The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Rounding Corners February 4, 2017

It’s my hope that this blog doesn’t end up languishing in the virtual ether. Some weeks it seems there’s hardly time enough to take a shower let alone upload pics and cobble together some content…. I asked Elihu why it was that years ago, when my mother duties were non-stop, when I taught far more students than I do today, when farm chores and household repairs were mine alone – why in the face of all that, was I able to write more frequent posts, and to be more reflective about them too? These days it seems a month goes by and I find myself all of a sudden in a cold panic that I’ve let so much time pass; by one week’s time so much has happened I don’t know where to start, by three weeks’ time it seems as if a whole year has passed and the temptation exists to just forget the whole silly thing altogether.

I recently heard Fran Lebowitz say that just because everyone could write a book doesn’t mean everyone should write a book. I felt guilty when I heard this. Man. Was I one of those lame-ass, self-aggrandizing folks who thought their story was so compelling and insightful that I just knew everyone would want to read it if given the chance? A Facebook post of a high school friend recently asked friends for advice regarding the fate of her angst-ridden journals from years ago… Most advocated a toss into the fire, as Ms. Lebowitz would likely have endorsed. Me, I told her not to toss them, but to read them from her current perspective. To read them with compassion and curiosity. But that’s just me. I want to hear everyone’s story. (Maybe that’s why deep down I think that everyone secretly wants to read mine…)

Ms. Lebowitz also chides those who would write for the sake of writing alone.  She posits that one needs ‘something to say’ in order to write. That a person who would write must have a thorough knowledge on her subject. Those things, I might argue with some degree of confidence, I do have. Ms. Lebowitz also stresses the quality of writing, as well as its uniqueness. Hm. Do I possess a unique voice? A distinct style? Do I write prose of certain quality? Not so much, I’m thinking. There are times when I read my old writing and I think “Man, how naive this person is. This writing is so generic! And man, how self-involved (and likely young) this person is!” And I’ll say this not even realizing it’s my own writing. Proof positive that I don’t have a handle on any of that shit. Alternately, I might read some of my past material (again, not realizing at first that it’s me doing the talking) and think, “Damn, that’s exactly it! This person has nailed it… Why doesn’t anyone else make these observations?” But then again, it’s content alone that I’m responding to. Not style. Cuz really, I’m not sure that I actually have one. The only telltale sign that it’s me might be the reflective use of “but still”…

Indeed I digress, as I don’t intend to delve into literary criticism here but rather get to the action that’s been going on in our lives since the last post. Proof that this blogging effort is really about content, content, content! Quality be damned. Let’s get caught up, shall we?

Between The Studio, The Hillhouse, the aviation endeavors, the performances and the critters, there’s been enough to keep us super swinging busy. As Elihu comforted me the other day, after I’d asked him one too many times why it was so hard to get things done these days, “The Studio is a real thing now. Things are the way they are supposed to be. You’re busy with real things now.” Real indeed. An electric bill that exceeds my take by four times, a property that needs constant plowing and attention, insurance bills that don’t stop, and a roster of piano students that has dwindled to the lowest number since I moved here eight and a half years ago. Some things promise growth, but many others are still in flux – and the next era, while showing some signs of being just around the next corner, is not quite upon us. Not quite. But still…It’s getting closer…

country-roadsThe Studio sign is on the right, at the bend in the road.

scrambledSynclaire is a pro host, rapper and producer. Thanks to her, Express Yourself has become a scene.

img_3829Charlotte’s a favorite.

img_3895Ava (a Waldorf School kid) moved the crowd deeply, reading from her journals. Truly awesome.

express-1Rapping is more a part of this culture than I would have guessed. And let me tell you, it takes real talent to rap “off the dome” as the kids say.

sound-checkFrom Open Mic night to a full-on rock show. Things change a lot in 24 hours!

sangerGirl’s feelin it.

young-crowdNow it’s a younger crowd.

m-and-mdNext week it’s a chill evening for an older demographic.

blwLight shows play nicely on the angled ceiling. This was a really enjoyable event.

light-showA whole new look for The Studio. I think my dad digs this from wherever he is now. Yeah. He’s smiling.

close-upBleak Little World sounded great. A fun night.

self-portrait-hpschdLate night self portrait in the office. John Cage fans: note the HPSCHD poster in the back left. !

morning-at-the-studioJust six hours later after I left, cars arrive for the next day’s event.

yoga-classI had to have the floor mopped and dried in time for yoga at 9 am the next morning. Phew!

smiling-kKristin is a wonderful yoga teacher. Kind, gentle and in-tune with what her class needs.

