The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Falling Fast October 7, 2014

The scenery starts to change in subtle ways at first, a slightly pinkish hue to a leaf here and there, an olive cast to a tree, maybe a highlight or two of yellow in a sea of green… In the beginning, especially when the weather isn’t always cool, and sometimes can be even a mite too warm – it seems a bit of a stretch to think that in relatively short order all the leaves will no longer be above our heads, but under our feet. It’s a rather massive transformation, and once it’s underway, it can be a little surprising to see how quickly the trees become November-bare.

This is the month when my parents chose to be married (on October 10th, in 1959), so that they might take advantage of autumn at its most colorful peak. Happily we’ve had a wonderful fall thus far in 2014, but I’m wondering if the leaves aren’t leaping to the ground more rapidly than in falls past on account of the lovely sunny, warm weather we’ve been having lately (save yesterday, when it rained; a personal gift from Nature to me, I’m fairly sure of it, as I was sick and needed a day to stay inside and sleep, guilt-free). Or does it work the other way ’round? Does a nippy fall encourage the leaves to leave? I dunno, it just seems to be happening quicker this year. Maybe everything just feels faster to me. Perhaps my age is having a greater effect than before on my experience of time. I’m reaching the autumn of my own life now, and I got here a lot sooner than I thought I would.

No matter, can’t be sad, nostalgic or backward-looking for long. I need to be fully present for this gorgeous time of year. I need to fully savor the scents, linger over the ambers and golds and bright blue skies. It’s a heady, sensual time – very much like spring in many ways, I think. One can smell the earth again in a renewed way, one can just sense the moisture clinging to the rocks and trees, and in spite of the sun’s warmth, there’s a sobering, cool edge to it all which has you digging out your light jackets and sweaters again. For me, this time of year is the most dream-like of all the seasons. The countryside has a mystical feel to it. Scents hang heavily in the air; wet, moldering leaves, browning roadside thickets and still-thriving mosses, fields shrouded in mist… I’m enjoying the feeling all I can, because before long, autumn itself will have fallen away like the leaves.

Some images from our beautiful property here on the hill…

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Here’s a past post about October, which includes a poem I highly recommend everyone read this time of year…

…and here’s last year’s post recognizing my parent’s 54th wedding anniversary. This year will be mom’s first without dad.

 

 

Dragons and Crumbs September 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4313The colors are here.

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

IMG_4284Preparations are being made…

IMG_4281Lots of soup…

IMG_4303…for lots of kids.

IMG_4290It takes a lot of help…

IMG_4326…and a little decoration, too.

IMG_3937The dragon has rehearsed its part…

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

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

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

IMG_4347Elihu and pal Roger.

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

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

IMG_4398Sweet Sadie.

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

IMG_4441Time for games!

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

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

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

IMG_4520Sweet little eggs from our youngest hens.

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

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

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

IMG_4068 The praying mantis we found on the new trees.

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

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

IMG_4040Saying goodbye.

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

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

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

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

IMG_4202This one is pretty young…

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

IMG_4220Elihu meets Esther.

IMG_4216And shares his duck with her.

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

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

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

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

 

Fall’s First September 23, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

The Big Red Rooster Is Gone

 

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Costume Mama October 20, 2013

It’s that time of year again. While many experience a peak of stress around December, or perhaps around the end of the school year with exams, graduations and such, my personal crunch time is always mid October. I’ve always put a good deal of thought and effort into Elihu’s costumes (see my post “Halloweens Past“), beginning with simple stuff in his first few years and gradually evolving over time into elaborate affairs involving many hours of late-night labor. With Elihu’s love of birds at age six came his desire for an Eagle costume, the next year it was a Turkey Vulture, followed by an Anchiornus, and last year he was a Quetzalcoatles. (Here are some images from last year – choose images 20 and 21 – Elihu’s wings were on a pulley system and expanded out for a ten foot wingspan. The Eagle head on Cally (right) was his mask from a few years back). This year Elihu has entered into a new age; he has discovered video games and pop culture and has held a nearly year-long affection for action hero “Ben 10”, a ten year old boy who finds a mysterious watch, dons it and suddenly acquires the ability to morph into ten different alien characters, each one of which is responsible for helping to save planet Earth. In spite of being an exceptionally rational and sometimes very grown-up thinking kid, Elihu is nonetheless absolutely smitten with this fictional boy and has been asking me since late last winter if he might be Wild Vine for Halloween this year (one of the aforementioned alien personas of Ben 10.) And so, being a mother who having but one child can actually endeavor to spend so much time on such a costume, I agreed. I will also admit that I am personally very excited each year about the prospect of making his vision come to physical fruition. Yeah, I can’t complain about the extra work load as I take it on in love and I really do enjoy the whole process.

