The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

November’s News November 20, 2014

Today the sixth grade went on a field trip to see a production of The Secret Garden by Albany’s Capital Repertory Company. A quick, last-minute search informed me that it was a musical – not what I’d expected (Lucy Simon, Carly’s big sister wrote the music, Marsha Norman the lyrics). At first my heart sank at the discovery, but no matter, I figured it would be a good production. Happily, the show did not disappoint, and even though I, as a driver and chaperone, paid my own gas and parking, I feel it was worth the expense. These rare day trips are always worth whatever small sacrifice I need to make, because this era of ‘parents going along too’ won’t last forever. Plus I want very much to have these shared memories with my son, and with his classmates, too.

In Elihu’s first full year at Waldorf I was present for just about every single field trip the class took. The following year, in spite of a full schedule playing piano at the school, I somehow managed to attend most of the trips, and even though I had to beg out of a class again today, I managed to go along once again. I don’t take any of this for granted, I feel it’s a true gift. As a parent with the flexibility to be there, it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t go when I was able. Although on the car ride back Elihu played the perfect eleven-year-old boy, making crazy jokes with his buddies and laughing the whole ride, when it was just the two of us again driving home from school, he effused over the production. He told me that he ‘was in tears for much of it’. (I found it moving too, but not to the degree that he did.) And that each actor played an instrument – and sang as well – he found that more than impressive. When we got home he was excited to call both his father and grandma to tell them about his day at the theater.

Tomorrow is the fall school assembly, and although the orchestra’s too large to fit on the stage and so won’t be performing (much to Elihu and grandma’s great disappointment), Elihu will be singing with the middle school chorus as well as doing a spoken word piece with his class, and also a eurythmy performance in costume. (As a self-respecting sixth grade boy he cannot openly admit to enjoying his movement performance, but in private Elihu has several times told me how beautiful the costumes are and how much he’s looking forward to wearing them.) Tomorrow should be another good production. And for once I’m not accompanying anything, and I will be thoroughly enjoying my non-participatory role in the audience.

A couple of days ago I had my first hair cut and color in over seventh months. (I know.) I just love the place I go to; it’s homey, comfortable and casual and I almost always meet someone new and enjoy some pleasant conversation when I’m there. I have a great respect for those who can cut and style hair; they express such nuance with each creation. And that no two heads are the same just makes what Wendy does for me all the more impressive. She’s a talented woman, and I’m grateful that I found her. (She always makes Elihu feel like a rockstar, too.) It’s been so long since I’ve felt like spending the money on myself, but truth be told, there’s almost never a good time. Somehow, this month my bills were caught up and I’d even managed to tuck some Christmas gifts away early, so I was able to free myself from the guilt of the extra expense and enjoy being there. Freedom from worry is good, yes – but even better is that fresh haircut feeling. ! And I know I’m just kinda sneaking this in here – but I’ve lost 15 pounds since September on a renewed dieting campaign, and it hasn’t been til now that I’ve felt I deserved spending the money on my hair. Diet results or not, I’ve done a lot over the past seven months. I’ve covered some ground and made some improvements in my corner of the world. This was a nice reward.

Beyond today, I’m not sure what will fill our time when school lets out for break, as the Thanksgiving vacation week looms long and empty at the moment. It’s the first Thanksgiving that Elihu will have been here in years. Last year, while Elihu was in Illinois with his father, we four Conants had our last meal together while dad was alive. I remember the food was so good that we ate robustly, hardly checking in a moment with each other. It was only as dad wiped his beard and began to push away from the table that I realized…. this was probably was, no – it was – our very last meal together as a family. I’d felt both sad and grateful in that moment – sad that it had felt so natural that I’d let it pass without any special moment of savoring it, grateful that we, who hadn’t eaten as a group around the same table in a decade or more, had all been here together one final time. In a way it was perfect that Elihu was absent; it gave us our last real moment as a family. I’m grateful for it, grateful, grateful. Hard to believe it was a year ago. That the season of my dad’s death was a year ago. This year, thank God, we’ll have the energetic addition of young Elihu to help keep things happy and bright. Mom’s even inviting another couple to join us. Things feel much better than they had originally. One concern however, is Andrew. After several months of attending AA meetings every single night, he’s fallen off the wagon yet again. (An intervention was never done at the insistence of a friend in AA who ended up mentoring – and then giving up on – Andrew.) This is an emotionally charged time, and Andrew is a goddam time bomb. It’s one thing to call the sheriff in to prevent him from taking a knife to me with immediate family present, it’ll be a horror show if it happens in front of folks we don’t know all that well. (I suppose it would be even more horrific should he actually make good on his threats.) With his nephew being present, that might help mitigate things. Never can tell with Andrew. We shall see.

