The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Batting Back February 25, 2017

The following post will be a little unusual for this blog. But today, I was confounded by my ex and his response to our child continuing at Waldorf for his high school years, and I had to diffuse this hurtful and frightening situation by getting it out of my system and into the world. (There may yet be repercussions from an angry ex, but I’m tired of being bullied when all I’m trying to do is follow the rules and be a good, responsible mom.)

Our son is a joyful kid, an exceptional student, and enjoys everything about his school. Of note here, is that the tuition at this private school (for which my poverty nets us pretty generous assistance) goes up in grades 9 – 12. This, I believe, is the crux of the issue. (Just last week his father had asked me if we were really considering continuing on with Waldorf in high school. A small red flag right there.) And recently, in that I’d just learned that colleges look for near-flawless attendance records, and that until now Elihu’s visits to his father often carved off several days each semester, I’d said to my ex that we’d need to see to it that Elihu didn’t miss any extra days when he got to high school. I offered his father The Studio as a place to stay in order to facilitate longer visits. Hell, we now have a bed setup in the basement – with its own bath. If he can carve out some time, he’s always welcome here. And I know Elihu would be more than thrilled to finally (after about a four-year hiatus) have his daddy here in his own home.

Those suggestions were met with anything but a cooperative, co-parenting response. Fareed responded with the ultimatum “he’ll either visit his father or go to a public school”, to which Elihu responded that “that’s just ignorant”. Cuz truly, it was. Because it doesn’t matter where the kid goes to school – his attendance must still be good. Public or private – it makes no difference. And extra vacation days with dad are unexcused absences, anywhere. Period. Elihu can’t miss school no matter where he goes to school. But that’s the point that his father seemed to miss.

Look, I know my ex does not live an easy life. And I know he aint rich – but I also know he aint poor. He’s bringing his wife and two small children to Indonesia with him, and no matter the free hotel rooms, that shit is not cheap. Once, when Fareed lamented how poor he was becoming, I asked, with true love and concern, why he didn’t then apply for food stamps? Know how he responded? By bursting out laughing. “I’m not that poor” he said through his laughter. In a quiet, inner voice, I thought to myself, yes, but your ex-wife and your son are. The contrast between our realities has never mattered – or maybe even registered – to him. When I asked Elihu how his father could be so mean to me, he just responded “he doesn’t care”. “Who doesn’t he care about? You? Me? Who?” to which Elihu replied “Fareed Haque doesn’t care about anyone – but himself. But that’s not bad. That’s just who he is.” An insightful boy with a big, forgiving heart. Me, I still want justice. Or at least a heartfelt apology for not being nicer, for not acknowledging all I’ve done for our son. I just want some props, ya know?

Sometimes I’ve imagined what the scene at Elihu’s eighth grade graduation might look like (one upon a time it seemed decades off, now it’s in just a couple of months!!) and I kinda saw us standing side by side, I imagined him taking up my hand, and us finally, finally, after decades together and less than a decade apart, we’d be in some way on the same page again. Finally, he would see how Elihu glowed, he’d feel his happiness, he’d understand how right this whole life path had been. Fareed would finally understand the huge personal challenge this was for me, how much of myself I gave to the raising of our child, how I did it alone, how I stood the course and how clearly worth it the whole adventure had been. He’d look and me and squeeze my hand as if to say, ‘we’re still friends, and we both love this child’. But now it doesn’t look like things will be panning out that way. Not so much. Damn. Things were going so well up until now. I’d like to write it off to his current stressful situation, to money… I’d like to think it’ll wash over. But I don’t know. I’ll do what I have to in order to keep Elihu in the Waldorf School. If it means selling my piano – I’ll do it. I don’t own my house, so I can’t sell that, but one day I might have to have mom rent it out and look for subsidized housing. Bizarre as that sounds – and looks on paper – it has to go on the list. Everything must be considered. Elihu and I are going to have to roll up our sleeves and dig in deep, cuz at the moment, it really is the two of us against the world. And this kid is staying in the Waldorf School. I made him that promise. I’m keeping that promise.

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Following is the text I put on my Facebook wall, on Fareed’s too, and additionally I sent it as a private message to him:

Friends who know Fareed Haque, we can understand he’s under some stress as he embarks on travels to India, China and Indonesia. He’s had a nightmare of logistic hitches and he’s barely out of the country. This, I honestly feel for. (One of the great reliefs in not being married to him anymore!) You couldn’t pay me to be that guy. His is not a life for the faint of heart.

But does this excuse his saying “Fuck you” to me after I simply suggested we should try to tailor Elihu’s visits with his dad such that Elihu does not miss more than 3 days of school a year? (I’m told colleges look for good attendance records – and visits to dad are not considered ‘excused’ absences. To remedy this I suggest that Fareed come here and visit.) Does his stress and upset excuse his threatening to completely remove his and his father’s financial assistance?

Fareed thinks I am doing nothing of merit in life and angrily tells me to ‘go get a job’. I teach, I run a nonprofit, I am a single mother raising a child. I take accompaniment jobs, I rent my venue, I even take side jobs. Plus – get this – my child is joyful and he does very well in school. Elihu speaks German, plays the tuba and creates balsa wood, rubber-powered planes of his own design. Plus he excels in math and takes care of 20 chickens every day before and after school. And he aspires to go to RPI. My legally blind son is diving into life head first. Lots of nature went into the equation, yes, but a hefty dose of nurture did too. !

