The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Whereas March 23, 2015

My friend Betty turned 90 last week. Her family threw her a big surprise party, at which the mayor of Saratoga Springs was in attendance. The mayor herself even made a formal proclamation citing the importance of Betty’s contribution to the community over the past half century. (A good dose of ‘whereases’ contained therewith. !) Betty’s good works have touched us personally too; before Elihu applied to the Waldorf School, she’d called them and put in a good word for him. She does things like that. And she still plays music, still travels, still goes regularly to the Y… She’s still participating in life – in ways most folks half her age don’t. In fact, if I were to compare our schedules, I’d bet she’s got more on her calendar than I have on mine. But I think she’s chugging along with the energy of a fifty year old precisely because she’s got so much going on. She’s got things to live for, experiences to look forward to. And a lot of friends to help her celebrate along the way. Makes me wonder what my life might look like in another forty years…

I do think I’m at the doorstep of a new chapter. Would fit in with the ‘seven year’ sort of pattern people often identify in their lives… We’re approaching our seventh anniversary here at the Hillhouse at the end of this coming summer, and while I still feel like I just got here, time tells me otherwise. Time. Impossible to understand, as it goes by fast or slow, it seems long or short, yet the temporal truth is that it just keeps ticking along, unwavering, oblivious to whether or not you’re having a good time or a lousy one. To the seven year old time hardly exists, to the nineteen year old it stretches on indefinitely, to the thirty year old it still seems as if it will likely go on much longer than the warnings of the aged would have you believe…. But then, one day, you realize you’re not just fifty – you’re past it. You’re into the next stretch. And now, now you begin to really get it. And you realize that you’ll be ‘getting it’ with even more clarity in the years to come – that is, if you live to see them. Because by the age of fifty-one you begin to feel pretty lucky to still be here at all. You realize that you’ve lost friends, that more will leave in the coming years, and that you too might well be going on your way like them. There is absolutely no guarantee that you’ll still be living a year from now. Or five years from now. Or even tomorrow. And this time you know that. You didn’t quite believe it before, but now you do. Finally, time itself has convinced you.

So now what? How do you move forward into your life in order to maximize your experience here? How do you make the most of the time you have? At the risk of sounding like a Facebook platitude, your work here is to find your ‘thing’ and throw yourself into it. We’re encouraged to be brave, to be of service to others, to pay it forward. I agree that all those things are important. But it’s the how of it all that has me stopped at the moment. I look at the Studio with great visions, but right now the ‘hows’ are feeling like a huge wall in front of my face. I can imagine how it would feel to be of service, to pay it forward, to do something that contributes… But still, even after half a century on the planet, I’m still trying to summon the courage to actually put that feeling into action. It’s been quite a while since I’ve learned new skills, but this old dog’ll have to learn some new tricks soon if forward movement’s to be made. Something’s gotta change, and it’s likely going to have to be me. Who knew that change was still part of the program at my age? Apparently, change is always part of the program. (Some may think this is obvious stuff. Mech. Call me a late learner.)

Yesterday Elihu and I made a trip to the mall and had supper at the Asian place we’ve been going to since we moved here. We enjoyed chatting with the young daughter of the owners, who is now in college. We inquired about each other’s age – and she wanted me to guess hers. My peers will laugh to know the phenomenon of guessing a ‘younger’ person’s age; they all look just about the same – younger – so it’s really not so easy as you might think. But I guessed about right. Guessed 19, she was 20. Her turn. I let her off the hook, but she insisted. “Thirty-five” she said, completely sincerely. When I told her how old I was she was shocked. Ha! Interesting what presents as youth. I think attitude and energy have everything to do with it (and maybe a little hair color). So who cares if my neck isn’t behaving? – it seems my spirit is still doing its thing. Grateful am I.

I like to ask my young piano students which age they think will be the ‘best’ one of all. Kids are forever wishing to be older, but then there comes this magic window in which things all seem to do an about-face. Young adults lament the ‘big three-o’, but just a decade earlier they were in a hurry to get older. So where exactly is the sweet spot? Where exactly does one aspire to be? I’ve heard small kids say from 19 to 27. Can’t remember a kid saying thirty. But that’s understandable, thirty hardly even exists to the wee ones. Personally, I have always thought the ideal, magic window happens between 25 and 45. Youth, beauty – and the power that goes with all that – is yours. But there are other things to consider, like wisdom, control, sense of self… Things that usually come more into focus after forty…

Our friend Martha says that 42 was her magic year. My mother liked all of her 50s the best. Me – I’m not liking my sagging body these days, and I doubt things will improve on that front from here on in – but I agree with mom, I like being in my fifties. I do think that there’s a certain peace and solidity that comes with being older. Nothing’s as urgent, as all-important or tragic. Losses are tempered. Joys are precious. And whatever happens must somehow be dealt with. So I’m liking being 51. Maybe not so much when I have to don a bathing suit this summer, but who knows, maybe I can let that go. Maybe. The trick is to stay busy with the truly important things, so that the things I have no control over (like the crepey thigh skin) will seem a bit less important. Sounds like I’m talking myself into this, huh? Yeah. Maybe kind of. But I think it’s worth convincing myself if I’m to make peace with the coming decades.