Martha was taken to the hospital day before yesterday – her sixth (or perhaps seventh?) such visit over the past year. I’m always prepared for it to be ‘the time’, but it never is. I was glad that Elihu’d brought his string bass to the farm the other night to play for her. He played her favorite song “Simple Gifts” and other things, all of which made her happy and brought up stories from when she was a music teacher at Skidmore College half a century ago. Then Elihu found a shofar from the farm’s music room and after a few minutes found he could play a couple of discernible notes on it. That again brought up another story. Mom too was there with us in the kitchen, and Martha’s hound dog Masie made the rounds sitting on our feet as we visited… “If this visit to the hospital is to be Martha’s last, at least we had a good time the other night” I had thought to myself. But within a day she was given the green light, and yesterday I found myself wheeling Martha back up the stairs and into her enormous farm house once again. Which is where she ought to be. It’s always best to be home.

And tonite I find myself actually enjoying my home in a free moment. To-do lists done for the day, laundry, dishes, tidying… All of it done. The kid is even asleep. Often it takes Elihu a very long time to fall out, but today was full and after reading a chapter or two he was ready to sleep. I so seldom find myself in this place – usually it’s not until late that I can sit in front of my computer. Usually I feel the dull panic of a night growing later, and the morning looming just around the corner… But right now I am fairly content in the middle of a peaceful night, in my cozy, candle-lit living room in the middle of a month that hasn’t turned out as badly as I’d expected it to. As far back as I can remember, this was the month I always hated most of all. It was bleaker than any other month. It was gray and cold and snowless. And aside from a recent dusting of snow (we’re six hours east of the snowbound region of New York), so far this is just about as I remember all Novembers to be. But somehow, what with all life’s tiny diversions, I haven’t been so disheartened by the month this time around. Yes, it’s been cold and bleak out, but thankfully there’s been enough going on inside to keep our lives warm and colorful. Ah, but let’s all hope that it doesn’t get too colorful around here in a week’s time… Because as much as we all like a good story, I think we can agree that sometimes no news really is good news.

 

Older Later November 16, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Divorce Diary,Growing Older,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 11:55 pm

You’d think I’d have gotten it by now, but no, I’m still working on it. There was a flash of inspiration once, at around age 42, when I got it in a way I had never gotten it before. In that moment, I first truly understood, deep down in my gut, that I wasn’t going to be alive forever. I can remember the moment still, my eyes landing on the giant limbs of the oak tree outside as the epiphany entered my consciousness. I sat there at the window seat, transfixed in the new understanding. I followed the idea further… This moment could plausibly be the halfway point; it was entirely possible that from now on, I was on the downward slope. I was now living the second half of my life – the part closer to death than to birth. And that was if things all went according to plan. Hell, things could even change tomorrow, there was no way of knowing. On the outside, things seems safe, measured, somewhat predictable. But from the inside, it just wasn’t so. This life thing was a veritable crap shoot.

Every one of us knows we’re going to go one day, but even so, the truth of it doesn’t always settle in. It’s too much, too real, too strange and other-worldly to contemplate one’s own death. It’s much easier to make a quick run to the mall, to keep the radio on the whole time, to occupy the space in between with to-do lists and tangential thinking. It’s all too easy to do anything but consider what your own end might feel like. How the whole thing will go down. There’s still so much unknown – where will you be living then? Will you be alone, will your kids be nearby? Will you have a partner with you? Will you be alone? Will you be in pain? Scared? For me, I’ve considered all of these questions more than a few times. Personally, I don’t think we talk enough about death in this culture. I might be wrong about this, maybe it’s just my own experience. But I have a feeling it aint. But then again, why should we concern ourselves with death? It only happens to us once, and honestly, it’s more trouble for those we’re leaving behind than it is for us. Plus it is, no matter how natural, still a little creepy. Here one minute, gone the next. So I can understand how it’s an easy topic to neglect.

As I find myself missing my father, now gone just less than a year, I realize that his peers are rapidly leaving us as well. So many contemporaries of my father’s have already gone, many are so very aged that it can’t be long until they’re gone, too. Cultural icons of his age are going as well. So many actors, artists and musicians who helped to create the world as I know it have died, and many time I’ve found myself making impulsive, late-night searches to see who’s still here with us, and who’s not. Yet even in the face of all these departures, somehow, until my own father died, it didn’t quite feel real. Still, it felt far-off and abstract. But these days it’s begun to feel very real to me, and I find myself needing to somehow figure it all out. I have to organize it all in some way that helps me get a handle on all the shit that’s coming up.

