Sorrow of June

Although there is much good news to report on our current life here, today I can’t summon the focus to organize it all, to sort through photos and keep straight the chronology of events. My thoughts keep returning to the significance of this day in our personal history. It’s a cloudy, cool day here in Greenfield, and for that I’m glad. My soul isn’t up to sunshine right now. Today, I am remembering, and it feels as if the overcast skies are empathizing with me.

This is the week of my former parents-in-law’s wedding. Something like 55 years by now. Nothing sad there, but it reminds me that the other anniversary is coming soon… Today is the birthday of my ex-husband’s third child – his second son – born while we were still married; the child who changed our lives forever. And one year ago, on a rainy June night, Martha Carver died. That last one feels surreal to see in print, but I know that one day, like all the other once-surreal events of my life, it will be just another landmark in my life. It won’t hurt as much as it does now. Martha’s time had come, and she lived a full life. My sorrow over her death is the usual sort. And I suppose this day doesn’t hurt as much today as it did eight years ago on that afternoon when Elihu’s half-brother was born, but it still causes a little dark spot in my gut. Sorrow may diminish, but once there, it never fully goes away. At least that’s how it feels to me. I’m always amazed at the sorrow we human beings can live with. I realize it’s part and parcel of being here on this earth, but I’m still not a fan. I also realize that without sorrow and loss we might not fully appreciate what it is to have the people and things we love around us. I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining; I don’t have it bad by any means, but still… Sorrow slows me down in my thinking and in my actions too, it bears heavy on my heart and makes me linger at the view of the hills outside my window, wondering and wondering…

Everything is as it should be. I have no regrets. The life that Elihu and I have created here in Greenfield is all that we could want. It may not have arrived in a way I would ever have expected, but somehow the crappy situation that brought us here gave birth to opportunities we never, ever would have had otherwise. Knowing this is what keeps me moving forward, even when sorrow continues to follow close behind. Our finances are still a stressful thing, dysfunction continues to thrive in my family, and the future is – even with all the potential for great things ahead – still uncertain. But even so, somehow, I’m able to put it all aside and help us to live our lives to the fullest. We have so much to look forward to, and Elihu and I are pretty good at enjoying the ride along the way, from quiet moments at home to jam-packed schedules and plates piled high with commitments. Silliness mitigates the sorrow, and hope for happier things to come helps to get us out of bed in the morning.


Click here for the story of how we came to live in Greenfield: Birth and Baptism

Click here for the story of Martha Ward Carver’s death: Remembering Martha

And finally, click here to see what’s been going on at The Studio – this is happier news to be sure.

Highs, Lows and Loss

We’ve had a lot of fun mini adventures here lately. However, tempering the moments of fun and light come the inevitable moments of drudgery, the tasks fundamental to the maintenance of physical life here on this planet. There are very few idle moments around here, and while generally I’m thankful for the brisk pace and new experiences that we’re fortunate to enjoy, it’s the other crap that often puts me in a crabby mood. Taxes must be filed, applications for summer programs must be filled out, applications for tuition assistance, for heating assistance, for food stamps, for teaching proposals, for class descriptions, email addresses must be entered into the database, old ones culled, websites must be maintained, chickens, frogs and fish must be fed and cleaned up after. And a twelve-year-old boy always seems to be hungry. And don’t get me started about dust bunnies or laundry or leaf-filled gutters. Yeah, there is never an end to it all. And yeah, I’m grateful for all we have, but still…

It was my Uncle Paul’s birthday on March 31st, and in that my mother doesn’t keep up with her only sibling and family, I thought it might be a good idea to check in. My Uncle Paul had a stroke a few years back, and so his speech is slow – combine that with Aunt Sandy’s proclivity for endless small-talk and chatter, and poor Paul is relegated to a virtually speech-free existence. Thankfully, it being his birthday, Sandy passed the phone over to him and I had a brief exchange with my only living uncle. I heard him speak long enough to understand a certain gentle humor, as well as a fatigued sense of surrender. This was understandable, as I’d learned (this is a good example of how little my family members communicate with each other) that his daughter, my cousin Janice, had finally lost her battle with colon cancer last summer.

