The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Fade Up February 27, 2014

Just as the very real images of my dream begin to fade, my body starts to register some incoming data from the physical world… although I can still very clearly see the environment of my dreaming mind, I can also sense that my nose is very cold. My face too, and also the shoulder that rests outside of the covers. While still tracking the scene that continues to play in my mind, another line of thinking superimposes itself on top: for a few seconds both my sleeping and my waking consciousness are co-existing. And even as that is happening, there’s a third witness present; I (whomever that may be) am watching the two operate simultaneously, and I am marveling over it. Underlying the whole thing, dreams, to-do lists and the emerging memory that yes, we are out of fuel oil again, a soundtrack of Stanley Clarke’s School Days plays, over and over. The music is a bit distracting, but I can’t seem to stop it. Over and over again the line plays as my waking mind picks up speed and the lists start coming at me fast and furious. So much for sleeping in this last precious hour.

I watch the mix of thoughts and sounds fly around in my head like the scene in the Wizard of Oz where the witch morphs from riding a bicycle to flying on a broom…. Thoughts fly about me in a virtual storm, and it feels I have no control… Eventually my witnessing mind is pulled back in from the sidelines, the dream evaporates, and I am now in my body again. The visions and soundtracks are gone. At last, I manage to sit upright in bed. Yes, the house is cold. The nightscape has faded into another day of earthly realities. And this business of keeping the house from freezing in single-digit temps is now number one on the day’s to-do list. In the past I might have been thrown by this alone – I remember in the early days, running out of fuel was downright frightening. It felt lonely and vulnerable, and although it was nothing personal on anyone’s part, it felt somehow as if the world had chosen to turn us away. But this morning, I wasn’t stopped, or even slowed down. (I admit that without the Brady Bunch double ovens to warm the kitchen and our portable electric heaters I might feel otherwise.) These days, it was just another thing to deal with. And these days, I’m getting pretty good at dealing with things. !

I am, however, a bit dismayed that the five gallons of kerosene I’d dumped in the tank yesterday afternoon didn’t even last us twenty-four hours; we’d barely kept the house at 60 degrees – truly, I’d been frugal. How in hell had we blown through all that fuel? Maybe kerosene doesn’t burn as efficiently. Maybe single-digit temps really require a lot more fuel. I guess. Having some concrete ideas makes it easier to take. We’re on a wait list for emergency oil thru the state assistance program, so relief is coming at some point. (It’s been a week without proper heat now, and although it feels like the longest we’ve gone without oil at one stretch, Elihu remembers us going nearly two weeks without heat a couple of years ago. Funny how you repress some things.) Besides, I’m sure there are folks much worse off than us. Sometimes I worry more about my instruments than I do us, and it’s then that I realize I guess I shouldn’t be bitching. I’m lucky we get help at all – and luckier still to have a piano and a harpsichord in our living room. Just take it day by day, I tell myself, and I keep my sights set no further out – because it’s far less stressful. And it’s kinda funny how the things that used to be the really big stuff become the not-so-big stuff in light of the truly heavy shit. Like a concert hall whose floor and walls are being removed as I write this, like a business that needs to be created, programs developed, budgets mapped out… Never mind getting my taxes together, learning the score for the children’s theater production next week or the Bach Partita with the right-over-left hand crossing business that I need to have learned by Monday (I have lovely memories of my father playing this, so it’s truly a joy to finally learn it myself)…. Yeah, it’s all pressing in on me, but with the drama of the Studio continuing on all the while – sort of like the dream and waking realities living side-by-side – it doesn’t seem as daunting. Interesting how one’s perspective on things can change.

My spirits are also somewhat buoyed by last night’s conversation about the future of the Studio with my mother. I’m back to teaching my continuing ed course I call “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher” on Wednesday evenings, and mom stays with Elihu. (I wasn’t able to teach it last semester as mom couldn’t leave dad. Now, of course, she’s free to come over.) After I got back we sat and talked about life for a while. Naturally the Studio was the main concern; we discussed the different systems of heating, the floor materials, small upgrades that might benefit the place – and I was surprised at how positive she seemed at the ideas. I myself had been fighting daily not to succumb to tears over the whole thing. How was she so calm about it all? I learned that from her perspective, this is dad’s legacy we’re talking about here; we need to do what needs to be done. (When I falter, Elihu says the same thing. “You have to do this for grandpa!” he reminds me vehemently.) It it so beyond the scope of anything I’ve done, and it almost seems downright nuts to talk about spending all this money when Elihu and I are living in a house without heat. (There goes dad’s VA insurance, but then this is a much more fitting use for it than an elaborate funeral!) Really, it seems crazy. But then again, it’s kinda like apples and oranges. The Studio will be a source of income one day (that’s the hope, I’m still working hard on believing it) and it will be my sole occupation at some point. So it makes sense to invest in it. We can live in a chilly house for a bit, it won’t affect our future. At any rate, that’s how I justify it. I just see them as two separate entities. And thankfully, as my focus is on the Studio now, it gives me less time to stew over my own personal situation. In a week’s time this will be nothing but a memory…

From one reality to another, from one set of priorities to another, I gotta keep living in the moment, dealing only with what’s before me. I’m keeping my head down here, and my focus on the path in my immediate field of vision. I’ll look up every now and then to make sure I’m going in the right direction, but for now, my individual steps are the most important thing. Soon enough this reality will fade into the next, so for now I’ll just do my best, carefully putting one foot in front of the other until I get to the next rest stop on the trail.

 

New Groove February 25, 2014

Not even out of the gate and things are already getting tricky. Thought the radiant heat thing was a done deal. Electric radiant heat, that is. The water delivery method, not so much. It’s twice as expensive, requires its own shelter external to the building for the boiler, the pumps and such, plus it’ll raise the entire floor a good five inches, requiring all doorways to be raised, making the ceiling shorter at the stage end. I realize that this system runs much cheaper in the long run, and its an efficient one, but it’s just not what I want. I don’t want the stage cramped and low. I don’t want to change the space. Just heat it.

I’d thought the heavens had opened up when I heard about these magic, wafer-thin (that’s my Monty Python-esque way of describing them) pads that one simply rolled out over the space and then covered with a lovely wood floor. (Wood, that by the way, is being cut from our Greenfield forest just behind the Studio and milled locally. That’s the romantic plan, at any rate, at this idealistic stage of the game, but I can just see my dreams being dashed right and left as I make my way through this process…) But in a single email my heart is broken again. The kind fellow who’d come out today to write up a bid on the heating system told me in one short sentence that the system I want ‘will not put out enough energy for that sized room’. And so the manufacturers of the electric radiant system he sells will not agree to it. Crap. I haven’t even started the demo and I’m off to a rocky start. Not the way I envisioned things so early in the game. Come on stars, I thought you’d planned on aligning for me here?

So I do a little online searching and find a system like the one I’d imagined in my head, and I dash off an inquiry… I feel a bit like a patient going from doctor to doctor in hopes of finding the diagnoses I want to hear rather than the honest one. Am I fooling myself? Or is this indeed a big world and might there be someone out there who won’t see my problem as unsolvable? I was feeling too blessed, too hopeful for a moment. Gotta breathe. And hell, how on earth am I going to make my living at this? How can I offset costs like these? One lousy payout by dad’s VA insurance will barely get the place demo’d. Shit. Wow, I am sounding a bit manic. Cuz yesterday – hell, even a couple of hours ago (before the heating guy emailed me the disappointing news) I was beginning to coast on thermals of excitement… man, things were just feeling so hopeful, so possible, and I was lifting, lifting….

