The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Evanston Post June 30, 2013

Did this two years ago from this very stool. At the local corner cafe, offering a quick hello before returning to my hopefully still-sleeping child. This trip has been alternately magical and frustrating, the latter such events presenting me with opportunities to ‘walk the talk’… that is to say, to stop and take a breath, step back, accept the unplanned and await the happy, unexpected surprises that appear as a result. Just now I greeted my old next door neighbor – it’s tiny surprises like that that keep one’s spirit bright (in spite of having lost one’s favorite sweater somewhere on the road).

Life can sometimes seem like a great big game of ‘good news, bad news’, and so it’s been with this trip. I can’t relate much here and now, but suffice to say that Elihu had a dangerously allergic reaction on the train somewhere between Utica and Syracuse (and I learned that yes, one can have a train stop and arrange to be met by an ambulance) then thanks to Benadryl, a worse reaction was prevented. The panic and fear that we experienced would have been nothing to what we would have experienced if a sink hole opened up underneath the tracks and derailed the train. The way it did just 24 hours later on the very same line. Good thing for us. (Just so you know – although it was a great mess, thankfully no one died.) Bad thing for me – I might have to take a bus back to Schenectady. Ah well.

Gotta get back to the kid. Besides, I’m finding all this noise and activity around me a bit unsettling. After all I’m not a city girl anymore.

 

Packin It In June 25, 2013

There might be a little pause between posts this week, as I’m getting ready to make a trip to my old hometown. These days, traveling kinda makes me nervous. I wonder what I’ll forget (I always forget something – and in fact harbor a suspicion that a trip isn’t off to a proper start unless I’ve forgotten something), I fret about over packing, under packing… I fret about not only my stuff, but my son’s. I cannot begin to imagine traveling with more than one kid – nor can I begin to remember the reality of packing for a super-young one, with toys and books and cheerios and tiny distractions in the bottom of the bag in case of delays… This time I have a gig awaiting me in Chicago, and it’s the cornerstone for this trip. Without a ‘good reason’ I can’t justify all the expense and hassle. And because I have a gig, I need to bring my book. My music book, that is. Even though I’m pretty good at remembering the hundreds of songs I’ve sung throughout my life, my current life has been more about chickens than ‘Cheek to Cheek’, and I want to make sure that I at least have a few sheets ‘just in case’. Silly, actually, cuz the fellow I’m playing with knows more than enough tunes to call all afternoon, and if I stop and remember my old life for a minute, I probably do too. Got up early (as in 5:30) in order to go through my old book and sort things out. It’s been a three hour job thus far. Been full of stops and starts and lovely re-discoveries. Memories, too. Coffee stains and scribbles for last-minute arrangements, phone numbers and titles of songs to learn one day… It makes me wistful, and even though I enjoy my new life quite well, I wonder if I don’t miss my old life more than I’d thought.

But what a wonderful opportunity I have before me… a place to stay, a car to borrow, fifteen fewer pounds on my frame and a couple of nice dresses. Did some calling and reconnecting and I might end up sitting in at a few places. Makes me a mixture of nerves and anticipation. I miss singing so very much that it’s hard to approach this trip with much nonchalance. After all, as the old song goes, I ‘don’t get around much anymore.’ Hmm, do I remember all the lyrics to that? And is there a verse? Oh dear. Can’t do it all. Gotta remind myself. Can’t sing all the beautiful gems I’d like. Can’t eat at all the old favorite restaurants I’d like, and I certainly won’t be able to visit all the old friends I miss. No matter, this is going to be one hell of a great trip.

Before I pack my bags I need to get a few more things done in the garden, need to check on the timer in the coop, attend to fixing some holes in the fence, and I need to give away the last remaining extra eggs to neighbors. Soon enough it’ll be time to pack my bags for the city and pack it in on the farm for now.

 

June Interim June 22, 2013

As usual, there’s too much to do, too much to post about. But the tiny moments are what give our life its shape and color, so whether it’s newsworthy or not, I’m going to post an assortment of photos from the past week. From busking on Broadway in Saratoga to loading up on grain at the feed store and much in between, we keep ourselves busy.

Thursday was the first day of summer, and thankfully, after incredible amounts of rain lately, the weather was classic summer – with a bright blue sky decorated by random wisps of cloud, all at a perfectly comfortable 75 degrees. Elihu and I made the pilgrimage to Arnold’s Feed and Grain in an effort to both cut our costs and use locally grown grain to feed our flock. We had a lovely drive and stopped several times to admire our surroundings. On the way, we also stopped at the nursing home to visit Ace, the sculptor of the beautiful pieces that live in our garden. On the way home we found our road dead-ended at the local airport! This was too good to pass up, so we paid them a little visit too. When we got home we worked some more on our garden, then passed the evening watching the lightening bugs and jumping on the trampoline in the moonlight.