chaosBack home our house is fairly chaotic. I do NOT enjoy this state of being.

e-makes-bfastBut thankfully, Elihu is learning how to take over some domestic duties. It makes us both feel good.

miss-e-at-the-pianoNow it’s time for Jesus Christ Superstar. Last time I played this challenging score it was with a band. And, I was 9 months pregnant with lil man. It came back fairly easily, but still, playing this book for an hour and a half straight (sans band) had me a little wiped afterward. Plus I had to keep a couple bags of frozen peas around to ice down my aching and arthritic fingers during rehearsals.

elihu-and-eThe kid still comes along with me most of the time. He’s pretty good about it, and always I tell him how much I appreciate it.

ms-carp-and-coThese kids worked their butts off. Gina, at left, is the most inspiring teacher and director. !!!

last-supperThe Last Supper.

ambulanceSadly, our friend – the light/soundman – fell from a ladder and needed attention ASAP. As of this writing he’s doing well – which is nothing short of a friggin miracle. We all loved our time with Chuck. He’s what you’d call a Really Good Human Being. Hard to imagine, but he returned the next two days to see us through our shows.

jsc-holding-handsChecking in before the night’s performance.

jsc-ready-to-goYeah, I’m pretending I’m a rock star. In case you were wondering.

friendsAfter the last show we went to Compton’s, the local diner on Broadway. These kids are all so comfortable with each other, so kind and generous. I’m so thrilled for their incredible performances.

waldorf-rocksLook! I got in the paper twice on the same page! For Express Yourself and our most rockin performance of Jesus Christ Superstar by the Waldorf School Seniors! (At the equally rockin venue Universal Preservation Hall.)

goodbye-sg-on-westEnd of an era. Saratoga Guitar closes its West Ave shop. For every chapter there has always been a certain guitar store that acted as a hub for my life. This location was that central hub for my life here in New York. Saratoga Guitar has now moved to Weibel Avenue. As I like to say: ‘Weibel is the new West’.

packing-upSad to see this room of so many memories now almost packed up.

field-house

Ah, but there are more changes afoot too. The house in the field is built and ready. There is still no light, but any day now that will change. And that will be the most profound and saddest change yet in a very long time.

tree-sky-1On a walk to the field I looked up and had a hard time comprehending the size and mass of the trees.

tree-sky-2Then I saw the tiny fingerlings of seedpods, so small, so close-up. From this contrast I gleaned the idea:    Incremental becomes monumental. (Let this notion inspire me as I contemplate yet another diet in my life. !)

awesome-lunchA perfect lunch followed the perfect walk in the woods.

img_6972Which was then followed by a quiet evening at home.

later-nightIt’s been a very busy month. We’re not depressed here, just kinda run down. Bedtime is always welcome!

penny-plane-3The result of a quiet night at home is this “Penny Plane”, so named because it weighs less than a penny.

May many more pennies find their way to us in the future!! Financially things are still pretty rough these days, but with the help of friends and family, we’ve made it this far, and to all of you who’ve helped us to stay afloat, we thank you with our love and deep gratitude. Honestly, I do think the hardest days are past. It really does feel like we’re about to turn a huge corner on our way to the future.

But still, there are a few challenging hurdles ahead. The photos we post here don’t always tell the whole story. Even so, they do reflect the lovely variety of happy events that we’ve been lucky enough to experience over the past few weeks. Both Elihu and I feel very fortunate to be living this varied and interesting life, right here and right now. And we hope that all of you reading, all of you, the friends we have yet to meet, will also come to meet your own bright futures very soon. Thanks for joining us on our continuing adventure, and we’ll see you around the next corner.

 

Highs, Lows and Loss April 2, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4993Imagine a tuba lesson that starts like this. !!

IMG_4997Yup, Elihu is a lucky, happy boy.

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

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

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

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

IMG_5544It seems the Easter Bunny is still visiting the Hillhouse…

IMG_5549Which made one big kid very happy.

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

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

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

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

IMG_5734During our fort-making we found several surprises…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_5399OMG – the charts are even in German. !!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Good Bad Good February 14, 2016

Preface: A random sampling of some 550 old posts – something I seldom do, and had made merely a whim – serendipitously provided me with this one… So hauntingly similar to the post I’d just composed, it has renewed my awe at the manner in which events sometimes happen here on this earth…

Two steps forward, one step back. Even though it might take a little longer to make progress like this, you’ll still get there. Mistakes happen, things don’t go according to plan, and situations pop up that beg disappointment and small episodes of self-pity. But if you wait it out, if you take a breath and just open yourself up to the idea that just maybe this is a better way to get where you were going – if you can stay open to that – you might find some hidden gems along the way. You might learn something you wouldn’t have otherwise, you might end up meeting someone, experiencing a serendipitous event – any number of things might happen as a result of your plays going awry. You may actually end up benefitting from the screw up. You really might. At the very least, accepting the glitch does help to lower the resulting stress. Cuz if things have gone wrong – what can you do but accept it? Easier said than done, yes. But worth a try. You have nothing to lose that you haven’t already….

