The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

November Pics November 22, 2014

Life’s been so full lately that I haven’t had time to archive my recent photos – plus my computer’s been in and out of the shop for weeks now, making a life sans-smart phone a tedious one indeed at times. I’ve had to visit the library a time or two to check my email. Makes me feel a bit like a vagrant, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be humbled every now and then. (Certainly helps me better appreciate the luxuries of a laptop and my favorite cozy chair.)

The changes all around us are imperceptible in the moment, but when I compare the images of this November with those from a year ago, my heart skips a beat to know how different things are now. For one, my father is gone. And now there’s a house at the end of our driveway, its windows staring straight into ours where there used to be nothing but a gentle field. We no longer have a goose guarding our home, and some favorite hens from our flock are gone. My son now plays string bass with some proficiency, and has finally experienced the freedom that tinted contacts offer. Plus, the kid is taller than last year for sure. (He’s still the shortest in his class, but hey, it’s all relative.)

Last night Elihu’s school had their fall assembly, in which each of the grades, from 1 through 12, performed. It lasted but an hour (that alone impresses me – the faculty has engineered the logistics beautifully) and it gave us all the things one expects in such a program. It had parents feeling proud, in love, in awe, and once again, in disbelief at how our children have grown so. Truly, it seems only yesterday that my dear Elihu sang in his first grade concert… And the other children, I watch them in amazement too, trying to understand this mysterious growing process that shows itself only in brief, acute moments. It’s a good thing that most of life’s big changes don’t happen all at once; myself, I like to have time in which to take things in, to figure out where things stand in the present, so I can move more mindfully into the future. But no matter how thoughtfully one approaches life, sometimes there is just no substitute for the perspective one gets in looking back.

And with that, I offer this rather lengthy pictorial retrospective on our month thus far…

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 Elihu brought his bass to the farm and played for Martha her favorite song, Simple Gifts.

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The farm’s kitchen, the epicenter of my life since I was tiny. That’s mom on the left.

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Mom helps fix Martha’s supper. This image has me pondering the plight of aging; my mother, whose own age is beginning to lessen her physical abilities, is the caretaker for Martha. Interesting the hazy lines between old and really old. Both of these women were superior take-charge gals ‘in their day’. Martha still, however, rules the roost, giving mom step-by-step instructions on how every last duty is to be carried out. Sheesh. Watching these two, dare I say, ‘control freaks’ in their late-in-life interactions is a good lesson for me: it is good to know how to delegate, but more important to let people help you on their own terms. Trust, I believe, is at the heart of the lesson. It’s hard to relinquish control, I get that. But aging kinda forces it on you. Best to be ready.

IMG_1383A quick smooch with Masie before we head out.

IMG_1465Our first dusting of snow. Beautiful, yes, but we’re not quite ready. Elihu hit his forehead and yelped ‘already?’ when he saw this. I swear he was close to crying. He’s not a cold weather kid. In fact, for some unknown reason, since he was very little he’s been telling me that he wants to live in Vietnam one day. ?? I love him more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’ll be moving along with him. Naw. I’ll be in Italy.

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Good weather for indoor tower-building.

IMG_1498The tallest one yet.

IMG_1188The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in the evening, such a cozy sight. Had a parent’s meeting, and thankfully, my son is now old enough that leaving him for an hour or so is possible. Hope when I get home he’s ready for bed…

IMG_1296When going in to say goodnight, I found a poem on Elihu’s desk. Turns out when he can’t sleep (which is every night, just like his ma), he writes poems in his head, then gets up to write them down before he sleeps. Has a bunch of them apparently. !

IMG_1327Downtown there’s a makeshift memorial on Broadway for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie. The day after he died I posted the photos and obit on the lamppost – within hours people had added balloons, flowers and candles as well as assorted trinkets, including cigarettes, banjo picks and a fireman’s hat.

IMG_1180The look of town has changed rapidly over the past decade, but local folks will recognize these three Saratoga homes, untouched by progress. Seriously, they looked the same in the late 1960s as they do in this 2014 photo. Feeling as I do about change, I relish this image.

IMG_1144We’re giving our young Buff Orpington rooster away to a new home soon, so he’s enjoying a final visit to the kitchen.

IMG_1137Goodbye, handsome fella! (The bird, that is.)

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Nice to see this Red Bellied Woodpecker again this year (a confusing name when it’s really its head that’s noticeably red). Took this from across the room as he’d spook if I got close.

IMG_1417Today we’re going to visit our old goose, Maximus at his new home across town (we’re also giving them the rooster seen above). This is a special morning, so it requires a special breakfast. I surprised Elihu with a pancake in the form of his signature cartoon character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_1436We’re at the gate – and can hardly wait!

IMG_1438I stood and watched in amazement. The flock was free to escape this bird-crazy boy, yet somehow, Maximus did not flee. In fact, he allowed Elihu to get close…IMG_1441!!!!

IMG_1448“Family” selfie. Miss this guy. It’s such a good feeling to smooch a goose. Elihu and I can smooch a chicken and eat a chicken too – the same one, in fact – but we both agree that goose is off the menu for us both now. It just feels different.

IMG_1454They go for one last run before we leave. Max is happy here; he has a pond, lots of open acres in which to roam (note the yak in the background!) and finally, Max has a girlfriend. He has a great life here, so that makes us happy too.

IMG_1459And a final smooch…. for now. See you again, Maximus!

IMG_1508Back at the Hillhouse, giving some love to the king of the roost – and our only resident rooster now – Bald Mountain.

