The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Love Penny, Lost Raccoon June 30, 2014

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Farm Life,Mommy Mind,Pics — wingmother @ 1:13 am

The other day I’d taken my jar of change in to Walmart to redeem some big-time cash for my savings. After the coins had all filtered down through the machine I heard one final and ringing ‘clink’ sound. I checked, and to my surprise retrieved one single penny, cut into the shape of a heart, and with the word “LOVE” stamped into it. Having been rather at the end of my rope recently, and finding even this outing to be something of a challenge with respect to my panic attacks alone, I couldn’t help but see it as a sign. Some readers may smile and nod knowingly, others may think me silly. Who cares, regardless of the means, this little love penny came to me. It came to me at a time when I needed a secret hello of some sort from the universe – real or imagined. When I went to redeem my change for the big money (I even liked the sum: $17.17) I just had to share my story with the gal at the register. She thought it just as sweet and serendipitous as I, and I departed, happy, feeling like I’d just been given a mysterious, secret wink from the world. I tucked the little copper heart into an interior pocket of my purse. Several times during the day I’d pull it out and examine it in wonder. I imagined the person who tossed it into the machine, smiling, thinking of the recipient, hoping it would make their day. I thought of them, thanked them and received the special little penny with gratitude.

Today I awoke with a heart lightened by my surprise ‘love penny’ from the day before, and an attitude refreshed by a sense that things might still be on my side, in spite of all I had before me. Needing someone to bear witness to the unbelievable volume of the stuff I had collected in my basement alone (and needed to get rid of in the coming few weeks), I had my mother – bum knee and all – brave the cellar stairs and come down to witness the enormous mess before me. “How did you get all this stuff?” she asked me, unaware that even she had played her own small part in the chaos; a Sierra club backpack here, a stack of Audubon bird calendars there… Crap everywhere. I don’t even understand how it all got here. I just don’t know; stuff finds us. Hand me downs – a very welcome staple of our life here in Greenfield – take up far more space than I’d realized. Having excavated the old ‘root’ cellar I find the main room now piled from floor-to-ceiling with bins upon bins… It seems so innocent at the time, a friend sends a box, someone leaves a bag on our steps, a classmate one size larger leaves us a bin… Don’t get me wrong, we need this stuff. It’s what clothes my child. Between what I make and what his father sends – there’s not enough to buy clothes after our bills are met. So it’s all a tremendous blessing – only we can’t ever use all of it. And it takes a lot of time to go through and set the extra stuff aside. And besides – some of it is still too big for Elihu right now, so we have to save it. It all takes up space.

But so do old Halloween costumes and boxes of paper airplanes. So do RC cars and defunct helicopters and vintage computers… It all adds up, and the result is a basement in which we can both no longer find things nor walk around in. And I for one have had it.

So when folks lightheartedly ask me what I’m doing for the summer (you know, with all this time in which to relax!) it’s impossible to answer them as truthfully as I’d like. I have a LOT of shit before me, from my own personal stuff to that of the Studio. And I’m just one woman. But I take heart this morning, because after all, someone, somewhere sent me little give of love… and just remembering this makes me smile. Yeah, I have a lot to do, and a huge adventure still before me, but I’m beginning to feel hopeful again. I’m in my own personal zone now; I don’t even know where my kid is – it’s only when I check in on Facebook that I see the photo a friend has posted of him. He’s in Fort Wayne, Indiana today, busking and netting some good tips and giving an interview to the local paper. Good for him. I’d like to check in, but I gotta keep moving.

Today I’m emptying the garage, cleaning it, having the brush dealt with and setting traps for the raccoons. May not sound like a lot, but it is. A wonderful fellow named Joe came today and worked hard in the hot summer sun cutting the chest-high brush and cleaning up a years’ worth of neglect. It was a good day. I began to feel that I might be regaining some control over things. I began to feel like the universe was putting out little signs for me, hoping I’d pick up on them.

The day before, just before I’d found my heart-shaped penny, I stopped to watch some guys unloading a bin full of donated clothing. I’d been doing a little reconnaissance regarding the destination of all my stuff… I was wondering where this stuff ended up, and if in fact it all got used. They insisted it did, and furthermore, they offered that they could even come to my house to make a pickup. Although it was mostly clothing that people’d left in the bins, I saw that other artifacts had been tossed into the heap as well. “I don’t even know what this is” the young man said as he held up a bas-relief portrait of Buddha. “That’s Buddha.” I informed him. He gave me a rather blank look. “He’s kinda like Jesus for another part of the planet.” “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard of him. Yeah. Cool.” he set it down again and went back to throwing bags of clothes onto the truck. “Would I be breaking the rules if I took him?” I asked. “Oh, you’re cool. You can take him.” the boy answered. And so I did. I thanked the guys, wished them well, and tucked the Buddha into my backseat. It felt very much like a little nod from the universe. I could definitely use a little Buddha today. A little paint and tlc, and he might just be a perfect pick-me-up and addition to our wall at home. And then I got the penny not a half hour later. Both of em, just what I needed, at just the right time.

I’d set the humane traps the day before for the raccoon, but had been twice duped by the clever beast. First, somehow, she’d managed to retrieve the chicken thigh cooked in bacon fat without so much as tripping the damned thing. That morning she’d fooled me again, by digging underneath the closed trap and retrieving the bread from below the cage, through the mesh. Inside the house I’d been having another ongoing drama with Gwendolyn, our resident chipmunk. She’d gotten so comfortable in our house that she’d now sit on the kitchen table while I drank my coffee in the morning, sitting as still as I believe a chipmunk to have the patience to, and she’d just watch me while I sipped. A good two or three minutes would pass before she decided she’d had enough, and she’d flit away. When I’d taken Elihu to the airport last week, I’d also taken Gwendolyn, or at least one of her relatives, and so there was every chance that a family had taken up residence in the car as well. For as sweet as they seem, for as endearing as Gwendolyn was as we shared our moment in the morning, I cannot forget that she and hers threaten the electrical system in my car as well as  the safety of the food in my pantry. Like the raccoon, she too thwarted my efforts to use the humane trap on her, escaping the closed trap with the bait, and without injury.

It’s not been an easy decision for me by any means to take action, but tonite I had to. I had Joe set a real trap for the raccoon, and rat traps will follow for the chimpmunks. Tonite, shortly after I’d taken a shower and was about to get into bed, I heard a shrieking sound. I went out to the edge of the woods and saw her there, stuck, flailing. It was not as I’d thought it would be. I ran to the garage and searched in vain for my sledgehammer with which I meant to end her suffering.  Now in tears, I ran to call neighbor Zac, who showed up only moments later, but just too late. The raccoon had finally died. And as Zac and I worked to free her from the trap, I saw she was a mother. Her kids had likely stopped nursing and were grown, she didn’t have milk, but still, it was hard to see. Having just died, she was warm and soft. I held her like a baby, I told her I was sorry. I understood it was she who’d taken my beloved hens, yet still I didn’t feel glee at her death. A little relief, yes, but it was still sad.

It’s so hard to reconcile all of the extremes in this world. One day I can’t imagine waking up one more morning, the next day I’m encouraged by tiny signs…. One day my heart is angrily set on taking out the animal that’s been killing my own, but in the end, I feel a mix of sorrow and a mild sense of regret. No celebration. No mourning really even. Just sort of a nondescript settling in of the process. Tonite I feel a mix of so many things all at once. The relief that soon my extra things will be gone, that soon the Studio will be underway, that the raccoon is dead. Good and bad, despondent and hopeful, living and dead. It all exists in such close proximity.