Summer before last I’d insisted that mom, Elihu and I visit the Jackson family, and now I was especially glad that we did. In spite of having virtually nothing in common with my newly re-met cousin, I’d liked her. She’d battled cancer for six years, ever-smiling, ever sweet of demeanor. I’d admired her for that alone. She’d even demonstrated her kindness to me in a thoughtful, hand-written letter at Christmastime. To learn she’d died was, although distantly sad, no deep heartbreak for me. Instead I felt relief for her – because she’d been through the wringer over the past few years, with six-hour commutes once a week for chemo treatments to the daily indignity of living with a permanent colostomy bag. But more than all of this, her death left me wondering once again at the deep level of chronic heartbreak with which so many of my fellow humans must live out their time here on earth. It should just not be that a man should lose his physical faculties, live until old age, and then witness the slow death of his only daughter. Fuck that. No matter whether one believes in destiny, the wisdom of God’s choices or the necessity of working out karmic debt, seriously, how in hell does one make sense of this?

Recently, a local man went out for his nightly walk, suffered a fall, and subsequently died, alone, on the trail in the woods behind his house. His wife had gone to bed just as he had gone out for this routine stroll, and he had likely laid there on the ground, in the cold of night, long before he finally succumbed to his fate. A former president of local Skidmore College, mom told me that he once played harpsichord as part of an event at dad’s Baroque Festival in which five harpsichordists all performed… This morning, as I awoke fresh to a new day of possibility, my greatest challenges being tidying my home and feeding a growing boy, I remembered the news of this man’s death, and thought immediately of his wife. How must she be feeling on this very morning? She had laid sleeping in her bed as her husband, mere yards away, laid on the cold ground, dying. Man. It’s stuff like this that tempers my frustration with the toil of the everyday and helps to quiet my bitchy outbursts as I get back to this precious business of everyday life.

The other morning, on the way to school and in the absence of the usual polka soundtrack, Elihu began some intense existential rumination. He’d recently noted that every physical thing – outside the natural world, that is – had first existed in a person’s mind before it came to take form in physical reality. While I’d offered this concept to him in the past, apparently the corresponding light bulb moment had only just arrived. “So literally, we are living in other people’s minds. We live in the creations of other people’s thoughts!” He laughed, he shook his head in amazement. He had a half-dozen other threads of thought beginning to germinate too and he struggled to identify them. He’d begun to express his new ideas just recently on the long drive to Schenectady for a flying meet, and clearly in the five minutes of commute that remained there was little time to make headway with any of them. “Yeah, it’s true.” I summed up. “Every structure you see out the window existed first in someone’s imagination.” I paused for a moment, wondering how to bring the conversation to a tidy close. “It does take a while to get things physically manifested here on this physical plane, but in time, and with tenacity,” I said, as much to remind myself as to inspire my child, “just about anything can be realized.” He sat there, quiet, looking out of the window. He was clearly deep in thought, because he didn’t ask for me to turn on any polka music before we arrived at school.

The past few weeks have been a tangled flurry of life, death, simple pleasures and challenging tasks. So far, real heartbreak and tragedy are not ours personally, and for this we’re both appreciative. Elihu has recently met a gentleman that we readily refer to as his new flying mentor, and in the short time we’ve known him he’s already opened up a whole new world to us. So this particular adventure has begun, if you’ll pardon the pun, to take flight. ! From the lowest notes on Elihu’s C tuba to the ceiling of the Schenectady Armory, we’ve had some truly exhilarating experiences lately. And since one never knows when the whole affair may come crashing to a close, we’re savoring the whole shebang –  we’re flying along on the current of our life, learning from the highs, the lows and all that stuff that fits somewhere in between.

IMG_4985Our weeks end on Sunday, which is tuba lesson day. Can you imagine that Elihu’s tuba teacher not only lives in our town, but he has chickens? (And goats and horses, and he built his own house, and he has six children – including a set of quadruplets – and he’s one of the best low brass players and teachers in the region. And he’s a super nice guy. Say what??)

IMG_4993Imagine a tuba lesson that starts like this. !!

IMG_4997Yup, Elihu is a lucky, happy boy.

IMG_5018Finally Elihu’s reading has gotten to the point where it’s not the focus of the lesson – but technique and sound are.

IMG_5078We went to the high school’s performance of Bye Bye Birdie, where, as our usual serendipitous good luck would have it, we enjoyed front row seats, in spite of our having arrived late. ! Elihu’s tuba teacher’s eldest daughter played trombone in the pit orchestra, as did an old friend. The fellow conducting and playing keyboards is the music teacher here; I use his classroom to teach my adult ed class entitled “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher”. Oh – and one of my piano students did the lighting. An extremely impressive production, as always. Truly, more than top-notch all the way around.

IMG_5028Later on we Skyped with some dear friends in France. Regular readers may remember young Lilas and her mother, Mary. Mary’s the daughter of old family friends from Greenfield – Mary’s mother was an actor and performed at my father’s Baroque Fest ages ago – so it’s nice to keep this connection. Mary also teaches at the Waldorf School there – so we’ve got that in common too.