June 2013 end of school 305Elihu absolutely adores Austin.

June 2013 end of school 310Grandma says hello

June 2013 end of school 248A quiet moment with Maximus

June 2013 end of school 245Skin and feathers, all so soft

June 2013 end of school 332Later on Elihu plays recorder for Max

June 2013 end of school 271And then plays a game of tag with Austin. (See where Austin went?)

June 2013 end of school 181The Zen process of dishes. Must spend an hour and a half in dish-related labor each day. !

June 2013 Interim 103The blooming Locust tree branches pretty up our kitchen

June 2013 Summer Begins 030A spent bottle of shampoo? Huh? Well, it’s only after five years here that we’ve finally used it up. (Yes, Elihu does wash his hair regularly.) A few years ago I took some comfort in this bottle having come from…

June 2013 Summer Begins 029Skokie, Illinois!!   I’m over it now.

June 2013 end of school 205Boy’s play – outdoors

June 2013 end of school 237 Boy’s play – indoors

June 2013 Interim 069And boy’s play – on the street

June 2013 Interim 0724:20 somewhere…

June 2013 Interim 004One of those ‘quality of life upgrades’ – a bolt cutter. Everyone should have a pair.

June 2013 end of school 279The garden at first, with landscape fabric (a week away and I’ll lose the place to weeds if I don’t use it)

June 2013 Interim 025And now draped with Remay – a miracle poly cloth that protects against critters. It doesn’t look as romantic as a natural garden, but it works as a fence and is our greatest hope this year. The bolt cutter was used to cut the wire hoop frame underneath.

June 2013 Interim 026Sank up to my knees several times – actually panicked for a moment. Sticky stuff!

June 2013 Interim 059What resort is this?

June 2013 Interim 061It’s the private rooftop club at the Hillhouse! And here’s the rest of the view… garden, trampoline, apple tree to left. Note how our yard descends down the hill; it has three different terraced levels – including more yard below the garden.

June 2013 Summer Begins 020Elihu loves Irik a lot, but we need to find him another home soon… Three roosters is two too many.

June 2013 Summer Begins 035Peek a boo! This guy is part Jersey Giant, and he is the biggest chicken we’ve had yet. And he’s got feathered feet too. Cool.

June 2013 Summer Begins 053Ace’s bird…

June 2013 Summer Begins 068And Ace himself!

June 2013 Summer Begins 065Love that Ace was wearing an ace, too.

June 2013 Summer Begins 071Off to the countryside to the feed store. This is a magnificent view looking west across the mighty Mohawk River valley to the other side. Elihu can’t see well or far, of course, but somehow this vista got him – he really understood the distance it represented. He even saw that tiny puff of a tree on the ridge! Made me SO happy. This is not an average occurrence.

June 2013 Summer Begins 074I got some binocs that work particularly well with one’s glasses on – and BINGO! Now he can see birds and views…

June 2013 Summer Begins 081Mecca!

June 2013 Summer Begins 086A good third less than at the commercial Tractor Supply. Plus it supports a local, family-operated business. Even with the gas, it was a big savings. Now we’re all stocked up.

June 2013 Summer Begins 087Jim’s telling Elihu he thinks with a little leverage he might actually be able to handle a 50 pound bag. ! Mom’s not so sure…

June 2013 Summer Begins 094Thanks, Arnolds! Very pretty place you got.

June 2013 Summer Begins 099The nearest ‘city’ of Amsterdam, and its bustling downtown.

June 2013 Summer Begins 101Loved this sign since I was a kid. It’s the city library.

June 2013 Summer Begins 167It’s the Saratoga County airport! Woo hoo!

June 2013 Summer Begins 112Ok, so my legally blind kid recognized the profile – and correctly identified – this plane as it taxied in on the tarmac. Crazy.

June 2013 Summer Begins 153Mama loves vintage

June 2013 Summer Begins 156mmm

June 2013 Summer Begins 133Talk about the wind in your hair. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 136Can you imagine??

June 2013 Summer Begins 139Check out the word ‘experimental’ on the side. ?! Yeeps.