I think of my penny, and I go to retrieve it from my purse. It’s not there. In a mild panic, I search for it everywhere I can think of, in the junk drawer, in my car, in my jewelry drawer, in every corner of my purse. I don’t remember moving it since the last time I dropped it into my bag… How on earth is it gone? Yet it must be. In my possession for less than a day and night, I am saddened at the loss. I hadn’t even taken a picture of it. I google the image, and I find nothing like it. There is no proof of my sign… it’s gone…. And then I think of the love penny and how it did just what it was supposed to at the right time, and now it was simply on its way to do its job again for the next person in need. And I think of my new friend, Mr. Buddha. That middle way he talked about. Let things come as they will, and let them go. I guess I just gotta go with it. Easy come, easy go.

I can’t help but look to tomorrow with a new sort of excitement and anticipation, and at the same time I look at the past with gratitude and a sense of wonder. I’m sorry about the raccoon, and I send her my love. On we go, may we all be on the way to a better place, whether it’s here or somewhere yet unknown…

IMG_7434My garage is bursting…

IMG_7410… and my basement is full with Halloween costumes and the assorted detritus of life.

IMG_7413Some things I can’t part with… old concert posters and a certificate for my father signed by Pablo Casals.

IMG_7550Elihu drew these on his easel at five, shortly after me moved here.

IMG_7427God bless Katie and Kat – they helped with the gruntwork.

IMG_7475Some things – like this paper plane of hundreds – get burned.

IMG_7442Joe has been another Godsend. He’s helped cut the overgrowth on my property, which is wonderful, but I learn he’s a trapper, too.

IMG_7446It takes a bit of finesse to set it right.

IMG_7449This is what it looks like when he’s finished.

IMG_7560This is an unsuccessfully closed trap from which a chimpmunk escaped – with the bait. !

IMG_7565I’m sorry to say that in this picture she’s still alive, and struggling. This was horrible to witness. From now on when I do this I’ll have my sledgehammer on hand. This must be quicker and more humane.

IMG_7570When she does finally pass, I admire her hands. So clever, just last night she’d removed bait from a humane trap and escaped. I’ve even seen her use these hands to remove the lids from garbage cans. She was very smart and talented.

IMG_7584I can’t help but cradle her. She’s dead now, but still soft and warm. I thanked her for being a good mom and doing what she was supposed to. Even Zac, as seasoned a farm fellow as he is, he wasn’t any happier about this than I was. She’s now been double-bagged and is in our freezer pending ideas from Elihu. I think it’ll just be a memento of a tail. I just don’t have an appetite for revenge barbecue. Bless you little girl, hope you’re in a better place. I’m relieved that I don’t have to fear for my hens anymore. Hopefully we’re onto a new chapter.

 

 

Too Much More June 26, 2014

If someone else were to say the things I’m about to say, I’d tell them it’s not that bad. I’d be concerned for them, I’d want them to find relief. I know all of this, but I can’t help it. I’m even beginning to think there’s something rather manic about the way I operate in the world. One day I see the potential and promise of everything, and a moment later I’m wishing I could just kill myself and just be done with this stupid life – without all the fallout. It’s always my son and my mother who stop me from taking that thought any further. But I swear there are days where I’d give that option some serious consideration, were it not for those two people – that, and my basic cowardice. The same unfortunate trait which is causing me to think about such things in the first place. I’m so much more afraid than I’d thought.

The day started out with a sobering visit from a geothermal heating and cooling guy. The man himself, the owner of the company came out because his son, scheduled to visit, had thrown out his back. I’m glad that Senior came instead of Junior – he brought with him the advice of not only an HVAC guy, but that of a businessman, a property owner and landlord, and father to five kids. He had plenty of wisdom and advice for me, down to the smallest, most helpful details. I’m glad he showed up first, because he applied the brakes of reality on my fuzzy future. For one, he made clear that I faced a money pit. And that I’d not only need a business plan for potential investors or donors, but until that time came I’d need the Studio to generate some income. A lot of income. And I’d also need a loan. Because it was going to take a lot of money to get the place back to square, let alone ahead. He suggested I bring everything to a halt until I got that stuff figured out. Made sense of course. I’d seen my former parents-in-law throw money – hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions even – at dozens of projects through the years, little of which ended up paying for themselves, let alone generating cash flow. I’d seen what a hazy vision and a dash of romance could do. And it seemed I might be doing this myself – putting the cart before the horse, building a garage for a dream car that wasn’t even mine yet. When pressed for examples of revenue sources, I had lots of maybes but no definites. Lots of what ifs but no contracts, no leases, no programs to even consider. I wished I hadn’t sounded so lost, so unsure, but the truth is I am. I have a spark, a hope – and it glows so very bright sometimes – but it’s founded on very little. It’s not founded on studies or research, it’s founded on intuition and desire. And I just don’t know if that’s enough.

“This was your father’s dream” the man went on to say as we mulled over the pros and cons, “not yours, right?” I had to answer that it was. “And he realized it, he made it happen, right?” he pushed. I had to admit that he had, and that he’d even seen it to a satisfying conclusion. He cautioned me not to move ahead on sentiment alone. Not to follow my father’s dream, but to follow my own. But as I sat there taking it all in, I realized something rather surprising: I myself had no dream. At least no specific, concrete vision. What I did have was a feeling, a way in which I envisioned feeling in my dream life. While not a vision per se, it had some specifics. Just maybe not the nitty gritty bones of the whole thing, but nonetheless a general scenario…  For over a decade one thing has been foremost in my mind: I want a simple life. A life free of panic, a life full of friends and good food and hopefully travel. A beautiful garden, and a tidy, organized home to come back to at the end of my adventures. I’ve always been able to see it in my mind’s eye. The Studio simply rounded it out. Instead of playing with the musicians I missed so, I’d have them here when they were touring. Instead of seeing the world, I’d have the world come and see me. I’d be host to all sorts of people, and life would be full of impomptu late night jams and dinners around a big, inviting table. And I’d be hostess to it all. But in reality I knew that I couldn’t reconcile running a concert venue with a simple life. I’d spent years despising all the extra time and visiting required of my ex husband’s career as a non-stop working musician. And I’d hated the relentless nature of owning a nightclub. And while I loved having rehearsals, dinners and parties at our home, I would cherish the privacy in between those events. And I needed a lot of alone down time to refresh myself for the next episode. Plus as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that I desire even more space and time – and quiet. So what the hell have I been thinking here? As I heard myself talk about what I envisioned, I felt a torturous mixture of excitement and dread. I can’t explain it, all I know is that this man’s real-world red flags had me putting all of my previously delirious thinking through a filter of reality, and now I was feeling sick to my stomach. And panicky. Great. Almost out of Xanax, and just entering the fire. Just fucking great.

It was still good to hear. It was all stuff I needed to seriously consider. Absolutely valuable input. And then came the chimney sweep.

A well-known local peace and renewable resources activist, he had been recommended by a friend for his advice on my situation – and he had his own list of considerations I might make in my process. And being a firm believer in looking towards a responsible way to provide for the future energy needs of the planet rather than beating a soon-to-be-dead horse of dirty fuel-burning, I really wanted to hear all he had to say. Here was another take on things – a perspective that while not entirely at the other end of the spectrum – certainly one that represented a different way to approach my situation. And his way made sense. Equal sense. As he spoke I began to feel that signature out-of-body sort of sensation that precludes panic attacks, and although ironically he was a man of great heart and compassion, I began to squirm, to feel the inner terror beginning to build. He was clearly giving more good advice;  keep things simple, do only the repairs absolutely necessary, don’t overdo. Yet still, I continued to feel the pre-panic sensations building. I stared at my feet, I feigned things to pick up and examine from the floor, I created the pretense of searching for a bottle of water in my car in order to distract myself from the fear that was welling up inside of me. I was trapped in this goddam situation, and I had no one to save me now. My brother was ill, my mother was old, and I was a single mother with no savings, no resources, and now, no job. What was to become of me? I felt it all becoming my burden alone. And I am in no place to bear such a burden. Most people think I’m strong and resilient. Hell, I’ve never even had a real fucking job. I might be capable of many things, but apparently making a decent living is not one of them. And it’s becoming ever more highlighted by the shit that’s sitting in my path.

