The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Marching On March 14, 2015

A lot of things are happening around here all at once. Progress is being made at the Studio, the logging job is almost wrapped up, and the snow has melted a good foot since last week. Martha’s been admitted to the hospital again, a friend turns 90 today, and the birds are making more noise than they have in months. Frustratingly, technical difficulties follow me; a new desktop computer which I purchased in December is rife with problems and is still in the repair guy’s shop some two months later. My printer’s out of commission now too. Personal costs (like a crazy $411 electric bill for last month and the unexpected computer repairs) are adding up and I’m getting worried about my financial future. But regardless of these stressors, there are happy and hopeful moments along the way. The air has begun to smell like promise and freedom, and it gives us the resolve to keep marching on.

IMG_3959Just last week the snow was this deep…

IMG_3139 The weight of it required a shoveling of the Studio’s roof, as seams inside had begun to widen under the burden.

IMG_3140It’s a pity we had to spend money on this job; within days it was all melted.

We watch as the loggers move trees like they were twigs.

And they load em up like they were nothing at all too.

IMG_4095The cutting has come to an end, now the wood needs to be loaded and trucked out. Next week they’ll turn their attention to cleaning up and leaving a level surface behind.

IMG_4214Another load goes out.

IMG_4301From my kitchen window I can see a truck full of our trees disappearing down the road. (Look to the left on the horizon.)

IMG_4183 I left for a couple of hours and came back to find they’ve taken out the exterior wall and begun to frame in the new kitchen! Hoo haw!

IMG_4195A closer look from the outside in…

IMG_4189… and now from the inside out.

IMG_4353Garrett’s making progress with the interior of the main hall.

IMG_4271Where there were huge cracks a week ago, it’s all sealed up, primed and ready to paint.

IMG_4372A view from the rear of the hall towards the stage area.

IMG_4363Behind the stage area are these doors through which my father moved harpsichords to be stored in the greenroom. Mom and I never liked the look of the wood in the background – and although I do hate to cover up natural wood, we’re opting to paint the doors to match the wall.

IMG_4342Look! Rick and Scott have the outside wall up already! They’re moving fast. In the far right corner is the new door leading out of the kitchen to the north side of the building.

IMG_4345The new exit, the future kitchen wall.

IMG_4338The Studio’s all sealed up and taking on its new shape.

IMG_4288Mom called and told me Martha was needing help, so I drove over to the farm.

IMG_4296For me, this is my life’s epicenter. I’ve known this place longer than any other.

IMG_4292I arrive to find the ambulance has just taken Martha to the hospital. Masie, her hound dog, remains behind in a big, empty house.

IMG_4293Mike straightens out the pictures on the kitchen wall. Martha’s leaving this place to Mike and his family after she’s gone; without children of her own, he’s the closest thing to a son she’s known. He’s planted his vineyards in the field that we hayed as children. The Farm has a bright future.

IMG_4321At the hospital.

IMG_4332The nurses ascertain that Martha’s too weak to sit up on her own.

IMG_4313Elihu visits with Martha.

Elihu recites the poem “Ozymandia” by Percy Bysshe Shelley for Martha. Missed the beginning, but it’s still impressive.

IMG_4336He tells her he loves her and says goodbye.

Later on, Elihu does his impression of Martha. She is known for giving her helpers incredibly detailed instructions on how to do every last little task. A knowledge of one’s cardinal directions is imperative if one is to assist her. Elihu cracks me up here. He’s nailed her perfectly.

IMG_4399At the end of our day we make a pit stop at Saratoga Guitar to get some advice from Ed, the resident guitar tech, bass and tuba player, friend and maker of gourmet hot sauces and other goods.

Elihu gives an impromptu performance…

IMG_4411… and enjoys himself a little longer.

IMG_4424Maybe one day we’ll add one of these to the collection…

IMG_4427The campaign for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie, is not forgotten. I’m leading the efforts to erect a memorial plaque for him downtown (should have progress reports soon).

IMG_4425Love an old-school music store.  Always a nice end to a busy day.

 

The Bs Are Back In Town June 1, 2014

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

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

IMG_3797We love bumble bees.

IMG_3796Glad to see em back in town.