IMG_5177I have new friends who’ve moved here from Sicily – and they kindly gave us this Easter treat. There’s a boiled egg baked inside! Apparently this is traditional in many European cultures, but for us it was a first.

IMG_5544It seems the Easter Bunny is still visiting the Hillhouse…

IMG_5549Which made one big kid very happy.

IMG_5560Since Elihu sees no color whatsoever, eggs need high-contrast decorations to stand out. Why the blue? you ask. To add some depth, I suppose. Also cuz I thought it was pretty.

IMG_5673A tradition for many years now (and which we skipped last year as he was with his father), we visited what we call “the lightning tree”. Every year Elihu adds a bit to the primitive stone structure at the base of the charred-out tree. I was happy to see the ‘mom and son’ cairns from three years ago had survived the wind and weather. We passed two hours there as if it were ten minutes. So much fun.

IMG_5681A closer look at the rocks… A winding hillside road is off to the left, the woods directly ahead and to the South, our house a bit off to Southwest, and the big field is just out of the frame to the right.

IMG_5692This tree hangs precipitously over the edge of a good fifteen foot drop to the road; you can see the pavement through the roots where the tree has been burned away.

IMG_5734During our fort-making we found several surprises…

IMG_5742Remainders of a time when this was all cow pasture and farm. We also found a garden rake and remnants of a small shack.

IMG_5800Heading home. There’s a break in the stone wall (which divides our property from the field) where the birch tree leans out. Just out of frame (sigh) and to the right is the new construction house, the sight of which still depresses us both.

IMG_5825Elihu regaled mom and me with some pretty funny new jokes during Easter supper.

IMG_5987While out and about I saw this license plate. !!

IMG_5429Got myself my biannual hair cut. Old friends have chided me for maintaining something of an ’80s’ hairstyle, but I argue that it’s best to work with what one has. Me, I’ve got curl. This is my perennial, scrunch-n-go favorite. Think what you will. It works.

IMG_5536Ah, the endless battle against the hardest water known to man. This stain was created in less than two weeks’ time. Yup. Many times it’s been posited that we should bottle the stuff and sell it. Saratoga Water – meh! How about some Greenfield Gold?

IMG_5514My favorite visitor to the platform feeder, our beloved guinea fowl, Austin. He is a real goofburger.

IMG_5205Elihu has a loaner C concert tuba at home (Ed, we can never, ever thank you enough!) and what we affectionately call a “B flat beater” tuba, which we own, and which is kept at school in order to prolong mom’s back health. !! My kid must play in two different tunings – me, I’m immensely impressed by that. Btw – musician joke digest: Guy hears the breaking of glass… Runs to his car…. Finds TWO tubas in the back seat…

IMG_5301We’re at the Schenectady Armory – the huge and gorgeous room where local model aircraft enthusiasts meet weekly to enjoy windless, indoor flying.

IMG_5233And this is Jesse. It’s safe to say that this man has forever changed Elihu’s life.

IMG_5225Jesse’s old school; he’s got a rubber band winder with a 1:15 ratio. That loads a lot of power onto the band. His crafts in flight are something rare to witness; as one circled gently around the room high over our heads on a nearly one minute-long flight, there was simply not a work spoken by anyone present. It is a thing of such magic and beauty that no comment can accurately express the delight one feels to watch as it soars…

IMG_5360Jesse even let Elihu fly some of his RC planes. A gentleman and a wonderful teacher, the trust he put in Elihu was a real gift. It enabled my son to finally get the feel of flying a plane.

IMG_5356Hanging with the new posse. Click here to watch Elihu’s first walkalong glider experience, and click here to watch mom give it a try the following week.

IMG_5376Ok, this almost made my head explode. Elihu loves, loves, loves the German language, and of all things – there’s a German restaurant on the way home… So we stop in for a bite of bratwurst…

IMG_5378…and wait, you’re kidding me, right? There’s a friggin tuba player arriving just at the same time as us!!

IMG_5379 This is what lil man has to look forward to… (Let me tell you – a soft case is a walk in the park compared to the hard case I move every Sunday!)

IMG_5399OMG – the charts are even in German. !!

IMG_5406An afternoon of flying followed by live polka music with a tuba player in a German restaurant?!?! WHAT? (Oh – and we learned later that Elihu and Jeremy the tuba player both study with Mike Meidenbauer!)

IMG_5996Recently The Studio was host to an event. A success I suppose, in spite of the fact that the host’s car got stuck in the mud and she needed a tow truck to get her out and now I gotta figure out how to fix the lawn. Sigh. Two steps forward, one step back… Overhead’s still killing me at the moment, but all in due time, I suppose…

IMG_5999Elihu donned his Grandpa Robert’s madras bow tie for his school Spring Assembly for the Waldorf School.