And as if bringing this Wild Vine fellow to life wasn’t enough, somehow I also committed myself to a second costume, one more school-friendly, and one that Elihu and a few fellow classmates could share for their school’s costume parade. The fifth grade has just concluded their study of Monarch butterflies, and so I suggested some of them go as a caterpillar. Then I myself started to get the vision, and I unintentionally stirred up a bit of enthusiasm for the idea. I gave it a day or two of thought, and then, after working out some design details in my head, announced to the boys that I would do it. The witness of some five or six kids left me no way out. After all, they had a parade to plan for, so I had to come through. Good thing my kid’s out of town this weekend, it’s been the perfect time to cover some ground.

Our process begins by collecting images. I let Elihu guide me; he chooses the pictures that most closely resemble his vision, and then we begin to talk engineering. This is where it can get tricky; when he was much younger we’d get to butting heads when it came to the ‘hows’ of the process. But thankfully as he’s gotten older he’s deferred to my wisdom and concentrated his efforts on pointing out cosmetic details I don’t always get. He’s got a great eye and the two of us make a pretty good team. I’m proud of our skills at collaboration; they’ve gotten much better and we can even now get through the construction of a costume without one single argument. More than I can say for how many adults might behave in the same situation. !

The architecture of the piece is always the first hurdle, and once I’ve completed that part I can rest for a bit. And frankly, if I hadn’t nearly completed Wild Vine I might not have offered my time for this new project. But Wild Vine is now completely finished (whew! Never been done with time to spare – it feels really good!) and so today I began the Monarch caterpillar. In fact, when I awoke this morning I realized that I was actually very excited to get started. It was a good hour before I thought to eat because I was already off and running. Unfortunately my PC is so full it no longer runs, and it’s hard enough just making a post on this ancient G4, so I can’t download – or upload – any pictures of my progress. But I’ve been so entrenched in the flow of my work, and so focused that I haven’t taken the time to even find my camera, let alone take photographs. That’s ok, I just gotta get it all done. I’ll post pics when I’m over this hump and can then turn my attention to my over-burdened hard drive downstairs.

Not sure if Elihu will want another costume again next year. I’m not sure just when this magic time of childhood comes to an end. I have memories from my own childhood of sixth grade boys being too cool to dress up, but not too cool for trick-or-treating. I remember their distinct lack of costumes, their plastic shopping bags, the voices from doorways telling them they were too old, but giving out candy anyway… My son’s world is different for sure, so I can’t really guess. I’m just making sure to enjoy this process while it’s here, because I do know for certain that one of these years I won’t be on costume duty anymore.

I’m done for the night. Haven’t been up this late in a long time. At a good stopping point, and have a full day’s work ahead tomorrow, plus several sessions after that. Nice to have this window of time to myself, nice to know that my son will come home in a few days to a killer costume. And to a mama who’s happy to have made it possible.

 

Raking It In October 14, 2013

Ah, such bounty in our lives these recent days. Too much to recount each sweet detail. Suffice to say we’ve been visited by friends, we ourselves have trapsed through the woods and across fields to call on our neighbors, we’ve enjoyed time outdoors in the finest fall weather we could ever hope for, and we haven’t encountered a truly bad mood all week.

Today we spent the whole day outside in the warm air, under a brilliant blue and cloudless sky which was framed by intense yellows and reds. Our birds freely roamed the woods and fields as they usually do, adding to a certain picturesque quality to the property. Once or twice Elihu and I have had a conversation about doing away with the whole chicken thing altogether, but we simply could never do it. We both agree that our avian companions add more than just charm to the place; they give it a certain energy, and they bestow a certain gentleness upon our small farmstead and soften the hearts of all who visit. And then there are the eggs. It’s nice to be able to have our pick of ‘free’ eggs each morning. Of course when the male-to-female, layer-to-non-layer ratios are off, the chicken thing begins to become a bit more of a burden that I’m comfortable with – as we must continue to buy feed for them with nothing to show for the investment. If it weren’t for my suddenly very busy work schedule I’d take em to the Amish farmer and bring em back in a cooler. (Yes, for this year we’ve put our lofty goals of butchering them ourselves on hold – just too much going on right now for one woman to handle!) But I can’t get it scheduled in for another week yet, so til then I must continue to feed the whole loud gang of crowers. It’s ok. I might even miss the ruckus when they’re gone. Maybe. I do know this: the chicken stock will be off-the-hook good, and it will feel very good to eat nothing but happy birds for the next coupla months. No more turning our consciences the other way when we eat our grocery store-bought meat. Not a huge step, but a step nonetheless.

