Plane Sight

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My kid is obsessed with flight. He spends hours watching videos of all things aviation. He tells me he’s getting worried; it’s hard for him to concentrate when he’s in school. All he can think of his how things fly… It’s almost driving him nuts. And it certainly takes a little patience and cooperation from me. !

Elihu can’t stop making planes. First, it was very sophisticated paper airplane designs that each flew with different characteristics. Seems he’s had his fill of that, and now he’s after the beauty of the silhouette. Spruce Goose, Antinov, DC 10, Piper Cherokee, whatever… These days he lives and breathes man-made things that fly. I encourage him and watch him in fascination as he leads me on yet another one of our life’s adventures. His current goal is to become the world’s first legally blind pilot. Sounds crazy, but if I were ever inclined to believe someone, it would be him. He is one focused little boy. And for him, his goal doesn’t seem crazy at all. For him, it’s within plain sight.

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He’s making a giant glider now…

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And it’s got a moveable rudder, too.

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Some fly, some don’t. It doesn’t really matter. It’s the intention that soars…


Sick Chick

Thumbs Up

Phooey. Thumbs Up is sick. I’ve been through this before – in fact, it was just about a year ago this time that we lost the matriarch of our flock, Molly. I know, I know… they’re just silly chickens. But of the whole forty-some odd hens we have, Thumbs Up has the most, well, distinct personality. And besides, she’s one of the few remaining (maybe the only remaining, it kinda looks it) genetic descendants of Buddha, another peer of Molly’s. Thumbs Up and Madeline are the ‘old-timers’. The ones we’d like to breed this spring to keep that line going. I realize I’m being ridiculously sentimental here. Really, it does not matter. Genetics is only one of many components to a family – or a flock, I should say. It’s not even necessary. It’s such a silly human characteristic to become overly romantic about blood lines. I guess if you’re breeding a racehorse it might be pretty significant, but come on. Why the hell am I so emotionally tied up in this? For some reason I just want to keep a lineage of chickens from our very first flock. Yes, it’s purely sentimental. But here in the real world, it really isn’t such a practical goal.

When I saw her crouched in the nesting box, her wings hanging down in a very odd manner, I knew. Then when I saw her nictitating eyelid closed as if she were sleeping although it was still afternoon (the eyelid that closes bottom to top), I knew it. Crap. Immediately I told myself she was just about as good as dead. I wasn’t so sad, really. She had a good life, I smooched her plenty, and so she was done. For a minute I thought I’d just leave her there and hope for an overnight improvement. Well. Maybe not quite a minute. No, I couldn’t let her go. I promptly got a towel, wrapped her up and brought her inside. I parked her by the heater near the piano. Oh dear. She didn’t look good at all. Her crop was bulging out and was way too firm, her tail was held at a weird angle. Crap. I hate this. And just because I’d moved her inside didn’t make her chances for living that much better. She was sick.  I just sat there and looked at her for a good long while, trying to muster my courage to take some sort of action. Finally, I gave myself a talking to…Stop whining about how much of a bummer this is, Elizabeth, and DO something!… Now!

Thankfully, I still had the veterinary supplies in the fridge from last year. And it came back to me as I looked over the stash… yeah, yeah… I remember. Ok. Found the syringes and got myself organized. Called my assistant in, then wrapped up the patient and pried open her beak. All meds were successfully administered. We sat back and watched. And, unlike her sister Molly last year, Thumbs Up began to drink. Hurray! She drank, and drank…. I’d given her some olive oil so felt good about the prospects for getting things moving through her system. Gotta keep things moving… we all know the hospital won’t release you until you… well, you know.

Last time I peeked in on her she looked better. True, last year we got Molly better too… twice. Then she finally died. Ich. I’m ready for that to happen too, but I just gotta hope this time we can beat it. We’ll keep her inside a bit longer just to make sure. I’ll run her antibiotics a good ten days for good measure. Why not? The other option is, essentially, to give up. And here at the Hillhouse, ‘giving up’ is not usually the option we choose. Certainly not now!

I’m giving two thumbs up for a healthy hen!

Post Post 3/2/13: I gave up on keeping her inside after four days as she was much improved. I do realize that this might be a mistake and so am keeping my eye on her. She was so healthy that having her confined (and keeping up with the poops) was becoming a challenge. She was proudly roosted on the highest bar last night and I have every confidence that she’s going to do fine. I’ll continue to medicate for a few more days as well…

Another Post-Post: May 11th, 2013, and Thumbs Up is going strong. She is easily the most animated, gregarious hen in our entire flock. And really, back when I made this post, I was prepared for her death. But she’s got spunk. Look for pics of her in future posts!

And yet another post-post: June 24th, 2013… Thumbs Up is the single spunkiest hen of the whole flock. She and Madeline continue to outshine the others with their Houdinilike ability to thwart any efforts at containing them inside the run. Thumbs Up will snatch a sandwich out of your hand if you’re not paying attention – then eat the whole thing and come back for more. If you open the car door she’s in and ready for a ride. She likes to linger near people and is easily picked up and smooched. We lost our matriarch Molly after round two of an illness similar to what TU had in this post, but in some way, Thumbs Up’s triumphant comeback and vivacious character almost redeem the death of that first gal. Talk about happy endings!

