The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Poultry Pics August 31, 2013

Going to the county fair is one thing; there’s a lot to do, and everything has its charm. But for Elihu, he can hardly give anything his full attention until we’ve spent a good hour in the poultry house first. Only then can we venture off and try other things. But there’s a second visit during our day at the fair, and a third, and maybe even a final look-see as we heard out….  Yup, it takes a lot of visits to the poultry barn to fully appreciate the variety and wonder of these silly creatures. And I have to admit that I myself would rather pass an hour with the chickens than any other farm animal. There’s just so much variety and action. There sure is a lot of entertainment value to be found in these fancy fowl….

County Fair 2013 027It always starts innocently enough…

County Fair 2013 289But before long you’re sucked in. There are just so many birds, so little time….

county fair and cleanout 2013 501There are facts to be learned…

county fair and cleanout 2013 556…and prize winners to be admired.

county fair and cleanout 2013 513You know this fellow and recognize his display…

county fair and cleanout 2013 515Here’s his backside.

county fair and cleanout 2013 521The wife is clearly not impressed with either.

county fair and cleanout 2013 559A ‘Call’ duck. Scientifically proven to be one of the cutest animals on the planet.

county fair and cleanout 2013 567The lovely fantail pigeon.

county fair and cleanout 2013 572Another relative. Such lovely eyes, don’t you think?

county fair and cleanout 2013 582A red golden pheasant. We once had one named Timothy (plus two hens). We eventually gave him to a local pheasant breeder in order to give him the higher quality of life we couldn’t provide for him here in our modest setup.

county fair and cleanout 2013 612Oh dear. It isn’t her fault. ! If only she’d had a say in the creation of her breed.

County Fair 2013 297A handsome pair of banties (miniature chickens).

county fair and cleanout 2013 541Long and lean…

County Fair 2013 243Short and stout.

County Fair 2013 276Handsome in an obvious sort of way….

County Fair 2013 270… and handsome in another sort of way.

County Fair 2013 295

Intrigued…

county fair and cleanout 2013 530… and unamused.

county fair and cleanout 2013 616The judges make their rounds.

county fair and cleanout 2013 600

Elihu could never pick a winner. He loves every last one of them.

County Fair 2013 042But the grand discovery of this year’s fair was definitely the Emus. We spent a lot of time getting to know these bizarre-looking creatures. While passersby all advised not to put fingers anywhere near the fence, Elihu and I spent a lot of time with our arms completely inside the fence while we scratched their necks or sunk our arms up to the wrist in fluffy ostrich-like feathers.

county fair and cleanout 2013 955The hen accepts a smooch on the soft spot under her bill.

county fair and cleanout 2013 951Then she closes her nictitating eyelids – an expression of supreme trust and pleasure in a bird.

county fair and cleanout 2013 713We must have logged a good hour in hands-on contact.

County Fair 2013 018They have very big, amber eyes.

County Fair 2013 026This hen was such a sweetie. As engaged with us as any bird could be.

county fair and cleanout 2013 730Here’s the fellow who raises the Emus. His farm isn’t too far away. We’re going to set a date sometime to come out and take a look at his operation. Not that we’re going into the Emu business anytime soon, but the thought had occurred to us… (We’ve also learned it takes 18 months to raise up an Emu before butchering – we’re a bit concerned that we might end up growing attached in that amount of time. Maybe it’s best we just visit our new friends.)

county fair and cleanout 2013 729The Elsworth family farm is the only one within almost a hundred miles that grows non GMO crops – and they save their seed, too. They only sell what they grow and process themselves. We’re going to buy our chicken feed from them in the future, and we feel very good about that.  We also feel very good about our entire experience this year with the Washington County Fair birds of 2013.  See ya next year!

 

Present for Good Night August 30, 2013

I’d come in to Elihu’s room to say goodnight. Although I hadn’t planned on reading to him (the night before I’d read Oscar Wilde’s very amusing “The Canterville Ghost”), I had a feeling there’d be no short goodnight. There almost never is. Elihu always has something on his mind. And tonite, I must say, he surprised me. He was lying on his side in the dark room, facing the wall. ‘You know, I just don’t get it. It seems most people miss the very reason for their lives.’ Huh? I thought. Where is this one going? I put my hand on his shoulder and asked if he could tell me what he meant by that. He responded in a slightly agitated tone. ‘One should always acknowledge the present before moving on to the future’. I waited. Did I just hear him correctly? Elihu often came up with things that had me second guessing what I’d thought I’d heard him saying. ‘What do you mean, honey?’ I asked. ‘I’m not going to repeat it’ he said in frustration. ‘You heard me.’ Ok. He wasn’t in a great mood, but clearly he had something weighing heavy on his mind that he wanted expressed and out before he could sleep. So I waited.

