The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Mas Tuba December 20, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Arts for All,Mommy Mind,Pics,Vids — wingmother @ 9:14 pm

More cowbell?  Meh… How about more tuba?!

So sorry my kid had to miss this newly discovered event in our world: TubaChristmas. Started in 1974 by Harvey Phillips to honor his teacher, William Bell, (festive name), who was born on Christmas Day (festive birthday!) in 1902, this thing has really grown over the years – from its first performance in Rockefeller Plaza (with arrangements written by Alec Wilder, a songwriter of whom I am a great fan, and who himself died on Christmas day in 1980) this event has spread all across the US. (My cursory research indicates TC happens in a whole lotta states, although I can’t say exactly how many.) There were over 400 tuba players present for this year’s event in Chicago just this afternoon, and I can only guess NYC was not to be outdone by the Second City.

I was lucky to find a shopping mall within a half hour’s drive which hosted a respectable turnout. My kid has been on track for playing the tuba since he was a mere toddler (I’d bring him to my shows with the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago and it was likely there that the seed was planted as he did his primitive up-and-down baby dance to the catchy two-beat tuba patterns), and he’s asked for a tuba for Christmas this year too – so had he still been here, this mighta been the main event of the year. Instead, this was the day he flew out to be with his father for the break.

But that’s ok. I considered today to have been a reconnaissance mission. Now I know what this thing is all about. Elihu is still such a tiny guy, I’m not quite sure if he’ll be able to join them by next year anyhow. But he does seem pretty motivated. My kid, it seems, really is all about the bass…

IMG_4234To prove I was there… let’s start with a TubaChristmas selfie…

IMG_4177There are all shapes and sizes… this is a Sousaphone; the bell aims the sound out in front. It’s used for marching bands.

IMG_4180This cat’s playing a Serpentine, the tuba’s valve-less predecessor, first created in 1580, and made of wood and leather.

IMG_4207There were some purists there who didn’t quite feel his instrument was appropriate, but the press did. !

IMG_4214Collecting some info for the paper.

IMG_4220Not a great shot, but I love the feel.

IMG_4203A view from the front.

IMG_4193And a view of the interior. A sea of tubas…

IMG_4240They were a hit as folks sang along, took videos and even danced.

IMG_4247Turns out a Waldorf family was present; grandpa was playing tuba in the second to last row.

IMG_4252And here’s a tuba mom. My future. !

IMG_4257There was such a huge mix of ages in the group, and just about as many women as men.

IMG_4287Here’s Sadie and her grandpa!

IMG_4289And here’s Carle and his Serpentine.

IMG_4293Packing up.

IMG_4298I saw leftie tubas and rightie tubas, concert C, Bb and Eb tubas, baritone horns, euphoniums and sousaphones, but this was my first gander at a ‘double Bb’ horn. Whatever that means. Sounds low.

IMG_4292And these things weigh around 40 pounds by themselves! Add a hard case and we have trouble…

A little bit of O Little Town of Bethlehem

Hard to imagine I was ever a film major, huh? At least this’ll give you a feel for the event.


I was surprised that this year Elihu created a list for Santa. He’s so earnest, I don’t think it was created for my audience, but still… ya never know. Note the part (by my fingers) where he writes “baritone horn ?”, then right after “scrap that, Tuba!”   !!

Hungry for more? Here’s a piece on the event from the local paper… story and pics (taken with a ‘real’ camera) by Megan Farmer, the press gal seen in the post above.

Post Script: I’m just beginning to learn about this subculture of tubas, and would like to share this writing of Jim Self, a premier concert tuba player from Los Angeles. He talks about playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and mentions in it his visit to the city’s TubaChristmas (yes, all one word). This is the tip of the tuba iceberg… As with everything in life, there’s so much more to it than one realizes at first…


Breaking and Changing December 19, 2014

Filed under: Divorce Diary,Elihu's Room,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 9:15 pm

It’s funny how one’s body just seems to know when it’s had enough. When it’s safe to break down. To finally get sick. Cuz I’ve been pretty close the past few weeks – had that ‘pre’ cold feeling a couple of times, I’ve gotten sniffly, have had a mild sore throat and even had a day of vague all-over aches, but alone they’ve been manageable inconveniences. Just a couple mildly uncomfortable nights with a slight remission come morning, and most importantly – little-to-no symptoms for our blowout holiday party last Saturday. But today, as I sat down to play piano for my final official run as the Waldorf school’s accompanist, I felt things begin to shift: I was beset with a very bad earache. The kind which my mother will tell you plagued, and to some degree even defined my childhood. Haven’t had one in a good two decades, but this doozy came on mean and fast. But in spite of the pain I was still able to enjoy my last hurrah, laying fully into tempo and dynamic changes with a sort of drama I seldom indulge… maybe deciding in this final hour that camping it up couldn’t hurt now, and who knows, might even leave folks with a more lasting impression at my departure…

When my task was completed though, I was relieved. I was in a good deal of discomfort as the earache began to settle in on each side now, but still had a few remaining items on the day’s agenda: I had to pick up Elihu early from school, then get him to an appointment at the orthodontist to check the fit on his replacement retainer (a cool $175 I sure don’t have to part with at this time of year), as well as a couple more piano students to teach before the day was officially over. By the time my second student was wrapping up, I found my voice literally disappearing as I said my goodbyes. Finally, I was done. My commitments were over for now. My body was free to let go and give in.