Safe travels, Fareed Haque, cuz your son loves you and needs you back. But please, stop being so angry and mean when you communicate with us. We appreciate your support, and we’ve told you so. Can you please reciprocate and show a little appreciation for the life I’ve built for our son??? I know your road is tough. But it was your choice to create this life, from having four kids with different moms, to a busy touring schedule, to the teaching job with all its red tape and bureaucratic shit (well, maybe you didn’t really sign on for that!). And hey, if anyone has the balls to pull it all off – for sure it’s you. ! You’ve got the energy of a 20-year-old for sure. You’re a true chip off the old block…

Elihu will of course always love you. But one day when he understands that you didn’t always go to bat for him, and that you often disparaged his mother’s hard work – you just might find that he won’t like you quite as much.

 

Witching Window February 21, 2017

middle-age-now

It is late, and my son is in his room watching aviation videos. And I am in my room, reading about death. Yeah. That just about sums it up I guess.

It’s not as if my interest in death has come all that recently, but it is only of late that I’ve begun to actively search out books on the subject, and to think of it so much more personally than ever before in my life. My son, however, at thirteen, is about as far from thoughts of death and mortality as any one human could be. His thoughts are consumed by flight, by what makes it possible, by how me might build a craft to fly so successfully himself. He is also about numbers, about math, about language (German mostly, but some Japanese and Vietnamese, too – and French, if you press him), and he is about the tuba parts in the polkas he loves. He is about his birds. He wishes our rooster Bald Mountain goodnight in a sweet little voice that still sounds more boy than young man most of the time. He is only just about to embark on his young adult life. I however, am trying every single day to call up the nerve to say goodbye to my younger years with some small amount of dignity. It’s not as easy as I’d thought it would be, and I’m not going about it with a lot of class. Of this I am sure. For one, I still color my hair. For another, I still think my son actually enjoys my company… Sometimes he still does, but I can feel the curtain of adolescence descending between us, and it reminds me daily that I really do need to start to figure out how the next part of my life will look. How to embrace this growing older thing. Cuz as of this moment, I am still not down with it. Somehow, I still cannot believe it is happening.

After returning from a short but lovely evening of music at Caffe Lena (we heard Golfstrom, a talented group that plays Jewish popular music, mostly European, from around the early part of the last century, to put it succinctly) we retired to our rooms. In chasing a tangential thread from a Facebook post, I came upon the Obamas dancing their very first dance as President and First Lady. The first thought I had was: how young Barack looked. OMG. Truly, he looked like a young man. I have always been keenly aware that he was elected to office shortly after I moved here – and that he and I are very close in age. In fact, until just a few weeks ago, Obama had been president for the entire time we’d lived here in New York. (I remember well the night the counts came in; the sound of the cheering crowds in Saratoga – most likely from Skidmore College – was audible from three miles away. Even individual shouts carried across the forest to reach my ears as I stood, so deeply thrilled and full of hope, on my porch here on top of the hill.) Back then we really did look much younger, Barack and I. Often it throws me for a loop and leaves me in a mild state of panic when I see his head so much grayer, his face etched with such deep lines. As a woman I can play the game a little longer, and dying my hair is one of the main tactics I use. But my face has begun to change, and of course, my neck as well. And try as I might, I can’t ignore it. At every turn a reflection is available to me. At every glimpse my mortality faces me, and leaves me no possible way to pretend that things haven’t changed.

Tonight, in surveying the room I was struck by one thing: these were essentially my peers. And man, they look old. Yes, perhaps, most of them may have been older than me by a couple of years, maybe even a generation ahead, but by and large, they were ‘my age’ – that is to say ‘middle aged’, and the majority of them were gray-haired. A very few of the women had boycotted their changed appearance by dyeing their hair; one woman even had a head of brilliantly bright red hair in a blunt, modern cut. Still, I could tell, she was older than me. So what was the answer? What determines ‘real’ age? Should one not go ahead and present to the world how they felt on the inside? Just how was one to age gracefully and with class? Go with it? Fight it? Deny it with a head of bright red hair – or celebrate it with a head of bright red hair? (My mother-in-law went with fire-engine red hair into her 80s!) My dark hair almost made me feel like a poser in that room of silver. Like a complete fraud. My face told the real story though. The ‘smile’ lines that ran from the corners of my mouth to my nose now created an honest-to-goodness triangle. They weren’t likely to invoke friendly, truth-softening comments like ‘oh  it’s not so bad. No one else notices them the way you do’. No. They were as deep and age-revealing as the facial contours of any other women in that room. I was not a forty-something anymore, for sure. I was whatever the hell it is that comes next, goddammit.

Watching images of the elegant First Couple dancing, my mind wandered, and I began to wonder what it might be like if I’d never left Chicago. Part of me began to happily envision a scene at The Hideout, or the Green Mill perhaps, where certainly I’d see dozens of people I knew – and who were happily my peers. But then I thought again, and realized that most of my clan had grown up too. They no longer spent their weekend nights at alt country clubs or jazz joints – they, like me, were busy shepherding young children into middle school or high school – some might even be seeing theirs off to college. (Few children of my peers are married yet. Some are, but more still are not. And that somehow comforts me. But it won’t last long.) Today’s lively nights of jazz at the Green Mill might themselves prove to have me feeling old and past my prime for similar reasons. My peeps aint there no more. My scene is gone, my day has concluded. That chapter is past. Young folks can party, middle-aged folks are too busy to party, and old folks have the time to party, but the energy? I’m not so sure.