‘Why is everyone so modest?’ he asked, but before I could ask what it was that he meant by that, he continued…. ‘If someone is good at something, then why don’t they just admit it? Why does everyone seem to feel they can’t be successful at something? They’re missing the lessons they’re supposed to learn if they don’t just admit when they succeed!’ He sounded almost angry. Now I was able to ask him to help me understand him better. He went on to explain that he thought that before someone gave up on a hobby or a field of study he should pause first to assess all that he’s learned thus far. He said that he though everyone ‘in this culture’ was always in a hurry to move onto something new. He lamented that people seemed to be hard-pressed to celebrate their accomplishments and enjoy them. He wanted to know why it wasn’t accepted in our culture to admit that you were good at something. He cited this phenom kid banjo player he’d jammed with on the street the other night. Clearly this kid was more than just good. But when Elihu’d told Nathan he was good, Nathan just replied ‘I’m alright’. I offered that it’s never been – as far as I’d known – accepted in polite culture to flat out accept such praise without some degree of modesty. I also explained the idea of false modesty, and how that wasn’t really a great alternative either. ‘I think most people have a hard time admitting when they’re good at something.’ I offered. ‘Maybe the best way to accept a compliment and be polite too is just to say ‘thank you’. That way you’re accepting the truth, you’re enjoying your success, but at the same time you’re not being too full of yourself. I think Nathan will be more comfortable simply saying ‘thanks’ when he’s a bit older.’ Elihu was quiet for a moment. ‘Yeah. Guess saying thank you is the best thing to do.’ More quiet. ‘But I still think it’s very important to acknowledge when you’re good at something. To accept when you’ve done something well. Because if you don’t, you’re missing the lesson.’

Goodnight had become an occasion for pause and reflection to be sure. As we lay there in the dark, just staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on his bedroom ceiling, I think we both found a tiny bit of closure to the day. I was lost in my own thoughts, trying to make mental notes in order to recall our conversation later, so that his bedtime wisdom might not be lost, but he was clearly still following the trajectory of his initial musing. ‘Ok, please don’t get mad with me, but can you repeat what it was that you first said just now?’ I asked him. He sighed, but he obliged me: ‘If you don’t acknowledge the present before moving on to the future – you miss the whole point of things. And that’s all I’m going to say.’ I repeated it several times over in my head before leaning in to kiss him. ‘I love you so, Mommy’ he said, looking into my eyes by the dim closet light. We hugged again, tightly, and in my heart I thanked him for choosing me. ‘I really love my present. Don’t you?’ I asked. ‘Yeah. I do.’

I got up to leave the room. As I shut the door I saw him turn to the wall again. He put his arms around his giant stuffed macaw, and he sighed.

Post Script – here’s a link to some video shot this past weekend on Travers Day in Saratoga Spring, NY, of Elihu sitting in with tenor guitarist Jesse Rock and banjo player Nathan Hanna… so much fun!

 

County Fair

It’s week-old news by now, but it’s still news-worthy in our world. Two of the finest summer days yet. Elihu and I spend eight hours each visit, and we still didn’t manage to do all the things we would have liked. The whole experience was nothing short of magical. My son surprised both of us when he ventured onto rides I’d thought far too daring for him – and I surprised both of us by finding the favorite rides of my youth just a bit beyond my comfort level these days. We ate fair food, visited the animals, the craft tents, went on the rides, played a game on the midway (and won!) and ran into old friends. The sun shone bright, the breeze kept us just cool enough. There will be plenty of summer excursions we may not remember, but it’s likely we won’t ever forget this year’s trip to the Washington County Fair. (There are no chicken pics here; they will get special treatment in their own poultry post shortly.)

county fair and cleanout 2013 497Hugging a gigantic cow is a great way to start the day.

county fair and cleanout 2013 489Didn’t get to see the draft horses, except for the enormous rear end of this gal. Just too much to see.

County Fair 2013 008There’s a chainsaw artist doing his thing…

County Fair 2013 001What a beautiful bird he’s made!

county fair and cleanout 2013 727Next you got your standard sheep shearing…

county fair and cleanout 2013 726And I guess this is the style that freshly-shorn sheep sport these days to keep away the chill. !

County Fair 2013 359Elihu gets a little demonstration on how wool is turned into yarn.

County Fair 2013 355Then it’s the goat line up. They’re cute, yes, but not really our thing.

County Fair 2013 236Elihu loved the cows. Gentle giants.

County Fair 2013 203It was nice to meet some other animal-loving kids.

County Fair 2013 227Elihu meets a cute girl and an award-winning cow. !

County Fair 2013 220They watch the milking. Love that everyone was so laid back about the kids hanging out there.

County Fair 2013 210Aside from the birds, Elihu spend a lot of time just hanging with the cows.