New Normal

Dad, Elihu and planes

Met Elihu and his dad at the train last night. We three had a nice, leisurely supper. The guys made some paper airplane models at our table while I enjoyed my very first experience with Angry Birds and was easily sucked into more than a few games on dad’s Iphone. At some point during dinner Fareed and I got to talking about my cable bill, and how I might get creative about changing up my house systems, and how I might save some money. Our tones must have become much more serious, because I looked over at Elihu to see his face beginning to scrunch up… “Hey, what’s the matter?” I asked him, and no sooner had I shown my concern than he began to sob. “It just feels like you guys are not happy with each other. Like you’re fighting. You both sound angry.” True, I suppose the tone was perhaps a bit more business-like than conversational-friendly, but we were not fighting. Far from it. Fareed and both I jumped in and assured him that we were not arguing – that we were just talking about a problem we needed to solve… “Sweetie” Fareed began, “your mother and I are best friends. We will always be best friends.” Then he looked up at me for confirmation. I met his eyes only briefly, as this was the first such declaration of this kind I’d ever heard from him since this whole thing began years ago. It caught me off guard, and I had to assess how this felt in a mere nanosecond. I felt I needed to answer positively, for the sake of my son. In an instant, as I considered the way this statement resonated with me, I could feel my  heart softening towards him, yielding to him… and yet there was reservation, maybe even a faint sense of being deceived… “Yes, of course” I confirmed, so that Elihu might feel some solidarity here. The gravity of the moment quickly disappeared as Fareed and I attempted to lighten the mood in a manner that had come to us naturally for decades… we smilingly morphed into a Monty Python-esque sort of bit along the lines of ‘oh you think that’s an argument, I’ll give you something to really get upset about…’ and Elihu smiled too. Soon he was laughing along with us, but his tears took a little longer to stop altogether. Can’t say this was surprising. I sensed that once again he was feeling the stress of the ‘handoff’, and this was just another natural expression of the transition taking place. An expression of the evidence before him that he lived, ultimately, in a family divided by half a country. A one-parent-at-a-time family.

We passed a couple of hours, chatting, goofing around, making planes. Then finally, especially as it was a school night, it was snowing and we had chickens to get in (not to mention a long drive ahead), our visit was winding to a close. Sometimes our visits end happily, easily. And while it seemed all the elements were in place for it to end so now, I felt the vaguest current of something unresolved, a tenuous energy unready for the final goodbye that lingered in the air… We drove daddy to the train station and got out for last hugs and kisses. We three stood in the snow, our arms around each other. Elihu clung to us both as we exchanged our ‘double smooches’… Elihu told his father one last time that he loved him, and Fareed responded in a low voice, “I love you too, more than you’ll ever know…” We waved til the car turned and his father disappeared into the darkness. Elihu began sobbing as soon as he was out of sight.

What happened over the next half hour I cannot repeat with the complete, word-for-work accuracy that I’d like. What Elihu had to say, and the way in which he expressed himself, was simply beautiful. His words would have been impressive had they come from an adult in a state of deep reflection, but that they came from the mouth of a nine year old boy, who spoke without any prior consideration of his words – that made it even more mind-blowing to witness. My boy, finally, was letting me know exactly how he felt about this whole divorce thing. Until last night, I’d thought I knew how he felt. But I had only part of the picture.

I knew transitions were tricky, but I’d always thought on the whole he was much less affected by our split family than I came to learn. He started to express himself by telling me that he deeply wished “the essence of ‘what happened’ could say it was sorry to him. He explained that he didn’t mean me, or daddy, or any one person in particular. He repeated that he just wanted the essence of the experience to say it was sorry.  Furthermore, he wished this ‘essence’ would acknowledge that Elihu did not deserve to be treated like this. A few moments of silence passed. During most of the ride, in fact, I said very little. I just listened as Elihu poured his heart out to the world.

“Why were you talking to each other like that?” he asked, and I was confused. “Like what?” “Like drones… you weren’t talking with each other. You were just talking… not like people who used to be married. Not like a family. Just like drones…” Wow. He did pick up on it – that restrained sort of vibe that’s always there when I’m with Fareed. I do know that I put up an emotional wall – it just feels safer that way – and I’ll be damned if the kid didn’t feel it. “Honey, I just need to be that way with daddy. If I weren’t, I’d probably end up crying and begging him to come back… I know it’s stupid, but I think that part of me still feels like that…” Was I admitting too much? Giving my son false hope? Hell, was this even really the way I felt about things? Even I surprised myself with this admission. This was a very honest moment between us, and I didn’t feel like modifying the truth for him, I didn’t feel like censoring what came out of me. I owed him that much. I’d helped screw up his life by not honoring my intuition and examining my marriage before it was too late. I had to be honest, there’d been enough deceit.

“I feel like I only just realized when I was eight that we were never going back.”  “Never going back, sweetie?” I asked, “what do you mean?” He hardly paused before he explained; ” I feel like it was you and me and daddy in our house in Evanston and then we took a little trip away. But somehow I always thought we’d go back to that life. I really did.”  I asked him how he could possibly remember Judson – he was hardly more than a toddler when we left – yet he protested that he remembered the feeling of that place, and that was the feeling he wanted to return to. “I guess I just kind of thought that we were just going to be here for a little while, and somehow, we’d go back to being our regular family.” More road, more darkness and snow. “And I’d have a sister too.” I thought back on my miscarriage. “By this July, your little sister or brother would have been eight.” I mused. “Yeah,” he answered, “that would have been perfect”. And we rode in silence for a while more, the windshield wipers smoothing away the big, wet flakes.

“It seems like everybody is always doing things with their fathers. They get both a mother and a father at the same time. And it makes me so sad to hear them talking at school about their family ski trips. It’s not fair. We can’t even do things together as a family. ” He mentioned one of his classmates, whose dad is my mom’s cardiologist. Even my own heart felt a tad bit of jealousy. They had three kids – and money. (I scolded myself for indulging in the thought and returned my attention to Elihu.) “It’s not fair that I don’t get my own daddy.” I asked Elihu if he’d ever talked to Fareed about all of this. He said no, because he was afraid of what he might say in response. “You need to speak to daddy about this, even if you are afraid. I was afraid too, sweetie, and I think that’s partly why we’re here now. If only I’d been brave and asked daddy where his heart was, maybe I could have saved our marriage. Maybe.” I was trying to show Elihu by example how important it was to face your fears and communicate, but I may have inadvertently given him hope… “Yeah, and maybe then we’d still be in Judson and I’d have a sister.” “Oh but sweetie,” I tried to comfort him, “honestly, there’s no way of knowing if it would have changed anything. It might not have changed anything at all.” Silence. This was a difficult situation. No one answer, no one perspective. “You can’t imagine your life without Charlie and Erie, can you?” I asked of his little brothers. “No” he said. “But I wouldn’t have known them, so I wouldn’t have known the difference. And I would have had a regular sister from you.” More road, more sadness. More unending what-ifs….