IMG_6038How I wish I had a better picture, but from way in the back this was the best I could do. Elihu and pal Drake performed a tongue-twister sketch which they wrote, the last line of which was “Fancy froggy fanciers feed my farmed, frivolous, furry, frightened, fluttering, flightless fruit flies to phyllobates frogs from Florida forests.” !

IMG_6125A bow-tied man is a man of good character, no matter the age. (The fellow on the left even plays tuba. !) A fine performance, and a fine conclusion to a fun and full couple of weeks.

Retro Post: October’s Bright Blue Weather

This was originally posted on October 12th, 2012.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

October’s Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.


Each year there is one crisp, blue and yellow day that expands almost til it bursts; the day on which I instantly recall this poem. I first learned about it from a friend, Les Brownlee, who, when in his eighties and nearing the end of his incredibly full life as a pioneering black journalist in Chicago (he coined the phrase “eyewitness news”), robustly recited aloud the first lines of the poem on just such an October day many years ago. I knew instantly that I would make it part of the landscape of my years, a personal tradition to keep for my own. While I would never commit the poem to memory in it’s entirety as Les and those of his generation did so often and so well, I would work to learn the first few lines and to have them on the ready as a surprise autumnal gift to give at just the perfect moment.

Surrounded by the red and white of Les’ beloved alma mater UW Madison (and the occasional fighting badger adorning a wall clock or hand towel) my husband and I would join a generous-sized gathering at his home on many Sundays throughout our life in Evanston, Illinois. He and his wife Priscilla were the family and hearth we were missing in our contemporary, parent-less lives. That era has long since come to a close, but how lucky I am to take with me those memories of friendship and inclusion – as well as a few choice poems and stories.

One or two days a year, when the weather turns just so, I think of you, dear Les, and I send you my gratitude for helping to write a lovely stanza in my own life’s poem.

Post Script, October 2015: The mild days of fall are fast disappearing now, so too are the leaves. Fall is stunning for one or two brief weeks, but by month’s end, there’s not a leaf left. It’s hard to imagine how the landscape will transform in the coming days. We’re savoring it all here at The Hillhouse, as we’re not quite ready for all the dull, gray branches and cold air ahead.

Here are some pics from our colorful life this past week…













The view here is bright and blue.

Like A Rhinestone; Retro Post

Like A Rhinestone – originally posted on 10/25/11

I’ve had a long-term ear worm the past month. Through the ether this little gem reached me, inspired by what I cannot tell. That I even know the song is somewhat of a mystery; I was after all I was just about eleven or so when it came out. While I do have memories of sitting in the back seat of our Plymouth station wagon, hanging my chin over the front bench seat and begging my mother to please turn on the radio, I don’t think I encountered the song there. At school, perhaps? On the playground? Did my hip-looking fourth grade teacher play it for us in our progressive, 70s classroom? These were the days when music was an elusive treasure; a pre-walkman, pre-ipod culture, so the sources were few. Ah, perhaps I heard it first on my yellow, doughnut-shaped AM wrist radio… yes, that might be it. Imagine this simple little melody, absolutely fixed in my brain after all these years. Well, Glen, kudos to you; you chose to record one sticky little tune.

In an effort to exorcise the nugget from my head I awake early and pull out my tether to the world – my now rather ancient, yet essential G4 I Book – and I cast my line out into the ocean of information. What will I find? My friend Joan told me recently that he doesn’t look so good these days. I’m emotionally prepared. How old must he be? My mom’s age? Hmm… Then there it is. A page of head shots past and present. First, my eyes are drawn to the Glen Campbell I remember, the helmet of perfectly feathered hair, the cleft chin – the classic 70s handsome good guy look shared by the likes of Mac Davis and Bobby Sherman. This wasn’t the type I had gone for back then. I preferred the curling, long black hair of Donovan and Marc Bolan (so much so that decades later I crafted my own look to resemble Marc’s as closely as possible). Then there are the full body shots. The iconic belt buckle, long thin legs, cowboy boots, thumbs hooked onto belt loops with one hip cocked to the side. One groovy, sexy silhouette. I continue my quest. Just what is he up to these days? Soon I begin to collect a tidy list of tidbits on the man. I realize that I know very little of the guy.