Tonight I’m full-blown sick. In a few hours I’ll be driving Elihu to the airport for his Christmastime visit with his father. Spent the day wrapping and packing, and even though things are ready to go, I’m still feeling a bit uneasy. Last night Elihu asked to sleep in my bed, as he was beginning to make the emotional shift; he was getting his last fix of being close to me. I had set my alarm to 11:28 to catch Stephen Colbert’s final show, and God bless that lil man, when the alarm went off he sat straight up in bed and begged me to get up lest I miss it… That kid is on my side til the end. Or almost til the end.

Tonite is our last night together, and somehow, I’m not really sure how, things have blown up. He’s chosen some small slight to give him reason to retreat to his room and slam the door. But I think I know what’s really going on. Just a couple of hours ago his dad told him he’d be there for ‘seventeen days’ and not the original nine days as planned. For a good hour Elihu kept looking off into space, distracted, saying how he wanted some free time here, too, and that he felt, once again, that he had no say in how things happened. He resolved to call his father, until, that is, his recent blowup. At the moment, the door to his room is locked from the inside, and he’s fuming mad. I can’t reach him. Poor kid. He’s feeling torn in two directions. This is never an easy time for him. And this time, it’s a bit harder for me too.

This time of year feels different now. My son will be gone, and my father’s gone now too. Christmas isn’t the time of happiness and good cheer it once was. To be honest, I’m not really looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Last year at this time my father was dying, and that filled every single moment. But this year, there’s only empty space. Time without the distraction of sitting vigil. Andrew is essentially gone from the world too. And mom, while she keeps busy, she’s got to be dreading all those empty hours ahead. And I will have an empty house too. Lots of empty going around. The obvious solution might be to spend more time with mom – and I suppose I will, but we just don’t always groove so easily with each other as one might think. Our time together will only be spent watching tv, or eating supper, maybe sharing a drink. Small talk fills the awkward time in between. It will be talk of others and their affairs, or what I like to call ‘non news’ which will fill the space. Mom’s non-news topics will be what seem to me to be inconsequential, trivial things – things that get her all emotionally worked up – but for me conjure no more investment than another kitten video on Facebook.

Sometimes it’s hard to realize that this is the same woman from whom I get my potty mouth. These days she’s a woman who uses cottage-cute wooden cat figures with gingham bows and sparkly snowmen holding signs encouraging the weather to ‘Let it Snow!’ to decorate her home. She is a woman who can turn the latest run-of-the-mill weather report into a heated, ten minute monologue, the woman who talks of yesterday’s pop culture news with an urgency that suggests I too need to get worked up over it, because somehow, it’s important and relative stuff… And yet this is the same woman who once went back to college while parenting two small children, who once made fifty-two years of music festivals flow like they had a hired staff, who once drove a tractor and helped throw hay bales onto the wagon, who once created a fashion-forward home, who insisted on building a green (and stunning) home before it was hip…. It’s hard to reconcile that old profile of my mother, that progressive, modern-thinking woman (whom, to be fair, I didn’t know that well as I was busy dwelling in my own, all-important, misunderstood childhood and young adulthood) with the woman I know now. I suppose life changes, and we along with it. (Please come check on me should you find me decorating my own home with such sparkly snowmen figurines; it may be a sign of a larger issue beneath – a breakdown in earnest.)

Situations change, and we react accordingly, I suppose. My life’s work has come to a pause, and my own body sees a window of opportunity. Tonight I’m going to bed sick. And tonight my son’s going to bed distraught. An endless supply of cable channels seems to keep my mother distracted through the long, evening hours. My brother? Who knows what keeps him going. It’s a good thing Elihu’s going to join a house full of activity. Little brothers, a crazy little dog, and a pair of parents. His other grandparents will be around, too I suppose. It’s good that he’ll have all of that. But still… I wish there was something I could do for my son. I wish I could give him the gift of time. I wish I could give him a week here at home with nothing to do but coo to his chickens and play his bass. I wish I could assure him that somehow he’ll have the time he needs in between households to switch gears and make the energetic transition. But he lives in a world of two households, two parents apart, and so it is what it is. Poor kid’s been crying. I tried to call his father, but he hung up on me. Says he sent me an email with this new plan. I come up with nothing when I search for the email with the amended travel plans. All I know for sure is that I suggested, in an effort to show kindness, that he take Elihu for a ‘few extra days’. Suppose I should have defined ‘a few’ first. It’s not a done deal though; I know they’re coming back on the train, and that’s pretty flexible. So there’s still hope that Elihu’s voice will be heard, that his father will come down off his rage, and that things won’t end up as bad as they’re feeling right now. There’s still hope that Elihu will come home a couple of days earlier. I tell him not to breakdown yet. It’s ok, it’s ok….