After a while he spoke up again. ” I don’t like the way Jill asks how my mother’s doing, like nothing’s wrong. It bothers me the way she does that.” What could I say? I have no idea what I would say to him if I were her… “Honey, all of us say the things we need to. None of us wants to hurt anyone, or to say too much, so grown-ups usually just say the littlest, most polite things we can.” Another pause. “She’s doing her best, I know” Elihu said quietly. There wasn’t much relief from the sadness that hung heavily about us both. But finally tonight there was anger too. “I feel like I’m on a huge string in between you and daddy. I’m in the middle of you two… and I’m just hanging there. And I don’t think daddy even knows or cares!” There was anger in his voice now, and I was rooting for him. Get mad, baby, I thought. “Daddy has never apologized.” Really? I thought. Honestly, he’s never apologized? My heart was breaking over and over for my son and now I was beginning to get angry too. Did Fareed have any fucking clue just what damage he’d done? Really? Did he? A moment of rage passed over me, and I let it go… I’ve learned how fruitless it is to get angrier and angrier… But I hoped that Elihu might remember this fire, and that he might finally speak to his father about it. “You do know the only way you’ll ever know for sure how he feels about all this, don’t you?” I asked. Good boy, he knew all right. He agreed that he finally needed to have that conversation with his father. And he would. Not just quite yet though, because he was still afraid. But soon. I didn’t say anything more. I hoped he’d get his father’s apology at the very least.

I explained as best I could that in the grand, planet-wise scheme of things we were very, very fortunate people. And he agreed. He listed all the many things that made our lives easy and made us happy. He even understood that he was lucky to have both his parents, loving and present in his life. He knew it all, yet still… I went on to explain to him the idea of a ‘new normal’. That this life – with his chickens, his helicopters and Waldorf – all of this was his life. No, it wasn’t a home with a father and a mother, a sister and a dog, no; it wasn’t in Chicago where all our old friends lived, no… But it was our life. And as everything stood, right now in this moment, this was our normal. Our new normal. And fighting it would only cause heartbreak. He made a ‘mm-hmm’ from the backseat. Nothing more was said until we got home.

Since then the air has lightened, and Elihu and I are back into our groove. But he seemed a little clingier than usual tonight after I turned out the light, and he asked me to please hold him. There are no more touching words that a mother can hear from a child… I held him until his breathing became deep and the sweet relief of sleep overtook him. Brave, insightful, loving boy. Welcome to your new normal.

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Sister Pattie


Just finished reading Pattie Boyd’s autobiography. As I was browsing the shelves for something new to read and saw the title, I had a dim awareness of who she was. The cover photo intrigued me, and of course, reading that she had been married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton (and now remembering exactly ‘who’ she was) – naturally, I had to read her story. Aside from being a fascinating window into the culture of those times, it was so very much more to me. Of course my story isn’t anywhere near as colorful, historically significant or fast-paced as hers, but there are a few similarities. (Not the least of which is that we’ve each broken both of our wrists – one in nearly the same sort of accident – and have had more than one reconstructive surgery to fix em.) The big list however is of course this: music widow, shadow partner to famous guitar player, wife whose husband bore children with other women during their marriage – and whose husband somehow thought that it was ok. There’s a tiny personal link too…

Years ago, shortly after Fareed and I met and had become so deeply smitten with each other, he was asked to play on Sting’s album, Nothing Like The Sun. I had been on the road with a Chicago-based R&B band and our tour ended in Montreal. Since Fareed had relatives from the Pakistani side of his family living in town, he met me there and we went to pay them a visit. Next we drove south a couple of hours to see my folks in Saratoga Springs, New York. It was a casual phone call into Pangaea to say hello made from my parents’ kitchen phone that opened the door to the session (this was a pre-cell phone world). The secretary told him to hold on, and the next voice he heard was Sting’s (Pangea was his record label to which young Fareed had just been signed). Sting asked Fareed if he might pop by the studio and add a couple tracks since he was in New York. Sting had no idea we were a good four hour drive away – but of course that didn’t matter much to us, and we immediately hopped in the car and headed down to the city.

The track was They Dance Alone; a mournful tribute to the Chilean women made widows by the Pinochet regime and the dance they make in honor of their deceased husbands. As Fareed himself is the son of a Chilean mother, it seemed all the more appropriate. While he played, I sat on the couch eating strawberries with Sting as he nursed a bad cold. Anecdotally, I remember that we were asked to join him and his producer for dinner afterward, but I missed Fareed so much plus I really didn’t have the energy to hang with people I didn’t know well and come up with the requisite small talk – no matter how glamorous they were – so I asked Fareed to pass. So how does this all substantiate that distant connection to Pattie I mentioned? It was that Eric Clapton had also played on the same track (we got to hear his tracks soloed up too). In the end his stuff didn’t end up making it on the final mix – but Fareed’s did. Kinda fun. So. Not a close call by any means, but definitely within the six degrees of separation thing.

What struck me most about Pattie was how incredibly insecure she was. At first I couldn’t believe the things she knew about – and put up with, yet she behaved as if nothing was going on. How could she? I thought. And then at once – a memory hit me. And I realized that I was no different. In roughly our third year together, Fareed was being pestered by a woman who’d once known him on the road. Nothing new there. But then he said the strangest thing – so out of the blue: “She says she’s pregnant with my baby.” I remember now a snapshot of that moment; the end of day light, standing near Sheridan and Broadway in Chicago, a large stone church just to the north of us… I can still see in my mind’s eye the look on his face. That first glimpse into the emotion-less facade he would wear so much of the time later on in our relationship. There was a lot going on behind those vacant eyes, and I was privy to very little of it. I was stunned more than anything, because he seemed to infer that this was not a vague, warrant-less threat from some crazy fan. Something had happened. Our relationship was still fairly new, and to even consider something like this was absolutely unthinkable to me. So I too behaved as if nothing had changed. And yet, somewhere deep down, I must have known things were going on…

I learned that Pattie knew about – but somehow still ignored – lovers of both George and Eric. But it was more than that. Eric, a substance abuser and most certainly deeply troubled guy, was just plain cruel to Pattie. But she stuck around. She took it. Unlike Pattie, I certainly never knew about anything – at least nothing was obvious. And certainly Fareed was never anything but a gentleman to me. But I did feel a tiny hint of doubt. I just didn’t want to acknowledge it, because if I did, I stood to lose my partner. I wasn’t brave enough to go there. And I guess Pattie had to face it because it was shoved in her face. (Hell, I suppose it was shoved in my face too, eventually.) Even after hours spent googling over the past four years in search someone having told a story similar to mine, I still hadn’t found anything close to what I myself experienced – until I read Pattie’s story. When I got to the part where Eric tells her his news, my whole body went cold. My God. Here it is. I know that moment. I remember that out-of-body feeling, that strange, shifting reality that invades your body like a drug all in an instant… Finally, here was someone putting a voice to this experience – besides me. Finally.