What makes someone become truly old? Just what the hell does old look like? Where is that elusive corner around which things all suddenly change? I’ve found myself re-defining ‘old’ several times in the past decade… And now that my own mother will turn 80 this coming January, I’m having to expand things yet again, because, as you can understand, I have a hard time thinking of my mother as old. My dad didn’t really get ‘old-old’ til very close to the end. Up until a week or so before his death, he possessed his sense of self, his sense of humor and an ear that could correct me from the other room if I played a wrong note. And then, finally, in those last, agitated days spent in a hospice bed in his home, it was there that he began to wither into the character I could finally identify as a very old man. Glad it was a quick process, because seeing him so transformed was hard for me. It is a beautiful, fortunate and perfect thing that one should sign off as an ancient human, but no matter, for those left behind it’s a time heavy with poignancy and heartbreak. Seeing Daddy so thin, so vulnerable, so small, so goddam old…

These days my son is changing. He’s suppose to, after all, he’s in sixth grade, on his way to twelve years old. All is as it should be. For the most part I’m thrilled about it, I’m intrigued, impressed, amazed. But I can tell you that it gives me a sense of relief – as if a respite from aging has been temporarily granted to my son – when he climbs into bed with me on the weekends, just to be close and talk. This is still our time to be together, a time when the world falls away, and it is still just the two of us. But as I catch glimpses of his now hairier legs, ever-shortening pajama pants and somehow older-looking face, I know that this too can’t last forever. His voice is still high, but his attitude doesn’t often match his voice. During the week there’s plenty of closed bedroom door time and new-found modesty when dressing. All things I respect and do not make light of. And I take them as indicators of what’s ahead. Signs of the autonomy to come. Signs of his becoming a young adult. I even see these new behaviors – and do not think me dramatic so much as pragmatic – as signs of his moving away. One day my son will leave, and I will be alone. Somehow, I gotta get my head and heart prepared.

Mom and I have had our talks about the estate, and how best to handle things (in light of an un-well brother whom we both want the best for, but who cannot hope to make sound choices on his own behalf) and in those conversations I’ve noticed how we don’t ever bring up the subject of her death, which of course, is most likely the next one to occur. That may sound morbid and abrupt, but it’s what we just spent a few hours and more than a few hundred dollars at the attorney’s office sorting out. Why not talk about it? Recently I tried to open up the topic by asking if it felt strange to realize she was getting to be 80 very soon. I’d hoped it might be a stepping-off point for the more pointed conversation about death. I wondered to myself, is she scared? but I couldn’t ask her. It’s just not something I’m comfortable with. Wish I were. So instead, I opened up the same conversation about our friend, 88-year-old Martha (who years ago suffered a stroke and these days has very little mobility or strength). I posited that Martha’s afraid of dying because she thinks there’s nothing after this life. We aren’t a family that’s ever spoken of religion (except for my mother’s mocking of it) or talked about anything remotely existential, so even this is uncomfortable territory. I wanted her to be clear about my feelings on the subject, so I told her “Me, I know we go onto a new experience after this. But if you don’t, I can see how it could be really scary”. My mother stared ahead out of the window and said that she too thought that there must be something more. But that’s as far as it went. At least I know how she feels. Sort of.

The topic doesn’t have to go further between us for the time being. I know that I’ll be there for her when she’s ready to go, and in my heart, that’s all that really matters. Still, it seems like a long way off. After all, at the very least she needs to see her grandson graduate from high school. And hard as it is for me to understand, that destination is the same distance from this moment as was his first day of Kindergarten. Halfway there. Strange.

I’m halfway there too. While I can’t say that I have any regrets, I am getting a little worried about how to make the most meaningful use of this second half. Once my job as parent is done, what then? What will propel me? What will have me wanting to get out of bed in the morning? And how will I deal with these physical changes? I never thought it would be me, but now it is. My shoulder hurts for no apparent reason, my arthritis continues to worsen and the friggin skin on my face and neck shows signs of a jowly future for me. Somehow, I need to accept this with a bit more class than I am at the moment. I need to buck up, suck up and keep on going. It’s just that I feel so wimpy, so unequipped to do this growing older thing. Somehow, God and I must have gotten our wires crossed. See, this stuff was supposed to be a lot easier than it’s turning out to be, plus I’m still not even sure it was supposed to happen to me at all. Sigh.

Last night I watched an Italian movie called “The First Beautiful Thing”. In the film we see the characters jump back and forth in time by several decades. It was fascinating. Plus it helped me to better get the whole aging thing, to better process what it is to see things enter into a person’s life, then fall away… It’s still very much a struggle for me, wrapping my brain around the changes that happen as we grow older. I see images of old friends on Facebook and have to check their names to make sure I know them. I double-check the name, compare it to the image in my head, and I look again, searching for what I know to be familiar about them. That certain quality is still there, but somehow, it’s not. They’re themselves, and yet they’re not. They look older, but how can that be? I thought that ‘old’ came so much later… But then again, maybe later is finally here.

