us….

While I don’t know how exactly it is that I’ll be using the Studio and the surrounding eighty acres of woodland, I do know that I will be sharing this space with people. I have a list of ideas, some likely not very realistic (hell, none of this seemed remotely possible two years ago!), some more practical than others, but I’m not comfortable sharing them yet. In the year’s time since the Studio’s big flood, I’ve posited so many possible scenarios and gotten so ahead of myself, that in going forth I’m going to make an effort to chill out a bit. To hold my cards a bit closer to my chest. Not to run through the halls blabbing my big ideas, lest they turn out to be wildly unrealistic and naive. Bad enough I suppose that I’m beginning to create all this infrastructure without so much as a concrete business plan. I do, however, have a general trajectory in sight, and above all else, my goal is to add some love and light to the world. I want to help bring people together, to create community without pressure, without the need for people to spend beyond their means… I’d like to create a space where people can come by for no good reason. I’d like to provide a platform for people to create, learn, perform and interact, all without the pressures of holding their work to professional standards. The summer art classes, while not personally mine, have set a nice tone for the place. Deep in my mind’s eye, I do have a vision for the place. From where I stand today, I simply cannot know how much of that will come to pass – hell, if any of it will come to pass. I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but I still dearly wish to succeed at it, whatever the final product may end up looking like. And with all of you here as my witnesses, failing becomes far more unpleasant a thought; I’m motivated by both lofty and not-so-lofty reasons. But whichever direction this whole project goes, it’s safe to say that things are improving.

I, my son and the Studio are all on the edge of something new. The ground trembles as the trees fall, my son’s legs ache as they grow longer, and for the first time in my life, my fingers actually hurt when I play the piano. It’s such a confusing mix of happy anticipation for the new adventures ahead – and dread for the disappointments that will also come along with that same future… My heart skips a beat sometimes when I realize that there’s no possible way of ever going back (or is it just A-fib?  !). I know what I’m getting ready for, and yet I don’t.

Although I may not know much about the particulars of this next chapter, I do know this for sure: the big shift is finally underway.

IMG_1568

This came my way via Facebook yesterday… Worth a quick peek.

 

Snowy Valentine February 14, 2015

Elihu sits beside me on the couch. We’re both engrossed in our own activities, but stop now and then to say “Love you” to one another, just because we can. We’re content to be snug at home after another full week of activities. Tomorrow he leaves to be with his dad for winter break, so me, I’m a bit sentimental today. But Elihu’s just plain happy. He’s looking forward now to seeing his father again. As good as our relationship is, I still think it’s important for him to have some time and space apart from me. And I’ll make good use of the time too; his time away will give me the chance to file the massive piles in my office, do my taxes, prepare lesson plans and tend to the Studio. Lots to do, few pauses in the ongoing agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I might be busy, but I’m grateful for it all. Still not sure how the coming years will pan out; from where I sit tonight, my future is one big unknown. But whatever happens, I’m so happy to be sharing it with my dearest Elihu, my one true valentine.

IMG_1936Pulled into the grocery store parking lot and saw this outside my door. Sweet.

IMG_1710It’s not hearts I see each morning when I start the car in sub-zero temps, instead it’s lovely geometric designs in the frost on my windshield.

IMG_1237We visited mom’s place so Elihu could fly helicopters with Uncle Andrew (he lives down the driveway). Mom’s working on the New York Times crossword puzzle and watching the opera. Classic weekend stuff.

IMG_1239The two of them talked endlessly about accelerometers, flybars and swashplates. It’s “Geek” to me. !

IMG_1254Here’s the old craft that’s back in the air again thanks to some new replacement rotors (a thank you to friend Gene for assisting with that!).

IMG_1160Elihu and Andrew enjoy the vertical space of the great room.

IMG_1269Look what mom sees routinely outside her kitchen window. Turkeys and deer side by side.

IMG_1325Mom tells me the snow is even deeper today, one week later; she says it’s up to the deer’s bellies.

IMG_1277The Studio can be seen off to the left outside of the same window.

IMG_1336Drama erupted as I accidentally knocked a glass of water onto Andrew’s bag. He flew into a frightening rage, violently knocked over a chair and left for a few minutes. He came back and behaved as if nothing had happened. I guess that he had a restorative nip of booze to help him keep his cool. In his tirade he had screamed that I did everything I could ‘to fuck him up’… His situation is so sad, and we’re all powerless to help. Mental illness – and the self-medicating that goes with it – is a tricky thing. Laws that are meant to protect individual’s rights end up preventing others from helping those who can’t help themselves. Elihu’s heart is broken to see his uncle like this. He loves him anyway. Good kid.

