The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Remembering Martha June 20, 2015

It’s been one week since Martha died, and I’m still in a sort of stunned place. I think all of us are. I don’t fully get it yet; as with the passing of anyone close, you find yourself thinking about the person as if you’re going to see them again – and then you remember all over again. Having seen her coast gradually down to a stop – and then seeing the rapid decline in her final few days – that helps to acclimate me to this new reality of a post-Martha world, and it helps me to know unquestionably that Martha’s death was not only inevitable, but in the end, welcomed. And in her last few days, even Martha – who always spoke as if decades of life still lay before her – finally let on that she knew what was coming, and that she was at last ready.

She died in the wee hours of Saturday morning, on the 13th of June. The day before had been rainy, and the house had been once again full of friends and visitors. But on her last day she didn’t do or say much. She was merely hanging in there, breathing and sleeping, and no doubt still listening to us all as we visited, shared stories and laughed. I was surprised to see how much she’d changed in the past twenty-four hours; her eyes had become sunken, pink orbits and her skin waxen and cool. But mom, Elihu and I had been lucky to have been with her one day earlier when she could still communicate. I hadn’t realized on a conscious level that this would be my last true visit with her, but that’s how it turned out. More importantly, she was able to let me know something that concerned me more than anything else. She had been crabby with me – actually, she’d been a downright bitch – in the last few weeks, but that was ok; somehow she was blaming me (and mom, too) for her situation, and I recognized it for the impaired thinking it was (I know this well from experience with my brother). I knew that she loved me, and in spite of the things she was saying to me at the time, I loved her too. I knew she was comfortable and pain-free for the most part. And she was home; that was key. But what of her true, innermost feelings about what was taking place? I was worried that she was full of fear – and too proud to let on. She had hardly the energy to speak, but when I went to her side and placed my hand on her head, she simply said to me “I am not afraid.” I told her that I was so very glad to hear this, but I didn’t want her saying this for my sake – or for appearances. I didn’t want her doing the stiff upper lip thing to the very end! Of course she didn’t have the energy to explain her thoughts, but she made herself perfectly clear by repeating, as loudly as she could, one more time: I am not afraid.

In that same visit Martha had revealed herself to be living one foot in our world, one foot in another. Once, a week before, when I was passing the morning with her, I asked her where her thoughts were. “All across the spectrum”, she’d answered. In the final few days, it seemed the spectrum had become even wider. (I remember this same near-the-end phase of dear friend Jim Lewis. He was an actor, a gentle man and a thoughtful one. He seemed lost and agitated in his last days. When I asked what this was like, he too, answered me simply with all of his focused effort: “I can’t place my place.” This seems to be the brief state of confusion through which many pass just before death.) Martha opened her eyes and looked at mom and said weakly…. “I’m just remembering that I’m in my beautiful home, with all of my friends, and my puppy…” Truly, these were the most important things. My most urgent hope through these past few months was that she die at home. And now finally here she was, with her beloved black hound dog by her side and all her dearest friends nearby. And all in that amazing farmhouse. The same house in which her own mother had died, the house in which no doubt others had also died – and been born, too. In and out of reality though she may have been, she knew where she was, and she was not afraid. We’d almost made it.

I kinda wished I’d been more aware of my last kiss and goodbye, but as it was there was some general laughter and conversation going on, plus the concern of a rapidly approaching summer storm, so Elihu and I left Martha’s bedroom much as we would any other visit. Which was probably best, anyhow. That’s how Martha would’ve liked it. No fanfare or drama. Just everyday life. Mary, the overnight nurse, was surprised shortly after three a.m. by what she said sounded like “a man’s voice talking”. She got up and went in to check on Martha in time to see her exhale one final time. There has been some speculation on who exactly it might have been who ‘came to get her’, and most agree it was her dad – and likely not her sometimes-philandering husband. After telling me the story, mom quickly added her take – a staunch, no-frills opinion that Martha would have no doubt shared – and said that we could forget the idea of anything paranormal having occurred here; that it was just Martha’s deep, robust voice, uttering one last vocalization. Ok. She can believe that. And maybe that’s the truth. But Mary does this kind of thing for a living, and she’s got a career that depends a lot on observation. Like my friend the retired state trooper who saw an image of Ruthie in the porch of her house (and knowing nothing about her), I’m going to go with the nurse’s take on the event. Me, I believe that someone who loved her very much came back to help her across the threshold. My humanist friends can think me delusional or at best, self-comforting – but I don’t care. Whether her concsiouness has gone on to a new experience or has been extinguished forever, it doesn’t really matter. Martha lived a very full life and had a positive influence over countless people, and she concluded that fruitful life as peacefully as ever one might hope.

Game over. Game won.


Martha Ward Carver
was born on July 17th, 1926 in Binghamton, New York
to F. Erwin Ward and Isabella Post Ward of Deposit New York,
and died at her home in Greenfield Center, New York on June 13th, 2015.

Martha Ward Carver, 88, grew up in Deposit, New York and graduated from Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY in 1947 with a degree in public school music, as it was then called. She served as Supervisor of Music in the elementary and junior high schools of Greenfield, Mass from September of 1947 to June of 1955.

She returned to Skidmore College in the fall of 1955 to join the Music Department faculty, implementing the music education program. After fifteen years at Skidmore she chose to leave the campus in favor of domestic life on the farm.

Martha was a long-time friend of the Festival of Baroque Music and attended performances every year from its beginning in 1959 to its final season in July of 2011. She was a member of the Saratoga County NAACP, and SEAD (Saratogians for the Equality and Acceptance of Diversity). Ms. Carver left over one hundred acres of farmland to Saratoga PLAN.

Ms. Carver is predeceased by her husband, Frank Carver, originally of Milo, Maine, and her brother Charles (Chuck) E. Ward of Ballston Spa, NY, and is survived by her stepson, Robert J. Carver of Nokomis, Florida; her foster son, Michael Spiak and his wife Kelly of Greenfield Center, NY; nieces and nephews Susan Ward of Catskill, NY; Braden Ward of Oneonta, NY; Mary Jane Benenati of Norwich, NY; Mark Ward of Walton, NY and cousin M. Edward Hartz of Wilmington, NC in addition to a loyal support group of friends and neighbors as well as her faithful and beloved dog Macy.