One day my son will be old enough to lobby completely for himself. Right now, poor kid’s just mixed up. Wants to see his dad, but wants his own time at home, too. Scared of his dad’s wrath. He’s afraid to speak his mind to him. Yeah, I get that. His dad is good at sounding scary. I know. Elihu fears for the ‘just suck it up’ routine that might follow should he express his mind, and so gives up before he even starts. And I feel bad for Fareed too, I do. It can’t be fun living so far away from his children, and seeing some of them so infrequently. I can understand how out of control he feels – and I feel badly about it. He wouldn’t believe me though. There doesn’t seem to be much I can do now anyway, except sit back and watch how things play out. I’ve got plenty on my plate, I may as well surrender that which I can’t control.

What’s on my plate exactly? Folks ask me with a great light of interest in their eyes, what on earth I’ll do with all my time (I know, there’s just soooo much to fill, right?) while my son’s away? I never do a good job of answering. You’d think I’d have it down by now. But the unending list just spills out to the confusion of my audience: I’ve got a lot of filing in my office, got organizing to do around the homestead, fixes in the coop to make, gotta learn how to use Finale, get future lesson plans in order, got a neglected harpsichord that could use a little tlc, then there’s the attic that needs insulating, and I need to keep watch over a new parking lot that’s going in at the Studio any day now…. It’s usually too much of an answer, not focused enough to make sense to people.  I really should work on a more engaging, concise pitch. (Note to self: add to list.) Bottom line is I’ve always got a lot to do, even if I don’t have an impressive title for it all.

Right now I gotta make sure my son’s sleeping, and that he’s packed and ready to go in a few hours. Elihu and I made up as I sat here writing, and at that point tried calling his father. Sent his dad about the least-provocative email I could, while still lobbying for a tad shorter visit. Ich. Hate this. But relieved to learn that now my son’s asleep at last and free from this earthly world of obligations and conflict for the time being… It helps to know that things won’t always be thus. The day is coming when my son will be old enough to choose for himself how he spends his breaks, and this will be a welcome change indeed.


Chapter Vision December 15, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Flight,Growing Older,Mommy Mind — wingmother @ 3:31 am

When my eyes open, I see the silhouette of my reclining form on the wall – shoulder, neck and head, like the topography of a distant mountain ridge – outlined from the faint light cast by the alarm clock on the bedside table. Oh. I’m back. I’m not asleep as I was a moment ago. Not in my bed, either. I’m in my son’s bed. I recall why. He’d hadn’t wanted to be alone and had asked me to stay. A superimposed image of my dream somehow hangs in between the wall and me, and when I turn my attention to it for a final remembrance, it disappears from existence like a soap bubble. I’m really back now. The dream has plopped me down in a bed of mild nostalgia and longing. In my dream I’d been, as so often I am in my dreams, back in my hometown, back in an era in which I was young and beautiful, an era in which I was surrounded by my young and beautiful friends, an era in which life was all yet before us, as if nothing else was yet to come outside and beyond our perfect, constant now….

It’s not that I live in the past, or that I despise my current life. No, not so. As middle life goes, this is a fine chapter. I have all I need (until the heating oil runs out, but that’s just a temporary discomfort) and there’s much to do these days, much to look forward to. Yeah, and there’a a lot yet to do. A lot. Just earlier in the day Elihu and I had been thinking more closely about time, and how life changes. It became known at our party the night before, that Zac and Stephanie are expecting their fourth child, and that set in motion a new examination of things…. Of how things, right now, seeming as if they might always be thus, will truly not be; of how the landscape of our lives will change in ways we, in this current moment, can’t possibly anticipate. My son’s used to hearing the nonstop yapping that grownups are always doing about how children grow like weeds, and how they’re gone before you know it… But to stop and really internalize that, for child or adult, it really catches ones attention. So there we sat, chins resting in our hands on the kitchen island, just thinking. Imagining all nine children on the field as teenagers, twenty-somethings. Imagining the first serious relationship that Elihu would one day have. Imagining me as an old woman, Elihu, his wife and three children coming to grandma’s house for a visit… My own mother having been long gone herself…

In the silence of the kitchen we sink deeper into our visions. One of us suggests another detail, the other accepts it with a nod, or a far off answer of ‘yeah, yeah….’ and then silence follows. We two are in deep, forward-looking dreams. The Studio buzzes along somewhere in the backdrop of the scene, kids coming and going, instruments on backs, scooting down the driveway on atvs to lessons and rehearsals… Cars come and go down the long driveway, cuz there’s always something going on, someone’s always stopping by the Hillhouse to say hello… Elihu’s flying his Calypso in Crow Field, and now his own little ones are running next door to see if Ryan is home and can he come play? By then Ryan will be a young man. He won’t be little any more. It takes some committed daydreaming to make this all real, if even for a minute. And when the vision does come, it’s a bit shocking. Better that things don’t do all that changing overnight in real life.

