Today is my birthday. Spent most of it in the windowless basement, at my desk, bravely muscling my way down the to-do list. But I know that it’s sunny outside. It is a fine spring day. The pic at the top of this post will attest to it. (Our late friend Ace, a Vietnam vet who returned from the war with a distant look in his eye and a ceaseless need to create art, he made this lovely bird. It’s a fine piece, and easily overlooked as its rusty patina blends in so well with the woodland setting. Today however, I sure did notice it. And how lovely a thing it is! I feel so lucky to have such a piece of work.)
It’s in my nature to bitch and moan about all the crap before me, all the stuff I never seem to get done, all the events that happen as if they were scripted by some omnipotent prankster… But my wise young son would remind me that all of this stuff – good and bad – is in and of itself the very essence of life. The serendipity, the monotony, the endless to-dos, the hitches and pitfalls, the windfalls. It is no one’s spiteful creation, it is no one’s gift, it simply is. My taking anything personally – the challenges, even the rewards – is as unwarranted as are the curses my mother directs towards her iPad; none of it is personal. It just is. Perhaps energy and intention can help to guide events, but I can’t think of life as actually having it out for me. Yeah, some unpleasant shit has come down on me, but at the end of the day I am not working twelve hour days in a sweat shop making clothes I could never myself dream of owning… For the most part, I have it good.
And although I know it was serendipity at its finest, it still feels like I got a little knowing nod from the heavens just now…
Having accomplished more administrative tasks in one day than I can remember, I treated myself to a quick walk outside in the sunshine. As we do often around here, I heard a small plane in the air above the house. Sometimes we run for the binoculars, but it was approaching too fast. I stood and watched… It banked, more sharply than I’m accustomed to seeing small planes turn, and it intrigued me. The plane got closer and closer, and then, when the plane was directly above my head, the engine noise changed and – the nose of the plane turned completely downward! What? I’d experienced stalls in small planes, but I guess I just didn’t expect it, and it truly frightened me, until I realized the pilot was crafting a lovely, controlled corkscrew pattern. I gasped. It was so thrilling and beautiful… Then the plane pulled out of the fall and turned west again, out and over the woods, leaving me there on the ground, full of adrenaline and joy.
A few months ago the Studio’s underground power line broke. Everything stopped. For a moment I freaked out, I wanted to just run away from the whole thing. Then one day I pulled myself up and I created a GoFundMe page. It was deeply humbling to see such love and support from friends and community, near and far. What had seemed like a targeted assault on my good intentions was now transformed into an expression of support and hope. After a good deal of post-construction red tape, we will be hooked up again this week. What a ride. The last year has been rife with good news/bad news scenarios, and it has been exhausting, but it’s also helped toughen me up. OK, so now someone is suing me for a fall on the ice this past winter, but hey, it doesn’t scare me. Well, maybe a little, but seriously, this whole life thing is just one crazy illusion. One crazy game. You hope it goes well, but in the end, you can’t take it personally. You just gotta get through.
My oldest childhood friend lost her father this past week. Paul meant a lot to me, and to Elihu too. I always called him my second father. Thankfully Elihu and I both had some very lovely visits with him over the past few months, so we don’t feel too many regrets gnawing at us over things unspoken. (In fact, Paul called Elihu “one of his special people” on our last visit, and that meant a lot to my son.) This man, dearly beloved by his large family and the community in which he lived, had enjoyed a productive, long and full life. His death is something that shocks me when I remember it all over again, but what helps bring me ease is knowing how beautiful a life he led. He lived simply, he played the cards life dealt him (some of them would seem quite unfair indeed), and he did it all with gratitude, a sense of humor and lots of love. This is the way I wish to live out the rest of my game here on earth.
Whether it’s serendipity or divine providence, I dunno, but something about double fives feels lucky to me today.
Dear readers, would you please consider subscribing to Elihu’s YouTube channel? He has put such a lot of work into both building the aircraft and the filming an editing the videos; what a wonderful birthday present it would be to his mother if you would just tick that subscribe box…
The new year, thus far, has been an unrelenting game of good news/bad news. Somehow, in spite of some personal sorrows we weathered in the first weeks of January, it seemed that things in general were looking up. The Studio appeared to be crossing a line into new territory; I was starting to book events that had been on my mind for months. The time was finally here, and things were happening. I was making connections, meeting people. We were getting press – we were in the paper and on the news. Poised for some exciting things ahead. And yet, here we are today, so close and yet so far…
At this writing I am so very close to wanting to pack it all in. Forget the whole thing. Park my kid with a host family in town, move to Florida, get a gig house sitting or dog walking and just never come back. That idea is really appealing right now. No more snow, no more meals to make, no more food stamps to run out of, no more furnaces grinding to a halt in freezing temps, no more piano students cancelling in the 11th hour, no more venue emergencies, no more having to go to my mother for the money to fix it all. (At the age of 54 you’d think that shit would be behind me. Apparently not. It’s incredibly demoralizing and has me wondering if a job at Walmart might not be a more dignified situation.)
Not too long after we lost our ancient rooster Bald Mountain, an unidentified neighbor dog came through our property, killing five hens (two of whom were elders and quite dear to us) and injuring one of our laying ducks. She was hurt, but not so badly as to warrant butchering her – so we took her to the vet. Having acquired my very first credit card in the nine years I’ve lived here (when your ex leaves you holding the bag on family credit cards but you live on welfare, it makes starting over a very lengthy process) I was in a position to actually take an animal to a vet and pay the almost $200 in care and meds. A small financial setback, but our duck healed well and now stands to hatch out her own ducklings this spring. So it was a happy ending. Sort of.
As nature abhors a vacuum, apparently so too does an unused credit card balance; I found myself making an unplanned, last-minute trip (the timing and short duration of which made it unusually costly) to Chicago in order to visit an old friend who was diagnosed with a rapidly advancing, early onset form of dementia. (It’s called FTD for short, there are two links below to videos which describe the disease in more detail.) I’d told her I’d visit in the fall, then again made the promise at Christmas, and most recently I suggested a summer trip. In reality there would never be a good time to go, and it appeared that my friend as I’d known her was fast-disappearing. So I chose the winter school break, when I could leave Elihu alone for a few days without concern, and I’d be back by the time we held our Friday night dance performance at The Studio. The day before I was to leave, I came down with a fever, and during my two-day trip (the most expensive two days of my life since I moved to New York nine years ago) I completely lost my voice. So there I was, in the company of my oldest and dearest friends, nearly unable to speak, and physically wrecked. It didn’t diminish my happiness at seeing everyone, but I can’t say it was a pleasant experience. I was lucky to have the use of a friend’s car, and luckier still to experience some unplanned visits and serendipitous meetings, so at its core, it was a successful trip. Just not a very comfortable one.
And I got to spend two days with my friend, a woman who I will most likely never see again. And even if I do see her again in this lifetime, she won’t be herself anymore. Whenever my mother complains about the expense of an outing, the thinking I always share with her is that she’ll always remember the event, but years down the line she won’t remember the bill. I also had to remind myself of this over and over. Visiting a friend is more important than money. The time was now, and I did what was right, I know it. But still. It’s gonna take a few years to knock this balance down again. Yes, I am feeling sorry for myself. I’ll get over it. Just not today…
While I was visiting with my friend, on that rainy day in Evanston, Illinois, I got a call from the woman who teaches yoga at The Studio. The power in the building was off. That was strange; I’d gone to great lengths to make sure the electric bill was paid in full, that everything would run without incident during my three-day leave. But no, the main breaker had been flipped, and nothing was changing. I was whispering with great difficulty over the phone, my throat already on fire, my stress level rising as I realized I needed next to call the electric company and navigate the automated system on 10% battery, and without a voice. Shit. I bounced back and forth down the long hallway of my friend’s new downtown condo, visiting with her while on hold, then retreating to the bedroom to explain my situation to the customer service folks. After some time and several different calls, I was able to arrange for a lineman to assess the problem the following day.
The next day I also juggled personal visits with more follow-up calls; apparently no one had been to the property yet as they’d promised. And my mother, she had thrown herself and a last-minute solution into the mix in the form of a rented a generator to power the place (we still needed to find an electrician who could tie the damn thing into the main circuit board) for the rehearsal and subsequent performance. My mother was trying to fix a situation which needed much more than a band-aid approach. Missing the forest for the trees, she was trying to revive a non-revenue earning event at no small expense. She was so persistent, and I was in such physical discomfort and so unable to even speak, that countering her on the phone was infuriating. There I was, at the iconic Blind Faith Cafe for the first time in over a decade, with a waitress asking for my order, an overly enthusiastic friend trying to interpret for me, and my mother telling me I needed to confirm the generator rental NOW. I don’t relish hanging up on anyone, but there was no other out. I told my mother to CANCEL the damn generator, and pushed the red button. Done, done, done. I was in no place to keep this event together. Even if I hadn’t been sick, I was 900 miles away. Not a good idea. I don’t like giving up, but sometimes ya just gotta wave that white flag.
Before I’d gone to Chicago, I made sure to have my hair done. Karen, the woman whom I was going to visit, had been a very talented hairdresser, and if she would resonate with anything at all, it would be my hair. So I had my regular hair gal Wendy pimp my ride. The highlights were over the top, the curls beyond natural and the lift almost 80s music video ready. I wasn’t a huge fan, but it wasn’t for me anyway. I was thrilled that Karen loved my hair. I was thrilled that she was still recognizable as herself. And I was thrilled, that after an eight year hiatus, she and I and some dear friends were going to meet at a restaurant we’d been going to together for over twenty years. Old home week was on. It was why I had traveled so far…
I was the first to arrive at the place, and somehow it seemed different. Ah, but that’s what nearly a decade can do, I thought to myself. Shortly before we convened at the weary-looking table we learned the reason: only four days earlier our pals Tony and Vatsana had sold the thirty-year old business. If only I’d come out a week before. If only, if only…. All we could do was laugh. Poor Karen, who partly due to her condition, partly due to the anticipation, had been repeating “Crispy Basket” all afternoon, continued her refrain, only now it took on the tone of a small, sad child. “No more Crispy Basket” she said, laughing, but still sounding rather pitiful. In the end we all had to laugh. The whole situation was ridiculous. No more Panang Beef the way only Vatsana ever made it. And the cucumber salad? There was no redeeming it. The magic was gone. I couldn’t help but think how this was one of those defining moments in all of our lives. One of us was on a fast-track to death, none of us was looking any younger, and never again would we gather together around a table, all of us together.
Karen was still able to have a laugh over her situation, and by the end of the night we had created a new ‘in’ joke which would surely last… She and her sister Debbie had recently gone to the hit show Hamilton and during intermission they’d gone to use the bathroom. This was before either woman was aware of the extent to which Karen was prone to wander, and by the end of intermission, when her sister was nowhere to be found, Debbie sent her a text. “Where are you?” she asked. “I went to use the bathroom” Karen texted back. “Where?” her sister asked, to which Karen very matter-of-factly responded “Target”. Apparently, finding the lines too long, she had meandered outside and down the street, ending up at nearby Target store where she used the bathroom and then dutifully waited outside for her sister. And so for the rest of the visit, a trip to the bathroom was referred to as “going to Target”. Good to be able to laugh about it. It’s a frightening enough situation to warrant tears, but what good would it do to cry?
“I just want to know if you’re worried, if you’re stressed. How are you feeling? Are you scared?” Although I’d intended to get a little deeper into my inquiry of her experience, that was as far as I got. “Liz, do I look stressed? No, I’m not stressed. I’m not scared. It’s just weird is all.” We talked a bit more about the strangeness of it. I was secretly relieved that the very disease itself had robbed her of the ability to fully comprehend the severity of things. She had taken on a certain childlike quality which seemed to take the edge off of her reality. Karen was in a bizarre place to say the least; she would warn me of her inability to filter her language and impulses and ask me to intervene. She knew when she was about to approach a stranger with an inappropriate question, she knew when the impulse to chew something grew too strong and so her teething toy needed to be within reach lest she gnaw her debit card beyond use (which she did while I was there). Again and again I asked if she was scared. I didn’t want to lead the witness, I just wanted her to know I would be there for her as best I could.
“You’re such a country girl” Karen would say many times that afternoon at her apartment. She’d laugh at my wide-eyed assessment of all the change that had taken place over the past few years. Lyfts and Ubers swarmed all around us on the streets and appeared like tiny bugs on our phones, ready to drive us across town without so much as a bill passing hands. People were everywhere, lobbies were huge and involved falling water. There were crazy themed restaurants everywhere, and there were as many brown people as white. It was probably a good idea that I’d taken this trip. My little cocoon in upstate New York did not present an accurate glimpse into modern urban life. “Yeah, I may be a country girl, but you’ve still never ridden the el!” I joked back. Indeed, my friend had been a real Jewish American Princess, complete with a two seater sports car and folks who wintered in Boca. “Yeah, but you’re still such a country girl”. Karen always had to have the final word. I remember thinking at that point that she was probably right. This was not a world to which I would choose to return.
