Evanston Coffee Break

Kid’s asleep and I’ve snuck out to check my email and get some coffee. Bad mom? I’ll be back before ten minutes have passed… Been without internet for a week. Like camping. Singing tonite with my beloved Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago. Feels like a dream – as if I’d never left, as if I’d been gone a hundred years. Like home, and yet not. I sit at the cafe window watching the good people of Evanston pass by. Shortly I’ll be back in the country, the hills of Vermont on the horizon, chickens at my feet. And I’m surprised to find myself relieved at the thought.

Evanston was a fine place to live, and it’s a fine place to visit, but I’m just about ready to go home.

Stinkin Hot

Hookay. Despite my kitchen thermometer telling me my house is 87 inside (feels even hotter, I think) I have managed to get a fair amount done today.

Kid to clay class, check. Make program, check. Locate harpsichord tuning hammer, antique-style, check. Find washers for hose hook-up to supply water to studio, check. Make beds for musicians, check. Check papers to see if ads appeared as planned, check. Call that guy who wants to record the last concert, check. Borrow a weed wacker to clean up the driveway for the concert, check. More to do, but for now we can only hunker down inside to escape the Vietnam-like heat outside.

I am at the local mall, making use of its free wifi, installed alongside the bouncy-bounce while Elihu romps with new friends and works up the kind of sweat we came here to avoid working up. Kids. I can pick out his laughter, and it makes me happy to hear. Often he feels himself a loner, and truly he is in many ways, so it’s a relief for my mother’s heart to know he’s playing with others for a change and having such a good time.

It’s worth all that sweat that’s now pouring down his red-cheeked face on this stinkin hot day.

FBM 52nd Season

The production of my father’s “Festival of Baroque Music” has taken most of my time of late, and this post will be little other than a quick hello…

In 1959 my father began his Foundation For Baroque Music as a means by which he might produce a series of early music concerts at a time in which little attention was given to the performance of Baroque music in authentic tuning and on authentic period instruments. A pioneer in such an endeavor, he has since been followed by many, and as a result it is no longer a rarity to hear such music performed. In fact, early music performance, from what I can understand, is usually performed in the lower tuning (concert A =  415 rather than A being 440 or higher) and frequently on authentic instruments. So my dad, I can gather, played an important role in the modern day re-discovery of Baroque music performance.

Can’t say much more right now, as I have a tired eight year old boy on my shoulder and must prepare for another busy day tomorrow. Awaiting my father’s 52nd and final concert this Sunday next. Much to do before then….

3 a.m. Scare

“Even if the raccoon does get in, at least it’s not a death capsule.” Elihu considered the tiny 4″ wide gaps between the roof and the walls of our new and spacious coop. Yes, it seemed they’d still have room to evade a raccoon, even if it did manage to get in. Yet really, four inches?? Was that enough space for that fat raccoon to get in? I’d thought about cutting a bunch of 2x4s and wedging them in the slender gaps myself, but with so much going on it just wasn’t possible. So last night the flock slept without incident in the new coop. (They also slept in; I opened their tiny door at 7 a.m., but none moved off their roosts to come out for a few more hours. Our chickens keep a teenager’s sleep schedule.!)

Four inches of space is indeed enough room for a fat raccoon to enter the coop. Crap. About three ish this morning I heard a couple of squawks from the coop. Through my sleep I was up in an instant, ear cocked for more information. No time to guess. Lights on, shoes on, flashlight in hand and to the coop. I open the door (an easy thing to do what with actual human-scale doors on it, a real luxury after the last sad box of a coop!) and there is that damned animal, clambering up the wall – a straight vertical climb mind you – for her escape through that narrow slit under the eaves. Really? Seriously? You can friggin do that? How is that possible? Kinda like a bumble bee flying – doesn’t work out on paper, but it does in real life. Geez.

I do a quick assessment, and everyone’s accounted for and ok. No blood, just a couple extra guinea feathers lying about. The only solution is to move the flock, one at a time, into the garage. Dear Molly, our eldest hen runs out and towards the house. Good girl, she’s not stupid. In times of danger she high-tails it to the railing by the kitchen door. I pick up each and every one of our flock and move them to the garage before going after Molly. I have a quiet talk with her. She seems to get it; she makes no attempt to flee my arms, and soon she’s safely with the rest.