For years Elihu has insisted to me that he will have three kids. And that he – unlike me, as he emphasized – will be ‘settled’ and ‘ready’ with all three kids on board by the ‘time he’s thirty-two’. And I tend to think he might be right. We’re very similar in many ways, my son and I, but with regard to this visualizing of the future possibilities of one’s life – he’s light years ahead of me. Hell, by my Junior year in high school I still had no idea where – or if – I’d be going to college. Yeah, I don’t tend to see much past next year. But Elihu? Apparently he spends a lot of time visualizing how it’ll all look. (Vietnam is part of that discussion too. He is adamant. He wants to live in Vietnam. I’ve heard this many, many times. !) So with the time spent visualizing our futures, we’ve also had a little experience thinking about the possible scene around my death one day. My tall, quite possibly bald and grown son will have my hand in his, and his three beautiful children – just when did these tiny ones become so big? – will all be around, some crying, one smiling gently down at me… my son’s wife will come and take my other hand, and so there we six will be, witnessing together a huge moment of personal change…. But it’s not the death thing I’m concerned with here in this visualization. Naw – I’m far more intrigued that there are four new family members I’ve yet to meet here in this intimate scene. I’ve yet to meet them, I’ve yet to get to know them, to love them, to argue or agree with them – it’s all yet before me here in December of two thousand and fourteen, and still I haven’t got a clue who they’ve yet to be! And Elihu’s future mate is out there somewhere, on this very day that we sit here dreaming… But where? Does Elihu’s future wife live somewhere nearby in upstate New York? Is she growing up right now somewhere in Europe? ….Or, just perhaps, does she live somewhere in Vietnam? It’s possible. So many scenarios are possible. Really, considering it all can make one dizzy.

You know, it sounds kinda crazy right now, but one day all the neighborhood kids will be teenagers, I tell my son. And that’s a whole different thing. And me as a grandma – me? Uh, yeah, that’s a different thing too. But it’ll all come to pass. Crazy, right? Still sitting at the kitchen table, Elihu’s face remained blank with thought before he began to smile. “Yeah, it’s amazing.” In a second my thoughts flashed to the daughter of musician friends of mine with whom I’d been in a band for years – their adorable, tiny daughter had taken my glamorous head shot and pinned it up outside in her fort in the garage. For a window in time, I was her Cinderella, I was her Queen….Now she herself is a grown and gorgeous woman with her own musical career, and it almost hurts to recall such a tender expression of that tiny girl, because that wee one is long gone now. Which is as it should be. But still….

Elihu and I are ready for this ninth new child to join the gang; we’re excited to meet him or her, come Spring. We’re dug in deep into this current chapter of our life, and we’re both enjoying every moment of it. I will remember and enjoy every chapter too, no matter how long ago in my life, because each one was a joyful, unique time which brought me its own little treasures. And I happily bring my past along with me as I march into each new chapter. Cuz as much as I’m happy to be here, I was once just as happy to be there, and it feels good to recall those memories and the feelings unique to their particular time. Most of the folks I miss from my old life can be summoned easily enough through a quick greeting by Facebook or email. And that quells the nostalgic longing. Sure, some old friends are gone now, and that sting remains – it softens to a dull ache in time – but nonetheless, the absences are part of it all too.

Ebb and flow, come and go. To everything its season. All is as it should be. There are many adventures behind us, and there are many adventures yet before us too. Mundane surprises, like the new location for next year’s garden, as well as the unexpected big ones – they’re all ahead. No doubt there’ll be those few and fearful events that catch us off guard along the way, but we just gotta be there for each other as best we can to keep the fallout to a minimum. We’re just going to have to love each other as best we can, even when we feel cranky and under-rested. We’ll need to be good neighbors and friends to each other as we all move forward into the memories that we’ve yet to make. Chapters are good for re-reading, but skipping ahead isn’t ever as satisfying. You end up missing all the details…

What will the following chapters bring? I’ve got my ideas, but hey, I’ve been wrong before. Never hurts to hold a vision for the best possible outcome, but it’s also a good idea to just make the best of whatever it is that the next chapter presents… Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, and a lot of time it’s more interesting, too. I’m eager to keep reading….


Post Script: After some 514 posts I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before; last night, a good dozen edits before I was finished with this piece, I hit the ‘publish’ button instead of the ‘save’ button. I had the presence of mind to change the status of the post to private, but the damage had already been done. To my extreme horror and embarrassment, many people ended up reading a piece I deemed to be unfit and unfinished. Ich. So I have to just let it go and move on… Regardless of its polish or lack thereof, I see it’s been approved by a couple of friends with their WP icons… So thank you for that, I appreciate it. But still…


Big Snow Days December 13, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Birding,Farm Life,Low Vision Life,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 3:25 pm

While the recent deluge of snow here in upstate New York hasn’t yet warranted a day off of school (in Elihu’s district, that is) we haven’t been disappointed with its arrival. There’s usually a fair bit of grumbling to be heard in checkout line conversations at this time of year, perfect strangers bonding over the plight they now all share; slippery roads, snow-bound cars and inaccessible driveways – yet this time it’s been different. Everywhere people are marveling aloud to each other, “It’s just like an old-fashioned Christmas, It’s like being inside a snow globe… It’s just beautiful…” And honestly, all of it’s true.