Today was a day of leaf piles. Thank goodness that at ten my son still finds great joy being buried in great mounds of em. It’s one of those eras of youth that goes by too quickly – yet the memories stay with you forever. And when you’re in the middle of an afternoon of leaf pile play, it’s just the sweetest time. Playing in the leaves has been a two-day activity here, and while my ultimate goal was to make a tiny dent in the fall cleanup, Elihu’s was to remain hidden in the largest pile on the property as long as he could possibly hold out. I can’t finish my cleanup til that last pile goes… And as of tonight, one final (and enormous) pile is still there. He was so joyful all afternoon. Every now and then he’d bring a chicken in with him to his cozy nest in the leaves. (His nest-building was very determined and ‘Bower bird-esque’ we decided. ) I took pictures and more pictures, some worth sharing now, some only worth sharing twenty-five years from now when his own children want to see what he did when he was little… In the end, it’s enough to remember the way we laughed and laughed, the bright blue sky above us….

In the late morning we decided to embark on a little local adventure and find our way up a small mountain to a long-abandoned graphite mine. It was opened in the first decade of the 1900s and closed only a few decades later as a cheaper source of graphite was discovered in India. Crazy, huh? We did a little sleuthing online and saw a picture of the men at this graphite mine posed around a train bridge over a river, saw some buildings around them and a few barrels here and there. A small operation, it had from 50 – 100 men employed there and who lived on location. Hardly a handful of decades have gone by since then, and yet through the natural degradation that’s taken place it’s hard to even imagine such an endeavor thrived there once. It really does blow the mind how fragile and temporary we are, both man and machine. When we came to the foundation that looked much like the place they might have lived, we found some enamel food bowls, and while no barrels, we did see pairs of barrel stays, trees now growing tall up and through them. Another sixty years and I’m not sure anything will be visible. It was most fascinating to see the right angles and footprints of the former buildings and their tall walls built down the many feet of the mountainside to the ravine below. The place was once big and rockin, with a small guage train running up and down the mountain to carry the haul and the supplies. Lots of industry took place here once, but in the quiet woods of fall, all of it now softly covered in leaves and lichen, it just seems like something from a dream. We took a shortcut back to the trail, and as I grabbed for a root to pull myself up by, I saw something shiny and black, picked it up and – whaddya know, it was graphite! Sweet! When we got home, Elihu drew a picture with it. It chips fairly easily, so we’ve decided to keep it in a small plastic bag. Nice to have a real, ‘working’ memento of our impromptu hike. Btw – the place is only four miles on the odometer from our house (woulda been less had we just trekked directly through the woods from our place), and the whole thing took less than an hour. We experienced some impressive elevation and some dramatic scenery as we walked the edge of a very steep ravine and had some lovely views to Vermont on the way back. A fine, easy hike. Just right for my current fitness level. !

We’d hoped for a ride through the local wooded trails in neighbors Zac and Stephanie’s ‘Doodlebug’, their old model T with wagon in tow for mom and kids, but the motor started smokin a bit too much as they headed out over the field and so sadly they had to turn back. A slight disappointment, but in that our garden needed to be cleaned up for winter and we were still of a mind to remain outdoors, we put the change in plans behind us and meandered down the hill. Seeing all the devastation from our local wildlife population again was disheartening, but it doubled our resolve to learn from our mostly failed year and make the necessary fixes next year. Live and learn. We removed the rocks and threw em back onto the stone wall, picked off seed pods to save, rolled up remay and pulled the already ripped landscape fabric up and exposed the garden once again. We clipped back the tenacious arms of the ubiquitous privet plants and gave the place a much tidier look. Ready for next spring’s tilling and grand start-over.

