Toothless in Saratoga

I’ll write a proper post on our wonderful Halloween later… for now I’d just like to warn all late-night, middle-aged folks to sample their children’s stashes with care…

Elihu and I were in the very best of cheer, sitting at the kitchen table as we do this night each year, wading though a large bowl of candy and sharing stories from the night. Long past the thrill of candy (we’re more savory fans than sweet – in fact I went straight for the salami when we got in) we continued to eat pieces, more for the sampling of forgotten flavors than out of a desire to eat candy. Rather mindlessly – anticipating that strange, manufactured and perfumey sort of flavor I remembered from long ago – I popped a piece of taffy into my mouth. I bit onto something in the taffy, and instantly recalled all the tales from my youth, the long-lived urban legends of tainted candy, the ominous and still ubiquitous warnings about checking one’s candy before eating… I, it seemed, after decades of having been warned about just such an event, had bitten into one of those tainted pieces. I pulled it out of my mouth to see what was going on, and it took me a moment to realize that I had actually pulled a tooth out of my own head. Really? Seriously?? And after such a charmed day? Sheesh. Nothing so humbling as losing a tooth – or a fake tooth, I should say. Seriously, I couldn’t feel like a bigger idiot. But I guess if it could be anything close to justifiable on any day of the year – this would be the one.

Can’t help but wonder how much this little baby is worth, I think to myself as I turn the fake tooth, metal anchor and all, around in my hand. Can I re-use it? Sure hope so. I begin to envision monthly payments streaming on into the future for years. I worry a little about how much I’ve just set myself back. Argh. And such a wonderful evening til now… Elihu reminds me that it probably happened because somehow it needed to. And upon closer inspection of my mouth I see a bit of decay on a neighboring tooth. So maybe it’s just as well. We agree there’s no point to worrying about it, we retire our candy (as we weren’t super excited about it anyhow) and we plan to get into our pajamas and get into bed with a book of true ghost stories of the Saratoga area. The rain hasn’t let up all night, we can hear it outside our window and it feels very Halloween-y right now. I guess missing a tooth on a night like this is actually rather fitting after all. So maybe it is just the perfect ending to a perfect day.

Happy Halloween, my dearies!

Corner Turned

Originally I’d wanted to write a post about our first experience butchering chickens in two parts: one before, and one after. I’d wanted to compare my thoughts and impressions from the idealistic, perhaps naive beforehand perspective, and the more grounded, realistic perspective that I expected to set in after the event. But to write about what a challenge it was that we faced, and how it was beyond our comfort range, even to express my thoughts on the merits of making one’s own food – all this seems so obvious, so clear – so unnecessary. I didn’t want to appear all greener-than-thou, and I certainly didn’t want this to seem like a bigger deal than it was. Plenty of my friends hunt. I know people who’ve killed many times. Clearly it wasn’t beyond my ability. And the principal of it should be pretty apparent. Yeah, we can pretty much all agree that it’s a good thing to take responsibility for your own food if you’re able, and to offer the creatures happy lives and quick ends. So in the end, especially now after having done it, the preamble I’d originally planned seemed kinda silly.

There is one thought that stays with me, however, an image I’ve had in my mind for years that’s related to the acquisition of ‘live’ food. As Westerners, we don’t exactly grow up seeing our food while it’s still alive. The only exception I can think of is lobsters. I might be way wrong here, but I’m kinda thinking that we’ve all felt that quiet, inner conflict when passing those tanks of tangled, doomed lobsters at the grocery store. And should we actually take one home, we manage to talk ourselves out of our remorse, cuz hey, this is gonna be one delicious meal after all. Maybe we offer the creature, or even Creator, some thanks, and so the guilt lessens even a bit more. But not all folks on this globe feel the same about their food. Years ago in New York City’s Chinatown I once witnessed an old woman shopping for dinner. I will never forget the scene – one I wasn’t expecting, one which I wasn’t even fully understanding until the moment was over. She first pointed to a huge barrel filled to the top with live bullfrogs, the clerk scooped out two, laid them out on the counter and before I knew what was happening, he bashed them over the head with a bat. It wasn’t a killing blow, and I watched in horror as they haggled over the price of the still-moving and clearly horribly injured frogs. They were paid for and bagged up, and the grandma took her bag in hand, along with all her other shopping bags and left the shop. She was obviously not bothered, as I was, at the spasmodic kicking that continued from inside the bag as she made her way down the sidewalk and into the crowd on her way home to make dinner.

That little scene blew my mind. And it changed how I thought about food. Sure, there was something right about the freshness, the immediacy, but there was something very wrong with the lack of humanity with which the dispatching went down. A couple things to be learned there. I always wondered after that – in a tiny, almost inaudible voice – if one day we might live on a planet where all our food would be gleaned in a responsible and humane way. If one day we might finally take the horror out of it. Whether factory farmed chickens who live in darkness and pain or miserable frogs piled dozens deep – might we hope to one day end such profoundly crappy, disrespectful treatment of fellow creatures? But back then it was just a fleeting philosophical question which hardly lasted a minute as I dashed off to the next gig, the next project, the next rehearsal. With no solutions in sight, why make myself miserable thinking about it? I had no idea that at some yet distant chapter of my future I’d actually find myself closer to an answer. That one day I wouldn’t be living in the city. That I’d be a country gal, a mom, a chicken farmer. Yeah, it’s closer at hand, but we’re still not there. A one afternoon how-to class doesn’t make us self-sustaining farmers. Still working on it; Elihu and I continue to run the numbers, discuss the nitty-gritty details, and visualize the goal. Ya never know. Everything has to start out small.