IMG_1339And so our visit ends and we take our leave while mom sets about fixing the busted stool. Sigh.

IMG_1415Back at home we make a go at sledding the big hill. A no-go. It was way too deep. Shoulda started grooming our run before all this snow fell.

IMG_1531After some major effort, even lil man threw in the towel.

IMG_1510Then he tried his hand at something that he’s always been good at – catching birds. Here’s our dear Austin, the goofy guinea fowl. Both boys are red-cheeked!

IMG_1720While Elihu’s at school, I pay a visit to my friend Ken. Here’s the view from his current digs. Classic Saratoga.

IMG_1724Another fine Saratoga home.

IMG_1723One more view. Saratoga Springs often reminds me of a little HO train set village.

IMG_1742Ken shows me his current project.

IMG_1741I guess snowy weather is good for staying inside – and painting. But of course, you have to know what you’re doing to produce something like this. Seriously, how talented is this guy? Amazing.

IMG_1948After school we check out the logger’s progress.

IMG_1939Look at the size of the tires on this skidder! And the chains are just massive.

IMG_1963Every year we host these folks when they perform at the Flurry – a dance festival in town that is now in its 28th year. Musicians and dancers come from all over the East coast. It’s one intense and immense event.

IMG_1967Sherry baked this gorgeous bread for us!

IMG_1971They also brought us some homemade maple syrup. !!!

IMG_2070Packed up and ready for anything.

IMG_1984Here are John and Matthew – aka the Swing Peepers – doing their thing for the kids. It’s entertaining for all (see a short video clip at the end of the post).

IMG_1997Elihu sat in on his djembe with an Irish jam. Some purists might not have dug it too much, but no matter, he played just fine.

IMG_2027Playing his drum was fun, but he was really jonesin to fly. Dylan stops to check it out.

IMG_2031Dylan introduced us to his dad, Amadu, who’s from Senegal. He made this enormous kalimba himself.

IMG_2034Dylan and Elihu check out a concertina.

IMG_2038Here’s Paul Rosenberg, one of the Flurry festival’s founders. He calls and leads community trad dances throughout the greater Albany area. I guess you might say he’s a local treasure.

IMG_2056This is why Elihu’s here; an African drumming workshop led by Ubaka Hill. She made it a fun experience and it left Elihu in a fantastic mood which lasted all afternoon.

The Swing Peepers sing for the kids and their parents.

Elihu plays his djembe with the Irish jam session.

Ubaka Hill leads a room full of percussionists in the final number (check out the dynamic changes near the end).

IMG_2076After all of that we were starting to get hungry… a special day requires a special meal. To the Indian buffet!

IMG_2114Finally, we’re back at home on a snowy winter’s night. Me and my little Valentine.

 

Long Winter’s Haul February 8, 2015

We’ve had another full week here at the Hillhouse. It’s been relentlessly snowy too, and that’s getting to be a bit tiresome for us. But then it’s tiresome for all of us in snowy territory. At our place in particular the garbage piles up outside our door as roadside bins become covered in great mounds, recycling goes out the window as bottles, cans and paper get tossed along with the trash, and lazy folks like me can just forget about composting altogether. Every last bit of refuse simply gets put in one common bag and tossed on the heap to be dealt with weeks hence when the many feet of snow finally melt towards the end of March. It’s usually about then that Elihu begins to sink into the despair of a never-ending winter, and that’s the time I have to remind us both that by his birthday – April 28th – no evidence of winter will remain. (So far, that’s never been wrong. But hey, never say never. !)

Knowing the snow will be gone in two and a half month’s time helps to keep us sane. Keeping busy, watching birds from our kitchen window, flying rc helicopters and snuggling up on the couch with some good books are the other staples that help us to keep it together as we wait out the long, cold season. There’s also plenty of time to practice our music, and that’s a big bonus of indoor living that I’m always grateful for.

But while it’s fun to hunker down inside and get cozy, I can’t help but feel that getting out in the weather, aside from just an afternoon of sledding, might be good for us. There are two hitches to that goal: one, it’s terribly bright outside and that can discourage Elihu from wanting to go out. I totally get that. Yeah, he could probably use both his contacts and his glasses, and that would offer relief, but at the end of the day he’s still a kid and as such doesn’t really have the patience for the contacts. So for him, mostly he’d rather just stay inside.

The other sticking point is the depth of the snow. I’d like to walk out in the woods to check the loggers’ progress, but I’m not sure it’s possible to walk back there without snowshoes. The snow’s up to my knees already, and with more coming, the going won’t get any easier. So that will likely be the next adventure. (I’m on the lookout for used ones, but ’tis the season. So far I haven’t found any good deals. I must remember to look for snowshoes in the garage sales of July.)