June 2013 Summer Begins 118Something’s coming in

June 2013 Summer Begins 124Beautiful in blue

June 2013 Summer Begins 150Not a very glamorous job, but necessary. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 149And a helicopter, too! That’s my dream – one day I have to know that feeling…

June 2013 Summer Begins 178Back at home, Elihu surprises Mama! He himself only weighs 58 pounds, after all!

June 2013 Summer Begins 175Chicken approved.

 

Waldorf Unwound June 21, 2013

This is practically ancient history by now, as all of these end-of-year celebrations happened last week – however there were so many great moments I thought it still worth a post…

Alice June 2013 009The children of the Lower School assemble for a Eurythmy performance by this year’s soon-to-graduate 12th grade

Alice June 2013 016They begin their story with a spoken narrative…

Alice June 2013 045Classic Eurythmy movement, with colored, flowing fabrics enhancing the flow of the gestures

Alice June 2013 049Now Kai does his piece

Alice June 2013 062A beautiful finish

June 2013 end of school 317Elihu’s class shows the third grade the new instrument they’ll be learning next year in fourth grade

June 2013 end of school 354Now we’re assembling in the High School Eurythmy room for the Rose Ceremony, marking the eighth graders graduation

June 2013 end of school 363The room looks lovely for the occaision

June 2013 end of school 353Jessalyn’s awesome eighth grade

June 2013 end of school 369The fourth graders get ready to sing for the assembly – someone’s pretty tired. !

June 2013 end of school 395But a little bit later he’s got his second wind…

June 2013 end of school 411at the big ol’ end of year picnic!

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Such bounty! Everyone shared and there was a great assortment of tasty dishes

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See how fancy these gals are!

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The kids played for a long time in the woods

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We will miss Dierdre so very much!!

June 2013 end of school 459

This is the huge field with shelter beyond

June 2013 end of school 448Me and Ava, my wonderful piano student! She is a delightful girl…

June 2013 end of school 466

Kai approaches me at top speed, completely covered in mud. I’d heard about this tradition… Oh-oh,  here it comes!

June 2013 end of school 472

The little kids follow the mudmen around, hoping to get some of that magic, 12th grade mud on them too

June 2013 end of school 486

Fiona’s got Kai’s back. !

June 2013 end of school 487

Off they go…

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Sean and Trek are also inspired to get dirty. Note: they were both having fun. I know, cuz I asked.

June 2013 end of school 465

Abby got some special mud…

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And Sadie, well, there are no words. Well, maybe one. Adorable? Yeah, think that’s the one.

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These cutie pies are so in the spirit

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See?

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Me too!

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Serious jamming here

June 2013 end of school 550

Jackson on banjo (above Elihu)

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Jackson made that rope braid for my hat band

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A nice group!

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But these guys are in it for the long haul…

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Until something cooler comes along, that is…

June 2013 end of school 570

Finally it was time to go home. The clouds pointed the way for us quite nicely.

 

Alice in Waldorf June 19, 2013

I’m a bit behind in documenting our life’s adventures. More tedious tasks like planting the garden and finding chicken sitters have taken up our time lately. But as we worked under the hot sun in the garden today, Elihu stood up and said broadly (with his shirt off and his arms open wide to the sky), “This is the first official day of summer! We don’t have to do anything for anyone but ourselves!” I know just what he means. No more students for a while, no more school, no more commitments. No more nothing… but everything else, of course. Started by cleaning the gutters and weeding the garden and will soon turn to the far more arduous job of cleaning of the coop – but that’s all pure joy, really, because as Elihu said, we do it for ourselves. It feels good to work hard and see one’s progress.

But I digress, as my objective now is to share some of the delightful moments of the past few weeks. The eighth grade, under the direction of their teacher Jessalyn (seen in a previous post of a field trip to her farm) produced a most surreal and wonderful version of Alice in Wonderland for which I played piano. The score was one of the most challenging musical endeavors I’ve faced in quite a while – and it was fun, fun, fun. A great experience all the way round. A great way to send the eighth graders off…

Alice June 2013 109Here we go…

Alice June 2013 135Abigail gets the fourth grade centered as they prepare for their role as the cards…

Alice June 2013 092And then Jessalyn gets her class ready too…

Alice June 2013 089Some last minute directions…

May June 2013 Alice 304It’s been a long week of rehearsals. One lil man is pooped already.