But I’m glad to be where I am in my life. I may never learn to speak Italian fluently, or make large sums of money, or get down to my pre-baby weight again, but these days I’m beginning to think maybe I should toss some of those dreams aside and concentrate on what’s in my immediate path. I’m blessed beyond my understanding to have such opportunity available to me, to have my mother next door, to have my beloved son with me, to live in this beautiful place, to have my health, my hands (hey – they’re not what they used to be, but they work well enough) and of course, my very life. All before me. However long – or short – that may be.

Whereas I, being a bit older than I was before, am resolved to continue my work and never stop moving toward my goals, it is hereby proclaimed that everything will be ok and everything will work out in the end – regardless of how it all works out. (Not sure it’ll keep working out for another thirty-nine years, but it’s something to shoot for!)

IMG_4505Betty and Elihu

IMG_4524Mayor of Saratoga Springs, Joanne Yepsen makes a proclamation.

IMG_4527Such a wonderful thing. Well-deserved is an understatement.

IMG_4548A photo of Betty from half her life ago.

IMG_4509My kid’s pretty good at hanging with folks of any age.

IMG_4626But he especially loves the wee ones.

IMG_4604What 90 and 80 look like. (That’s mom on the right.) Definitely not the 90 and 80 of yesteryear.

IMG_4659Elihu offered his recitation of Ozymandias for Betty and the partygoers.

Whereas a good time was had by all, and whereas Betty has set a high standard for the rest of us who have not yet caught up with her ninety years, be it known that we are all inspired to go forth into the world and live with purpose and joy (which is always easier to do after one has enjoyed some fabulous food and drink!).

 

Marching On March 14, 2015

A lot of things are happening around here all at once. Progress is being made at the Studio, the logging job is almost wrapped up, and the snow has melted a good foot since last week. Martha’s been admitted to the hospital again, a friend turns 90 today, and the birds are making more noise than they have in months. Frustratingly, technical difficulties follow me; a new desktop computer which I purchased in December is rife with problems and is still in the repair guy’s shop some two months later. My printer’s out of commission now too. Personal costs (like a crazy $411 electric bill for last month and the unexpected computer repairs) are adding up and I’m getting worried about my financial future. But regardless of these stressors, there are happy and hopeful moments along the way. The air has begun to smell like promise and freedom, and it gives us the resolve to keep marching on.

IMG_3959Just last week the snow was this deep…

IMG_3139 The weight of it required a shoveling of the Studio’s roof, as seams inside had begun to widen under the burden.

IMG_3140It’s a pity we had to spend money on this job; within days it was all melted.

We watch as the loggers move trees like they were twigs.

And they load em up like they were nothing at all too.

IMG_4095The cutting has come to an end, now the wood needs to be loaded and trucked out. Next week they’ll turn their attention to cleaning up and leaving a level surface behind.

IMG_4214Another load goes out.

IMG_4301From my kitchen window I can see a truck full of our trees disappearing down the road. (Look to the left on the horizon.)

IMG_4183 I left for a couple of hours and came back to find they’ve taken out the exterior wall and begun to frame in the new kitchen! Hoo haw!

IMG_4195A closer look from the outside in…

IMG_4189… and now from the inside out.

IMG_4353Garrett’s making progress with the interior of the main hall.

IMG_4271Where there were huge cracks a week ago, it’s all sealed up, primed and ready to paint.

IMG_4372A view from the rear of the hall towards the stage area.

IMG_4363Behind the stage area are these doors through which my father moved harpsichords to be stored in the greenroom. Mom and I never liked the look of the wood in the background – and although I do hate to cover up natural wood, we’re opting to paint the doors to match the wall.

IMG_4342Look! Rick and Scott have the outside wall up already! They’re moving fast. In the far right corner is the new door leading out of the kitchen to the north side of the building.

IMG_4345The new exit, the future kitchen wall.

IMG_4338The Studio’s all sealed up and taking on its new shape.

IMG_4288Mom called and told me Martha was needing help, so I drove over to the farm.

IMG_4296For me, this is my life’s epicenter. I’ve known this place longer than any other.