Here are some snowy snapshots from our past week…

IMG_0679The Hillhouse property looks so beautiful by morning’s light.

IMG_0670At the right you can see our garbage pile. Kind of. Hard to believe under all this there’s a pond and a garden, just waiting for Spring…

IMG_0762Things are moving along at the Studio. Snow doesn’t affect these hardy mountain men in the least.

IMG_0765They’re even ready to work at night. !

IMG_0726I’ve been underfoot so much on the job site that the forester got Elihu and me our own safety vests. It was very kind of him – and a very good idea too.

IMG_0759We’re at mom’s house here, which is a couple hundred feet away from the Studio. Here’s the view from her kitchen window. While we ate one of her corn-fed deer last week (roadkill that our neighbor promptly butchered and put in his freezer), she has all but one of her regular flock of turkeys visiting now. She would know; she counts em daily. If that missing bird had ended up on the side of the road, we mighta had turkey for dinner too.

IMG_0733They came so close to becoming our national bird. Goofy birds, but gorgeous plumage.

IMG_0714I’ve cancelled my cable tv (again) in order to save some money. Realizing that the cable person still needs to physically shut off the service at the top of the pole (which would involve carrying a ladder thru very deep drifts), I hope to dissuade the fellow/gal from following through. Never hurts to ask, right?

IMG_1000Back inside we enjoy a quartet of Blue Jays at our feeder.

IMG_0867Our resident Red Bellied Woodpecker glows in the early morning light.

IMG_0708The colors continue inside with our blooming Amaryllis.

IMG_0974Breakfast on a snowy winter’s day.

IMG_1015Later on our friend Larry stopped by with his fiddle and banjo – he’s going to park them here for a bit while he finds a new place to live. A great deal for us! If you leave Elihu in a room with an instrument long enough, he’ll figure it out.

IMG_1019They get it all tuned up.

IMG_1024At first it doesn’t sound too promising…

IMG_1028…but what a few minutes and a little rosin can do! Elihu sounds pretty good.

IMG_0797Elihu’s discovering his inner David Amram

IMG_0808He’s working out parallel harmony parts. Doesn’t sound half bad.

IMG_0827But in the end, it’s really all about the bass…

IMG_0836… and clever new ways to approach the instrument. This is Elihu’s “sleeping man’s technique for lazy players”… Just lie down beside the instrument and play as usual. !

IMG_0887And now for something completely different… Mom has taken us out to dinner. We’re at Istanblue, the local Turkish place. This is the octopus we ‘discovered’ a month or two back. It blew mom away – she concurred, it was the best she’d ever had.

IMG_0889We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

IMG_0893I’m having Iskander (in the foreground). It’s essentially gyros meat on top of a bread stuffing topped with a tomato and yogurt sauce. Pure heaven.

IMG_0906If it weren’t for selfies there’d be no pics of the three of us.

IMG_0937And now, to the theater. We’re at the local middle school’s production of Mary Poppins. Amanda Leske, the gal playing Miss Poppins, was off-the-chain good, from her snappy portrayal of Miss P to her vibrant, in-tune singing. Her talent must be in part due to genetics; her dad’s an award-winning banjo player in town.

IMG_0935The gal in the yellow was in Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade classes. Amazing to see her so grown up. Janie did a fantastic job of playing her character, also named Jane. I had to include this pic because the girl in blue is Alex, a one-time piano student of mine and friend from down the road. Her parents are both Chicagoland ‘expats’ like me. (We share a love of food the likes of which cannot be found here in upstate New York. !)

IMG_0970More amazing still were the aerial feats of the production. Here, Mary Poppins takes flight after her job in the Banks’ household is done. A fitting end to a lovely night for my little aviator and me.

 

Win-Win-Win February 2, 2015

Finally got my pantry back again today. Elihu finally gave his belated birthday gifts to Uncle Andrew, Mom and Martha today, plus he Skyped with his sister in England and played some string bass for her as a birthday offering too. Those were all good, winning things. But I suppose the biggest win of all was that of the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks at the 49th Super Bowl.

My kid’s never watched football before tonight, and the whole culture of sports in general has always been something of a mystery to him. (As an achromat, visually tracking a ball is nearly impossible in real life.) He’s wanted to learn more about football in particular these days, as it’s often a topic of conversation among the kids at school. How perfect that we joined the game at the end of the first half, in time to witness two very cool plays – plus of course the half-time spectacle (the Katy Perry medley to which he knew all the words… I mean come on mom, everyone sings this stuff in school…) A winning end to a pretty good day. More adventures (and much more snow too, I hear) to follow…

IMG_0404Playing bass for sister Brigitta, who lives in England. It’s her 12th birthday.