We spent a rainy Wednesday afternoon inside her beautiful new condo with its floor-to-ceiling glass walls watching TV, playing her keyboard, singing and looking at photos. She was adamant that we go across the street to World Market and pick out the perfect frame for a photo I’d sent her of my father and her at the piano in our old Evanston home. Karen loved my dad. And he had loved her. They flirted in French and cracked each other up. “I kiss everyone goodnight, like this” she said, kissing her index finger and placing it on the photos of friends and family members that sat atop her bureau. “We need to have Bob up there.” By the end of our day together, a beautifully framed picture of Karen and my father rested among all the others, and we were both very satisfied. I couldn’t think of a more perfect ending to our visit.
The afternoon finally turned into evening, and although the previous incarnation of my friend would never have admitted to such a thing, this woman told me several times that she was getting sad as my departure grew closer. I was too. Never a good time for goodbye, especially the kind that truly might be the last. But thanks to my true and spazzy form, the poignancy of our goodbye was somewhat diluted; once by my returning to leave her my CD, and secondly by a crazed digging through my bag to find my hat – which was loud enough to have Karen open the door and check on me. Finally, when the elevator arrived, she turned and closed the door without waving. It wasn’t really goodbye, just see ya. Better that way.
The el squeaked its way through old, familiar neighborhoods. Nighttime was always a good time to ride the train. Lights sparkle everywhere and interiors become tiny tableaus. I’d noticed on this trip that apartments were all becoming so über hip. Growing up I remember shabby apartments, one after another. Now it seemed that the entire city was made of upwardly mobile thirty-somethings. On the train another adult also unable to censor his speech appropriately made a loud observation which made me laugh: “I’ll bet the train will lose a whole bunch of millennials at Belmont”. There sure did seem to be a lot of em.
I’ve always loved to fly, so this rare opportunity to experience commercial flights again had become another great disappointment; on the way there the entire flight had been above the clouds, and my seat was on the aisle. Upon returning, I found myself in a middle seat, which might have been fine, only there was no window at the end of the row. In all my years of travel I have never before been in a windowless row. My head cold made the ascent the most miserable I have ever experienced, so it really didn’t matter anyhow. This trip had been about seeing my friends, and that had been accomplished. The quality of my flights wasn’t really the issue, expensive though they may have been.
The two-day whirlwind of $12 airport beers, visiting old friends and eating out at favorite restaurants was done. I relished the final moments of the flight, the landing, the awesome power of the engines braking the craft. I savored every moment I was not yet back. A horrible feeling of dread filled my gut when we turned the corner and I saw the lights of the tarmac. The detour was over. A muddy driveway piled high with a winter’s uncollected garbage, a fourteen year old boy who needed to be fed, and a venue without power awaited me at the end of my eight-hour commute.
It’s been one week tonight since I got back home, and shit hasn’t stopped. Still need to cancel a few more events, have yet to ascertain how and why the power cut out, and my poor kid has been really sick for the past two days. I just got the dishwasher repaired with the last remaining available credit on my ‘new’ card, and all but three piano students have stopped taking lessons. But there’s been good news too. Not without a hitch, though…
A very nicely produced piece on The Studio appeared on the local news only a few days after we lost power, and here the irony continues. Just the day before it aired I had discontinued my cable service in order to save some money, so I wasn’t able to actually watch it live on TV from my house. Oh, the timing. And the piece itself is lovely; it pays a very sweet tribute to my dad and to my mom, it shines a bit of hope on the future of the venue, but sadly when they’d come out to interview me I was at my annual heaviest, and on camera I read like Ann Wilson in the early 80s. Deeply embarrassed, I’ve had a very hard time seeing the generous shares and comments in the Facebook world. I can’t bear to watch it ever again. I need a serious do-over. I’m down eleven pounds since the interview, and my personal goal, if nothing else, is to establish some online video presence with some short music vids to help redeem myself. I’m very nearly on the bottom of my personal barrel right now. So not where I imagined myself to be in this new and until now, promising new year.
Entropy. My kid likes to remind me that’s the direction we’re all headed anyway, so don’t sweat it too much. It is kinda like the great playing field-leveler. Yeah, we have our glory years (if you’re anywhere from 20 to 40 as you read this, consider yourself in the undeniable sweet spot) but then the physical shit eventually hits the fan. I’m almost at peace with that idea. Certainly closer than a year ago. I’m slowly acquiescing to my mortality. It feels as if I still have a small chunk of work yet to do here on this planet; the kid’s not fully launched yet, and I do have a vision for The Studio which at the very least I’d like to see set sail before I’m done, and yes, my ego would like to see the blog turned into a book. (However I’m wise enough to know that nobody truly cares. And please, don’t protest, I get it. I sat next to an author on the plane who provided me another reality check on that count: I gave her what I thought to be a pretty compelling elevator pitch, and she just smiled and said “Everybody has drama, and lots of people write well.” Nuff said.)
“Your fingers are freaking me out” Karen said as she stared at my knobby distal joints. “Yeah, I really don’t like having arthritis this bad” I had responded. A moment passed. Karen looked at me, and she seemed tired. “I’d rather have what you have.” Another space landed between us. “Yeah,” I answered. “I know.”
Guess it’s time to quit griping about all the stuff I don’t have, and instead, concentrate on all the things that I do have. I guess it’s time to start writing that new book…
Bald Mountain, the old rooster whom we shall always love and remember.
Dear readers, are you still there?
I have never let so much time pass between posts in the past seven and a half years of this blog until now. It seems that finally, life has taken me over. I have experienced so many intense and challenging events this past year that I can hardly believe that it all actually happened. From the predictable (my young son finally growing taller than me in only a few weeks’ time) to the unimaginable (the Studio being struck by lightning) and so very many more things that I cannot hope to recall at this writing.
In January of this year, I, like many of my friends, watched with heartbreak and profound disbelief as our nation’s finest first couple surrendered the office to a narcissistic madman. Facebook blew up, friendships blew apart, and I learned early on that I had too much on my personal plate to lose myself in the fray. What was once a valuable tether to my previous life in Chicago became a drain on my heart every time I visited. When early on – even during the election season – I’d asked my Republican friends to please explain to me how Trump would benefit – and not hurt – the common man, I found myself falling down a rabbit hole. There was no insight to be found, no ground to be shared. I still maintain that the vast majority of people on this goddam globe all seeks the same things: safety, health, and the love of family and friends. I can never understand how these simple things have become so micromanaged, and in the process, become so utterly unmanageable.
The single digit temps of last March highlighted for me just how unprepared The Studio was to maintain indoor temps of 65 degrees – let alone a cozy 70 or higher. A huge group had booked the place for a long chunk of time, and they moved in. It was challenging to continue to run our own regular yoga classes alongside this program, but everyone cooperated, and in spite of my utterly freaking out in flat-out fear when I saw that our baseboard heaters and new mini splits were all “going to 11” but the room was hardly improving, the host was kind and forgiving. Again, everyone did what they could, we added space heaters til we blew circuits, tried new configurations until finally the room was livable. But stress, man, talk about stress. Add a good snowfall (as also happened concurrent with the heating issue) and then there’s the plowing situation. That’s its own ball of wax, believe me. It takes finesse to carve out room for 50 cars on the yard – without going over the septic tank – and in spite of all that space lost to the piles at the property’s perimeter. Thankfully, we’ve got our new guy now. Building the posse, one crisis at a time.
Then more shit started happening. Quite literally.
During a long-term rental of the venue the toilets suddenly stopped flushing. Although the building had only been used seasonally since its construction in 1974, the septic tank had finally reached its limit. Nothing was going down. The timing wasn’t great, and it was a stressful situation, but I knew that the job itself was fairly straightforward and simple. Either locate and clear a blockage (hoped for) or learn that the tank needed pumping (oh no, please, no). With no time to lose and a full house expected the following day I had no options but to call the local plumbing company for whatever help they could rustle up at 5:30 in the afternoon. Before long, two ambitious twenty-something plumber’s apprentices arrived and began poking and digging their way across the yard for several hours (at outrageous after-hours rates!) with not a single find. As a last resort tactic, they pulled out these flushable doodads which would emit a signal by which they could then be located with a receiver, thus showing us the exact point of the blockage (at that point we were still hoping it was a simple routing job and not a pump out.) Great idea! How clever! How practical! So the guys flushed all their doohickies down the toilets and began to wave their Geiger counter thingies over the likely pathways. Not a signal was found. Not a blip, not a squeal. By this time, it was getting dark, the mosquitoes were taking over, and there was nothing to do but shelve the mystery for the day.
The mystery continued for a while. To help fill in some missing clues, I pulled out a square, white-framed snapshot of me as a young, bucktoothed girl, standing by my mother’s rock garden which I knew to be above the site of the septic tank. I knew this well because mom would never let anyone forget that this area was NEVER TO BE DRIVEN OVER. The plumbers and I walked off what looked the right number of paces… and no luck. Finally, I got my local pal Al to come out with his bucket excavator, and his plan was to start digging on the spot where I had stood in that photo. Al is a good old local boy. Been in Greenfield his whole life. And he is a lot of other things too: clever, inventive, a pilot, a dog lover, an active, healthy guy – and he’s just plain got a good heart. He remembers coming to our house in the 70s when his grandfather did the stonework for the fireplaces here. I like that Al has those memories. I like that he flies, that Elihu loves flight. I like that he always charges me less than anyone else, and I trust his results without question.
So I needn’t have panicked the morning I pulled up early and found Al and his assistant just about finished revealing the mystery tank: it had been buried six feet below grade when it should have rested a mere few inches from the surface. Wow, no one saw that coming. No matter. Live and learn. Forward we go. Tank located, then tank pumped. Job done? Kinda, but not.
Second phase: Open hole in front yard remains so all summer long as local excavators (Al included) are all tied up on jobs that actually pay real money. And it’s not as simple as back filling the hole. Nope. I need to construct a custom sleeve through which the top of the tank can be accessed for future pump outs. I spent hours on the phone with dozens of folks in all sorts of stone yards and metal shops, I learned deep shop talk and came to learn a lot about infrastructure and materials. But all I really wanted at the end of it all was a cheap, durable 4-foot sleeve. Al proposed a solution that sounded too simple. And our dear neighbor Zac took the time to actually make a mold and then pour the perfect concrete sleeve – but Al insisted it would be too heavy. I hated to refuse the custom, artfully made piece, but in the end, after a handful of cancelled showers, weddings and graduation parties (why, oh why did this happen at the height of our rental season?) it was Al’s plastic, 55-gallon drum with the ends cut off that saved the whole operation and allowed us to finally back fill our gaping hole and regain the venue’s dignity. (Toilets all still flushed, but for many it was the hole in the ground that was the deal-breaker. Not for everyone, but some folks were quite unhappy.)
Hey. I’m just one person, and I’m always doing my best, but there’s only so much one woman can do. I can’t say my ego isn’t a bit wounded when people get angry that I can’t fix things in time, or that things aren’t as they should ideally be, but after this year I’ve grown thicker skin for sure. I can shake it off. From this chapter I learned that it doesn’t matter if you can’t please em all, so long as you’re doing the best you can with what you have.
Now the lightning strike – that happened somewhere in the middle of the gaping hole chapter. The two projects overlapped, and for a minute there sometime at the height of the summer, I was feeling mightily tried by these incredibly tedious and expensive setbacks. I might have lost all hope but for the fact that I had, during the cold months, lost three dress sizes and was now spending some child-free afternoons at the gorgeous Victoria Pool – sporting the very bathing suit I wore the summer before I got pregnant. Hoo-haw! Who cares if there’s a cesspool in your venue’s yard and the AC units are fried? I was lookin good! And I gotta say, the summer – aside from the Studio crap – was magical. An old friend and guitarist invited me to the jazz fest at SPAC – and man, it felt so good to hear live music again. Then by some miracle (the miracle is called “one seat only”) I got a front row seat for Earth, Wind and Fire. Mm-hmm. And that particular evening, I gotta say, I had it goin on. Even got backstage and had the privilege of meeting bassist Verdine White. I floated home that night.
While all this was going on, Elihu was becoming, to my heart’s lament, a young man. He is now in high school. The character and quality of his face transformed in a few months’ time, his height and voice, too. He didn’t always like it when during breakfast I’d go to the piano and try to find his new lowest pitch, but now we both run to the piano when we think he’s sounding lower, different. We marvel at this change together, and I am deeply grateful that he still values my input on these changes, physical and social. And it goes without question that he still enjoys my company. But ah, these are the teen years, and I have readied my heart for a while now; when the door clicks shut without a greeting, when silences stretch on and on, when he is off and gone to his workshop as soon as he is home – I let it be. After all, in less than a year Elihu will be studying in Germany for a semester. My work now is to learn how to let go. Elihu will do just fine. The low vision thing worries me, but he’s got technology. And smarts. In his Instagram profile he describes himself simply as an “aspiring overachiever”.