My first impression upon seeing the first photo that comes up on his website is that he looks a little Sting-like, only with a wider nose. In the next shot he evokes a little Willy Nelson. All in all, not bad for a fellow who’s been around so long. I learn he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has recorded his latest record “Ghost on the Canvas” and plans to do a farewell tour. Sort of. He doesn’t commit to this, but for the time being it appears this is the plan. I look elsewhere and learn that he played rhythm guitar as a sideman on Frank Sinatra’s recording of “Strangers In The Night”. Apparently, he was starstruck and admitted to the producer that it was the reason he kept staring at the maestro. Irked at young Glen’s stares (also perhaps at the session itself as later Frank called the single ‘a piece of shit’) the crooner asked his producer ‘who is that fag guitar player?’ and told him he’d slap Glen if he did it again. Love it. I move on…

I am taken on a brief detour as I chase a link to Anne Murray – and discover that she is probably aging the very best of her generation. She looks gorgeous. After a quick foray into her history and current life I wander back to my man. I visit You Tube and find his song covered by school-age kids in Thailand, in a David Hasselhoff concert in Germany, by a homeless guy in the States and a marching flute band in Ireland. Nuff said. This is an earworm shared by a worldwide family. Lest I make the mistake that I disdain in so many and assume that he himself wrote it, I wonder: who really did write this song? I admit that I was quick to assume that Glen himself did, yet a quick check shows that is not the case. I must remember that the time in which this song was recorded was one in which performers themselves were not necessarily songwriters. This era was on the cusp of change; until that time singers had recorded and performed material created by folks whose sole job was that of songwriter. Even more specifically music and lyrics were two separate occupations. Although the music world was certainly changing by that time, the old architecture still existed; songwriters wrote, managers assisted the artists in choosing material and anonymous session musicians played on the tracks.

Larry Weiss of Newark, New Jersey wrote it. And poor guy, while he’s had a long and varied career since then, he has ultimately hung his hat on that one little song, and is even still actively wresting the life out of it in his current work on the theme for Broadway. Sheesh. But then again, if ‘Mama Mia’, why not ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’? Give the people what they want – redo your kitchen and buy a new car while the iron’s still hot. Why not? I would. I still love my old band The Aluminum Group’s ‘Chocolates’ and never minded playing it at every single show. I admit I was never sorely tested on that front; I really do wonder how folks are able to play their hits night after night after night and still bring it the life their audience deserves. Could I? Don’t know. That Larry and Glen continue to have an interested audience, and that they and thousands more can still make an income off that one two-minute song impresses me.

My tappy-tap tap sounds from the keyboard awaken my son. I greet him with the first line of the song. He finishes it. I guess I’ve been singing it around the house this past week more than I’d thought. He likes the song too. I’m surprised to learn he knows just about all of it. Elihu has a nice singing voice, I get a kick out of hearing him. It gives me an idea. I suggest he might want to sing it at this year’s Talent Show. He laughs and says he’d love to. I can play the piano for him… yes, and he can wear a big belt buckle… I’m getting excited now. Maybe this will be what clears my head of the hit. Hair of the dog, right?

We finish our breakfast and head to the school bus singing. The bus arrives, and my little cowboy rides off to his star-spangled rodeo.


Fall’s First


How does the burning bush know that today’s the first day of fall? I mean really, how does it know? Somehow, it seems to. Yesterday there was only a vague, pinkish cast to some of the leaves, but today they have burst into a rich magenta, the berries into a vibrant orange. And the maples too, just how did they know? The ones on our driveway were pure green just day before last; today they have begun to turn yellow. The grand sugar maple (which my mother claims each year with great authority to be ‘the most beautiful tree in all of Saratoga County’) has also turned on a dime, showing patches of orange and red where this past weekend the whole mass was nothing but green. It happened so quickly. I guess I just never noticed how quickly before. I know it’s probably not so, but it feels accelerated to me this year. Feels like it’s picked up the pace. Not like in years before. Is it me? Am I only just getting it now? Wow. Makes me think. Makes me wonder about other things….


I begin to think of my son’s growing up. Tonight I found myself looking with growing nostalgia at some videos we’d made in our first few years here, and I cannot bring myself to understand what’s going on. I’m pretty sure time’s moving at the same rate of speed as it ever has, but all of a sudden, it feels a lot faster. Summer is leaving us just as fast as my son is leaving his childhood. He’s perfectly fine without me now. He comes home from school on his own. He takes care of his responsibilities, he does his work as I do mine. It relieves me of a great workload to be sure, but with the freedom comes a sharp, sentimental sting. He eases me into it, still saying “I love you” for no reason at all, he still hugs me from out of the blue, and we still enjoy lying on the couch together in the afternoons, chatting about our day. Everything’s fine, I know. The leaves must turn, my son must grow up. But must they do all of this so quickly?