Thankfully the snow hasn’t caused us any major inconveniences yet. But hey, there’s still time! We’re having our annual holiday party tonight and I’m concerned how a dozen or more cars will find space to park without incident – never mind getting in and out of the long driveway successfully. Somehow things always work out. I can’t really do much about it now. Most likely there’ll be a good story or two after the thing’s over. And by tomorrow there’ll be more memories too… So many have already been made this past, busy week.

Here’s a digest of our snowy December so far…

IMG_2945Our driveway starts out like a cathedral of white…

IMG_2721Every branch is covered… the poor chickens don’t relish this kind of snow.

IMG_2714But it’s beautiful.

IMG_2751Our house feels cozy at wintertime.

IMG_2739A breeze makes the snow fall in sparkly waves across the forest.

IMG_2811Heavy snows bring lots of avian action to the platform feeder at our kitchen window.

IMG_3091One of our hens has been acting strangely the past few days, so we bought her inside.

IMG_3078A warm sitz bath and a little massaging of the far end to see if she might be egg-bound.

IMG_3074Vet-in-training checks too. He’s actually better at this than I am; he’s not as squeamish and is very thorough.

IMG_3194After a home remedy of calcium drops and a night inside, she seems fine. More than fine. Instantly she returned to her clutch and set down on it. When we tried to collect the eggs, she pecked us quite violently. Sick bird? No! A good mama is all! She had gone broody and was doing what she was made to do. In this modern era when we’ve bred all those natural mothering instincts out of our domestic chickens, it can be a surprise to see such ‘old-fashioned’ behavior. The next day I found nine toasty warm eggs underneath her. What a good girl! I apologized to her as I guiltily removed her cache. Just look at her in this pic. If ever a bird could show contempt…. !!!

IMG_3054Enjoying a night in. A little bass concert for mom.

IMG_3000And now… a night out. Remember that $100 bill Elihu won for his Halloween costume? We agreed. It was time…

IMG_3006…to go out for dinner. We’re at Instanblue in Saratoga – the only Middle Eastern place for miles around. And dig this (ok, I don’t get out much – this is probably old news for many), illuminated menus! Usually nighttime is Elihu’s sweet spot, but even with his glasses he found reading this uncomfortable. As for me – it’s right up my middle-aged alley.

IMG_3011Stella brings us the best grilled octopus either one of us had ever tasted. Ever.

IMG_3012Saratoga folks, ask for the grilled octopus and not the octopus salad as listed in the menu. And for meat and bread lovers, Iskander is a savory treat (that particularly kicks ass the next day as leftovers) and is my recommendation for an entree. Next time we’re going to try the braised rabbit. My rule about eating out: get what you wouldn’t ordinarily make at home. Octopus and rabbit are safely on that list. !

IMG_3040After dinner, a concert. We heard the sixth grade band and orchestra at Maple Ave. middle school and Elihu got to visit with kids he’d known since Kindergarten and hadn’t seen in ages! It was a perfect night out.

IMG_3063Even after a magical night out, there are still chores to be done. Gotta top off the water and food and close the chickens safely in their coop. One little red heating lamp glows through the window.

IMG_3068Our little cabin in the wintry night.

IMG_3275The next night we’re off to have dinner with some friends who live at the end of a very long road through the woods… I’m relieved we made it without incident.

IMG_3283The kid’s table…

IMG_3306The grownups table.

IMG_3317Christmas carols at the old piano.

IMG_3323Love the ancient doors and reclaimed pieces throughout.

IMG_3346Now it’s time for a post-meal jam in the basement. Bryce, singing, was a piano student of mine years ago. I’m glad those lessons on triads and simple chord progressions became useful!

IMG_3354Elihu plays (a full size) electric bass for the first time with other musicians. Yay!

IMG_3358Proud of my lil man.

IMG_3361Drums too? Why not. That’s Ethan on the left, patiently waiting for his drums back.

IMG_3365Now it’s time to collect up the gingerbread house that Elihu made earlier with the kids and get on the snowy road home.

IMG_3367This is what our road looks like… deep, snowy forest with lots of hills and creeks to cross.

IMG_3383Ah. Home at last.

IMG_3404This morning was bright and blue.

IMG_3439Madeline Two is every bit the leader that Madeline One was. She leads the gals to the house every morning. Sussy brings up the rear.

IMG_3424Today was beautiful and serene. Let’s hope things stay this way a little longer…


Post Script: Today was my paternal grandmother’s birthday. Bessie Trimble Scott, keeper of the musician’s gene, was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on December 13th in 1883. She lived to be 101. I think of both Nana and dad today, and thank them for their gift of music. I hope they’re together again after a long time apart….



Bessie Scott Conant


Angels and Helis December 9, 2014

Over this past weekend the sixth graders held an event they call ‘The Angel Room’, a day in which they shepherd the Waldorf wee ones on a quest to purchase handmade gifts for their family members. The classroom is transformed into a magical winterscape, with the merchandise all laid out in the most enticing way… It tied in wonderfully with the sixth grade curriculum; Elihu’s class is currently studying economics, and this became a real-life exercise in learning how to conduct transactions, deduct expenses and realize a profit. (The proceeds from the sale go into the class fund for trips and special expenses.)

