The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Split July 30, 2017

For the first time in a year or more my son is resting in my bed on a Sunday morning as I sit in my favorite chair, writing. This had been our routine for most of his life until one day, it wasn’t. Last times are evasive; there is so seldom the awareness that one is experiencing something for a final time, but it has to happen sometime, right? I try to be as mindful and grateful of all the little everyday routines that bring joy to my life because there is always a tiny voice in my head which whispers “this may be the last time….”

I can remember the last time my father was downstairs in this house. It was a delicate procedure to get him down the steep cellar stairs in the first place, but I’d just painted the main room and installed a large carpet, making it truly habitable for the first time ever, and Elihu and I had wanted to share our triumph with his grandparents. I can remember watching dad’s laborious ascent of the stairs at the conclusion of our visit, and thinking distinctly “this is the last time dad will ever come down here”. It wasn’t a sad or overly nostalgic thought either, it simply was. In this case, the last time was pretty obvious to spot. But most of the time the ‘lasts’ are not always so clear.

With adolescence come many ‘lasts’. Elihu’s spending a weekend night in my bed was a routine event when he was small, but of course the dynamic between us has been changing this past year as he has become a young man and no longer a small boy. Things that felt effortless and natural just a year ago don’t feel quite the same these days. Late last night (I now retire before the kid, cuz he stays up til all hours fabricating airplane models) he came into my room saying a large bug had gotten into his bed and it freaked him out so he wanted to sleep with me. I was half asleep myself, but the significance of the moment wasn’t lost on me. I knew that it would mean one more lazy, sweet morning with my son next to me. One last morning in which he’d reach out to me and say ‘mama’ before falling back asleep, one last time when I’d rise early to let the chickens out and return to my chair with a hot cup of coffee. We would have one final morning the way it had been for so many years. As I sit here in my chair, my heart finding relief upon hearing the breath of deep sleep coming from my son, I am savoring this window in time, knowing that it may very well be the last of its kind.

Most times there are no single defining moments to mark the end of an era. Often last times aren’t known to us until we look back in time and identify them. We look backwards and can more clearly see where trends slowed and new ones replaced them, we can understand in hindsight how interests and passions waned and new ones emerged. In retrospect we may even find the dates and events that mark these changes. But for the most part, change is gradual, beginnings and endings are undetectable, invisible. But sometimes, they are not.

When I was eighteen, I broke my neck. In one split second the whole trajectory of my life changed. Many times I’ve reflected on how curious a mix of life events that near-tragedy provided me: I can surmise that without having broken my neck I never would have met certain dear friends, experienced the life of a musician, fallen in love with my ex-husband, given birth to my son. That was an obvious moment; and obvious ending of one era and start of another. Of course at the time none of these positive outcomes could be guessed, but certainly life as I may have envisioned it had been redirected in an instant.

When I was eleven or twelve I experienced a moment which also became a marker in my life. The smallest, most mundane thing had become transcendent. I will never forget that feeling, the enormousness of the revelation, the way I fairly weakened at the dawning, the way I knew, in that moment, that I was a changed person.

It was a summer evening, and I was walking home along the road on which I now again live, some forty years later. As usual, my glance fell just a few feet ahead of me on the gravel, keeping watch for my footing. In the damp of the June night a small red eft had crawled out of the grass and was heading perilously for the road. I carefully allowed the tiny creature to crawl to the safety of my hand, where I would inspect it, marvel at it and then return it to the wet overgrowth. I looked down at this creature and was smacked hard with a profound realization: we were related. I saw his four limbs, his tiny fingers, his eyes, his mouth… I marveled over the symmetry – in both of us – and was simply stunned. I guess I’d always known that each and every creature on this planet is of course in some fundamental way related, but this just got to me. I remember standing at the side of the road in the waning light and thinking “We are all related. We are all of the same family.” I remember standing there a little longer and literally thinking “We are all one.” It almost frightened me, but for some reason I remember laughing out loud. I can’t explain this moment any better. It was huge, it was tiny. Miraculous, mundane. And it was also a last. And a first, too. And I knew it.