Just today, as we drove home from school after a special delivery of duck eggs (Mrs. Duck is really producing now – perhaps in anticipation of Spring…) Elihu and I both mused on how fast time seemed to be passing these days. I remarked that time didn’t feel so fast when I was a kid. I was surprised that he – a kid himself – also perceived time to be moving faster than ever before. “It’s a provable theory of physics” he told me. He promised that this wasn’t just some new age theory about the speeding up of time – it was a viable, measurable fact. “I’ve been thinking about time a lot these days” he mused from the back seat. “I mean, time is just change. So if time didn’t exist, would nothing change? Or if nothing changed, would time cease to exist?” We batted this idea about for a while, but by the time we were turning into our snow-drifted driveway I’d already decided I really didn’t care either way. Because whether fast or slow, some shit in my life was definitely changing, and quite honestly, I wasn’t a fan.

When I was in my early forties, I remember being caught and successfully reeled in by a made-for-tv commercial in which actor Victoria Principal extolled the brilliant, natural and effortless products in her new skin care line. As prudent a consumer as I had thought myself to be, even after some lengthy internal debates on the subject, I’d finally chosen to buy in. But first, I engaged in a little due diligence, calling the customer service rep to get a little more specific information on their products. How old was I? the woman had asked me. When I told her, I remember hearing her hesitate for a moment. As a woman at the dawn of her fourth decade, she’d advised me not to purchase a particular set of products, because women didn’t usually start to need “that sort of help” until they were in their late forties or even early fifties. Hmm, I’d thought. There was a timetable here that people had agreed on? There were actual landmarks I might look for? There was a timetable that might help me to anticipate – and emotionally prepare for – certain changes? Nobody had ever told me this before! No one had ever gone so far as to break down the aging process into stages. But clearly, some people, somewhere, had agreed on this stuff. (Granted, this was a pre-internet world with less information available to the armchair consumer). It did also occur to me that this particular Guthy-Renker employee might have been a bit too honest for her own job security.!

After my chat with the rep, I ended up buying a few products. I can’t say that a one of them made any noticeable difference in my appearance (however I grew to love the very subtle scent of the lotions which I have not been able to find again, as they were discontinued several years ago) but shortly after that experience I did come upon a ‘miracle’ cream which promised to firm skin as nothing before. This product, I can report, did exactly what it purported to. But at the age of 42 I had no idea what ‘real’ aging skin looked like, and the mild tightening this cream provided was just enough, and under makeup, sometimes it really was like a sprinkling of fairy dust.

About five or so years later, I remembered the product and thought how it might really benefit me in my new state of sinking skin, so I tried it again. But this time, rather than gently pulling my face together in a smooth, tighter version of itself, it pulled my skin together like a bouquet of tiny wrinkled lines, all gathered at the point of the cream’s application. My neck skin bunched in horrible lines where none had even been before; it was a situation made much, much worse. But also, it gave me an idea as to how my neck might look a couple of decades hence. Crap. I’d always thought this shit was for everyone else. Somehow I knew that I was just too cool for that sort of old lady thing to happen to me. That shit was for clueless losers who somehow didn’t care. Or not. Man. Really?

These are the days when things start to change in earnest. No more ‘almost’, no more ‘you look fabulous’ as in you really do look fabulous. Ok, I suppose if you shift your frame of reference from a forty-something mindset to a sixty-something mindset you can say those things and mean it, but if you’re like me, and you’re stuck in your head at 44, unable to fully comprehend that 44 was now a decade ago, then maybe you’re not ready to accept ‘you look good’ means just that, only within the context of a whole new framework.

Oh how I wish we didn’t pretend this stuff doesn’t bother us the way it really does. Mech, I suppose there are some enlightened souls out there for whom this process is interesting, new, fun, exciting and a welcome challenge. It’s a challenge all right, and I am eager to learn how I end up meeting it, but I’d be lying if I said this was a process I was enjoying. Nope. Not so much.

Yesterday I woke up with an unusual sensation: Nothing in my body hurt! I was in a joyful mood all morning because it was the first time in months and months that my pulsing, arthritic fingers and stiff hips weren’t the first things I was aware of upon awakening. I took it as nothing short of a small miracle. Plus it offered enlightenment; not feeling my body all these years until now had actually been a blessed and wonderful thing!! A miracle of sorts unto itself. Ah well, better I suppose to be thankful at this point than never at all. I mean I know what’s happening, and I’m bitching and moaning about it most of the way, but at the end of the day I have it pretty good, aches and pains aside. Yeah. I do. But still…

My young piano students are always talking about how much they can’t wait to be older. They can’t wait to be 8, to be 10, to finally be a teenager. I remind them that older people at some point start to wish they were younger. A crazy kind of predicament. “So what is, from your perspective” I’ll ask them, “the most perfect age to be?” Most have answered from 18 to 23. Which I think is interesting. Yeah, that was a good chapter. But the truly golden chapter? Want my answer? From 25 to 45. Yup. That would be it. And maybe, if I were to commit to one perfect, golden year, it might be 32. Good times. !

I remember in my mid to late forties thinking “Hey, this isn’t so bad! I still look pretty good!” (I hadn’t yet put on the extra 20 pounds I live with now, so factor that in too…) And in truth, I still looked pretty much as I had over the past couple of decades. At least I was recognizable to friends I hadn’t seen in years. And that’s often the main ‘test of time’. We all know the importance of name tags on the gentlemen at our 20th high school reunion. Those poor guys either lose their hair or succumb to the gray. The women, on the other hand, have the culture’s permission to color and highlight their hair, augment its volume or length too; they are encouraged to whiten their teeth, they wear beautiful dresses and use makeup to augment their fading beauty. Men have so few tools with which to make up for what they’ve lost. Men must bear the progress of time in all its daunting honesty. Then may get off easy in so many other ways – but when it comes to aging, most of ’em can’t hide.