But as with any self-respecting manic episode, I found my heart descending to the very floor – literally – as my old friend Jim (and one time assistant to dad) shook his head despairingly and said to me  “In the end, it’s just an oak floor that needs to be replaced.” No romantic salvaging and re-purposing of this very wood – wood which Jim knew the meaning of in my heart – no point for all that labor. I searched, but saw no light of inspiration in his woodworking eyes. No, this was a tear-out and haul-it-away job. (In the back of my mind I continued to search for a meaningful good-bye, maybe instead of a burning man fest, maybe have a burning floor fest? I don’t know, something? All those memories, all that music… If only we could bring it to life again in some way. Or… maybe not. I must remember the object is not the memory…)

Ok. So now I can see around the corner, into this next, not-so-sexy phase. As the demo guy warned me several times “It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better”. Yeah. I think I get that – but it looks like pretty soon I’m about to really get it. It’s just that I know how I want things – but in the end, it’s probably going to be settled by cost. The re-build can’t happen without grants, gifts and donations, so I’m already in new and frightening territory. I can commit to a demolition of the existing damage, but beyond that, it’s still just a dream. I guess that’s what part of this new chapter is going to have to be about: dreams; keeping them inspired and alive no matter who says it’s not practical (and that would include my own inner naysayer), keeping the dream growing, adapting, interacting, improving… I have a glimmer of a vision, but as soon as I look at some slick website for another arts center, or as soon as I realize that this might mean I never make it out of town for the next ten years (these are the last of my good years I fear!!) or as soon as I realize that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING, well, then that kinda kills the buzz. So that’s when it’s time to bust out some tasty homemade Pad Thai for supper and then make a little music with kid.

Who, by the way, is kickin some ten year old butt on that big ol bass of his. We got to his lesson a little early today, and his teacher obliged him by giving him a longer lesson. Did they review the same-old same-old? Not so much. No, instead, my man Mr. F turned lil man onto a bit of walking bass stuff today. And even if it did finally end up in some out-of-the-blue mom and kid scene, tears, tantrum and all, at least for a good half hour we had a really sweet thing going. What he’d begun to learn in his lesson, we finished off at home. I gave him some more of that chromatic stuff he was searching for but couldn’t quite find… And when he got it – that had him just laughin and grinnin ear-to-ear. I remember how exciting is was to finally demystify that left hand walking stuff. So much fun to learn new tricks. The tears, it turned out, were not so much his frustration with my teaching as it was just his ‘turnaround burnout’. (Not the kind of turnaround that happens on a five chord.) Elihu was still in that midway-zone; having Daddy yesterday, having Mommy today, but never having the two together. Before long he was sobbing, his arms around me, face buried in my tummy. “It’s not fair” he said over and over. “I want my Daddy. But I want my Mommy too! I want them both at the same time!” All I could do was hold him and tell him I understood. Maybe the old man felt the tug of his son’s heartbreak all those hundreds of miles away, because the phone rang, and it was him. About to board a plane for Indonesia, but he had a moment. Thank God.

I turned to wash the dishes as I cursed the situation for the umpteenth time. Honestly, I was still pissed as his father for doing this to his son – at his choice to start two other families at the same time, to act without thinking any of it through. But then again, it was the consequences of those unplanned moves which then opened the way for us to live our life here. I very likely would not have been present for my father’s death had I been living in Illinois with two kids and a touring husband. And being with dad as he died – that was always on the short list of things I needed to experience. I did, and I am lucky. When I see my son’s heart so heavy, it makes me mad, but it’s tempered by realizing what we have right now – what we wouldn’t have had otherwise. As I finish up in the kitchen I hear Elihu laughing again from the other room. Think he’s over the twenty-four hour mommy/daddy hiccup. Think he’s settling back in again. Over the hump and back to the routine.

Think we can both settle in to our new grooves now. Lord knows I got a lot ahead, I gotta keep my thinking clear and my pace slow and steady. But man, so much unknown where I’m going. Hell, I guess there are a lot of unknowns in front of all of us. Best thing might just be to lay down a groove and keep on moving; everything around you might be going crazy, but you’ll be still be there, just layin it down, letting everybody know that the ship is doin just fine, and we’ll all arrive exactly when we’re supposed to. Both of us, my lil man and me, bass player and captain, it’s on us to bring the ship safely into port – and all in good time.

 

Clean Slate February 22, 2014

For me this has been a day of very mixed feelings. From elation at the prospects of the future to intense pangs of sorrow at having lost something precious, now irretrievably gone from my life…

Today some friends and I cleared the Studio out of its contents. There was so much more stuff than I’d realized there’d be. And I do understand pretty well how stuff adds up – I’m rather a stickler for organization and pairing down to the most important stuff – but the piles and the boxes just continued to appear. It’s amazing how we humans manage to stash away objects. And when you finally do get around to excavating every last corner of the place and have set all the piles out before you, what then?  How do you let go of things when they’re so loaded with nostalgia, longing, subtle shades of regret? Where do you draw the line?

I regarded the boxes and when pressed as to whether or not they should go out onto the big trash pile I found myself sounding a lot like those poor souls on the show Buried Alive… “Mmm, uh, I might use those again, uh, maybe just put them here for now. Hm, um, wait, wait… I’m not sure, I don’t know…” Wait, me? I can’t let go? I myself used to help others let go of their stuff and organize their possessions long before it was trendy, long before places like The Container Store were even dreamt of. Under the informal moniker of “Assess a Mess” I’d go to people’s homes and help them throw away all of their crap or send it back out into the world. A combination of psychologist, personal assistant and trashman, I’d help them make all the hard choices. I employed what I called my “rule of two”: if you hadn’t used it in the past two years and didn’t plan on using it in the next two months, then out it went. I wasn’t cold-hearted about sending stuff away; I always tried to find objects a second life – and this was before the era of Freecycle, Craigslist or Ebay, yet somehow I’d make it through mountains of stuff, leaving a perfectly clean and organized joint behind. But now that it’s come to me – now that we’re talking about my recently deceased father here and all the tangible results of his life’s work – it just isn’t the same deal at all. And my mother’s hand is here too; it was she who kept the place running, made the videos of all the concerts, fed and watered the audiences at intermission, the musicians before and after concerts and rehearsals – her things are here too, and it’s troublesome to vote her things out when I know all the love and attention they represent…

Thankfully I had my partner Ceres and her kids here to help. It was far more work than it appeared to be at first, and I – physically or emotionally – couldn’t have done it alone. After getting a bit further into the job I discovered that the more I excavated, the more that I liberated the walls and corners of long-forgotten stuff, the more hopeful I became. I began to envision little future scenes of what one day happen here in this room. I’d been listening to the boombox I’d bought dad for Christmas last year (so he could listen to his favorite Bob and Ray CDs) to keep me going, and I heard violinist Andrew Bird on the local college station and wondered… might I host him here one day? I realize he’s become kinda big now, but I knew him in Chicago back in the day. Never know. And what of my other friends from my old life? I started imaging concerts, combinations of folks whose music I love… I didn’t want to spoil my fantasy with all the ‘yes, but‘ conditions, so I held back the sober voice of reality and limitation and allowed myself to continue to dream while I cleaned… Later on I heard jazz vocalist Janice Borla – also another fellow Chicagoan – and man, I though her recent recording sounded great. A totally different kind of music and crowd, but maybe, I thought, might I have something like that here too?