At Martha’s request there will be no funeral service. She has donated her body to the Anatomical Gift Program at Albany Medical Center.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Deposit Educational Endowment Program (DEEP), Deposit, NY, 13754 or the Yellow Rose Fund, Skidmore College, 815 North Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY, 12866.

Remembrances may be made on the Hans Funeral Home website at www.hansfuneralhome.com.


IMG_0030Martha, at two.

IMG_0043A regal portrait of her father, F. Erwin Ward (I only remember him smiling.) I recently learned that the “F” was for Francis – which would also turn out to be his son-in-law’s name!

IMG_0041Martha, right, with her brother and only sibling, Chuck. Decades later the two ended up living just miles apart on the same road in tiny Greenfield, hundreds of miles from Deposit, where they grew up – purely by chance. I still can’t wrap my brain around that kind of coincidence.

IMG_0034Martha, on the right, an unidentified young boy in the middle, and brother Chuck on father’s knee. Circa 1928.

IMG_0028I like this shot of the family – and Ma Ward (Isabella) almost seems to be smiling! Martha’s signature haircut identifies her. Circa mid ’40s.

IMG_0048It probably isn’t fair to use this pic of her mother, but she really did always have a scowl on her face. This is rather harsh, but comic, too. Man, she scared me as a kid.

IMG_0049Same tailgate picnic as above, Martha doesn’t look much happier, nor does dad. Think it’s just an ill-timed shot.

IMG_9706Ma Ward may have been the stern one – but her brother’s certainly got a twinkle in his eye.

IMG_0048The young high school graduate.

IMG_0014The Skidmore College Graduate, nicknamed ‘Marty’.

IMG_0016Martha is accompanying a local choral group. I have this dress – and it came with a story: Just as Martha was ascending the final stair to the stage – audience and chorus awaiting her – she heard a loud rip, and then heard the room gasp slightly. She looked down to see she’d stepped on her organza skirt and it had ripped all the way up the front. With many layers beneath it, she paid it no mind and continued on her way. Later, she simply took some scissors and cut a triangle out of the front to make it look ‘right’. When I pass on this dress one day, the story and pic go with it.

IMG_0021Martha Ward Carver and Francis Speed Carver on their wedding day in Chicago, May 12th, 1956. He was teaching in South Dakota, she in Greenfield, Mass, so they met in the middle. After the wedding they both flew back to their respective jobs ’til they were concluded. It would be Frank’s teaching job at Skidmore College which would soon bring them to Greenfield Center, New York.

IMG_0023This is a cute shot.

IMG_0060A studious group of Skidmore Music faculty listening to a hi-fi; her husband Frank, standing far left, Martha center, and friend and soprano Ruth Lakeway standing behind in black. (All three very important to dad and mom’s Festival of Baroque Music).

IMG_0038Martha, busy – as always – with a project.

IMG_9698Martha with some of the first musicians from the first Festival of Baroque Music, held at the Seagle Colony in Schroon Lake, New York, 1959.

IMG_9700Martha, violinist Renato Bonacini and his wife, and conductor, Fritz Rikko.

IMG_0057A graduation ceremony at Skidmore, likely for of one her students.

IMG_0265Martha loved kids, and they flocked to the farm to be with her. Martha used everyday activities to teach. (That’s my brother Andrew – so cute!)

IMG_0288Martha and me.

IMG_0285This pic makes me contemplate the way in which our roles shifted during our lives.

IMG_0259Her famous “Texas Cake”, a chocolate cake recipe she learned from an organist in Texas whose name is lost to us, but this cake became a staple at the farm. I’m not a fan of cake – and chocolate’s not my go-to flavor, but this cake I always love. There is nothing like Martha’s Texas Cake.

IMG_0287My mom and baby Andy on Sylvia, in front of the old barn, which burned to the ground in the early seventies – and on Martha’s birthday! Frank had made the mistake of packing wet, green hay, which created fumes that combusted. Sadly, this is how many barns go. It took the giant, gorgeous maple tree in front of the house too. Totally transformed the feel of the place and was a devastating loss for us all.

IMG_0283Little me on a big horse. Also, in front of the grand, original barn. Martha and Frank’s farm made these kinds of experiences possible for so many kids. Life at the farm added tremendously to the quality of my childhood.

IMG_0044Martha, my dad (always picking a piece of lint off the floor!), Frank and mom. Mid ’70s.

IMG_0032This photo really captures the feeling of Martha at home.

IMG_0027Martha, her folks, her sister-in-law Claire (also a talented musician) and brother Chuck, circa early ’80s.

IMG_0281Me and my little brother Andrew, playing in the driveway in front of that gorgeous farmhouse.

IMG_1049Life in the kitchen just a few weeks ago – much as it had been for the past five decades.

IMG_0027Ever a busy place – Martha presided over the kitchen from her chair as nurses, friends and family came and went.

IMG_0134Elihu is about to play “Simple Gifts” for Martha on his mandolin. We all know we’re getting close, and on this last night there’s a different feeling in the air.

IMG_0054Her dearest friend in the whole world, Michael, holds her hand as she gets ready to leave us.

IMG_0162This was my last look back at the farm on the night she was to pass. I kinda knew she was close. The sky musta known too; it was already crying.


We all kinda thought Martha’d make it til her 89th birthday on July 17th. Trying to assign some meaning to the 13th – or at least perhaps discover a clever way in which to remember it – Mom learned that Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday fell on June 13th this year. ! Martha and Queen Elizabeth were neck and neck til now… But that’s ok, Martha will always reign supreme in our world.

 

May Past June 4, 2015

We’re just a few days into June, but still, May seems eons ago now… Lilacs have browned and withered, the trees are all completely leafed out, and our thoughts turn now to graduations and picnics… I wanted to remember the recent events before too much time went by. A day or two in our modern culture can seem like a month, and I worry that the most recent weeks will be lost if I don’t document them now. As of this writing, I’m aware that this is all old news, but please indulge me as I share with you the events of late May here in Greenfield.

Much is changing in our lives these days; we’re soon to lose Martha – as well as the last remaining open fields in our small hamlet (several new “For Sale” signs indicate more new construction may be here very soon), my son is on his way to seventh grade, the wildflowers alongside our road have succumbed to their annual cutting from the town’s over-zealous campaign to keep the landscape looking as tidy as a true suburb, and at last the discomfort in my knee is no longer something I might simply be imagining – it’s been diagnosed and the verdict returned: I too, am getting older. Arthritis has made itself at home in my very own body. Nothing is as it was.

