The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Preparation April 25, 2015

Such a strange mix of life and death going on here in Greenfield. Elders passing, babies expected, pets dying, chicks hatching…. And yet not for a moment does it slow. Every day life presents its obligations without fail; students must be taught, supper must be made, rehearsals must be prepared for, and dust bunnies nestled comfortably in the corners of my house grow steadily in size, reminding me that they aren’t going to vacuum themselves. The wind blew the porch door open this morning and the entire flock decided to take shelter there for a few hours, leaving generous-sized poops all over a formerly clean-swept floor. I could cry, but at least it’s a sunny day, and good for starting all over again.

Tomorrow is Elihu’s twelfth birthday party, and there’s so much to do before then. Meanwhile, Martha lies in the hospital, getting nearer to her death. She’s certainly fooled us all before, rallying from her hospital bed to her post in the farm’s kitchen, but it won’t be happening this time. We who love her have even finally conceded that she will not be dying at home as we’d all very much hoped for. It’s simply not possible; Martha is far too weak. This time there will be no rehab. A bad UTI has had her in and out of reality the last few days, and that was a shocker for all of us. We had never seen the indomitable Martha like this. Signs of fear and agitation reminded me of my dad in his final days. I knew it was mostly due to the infection, but still. We’d turned a corner.

Last night, after Elihu’s school spring assembly, we’d gone to visit Martha. We were relieved to see her much restored to her old self. Elihu sang for her, and mom and I made small talk and related news of the day. (I’d been to see her earlier that day and enjoyed the privilege of singing her to sleep with “April Showers”.) When we left, Elihu leaned in to kiss her, and he told her he loved her. “I love you too,” she answered, and then offered “You are one unusual child.” We knew what she meant. I myself had been honored the day before – in the midst of an infection-induced episode – with the only open acknowledgement of affection I would likely ever hear from Martha… I told her I loved her, and she responded “I should hope so!” She’d also told me to ‘stop being a sissy’ and help her out of the bed. When I told her it just wasn’t possible she’d scolded me, telling me I’d better help her because she’d known me since I was ‘one young girl’. Even in her altered state, she was all Martha.

When we left her last night, she was still all Martha. When I asked how she’d felt, she admitted to me that she was tired. Very tired, all the time. On this bright and sunny morning when a new chick has begun to peep from inside its shell and a new life is ready to appear at any moment, I’m so keenly aware that just a few miles away, Martha lies in her bed, waiting for her own transformation.

IMG_7945This little gal/guy came a few days early. (Each year we time it such that the eggs in our incubator hatch on the day of Elihu’s birthday party.)

IMG_7801Mom shows Elihu the grave in which she and Andrew buried their cat only moments earlier. Ginger had to be put down without warning in the wake of a cardiovascular trauma. Such a shock. Mom doesn’t need more loss at this time. Neither does my emotionally fragile brother.

IMG_7803Little Annie, now at least sixteen, follows Elihu and Mom. We’ve all told Annie she’s not allowed to die. ! She acts like a kitten; those who don’t know her all assume she is. She’s a precious spot of joy in mom’s world.

IMG_7581Mom, Martha and Elihu, a few days before she took a turn for the worse. She was very present at the time of this photo, and very much herself. Even got a little vid of her reciting a poem she’d written years ago for a childhood friend (who died just last month. This life/death stuff is getting intense. Ich.)

Martha used to write little ditties like this for special occasions. Here’s her poem:

It was May 1st, 1922, now that you’ve come to ask it

That Mrs. James of Chatham, Mass

Got Viv in her May basket.

IMG_7898Not the selfie I’d like to see, but I had to take it.

IMG_7889Can’t remember ever holding Martha’s hand in my adult life. She even told me she was afraid. This is a woman who has never, ever shown vulnerability. I assured her things would be ok. And they will.

IMG_7902Elihu played Simple Gifts on his alto recorder. It’s her favorite song.

At first he was reluctant to play, as Martha shares a room, but he did – and see how Martha enjoys it. Glad he played.

IMG_7899And then he says goodbye and tells her he loves her.

IMG_7973Ending the night with a very fine performance by Mr. Esty’s sixth grade class at the Waldorf School’s spring assembly. They sang a song from Schoolhouse Rock about interjections. Wow! A big hit.

Here’s the performance. Worth a listen. Some may remember this from Saturday mornings long ago.