IMG_0410There she is!

IMG_0418I dash across the road to get neighbor Zac’s help with some cleats I need for my new pantry shelves. Between Zac and his dad Phil they’ve got every type of saw one could ever need. Or so it seems to me. I’m sure Zac could point out the deficiency in their collection if pressed…

IMG_0426Hmm, let’s see, there’s ripping, mitering, planing, chopping, jigging (is that a word?) and then plain sawing. I think. Might all of it be correctly called ‘sawing’? Who knows? All I know is that one better watch the fingers. !!

IMG_0431See what I mean?

IMG_0455Back home, lil man picks up the camera and does a little editorializing on my home improvements.

IMG_0457Why did I wait til my 50th to buy myself a nice drill? Friends, don’t wait. If you don’t have an 18 volt cordless drill (preferably with a light at the end, unlike my old-fashioned model) then go out and get one. Today.

IMG_0460He catches me measuring twice, drilling once.

IMG_0463A few minutes later! Hoo-ray!! Thanks to pregnant Stephanie for lending me her handy husband to make these cleats for us – and they’re made from trees harvested from their property too. ! Last night we ate locally grown venison, today we’re using locally grown wood to hold up our shelves. Virtually living off the land, we are. !!

IMG_0466And a few minutes even later! Woo hoo! Been without a pantry for going on three months. Ahh. Life really is about the simple things.

IMG_0472And speaking of simple things, we’re off to the farm now, where Elihu plays for Martha her very favorite song, Simple Gifts, on his new alto recorder. (Her birthday is in July, so this gift is either very late or very early.)

Elihu plays Simple Gifts for Martha.

IMG_0494Elihu presents grandma with a pastel of a landscape. I mistook it for recycling afterwards and folded it – after weeks of delicate handling. I could weep. Thankfully, Elihu and grandma were upbeat about pressing it flat again under some glass. Argh.)

IMG_0514Elihu gives Uncle Andrew a high quality, entry-level rc helicopter with money he’s been saving. He’s been wanting to see his very depressed uncle happy for ages and put a lot of thought into the perfect gift. (Andrew’s birthday was on New Year’s Eve.) I myself can’t remember the last time I saw my brother smile. Success!

IMG_0516Seems a bit unfair that the ladies here seated are tipping back their bourbons in the presence of a not-so-dry alcoholic who’s trying his best to maintain. Ah well. Such is the ever-present dysfunction and denial of my family.

IMG_0481I’ve known this kitchen since I was tiny. It’s more cluttered, yes, but it’s still just as familiar. It still really does feel in my heart like the true epicenter of my life. Always has – no matter where I’ve lived or traveled, this kitchen ultimately feels like true center. Where everything begins and then one day returns.

IMG_0596I was ready for bed after our visit to the farm, but the game was too compelling.

IMG_0566Gotta turn off the kitchen lights – even after adjusting the tv’s brightness levels, it’s still too much light. He takes it in stride, but I’m always mildly saddened by the light-sensitive state in which Elihu lives. Wish it were easier for him.

IMG_0561Holy crap! This game is getting intense!!

IMG_0583The Patriots are down by four and I don’t think they can possibly win any longer, but lil man still does.

IMG_0595I was wrong – things turned! It’s pretty much a done deal here, but nonetheless, here we go…

IMG_0608New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIV!

IMG_0597One happy dance for a winning day well-ended, and then it’s off to bed…

____________________________________

Post Script: Another win: Snow day! Letting the lil man sleep in, and gonna get into bed with a book within minutes… Score!

IMG_0614

 

 
Eli Glasman

Blog of author Eli Glasman

in case i'm gone

No immediate plans.

Desperate Soil Girl

Adventures in Biodynamic Gardening in Rural Newfoundland

Up Hill House

Building a Net Positive House in Upstate New York

My Hike, 2014

I don't want to get to the end of my life and regret that I didn't do this

an eclectic eccentric

art, ceramics, fashion and interior design inspirations

mygardenmychickens

my backyard garden in holliston

Seasonsgirl

For seasons of life, the changing seasons, and the seasoning we all love to cook with.

sethsnap

Photographs from my world.

Circles in the Sand

DISTRACTED HOUSEWIFE, MOTHER, WRITER & BLOGGER, CHASING MY TAIL IN DUBAI

Little Explorer's Blog

a world of words

A Chicago Sojourn

A journey through the architecture and urban landscape of Chicago - from industrial zones to Mid-Century suburbs and all points between.

AirportsMadeSimple

Your Stories, My Stories, Our Stories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,210 other followers