All manner of possibilities started to come to me, and I let myself fantasize for a bit as I worked. I loved music of all kinds – I just couldn’t see limiting the room to one thing or another. House concerts? Maybe that’s the route to go… Baroque Ensembles that are starting out and need a smaller venue? Hm. The jazz kids from Skidmore hosting small ensembles and including some of the high schoolers in town?? Stuff just kept coming. But then I’d feel a sudden wave of panic, when I’d look up from my task for a moment and see in my mind’s eye the room as it had been for decades… In an instant it was a late summer afternoon and the house was full of people, there was the scent of freshly cut hay in the air, and of course the music. The harpshichord, the gambas, violins, flutes, voices… The familiar sound of the chairs being scooched back on the wood floor as people got up to stretch and mill about… The dreamlike vision came upon me and with it all those subtle feelings I associate with my entire childhood. In my head I could still see so clearly the golden sunlight streaming through the western doors; I remember the flowers, freshly cut from the local roadsides, that my mother would arrange for a vase on the stage; I remember the murmur of the audiences’ voices as they chatted during intermission….

Baroque music and the scent of newly cut hay, the warm sunlight, low in the sky… The memories all swirl around my head, tugging at me to remain there with them, never to leave them lest they die forever… My heart wants things to continue to hear and see these very same things for years without end.  But of course, this is impossible now. Their leader is gone, that era has closed. I know I sure don’t feel like much of a leader myself, and I haven’t a clue what I’m in for. But I guess there’s no question about it. It’s my party for now, ready or not. Into the future we go, much to learn, much to do, and lots of great music and memories yet ahead. Thanks, mom and dad, for the great start. The Studio won’t be the same, but it will continue to have a lot of heart and soul.

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The Studio as it appears from the South from just outside mom and dad’s house.

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This is the side of the Studio people see first, the main door and box office are here. Note the stuff already piling up out front.

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I really wanted to convey the size of this hump in the middle of the room. Seriously, right now we could rent the place out as a skate park! Look at this stool – all four legs are on the floor!

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A selfie with the ever-present tapestry on the back of the stage wall.  Dad and I once had a picture taken of us on this very same spot. I’m feeling a bit sad about things right now.

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See the tilt of the floor now? Crazy!

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I was hoping this might illustrate the drama of the mid-room bump. Kinda…

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Ceres’ son, Christoper, is being creative in trying to illustrate the big bump. In real life it looks much more impressive.

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This is the green room. None of us (mom and me, that is) ever liked dad’s ridiculous choice of green. Ich. Thank goodness I can finally get rid of it. This room served as a backstage area, holding pen for several harpsichords and apartment for musicians and their families while they played here at the Festival. Now my Rhodes lives here – but after sitting in three inches of water for over a week, it’s in need of some serious cleaning and looking-over. So back to my basement it’ll go. That’s grandma’s rocking chair on the left – in good shape. Anyone want it? It’s yours!

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More stuff.

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The box office jam-packed.

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Hmm. You can always tell a lot about a person by looking at their trash….

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The spiral staircase to the balcony. As kids we had loads of fun on this. Note the high-tech, ten pound cam-corder mounted to the balcony railing – mom recorded every last concert on it. (We’ve since had them converted to DVD.)

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The Studio’s sign came off the frame shortly before dad died, and it’s been sitting in a bank of snow. Lest it become warped and useless as the wood floor of the place, Ceres and son Brian moved it up from the road and into shelter. (The Conant’s summer cottage is in the background – it’s where my brother lives now.)

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Ahh, such a great space.

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Always loved this beam detail.

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Even with the damaged floor, she still looks beautiful.

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Had to take this pic from a distance so it’s fuzzy – but it’s from mom and dad’s very first festival in 1959. !

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Here the Zabel family is going home after an afternoon of hard work. Thanks guys! We’re on our way now!!

 

Better Plans Ahead February 20, 2014

Folks warn ‘be careful what you ask for’ – because as we all know, sometimes you sure can get a whole lot more than you bargained for. And sometimes you don’t even get what you asked for – you get a whole new situation which might even seem quite beside the point; the answer to your prayers comes in the most unlikely forms, trying your patience, provoking self-pity and other loathsome mental states…. You wish rain would come to save your garden, but instead a powerful storm comes and leaves things looking much worse than before, but then that inspires an inventory and cleaning-out of the space resulting in a new, more beautiful garden. You hope for a promotion at your boring workplace, but instead you get fired – but now you finally have the time to go out look for that job you really want. You drop a lot of cash buying the wrong color paint for your house and then it turns out to look even better than what you’d originally chosen… I think you get the point. Right? You ask, then you receive. But not always in the way you had planned. But that’s the thing about plans – some of the very best ones change, and go on to become even better ones still.

Maybe you’re in an incredibly unfair and miserable situation – maybe there’s a high level of fear or uncertainty, discomfort, lack of basic things like food, shelter, heat…. Maybe things truly are shitty right now. (I know a little bit about it. Not the nitty-gritty, honest-to-goodness down-and-out stuff, but down enough, thank you.) There is one consolation to be taken even if this is your current state, and that is: if you don’t want things to be like this, don’t worry, they won’t be. Things change – so you always have something to look forward to.  If you have the patience to keep the faith, stay as hopeful as you’re able, and wait it out – soon you’ll see where this new situation takes you (the old ‘fake it til you make it’ idea) – you might just end up in a much improved place in your life – a place that didn’t even show up on your list. Might be a nice surprise.

Without meaning to appear coy or too passive-aggressive here, indulge me if you will in the follow story lines (yes, this is my story): Your husband leaves you. You hadn’t for one moment ever considered this might happen, and yet now you have no choice but to deal with the situation. The only option is to keep moving. You’re hurt and angry and scared, but nonetheless you begin to make progress down that new, unforseen path (of course you may well be sobbing and screaming much of the way). And a coupla years later down that unexpected path, you find that you’ve just learned a whole lot of wonderful things and met a whole bunch of interesting people that you wouldn’t have otherwise. And your kid goes to a school he loves, heck, you even work at that same school. Now that time has eased up on your heartache, you can look back from where you came, look at where you’ve arrived, and now, only now can you agree with the universe that it did indeed give you just about everything you’d wanted. Ok, so you’re doing it solo, and sometimes that has you a bit down, but maybe even that plays an important role in the perfection of your current life. (If nothing else, you can make your very own rules, do things your way. Keep a clean bathroom and a tidy house. !) So maybe things don’t always happen the way you’d originally planned, but that’s only because you can’t see the good stuff down that other road… You haven’t got the advantage of seeing the landscape from above – but apparently, it seems, someone or something else does have the greater perspective. And ‘it’ has graciously given you a nudge down the fruit-bearing path. (To me it seemed more like a rather rude shove, to be honest, but sometimes I guess it takes a little extra muscle to get someone moving in the right direction. Especially for the more stubborn sorts.)  So thank you, universe. Nice of you to help out, I appreciate that.