Allow me to advise those who are behind me in their progress… The magic years are, in my experience, from the mid 20s to the mid 40s. By 48 or 49 one begins to change, but it’s subtle. As with all organic changes of life, it seems to happen slowly, and the one day you notice something that wasn’t there the day before. This sort of thing seems to happen more and more frequently after 50. Hell, even 50 wasn’t all that bad. But over the following three years shit has just seemed to change in all the wrong ways. All the stories I’d heard uttered from the lips of my ‘older’ friends is now becoming my own personal experience. And this, I think to myself, is likely only the beginning. My chin is strange and saggy, my face looks older for reasons I cannot quite pinpoint, and my so-important fingers are now routinely dropping things and can no longer grip into fists. They throb, they ache, and they do not bend as they did even one month ago. Last night, when I sat at the piano to enjoy the final brisk measures of the Italian Concerto just for fun, I realized that my fingers did not posses the dexterity or strength that they had only before Christmas. My physical abilities had waned in just weeks. Strange, and hard to really understand.

And so another chapter closes, and a new one begins. Mr. Obama does not look older because of the many stresses and challenges over the past eight years of his presidency, no. He looks older because he is older. And I look older now because I am too. It is a hard thing to come to terms with. When I was a singer and presented all those great torch songs from the early part of the last century, I’d often remind my audiences that the topics of love, jealousy and revenge were nothing new or exclusive to this generation. In fact, the only reason we were all here today was because – wait for it – our grandmothers got laid! Maybe it was a little forward, and maybe it made people squirm a bit in their seats, but whatever. It’s true. Every generation is as hip as it gets. And if we live long enough, we then ourselves become no longer hip. Doesn’t mean we don’t remember what it felt like to have all that power –  oh, we do. That’s precisely why it’s so challenging to release the past and so bittersweet to remember it.

Please take this to heart, all my young and beautiful friends: there is an end to it all. Savor the moments as they unfold, for one day your sexy and exciting present will be just a memory from long, long ago. You too will pass through the witching window, and find yourself on the other side, a mere mortal with crepey skin, graying hair and a treasure trove of memories. Know it, but don’t linger too long in the thought. Instead, let it inspire you to take some risks, put yourself out there and grab all the life experiences you can, while you still have the strength to hold on tight.

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Link to our YouTube channel: The Hillhouse

 

Rounding Corners February 4, 2017

It’s my hope that this blog doesn’t end up languishing in the virtual ether. Some weeks it seems there’s hardly time enough to take a shower let alone upload pics and cobble together some content…. I asked Elihu why it was that years ago, when my mother duties were non-stop, when I taught far more students than I do today, when farm chores and household repairs were mine alone – why in the face of all that, was I able to write more frequent posts, and to be more reflective about them too? These days it seems a month goes by and I find myself all of a sudden in a cold panic that I’ve let so much time pass; by one week’s time so much has happened I don’t know where to start, by three weeks’ time it seems as if a whole year has passed and the temptation exists to just forget the whole silly thing altogether.

I recently heard Fran Lebowitz say that just because everyone could write a book doesn’t mean everyone should write a book. I felt guilty when I heard this. Man. Was I one of those lame-ass, self-aggrandizing folks who thought their story was so compelling and insightful that I just knew everyone would want to read it if given the chance? A Facebook post of a high school friend recently asked friends for advice regarding the fate of her angst-ridden journals from years ago… Most advocated a toss into the fire, as Ms. Lebowitz would likely have endorsed. Me, I told her not to toss them, but to read them from her current perspective. To read them with compassion and curiosity. But that’s just me. I want to hear everyone’s story. (Maybe that’s why deep down I think that everyone secretly wants to read mine…)

Ms. Lebowitz also chides those who would write for the sake of writing alone.  She posits that one needs ‘something to say’ in order to write. That a person who would write must have a thorough knowledge on her subject. Those things, I might argue with some degree of confidence, I do have. Ms. Lebowitz also stresses the quality of writing, as well as its uniqueness. Hm. Do I possess a unique voice? A distinct style? Do I write prose of certain quality? Not so much, I’m thinking. There are times when I read my old writing and I think “Man, how naive this person is. This writing is so generic! And man, how self-involved (and likely young) this person is!” And I’ll say this not even realizing it’s my own writing. Proof positive that I don’t have a handle on any of that shit. Alternately, I might read some of my past material (again, not realizing at first that it’s me doing the talking) and think, “Damn, that’s exactly it! This person has nailed it… Why doesn’t anyone else make these observations?” But then again, it’s content alone that I’m responding to. Not style. Cuz really, I’m not sure that I actually have one. The only telltale sign that it’s me might be the reflective use of “but still”…

Indeed I digress, as I don’t intend to delve into literary criticism here but rather get to the action that’s been going on in our lives since the last post. Proof that this blogging effort is really about content, content, content! Quality be damned. Let’s get caught up, shall we?