All is well, and Elihu didn’t even wake. He’s deep in sleep. I however, am not. I am exhausted, but even after a half hour of lying quietly, I’m no closer to drifting off. The Blue Skirt Waltz plays incessantly over and over in my head. Argh. What a silly song. Dammit. It plays as a looped backdrop to my mind, which is now picking up speed. The to-do lists start. It’s a couple over-the-counter sleeping pills for me I guess. A blog post perhaps? Why not. Give the pills some time to kick in. Check my email. Try to map out this incredibly packed week before me. Move harpsichord, tune harpsichord, proof ads, make many calls yet, rent champagne flutes, buy champagne, oh, then there’s a dentist appointment and some entertaining of kids to do with scheduled playdates, house sit for vacationing friends, teach lessons, figure out my trip to Chicago next week, negotiate my father’s final Baroque Festival while managing to stay present enough to enjoy myself and take away lovely memories.

And now I gotta fix this silly coop before I leave town! Man. I’d thought it was safely off my list, but no. So much to do. Ahh, but then it’s Bi Bim Bop at Mr. Lee’s Evanston Grill for breakfast. Heaven. Just gotta get to sleep first…

First Drawing Class at The Studio

Ceres Zabel, the hero behind the art classes at the Studio helps a student with her perspective.

Birds and art. Elihu is in heaven.

The whole class

Whitey, the only peaceful rooster we’d ever had. The day after he posed so quietly for the kids’ drawing class he disappeared. Went out in the morning with the flock never to return again. We’re glad he was immortalized on paper. And I’ll bet the kids won’t ever forget their drawing class that day.

Quickie Update

Much is going on these days. Too much, in fact, to write. Some may have noticed a long pause between posts…

We are having a coop professionally built for us. This is perhaps the single biggest quality of life upgrade we’ve experienced here in New York. The lumber arrived today and awaits the crew who will arrive first thing tomorrow morning. We can thank my father for making this amazing project possible.

Art classes are underway, a drawing class with ten students is going on as I write. In a few minutes Elihu and I are bringing our grand, white rooster to the Studio that he may pose as a model for the class. How fun is that?

Later today I’m meeting with a fellow from the Mohawk-Hudson Dowsers for a peek at the facility. We’ll be hosting their meeting in late August. The members will dowse for a suitable source of water to supply the new well being drilled soon. We already know the location that will work; we’re marking several dummy spots as potential candidates in addition to the proposed well drill spot, then letting the group learn the real one from the fake by dowsing for it themselves. How fun is that?

Ok. I have an eight year old boy standing in front of me with a rooster in his arms. Gotta run…

Working Summer

Woke up at a little after 4 this morning. Thought I’d get back to sleep. Probably should have, but the old mind started goin round and round with all that was before me. Dad’s final and 52nd Baroque festival is just three weeks away and I’ve done little meaningful promotion. Lists appear in my mind, so many things pop up that I’ve yet to deal with. Things that really should have been taken care of weeks ago. Sigh. Guess I’m up. I make a pot of coffee and begin to put away the dishes. Nearly every one in the house was dirty yesterday and I am supremely satisfied to have pulled it together and gotten them all done. Soon they will be away, the profile of the kitchen once again clean. If it weren’t, I’m not sure I’d be able to get down to business. (Anyone else? A cluttered house zaps me of my focus.)

I have so much to do, yet I can’t help but feel Elihu needs something to occupy him other than chasing the rooster around. We’ve enjoyed some full-on fun days lately, each jam-packed with lots of fun kid stuff, so I can’t worry too much about it. This is the time of summer in which the shit hits the fan with dad’s concert and there’s a lot of time needed at desk, phone and computer, and for a couple of weeks I just can’t be the super mommy I usually endeavor to be. I can hear my own mother’s voice in my head “Cryin out loud, you don’t need to entertain the kid all day long!” I know I don’t, but I always feel a little bad in that it’s just him. You know, the only child thing.

I think back to my own childhood in this very place. Long, hot, humid and buggy days just my brother and me. I guess we must have made our own fun – yet I do remember well that boredom was a pronounced part of summer. There were long stretches with nothing to do. (Because my dad was busy with the same festival I am now, and my mom was working.) And I think of my son. He’s got it better in some ways – chickens, trampoline, garden of his own creation, loads of art supplies and a huge desk – even the internet (yes, I let my son wander there alone for now. Pretty much all he does is search you tube for birding videos), yet I can’t help but feel a little bad about his solitude.