County Fair 2013 160Total shop talk. Crazy cow sub-culture. !

county fair and cleanout 2013 805We visit Paul H. Van Arnum and his wife, Betsy. Known him since I was four. His daughter Sherry and I have been friends since then. (She was matron of honor at my wedding.) Paul was once a tree man and is now widely known for his greenhouses and his lava rock sculptures. Here he’s explaining a bit of his technique to Elihu. We love Paul. No one like him.

county fair and cleanout 2013 773He sells these little critters to adorn your potted plants.

county fair and cleanout 2013 789But why assemble your own when Paul’s done the work? Tiny vignettes are his thing.

county fair and cleanout 2013 794Pure Paul.

county fair and cleanout 2013 811Like an HO train set scene.

county fair and cleanout 2013 808Bye, Paul! Thanks for all your work! Hope you sell a lot before the fair closes (so you don’t have to pack em all up again!)

County Fair 2013 098We’re gonna do some rides now…

County Fair 2013 092But wait – Look! It’s pal Keithie! How cool that we ran into him.

County Fair 2013 076Elihu is on the right. This is about as crazy a ride as Keith will go on. We find that ironic – in that it was rather tame as rides go, and Keith is talented and gutsy when it comes to riding motorcycles. He’ll jump anything, try any stunt. But he’s a big ol wimp when it comes to carnival rides. Go figure.

County Fair 2013 108We both really like this one. Feels like you’re flying…

County Fair 2013 118And of course this one’s simple and fun. That’s my boy on the right.

County Fair 2013 047Whew.

County Fair 2013 049

This is a much, much taller version of the swing ride above. Elihu insisted I challenge myself and ride it (it’s called ‘Vertigo’). No longer can I enjoy the circular rides like this; while it looks easy enough, my inner ear can’t seem to deal with it. If I’d kept my eyes open I mighta lost my lunch. I took the quickest peek at the view. Sorry I wasn’t able to fully enjoy the ride.

county fair and cleanout 2013 848The must-ride classic.

county fair and cleanout 2013 833One of the views near the top…

county fair and cleanout 2013 846…And another view from the other side. I must admit, after years of living panic attack-free, they began to suggest a comeback when we stayed suspended at the top for a few seconds. I knew I was perfectly safe, but panic has nothing to do with what you know. It’s irrational and can sometimes simply ruin an experience for no apparent reason. Ich. Still enjoyed the ride though.

county fair and cleanout 2013 876Always enjoy this ride. Plus my dad’s name is Bob, so it makes me chuckle to myself.

County Fair 2013 301The Hansen’s family act of juggling and high wire stunts.

County Fair 2013 311

Mom helps eldest daughter of three onto the ring. Although she had that professional smile plastered on her face throughout her daughter’s routine, I couldn’t help but wonder how she was really feeling inside.

County Fair 2013 307This girls is Elihu’s age… wow

County Fair 2013 327And now her mother…

County Fair 2013 323Upside down, essentially hanging on by her butt. !!

County Fair 2013 338Getting momentum up for this heart stopping moment…

County Fair 2013 342Never has Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ been so forgiven for its over-use; for this is exactly what this woman did – she jumped forward and landed in ropes around her ankles – with NO safety harness, and NO net below. Unfucking real. She is another kind of human being the likes of which absolutely mystifies me. Plus she’s had three kids. And she’s beautiful. Huh?

County Fair 2013 347The Hansens concluding their act. Then they pack the whole shebang up themselves, and head off in their RV to the next show. Plus the mom home schools the kids while they’re on the road. Props to this hard-working family.

County Fair 2013 371I was very surprised – and impressed – when Elihu insisted he go on this ride. Alone. He LOVED it. He’s the lone rider under the flag.

County Fair 2013 383My baby’s little feet are wearing white socks, second from the left. The floor has dropped out. Oh dear.

County Fair 2013 380

And now he’s being spun while being swung upside down. This one’s called ‘The Wild Claw’. All I can think is ‘my baby’s on that thing. My baby…’

County Fair 2013 405Time to settle our stomachs the American way.

county fair and cleanout 2013 925I told him to resist, but since the prize involves a living creature, he just can’t…

county fair and cleanout 2013 922Signature Elihu pitch…

county fair and cleanout 2013 929And the legally blind kid actually wins a goldfish! In his own words: “I can’t believe I won it fair and square!”. Me neither. (The fish, which he named ‘Sinbad’, now lives happily in our pond with four fishy companions.)

County Fair 2013 440Now it’s time to join the crowds in the grandstand for the….

County Fair 2013 419Tractor pull!

County Fair 2013 457Personally, we prefer steam traction engine shows, but this is a close second.

County Fair 2013 495

On the way out we notice our tiny hamlet is represented in the ‘antique farm tractors’ exhibit.