We got our birds in and collected eggs, and stopped for a moment at the hammock on the way in. We both lay back, me with eight eggs on my chest (see where this is going, right?) and wondered aloud to each other if this old hammock could still take two of us. I said I’d never known a hammock to break – and no sooner had I said that then WHOOMPH it broke, and with it, several eggs all over me. ! Thankfully we weren’t hurt, so were able to get quite a chuckle out it. It was dark before we realized, and so without the need for Elihu’s dark glasses now, we enjoyed another hour on the trampoline. After snapping dozens of frames of mid-jump poses we finally went in. Not yet done with our day, once inside I went to the piano and began to practice Schumann and Beethoven while Elihu took a refreshing dip into the world of his Nintendo DS. If ever my son has had me worried he might be a bit too nature-loving and earnest about things like practicing and doing his homework, thankfully I have the video games to even things out. Whew. ! Nice to have a kid who’s got it good either way. (Once a school chum came over to visit and saw that our living room had only a piano, a harpsichord and some hand drums. “Why don’t you guys have a tv?” the kid asked. “Are you poor?” ) Wasn’t that interesting that the first thing he noticed to be missing in our house was a tv. Hm. Just have to add that that particular boy – and every other kid who’s ever spend an afternoon here – has never, ever lacked for something to do. But all that good old-fashioned nature type stuff aside, I am actually happy that my son has a video game of his own to retreat into. Hey, I like a bit of brainless FB surfing every now and then. Keeps things in balance. Right?

We did learn one not-so-pleasant piece of news earlier this weekend… and while it hasn’t spoiled our time, it had gotten us thinking about our small paradise here with a renewed sense of gratitude… Elihu and I had intended to walk to grandma and grandpa’s through the woods, but stopped at our neighbor’s en route. Our other young neighbors were there too – a nice surprise, and of course the grown ups ended up sitting down for a chat while the kids played. We never made it to our original destination. I’d turned down my neighbor’s invitation for a glass of wine – but changed my mind and accepted when I heard the news. Someone’s bought the tiny spit of land – the field that our driveway runs through – and is going to build on it and flip it. Don’t even know who will end up living there. Likely, given the numbers we knew, it would be a crap house too. I suppose better than one of those inappropriately huge McMansions, but still. Likely they’ll take down the island of woods that buffers us from the road. Very likely. That sure threw a downer into our day. Into our life, really, as pretty soon things will be much different. Our dark and quiet corner of Greenfield will soon be brighter and louder. If this were the suburbs it might be easier to take. But it’s not, and so all our hearts begin to break. As the two of us walked home through the field Elihu cried when we passed the stand of trees. “But that’s where the oven bird nests!” he protested, asking if we couldn’t perhaps reason with them on this account. But he knew better, and so did I. At least Crow Field – the much bigger area to the East where the Woodcocks nest and where we fly our kites and witness butterfly migrations – at least that’s untouched for now. But we all know it’s just a matter of time.

Since I’ve heard the news I’ve spent a lot of time just looking down our driveway towards its idyllic end at a pair of ancient wooden gates, permanently opened with wear and age. The driveway then takes a sharp left at the stone wall, revealing a vast, golden field beyond. This is the spot where a new house will soon stand. And I can’t stop thinking about it. I just can’t. While I’ve always known during our five years here that it wouldn’t always be thus – it simply kills me inside to understand that the change is finally coming. But for now I manage to shake it off, and throw myself back into the present, because it is, after all, such a beautiful one. And for now we have everything we need. Including an abundance of leaves for the most amazing leaf piles ever.

 

Middle of Fall October 6, 2013

We’ve had some gorgeous weather lately. Only today has nature decided to even things out with a little rain. But it’s a good day for that; it’s a lazy Sunday, post-school fall festival, post-sleepover, post initial costume-making effort. Now that the dishes are done, the house vacuumed, some bass and piano have been practiced and some pies and bread have been baked, I find a little time to post some catch-up photos of the past week.

October 2013 A 170Here’s what things look like today from our kitchen window.

October 2013 A 116Our fine maple a couple of days ago. My mother just loves this tree. Believes it to be the single most beautiful tree in the great Northeast. Not as neon bright as in falls past, but lovely no less.

October 2013 A 172Now why on earth would chickens choose to hangout on a trampoline? Four of em are roosters – what a sight, all of them crowing one after the other. Silly, entertaining birds they are.

October 2013 A 072Just beyond the trampoline we can begin to see Saratoga Lake again with the leaves off the trees.

October 2013 A 069The colors beyond our garden.

October 2013 A 037The light from the East, early morning.

October 2013 A 285Since Elihu sees no color at all, I’m constantly asking him how he sees things – asking him which scenes pop out, which don’t register at all, and in this case which color mums appear interesting to him. In this case he likes the contrast between the petals and the centers. Makes sense.