Last night, as we mapped out the weeks ahead, I apologized for the next few days in which I’d need to be in the office, but reminded him that the following week we were taking the bikes and going to the middle school parking lot and I was teaching him how to ride a bike. “Really?” he laughed. “I’m going to learn how to ride a bike?” Guess he didn’t think we’d ever get around to it. I will not allow him to grow up unable to ride a bike like his father. Riding a bike has been one of my life’s greatest pleasures. And while I can’t really see the point riding around here – as I’m more about riding to somewhere than just riding to ride (it takes miles of hilly terrain to reach any meaningful destination and when you get there you’re going to be drenched in sweat) – it is nonetheless something that will one day add to the overall quality of his life. I rode a great deal as a child – miles and miles through the cool woods, the open sunny fields. I’ve eaten a few bugs here in Greenfield coasting down hills, mouth open in the exhilaration of the descent. (I had a blue, 3 speed “Rollfast” model made by who knows. As a kid I was so proud of my aptly named bike.) Elihu hasn’t shown much interest in his bike lately, and of course he’s still on training wheels, but in that he’s got loads of energy and he’s utterly fascinated with achieving speeds like that of a bird, I think he will find a fast-moving bicycle a very happy reward. So that takes care of next week.

Today, it’ll just be the old-fashioned way for him. Like the summer days my mom wouldn’t let me watch Dark Shadows on our teeny black and white TV which only got three channels and then she sighed in exasperation and said we kids shouldn’t be inside on such a beautiful day because we should be outside playing and then virtually shoved us out the door. Like that. Kinda.

I can’t worry about my kid, I’ve got my own work to do right now. It’s going to be a beautiful summer day and he should be outside playing. What he does to enjoy the day is his job.

Gentleman Johnny

“Sir, you look pretty good for 289 years old”. Elihu had approached the redcoat General before he’d begun his historic presentation. There was some laughter from the small crowd which was starting to gather. The people stood to the side of a pillared stone structure which housed one of Saratoga’s many famous springs, known since the time of the Indians for their restorative and healthful properties. It was July third, and this historic, eastern town was ramping up for the fourth. Elihu and I had finished a historical novel just a few weeks prior, so General Burgoyne was still very much in our heads. This was a good opportunity to make the story truer, easier to really get.

“It’s nice the weather’s staying comfortable for you today, what with all that wool” I offered the general, waving my hand up and down to indicate his getup. But he was good. I hadn’t realized he’d really be in character, and that he was yet to do a whole presentation for us. I guess I’d thought it would be kinda like a Disney character parading silently around a party, nodding and posing for pictures with the kids. Nope. This was actually kinda cool. He was no cartoon character. This was an actor in costume with his historic game on. “Madam, this is my uniform no matter the time of year” he responded in a deep, measured voice with a sort of non-accent. Not British, not Amercian. Kinda stagey, big and bold. This guy was already going. No breaking character. Yeah. Nice way to start the holiday.

Elihu and I stood and listened to Mr. Bugoyne as he strutted back and forth, telling his side of the experience at the battle of Saratoga, in 1777. It was interesting. Told with humanistic details that made his experience more real, closer to our own way of being in the world. It lasted a bit long for a casual crowd; many left, and kids were sitting on the ground by the end, but we made it, and both enjoyed it quite well. The General opened the floor for questions, and Elihu raised his hand. “Yes, boy?” he asked. “I was wondering, did you have any kids?” The crowd chuckled. “Why yes I have in fact four children, and I’m glad you asked because the adults here present will be amused by the story”. He went on to tell that he’d had a daughter by his wife, who died young, and then in his later years – after 60 – he fathered three more children. Geez. Sounded a little too familiar. But it was in fact an amusing story, and afterward much of the crowd departed, chuckling. We nodded our thanks and left.

That was but one of so many small, delightful chapters in our day yesterday. And in just a few moments we’ll be setting out once again, to fully experience the Fourth of July in a historic, American town. The weather is just perfect, and we are ready to make some history of our own.