IMG_8733Idyllic Eastern New York state – the town of Cambridge. Rolling hills just East of the Hudson River soon meet the rolling hills of Vermont. It’s here that Jared and Shannon Woodcock run Taproot Farms, an all-around farming venture. They have a toddler and a tiny baby and big dreams for what this project and life could potentially be. By teaching their farming skills and sharing their knowledge they help broaden the community of like-minded, good folk that wish to do things as they should be done. It sound blessedly simple, and yet there’s so much to it. There’s always so much more to things that it appears…

IMG_8651Bringing the young chickens up to the barn.

IMG_8663Jared goes first, demonstrating the two swift cuts on either side of the neck. It’s so quick, I can tell you it’s a minor event for the bird. Super sharp knife, just two, three seconds. Done.

IMG_8811Jared helps Elihu get the bird in the cone.

IMG_8816At first it’s hard to see the blood. But soon you get in the groove and you see instead the task that you’re doing.

IMG_8761Our first bird. I was nervous about slicing my hands and needed Jared to hold my hand to assure a good cut. Better next time. Here the bird is bleeding out. Doesn’t take more than a minute. And their legs do kick, but it’s clearly a physical, nerve-related action. By then the dear soul has moved on.

IMG_8763Elihu did his own bird too. Jared helped, but the kid was involved in the entire process.

IMG_8767You gotta dip em in hot water to loosen the feathers before you pluck em. A couple of short dips and they come right off.


A beautiful, simple machine. A motor, a belt and a wheel with a bunch of rubbery fingers that rotate and just zip off those feathers. I’d be interested to see how much more time it takes to pluck a bird without this little gizmo.

IMG_8778We’re just cleaning up a few feathers left behind. But not many.

IMG_8819Elihu dunks his bird.

IMG_8831and inserts it into the magic wheel

IMG_8838First, Elihu learns how to cut off the feet; two easy cuts and they just kinda pop off.

IMG_8847Jared’s helping him loosen up the trachea and crop from the top end, so that it’ll all pull out more easily from the bottom end later on.

IMG_8794Ok, my turn…

IMG_8781all good…

IMG_8792things are gettin kinda slippery…

IMG_8791….and warm! Yeeks! And – wow – there’s a lot in here, too!

IMG_8857we’re almost done…

IMG_8707Elihu’s been wanting to eat chicken’s feet for I don’t know how long. Finally I can cook up some crunchy feet for my son!

IMG_8863Wrapping things up. Literally.

IMG_8864What a lovely little operation! Thanks Jared (and wife Shannon, plus tiny Calla and tinier baby boy) We love Tapoots Farm! (And Jarred’s also a ‘bird boy’ like Master Elihu – he actually studied orthinology. !! Really hope we see these folks again some time!)

IMG_8970The house smelled divine. And no kidding – in a blind taste-test Elihu totally knew the ‘home’ raised vs. factory chicken. If ever a kid was born with the potential to grow his own food,  it is Elihu.  And he certainly is fast-gaining the qualifications for the job….

Fall Photo Catch-Up

As most of the leaves are now gone, and the weather has finally turned truly cold, these pictures, from only a week ago, seem to be from much longer ago than that… Here are some bits and pieces, some of which I’d written about, some not, but we thought they’d be fun to see anyway… All little peeks into our world here at the Hillhouse. (This has also been an incredibly tedious experiment in what it would be like to import photos using my ancient Mac. It has taken a loooooooong time, but I did it! And until Mr. Fix it comes next week to help w/our PC, it doesn’t look likely there’ll be too many more pics before then.)

yo bro

First off, has this hit your school yet? I think the folks who own the silly bands factories probably just modified their setup a little bit and simply picked up where they left off…. such suckers we are. But as fads go, one that encourages kids – and boys too – to create things that require the use of merely their brains and fingers (and in some cases, their marketing skills) is a wholly healthy endeavor in my opinion. Just so long as the math homework gets done first. !

Fall AfternoonWe enjoyed some long fall afternoons making the requisite leaf piles.

in the pileLife on the inside

well, hello!Chickens like to play, too! (At least that’s what we like to believe)

Footbridge in FallThe burning bush by the footbridge

beautiful birchAnd our beloved Beech

apple treeAnd our favorite ornamental apple tree with color on the hillside beyond

Elihu and JuliusUntil yesterday, our favorite new roo. Oh well. At least he has been immortalized in the ether of the internet.

Julius CaesarKinda thought I’d be the one to do him in. Just as well. Julius Caesar was growing on us…

thru the porchthe view from the porch

pov from failed beans up the hilland the view from the garden looking back up at the porch. Note the lack of beans on the bean poles. Deer shaved off every last piece of green from the ground up. They missed a couple leaves and beans at the top. Lesson learned. Next year it’s fence time.

chicken's pumpkinWe won’t be needing to carve our jack-o-lanterns, as the chickens have beat us to it. !

big ol drop offThis is our hike through the local woods to visit an abandoned graphite mine. There’s a dramatic falloff just to the right…

Old Naila tiny sign of humanity once here

this is not exciting, momA larger sign of humanity here before – but it’s fast losing its interest to a cranky ten year old boy.