Continuing on with the story line… Sometimes you do want something really big to happen in your life. And instead of experiencing a dramatic, unanticipated, life-changing even, you experience what you perceive to be nothing at all. So you decide you’re ready. You plead a little with the universe, you make your case, you throw down the gauntlet. Your time has come, please, world, bring it on! You are sick and tired of things the way they are, you’re ready for something new, and you let the world know it. But your frustration is deep and you’re probably not seeing that the thing you’ve begged for is indeed making its way to you in mysterious, unpredictable ways. You haven’t noticed any of this yet, so you’re still pretty crabby… and you’re pretty close to convinced that it’s a done deal. Nothing’s coming your way. But hey – you kinda thought as much. Whatever. Slog though, keep making those to-do lists, keep on keepin’ on. At least you got a new mat for that little spot in front of the kitchen sink and a hyacinth plant for the table. Those are an upgrade of sorts. And maybe those’ll have to do. Cuz all this other shit – this big life shit, the real stuff – man, it’s way too much anyhow. I mean, can I see myself doin something so big? So ambitious? So, er, grown up? Naw – shit like that’s for those other people. Naw, I’m just gonna live my little life, do the best job I can at that, and be kind to people as I go along. That should do. That should take me on outta here. What else can I do? I’m not young anymore, aint got the tiny body, the full tank of non-stop energy, I’m not living in the epicenter of an uber cool music scene… Things are different.  I’m a farmer now. A mom who might also pass as a grandmother. Yeah, I’m the crazy chicken lady across the field who teaches piano lessons. Start a business? Take a huge leap into territory that I know nothing about? That shit just sounds crazy. Maybe crazy chicken lady aint so bad.

Lately, as in the past few months, I’ve been toying with some different thoughts about  who I am and what my role should be in this next chapter, and these ideas are growing, marinating, morphing and showing signs of something much, much larger waiting for me just a bit down the road from here…. It seems – fairytale-esque though it sounds – that in order to see a dream take shape, one must keep a vision, hold it dear, and then share that vision with the world… Like a snowball rolling down the hill, your idea collects more mass on its travels, and soon you have far more than you’d set out to create… And then, of course, you have just entered into yet another chapter in your personal and professional growth. Holy shit. But then it’s not a dream anymore, you can’t hide anywhere, and what if you’re not truly able to act on all these prophetic-like platitudes you’ve been broadcasting all over? What a disappointment you’ll be then – mostly to yourself, of course, but that’s still not going to be as bad as the embarrassment you’ll feel at your very public ‘jump and miss’. Oh oh. What have I started? Sheesh. Think I’m frightening myself here. I’m exhausted and I haven’t even begun. Gotta keep my focus…

You do know what I’m babbling about, don’t you? Life, death, the Studio and unforseen catastrophes…. Let me backtrack just a second… I’ve been formatting and printing out all my posts from the past three years, and I stopped to read some posts from the past couple months – the time before my father died, a time of great inner sadness and reflection. At some point I lamented that I felt I needed a greater purpose in my life – that I almost felt I had a calling, but I didn’t yet know what it was. And then of course there were dad’s enigmatic words shortly after that…”When beautiful January comes…” And then there was beautiful January – and with it, the great flood. The Studio was ruined. My vision for the future seemed dead before it had begun. And yet… Things have been happening with great serendipity; the right people appearing at the right time, kind offers being made, solutions appearing from nowhere, improvements suggesting themselves as we re-think our plans… All sorts of things are coming together like some sort of energetic groundswell coming to lift me up and push me into this next era.

In a way I’m glad my father is gone now, because I don’t feel I could have moved forward with a new vision for The Studio had he still been here, after all, this place was his baby. He created it with a very specific – and successfully met – vision of having a venue crafted with superb acoustics for his beloved eighteenth century music. That was his field of expertise, and it is simply not mine. (I feel I should add that while I do dearly love Baroque music, I don’t know enough about that world to make it my thing.) I not only feel freer to move into this next adventure, but I feel that somehow dad is energetically supporting me from wherever it is that he exists now. Oh this is tricky territory – I have some dear friends for whom this sort of talk verges on insane nonsense, some friends who may agree more than they’d ever let on, and some friends who wonder why I pussyfoot around here when clearly I’m talking about my dad being in Heaven, and that he’s still somehow connected to this world – and more than that – he’s able to assist me on some level. Hey, I don’t know the truth, all I do know is that a situation which had me wanting to hug my knees to my chest and rock back and forth in a dark closet has now got me excited to wake up in the morning, inspired to move, thrilled to follow where this all leads… Cuz I’m going somewhere. Not quite sure where, but that’s ok. I have a loose plan, and I’ll leave it that way, cuz things will be changing yet again, I’m sure of it. And I’m also pretty sure that whatever happens next will be paving the way for better things just over the horizon….

 

 

Snowy Valentine’s February 14, 2014

Yes, today was another snow day here in the great Northeast (you won’t hear me arguing –  it’s always a treat to sleep in an extra hour). We are indeed beset with the stuff. I could hardly manage to shovel yet again, as I had to work to fling the snow high enough to get it out of the way. Worked up a healthy sweat, and felt good when I got back inside. It was nice to move my body a bit; Elihu and I had done hardly a thing all morning but sit on our butts, play video games and scoot around the internet following miscellaneous tangents and such. It was nice to have a day off, but after a while I felt it wise to use my day a bit more productively, so I washed the sheets (not something I do very often, I’ll admit, but later tonite we have guests arriving), vacuumed the place and did some other domestic chores. A satisfying mix of work and play.

Towards the end of the afternoon we migrated to the living room where we began to play a little music. Elihu had come up with a fun little funky, bluesy groove, and after that was played out we started a little old-fashioned jam. He gets the nuances of the different styles, and he has a great natural ability to cop a sound – but if left to his own he’d prefer simply to ‘oom-pah-pah’. The kid still loves polkas. Thought it might have been a phase, but it seems to be sticking around. That’s fine by me. You may not believe it, but there is some pretty amazing polka music out there – if you venture a bit beyond Myron Floren et al (and he’s fantastic, don’t get me wrong), there’s a whole world of charming and marvelous historic recordings to enjoy. I don’t care to be falsely modest here, I am proud of my kid’s ability to play, and happier still that it’s something we can do together.

My heart belongs to only one fellow – and how lucky I was to be able to spend the whole day with him. Tomorrow he goes to spend his winter break with his father. I’ll miss him, and I’ll remember this Valentine’s Day fondly.

IMG_0243A little music, some RC helicopter fun and tower-building. A perfect, easy-paced day.

 

Diorama Days February 12, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 7:19 am

No matter how prepared you are, there’s always that crunch time which sneaks up on you. Thankfully we were very nearly done with Elihu’s diorama of the Mojave Desert by the time our nerves frayed and he ended up having something of a mini-meltdown. But we persevered, as a team, and got it done. Elihu gave me a heartfelt apology for yelling, and I was happy to accept. Our evening ended on a positive and satisfied note. Until, that is, we discovered that he’d left his binder at school and we couldn’t locate the actual report itself (on which the diorama is based, of course.) A bit of stress-induced bickering followed, but after scouring the house we agreed it was most likely in his binder, at school, and if it wasn’t, we’d deal with it then.