Elihu was with his father in Chicago for six weeks this summer, and I enjoyed a great stretch of useful, solo time. Determined that I would finally expunge my house of all the physical objects that we no longer needed, I embarked on the enormous task of sorting, culling, organizing, boxing and bagging. If my son had been home the project would have been impossible. Exhausting as the project was, midway through I could see a new life emerging on the other side. My very being was feeling light and changed; I sensed a fresh new life awaiting me upon completion…

On the fourth of July I closed the chickens in shortly after the sun went down, then got myself cleaned up before heading downtown to watch the fireworks (my goal this year was twofold: one, I would finally wear earplugs so that I could actually enjoy the visuals without the horrible explosive noise and two, I would plant myself downwind so that I could savor that uniquely summer smokey scent.) Recently I’d learned a new trick to accommodate my changing vision needs; I wore a contact in just my right eye, leaving each eye its own focal length. This made it possible to both see the road ahead as well as focus successfully on things at close range, without the need for reading or distance glasses. As I wound down the hilly dark country road, I felt that my contact needed adjusting, and so leaned in to the rear view mirror to take a look…

Crack! The car hit a boulder, a log, a tree – something – which made a sound as loud as any firework… My body was immediately flushed with the cold, electric sensation of adrenaline. What had happened? It was darker out than I’d thought, and as I pulled to the side of the road it was hard to see…. And when I did, everything changed. Instantly I felt nauseous. I’d done what I so many times had cursed other, more careless people for doing. Oh no. This was horrible. I couldn’t bear to look… My mind raced through the implications. I knew I’d done something terrible, but perhaps could something good come of it? Certainly, it would change the way in which I pointed an accusing finger at others. Now I was the selfish, insensitive human I’d blamed others for being. I had hit an ancient creature of the woods. I had caused immense pain and suffering to an innocent animal who was quietly doing what she had been doing for years and years. Not only that, but if she wasn’t dead already (which at this point I prayed she was) she would be soon, and therefore I had ceased the creation of more of her kind. I had ended her lineage. Maybe even ended the existence of her kind in our quiet woods. My car had struck a snapping turtle.

Many of us who live in the country have carefully re-directed a snapping turtle or two; we all know to keep well away from those frightening jaws, we all understand how lightning fast they can spin around, how easily they can break off a finger… And yet compassion moves many of us to pull over, search for a good sized stick and begin the process of saving the creature from the dangers of the open road. Mostly, these animals are mothers seeking to cross over to the adjacent pond (why in hell they can’t just stay put I’ll never understand) in order to lay their eggs. In my experience, turtles do this in the daylight. I had never thought to be on the lookout for such a migration at night. But then again, should I not be mindful after dark of bolting deer, lumbering porcupines and other occupants of the forest?

As it turned out, she was still alive. For a moment I considered running over her again in order to bring her a more swift and humane death. But then I considered her shell, and my tires. It could make for more trouble. And besides, there was no guarantee I could do the job as I intended. In the end, I chose to move her as carefully as possible to the side of the road to allow her to die. Her shell was, as I feared, completely split up the middle of her underside. I prayed that her body had gone into shock, and I prayed she didn’t hurt as badly as I believed she did. I placed her in the grass, and then drove into town.

The fireworks took on a whole different feel to me now. I walked through the crowds in a daze. I’d forgotten my earplugs and the shocks were loud. From where I stood in the wake of the smoke clouds, the fireworks appeared in the sky over the roof of the historic casino building. Instantly, these munitions were not entertainment; I saw and felt them to be the explosions they symbolically recalled. Each explosion birthed a wave of fear for my life, for the lives of those around me. War, I felt, must sound just like this. The experience was transformed by this new perspective. I imagined the casino itself to be hit, with bricks and stained glass crumbling to the ground. Deeply frightening as it was, I forced myself to stay in this experience for a few moments. I felt the need to grab the nearest humans and hold us all together in safety. How strange it was, I thought as the sky lit up the park like daylight, that this should be held as an entertainment for we of this modern, Western world. Easy, I supposed, as we here in this culture know nothing of war firsthand. I wondered how citizens of currently war-ravaged countries in the Middle East would feel about such a display. Would it bring on symptoms of PTSD? Would it throw children into tears, would it make mothers cry out for their babies and grown men shrink in terror? I thought it surely would. So strange, this mix. Triumphant and celebratory, menacing and evil. At every cracking sound I relived the moment when I’d hit the turtle. One moment I was thrilling to personal victory on a beautiful summer’s night, the next I was dumbfounded and heartsick. This time, I had known the precise moment when things changed.