Factory FootprintThis is the footprint of the mining factory’s wall, which goes down a good fifty feet to the river below.

ancient bridgethe remains of a small gauge railroad bridge over the water

Arms Fullback home with Julius Caesar; one last good smooching before his mysterious disappearance.

under-arm orb?Hmm. underarm orb or trick of the light? We creeped ourselves out with this replay. (He’s reaching for the moon)

In Flight MamaJumpin Mama

Wing Spanthe dead female Yellow Rumped Warbler, such lovely wings

Yellow Rumped Warbler (Female)and the drawing he made of her

Waxwingstill didn’t top last year’s dead bird drawing (in ball point pen, no less)

Golden CurlsThanks for taking this one, sweetie. Doin’ away with the blonde highlights tomorrow. Tonin things down for winter and trying to get a bit closer to my natural color. Sans the grays, that is. No, I’m not a free woman. I color. !!

end of day mama

Lil Man gets Mama nearing bedtime after a very long and full day….

I’d better get to bed soon. This is a busy weekend comin up. Going to butcher my very first chicken, going to make a caterpillar costume for five boys, going to attend a couple parties and a ghost-story tellin… and most likely a few other, serendipitous events await us somewhere in the mix…. Halloween’s a comin…. much to do, much to do….

Bird Boy Back

“That’s not a Goldfinch.” Elihu knew what he was talking about, but yet I doubted him. Although the tiny bird was mostly an olive-ish brown, it had a yellow patch at the base of its back, and I, as a mere casual observer of birds, thought it to be a Goldfinch already changed into its drab coat for winter. But Elihu knew better.

I’d found the bird earlier that day, freshly dead, just beneath the laundry room window as I filled the chickens’ water buckets. Poor thing had crashed headlong into the glass and fallen, instantly dead, onto the ground just below. It was still slightly warm and still very supple. Couldn’t have been long ago, as it was morning and had likely happened since the sun had risen. This would be a good take for my kid – he loves to have a real bird to draw. So I brought it in, put it on a plate and left it on the table. Later when we got home from the airport, it was a treat to have this prize waiting for him. Immediately he began his inspection, wings out to admire the fan of feathers, a complete turning over to scrutinize the subject from every angle, a check with his mother to confirm its coloring. He then brought it straight to his desk to begin sketching it. “So if it’s not a Goldfinch, then just what is it?” I asked him, somewhat defiantly. I’m thinking, ‘yeah, kid, there aren’t a whole lotta other options. You just can’t see color – so you don’t understand.’  He didn’t miss a beat. “It’s a Yellow Rumped Warbler”. “What?” I asked, still unbelieving. After all, we’d complied a list of all the birds we’d ever seen or heard, dead or alive, here on our property. And this was not one I’d ever seen or heard before. “Look it up” he said, unphased by my lack of support. He continued to draw. So I grabbed a couple of field guides, a pair of dollar store reading glasses and laid down on his bed. I’ll be damned if the kid wasn’t absolutely right. “WHAT?!” I screamed when I saw the photo. “A Yellow Rumped Warbler?? I’ve never even heard of one, let alone seen one!” Elihu laughed. “How on earth would you know this?” I asked him, still not completely understanding how he could possibly have come to this conclusion. I know the kid was reading David Attenborough’s books and field guides cover-to-cover at six, I knew that he’d memorized every specimen in his two audio bird books, yeah, I knew all this. I realized that through his motivation to look up birds without my help he’d learned how to count, learned to look up three digit page numbers on his own at a very young age… but how was it that I, alongside him for so much of this process, had not learned about a fairly common backyard bird? Maybe this was more the issue here for me and my frail middle-aged ego; my kid had me beat. He knew exactly what he was talking about – and I didn’t.

He continued to laugh at me, and continued his drawing. “Remember the bird that got stuck in Martha’s music room?” I thought back – he was about seven then. I nodded. “That was a Yellow Rumped Warbler.” There was a pause. Elihu wanted to help me out a bit. “Remember the black on him?” And yes, I did kinda. It was very contrasty, very obvious. And I do remember that even back then it was a bird I professed not to know. “Mommy, that was a male Yellow Rumped Warbler.” I checked my field guide once more. Man, this kid was good. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I, my dear, am amazed at your skill.” He finished his drawing, complete with the beautiful detailed triangular patches of black on the top of the breast, something we’d not have known about had we not had the bird in hand. He had a huge smile on his face the rest of the evening as I continued to muse over my own inability to remember this bird and sulked ever so slightly. I wasn’t so pleased with myself, but my pride and joy at his success and happiness more than made up for it.