Watch this beautiful video of Tracy Newman’s song
I Just See You… It helps take away some of the sting….

 

 

Crossed Fingers November 11, 2014

The arthritis in my fingers has progressed quite a bit over the past year and a half. Just this past week my hands have undergone another big change. In fact, the change has been so rapid, it’s hard to fully comprehend. I so wish I had a baseline x-ray from before ‘the change’, or at least a photo of the way my poor fingers used to look, but practically speaking, I don’t need proof of how far things have gone. One look at my hands says it all.

In addition to watching the distal joints not only grow dramatically in girth, I’ve seen the tips of my fingers begin to bend forward, taking the shape of mini hunchbacks. When I hold my hands out, I no longer see the nails of my fingers. The disfigurement of my fingers was a little hard on my vanity at first (nearly everyone who sees my hands either makes an audible gasp or their eyes linger for a moment, and those who feel comfortable are quick to ask me if they hurt), and the occasional flare-ups were painful inconveniences, but now it’s become much more than a casual nuisance, and frankly, I’ve become worried about it. So far, it hasn’t hampered my ability to play the piano well, however it has changed how I play. Because the tips of my fingers essentially curve downward, I cannot tolerate any extra length of nail, as my nail hits the key before my fingertip (this is currently much more pronounced in my left hand). Again, that had become tolerable, and having become aware that I need to keep my left hand nails very short, I was ok with the change. But now, as of this past week, my hands are in an almost constant state of low-level discomfort. The index finger on my left hand has had a couple of distinct and alarming events, and it all has me wondering how in hell I’ll make it to my aged years if things keep up as they’re going.

Last night, the index finger on my left hand made a clicking sound, and from the middle knuckle, it visibly kinked to the left. I could see the difference from one moment to the next, because it leaned dramatically. I panicked, and quickly grasped it with my right hand and pulled. Somehow, it clicked again, and straightened back to its original position. Even so, it had been several years since my index finger had been straight, but thus far it had served me fine. But tonight it does not feel as it did even a few weeks ago; the tip of my index finger now makes continual contact with the tip of my middle finger. I suppose it would annoy and distract anyone, but somehow, being a pianist, I feel as if I’m hyper-aware of it. And to be entirely honest, it frightens me. If it continues like this, my two fingers will end up becoming crossed at some point. How can I live like that? It makes me scared, but also, it makes me angry. It really pisses me off. I know it’s not a healthy voice to indulge, but still, it rises up from within… Seriously, why me?

But of course I know the answer to that question: why not me? I have friends who are suffering far worse and more inconvenient health issues, and remembering that, I try to keep calm and concentrate on what I do still have, not what I don’t. Nonetheless, the idea that my fingers are continuing to get worse scares me, because as I understand it, once it happens, there’s no going back. This sucks, and my mind looks for solutions. I’ve been proactive in every way I can think; I’ve seen the conventional, Western doctors, I’ve done acupuncture, Chinese herbs, a small round of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, plus I’ve done my best to change my attitude and think hopefully and positively about my outcome. I’be begun exercising, drinking less alcohol, drinking more water, using less salt. At the end of the day, it really bothers me that it appears there’s not a thing I can do to stave this off, in spite of my willingness to do whatever I’m able.

I can’t help but wonder, if it’s simply extra material that’s forming on the ends of my bones, why can’t I just have it removed? Scraped off? And furthermore, if my body can’t be stopped in its self-destructive path of breaking down its own cartilage, why can’t I just have some sort of gel injected onto the problem sites to replace it? Seems intuitive, straight forward. Yet no doctor I’ve seen has told me this is a viable option. Of all the doctors I’ve seen, not a one of them has offered any solutions. Not preventive, nor curative, nor even restorative. And again – that pisses me off. Our technology is soaring by leaps and bounds, yet when it comes to one of the planet’s most pervasive health complaints, not one fucking thing can be done about it. Nada. Oh yeah, you can take glucosmine. Chondroitin sulfate. And supplements too. But the jury’s still out on all that. Regardless, I take the stuff, cuz I figure it can’t hurt. But so far, it sure hasn’t helped.