Over the past few weeks we’ve had a short episode of miscellaneous snafus – and thankfully, most have been followed by unexpected little bonuses. Not all the tiny disappointments were so easy to take, but Elihu and I made an effort to stay positive. In the face of broken aircraft, lost books and IDs along with a handful of other minor mishaps, we managed not to cry, not to pout, not to break down and give up. Each time we reminded ourselves that somewhere henceforth was to come the surprise that wouldn’t have happened were it not for our initial mishap. A couple extra red lights and an unexpected detour had us a half an hour behind schedule, but as a result we ended up meeting a young kid busking on the street with his impressive magic act – and it turns out that he, like Elihu, saves his tip money for flying machines! A new friend arrived in our path whom we never would have met had those lights been green and we hadn’t doubled back for a forgotten item. How about that? we both asked each other. Confirmation, once again, that something better – or at least new and unexpected – always lies ahead. “Just like Martha always said” I started, and Elihu finished, “Everything always works out.” One way or another, things do seem to take care of themselves.

IMG_2257Elihu finishes up threading the wiring through the wings and body of his power glider the Calypso. The craft has a six foot wingspan, and Elihu got it for his 10th birthday. The poor kid’s been waiting almost 3 years to fly it! Only now do we finally have enough skill and knowledge to put it together and try to get it off the ground.

IMG_2266He said it was so beautiful that it almost made him want to cry.

IMG_2280I’m so very glad that I got this one shot – it’s the only proof we have that he got the craft in the air. After all this success (not to mention all that time in anticipation), the end came all too soon…

IMG_2319Boom! Although Elihu is truly a talented pilot of rc helicopters, airplanes require a different set of skills. He admitted that it was undeniably ‘pilot error’. We got it in the air three different times, but each brief trip resulted in a dramatic crash and some pretty major damage.

IMG_2294Doing my best to make an up-close repair.

IMG_2285I was pleased with this method of putting the fuselage back together. And it really did work. (Four rigid wires were stuck into the foam, and some trusty hot glue went along the break line.)

IMG_2279Another attempt.

IMG_2327But alas, it resulted in another crash to the ground. “I could cry” Elihu mused, “but I won’t.” Instead, he picked up the wings and ran back to the house. I even think I saw him smiling. (Wings always make him happy.)

IMG_2328My young Icarus was not daunted.

IMG_2348Although he’s come to realize planes aren’t so much his thing as are helicopers, Elihu enthusiastically put together a rubber band powered plane of his own design, using bits and pieces from the junk drawer.

IMG_2366This is a pleasant diversion from the recent disappointments…

IMG_2400…and so is this. This is Mina. She was with me and my ex long before the kid arrived. As it turned out, Elihu is deeply allergic to cats, so about a year after we moved here from Illinois, Mina moved in with mom and dad. She’s an old gal now, and it’s possible that she could leave us soon. We heard she wasn’t doing well, do Elihu doped up on allergy meds and we went next door for a visit.

IMG_2394What grandma’s desk looks like. Just look at that little cutie of mine! (The desk is also where Mina stays.)

IMG_2463One cutie can’t help but smooch the other. Without meds this would have resulted in hours of post-smooching sneezes and itchy eyes.

IMG_2483Here’s Elihu’s signature character, Stanley the Sparrow.

IMG_2484And look what I found at the junk shop! Elihu loves polkas as much as he does aviation, so this was a must-have! Seriously, Bob Stanley and his Polka Kings? (Plus that whacky mid-century art that mom really digs!) Major score!

IMG_2467We enjoyed our brief foray into rc airplanes, and we learned a lot. Most of all, Elihu learned a bit about his own limitations. I suppose a kid with compromised vision probably isn’t the best candidate for flying planes anyhow. Just took a real-life lesson to bring the point home. That’s ok, because our disappointing experience lead us to meet the local rc flying club. Soon Elihu will be piloting his helicopters in a community of like-minded hobbyists. And if it weren’t for our failed flights, we wouldn’t even have researched it. So for now, Martha seems to have called it just right, because somehow or another, everything always works out.