Between The Studio, The Hillhouse, the aviation endeavors, the performances and the critters, there’s been enough to keep us super swinging busy. As Elihu comforted me the other day, after I’d asked him one too many times why it was so hard to get things done these days, “The Studio is a real thing now. Things are the way they are supposed to be. You’re busy with real things now.” Real indeed. An electric bill that exceeds my take by four times, a property that needs constant plowing and attention, insurance bills that don’t stop, and a roster of piano students that has dwindled to the lowest number since I moved here eight and a half years ago. Some things promise growth, but many others are still in flux – and the next era, while showing some signs of being just around the next corner, is not quite upon us. Not quite. But still…It’s getting closer…

country-roadsThe Studio sign is on the right, at the bend in the road.

scrambledSynclaire is a pro host, rapper and producer. Thanks to her, Express Yourself has become a scene.

img_3829Charlotte’s a favorite.

img_3895Ava (a Waldorf School kid) moved the crowd deeply, reading from her journals. Truly awesome.

express-1Rapping is more a part of this culture than I would have guessed. And let me tell you, it takes real talent to rap “off the dome” as the kids say.

sound-checkFrom Open Mic night to a full-on rock show. Things change a lot in 24 hours!

sangerGirl’s feelin it.

young-crowdNow it’s a younger crowd.

m-and-mdNext week it’s a chill evening for an older demographic.

blwLight shows play nicely on the angled ceiling. This was a really enjoyable event.

light-showA whole new look for The Studio. I think my dad digs this from wherever he is now. Yeah. He’s smiling.

close-upBleak Little World sounded great. A fun night.

self-portrait-hpschdLate night self portrait in the office. John Cage fans: note the HPSCHD poster in the back left. !

morning-at-the-studioJust six hours later after I left, cars arrive for the next day’s event.

yoga-classI had to have the floor mopped and dried in time for yoga at 9 am the next morning. Phew!

smiling-kKristin is a wonderful yoga teacher. Kind, gentle and in-tune with what her class needs.

chaosBack home our house is fairly chaotic. I do NOT enjoy this state of being.

e-makes-bfastBut thankfully, Elihu is learning how to take over some domestic duties. It makes us both feel good.

miss-e-at-the-pianoNow it’s time for Jesus Christ Superstar. Last time I played this challenging score it was with a band. And, I was 9 months pregnant with lil man. It came back fairly easily, but still, playing this book for an hour and a half straight (sans band) had me a little wiped afterward. Plus I had to keep a couple bags of frozen peas around to ice down my aching and arthritic fingers during rehearsals.

elihu-and-eThe kid still comes along with me most of the time. He’s pretty good about it, and always I tell him how much I appreciate it.

ms-carp-and-coThese kids worked their butts off. Gina, at left, is the most inspiring teacher and director. !!!

last-supperThe Last Supper.

ambulanceSadly, our friend – the light/soundman – fell from a ladder and needed attention ASAP. As of this writing he’s doing well – which is nothing short of a friggin miracle. We all loved our time with Chuck. He’s what you’d call a Really Good Human Being. Hard to imagine, but he returned the next two days to see us through our shows.

jsc-holding-handsChecking in before the night’s performance.

jsc-ready-to-goYeah, I’m pretending I’m a rock star. In case you were wondering.

friendsAfter the last show we went to Compton’s, the local diner on Broadway. These kids are all so comfortable with each other, so kind and generous. I’m so thrilled for their incredible performances.

waldorf-rocksLook! I got in the paper twice on the same page! For Express Yourself and our most rockin performance of Jesus Christ Superstar by the Waldorf School Seniors! (At the equally rockin venue Universal Preservation Hall.)

goodbye-sg-on-westEnd of an era. Saratoga Guitar closes its West Ave shop. For every chapter there has always been a certain guitar store that acted as a hub for my life. This location was that central hub for my life here in New York. Saratoga Guitar has now moved to Weibel Avenue. As I like to say: ‘Weibel is the new West’.

packing-upSad to see this room of so many memories now almost packed up.

field-house

Ah, but there are more changes afoot too. The house in the field is built and ready. There is still no light, but any day now that will change. And that will be the most profound and saddest change yet in a very long time.

tree-sky-1On a walk to the field I looked up and had a hard time comprehending the size and mass of the trees.

tree-sky-2Then I saw the tiny fingerlings of seedpods, so small, so close-up. From this contrast I gleaned the idea:    Incremental becomes monumental. (Let this notion inspire me as I contemplate yet another diet in my life. !)

awesome-lunchA perfect lunch followed the perfect walk in the woods.

img_6972Which was then followed by a quiet evening at home.

later-nightIt’s been a very busy month. We’re not depressed here, just kinda run down. Bedtime is always welcome!

penny-plane-3The result of a quiet night at home is this “Penny Plane”, so named because it weighs less than a penny.

May many more pennies find their way to us in the future!! Financially things are still pretty rough these days, but with the help of friends and family, we’ve made it this far, and to all of you who’ve helped us to stay afloat, we thank you with our love and deep gratitude. Honestly, I do think the hardest days are past. It really does feel like we’re about to turn a huge corner on our way to the future.

But still, there are a few challenging hurdles ahead. The photos we post here don’t always tell the whole story. Even so, they do reflect the lovely variety of happy events that we’ve been lucky enough to experience over the past few weeks. Both Elihu and I feel very fortunate to be living this varied and interesting life, right here and right now. And we hope that all of you reading, all of you, the friends we have yet to meet, will also come to meet your own bright futures very soon. Thanks for joining us on our continuing adventure, and we’ll see you around the next corner.

 

These Were The Days January 19, 2017

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 1:38 pm

As I pounded the dripping kitchen sink faucet off with a hammer for the umpteenth time tonight, it occurred to me. One day this is precisely the sort of thing we will be nostalgic for. The same faucet  – the one that has me cursing and sighing and wringing my hands over all the many other things it reminds me of which I cannot afford to have fixed properly either – this faucet and so many other loose ends all about our household (that alternately stress and amuse us) are very likely the things we’ll look back upon with tenderness after they have long been fixed and the problems forgotten.