What now? I know what I’d do if I had money – but what even then? Is having a state-of-the-art facility enough? I imagine myself enticing already-existing programs to my gorgeous little space in the woods, but in reality, who the hell will want it? I imagine renting the space to yoga instructors, to after school programs, leasing it out for recitals, concerts… but I know the reality of this all, one-time events are not a reliable stream of income. I can’t be assured that they’ll cover my costs of running the place. And certainly, if my mom uses the rest of her savings to make the upgrades, I can’t be assured that she – I or my brother – will ever recoup the costs. And I still have to live. Maybe another forty years. Good Lord help me if that’s the case. I haven’t a fucking dime to my name, and my electric bill is still behind five hundred dollars from this last brutal winter.

I’m ready to go to bed. To forget that the raccoon stole the bait from the humane trap and escaped, as did the chipmunk in the kitchen just now. To forget that I have eleven baby chicks running wild, chased mercilessly by the grown flock and flung far and wide over the yard… to forget that I’m twenty pounds more than I was last year at this time, to forget that I haven’t kissed a man since I last kissed my husband, more than six years ago. Having Elihu gone is making things feel more dire, I’m pretty sure of it. And it’s much easier to contemplate ending things when he’s not around. But he’s coming back, and I need to be his cheerleader in life, not the other way around. How can I be? I admit, this time I’m not sure how to turn things around. Secretly (or not so secretly, as it’s here now) I consider a life off the map, anonymous and forgotten. Might I just drop out? Secede from Facebook, stop returning emails, fail to have my piano tuned, or show up to volunteer at school? What would happen then? History is full of once-famous people disappearing from society, going bankrupt, crazy or just plain missing… Could I pull it off? Seriously, who the fuck would miss me? I have no real life here; my only social life is a virtual one, and I seldom relish waking up in the morning. I scold myself as soon as I begin to think like this. I’m not being tortured, I’m not hungry (look at my waistline), I’m clothed and have a roof over my head. And a piano. And the internet. I’m ahead of probably 90% of the planet. So what the hell is with me??

Years ago, when I broke my neck (C6 and C7, which subsequently fused and created what I like to call a C13), I was confined to a bed for several months, while tongs, stuck into quarter inch holes in my skull held me in place and stretched me out while I healed. I’d been experiencing horrific panic attacks just before my car accident, and yet when held down in place in bed – in what might have looked like a torturous position in which to live – my panic ceased. I was too concerned in the beginning with my very survival to even notice, but a few days after I became stable and began to understand my situation more fully, I did notice it. I hadn’t had a single panic episode. And man, if ever there were a reason to panic, breaking one’s neck and being told by one’s neurosurgeon that you might never walk again might be legitimate cause for alarm. But I came to realize something… that when the real shit hit the real fan, my body knew what its priorities were. It knew the situation was for real – unlike that self-induced, self-created panic attack bullshit. It was revelatory. Here I was, with every reason to panic for real – and yet I wasn’t. I’m not saying I wasn’t concerned – I was – but it was a sober, alert sort of concern. It made all the sense in the world. Yet when my neck was healed, and I was better and finally off to college… the panic attacks returned, worse than before.

I know what’s at the root of the panic. That’s easy. It’s a feeling of being out of control, of having lost the power over your life. It’s a physical manifestation of fear and uncertainty. Maybe what I need is a real illness or injury to get my physiological priorities in order again. Hell, I don’t know. I don’t. What I do know that it will either take a mountain of focus and energy for me to get my life in order, or it will tank on its own. Christ, at a time when most of my contemporaries are looking forward to retiring, I’m only just beginning to figure out what it is that I’m supposed to be doing here on this stupid planet. Hell, even when I did have a job it hardly paid eleven bucks an hour after taxes. Before the panic returned it was worth it – I saw my kid every day and got paid to do the only thing I actually kind of know how to do. But now, with the Studio, the time it’s going to demand of me and now the element of pure fear that it’s added to my life… I remind myself again that the burden outweighs its worth. And besides, the little extra income I made disqualified me for food stamps and even Medicaid. Crazy, but it’s really safer to stay living in controlled poverty than just an inch above water level, gasping for air. Shit. I never expected to be in such a place in my life at my age. Never.

Obviously, this is a situation that’s far from being resolved. Somehow, in my slightly manic state, I will pull myself up for a bit, knock out a few more tasks and make an inch of progress before doubt and panic consume me again. My cellar is full of water and moldy boxes, I guess I can spend a few hours working on that. At least there can be some tangible results from my efforts, which would sure feel good. Because right now, no matter how much more I do, I just don’t see an ending to things. For the moment I cannot begin to picture my future. There’s still too much more in the way.

 

A happier post-script to remind myself of what we did at the Studio only a few years ago.

Drawing Class at The Studio

I gotta remember that we can do this again… this past run of bad luck has just been a detour, we can get there again… Right??

 

Moving Up June 25, 2014

Yesterday, my son’s old elementary school had its moving up ceremony for the fifth graders who were leaving to attend the local middle school across town in the fall. Wish I’d known about it, cuz I’d have been there. Of course Elihu doesn’t go there anymore, but his class does, and I’ve known all those faces and many of those kids since kindergarten. A dad of a friend said that there’d been a presentation at the event, a video that followed the children from then til now. He’d said that Elihu was in some of the pictures, and that he had been missed. Yeah, and I myself missed those kids, too. I’d played piano for them every year, Elihu and I had performed at the talent shows, I’d organized the talent show one year too, and generally I’d always felt at home in the school, even though Elihu left towards the end of third grade. Those first years just seem to bond kids as no others do. I myself had just recently visited a woman I’d known from first through fifth grade, and you’d think we’d been in constant touch through the years (we hadn’t) for the sense of familiarity that was natural to us. But see, that’s what comes of knowing someone since earliest childhood. There’s just no substitute for the relationships you make at the start of your life. Yeah, I wish I’d been there to see the kids one last time. The middle school is huge, and I won’t  have the opportunity to see many of them again. So tonight I’m feeling a little wistful, just a little sad. Things are changing, and I have to adjust once again. The moving up ceremony reminds me that my son too will be in sixth grade next year. (Only he’s moving ‘down’- downstairs, that is.)

Like Elihu, I too went to a private school in my early years, but the difference was that I left after fifth grade to join the larger Jr. High in my town. It was a deeply sad move for me in a couple of ways; I was leaving my friends – the only ones I’d ever known – and I was reaching a new age. Even I was aware that in entering sixth grade, and soon turning twelve, that I was no longer a little kid. It was a poignant time for me. And my kid seems to have a bit of that sense, too. It’s a time of change for both of us. Funny, you spend all those hours giving baths and getting meals and coaxing and cajoling and wondering if it’ll ever stop already – you’re pooped by eight, you’re isolated in your house, your world is small and always moving… And then there it is, the day when your kid’s bedroom door is always closed, the day when he smells, when hair starts to grow, when he starts to grow. Or at least I’ve heard rumors saying something to that effect. I still choose to believe that my son will hover here in this netherworld of non-child, non-man for years…. he will always be shorter than me. Right? The order of the world surely depends on it. Right? ??