County Fair 2013 502Good-bye and good night to the lights of the Washington County Fair! See you next year…

 

Gone Fishin’ August 23, 2013

Now that it’s late summer and Elihu’s home, we’ve fully immersed ourselves in the culture of doing nothing much. But that in of itself is very important stuff here at the Hillhouse. Big items are on the docket for the little remaining summer vacation; the county fair, our tiny pond, unscheduled sunny afternoons and neighbors’ swimming pools. The things that make a summer. If the phone rings when we’re at the creek with a net, we won’t rush to answer. And if we’re in the coop just sitting with our flock, or feeding the goldfish in our pond, let em leave a message. Everything else can wait – but summer can’t.

gone fishin 2013 004

Our new pond, complete with five goldfish and an ever-changing number of frogs.

gone fishin 2013 094Lil man has spent hours and hours here. So glad he likes it. !!

gone fishin 2013 064His fish even come up to him when he wiggles his finger.

gone fishin 2013 014Frogs and fish co-habitating nicely.

gone fishin 2013 018Catch-and-release all day long.

gone fishin 2013 024Lil man and his mama.

gone fishin 2013 103Elihu’s pic. Magazine-worthy! Not bad for a legally blind kid. !

gone fishin 2013 130A closer look through Elihu’s eyes…

gone fishin 2013 048One of the many creatures that visits our prolific butterfly bush all day long.

gone fishin 2013 085The apple tree and a seat with a view. Note our flourishing corn in the middle (it’s down the hill).

gone fishin 2013 088Taking a close look at a walking stick we found.

gone fishin 2013 073Here she is…

gone fishin 2013 076And here she is too.

gone fishin 2013 143Early in the evening we cap off our day with a concert by local favorites The Zucchini Brothers. Drummer Sam is a friend of ours. Although we note Elihu is several years beyond the audience demographic, he wasn’t embarrassed to be there (phew) and we both really enjoyed the band. They’re good musicians and funny guys.

gone fishin 2013 139

Snuck a pic in – he didn’t have time to stick his tongue out.

gone fishin 2013 163On the way home we saw the same tiny black helicopter we’d visited at the local airport in the hangar (see June Interim post). This heli passes over Saratoga nearly every evening. Think I might pen a note and leave it on the craft… never know if the pilot might want company some time… This is a good time of year for serendipitous little adventures, after all.

Life as usual can wait a bit longer while we go fishin…

 

Calling It A Day August 17, 2013

As I write this Elihu is downstairs playing his drum set. It’s interesting to hear him work out new ideas. I’m impressed with how long he’s been at it now; it’s been at least forty five minutes since I retired to my room to put away the laundry (I think it’s evident that’s not getting done) and he’s come up only once to make sure that I’d heard something new he’d been playing. I assured him I had. Earlier today he busked a bit on Broadway and again I heard new sounds. He’d played downtown on Thursday night too, and I was amazed that to hear how much better he was playing these days and how many new ideas he was coming up with. Cuz seriously, how much variety can one get out of one single drum? Quite a bit, apparently. And now, in the spirit of a summer night with no reason to get up early the following morning, Elihu is enthusiastically enjoying en extended practice.

Today the weather was just perfect with a late summer day’s breeze and softening sun. For me this is the time of year that evokes a certain sadness of things about to be gone by; although the daytimes are still distinctly made of summer, the evenings have a certain cool to them that signals the changes that are coming soon. Tonight, to the soundtrack of fireworks from a neighbor’s yard and the crickets in the nearby field, Elihu chased frogs and watched the goldfish in the diminishing light of day. The evenings now have grown too cool for shorts, so I wrapped myself in a long fleece bathrobe as I watched him play after we’d finished eating. Earlier, as I had made supper, I’d watched him from the kitchen window as he transported frogs from the creek to the new pond. To watch my son play as I cook or do the dishes is something I don’t take for granted; these are no doubt some of the tiny memories I will conjure decades from now when I can hardly remember ever having a young child.

But as the night grows later I begin to think about the school year that’s coming soon. It’s getting later than I’d realized. He’s finished with the drums now and has returned to his post at the pond. I wonder if I should call him in. Soon we’ll need to adjust his schedule back to reasonable bedtimes and super-early mornings. A late night like this makes me wonder if I’m being a negligent mom. But I have my reasons for allowing him this extended play… Given Eihu’s achromatopsia, I understand so well why it is that enjoys playing at night more than during the bright light of day. He’s finally free of those stupid sunglasses, finally able to see his world as it is. While I myself cannot tolerate the ubiquitous mosquitoes, for him it’s a price he’ll easily pay, for the reward is great. I however can’t give him my audience anymore on account of both the chill and the insects, so I leave him to his own. As I sit and write, he comes in every few minutes to update me. Now he’s rediscovered an old glider he’d made once out of foam core and cardstock. He’s rummaging around in the junk drawer to make some adjustments to its weight. He’s having luck with his project, so I’m still hesitant to put an end to it. But a few good tosses of his plane and I think I’ll have to get him in.