We regrouped, and stepped back to admire the project. All the rocks he used were actually ones he’d brought home from the Mojave Desert himself, when he’d been on tour with his father last summer. We thought that was a nice touch. Elihu had acquired his collection rather by chance – as the vehicle in which he’d been crossing the desert ran out of oil. (Of all places… yeeks. How often does that happen? How bout instead: “About to cross the desert, guys – maybe we should top off the oil and pick up a few extra quarts to be safe”. !? Just sayin.) They’d stopped and left the rv to explore the roadside, and lucky for him, he’d ended up with a pocketful of some cool rocks. Eventually the band was saved by some good Samaritans with oil to spare, and they left unscathed and with one hell of a good story for the books. So with the real, Mojave Desert rocks and the background panel that carries the scene off into the distance (like the ‘real dioramas at the Natural History Museum’ Elihu said), he’s got something to be proud of.

Last night we’d put some time into the project, and Elihu had finally finished his hand-written final copy; cursive, in pen, all the corrections made. Ready to go. He was tired and hadn’t eaten in a long while. I made him a hot bowl of his Grandpa Riaz’s chicken curry – with rice, chickpeas and lots of sauce mixed in. (Big school projects or over-booked weeks require pots of food that can be ladled out and heated up in a hurry.) He kept saying how good it was, I kept saying it was all because of Grandpa’s spice mix. It’s a Haque family staple, and there are choice moments in life when nothing says comfort like Grandpa’s spice mix chicken. Tired as he was, Elihu shivered with cold, so I brought him his fuzzy bathrobe and helped him into it as he ate, rolling back the cuffs and getting him comfortable. “Mmmmm” he said. “I’m so happy right now.” I was too. It was a perfect end to a productive night, the end of a good day. “Mamas are good at this” Elihu said as he dug into his bowl. “What’s that?” I asked. “This. Making me feel good and warm and fed. And making dioramas. Mamas are so good at dioramas.” “Aww, thank you honey” I answered, thinking for a moment that I should make an effort to keep the equation as even as possible, “Daddies are good at lots of good things too… and you know your daddy loves you so very much.” Elihu, wrapped in his plush, navy blue bathrobe shook his head no as he continued to eat his curry chicken. “Daddies aren’t good for this. Mamas are.” Then he looked up at me with the sweetest, most earnest face – so sweet I was tempted to go the Charles Dickens route and turn it into a funny bit – but I dared not tinker with this moment, because I knew what he meant, and it was the most sincere expression of love. I returned a look of love, and we shared a moment of connection. I finally broke the spell by asking him, what then, were Daddies good for? “Getting serious.” He paused. “Going on adventures.” Hm. I’d have to agree. Running out of oil in the middle of the Mojave Desert certainly qualifies as an adventure.  I suppose one could then go on to say that dads are also good for inspiring awesome dioramas too, I guess. !

These days won’t last much longer. I don’t remember making a diorama past third grade, if my memory serves me correctly. And I just don’t see a middle schooler coming home with any such assignment. As I think of it, this might even be it. The last diorama. We enjoyed ourselves though. (And we’re eager to see all the others tomorrow!) And I am loving this time in our lives – can’t say I’m taking a single moment of it for granted. How lucky I am to feed him that comfort food, wrap him in warmth and look at him in love. Although shades of the preteen are now beginning to emerge, he still has the tender aspects of a young child, and in spite of an appetite to learn more, do more and take on more responsibility, he still possesses that certain kind of sweetness that tells me he is still a young boy.

Because I know that this enchanted window in our life will one day be just another memory of many… (Hey Ma, remember that Mojave Desert thing we did for Ms. Reid’s class? Do you still have it?) I am savoring it fully. I am basking in the charm of this age, and trying to make sure the scenes and the feelings are safely tucked away inside me, so that I can revive them decades hence, when I need a little reminder of how sweet things once were ‘back in the days’….

The days of mom, son, and the diorama.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Post Script: As I recall, the tour van had a slow oil leak that no one knew about as they set out over the desert… I offer this addendum in an effort to report the story as correctly as possible, as Elihu’s father has expressed his opinion that I “post selectively”, and that is never my objective here. ! I just write what I know to be true from my own experience of things.

A More Important Post Script:Feb 2014 A 193

the entire sandy diaorama, with actual rocks from the Mojave desert and Joshua Trees hither thither and yon

Feb 2014 A 195

a closer peek at one of those Joshua trees

Feb 2014 A 201look! It’s a burrowing owl uncharacteristically hanging out in a tree! Maybe not accurate, but kinda cute! (The other owl is actually doing what he’s supposed to and is sticking his head out of a sandy hole below.)

 

Sans Solo February 8, 2014

Not a single event, discovery or achievement has ever truly been a solitary endeavor. Whether someone’s climbed a treacherous mountain peak, invented something revolutionary or done something for the very first time – none of it happened in a vacuum, apart and unaffected by the world. No matter what Miss Rand claims, we people here on Earth are absolutely interdependent of each other. Our personal triumphs ride on the experiences of those who have come before. You can’t beat a record unless one has already been set. You can’t build something unless something similar has already been built (and likely failed, hence the innovative re-build). Coaches, teachers, guides, the opinions of friends, personal opinions, the disregard for opinions of any sort – all of it goes into the pot. (Kinda reminds me of that saying ‘if you decide not to decide, you’ve still made a choice’.) There aint no way an achievement of any sort stands on its own. In part, maybe, but certainly not entirely. Try to back-engineer, understand and then make for yourself the handful of items you use in the first five minutes of your day today. Nuff said.

And here is where I need to let go of the illusion that this burden is all my own. This is the thinking I need to assume this morning, at the beginning of the path immediately before me. Yeah, I have a lot on my plate, and yes, I will be ‘directing the troops’ as it were for the time being, and I understand it’s important to have a vision for the future, but I can also see that the project I intend to set in motion will be by no means exclusively my own baby. Even my father’s incredibly successful and long-running music festival was not his alone. It might have seemed it – he certainly did a hell of a lot of the grunt work on his own – but he could never have pulled it off had my mother not been there to feed the many musicians and their families, to keep track of who ate meat and who didn’t, who had allergies, how many beds needed to be made up, when folks were arriving, when they needed to be at the airport… Then there were the assistants – one every year – to help run the administrative side of things. And, of course, the musicians themselves who made great expenditures of time and energy to participate. One could say the whole thing was very definitely inspired by the vision of one man at its core – but in the end, the Festival of Baroque Music was a huge group effort. And from the get-go, I can see the same will be true of the Studio in its new incarnation.

In a few hours I will meet some younger-bodied folks who are going to help us begin the long and un-sexy process of cleaning up. Not meaning this to sound like a sour grapes excuse for the way I let things happen, but I don’t think we (again, not me alone, but me and my artist partner, Ceres) would have ever made such a thorough cleaning-out of the place had we not been forced to. Many times I’d walked the place, shaking my head in frustration at all the stuff that needed to be assigned new homes. Many times I’d pushed it to the back of my mind. I’d made a few feeble attempts to remove an item or two – even tried to sell some paintings at local shops – but in spite of them having been hot tickets once-upon-a-time, I couldn’t find any current interest for the art. So I brought it all back, to languish in the Studio as I waited for a plan to come to me. I still have no idea what we’ll do with the contents of the place or where it will even live as I find homes for it all. In my basement, most likely. I have the space, but I don’t relish the idea at all. It’s ok, eventually things will sort themselves out.