IMG_1151Eyes wide open (indoors, with no lights on), showing me what ‘perfect hair’ looks like. Right on.

IMG_1533Okay, seeing Maximus was special. But this is in a whole new realm of special. These babies ($600 after all was said and done if you can f*ing believe it – they’re just goddam soft contacts!!) are about to change Elihu’s life…

IMG_1284An ordinary picture, right? Look again – this is Elihu, eyes wide open, outside, WITHOUT his dark red sunglasses!! This moment, humble and ordinary as it may appear, is no such thing.

IMG_1189Elihu, about to join his classmates at school for the very first time without dark glasses, is overcome with emotion. I thought I was taking a picture of a smiling child, when he began to sob. You can see the feeling beginning to dawn on him in this image…

IMG_1193He joins his friends on the foursquare court and waits for someone to notice…

IMG_1197Yes!!!

IMG_1216He’s still squinting a bit (he’ll need some supplemental dark glasses for outdoors), but finally Elihu can open his eyes outdoors. Whew!!

IMG_1224I take a quick peek into his classroom to make sure things with the contacts are still ok…

IMG_1242Elihu wants to visit the music store after school with his new contacts in…

IMG_1254We love the use of glockenspiel in some of our favorite polkas. I wouldn’t mind a set of these myself, even if I have no current use for them…

IMG_1263We love this place. I try to make sure he’s not the annoying kid… but he enjoys trying things out for a spin. It is a great opportunity to get an understanding about how different instruments – and different setups – can feel.

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Singing his heart out. He’s been looking forward to this performance for weeks. And again, no dark glasses. A new world for him. Can’t help but think back on his first grade concert… He sang his heart out then, too.

IMG_1511The sixth grade does a eurythmy performance. Eurythmy is the art of sound made visible, and is an important part of Waldorf education. (That’s my little eurythmyst on the far left. He was so psyched to finally be doing his performance in costume.)

IMG_1513And this is Elihu, ending the number and leaving the stage with a flourish.

This act is over, and now a new one begins…

 

Dragons and Crumbs September 28, 2014

Yesterday the Waldorf School held its annual Michaelmus celebration at the local state park. The day was warm and sunny, and the children all had a wonderful time. (See last year’s post for more on the story behind the seasonal celebration.) With a large-scale enactment of Saint Michael (pronounced Mike ay El) slaying a dragon put on by the twelfth grade, a morning-long quest in the woods for the children in the Lower School led by the eighth grade, hearty autumnal stew for lunch followed by a round of games in the field, the day was full and satisfying for all. In the morning, while the kids were hiking about in the surrounding forest completing their challenges, the eleventh graders helped prepare vegetables while a few members of the faculty worked in the shelter at portable stoves to cook the soup. Elihu was in such high spirits afterward, that he and three of his happy classmates talked me into an impromptu after-school gathering at our house, where in spite of the incredibly beautiful weather, they preferred to spend the better part of their time playing rounds of Pokemon. They’d had such a good day of outdoor activity, I easily acquiesced. It made my heart so happy to see them having such fun together. My son went to bed that night a very contented boy.

Earlier in the week we’d had a few small adventures; catching a beautifully colored turtle by the local pond, relocating a few of our frogs to a safer wintering spot, getting some trees to plant in front of the new construction house at the end of the driveway plus other various and sundry pleasantries that come with an unscheduled life in the country. Like finding odd-looking, misshapen eggs in the nesting boxes, or dining on squash that emerged from our compost pile, or taking a walk in the woods to discover a trash pile from well over a half century ago languishing in the leaves, filled with the bulbous forms of antique car parts and other, more mysterious unidentified objects rusting away… And still more surprises – finding a praying mantis, getting to rumble down the road in a neighbor’s borrowed truck, learning how to play a chromatic pattern on the piano complete with a left hand part and visiting with two grandmas in one day.

When Elihu was five, we stumbled upon the Rosh Hashanah celebration taking place in Saratoga’s city park, and since then we’ve made it an annual part of our own family tradition. We’re not Jewish, but we love the idea of tashlich. It’s the act of casting the crumbs from one’s pockets into living, moving water, that the sins and transgressions they represent be washed away, giving one a chance to start the new year with a fresh, clean slate. This is personal business, as those casting the crumbs are mindful of what those pieces represent, and they do so with somber introspection. (And after the casting they then read from the book of the prophet Micha about repentance. Micha? Michaeal? Hmm…) In the Jewish tradition, it is G-d who sits in judgement of these sins, and who at week’s end – Yom Kippur – will offer forgiveness as He sees fit. Elihu and I like to believe that all people are always forgiven, as we would always endeavor to forgive others (successful or not, at least it’s our goal!). Furthermore, I do not believe in a Creator that condemns or forgives; a parent loves her children no matter what they do, good, bad – or even very bad. (I realize some of you may well feel differently.)

It’s a lovely practice to cast away ones sins and recommit to living in the world with a renewed sense of love and respect. And Fall feels a perfect time for this sort of inventorying of the self. After having shed the things that no longer serve us, be they leaves or sins, we can now turn inward and give our full attention to the big changes ahead.

The slaying of dragons, the falling of leaves and the casting of crumbs tells us that fall is now fully underway.

IMG_4313The colors are here.

IMG_4259Early in the morning the teams assemble for their treks in the woods.

IMG_4284Preparations are being made…

IMG_4281Lots of soup…

IMG_4303…for lots of kids.