In part my sense of melancholy is heightened because today I too have made a change in my own life. And it’s probably bigger than I actually realize. In this moment, I don’t so much feel a sense of the change that might be around the corner; instead what I’m feeling is a sense of peace. I also feel possibility beginning to grow. And excitement. Yeah, I’m not dreading the fall as I’d been doing since I left my post at the piano just a couple of weeks ago. I’m no longer feeling a dull nagging inside that I’m not making wise use of my time. I made a change today, the kind of move that I wouldn’t have had the courage to do even a year ago, but as with many things in life, the stars all just kinda lined themselves up just so…

It started with a long conversation with my partner. I told her that I’d like to make the Studio my job, but I couldn’t if I still had this other job going at the same time. For a while now I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that I can work all day, be a mom, and somehow run a startup business on the side. Plus oversee the remodel of a building. Uh huh. See, as a single person who doesn’t run with a gang of friends, as one whose only sounding boards are mom and young child, I often feel alone, and often forget that my partner – while she currently doesn’t have a stake in the ownership of the building – has the perfect kind of energy and perspective I need, plus a deep personal desire to see this thing get moving. I don’t know why I keep feeling it’s all on me – and why I often forget to go to her. Hell, that’s how I met her a couple of years ago, in the very beginning. All I had was a venue and an idea, but no contacts, no friends, no money, no way to start… One afternoon I just ran out of hope and patience and through tears called the local arts council. The fellow there put me in touch with Ceres, and just as I was calling her, at my very wit’s end, tears rolling down my cheeks, she was at her wit’s end too and having her own sort of meltdown – but this lovely lady doesn’t cry, she laughs. ! So there we were, on the phone for the very first time; I was crying – and she was laughing. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Man am I lucky to have found her.

So today I got myself unstuck, as it were. I left my job as accompanist at the Waldorf School. I promised not to leave them high and dry – I’ll make every attempt I can to find someone to replace me. I’ll even play if it’s an emergency – if they have no one at all – but I also made it clear that I didn’t want that sort of situation dragging out, because I need to leave this post. It requires my only free time at home, it requires I be on site all day, it leaves me no time to tend to the Studio. Not unless you count the window between getting home and making supper… but then when does one go grocery shopping?? I hate disappointing people, and I am uncomfortable not helping out when I know I have what someone needs… But clearly, this past year hasn’t been the most pleasant for me. The rise of panic attacks seems to have been brought on (after a nearly two decade period of dormancy) because of a particular cocktail of stressors. I used to think it would be wimpy of me not to take it all on, but now I see the reality. A couple of days of waiting for appointments, pricing materials and meeting with tradesmen has already shown me that if I’m not there to move this along, it aint gonna move anywhere.

Having publicly declared my intentions like this, I’m beginning to wish I had somewhere to hide should things go wrong, some way to retract all of this in the future should things really tank. Cuz I’m doing this before an audience of friends and readers, and we all know, once it’s out into the internet ether, there’s no taking it back. And I truly am scared here. I do not know what the fuck I am doing. I am not a business person, I don’t have great organizational skills, and I have never supported myself without backup income (part time job, husband, mom, father-in-law, etc.). Just how the hell am I supposed to net income from a friggin arts center? I’ve written only one grant proposal in my life (I got it, btw, but hey, that was years ago, the world was a kinder, gentler place back then) and I do NOT enjoy the idea of having to keep books, follow rules and in general, behave like a friggin grown up. Cuz I do not know the rules, I’m not even sure how to learn the rules, and moreover, I’m not even sure that I’m a real grownup. ! However, I will not freak out. Because I do feel pretty good right now. Pretty hopeful. Let’s just hope the hopeful lasts.

The big move is upon us. Moving up, moving down, moving out, but mostly, moving on….

 

Tiny Trip June 22, 2014

I don’t get out much these days, but I did get out yesterday for what I’d thought would be a fairly straightforward overnight visit with an old friend from my elementary school days in Chicago, and who now lives in mid-state Vermont. It was a short trip, but densely packed with new and memorable experiences.

My childhood pal is moving across the country to the Seattle metro area. She’s lived here in the Northeast for three years and I haven’t yet been to see her (she and her family have, however, been to visit me). It’s hard to believe that it was only yesterday morning that I was throwing a toothbrush and a favorite pillow into a bag and hitting the road. It feels like I’ve been gone a week. My head is full of images, my heart is heavy with a final, impromtu stop I made on the way back, and I’m saddened to learn that shortly before I returned home this evening we lost Amity, our last pure white hen from the old flock. I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed right now, siting here in my cozy chair in something of a daze; post gin and tonic, post review of new photos, post whirlwind tour of historic Vermont, post the loss of one more hen. And although I may feel uncertain about many things in life, there is one thing I do know for certain: I love being home. And after having just seen a thousand different ways to live, having a head swirling with images, places and possibilities – and even loss – I know one thing for certain, that I need none of it right now, thank you. I’m relieved at the peace of being still and doing nothing at all. I’m more than happy to be back.

Once again, some time away has given me the experience of seeing my own corner of the world through brand new eyes. And I remember again how much this place means to me. I’d rather look out at the distant mountains of Vermont than live in between them. I like to assess it all from afar, nestled as I am here in my small, hillside niche in the woods. I have just the right amount of sky and trees, and just the right amount of house, both which give me more joy than they had just the day before yesterday. A day trip is a lovely experience in of itself, and it’s also a healthy way to help remind one just how blessed a thing is home.

IMG_6785The road as I start out… Vermont has always seemed idyllic and just out of reach; now I mean to examine these once-distant hills more closely.

IMG_6835This shot is uncharacteristically ‘un-claustraphobic’ of the Vermont byways; the roads almost all run parallel to the many rivers that run in the valleys between impassable mountain ranges. Usually one is in the woods, under cover of endless pines, a stony river bed close to one side. This is what makes travel through the state either extremely tedious or a journey of great beauty and mystery, depending on how urgently you may want to get somewhere. I always start out intrigued, but after a couple of hours of meandering alongside a shallow river in the deep woods I can get a little short of patience.

IMG_6829There’s precious little flat land in between the hills, but farmers find and use what they can.

IMG_6853After driving two and a half hours on two lane roads, at last I’ve arrived at Dina’s house. The small town of Randolph is a mere stone’s throw down the road.

IMG_6892First things first; lunch at ‘Wright at Home’, an even closer stone’s throw from the center of town.

IMG_6891Chatting with the locals…

IMG_6890The kitchen is in full view of the dining room. Cute, sarcastic and vintage signage decorates the place.

IMG_6885Dina’s son Sam figures out how to use my fan (given to me by another classmate from our elementary school who spent the past year in Spain).

IMG_6873This cutie is Thomas, the younger of Dina’s two sons.

IMG_6869Small town action! The local hippie artist has a mild run-in with the town cops.

IMG_6894We walk back up the hill after lunch. Nice place, huh?

IMG_6851Sam stands in the doorway of the carriage house-turned apartment unit.

IMG_6854Earnest, the boy’s dad, made a catapult for them. When I left it was still on the front lawn for anyone to take. It could be yours…

IMG_6917Dina and her friends enjoy one last soccer game before she moves…

IMG_6906While the women play a game I go investigate a nearby river behind the athletic field. Spied several species of birds and enjoyed some time also doing nothing at all but enjoying the perfect breeze and the gentle sound of moving water.

IMG_6926I took a walk around the field and learned the name of the high school mascots.

IMG_6937The gals at game’s end.