May June 2013 Alice 280The audience in the round assembles…

May June 2013 Alice 266The characters backstage are ready…

Alice June 2013 142The show begins.. this is the famous Tea Party scene

Alice June 2013 141Alice meets the Caterpillar

May June 2013 Alice 262(Jackson as the Caterpillar)

Alice June 2013 154The cards are summoned by the queen. MacKenzie did a simply fabulous “Off with their heads!”

Alice June 2013 171And the trial begins…

May June 2013 Alice 279It’s Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee!

Alice June 2013 157Ruby sang beautifully as the Mock Turtle

Alice June 2013 208Alex was perfect as Humpty Dumpty with his recently broken leg

Alice June 2013 221The White Knight played so marvelously by Adam

Alice June 2013 225He has an audience member hold his horse

Alice June 2013 206The White Queen – Elihu just loved Caroline’s performance. Understated yet hilarious.

Alice June 2013 245The Red Queen, the White Queen and Alice (and Elihu far right)

Alice June 2013 128The fourth grade is relieved now that it’s all over!

Alice June 2013 100My car pool buddy, eight grader Ava, as the White Rabbit (with her gorgeous and proud mom)

May June 2013 Alice 317A fine, fine show. At first I thought it could never be done. The costumes, the props, the eurythmy, all the coaching and assistance in general were nothing less than impressive. Grace did a wonderful job as Alice – and was present in every single scene! Congrats, Jessalyn and your amazing eighth grade – plus a shout out to fourth grade teacher Abigail and her spirited fourth grade class as well. What a show. !!!

 

Day of Dads June 16, 2013

In my family we never celebrated Mother’s or Father’s day. In fact, we were discouraged from really talking much about it. My mother, the clear captain of our familial ship, would always tell us it was a Hallmark-created holiday (subtext: not real or worthy) and that she didn’t need a card on one particular day of the year because, as she would so enigmatically add, “everyday is mother’s day”. You can imagine how confusing this sounded to a young girl. I got her gist, that the holiday was somehow inferior and unnecessary, but what about that ‘every day is mother’s day‘ bit? Did that mean she knew we loved and appreciated her every day of the year? Because we were not a household that ever said ‘I love you’ to each other. And we certainly never thanked her for all the things she did for us – we were kids, after all. Her statement always felt a bit dark, even a bit angry. Young though I was, I was definitely aware of my mom going through life with a certain mother-as-martyr sort of attitude. (I too share this tendency at times, but hope that I counteract it by apologizing to my son when I do express a similar sentiment; I always assure him it’s my greatest joy – albeit exhausting sometimes – to provide him the things he needs.) So was she being sarcastic? Did she actually want some props on her day? Or did she truly feel contempt for the whole thing? Each year I’d feel a strange sort of dread at the two holidays. My father himself was simply silent on the subject of his own day. We never mentioned it, never uttered the words “Happy Father’s Day” to him, never gave him a card that I can remember. It just was not what we did. But in that it was what the rest of the world seemed to be doing, deep inside I was always very conflicted about these two holidays.

It was five years ago this week that my ex husband’s third child, and second son, was born. I had made plans to be here in New York around his girlfriend’s due date, as it was just too much to bear to remain in town for the birth. My ex was still living in our home then, staying some nights with me, some with her. By June he still had made no plans for his future living arrangements, so I began to make my own. I’d come here in part to escape the birthday of that new child, and also to convince myself that a move to this place was the next necessary step in my life. As planned, his son was born while we were here in Greenfield. I felt as if I were in some bizarre, waking dream when he called me moments after the birth and excitedly recounted all the details. (See “Birth and Baptism”, a post from June 13th of 2011.) I just sat there, in my car, cell phone to my ear, feeling almost dizzy. Almost in my body, almost floating. Adrenaline filled my veins and my body felt cold with shock. I had known it was coming, why did this hurt so much? Why didn’t I stop him from talking? Why was he saying all this to me? Was I truly hearing this? I don’t think I said much back to him. I just remember thinking, my husband has two sons now. And a daughter, older than our son. How could any of  this possibly be? This was my son’s father. My husband. Our Daddy. He belonged with us, his real family.