IMG_4290It takes a lot of help…

IMG_4326…and a little decoration, too.

IMG_3937The dragon has rehearsed its part…

IMG_4271…which is now acted out on the enormous playing field.

IMG_4337My foley station – sound effects for a rural village (cows, sheep, cowbells and birds) plus the battle and slaying of a mighty dragon (timpani and cymbals) and finally a happy recessional (tambourine with voices). Lots of fun to do this little bit.

IMG_4386Soup’s on! The tenth graders help serve the younger kids.

IMG_4347Elihu and pal Roger.

IMG_4353The teams added a colored band to their staff for each challenge they met.

IMG_4391Somehow, there was enough for everyone. No one left hungry.

IMG_4398Sweet Sadie.

IMG_4407Our friend Cally, a talented young horsewoman and singer, too.

IMG_4441Time for games!

IMG_4452The girls, adjusting their pony tails in unison as they head back to the bus.

IMG_4474Driving back to school on the Spa State Park’s iconic Avenue of the Pines.

IMG_4504And after school, a pickup game of Pokemon. Perfect!

IMG_4520Sweet little eggs from our youngest hens.

IMG_4245I love my mod duvet cover. Got it a while ago, but happily just rediscovered it. It refreshes the spirit to have something new around, doesn’t it?

IMG_4228Something else that refreshes my spirit: trees to provide a natural barrier between us and the new house at the end of our driveway.

IMG_4106And this is how we got em there… thanks to Stephanie and Zac for lending us their truck. Ah, the feel of a diesel!

IMG_4068 The praying mantis we found on the new trees.

IMG_2937This guy’s lived in our plastic pond all summer, now we need to move him to the muddy creek bank where he can hunker down for winter.

IMG_4032And the beautiful Eastern Red Belly turtle I found trying to cross the road. Apparently they’re not terribly common, so we were really lucky to have seen her up close. Look at those striking markings! And the red was so very vibrant. Her eyes had lines that ran right through them – altogether a stunning creature.

IMG_4040Saying goodbye.

In an instant, the turtle slips away into the pond.

IMG_4165We like to visit this lovely pond in Congress Park on Rosh Hashanah.

IMG_4182I don’t know why, but I like to know there’s a local Orthodox Jewish community here in Saratoga. Maybe it’s nostalgia for my old home near West Rogers Park in Chicago.

IMG_4192While some cast crumbs for their sins, some cast em more for the ducks. !

IMG_4202This one is pretty young…

IMG_4207She’ll need to migrate soon – but how can she with these tiny pin feathers? Hurry up and grow!

IMG_4220Elihu meets Esther.

IMG_4216And shares his duck with her.

IMG_4243Now we’re enjoying an evening at home with the emerging colors of fall outside our window.

IMG_4061Some lovely hydrangeas I picked from the cemetery on the hill.

IMG_4126The maple’s beginning to glow… see how the ripples in the window tint look almost like rain…

I love the shifting moods that the changing colors create. There’s a melancholic feeling in the air, and yet there’s also a bright little spark of hope for what lies on the other side. For now we’ll savor the scented air and enjoy listening to the final evening choruses of crickets before the world slows down to its long, cold sleep.

 

Sixth Starts September 4, 2014

Going from fifth grade to sixth is a thing. It’s more than just another grade level, it signifies a whole new era in a child’s life. No matter whether you call it Junior High or Middle School – we all can agree that some big changes are about to happen now. Neither small children anymore, nor yet the older, more adult-like children of high school, but playfully somewhere in between; now they’re better able to learn more challenging lessons in class, to grasp more nuanced concepts and techniques for doing things like making music or playing sports. They’re a bit bigger than they were before, and yes, they’re a bit smellier too.

And on top of that, soon they’ll be wrestling with much more: all those agonizingly embarrassing moments as mistakes are made and as jokes find their targets, the ongoing awareness of social strata, cliques and what it is to be popular (or not so popular), and, of course, the real beginnings of romantic expression. How this thing works in such a small and static group of kids, I don’t know. I’ve been told that Waldorf kids will often ‘date’ (!) up or down a grade to relieve the tension of ‘dating’ within their own small class. (Please folks, understand how very loosely I use this D word.) As a sixth grade girl, I myself remember ‘going’ with a young man, but that simply consisted of being made to feel sick in the stomach from a mixture of horror and intrigue as my girlfriends made me walk next to my ‘boyfriend’ on the way home from school.

Here at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, the middle school years are also marked by a physical separation from the younger grades; their classrooms are now on the ground floor. It’s a metaphor none can miss. And I, as a parent, find a certain, stinging nostalgia to this time; no longer do I watch the class eagerly bound up the stairs, listening to their many feet rumble on the creaking wooden staircase. Now, they slip to the back of the building and are gone… Gone to those new places, gone to meet all that new learning, all that life… Now my child is just that much less my child – and more a child of the world. But that’s ok, I know that’s what’s supposed to happen. And hey, my son even turned to kiss me – on his own – after getting out of the car this morning. So I have it good, I know. And so does he.

Everything in life is constantly moving and changing, but one doesn’t always see the change in distinct, clearly-defined ways. This year, however, there’s no doubt about it. The change is easy to spot. Yes, this is different. Because this is sixth grade.

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He’s up super-early, but still moving swiftly to get stuff done before it’s time to go. Loading a couple final Pokemon cards into his binder (which, btw, is not going to school. It was just on his mind).

IMG_2589Gettin that backpack zipped up quick.