While the tiny children waited to be greeted and escorted by a sixth grade angel through the transformed classroom, they and their families spent some time in the large eurythmy room, enjoying music, puppet shows and home-baked treats. The two hours went by fast, and after so much setting up and tearing down, it’s hard to imagine it ever happened at all, because by Sunday afternoon the classroom looked as if nothing out of the ordinary had gone on. (The Waldorf school sets a great example of living life with a certain Zen-like attitude; routinely events like this are thoughtfully and lovingly prepared for – and then promptly packed away and cleaned up. The process becomes as much a reward as the goal activity itself.) The Angel Room is a relatively new tradition at the school, but I’m sure it will last for years. It brought out the very best in Elihu and his classmates and it was incredibly moving to watch their tenderness as they guided the little ones.

The day before the Angel Room was a wet and wintry day, and since Elihu was caught up with homework, and there was little to do inside, we decided to pack up his rc helicopters and head out to the mall to do a little flying. In the past we’ve used the generously sized open area outside the mall gym. With a good thirty foot ceiling and off to the side of the mall’s main corridor, the space is perfect for flying. Until one gets shut down by the mall cops, that is. I can’t help but wonder if the bored sales clerks in the neighboring jewelry store narked on us. It was quite a let down – Elihu had been waiting to practice flying his Blade heli for a while now with no luck (it requires some serious space). He took it well, and as a small consolation I arranged for him to fly some helis at one of the free-standing kiosks. Until another mall manager found him and asked him to stop. I racked my brain, where could we go now? Indoor ice rinks, nope. The Y? No. The auditorium at Skidmore College? No, probably not. And then it hit me – Lowe’s! With ginormously (that’s a sixth grade-sanctioned adjective) high ceilings and lots of airspace, it was certainly worth trying.

In minutes we were enjoying the lumber section of the home improvement store all to ourselves. Thankfully the inclement weather had kept builders away. The employees weren’t busy either, and they enjoyed watching Elihu fly and then chatting with him afterwards. One by one, Elihu exhausted the charge in each machine. We’ve never had such a golden opportunity before. It’s a great new resource and we’re thrilled to have discovered it. Maybe a little angel gave us the inspiration. One never knows.

IMG_2463Ready to fly.

IMG_2468Organization is key.

Elihu enjoys a long rc flight and tells us a little about the particulars of the craft.

IMG_2447He had a pretty good run before the mall cops shut him down.

IMG_2487Elihu got to demo the quadcopter at the kiosk. Again, until the cops caught up with him.

IMG_2623The sixth grade classroom before its transformation.

IMG_2277The short hallway into the room, before…

IMG_2499… and after.


Mr. Esty gives the display some final consideration.

IMG_2374Everything looks so inviting.

IMG_2370Elihu enjoys a laugh with his classmate’s little sister Cara.

IMG_2365Beautiful! We’re ready for tomorrow…

IMG_2494Mr. Esty goes over the duties of the sixth grade angels.

IMG_2496The room awaits its first little customers.

IMG_2542Elihu takes his first charge through the room.

Elihu, showing a young one around the room of gifts.

IMG_2554Adam and Sawyer are the right guys for this job!

IMG_2578There’s a lot going on in the eurythmy room as folks wait for their turn.

IMG_2531There’s a puppet show…

IMG_2565…and music

IMG_2506Angel Norah helps the little ones color their gift bags.

IMG_2592Elihu was excited to play a couple of solo pieces.

IMG_2605A couple of the sixth grade girls did a reading of their work – it was very funny!

IMG_2520The angels take a little break and watch the show.

IMG_2645Before long, all was quiet and things were made ready for school to begin again the next morning. Everyone pitched in and made the job go much faster than I would have expected. Can you believe this is what the main hallway of the school looks like? We both feel so lucky to be a part of this oasis in such a chaotic, fast-paced, over-stimulated world. We thank our angels we found this place.


Memorial Tree December 4, 2014

It would be the closest thing to a formal ceremony my family would ever have for dad. The funeral home that handled dad’s affairs held an interfaith service and candlelit walk the other night in memory of those who’d died this past year. Time feels very different these days, and truly, it is hard to comprehend that it’s been almost a year since my father’s been gone. Christmastime will forever carry with it a different sort of mood. But it’s ok; his life ended in as near perfect a way as we could have hoped. For the most part, dad was dad up until the end. In spite of that, I do know that the last year or two wasn’t necessarily enjoyable for him. The last month was the worst of it, really. So it was a good thing that he finally left.

Time has taken some of the edge off; the hurt isn’t so acute as it once was, but instead, now I find that his death has become a regular part of my life. I must think of dad several times each day, missing those little, familiar details I can never again hear or see… Daily my sorrow is refreshed in little ways. It’s a selfish thing though; I personally believe he’s enjoying a much more harmonious, peaceful and loving existence wherever it is that he lives now. It’s just this damned one-way mirror makes it impossible to confirm my hunch. Man, sometimes this life thing really pisses me off. And sometimes I think it’s all a very clever way in which to stoke our sense of hope, and strengthen our ability to have faith. And then again sometimes I feel like it’s all a stupid, hurtful game, and I’m done with it – I’m out of patience with the whole ridiculous, painful joke.