These are the times will make us smile someday: This time, right now. When the rooster lives in the house with us at night and wakes us at 6:15 on the nose every morning, the days when tuba lessons are still such a novel joy, the days of expansive Sunday afternoons flying RC aircraft with friends who are just as crazy for aviation as we, the days when saying goodnight to the chickens can still take a half an hour easy, the days when mom still plays music at school and is still part of her son’s life and he is thankfully still happy for it, the days when the great field outside our window is still dark at night.The days when grandma is just next door, and we can pop in anytime she’s home. The time when things still feel just about as innocent as they did when my son was still very small. You see, we’re not too far away from them to at least remember how it feels. How if feels to have a home, a life, and a few simple hobbies, some animals and a few instruments to play. We know the importance of all this stuff. It’s our bottom line, really.

These are those days still; the days when our house needs a long list of repairs far beyond our budget, the days when life is cluttered, busy, full of hiccups, false starts and sometimes even sudden unexpected runs of good luck. The days when we’re poor, but the magic always follows us and makes up for the rest. These were the days.

 

Busy, Cozy January 1, 2017

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Pics,The Studio,Vids — wingmother @ 12:03 am

Have you ever seen that old movie called “You Can’t Take It With You”? If you have, suffice to say our household resembles that one in spirit. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, imagine a small house energized by the chaos of sick roosters, tuba practice, helicopter assembly, bursting pipes and coops catching fire, injured animal rescues, funerals, concerts, parties, and trips to the hospital. December has been a month with little respite, and I was grateful that Elihu got to spend some time with his father in the final week. Gave me a chance to breathe and get down to the little stuff that doesn’t always get done when I’m on mom duty.

In the month or so since my last post I’ve managed to get a lot done. It doesn’t always feel like it, but I can look around and see piles which have either diminished or disappeared entirely, my room is tidy, things are mostly put away, and the Christmas (New Years?) cards are finally addressed and stamped. The ailing rooster is looking more robust, and the sickly hen has picked up a bit too. The Studio enjoyed a record crowd at the last open mic, with cars parked along the shoulder of the road in both directions. Elihu performed his first semi-professional concert at the local TubaChristmas, and in general, a lot of wonderful things have happened.

Funny how life just keeps tugging at you; nagging to get that next item done, tidied, concluded. But there is seldom a final and tidy ending to things, resulting in a constant, low-grade nagging presence which may sometimes dim, but which never disappears entirely. Honestly, how many years must I live on this planet before I realize that endeavoring to see the to-do list completely done is a fruitless endeavor? As I looked out at my incredibly cozy little living room tonight and enjoyed the pure silence and solitude, I realized (for the umpteenth time) that there would always be a nagging to-do list. Always. But it was this stuff – this sitting alone in my living room doing nothing at all – and enjoying it so very much – that held it all together, that made it all worthwhile. Very few folks on this planet ever have this kind of luxury and comfort. It may yet be modest by the standards of many, but I don’t take it for granted for a moment. I am one very lucky person.

There’s been so much talk of 2016 being such a horrible year. As if the events – the deaths of beloved stars, cultural icons and horrific acts of violence across the globe – were personal attacks. I do agree that we’ve lost some key players in our culture, and the timing of Carrie Fisher’s and mom Debbie Reynolds’s deaths really did add something of an exclamation point at the end of the year. ! I know. But still, things like this have gone on before, and events like these will continue to go on in the future. Famous folks die, martyrs die and take people with them, insane men rise to power, injustices are enacted upon the innocent, wars are fought without end… Throughout the history of mankind shit like this has always been happening. I just think that it was never before in our constant view the way in which it is now. Now, with the hyper-vision of social media, we see this stuff all in front of our eyes us all day long in real time. And so then we begin to stoke the flames of each others sorrow, to amplify each others outrage and through our commiseration we inflame the sense of injustice enacted upon us. Yes, people die. They always will. We certainly should be sad, and we’re entitled to miss them, but truly, that’s how this heartbreaking planet works. People are born and people die. There’s nothing personal about it.

The trick is to enjoy the life you have while you’re having it, to remember the life you once had with gratitude, and to steel yourself through a combination of love, good humor and old-fashioned fortitude for the infinite number of possible futures that may befall you, whether happy, deeply heartbreaking or life-changing. I realize this kind of stuff easy for me to say, my losses have been the easier of all the possible outcomes. But still, I’m grateful for all the wonderful qualities of my current life. I’m grateful for the people who are still here with me, the countryside in which my son and I live, the safety of my home and the companionship of the animals around me. For now, I have it good. Not sure what the next year will bring, cuz really, one never knows. Suffice to say, I look to a year of increased prosperity, new friendships and the blossoming of my son in his early teenage years. There will be heartaches, there will be triumphs. Good, bad, it’s all part of the landscape. I know I’ll remain busy, that’s for sure. And my home – that will always be the cozy center of it all.

super-moonThe super moon. Can’t believe I took this with a point and shoot from my driveway. !

morning-full-moon-snow-and-henThe next morning it was just setting in the West.

super-moon-in-morningDeep blue was the early morning sky.

fire-wireWe had not one but two small coop fires. Might have been truly devastating had we not been home. A warning to all to ziptie those lights up nice and tight.

earlier-pumpkin-looked-wellThis is the way Pumpkin should look.