IMG_4292I arrive to find the ambulance has just taken Martha to the hospital. Masie, her hound dog, remains behind in a big, empty house.

IMG_4293Mike straightens out the pictures on the kitchen wall. Martha’s leaving this place to Mike and his family after she’s gone; without children of her own, he’s the closest thing to a son she’s known. He’s planted his vineyards in the field that we hayed as children. The Farm has a bright future.

IMG_4321At the hospital.

IMG_4332The nurses ascertain that Martha’s too weak to sit up on her own.

IMG_4313Elihu visits with Martha.

Elihu recites the poem “Ozymandia” by Percy Bysshe Shelley for Martha. Missed the beginning, but it’s still impressive.

IMG_4336He tells her he loves her and says goodbye.

Later on, Elihu does his impression of Martha. She is known for giving her helpers incredibly detailed instructions on how to do every last little task. A knowledge of one’s cardinal directions is imperative if one is to assist her. Elihu cracks me up here. He’s nailed her perfectly.

IMG_4399At the end of our day we make a pit stop at Saratoga Guitar to get some advice from Ed, the resident guitar tech, bass and tuba player, friend and maker of gourmet hot sauces and other goods.

Elihu gives an impromptu performance…

IMG_4411… and enjoys himself a little longer.

IMG_4424Maybe one day we’ll add one of these to the collection…

IMG_4427The campaign for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie, is not forgotten. I’m leading the efforts to erect a memorial plaque for him downtown (should have progress reports soon).

IMG_4425Love an old-school music store.  Always a nice end to a busy day.

 

Red Truck Days March 8, 2015

It’s March, and that means it’s time for the Missoula Children’s Theatre to roll into town! Each year I play piano for this magical production, and although my son’s peers are no longer at the Greenfield Elementary School which hosts the program, I still have some young friends there – some have attended the Studio’s art camp, some are my piano students, some just friends and neighbors. These kids work incredibly hard all week, starting with auditions on Monday and ending up with a performance on Friday night – complete with lines, songs, blocking, choreography, costumes, makeup and sets. Whew! The whole shebang is made possible by two young and talented actors who bring the production to town in the back of the MCT’s famous red Ford 110 pickup truck.

Meanwhile, Elihu’s sixth grade class also had their annual class play this week, so you can understand it’s been a crazy-busy time for us both. Elihu had a generous role as the Muslim emperor in a play called “Crusader, Muslim and Jew”, which, as the title implies, explores the divides between the three religions and in the end (in the most convoluted, surprising twist you can imagine) highlights how ultimately we are all, most importantly, from the same human family. Lots of text to memorize for this one, but my kid’s got a magnetic mind for lines, so I didn’t worry for him. In fact, all the Waldorf kids are true whizzes at memorizing; they’ve been reciting verses and singing songs for years. (The sixth grade is also known as being particularly gifted in singing and acting – a very spirited bunch. A perfect place for Elihu. !)

I finally went to see an arthritis doc about my hands. Basically, he just confirmed for me things I already knew. It’s osteo, not rheumatoid. That’s a small blessing, I guess. But it is frustrating that in this day and age we still don’t know why people get it. It’s genetic, that we know, but in the end, knowing that is of no help. I did receive a script for a stronger anti-inflammatory, as well as a topical cream which has proven to bring a little relief during painful flare-ups (or long sessions at the piano). The doc is himself a classical pianist, and he told me that he also counseled a local jazz pianist about her hands. He told me that she happened to be convalescing nearby – so after my appointment I headed out to meet her. Little did I know I’d arrive just in time to hear her performing! A fantastic surprise.

Now that we’ve crested our end-of-winter busy spell, our attention begins to turn to the season ahead. When that red truck leaves town we know it’s just a matter of weeks before the snow will be gone. Hard to believe today, when flurries still fall, and the snowbanks are six feet tall. But just the other day, as I was cleaning the ice off of my car, I could have sworn that I smelled it. I stopped what I was doing and checked again. Could it really be? Yes, definitely, there was a new smell in the air. The birds are crowding onto our platform feeder with a renewed vigor – and that too tells me something is afoot. Change is coming. Our clocks have sprung forward as well. So now there’s finally some evidence that winter will be leaving soon.

Elihu and I have decided to enjoy the snow while it’s still here, and we’re going to use our snowshoes to visit the wetlands far back in the woods. Come Spring it won’t be accessible anymore, so there’s a benefit to the still-frozen ground. Knowing it won’t always be thus makes us appreciate it all the more. One more round of snow, then we’ll be more than ready for the great change ahead.

IMG_3021Homework continues, no matter what else is going on.