This has been another wonderful day. We might not remember all of it, but we’ll definitely take away a few late summer memories. If not for the acupuncture appointment that Elihu accompanied me to this morning, then maybe for the visit to a friend’s house that netted him a vintage helicopter toy. And if neither of those stick, at the very least today will have been one of many fine summer days that help to create the overall emotional shadow of a very happy time in his life. Yup, it’s been another very good day, and I think that now we can finally call it a night.

 

Home Again August 15, 2013

I held up my end of the bargain; when I first saw my son at the airport I didn’t squeal with joy, I didn’t jump up and down, didn’t rush in to get my arms all wrapped around him, didn’t smother him with kisses and ‘I love yous’. Nope. I was cooool as a cucumber. And thankfully, he noticed. Thankfully, he was pleased – and relieved – by it. He just stood there waiting, while I presented my ID and signed for him, absolutely consumed by a toothy smile, with an all-about-to-burst-with-a-secret sort of glow about him. It was clear that he was supremely happy. And it felt nice, actually, doing this his way. Cuz he was jonesin to get next to me just as much as I was jonesin to get next to him. But moms, I’ll have you know I remained cool. He leaned in and said sotto voce ‘you’re ok; it’s just the way you keep saying “I love you” over and over that embarrasses me. You’re ok, you’re good“. He even took the lead and held my hand. And in baggage claim he sat next to me on the bench and leaned his body into mine. “My Mommy” he kept saying over and over. A ha! That’s the trick. As it was with me and my ex – as it is with any human relationship – you can turn things around on a dime by simply stopping a behavior. Shift the power. Reverse the polarity. All because I’d backed off, now I was the recipient of the overt affection! And yes, of course, I loved it. What a lovely reunion it was. He took up my hand as we walked back to the car, and, still beaming from ear to ear, and he just kept saying over and over again to himself “I got my mommy. And I’m going home.”

We made a stop at the store on the way home, and once more the newness we felt with each other was apparent. Elihu, in his short-sleeved white oxford shirt, dark jeans and slip-on sneakers looked striking. Well-dressed. The sight of him impressed me and refreshed me. His hair was a little longer than usual after his long time away, but it suited him well. ‘What a handsome kid’ I though to myself. Turns out he’d been sizing me up with new eyes too; told me I looked thin. Wow. Maybe he’s a little biased, but I’ll take it. (Clearly, we were each seeing the other in the energized space of this homecoming. Through rose-colored glasses, you might say.) Then later at home, sitting at the table during a lull between catch-up stories, he rested his heads in his hands, leaned forward and smiled at me. “You really are pretty”. Oh my. Be still my mother’s heart! What more could a mother possibly ask? I lingered there for a bit, smiled back at him, and told him that he’d made my ego positively sing. I thanked him for being the best child a mother could ever know, then broke the moment by playfully shrugging off the flattery. I ‘tsk tsk-ed’ myself up off the chair and walked away, shaking my head and waving my hands in the air.

A lovely first evening. Corn chips with salsa made from the garden. New tricks on the trampoline, A nice visit with the new fish in the improved pond, a moment to get reacquinted with Maximus. A visit from Grandma, a re-telling of the running-out-of-oil-in-the-Mohave-Desert story, a synopsis of Sea World in San Diego, and a demonstration of how two large quartz crystals (from said desert) rubbed against each other in a dark room emit a soft, orange glow. As much as could be condensed in a short visit. Mom had to get back to dad, so then I fed the kid a very just-thrown-together, picnicy sort of supper; a salad made of our garden’s greens, and some cajan-spiced chicken from the grill. Followed by a dutch cocoa cookie and a jam session on the drum set downstairs. If that wasn’t just perfect enough, we then went out to check on the flock.

Elihu’s head count finds the whole, happy gang safe inside.. We coo, we smooch, and I gather up far too few eggs – which doubles our motivation to take the non-producing gals to the Amish butcher on the first week of school. That’s what we always plan to do in the early fall. We mighta bagged on it last year, but I think we two finally have the resolve to do it now. We are done wasting our precious money on dead ends. We renew our resolve to become ‘real farmers’ once again. We will gather up the non-layers and new roos and take em all in. We’ll make the trip to Arnold’s grains once a month rather than make peicemeal trips to the corporate, over-priced Tractor Supply. Yup, we know what to do, and this year we’re gonna do it.