IMG_2595Elihu appears a bit thoughtful in the backseat en route to his first day of school, but we’re listening to polkas, his very favorite kind of music. Hm. Can one be pensive and listen to polkas at the same time?

IMG_2596On the move..

IMG_2597And being greeted by Mrs. Maguire, once again, at the door. She knows every last student and has the lovliest, warmest way of making everyone feel truly special.

IMG_2599He’s on a mission; there’s no looking back now.

IMG_2604I’m not the only one watching with bittersweet emotions on this first day of school.

IMG_2602Such bright and gentle weather this morning.

IMG_2610This is the Rose Ceremony, in which the 1st graders ceremonially cross over the rainbow bridge and are welcomed to the Lower School. Here the faculty sings to them as they enter the space.

IMG_2613Here they come – the new 1st grade, led by their teacher (who will be the group’s teacher all the way through 8th grade). She was the school’s well-loved handwork teacher in years past, and it’ll take some getting used to her ‘belonging’ to one grade and not the whole school.

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A dad and a grad. Adam is a baker par excellence and West-African-schooled drummer, and Kai just spent his freshman year of college in Norway, studying violin. (Adam has two younger boys at Waldorf.)

IMG_2629Here the new 6th grade teacher (in blue, with tie on the right) expresses his wishes for his class through the coming year. Elihu’s previous teacher left her post at the end of last year, as she’d done the 1st through 8th cycle twice before and felt a shift in career focus was what she needed at this time. The transition from 5th to 6th is a good one for such changes. Btw – while we dearly loved Abigail, my son is beyond thrilled with his new teacher. And I’m happy for him to have a male presence in his life on a daily basis now.

IMG_2631The boys in blue… of course, mine’s the one with the dark glasses.

IMG_2663As with years past, we celebrate the first day of school with a visit to the Congress Park ducks. Soon they’ll take flight and migrate.

IMG_2665With a half a loaf of bread to work with, Elihu easily snatches up several ducks in our short visit.

IMG_2666He’s getting a better grip on this one.

IMG_2677And now he’s savoring having her in his arms. This never gets old.

IMG_2649I suppose this doesn’t get old either… Some boys come home to a dog, Elihu comes home to a hen.

IMG_2651Sometimes even two. Yup, things are off to a fine start this new school year.

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Shifting Time June 8, 2014

We’re two days away from the end of school. Tomorrow morning Elihu’s class will move to their new, sixth grade room, the symbolism unmistakable to us both as they move downstairs to join the middle school-aged children, leaving the younger grades upstairs. Elihu’s teacher is also leaving, and a new one (whom, btw, we are both incredibly excited about) is arriving. Lots of shifts going on in a small amount of time. Plus the seasons have changed now too; Spring feels to have formally concluded with a glorious and moving graduation ceremony for the Waldorf twelfth graders on Friday night. The days are finally clear and sunny, neighbors buzz over on four wheelers for impromptu visits, frogs can be seen each night hopping across the roads, and gone is the ever-present demand on us to fulfill academic commitments. And man, it feels friggin great.

IMG_5161Still in his pajamas at breakfast, Elihu enjoys wearing the comfy, cozy socks that he knit for himself in handwork class. I am so impressed. I can make a killer Halloween costume, but textiles, threads and such leave me confused and intimidated.

IMG_5269Elisabeth multi-tasks; talking on the office phone while ringing the school bell to start the day. It makes the most resonant and lovely sound (it does not induce stress as the mechanized ones in large schools do) and if my wishes could be so easily granted, all schools everywhere would have em.

IMG_4809The fifth grade visits Congress park to identify and draw some trees.

IMG_4815Turns out the eleventh grade is here too, studying cloud formations.

IMG_4818Elihu and a pal refer to their tree guide.

IMG_4829Elihu shows a giant seedpod and guesses it might be from a Catalpa.

IMG_4850At the end of the trip, fascination with ducks takes over.

IMG_4741Back at school in the morning light. By nine o’clock the kids here have already done a lot, and yet the other area schools aren’t quite started for the day. We start early, but we also end early. In the beginning I dreaded the new and earlier schedule, but as it turns out I really like it better.

IMG_4855Elihu gives his book report, his final large work for the year.

IMG_4946The second to last eurythmy class I’ll play with my son for a while. I don’t play for the sixth or seventh grades… Phooey. I’m getting sentimental.

IMG_4869Same room, new event. The twelfth grade will give a performance for all the other grades. Seating is tight – and creative, as every available spot, window sills included, are used.

IMG_4942Have never enjoyed playing another piano more. Smooth and rich like butter with just the perfect amount of high end.

IMG_5155And look what I found on the piano one morning this week – along with two chocolate kisses! It was so very touching – and no one is copping to it. Wish I knew who to thank…

IMG_4874A performance of a poem about a wizard and a lizard.

IMG_5240And again, another use of the room for the weekly school assembly in which all grades come together and sing.

IMG_5280At recess Cally draws horses and dragons while Fiona chats and Elihu dreams.

IMG_5210This is the other building where the high school meets. Complete with pond and ducks!

IMG_5205It’s time for the children’s final formal goodbyes to the graduating class.

IMG_5174The event takes place in the high school’s eurythmy room. On the left is the fifth grade, making their presentation gift to the seniors, seated on the right. Abigail was also their teacher – from first through eighth grade – so this is a particularly sentimental occasion.

IMG_5216Another bittersweet moment as Abigail says her final goodbye to Elihu in the fifth grade classroom as his teacher.