There’s sentiment floating around some of this stuff too, like for my dad’s harpsichord tools. What to do with them? Which items do I keep, which should I give away? Posters of past concerts, expensively framed (a Christmas gift from me and my husband one year), certificates signed by famous, long-dead musicians, awards given to my father from local institutions, and many various original paintings. Not to mention my Rhodes, which lived here as I hadn’t the room in my own place. Guess I’ll have to make room now. (I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions, but I had secretly hoped to learn how to successfully sell on Ebay this year – now might be a good time to take that project on.) Yeah, there are things here that could very likely find appreciative homes somewhere in the world, and while it’s hugely daunting to me to know how to find those homes, at least the process has begun. Here again, it can’t be just me. I don’t have these skills (yet), so the theme of the day has now become ‘delegate’. It’s time to enroll others in the mass project. Get rid of stuff, demo, choose new materials, rebuild. And then, at long last, move forward…

I still don’t know much about the future of this place. But I do know enough to recognize those first chills of excitement, hope, inspiration…. It’s a challenge for me to move past seeing this place as my father’s, to move past all those exquisitely nostalgic memories. The other day, when Ceres, mom and I were discussing our next move, when we got to the part about the floor, mom had said something about making sure to duplicate the amazing acoustics of the first floor… but suddenly aware of what she’d said, she stopped herself short. Ceres pointed out that mom, like me, had a hard time thinking about the space in a new way. (Ironically, the place had been too live a room in which to do any other types of music besides acoustic chamber music. Yes, an audience sops up part of the sound, and yes, it’s better to start a room too live than too dead, but still…) Our objectives are going to be different now, and for me it’s still a challenge to see this old building in a new light. I understand that where dad is now, it doesn’t really matter. He saw his vision come to life, and he saw his creation come to a perfect close. He surrounded himself with all the right people to realize his dream, and now it’s my turn to do the same.

This will be an ensemble piece, with just the occasional solo.

 

Free Day February 5, 2014

Just about everyone at school yesterday was hoping today would be a snow day. When one of the teachers at school passed me at recess I had only to ask her “what she thought” and she replied “Mr. R bets his life on it.” I knew what she meant; the eighth grade teacher had been known to refuse to take soup orders for lunch based on his inner conviction that the following day would be cancelled on account of the weather. His ability to predict snow days was the school’s ultimate barometer. While the kids outwardly hoped for a snow day, the teachers themselves didn’t necessarily editorialize on the subject… even so, I thought I could detect a subtle sense of hope in the air… Who among us couldn’t use a break from the daily grind? It might screw up some parent’s routines, it might throw a monkey wrench into things for some, but for me it looked like a rare opportunity… Piles of hand-me-downs, laundry, stacks of paper in my office, music that needed to be learned, all sorts of things awaited a few hours of my attention.

Some time around three this morning I awoke, feeling a horrible nausea. I’d thought it was Studio-related, because it was the first thing that entered my consciousness. The blending of my tragic mistake and the queasy stomach was unbearable. Then I realized (with some relief, as I was concerned that this might be my physical condition for the next few months) that I might be sick. I ran to the bathroom as my mouth began to create massive amounts of lemony-tasting saliva… Ok, here we go, I thought. I threw my hair back in a clip and positioned myself at the toilet. But just as my chest began to gather itself for a good first heave, I wondered if it might not be possible to stop things where they were. I didn’t care to go through all that labor to upchuck a mere handful of food eaten six hours ago – all that horrible, tooth-eroding crap in my mouth. No… I found the Pepto Bismal and chugged it. Maybe… A sharp headache suddenly appeared in my temples and my body broke out in a flash of sweat. I was aware of a stomach bug going through the schools, maybe this was it. Now I really hoped for a snow day. I sat there another ten minutes until the feeling passed, and grateful my body seemed to respond to the Pepto, I headed back to bed. Before I laid down I took a look outside – no snow was falling yet, and things didn’t seem much different than they had six hours ago. I checked the school website but there was no update yet. I got into bed, and was asleep in what felt like seconds.

I awoke a few hours later in the middle of a wonderful dream, and panicked to see it was almost 6:30… my body didn’t feel right yet, but it was time to get up. Ugh. I slumped to the computer, checked the site and to my relief saw that it had been updated with a little icon of falling snow and the words “Snow Day!”. Back to bed, and asleep in no time. Some time later I heard Elihu trudge into the room, and still feeling exhausted and not my right self, I umphed a response after which he got into bed next to me, his red stuffed parrot (Lenny Birdstein) in his arms. Good kid, he let me sleep an hour or so before he began talking. Soon we were comparing hands, fingers, talking about this and that, making jokes and cracking up. Somehow, I was feeling better. After a bit of silliness I got up to make us “cakes of pan”. We had a lovely little breakfast, and enjoyed watching the chaos of the bird feeder by the kitchen window. On snowy days, our place was always jammed with activity. We were even cheered to see the first Starlings we’d had visit here in a couple of years. Nice morning.

Love being home in the mornings as I get to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the to-do list before me, I was happy to watch the Colbert Report as I made the bed and began to tackle the laundry. Two of the women from Pussy Riot were on and I couldn’t help but be absolutely awed by them; they were beautiful, intelligent, funny and brave. I remember being heartbroken and angry – and feeling powerless too – at the news of their arrest and incarceration a couple of years ago, and it was inspiring to see them now free and carrying their message to the world. Made my to-do lists seem like nothing. Put my whining in perspective, and had me in a hopeful mood. Hope I can keep it going through the day. Elihu’s working on his Language Arts homework and I’m finishing up this post before getting back to it. Maybe today will be just what we need to do a little catch-up before we get back into the game. Thank you snow, for the free day.

Post Script: After a productive day indoors, we both suited up and went outside to enjoy the fresh snow (which never stopped falling the whole time). We shoveled narrow corridors through the snow to the coop and garage, fed and watered our flock, and after our chores were finished, we flattened paths for sledding down the hills in our yard. Elihu enjoyed a couple of good runs and some classic wipe out moments. We stayed out for quite a while, and our cheeks were rosy even an hour after we were inside and dry. A memorable and refreshing afternoon. (Note to self: add “rope tow” to ultimate dream wish-list for the property…)

 

Goose Gone February 3, 2014

This morning will be our first day in half of our time here at the Hillhouse without a resident goose. It’s already been a sad enough time for us, and this is adding to the emotional toll. But in spite of the tears I watched my son cry in the rear view mirror as we left Maximus at his new, beautiful home, I know that things will be ok. Maybe even better. At least that’s what we hope.

Because lately, things had gotten worse. Perhaps because of plain old cabin fever, or perhaps driven by an ancient imprint on his being that made him vent his unexpressed urge to procreate in other, more violent ways, or some other unknown issue, whatever reason was to blame, Max had killed four hens over the past week and had very nearly killed our one resident rooster. That last one was a bizarre and bloody incident, and I knew at that point we’d turned a corner. I did have the means to separate them – either keep the recuperating rooster on his own in the small brooding pen, or confine Maximus to the same small space, but neither was appealing, as it represented another chore to do each and every morning, each and every night. I need all my birds in one place, and I need ease of maintenance. And I will not tolerate violent behavior. If I were retired and had no job but to tend to my flock and home, it might be acceptable. But at this time in our lives, I can’t stop to settle disputes like this. Change was imperative.