Back inside, pajamas on, Elihu calls to me from his room. “Sleep with me tonight?” he asks. I’d wondered where we were with this now. He’d been completely on his own all summer, no one to read to him at night, there were no real bedtime rituals in the tour bus… plus he’d found the gentle rocking on the road to be the best thing ever to soothe him to sleep. Maybe getting to sleep here might take some getting used to again. I paused, considering the possibility of back-sliding into his needing a lot of my presence at bedtime. I loved him so dearly, I really had no other pressing work, but still…  I’d had hopes that this year he’d be a little more self-reliant when it came to getting to sleep. “Just for tonight. Ok?” he said in a small voice. How could I not? I went into his room and laid down beside him, and we began to recount the day. Such an amazing variety of experiences, from the ‘worst calamari of his life’ at Harry Caray’s at O’Hare to smooching his chickens. He said it all felt like a dream. As he looked around his room he remarked it was hard to believe he’d ever been away. “Yeah, life is like that. In the end, it really is all kinda like a dream. When ya think about it,” I said, “everything you’ve ever done til now is just a memory.” Then we laid there in silence, thinking. Thinking, breathing, and then finally… sleeping.

 

Home Soon August 13, 2013

Good thing I chose to tackle my teaching files tonite, cuz my ‘me time’ ends tomorrow. Elihu just mentioned it in passing as we talked tonite. Said that he was coming home tomorrow. Or the next day. He wasn’t sure. Although Fareed says he emailed me – and indeed it might have ended up in the spam folder – I knew nothing of it til now. Had planned a bunch of things this week, including a social visit with a friend I haven’t seen in a year. So that’s off now. Unless I can park Elihu at neighbor Sherry’s house (the grandparents’ house is too full of cats – Elihu, even doped up, can’t be there more than a half hour without serious fallout). I suppose that’s not such a big deal. But when I think of all the weeks spend with no plans at all, it bums me out slightly. Next my thoughts turn to the yard work and small repairs not quite finished yet and which remain on this week’s list. In summers past they might have been re-scheduled to another child-free time. But I remind myself that Elihu is a well-seasoned ten year old now, and whatever tasks I had left to complete I can likely ask for his help in doing. And if not, he’ll probably be so happy to be back home that I’m sure he can easily entertain himself while I finish up my work. Catching frogs and chasing chickens takes time, after all. I tell myself not to worry; it’ll all fall into place.

I realize also, that in my enthusiasm to get projects done around the house, I have neglected to put away his clothes. Piles of laundered clothing cover his bed. My intention was to have gotten to it by now, but turns out it’ll have to wait til he’s home. Which might be just as well; I can’t be sure that the pants that fit him in June won’t be floods by August. Might just be best to go through it all with him here. Then we can assess those tubs of hand-me-downs in the basement sent by the kindest of friends. We can take inventory of shoes, fall coats and winter boots. Yes, this I suppose – as much as I cannot fully allow myself to believe it – is the back-to-school season. The time of binder-buying, new shoes and instrument rentals. Thankfully, there’s a little bit of summer left – just enough for Elihu and me to enjoy the long-awaited Washington County Fair. We’ll have that time, then a tad more in which to switch gears. Get the sleep schedule turned back around. He and I have both been staying up way past midnight (however I’ve been getting up early each day) and so we’ll have to go from rockstar to school year hours. We’ve got enough time to do it comfortably, I think.

It took a good week after Elihu was gone until I realized that each night as I slept, I slept in a house all alone. In the beginning it gave me a stark, empty feeling. But then the solo groove kicked in, and now after more than four weeks of being alone, I’m quite used to it and I can easily say that I very much enjoy the solitude. There will definitely be a change in the energy of this tiny house tomorrow night – for both of us. Elihu’s been a whole lot of places in that tour bus, plus he’s come most immediately from a noisy-boy household, so his first night home might be a little too much quiet all at once. Maybe it will help that the crickets will sing for him as he sleeps, and that the roosters will crow for him nice and early when he wakes. And when I hear his breath at night, the gentle creaking of his bed when the house is dark, I will remember once again that my son is here with me. Safe, at home. And just a room away.

So much life has passed already that we don’t share; he’s had so many experiences he can never fully relate to me. I feel his life taking on its own shape now. He has so many memories that don’t include me. It almost seems he shouldn’t have had such a wide range of life without his mother at this tender age; it almost feels as if my college boy is coming home. But the voice I hear on the phone is still tiny. Still the voice of a young boy. He and I may both function out in the world quite well without each other, but still, I know that we both deeply enjoy living life side by side. I’m excited to see him, to hold him, to have him close again. What a happy surprise that you’ll be home so soon, my beloved Elihu.

 

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you  that you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt.  Sometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Hi Lo August 10, 2013

It’s been a spectacular summer day. Lovely breezes blew through all day long, keeping the brightest sun from feeling too hot. For me personally it was a day in which I completed a major phase of an outdoor beautification project, is was a day in which I met some wonderful and kind neighbors, plus this evening I got a call from an old friend whose voice I hadn’t heard in nearly a year. All in all, the day was full of good things. Sunshine, walks through gorgeous gardens and promising young vineyards, meeting of friends new and old, and touring of other people’s homes. One very pleasant day.