Every few years in one’s life there comes a time of sameness – where you fall into a little groove in your life; you see the same people, you do much the same thing, you eat the same things, watch the same shows, sing the same songs. And – you even look pretty much the same as you always have. For a year, maybe a couple of years, maybe even a decade – life gets into a comfy little routine, and while there are times when you might find it confining and a bit too predictable, still, it feels nice. After all, your life is familiar. You know where you are in relationship to everyone else. And things are just fine the way they are. You might even wish things could remain so until the end of your time here on this planet. Only thing is, it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing in this particular universe can remain static for long. And so…. one moment you look up and find that the landscape has changed. Friends have died, places have changed, and your body no longer looks or feels like the body you thought you lived in. There comes a critical mass of evidence from various sources, in and around you… and then in a flash, you get it.

There may still be many wonderful adventures ahead in your life, but that doesn’t soften the sting. Things have changed. The landscape of your life is all of a sudden very different. And so you pause for a moment, cuz it’s heavy stuff. The path you thought you knew well has taken a turn, and you weren’t prepared for it. So yeah, you can’t help but grieve. But still, at some point, you’ll have to move on. Even more change than this is yet to come, whether you like it or not. So you gotta get up, take a breath in, and relax into the new life ahead…

IMG_1361Hard to believe that 12″ of elevation made all the difference between life and death. The grapes on the bottom tier suffered from a couple hours at 32 degrees, while the vines only a foot higher up were spared. Sadly, Michael’s lost four years of growth overnight with this late-May frost.

IMG_1366The leaves and tiny baby grapes just crunched to dust in my hand – and less than twelve hours after the freeze! Devastating news to Mike, who’s worked tirelessly for years just to finally glean a modest crop or two of fruit.

IMG_1363See the tiers of wire? Vines on the top level did not freeze – those only inches below did. Amazing.

IMG_0836A happier sight: Friend Jo (who grew up the next property over through the woods – only we never knew each other!) rides her Mustang Sierra to the Studio to check out our new ‘trails’ out back. She rode to our place a couple miles through various trails through the woods to the north, where she has her stable.

IMG_0838I’ll have to savor this view; soon the property across the road will be sold and likely developed. Something I never, ever in a million years thought would happen.

IMG_0856The trails were kinda rough. We may need to let the debris settle and ‘cook’ for a year. Then we can pack down the softer material and begin to flatten it. For now, it just offers a nice pathway through the trees.

IMG_0859This will be a nice parking lot when the time comes. In the extra space beyond, we’ll have a grassy area with picnic tables and concrete pads for sculpture exhibits. (The trails extend out into the woods from the far end of the open area – upper right corner of pic.)

IMG_0590Twelfth grader Dan came over to show Elihu a couple of chords on the mandolin. He made the instrument the focus of his senior study – and went from knowing next to nothing about the instrument to becoming quite an expert mandolinist!

IMG_0588This was just what Elihu needed – now he’s off and running.

IMG_0526Elihu draws his signature cartoon character “Stanley” on the board in his medieval cloak, as he awaits his classes performance of monologues.

IMG_0390Mr. Esty encourages the children to add more physicality to their pieces by doing so himself…

IMG_0560A beautiful job by all. But I did have a favorite…

As I had to take over for Elihu in the pit orchestra (tambourine w/Mr. Esty on violin), I missed the very beginning of his monologue, and the end was a bit short too. My kid, if I may say so, was the most animated of the bunch.

IMG_0565Grandma was partial to “Giles” as well..

IMG_0443Back at home, relaxing with those he loves most.

IMG_0459Nothing so restores the soul as a quiet moment with a gentle hen.

IMG_0499My version of chick rock.

IMG_0070Oops! Every now and then it happens.

IMG_0072The penny kinda gives some perspective. This egg was really more like a pigeon egg.

IMG_1164Elihu uses a shield made in 5th grade during their Greco-Roman studies block. He is deflecting the awesome power of a four-week old chick. !!

IMG_1176He will not relent! (The chick looks confused.)

IMG_1181What??
IMG_1182Oh well. Defeat!

IMG_1148My young Icarus.

IMG_1194We’ve decided to empty the garage of all our past costumes. The mice have wrecked so much, it seems futile to keep holding on to them, regardless of the hours and hours of work they represent.

IMG_1324Here’s the Ben 10 character Wild Vine, attacking helpless Elihu.

IMG_1311With the kid inside it looked even cooler.

IMG_1310Time now to give some of em up to the fire gods. Elihu often says I have something of a Jim Carrey-esque vibe to my facial expressions.  Guess I see what he means.

IMG_0006Here it begins…

Dust to dust… (Extra points awarded to those who can spot the Caddyshack reference.!!)

IMG_0014…it starts kinda slow…

IMG_0020…then roars into a short-lived inferno.

IMG_0034No biggee for the kids, who ran back to the trampoline almost as soon as the flames started.

IMG_0054After the initial burst of paint-fueled flames, we topped it off with some wood and then roasted marshmallows over the fire.

IMG_0057Goodbye, dear neighbors! Always love to have you stop by for a visit.

IMG_0137The sixth graders before leaving for a two-day excursion which will conclude their Medieval studies block. It rained the whole time, but they had a wonderful experience even so. It’ll be a trip they’ll never forget.

IMG_0165This is my new post these days; long hours spent at the farm keeping Martha company. Lately she’s become quite angry and belligerent with mom and me. I don’t take it personally – it’s got to be frightening to lose control over one’s life. Hopsice requires having someone in the home round the clock, and Martha’s still not thrilled with having people in her home all the time. Can’t say I blame her. We’re all doing the best we can.

IMG_0176On a happier note (pun slightly intended), dear friend Ken stopped by for a quick visit. He gave me a little demonstration of his Viennese Harmonium – from the back of his rental van!

How much fun is this?

IMG_0189Ken and his daughter took us Conants out for a lovely dinner. That’s my hermit-like brother Andrew on the left. A rare sighting!

IMG_0064Spring is marked each year by bedside bouquets of lily of the valley, and a few chapters of our treasured Bird Book for Children. We finished the book on the last eve of May. Til next year, Mr. Burgess.