The Studio has hosted an ongoing high school open mic which has really helped the place to grow in the community. We’ve also hosted dinner concerts, middle school music jams, rock concerts, dances, yoga retreats, yoga classes, art exhibits, and finally we held a holiday brass concert in which Elihu played tuba with a quartet. I was beyond impressed with how they sounded. I’d told Elihu that after this he’d be off the hook – he’d satisfied the deal. He’d learned to play bass and tuba with proficiency, and now he was free to pursue aviation with all of his energy. But man, I’d told him, he just sounded so good. I told him how blown away I was (please, no pun), and it reached him. “Really?” he asked, as if it was hard to believe. I told him that a deal was a deal, but still, him not playing tuba anymore made me want to weep. “If it makes you feel like that, I won’t quit. I won’t.” My kid is not one to go back on his word, so I’m fairly sure he’ll stay on the low brass path a while longer. I had told him that when you’re talented, you can’t take that shit lightly. Not everyone gets that gift. Another lesson for both of us. Do what you do, be grateful that you’re able, and then do that thing with integrity. (And definitely have some fun while you’re at it.)
I suppose I could’ve just summed up this past year by saying 1) infrastructure challenges at the Studio 2) first calendar year of continuous operation 3) kid’s taller than me and 4) kid speaks German and builds aircraft that blow my mind. Yes, it was an amazing year for us both.
It’s always tempting at the end of a year to say that a chapter has been definitively closed, when in fact, an arbitrary date certainly, in reality, means no such thing. But it is possible to find demarcations along the way unrelated to any calendar – usually they’re easier to spot with a few years of hindsight – which do seem to signal the end of an era. Many folks have suggested I compile some of the Hillhouse writings into a book (oh so much easier said than done) and I’d always struggled with a time at which this book might close. When would this ‘journey of a mother and son’ actually end? Well, of course, it never truly will. However, the journey of a mother and her young son has ended.
Now I can identify with clarity what the ‘early’ years felt like. When there were no houses in the field, when Elihu and I would go to the coop at night and just sit there, sometimes for an hour, listening to the gentle cooing and gurgling sounds of our flock. The days on our tummies in the violet patch, the Easter Sunday walk to the stone wall in the woods, the out-of-time quality of it all. The this-is-how-it-always-will-be of it all. But even then, even in the midst of that idyllic childhood we were sharing, I began to get my heart ready. Just a year ago my imagination struggled to conjure an image of my son, taller than me. And now here we are. A piano student once asked me why I still had toys in the bathroom. I gasped a little, and paused… Some part of me, I suppose, really didn’t quite believe that the bath times weren’t coming back. I was shocked at myself. Shocked at how difficult this change might actually be.
Regular readers may remember our dear, goofy guinea fowl, Austin. He invited the neighborhood children to chase him in circles around the house, flying up to the roof for breaks, shrieking that piercing call that both annoyed and charmed us so. He engaged us, he truly interacted with us, and if you will just believe me here, we have always believed that Austin honestly enjoyed our company. Just three weeks ago, before the snow fell, he and Baldie evaded a Cooper’s hawk attack and were found huddled together in the underbrush. I only found them because Austin responded to my calls and followed me at my heels all the way to the house after I freed them from the thicket.
Only a week later he was stricken with some virus or infection (this is what we can now know in hindsight) and his behavior became strange. He spent his nights in the nesting boxes, and Elihu noted that he was no longer the first bird to fly from his perch in the mornings. Then one day, he disappeared. Thinking he’d gone off to die, I made several trips around the property calling for him, crying, calling… It broke my heart to think of him dying in the bitter cold, alone.
And then at our Christmas party our neighbor boy Brandon (knowing Austin was missing) ran in and announced that he was back! Yes, he was, but hardly. He was a huddled clump at the bottom stair of the coop, frozen and unable to move. I wrapped him in my arms, so grateful that I finally got to hold him to my heart as I’d longed to, and we got him a cozy setup in the mudroom. But he was acting strange though, as if he was nearly paralyzed. We nursed him through two more days. He would accept sips of water and in a flash he appeared to be himself again, but in our hearts we knew. Last Sunday morning we found him dead. Bald Mountain, also in the house due to his inability to hold his own against the drake, he spent a few hours beside his dead pal. He seemed to be waiting. Usually animals sense death, regard it for a moment, then move on. Not Baldie. This was even hard for him.
Now it’s Bald Mountain’s turn. His arthritic legs can no longer support him. In so many ways, his aging process reminds me of my father’s. He has taken to merely moving his food around more than eating it. He needs help to stand or sit, walking is almost impossible. Even grooming himself is a chore. Now he must be propped up otherwise he tumbles on the ground, his feet helplessly sticking out into the air. But when he is nicely settled into his bed, he looks serene enough, doesn’t appear to be in pain (how would we really know? And so I give him a baby aspirin each day just cuz) but as with my own aged father, he can startle or become suddenly agitated for no apparent reason, and then can be calmed relatively quickly to a point where he begins to nod off. I’m trying to keep him alive until Elihu returns from his father’s on Wednesday morning. I try to convey this thought to Baldie. I hope his heart understands me. Yeah, I kinda think he knows. He really is a tough old bird, and he’ll do his best to wait for Elihu. I thought I’d offer him a little inspiration this morning, so I brought a hen inside. The two of them chortled and shimmied side by side and she ended up creating a nest of rags next to him – where she proceeded to hunker down and lay an egg! Ha – a fresh egg right there in the kitchen. This really seemed to please dear Baldie, and if a chicken can experience a good mood, I’m pretty sure he did.
All afternoon I’ve been weepy and deeply, deeply sad. I couldn’t bring myself to clean and tidy as must be done, for each task brought me closer… I stalled, looking at the setting sun through the trees… this time of day seems to make all things so much sadder still… Elihu and I agreed that if he didn’t die on his own, we’d make arrangements. And so on Friday, a kind vet from a neighboring town is coming to help us set our dearest Bald Mountain free. I sure hope he finds his buddy Austin to show him around when he gets where he’s goin. I will always have the image in my mind of the two of them, only weeks ago, walking a few paces apart, each one waiting to make sure the other was keeping up. Pals forever. We’ve had both of these dear birds since I began this blog! Elihu has grown up with them both; to him they were as his dogs. Every kid in the area as well as all of my piano students have known and have feared Baldie. (And there’s nothing quite like a robust crow to mark the end of your lesson!) There’s no need to embellish the story – this rooster ruled the Hillhouse for almost eight years along with his sidekick guinea fowl, and with the loss of these two beloved characters, things here at the Hillhouse are forever changed.
Our adventure began without warning; we had no idea what we were doing, what we were in for, or how any of it would turn out. There has been so much to worry over, there have been so many obstacles to surmount, so much crap to wade through, and yet it’s all been so much more than worth it. What a wonderful childhood my son has had, what a blessed time it has been for me, alongside him the whole way, and how lucky we were to have known and loved some amazing birds.
Dear readers, I think that our book “The Hillhouse; the journey of a mother and young son” (and two very special avian friends) has come to its end.
But remember, with every ending comes a new beginning…
This past week we’ve experienced a good dose of dramatic and angry-sounding winds here in our corner of upstate New York; several mornings we’ve awoken to see fresh tree limbs scattered across the property. Daily the coop door bangs shut even after we’ve made an attempt to prop it open, and at night the wind through the forest that surrounds our house can sound like a swarm of enormous jet engines passing us on all sides. It’s been cold too, as in single-digit cold, which can make it feel like an all-out assault mounted against us by the elements. The snow is almost all gone now, due to a few unseasonably warm days, but the game is still on; winter is by no means done with us. Truly, we are exhausted by it, but at least we know that it won’t last much longer. Elihu’s birthday is on April 28th, and by then the snow will be gone for good. Each year at about this time, when our patience is at its very end, we remind ourselves of this definitive marker, which promises us unconditionally that there are just a few weeks left. !
Day before yesterday the air was a bit warmer, the wind had calmed down, and as I was outside fixing the fencing and making minor repairs to the coop I heard a new sound… At first it registered as familiar, but it took me a minute to really get it. The red-wing blackbirds were back! Every year our amazement at the turning of the seasons is refreshed; it’s nearly impossible to imagine how different things will feel in only a month’s time, and even harder to grasp that such a change will truly happen at all! Today it sure doesn’t seem as if anything will ever change, but before too long, a few early robins and a line of turtles sunning themselves on nearby pond banks will seal the deal for us. At the moment, however, I pray that all those dear creatures who presently remain suspended in winter’s torpor will stay there for just a little bit longer, as it is still bitter cold outside. (Also, our snow-less terrain will be changing again soon, as there is a winter storm warning for the next two days promising 12 – 18 inches of snowfall. Oh well.)
The recent weather in our interior lives has been a bit windy and dramatic too. A recent heated exchange with Elihu’s father over his attending the Waldorf School including some angry emails from him prompted me to pen a terse response. I knew, even as I posted my note to him on Facebook (polite, to-the-point and with a small degree of good humor), that it wasn’t likely to serve me in any productive way. Yeah, I knew it. But being told “Fuck you” by my son’s father as I tried to defend the importance of Elihu’s school, man, that was too much. Seriously not cool. In hindsight I can understand that he was stressed, and in no frame of mind to respond kindly. Lots on that guy’s plate: travelling internationally (and with a Muslim name no less in this crazy Trumped-up world), having his time with his son challenged (on account of reducing unexcused absences in high school), having to keep up with his financial commitments. Yeah, I get it. In future I think my own policy should be to wait at least 24 hours so I can cool down a bit before firing off a response to his angry communications. But regardless of the situation, regardless of how carefully I might intend to preserve what remains of our relationship, I will never get my props from that guy – and I think I understand that fully now. No well-written letter, no physical evidence, not even a happy and thriving child will get any witness – let alone gratitude – from him. But that’s OK. I have a full plate, and a happy kid. I had my life with Fareed, and in that wonderful life I made friends, I became part of a very unique family, I traveled, I became a better musician, and I learned things – and in the end I got a wonderful child out of it too. So that relationship fulfilled its role in our lives. Yes, it was a good chapter. (The transitional one that followed, er, uh… maybe not so much!) But I’ve been learning throughout the entire journey, so nothing has been lost. All is as it should be… OK. Next adventure?
Elihu himself has had a magical week. Yesterday he played an adjudicated tuba performance (NYSSMA – New York State School Music Association) and received a score of 97. As his teacher told him earlier today at his lesson, this is a pretty important accomplishment in that just over a year ago Elihu had only the most rudimentary reading skills. (Yes, he knew his bass clef, but finding the notes on the tuba made it a whole new ballgame.) The judge made some lovely comments about Elihu’s interpretation and musicality, and this, although perhaps not entirely surprising, still kind of shocked us both. We’d prepared for some level of disappointment, so this was a pretty thrilling conclusion.
Another magical element to the week was Elihu’s successful and short-lived GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy a collective pitch/3D RC heli. It’s been a while (in the helicopter world 1 year = 5 years of ‘normal’ time) since Elihu’s had a brand-new heli. He’s fixed up the old ones and done his best to keep everything in the air, but at the end of the day, many of his craft weren’t designed to be fixed, but rather simply replaced. And now that he’s got some skills, he really wanted a craft that could support him as he learned a new, more sophisticated technique of flying. But on a $5 weekly allowance, the $250 heli he wanted (by his 14th birthday) would take a loooong time to save for. I made the suggestion that he could start a campaign – but the content was on him. We posted a couple of pics and he wrote the text. It took about a half hour to create, and in a only few hours’ time after posting it he’d reached his goal. He was running around the house laughing and laughing and gleefully jumping over the furniture (well, he does that anyway, but still…).
He promptly ordered the heli, making sure the guy at Horizon Hobby knew of his past disappointments. And wouldn’t ya know, the box arrived FedEx like 2 days later… I missed the first delivery and had to cancel some appointments to make sure I was here to receive it the following day, but oh how worth it it was. !! A triumph, a moment, a rite of passage. Let’s just hope he goes slow and takes all the advice he’s given. This will take a whole new level of skill. I’m confident he’ll do fine, I just hope it doesn’t take him one broken-up craft to get there.