Yet at the end of it all, not sure whether it’s the $20 someone stole out of my Eggs of Hope bin at the side of the road (I’d finally left generous change for my weekend customers), the first glass of wine I’ve had in a week, or the general sense, once again, of missing what it is to be a part of a larger network of friends here in my town – I dunno. But now, moments before bedtime, I’m feeling a bit deflated in the wake of my day. For no apparent reason, all of a sudden I’m feeling a bit down.

Maybe cuz I’d really like to just go out on a date with someone whose company I enjoy. Maybe because doing the town alone doesn’t appeal anymore, yet I wouldn’t mind going out. But where? With whom? Maybe five years is enough alone time. I know that’s not all of it, but part of it for sure. Tonite, for God’s sake I’m almost feeling weepy. Like something’s just missing. (And I know it’s not my period – cuz I don’t have one anymore!! Gone is the most probable culprit for my inexplicable mood swing!)

I realize that the local drunk who stole my $20 probably needs it more than me. It’s just that I turned in my friggin coin collection to get enough change for customers. It makes me very upset. I’m trying to plan my life and get my bills paid; I’m following all the rules and being a good person. ‘Must you do this to me? Really?’ I ask this lonely bicycle rider in my head. I begin to imagine the conversation I’d have with him if I ever caught him red-handed. I begin to taste the justice… But then I stop. While part of me dearly wants to catch him in the act and to shame him for what he’s done – a part of me also knows that if he’s in such a state that he has to steal from a kid’s side-of-the-road egg business in order to get some relief from this difficult world, then his life has got to be a very sad one indeed, and I must have mercy and compassion for him.

Yeah. I can see both sides. I just wish he’d ridden his bike down my driveway (as he’s done before, reeking of beer) to ask if I had any small jobs for him to do. I’da given him something. Hell, I’da paid him $20 if he cleaned out the coop for me! I just wish he’d asked. I woulda found some something for him to help out with around here… But he took the wimp’s way out. It’s not like I don’t understand, I do. I know what it feels like when you can’t see any other options. I know what it is to want to feel better. Happier, more at peace. Kinda like the peace I feel I’m missing right now, actually. Yeah, I really hope he was able to take the edge off with that $20. And I hope he’s deep in a dream right now, far from the cares of this relentless world… I hope that tonite he has a tiny respite from the uneasy state in which he lives most of his life. And that somehow, tomorrow he awakes with a small germ of hope growing inside…

There’s no doubt that I got it all. Lucky gal am I. Not sayin it sarcastically either. Really. I’m just experiencing another little blip on my emotional EKG tonite – but it’ll right itself soon. And I know that I’ll start over fresh and optimistic tomorrow morning. Plus I look forward to the many dreams I’ll have before that time, cuz they’ll bear me away from here long enough to refresh me and make tonite’s low-grade gloom a mere fuzzy memory.

Many elevations on this roller coaster ride of life; may tomorrow’s ride end on a hi and not a lo…

moi 023

 

The Other Shoe August 8, 2013

Thursday morning

We’re going to take dad to the hospital today as he’s been complaining of stomach pains for a few days now. While mom and I think it might be good old-fashioned constipation, and he’s been drinking more fluids to help things along, the pain hasn’t really gone away. Mom suspects all he needs is some hydration by way of an IV. That, and the overall stimulation that another atmosphere and new people might provide. I’m not so sure this will have a happy ending. Martha, the other matriarchal figure in our lives, is also in the hospital today. She awoke around four this morning because she was having difficulty breathing. Martha knows the drill well. She pushes the button on the pendant around her neck, calls her friends Doreen and Mike, and shortly an ambulance arrives. She’s been in the hospital – admitted through ER – many times over the past couple of years. Sometimes things appear dire, yet she always ends up returning to her large, historic farmhouse in Greenfield. And every time she enters the place, I pray she makes it home again. Above all things, Martha is a woman who must die in her house. And no matter how infirmed her state, it seems she always has the resolve to make sure that one day she will.