IMG_7375I’m crazy-sentimental about everything, and this turning twelve stuff has me – and my lil man too – a little nervous. This relentless marching forward of time is certainly a mixed bag. It’s easy to get nostalgic and long for earlier days, no matter what age you are, and yet there’s still so much ahead to be excited about. I think the best way to prepare for the future is simply to enjoy the present day to its fullest, for one day many years hence, these too will be the good old days.

 

Lining Up April 19, 2015

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

 

Peeping Time April 14, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Birding,Farm Life,Pics — wingmother @ 10:42 pm

Two nights ago I heard the sound that makes my heart stop one day each year… The very first distinct buzz of the woodcock in the distant field, returned after his thousand-mile journey. It floors me every time. Elihu and I can never fathom that such a miracle occurs, and that we two are privately blessed to witness this mysterious event each year at this time… It’s in the narrow window of time after the sun has set, and just before it becomes dark that the woodcock makes his courtship presentation. Some years we’ve heard him buzzing for weeks, and I begin to worry that he hasn’t found his mate yet. And then, one day there is nothing. No buzzing comes from the field at sundown. One year, determined to find the hen on her nest, I criss-crossed the field, meticulously covering every square foot to the best of my ability – and patience – yet I found nothing. I hoped I had missed her – I prayed that Mr. had found his Mrs., and that she was setting dutifully on her clutch safely hidden from view in the thatch. Apparently she must do her job successfully each year, for the following year those of her kind always return. To our little field, one of the very last such habitats even remaining. For that reason alone, ‘our’ field is precious to us. And this is the one week of the whole year we feel its value most keenly.

The snow is not quite gone, but very close. By tomorrow I suspect that even the remaining icy mounds that remained today in some shady spots will have melted into the leaf litter. This is the very beginning of spring; hopeful, but still brown. So very brown, budless, leafless, shadeless, and still scentless. This is that small sliver of time in between… When the runoff has found its way underground, the mud has concealed, and the leaves from last fall give everything a messy, almost hopeless appearance. If one didn’t know what was around the corner, one might feel very discouraged. Warm sun, but no green to go with it. Soon though, very soon.

I had to pull over to watch the turtles in the pond – they’ve finally risen! Imagine, lying below in the icey mud, living months in torpor, half dead, half alive, waiting… How on earth do they manage such a thing? Migration and torpor really blow both our minds. We can never marvel over these mysteries enough for our satisfaction, and likely never will, as we will never understand it any better than we do now. We must simply accept them as miraculous events, and that will have to do. Joy rises in me when I see these fragile creatures have made it once again. Such relief I feel when I see that we, our chemicals and runoff, our plastics and our poisons, have not finally outdone the tiny turtles. Restored, I drive home to meet my day with a new sense of vigor and purpose.

The frogs began their chorus all at once, just night before last. These little guys – peeping en masse from a bog at the bottom of the hill – are sometimes so ceaseless and loud that I can almost wish they were grown and gone already… Tonight, I just stood at the edge of the woods, listening. Because that’s one of the biggest differences between winter and spring; in winter there is silence. In spring, sound. Every creature is saying right along with us, finally, finally, finally. Creatures of every kind are peeping in every way they know how, to confirm for us that spring really is here. Finally.

IMG_7149Thumbs Up gave me a good scare today. She had the strangest episode – like the chicken version of an anaphylactic attack. Her heart was pounding rapidly and her breathing was labored and asthmatic sounding, she squawked and squawked (not like her at all) and ran spasmodically around (I initially thought she was being attacked by a hawk from her movements and sounds) and so I held her for a long time to help calm her. She spent the day indoors resting. I really did think that she was going to die any moment.

IMG_7172Here she is, finally calmed down. Still sluggish and not herself.

IMG_7217

Indoors, she rested on one foot for a long time, not moving at all. (At this writing, she’s doing much better.)

IMG_6960Back outside, this is the first green we’ve seen here – our daffodils are coming up.

IMG_7090This took me by surprise today – we’ve been waiting for the turtles! So excited to see so many of them too!

IMG_7095Love em.

IMG_6994At home there’s still some snow where the plow made the tallest piles.

IMG_7099No more snow on the hill…

IMG_7104…except for a tiny bank where the hill rises to meet the field.

IMG_6999A little left by the apple tree too.

IMG_7120Some was left this morning…

IMG_7142…but gone by evening.
IMG_6893And by tomorrow evening, there’ll be no more snow on the field. The woodcocks arrived a little earlier this year than years past, but still, they’re just in time for the warmer weather which is now here. Finally.