________________________________________________________________________

Post Script: I got stuck in line at the grocery store behind a woman who’d been complaining about the price of some doughnuts. She continued on with her monologue about the over-priced bakery items as customers waited and the line grew longer and longer.  After my transaction was finally finished, the clerk handed me a slip of paper for a giveaway the store was running, but when I began to make motions to throw it out, she stopped me, encouraging me to just open it, because I ‘might win something.’ So I opened it. And wouldn’t ya know. I won. ! But guess what I won? A doughnut! Ha!

 

Grounded January 23, 2015

IMG_5897

Because Elihu missed four days of school from having the flu lately, he’d been a bit behind in his homework. He was staying on track, and we’d talked to his teacher, so I wasn’t worried. But he was. Poor kid’s been having a hell of a time getting to sleep over the past few months, and now, what with this school thing, it’s worse. Part of the reason is that in addition to school, there are a few other things weighing on his mind.

A few days ago he pulled his two oldest helicopters off the shelf and began an online quest for replacement parts. He misses seeing the giant one fly – it was his first, and we both have nice memories with it. “It isn’t right that it costs more to replace the broken parts than to buy a whole new one. It’s just a waste. It’s not right” he had lamented to me earlier that night. He’d admitted to me that he felt a deep sentiment towards this one particular heli – the big orange one he’d had since he was himself tiny – like the kind of feelings someone usually reserves for favorite stuffed animals. And I’d agreed. This machine was our friend, and we owed it to him to get him back in the air.

But it didn’t seem likely, from what we were learning. In fact, if we wanted to fly this one again, it just made economic sense to get a new one and use it for parts. Elihu resigned himself to this, but I could tell it disappointed him deeply. This was just another mild defeat which added to his sinking mood. I knew there was another piece too – one which he’d been keeping to himself because it was just too heartbreaking to speak aloud, and that was the absence of an old school chum from his life. The boy whose mother felt I made “bad parenting choices” by way of removing feathers from a dead owl or using a cuss word within earshot of my kid… She removed her son from the Waldorf School last year (no, I was not the reason for the change, although I’m sure it relieved her to be rid of me), and Elihu’s had a huge hole in his heart ever since. I emailed her recently about getting the boys together – completely on her terms, on her turf, whatever could work – but heard nothing back. That’s the way she handled the situation last time, and apparently it was still her method. Last year it took me three emails plus an intervention by the class teacher to get her to admit the reason she wouldn’t agree to our sons playing together. (Ironically she’s a psychologist and her job is to help people through communication. !) Plus the blog. She finds that to be the most dangerous of my bad parenting choices. Even after I removed every last image or mention of her son – and apologized profusely – even then it wasn’t enough to pacify her (when I apologized in person she had literally said “no worries”). And so my kid suffers. Many tears have fallen over this lost friendship, and we’ve spent hours parsing over the ‘what ifs’ and ‘what might yets’. Elihu has learned to stuff it down, to forget it for now. But tonight, feeling the stress of being behind in his work, unable to fly his favorite toy and long out of touch with his old best friend, he succumbs.

He’s curled up into such a tight ball on his bed that I can’t lean in to kiss his forehead. Instead I kneel beside his bed and put my arms around him. “Mama, I’m really scared. I really am.” I hate to hear this from my brave, spirited and wise boy. But I can’t indulge in my own feelings of fear and uncertainty; I need to provide comfort. “What are you afraid of, sweetie?” I ask. “I’m just afraid,” he answers me. “Of everything.” I tell him that I am too, and that sometimes we just need to break things down and tackle them one at a time. He was behind, but still keeping to a schedule, so that was good. We’d found a website that sells his old helicopter, and that was good. And we’d sent an email to his friend, so we’d done all we could on that front. Until his friend was a teenager with his own ability to communicate with us, sadly that one would have to wait. But besides, wasn’t life sometimes magical for us? Didn’t the possibility exist that we might see him sometime when we were out and about in the world? After all, didn’t crazier, more serendipitous things happen to us from time to time? Elihu nodded his head a bit. I stroked his back and sat with him in silence for a moment. When he gradually straightened up, I could feel the bed was wet with tears where his head had been. I leaned in and kissed him. “It will be ok. It will.”