When Elihu told me at the age of six that he wanted to play tuba, I knew he meant it. But who coulda known just what that would mean a few years down the line? And when Elihu began his obsession with birds, and then in time aviation, how could I ever have known the adventures that would ensue as a result? When he was told he needed to play bass before he could play tuba, who woulda thunk he’d take care of business as he did? Me, I was always a path-of-least-resistance kind of person from the start. I did the bare minimum I had to in order to get by. My kid, he’s not like that. He’s one to face stuff head one, assess it, devise a strategy and then dive in. When Elihu does something, he fucking does it. And he does it with such deep interest, such integrity, and such modesty. And the thing is – he does things with true joy. Not the laugh-out-loud sort necessarily (although sometimes that is how it manifests – like when he’s flying a helicopter or playing his djembe and he just can’t stop grinning), but rather it’s something that’s deeper, more lasting. He spends a lot of time in thought, and a fair amount of time reflecting on all the things he’s learned. He’s a fun kid to have around, and many are the times I’ve thanked him for choosing me to be his mother. I’m learning right along side him, and I’m enjoying myself too.
It’s a good thing that things are going well on the kid front, because challenges abound regarding The Studio these days. Forget about updating the website (one can clearly see that I have indeed forgotten about that!), there are mechanical issues popping up as we pilot our way (we? Make that ‘me’) through our second winter. Pipes are freezing, despite my cranking the super-expensive baseboard electric heat, renters are still enjoying last year’s prices (oy, I started so low I cringe to think), the terrain is either too muddy, too icy or piled too high with snow, and mom is still essentially funding the balance. We had a productive board meeting recently, but until we have a larger board, and until I can start assigning people tasks (I suppose in the real world we’d call those ‘committees’) it’s going to remain just lil old me doing it all. But overall, things are so much better than last year at this time, and I have to constantly remind myself of that.
Over the past month I’ve experienced some personal exchanges with folks who’ve stepped up to tell me they think this Studio thing has been a big mistake, a personal detour of sorts, and that I should just let it go. Some folks have wondered why I don’t just work for someone else and give myself a break from all the stress. I myself had some similar thoughts recently, and it was my mother who quite angrily insisted that quitting wasn’t an option. I suppose an existential crisis is inevitable along the path to creating something new like this. All I need to do is read back over this blog through the past few years to see just how far I’ve come. It’s easy to miss in the thick of it. You know, forest for the trees. This weekend has been another in a series of challenges, and thankfully the renter was very kind about it. It’s all been a huge learning experience. From how to run a business to how to maintain a building – to learning how to deal with a variety of different personalities and expectations. Huge. Learning. Experience. (I’m not such a fan of that “word/period” technique, but it does kinda Make. The. Point.)
Now it’s late and I’m losing my recall for the events of the past few weeks. Now I need to summon the focus to wake bright and early tomorrow and start hittin it all again. Make lunch, breakfast, do the chickens, check in with renters at the Studio, get kid to school, hit the Y, do some fast grocery shopping, prepare for a new student, learn the new score for the kid’s musical, put the groceries away (sometimes that’s easy to overlook!). Then there’s the small matter of tweaking the Studio’s bylaws, CCing everyone on the changes, and a few other Studio-related items which are too mundane to list, but can easily eat up the hour I may (or may not) have left after all else is checked off the list. Not sure I’ll get to the website. My taxes and school tuition assistance forms and the monthly emailing will also have to wait another day or two. A girl can only do so much! Maybe after the kid’s in bed…
You too? Yeah, I kinda thought it wasn’t just me. Every last one of us in this contemporary world is busy, busy, busy. But what an adventure, huh? Just today Elihu remarked that neither one of us tended to do things by “half measure”. When I looked to him for his reasoning behind it, he swept his hand in an open gesture toward our small living room. “You don’t just have a piano, you also have a harpsichord. I don’t just have a tuba, I also have a bass. And I don’t just have an alto recorder – I have em all! And we play all of them, and we enjoy playing all of them. And I don’t just love aviation, I live aviation. You don’t just love meeting new people and experiencing new situations, you live for that. And we don’t just keep a couple of chickens – we actually hatch our own flocks right here in our own little incubator.” As I looked around the room with a fresh new perspective, I nodded in agreement. I told him I hadn’t thought of it like that, and I confessed that I often felt our simple life here had sometimes become way too complicated. “We just don’t do things by half-measure” Elihu repeated. We stood there together for a moment in silence, looking out at our cozy room. “But we love it that way, don’t we?” Yup, I guess we do.
No, there’s nothing half-hearted or half-measured about our life here. And I’m sure my son is probably right. Neither one of us would truly enjoy a static, predictable life – even if it meant all the warmth and sunshine of Florida. And while we treasure our peaceful and quiet time at home, sometimes it’s still a lot of fun to live in the midst of a whirlwind.
The eighth grade class jokes and just kinda hangs out… Elihu, meanwhile is…
Teaching himself Japanese. Not a huge surprise. He’s got a handle on German, so it’s time to branch out.
Back home, Elihu brings Mr. Duck inside for a quick visit with Grandma.
Just look how this kid is growing! See how short both his pants and shirtsleeves have become!
We’ve finally discovered why hens like to park underneath Bald Moutain’s belly: he is covered with a huge number of poultry mites. No amount of topical treatments have rid him of these pests which cause him to itch all over, and without respite. Some hens like to crawl underneath him and pick off the mites as little snacks. I called the local vet and can you believe I have a $156 credit there?? That means that this coming Thursday Baldie will be getting the full-on salon treatment via some internal medication that will put an end to this 8 year old roo’s troubles.
Elihu loves so many animals. This tiny, dime-sized poison dart frog lives with two others of another variety in a vivarium that is self-sustaining. Elihu spent months researching the construction of this sophisticated environment online before putting it together himself. All I can say is God bless the internet, and go YouTube!
Elihu and a new craft made entirely of his own design.
It’s a ‘scale’ paper model. Looks nice and flies surprisingly well. Who knew?
This is the constant state of our kitchen table. I’m ok with it now, but check back with me in a couple of months. !!
This is the super-blah looking time of year. Sigh. And still so cold!Ah, but Sunday morning breakfast makes it better.
So does a quick smooch with Alden, Bald Mountain’s son and the father of future flocks.
Sundays around here mean tuba lessons! In this pic Elihu’s magnificent teacher, Mike Meidenbauer, goes over some smaller points regarding the interpretive aspects of the tuba concerto Elihu will be playing at NYSSMA, an adjudicated performance which is graded and requires scales, sight reading and performance. We adore Mike for many reasons, and perhaps top on our list (although he is a highly regarded low brass instructor) is his joyful and humorous way of interjecting colorful language into a lesson. (He also has chickens!) Mike, Elihu and I are cut from much the same sort of cloth. We find his natural, humanistic way of teaching beyond refreshing.
Warming up, Elihu said he felt like “an elephant in an aviary”.
Kid did well, and he wore my dad’s shoes, too. That made us both happy. Hope it made grandpa smile, too.
Who woulda thunk? Neither of us! Wow!!! and Phew!!!
Proud Mama keeps on boasting…
Back at home, I’ve missed the Fed Ex driver once already, and knowing how precious his delivery is, I make double sure he doesn’t pass us by a second time.
I realize that sometimes our ‘doorbell’ confuses folks. The real bell is an actual bell that hangs on the side of the door. It came from my father’s childhood summer home on Paradox Lake in upstate New York, and it was likely used to call my dad and his brother up to the house for dinner. I just love that the same sound is now a familiar part of our life here. So far, however, very few folks have been brave enough to actually use it.
The package did arrive. !!
Here it is!
Elihu has lamented for a while now that he doesn’t have a YouTube channel, but he has so much information to impart, and he thinks his input could be of value to someone out there. Finally, I sat down and got to work creating a channel. We took his first-ever formal “video” of his heli’s unboxing (which I’m told is definitely a “thing”) and uploaded it. He is now probably the happiest boy that ever walked the face of this earth.
Have you ever seen that old movie called “You Can’t Take It With You”? If you have, suffice to say our household resembles that one in spirit. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, imagine a small house energized by the chaos of sick roosters, tuba practice, helicopter assembly, bursting pipes and coops catching fire, injured animal rescues, funerals, concerts, parties, and trips to the hospital. December has been a month with little respite, and I was grateful that Elihu got to spend some time with his father in the final week. Gave me a chance to breathe and get down to the little stuff that doesn’t always get done when I’m on mom duty.
In the month or so since my last post I’ve managed to get a lot done. It doesn’t always feel like it, but I can look around and see piles which have either diminished or disappeared entirely, my room is tidy, things are mostly put away, and the Christmas (New Years?) cards are finally addressed and stamped. The ailing rooster is looking more robust, and the sickly hen has picked up a bit too. The Studio enjoyed a record crowd at the last open mic, with cars parked along the shoulder of the road in both directions. Elihu performed his first semi-professional concert at the local TubaChristmas, and in general, a lot of wonderful things have happened.
Funny how life just keeps tugging at you; nagging to get that next item done, tidied, concluded. But there is seldom a final and tidy ending to things, resulting in a constant, low-grade nagging presence which may sometimes dim, but which never disappears entirely. Honestly, how many years must I live on this planet before I realize that endeavoring to see the to-do list completely done is a fruitless endeavor? As I looked out at my incredibly cozy little living room tonight and enjoyed the pure silence and solitude, I realized (for the umpteenth time) that there would always be a nagging to-do list. Always. But it was this stuff – this sitting alone in my living room doing nothing at all – and enjoying it so very much – that held it all together, that made it all worthwhile. Very few folks on this planet ever have this kind of luxury and comfort. It may yet be modest by the standards of many, but I don’t take it for granted for a moment. I am one very lucky person.
There’s been so much talk of 2016 being such a horrible year. As if the events – the deaths of beloved stars, cultural icons and horrific acts of violence across the globe – were personal attacks. I do agree that we’ve lost some key players in our culture, and the timing of Carrie Fisher’s and mom Debbie Reynolds’s deaths really did add something of an exclamation point at the end of the year. ! I know. But still, things like this have gone on before, and events like these will continue to go on in the future. Famous folks die, martyrs die and take people with them, insane men rise to power, injustices are enacted upon the innocent, wars are fought without end… Throughout the history of mankind shit like this has always been happening. I just think that it was never before in our constant view the way in which it is now. Now, with the hyper-vision of social media, we see this stuff all in front of our eyes us all day long in real time. And so then we begin to stoke the flames of each others sorrow, to amplify each others outrage and through our commiseration we inflame the sense of injustice enacted upon us. Yes, people die. They always will. We certainly should be sad, and we’re entitled to miss them, but truly, that’s how this heartbreaking planet works. People are born and people die. There’s nothing personal about it.
The trick is to enjoy the life you have while you’re having it, to remember the life you once had with gratitude, and to steel yourself through a combination of love, good humor and old-fashioned fortitude for the infinite number of possible futures that may befall you, whether happy, deeply heartbreaking or life-changing. I realize this kind of stuff easy for me to say, my losses have been the easier of all the possible outcomes. But still, I’m grateful for all the wonderful qualities of my current life. I’m grateful for the people who are still here with me, the countryside in which my son and I live, the safety of my home and the companionship of the animals around me. For now, I have it good. Not sure what the next year will bring, cuz really, one never knows. Suffice to say, I look to a year of increased prosperity, new friendships and the blossoming of my son in his early teenage years. There will be heartaches, there will be triumphs. Good, bad, it’s all part of the landscape. I know I’ll remain busy, that’s for sure. And my home – that will always be the cozy center of it all.
The super moon. Can’t believe I took this with a point and shoot from my driveway. !
The next morning it was just setting in the West.
Deep blue was the early morning sky.
We had not one but two small coop fires. Might have been truly devastating had we not been home. A warning to all to ziptie those lights up nice and tight.
This is the way Pumpkin should look.
But sadly, this is how she’s looked this past week.
Baldy’s suffering a slump too.
There are our new rescue Muscovy ducks. The drake (white) has really been a bully to Bald Mountain. Until the snow melts and there’s more turf upon which the menfolk can all spread out, the old rooster will likely be living in the kitchen. Man that guy is loud – and crows first just about 6:15 every single morning. ! Who needs an alarm clock??
A little food, a little drink…
…and a little TLC, and now he’s looking and acting much better.
Maybe this was too far. Ever since that one night he’s been following me into the bedroom every evening…. Now he knows how the other half live! Good thing he can’t communicate this to his coop mates.
Baldy always hangs around when we play music.
Really – he just kinda sticks around. Cool, right?
I love our tree. Every single ornament has a story. Many have been with me for 30 years.
Just love our cozy living room…
…and our cozy kitchen.
Our friend, Rocky Groce finally left us. He hosted shows at The Apollo Theater back in the day. He was very kind to Elihu, and expressed great support for Elihu’s love of music.
At the funeral parlor.
And at the cemetery.
Elihu worked hard building some fancy model airplanes for his class’ Secret Santa.
The assortment of models included a little handbook.
At Waldorf, there’s a lot of writing, and it’s still done mostly in cursive.