This morning my son embarked on his first ever bonafide camping trip. We two have not turned out to be the types for whom camping and summer go hand-in-hand. Although I’d not planned on his growing up this way – I myself had logged a fair number of hours in a tent by the time I was eleven – it’s just the way things worked out. It’s not that we haven’t been outdoorsy folks – ours has just been a different sort of outdoorsy. The kind that stays out all day long – but that relishes the comfort of a big, toasty bed at the end of it all. Camping, in, well, a tent, especially in the chill of autumn’s first night – that would be a new experience for me too. And here the kid is, getting it all in at once. As I sit here writing, I try to pretend I’m not wondering what he’s doing at this very moment. There are plenty of things to think about – Lord knows I’ve been up since 4 am just thinking about all of em – but now, all I can think of is Elihu.

It’s dark out now. Are they telling ghost stories? Singing songs round the campfire? Did he finally get to paddle in a canoe this afternoon? I hope so. Did I pack him warm enough clothes? Enough layers? It was a challenge collecting all of the gear he needed – and I hope he’s got everything he needs to be comfortable. How will he sleep in this cold? There is not one thing I can do for him now. He’s old enough and smart enough to figure out whatever he needs to. I know he’s been apart from me for great stretches of time, he’s slept in all manner of places, in all manner of situations. Being the son of a traveling musician, he’s logged a lot of life experience. But somehow, this is different. It’s a first for him in many ways.

We’ve turned a heavenly corner as the nights grow longer, the cold deeper. The leaves are changing colors as they have for ages, and children are growing up as they have for thousands upon thousands of years. But for me and my child – this growing up thing is still a first.

The Big Red Rooster Is Gone



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Fall Photo Catch-Up

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

yo bro

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

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

in the pileLife on the inside

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

Footbridge in FallThe burning bush by the footbridge

beautiful birchAnd our beloved Beech

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

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

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

thru the porchthe view from the porch

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

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

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

Old Naila tiny sign of humanity once here

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

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

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

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

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

In Flight MamaJumpin Mama

Wing Spanthe dead female Yellow Rumped Warbler, such lovely wings

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

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

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

end of day mama

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

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

Sick Chick

Thumbs Up

Phooey. Thumbs Up is sick. I’ve been through this before – in fact, it was just about a year ago this time that we lost the matriarch of our flock, Molly. I know, I know… they’re just silly chickens. But of the whole forty-some odd hens we have, Thumbs Up has the most, well, distinct personality. And besides, she’s one of the few remaining (maybe the only remaining, it kinda looks it) genetic descendants of Buddha, another peer of Molly’s. Thumbs Up and Madeline are the ‘old-timers’. The ones we’d like to breed this spring to keep that line going. I realize I’m being ridiculously sentimental here. Really, it does not matter. Genetics is only one of many components to a family – or a flock, I should say. It’s not even necessary. It’s such a silly human characteristic to become overly romantic about blood lines. I guess if you’re breeding a racehorse it might be pretty significant, but come on. Why the hell am I so emotionally tied up in this? For some reason I just want to keep a lineage of chickens from our very first flock. Yes, it’s purely sentimental. But here in the real world, it really isn’t such a practical goal.

When I saw her crouched in the nesting box, her wings hanging down in a very odd manner, I knew. Then when I saw her nictitating eyelid closed as if she were sleeping although it was still afternoon (the eyelid that closes bottom to top), I knew it. Crap. Immediately I told myself she was just about as good as dead. I wasn’t so sad, really. She had a good life, I smooched her plenty, and so she was done. For a minute I thought I’d just leave her there and hope for an overnight improvement. Well. Maybe not quite a minute. No, I couldn’t let her go. I promptly got a towel, wrapped her up and brought her inside. I parked her by the heater near the piano. Oh dear. She didn’t look good at all. Her crop was bulging out and was way too firm, her tail was held at a weird angle. Crap. I hate this. And just because I’d moved her inside didn’t make her chances for living that much better. She was sick.  I just sat there and looked at her for a good long while, trying to muster my courage to take some sort of action. Finally, I gave myself a talking to…Stop whining about how much of a bummer this is, Elizabeth, and DO something!… Now!

Thankfully, I still had the veterinary supplies in the fridge from last year. And it came back to me as I looked over the stash… yeah, yeah… I remember. Ok. Found the syringes and got myself organized. Called my assistant in, then wrapped up the patient and pried open her beak. All meds were successfully administered. We sat back and watched. And, unlike her sister Molly last year, Thumbs Up began to drink. Hurray! She drank, and drank…. I’d given her some olive oil so felt good about the prospects for getting things moving through her system. Gotta keep things moving… we all know the hospital won’t release you until you… well, you know.