pumpkin-is-ailingBut sadly, this is how she’s looked this past week.

ailing-rooBaldy’s suffering a slump too.

mr-and-mrs-duck-are-now-a-problemThere are our new rescue Muscovy ducks. The drake (white) has really been a bully to Bald Mountain. Until the snow melts and there’s more turf upon which the menfolk can all spread out, the old rooster will likely be living in the kitchen. Man that guy is loud – and crows first just about 6:15 every single morning. ! Who needs an alarm clock??

supping-insideA little food, a little drink…

baldy-and-me…and a little TLC, and now he’s looking and acting much better.

setting-precedentMaybe this was too far. Ever since that one night he’s been following me into the bedroom every evening…. Now he knows how the other half live! Good thing he can’t communicate this to his coop mates.

roo-and-bassBaldy always hangs around when we play music.

xmas-with-tuba-and-rooReally – he just kinda sticks around. Cool, right?

treeI love our tree. Every single ornament has a story. Many have been with me for 30 years.

xmas-roomJust love our cozy living room…

cozy-kitchen…and our cozy kitchen.

elihu-and-rockyOur friend, Rocky Groce finally left us. He hosted shows at The Apollo Theater back in the day. He was very kind to Elihu, and expressed great support for Elihu’s love of music.

funeral-parlorAt the funeral parlor.

goodbye-rockyAnd at the cemetery.

eye-spyElihu worked hard building some fancy model airplanes for his class’ Secret Santa.

gift-letter-re-bellThe assortment of models included a little handbook.

sea-of-wordsAt Waldorf, there’s a lot of writing, and it’s still done mostly in cursive.

elihu-sings-in-chorusOne final event at the Waldorf School before break. The 8th grade sings, my son easily spotted by his bow tie and red glasses. And if you’d been anywhere in the auditorium, there would’ve been no mistaking his full and distinct sound.

always-jumpingOn that last day of school, Elihu jumped the fence with a flourish. (Truth be told, he jumps the fence with a flourish every single day. !)

We went to the estate sale of a friend who had to sell the entire contents of her childhood home (see, this life is not for wimps, right?). We were happy to give some of her household artifacts a new home, including this decorative horn. I’d like to mention that lil man had just blown a few little bebop-esque passages prior to my getting the camera going, hence my excitement. Still, pretty cool that he can even make a sound on that thing. I tried and could hardly get two notes out of it.

img_3988So proud of Elihu. Reading music is very difficult on account of his low visual acuity, so he ends up fairly memorizing the parts, and they end up being essentially gestural landmarks on the page. This is his first time ever reading music to tempo – with a conductor. Again, super proud mom here. (Btw, all the high school events were cancelled due to snow – but TubaChristmas? On with the show! A dedicated sub-culture if ever there was one. !!)

A short video of “Oh Christmas Tree”

 

We went to the estate sale of a friend who had to sell the entire contents of her childhood home (see, this life is not for wimps, right?). We were happy to give some of her household artifacts a new home, including this decorative horn.

tuba-picFirst TubaChristmas. Yay!

nursing-homeNow to my gig. Admittedly, the dementia ward has a sad vibe, but there are always a few folks whom I help to make a little happier, if only for a short time.

angle-torresTorres is an award-winning nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He noticed mom’s elevated heart rate, and contacted her doc, which resulted in a necessary second night’s stay. We’re grateful to him for his exceptional care.

ox-tail-stew

Some oxtail stew. Recipe from Torres, originally from Antigua, who told me where I could find a local West Indies grocery in Albany (my small-town substitute for Chicago!) and I followed his instructions which resulted in one of the tastiest dishes we’d had in ages.

img_4442Back home, Elihu likes to place his recorders precariously on the edge of the table. He giggles when he sees how uncomfortable it makes me.

roooomCozy.

img_4444And cozier.

event-todayThe flock is ready.

rooms-readyThe Studio is set and ready for December’s open mic which we call “Express Yourself Kickback”.

me-and-eElihu will be with his father in Chicago for this one, but hopefully he’ll perform at a Kickback soon.

kickbackDropped the kid off at the airport – and look what we saw! Crazy, huh?

open-mic-with-treeThe night after Elihu left we enjoyed a record crowd at The Studio – cars lined the shoulder of the road in both directions. Kids were home from college and it was a real scene.

snow-outside-the-kitchenThe next morning, this is what I saw from my kitchen steps. How lovely. Lucky are we, right?

Happy New Year, friends. If we stick together, it won’t be as scary as we think. Let’s just keep focused and busy, and let’s remember to take time to chill at home where we feel cozy, safe and warm. Thank you all for coming along with us on our life’s adventures here at The Hillhouse. I’m grateful that you’re here to share in our experiences. And please, never hesitate to say hello.

 

Snail’s Pace November 16, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older — wingmother @ 8:47 pm

baby-and-mama-snail

It’s all hitting me again. We’ve lost so many beloved musicians, poets, dancers, artists, writers and journalists this past year that I can’t even begin to count them. The sense of loss I feel at their departure has me turning to look inward, to contemplate what was, and sometimes, to contemplate what might have been… To put it bluntly, their departures leave me feeling deeply bereft of hope for the world yet ahead, as well as feeling acute heartbreak for the culture and world we’re leaving behind.

The present is doing things to me tonight. In this moment in time I dearly miss my husband, the man I remember him to have been, the times we enjoyed together, the music we made, the friends whose company we enjoyed…. I miss that certain, specific life very deeply. I miss the chance we lost to be a family – all three of us; mother, father and child.