One final event at the Waldorf School before break. The 8th grade sings, my son easily spotted by his bow tie and red glasses. And if you’d been anywhere in the auditorium, there would’ve been no mistaking his full and distinct sound.
On that last day of school, Elihu jumped the fence with a flourish. (Truth be told, he jumps the fence with a flourish every single day. !)
We went to the estate sale of a friend who had to sell the entire contents of her childhood home (see, this life is not for wimps, right?). We were happy to give some of her household artifacts a new home, including this decorative horn. I’d like to mention that lil man had just blown a few little bebop-esque passages prior to my getting the camera going, hence my excitement. Still, pretty cool that he can even make a sound on that thing. I tried and could hardly get two notes out of it.
So proud of Elihu. Reading music is very difficult on account of his low visual acuity, so he ends up fairly memorizing the parts, and they end up being essentially gestural landmarks on the page. This is his first time ever reading music to tempo – with a conductor. Again, super proud mom here. (Btw, all the high school events were cancelled due to snow – but TubaChristmas? On with the show! A dedicated sub-culture if ever there was one. !!)
We went to the estate sale of a friend who had to sell the entire contents of her childhood home (see, this life is not for wimps, right?). We were happy to give some of her household artifacts a new home, including this decorative horn.
First TubaChristmas. Yay!
Now to my gig. Admittedly, the dementia ward has a sad vibe, but there are always a few folks whom I help to make a little happier, if only for a short time.
Torres is an award-winning nurse at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, NY. He noticed mom’s elevated heart rate, and contacted her doc, which resulted in a necessary second night’s stay. We’re grateful to him for his exceptional care.
Some oxtail stew. Recipe from Torres, originally from Antigua, who told me where I could find a local West Indies grocery in Albany (my small-town substitute for Chicago!) and I followed his instructions which resulted in one of the tastiest dishes we’d had in ages.
Back home, Elihu likes to place his recorders precariously on the edge of the table. He giggles when he sees how uncomfortable it makes me.
The flock is ready.
The Studio is set and ready for December’s open mic which we call “Express Yourself Kickback”.
Elihu will be with his father in Chicago for this one, but hopefully he’ll perform at a Kickback soon.
Dropped the kid off at the airport – and look what we saw! Crazy, huh?
The night after Elihu left we enjoyed a record crowd at The Studio – cars lined the shoulder of the road in both directions. Kids were home from college and it was a real scene.
The next morning, this is what I saw from my kitchen steps. How lovely. Lucky are we, right?
Happy New Year, friends. If we stick together, it won’t be as scary as we think. Let’s just keep focused and busy, and let’s remember to take time to chill at home where we feel cozy, safe and warm. Thank you all for coming along with us on our life’s adventures here at The Hillhouse. I’m grateful that you’re here to share in our experiences. And please, never hesitate to say hello.
Life is chugging away for us here, full of projects and deadlines and the usual related stress, but our life has also been filled with the many seasonal and traditional delights which we look forward to all year; those which help to lighten our load at a time when the world begins to press in on us. Finally it is Lily of the Valley time. Finally, the beautiful apple tree outside our door is at its fragrant and colorful peak. And finally, Elihu and I may walk the side of the road and harvest fiddleheads for our supper. With our birthdays both just past, this is the magical week of the year in which life seems to take a breath in, and everything hangs, suspended, in a rare, timeless window as we enjoy the forgotten corners of our property, noticing the tiny miracles around us with new eyes.
So many wonderful things have happened since the last post, and also, many challenges have popped up in their midst. I suppose we’re lucky to have had our precious, private moments alone here at the Hillhouse, and I’m very aware that any problems with which we are beset are most certainly first-world concerns, so at the end of the day, my complaints are not dire. And yet, being for the moment without water as we are, it is tempting to want to pout and wonder why us? Why now? Mech. A couple five gallon buckets will flush just fine, and for now we’ll just have to buy a bottle or two of Saratoga water at our local Stewart’s Shop so we can brush our teeth and make tea. Things are not so bad. I should like to say at this time that I have never taken our toilsome pump for granted. It’s done what it could, and now we have come to the point we just hoped would never arrive. But so we continue, just one more inconvenience added to the list of life that never ends…*
Where to start? Personally, I’m still feeling as if it’s just me toting the barge where the Studio is concerned, but that’s not entirely true. Artist and friend miChelle has stepped up, offering her art for our summer open house in June. Along with her modern sculpture and paintings we’ll be featuring a local jazz pianist – as well as the middle school jazz ensemble which he coaches, and in which Elihu plays string bass. It’s the promotion that’s hanging me up – that’s never been my strong suit, but there’s no avoiding it. Thankfully another board member has also made her design help available to me this week, and that lifts a huge weight off of me. This will be a week of posters and email campaigns. One hurdle at a time. One crisis, one jam session, one flock of chicks in the living room, one tuba lesson at a time, somehow, I’ve made it this far. I’m beginning to think that things might just be ok.
A few months ago, Elihu’s teacher put an envelope in my hand which contained an application to a residential summer science program at a prestigious local technical college. It had looked interesting, and I thought if Elihu didn’t get in, the process of getting transcripts together, soliciting letters of reference and writing essays might be a good learning experience on its own. At the very least, it would be good preparation for the college process which lay head. Why not give it a try? Although it had seemed pretty straightforward, the application did become a brief source of stress and teenage drama in the household, and when I personally delivered the completed package to the Dean’s office, it was a great relief to us both. But afterward, life quickly moved on, and the whole thing fell to the back of our minds. Until the other day, when I found a large envelope in the mailbox…
I was good, I waited til the kid came home. I poured myself a glass of wine – on the ready to take the edge off of our loss, or… Elihu opened the envelope, and the first word we both saw was “Congratulations!” I had no idea how this sort of thing felt. I had gone to a college which had no entrance requirements save a high school diploma; the world of academic success was completely foreign to me. Furthermore, my son goes to a school which is itself structured in a way unlike all other schools; no tests or grades are given to mark and measure progress. That my son is doing well in math or science still seems rather subjective to me. But here was at the very least a measure of his potential… I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t simply his teacher’s glowing letter – or even Elihu’s own words, which ended with “I dearly hope you’ll choose me to participate…” No matter – success was his! Or maybe – dare I say ours? I do not wish to claim that which I did not earn – but surely, I will accept a nomination for Supermom, Spring of 2016. Tears came to my eyes immediately – but to my chagrin there was no moment of close bonding to follow… “I have to call Daddy!” he said with urgency, and without a second of hesitation – he didn’t even stay long enough for his eyes to even meet mine – he dashed off to his room. So instead, I enjoyed a glass of wine by myself at the kitchen table, basking in this new and wonderful feeling of accomplishment and success.
Sundays are a day of lugging and loading. Mornings start with a tuba lesson (on the second floor!) and end with a jazz ensemble rehearsal which requires a string bass. It goes without saying that both must first be unloaded and returned to their proper resting place before the other can be loaded up. That and the lugging of 5 gallon buckets of water, plus the lugging of a dead porcupine (whose roadside death we mourned, but whose body will hopefully entice the local turkey vultures to pay us a visit) have me feeling that I am earning my keep and more (not to mention the upkeep of an increasingly stinky flock of young chicks residing in our living room). None of it is lost on my dear child, who does what he’s able and works to make sure all that lugging is for good reason. I have this kid’s back, yes – but in all honesty, he has mine too. We hosted our first jam session at The Studio last week, and thanks to his great ear and true love of playing music, we were able to pull it off. I enjoyed my secret dream of playing drums (oh so rudimentary but rock solid are my beats) and got to see how it all might work. And it did. But without Elihu, it wouldn’t have. He knows how important he is. I thank him. (I also remind him that if he likes to eat – then he’s gotta play. !)
Last night we took ourselves out to dinner with the last of my tax return. It certainly wasn’t a justifiable expense – but each year we have a tradition of Elihu having frogs’ legs for his birthday dinner. Although mom had taken us out the weekend before for steak – a great treat to be sure – Elihu was still jonsein for his all-time favorite. I had told him that we probably wouldn’t go this year, and he’d accepted it ok, so when I suggested we go to the Wishing Well he yelped with delight. This kid had earned it. And truly, we both had such a great time. As usual, tables around us arrived, ate and left several times over by the time we’d finished our dinner. Elihu and I like to linger. We enjoy talking, we enjoy savoring and taking our time. We don’t like plates cleared until the very last moment. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Until this kid no longer cares for my company – or heads off to college – who needs a date? I know of no one whose company I enjoy more…
After supper we joined our friend Rob at the piano. He ran to his car to get a pair of brushes – which he told Elihu would sound really good on the resident bongos – and I played a couple of tunes while he was gone. When Elihu got the brushes in hand he and I did a couple of blues tunes. He sounded great – the brushes allowed him to swing in a new way, and I gave him a couple of breaks in which to stretch out. That was a memorable night for me; I can’t forget the way he looked at me – he was smiling ear-to-ear in the most delighted way I’d ever seen. It’s an experience that musicians sometimes have when they’re playing together and when things just sound and feel so good… And to share this kind of moment with my own kid? Man, that was a gift. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way too. We had even laughed out loud as we played. Later, when we finally said our goodbyes to our friends at the restaurant and headed out into the dark, spring night, we were both in such a happy mood. We walked to the car in the cool, softly scented air, coasting in the afterglow of a wonderful night out. Friends, music – and frogs’ legs too? Wow. Perfection had been achieved.
On the way home from the Wishing Well it began to rain, and I obliged Elihu’s plea to search out some frogs who would certainly be hopping across the roads by now. We popped in his very favorite polka CD and made a detour down winding Braim road. Our search turned up only one frog, who he deposited into our tiny garden pond when we got home. Our moods remained cheery and spirited by the fresh rainfall and the wonderful night out… Elihu retired to his room to read, and something prompted me to pick up my accordion – after years of having let it languish in the corner – and I soon found myself standing on the kitchen steps, under the awning, playing a polka out into the velvet-black night (by some small miracle our neighbors were all gone, and the lights were out in all directions – a very rare thing these days – an absolute gift from the Gods, I was convinced!). Somehow, I found those left hand buttons as I hadn’t since before my son was born. My accordion was the only other sound besides the rain; the melodies punched through the darkness and echoed out through the hilly woods. And oh, what a sound. What a feeling. What a night.
That was only a week ago at this writing, and yet it seems many months have gone by since then. So very much has filled our weeks – another week of students, school, tuba and bass, chickens, friends, errands, pets, excursions and all the mortar of life which fills in every available space in between. My friend Beth has more than solved my design quandary – she’s lifted The Studio to a whole new level with her graphic gifts… Her infusion of time, energy and enthusiasm has reinvigorated my own, and right now, I’m beginning to feel like I’m not all alone in this (save good old mom, who at the end of the day is always filling in the monetary gaps. I cannot wait til I can relieve her of this burden for good. Guilt is all I feel these days on that front. !)
Things will be changing here soon. I realize that the magical country life we’ve enjoyed til now will change a bit. Nothing’s changing overnight, and we will always be who we are, we will always live where we do – but our routines change, the landscape will change, the scope of our world will enlarge – most of this is good and welcomed. But I’m a sentimental gal, and I’ll always remember our simple, early days here with fondness. Maybe we’ll be able to preserve some of that as we move into our future. Yeah, I think we will. But inevitably, some things won’t be the same. That’s the nature of life. Things change. Things evolve. Kids grow up. And thirty-somethings become fifty-somethings. ! But thankfully with all the change come those surprises that make us forget the tiny heartbreaks. It’s exciting to think of what’s yet to come. And it’s that sense of anticipation that takes the edge off of the loss of what is no longer.
As I write this I think of Crow Field… I haven’t even mentioned the field yet… The huge field that lies just outside our window – the one in which we search out Woodcocks, fly planes and kites, and in general love and enjoy every day of our life here – it will become someone’s suburban backyard by summer’s end. A large house is going up in the field which we have come to think of as our very own. Of course the field is not ours, and we’ve known for years now that every year we have had the field there for us to enjoy was a very precious thing. Elihu broke out sobbing – and even began to shout and swear – when he learned that it had been sold. When I told him I’d found the ribbon marking off the house’s footprint, he told me he felt sick.
We’re acclimating slowly to this new idea of a big house in the big field. Slowly. It still seems as if it will never happen, but that’s how we felt about the ‘new’ house at the end of our driveway; and it did finally arrive. And as kind as the neighbors are, their windows are without curtains and their lights and sports bar-sized tv can easily be seen in our house. I so wish they’d consider window treatments. Hell, I wish they’d think of us – and realize that their light interferes with our space… But they don’t, and that has me worried the new neighbors won’t either… I suppose we’re damned lucky to have the space we do, so I try to keep it all in perspective and just keep going. After all, we live on a generous lot, we have room to run, room for a flock of chickens and a pretty nice view out the window. And we have a hell of a lot to look forward to with The Studio too; we are embarking on a new era, and things will only get more exciting in the coming years. Of this, finally, I have no doubt. Elihu and I will try our best to accept the loss of our field, as we welcome in the new friends we’re about to meet on our path. “Things”, as Martha Carver would say, “always work out”. Ok, Martha. Gonna to have to trust you on this one.