“He’d met a girl called Lori when he was in Italy. They had slept together a couple of times. He still loved me but he thought he was in love her too…One day I was in the kitchen putting flowers into a vase when he came in and told me that he had had a phone call from Lori. She was pregnant. I felt panic, fear, uncertainty, terror of what might happen next. What would I do? How would I cope? ‘Can’t she get rid of it?’ I asked. I felt sick. I couldn’t breathe properly and my heart was pounding so hard I couldn’t think…” Man, do I know that place. I know it so well. But, this is only the first phase of a long and bizarre process, which inevitably ends in the birth of this new person – an event which is the most exceptionally queer and dreamlike mix of things one could ever experience in a lifetime. It’s acutely painful, it’s surreal… and of course, there’s a low level guilt present, because, after all, this tiny child had nothing to do with all the surrounding drama. And you do, in some way, wish for your not-yet ex’s happiness, and the new mother, and the babe… It’s a grueling, strange process for the wife. But oh thank God, I’m not alone. I finally read the experience from another woman’s lips…

“One evening we were sitting on the garden wall when the phone rang. It was Eric, wanting me to know that he was the proud father of a son, Conor. He was so excited. He had watched the baby being born, and went on and on about how moving, how marvelous, how miraculous it had been. His enthusiasm was unbridled. I might have been his sister or a friend, not his jilted wife. He had no thought that this might be news I didn’t want to hear.”

If you’ll read my post “Birth and Baptism“, you’ll hear me describe a nearly identical scene. Reading her account has helped me feel so much less alone. And in some ways, her experience was harder still because at that very same time she and Eric were undergoing IVF to have a child of their own. ! Pattie however, unlike me, never had the privilege of having her own child. I thank God up, down, right, left and center every day for my beloved son. I am so glad that I was able to know what it is to carry and raise a child. My heart goes out to Pattie, as that was a dream she worked so hard to achieve, yet it never came to be.

But on goes life. And while it may seem I can’t let go of my ‘story’, and I probably continue to write about it these days more than my audience might think is necessary, it shows me that my process isn’t over yet. But I am so very much better these days. I’m doing better than I was this time last year. And I suppose I’ll get better still with more time. My story will evolve, my heart will heal. Pattie’s story marches forward too… She has had so many adventures and such a rich life beyond that tiny tragedy that it gives me hope. I know that more adventures lie ahead for me too. For now, they’re more about fourth grade plays and egg collecting than travel or new careers, but I’m so very grateful for what I have.

And I’m grateful for my new sister, too.

Hungry Fox and Broody Hen

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While I’ve been drinking prep solution and having polyps removed, life in the country has continued on without me, with new tiny dramas and situations arising each day. And no matter what’s on the day’s agenda, it always must start the same way: first thing in the morning, with muck boots and farm jacket on over my pajamas, I head out to water and feed. Everyone’s happy to see me, and it’s a charming way to start the day. The walk outdoors brings me into my body, the fresh air revives me, and seeing these silly, endearing creatures always – always – lifts my spirits.

We’ve had a couple of light snowfalls over the past  couple of weeks, and with the fresh snow come fresh tracks. There’s a new resident fox in our neighborhood – first made apparent to me by a friendly Facebook message a few weeks back from Stephanie, who lives across the field and the road from us (owner of the ancient model T seen in previous posts, the tracks of which you can see at the bottom of the above photo). A day later I myself saw the mangy creature run down the driveway one evening as I made my p.m. rounds. He/she merely trotted past, in no hurry to escape unseen. I hadn’t seen a fox with my own eyes in some four years. And the last one I saw, quite sadly, killed my much beloved lilac point Siamese and tabby mix, Taylor. (I still can’t quite let myself off the hook for not calling him in that one, fateful night.) My heart went out to this lil creature, regardless of the threat it might pose to my flock. In fact, I so wished I could surrender up one of my non-layers to her. But of course, I couldn’t make such a living sacrifice. After the sighting, I didn’t think much about the fox for a few days – until I saw its tracks recently.

A straight line of petite dog footprints made their way up the hill from the woods – and went straight to the coop. Then they went under the coop. Then a second set of tracks came out and proceeded to march down the course of the driveway, eventually turning to cross the field. This was a bit alarming, but nonetheless it awakened my pity on the creature, and I decided to leave out some leftovers that night. It worked. She returned, ate them, and revisited the coop. I don’t worry for the hen’s safety – that little building’s shut up tight. But it’s those couple of minutes just after sunset that concern me. If I’m not there to shut the door and gather stragglers – something might happen. And just a couple days ago, something did.

I heard a very suspicious round of hen noises one afternoon (usually attacks occur at night in my limited experience) and so I threw on my coat and made a beeline to the coop. In the snow I saw something quite different from before: groupings of two prints side by side were each separated by some six feet – making a line from the woods to the coop! This was clearly a fox moving at lightening speed – and at the end of the tracks? A small pile of feathers. No blood. No real evidence aside from that – and a reduced head count. I had to admire her. Swift, stealthy and successful. In fact, I wasn’t at all dismayed, but secretly quite happy about it. I had too many mouths to feed anyway. Since that afternoon I’ve seen tracks again, but I’m hoping she’s not quite as hungry and motivated as before and that she’ll find herself a cozy little den to nap until spring. Not letting my guard down yet though. (I’m not terribly concerned about losing one of our many generic red hens – I just want to make sure Max, Austin and a few of my favorites are safe.)