When I was a kid, I remember hearing all the ‘old folks’ – meaning anyone in their forties or beyond – griping about the mounting disappointments of aging; new ailments, gray hair and wrinkles, having to walk back into a room to remember what you’d come there for in the first place – the usual stuff. I also remember thinking that somehow these older people didn’t get it. That maybe they’d even done something wrong somewhere along the way – made a tiny misstep or bad choice once upon a time – that earned them their current set of problems. I felt certain, so very certain, that their fate would not be mine. Somehow, I’d age without incident. If I was to get wrinkled and gray, somehow I would not be diminished by it; I would enter that phase when the time was right, and somehow, if I did actually end up getting old, I’d be ready for it. In any case, it wasn’t worth thinking too much about, as it may as well have been a century or more off into the hazy future. The grown-ups would laugh and joke to my brother and me, telling us that one day we too would find ourselves saying the same things. My mother even told me how her own mother had said the same thing to her, and that as a child, my mother too would think secretly to herself that nothing could be further from the truth. She was not going down the same path as her mother, no way…

My mother’s hands do not look good. For the past twenty years her fingers have been grossly enlarged. Her wedding band looks as if it’s choking off the finger above it, and her middle knuckles are so large that it’s become difficult for her to grasp some things. I too have noticed things slipping through the spaces at the bottom of my fingers recently, and it’s just one more goddam thing I thought was strictly for old folks. I’m not taking to all these changes very well, I realize that. And until just a couple of years ago, I’d look at my mother’s hands with pity; imagine suffering that fate. Good thing it won’t be mine, I’d think. I shoulda known I’d be wrong – physically, I take after my mother more than my dad. And while I may have gotten my musical gift from him, sadly, I did not get his hands. I’m grateful that my son Elihu clearly has his father’s gorgeous, guitar-playing hands. Slender fingers with deft, double-jointed thumbs, he’s set for a life of great dexterity and finger health. For that I’m relieved and happy. Almost makes up for my own personal disappointment. Almost.

I suppose I’ve had a good run; I’ve gotten a good deal of use and music out of these fingers. Can’t have regrets. But still… I won’t stop searching for a solution to my arthritis. And I’ll do my very best not to pout and complain about things. I’ll continue to play piano, to make music and even attempt to learn new instruments. (But I won’t be doing any hand modeling jobs, that’s for sure.) So far, it seems that all I can do is deal with things as they are. But I’m still holding out hope that one day a cure will arrive. Some sort of meaningful relief of symptoms, or at the very least a way to halt the disease’s progress. A girl can hope, right? Fingers crossed…

 

 

Hallow’s Eve October 31, 2014

What a night. It’s close to midnight and Elihu and I are just getting to bed after a very full and happy Halloween. Our day included a play by the ninth graders, a school costume parade, and a fine night of trick-or-treating topped with a moment of magic and mystery as Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi (the unofficial ‘queen’ of Saratoga).

IMG_0767A room full of joy as the ninth graders get ready to perform Brer Rabbit for the Lower School, an annual tradition.

IMG_0770The girls.

IMG_0804The play…

IMG_0811…and the audience.

IMG_0786With a nod of his head, Mr. Fron leads the students in a four-part round of ‘The Ghost of John’ as he plays along on the recorder. Elihu can be seen on the right behind his Roman shield.

IMG_0855The pumpkin relay – you can only use your arms to hold it as you run.

IMG_0876Ethan shows some seriously clever costume-making, bringing the sub-culture of ‘steam punk’ alive.

IMG_0943Now we’re out, doing famous Caroline Street. Every kid in town is here!

IMG_1005This was the spookiest house on the block. Over the top and perfect in every way.

IMG_0957Look! It’s our friends from Greenfield – and they’re piano students of mine, too!

IMG_0960Waldorf kids.

IMG_0966A gorgeously spooky house.

IMG_0979Abe Lincoln sits down to have some spaghetti and meatballs.

IMG_0989Elihu ran into some old classmates he’d known from back in Kindergarten – some had even left Greenfield. That we saw all four of these guys was a fun and completely unexpected surprise.

IMG_0994I must taste this before I can serve it…

IMG_0995Oh dear, is that a head in my linguini?

Everywhere we went people were crazy for Elihu’s getup. At first it kinda suprised us, because in years past his costume has been far more elaborate and structurally sophisticated, but at the end of the day, an obscure comic book character just doesn’t have the same kind of crowd appeal as a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti.

Elihu was really getting into his character, and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear him saying ‘that’s-a one-a spicy meat-a ball’ as well as other little improvised ditties about spaghetti…

IMG_1014Now we’ve moved across town to North Broadway; the Riggi Mansion

IMG_1023In spite of an hours-long line, we somehow found ourselves quite close to the front – and no one objected, so off we went… Before ten minutes had passed we were presented to the King and Queen… Kinda looks like they might even take a break for some pasta!

IMG_1026Whew! Thank goodness this selfie worked! Ya got one chance, then the line just keeps movin on… But hey, this shot will be nice for the memoir, huh?

IMG_1027This too.

IMG_1043Cinderella Riggi and the golden ticket. Wow. A magical ending to a magical day.

And now – to bed!

 

Three Days Left October 30, 2014

A young woman will end her life this weekend. Her name is Brittany, and I’m incredibly grateful to her.