IMG_0065When all is past, there lies pure comfort and peace.

 

Losing Martha May 25, 2015

IMG_1392Martha Ward Carver and husband Francis Carver. He was a talented musician, and in 1947, at the age of 24,  he was the youngest ever conductor of the United States Marine Band. Martha recalled taking me to hear “Johnny Denver” at SPAC when I was young, as Frank had played flute in the orchestra. She also recalled bringing her whiskey sour along in a peanut butter jar. I love the stories that are being retold in this final chapter. People come and go, but stories live on. A consolation for our hearts as we prepare for goodbye.

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This is a first. I’m not writing this post from my favorite chair, but rather writing this in Martha’s kitchen, while she lies in bed, waiting for me. Or Mike. Or whomever it is that will come to help her get up and going. The night nurse just left, and she went over the instructions for Martha’s care. I suppose I get it, but I’m stalling. Cuz I don’t want to go there. I know it doesn’t matter in the end, and I’m making too big a deal of it, but still… I am not looking forward to helping her with a bedpan, to wiping her, to dressing her, hoisting her and getting her to sit upright, and then, finally, into her transport chair. I don’t want to see her old lady naked body, I don’t want to feel the vulnerability of a woman who, as of this very moment, still seems as indomitable – and formidable – as an Army sergeant. I don’t want to know her as a frail, ancient woman. On some level she’s acquiesced to her current station in life – still assuring us all “she doesn’t mind a little dirt”. That the ever-present grime and dust covering every surface in her home is there by choice, and not because she’s unable to tend to it. She assures us that a wet bed is tolerable. It doesn’t phase her, she says. All this is her way of maintaining control. And control is at the heart of the present issue: death is the one thing Martha cannot control. No matter what she says or doesn’t say, I know it’s got to be on her mind these days. She may be stubborn, but she’s not stupid.

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Yesterday, when I sat through my first shift with her, I watched her in the long, silent moments, and wondered what she could possibly living for now. Mike had established his vineyard there, horses were happily grazing in the fields, the barn had been lovingly maintained, and all of it would one day be home to him and his family. Her affairs were in order, both legal and personal. She was now almost completely blind, hard of hearing, and paralyzed on one side from a stroke decades ago. She could no longer walk, or even stand on her own. What on earth was keeping her here? The only reason I could come up with was fear. Martha’s been a strong atheist all her life and feels that when it’s over here, it’s all just plain over. While I’ve known atheists to feel the same and face death with no fear – I think that the opposite could easily be possible too. She might well be petrified of not existing. Either way, me personally, I don’t see that there’s necessarily anything to fear. If there’s nothing beyond this existence – then what’s the difference? What the hell would you know? You’d be gone, after all. Kinda like going under for surgery – or even simply going to sleep. You’re gone, and you don’t even know it. And if the other scenario is true – if our awareness simply moves into another plane of existence filled with eternal peace and light and populated with those who’ve died before us – then that promises to be pretty awesome. So what’s the big deal? As long as you don’t fear being relegated to a fiery, eternal hell (which as an atheist is not an option), then what have you got to lose? Whether simply ceasing to be, or floating off through the ether in complete peace and love, as I see it, you stand only to gain from the experience. Either scenario seems like a pretty good deal to me. But this is not a conversation I’m brave enough to initiate with Martha. So instead, I watch and wonder, and wait…

Today is my second day with Martha. We made the choice for hospice and home care too recently to cover all the shifts this week (she must have 24/7 care now) – and this being Memorial Day weekend the shifts didn’t fill as easily as they might have otherwise. Thank goodness my son’s finally old enough to be left alone without too much concern. I told him that I’d likely have to be here tomorrow morning too. That disappointed him. He told me that our lazy breakfasts together were “kinda what made the weekends special”. While none of us really knows how long Martha will hang in here, we’re all pretty sure she’s got enough steam in her to last at least another month (her 89th birthday is July 17th. I suspect she’ll stick it out til then). So that means I’ll be here at the farm quite a bit in the near future; it’s likely our weekend breakfasts will be on hold for a while we wait this out. Because that’s exactly what we’re doing these days: we are literally waiting for Martha to die.

I’m sorry to be so blunt, but this time I honestly wish she’d just go. Even since yesterday she’s slowed. Not enough to prevent her from swearing like a sailor at me this morning when I took up my post, ripping her oxygen tube out and throwing it at me with her good arm. I didn’t take it personally. I knew she was still coming to terms with the idea that someone must always be with her. “You and your mother are hell-bent on controlling me” she yelled. I didn’t respond. This can’t be easy for her. She’s still as sharp as ever, so being prisoner in her ancient, non-responsive body has truly got to suck. I had tried unsuccessfully to sit her up, so by then there was nothing to do but wait until Michael arrived to help. She continued to hiss at me, but I didn’t respond. There would have been no point to it. I sat down and began looking through a dusty copy of “Yankee Expressions” while she continued to cuss and tell me all that I’d done to annoy her. “Elizabeth, how in hell do you push my buttons so?” she asked. I paused. “It’s a talent.” I replied. “Ha! That was a very good answer!” she bellowed. I was pretty sure I heard her smile.

Martha didn’t sleep well last night, and so she’s nodding off in her chair now. I too am finding this business of sitting around and doing nothing all day is a bit tiring, and while I’m getting good work done filing and organizing my many photographs, I’m getting sleepy too. Drives me nuts that it’s sunny and warm outside. Makes me sad that it’s a holiday weekend, and I can’t be home with my son. But I scold myself as I remember that this is the woman who taught me how to read music. This is the woman who hosted me as a child through lambing season, the woman from whom I learned about haying, gardening, about interesting words and old-fashioned kitchen implements. Certainly she instilled in me a respect for the importance of knowing ones cardinal directions. When someone at the nursing home had recently asked what our relationship was, I offered that Martha was really my second mother. “Does that sound right to you?” I’d asked her, and she’d nodded. In my family we don’t speak very easily about our intimate feelings. So this alone was pretty big. Yeah, Martha’s had a lot to do with the person I am today, so I need to be here. There will be plenty of fine Spring days to come. This is where I need to be right now.