IMG_5027After school it’s back to the park for more duck action. See how easily he just picks up this baby.

IMG_5013Is there anything cuter than a duckling??

IMG_5038He can never get enough.

IMG_5054Of course he always shares his finds. He is ambassador to the bird world.

A sweet little snippet of the duckling’s release and the girls’ response.

IMG_5072My legally blind child spots the mama duck on her tidy nest under a tree, something I and every other person (and dog) in that park seemed to have missed. Hiding in plain sight, I guess.

IMG_4840Happy ending – we learned yesterday that her clutch hatched successfully!

IMG_5154The historic Canfield Casino, which stands in the center of Congress Park. The Waldorf graduation ceremony is held here. (The duck pond is just beyond on the right.)

IMG_5133A view from across the pond of Elihu catching ducks, and an audience stopping to watch. There’s a little-known song by Cole Porter called “Municipal Park”, the refrain of which extols the virtues of a pleasant, picturesque city park. I can never help but sing it over and over to myself when we linger here. This place really is kinda like something from a storybook. So perfect it’s almost comic.

IMG_5084The view Eastward of the Casino from the duck pond.  My father’s Festival of Baroque Music performed Bach’s B minor Mass in the great hall many summers ago.

IMG_5100This place is silly idyllic.

IMG_5124Elihu peeks into the almost completely hollow ancient willow tree. He tells me he sees something. I, of little faith, take a picture and confidently declare there is nothing inside but a few pieces of trash…


IMG_5128…but a closer look proves him right, and me wrong. I shoulda known. (Look more closely at the dark spot. It’s a duckling.)

IMG_5149Two of my favorite colors together. In fact, when I first learned that Elihu had not only low vision but was also completely colorblind, I sat in the lobby of Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, sobbing because my son would never know what it was to see magenta and spring green next to each other. Kids without hair on their heads were walking past me, wheeling their IV poles alongside them, and there I was, crying about something so ridiculously petty by comparison; something which actually turned out to be entirely irrelevant to my child’s ability to thrive in the world. Without benefit of color, my son probably notices the beauty around him more keenly than most people. It may even be part of the reason he is so observant. Life if full of paradoxes and irony.

IMG_5293Later that evening, we head back to town for the graduation ceremony. It appears Saratoga is seeing some of its summertime residents return again for the season.

IMG_5296We run into a large rabbit en route. Strange.

IMG_5306Little Cooper lost a tooth during the ceremony and shows off the new hole.

IMG_5298The class of 2014.

Richard leads everyone in a verse of the school song (which he wrote and arranged).

IMG_5319Julia and Alex play and sing a piece for their contribution.

IMG_5326Eryn sings. Of course. !!

IMG_5329And so does the whole class, most of whom have been together since first grade. Not a dry eye in the house.

IMG_5331Eryn receives her diploma from Abigail.

IMG_5333So Eryn. Yay!

IMG_5343The reception.

IMG_5344The Casino is possibly the most elegant venue I’ve ever seen.

IMG_5358Elihu and Eryn, both children of teacher Abigail.

IMG_5363Elihu hangs with the big boys – these eighth graders will be in high school next fall. Wow.

IMG_5366Ahmed surprises Elihu with this maneuver. He is a charming, spirited young man.

IMG_5370Before we joined grandma for supper, Elihu and I stopped to hear this awesome duo rocking the hell out of their portable truck bed setup. My batteries died right after, but I was able to get a couple of seconds of their sound… pretty cool, I think…

Short, but kickin, right?

IMG_5451We wrap up the night with some busking. Rule of the street is if you sit in with someone you don’t put out your jar – you do it for the joy of a jam. After some scouting around for his new spot for the year we were given a good suggestion by a magician we met who was packing up for the night. After sitting in with these folks, Elihu ended his night in the new spot and made a good take. Thanks, Aaron, kind of you to suggest it!

I can never seem to judge just when to end these short vids. Ended just as the guy was getting Elihu’s name… that can sometimes be a train wreck, so I stopped it there. As it turned out, he got the pronunciation right and thanked him for joining them.

So, how do you pronounce this crazy name? El ih hyoo. Not as intuitive a pronunciation as you’d think. Even to me it kinda looks like it might well be ‘El I hoo’.  And that dipthong – the ‘hyoo’ part – that has many folks whose first languages aren’t English rather confounded. His Pakistani grandfather still calls him ‘El ee hoo’. I kinda thought I’d simply avoid the whole thing and he’d just be an Eli in ‘real life’, but he himself told me at the age of four that Eli was not his name. His name was Elihu. And he meant it.

It seems my son knew himself pretty well for a four year old, and he still has a good sense of self for an eleven year old kid too. Good thing, because it will serve him well as he continues to navigate through the many shifts yet ahead in his full and wonderful life.

 

The Bs Are Back In Town June 1, 2014

Birds, bees, budding flowers, busking and boys give us lots to do around here. Although I make an effort to be the least-scheduled family in town, there’s still so much to do (often too much to do) that our days are always full.