Some of my friends know this about me – and certainly my son knows it better than anyone – that if I am ever faced with a terminal illness, I intend to make the choice whether to let the disease take me – or whether I will choose to take my own life first. Likely, I’d opt to leave before my quality of life declined to such a point that it was creating unnecessary discomfort and distress – in me or my loved ones. I’ve been adamant about this for a long time now, and after being present for my father’s death last year, I began to think more deeply on the subject. Caught up as I’ve been – as we all are – in the micro details of my ongoing life, I hadn’t thought much on the subject for a while. Until last week.

I very seldom pick up a People Magazine, but when I saw the headline, I had no choice. I had to know this woman, to know her name, have her picture in my mind, I had to know her story… Yes, it was about her, but it also involved those who loved her, too. I couldn’t avoid the big question – what about her mother? I am a mother, and I cannot fathom what it would be to live this nightmare; to know that you must support your child in their choice to end their own life. Such an excruciating paradox; the height of love’s expression: to let your child go as an act of compassion. How, I wondered, even long after I’d read and re-read the article, was this all going to work? I myself now have the experience of holding a family member’s hand as he died, but that was far different. It was his time. We were ready. How in hell can any of her family or dear friends be ready for such a thing? It’s beyond my comprehension. It’s beyond the comprehension of us as a society. For now, at least. It’s my great hope that it will not always be.

Maybe Brittany has begun a more public conversation about the choice to die issue than ever before, and maybe this time it’ll pick up momentum and blossom into a new awareness across our culture. Maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning of a new era. Daily our planet wrestles with a ‘two steps forward, one step back’ dance over social constructs that in my opinion, should be old news and long in place by now. I feel as if we should be beyond all this pettiness by now and be done messing around with other people’s lives and trying to prevent them from making the choices they need to make, but in reality, I suppose we’re still only at the bottom few rungs of the ladder.

But even if it’s a slow progress, we are moving upward, and thanks to my hero Brittany, it’s front-page conversation at the moment. Because Brittany is a beautiful, intelligent, articulate and young woman, she makes the issue relatable and relevant to a whole new population for whom this subject might previously have been as irrelevant as discussions on Medicare benefits. I mean it’s one thing if we’re talking about your grandma who’s suffering from Alzheimer’s after eighty good years, but it sheds an entirely new light on things when you’re discussing death by choice with a twenty-something.

There’s nothing more to be said now. Only three days are left in which her mother may hear her voice, in which her husband may hold her hand, in which her friends may sit by her side. How will Brittany’s innermost thoughts change in the final hours? What on earth is that experience like? Has fear gone completely – or does it ebb and flow? How brave she is to go where few have gone, and from where none can report back. But truthfully, I’m not so worried about her. She’ll be fine. It’s those she leaves behind that have a longer and harder road ahead. Strength to all of you. I send you my love and most supportive energy. There are thousands of us thinking of your family right now, and if we could share the burden of your heartbreak, we would. And thank you so very much, Brittany. I pray for your smooth and peaceful transition. Hope to meet you on the other side someday.

Brittany ended her life yesterday, November 1st, 2014, with her family and loved ones beside her. 

 

Full Fall October 27, 2014

Last night Elihu had a hard time getting to sleep, in spite of having just weathered a full weekend. Bleary-eyed, he panicked slightly at the thought of school starting up again the very next morning. “Wait, was that a whole weekend just now? Are you sure tomorrow’s a school day?” he asked me, with a genuinely puzzled look on his face. He shook his head. “Honestly, that felt like five minutes just now. I guess it’s just because we did a lot”. He waited for a moment and sighed. “It just feels like we really need another day. You know what I mean?” He was right. Not only the weekend, but the past several weeks had been full. In his words, we’d experienced “a lot of life” recently. Indeed. Death, too. We lost our friend Cecil a few weeks back, but no matter, things just kept on going. Projects and homework and teaching and all manner of life’s tasks have filled the space in between then and now (plus a rare night out in downtown Albany to see comedian Steven Wright – a really big deal for us), and today we find ourselves looking to Halloween, this coming Friday, as the informal conclusion to a full fall.

Here’s a photographic digest of the past few weeks…

 IMG_0011These colors, from just a few weeks ago, are now gone. So much changes in such little time in this season of transition.

IMG_0009I hung these guys in the small woods across from our house, and it’s made Elihu’s long walk down the driveway after he gets off of the bus a little spooky. He lobbied for me to take them down, but I’ve waited long enough to pull out the scary decorations. Up they’ll stay. (They continue to give me a start now and again; either when shutting the birds in at night or casually looking out of the window, even when I first come down the driveway, my mind off in another place.)

IMG_0015Just scary enough.

IMG_0028These are our hungry birds up in the burning bush. The bugs aren’t as plentiful now, so they’re eating the berries off of whatever they can.

IMG_0281The view is modest, and certainly doesn’t come off very impressive in this shot, but in person it’s nice to see Saratoga Lake again now that the leaves are off the trees.