It helps that I’ve been through this process with my father. Now I’m familiar with some of the landmarks of the end days, and I keep an eye out for signs. But no matter how aware and ready one feels, it’s still a strange waiting game. Hard to grasp that this is a process a that awaits each and every last one of us. If I could have one wish for all of my companions on the planet, it would be for a swift and dignified demise, free of fear and pain, and in the company of those whom we love. Life is not for wimps. Neither, it seems, is death.

IMG_0988Mike, Martha’s favorite person in the world, checks in to see how she’s doing. This guy has so much on his plate – a family, a new job, a vineyard – and Martha. He’s handling it all so well.

IMG_0971Martha always enjoys hearing “Simple Gifts”.

IMG_1005Martha’s hound dog Masie runs to join Elihu as he visits with the horses. I did the very same thing as a child – and the fields look very much the same now as they did back then. Even the apple tree in the field remains. There’s a poignant quality to the afternoon light over the field, but yet at the same time there’s a hopeful feeling here too. The farm existed long before all of us were here, and it will likely continue on long after we’re gone.

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Post Script: Elihu often enjoys hearing me read the posts aloud before I publish them; in fact he’s offered many helpful and insightful editorial suggestions over the years which I’ve used and very much appreciated. Today, however, when I read this to him, he responded angrily. He was aghast that I spoke like this about Martha. He felt strongly that I shouldn’t publish such writing. I never discount his feelings, and in fact I’m sure that if he feels like this, so too do others. So I apologize if this post is distasteful to some. I hope you’ll understand that I feel it’s imperative to write with as much honesty as possible. I also feel strongly that many of us here in the US need to learn how to talk about death far more openly and comfortably than we do at present.

 

Sunday Lull May 17, 2015

My kid is in my bed, playing on his 3DS, the volume’s up on the accompanying soundtrack which, after the nineteenth time is annoying enough, let alone the nineteen-hundredth time. He’ll mute it if I ask, but I don’t, because the music seems to add to his enjoyment of the game. This is, after all, Sunday morning. That island in the week where nothing can touch you (if you aren’t a church-goer, that is!). It’s the one day that I let the chickens out a little later, the one morning when the clock tells me it’s 6 am and my heart doesn’t tighten at the prospect of the morning rituals before me… I enjoy my bedroom’s comfy chair on weekend mornings, and although the seasonal bouquets of lilacs and lily of the valley are no longer at their fragrant peak, having them here is a rare treat, and confirms for me that we’re still in that magical and short-lived time of the year I love so well. It’s a Sunday at home in the Springtime, and Elihu and I are together, each doing something that we love to do. Things don’t get much better than this.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been given a couple of unexpected gifts which have really helped to lift my spirits too. I guess I didn’t realize that I presented to the world as being so in need – maybe living in a constant state of never-quite-enough has dulled me a bit to the fact that not all folks live like this – and that there may exist a chance that I myself might not always live this way. While it might be my goal, I’ve never been able to imagine a time when Elihu and I could live without food stamps or assistance to heat our home. I suppose the goal is to glean an income from the Studio one day, yet still, that seems so far off, I can’t quite see it. Currently, our income is most often less than our basic living expenses, with my stalwart mother stepping in to make up the difference. It’s the little things that make it impossible to get ahead – unexpected car repairs, new shoes, haircuts, even shampoo and laundry detergent – things that by themselves don’t seem too much, but when they arrive one after the other can clean out a checking account pretty quick.

Lately I’ve been keeping track of these expenses and trying to nail down where my money goes and why it is I can’t seem to get enough… And one of these recent gifts was membership into a program which helps to get such control over money. The timing of this gift was perfect. Just as I’d been making columns, listing my costs and my income and beginning to use cash only instead of debit cards, this arrived. A woman I’d known from another lifetime as a kid in my hometown had gotten this program for me with the provision that I follow it for the next ninety days. I am so there. Can’t say I’m not a bit nervous – I still haven’t gotten those new gigs nailed down yet, so I’m still short on the income side. That means spending still less, and when you already live so modestly, it’s hard to know how to do that. Reduced my cable to basic, my garbage removal to once a month, trying to unplug the power supplies around the house, turn things off… Still, it’s daunting, this idea of breaking even, let alone of saving.

And then there was the second miracle gift – a person with whom I have some musician friends in common gave me an unexpected gift of cash, which has allowed me to put a little away, as well as pay the electric bill left over from a too-long winter. How did these things happen? Hard to understand, and for me, hard to actually accept the help. I waffled over the offers for a while, before I realized that if I were in a position to help someone else, I’d do it. And my grandmother used to tell me that the best way to receive a gift is to simply say ‘thank you’ – and mean it. I did, and I do. And I’ll be living my gratitude for these acts of kindness by continuing to push up and out of my situation. I’ve got lists, plans and goals. Sometimes I don’t think I’ve made much progress in my time here, but then I’ll look back over the past six years here and realize that a whole lot has happened. And although the steps are tiny, they are forward-moving, and after a while, baby steps actually do get you somewhere else.

Monday morning will come soon enough, and I mean to meet it with enthusiasm and hope. I often say to my kid that this is not a planet for wimps. And me, sometimes I feel mighty wimpy. So I’ll use this lull in my life to recharge and regroup. Church or not – what a blessing is a Sunday morning.

 

Mid May Day May 12, 2015

At this time of year we’re accustomed to things happening fast – holidays, end-of-year projects and performances, graduations (and for us birthdays too), but this year life seems to be happening faster than it has in Springs past. The rapid change in our climate – from forty degree days to ninety degree days – has played a part for sure. Trees have leafed out almost instantly; apple trees – which have in the past enjoyed lingering blossoms for many days, even sometimes more than a week – are now opening and shedding petals inside of two days on account of the intense and sudden heat. Our daffodils were here and gone in a few short days. This year there were very few cool days to sustain all of the new blooms. Just this evening it’s cooled off, but a passing shower has caused a few more blossoms to fall before they might have otherwise. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining, but what the hell. I am. Cuz me, I love Spring. In particular, I cherish those first few weeks of lovely, temperate air and not-too-cool nights. That rich, perfumed air that glides soothingly across the body… It’s the way I might imagine heaven to feel… Not sure if it’s just my age and my demographic’s propensity to exaggerate the glory of years gone by – or if it really is true that things seem different this year. I dunno, I can’t help but feel that this Spring we were jilted. After such a protracted and snow-covered winter I’d like a little time to shift gears, ya know? Jumping from Norway to Vietnam in the space of a few days is just a bit too much for me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m savoring it all. I spent a good half hour today outside just smelling the passing breeze and marveling over the intense colors. I cut lilacs and lily of the valley and apple blossoms and filled my house with them.