IMG_6941The town’s high school class is graduating tonight under this tent in the same field, so we go to pay a visit. Dina and a friend wave to each other under a gloriously-clouded sky.

IMG_6947Ah, the good old U S of A.

IMG_6974The band gets ready. Love that sousaphone.

IMG_6980Dina knows a lot of people here in this small town. Turns out our visit is a perfect opportunity for her to say goodbye to many friends.

IMG_6994The graduating class and their teachers line up for the processional.

IMG_6997Families await the graduates.

IMG_7018Elihu will get a kick out of this kid’s cap.

A little window into the moment.

IMG_7039Dina says good-bye to Tom, a local cop.

IMG_7043Main Street, early evening.

IMG_7055Looking North, towards the ice cream shop, a favorite of locals. I myself don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but highly recommend both the ‘maple creamee’ soft serve and ‘coconut crunch’ hard ice cream.

IMG_7064A taxidermied white panther in the window of the local barber shop. When I was small, I’d heard stories about black panthers still living in areas not far from my current home, but never of white ones. Today, panthers are extremely rare, but thankfully their smaller cousins the bobcats can still be found in the woods around the Northeastern US.

IMG_7062A wonderful and successful addition to Randolph’s downtown, restaurant One Main offers an enticing menu and a casual yet upscale vibe for locals to enjoy. Send an energetic gift of good thoughts to owner Shane, as he faces some health challenges at the moment. Seldom met anyone so radiant and positive, I’m sure he has a successful future ahead of him.

IMG_7063But like in so many small towns, keeping it alive and vital is an ongoing challenge.

IMG_7059Every building in this town is picture-perfect, like something from a set. This is the train depot. You can catch a train here and be in New York City in five hours.

IMG_7067Plus there’s a movie theater – with first run films. Love that awning!

IMG_7070We visit a neighbor’s house for dinner – Earnest, Dina and hostess Phyllis seen here in what I think is probably the most inviting, homey kitchen I’ve ever been in.

IMG_7074At the dinner table in this landmark Victorian house. Hosts Phyllis and Richard are on either end, and we’re joined by Earnest and Dina’s two sons, two neighbor kids and one of the hosts’ twin daughters. I have not sat at a table with so many people in probably twenty years. One of the most enjoyable dinners in just as long, too.

IMG_7100Captain lives in this beautiful house too; she may be the world’s only one-eyed Bernese Mountain dog.

IMG_7083This house is known as “Mari Castle”, and it was built by a speech writer for Abraham Lincoln and named for his wife. And if you might be interested in living in this gorgeous gem of a house, it’s for sale! A beautiful coach house and small chapel-made-office building are also on the property.

IMG_7125Here’s a photo postcard of the place from years ago…

IMG_7128…and here’s a picture that Dina took of the place in winter.

IMG_7103The coach house and neighboring mid-century chapel.

IMG_7069Some readers may know my love of things mid-century. This was the first building to catch my eye as I drove into town. My heart skips a beat when I see such a roof line. I’m not kidding.

IMG_7121The main doorway.

IMG_7110The stunning original wood arches inside. It was difficult for me to see the interior so altered from its original beauty.

IMG_7116The same arches as seen from the second floor. Even though it pained me to see the place so transformed (into a doctor’s office), I gotta say they did a tasteful job of it.

IMG_7085At three in the morning, Dina and family get loaded into the car to drive to Logan airport. I suddenly realized that I hadn’t taken any photo of me and my friend of 45 years, hence my last-minute selfie (and disheveled appearance). I’m amazed I’m old enough to have known someone this long. Wow.

IMG_7142Like me, this fellow stops to gas up on Main Street before heading out (note the barber shop in the background).

IMG_7145Virtually all Vermont towns are situated alongside a river.

IMG_7155Kayakers wave hello as I shout a greeting to them.

IMG_7189Even in the fairly populated city of Rutland the mountains beckon from beyond the utility poles and roofs… What a sky, huh? I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to travel.

IMG_7164This trip, I decide to visit the mountain settlement of Killington. When I was small it was a modest and barely developed ski area. Now it’s a ritzy destination. Kinda reminds me of an American version of Zermatt, Switzerland.

IMG_7181The view up…

IMG_7166…and the means by which one gets there.

IMG_7168It’s just not possible to convey the feeling of being atop such a mountain; this photo doesn’t come even close. Those who ski (a population of which I am regrettably not a member) will know exactly what that is. So will those who hike and climb mountains. It’s the most expansive, exhilarating feeling. Also, in my case, it can inspire sudden bouts of panic. This didn’t happen to me in my younger years; I hope to discover a way to mitigate such altitude-related episodes, as they really suck and I can see them eliminating future adventures.

IMG_7204I continue South, down historic route 7, past Manchester’s famous Equinox hotel.

IMG_7210Had to stop when I saw this place.

IMG_7212Chickens everywhere.

IMG_7213If only I could afford one of em. Played the ‘hey, I’m an artist too’ card, but no go. Wouldn’t even consider the slightest mark down. I was seriously interested, but he seriously didn’t care. Ah well.

IMG_7208Onward I go, still heading South. I pass another farmer, doing things old school. One just doesn’t see those huge machines the way one does in the Midwest, where fields go uninterrupted for miles. Life here in Vermont has a gentler, more organic feel.

IMG_7195I saw these two fellows dressed in such odd-looking garb that I just had to stop and ask them what they were about. Daniel, left, and spokesman Michele, right, tell me they are cave enthusiasts, here from Montreal for the wonderful underground cavities unique to this region. Lots of white marble comes from this area too. Here, Michele writes down some sites I can visit to learn more. Tonight they are celebrating the birthday of a fellow caver by descending 140 vertical feet into a cave and sharing a glass of champagne at the bottom. !!

IMG_7197Off they go…

IMG_7220My ultimate destination en route home has been in the back of my mind all afternoon. I’m headed for Bennington. It’s the burial-place of poet Robert Frost, and the town in which my father, harpsichordist Robert Conant, was cremated. I need to see the place in order to give myself some closure. This obelisk is a monument to Revolutionary War soldiers which sits at the far end of Main Street, up the hill. The funeral home where dad was cremated is off frame and to the left, at the other end of Main Street.

IMG_7221Within a short time I’m at the base of the monument.

IMG_7223Here’s the church behind which Mr. Frost is buried. He himself did not belong to a church, but said if he were to have, it would have been the Congregational Church. His gravestone is the only one in the cemetery to face East instead of West.

IMG_7224Some ancient headstones just next to the Congregational Church.

IMG_7237The view of mountains to the East.

IMG_7227The signs that show the way are many and the effect is comical.

IMG_7229Here’s the Frost family plot. The center marks the poet, his wife and five children, the far one his grandchildren (one of whom is still living) and the marker in the foreground is completely empty. ! That’s thinking ahead, huh?

IMG_7231Here’s his famous epitaph; “I Had A Lover’s Quarrel With The World”.  I placed the small, white stone in between that line and ‘his wife’ on the line below.  Like hers too: “Together Wing to Wing And Oar To Oar”

IMG_7240Leaving the cemetery, the light is especially magical.

IMG_7246This next step is kind of surreal for me. Might be for you too. Get ready to see a side of life – or death, rather – that none of us ever really thinks much about until the choices are directly in front of us and ours alone to make. Even then we tend to think of it as some far-off, unreal sort of process that somehow doesn’t ever really happen, especially not to our beloveds. Cremation happens, and it has to happen somewhere. In this case, it’s on Main Street behind a cheerful looking house.

IMG_7247I walk around to the back. I’m ready, I guess…

IMG_7267It’s strange to see this for myself. The doors on the right are the last ones my father passed through looking as I knew him. My heart stops for a second when I recognize the facility for what it really is.