After our talk I’d left him to sleep, but even after two hours had passed he hadn’t been able to turn off his mind, to forget all that troubled him. Finally, he stormed into my room with Lenny, his favorite stuffed parrot, and harumphed as he dove into my bed. I didn’t say anything, I just turned off my computer and joined him. I understand so well the challenges of sleeping at night; my own thoughts race through the never-ending to-do lists and possible future scenarios, both hopeful – and frightening. Always just a couple steps ahead of a dire economic state, I live with a constant, low-level of stress which I’m afraid has somehow bled over into my son’s consciousness. I know our household is full of humor, music and nature. I know unquestionably that I have given Elihu the very best home life possible within my means. But I also know that he, like me, feels the edge on which we live. And he, like me, is physiologically prone to anxiety and panic. And he, like me, has no social life to distract or entertain him. He has but one friend with whom he meets outside of school, and those dates are too few, I know. He, like me, is for all intents and purposes, a loner. And that’s not a bad thing; for the most part we both enjoy living a quiet, isolated life in the country. Being a loner truly isn’t the same thing as being lonely, but tonight it really does feel just as bad as it sounds.

I realize that this will pass. Elihu’s an insightful kid, and so he knows this too. Things won’t always be thus. And no matter who or what it is that’s doing the flying – even his old favorite aviator, the tireless Wandering Albatross – not a one of them can keep on flying forever. Eventually everything must spend a little time on the ground.

 

Summer Flies August 31, 2014

If a picture says a thousand words, then this might just be my longest post ever. So much has happened in the past few weeks, I can hardly recount it all but to look back over my photos. These are our final days of summer, and we’re savoring them to be sure. This photo barrage may try the patience of some, and if that happens to be you, please skip on ahead and we’ll see you next time…

IMG_2394We’ve reached a first here at the Hillhouse… Not enough eggs for breakfast (all but three of our older gals have all died, and the new pullets aren’t laying yet). This is our first store-bought egg in a long, long time. Confirms for me the benefits of happy, free-range hens. Our gal’s egg is on the right. Could ya tell?

IMG_2128That crazy guinea fowl of ours, Austin, has just learned a new trick. I know it’s ‘bird’ seed, but we meant it for another kind of bird here…

IMG_2153Thumbs Up and me.

IMG_2175The ALS bucket challenge comes to Greenfield… Ken, right, videos his old pal Walter. Now retired, as state troopers they were once partners and shared some amazing stories together on the job.

IMG_2178Mid-ice bucket dump. The Greenfield Mamas are next, whenever our schedules will finally permit (my donation’s been made, so the challenge is additional, I realize, but still important.) We’re having a backhoe dump its massive bucket of ice water on us. No doubt we’ll need to plan it carefully for safety’s sake. The goal is to amplify our challenge by reaching a broader audience. Stay tuned.

IMG_2195Elihu enjoys a little RC heli time. What’s significant here is that it is the last photo ever to mark the driveway sans house at the end. Sigh.

IMG_2204Friend Ken’s also a pilot, and here he’s showing Elihu what the controls look like on a plane preparing to land.

IMG_1137 Hopefully, after we log the property this winter, we’ll restore a panoramic view closer to this than the one we currently enjoy (this spot is another hilltop property in Greenfield). When our house was built in 1970 it looked like this, now we see the horizon mostly in between the trees.)

IMG_1082This is our old family friend Ruth Lakeway’s house. She was a soprano who sang regularly in dad’s Baroque music festival, and she died some seven years ago now, but no one’s lived in the place since. As a child, I had many happy memories in that home. (I even had visions of living here when or if I returned to Greenfield one day.) As of this writing, only the barn and garage remain. We Conants speculate that the house may have been built atop a spring; it suffered from constant water in the cellar, a problem no professional could rectify. This spot will always be special to us, house or no house.

IMG_1984On to happier things…  Ah, the county fair. Pure America.

IMG_2081Ready, aim…

IMG_2085…and for the second year in a row, Elihu wins a goldfish!

IMG_1991Elihu and friend Roger have the swings all to themselves.

IMG_2078A word of caution…

IMG_2076…which neither one of us heeded. !

IMG_2074We know this Emu hen – she is twelve years old and in the pen with her mate of many years. See that white membrane over her eye? It’s her nictitating eyelid, and her closing it like that is an expression of trust and pure enjoyment. I’m smooching her neck and she’s actually leaning in to me. We love her so. For me, this is one of the highlights of my entire summer. Elihu’s too.

IMG_20140823_172017 Okay. It’s official. I am the crazy bird lady.

IMG_2019Elihu gets to hold a blue ribbon-winning hen. He’s kinda crazy for birds, too.

IMG_2064Talk about a sub-culture. So much to know. A bird can easily be disqualified for a poor comb. !

IMG_2007This guy looks well-qualified to me. IMHO.