May has but one week left – and Lordy what a lot we’re planning on packing into it. This post itself is also rather jam-packed and I apologize if it’s too much. Skip stuff as you need (maybe I shoulda said that at the beginning!). Not having had the time to make weekly posts, this is something of a catch-up effort. Next time shouldn’t be such a novel. The photos that follow are also voluminous. Skip it all if you like. Those, like me, who enjoy voyeuristic windows into other people’s lives will enjoy; those who meant only to pass a few idle moments on their phones will either be long gone by now, mildly annoyed or checking out at this point. ! A tidier post to follow next time, I promise…
*(At the end of this writing we learned it was merely a broken switch – and not the whole water pump – which needed replacing. The greatest relief I’ve known in a long time, all thanks to our angel/neighbor – Zac? Nope. This time it was his father! We had help from absolute royalty, I tell ya. I do not know where we’d be without the timely help that family has given us through the years. !!!)
We started the month by launching Elihu into his teen years…
Elihu’s Hess biplane takes off from the cake’s runway, aglow with candles for runway lights…
The entertainment at Elihu’s birthday parties has always been the hatching of chicks.
This year, one hatched in my hand.
Here they are at different rates of drying off… Fuzzier ones are about 3 hours old, wet ones a mere 3 minutes old, and sometimes still trailing their shells and egg sacs behind.
Chicks are cute, but the trampoline is always the #1 hit here at the Hillhouse. (Eternal thanks to Karen H!!)
A quick smooching of Athena before heading to school the next morning.
On May 2nd, this is what Spring looks like here.
Driving to school in the morning, we savor that vast, beautiful field while we still can. We’ve passed so many hours in that field together, with much hilarity involved. Elihu invented his Monty Python-inspired athletic events ‘Tussock Jumping’ and ‘Bramble Dodging’ in our crazy cavorts across the uneven terrain en route to visit neighbors on the other side of the field.
When I return home from driving Elihu to school, I am always welcomed by my beloved flock.
Each night, Elihu takes time to bond with the chicks, who will stay in our living room for a few weeks.
Weekends mean tuba lessons.
How lucky is this kid? He loves his teacher, and his teacher has chickens. ?!!? (Plus Mike lives only 10 minutes from us. That is more than amazing. !)
First, Mike plays along with Elihu on his warm ups.
And now, Elihu’s first-ever tuba duets with one of Mike’s six children. Afterward he remarked on how well she played. I added “yeah, and she’s really pretty, too.” Replied my low-vision (but not blind!) son, “Yeah, I noticed that.” !! She’s the same age too. Crazy. Two tuba-playing, chicken-owning kids just a couple of miles down the road from each other. Wow.
Later on that same day…
A bunch of middle school kids who are playing jazz. Ok, now this happens only 5 minutes from our house. Again, how lucky are we? The word “very” comes to mind over and over. And thank you John Nazarenko, for making this happen. Elihu is enjoying this beyond any musical experience he’s had thus far. (I know 13 year-olds don’t like to be called ‘cute’, but hearing these kids doing tunes like “Song for my Father” and “All Blues” is just that. Sorry. Next year they might be hip. But not yet. Today, they remain cute.)
These two kids really seem to play well together – and Elihu tells me W has a peculiar sense of humor too. This may be the start of a great friendship…
Post-rehearsal, Elihu’s in front of Zankel Hall, checking his phone for all those jobs that will surely be coming in by now….
Dad’s office, with the Steinway in the background. During his lifetime, this room was mainly taken up with harpsichords. Now that the piano is moving to the Studio, only my old suitcase Rhodes remains.
May 7th. Birthday of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and…. Elizabeth Conant! And what a birthday gift is this!
The Studio before…
…and The Studio after.
A Steinway at The Studio! Woo-hoo! This changes everything.
Ah, but the birthday girl herself has some schlepping to do… First jam session tonight… gotta get the room set up and ready… Aren’t I getting a bit too old for this?!?
Hillbilly load-in begins.
Sketchiest move I’ve ever made. Man, I guess I am getting tired. Or old. Or both.
Thanks to the assistance of kind and always-smiling Alex at the guitar store, the room is now set up! Now that was a most appreciated birthday present. Thanks for the help!!
In early May, the trees are still rather bare.
It arrived in a big envelope. I admit, that alone had my heart racing just a bit…
Wow! What a surprise was this!! Personally, I can’t remember ever receiving an acceptance letter. And so I live vicariously through my child. ! RPI will be a chapter unto itself, no doubt…
The chicks are still cute and fuzzy, and things are feeling very happy around the house.
On Mother’s Day, Elihu plays a little music for grandma…
…and then proceeds to ‘intentionally not smile’ in a posed picture – something which bugs mom to no end. (He says he merely wants to ‘be taken seriously’ when having his picture ‘formally’ taken.) Btw – can you believe my mom is 81? I don’t think she looks it. Do you?
Mother’s Day ended with an E and E selfie with chick. This, we hope, will be the rooster to take up Baldy’s post one day.
In early May, the chicks still live in a box in the living room. See how one is now perching on the edge? This tells us they’ll be moving to the garage soon. When they can fly – it’s all over. (That’s Elihu’s bass recorder on the left. People always ask us what it is.)
Friend and chord/melody style guitarist, Dan comes over for a bit of rehearsing. Hope we’ll be playing together this summer – if I can ever find the time to learn some new tunes. ! He’s been patient with my crazy schedule. More than grateful to finally have a guitar player to work with.
This is what happens when siblings take lessons together. One must always provoke the other. Little Coco is ready to strike with a subtle, but annoying tap on the shoulder of her big sister. !!
Oscarina, the large and lighter-colored fish at the bottom is a Koi, and is growing rapidly. Thankfully, she will now be residing in the prestigious local arts colony, Yaddo. The move went off without a hitch and we can visit her anytime we like. Yay!
We’re off to the Wishing Well for a fancy schmancy dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d eat like this once a week!
The heavenly scent of Frogs’ Legs. Unique to this establishment.
A dark selfie. So few pics of we two.
Rob plays piano here – a lot! I got to take up his post for a few minutes and enjoyed playing with my son on drums. A wonderful night all the way ’round.
Finally the weather’s right for painting The Studio!
Keith Sr. is doing some much-needed restoration too. It’s been decades since the exterior’s had any attention. Phew!
Keithie Jr. paints on the crew along with dad. Elihu and Keithie went to Kindergarten through 3rd grade together. No matter how different their life paths, that kind of bond made so early in life will always last.
Keith is maturing just a wee bit faster than my own child. Ya think? All in due time…
Another week’s passing and the green is really starting to show now…
Which means the apple tree is reaching its finest hour!
My cherished Lily of the Valley is finally here too!
As is the flowering quince (which appears more of a salmon or coral shade than in this pic).
In future Springs, this view will include a large house in the background. We are both still in a deep state of disbelief as our hearts ache with the loss.
Thankfully, other delights distract us. Elihu and I stood among the branches of the apple tree and enjoyed the constant hum of bees, flying hither and yon, as they visited every possible blossom. It was crazy the sound they made. Quite loud, and a resonant, almost single pitch.
Crazy cowbird, goofy guinea fowl.
Outside our kitchen window the red bellied woodpecker visits the platform feeder when the suet is gone.
Elihu takes a peek, but the woodpecker gets the feeling he’s being watched.
Outside, our two resident males hang out in the morning sunshine. Rooster, Bald Mountain is caught here mid-crow. Austin, to his left, is our crazy-ass Guinea Fowl. Never let it be said that birds do not have distinct personalities. !!
And chickens do have favorite foods too – pink apple blossoms are one of em.
Comic relief. And some serious attitude, too. !
We hope this will be the new resident roo one day…
…Cuz this old boy’s not gonna last forever. Poor Baldy, he limps when he walks, he sits whenever possible, and he only fertilized two of sixteen eggs this year. Yeah, he’s pretty much lost his mojo. But we love him still.
We saw this wonderful creature – the turkey vulture – just down the road. Having just passed a dead porcupine, we got an idea…
Out with the tuba, in with the poor dead creature.
Wow, sixteen pounds. Impressive!
We were sad to see she had been nursing a litter. We laid her to rest in our yard so that we might entice the turkey vulture and then watch it do its thing from our kitchen window.
Elihu picks up Christie, the stand-in for Thumbs Up, as she is the only truly friendly hen remaining.
A mutt of a hen (Araucana, Barred Rock and more), she lays olive green eggs.
Elihu carries Christie back to the house…
… and Pumpkin follows him back. (“Our” field is behind the row of trees.)
This is what the end of a weekend looks like. Sometimes I want desperately to run far, far away….
…until we settle back into our groove at home. Then everything is once again right with the world.
Lilacs uplift us too.
And look! It’s my long-lost accordion. I’ve left it out now to show my students (and to try to relearn all I’ve forgotten!) If an accordion doesn’t make things better, I don’t know what will!
It’s heavy, but it’s sparkly and loud, so who cares?
Usually a very trim, streamlined bird, this male brown-headed cowbird is showing signs of puffing…
…he’s mid-puff now… hoping to wow a mate he will rise to his full height and size while emitting an ultra-sonic high chirping which sounds like a video game….
Inspired by the constant presence of birds in his life, Elihu, thankfully, occasionally finds time to draw birds. His love of drawing birds preceded all of his other, equally obsessive loves.
After supper we headed out to Caffe Lena for open mic. I knew Lena as a child, and so it makes me happy that Elihu continues to know this place as I did. (Bill Cole’s Woodwinds shop is just behind him – that’s where Bill kindly tweaked Elihu’s ‘beater B flat’ tuba and brought it up to speed. Great guy – kind, fair, and expert at what he does.)
“Good Folk Since 1960” is the slogan here. I can recognize a half-dozen artists at a glance whose shows I attended when I was Elihu’s age or younger.
Elihu has the ‘big kids’ laughing as he folds the performer’s entry cards into tiny origami cranes.
Before he plays, I want to make a pilgrimage to the men’s bathroom wall, upon which Elihu wrote at age 6 on the occasion of his first open mic. (It’s in red, and to the right and below the tree drawing.)
And here it is. Can ya read it? So sweet!
These guys were fun. They gave the night the perfect bit of energy and humor.
But for me, this was the highlight of the evening…
I cut off the first line, as I was switching from camera to video… His first line was “I bought some instant water, I just don’t know what to add to it”. Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg are obvious favorites of this kid.
An old house in Saratoga that for some strange reason always stuck in my mind as a child. I liked the crazy roof over the stairs on the front porch. When I was little, it appeared cozy to me. Now, it strikes me as sketchy. Just as well – it’s history now!
Ah, the impermanence of it all. There goes the cozy roof.
This little guy is next, I was told by the developer. Thankfully, the new structures will be aesthetically similar, or at least in keeping with the vibe of the neighborhood.
Modern Saratoga looms in the background.
This is the sort of thing that will replace the old houses. Not too bad. Could be much worse.
I’m something of a demo groupie. I can’t take horror movies, but rather I am drawn to the violent and animated quality of a back hoe claw. It seems almost sentient…
On the way home I pass a picturesque cottage just down the hill from me, and I see it with new eyes. How charming it is at this time of year when all the white apple blossoms are in bloom.
Look how much things have grown in just a week’s time! This is the “lightning tree” which Elihu and I visit each Easter, and around which he has made a small stone structure with rocks from the stone wall at the field’s edge.
Saturday in the park. Congress Park, that is. In the foreground at the right is the baby willow tree that I had planted in memory of Jamaican-born banjo player Cecil Myrie, who died in October of 2014. He invited Elihu to busk with him when Elihu was just 6, and Cecil gave him his first two dollar tip. Our lives changed that day. (Can you imagine how truly grand this tree will look at the water’s edge in a few decades? I’m thrilled that I was able to contribute to the landscape of this handsome and historic park.)
Not exactly a brass plaque, but it works.
The willow tree with war memorial in the background. Wait – who’s that guy in the yellow shirt?
Shoulda known. It’s my kid – and he’s carrying a duck. !
Elihu loves to share ‘his’ birds.
We are such scofflaws!
Sometimes it really is hard to believe this kid is legally blind.
Since Elihu can no longer rely upon the ‘cute’ factor when busking, he’s trying out some new material. It seems to be working.
This is how we recycle our paper (and wood scraps) in Greenfield. Afterward, the ashes get tossed into the woods, where, as we say in this family, they “Go back to God”.