 

Out and Back April 12, 2015

This week I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to meet some old-time residents of Saratoga Springs. My heart is lifted to have met Rocky Groce, a DJ from back in the day, an 87-year-old fellow who knew every single song I could possibly think of…. He told me how he’d play hookie from school to go and hear the bands play… They’d hop on the subway and get to the Strand in midtown Manhattan just in time for the 1:00 show…. When I talk to cats like this, I can’t help but feel I missed my era. All those songs. And real live musicians. Everywhere. That culture is gone, and now the old-timers themselves are almost all gone now, and I’m starting to feel it. I’m feeling the importance of keeping the songs alive. But how? I myself don’t even know them in my fingers; for decades I was spoiled to live in Chicago and sing with some of the very best musicians on the planet. I never had to play. Just had to sing. I’ve always been a rather rudimentary piano player, but hearing all those old songs again as I reminisced with Rocky has got me thinking…. And playing, too. Been picking my way thru as many tunes as I can, stumbling through clumsy, simplistic voicings, rejoicing at just getting the harmony right. Right now I’m wishing I’d paid a little more attention to the music when I had the chance. But I can’t fret now, I’ve been a lucky gal. Just got to figure out how to go from here.

I met Rocky because, as it turns out, his wife Mia and our family friend Martha were classmates in the 1947 class of Skidmore College, here in Saratoga. Mia and Margie, another friend, went to visit Martha in the nursing home yesterday, and I met them there, my goal being to meet Rocky in person. Rocky didn’t know Martha, and had no interest in visiting, so he’d be waiting in the lobby. A perfect chance. I’d heard he had dementia, and that he was ‘really out of it these days’, but man, that was so not my experience. Maybe he doesn’t know what time it is, or what month, but who cares? (See, right there, two songs: “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Who Cares?”) Yesterday, when I sat down with Rocky, I can tell you he was all there. It’s been ages and ages since I’ve enjoyed hanging with anyone like that. I felt so lucky as I drove home, and I sang the whole way.

Mia has her own interesting story too; aside from the fact that she was the first ‘woman of color’ to graduate from Skidmore College, which is in and of itself a rather historically important fact to note, she also represents a very important family in the town of Saratoga. The house where she was born still stands, yet it is the only one that remains on that block, as aggressive urban renewal campaigns of the 70s and 80s wiped out all the historic homes in her neighborhood. When the original families left the homes (built in the late 1800s), many then became neglected, low-rent tenement housing, and there were no champions to fight off the wrecking ball, except for Mia’s mother, Ardelle Elois Mouzon. She stood her ground, an elderly woman living alone in a house which was desperately in need of repairs, she weathered the city’s cruel tactics of turning off the electricity, and then even the water… The house suffered broken pipes and flood damage, but still, Ardelle would not leave. It’s thanks to her tenacity – and some help from daughter Mia, too – that the house still stands today. Now it’s the home of a much-loved, high-end restaurant called Mouzan House. Another interesting note: Mia’s mother Ardelle was full blood Cherokee Indian, and her father of Creole descent. (I’ve heard that that’s why Mia doesn’t refer to herself a ‘black woman’, but rather a ‘woman of color.’ Indeed!)

You can imagine how invigorated I was to have met Mia and Rocky and to have heard them tell me their stories. It got me thinking again… It got me wondering, what is out there now, today… tonight? Just what is going on in the world – what stories might I be missing? And what kind of music could I find out there? With Elihu being gone, it was a perfect time to see for myself. It was Saturday. Couldn’t be a better night. So I set out.

Started at the local piano bar. The fellow playing actually took a few lessons from my father, and it made me happy to learn that dad had allowed Rob’s students to play their Bach recitals in the Studio, and on his double manual harpsichords. Warmed my heart to know that he’d known dad. I hadn’t sung in literally years, so I was a bit less together than I might have liked, but it didn’t matter. It was a slow night, and the gracious hostess and owner, Brenda Lee (also one of the old-timer set) was there at the bar, singing right along with me as I swung through Blackbird and The Nearness of You. When he finished for the night, he let me noodle around a bit, and I tried my hand at playing and singing – at the same time! – which I discovered, like anything in life, takes a bit of getting used to when you’re out of practice. Not accustomed to doing both at the same time these days – but it was fun. He showed me how he had all his sheet music on his Ipad – and how amazingly easy it was to turn pages, locate signs and endings. I can see that it would be the way to go if I had such a gig. One more thing on the never-ending list. I’ll consider it a huge personal victory if I can just acquire a new jobbing keyboard, much less find a place to actually do the playing and singing.!