IMG_7250How bizarre it seems… That after such a marvelous, accomplished life, a body becomes merely something that must be gotten rid of somehow. And here it is. No pomp or circumstance to it, really. It’s just a super-powerful oven.

IMG_7256How mundane it looks, I think to myself – and in a way, it’s almost funny. The final end of my father in the un-glamorous back-end of a building with a wheel barrow and garden tools stashed behind. It makes me smile even. I wonder if dad too is seeing how hard it is to grasp for the earth-bound soul.

IMG_7251This is where my father’s physical matter met again with the world of its creation… And this is where I begin to cry. Please forgive me the next image; I realize for some it may be too much, but for me it’s the very reason I’ve driven so far today. I need to understand more completely what this process was. I remind myself the whole time that this happens thousands of time every day, in every single corner of the world. Most of us will never care to see it for ourselves, but some of us, whether we dare to express it aloud or not, may find ourselves unsettled until we see it with our own eyes…

IMG_7260The last place where hundreds of people’s loved ones – mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – have entered in bodily form. I look in the window in something of a trance. How can this be? I wonder over and over to myself. What an illusion we create and sustain for ourselves all life long that we shall ever be as we are now. We aren’t even as we were last year, or even yesterday for that matter. We weren’t even around one hundred years ago, and we won’t be here one hundred years hence. We know all this. So why is this idea of burning the bodies of our loved ones – and seeing the very sentence itself in print and the photo of the place in which it happens – so unthinkable? Why? If my father were here, he’d put his arms around me and tell me not to be sad, not to concern myself with the loss of his body. I know it. And I also feel very strongly that he still exists very close by, like a person on the other side of a one-way mirror, and he smiles at me and lovingly wishes I wouldn’t trouble myself so. But then again, I can’t help myself. I’m still on this side of the mirror, and no matter how hard I try to expand my consciousness on the matter, I just can’t. This feels creepy. It feels sad. But somehow, it does help.

IMG_7277I return to my car and see a tattooed dad and his family pass by the funeral home on a summer night’s stroll. Life keeps on goin.

IMG_7278Ok, for some this will undoubtedly be too far… I wanted something local to bring home from my trip, and this mom and pop store was across the street. It was here that I picked up some cheese and smoked meat; it was impossible for me to overlook the Monty Python-esque humor in it. I can promise you dad would have laughed too.

IMG_7304I’m headed home now. I pass the marble-enfused rocks of Vermont on highway 7 as I head North.

IMG_7287I’m a bit emotionally spent by now. Got lost a few times (in a region divided by vertical, North-South mountain ranges it’s not a simple thing to get from East to West) and by now had had it with winding, two lane roads and picturesque New England villages.

IMG_7294One more Vermont vista…

IMG_7301… and then New York again, at last. I love a trip, but truly, there’s no place like home.

 

 

Parting Time June 17, 2014

Well, it’s here. The day on which Elihu leaves to spend the summer with his father, the day on which I am finally free of all obligations to others. No meals to prepare, no running to the grocery store three times a week, no nudging or cajoling, no reminding or asking, no picking up after…and a whole lot less laundry. And since Elihu is now eleven, I worry about him a whole lot less. He can speak up for himself when he needs (for the most part, that is, as he’s still not completely comfortable expressing himself fully to his father), he can make better decisions for himself, and he’s a bit more laid back about minor omissions in his routine than I am. If it turns out he’s forgotten something – he won’t fret or bum out about it, he’ll just keep going. Me, I’d stew for a while, ponder the ‘what ifs’, rebuke myself for being so stupid, that sort of crap. But thankfully, along with those slender, guitar-playing fingers of his, Elihu retained this easy-going quality of his father’s as well. So he can roll with things, and that’s good, cuz it looks like lil man will be spending a lot of time living out of a suitcase in the coming weeks.

There’s a trip to West Virginia on the itinerary, as well as a drive cross county to the famed hippie jam band fest High Sierra in California. Or, as those of the jam band culture prefer to say, ‘Cali’. Sheesh. My disdain for the jam band world may have been one of the many nails in the coffin of my marriage. In hindsight, I expect my husband only pretended to share my feelings for the culture at large; he and I enjoyed poking fun at the kelping (that flailing sort of pulse-less dance the hippie kids do), the accents, the attitudes, the personal filth in which they so easily lived… He, after all, has played in jam bands for decades now, and the guys in Garaj Mahal, for as dysfuntional a bunch as they were, they were our family, present for Elihu’s first few days, present for much of our marriage. I miss having those guys – and some of those goofy, groovy extended jam tunes in my life. However, that world itself is not a place in which I feel too terribly comfortable. I personally do not enjoy the scent of patchouli and simply cannot stand The Grateful Dead. It it not for lack of trying, let me tell you. In fact, as a thoughtful and intelligent musician I have many, many times tried to enjoy the Dead for myself, and when that has failed, I’ve spent time trying to at least understand what it is about them that has so inspired millions of fans. (I find it super-ironic that the one feature Dead fans cite at their most shining attribute is that they ‘groove’; because no, they don’t. As a rhythm section they are loose and sloppy, and melodically there is a meandering, never-settled quality which physically revolts me before long. I’ve tried to get over this; made many concerted, open-hearted attempts, but it just doesn’t work.) My kid will be living in the jam band world for a portion of the summer, and I am excited for him. It aint for me, but for him – it’s perfect. Lots of support, lots of opportunities to play with musicians, total acceptance and lots of love… a complete adventure. Glad he gets this amazing experience with his dad. Happier still that I don’t have to go along for the ride.

The few days before the great parting are always a strange mix of things for Elihu. One minute we’re laughing like dearest friends, the next he’s in tears over some tiny slight – but before long, he himself will identify it as related to the upcoming change. He loves being here, and part of him dearly just wants to stay at home all summer  doing nothing special, playing with his friends and doing summertime things, but then he misses his daddy like crazy. He wants to see his baby brothers too. Sometimes I’ll find him weeping by himself in his room over the whole mix of feelings. Sometimes he clings to me like a four year old and tells me he never wants to leave. Some times he yells at me that he can’t take me any longer and needs his father now. And other times he shouts to the sky that it’s not fair he can’t have both of us at the same time. Yeah, this time is always a bit difficult to navigate, it takes sensitivity on both of our parts. Reactions and feelings that appear to be about one thing are often about something altogether different. But by now the process is familiar to us, so we get through it ok.

For me, my rough patch will be the ride back from the airport and then the first few hours in the house all alone. While I’m invigorated by the work before me this summer, it’s never as easy as I imagine it’ll be in those first few hours after Elihu’s gone. There’s just something about knowing someone’s in the house – no matter if they’re within sight or not – that just gives the place that extra certain bit of energy. Like the kind our dear Madeline brought to our place. We now call it the “Madeline sparkle”. And when I’m alone in the kitchen, no young boy just around the corner, counting out his Pokemon cards on his desk, I’ll be able to feel it. The Madeline sparkle will be gone.

That’s ok, this summer in particular. I’m faced with a lot to take care of; a body to get back into shape, a healthy way of eating to re-learn, a building to repair, a summer camp to guide into the new space, a cellar full of moldy crap to assess, a garage full of the same (swapping mold for mouse poop here), gutters to clean, weeds to pull, small carpentry repairs to make, painting and assorted other domestic projects plus the very daunting task of marrying the new chicks with the older flock – all this is before me. Me, alone. A plumber and an extra hand to do what I alone can’t, but the rest is mine to do. And I can’t forget the piano too – I need to keep playing, lest my job in the fall become like starting over again. I have a few difficult pieces that I need to start on now, so that by fall they’re in my muscle memory. I have archiving of blog posts, filing and the mundane and dreaded business of taxes and food stamps to face. In some ways it helps to see it all in print like this, but in some ways it just makes me want to polish off a bottle of wine and a tub of spicy hummus in front of an entire season of Gilmore Girls.