October 2013 A 103More color back home on our burning bush by the foot bridge over the creek.

October 2013 A 142Cally came over after school one day. She’s a very gifted singer – got a great ear and a natural feel. She’s also very much a nature child like Elihu. She rides horses and her family breeds dogs too.

October 2013 A 158There they go – off to rustle up some chickens. Elihu’s costume is to the right – it’s in the very the first stage in its creation.

October 2013 A 302This is the character “Wild Vine” from the cartoon series “Ben 10”. It’s an animated vine that this ten year old boy (Ben) turns into when he puts a magic watch-like device on his arm. It goes without saying that his quest is to save the planet from threatening aliens. Wild Vine may look a little creepy (pun intended), but he’s a good guy.

October 2013 A 299

Here’s the costume in it’s most recent incarnation. The frame was created by duct taping foam pipe insulation onto some football shoulder pads and snaking a frame of straightened-out wire coat hangers inside for structure. The skeleton was then covered in good old-fashioned paper mache.  (The paper mache was made from the same flour we use for our pies and bread.) The eyeball and shoulder ‘pods’ are styrofoam balls carved and then spray painted white first, then blue on top in order to give the appearance of depth. A little hot glue here and there really helps out.

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On we go into the year… Fall is moving quickly along in spite of a long, uneventful Sunday. I’m grateful for the down time, cuz things will be back up and running full speed soon enough.

 

October’s First October 1, 2013

Thought I’d re-post this fine poem today, in honor of the first day of October. This is the month of my parent’s wedding anniversary, it’s the month when I pull out all the stops and make my son a killer Halloween costume, and it exists in that delightful window of fine, temperate, mosquito-free weather when the trees seem to glow from the inside out and the air smells rich and invigorating. I just love fall. It always seems just a bit too brief, so each single day of it –  each hour even – is a treat to be savored.

October’s Bright Blue Weather   by Helen Hunt Jackson

 

 

Stress Test September 30, 2013

The last few days I’ve been experiencing a dull, ever-present concern in the back of my mind for the things going on in a hospital room in Chicago. I don’t dwell on it, and I continue to live my life, but I keep wondering… Just how bad are things? How much has the situation improved? Has it improved at all? And more than I should, I worry about my ex. Perhaps now he’s finally beginning to consider the inevitable events of the next few years. Both our parents are getting old, and this is relatively new territory for us – or at least more so for him. I’ve been living close to it, thinking about it, planning for it – doing all that for a few years now, yet Fareed and his folks aren’t the type to discuss such plans. So it makes sense that he might be caught a bit off guard. Hell, I suppose no matter how much planning and discussing one does, it probably always throws one off guard to find your mom has fallen, that your dad has had a stroke, that an emergency has finally happened… There can’t ever be a good time for bad news. But at least it should be talked about, and ahead of time if possible. The Conants have done a good job of that at least. Got the DNRs in place, the health care proxies and such… My ex father-in-law’s heart attack and subsequent surgery are a huge alarm bell that the times are changing. My dad’s thing is so slow moving that it doesn’t have the same effect as a catastrophic event. Sure my dad’s not himself, and if I compare him to what he was like just a few months ago, it can break my heart. But at least he’s moderately healthy, moderately ambulatory. He kinda seems the same on the outside. But shit. Honestly he’s not at all the same as he was, and we all know it.

This stuff is just plain awful., no matter what form it takes. It’s just plain sad. It’s that stuff that you kinda think everybody else goes through, but that somehow, just somehow, you – will not. You, being special and different, are going to manage to sidestep this canyon of heartbreak and fear… somehow, your story will be easier, different… Things will wind up tidily. But hey, even if they do, you still have that matter of death at the end of it all. Maybe there will be no regrets, nothing left unsaid, and a full life left at the right time, but still, it’s there. The end. The end of your parent’s life. Why is it that we just don’t talk about this stuff? Or is it just my families? I hope that with my son – and with families coming up these days – that we will be able to discuss our aging processes with complete ease. Maybe that’s being naive or over simplifying it, but still it’s a hell of a lot more likely that my son and I will not have the problem on the topic that generations before have. I certainly pray not.