My father, on the other hand, might have a different story. If admitted, he might be considerably disoriented by an extended stay in the hospital. Mom’s hope is that he ends up staying for a few days. She’s even posited his going then to a rehab facility in town (Martha’s done that herself several times). But if he can be made well by a simple round of hydration, then why would he need to stay there? My suspicion is that mom isn’t even aware of her own secret wish to be relived of her care-taking duties, if only for a couple of days. I’ve been lobbying hard for a weekly visit from an private nurse, but mom continues to say ‘we’re not there yet’. ! A few days ago she began to acquiesce, and told me her intention was to call the office of the aging and schedule an in-home interview, yet every manner of obstacle has prevented her from doing so. She doesn’t work, dad doesn’t get up til way past noon. What on earth could be preventing her from calling, save her own, deeply-embedded fear of entering this next phase? This is all a sad new territory for sure, and it’s made even harder to navigate by virtue of my parents’ values and upbringing. They are not a generation that discusses their feelings. And my mother is definitely not one to accept help. This creates a challenging environment when it comes time to deal with these issues of aging. Man, if there’s one thing I’ve made good and clear to my own son, it’s that he should do what he needs to do when the time comes. If I don’t know who he is and I can’t wipe my own butt – then  by all means ship me off. And honestly – you may think me morbid, I do not care – I am all in favor of assisted suicide (however loathe that term) if a person should face an irreversible, debilitating disease. It’s even my hope to be able to sock away enough money to have that be a viable option one day (one possible place is in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s legal there). After all, looking to my father and paternal grandmother, the genetic possibility for growing old with dementia is a potential reality for me. I cannot pretend it isn’t.

_______________________________________________________

Thursday, early evening

I’ve been at the hospital for much of the afternoon with mom and dad. The staff at Saratoga Hospital continues to impress me, and I’m so very grateful for their service today. Turns out dad just had a hernia. Not a big surprise, he had one on the other side years ago which he had fixed surgically. The doc massaged it back into place, and dad felt relief right away. He had a CT scan which showed some ‘white matter’ around his brain; the ER doc surmised that it may have been many ‘tiny strokes’, but mom and I wonder if it might not simply be evidence of his memory loss and the related diminishing brain volume. Either way, my feeling is that it doesn’t so much matter. In my eyes, it’s my father’s quality of life and comfort that is most important now. Little prevention can be done to stop the progress of what’s probably inevitable. Guarding against falls is another concern of mine now too (mom and dad have a tile floor, argh. Knock on wood). In the end, dad’s cheerful, as well as he can be, and most importantly, feeling better. And I for one am relieved that he didn’t need an overnight stay in the hospital. (Although mom might feel differently.)

Martha was just down the hall, and on the way out, we wheeled dad into her room for a visit. It only just occurred to me right now – that it might have been the last time that dad and Martha will ever see each other in person. On Martha’s 87th birthday, just a few weeks ago, it took dad nearly fifteen minutes just to get inside her house. It was a huge production. I think we all knew as we watched his incredibly slow progress to the car afterward, that this was probably his final visit to the farm. This whole chapter is bizarre and bittersweet. I realize I’m lucky to have both of my parents alive and doing relatively well. So many of my friends are in that stage of life when they’re losing theirs. I watch, I wait, I worry. Nothing to do but try to savor the time remaining.  It’s tough for me, yes, but I think of my folks. My dad is actually blessed by his dementia; he can’t truly appreciate that his life is reaching its end. And my mother, while she herself is actually doing ok (in spite of bad arthritis and chronic back pain), I can’t help but I wonder if there’s not a low-grade worry present in her thoughts about how her own end will come. An occasional passive-aggressive aside will come out every now and then which betrays a darker side to her concerns. On the face of it however, she jokes, she makes light… There is a mildly haunting sense to this time in all of our lives, although none of us ever says as much. But even if we were to talk, what would we say? I’d like to think that Elihu and I will face these tough conversations with absolute honesty when the time comes, but I can’t know that for certain. I cannot begin to assume that I will behave any differently, or approach the last years of my life with any more candor than my folks. I just don’t know how it will feel to be in that situation. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to face it, but it’s been a bigger challenge than I’d thought just turning fifty!

For now, I cherish the little things that have been so familiar to me all of my life. That certain, charming way my father has of laughing. The way my mother always shows concern, the way she always takes care of things, and makes me feel in the end like everything will always be alright. I can’t grasp in this moment, today, that one day they will be gone. And as frustrated as they can make me, they are my only parents, and I love them so. Every remaining moment is important, because you never truly know when the other shoe will finally fall to the ground.

ER 2013 126I am a fan of Saratoga Hospital. The staff there have all been so kind and gracious.

ER 2013 063Dad was in good spirits all afternoon.

ER 2013 053There’s his gallbladder. All looks just fine.

ER 2013 078Now we’re in Martha’s room for a visit. Note how she raises her hand for emphasis as she speaks. She is still in control! And she remembers the name of every last person who comes into her room – not only that, but she remembers where they live! Martha always inquires where people are from. That’s signature Martha Carver. !

ER 2013 091That profile I know so well.

ER 2013 097You can see what a production it is to move dad.

ER 2013 101Aaron was so kind and patient.

ER 2013 105Mom needs a cane these days – she can’t walk far without it. Even so, she’s the rock in the duo so far.

ER 2013 113So fragile looking.

ER 2013 122What a relief. I asked mom if she needed help on the other end – getting him back inside the house – but she insisted she didn’t; she said it simply took a long time. I can’t help but wonder each time he leaves the house if this will be the last time he does. You just can’t ever know for sure.