So now the cycle of life means to revive itself once again – and one hen has parked herself most determinedly on a clutch of eggs. She can’t be dissuaded – when I try to collect eggs from beneath her she pecks quite violently at me. I myself am quite impressed with her behavior. And, like the fox, I admire her innate qualities, her resolve to do what she knows she must. Sitting on eggs, however, seems quite a usual thing, right? Probably doesn’t sound so impressive.  Sounds natural, yes, I know – after all, this is how chickens reproduce, right? Well, in the old days, yes. But sadly, modern chicken breeders have made it a priority to breed out the instinct of hens to ‘set’ (sit patiently on a pile of eggs til they hatch) and instead have chosen to aggressively breed the less broody (maternal) gals. The reason being that it’s much easier to get eggs from gals who don’t sit on em, and from gals who really couldn’t care less. Rather than setting and being all broody, wasting time and hoarding the inventory, they just go on eating, laying, eating laying… And that’s what a consumer-based, commercial world demands of these gals. Kinda sad, I think. When I first heard that finding truly broody hens these days was not such an easy thing, I felt my heart sink. How sad! Can you imagine? Chickens bred to do nothing but ‘make product’, and their procreation depending entirely upon the intervention of man – and on man’s own schedule! Ich. So seeing this gal – and seeing how tireless her post (she’s been there each and every time I’ve been to the coop the past three days) my heart and hopes are lifted. Good girl.

However, it’s much too cold right now to be raising up a new flock – so I must intervene. This morning I held her head in my right hand while I retrieved some eight, toasty warm eggs with my left. She’s such a good mother, and I just hate to do this to her. She had piled up all the hay and wood chips in a cup-like shape, making a nest as snug and warm as possible. Oh dear, I really do feel bad. She’s clearly upset about my removing her future babies, and it bothers me to know she’s feeling so distraught. I try to convey to her with my heart that there will be plenty of time for this in the spring. That warmer weather is coming, and one day, universe willing, she will have her babies. Yet ultimately, a few years down the line, they’ll either end up in the freezer – or in the fox. Sounds kinda sad, yeah, I know. But that’s just the way it goes. At least everyone here has a full, rich and natural life – as fine a life as any animal could want.

And so on it goes… for both fox and hen.

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The view from my kitchen window early morning

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Fox tracks coming in from the woods…

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and up through the model T tracks towards the coop…

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My beloved flock (Austin above at left)

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Happy, hungry hens

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The broody gal takes a water break

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… and returns to her post

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A bird’s eye view of a top row nesting box

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The fox uses the long driveway to make her exit… See you soon, you sly fox!

Ended for Now

Feb Colon 2013 001

Well if my morning at Saratoga Hospital wasn’t just the most pleasant day excursion I’d had in months and months… it was right up there with having a crown put onto one of my molars not too long ago. And I, dear readers, am FAR from being sarcastic. Yes, I do love medical care. As I said probably one time too many to the very kind and caring staff today – in my opinion, hospitals, doctors’ and dentists’ offices seem to offer an experience something akin to what I might guess a spa provides. After all, it’s about everyone being in service to you, your needs, your comfort.  Everyone is all so very kind, everyone’s ready to assist in any way, ready to make sure you’re as comfortable as possible … they all have the patient’s best interests at heart and they’d do just about any little thing I might ask of them. Bless em all – down to the gal I heard coming in as patients left, so that she could re-make and re-fresh the bed for the next patient to arrive. Not a crabby word was heard as I lay there…. and lay there…. and lay there… But that, is another story, and one entirely of my own fault.

As I was moving my stuff into my little corner of the room, beginning to take off shoes and assess the gown situation, I pulled out my bottle of Saratoga water and took a swig. The nurse stopped me and asked, very concerned, just how much of that had I already drunk today? Now, in just about any other situation I mighta just shaved a bit off the truth, but I was trying to play clean here, and truly I did not take the “NO FLUIDS OF ANY KIND” warning on the prep info sheet to heart as I should – so I copped to some 12 ounces of water over the past 2 hours. This was, apparently a game changer. But I wasn’t ready yet to surrender this long-awaited appointment (made nearly 9 months ago) and so continued to prepare as if nothing had happened. I undressed, got comfy, had my IV put in, enjoyed another gorgeously warm layer of blankets laid gently over my body before the doc came in to tell me the news: I’d screwed up. They just can’t take the chance that I’ll spit it up – something to do with aspirating and messing up my breathing while under. Ok. Kinda get it. Get it enough to realize I’m glad I brought a book. Cuz he kindly offered to try and get me in after a couple of hours – the time it would take for the dangerous twelve ounces of water to work their way out of my system I guess. He cautioned that he was busy – and that I might not make it in today. I fairly begged him. I cited my calendar, single momhood – and my readers. !! Readers whom I “simply had to keep informed…” Right. Any way, I apologized for being such a dufus, and kept my hopes high that I’d make it in. All I could do was wait.

Glad I brought a book, and while I enjoyed a good bit of reading, I had other entertainments as well. During the 2 hours of laying there (very comfortably) in my curtained off ‘room’, I was privy to the conversations of many patients. It was interesting. Lots of folks do live with Afib, it seems (my mom’s new heart issue), and lots of folks have bad reflux. And hiatal hernias. (My ex mother in law spent the better part of 22 years telling us all about it, but doing next to nothing about it.) I began to feel pretty lucky. I can eat a horse (you heard right – eat a horse, not ‘like’ a horse) and drink a barrel of whiskey with little fall out. Ok, maybe half a horse and just half a barrel, but you get the point. (At least I could as things stood pre-procedure.) I’ve always been pretty cocky about my intestinal fortitude.

After two hours I was surprised that I really had to pee. Could twelve little ounces make me feel like this? That was weird. Then I realized: I was being hydrated! No wonder my nasty dry mouth disappeared and I had to pee… Holding my blanket about me and carrying my iv bag, I shuffled off to the common bathroom. It wasn’t too terribly much longer after I returned than a kind woman named Cheryl came and wheeled me into a small room just across the hall where the colonoscopy was to take place. I was interested to see the gear involved. They’ve gotta blow you up again now that your colon’s been emptied and it’s collapsed… I marveled over the detailed images the camera was able to see… the whole thing seems almost like magic to me. While I’d asked the doc earlier if I might leave here with an image of my colon – you know, for ‘the readers’ (hee hee), he wasn’t terribly committal about helping me out. Thankfully, the gals getting me prepped seemed on board, and sure enough, afterward I was handed a color copy of three little images. Ok. So it’s not the entire landscape in profile – hell, I could probably have cut and pasted any old image of an intestine here and you’d be none the wiser, but fear not. I’ve got the real stuff.