IMG_2026I miss having homing pigeons. It’s on my list for future adventures.

IMG_1968Yes, Ken’s an equine artist, but ironically he’s very allergic to horses. This brief up-close visit resulted in tearing eyes all afternoon.

horsesHere’s a sample of Ken’s work. And yes, his art is for sale – plus he does commissions. If you want to immortalize your pet, Ken’s your man!

IMG_1136Here we’re passing the farm on which our old goose, Maximus lives. He’s one of the white dots just to the right of the two yaks and horse. Really. See for yourself.

IMG_1891We received a little emergency septic attention. When you live on your own – with no city sewer system – it’s your job to get rid of your waste. As the old saying goes, ‘out of sight, out of mind’… It’s easy to forget to keep on top of such mundane business. (The guy who pumped the tank was thrilled to have me as an audience as 7:30 am and he gave me all his best material. He assured me that when it came to his job, he knew “his shit”.)

IMG_1959Look – that’s my foot! I’m actually making this thing move!

IMG_1962Al, our friendly local excavator (pilot, nature-lover and bicyclist), gave me a little lesson at the controls.

IMG_1912The Studio’s last summer program. (Mom’s house is on the right – she’s just up the driveway.)

IMG_1919They’re wrapping things up…

IMG_1936…and taking home their work.

IMG_1927So beautiful.

IMG_1926This one too.

IMG_2242After Al did some work on our septic system (I accidentally deleted the cute shot of Al and Elihu standing over the open septic tank and holding their noses – but I think you get the picture without, well, getting the actual picture) he let Elihu ride on the tractor down the long driveway and back to the road.

IMG_2276Look what awaits us at the driveway’s end. Ich.

IMG_2230The guy building the spec house has kindly agreed to give us some leftover cement for our front step. Getting the huge cement truck back here without hurting our great maple tree was a feat. The driver was good about taking care not to break any tree limbs.

IMG_2231Nick helps skooch the cement into the frame. Afterwards, we two screed it (yes, ‘scree’ is a verb; a ‘scree’ is a tool one uses to settle the cement into place), and then I put a broom’s brush finish on it. Always more stuff to learn how to do. Nothing is as simple as it seems. !

IMG_2287Now we visit the sight and take a look at the plans. I’m relieved to know the house will be finished in dark, natural tones.

IMG_2289A view down the old farmer’s road on our property…

IMG_2295..and a gorgeous study in light and dark. So much beauty in our little corner.

IMG_2357We visited grandma’s house (the Studio’s on the same property), just a driveway down the road to the west. See the house taking shape down the road? My heart positively sinks.

IMG_2387Ich. It’s getting taller.

IMG_2334But at least we have a nice new front step.

IMG_2417Elihu has a friend over. They’re happy to sit, side-by-side in a virtual culture. (Don’t worry, I got em outside too.)

IMG_2306We’ve brought out the country in our city friend!

IMG_0852Elihu loves those amphibians. This is a particularly robust specimen. Cute, too.

IMG_1000Neighbor Chad gives Elihu a spin on the zero turn. All that RC piloting has given him a usable skill!

IMG_0515We brought mom to the animal auction. This is where our avian adventures all start.

IMG_0547 A donkey was up for bidding when we arrived. Sold for $25. No kidding.

IMG_0521Next up, a Llama.

IMG_0538One of the regulars.

IMG_0582“Backstage”, mom talks with another regular at the auction house. He’s a nice guy, always helpful, and very knowledgeable about the animals.

IMG_0585At these bargain-basement prices, it’s easy to talk yourself into taking home a new friend. It’s the morning after when the real adventure ensues.

IMG_1068A little inside fun…

IMG_2438…a little American Gothic humor…

IMG_0813…and finally, a new view on things. This is the first photo ever of Elihu outside with his eyes wide open, no sunglasses. He’s wearing his new, tinted contacts here. But the story’s not over… He got home, put them in for the first time, and they RIPPED! He was so good about it, and even though I wanted to cry, I didn’t. If he can be strong, then so can I. The new contacts will be in soon…

To finish, here’s a little video of Elihu’s first moments in our home with his new contacts…

There will be more to come, no doubt, on Elihu’s new life with contacts as our adventures continue…


 