Both Elihu and I forgive our beloved goose for his actions, because we know that he was simply acting as he was programmed to. He’s a goose, yes, and he has diligently guarded our property against strangers and unknown vehicles as well as an assortment of predators, but he’s had a softer side too. And since Elihu and I personally knew him in this quiet, tender way, it’s been a bit harder on us. Most folks have little sympathy for Max anymore. My mother especially, who for the past few months has used the most venomous tone when suggesting we get rid of him (or a bit more light-heartedly implied he might end up on a platter). Piano students must pull in close to the house, brooms are left leaning against trees to be picked up as tools of defense, people call ahead when they visit, and the UPS guy just drops the box by the garage and splits. Yeah, it had become a drag to have a guard goose. It wasn’t always thus; my theory is that when he was biologically speaking still a gosling, he was rather charming. He was never threatening, in fact he lived up to his breed’s reputation of being good with kids and people in general. But I believe things turned a corner last year when a certain spark lit within him and he became a young gander.

It first started one day as I was squatting down at the hose to fill a five gallon bucket. The container was white, about Max’s size, and I too, appeared close to the ground. Something in him clicked, and he began honking as he beat his great, six foot wings and ran down the hill from the coop to join me. But rather than stop short to watch as he had so many times before, this time he made a clumsy attempt to mount me, scooting me encouragingly beneath him with his long neck, clearly hoping I’d acquiesse in some cooperative sort of posture. In the moment I didn’t get it, and actually thought he might be attacking me, but he did not hurt me. He nibbled at me gently, but didn’t bite. He cupped his wings around me, but didn’t hit me with them. I was a bit flustered, so I stood up, and instantly he came to, as is he’d been overtaken by some strange force and was now embarrassed and self-conscious of himself. I stood back and watched as the mysterious behavior came over him once more, and he began a second, unsuccessful attempt to get busy with the bucket. First he tried to get on top of it. The bucket fell over and he seemed encouraged. He tried again, but was flustered at the way it rolled out from underneath him. Then he took another tack, and tried to enter the bucket, head first, but found there was no room, and clearly no satisfying end to this choice either. Poor Max. Poor, dear, sexually mature Maximus. He was being just as he was born to be, and there was no natural outlet to his deep, innate desires. Oh dear. I even wondered if I might surrender myself to him just once; crouch down again and give him some feeling of success as he did his best… Flashes of Swan Lake came to me – the strange morphing of a lover into a swan, the strange netherworld of a horrible manbeast – and I quickly dismissed the idea. No, this poor guy was on his own. And we knew if we’d gotten him a mate that it would likely throw off the relationship we two had with him. It’d be him and his gal against us. He’d defend her, and we’d be on the same end as the UPS guy.

After keeping the convalescing rooster in our kitchen for a week – and then our adjacent mudroom as the sour stink of chicken grew – I found I’d reached the end. The nightmare of the Studio’s new situation had just been discovered, and I suppose it was that which tipped the scales. I had too much to do, and if I might have justified a more labor-intensive solution to the bird problem before, I sure wasn’t about to now. I made up my mind that we had to find a new – and good – home for Max. I was resolute, and it was fixed in my heart. On Saturday a tiny voice told me that we should drop in on our neighbors (the ones with the old model T) and pay a visit. I had nothing in my mind about Max specifically, but of course he came up in conversation. They suggested a family in the hills that might very likely take him. I held no high hopes, but imagine my surprise when I dialed the number upon returning home that day, and before I could even offer my backstory, the gal on the other end simply said “I’ll take him”. I’d heard they were not only softies for animals, but that they were good to their animals. The two don’t always go together. I was beside myself with joy, and shared the earpiece of the phone with Elihu as she began to tell me about her pond, the fields, the way she had things set up…. Elihu covered his mouth to stop from squealing with joy. We made arrangements to come by with Maximus the following day. Wow. Ask and ye shall receive.

It’s one thing that we found Max a new home, it’s another that we have visiting rights, it’s still another that they’ll likely continue to call him by his name, but for me the crowning discovery in all of this is that Maximus now lives on a farm that I’ve admired since I was little. When I first got my driver’s license and was free to re-discover all those hidden-away places that my parents were always whizzing past, this was one of the places I came to. Many a time have I put on my flashers and pulled to the side of the road just to stop and gaze at this lovely farmstead. Nestled in the shelter of wooded hills, its open fields undulate up gently to meet the forest, there’s even a two acre pond behind the large farmhouse…. I cannot possibly imagine a more perfect home for our beloved fellow. He’s the only breed of his kind, he’s white and stands taller than them all, so we will easily be able to pick him out when we spot the flock dabbling in the low, swampy patches of the field.

When we dropped him off, the husband and wife owners took us on a short, circular walk around their outbuildings to see the other critters; pygmy goats, a strange, miniature donkey (named Brea – and man, what a sound she makes. Yeeks.) a sheep and some fine looking chickens. In the pasture across the way were a shaggy bull and cow, each with longhorns the likes of which I’d never seen but in images of far-off places. They too were miniature. Was there a horse? I seem to think there was… it was really a lot to take in for a first-time visitor. Above our heads a flock of some twenty or so pigeons wheeled in the sky… this place was heaven. As we walked, Max walked with us, tipping his head every so often to take in a new sight, stopping to listen to the whereabouts of the resident flock of geese. They were loud and rather raspy-sounding, and every now and then Maximus would himself honk, and we both noticed that his tone sounded so much richer and deeper. He was more beautiful than the others, we thought, and now we could hear that he was much more sonorous a goose, too. We were proud, and perhaps just a bit sadder still at having now compared our baby to these strangers. Eventually our visit came to a close, we got into the car and left Max, a bit confused, behind. He talked to us as we drove away, running beside the car as he’d done so very many times before, walking us to the gate where his new mama was waiting to let us out. That’s when Elihu started to cry. In this moment, this bird was still our Maxie, he was still engaging with us as he always had, he still knew us. We both knew in our hearts that the next time we came to see him, he very likely would not.

After Elihu’s tears finally stopped and he’d had a moment to just sit in silence and thought, he told me from the back seat on the drive home “Mommy, that’s the kind of farm I want when I grow up. That kind of farm.” I agreed with him quietly. There was nothing to say now. We knew we’d done the right thing. In fact, we knew we’d given Maximus a far better life in this new place than we were ever able to give him. We knew all of this. But still, the sadness in the car was heavy. Coming home was strange. For years we’d been greeted by that familiar head atop that long, graceful neck, the curious tilt of his head, the peering of that eye, the initial assessment; stranger or family? Family. Max would walk alongside the car, then meander off to do his thing. Shortly after we’d go inside, he might follow us up the back steps and just sit down outside the door, as if wanting simply to be near us. In warmer months, an open kitchen door almost always meant a goose in the kitchen before too long. But a house is no place for a goose. And we’re no substitute for a family of his own kind.

Last night, as we lay down to bed, we looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling of Elihu’s bedroom and wondered how our beloved Max was, right now. We had learned that the geese there slept outside – rain, snow or shine, no matter. A far cry from the treatment he got here – heat lamp on cold nights, the kitchen on really cold ones. Would he be ok? Would there be a lot of fighting as he sorted it all out with the other ganders? We realized that Max had never even seen another goose until that day. He’d only ever lived with chickens or people. We guessed by now he knew he was a goose. We prayed that he was able to nestle in with the flock to share in the warmth. We prayed that he’d get enough sleep on this first night. It took Elihu himself over an hour to finally drop off. I too had some trouble sleeping, and somehow felt our homestead to be missing something on this first night. I took a last look at our coop, now goose-less, and sighed. Our lives were changing in so many ways, and I had to go with it. I reminded myself once again that while change is sad, there are new, joyful things yet to come into our lives. Change makes way for the new.