Father’s Day was a couple of days later. I was out doing some errands on that beautiful, sunny day when I pulled into the huge parking lot of a local box store. I had NPR on the radio, and some music came on. Not just some music, but nylon string guitar. I knew that sound immediately. Two decades with a guy who pretty much lives only for the ‘sound’ and you just know. I stopped driving. I remember pausing, looking up at the huge, white cumulus clouds. Thinking how small I was in the world, how far I’d run, and yet… here he was again, sharing my tiny bubble of personal space. But I couldn’t turn it off, I was curious. Was it just an anonymous sound bed? I held my breath… Then a familiar male voice, one of the regular NPR guys came on. Said who it was we’d been listening to. Said he was a dad, too. Then, in a smiling and warm tone wished Fareed a very happy Father’s Day. Again, that cold feeling shot through me. Would they have been so gushing if they knew? Fuck this! Fuck him! He’s just changed forever the life of his one, true son and here he is being lauded as a great dad! They forgot to say “father of three, but only one by his wife!”. It all still felt unreal. I was a thousand miles away from him and yet still – here he was, in my face, keeping the hurt as fresh as possible. It was the single hardest decision I have ever made, but in that moment I knew that Elihu and I could no longer live in Illinois. I finally knew on that Father’s Day that our lives had truly changed, and so had our home.

Back in Chicago we’d known a guy who’d had two families. At the same time. I never got how it worked. I had been told that he was not with the mother of his first four kids, but still, you’d see them together at his concerts – and their relationship wasn’t quite clear… He had two children with a younger gal, essentially the gal he was currently ‘with’, however there seemed to be an overlap in ages, or at least a very small window between the ages of the kids from the two families. Sometimes you’d see both families – all six kids and the two moms – sitting not very far from each other at one of dad’s shows. I’d watch them, looking for clues, for something… I couldn’t fathom how this was tolerable, especially when I’d heard that the first – and older – mother had not been part of the decision. Back then it was stuff of another world altogether, but now it’s my reality. I do understand that plenty of folks separate, divorce and then go on to make new families, but this overlapping thing still just feels creepy. I also know that mistakes happen, that we all lose our thinking selves when passion and physical desire overwhelm us – yeah, I know. I get it. And strangely, my heart goes out in some way to those poor guys who discover they’ve left an unexpected child behind – cuz that has got to suck. And also, I’m pleased to see these dads of multiple families try to step up as best they can. But seriously, how can one give oneself fully to more than one young family at a time? I can better understand having different families at different life stages – but having several sets of small kids at one time that all need their dad – I just don’t think anyone’s gonna win in that situation.

Thankfully, I think my son’s fared pretty well in spite of his less-than-favorable dad situation. As I write, they’re Skyping. (Dad had to take a break moments ago to Skype his daughter in London – it’s a busy holiday for him. !) I don’t flinch anymore though. It’s become our life. And while I’d still like to speak one day with that ‘other original mother’ of that Chicago fellow to better understand how she deals with it, I have enough of my own experience at this point to feel at home in our unique family situation.

As to my own father, he’s not even aware of what day it is. Doesn’t mean Elihu won’t make a card and we won’t stop by for a visit. But just yesterday dad greeted me with a “Happy Thanksgiving”, then cheerfully acquiesced when I told him it was actually a fine Spring day. He always easily adjusts to being corrected, then seems to forget all about it seconds later. But he still retains memories of his life, and he does know he’s my dad, and in spite of his having once called Elihu ‘his favorite nephew’, in spirit, at least, he recognizes Elihu with his heart. Yesterday I had my own sudden and unexpected memory of my father pop up… The wild roses had just burst into bloom and every breeze carried their scent. The perfume brought back a snapshot image of my dad from years ago… One Spring, when I was about twelve or so, I played Edward MacDowell’s “To A Wild Rose” as part of my end of year piano recital. When I rejoined my parents afterward, I saw that my father was crying. It stunned me, that my playing could move him so. It also shocked me because until that moment I’d never seen my father cry. Or show much emotion. I’d seen him happy or mad, but not much else. As I said before, we were not an ‘I love you’ sort of family. That was a moment that changed me in some way, and changed the way in which I saw my father. He was touched, and so was I. And I knew for sure then that he loved me.

My son is lucky that he has his dad in his life, and that he absolutely knows his father loves him. I also feel lucky that I’m still able to see my own father and tell him that I love him too. And a little later today, that’s what we’ll do. Because no matter what some may feel about the artifice of the holiday, I think the idea of celebrating our parents on one special day out of the year is a good one. Happy Father’s day to all you dads.

Elihu plus kidsCharlie, Brigitta, Erie & Elihu

 

Eating Bugs June 12, 2013

Jonah and Phoenix are over for the afternoon. It’s been a day full of little surprises, including this interesting snack time adventure. I really don’t think any text is necessary here…

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June 2013 end of school 571

BUgs 2 June 2013 025

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June 2013 end of school 575

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BUgs 2 June 2013 019

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Life is never dull with these guys around. !