Garden Sky Boy July 21, 2013

This summer will mark the longest time I have been apart from my son in his entire ten years. And in my fifty years. And as of tonite, if fellow mothers may believe it, it’s been a week since I’ve heard his voice. As his father went to Chile for a few days (with not more than a couple days’ notice given to mom), Elihu spent the time with grandpa and girlfriend. But now where is he? Finally, after some unsuccessful calls I check Fareed’s site, and see he’s in Indianapolis (which always gives me pause, as that’s where outside baby #2 – the one I quite honestly have to thank for our new life here – was conceived. Ouch.) So, it’s an organ trio thing. Not exactly the forum for an add-on djembe player. So where’s the kid? I remember Elihu telling me a story about a ghost he once saw at this club (others have also seen the same apparition, apparently), and I wonder if he’s summoned his courage and is walking about, actively seeking a re-encounter as dad swings his thing on stage. Hmm. No clue. Or has he been left with the drummer’s girlfriend in a nearby hotel room? Such are the questions that I, as Fareed’s ex, must ask. I don’t panic. Cuz no news is good news. I think. It’s not the landscape of most post-divorce parenting plans, but it’s the one I have to live with. So I try to push it aside, put it out of my mind, and I keep busy. Which is not really difficult. But still….

In my son’s absence things have changed, both good and bad. How to tell him, when my own heart sank to my knees, that the deer have effectively chomped off every single blessed tendril and stem of our promised bounty – that his beloved sunflowers came so close, only to be clipped short of their blooms… I could weep, only I can’t. I suck it up, plan to lay out some serious 9 gauge frames and massive swaths of remay in hopes of one more shot this year… I’ll keep this one to myself for now, don’t need to break his heart too. Might still save something… At least the new pond and perennial garden will be here to take the sting off of the failed (maybe not quite yet!) garden.

Everything I do in the soil is for us; for Elihu and me. I do love to work outside, and as I work, I hold those visions of this magical property that I hope to create one day; I try to imagine how it might look twenty years hence if I can just somehow manage to get it all done…. Yeah, I work for those faraway goals, but also I work for us, for now. For my son and me, that we might live in a place of beauty (and, of course, an excess of vegetables). Cuz I’m lucky to have a child for whom beauty is important. And lovely things are made lovlier still when they can be shared. But for right now it’s just me, the chickens and Maximus. They’re sweet company, but it is kinda quiet. I really do miss my son. But then I think of how thrilled he’ll be to come home at the end of a long summer away to find a pond with fish, frogs and flowers…  My little nature boy, my singer of songs, my aviator…

As I tidy my computer, tuck away files and make long overdue backups to far-away clouds, I stall a bit, and waste a few moments on a photograph of my baby, just a year ago, maybe just two years ago. Where is my tiny boy now? It seems he’s almost a teenager. Still not quite. He’s still a little boy, and I am grateful, grateful. I only wish that I could hold him just once – to ‘check in’ as he and I say in our own language – then send him back to his father again. But we’ve hardly even reached the halfway point of his summer away. So much longer to go. The photographs help, but they also make progress at my desk difficult. I miss him a lot.

Then I find a piece of Elihu’s writing from the Spring, and I smile. Is he taking after me? I flatter myself. This is nature, not nurture. Well, maybe. Either way, in my head I can hear his voice, reading his newest writing aloud, and he seems a bit closer…

The engine starts, and the propellor whirls around. The cockpit of your spitfire slides into place. Gripping the stick tightly you move across the tarmack of the aircraft carrier. A man waves you on, telling you it’s safe to take off. That is just what you do; revving the engine you speed across the runway of the large boat, you feel your front wheels begin to lift off as you pull back on the stick. You pull up quickly as you reach the end of the boat – and you are in the air. Circling around the boat once you slow down to fly right in front of the boat and make sure you are across from the other fighter planes. Checking on the radio to make sure the other fighters are going to do the same thing as you, you speed off into the clouds, ready for whatever adventures the skies hold for you.

 

June Interim June 22, 2013

As usual, there’s too much to do, too much to post about. But the tiny moments are what give our life its shape and color, so whether it’s newsworthy or not, I’m going to post an assortment of photos from the past week. From busking on Broadway in Saratoga to loading up on grain at the feed store and much in between, we keep ourselves busy.

Thursday was the first day of summer, and thankfully, after incredible amounts of rain lately, the weather was classic summer – with a bright blue sky decorated by random wisps of cloud, all at a perfectly comfortable 75 degrees. Elihu and I made the pilgrimage to Arnold’s Feed and Grain in an effort to both cut our costs and use locally grown grain to feed our flock. We had a lovely drive and stopped several times to admire our surroundings. On the way, we also stopped at the nursing home to visit Ace, the sculptor of the beautiful pieces that live in our garden. On the way home we found our road dead-ended at the local airport! This was too good to pass up, so we paid them a little visit too. When we got home we worked some more on our garden, then passed the evening watching the lightening bugs and jumping on the trampoline in the moonlight.