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

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

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

IMG_3730The most heavenly scent you can imagine.

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

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

IMG_3880The big B. Gotta keep practicing…

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The butterflies are back, too.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3703Male brown-headed cowbird, acting innocent.

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

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

IMG_3692Here he is with his gal in the morning light.

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

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

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

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

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Bikes and birds, a natural combination, right?

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

IMG_4571Heard of poker face? This is Pokemon face. !

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Yearful May 19, 2014

It seems I should be feeling some enormous weight removed from my chest; a great lifting of spirit at the conclusion of a stressful Spring full of performances and commitments. And to some degree I do, I guess it’s just not quite the experience of bliss I’d thought it might end up being. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than relieved it’s all behind me now.) Last night the 8th through 12th grades of the Waldorf School did their end-of-year performances in Skidmore College’s ultra-modern and gorgeous Zankel Music Theatre. After having secretly dealt with the idea of panick attacks resurfacing at such an event – and meditating daily to mitigate their probability, and even in spite of having taken 3x the normal dosage of Xanax to stave off such attacks from hitting onstage, I was nonetheless side-swiped, mid-performance, by a couple of doozies. The difference between the recent attacks and those of some thirty years ago is mostly the medicine, I think, and also a good deal of high-intensity mental energy spent beforehand in preparation. Those two things seem to make the attacks the slightest bit more bearable. But no matter how prepared you’d like to be, if you suffer from em, there’s really no hiding to be done; they’ll find you eventually. And let me tell you – that shit is not fun to deal with. It definitely takes away from you being able to enjoy – and fully live into and perform into – the moment. I just kept reminding myself that my role was supportive, that my job was to make movement easier for the kids; to make the movement as intuitive as the sound itself. I just kept thinking my only job is to make a beautiful sound… It helped a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. But in the end, as it is with any on-stage errors, those that I made were much larger in my head than in reality. (Although I’m not going to be checking the Skidmore live broadcast archive to prove that theory. !!)

It was a lovely night. The teachers have the routine of the end-of-year performance down. So do the kids. They struck and re-set that stage ten times that night and kept the program moving along. Yeah, it was long, but yeah, it was also impressive, diverse and heartfelt. How proud I was of every kid up there. Hell, this may well be what it feels like to be a part of any school I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to, so I can’t be sure. But I had such feelings for all the kids on that stage… How can one not have strong feelings of solidarity after having gone through so much together through the long school year? But there’s just something about knowing each kid – even if it’s just their name – there’s something wonderful about having some sort of relationship to them – however small (in my case I’m the accompanist for movement and chorus classes – not super-exciting perhaps, but the kids do know that Miss Elizabeth used to be a real musician once upon a time. Seems she used to tour… she just might be kinda cool. Not sure, but there’s a small chance that the thought exists among the populace…) I could look upon any one of those faces and feel something unique… And I consider it no small blessing that I’ll come to know most of these children as they grow up over the next few years. How lucky am I?

Well, I’m a pretty lucky lady if for no other reason that I finally know how it feels to play a truly in-tune piano. !! And a honking big one at that. Same fellow who tunes my piano tunes the 10 foot Steinway I played on this night. Must give that fellow a call soon. My piano quickly became a disappointment after playing this gorgeous, responsive creature. Only wish I’d felt freer to really enjoy myself on it. There’s always next year. But I’m on it- getting ready for it already…

As life tends to do, the landmark events quickly and unceremoniously move into the mundane, everyday landscape of regular life. Within hours of leaving the stage with an arm full of flowers, it was life as usual. A visit to the local animal shelter, a stop at the town cemetery, the taking care of domestic tasks forgotten all week in favor of prior committments. The big news this week was not so much the performance at Zankel as it was the installation of our new dishwasher. And yes, you naysayers, I have found it to be just as life-transforming as I’d hoped! At least three hours of time have become mine since I first began to use it late Friday night.  And my counters are CLEAN and EMPTY for the FIRST time in my nearly six years here. If folks don’t already know, I’m a BIG fan of right angles and empty surfaces. I like it when things are put where they belong. My life may be a mess, but God please grant me clean-looking counter tops. That way at least it looks like everything’s perfectly under control.  !