Last time I peeked in on her she looked better. True, last year we got Molly better too… twice. Then she finally died. Ich. I’m ready for that to happen too, but I just gotta hope this time we can beat it. We’ll keep her inside a bit longer just to make sure. I’ll run her antibiotics a good ten days for good measure. Why not? The other option is, essentially, to give up. And here at the Hillhouse, ‘giving up’ is not usually the option we choose. Certainly not now!

I’m giving two thumbs up for a healthy hen!

Post Post 3/2/13: I gave up on keeping her inside after four days as she was much improved. I do realize that this might be a mistake and so am keeping my eye on her. She was so healthy that having her confined (and keeping up with the poops) was becoming a challenge. She was proudly roosted on the highest bar last night and I have every confidence that she’s going to do fine. I’ll continue to medicate for a few more days as well…

Another Post-Post: May 11th, 2013, and Thumbs Up is going strong. She is easily the most animated, gregarious hen in our entire flock. And really, back when I made this post, I was prepared for her death. But she’s got spunk. Look for pics of her in future posts!

And yet another post-post: June 24th, 2013… Thumbs Up is the single spunkiest hen of the whole flock. She and Madeline continue to outshine the others with their Houdinilike ability to thwart any efforts at containing them inside the run. Thumbs Up will snatch a sandwich out of your hand if you’re not paying attention – then eat the whole thing and come back for more. If you open the car door she’s in and ready for a ride. She likes to linger near people and is easily picked up and smooched. We lost our matriarch Molly after round two of an illness similar to what TU had in this post, but in some way, Thumbs Up’s triumphant comeback and vivacious character almost redeem the death of that first gal. Talk about happy endings!

Retro Post: How I Spent My Summer (2011)

In filing a mass of papers from our life over the past year or more, I’m finding things that I’d like to share. For no particular reasons, and also for many tiny ones. So here’s Elihu’s first mandatory assignment of third grade; the classic summary of his summer vacation, an assignment for which he was given just four rather small boxes in which to recount his adventures. Hardly seems enough, but he gets his points across. I don’t keep any formal memory books, but I’ll archive these pages somewhere safe for us to revisit when Elihu’s kids are themselves writing little pieces kinda like this.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Elihu Haque (w/drawing of long-necked bird leaning in to inspect the title)

Flying RC planes. This plane has a four foot wingspan and flew above the clouds. My friends came to see.

Went to Chicago. Got to see old friends. It was fun to see my mom’s old friends. Got to play at Mom’s gig. (He sang at Fitzgerald’s with The Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago.)

Playing at the Green Mill. Played hand drums with dad. Played for one whole set. (Yup, he did. And tonite, all these months later, he is very likely on stage at the Green Mill playing his djembe while I am writing this.)

And overall it was a great summer, no I mean AWESOME!!

Retro Post: Rooster Song

This is a journal entry from late fall of ’09.

Being a mother is a hard-working job. It’s non-stop and requires a certain finesse.

Tonite it’s a rooster in the house and sessions at the desk trying to get the bird’s likeness on paper – assisting my colorblind son to choose the most realistic colors – to the bath that must follow this after-dinner project. Watch out for poops on the floor. Where’s King George? Our dear little button quail is somewhere upstairs. Hopefully our cat Mina is uninterested in him. Hopefully. (“I come in peace, I come in peace, you can relax, I am coming to be with you in peace, to know your soul, I’m coming in peace…” Elihu sings to his rooster) Now I must create a loving and flawless transition to the bath upstairs. Then bedtime. (“I come to warm your soul and to warm the soul of the earth…”) I must keep things soft, gentle and unhurried if I can – oh how will this unfold tonite?? It is all so good in this moment, but at what moment will it turn an about-face? Will Linda Blair visit tonite? Or will we make it? (“I come to warm the face of planet earth, I come in peace, sit and relax and do not worry, I come in peace. I mean no harm. I really don’t. Sit and relax by my side…”)

Elihu’s song to his rooster continues, and I ready myself for the transition to bedtime.