IMG_3024At the Waldorf School, students write in cursive. There’s a lot of writing, but my kid seems to be a bit more verbose than necessary. Hm. I wonder where he got that from?

IMG_3060The sixth grade’s play takes place in ancient Jerusalem.

IMG_3288Mr. Esty leads the final number at the dress rehearsal.

IMG_3347Thank you Cally for repairing Elihu’s costume on the spot!

IMG_3320The benevolent Muslim Emperor Salahadin and Jewish Merchant Nathan agree to be friends and shake hands.

IMG_3308Emperor Salahadin and his good buddy Roger.

Salahadin and Nathan ponder which of the three great religions is best.

The play ends with a song.

IMG_3296The cast, hamming it up.

IMG_3361Within minutes the class was out of costume, back in the classroom and winding down over some friendly games of chess. (Me personally, chess is not a de-stressor. !)

IMG_3279This is what my fingers look like these days. We can thank Dr. Heberden for lending his name to these enlarged distal joints.

IMG_3280Can’t fold them over side by side anymore, and this is as far as I can bend my index finger.

IMG_3159I don’t have a ‘before’ image to help give a better context, but even so you can see how the bone has grown, flaring out at the outer joints. It’s most noticeable in the middle finger.

IMG_3162I really liked everyone at this doctor’s office – and I love that the doctor’s wife has her dance studio in the same building. I love the idea promoting health and movement together. Btw – when I remarked to the nurse that I was rather disheartened at the lack of advancement in the understanding of arthritis, he pointed out to me that ten or fifteen years ago everyone in the waiting room would have either been in wheelchairs or walkers. He insisted that things are better – and that prevention entails healthier living and continued movement.

IMG_3167Now I’m visiting local jazz pianist and icon, Lee Shaw at a rehab center. I arrived just in time for her set!

IMG_3184Close to 90, this woman sounds as good as ever. I was thrilled to hear her.

IMG_3193Wish I could remember this bassist’s name, but he too was top-notch. He and I exchanged a smile when she started to play Billy Strayhorn’s ballad “Chelsea Bridge”. Seriously, what a treat.

The Great Lee Shaw

IMG_3376I got my new anti-inflammatory pills. Only problem is, I can’t open the package. If I could, I wouldn’t need the damned meds! ‘Press here’ indeed…

IMG_3377Screw it. That’s what scissors are for.

IMG_3486Backstage Missoula madness begins!

IMG_3503Grace is now a sixth grader, but she came back to help with the show.

IMG_3508This is Kevin, one of the MCT directors and magic-makers.

IMG_3499Hard to believe these boys are brothers! I bet they don’t always get along so peacefully…

IMG_3387The show’s underway.

IMG_3409Jessie – the cobra’s head – is the daughter of an old friend, and second to the end of the tail is little Coco, one of my piano students.

IMG_3541The entire 64 member cast and both directors. (Sixty-four, did you get that?!)

IMG_3585A little last-minute post-show merchandise sale…

IMG_3587..and then it’s time to pack it all away again.

IMG_3601Twins Kestrel and Miakoda are regulars at the Studio’s summer art classes and worked backstage at this years’s MCT show.

IMG_3608Elihu pitches in too.

IMG_3597Can’t forget Sam! He helped out with everything!

IMG_3621I love the spirit that the Missoula Children’s Theatre brings to town; everyone pitches in to help get things done, and it puts everyone in a happy and upbeat mood.

IMG_3637

All of the scenery, lights, costumes, makeup and scripts fit into the bed of this ‘little red truck’. It’s more than a marvel. It’s miraculous, really.

IMG_3643Goodbye and thank you, Olivia and Kevin! All the best to you in your future careers!

IMG_3577Now that the dust has settled and the week has ended, it’s back to the bottom line.

 

Hope Burning March 3, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Stone Cold Busy March 1, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2772It’s a long way up!

IMG_2782There they go…

IMG_2785…pulling entire trees behind em.

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

IMG_2794Some parts have remained more densely wooded.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2899Small heart = Good wood.

IMG_2898Big heart = Not so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2928Yikes. Will have roof shoveled this week.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Paperchase February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2192My little aviator, ready to fly.

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

IMG_2222There goes my baby…

IMG_2241Lost in the snow.

For me, this never grows old either.

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2354They cut and drop em in a line…

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

IMG_2383A load slips by while Dick checks out the cut.

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

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

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

Love listening to these guys talk.

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

IMG_2423I head home to assess my mess.

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

IMG_2427Ahh.

IMG_2428Three ring binders are this girl’s best friend.

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

 

Shift February 17, 2015

IMG_1599

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1568

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

 

 
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