So, on to the procedure itself. To me, it’s always a very vulnerable feeling to know you’ve got this port into which someone can put just about anything… not that it’ll ever happen – this is a super-routine procedure – but there’s still a strange sci-fi element to this moment when she tells you you’re going to begin to feel something. My heart always races in the beginning – nerves, I think. Then, there’s that warmth. OOOOOHHHHhhhhhh. Yeeeeeaaahhhhh. II Reemmemmmber tthtiiisss feeeelliingg… Yes, this girl loves her some pharmaceuticals. It was so short – the time in which I was aware enough to enjoy the sensation… but the falling off was divine. I enhanced it by repeating a happy mantra, all is so well, everyone is being so kind……… and then OWWW! What the hell?? I’d thought I’d be UNDER under! I mean I know I told y’all to scrape away if you found something, but woah! I awoke in some nasty pain – sharp, sharp pains that had me doubling into myself… even in the midst of the pain, I was aware that I really didn’t want to mess up doc’s work, so I begged the gals to hit me please with some more of that stuff! Versed me out of here, please! I heard them tell me to calm down, and after a few minutes I disappeared again. Thankfully. Yeah, “You won’t remember a thing” they all say. Right.

What I do remember was how kind everyone was, not just to me, but to all the folks who came and went as I sat and waited. And something I’ll have to make a note to remember in the future is that I usually need a bit more meds to stay under. Hadn’t thought that was a point worth mentioning, but my mother thought so. Hm. I do know that my son took three times the usual amount of anesthesia as a toddler when he had his MRI; the apple doesn’t seem to have fallen far from the tree. And I myself have woken up during a couple of surgeries before. But I thought this was common. ? Doctor friends, sound in on this if you would. Don’t really matter in the long run, I guess if ya make enough noise they dial up the drip…

So, the upshot? The found a couple of little thingees – they liken them to skin tags. I can live with that. I know about skin tags. And of course, they’ll take the biopsies and have em looked at properly. (I too know this side well; I was a medical courier for years in Chicago and carried many a polyp in a cooler riding shotgun in my car on its way to the lab…)

Feb Colon 2013 003

Not to worry. I’m not. I’ll hear back sometime next week. I do not expect bad news. And if it is – well, we go from there. Til then I won’t fret.

But hey – this is a rare chance to learn a little bit about what things look like on the inside of a body! For those of us non-medical folks, this is an opportunity that we will seldom get in a lifetime. So, here goes…

Feb Colon 2013 008

So there are three locations marked on my large intestine here. Following are those same three points and their names – only now you’ll see actual photos of these locations inside my body. Wow! Kinda cool and gross at the same time. And interesting, of course.

Feb Colon 2013 009

Apparently, “this” (whatever that means) was a polyp that was removed. ?

Feb Colon 2013 010

And apparently, this is my appendix. Or at least it’s somewhere close by, dangling off the intestine. The appendix is what it’s name implies; it’s just this tiny afterthought of a little fleshy thingee that sorta sticks out. ? Still don’t know what part of this pic is the appendix, if it actually is visible here. ?

Feb Colon 2013 011

Well, now, we all know what this is about, huh? Still, no up, no down, I have no idea the frame of reference other than it’s somewhere inside and near the exit. !

Feb Colon 2013 013

The slimy pictures are kinda hard for me to look at, but THIS is just weird, right? No text precedes this strange sentence fragment… yeeps. ‘With a jumbo cold forceps’. They’ve been so kind up til now – why must the forceps be specified cold? Bad enough they’re jumbo….

Maybe that’s why the thank-you card as you leave. So you’ll forget all about waking up with a sharp pain during your procedure and having seen the words ‘jumbo cold forceps’ on your report…

Feb Colon 2013 014

Like I said, everyone I dealt with today was very kind and accommodating. Not a one of them made me feel rushed or unimportant – nor did they treat anyone else any differently. All in all, I was quite happy with my day at the spa. Er, I mean, at the hospital.

Feb Colon 2013 016

Prep Work


Here it is. I’m about to experience a right of passage, a coming of age. My mortality seems even more real now, my increasing age can’t be denied. The young clerk at the convenient store has been calling me ‘Ma’am’ for years now – but even that hasn’t really phased me, as I’ve managed to ignore his unintentional slights. But the white hairs on my head have moved in permanently and remind me daily – as does the arthritis in my hands, the wrinkles on my face – and now this. My first colonoscopy is tomorrow morning. And in a few minutes, I will begin the dreaded “prep” procedure. My maternal grandmother died of colon cancer, and my cousin, at 46, is a survivor of the disease. It runs in my family, so I have to take it seriously. I need the screening, for sure. But I can still find humor in this, can’t I? I mean really. I’m about to ingest several quarts of a high-octane laxative called “Movi-Prep”. And I’ll be moving to the bathroom pretty frequently for the next six hours from what I hear. I’ve hardly had more than a scoop of egg salad over the past 24 hours, so really there aint much to get rid of. But I expect it will be dramatic. At least that’s what all the hype tells me. I’ve been hearing about people’s colonoscopies, or at least the famous “prep” that accompanies them, for years. Always kinda thought of it as something my older friends had to deal with. And even with my family history, I still kinda blew it off as something other people had done. But this year I face fifty. Time to prep for the future…

That’s kinda what my whole late winter/early spring has been about; assessing where I am now at this point in my life. How healthy am I? How unhealthy am I? Just what might I be able to actually do to ensure that I stay flexible and relatively vigorous as long as possible? I admit, I’ve put far less into action than I’ve intended, but I am making improvements. This is my fifth week of the Atkins diet, and I’m down eight pounds. Not crazy amazing, but it’s definitely something – and my intake of food is certainly no longer thoughtless, in of itself an accomplishment. And I don’t smoke. Or drink. All that is pretty major, considering the sad place I was one year ago. Behind my life was a continuing, low-grade depression which I self-medicated as best I could. I still self-medicate in a matter of speaking by procrastinating, allowing myself to follow distractions – all the usual human stuff. And I feel far more easily discouraged than I’d like to admit, but in the final summation, for the most part I think I’m taking care of my shit. As it were. ! Yes, pun intended. Couldn’t resist.