I went home to close up the chickens (which required doubling back five miles and donning my muck boots for a minute) and then promptly turned around and headed downtown. I found the streets were pumping as if it were high racing season. Bands rung out from every bar, and clusters of sloshed twenty-somethings in sky-high heels tottered into taxis, phones all aglow… My goal was to meet musicians. To find out where they came from, how they got the jobs, and how I might do the same. Ideally I’d wanted to find a hotel where I could play – a place where I can do my thing while people do theirs. I had many such jobs ‘back home’ in Chicago, but I can’t compare that time or market to this. I found the jazz joint, and it was a joy to hear real music again. But still, I couldn’t ignore the inner snob… It wasn’t great music, they weren’t amazing players, and I realized, once again, that the caliber of music I heard in Chicago, and the experiences I had singing with those top-tier musicians cannot be compared to this. I was fucking lucky back then. And I had no idea. But somehow, even in my glory, rocking a perfect size 8 cocktail gown and calling tunes in front of a full house, I still felt as if the ‘real’ things were yet to come. That somehow, this was all a precursor to the real success, the ‘real’ career which was, somehow, to follow in the vague and distant future. Right.

When the guitar player declined to show much interest in trying a voice and guitar duo thing sometime, I lost interest in sticking around for any more of their original tunes. I’d had my fill. Time to move on. I had a few bands to choose from, and squeezed my way into a bar out of sheer curiosity – the band was all middle-aged guys my age or older, and they were just breaking. I said hello to the keyboard player, a stout, bearded fellow who drives a school bus by day.  I asked him about jobs – hotels, weddings, that sort of thing. He admitted he didn’t know – it didn’t much matter to him, as his band was booked two years out. That impressed me. Talk about working! I admired his stamina too – they played two-hour sets at one stretch, set up and broke down all their gear themselves (I can’t imagine dealing with 70 pound keyboards at this time in my life!). They didn’t get home til four in the morning, and yet by the same time on Monday morning he’d be rising to get to his day job as if it were business as usual.

They started to play, and I admit that I was ready to do my big-city snob thing; I was ready to split after the first song, but damned if I didn’t stay for the whole set. I guess I was a little embarrassed to stay at the start, but the whole thing was just so fascinating – the mix of tunes, of generations, how they pulled together the set list…. How they copped the tunes as well as any pro jobbing band. It was interesting. And…. fun. Drunken young professionals spun a beer bottle on the floor which kept stopping its spin to point at me, at which point I’d be dragged out to the middle of the circle to dance with the chosen partner… It was crazy, and in spite of not wanting to succumb to the barroom madness, I did. And I dug it. I laughed to myself later on when I thought of the rocker bus driver. He sang great, sounded great, kept the stuff moving… And never would I have guessed it if I’d seen this cat on the street. So what do his charges know of his other career? Do they know that they have the cool bus driver? I wondered. ‘Nother lesson learned. That book by a cover thing – it so does not work.

Intrigued with the crazy-high heels all around, I stopped to ask a crush of girls standing on the corner how they managed in their shoes – especially up and down hilly Caroline Street. “Oh, it isn’t easy” one girl replied, a bit slurred. I pressed for more – were they truly five-inch heels? Or was there a one inch platform to assist? One girl offered that hers were all heel, and then… they all just sort of turned away from me. And I felt it. The phenomenon of being too old to be relevant. If it hadn’t been for the level of intoxication, I’m not so sure the kids would’ve been so welcoming to me on the dance floor. I definitely felt old in this population. First time I’d really felt it – first time I realized that none of my peers were out on the streets. No, they were at home. Asleep. With their kids down the hall, and their Subarus in the garage. Yeah, I was ‘over fifty invisible’. Mighta bothered me once, but not now. I turned and left the clump of tottering girls and headed back to my car, and back to my country homestead.