Last night, before we went to bed, Elihu offered to close the chickens in. He always does a head count. I’ve long given up on this task; I’m satisfied just to be done with my chores for the day and choose instead to tell em I love em all and close the latch. He came back, announcing that Julius Caesar was missing. This seemed highly improbable, as he was the young rooster emerging as the most royal pain in the ass of the whole flock. Mounting all the ladies and fighting the other cocks all day long, it didn’t seem like he’d be the first to succumb to wildlife. I grabbed a flashlight and went out to check for myself while Elihu got ready for bed. Sure enough, I counted only 29 chickens, and didn’t see the big white fella anywhere. I made a cursory check in the trees and around the coop, but saw not a thing. He would’ve stood out, his bright white body and huge, arching tail. I felt a slight sadness at his absence, and noted to myself that it was a selfish one: he was one delicious young bird we wouldn’t be enjoying on our table. Rats. I went inside and confirmed the news. “Darn” Elihu said. I began to comfort him when he stopped me – “I’m not sad, Mommy, it’s just that we didn’t get to enjoy him, someone else did!” We had a little laugh together, and were warmed at the thought of another creature sleeping full and happy this night, and so we let it go. After all, we still have another five roos that promise to be just as tender and delicious.

Birds in every form, enjoyed and appreciated in every way possible. And all thanks to one young boy who sure knows his birds.


I’ve spent nine hours today working on the Monarch caterpillar costume for Elihu and his classmates. While thankfully I have no other truly pressing projects, and while I did at least manage to cut out an hour for some domestic related stuff (a deep cleaning of the bathroom and a cursory vacuuming of the place) I can’t shake a dim sense that I might not have used my time in the best way possible. I scrutinize my hunch more closely and can’t really figure out what else it might have been that I should have done with my day. I feel a bit of regret at not having walked outside in the fresh air, not having visited my folks as I’d thought I might, but in light of my progress I let myself off the hook. It can’t be just me. I almost always feel a general tug of life – a dull, unfocused sense that I’m missing something, leaving some important thing undone. Not sure if it’s just a question of my personality in particular – of being nearly always engaged in an endeavor of some sort or another – or if it’s simply a question of my humanity in general. But it’s nearing nine at night, and in spite of the five completed caterpillar segments drying in my kitchen, I don’t quite feel I’ve used my day to its fullest potential. Sometimes writing helps ease the feeling; maybe this post will do the trick. Just gotta keep going.

Part of my mood tonight might come from having just found Sinbad, the goldfish that Elihu won this summer at the county fair, floating dead in the middle of the tank – and doing so within mere minutes of my having replaced some of the water. He was alive when I removed a pitcher of the old water, yet by the time I had finished pouring in the new water (same tap, same temp, and not very much was replaced and it was gently added) he was no longer moving. Really? I tapped the side of the tank hopefully. I waited. But not a fin on the little critter moved… Oh no, not Sinbad! It had me stopped for a moment. I was so sad at it, much sadder than I thought was probably justified, and I was confused too… what had done it? Had I killed him? Did I do the wrong thing? I removed him from the water, touched him gently, apologized…. Crazy, huh. I thought then about Elihu. He’d likely be stoic – probably more pragmatic about it than me – but one never knows. Either way, there’d be no sense in calling him with the news. It can keep til tomorrow, when he returns from visiting his dad. For now it would have to be my own tiny, sad secret. Phooey. After a good eight weeks I’d thought we’d finally made it as successful fish owners. We’ve not had good luck with them in years past and had debated about getting them again. And I don’t feel good about getting pets that are ultimately doomed to an unplanned death. Then my thoughts turn to our chickens, and realize that most likely they’ll be dispatched on Thursday, and it has me thinking. All of them have names. And have been around for a while now, some a few years even. We can actually see some individual personalities among them. So how is it that I’m ok with their deaths, and yet thrown off by the death of a tiny gold fish? Ah well. It is what it is. Nothing to do about it now. ‘Just keep going’ I tell myself.

What does brighten my mood is not just that I’ll see my son again tomorrow, but that I’m actually really looking forward to my job. To seeing the kids again, to being in that wonderful, dark and cozy building, to playing that gorgeous piano. I remember my experience the past week at the high school and I being to get a little re-energized. I’d subbed for the absent eurythmy teacher – and had felt incredibly under-qualified to do so. In fact I’d dreaded the week, realizing how little I knew about the class. But I decided to use it as an opportunity to meet all the kids, one-on-one, and in the end I was able to meet each one of them briefly as we sat on the floor and made introductions. Having a bit more personal of a connection to them all, now I find myself looking forward to the week in a new and refreshed sort of way. And then I remember the new piano students I have, and they too have me eager to teach, eager for the brand-new week that awaits me. To think that less than two months ago I had hardly any work, and now I not only have a job (though it’s still far less money than one might think), but I have a job that I love, one that inspires me and has me actually happy to wake up in the morning. That alone makes me a lucky gal. I think of all the people in this world who are just trying to get through the drudgery of their days, much less actually enjoying what they do. Yeah, I’m in a good place.

But no matter how good things might be, it doesn’t take a whole lot of logistic details to get me feeling overwhelmed, so before I get to bed tonight I’m going to go through the calendar and make sure all my re-scheduled appointments and new students have been written in. Sometimes I keep things like that in my head – but even with my humble life here, there’s just too much going on for me to remember it all. I suppose that also contributes a bit to my general sense that things haven’t been ‘completed’, that there’s something still left undone… I have to remind myself for the umpeenth time that nothing’s ever really done. Yeah, I know that. But still it’s nice to see a to-do list from a couple of months ago with most of the items successfully crossed off. My mind races around and grabs a few more things I’d forgotten to write down. The list grows a bit, but then finally finds an end for the night. For now I relinquish that little nagging voice. Cuz I’ll be happy to lay down to sleep tonight, and happy to wake to a new day tomorrow.