Death wouldn’t be so bad if we could just get a little note from our departed loved ones, just to let us know that they got there ok, that maybe they miss us, and that they want us to know that it’s not so bad. Not bad at all, in fact. Oh, and if they could just assure us that we’ll be fine too, and before we know it, somehow, we’ll be together again.


 Elihu put his dove on the tree in memory of his grandfather. He started to sing Kum Ba Yah on the walk back to the church. I sang harmony with him, and our song ended just as the candlelit walk was over. Kinda perfect. And Elihu was the first to remember some funny anecdotes about dad at the end of the evening, bringing a bit of spirited joy back to the night. Thankfully, he’s kept his outlook positive and hopeful around this sad change of life, even down to the parting words he last spoke to his grandpa: See you shortly…


Ruminatrix November 30, 2014

When my dad’s estate was finally settled and the funds put into an account, my mother was given a checkbook to draw on the funds. I thought she’d have been mostly pleased that there was something to draw on even – but that was eclipsed each and every time she’d pull out the checkbook by the horrible thing she saw printed upon them. She let out a veritable shriek when she first explained the situation to me… My mother almost always takes any situation and immediately finds – and calls attention to in the bitterest way possible – the great, personally-directed injustice of it (for her a glass is always half empty and not half full, a fear-based reaction likely tied to her father leaving her family for good when she was ten). And this checkbook presented a major offense, it appeared. In fact, it was a two-pronged offense in her eyes; on the one hand she’d lost her identity again, and had reverted from “Nancy J.” back to a “Mrs. Robert S.” (her generation has strong feelings about women’s hard-earned rights), and secondly, her title was listed as “Executrix”. Hm. Sure, I paused at that. I needed a moment to understand it, but certainly, these estate planning folks knew what they were doing, this must have been a case of archaic language surfacing in modern legalese. “Trix” was merely the feminine for “tor” and should be taken as nothing else. (Yes, I know, our modern minds all go immediately to “domenatrix”.) For some reason this feminine form of “executor” has survived, while other words like “aviatrix” or “administratix” have not; I suppose it’s another gender-equalizing step forward in the de-sexing of our language. Guess I can understand mom’s displeasure a bit better. Regardless of her feelings on the matter, there you have it. My mother is an executrix.

My mother is also, once again, Nancy. She is still someone’s widow, but in some ways she’s now coming into a new version of herself that wasn’t possible when dad was alive. I get that. In her day a woman lost her name when she married, it wasn’t questioned. In her case, she also lost whatever it might have been to be Nancy, instead, she became the wife of a famous harpsichordist. To her great credit, while Andrew and I were still small, she went back to college and earned a Bachelor of Science, and got herself a job at the local hospital. I remember seeing her at the kitchen table with her Texas Instruments calculator, the size of a small brick, working on numbers way into the night. So growing up, I naturally thought her to be a math type, unafraid (as I was) of calculations. Maybe she even liked math. It seemed so. At least I never heard her complain. And it wasn’t until recently, as we discussed Elihu’s math assignments for school, that I heard her make a comment that shattered my previous assumptions about her. She felt herself actually bad at math. It was her weakness, and she hated it. ?? Since this is a woman who has been doing crossword puzzles religiously for decades, I naturally thought she just had that clever brain for whom nothing is a challenge, and for whom everything comes easily. Guess not. Immediately, it put a spin on things: my mother had stepped out of her comfort zone when she’d gone back to school. It might not have been so much about keeping busy or contributing income as it had been about her keeping – or creating – her own identity. Her sanity, her sense of self. Another piece of the puzzle was revealed, and things made more sense.

Marrying a mildly famous person has its downside. Like my mother, I too had a partner who was well known. Much more often I was identified by him, very seldom was it the reverse. In the beginning of our relationship this was a point of stress, and it was something we talked about, and worked on. Thankfully there then came a good long stretch of time when I myself found success of my own, and in my own niche subculture had become modestly famous as well. I was busy, and creatively satisfied. It was only after I discovered my own life that I was able to enjoy, shame-free, a life alongside a famous person. But truthfully, a voice nagged at me towards the second half of our relationship: “What are you here for, and how can you possibly ever find out if you’re living with this person? Your life as a couple is all about him; are you sure you’re ok with that?” There was so much more at play than simply being partnered with a famous person. There were my insecurities, yes, but beyond that there was a person on the other side of the equation who was slowly morphing over the years into a textbook-perfect narcissist. I know he wasn’t like this in the beginning; no, we were both very naive, young things back then. Trying situations had yet to bear on our simple lives. I personally believe that his own highly dysfunctional upbringing plus the stressors of life had a cumulative effect on my ex, gradually nurturing the lion within until he became the strange, self-serving creature he is today. At present he is a mix of things; while I can no longer recognize (even as I could a year ago) any human tenderness in his eyes (his son also notices the creepy transformation when his father is here with us) I do know that he is a loving father, and that somewhere in that self-serving, self-justifying persona of his, there is a misunderstood boy who wishes only for love, comfort and sincere recognition. And these are things I could not have known before. And it helps tremendously. But it didn’t come to me overnight; it’s taken time and lots of introspection to arrive at this place.