I turned on the radio and heard something that made my whole body feel good. It was a jazz guitarist. Man, I’d like to sing with someone like that, I thought. The shit was burnin. The subsequent tunes were good too, but when I pulled into the driveway I sat in the car and waited for the dj to back announce the tunes so I could learn who the guitar player was. It was Pat Martino. Yeah, mighta known it. I laughed, and got out of the car. Thankfully, the new neighbors had finally turned off their garage lights and the place was dark. All except for a deep red half moon, which was rising just above the horizon as I reached the front door. I would never have seen it if I hadn’t been out all night. Even if the night hadn’t lived up to my hopes, I’d had fun. And if nothing else, I’d gotten to see this perfect moonrise. And that alone made the whole night worth the money spent and the sleep lost.

IMG_6901That’s my new friend, Rocky Groce on the right. Do a little googling of the man and you’ll see he’s had a long and varied career as a disc jockey. That’s  JG on the left – turns out he was a big band singer. The two gentlemen are exactly the same age and both shared memories of cutting school in the 40s to hear the bands play at the Strand in NYC. They both heard Frank when he was young and in his prime.

Rocky recalls his youth… Wish I’d let the video go longer, but still nice to have.

IMG_6916Here’s Martha on the left, enjoying a visit from fellow Skidmore graduate, class of ’47, Mia Mouzan Groce. She is the hottest-looking octogenarian I have ever met. !!! Way to rock that leather jacket!

MiaAnd here’s Mia in 1947, just after graduating from Skidmore College. !!!

IMG_6928One more look at her…. not a whole lot different, ya think?

IMG_7063Things sure have changed since those tuxedo’d days of the thirties and forties! No pics from the Wishing Well’s piano bar or the tiny jazz joint, both which might have more closely resembled the nightlife of years gone by – but here’s a little look at the middle-aged men rocking a house packed full of tipsy twenty-somethings in modern-day America.

And here’s a little soundbite from “the Master Cylinders”…

IMG_7066And here’s the gorgeous, red moon I saw at night’s end, peering out through the trees on the hill. A nice welcome home.

 

Springing Forth April 5, 2015

Never in my four years at the helm of this blog have I passed so much time in between posts. But there are many good reasons for such a break. Too many, most likely, to accurately recount here.

The digest begins like this: Two weeks ago the logging job stopped, and with it came not only the money from the harvest, but the work in earnest began on the Studio (thereby spending all of the windfall in short order.) The logging site was left with a lot more mess than we’d agree upon, and I met with the forester to discuss cleanup, a task I knew would be very hard to enforce once the big machines had left the premises. I’d seen the gear there on Sunday, but by the time I’d finished my early morning rehearsals at school on Monday morning, I returned not only to find every last piece of earth-moving equipment gone, but huge heaps of dirt, stumps and stone ringing the work site. So not what we agreed upon. But then again, they were there to get the timber, not to leave me with a squeaky clean parking lot. But still. One more thing on the list to make right.

Meanwhile, there were decisions to be made about materials and finishes and such, while daily life continued without slowing down. Lesson plans, rehearsals, paperwork for the Studio, meetings, meals and homework all kept going, much to my frustration. I’m not a great multi-tasker, and as such the past month has been a bit trying for me. Panic attacks have been kept at arm’s length (thanks to the miracle of Xanax I can avoid them almost altogether), and as if a perfect bipolar patient, I swing back and forth from one emotional extreme to the next several times in the course of a day. One moment I’m brimming over with hope and visions for a successful future, the next I wonder what in hell it is I think I’m doing here and I’m just about ready to take a job at McDonald’s and excuse myself from the whole affair. Exhausting stuff.

One week ago Elihu and I drove to Philadelphia to meet my cousin (my late father’s nephew), his wife, his sons and one wee one too. It was the first time I’d ever met any Conant relatives as an adult, so it was an important visit. My cousin also took us to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – box seats, no less – where we heard not only Mahler’s 5th, but also a new concerto written for tuba (!!!). Serendipity came through for us after the concert and we found ourselves walking backstage, escorted by the composer of the piece himself. Elihu was beside himself with the thrill, and I’m afraid that I caused him no small amount of embarrassment as I lost my cool and fell into something of a star-struck stage mom in the presence of both composer and soloist. We chatted with the tubist, and offered to meet up with her again in the summer, when the orchestra (of which she is a member) makes its summer residency in our hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.

For me the trip involved a lot of driving – more than twelve hours in the car for a brief, weekend stay (and with panic attacks threatening the whole way it was a bit more stressful than it might have been otherwise). But it was well worth it for the new relationship we now have with our family, not to mention the memories we made that will, to use the most trite but accurate expression, last a lifetime.