Let me make it clear that we also consider just laying about the house something that’s important to ‘do’. Personally I feel it’s a very healthy thing to have time in which to do nothing at all. Today, as we lay about doing  just that, Elihu lamented that he was one of the few kids he knew who didn’t have a trophy. I made it clear to him that those trophies represented many, many hours at lessons, practice and competitions too. And lots of time in the car. I hoped to make it clear to him that the variety of activities that he enjoys in his life – and the relatively relaxed manner in which they occur, ‘laying around’ time included in that – is something he’d miss if he jammed his hours of freedom full of commitments. As it is, today we played hookie from a 4H horse event, something I’m still trying not to feel guilty about. But in that this next week is his last week of school, and in that I still have lots of new music to get in my fingers today and hours yet of playing and practicing still ahead (you’d think it would be done by now, right? me too) I know I made the right choice. The resurgence of panic attacks over this past year are another reason to cut back on extra, outside activities. Yes, Elihu’s classmates likely have more densely-packed schedules, but for the most part, I’m not made of the stuff that it takes to live like that. My son may well have a full and fast-paced summer of activities with his father ahead of him, but here at the Hillhouse, we’re about keeping things as mellow as possible, as we kick back and chill with the Bs.

IMG_3797We love bumble bees.

IMG_3796Glad to see em back in town.

IMG_3750Birds are back and in business too. Our resident Phoebe mom is patiently sitting on her new clutch.

IMG_3761Wild strawberry blossoms promise a good crop, if only we can beat those other Bs (the bunnies!) to it!

IMG_3933This is my favorite week of the year – now already gone by – the peak time for Lily of the Valley. Our bird sculpture by Vietnam vet Ace stands guard over the patch of flowers.

IMG_3730The most heavenly scent you can imagine.

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Neighbor Stephanie kindly gave us half her flock of chicks (we only had two hatch out this year).

IMG_3859Birds and babies – both in a box. (Clever, huh? That’s the kind of invention-by-necessity that comes of having three little ones.)

IMG_3880The big B. Gotta keep practicing…

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The butterflies are back, too.

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We’re at the cemetery, gleaning a few lilac suckers and lily of the valley plants to add to our homestead.

IMG_4458Elihu admires the bird on the top of this ancient gravestone.

IMG_4463Back home planting our new additions. This is in front of the flowering quince, which has now lost almost all of its blooms.

IMG_4465These are the lilacs we hope to grow here for ourselves one day. I expect it’ll be a decade before we get results like this.

IMG_4703Last week Elihu and I dug up some wild Columbine from the roadside and transplanted them here too. This is the very last bloom left.

IMG_3703Male brown-headed cowbird, acting innocent.

IMG_3702But he’s got the ladies on his mind and he erupts into his mating display. Can’t help himself, it’s that time of year.

 Here’s a short vid of the boy doing his little dance. We’re lucky to have this platform feeder and the window tinting cling – it acts as a bird blind and allows us to witness some interesting stuff up close.

IMG_3692Here he is with his gal in the morning light.

IMG_4513Phoenix comes over for an afternoon, which starts in the music room. The boys kept switching instruments. Fun to see kids with such a natural feel for music just doing their thing – and with such joy, too.

This wasn’t the best of their performances, but it’s the only one with a distinct beginning and ending. Good enough for now.

IMG_4528Farm boys, yes, Waldorf too – but electronica is still key.

IMG_4536Phoenix tried Ramen noodles for the first time (in his memory, that is.) I told him about the old folkloric belief that if you try a new food that you like, you add 100 days to your life. He was stoked.

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Bikes and birds, a natural combination, right?

IMG_4578We meet up with Phoenix’s twin brother, Jonah, and it’s now all about Pokemon.

IMG_4571Heard of poker face? This is Pokemon face. !

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After we left the boys, Elihu busked downtown Saratoga on Broadway for a while. Netted a cool $40 in less than half an hour. Too bad the kid’ll be gone for much of the tourist season. I advise him to rake it in now while he’s still cute and little. He might not be quite as successful as a gangly teenager. We’ll see.

IMG_4538Dishwasher update? Well, it’s not magic. Helpful, definitely, a life upgrade, unquestionably. But yet there are still things for which a dishwasher is not suited. Plus I have only one of some things I use often. So I guess the dish rack will be back soon too.

IMG_4635Bonding with his birds.  This is about ten days after we got the new chicks and they’ve grown like crazy.

IMG_4662Elihu’s shot. He likes em up close and super-cute.

IMG_3837This is what we two call ‘Crow Field’. It’s one of the last wide-open fields left in Greenfield. We treasure this field if for no other reason than that ‘our’ woodcock returns to it year after year – plus we love the expanse, the air and light… the vast space with no interruption. Our little homestead is on the right, just beyond the dark line of trees. At the base of the trees is an old stone wall and barbed wire fence from the days when the whole area was open land for cattle grazing. Now enormous trees have grown up, making it nearly impossible to imagine what it looked like only fifty years ago – with a view of Albany to the South, Schuylerville to the North, and Vermont in between. Did I mention that the field is for sale? Had Elihu in tears last year to learn it, and me in a funk for months, but now we count each day that it remains as a huge gift and blessing in our lives.

IMG_3740Elihu drew this at age six, shortly after this we got our first chicks. Elihu always said he wanted ‘twenty chickens, a coop and a run’. We started with a few chicks in the basement, moved em to the garage, then finally outside and into a retired wooden shipping crate. That was then, this is now. Today, we have a coop, a run and (some one hundred birds and five years later) twenty resident chickens. That’s a happy ending, huh? We do so love birds of any kind, and there’s no doubt that they add a lot of enjoyment to our lives. We’re glad to be raising up a new flock again, and glad too to see our migratory friends return for another summer here at the Hillhouse.