It’s been said that the fastest way to take off ten pounds and a couple of years is a selfie taken from above. !
Under the moonlight, we discover hundreds of tiny, white violets that we’d never seen before, growing all across our lawn. How is this possible??
A flash reveals them.
We lay on our backs in the moonlight and pick the tiny flowers until the hour gets so very late… Sunday night, back to school hours, we can’t stay out forever…
After Elihu went to bed, I took a long, mournful look at the silhouette of the field which will most certainly be transformed by this time next year.
At the end of the evening, I had the field and the full moon all to myself. I savored the moment, as I try to do with as many moments in time as I can be present for, because you almost never fully realize what you’ve got – until it’s no longer there anymore. For now, all is well. And hopefully, no matter what happens down the line, we’ll find a way to embrace the changes as they happen, and find a way to savor all those future moments too.
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 notbe 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.
Our 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??)
Imagine a tuba lesson that starts like this. !!
Yup, Elihu is a lucky, happy boy.
Finally Elihu’s reading has gotten to the point where it’s not the focus of the lesson – but technique and sound are.
We 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.
Later 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.
I 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.
It seems the Easter Bunny is still visiting the Hillhouse…
Which made one big kid very happy.
Since 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.
A 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.
A 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.
This 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.
During our fort-making we found several surprises…
Remainders of a time when this was all cow pasture and farm. We also found a garden rake and remnants of a small shack.
Heading 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.
Elihu regaled mom and me with some pretty funny new jokes during Easter supper.
While out and about I saw this license plate. !!
Got 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.
Ah, 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?
My favorite visitor to the platform feeder, our beloved guinea fowl, Austin. He is a real goofburger.
Elihu 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…
We’re at the Schenectady Armory – the huge and gorgeous room where local model aircraft enthusiasts meet weekly to enjoy windless, indoor flying.
And this is Jesse. It’s safe to say that this man has forever changed Elihu’s life.
Jesse’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…
Jesse 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.
Ok, 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…
…and wait, you’re kidding me, right? There’s a friggin tuba player arriving just at the same time as us!!
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!)
OMG – the charts are even in German. !!
An 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!)
Recently 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…
Elihu donned his Grandpa Robert’s madras bow tie for his school Spring Assembly for the Waldorf School.
How 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.” !
A 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.
There are a few things my son will likely remember me for long after I’m gone; a handful of annoying habits, some exaggerated facial expressions and hopefully, a couple of unique and insightful locutions.
Starting when he was teeny, I have always strived to condense matters, facts and various life lessons into concise, easy-to-remember phrases that when spoken will instantly conjure the matter at hand and remind one of the lesson to be learned. One of these such sayings is “Everything is a thing.” While its meaning may not be instantly gleaned by the reader, I think you’ll understand it easily enough if I expand a bit: I offer that within every seemingly commonplace thing or event, there exists a huge back story belonging to that thing; an industry, the thought and careful consideration of many human beings, and certainly the investment of time and money. To some certain folk, the mundane things we so easily take for granted may be the very cornerstones of their lives and careers.
You can take just about anything that is fashioned by the hand of man and find this to be so. The upshot of this idea? That one should take nothing for granted; the toil and thoughtful consideration of many of our fellow human beings are represented in every imaginable thing we enjoy or use. It’s easy to overlook how much was involved in the making of the chewed-up pencil which lies long-forgotten in the detritus of your junk drawer. But someone owns the factory which makes the little metal band which holds the eraser in place. Someone had to buy the materials to make the eraser, someone had to insure the trucks which drove the materials to the factory, and so on. One can take this tack with virtually everything on this earth which is not naturally existing, without the influence of man.
Years ago, when I was in the barfly chapter of my life, there was a charming neighborhood tavern I frequented in which a handsome young man with long, gently-curling, red-blonde hair tended bar. (He himself was not a drinker, and I often wondered how ridiculous we hard-drinking, hard-smoking patrons must have appeared to him as the night progressed.) It was a small thrill to watch him at his work, and as he was a kind and intelligent fellow, I wished I’d had a better opportunity to speak with him outside of the bar environment. One night I got my wish, and the young man agreed to join a small gang of friends whom I’d rallied to meet up after hours at the Green Mill Lounge. With live and top-drawer music every night of the week, there was almost never a bad night to stop in.
The bartender looked quizzically at me. He wanted a bit more information about the proposed destination, so I tried to explain. “It’s a jazz club. There’s live music.” He looked at me, appearing unsure of my meaning. “You know, jazz.” A light of some sort went on in his head and he responded, almost incredulously; “Is that the place where they do all that improvising?” Yes, yes, that was it! I agreed with great excitement by shaking my head; yes, that was it precisely! He looked almost pained at my confirmation. He shook his head to decline the invitation. “No, I’m not going. Nooo. I don’t like all that improvising“. I didn’t press the matter, the crowd was moving, and he couldn’t be talked into it. There was so much I wanted to add – I wanted to explain the context, the framework of the music so it might have made more sense to him, so he might’ve taken interest. In that moment I realized something: even though people may have some things in common – perhaps even a lot in common, culturally speaking – they can live in radically different private worlds. Jazz was a foreign country to him, but it felt like my home town. Something that acted as a cornerstone and primary identifier for my life was nothing but an annoyance to this guy. There wasn’t any point to trying to sway him, so I took my new lesson as a consolation.
From that point on, I have never taken any of my experiences or values for granted. And even though I may overlook things, or never truly demystify them for myself (case in point: I still have no idea how the game of football works; to me it just looks like a laborious, injury-prone and war-like game of chess which takes way too long), I still give these other worlds their due. When someone tells me they’re into something, or they collect something or play some game I know nothing about, I have a certain amount of respect for all that that might represent. It’s easy to take for granted all the time and energy that things take. Hobbies and careers alike require a lot of behind-the-scenes investment. And I try to make sure that Elihu recognizes that too. Thankfully I think I’ve been successful imparting that to him. (I myself have a lot of my life invested in that kid for sure, and lest anyone toss off the role of mother as a sidebar to a ‘real job’ – my child would certainly prove otherwise on that account!)
But not everyone does fully appreciate the value of another’s skills or accomplishments. The other day I had an adult piano student with whom I had the most unusual experience… He arrived at his lesson with an amp, a guitar, a huge boom box and a bag full of CDs. That much wasn’t so crazy; he was primarily a guitar player and wanted a chance to learn how to play on piano what he did on guitar. I got that. Seemed like a lot of work just for an hour’s lesson, but I’ve moved more gear for shorter jobs. But then the ‘lesson’ began to drag on, and almost three hours later I’d hardly given him any instruction, but rather we’d spent the time playing small parts of songs along with the CDs on the boom box (I had my own boom box, but it wasn’t substantial enough in his estimation). We’d essentially just been jamming on half-bits of songs, piddling around, getting nowhere with neither one of us learning much in the process. (I did learn that one of these country artists he liked chose to play a lot in Db, which I found curious.) He’d wanted me to have the boom box – on which great rings of red light flashed like an annoying karaoke machine in a bar – and he’d been most enthusiastic about giving it to me. I said politely that it was “too generous”, at which he agreed and said that we could just call it a trade. My heart sank to my feet. Food stamps were two weeks out, my ex’s payment was late, and I had a $50 tuba lesson in a few days’ time. What the fuck was I going to do? And how could I politely refuse this horrible machine that made it look as if a small spaceship had landed in my living room? I smiled my way to the end of my wasted afternoon and saw him out.
When you play an instrument – and you play well enough to join in pretty much any situation – but you don’t play like a virtuoso – I find it’s easy for people to take your skill for granted. They might think “you’re talented”, or “you’re lucky cuz it comes easy to you”, so therefore it’s no big deal. Something like that. As if you hadn’t spent hundreds of hours supporting that talent or skill. As if somehow, since what you did was “fun”, it wasn’t worth as much. It wasn’t in the same category of the necessary services like litigating, filing taxes or cleaning teeth. Here was a guy who’d somehow thought that because he was having such a good time, and because I was playing along so effortlessly – that somehow my time no longer had as much value. I don’t quite know how a person can come to such a conclusion, but how else to account for his oversight? He even left me with the request that I learn some of the songs on the pile of CDs he gave me. I lightheartedly suggested that he get a gig for us, and then I’d gladly learn them. He reasoned that you need to ‘work up the material’ before you book the gig. He was a nice guy, but he was missing something here. Everything is a thing. And this was my thing.
After stewing over it for a while, I ended up sending him an email. Cuz I honestly feed my son with my teaching income. I couldn’t overlook it. Happily, the fellow had had some similar thoughts in hindsight of our lesson, and he was more than gracious enough to not only pay me for the lesson, but to also tip me $10. That was very kind of him, and I told him how much I appreciated it. I got a little lesson about my self-worth through this experience, and I think he did too. Yup, sometimes there really is more to the story than one thinks at first.
I’d like to get myself a piano single gig this upcoming tourist season, but there’s a pretty good chance it won’t be happening. I’ll give it a try, but I have a good idea of what I’m up against now, and I’m still unconvinced I’ll land a job. Last year I’d made a pretty good effort, but in hitting the streets after so many years, I learned all over again how involved the whole process was. Again, there’s so much more to getting a job as a pianist and singer than you’d think; you must have dozens, if not hundreds of tunes ready to go. That means charts in your key (or charts on a tablet – that’s light years beyond my capabilities and budget at this point), it means gear, sometimes it means childcare (thankfully I’m out of those woods now!) and it means chutzpah, tenacity and salesmanship, not to mention the hours of playing and learning technique and theory. And these days, it usually means you need a nicely produced video of your performance too. Videos from over a decade ago won’t cut it, nor will your story about ‘taking time out to have a baby’. Nope, none of this will buy you an easier entree into this elusive world of the single, working musician. I suppose eventually one breaks down the barrier through sheer tenacity and a relentless drive – that seems to be the missing element in my method – but as of yet, I have not.
Nothing is every as easy as it seems upon closer inspection. Me, I’ve only ever been just good enough to play; I’ve admittedly used my ears and natural talent to cover me when hard work may have been lacking. And while I can sing and play, albeit in a rudimentary fashion, what we often call ‘jazz standards’ (which are really just pop tunes from the 20s thru the 60s which jazz instrumentalists have improvised over) I am not a jazz pianist. I can fake my way through some 2-5-1s (the chord progression upon which much of popular music is written), enough to get myself through a hotel lobby gig, but to hold that post all night at a singalong piano bar – I’m not so sure I could do that with unyielding vigor for a full three or four sets. Yeah, I could get there, and I suppose in a pinch I could possibly sub – but again, there’s a lot of infrastructure and time involved. Right now, my time’s needed in other places; I don’t have the time to make the proper investment.
There’s a joke about musicians that goes like this: How many musicians does it take to change a lightbulb? Answer: 100. One to do it, and 99 to say ‘I could have done that.’ ! Next time you hear a musician, stop and try to imagine yourself doing the same thing. Hell, next time you see anyone doing anything that you don’t currently do yourself, and ask yourself how you’d fare at the task. How comfortable would you be? How long would it take you to do the same thing with moderate proficiency? It’s easy to say you’d do it better than the other guy – but honestly, would you? Everything is definitely a thing. You can play guitar in your living room, but try doing it in front of a room full of people. Completely different. It takes skill to do anything well, no matter whether it’s cutting a lawn or writing a computer program. Everything is a thing – including all that other, unfamiliar jazz.
This year there’s no snow here for Christmas, but the dove on our garage looks just the same as it has in years past.
This morning on Facebook I saw that someone had shared a video of the horrific ways in which extreme fundamentalist Muslims meted out punishment for perceived crimes. I will not relate here what those were; at this time in our culture, we’re all well aware of the medieval practices that still exist on this planet. I realized that the intention behind sharing this gruesome post was to make sure that this behavior wasn’t being ignored, but instead was being exposed and brought to light. Intrigued, and in spite of knowing what I would find, initially I had opened the link to watch – but then quickly closed it when I realized what I was doing. I was about to – as my young son so often puts it – “give my energy” – to the wrong thing. I was about to empower the very thing that I wished to disempower. “Where attention goes, energy flows”, yes? We know this stuff exists, but do we need to bear additional witness to it? Me, I’d rather send my attention in more life-affirming directions.
I am keenly aware of the suffering that fellow creatures continue to endure at the hands of man. My outrage, however, is not an answer to the problem. It’s my personal feeling that the best way I can combat the evil that exists in the world is to act in my own tiny world with love, kindness and respect. That being said, I’ve lost a few friends over the years because I have sometimes not offered the kindnesses I perhaps should have; I may not have given thanks where they might have been deserved or have kept up with ongoing small talk and pleasantries, or perhaps insulted someone without meaning to. In some cases, sometimes life has simply carried me in other directions. But never have I wished any of my onetime friends – regardless of how our relationships may have ended – any ill. Not even my ex-husband. Or his wife. Instead, I send them my best wishes and continue to move forward in my own world, interacting with those around me in the most positive ways I can.