Since our return from Philly everything at the Studio seems to be happening without pause; decisions I might like to have labored over a bit longer need to be made ASAP; purchases, while modest, are still adding up to steeper totals than I’d imagined, and the reality of our lot in the wake of now-absent loggers still has me concerned. But it’s all good, as I must remind myself. Sometimes even hourly. I’m tempted to cry almost daily with all the money that’s going out… It feels surreal to live on food stamps and state assistance and then turn around and pen a check for several thousand dollars as if it were business as usual. I can’t wrap my brain around the discrepancy between the commerce of the new business, and the lack of commerce here at home.

In an effort to drum up some income (as well as play music again!) I’ve begun to make some plans. Since Elihu is now old enough to be left at home alone for more than a quick run to the convenient store, I’m starting to think about getting something together for the summer tourist season and actually finding some work. Breaking into the local ‘music scene’ (there really isn’t one – it’s just a summer extravaganza of wedding-esque cover bands) is proving to be much more difficult than I’d thought. In spite of knowing a handful of musicians, I can’t seem to find a single job. Not even a freebie – and Lord knows I’d be happy just to sing. My gear is as out-of-date and out-of-the-loop as I am, and my now-ancient (make that vintage) Yamaha S80 won’t cut it anymore, even if I should find work. (Yes, I do still have my Rhodes and Wurli, but those are in dire need of work and require an extra pair of hands to move.) The days of lugging a 70 pound board around – plus amp and gear – are just plain over. Some of my pro friends might pooh-pooh my desire for a lightweight keyboard with, gasp, builtin speakers, but that’s the way this gal is headed, I’m afraid. I found a candidate for a new board on Craigslist, and when this income-free week of Spring break is over and students resume, I hope to make it my new piece of gear. Let’s hope it ends up paying for itself in the coming months.

Sometimes it feels as if I’ve taken a giant hiatus from my life after having become a mother – and a single one to boot. When I stop and look at the stats, I realize that I haven’t worked as a musician since shortly after Elihu was born. That means I’ve been dormant for over a decade! Not that I have any regrets; being present for my child as he’s grown up has been a blessing that many are never given the option to experience. Yeah, being broke has been a drag, but even so, it’s been acceptable, because I’ve been able to be here for my son (plus, when in a true pinch, grandma has always had our back. The significance of that cannot be understated.) I have an amazing child in part because I’ve chosen to be with him and not farm him out to daycare while I grind out a minimum hourly wage. It’s all worked out ok thus far, but I pray things will be changing soon. I’m tired of just getting by. They say do what you love and the money will follow. God I hope. People ask me what my business plan is with the new place, and honestly, I can say that I still do not know. I know what I intend to achieve, but the hows are still the struggle. Lists are being made and ideas being created – and tossed out just as fast. Something will take shape, I know. Just not sure how. But whether I make music myself, or make music possible for others, as long as I can somehow glean an income in the process, I’d be the happiest gal around.

Today it’s Easter, and while this year my son may no longer truly believe in the Easter bunny (can’t help but think he maintains his belief to please his mum!), outwardly his show of enthusiasm doesn’t let on. Last night we watched the old 70s TV special “The Easter Bunny’s Coming to Town” (with Fred Astaire narrating) and today we quoted our favorite passages from the show as we dug into our colored eggs. To my chagrin, when his little half brothers called this morning, they had Elihu turning the house upside down for hidden eggs, which the Easter bunny had not bothered to hide at 3 in the morning when he was filling the basket. The Easter bunny can only do so much. ! And now, I think my kid gets that. But no matter whether he believes or not, it’s still been a special morning for us. We’re both happy to be at home, together. That makes it a good day, no matter what.

Soon we’ll gather the last eggs from the coop for the incubator, and after that we’ll take a long, leisurely walk around the property. We’ll visit the fox’s den in the side of the hill, we’ll check to see how little snow is left in the shady spots, and we’ll see how our mom-and-son cairns by the lightening-struck tree have weathered the years. We’ll shore up the piles of rocks, agree that it was a fine walk, and head home to await an evening meal with grandma and Uncle Andrew.

I’m not sure how things will pan out in the days to come, but today I’ll try not to worry too much about it. Instead, I’ll continue to do what I’ve done for the past ten years of my life – I’ll enjoy watching my son as he makes his way through his childhood and towards his future.

IMG_5592The family! Yay for the Conants of Philadelphia!