Be they mundane tasks or thrilling ones, either way, I suppose, there is never an end to the things yet to be done. Like this big world and all our adventures within it, the grand list is always there, always in a state somewhere between ‘to-do’ and ‘done’, ever-changing and ongoing, moving towards a future into which we never quite arrive…

Costume Mama

It’s that time of year again. While many experience a peak of stress around December, or perhaps around the end of the school year with exams, graduations and such, my personal crunch time is always mid October. I’ve always put a good deal of thought and effort into Elihu’s costumes (see my post “Halloweens Past“), beginning with simple stuff in his first few years and gradually evolving over time into elaborate affairs involving many hours of late-night labor. With Elihu’s love of birds at age six came his desire for an Eagle costume, the next year it was a Turkey Vulture, followed by an Anchiornus, and last year he was a Quetzalcoatles. (Here are some images from last year – choose images 20 and 21 – Elihu’s wings were on a pulley system and expanded out for a ten foot wingspan. The Eagle head on Cally (right) was his mask from a few years back). This year Elihu has entered into a new age; he has discovered video games and pop culture and has held a nearly year-long affection for action hero “Ben 10”, a ten year old boy who finds a mysterious watch, dons it and suddenly acquires the ability to morph into ten different alien characters, each one of which is responsible for helping to save planet Earth. In spite of being an exceptionally rational and sometimes very grown-up thinking kid, Elihu is nonetheless absolutely smitten with this fictional boy and has been asking me since late last winter if he might be Wild Vine for Halloween this year (one of the aforementioned alien personas of Ben 10.) And so, being a mother who having but one child can actually endeavor to spend so much time on such a costume, I agreed. I will also admit that I am personally very excited each year about the prospect of making his vision come to physical fruition. Yeah, I can’t complain about the extra work load as I take it on in love and I really do enjoy the whole process.

And as if bringing this Wild Vine fellow to life wasn’t enough, somehow I also committed myself to a second costume, one more school-friendly, and one that Elihu and a few fellow classmates could share for their school’s costume parade. The fifth grade has just concluded their study of Monarch butterflies, and so I suggested some of them go as a caterpillar. Then I myself started to get the vision, and I unintentionally stirred up a bit of enthusiasm for the idea. I gave it a day or two of thought, and then, after working out some design details in my head, announced to the boys that I would do it. The witness of some five or six kids left me no way out. After all, they had a parade to plan for, so I had to come through. Good thing my kid’s out of town this weekend, it’s been the perfect time to cover some ground.

Our process begins by collecting images. I let Elihu guide me; he chooses the pictures that most closely resemble his vision, and then we begin to talk engineering. This is where it can get tricky; when he was much younger we’d get to butting heads when it came to the ‘hows’ of the process. But thankfully as he’s gotten older he’s deferred to my wisdom and concentrated his efforts on pointing out cosmetic details I don’t always get. He’s got a great eye and the two of us make a pretty good team. I’m proud of our skills at collaboration; they’ve gotten much better and we can even now get through the construction of a costume without one single argument. More than I can say for how many adults might behave in the same situation. !

The architecture of the piece is always the first hurdle, and once I’ve completed that part I can rest for a bit. And frankly, if I hadn’t nearly completed Wild Vine I might not have offered my time for this new project. But Wild Vine is now completely finished (whew! Never been done with time to spare – it feels really good!) and so today I began the Monarch caterpillar. In fact, when I awoke this morning I realized that I was actually very excited to get started. It was a good hour before I thought to eat because I was already off and running. Unfortunately my PC is so full it no longer runs, and it’s hard enough just making a post on this ancient G4, so I can’t download – or upload – any pictures of my progress. But I’ve been so entrenched in the flow of my work, and so focused that I haven’t taken the time to even find my camera, let alone take photographs. That’s ok, I just gotta get it all done. I’ll post pics when I’m over this hump and can then turn my attention to my over-burdened hard drive downstairs.

Not sure if Elihu will want another costume again next year. I’m not sure just when this magic time of childhood comes to an end. I have memories from my own childhood of sixth grade boys being too cool to dress up, but not too cool for trick-or-treating. I remember their distinct lack of costumes, their plastic shopping bags, the voices from doorways telling them they were too old, but giving out candy anyway… My son’s world is different for sure, so I can’t really guess. I’m just making sure to enjoy this process while it’s here, because I do know for certain that one of these years I won’t be on costume duty anymore.

I’m done for the night. Haven’t been up this late in a long time. At a good stopping point, and have a full day’s work ahead tomorrow, plus several sessions after that. Nice to have this window of time to myself, nice to know that my son will come home in a few days to a killer costume. And to a mama who’s happy to have made it possible.