Elihu’s in the bath now, singing to himself happy little songs about nothing in particular. He is adding his Madeline sparkle to the place, and I can feel it taking up space, filling the air with joy. Tomorrow morning at this time he’ll be nearly a thousand miles away, and the sparkle will be gone. The house will be completely quiet. Still such mixed feelings. It’s just that little bit of transition time that’s the hardest. But my to-do list and my personal goals will keep my eyes fixed on the horizon, and there’s tremendous promise for some greatly positive results on the other side. That makes it easier to dismiss the familiar yen for food, booze and reruns.

I haven’t measured Elihu against the wall of his closet in months. We’ll do that today, before he goes. And then he’ll put on a white oxford shirt and jeans, lean against the kitchen doorway, and I’ll snap a picture of what he looks like at the end of fifth grade. He and I are both keenly aware that this is the beginning of a time of great physical change for him, and we both want to document it. We mean to take the same picture over the next few years so that we can see the change up close. I sense we two are each at the doorstep of a brand-new era in our lives, as he approaches middle school and I begin to see the birth of a new business in the Studio… I still have some trepidation about what’s in store, and I think I probably will until my project is well underway. No matter what happens, we’re both about to do a lot, and to learn a lot in the process.

Yup, there’s an awful lot of life coming up, so guess we’d better finish packing and get underway. It’s going to be a very interesting summer.

IMG_6666Me and lil man on our last morning together for a while.

 

Off Balance June 15, 2014

Since Madeline’s been gone, it’s just felt different around here. Elihu’s noticed it too. The small flock that remains is a rather dull bunch, as something about the attack on the coop the other night has the birds behaving a bit less like themselves – and ironically, perhaps in some cases, a bit more like themselves – than before.  For the most part the gals all meander about as they’ve always done, only we notice they’re not quite as brave as they used to be. They don’t take over the porch (a frustrating but endearing activity), they don’t seem to make it as far as their once-favorite flowering quince bush, and in general they stay uncharacteristically close to the house most of the day. Austin, our slightly neurotic guinea fowl, deprived the past few months of his best pal Maximus, has been acting quite nasty to his coop mates, challenging poor Baldy, pulling every last feather from his royal rear end, as well as running after the hens in fruitless circles as they cluck in distress. And since Madeline – the one rather calming element in the the group – has been gone, he has become something of a bully. Elihu and I both know we need to get him some hens, but emails to local chicken friends turn up no prospects. He’s becoming a drag on the flock, and his bursts of incredibly loud calls of  ‘chank chank chank’ (I suppose him to be expressing some inner conflict – at least he can get it out, good for him in that regard) that sometimes last for five minutes at a stretch and permeate every closed window with ease – well, this is becoming much more than an occasional nuisance.

The absence of our goose Maximus has changed things too. We hadn’t lost any hens to predators over the past two years, the time since we’d had him. But with the coming of warm weather, we’ve had a handful of losses. No coincidence. I guess a two foot tall white gander made an impression on the neighborhood fox and raccoon. With that imposing figure no longer standing guard in the door of the coop at sunset, the critters have nothing to dissuade them. And no one to slow them down, either. Poor Bald Mountain did his regal best the night we lost Madeline; he had put up something of a fight with the attacker, and was covered in new, open scratches and was limping even more than before (in the past he’s lost a spur and returned home quite beaten up after fending off potential invaders). The back half of Baldy’s comb had been bitten off, and though the wound was beginning to clot, he was covered in fresh blood when we first saw him.

We came home shortly after dark to a message on our phone machine from our neighbor. He had discovered Bald Mountain on his front door step. Putting the story together it seems that after the confusion of the attack, he’d ended up fleeing, running through the woods and across the field to our neighbor’s house, where they found him on the stairs of their front door, seeking safety. Neighbor Chad was more than a hero, and wrestled the rooster onto his lap, driving him home on his four wheeler. But by then the damage was done. Madeline had been lost in the skirmish, and Azalea, as we later came to learn, had hunkered down in the darkness for her survival. What a good boy is our Bald Mountain, what a fight he must have  given. How stunned and impressed we were at how far he’d traveled to save himself (it is quite a distance). And that he sought out a house, a light, something he clearly recognized to represent the safety of home – it all has us even more grateful for our poor old fellow. Now, if only Austin, that damned nuisance of a guinea, would let poor Baldy alone.

It occurs to me, as I look about at my tail-less rooster, my psycho guinea fowl and my frantic hens, that this is no longer a harmonious homestead.

It’s also becoming a drag to go out these days. To get dressed, to make myself presentable enough to go before people. Somehow I made it through the last few weeks of school, but these days, like a blossom bursting forth overnight from a tiny bud, I too seem to have expanded my own previous dimensions in a very short time. Regret mounts when I think back to last summer; I inhabited a body of a sexy size 10 (for me this was a huge personal victory) and yet now I find I’m surfing Ebay at 2 am searching for fat shirts with empire waists and stretch waist pants, some even size 16. Sixteen? When the fuck did this happen? I ask myself over and over as I find myself unable to button the waist on the few remaining ‘fat’ pants I find in some long-forgotten storage bins. Seriously, how did I get here? Oh, I know how. The stress of this past year really got to me – the new music I’ve needed to learn and play, the unpredictable and horrific panic attacks I’ve suffered with (yes, they are no mere annoyance, they are irrational yet real experiences of pure terror) and the relentless nature of single motherhood have called for a deep soothing, one that only entire tubs of hummus and double portions of curry chicken with a half bottle of red wine can provide. Yeah, I’ve been riding this train for a while now, and now it’s finally arriving at its destination.

The kid”ll be gone on Tuesday for a good month and a half stretch, and finally I won’t have to concern myself with the preparation of three meals plus snacks all day long. I have no new music to learn, no one to perform for. ‘Me’ time is finally here. But then there’s that catch – the one my astute child himself brings up when I talk about how much ‘progress’ I intend to make in his absence. “I know what you’ll end up doing, Mommy” he says, his voice dripping with cynicism, “You’ll say how fat you are, you’ll look at all the work you have to do at the Studio and all the stuff to do around here, you’ll feel sorry for yourself and then drive to Stewart’s and get a bag of chips and a bottle of wine. Then you’ll tell yourself it’s just for tonight. But it won’t be.” Really? Am I that bad? I wonder. Am I that obvious? Crap. With a month to myself stretching before me, I feel hope and despair rising up inside of me all at once. Ich.

I haven’t done my taxes yet this year either. Filed for an extension. But I’ll need to file for another soon. Plus I need to re-apply for food stamps, something which in of itself is very much like filing taxes. This is support we desperately need at this point; living these past three months without that help has been pretty brutal. Between having to eat and wanting things such as a bike, a bike rack to carry said bike, orthodontics and bass lessons, it’s been tough. Time’s been at a premium too, as with all the outside work my new job requires, I just haven’t had the time to sift through a year’s financial information. So this too is something I have on my growing to-do list for the time ahead. And then I remember the bag of chips, the bottle of wine… Yeah, this kind of a desk-bound project is likely to inspire a desire to consume empty calories. When you’re at this end of the spectrum, it’s kinda hard to remember what it was to live at the other end of it – it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to be the super diet-conscious, portion-conscious, yoga class-attending person that you once were long ago. But I’ll find my way back, eventually. I hope.