IMG_0299Neighbor boys Ryan and Brandon came over for a visit, and Elihu led them on a quest to find all the gourds that emerged from our compost pile.

IMG_0338Big sister Ava helps count the take.

IMG_0329The children’s father Chad pats our favorite resident roo, Bald Mountain. (Chad saved our rooster last summer after a nasty raccoon attack. Baldy had run through the woods and towards the light of their front door in a heroic effort to find safety. Covered in blood, Baldy perched on Chad’s lap as he drove the rooster back home on his four-wheeler. We were out so didn’t know – it’s such a blessing to have neighbors like this when bad things happen. It’s a profoundly good feeling to know someone’s got your back.)

IMG_0270The young brothers are more than a little freaked out at the skeletons, so we had the boys introduce themselves.

IMG_0317They didn’t turn out to be terribly edible, but they’re pretty. And they were a fun surprise.

IMG_0343This wasp’s nest was also something of a surprise; it hung from our cellar door and grew from the size of a fist to this giant ball in about a week’s time. It’s gorgeous up close, with its delicately spun paper in layer upon layer. Glad to have this specimen to examine up close. (That’s a 30 pound pumpkin next to it, just for a little better perspective on its size.)

IMG_0257Here too was another surprise from the skies. Mom found it near her house, likely it had flown into a window and broken its neck. For years she’s adamantly professed her hatred for Starlings, but had now changed her mind. When I asked her why, she told me it was because she hadn’t known before how beautiful they were. ! I did’t bother to tell her I thought that was a pretty lame reason.

IMG_0264Elihu must always admire the wing.

IMG_0262I admire the interesting claw; three sickle-shaped claws face one direction with the fourth claw facing the other way.

IMG_0325This new gal reminds us a lot of our dear late hen, Madeline, whom we lost earlier this year, so we’ve ended up just calling this one “Madeline Two”. We might be onto round two of many previously used hen names. I suppose it’s just as well when they end up in the freezer eventually.

IMG_0667Thumbs Up is molting now. So are many of the wild birds. They’re getting ready to grow in a brand-new, more robust set of feathers for the long winter ahead. Up close they can look pretty bedraggled and pathetic while mid-molt.

IMG_0675A close up of the pin feathers coming in on her neck. They feel like plastic are made of basically the same stuff as your nails.

IMG_0400Appropriate.

IMG_0411Inappropriate. !

IMG_0137Elihu joins George and Peter as they play music for Waldorf’s annual Autumn Festival.

IMG_0108Then Elihu helps turn the hand crank as Vermont farmer Fred DePaul demonstrates some sheep shearing techniques. (Fred used to do work for our octogenarian friend Martha Carver many years ago.)

IMG_0125Here Fred shows how yarn is made from wool.

IMG_0200Look!! It’s Phoenix! A former classmate and much-missed friend, we haven’t seen him in months. This is a happy reunion.

IMG_0431Our friend Ken came to stay for a visit! Here he shows Elihu how he begins to paint a small landscape.

IMG_0436It’s interesting for us non-painters to see the whole process.

IMG_0444Elihu can’t see any color at all, but he can see values and can understand what Ken is doing and why.

IMG_0440There’s usually a lot of laughing going on when Ken visits.

IMG_0649And guess what? This visit Ken brought his eleven year old son! Our kids were yapping nonstop and getting along from the moment they met.

IMG_0659The boys roamed around the property in pursuit of the chickens.

IMG_0666At home with the flock already.

IMG_0419Mom came over to see our progress on Elihu’s Halloween costume. Here she shows him a photo of him on his first Halloween at the age of six months. He went as Dom Delouise as chef – and this year I’m going as the chef, he as my creation. Full circle.

IMG_0414Ken and mom always enjoy a visit.

IMG_0459Here we are, at our local costume contest!

IMG_0458The middle school girls think his costume is awesome.

IMG_0508And finally, after years of not even placing (??), Elihu wins for most original costume. Yay!

IMG_0481Cute!

IMG_0523We ran into two ninth graders from Waldorf!

IMG_0472And we ran into this creepy guy outside on the way to the haunted hayride.

IMG_0476Kind of a surreal shot…

IMG_0636On we go to our last stop, a party our friends hold every year. Elihu’s gone to it nearly all of his life.

IMG_0562Here’s our hostess, Bairbre McCarthy, as Sherlock Holmes.

IMG_0609Finally, the plate of spaghetti helps himself to a little snack as host Hank, as Robin Hood, chats with Grandma.

IMG_0579Another kid Elihu’s age. Cute costume!

IMG_0575A little fly buzzes around the table, and in Elihu’s own words “Ahh! This is going to bring my rating down to three stars!” (Elihu was a spider when he was this tiny guy’s size, and I had gone as Little Miss Muffet, you know, as in ‘the spider who sat down beside her.’)