Last night, as Elihu and I played Scrabble, we chatted about many things over our game, so when he paused and said “I don’t really get it”, I wasn’t sure what he’d meant. On Thanksgiving we’d watched videos of his father and me, from preparations for the wedding through the wedding itself (this was our only footage of dad) and then to his birth and first adorable months as a baby. Elihu had never seen his mother and father together – as we had been for over two decades –  as a couple. There was much laughter, and an ease about us that no longer existed in any way. Turns out the videos were on his mind. “He was just all about you. You guys were so happy and showed each other so much love. I don’t get how it changed.” “Well,” I thought aloud, “I guess my ‘negative Nancy’ stuff helped. I mean, I was a lot more like grandma than I’d realized. A lot of the time I felt like we lived his life more than mine – or ours – and I guess it made me upset. So I was mean sometimes. Looking back, I guess it probably helped change things. It wasn’t the only reason, but it was one of them, I suppose.” We talked a bit more about it, and Elihu came to some new understanding which seemed to help. The conversation ended while the Scrabble game continued on. (Yes, he won.)

Elihu recently asked me what makes kids in their twenties so much more ‘grown up’ than the high school kids. He saw them all as physically grown, savvy, smart and funny. How was it that they high schoolers were still considered ‘kids‘? Immediately, I recalled the chicken curry effect. Some nights I’ll whip up a batch of his Grandpa Riaz’s chicken curry, and while I follow all the directions just so, it won’t taste quite right. But the next night? Dead on. Delicious. One can’t help but notice the difference. What the curry needed was time to settle, time for the ingredients to become integrated. Yes, all the right ingredients were already there with the high school kids – they had lots of information on board, and as Waldorf kids, they had lots of world experiences too – but what they didn’t have under their belts yet was time. And there is no substitute for the deeper advancements that come with the simple passing of time. It becomes a subtle form of contemplation in and of itself. I always tell my students that the time in between practice sessions is just as important as the practice itself. Some magical, internal process takes place that brings the pieces together. Glad of it too, there’s so much information in life to assimilate; emotional, factual and otherwise. Happy to know some of it takes care of itself. !

Three years ago, when I first started writing, I had said that I knew things were ok, in spite of my bad situation (see the post “Snowflakes”.) That I knew there was a silver lining somewhere in the middle of the whole mess. That things, although they didn’t appear so on the outside, were poised for an improved future. Thing is, while I was writing what I knew to be true, I did not yet feel it. It’s almost as if I was self-coaching in front of an audience, that I might soon come to believe in my heart what I knew to be true in my brain. I hesitated to publish it too, because I knew damn well that I was not feeling as optimistic as I’d sounded. Just the opposite, really. But something inside me knew that it would one day be true, and that I’d catch up. Quite honestly, six years after having left my Illinois home and moving here I have still not caught up. But I’m much further along. I continue to revisit my old life (maybe a bit more than some folks would think productive), trying to identify the actions that brought me here, and more importantly what created the spirit in which those actions were created. How do I ensure that I behave differently in the future? How also do I ensure that my child doesn’t pick up these emotional weaknesses himself? Thanks to the solitude I enjoy in the country, plus a combination of thinking and simply being, I have come closer to some answers.

That being said, daily I’m still combating a deep, existential fear, one which will be quieted only when I realize what it is that I do, and then find myself doing it, and one can only hope, getting paid for it as well. ! (Living with the help of state assistance, while still essential to our survival, has become a little challenging on the ego.) The Studio lurks in my mind as a dormant dream with plans that sit, waiting for the next step. I know I’ll get there, and until I do, much of my psyche is upset because the place still lingers, unresolved and waiting… Yet while The Studio sleeps through the winter and waits for my attention, I continue to heal, grow and learn. I’m still identifying aspects of my life – good and bad – as well as some issues carried over from my own parents, and coming to understand how these things manifest in my life today.

I’m still dealing with panic attacks these days too. Realizing that I went for years without any fear of them, I focus my thinking on what made that time different from today. How was I able to live panic-free? I believe it was thanks to a clearer sense of meaning and purpose. I know I’m a very good mother, but at the end of the day, that alone is not the answer. Sometimes I wish it was enough just to be a great parent, but important as that is, it’s not. I still need my own thing, too. Something that satisfies – and also pays. Yes, I do have ‘things’, but none of them is panning out as I’d like: I’m a musician, but I don’t play much anymore. A teacher, but too few students to make it a real job. I’m a writer, yes, with enough material for a book or two – but I don’t write for hire, I write for me (don’t get me wrong – I’d gladly write for hire, I just don’t know how to begin that pursuit). I’m a chicken farmer too, I suppose, but egg sales only cover my costs if I’m lucky. I spend my time doing many things, but at the end of the day I probably do more thinking than anything else. If only there were a name for such a thing… Oh but hang on, just maybe there is… Do you suppose there are any job opportunities out there for a ruminatrix? Or maybe… a Ms. Ruminatrix?

Well, at least it’s something to think about…


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