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Ok, so this is how the day starts. Josh will be installing my new dishwasher as I go about my very busy day.

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We started out early with Grandparent’s Day at school. Mom in back at left, Elihu in front at right with pal Ben. Note the drawings on their desks that they’ve made on Classical Greece (their recent study block.)

IMG_3300Class Five gives a performance of a classical Greek poem for an audience of grandparents in the Eurythmy room . It was done masterfully.

IMG_3203This is a regular eurythmy class. The idea is simply that sound is made visible through movement. Kinda like dance, but not exactly.

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Here the class is given direction for a new piece.

IMG_3236Same room, now it’s used for orchestra. This is the most utilized, multi-functional room I have ever, ever seen.

IMG_3237The bass section.

IMG_3307Later on the same day, here we are at Zankel. Fancy shmancy indeed.

IMG_3331We started with a little eurythmy rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.

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Now the High School orchestra rehearses.

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Eurythmy in traditional costumes which show and enhance the movement so beautifully.

IMG_3415Alex has a solo in the Bach.

IMG_3418Recorder ensemble.

IMG_3422The Waldorf acapella  group. Sublime.

IMG_3424Yay!

IMG_3431A nice shot of the High School Chorus

IMG_3433They did some great pieces, including  a lively arrangement of  ‘Ain-a That Good News’ by William Dawson.

IMG_3414It’s growing next to impossible to take a candid of this 11 year old boy. Screws up his face as soon as he sees me lift the lens… Mom is in the striped shirt. She’s been with us since before 8 this morning, and it’s now well past 8 p.m. Long day…

IMG_3409Backstage the ninth grade girls dish…

IMG_3411And Miss Elizabeth tries to secretly listen in on what ‘the kids are talking about these days’….

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Hey look! They got me flowers!! Apparently, they’d planned on giving them to me onstage with some fanfare, but I’d quietly slunk off after my bit was done. This is a new world to me! I was so very touched. Plus I just LOVE fresh flowers. A wonderful night. And did I mention the Steinway was ten feet long? Almost looked like a mistake it was so honkin big. And those bass strings. UN real.  Woo hoo!

IMG_3686Ok, the night’s program was beautiful, the whole day in fact was a marvel, but this is the height of it all: a new dishwasher was at home just waiting for me!!

IMG_3443A dishwasher and flowers. !!

IMG_3280The next day starts out cool and green…

IMG_3219Elihu’s taken my camera to document our life from his perspective for a little while…

IMG_3212This is what lil man sees from his world in the backseat…

IMG_3217…and this is what’s on his mind most of the time.

IMG_3491On our way to the 4H meeting, I was struck by fresh activity in our long-dormant village cemetery…

IMG_3473We stopped to see that a local woman who’d died in early January was just being buried now.

IMG_3489Having just begun to read a book on the current culture of death in our country, I was fascinated and had to stop.

IMG_3488Wherever dear Agnes is now, I hope she can share in the joy Elihu finds in making a lovely, resonant percussive sound on the structure designed to lower her casket down into the vault. (I learned the proper terms from the man who’d set it all up a bit earlier.)

IMG_3493As a child, I’d ride my bike to cemetery hill and pump myself a refreshing drink of water at this now dry hand pump.

IMG_3499And this is how I think of this place looking. Most graves are over a hundred years old on the hilltop.

IMG_3524We’re over the hill and on the other side of Greenfield now at the locally well-known Estherville Animal Shelter for our 4H meeting.

IMG_3532It’s a very casual place, a casual bunch.

IMG_3541Aged horse Stardust (yes, I sang him his song) and goat Blossom routinely stand in the newly paved road. All of my 51 years this was a bumpy, uninviting dirt road which posed no threat to these two residents. Now the cars zip thru here and I can’t help but worry…

IMG_3545Elihu doped up good on allergy meds for moments such as these.

IMG_3554…and for these too.

IMG_3560Elihu found his sweet spot it seems.

IMG_3587Jessie and Sam – in the 4H shirts – are daughters of a guy I’ve known since I was their age. It’s nice to have continuity like that in the kind of displaced world in which we live in these days.