Seriously, I gotta drink all of this?? See you on the other side….


Here it is again. My time. My time alone, without my son. My time to get things done, to enjoy some respite from always being needed. For the most part, it’s a good system. I enjoy having my son during the school year, and for breaks he stays with his father. Yeah, it’s worked out pretty well over the past few years. But the transition from mother to solo human is always a little poignant. I always feel a little lost in the world after Elihu leaves. Empty of destination, of purpose…

The train that he and his father take to Chicago leaves Schenectady at 7:30 p.m, and the drive home is dark and quiet. A contrast to the few hours that precede it; these are the handful of hours that we three get to spend together as a family. Elihu so looks forward to those visits, and me too. In spite of the history, we three always share laughs and end up enjoying ourselves. It’s just enough time together to make me wistful, to make me miss the life we didn’t end up sharing. Perhaps the drama of goodbyes shared on a train platform heighten my vague sense of sorrow, I don’t know. Why even think like this?  Everything is as it should be. Yet as I begin the long drive home I start to feel very alone. And I begin to think…

I begin to sink into the feeling of what it is to be alone on the planet. Of what it feels like just to be me – to be me on my own, undefined by my relationship to anyone else. It’s hard to conjure, to really get it. And it’s then that I realize how very much my life is tied to my son’s. My very identity seems to depend upon him. It frightens me to think of myself alone, without him. And honestly, I don’t know if it’s healthy to depend so keenly on my young son. I fret over the idea for a while. But after a time I relax; this is, after all, my role right now. Single mom. And it takes almost all of me to be that. One day, this chapter too will close and a new one will begin. Oh oh. I consider this new idea, and begin to sense a low grade panic growing. What the hell will I do then? Just what exactly is it that I do if I’m not a mother? Oh no – this worries me. I really don’t do anything. My life is all about being a mother! Back in the day I was a musician – but that was all about the look, the lifestyle… it was very much about the culture of youth and beauty. I can’t revisit that life, no, I’ll need a new one… But I can’t follow that line of thought too long, because I can feel the stress rising. Instead I do my best to quiet my mind and soon it’s just me again, the darkness and the road. Guess I’ll just have to figure it out when I get there. For now, the challenge at hand is the week that stretches out in front of me. For some reason, the space ahead seems much emptier than usual. And I think I know what might be contributing to it.

On Valentine’s day I learned that I’d lost my beloved new job as pianist at Elihu’s school. It was unexpected, and frankly, due to a situation out of my control. No hard feelings exist, yet I’m left rather dazed by the sudden change. The sudden emptiness in my life. Sure I’ve got projects that can use my attention, I’ve got parents that could use my attention, and I’ve got a brother that needs medical help and counseling, something that only I can help him achieve – but it’s not the same. I had a job I loved, my first real job in a decade; I did what I loved and got paid for it. For once things seemed to be falling into place. I played music every day. I saw my son every day, I saw those wonderful kids every day. I got to play sweet little classical pieces, I got to improvise, I got to play the most delicious piano I’d touched in years… and now, it’s gone. Poof. But I can hardly feel sorry for myself when the woman whose classes I accompanied has lost her job too. I haven’t lost what she has, but still… It makes my future feel a little emptier than before.

Tonight I have house guests, and although I don’t think I’m up to the socializing that goes with being a host, it might be for the best that they’re here. It might help to distract me from my dark mood. They’re not home yet, and likely they’ll be in late. I probably won’t see them tonight. Good. That’ll give me some time to switch gears. Tomorrow I may join them along with several thousand other folks at the Flurry – the local dance festival which brings together musicians and dancers of every age, color, size and shape from all over the East. Because I’m hosting musicians, I’ll enjoy a highly coveted pass. So I’ll go. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to hear all that wonderful live music and watch all those amazing dancers. Yeah, I’ll go. Just not sure if I’ll dance. I don’t know. Not sure I’m ready to swing a partner quite yet.

The Fourteenth

For no good reason that I know of, fourteen has always been my favorite number. It’s not that I aspired to be that age long before I was, nor that I looked back on that age with nostalgia after it was long gone. I have simply always loved the number fourteen. In my mind I visualize it as a verdant, deep green. It is a number that has just felt right to me for as long as I can remember. But a few years ago it took on another meaning altogether. On a day in which most people celebrate their love for those they hold dear, dark and horrible changes both big and small were taking place…

It was a gray winter day, in the middle of the afternoon, when a young man burst into a lecture hall in Northern Illinois University’s Dekalb campus and opened fire, killing five students and injuring many more before finally killing himself. (He had recently stopped taking medication for mental illness and had reportedly been acting strangely.) I heard the news almost immediately, as Fareed called me from NIU to let me know. I remember sitting in the kitchen, looking numbly out at the river that flowed behind our house… I was stunned, yes, but almost more stunned to hear him go on… He said that he was now worried about his girlfriend, that she was freaked out and he felt he needed to be with her… he wasn’t sure if he’d be home tonight. Crazy as it sounds, while she was now five months pregnant with their child, my husband still stayed at home with us – and still retired to bed each night with me. He would, however, slip away during the night to be with her, making sure to be back home in the mornings, for the sake of our son, he’d say. I was still so shell-shocked at what was happening that I followed along in a daze as he drew out the torture. I’d been fooling myself somehow during it all, thinking he’d come to his senses eventually and come home – that somehow we’d make sure this child was taken care of, and somehow, when this had all blown over, we’d find a way to go on with our lives again. Certainly this was crazy thinking, but it was a surreal time, and crazy was all over. And now this.