IMG_5573Big ones and wee ones…

IMG_5577…and funny ones, too! Just look at that chicken purse! Love it. We’re definitely related.

IMG_5696The Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Elihu just kept expressing his amazement over the space. He’d never been to a concert hall like this before. A night he will never forget.

IMG_5683The hall, gorgeous; the Mahler, rich; but Carol – beyond anything he’d expected. Elihu was simply transported. He loved the piece, and he was given a new appreciation for the virtuosity needed to play such music. Suffice to say he aspires to much more than the common polka these days. Thanks, Michael and Carol.

IMG_5699Chatting backstage with tuba soloist Carol Jantsch and composer of “Reflections on the Mississippi”, Michael Daugherty.

IMG_5697My son and Mr. Daugherty, whom we later learned shares a birthday with Elihu!

IMG_5700Elihu is psyched. !!!

IMG_5616Philly by the light of day. I was interested to learn that the sculptor of this famous bronze figure of William Penn atop the city hall clock tower was by Alexander Milne Calder, the father of modern sculptor Alexander “Sandy” Calder.  There’s even a plaza which is home to works by both father and son.

IMG_5625City of brotherly love…

IMG_5627… and lots and lots of art. There is literally a large piece of art on every corner. Loved that.

IMG_5629So what does lil man want to do when in this historic, all-American city? Eat Vietnamese food, of course! (Wing Phat? How appropriate for my little aviator!)

IMG_5632Hello, cousin Matt!

IMG_5637Tasty quail! We had Pho, too….

IMG_5649Thanks to Matt and Stephanie for taking us to this sweet Asian grocery store (oh, and lunch, too)!

IMG_5648Helpful signage.

IMG_5655Fish heads?

IMG_5659We liked this one… We all agreed it mighta been worth $10 to watch the staff running around trying to catch a loose bullfrog…

IMG_5663Spring-loaded and ready to leap.

IMG_5606Headed back home we can see the famous Boathouse Row across the river.

IMG_5566The whole area is full of boulders and hills. Most of the local houses are themselves made of stone.

IMG_5556A jam-packed weekend had my lil man zonked out.

IMG_5721In the morning, it’s scrapple for breakfast! A Philadelphia delicacy!

IMG_5728Cousin Dave, waving goodbye in front of his stone house. Thank you for the hospitality!!

IMG_5745One last look at the Philly skyline…

IMG_5794… and then it’s on to the New Jersey Turnpike. The language of roadways is different all over; one travels by highway, expressway, turnpike, thruway, freeway, tollway and parkway. Phew!

IMG_5787Next time.

IMG_5914This tells us we’re getting close to the end of our trip…

IMG_5916And so our wonderful little adventure comes to a close as we return home. To snow. !

IMG_5969Sadly, I saw this hairy woodpecker being hit by a car. He lived long enough for me to bring him home. We admired his beauty, then buried him along with our other birds under the flowering quince bush.

IMG_5997Elihu had his buddies over the other day. They had a blast.

IMG_6021Elihu and Sawyer enjoy the hens.

IMG_6025I took the boys for a walk down the road to see how the Studio was coming along.

IMG_6028The sign will need to be moved to mark the new driveway and parking lot, a couple hundred feet to the east.

IMG_6056Mud season begins.

IMG_6032The boys have fun in the room that’s almost prepped for its new floor.

IMG_6030A kitchen will add greatly to the building’s functionality.

IMG_6043The view from the Studio’s balcony. The boys are enjoying the last of the snow.

IMG_6072Elihu got a little asthmatic after all that running around, but it was worth it.

IMG_6195Easter morn.

IMG_6197Digging for treats.

IMG_6120Elihu gives Thumbs Up a good smooching.

IMG_6149Elihu and his chickens.

IMG_6152The bigger picture.

IMG_6317A sight we seldom see; neighbors out for a walk on the hillside road. They wished us a happy Easter as they passed.

IMG_6322Mom and son cairns.

IMG_6291The lightening-struck tree. Still looks the same as past Easters.

IMG_6356I found a kite under the snow and we had fun watching it whip in the wind.

IMG_6393Our own Calder-esque bird sculpture by friend and Vietnam vet Ace, and our garage’s dove behind.

IMG_6377Almost home. A perfect Easter day.

Happy Spring to all our friends around the world, and may good things blossom anew for each and every one of you.

 

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.

 

 
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