June 2013 end of school 305Elihu absolutely adores Austin.

June 2013 end of school 310Grandma says hello

June 2013 end of school 248A quiet moment with Maximus

June 2013 end of school 245Skin and feathers, all so soft

June 2013 end of school 332Later on Elihu plays recorder for Max

June 2013 end of school 271And then plays a game of tag with Austin. (See where Austin went?)

June 2013 end of school 181The Zen process of dishes. Must spend an hour and a half in dish-related labor each day. !

June 2013 Interim 103The blooming Locust tree branches pretty up our kitchen

June 2013 Summer Begins 030A spent bottle of shampoo? Huh? Well, it’s only after five years here that we’ve finally used it up. (Yes, Elihu does wash his hair regularly.) A few years ago I took some comfort in this bottle having come from…

June 2013 Summer Begins 029Skokie, Illinois!!   I’m over it now.

June 2013 end of school 205Boy’s play – outdoors

June 2013 end of school 237 Boy’s play – indoors

June 2013 Interim 069And boy’s play – on the street

June 2013 Interim 0724:20 somewhere…

June 2013 Interim 004One of those ‘quality of life upgrades’ – a bolt cutter. Everyone should have a pair.

June 2013 end of school 279The garden at first, with landscape fabric (a week away and I’ll lose the place to weeds if I don’t use it)

June 2013 Interim 025And now draped with Remay – a miracle poly cloth that protects against critters. It doesn’t look as romantic as a natural garden, but it works as a fence and is our greatest hope this year. The bolt cutter was used to cut the wire hoop frame underneath.

June 2013 Interim 026Sank up to my knees several times – actually panicked for a moment. Sticky stuff!

June 2013 Interim 059What resort is this?

June 2013 Interim 061It’s the private rooftop club at the Hillhouse! And here’s the rest of the view… garden, trampoline, apple tree to left. Note how our yard descends down the hill; it has three different terraced levels – including more yard below the garden.

June 2013 Summer Begins 020Elihu loves Irik a lot, but we need to find him another home soon… Three roosters is two too many.

June 2013 Summer Begins 035Peek a boo! This guy is part Jersey Giant, and he is the biggest chicken we’ve had yet. And he’s got feathered feet too. Cool.

June 2013 Summer Begins 053Ace’s bird…

June 2013 Summer Begins 068And Ace himself!

June 2013 Summer Begins 065Love that Ace was wearing an ace, too.

June 2013 Summer Begins 071Off to the countryside to the feed store. This is a magnificent view looking west across the mighty Mohawk River valley to the other side. Elihu can’t see well or far, of course, but somehow this vista got him – he really understood the distance it represented. He even saw that tiny puff of a tree on the ridge! Made me SO happy. This is not an average occurrence.

June 2013 Summer Begins 074I got some binocs that work particularly well with one’s glasses on – and BINGO! Now he can see birds and views…

June 2013 Summer Begins 081Mecca!

June 2013 Summer Begins 086A good third less than at the commercial Tractor Supply. Plus it supports a local, family-operated business. Even with the gas, it was a big savings. Now we’re all stocked up.

June 2013 Summer Begins 087Jim’s telling Elihu he thinks with a little leverage he might actually be able to handle a 50 pound bag. ! Mom’s not so sure…

June 2013 Summer Begins 094Thanks, Arnolds! Very pretty place you got.

June 2013 Summer Begins 099The nearest ‘city’ of Amsterdam, and its bustling downtown.

June 2013 Summer Begins 101Loved this sign since I was a kid. It’s the city library.

June 2013 Summer Begins 167It’s the Saratoga County airport! Woo hoo!

June 2013 Summer Begins 112Ok, so my legally blind kid recognized the profile – and correctly identified – this plane as it taxied in on the tarmac. Crazy.

June 2013 Summer Begins 153Mama loves vintage

June 2013 Summer Begins 156mmm

June 2013 Summer Begins 133Talk about the wind in your hair. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 136Can you imagine??

June 2013 Summer Begins 139Check out the word ‘experimental’ on the side. ?! Yeeps.

June 2013 Summer Begins 118Something’s coming in

June 2013 Summer Begins 124Beautiful in blue

June 2013 Summer Begins 150Not a very glamorous job, but necessary. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 149And a helicopter, too! That’s my dream – one day I have to know that feeling…

June 2013 Summer Begins 178Back at home, Elihu surprises Mama! He himself only weighs 58 pounds, after all!

June 2013 Summer Begins 175Chicken approved.