And we here at the Hillhouse are getting ourselves ready for a whole lot of new things to come…

January late 2014 020Our beloved ‘snow goose’, Maximus. He finds the sweet spots where he can graze, mid-winter.

(He is in actuality a “Lavender Ice” which is, as we understand, the newest registered breed in North America. The breed is supposed to be friendlier than other domestic geese, and good with kids and pets. Our experience tells us this is partly so, but in the end, he is still a goose. And geese are tough birds.)

January late 2014 050On his way back up the hill to the coop.

January late 2014 070In the coop with his very best bird-friend, male Guinea fowl, Austin (lowest rung to the right)

January late 2014 080Mama enjoys a final moment with Max.

January late 2014 082That lovely face.

January late 2014 120Elihu feeds Maximus his second favorite treat – he loves frozen peas best.

January late 2014 115Maximus waits around for more, even when Elihu’s gone back inside.

January late 2014 139

The kiss goodbye.

A very sad time for Elihu and me both. We hope Maximus goes on to enjoy the best life a goose could ever know.  That’ll make it a little easier to adjust to a goose-free life here at the Hillhouse.

 

Lung Leavin’ Day February 2, 2014

The past few weeks have been incredibly stressful and frightening for me, but hearing someone else’s story has quickly put a new perspective on things. Today Heather Von St. James celebrates another year of life, another year of victory over Mesothelioma. I myself had a friend (luthier, Jim Norris) die of this cancer years ago. It broke our hearts to learn that our friend was diagnosed with this particular cancer, as Mesothelioma is usually thought to be a certain death sentence. Heather, however, has shown the world that it is not. Heather is a shining spokesperson for hope. Please learn about her story, and watch her video. Here is Heather’s story. May you take from her experience inspiration to face the challenges in your own life. And please, if you’re able, donate something to help fund research into fighting this disease.

1266854_685378121502165_639066134_oHeather Von St. James and her family. Gorgeous, glowing and glorious is she.

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Woke up with a dull headache already nestled in between my temples, just waiting for me. I wondered how long I was doomed to live with this now. Now that the corner had been turned, and I’d foolishly declared before the world that a) I had been an idiot and ruined my father’s Studio and b) had been stupid enough to announce to the world that I was going to make it all better. What kind of spell had I been under? What the hell had I just gone and done?

Last night, as I stood at the sink (washing dishes for the third time that day – my kingdom for a dishwasher!) a realization came over me in a rush, and I literally felt as if I would vomit into the soapy water. Oh fucking no – the whole thing just presented itself to me in an entirely different light. This was no opportunity! This was a trap! And I’d fallen into it! Worse yet – I’d made the trap to begin with! The ‘if onlys’ came at me fast and furious, and I almost thought I would pass out. Instantly, I was terrified at my future.

I tried to settle down, tried to break the situation down into the few things I knew for sure. Ok. I knew these two things: that if I didn’t do anything about the Studio, one day profound regret was a great possibility, and that if I at least tried to do something about the Studio, then I would never face that outcome.

I have always longed for a quiet, under-committed life, with low stress; a simple, beautiful home in which to live, occasional international travel, visits from out-of-town friends and long, lingering dinners with good wine; musicians with whom to make music, friends with whom to laugh. I’ve long imagined how my little life might pan out here in Greenfield, and it was the great consolation for having lost the possibility of a life shared with my husband and child. But if I took this on – good Lord, my life, at least for the next ten years, didn’t show itself to be any of these things. Crap. I want to be anonymous, I want to be left alone. I want to relax. I just want to be happy.

I suppose I’ve already blown it about the anonymous thing. And some mornings I wake up with a similar dread as today, and wonder just what have I gone and done? More than a thousand people are daily peering into my life, and I have almost nowhere to hide now. I can’t take any of it back, either. It’s all out there, forever.  And all of my own doing. Man, I guess I just never thought…. And that’s the problem. Never thought… How many of us truly do think carefully about things?

It seems to me that there are two ways you can live your life; you can tune out and fill your existence up with distractions (career, sports, shopping, activities, living through your children, food and so on) and never truly think very critically about your life, or you can face that awesomely frightening question of your very own purpose and potential here in this world. And should you find yourself contemplating that second question, you can either go back to that first, comfortable route (I really, really want to go back to that one, but I’m afraid I’ve screwed myself out of it) or you must plow ahead into that alternate, murky future. Fucking scary. Or maybe not for some of you, I’m sure many of you don’t share my way of thinking on this – Lord knows this planet is made up of all types; I’m continually amazed at how differently people approach things. You think you kinda understand how someone’s feeling, after all, we do share the most basic needs and wants, but then you learn that they feel something quite different from what you’d assumed they did. And we all know what happens when you assume….

And I myself had always assumed that life would be fairly easy. That all that yack yack yacking about how tough life was and how ‘youth was wasted on the young’ and such – all that was nonsense. All that Buddhist four truths stuff, all this inner exploration and contemplative journey crap – what a waste of time and energy. Enjoy what you got, help out a little when you can, and just shut up already! Ok, that was a young, middle class girl who had the world in her front yard but had no clue. This was a young person who hadn’t yet faced a lump in her breast or a set of knuckles inflamed with arthritis, or the death of her father (or the ruination of her father’s work at her own hand). So, things change. Or maybe things just wait for you to catch up with them. Maybe these little atmospheric whorls of potential events lie in wait somewhere before us in time, and it’s our tiny steps in between that determine which of them we ultimately enter into.

So as I stood at the sink last night, fighting the urge to throw up into the dishwater, I remembered a woman who’d recently contacted me. She’s a reader of this blog, and she wondered if I might not help her in her own journey. For just a second, my own distress diminished as I considered the fear that Heather must have known. I think I’m afraid – but of what? My issues are external, they do not hold my life in the balance of their outcomes. They are nothing, really, compared to the challenge that Heather faced. Ok, Elizabeth, see? There are far more frightening prospects in the world. You, (saying this to myself, of course) are a wimp. You are being cowardly. How dare you? I remembered also my promise to Heather, and if I never came to fixing the Studio, I could at least do one thing I’d said I would.

Here is Heather’s story. Of course, it’s inspiring. This woman’s courage is impressive, but so too is her follow-through. Ok, so she made that mind-numbingly difficult decision to have a friggin lung removed in order to save her life, and she survived. Wouldn’t that be enough, you’d think? No, apparently not – because Heather has the drive and focus to continue to spread the word about Mesolethioma. She’s still taking action, long after she did her part. She had to face a kind of fear the likes of which each one of us prays we never, ever have to face. Ok, she did that, then she took care of it. Then she goes and does more. (Plus she’s a wife and mom. Cannot underestimate the time and energy that role represents.) Alright. My situation may feel dire, but I can temper my fear just a bit when I realize that it’s external, and that it is not a life or death situation like hers. Thank you Heather, for showing us that nothing is a done deal. I am known to say that this is a pain-in-the-ass planet we live on, and that life here is tricky. Heather, you clearly already know all of that – but have gone far beyond worrying about things and bitching about how hard it all is (that would be me doing that). Thanks for teaching us by example. I’m going to try my best to live up to my own challenges as you have yours. I’m not sayin I’ll do half as well, but you’ve inspired me to at least try…

As Heather says, “With hope, the odds don’t matter”. Thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on all your achievements, and most of all, happy Lung Leavin Day!