Coop Lesson

Elihu came home from his visit to his father’s. He had only been gone a week, yet time away from him had done what it always did; it showed me just how much he was growing. The reunions that follow a time apart are the only windows in which I can objectively see this in progress. Seems I was picking up a twelve year old. Instantly our moods were happy and the chatter completely skipped the experience of his flight and turned straight away to his chickens and garden. (He’s now flown alone so many times it seems no different to him than a long bus ride and it hardly warrants discussion.)

It was getting dark, but I judged we still had just enough time to get home and put the chickens in. I got a little lax though, and mentioned some lilies I’d seen on sale at the grocery store, knowing full well he’d beg to stop – and then I could get my secretly desired avocado. I knew I was pushing it, that we really should go straight home, but since it was indeed right on our way, we pulled in for a ten minute detour.

When Elihu saw the lilies he flipped. It was a happy surprise. The high-contrast markings on the petals really stood out to him. I’d hoped so. After our light-hearted romp through the store we packed our lilies safely in the back and headed for Greenfield.

When we pulled in the sky was still glowing, and although night had for all intents and purposes fallen, it was still a little early for predators. At least in my experience so far. I pulled in to illuminate the coop and run with my headlights to discover half the flock up on the netting above the run. Madeline was in the flower box on the coop. Some were safe inside, but there was a strange feeling in the air. I scanned for trouble and saw a mass of light feathers – from one of our three mottled hens – in the corner. Further investigation showed one hen missing. Crap. Our mature flock had been doing so well. Now it’s getting to the point where it might be a monetary loss for Eggs of Hope, not to mention just plain sad.

Elihu and I gently picked up the few hens that were on the ground, still panting from a skirmish. We spoke softly to them and placed them gently on their high perches in the coop. I had to cut the netting (must remember to sew it back up today) to get some of the birds free. Thankfully the dark makes them a little slower to respond, less feisty in their protests, and so I was able to grab them and pull them in fairly easily. We counted them again, and yes, we’d lost a hen. I thought a red, Elihu thought a mixtie (that’s what we call our mottled hens who are an organgie-red with white details – daughters of Buddah, the patient hen in the you tube video who sits and listens as Elihu sings 911 on the Dance Floor to her). Whichever, it didn’t matter. We had to make due, and make sure the remaining ones were safe. I shut them in, made extra careful to pull the netting over the door crack tight, also laid a folded baby gate over the front to prevent raccoons from digging underneath and getting in below the door. Looked good. Couldn’t see how a creature could possible get in. Felt unsettled, but had done all I knew to do. Or at least all I knew to do in that moment.

Another two hours of our evening passed making and eating dinner, watching vintage Pink Panther clips (the cartoon) while a bath ran, getting into bed, reading. We fell asleep together, yet after he was out I returned to my bed and began my night’s sleep in earnest. Deep in a dream, a cluster of screeches and squawks reached my ears and I was up – I had been so deeply asleep I felt drugged – but I stumbled for the switch to the outside lights (which the woman who built this house in 1970, also named Elizabeth, had had installed in the bedroom for her peace of mind) and began yelling at the top of my lungs to let the intruder know mama was mad and on her way.

I ran out, flipped on all the lights and saw a closed coop – which normally signals a sigh of relief, but this was as weird as a dream – with no visible signs of possible entry points, there was something in the coop and the hens were going nuts. I feared the worst and kept shouting in hopes of getting the predator to at least leave them alone and start panicking herself. It took so much damned time to undo everything I’d done up so tightly, but finally, door wide open, I saw nothing. Just the chickens on their perches, all buck-gawking loudly, some dazed on the floor, panting, but all mostly in their place. I grabbed the flashlight I have hanging there, scanned the box and found a raccoon – not even a big one, probably the very one who raids our bird feeders – and she was trying to claw at the wood walls in hopes of digging her way out. Concerned that an adrenaline-filled raccoon might conceivably fling herself at me, I picked up a milk crate and waved it at her. “Go! You gotta get OUT of here!” I yelled as I swung the crate at her. She walked behind the row of hens to the end of the perch and jumped down, running away through the garage. How the hell did she get in here? This event was much darker than all my previous attacks. Maybe it’s because the injured were left behind. In the past, they’ve simply been gone. And we assumed, eaten. This time was frighteningly different.