I wonder at the familiar things lost to us; a growing up, a journey, a shared story… Even now, years later, I can’t fully understand that he is gone, that he is a different person. That he is not coming back.

Elihu and I enjoy a full and rich life, yes we do. But somehow, the sorrows of the day have amplified that tiny, mostly-dormant voice of regret and loss that begs for some witness… a leaning, that, on most days – on healthy, vigorous and forward-looking days – I easily dismiss as a momentary weakness. Hopefully this week’s melancholy won’t last, as I’m feeling far more nostalgic and weak than is good or productive for either one of us.

My past may be gone, and my current weakness may leave me soon, but the Trump term will remain our new reality for the next four years, whether we voted for it or not. Just gotta get some sleep I suppose, some exercise too, and then re-boot for the months to come. At first I was merely sad. But now… I am scared, too. I’m scared for my son and for me. And beyond that, I feel a deeper, much realer threat for the citizens of Korea, and for those in the Middle East. And for we US citizens, too. And for all the innocent people in between who have nothing to do with the egos and agendas of a couple of narcissistic fellows in power trying to broker deals. My neck is beyond tight and my gut tells me I might have the flu, but both are simply physical manifestations of my deep concern for the state of the whole goddam world. Tylenol and Alka Seltzer don’t do much good when I’m feeling like this.

Trump and his cadre won’t take away our food stamps and heating assistance, ya think?? I can’t even entertain that idea right now; I’d collapse under any other outcome. Hopefully, in a year’s time The Studio will be my generous employer, and my son and I won’t spend another year in lack and apprehension for the future… Damn. Everything felt safe until now. Now it’s sad, scary and frankly, absolutely unpredictable. But I suppose in complete truth, that could be said of life on any given day. I’m fully aware that as natural-born citizens of this country we’ve still ‘got it good’. For now.

So never mind. Forget about it. We’re good. Shit – I’m even overweight! Is that not a signature problem of the middle class? Yeah. That helps calm me down. Honestly, forget it. I’m cool. We’re cool. Really. Don’t worry. Just venting here. Let’s all check back in a year from now and see how our realities have changed. My guess? Things won’t be all that different for those of us who live at the bottom of the pond… We snails move pretty slow, after all. It’s the minnows and the sharks that get all the action, not us. Snails are integral to the holistic profile of the environment; they’re low-maintenance and cost very little to feed and for the most part, no one notices them. And no matter how large they get, their curves – and their no-nonsense, keep-going attitude – are what make them the beautiful, resilient creatures we know them to be.

So onward we lowly snails go, eyes on the horizon (or safely retracted inside our heads, whichever), sure-footed yet cautious, and ever-moving into the future…

 

 

More Perfect November 8, 2016

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older,Pics — wingmother @ 8:05 pm

tattered-flags

Mel Ziegler’s Flags at A More Perfect Union, Tang Museum, Saratoga Springs, New York

 

This time it doesn’t feel like business-as-usual. This time, this election, things feel very different. Or at least that’s what I had thought to myself a few minutes ago. And then I re-read my post from election night four years ago. Seems there were many more similarities to this time around than I’d remembered. But still… even taking into consideration how much this season shares with the one four years before – I’d still say 2016 is a different ballgame. The very least bit of evidence to support that is that one of the candidates is a woman.

Looking for a bit of humor to lighten our collective emotional load, I unearthed some long-forgotten material on Pat Paulsen. This comedian had run – legitimately – for president on numerous occasions. (I’d also learned that comic Gracie Allen, among others through the years, had also run for President in 1940 as a member of the Surprise Party, whose mascot was a kangaroo, and whose slogan was “It’s all in the bag”. Ha!) Elihu and I pulled up some videos and to my surprise, a lot of the material was just as funny all these decades later. I particularly liked Paulsen’s slogan “I’ve upped my standards, up yours too!”. For real, that’s some good shit. Right?

But what was altogether mind-blowing and wrong about that era – for as insightfully as those comics may have mocked the process and the politicians – it was still a time in our culture (not all that long ago to my 53 year-old mind) in which a girl was never even considered a possible future president. In fact, when we heard a bit of video in which narrator Henry Fonda speculated that every boy in America (at the 50 second mark) had likely imagined at one time what it might be like to be president, I had to replay it. What? I mean, really. What? My mind flashed to something my mother had said once about being pregnant in the 1960s: you pretended that you weren’t – up until the very end. There was no pantyhose made for pregnant women, instead you cut up the middle seam to accommodate your belly. To put it simply: it was not a women’s world. I’m still not sure it is, and even if Hillary does win tonight, I’m still not sure it will be a woman’s world anytime too soon. But thank God we are making some progress towards that universal goal.

Ok. Nothing to do now but go to bed. I’ll need a good night’s rest, because tomorrow morning I’m driving some of Elihu’s eighth grade classmates on a field trip to Albany, our state’s capital, as part of their government study block. Such timing, huh? It’s times like this when I’m grateful to be self-employed and able to participate. I want to be there, taking in the majesty and promise of those grand buildings and massive foyers… That feeling of hope and wonder one gets when standing in the midst of two hundred marble stairs a half-block wide… Oh how I pray the day is augmented by one of our nation’s most historic victories.

We know that good things come to those who wait, right? I mean seriously, how about them Cubbies? It wasn’t something any of us Chicagoans could’ve truly believed until that glorious moment. And so, as I go to sleep tonight, I can relax in knowing that victory is possible. Girls have the same rights as boys. And a really great country can still become even more perfect.