How could I argue – how could I indulge in my own petty concerns when people had just been killed? When true and real heartbreak was occurring, when parents were receiving the worst possible news they’d ever hear – when all this was going on, how was it that I could beg my husband as I did to please come home to his wife? I told him that family was of prime importance, and that this event must surely remind him of that. I was livid that this silly girl nearly half our age could manipulate him so easily. I found it hard to believe that she was afraid to be alone – for heaven’s sake she lived in a tony, suburban house with her parents miles from campus! What had she to be afraid of? What did she know of being left? Of truly being alone? I was furious, I was heartbroken, I was sick. I was also extremely confused.

Although he’d said nothing of it, earlier that day, merely through coincidence and not at all by design, Fareed had been served with divorce papers. He’d gone for months saying that he wasn’t sure, that he didn’t know yet what he would do… he wasn’t sure if he planned on leaving us or staying. His presence in our home gave my heart hope, but his girlfriend’s growing belly wasn’t unsure at all. I asked about divorce, but he wouldn’t commit to it. Finally, summoning the best fighting attitude I could, I agreed with my attorney that he should go ahead and serve the papers. They arrived that day, but Fareed didn’t mention it. I’ll still never know just how he reacted that morning at work when the agent knocked on his office door. I’ll never know if it caught him by surprise, or if he felt relief. Even after five years we’ve never talked about that day. I do still wonder sometimes.

In that he said nothing about the divorce papers, in the back of my mind I hoped they hadn’t arrived. That my husband would choose me over his mistress, that he would come home and everything would somehow heal itself. I was still fooling myself. Acting one way, feeling another, and thinking somewhere in between. Man that was one difficult Valentine’s Day. Not a lot of love to be found, and more heartbreak than anyone deserved. I could never have imagined in that moment that some five years forward I’d be ok. That I’d have more joy in my life than sorrow, that my gut wouldn’t be consumed with an unceasing ache. How can you tell someone in the midst of such pain – and make them understand – that it will not always be thus? Although I myself wasn’t able to envision a brighter future back then, I had to make that leap of faith and simply behave as if it was there waiting. I took the ‘fake it til you make it’ approach. It definitely took a few years for my heart to catch up and relax into this new life.

Honestly, I am still not completely reconciled with what happened to me or with the way in which my life’s course shifted, but I do realize that the trajectory of my life – and certainly my son’s life – was greatly improved by this fateful turn of events. By this fourteenth day of February on which things changed forever.

Knock Three Times

You know that old joke about the drowning guy, the boats and God? Well, if you don’t, here it is: Guy’s at sea in a sinking boat. Some fishermen come by and offer to save him. He turns them away, saying that God will save him. Another boat comes by, the guy passes again. Then the Coast Guard comes by, and the man insists that he be left alone; God will save him. So finally, he drowns. In heaven, he asks God why He didn’t save his life – after all he’d put all his faith in Him. God answers, “I tried! I sent a boat to save you three times.” Duh.

I shoulda known. Had two ‘lost key’ scares over the past month. Both times I told myself that I would definitely heed the tiny warnings and have a spare key made. Out here in the country it’s fair to say our lives depend upon my vehicle. But I chose not have a copy made – and so today the universe issued its third and final notice. However, unlike the drowning man, I still have one more chance, and I’m going to take it as soon as I can, having ignored the first two warnings. Elihu was messing around in the car this morning before I came out (he’s never been outside and ready to go before me – this was a first!) and somehow he locked all the doors and then left the keys inside. He left a door open – in his mind to be ‘safe’ – and I, seeing it open promptly shut it. I then walked around to get in and made the discovery that I thought had not been possible since 1986; I learned my keys were locked inside my car. Crap. I remember this feeling. And although it had crossed my mind as a slim possibility, I hadn’t seriously entertained it because hey, this is 2013 – no one locks their keys in the car anymore, right?? And if you should happen to – seems to me that it’s all over. I could jimmie my way into a ’73 Buick Electra, even my ’78 Mustang, but an ’05 CRV? That thing’s shut up tight. The only fix I could see was a rock through the window.

Thankfully, Larry over at the shop came by and showed me a little trick he’s got – he uses this inflatable bladder thingee to expand the door from the car, and then he works a little old-fashioned magic and inserts a long, rubber coated wire inside to simply pull up the lock. (Guess my locks are still kinda old school – what I would have done had I those flush-mounted locks I have no idea. !) Needless to say, I have since called my local Honda dealership and will have a working copy of the key made today. As I told Elihu after I regrouped from a torrent of anger (we’d had an absolutely lovely morning so far and I so did not want to spoil it with my rage) this was mostly my fault. He’d not quite understood how dire it could be if we were locked out of the car, now he did. He was so sorry, too. I averted tears by telling him how silly I’d been to ignore the universe’s polite warnings about making a spare. I, apparently, needed to be clobbered over the head to get the message. ! Had him giggling, which helped keep the morning a happy one. The other gal who we share rides with came over and took him to school, and shortly I’ll deliver him his lunch (which had been locked in the car.)

Years ago, I’d vowed to take that little voice inside, magnify it ten times, and heed it’s advice. Many times through the years since then I’ve blown off that promise, only to remind myself after an unfortunate event, that I could have avoided such an outcome if I’d only done what I knew needed to be done in the first place… We all know the things we need to do. We all know when we’re pushing it; when we’re taking unnecessary risks. So why the hell do we thwart that tiny God voice within? We’re in a hurry, it’s as bit more money than we’d like to spend, it’s not really convenient… Ok. Lesson learned. Larry’s service call cost me $25, but it won’t be money wasted if it helps me to pay better attention in the future. Here’s hoping the third time’s a charm…

A ‘Post’ Post, dated 3/1 /13…

Apparently, I didn’t listen well enough to the universe – and the complete message that should have been received was “and get a jumper box while you’re at it – cuz if your car battery goes dead and you’re out here at the end of a long driveway on your own – you’re screwed. Just sayin. Hope you’re paying close attention; that’s what those two recent jumps by kind neighbors were all about. Now ya get it? Ok – over and out. Good luck!”

Third strike happened today. Thankfully I was just paid by a student, so I can afford to go to Sears today and buy that handy jumper box.  After my neighbor Tom comes over to give me my third jump in as many months, that is. ! Slow learner, I guess…