The hens left on the ground were behaving as if they were broken. They were puffed out, some unable to move at all, some tottered out into the run, wobbling, uttering a constant high whining sound. ‘Oh man. They must be hurting so much’ I thought. I was close to tears, but these days in my life it takes a lot to get me there. And crying wasn’t going to help the girls at all. Like a movie when the hero stands pausing to assess his circumstances, I said ‘just think, Elizabeth, think’ over and over. Maybe more to calm myself down than to think.

I could not leave them in a faulty coop. I thought of options.. “I’ll just bring you into the house” I declared, thinking of the pioneers, their hens cozy inside those one room cabins. I remembered past winters when I’d brought them all in, one by one, into our warm basement on the coldest nights of all. But the poops were everywhere by morning, and there had been fewer birds then. I had thirteen in total, and it was too big a production to contemplate. I just had to so something.

Elihu called from his window. It haunted me with that old familiar feeling in my gut. The ‘oh no, it’s my kid, he needs me and I gotta drop what I’m doing and fix something’ feeling. My son seems to have needed me more than other kids might need their moms, I don’t know, but it sure feels like it. Can’t even go a whole night without calling to me to make sure I’m nearby. Remembering the grown-up child I’d spent the evening with, I experienced a shift inside, and I yelled back to him. “I’m right here, honey. There’s been an attack in the coop and I need to make sure everything’s alright. I’ll be in the house soon. You’re ok. You’re eight, you’re not six. You don’t need me right now. I’ll be in soon”. Must have made sense to him, for he was quiet. That was a relief. Now to assess the hens.

A couple mixties were on the ground panting. One red hen was stumbling about, making a constant cooing sound. These poor girls. I set about to making little boxes for each of the four most hurt, lining them with fresh wood chips and making sure the boxes were off the ground, but not by more than a few inches in case they couldn’t use their wings at all, something I feared. Once I made the spots ready, I gingerly picked each hen up, feeling for any obvious injuries, then set them in their new beds. I examined my hands in the light for blood. No blood. Good, I guess. I made sure they had a bowl of water inside the coop, then I set to work securing the coop.

The electricity was back on in the garage, and I had my chop saw. I would fix it. Now, what needed fortifying? Where and how did that raccoon get in? Amazingly, she’d dug far enough under the front door and worked it long enough that she’d managed to finagle a small hole under the door by which to enter, only not big enough to escape through. Hookay. Gotta cover that gap. I went to a pile of 2x4s I’d honed from my searches for free lumber on Craigslist and pulled out a board. I looked around for a measuring tape. Nope. They were all inside, being used by a young birder to measure wingspans. Ok. I set the board under the saw, found what looked about the width of the door, and chopped it. When I took the board to the coop, I found that the cut must have been guided by angels, for the board not only fit nice and snug, but with a slight tap from my sledgehammer it was in for good, nice and strong, covering up the breach just perfectly. For good measure I decided I’d cut a second and stack it on top. I used twine to learn the length of this perfect board, but even after three chops it wasn’t magic. Finally I installed it and used a paint stirrer stick as a shim. Pounded it in and the new board tightened up. Ok. All I can do for now.

I closed the door once again. I took a bean pole from the garage and wedged it against the door to tighten the gap. Now understanding how little space a raccoon actually needed to pass through, I didn’t want to leave the small breach at the top of the door unaddressed. I wedged it good and tight. Then I head back to the house, leaving all the lights on.

Elihu was up. So was I. How do you get back to sleep after something like that? It had me thinking of things folks went through three hundred years ago when their flock meant their nourishment, their survival. Talk about adrenaline. I felt sick knowing that some of our gals were probably in great pain at the moment, but Elihu and I reminded ourselves that we’d done all we could. And so we said a prayer for them, sent them our love and healing energy, and then tried to sleep. It took awhile.

I’ve been up for a few hours now and should get my son up soon, as his schedule is getting more out of whack the later I let him sleep. I used the solo morning to tend to the injured birds. God bless the internet. And my intuition. Did what I could. The really maimed birds are two of our three mixties, who are now quarantined in what used to be the chick’s pen. Each has an eye puffed up and closed, and each is hardly moving. Yet I managed to get a few eyedropperfulls of home-made juice in them (pediatlyte, baby aspirin, antibiotic) and they each ate a little fortified mash. They’re in the shade just hanging on.

I better get going. I have a piano lesson to teach in a few minutes. That raccoon sure gave me a lesson last night. Hope I learned something.