I heard good news from Elihu that his grandpa is indeed doing better. Still ‘being  breathed’, but better. I hope they’ve got him doped up pretty good too, cuz it cannot feel too pleasant having a tube like that down one’s gullet. And it looks like they’re getting his lungs clear of liquid too. All much better news. So the knot in my stomach unties just a bit, but not a whole lot. Because I still have items on the list that aren’t going away anytime soon: I have much new music to learn. Music that I need to be able to play to tempo in just a couple of days for my new accompanying post at my son’s school. I hadn’t thought it would be this much of a challenge, really. How hard could a couple of classical pieces be? Hmm. Schumann with his stupid ‘Des Abends’ in D flat, and Mr. Debussy with his etherically beautiful but pesky ‘Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum’…. it’s not so much the key in  this case but the damned tempo that has me concerned… Oh I love my old friend Mr. Bach, and his sons too, and I really have missed using both my brains and my fingers at the same time, but this is a bit much. Lots to bring up to speed while life continues on without pause. A Halloween costume is underway, I must ship a desk to a friend in France, I have a friend’s child coming home with us after school this week to cover a gap in childcare, the chickens await butchering, Elihu and his boat of a bass must get to a lesson tomorrow, and I am down to less than $60 in my checking account. All of it overlapping. Ich. I don’t like the way it feels. I know it won’t always be thus, and that everything that’s happening is on its way to becoming something better, something good and satisfying. Ultimately, things can only get better from this moment on. I think. Maybe not, but hopefully. .. Right?

But what softens the load is the image I see outside of my kitchen window (as I wash dishes for the third friggin time today, sigh). Elihu is dancing through the yellow leaves which cover the ground by the creek, he is jumping over the pond, crossing the small plank bridge, squatting down and reaching, then jumping up, running around to the other side and squatting down once more… He’s on his ‘final tour before torpor’ of the remaining frogs. (Each one he shows me has me a bit concerned; might they not want to hunker down in the mud before it’s too late?) Today he is happy, happy, happy. Finally, NOwhere to be. No errands, no visits, no ‘just next door’s, no visitors, no nothing. Nothing but frogs and chickens, that is. And all to the soundtrack of the aforementioned Debussy and Schumann. Not a bad way to pass a warm, early fall afternoon. I’m happy to have the excuse to play so much music, really, as before this new job I could never – would never – have justified this many hours at the piano when there are so many other necessary things to do, not the least of which is simply to be with my child. But in playing the piano with all of the windows open – as my son runs around the property hither and yon – I am actually with him. He can hear me, and I can see him too. And It’s one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon. We’re each doing our thing, each one close to the other. In moments like these, I sometime feel that life can’t get much better- regardless of the stress that’s yet to show up in my week, in my life even.

Elihu would tell you the same. We love being home, doing nothing, and simply being side by side. It makes the rest of it all – commitments, homework, chores, extra life stress – all worthwhile. So let’s all hope that life looks much more peaceful next week this time… Because living in a state of stress has begun to feel like a test of my abilities. And I am not a fan of stress – or tests.

 

Falling Back October 24, 2012

Just too much to do. Although it seems as if I hurry about my errands, chores, jobs and sundry business with head bowed, eyes on my toes, the car door, the wheel, the road… I do in fact look up long enough to notice the trees about me gradually thinning out their leaves. The maples at my place have hardly a leaf left. Only the giant beech has held onto its orange-yellow leaves. And as for the rest of our property, it’s beginning to look barren. So in driving to school, I change my route; I go the longer way ’round so I might enjoy the massive spills of yellow covering the grand lawns of the North Broadway mansions, and I feel some relief that the bright colors of autumn are not entirely gone. But mostly. We’re reaching that time when the silhouette of our environment will be changed for good. Or at least for a good long time.

This is always a densely packed time of the year for us. Each year I make Elihu his own bird costume, and this year he desires to be an exotic and long-extinct flying creature (Quetzalcoatles) and this requires a hefty investment of time. It also takes a good bit of research, a lot of enthusiasm, a bit of cash (don’t ask) plus lots of love and good humor to pull it off. Halloween is next week, in fact there is a party coming up on Sunday, and I must have it all ready by then. Tomorrow is an early morning and a long day. So is Friday. Most nights I find the resolve to pull myself out of bed in the middle of the night and spend an hour or two working on his costume. But tonite I am pooped. I just can’t find it in me.

For that matter, I hardly feel I have it in me to sit and write a quick post. But here I am, checking in, saying hello and hopefully, falling back to my bed again.

 

October’s Bright Blue Weather October 12, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 7:51 am
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Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

October’s Bright Blue Weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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