When you no longer have small children in your home, or when a parent is no longer alive or a dear friend absent, this time of light and love can carry a deep, poignant pain. There’s already so much heartbreak in the world, and one doesn’t ever have to look far to see it. Add to that the contrast of what we imagine such holidays should look like – and how they actually do look in our lives – it makes it even harder for some of us. I’ll bet that there are far more people who don’t experience anything close to the picture-perfect scenarios that the media will have us believe are the norm.
How many folks actually know the experience of ‘dashing through the snow’ on a sled pulled by beautiful draft horses? Me, I was a lucky girl; I actually did know this experience first-hand. (As kids we found it very funny when the horses stopped along the way to drop steaming poops in the snow. And let me also add that occasionally horses fart at they walk. Again, as a kid, hilarious stuff.) I was blessed to experience old-fashioned country Christmases with trees fresh cut from our woods, bells jingling on harnesses, the smell of wood fires in the stove and beef from our own animals on our plates for very special meals. Of course, as a child, I had no idea that this wasn’t how everyone else experienced this time of year. Instead, the things that I did wonder at were more the logistics of it all; just how on earth did Santa make so many deliveries? And just how did he manage to get into our house? We had no fireplace! (I also remember one year deciding that I really had heard sleigh bells outside and being thrilled and a little frightened at the same time.) Those memories are so distant now, but I still have them, and I will always have them; those past experiences have been the best gifts of all.
My son has only ever spent one Christmas here with me at the Hillhouse. And it wasn’t the magical time I’d hoped for. It certainly didn’t live up to the times my brother and I had as children here in Greenfield. That was another era, for sure. The year in which Elihu stayed here was sadly missing in some sort of magic. I knew that it would be a challenge to maintain a cheery atmosphere in a household of two, and while I did manage to cultivate some of it, it just wasn’t the same. While it breaks my heart that I will never have a memory of a happy, familial Christmas with my son here in our home – or elsewhere, for that matter – I know that it’s far more important that I make that opportunity available to him by whatever means. And so once more, my son is with his ‘other’ family for the holidays. He’s with his little half-brothers, his father and his father’s wife, and theirs will be a bustling and full household. So, in spite of how empty it feels for me, I’m happy in knowing that my son is experiencing his own magical time.
Tonight, I’ll go visit my old friend Jim, a man who once worked for my father, and whom we Conants consider to be family. Ironically, my mother and brother will go to visit another old family friend – coincidentally also named Jim – who also worked for Dad’s Baroque festival years ago. My brother is so full of rage and hate for me that he will decline to attend an event if it means we must be in the same room at the same time (not to mention a car ride – that would be out of the question. This is why Andrew did not join us for Thanksgiving. His choice.) So thankfully mom, Andrew and I will each have a destination tonight.
I may miss my child, but being alone is not something I dread. Honestly, it’s something I cherish. So being alone on a holiday isn’t so bad really. Like my mother, I enjoy having my space and solitude. And, like my mother, tv acts as a modern-day hearth in my home, a conduit to the outside world which gently animates the quiet space and gives the feeling that one is not so all alone. (For me Facebook also helps alleviate the quiet without disturbing my privacy.) My mom has always been a gracious (and talented) host, and I, like her, strive to make guests – planned or otherwise – feel at home when they stop by. I try to find food and drink, and I make an effort to keep energy up, positive and lively, even though sometimes I’m far from in the mood. This is the good aspect of having guests. They require that one keep human connections; their visits keep things enlivened, and sometimes they can offer happy distractions. (For me, the other side of the hospitality coin is that I love to be alone, chatty and entertaining though I may appear, and I get a bit agitated if I have to share my space for too long. Guess I’ve turned into something of a hermit here in the country!) I also have a never-ending list of things that need to be tended to, and I always look forward to the long stretches of kid-free time I have over holidays. Without them, I have no idea how things would get put away, baseboards dusted, or the floors washed. It’s a time of utility for me, and this I consider a huge gift.
The one thing I find lacking at this time in the year is not so much the holiday hubbub or the presence of children and happy chaos, rather I’m sensing that I’ve received more than my share of good fortune and experiences in my life, and somehow, I wish I could offer up something in return to the world. So I’ve decided that this year I will do something. I’m going to give something back. In years past I would have paused because I had no ‘real’ reason to do such a thing, no group affiliations, no projects, no ‘excuse’. But this year, I find I’m too old to care. I am going to visit some local nursing homes. I’m going to see if anyone needs a visitor. I may even bring a book of carols. I don’t know. Not sure how it will pan out. But I don’t care. My solitude is welcomed, but theirs may not be. So tomorrow I’ll be making a gift of my presence. Hopefully, I’ll spread a little light where it’s needed.
In spite of how things may appear right now on this planet, let’s continue to shine our own little lights in our own little worlds as we’re able. Maybe one day the light will make it into every forgotten and neglected corner. One never knows, and it certainly can’t hurt to try. So tonight, I’m wishing all of us creatures on Earth happiness and peace wheresoever we may find it.
The night this video was shot I stayed in my old house in Illinois, if you can believe it (I hardly can), along with my husband and his then girlfriend. All of us – my husband, his girlfriend and their new baby – my son and me too – all had Christmas together. If it hadn’t been for the antidepressants I was on, I can tell you that this super-human feat would not have been possible. But in the end, I was doing it for my son, in spite of the bizarre and painful situation, so that he might have a happy Christmas, undisturbed and unchanged by our recent move to faraway upstate New York.
Never let it be said that we don’t live a rich life. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself on account of our meager monetary situation, I have to step back and pause for a moment to remind myself of the bigger picture. True, we may not have a lot of money, but Elihu and I are rich in life experiences. For one, my son gets the advantage of two homes. In one situation he gets to enjoy a bit of road life with his musician father as well as a bustling household with two younger siblings and a crazy little dog . And when he’s here, he enjoys a nice mix of town and country living. We’ve come to know so many disparate sub-cultures in our life here, and better still – we’ve come to feel at home in all of them. From the down and dirty local animal auction house to the tony happenings in town, we’ve been lucky to get an inside look at it all.
Recently Elihu busked on the crowded streets of Saratoga. He sounded great (as usual) but better still got the chance to play with some other musicians. Many times I looked up to see him laughing in pure bliss. He was in the midst of some real action; he’d chosen a couple of very good nights to be out and playing. There were street musicians and performers taking up every niche and corner, and the sidewalks were absolutely filled with every manner of human being. The well-appointed racing crowd and the tattooed bikers, the young, leggy college girls and ancient, shuffling men, even young parents pushing strollers with sleeping young children draped over their shoulders. Bentleys and Maseratis trolled the streets, dogs and pet pigs walked the strip and the air was filled with sounds bouncing in from all directions. (When walking past a hot rod Elihu remarked ‘nice car’ to which its owner replied ‘nice mom’. I explained that while a few years ago I might have taken offense at the fellow’s remark, these days it was something of a treat to know I wasn’t completely invisible as I often feel these days.)
After several hours of playing, Elihu and I decided to head home sometime around midnight. We walked back to our car, which was parked behind a friend’s home just two blocks from Broadway, an incredibly valuable parking spot in the bursting tourist town. A full moon illuminated our walk through the alley. The scent of lingering phlox blossoms hung in the air, while the first sunflowers of late summer had already begun to bloom. Now the only sound we could hear was a chorus of invisible crickets. Only moments earlier we’d heard the acoustic assault of the street; the constant chatter of people milling about, street performers, loud, drunken people calling to each other over the crowds, and cover bands from almost every venue competing for airspace, their music ricocheting back and forth between the buildings on narrow Caroline Street. We’d seen a man throwing up in the middle of the road, we’d seen more than a few drunken woman come crashing down from their five inch heels onto the pavement, and we’d seen every manner of human – from homeless souls hunkering down in the shadows to handsomely dressed couples, women topped with the finest in modern millenery creations. The alley we walked down seemed almost like a dream in the wake of it all. “It’s so hard to believe that all that noise is completely gone now. Just a minute ago we were in it, and now, look, listen… Can you believe it?” Elihu said. He was thinking just like me. Yeah, I agreed, it was pretty mind-blowing. “Here we are almost in the country! We went from the city to the suburbs in only minutes!” he continued. “Yeah” I agreed, “and just wait ten more minutes, and we’ll really be in the country.”
As we turned onto our road, the full moon shone over the big field, and once again we were both floored by the almost immediate contrast between environments. Coming home is all the more precious on the heels of such chaos. Oh, and his take? Elihu made a cool $106. American Pharoah, the celebrity horse that everyone had staked their hopes on might not have made the big bucks as expected, but my little horse rode home a winner.
The county fair was also a highlight of the past couple weeks…. The Dekalb corn sign reminds me of my previous life in that small town of the same name (and yes, the variety of corn is also from that same Midwestern town).
Seriously? Sigh. And the next car sported a sticker that read “Drop Warheads of Foreheads”. Ich.
Kindred of that scary, ‘warheads on foreheads’ group, no doubt. How long will this close-minded, hateful thinking continue?
One kind of horse in action…
Always a loud affair.
In this culture, folks know the cars and riders well. This guy’s a small celebrity…
…and he’s got the merch to prove it.
Elihu rushes past the cows…
…and into our friend Paul Van Arnum’s stand of planters and miscellaneous curios.
I’ve known Paul since I was four (his daughter Sherry and I are the same age and she was also matron of honor at my wedding). He and his wife Betsy are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He runs a greenhouse and must keep the wood fires burning night and day all through the endless cold months. They have had their stand at the local farmer’s markets and fairs for decades; every last item must be unloaded, set up, and then packed away afterwards. Loads of physical work. He’s getting older now, and understandably he’s slowing down a bit. Not sure he’ll be at the fair next year, I hear they didn’t renew their contract for the booth space. Every era must end sometime, but I’m still a little sentimental. Glad we stopped by.
Paul’s thing is lava rock creations. None are to scale, all are absolutely charming; made with sincerity and love.
Watch as these little plants react to being touched.
Of course Elihu delights in the duck fountain. In the end, it’s always about the birds. (Btw – this year there were NO BIRDS of any kind at the fair due to a local bacterial infection in the area’s poultry. Huge bummer – and what’s more, we learned that the emu hen we’d been visiting and smooching for years had died in June. It took the wind out of our sails for sure, but on goes life. We’re thankful we had the opportunity to know a friendly emu.)
A beautiful sunset over the Washington County Fairgrounds.
A mysterious midway with the moon behind.
And a magical, serendipitous meeting with Phoenix and Jonah, two former Waldorf classmates whom Elihu has dearly missed. My son seldom smiles like this!
Phoenix is on the Scrambler too – he’s in the middle, waving.
The first ride of the year is a little scary as it starts…
But oh how we loved it. Went twice. Soothing and repetitious, it had a hypnotic effect.
This one is my all-time favorite. Being on a budget, I only went once, otherwise I would have gone on it again and again. There was some speculation as to the back story here: last year the ride was absent due to ‘technical difficulties’, and this year it returned as 1oo1 Nachts, rather than Nights. Technical or legal glitch – or perhaps both?
My legally blind son takes his chances on slim odds… He needs to get the ping pong ball into a narrow-mouthed glass jar in order to win a goldfish. I prepare him to be disappointed – even those with good vision don’t stand to win.
But wouldn’t ya know – for the second year in a row my kid actually won a fish! The man at the stand even remembered him, which made us both happy. (The fish now resides in our pond with six goldfish cousins.)
On to another kind of nightlife on the busy streets of Saratoga Springs, New York. Racing season is nearing its end, and the streets are jam-packed with revelers.
Elihu enjoyed sitting in with a group….
A little snapshot of Broadway buskers.
… and then he teamed up with Chris. We’ve seen Chris on Broadway over the years, but this is the first time they’ve played together. They were equally matched in skill and enjoyment. (He goes by ChrisUnited – no space – if you want to do a search for him.)
They made some money, but that wasn’t the reason these guys were playing.
Wish the audio were better – I promise you they sounded so much better in person.
They had an absolute blast.
Lots of personality here! This was a night we’ll always remember. Only a few more summer nights to go…
Post Script: The Studio’s open house and ‘friend-raiser’ will be on the last Sunday of September, from 1 – 5. There’s so much to do I almost think my head will explode. Elihu’s also going to be playing tuba in the orchestra this year, so we’re faced with a whole new adventure on that front. Because of all that’s been going on, I’ve found it challenging to create posts – and there will likely be far fewer in the coming months. Thanks as always for coming along on our adventures, and we’ll see you again as soon as possible…