I’ve opened all the windows and doors in hopes of transmitting these delights to every dark, dusty corner of my winter-weary home. Finally our furnace can take a well-deserved break, and we can begin to re-learn what it is to attune ourselves to the chores that wait for us on the outside…

IMG_9728Kid’s been playing a lot these days. He loves this instrument. Proud Mama.

IMG_9784His bass gets just as much love. I shouldn’t brag about this – but is was kinda cute to see him twirling his bass on stage – and then coordinating a few more with classmate Fiona. I suppose that sort of thing isn’t encouraged in the classical world. !

IMG_9855A nice shot of mom and Elihu after the concert. Apparently, someone was making goofy bunny ears just above my head. !!

IMG_9741A lot happened that evening –  it was my birthday, and Elihu had two gigs; before he played with his school orchestra at Zankel Music Center, he had a short job playing his djembe for a gallery opening for an exhibit of portraits shot by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson, who accompanied local Karen Flewelling on a recent trip to Madagascar as she visited villages, dug wells and bought livestock for the locals through her project “Drilling for Hope”. Elihu donated his drumming as well as a part of his egg sales from his own small business called “Eggs of Hope”. This is the note he wrote to Karen.

IMG_9920A few days later we made preparations for a Mothers’ Day supper at our house… we collected fiddleheads by the side of the road. (At the exhibit Elihu had mentioned in passing how ‘good the fiddlehead hors d’oevres were’ – when I asked where on earth he’d gotten them, he told me they were being passed out at the gallery. He took one, because, after all, ‘he wasn’t getting paid for the gig’. ! That’s thinking like a musician.

IMG_9915These are just a bit too opened up, but will do.

IMG_9929A big harvest.

IMG_9934Later on we had a very casual supper. But it was fun. Mom and I had martinis and we all just kind gnoshed our way through a meal, trying bits of this and that. (We ended up having roast lamb the next night!) Yes, that’s a baby chick Elihu’s holding. Until recently they were still in the living room, but thankfully now they’ve moved out. Still living under heat lamps, but on their way to becoming self-sustaining chickens.

IMG_9937For mother’s day my mom gave me a vegetable spiral cutter (an essential tool I’ve come to think!) and I gave her a retro-designed portable record player with built-in speakers. Man, I might have to borrow that thing.

IMG_9939
Grabbed the first LP on my shelf downstairs… Heartbreaking to see how the mildew has consumed them… This was fun stuff. If you want to hear what super old-school Hollywood sounds like, check out Tallulah Bankhead. Wow.

IMG_9597One can never have enough flowers. Another thoughtful gift from a student.

IMG_9086Earlier, on May Day, we’d brought Martha a May Basket of live flowers – on the condition that we take them back again after they went by, so that we could plant the bulbs in our garden. Yes, she’s still with us. But we’re getting closer to the end for sure.

Elihu sang for some of the nursing home residents.

IMG_9156Now we’re downtown at Congress Park, the place Elihu has been catching ducks for half his life. Much of the park is currently under construction, so there were far fewer ducks than usual. Nevertheless, my little birdman got his drake for the day.

IMG_9210Which is cooler, the Lamborghini in the park or Elihu’s awesome new shiny Pokemon card? It’s a tie.

IMG_9177Elihu got back into busking after a long hiatus.

IMG_9192We ran into magician Steven Brundage, another regular on Broadway. He too was into Pokemon cards as a kid, and so he did some card tricks with Elihu’s deck. So much fun.

IMG_9197We see the trick about as up close as anyone can – and he still totally had us. Mind-blowing, really. He has his own standard repertoire which he executes flawlessly. Steve told us there’s a saying about magicians: An amateur has hundreds of tricks he can do OK, a professional has just a few he can do really well. He also attributed time spent in prep as a big part of the success of a trick. Please don’t tell me though, I still want to believe. !

This kid had the good fortune to have a video go viral this past year; since then he’s made appearances on a bunch of national shows (Good Morning America among them) and happily his career has enjoyed a boost as a result. Such a sweet young man, we’re so glad for him.

IMG_8724The short-lived daffodils. So lovely.

IMG_8732Notice how little green there was just a week ago.

IMG_0232And look how different just a week later!

IMG_9001We’ve had a frenzy of activity on the feeder in these busy days of nest-building and family-making. This is a grackle – notice the yellow eye, the iridescent blue head and brown body. They’re about blue jay sized.

IMG_9858We’ve only had goldfinches a time or two before. Lucky!

IMG_8653More exciting still was this male cardinal, who was soon followed by his mate. We’ve seen maybe one in our almost seven years here.

IMG_8911But this was an absolute first. A friggin red-winged blackbird on our feeder! And he made his ‘Kwong ka reee’ sound too – right there in front of us! A major event in this household!

IMG_0071Our beautiful ornamental apple tree. It’s splitting down the middle and is likely not long for this world, so we enjoy it all the more. (That’s Austin, our goofy guinea fowl in the foreground. Our comic relief around the joint.)

IMG_0109This is the fruit-bearing apple tree further down the hill.

IMG_0111The house as seen from the white-blossomed tree.

IMG_0034On Sunday the tree was covered in buds…

IMG_0103…by today they were at their peak, then a rain began to break the blossoms apart, and the breeze sent them flying like confetti through the air…

IMG_0124

My West Coast friends may have become desensitized to the arresting quality of this color, having the bougainvilla bloom all year round as they do. But for us Yankees, this vibrant coral is a virtual shock to our system. Boo-yah!  The flowering quince is back!

IMG_0128Found this mini-tree of a wasp’s nest on a wintered-over tarp. Minute and amazing.

IMG_0214Driving down our long driveway Elihu took in all the scents of a newly-growing forest just after a rain. Aah..

IMG_0181At home we picked some of my all-time, no-question-about-it favorite flower, the lily of the valley, and Elihu assembled them carefully in a tiny vase.

IMG_0175His arrangement on the left, Thumbs Up in the background on the right.