IMG_0630Goodbye, and thank you! We had a great time as always!

IMG_0646When Elihu I and got home a couple hours later – look what Ken had done!

IMG_0702The next morning we’re off to do a little creating of our own as Elihu’s classmates begin to make their costumes for the school Halloween parade.

IMG_0713The students are required to go as something from their studies; the boys are going as Roman soldiers. They’re going to hide behind their shields.

IMG_0727This is what we’re going for… Not enough time or material for all the details, but we’ll get as close as we’re able.

IMG_0725Pretty good, huh?

IMG_0745And here’s the final result a few hours later. Good thing I had some paint leftover after doing my kitchen hallway. It was the perfect color red!

IMG_0378Back at home Elihu keeps on creating and builds the tallest tower yet from his Keva blocks – sixteen stories, all the way to the ceiling…

IMG_0375…a view from the inside looking up.

IMG_0249We love our adventures, but in the end, we both really enjoy staying home more than anything else. Here Elihu is surrounded by his very favorite things; his bass, some paper airplanes, and those silly Pokemon cards. After a full fall schedule, there’s no place like home.

 

Five Hundred and One October 21, 2014

This is my five hundred and first post. I hadn’t intended to pass up post number 500 on such a mundane subject as Spam, but very anticlimactically, there you have it. It seems the tally of my published posts was one behind, causing me to miss my landmark. But then that’s not so very important as is the fact that I’m still at it, over three years and five hundred posts (and dozens of unpublished posts) later. The result represents several thousand hours of writing, editing and re-writing. And while I don’t yet deign to claim that I’m a professional writer, I do however, with a small amount of confidence, now identify myself to people as a writer. Not a blogger. I’m a writer with a blog, not a blogger who writes just to generate content. (Lord knows generating content has never been my problem. !)

Bloggers enjoy making entire paragraphs out of one single sentence for effect.

Not me. Well at least not yet. Never say never.

That’s precisely what turns me off when I visit other blogs. That silly, truncated format, those tiny look-how-clever-I-am paragraphs, that sing-song, cutesy tone. Just doesn’t do it for me. Kinda like the Dead. You either dig them, or you don’t. The typical blog format either works for you or not. A particular style of music can either fill your heart with joy – or make you want to rip the radio out of the dashboard. Me, I don’t write in order to have a blog; I write because I’d probably go nuts if I didn’t have an outlet. To be entirely honest, I’ve come to rely on you guys. Having an audience – dare I even say a family? – with which to share my ruminations and experiences is what has motivated me to get out of bed on many a morning.

I don’t think my writing is necessarily great stuff (no false modesty here, I really do think it’s improved in some ways), but I believe what gives it integrity is that I actually write down the things that run through my head. I don’t believe that I’m terribly different from most folks – I just think aloud, that’s all. But in that lots of people get a kick out of watching other people’s tiny dramas - or in some cases rubbernecking at their worst train wrecks – I figure at the very least The Hillhouse offers up some form of entertainment, if nothing else.

Elihu and I went to see comedian Steven Wright the other night (first time I’d popped so much money on a ticket in my entire 51 years on the planet. Hope the kid treasures the memory, at least I know that I will…) and in the days that followed I began to think more critically about what made comedy compelling. What made writing compelling for that matter. And while it may seem simplistic, it seems to me it’s mainly about the truth. Why are some things so goddam funny? Why is some writing worth reading? Because either you’ve already thought the same crazy thought yourself (and thought it was just you thinking it) or have never heard a certain situation expressed before in such an obvious, truthful way that it gets your attention. It’s either been your truth at one point too – or at least you can feel the truth in it. You get it. And that’s why I’m here. Because I need to know that you’ve been here too. Or at least that somebody else gets it. I don’t have the immediate feedback of hearing your laughter, but I do feel the presence of somebody else in the room, and it feels nice.

I’m so glad you’ve stopped by here at The Hillhouse to share in a tiny portion of our life. You’ve given me such a gift in your audience, in your emotional support and input. It continually blows my mind that we’ve had visitors from over 170 countries now, many now regular readers (before this experience I wasn’t even aware that there were so many countries in the world!). I still wonder at who many of you are – expats lonely for home, far-flung childhood friends of mine, people who arrived here on a late night Google jag…? Just who, I wonder, are you? I do know one thing: you are my friends, wherever you are, whomever you are, and whatsoever brought you here. And in exchange for your love and support I send you my energetic good wishes for a life as free from emotional stress and strain as possible, and for many wonderful surprises in the future.

My grandma taught me that the best way to accept a gift is with sincere thanks. And so tonight I thank all of you with my very warmest regards, five hundred and one times over.

 

 
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