Retro Post: The Last Party

Not directly related to anything currently in my blog, this is a journal entry I just rediscovered which was written in December of 2005. Although I was well aware that the immediate future was almost completely unknown to me, I could never, ever have begun to imagine how differently my life would pan out in the years to come. Painful though it’s been, I can honestly say now that I’m grateful everything happened the way it did…

It’s two thirty in the morning, and our Christmas party is quietly dying down. I can hear conversations – Fareed is still holding court with a few straggling guitar students, but I sense things are finally wrapping up. This, our 19th party, was our mildest. It was nice to see some very dear friends for what might well be our final party here. Here in this house, in our town, our world. I can hear the laughter of young, long-haired girls I don’t know, and I see the lights of a car turn around in our driveway. I am tired, and I hope nobody takes us up on our ‘5 to 5’ thing. Last year Ray Quinn showed up at four. Hope not this year. Really, it peaked Elihu’s first party. That was the year I wore the ‘sound of music’ gown. Acres of dark green silk and a crinolyn skirt underneath to push it out all around. The year I was still big from having a baby. The year the upstairs bathroom was torn up and not functioning. That was the year everyone came. Oh well. This year we finally got the bathroom and the kitchen done and no one shows. I shouldn’t say that, those who showed were family, and that was good. It was a good night. I am tired, and I am ready to say goodbye to this place. I remember years when dozens of us sang carols around the piano – sometimes twice in a party – but tonite that was not to be. A measly half dozen of us sang. Although a thin crowd, it was nonetheless a nice moment. But so short. Ah well. Time to move on it seems. I’m too tired to keep this event going these days. Man, am I getting old?? What the hell??

I made gallons and gallons of cider and wine. The first pots never even got finished tonite. In the old days I could NEVER make enough. Ich. I’m a little sad. I am waiting for everyone to leave, and for my dear husband to come upstairs. I’m waiting for us to put our arms around each other and sigh. We’ll recount the night, although I have no voice left and can hardly speak. He’ll run circles around me energy wise, and chide me for being so pooped. Well, the triumph of the night was young Master Elihu. He looked a vision in his black velvet Jon jon and shiny patent leather shoes. He was so well behaved, yet I feel I neglected him most of the night. He is such a good little man, that son of ours. I was kind of disappointed that all the kids found the loose tinsel and globbed gobs of it all down one side of the tree. But a small price for the joy it created. I think I’m as ready as I can ever be to leave this home of mine. I believe things are winding down here. I am excited to live on first street in Dekalb. I am ready. I know we’ll need time there for it to feel like home, and right now I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel that way again, but I’m ready to try. I’m ready for something else. Something else. I just don’t know what.

The first two years of Elihu’s life we two did indeed enjoy this place. Fareed was gone most of the time, so it was the two of us who did the exploring. We rode the neighborhood on my bike, we walked everywhere, we browsed the Salvation Army store and bought trinkets. I can recall so many little delights; an old fiber optic lamp that Elihu insisted on taking apart, a little toy piano that played in tune. We discovered many odd and unexpected objects which added interest to our long days together. We went to the beach too. We did this all. Sadly for me, Elihu never liked the beach, so the very thing that we might have actually enjoyed the most – had he been a kid without achromatopsia – was in fact the thing he most resisted. Once, as we walked hand in hand along the water he said to me “this is like walking in a nightmare”. That gave me a new insight into his world. I’d made it my life’s priority to always live as close to water as possible, now here was my kid just hating it. God damn it. At least I’d made sure we got to the beach a couple of times. I had so hoped my children would grow up walking distance from water. Now the water will be a river in our back yard. Oh Elihu, when you read this will you have grown up in Dekalb, never to have known what it is to live steps from the beach?? It’s so close, it could have been our life, but now it seems it’s not to be. Why?? I must remember that I am tired of living in a fishbowl of a house, of knowing that in my yard and garden I am always being seen by someone. If it weren’t for that silly monolith of a condo building across the alley it might be better, but I can see by the next warm season there’ll be even less privacy in our yard.

It will probably take us a good year to really feel ok in our new home, but I do think the change will come. I am sad, and I just want to get this over with. If we’re to have our second child, I need to be in my new home when she comes (Sarah’s still on the roof waiting…) If we’re going to do this, I need to get into my new home now. I know this is selfish and idealistic, but I feel I must make my new home soon.

North First Street. Or is it 1st? Does one spell out a numbered street? Hmm. I do so love our address: 520 Judson. It’s a very handsome address. So was 1122 Lunt. Hell, Orrington Lunt and Philo Judson were pals and created the first plats of the area. See? I know that kind of shit about my hood. Who the hell made the first plat of Dekalb? Who fucking cares? I don’t… yet. I’ll try.

I hear the hard soles of Fareed’s shoes walking the house as he turns off lights and amps. Good man. Yes, he’s a good man. It’s almost three now. I’ve expressed what’s been brewing inside, and what’s been underneath the whole night for me. Here he comes. Please come upstairs, my love. I want to go to bed. I am so tired, and my head hurts. And you know what? I really don’t want to have another Christmas party. Nineteen of em is enough. May our 20th find us cozy in our home by the woods, just us and a few dear friends gathered in love. God willing.