IMG_0138A look at our house from across the bridge.

IMG_0247A similar view with the bleeding heart by the setting sun’s light. Next week this time things will look different still.

IMG_0054How we like to spend a few moments each day. We’re very fond of just doing nothing in particular – and doing it together.

 

Fifty One Finished May 6, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older,Pics,Waldorf Life — wingmother @ 10:53 pm

Some folks with an eye on the more esoteric spiritual news of the world may be aware that 2015 promises to be a year of remarkable and sometimes heretofore unexperienced opportunities. As I reflect on a very important year of growth and new possibilities in my own life, I can’t help but wonder if this might be true. Many readers and friends no doubt will think this all bunk; that things happen as they will, actions bring about consequences and it’s as simple as that. But me, I believe there is something to this 2015 being a year of unprecedented possibilities. This is the last day of my 51st year, and just recently, I had something of a minor revelation…

Recently, I was in the garage, swearing under my breath as I sorted out all the chick-raising paraphernalia that needs to be unearthed once a year, cleaned and brought into the house in order to temporarily house these fuzzy newborns in our living room. My eyes landed on an old licence plate nailed to the wall; one of the last mementos I’d kept from my growing up in Wilmette, Illinois. My father had chosen the plate – long before chosen numbers were considered vanity plates (or required extra fees). The plate read “ELI 51″, a reference to both Elias Clark, a mentor of his from college, and also a nod to Elihu Yale (the philanthropist and fellow who paid for Yale’s first building, hence the name of the institution itself). Rather than choosing his graduating year, dad had for some reason opted to memorialize his freshman year there.*** As my eyes landed on the plate, I had a thought. I was 51. It too, was my freshman year – the year in which I’d begun to rebuild my father’s Studio. The year in which so very many things were beginning anew – from career, to my duties as a parent, my social life, even my health. My name, of course, was also referenced on the plate. And if I took 2015 – and made a simple reversal of the numbers, it revealed my current age in this transformative year. I’d tossed so many of our old license plates – yet had saved this one. And now, it seemed almost a sign of confirmation. This, my 51st year, had been huge in many ways. Wish I’d realized it sooner, but better late than never, I suppose.

I grabbed the plate off the garage wall and brought it in the house. For some reason, it lived on my kitchen table for a few days while I began to ponder more deeply just exactly what 2015 – and my 51st year – had brought me. For one, it was my first year without my father. And second, it was the year in which I began to address the reconstruction of his Studio in earnest. At first glance, it might not seem like such a great year; events began to appear just when I stared to despair that this was all a horrible misjudgment of mine to think I was equipped to take on such a project. Panic attacks resurfaced with a vengeance, I began to put on weight, and there was less money coming in than ever before…. yet still, other things began to happen which offered some hope that maybe, maybe things weren’t as terrifying as they seemed at first glance. My 51st year has been a strange and internally turbulent time, but no matter, it’s been a time of growth. It’s been the first year in my nearly seven years here – since my surprise divorce, and the intense heartbreak and betrayal that came with it (not to mention the cross-country move and separation from friends and places I loved so well) that I’ve begun to feel as if there might actually be a happy future yet ahead of me.

Tonight I played piano for the eighth grade play. We wrapped up an intense month of rehearsals and performances. I’m so very proud of all the kids, in awe of their teacher who directed and produced the whole affair, and very relieved it’s over. It leaves me tonite feeling happy, satisfied and full of inspiration for all the creative experiences yet to come in the years ahead here in Greenfield.

All that being said, I’m not going to pretend I’m down with this aging stuff; I’m more than disappointed that age is beginning to show itself in my body, and I’m a bit pissed off that my neck is starting to look like someone else’s. But all in all, there’s so much more to be equally jazzed about, so tonite I’m not quite as nostalgic and backward-looking as I usually am on the eve of a birthday. I’m over the symbolic half century mark, and my days of youthful beauty (and that certain power that comes with it) are behind me now, but it doesn’t sting quite so much. There’s so very much to look forward to, and I’m grateful to the stars for all the opportunity ahead.

IMG_9521Kinda crazy that I carried this thing with me tonight, but here it is. Last night of Elizabeth being 51.

IMG_9593From my dear, sweet piano student Virginia, who sang beautifully tonight. She got me flowers! So humbled.

IMG_9589Here she is, this wonderful soul.

IMG_9594I love love love flowers. The kindest gift, given in love.

IMG_9524He came nine days before the 7th, but I still consider this child my best birthday gift ever.

***Post Script: Mom’s told me that my blog has crossed into the realm of fiction as I’d related that our license plate had been a choice, an early version of today’s vanity plate. In fact, it was purely coincidence that provided the Conants with ELI 51, and it was only after the fact that they’d tried to assign meaning to it. I still find it interesting – and meaningful – that such a plate was randomly assigned. And my dad, although he received his MA in 55, did not attend school in 51 – and in fact, that was the one year of many during which he did not attend school. Ok. That should make mom happy. Regular readers will hopefully understand that it’s never my goal to create fiction here. Things are crazy enough without embellishment! (Ok, so now I’ll also add this absolute non-sequitur that mom herself suggested I post – I suppose because it is the absolute truth, unlike the fanciful embellishment of my story: both Robert Scott Conant and George Herbert Walker Bush were in Yale’s 1948 graduating class. That’s your interesting but maybe-not-so-terribly-useful piece of trivia for the day.)

 

Party Time May 4, 2015

It’s the season for birthday parties again here at the Hillhouse. Elihu turned twelve on the 28th of April, and I will be turning 52 on the seventh of May. For all intents and purposes, he and I are forty years apart. This is the one week we like to joke that ‘we’re not the same age’. (I had him nine days shy of my fortieth birthday. That was not a great birthday – I was fat, unkempt and exhausted. I remember bursting into tears that day, and my mother, whom I was so lucky to have there for that first, whirlwind week, responded by laughing. She assured me it wasn’t so bad. Turned out, it wasn’t.)