There is also the garage to deal with. Looks like a bomb went off inside. The detritus of a long, unforgiving winter. My office is filled with bins marked ‘to file’, ‘to archive/scan’, ‘to do, medium importance’, ‘to-do, urgent’ (now that’s kinda funny, the bin’s been sitting there for months, untended), piles of Elihu’s art need to find a home, piles of clothing I can no longer fit into sit, waiting, while mice leave tiny turds all over them and begin to pull at the threads… Water continues to seep into my basement, and a white, fluffy mold has burst through my paint job of a couple years ago, sending a funky smell (and millions of funky-smelling spores too, no doubt) into the air. Piles of hand-me-downs sit, waiting to be put away, as well as do a thousand other tiny artifacts of our life. I know that my situation is not so far from most folks, and certainly I am not the only single parent with an extra heaping of life on their plate. But still… I just shake my head in deepest wonder…. How does everyone else do it?

Elihu and I spend a fair amount of time on the streets of Saratoga, watching the people walk past. He busks, I sit on a bench, read and watch. And I wonder about each one of these people. They all look so well-tended, so healthy. They wear trendy clothes, they sit outside at the hip restaurants and spend $200 on dinner without batting an eye. How do they do it? What do they do for a living? Do they have bins of un-filed crap at home like me? Yes, they’re out strolling the boulevard, looking fine, but are they happy? What kind of thoughts do they have? What motivates them? Do they feel fulfilled? Empty? Searching? If one didn’t ask these questions, it would seem that everyone is doing just fine, doing exceptionally well, thank you. I search their eyes for answers, I lean in to overhear bits of conversations in hopes of finding answers. They give no clues away. Perhaps their basements are moldy and full of piles too. Maybe not. They just look so good on the outside, there’s no telling.

I think back on the chapters of my life in which I felt the most promise, the most fulfilled, the most in balance. And, ironically, for all the moaning I’d done last year about turning 50, I can in retrospect say that for about half that year I felt the best that I had in a long time. And the time before that in which I remember feeling really good about things was when Elihu was a toddler – I’d successfully lost 55 post-baby pounds, I had a husband, a child and a home I loved, I was singing regularly in front of a top-notch, swinging big band, and life felt wonderful. Before that, it was a time in Chicago when I was playing in tons of bands, on the move all the time, making music I loved and being nearly constantly in the company of dear friends. These were the times I felt things to be most balanced in my life, and thank goodness I have those memories – they remind me of how it felt, how it might feel once again, if all goes well. It may take a little alone time to consider the new recipe I need these days to find myself living a balanced life once again; it’s my hope that a little reflection will re-invigorate my quest and bring some answers to light.

I know it’s important that I use my time wisely and get stuff done – but I also know it’s important to find peace in doing simply nothing at all. And, somewhere in between, lies that perfect balance. Here’s hoping I can come close.

 

Pokemon Party June 13, 2014

School’s out, we’re still saddened by our recent loss of Madeline, and Elihu will be leaving home in a few days for the summer, so we needed something to lift our spirits. Given the drug-like hold this silly Pokemon culture currently has over the fifth grade boys, I thought it might be nice to give em a chance to really get it out of their system – trade and play and talk and strategize until they were sick and tired of it all and could finally give it a rest. (Yeah, right.) Plus the mother who’d banned us from her child’s life granted us a respite for this ‘special occasion’ and allowed her son to attend. I guess she felt safer in that her child would be in a group. I also think it made her feel safer because our intended activities were limited to Pokemon. So when Phoenix and Sawyer asked me if I’d fry up some bugs for them, you can imagine I was more than a little concerned that this might be construed as a ‘bad parenting choice’ by this woman. She’d already cited three violations of mine in the parenting department – this blog included – and I was on parole, as it were, so I didn’t want to blow it. But then again, heartbreaking as it has turned out to be for my son, her son will no longer be attending the Waldorf School, so this child won’t be part of our daily lives in the future; the bug thing probably won’t even matter in the end. Plus she’d made it clear to Elihu, when he asked her about it the other day, that this party would likely be the last such occasion on which the two boys would get together. (I do believe she softened just a bit this evening when she retrieved her child, but who knows. This is a person who went five months politely turning down our invitations to play dates, each time blaming very likely-sounding culprits. She only told me the real reason when finally pressed in an email from my ex. Who knows. She always acts just nice as you please, so it’s impossible to read her. This time she seemed to have gotten past our history, but again, I can’t know anything for sure. Ich.) Still, I do hope the bug thing won’t come back to haunt me. We did manage to keep this particular guest downstairs and busy with video games while three of us fried up some bugs in the kitchen, so I’m pretty sure he was none the wiser. I hope.

I hope also that all the boys felt today was a success, and that this same group of seven boys can do it again later this summer after Elihu returns. I really hope so. Elihu and I will both keep our hopes modest and our expectations low, because we both understand that life doesn’t always turn out the way you expect it should. And as natural as the friendship between him and his one pal may be, it just may not be in the cards for them. (Pun not intended, but cute anyway.)

Here is a little window into our rainy afternoon with seven boys and some two thousand Pokemon cards…IMG_6003A drawing of Charizard on the door tells em – yup, this is the joint.

IMG_6004Table’s clear and ready.

IMG_6009Elihu’s getting warmed up…

IMG_6027Phoenix, too!


IMG_6028Elihu and Sawyer get down to it right away.

IMG_6038The pretzel rods were a hit. Very cigar-like, don’t you think?

IMG_6159The paraphanalia is serious.

IMG_6191I mean really serious.

IMG_6096Thomas presents a gnome card. Perhaps very Waldorf, but not very Pokemon.

IMG_6073A little break for some jamming…

IMG_6020…after all, Pokemon or not, they’re still Waldorf kids

IMG_6032Serious gaming, but still lots of fun and laughs going on.

IMG_6025Intrigue, too.

IMG_6131Bug break!

IMG_6169Just as delicious as Phoenix remembered them to be. And this time he has an easy convert in Sawyer, who also gave fried grasshoppers a resounding thumbs up.

IMG_6156Bugs, however, were not on the menu for supper. Wish I could say this was our chicken – but ours are all so skinny and measly – plus after reaching a certain age they’re also kinda tough and stringy and really only good for a pot of soup. Here we’ve got spicy, Cajun-esque chicken on the left, oregano covered and vinegar-marinated Greek style on the right. Both super tasty, and served in pocket pitas with lettuce, cukes and hot sauce. Thankfully, the crowd was pleased.

IMG_6174Wrangling up the gang and getting them to actually sit for supper was a feat. But we did enjoy a nice little moment together. Good eaters and happy boys. Pleasant dinner company.

IMG_6113  A little post-dinner media time before moms come to take the boys away. We hardly ever use this wonderful new tv – it made me happy to see it finally being enjoyed.

IMG_6206A heartfelt hug good-bye. Not sure when, or if there’ll be another visit.

IMG_6211Bye, stay dry!

Now to the three boys remaining. The twins will be spending the night. They’ve enjoyed this extra bit of time as I’ve put this post together. But it’s waaay late, and I know damned well that just getting them to get into their pajamas and then getting them to brush their teeth and then – whew – finally getting into bed, this itself will likely take another half an hour. Lest I piss off another set of parents with my less-than-optimum parenting choices, I’d better sign off and get those kids settled down for the night. This is my first time hosting a sleep over. It feels rather like a rite of passage. But it aint over yet…

IMG_6224Ok, so I got em in bed. But now how do I get them to actually sleep? Caught em in the act here being silly goofburgers. I’m not sure I quite know how to do this sleepover thing yet. Think I’ll be asleep before them…