Much of today I’ve spent fuming at being told just this morning – by an email I might well have missed (as it’s not something I check more that once a day when I’m super busy) – telling me that Elihu was to be on a plane to Chicago at 6:30 am the next morning. Now I realize that my ex’s dad has been terribly sick lately, and we ourselves have all been sick with worry about him, and I realize this visit is important, but with so little notice it was a major logistic monkey wrench in the week, and it’ll take another month to get back on course. Braces being put in, important lessons in school, butchering rescheduled yet again, a skipped bass lesson, not to mention a classmate’s birthday party missed as well. I’m not cold to the importance of the visit, and I don’t want to appear selfish, but I feel like there should have been a mutual acceptance of said plans first. I knew the idea was out there – but Fareed had said his dad was in ICU where children weren’t allowed, and then he said the fares were too insane to purchase one. Lastly, he said he’d get back. Ok, so he did. With twenty four hours to go before the flight. Not a lot of opportunity for me to say no, not at least without becoming the bad guy. !

First, I should take a breath and at least acknowledge the great relief that washed over me when I heard for myself Riaz’s voice on the phone recently, after so many post-surgery days of respirator, infections and fever. I kinda knew he’d make it, but a tinier voice continued to whisper to me “this is how they all go… admitted for one thing, they end up catching pneumonia and dying of it in the end…” We’ve all heard that story so many times that it’s hard to pretend we haven’t. So to know that he’s keeping alive on his own steam – and improving no less – is great news, and it positively lifts my heart. For as much as my former father-in-law may never see things from my side, he is still that beloved, goofy man I’ve known for so many years. The man with whom I’ve traveled around the world, the man from whom I’ve learned to cook Pakistani food, the man from whom I’ve learned so many things I can’t begin to recount them. A man who’s had a huge role in my life, regardless of the other, less fortunate crap that ended up happening with us all.

When things were dire for him over the past weeks, I began an emergency re-evaluation of how our lives would feel without him. First, I’m just not ready to see my ex experience that kind of heartbreak. I know he’s not my husband anymore, but nonetheless it will be very hard for me to witness his grief when that time comes. While it would be very hard on my son to be sure, my ex husband will be a profoundly changed man when his dad dies. They are two of the same cloth, and I’m sure it will feel like part of himself is gone. And speaking purely about the nuts and bolts of the family businesses, Riaz is the patriarch in charge. So upon his death one day, things will change in a big way. And I myself was not quite up to this big of a change – quite yet. (But is one ever really ready??) To know that Elihu is going to see his grandfather again allows my whole body to relax again. This is a great relief indeed.

So for the next four days Elihu will be with his father and his grandfather. All afternoon he was silly and bouncy, in a cheery mood just to know that soon he’d be with Daddy. And how happy I am for him. What doesn’t make me so happy are the cold starts and immediate goodbyes – the instant change with no time for emotional preparation. Here today, there in a few hours. Oops, sorry I didn’t confirm it with you, but you’ll roll with it, won’t you?... I always do. Friends tell me I’m a doormat to my ex. I say I’m only trying to maintain some feeling of love in the family. It’s not often a two-way street, however. I myself have had so little love or respect from my ex that sometimes I really do feel like being a bitch and just saying ‘no’. But if I back off, take a breath and re-assess things, although it still might piss me off, I’m able to handle the rescheduling and the added stress. Cuz I love my son, and want things to be the best for him.  I know that whatever shit goes down all around, the bottom line is that a child needs his parent, and the parent needs his child. There is no greater feeling of relief than to hold your child firmly within your arms after a long absence. It’s a gift I never want to refrain from giving, no matter how angry I might be. And just as it gives my mother’s heart relief to hold Elihu close, so it also gives my heart relief to know that father and son will be in each other’s arms again soon.

Raking It In

Ah, such bounty in our lives these recent days. Too much to recount each sweet detail. Suffice to say we’ve been visited by friends, we ourselves have trapsed through the woods and across fields to call on our neighbors, we’ve enjoyed time outdoors in the finest fall weather we could ever hope for, and we haven’t encountered a truly bad mood all week.

Today we spent the whole day outside in the warm air, under a brilliant blue and cloudless sky which was framed by intense yellows and reds. Our birds freely roamed the woods and fields as they usually do, adding to a certain picturesque quality to the property. Once or twice Elihu and I have had a conversation about doing away with the whole chicken thing altogether, but we simply could never do it. We both agree that our avian companions add more than just charm to the place; they give it a certain energy, and they bestow a certain gentleness upon our small farmstead and soften the hearts of all who visit. And then there are the eggs. It’s nice to be able to have our pick of ‘free’ eggs each morning. Of course when the male-to-female, layer-to-non-layer ratios are off, the chicken thing begins to become a bit more of a burden that I’m comfortable with – as we must continue to buy feed for them with nothing to show for the investment. If it weren’t for my suddenly very busy work schedule I’d take em to the Amish farmer and bring em back in a cooler. (Yes, for this year we’ve put our lofty goals of butchering them ourselves on hold – just too much going on right now for one woman to handle!) But I can’t get it scheduled in for another week yet, so til then I must continue to feed the whole loud gang of crowers. It’s ok. I might even miss the ruckus when they’re gone. Maybe. I do know this: the chicken stock will be off-the-hook good, and it will feel very good to eat nothing but happy birds for the next coupla months. No more turning our consciences the other way when we eat our grocery store-bought meat. Not a huge step, but a step nonetheless.