 

Mother’s May May 11, 2014

Mother’s Day never qualified as a ‘real’ holiday growing up in my family. My mother, whether being stoic, passive-aggressive, just plain honest or some mixture of the three always insisted that there was no need for such a day. “Every day is mother’s day” she’d say enigmatically, absolutely throwing me for a loop each time she did. But I never took her to task on it. I’m pretty sure we made her cards nonetheless. Even today I ended up making a bouquet for her and giving a small gift of a scarf – just because. We stopped in for a quick hello, because at this point in the game, how can we not? Now me, myself, I admit I don’t mind folks giving me some props and thanks for doing what I do – because I really do feel that my role is very important, and I feel that I do a pretty good job at it too. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous about it – but this is the most important job of my life, so a little respect from the world at large not such a bad idea. Nuff on that.

How about a couple of scrapbook entries to mark our day? I apologize if my photographic accounts are getting a bit too much or a bit tedious, but if it doesn’t get documented here, it doesn’t get documented anywhere. This is what my kid has to look back on someday. (Hope he feels more gratitude than regret when that time comes!) So thanks for bearing witness, and feel free to overlook this post entirely if you’ve had enough. Here’s hoping you mothers didn’t have to cook, clean or put things away today – unless you felt absolutely compelled to do so (I did).

IMG_2981These things are downright sexy, are they not? Good lookin yolks… And just think, this is how we all begin; as our mother’s eggs…

IMG_2989What’s better than yolks fresh from the farm? Bernaise sauce made from those fresh yolks! Here’s my made-to-order ‘deconstructed’ Eggs Benedict. This particular batch of Bernaise kicked ass. And it’s topped with fresh-cut chives from the garden. !!

IMG_2956Like clockwork – they first arrive here on Mother’s Day each year.

IMG_2991Next up, the chicks need to meet the great outdoors.

IMG_3005Still cute and fuzzy – but more than twice as big as they were two weeks ago.

IMG_3020Seriously guys? Ten open acres and you’re all hanging out in the porch? Sheesh.

IMG_3027The last glimpse of Saratoga Lake we’ll get ’til the leaves fall off the trees again.

IMG_3045Now we’re deep in the swampy area of my folks’ woods. Not easy getting around here. We were in search of a huge boulder Andrew and I would play on as kids – only difference is we came out here all those years ago in the wintertime when this was all one big sheet of ice. The ice made it much easier to get back here. After some searching, we didn’t find the rock, but we did find other sweet little diversions along the way…

IMG_3067Like the Marsh Marigold

IMG_3084And very few standing trees against an amazing, cloudless sky…

IMG_3093On the walk home we found what was left of a raccoon that had been at the side of the road for nearly a year.

IMG_3099Reminded us of a Dr. Seuss poem about ‘shin bone pinning’…

IMG_3102Having broken my neck once, I’m partial to this spinal remnant

IMG_3110Elihu gathers fiddleheads for our supper

IMG_3113Fuzzy wuzzy

IMG_3122This is the house where we Conants spent our summers (winter vacations too). Uncle Andrew now lives there.

IMG_3129With the shadow of the Old House to the right, Mom’s place is at the top of the driveway, and the Studio is on the left.

IMG_3132Elihu shows mom our bone treasures

IMG_3139Good old Annie, named so as she was found by my parents on their wedding anniversary, now many years ago.

IMG_3154Nothing like that salmon-pink of the flowering Quince

IMG_3160Just perfect.

IMG_3161Two kinds of ferns to avoid, and one kind to eat.

IMG_3167After some labor-intensive de-fuzzing, they’re ready to be boiled. Next they’re sauteed in butter, and served with a squeeze of lemon. If not cooked well enough they can cause some tummy problems (that’s the nicer way of saying they can be ‘slightly toxic’.)

IMG_3171Nothing toxic here, yet. (The possible threat – however miniscule – did inspire a couple of very entertaining death scenes at the dinner table.)

IMG_3176We’re done with our lovely day. After a call to the other grandma in Illinois, we settle in for a few more chapters of our favorite Springtime tradition of all – The Burgess Bird Book for Children. Good-night all!

 

May Daze May 9, 2014

Elihu asked me last night why I often say that ‘when we get past something’ we’ll be alright… He wanted to know why I’d say from time to time that we’d be ok once a certain event, a certain time or a certain holiday was over. “Like Christmas, you kept saying ‘We’ll be ok as soon as we get past Christmas.’ Why do you keep saying things like that? What exactly do you mean?” I hadn’t realized my offhand remarks had made such an impression on him. It gave me pause for sure. I wanted to learn from this, yes, but at the same time I wanted him to understand my point of view too. “It’s just that we hit these super-busy spots in the year, and I just can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with the food, the laundry, the work. And it gets harder when there’s more to do.” He understood, but warned that my comments didn’t sound as benign as I was making them out to be. Wow, I do really try to keep from getting too dark with him, but he’s a sharp kid. He gets my meaning. And again I wonder, is it just me complaining? It can’t be. I’m not that crazy-different from most folks. I like to flatter myself into thinking I might be, but I’m pretty sure I’m not experiencing anything that out of the ordinary. Or am I? After all, there is no partner to tag-team with, no one else to step in for a minute, no one else to make it happen. Ok, yeah, so there’s a lot to do. But I’m not the only single mom here in this world. I just express myself without much editing, I guess.