And here we are, more than a decade later, Elihu embarking on his thirteenth year. He’s lived here now for more than half his life, and we’ve established a nice groove of traditions too. He simply can’t wait for his birthday party each year; days before the event I’ll find him staring off into space and when I ask him what he’s thinking of, he tells me it’s his party. Each year he hopes it’ll be the biggest, funnest party yet, and each year he his seems to get his wish. Just one week ago, while we didn’t have the sun and warmth of today, we had a house filled to the rafters with folks of all ages, coming and going, music and laughter upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside…. And, of course, we had a most delicious cake, which sported a menacing Pokemon character that greatly impressed all the sixth grade boys present.

The night before his party I myself had a night of partying which is quite uncharacteristic of my current life. The credit union where I bank was throwing a party for its members – and having never been to the local casino and track before (crazy, right?) I decided I’d go. They even gave us some cash for gaming, so I tried my luck. Result? I lost all that I bet, then won it all back. I cashed out where I started! Ha! In my world I’d call that winning.

For many folks the holidays – from November to early January – are their busiest months. But not so for us – in addition to birthdays and mother’s day (not such a biggie here) come end-of-year plays, recitals and projects, and all of that makes Spring the most heavily-committed time of year. For me personally, Halloween and Birthday party season are the big landmarks on our calendar. Each year after I successfully navigate the logistics of a busy Spring, I experience a great flush of relief, because for us, life is truly at its best when it’s at its simplest. While I love a good party, enjoy the company of my friends, and of course I cherish the memories we make – the two of us just being at home after it’s all over and done – that’s my favorite party time of all.

IMG_8064At the Harness Track. Not to be confused with the historic flat track that Saratoga Springs is famous for.

IMG_8065These guys race with carts and drivers – and these horses run with a different gate than the horses at the flat track. The course is also a lot shorter (I like that you can see the whole thing without needing binoculars). That’s about all I know. The place is about eight miles as the crow flies from my house, and we can see the incredibly bright lights from our perch on the hill. It used to annoy me, but I’m used to it now.

IMG_8058This is the room where it’s all about the runners. Monitors line the walls, keeping patrons up on all the many other races taking place in different parts of the country. No slot machines here. Folks I saw were mostly bleary-eyed and drinking coffee as they studied pages of sheets filled with data and stats and start times. This part didn’t really scream ‘fun’ to me. (But for some, this is the culture. This is why they’re in Saratoga.) Immediately after taking this shot I was approached by a security guy who asked me please not to film or record the patrons. He leaned in close to me, lowered his voice and took a certain pleasure in explaining why; “You see, some of the men might not be here with their wives. And some of these women might be out with someone other than their husband. Ya get what I mean?” he nodded, conspiratorially, as I slowly began to nod my head with the revelation. Gotcha. So this is how the other half lives. And so close to home. Who knew?

IMG_8072I’m about to eat at the huge restaurant that overlooks the track.

IMG_8076The view from my table. This is pretty exciting. I can see how people can get caught up in it.

IMG_8078There they go…

IMG_8118…and here I go, off for my first-ever night of gambling. (If ten dollars in counts as gambling, that is.)

IMG_8097Slot machine stupor fills the hall – as does a harmonically resonant Bb above middle C, the result of a constant dinging and humming from thousands of machines. Talk about the stuff of panic! Shoulda brought ear plugs.

IMG_8124I have ‘Zero valuable points’. Love it.

IMG_8111But things are about to change…

IMG_8140Ta-da! Back where I started. Fine by me!

IMG_8141The gals from the credit union and me. Haven’t done this full-on party with the posse stuff in years…

IMG_8145A little dancing, and now what, ladies? Shots? Ok. Ya talked me into it… cheers!

IMG_8174And now for a completely different kind of party… This little fella comes out each year to mark the easy-to-miss driveway.

IMG_8178Things start out so peaceful and tidy…

IMG_8235The sixth grade boys. Elihu is so happy!

IMG_8326The cake arrives!

IMG_8334For those not in the know, that’s the Pokemon character Mega Rayquaza on the cake. (??) To use the vernacular of the sixth grade boys there present: “Sweet!”

IMG_8319A little jamming in the basement. Emma plays drums in the high school bands. She knows what she’s doing!

IMG_8298The downstairs rig.

IMG_8341The upstairs rig. ! This is a kid who has it all.

IMG_8379How lucky were we that Elihu’s class teacher, Mr. Esty came? And he brought both of his sons too!

IMG_8377Miss Jessica chills in our favorite Eames knockoff chair. Vinyl, not leather. Still gorgeous. You too, sister!

IMG_8271Outside the chickens provide entertainment.

IMG_8276Thumbs Up enjoys a smooch from classmate Norah, who is a talented skier, pianist, and bee-keeper.

IMG_8250Inside, it’s all about the newly hatched chicks.

IMG_8347Alex gets a turn.

IMG_8258For me the highlight of the day was seeing my eighty-year-old mother ride off on Chad’s four-wheeler. !!! He was incredibly generous and helped many of the kids to ride on their own too.

IMG_8228That’s neighbor Ryan on the left and my mom on the right. Can you believe he’s in kindergarten?? He’s very talented and naturally skilled at riding.

IMG_8439Cally entertains us by blowing bubbles – with her lips! You can always count on this girl to add interest to any occasion.

IMG_8358Ok, so somewhere in the world someone’s probably made a beer float, ya think? What the hell, just to be sure, let’s try one ourselves. Genesee Cream Ale and birthday cake-flavored ice cream… here goes nothing…

IMG_8361Ok mom, waddya think? That bad? Here, let me try…

IMG_8360That bad.

IMG_8433Elihu got some flying in, too (that light blue thing is his quadcopter). No day is complete without this activity in some form on another.

IMG_8380Vivianna and Norah chill on the couch. Elihu gave out little fans as party favors – a nod to his love of aviation.

IMG_8402The party’s not complete until the Carrico clan arrives!

IMG_8472All three Carrico girls made some noise at the piano while grownups chatted and Elihu got lost in his 3DS.

IMG_8496These girls know all about chickens. We got some of our current flock from them as chicks last year.

IMG_8416There was a seventy-eight year spread in ages at the party! Mom and baby Rachel.

IMG_8423Makers and fixers of anything under the sun, the Carrico men take an interest in the design of the antique rocking chair.

IMG_8500The party is officially over when this bunch goes. Goodbye, thanks for coming! We had so much fun visiting!

IMG_8161Too bad a school day followed; lil man was still wiped the next morning. Well worth it though.

A weekend of party times we won’t soon forget.

 

 
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