Today was a day of leaf piles. Thank goodness that at ten my son still finds great joy being buried in great mounds of em. It’s one of those eras of youth that goes by too quickly – yet the memories stay with you forever. And when you’re in the middle of an afternoon of leaf pile play, it’s just the sweetest time. Playing in the leaves has been a two-day activity here, and while my ultimate goal was to make a tiny dent in the fall cleanup, Elihu’s was to remain hidden in the largest pile on the property as long as he could possibly hold out. I can’t finish my cleanup til that last pile goes… And as of tonight, one final (and enormous) pile is still there. He was so joyful all afternoon. Every now and then he’d bring a chicken in with him to his cozy nest in the leaves. (His nest-building was very determined and ‘Bower bird-esque’ we decided. ) I took pictures and more pictures, some worth sharing now, some only worth sharing twenty-five years from now when his own children want to see what he did when he was little… In the end, it’s enough to remember the way we laughed and laughed, the bright blue sky above us….

In the late morning we decided to embark on a little local adventure and find our way up a small mountain to a long-abandoned graphite mine. It was opened in the first decade of the 1900s and closed only a few decades later as a cheaper source of graphite was discovered in India. Crazy, huh? We did a little sleuthing online and saw a picture of the men at this graphite mine posed around a train bridge over a river, saw some buildings around them and a few barrels here and there. A small operation, it had from 50 – 100 men employed there and who lived on location. Hardly a handful of decades have gone by since then, and yet through the natural degradation that’s taken place it’s hard to even imagine such an endeavor thrived there once. It really does blow the mind how fragile and temporary we are, both man and machine. When we came to the foundation that looked much like the place they might have lived, we found some enamel food bowls, and while no barrels, we did see pairs of barrel stays, trees now growing tall up and through them. Another sixty years and I’m not sure anything will be visible. It was most fascinating to see the right angles and footprints of the former buildings and their tall walls built down the many feet of the mountainside to the ravine below. The place was once big and rockin, with a small guage train running up and down the mountain to carry the haul and the supplies. Lots of industry took place here once, but in the quiet woods of fall, all of it now softly covered in leaves and lichen, it just seems like something from a dream. We took a shortcut back to the trail, and as I grabbed for a root to pull myself up by, I saw something shiny and black, picked it up and – whaddya know, it was graphite! Sweet! When we got home, Elihu drew a picture with it. It chips fairly easily, so we’ve decided to keep it in a small plastic bag. Nice to have a real, ‘working’ memento of our impromptu hike. Btw – the place is only four miles on the odometer from our house (woulda been less had we just trekked directly through the woods from our place), and the whole thing took less than an hour. We experienced some impressive elevation and some dramatic scenery as we walked the edge of a very steep ravine and had some lovely views to Vermont on the way back. A fine, easy hike. Just right for my current fitness level. !

We’d hoped for a ride through the local wooded trails in neighbors Zac and Stephanie’s ‘Doodlebug’, their old model T with wagon in tow for mom and kids, but the motor started smokin a bit too much as they headed out over the field and so sadly they had to turn back. A slight disappointment, but in that our garden needed to be cleaned up for winter and we were still of a mind to remain outdoors, we put the change in plans behind us and meandered down the hill. Seeing all the devastation from our local wildlife population again was disheartening, but it doubled our resolve to learn from our mostly failed year and make the necessary fixes next year. Live and learn. We removed the rocks and threw em back onto the stone wall, picked off seed pods to save, rolled up remay and pulled the already ripped landscape fabric up and exposed the garden once again. We clipped back the tenacious arms of the ubiquitous privet plants and gave the place a much tidier look. Ready for next spring’s tilling and grand start-over.

We got our birds in and collected eggs, and stopped for a moment at the hammock on the way in. We both lay back, me with eight eggs on my chest (see where this is going, right?) and wondered aloud to each other if this old hammock could still take two of us. I said I’d never known a hammock to break – and no sooner had I said that then WHOOMPH it broke, and with it, several eggs all over me. ! Thankfully we weren’t hurt, so were able to get quite a chuckle out it. It was dark before we realized, and so without the need for Elihu’s dark glasses now, we enjoyed another hour on the trampoline. After snapping dozens of frames of mid-jump poses we finally went in. Not yet done with our day, once inside I went to the piano and began to practice Schumann and Beethoven while Elihu took a refreshing dip into the world of his Nintendo DS. If ever my son has had me worried he might be a bit too nature-loving and earnest about things like practicing and doing his homework, thankfully I have the video games to even things out. Whew. ! Nice to have a kid who’s got it good either way. (Once a school chum came over to visit and saw that our living room had only a piano, a harpsichord and some hand drums. “Why don’t you guys have a tv?” the kid asked. “Are you poor?” ) Wasn’t that interesting that the first thing he noticed to be missing in our house was a tv. Hm. Just have to add that that particular boy – and every other kid who’s ever spend an afternoon here – has never, ever lacked for something to do. But all that good old-fashioned nature type stuff aside, I am actually happy that my son has a video game of his own to retreat into. Hey, I like a bit of brainless FB surfing every now and then. Keeps things in balance. Right?