This past week Elihu has felt it too – it wasn’t just me feeling the overwhelm of a busy, end-of-the-school year rush. There has been a lot going on recently in a very short amount of time. And today, Elihu got it. After being patient and good for an hour long appointment at the eye doctor after school, he finally broke down in tears. “I’m SO tired” he moaned, and pushed his face into my shoulder. But he’d made it. Me too. Still have another couple weeks of recitals, performances and then the big pentathlon event for the fifth grade, but most of our landmark events were past now. And we enjoyed them all, every moment. But we’re kinda zapped now. As I write, he’s relaxing in his bedroom, organizing his collection of Pokemon cards, and I’m sitting here wondering what in hell I’ll make for supper. But this is a mere blip on the screen in view of the two huge, life-changing events that happened just today: Elihu learned how to ride a bike!!!! And what else? Get this – Elihu learned how to put contacts in his eyes!!!! We’re on the path to tinted contacts – something that will radically change his life forever. These two landmarks have us elated, proud, relieved – and ready to collapse. This is one May we will never, ever forget. We’re definitely in a daze tonight, but man, it’s a happy one.

IMG_2645Going back two days (feels like two months ago by now) to a window on my birthday morning. Guinea fowl Austin on the bridge, our beloved flock below and Ace’s sculpture “Mayfly” to the left.

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Hey, we had the garage cleaned and painted last year, why the splotches of mud??

IMG_2743A-ha! Our friends the Phoebes have returned and once again made their nest atop the garage light. Ah well, we can always wash up the mess after the babies are raised and gone. So very glad you came back! Nice to see and hear you again. Now I think this is a very sweet birthday present.

IMG_2777Here was another sweet birthday experience… I got to write and play music for the eighth grade play. Mr. Ruel introduces “Tuck Everlasting” to the Waldorf students in the charming theater space of the local Episcopal Church, Elihu is in the dark hair and shirt in the center.

IMG_2666Jessie explains the magical properties of the spring in the wood, and its awesome implications.

IMG_2687Angus Tuck tells young Winnie “I just got to make you understand” as he explains the dangers of living forever.

IMG_2704A climactic scene in which the tension rises and the play takes a turn.

IMG_2709Well done, eighth grade!

IMG_2728There’s been a delay with the carpenter… still hoping this job will be history soon.

IMG_2731What a perfect birthday present from mom! The name says it all too! Finished with washing dishes by hand soon!!

IMG_2735A quick, late-night trip to Stewart’s to grab a birthday cake for myself. Yes, I ate both of them. !

IMG_2791The next day starts with a double smooching of chickens.

IMG_2806Dinah and Thumbs Up share Elihu’s lap and really seem to like it there.

IMG_2819Now it’s time to go to the gig. Elihu regularly donates the proceeds from his Eggs of Hope sales to Drilling for Hope, a non profit run by local woman Karen Flewelling. She asked Elihu if he’d play drums for the opening night of “Faces of Rwanda”, a collection of gorgeous black and white pictures taken of Karen’s last trip by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson. Twins (and classmates) Jonah and Phoenix join him here.

IMG_2850This is a photograph from her recent trip to Rwanda of villagers drilling a new well.

IMG_2827Pics of donors and the Rwandan children that they’re helping to send to school.

IMG_2826We looked and we looked and yay! We finally found our friend from so far away! Hopefully we will be sponsoring this very student in the years to come. Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been able to help someone else here on the planet. We, of so very limited resources are absolutely rich in the world-wide scheme of things. This helps to keep things in perspective for sure.

IMG_2838Classmate Ben helps Elihu find his picture on the big wall at the exhibit.

IMG_2845Karen says hi to Elihu; he just made another gift to Drilling for Hope to help Karen do her wonderful work in the world.

IMG_2902The view from my post most of the day: high school eurtythmy class. They’re in costumes now, getting ready for the big performance at Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College next week.

IMG_2853After my high school classes are done for the morning, I rush over to the Lower School to see how Elihu fared. And just as I got out of my car and pulled out my camera – who should come riding up on his bike (a thing he could not have done only a couple of hours earlier) but my amazing boy!!! Talk about a surprise!!!

IMG_2854And just as effortlessly as he rode to me, he then promptly rode away. Sigh.


IMG_2862The sanctuary of an empty, fifth grade classroom, pre-lunch.

IMG_2873And the same room moments later. All are in a good mood.

IMG_2895After lunch I get to hang out with the kids for a bit as I’m on yard duty. Our equestrian friend Cally (who’s also an incredibly talented singer) smooches a home made horse doll and lil first grade buddy Tylor admires a beeswax figure Elihu’s working on.

IMG_2907Now we’re visiting a new eye doc in hopes she can be a little more proactive in getting Elihu red tinted contacts. It’ll be new territory for her. She was very kind and positive. We’re hopeful…

IMG_2925These have a crazy, futuristic Harry Potter-esque vibe – maybe even a little Brazil-esque feeling to them too (yeeks). Elihu’s trying out some mild prism glasses here to help him find the null point in his nystagmus (shaking of pupils).

IMG_2918The doc’s assessing Elihu’s ability to read – hard to know if his vision challenge is a product of light sensitivity, acuity or both.

IMG_2934Assistant Jen shows Elihu how to put contacts in his eyes.

IMG_2930Here he is – with contacts in! They’re not tinted, they’re just to give him an idea of how it all works.

IMG_2947One more spin around the park. (The bike was a gift from the local program “Bikeatoga”; thanks guys, we so appreciate it!) I told Elihu ages ago that riding a bike was the closest thing to flying that he’d ever know. Today he laughed and said I was right.

May we remember the feeling of this special day in May for years to come.