IMG_3578See this is why I have a ‘no hooved animal’ policy at our home. Give em an inch… Blossom is joining the party without an invitation…

IMG_3597After the club kids go home, Elihu remains to brush Stardust a bit. He’s got a lot of wild, winter hair coming off him and could use a little help being groomed.

IMG_3601Apparently goat Blossom and horse Stardust are inseparable.

IMG_3607After a good grooming they’re in search of treats in one of the out buildings.

IMG_3679Coming home to a clean, open counter. Oooooohhhh

IMG_3684See how nicely my flowers fit in the open space? What a nice reminder of our lovely weekend.

I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to a load of magically washed dishes. Truly, it feels like the dawning of a sparkling, new age.

Grateful to all I am.

 

Lucky Eleven April 28, 2014

Eleven years ago this very minute I was standing in my bedroom in a mild state of confusion. Water was gushing out of me as if someone had turned on a faucet. Nearing two weeks past the due date in my pregnancy and this night truly unable to get comfortable, I’d only just fallen asleep minutes earlier. That night my husband and I had just finished a dinner of pasta and wine while watching The Producers before going to bed well after midnight, both of us figuring we’d be getting a good night’s sleep in before any action began. Wrong. Before long I was stuck in the middle of a searing, non-productive back labor at home, with no good end in sight. Some seventeen hours later, after giving it my best and ending up with blood spots all over the whites of my eyes from five hours of pushing to no avail, I was on Lake Shore Drive being driven through rush hour traffic to the hospital for an emergency C section. Nothing about my beloved son Elihu, from start to present, had been what I’d planned on. Including his gender. I was convinced I was having a girl. Wrong again. And so it was that my son was released from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Hospital as “Baby Boy Conant”, now over a decade ago.

And what an adventure has ensued… We love our little tradition of birthday parties here, from hatching out chicks to jamming in the basement (well, kind of) to silly string on the trampoline to poker-like pokemon action at the table to the ancient model T driving the neighbor kids back home. It all comes together one day in late April and nothing, not even a brief downpour, can dampen the joy of the day. (After all, our parties go to eleven.)

IMG_2206Some intense gaming at the top of the afternoon

IMG_2236then the action migrates downstairs to the music room for a bit… but still, kids are constantly on the move

IMG_2241they do stop long enough to try to get something together

IMG_2285let’s not forget the trampoline… it’s just getting going (pre-silly string, that is) Look who surprised us by coming! It’s the twins, Cora and Sophia! That absolutely made my kid’s day. And my mother just kept admiring all the red hair present.

IMG_2289Annabelle is daddy’s girl. That family’s a brainy, techie bunch.

IMG_2225our beloved Thumbs Up entertained everyone. She allowed herself to be picked up and set down anywhere. Here Sam and Eva get a good chicken-smoochin in.

IMG_2316And Miss Coco’s bringing the chicken back to the party

IMG_2296kinda fuzzy, but can you see? Babies and chickens in the kitchen. Fun!IMG_2210Recognized immediately by his Pokemon peers. Charizard. I think. ?

IMG_2248the closest we’re gonna get to having all twenty-something kids in one shot.

IMG_2303the little kids hear the frantic peeping coming from inside an egg in our incubator… this chick worked hard all afternoon

IMG_2325With mom watching over from the steps, our neighbors get ready to load up on Zac’s Doodlebug. Stephanie has three little ones to bundle up and get ready. Let me not forget our other neighbor mom Casey – she has three little ones too, only her oldest can do it pretty much all herself.

IMG_2332Loading up six little ones for a ride home

IMG_2335Good-bye! Thanks for coming!

IMG_2343Out of twenty-four eggs, this lil gal’s the only one to have hatched on her own so far….

IMG_2338This little one struggled valiantly for seven hours, and then I realized that like me, she too needed just a little help. We very carefully peeled her free of her shell and laid her there to dry and rest. A chicken C section!

IMG_2351The end of night selfie. Thanks everyone for coming to Elihu’s 11th birthday party!

A Happy Birthday Post Script: The little C section chick, although still a little scraggly-looking, is doing just fine in the brooder tank with her/his only other sibling. A third chick died mid-hatch, and no other eggs have shown signs of life. Such is the chance one takes when breeding your own chickens.