We did learn one not-so-pleasant piece of news earlier this weekend… and while it hasn’t spoiled our time, it had gotten us thinking about our small paradise here with a renewed sense of gratitude… Elihu and I had intended to walk to grandma and grandpa’s through the woods, but stopped at our neighbor’s en route. Our other young neighbors were there too – a nice surprise, and of course the grown ups ended up sitting down for a chat while the kids played. We never made it to our original destination. I’d turned down my neighbor’s invitation for a glass of wine – but changed my mind and accepted when I heard the news. Someone’s bought the tiny spit of land – the field that our driveway runs through – and is going to build on it and flip it. Don’t even know who will end up living there. Likely, given the numbers we knew, it would be a crap house too. I suppose better than one of those inappropriately huge McMansions, but still. Likely they’ll take down the island of woods that buffers us from the road. Very likely. That sure threw a downer into our day. Into our life, really, as pretty soon things will be much different. Our dark and quiet corner of Greenfield will soon be brighter and louder. If this were the suburbs it might be easier to take. But it’s not, and so all our hearts begin to break. As the two of us walked home through the field Elihu cried when we passed the stand of trees. “But that’s where the oven bird nests!” he protested, asking if we couldn’t perhaps reason with them on this account. But he knew better, and so did I. At least Crow Field – the much bigger area to the East where the Woodcocks nest and where we fly our kites and witness butterfly migrations – at least that’s untouched for now. But we all know it’s just a matter of time.

Since I’ve heard the news I’ve spent a lot of time just looking down our driveway towards its idyllic end at a pair of ancient wooden gates, permanently opened with wear and age. The driveway then takes a sharp left at the stone wall, revealing a vast, golden field beyond. This is the spot where a new house will soon stand. And I can’t stop thinking about it. I just can’t. While I’ve always known during our five years here that it wouldn’t always be thus – it simply kills me inside to understand that the change is finally coming. But for now I manage to shake it off, and throw myself back into the present, because it is, after all, such a beautiful one. And for now we have everything we need. Including an abundance of leaves for the most amazing leaf piles ever.

Fifty-Four Years on Ten/Ten

My mother and father were married in the Church of the Holy Trinity on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, fifty-four years ago this afternoon, on the 10th day of October, 1959. Some folks from the wedding party are still with us, others are long gone. Life sure does look different over a half century later. The church itself is likely the least changed of the whole affair. How much has come and gone since then – so many stories, happy and tragic, that have followed. So many of life’s adventures that could never have been imagined on the happy October afternoon, fifty-four years ago today. Today we told grandma and grandpa that we loved them and were grateful for their union, for without it, we wouldn’t be here today to thank em. !

10 10 13 098At home, Elihu pens an original anniversary card to grandma and grandpa

10 10 13 127And then shares it with them both

10 10 13 123He shows Grandpa….

10 10 13 113And Grandma too.

10 10 13 142We pull out the wedding album – compiled by the tony Bacharach Studios of New York.

church-of-the-holy-trinityThe Church of the Holy Trinity on 88th in NYC, likely looking much the same today as it did back then.

10 10 13 144Grandpa lingers over their wedding photo. He remembered that their friend, Adele Addison, had sung for the service that day. Amazing what’s remembered, and what’s not.

10 10 13 153

The ladies in the bridal party…

10 10 13 148Nancy Lydia Jackson marries Robert Scott Conant

10 10 13 159They receive a telegram as they enter their waiting taxi (post-party at the Harvard Club) from the Seagles of the Seagle Music Colony in upstate Schroon Lake, NY, who have congratulated Nancy on having ‘Baroquen’ Bob of his bachelor ways.  (Dad is a baroque harpsichordist.)  After having this classy candid shot taken, the elegant couple heads off into the New York City night as husband and wife, with a world of adventures yet before them. Cats, Kids and Early Music Festivals are still a mere gleam in their eyes tonight…

Happy 54th Wedding Anniversary, Mom and Dad! xoxo


Here’s a link to another anniversary post created on 10/9/15

Another Goodbye

Frank D’Rone wasn’t someone I knew well, but he was something of an icon in the world of Chicago’s jazz musicians, and by virtue of that he felt familiar to me. I do have nice memory of having sung a couple of duets with him at The House Cafe a few years back. While I did ask someone to take some pictures of us on stage, the results were poor and virtually unusable. Doesn’t matter anyhow, as I have no idea where those old, blurred photos even exist now. Tonight, upon hearing of his death, I begin to think back on that night, and kinda wish I had those pics – even more so a recording – as it feels more like a dream than a real memory… Frank and his gorgeous wife Joan had come over to our house for supper that evening before the show (I remember that Joan was diabetic, and that I had no diet drinks to offer her. Frank suggested that I might want to keep some on hand for future guests. Never once since that dinner have I ever had a pantry lacking in at least one sugar-free beverage ‘just in case’. A tiny lesson from that day I will never forget!), and I remember just loving the music that night. It was a pure thrill to have a guy like that – in this day and age especially – in our own club. At first I was a tad apprehensive about singing with him – I don’t sing harmony parts often, and had never done a duet before, but Frank made it easy. He made it swing, and he just made it feel good. Glad to have that memory tonight. Thanks for the swinging music, Frank, and I’m grateful I got to sing it with you once. We’ll see you on the other side…

Frank 3

Frank in the early years…

CT ae-1230-COTY-jazz-D'Rone-001.JPG

And Frank in the later ones…

Frank D’Rone      April 26th, 1932 – October 3rd, 2013