These days my fingers are hurting more. Usually the first thing I’m aware of when I awake is that my fingers hurt. The irony of a musician losing her fingers to arthritis tempts me to indulge in self-pity. I lament that I haven’t played with other musicians since my son was born, and the way life is going at present, I’m not likely to again. I think of the ‘time before’ and my heart aches. When was the last time I played in a band? Who were the last people I played music with? It saddens me that I can’t recall. Just when did my decolletage become crepey looking like those other, older women (whom I was never supposed to become!)? This doesn’t just sadden me, it angers me. Just when did my left pinkie begin to bend out in a bizarre and unnatural way at the far joint? Just when did this trend towards jowls and sagging neck actually begin? Many of my thoughts these days are an effort to come to terms with aging. With the process of saying goodbye to the way things have been for so long… I tell myself that the process has always been molecule by molecule, cell by cell. That, thank God, it happens gradually. Kind of like pregnancy. You get a whole nine months to adjust to the new reality. But there’s also something silently disturbing about slow change: you can’t stop it, and you don’t quite know when it’s coming or how it’s happening. Your past splits away from you without your even realizing it. And then one day you get it as you didn’t get it before. Oh shit. It’s over. And there’s no going back.

A few years back I played the music behind a student production of “Tuck Everlasting”. It’s the story of a family who is stuck in time; no one ages and life for them stretches on and on without end, while life and death continue on as usual around them. I’d never thought too deeply before then about life from the opposite perspective. But it certainly struck me as a hell in which I’d never care to live. It gave me consolation about the aging process: we all do it, and pretty much all at the same rate.

Troubled as I am by my mortality, I still continue to fully enjoy and participate in the experience. Admittedly I am vain, convinced that most of the time I am right, and often full of pluck and bravado. But at the same time I am also timid, unconvinced of my talents and deeply fearful about my future. I am a mix of these things all at once. These qualities all wrestle for power as the reflective side and the reactive side continue to fight each other for dominance. It’s fascinating how humans can be all of these seemingly contradicting things all at once. Yet truly, we are all things at the same time. Our lifetimes are spent swinging from one awareness to the next, from certainty to uncertainty in the blink of an eye. One minute we are whole, and the very next – we are split.

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Post Script: Feeling that this post was already verging on way-too-long I omitted these two recent incidents which further expand on the idea of life circumstances splitting in an instant: The happy day when Elihu returned home from his father’s, I tripped on the suitcase on his bedroom floor and broke a toe. A week before, lightning had struck The Studio and fried the just-out-of-warranty AC units, resulting in three thousand dollars worth of damage. Thankfully, the IRS just granted us our official status as a nonprofit entity after a three-year application process. Split indeed.

 

 

 

Summerella July 1, 2017

There is a tree frog peeping loudly outside my kitchen door. Likely she is close by, and if I were so gifted, I might see her for myself. Surely, if my son were here, low vision child though he may be, he would locate the tiny amphibian in an instant. She is surprisingly loud and I consider looking for her, but I know that it would be in vain. For a moment, I am reminded of my child, and I miss him. I realize that I’ve spoken to him only once in the nearly two weeks he’s been away. It’s summer, and as always, he is with his father. Although at present I feel his absence very sharply, for the most part his time away is part of a schedule that works very well for me. When he is here during the academic year and life is fully underway I cannot stay on top of the maintenance required by a home with chickens, frogs, fish, basement and garage (never mind the arts venue), so this is the season when I turn my full attention to matters domestic. What is different this summer is that I am also making an effort to get out a little. To visit the world beyond my driveway, to hear some music, to meet some people, play a couple of new gigs, and shake off the antisocial mode which I find more comfortable and natural at this time in my life. There’s much to do, much to do. And thankfully, finally there’s some time in which to get it all done.

A jazz guitarist I’d known two decades ago through my ex husband was kind to reach out and invite me to the Jazz Festival here in Saratoga. (He may not have known that I wouldn’t have been able to afford a ticket on my own, so this was a doubly special surprise.) Having spent the last couple of months dieting and living a fairly boring, house-bound life, this was a perfect chance to welcome summer, enjoy some music and have a little interaction with people other than piano students. Truly, standing backstage and hearing such great music once again, feeling the kindness of my host and taking in all the wonder of such a perfect summer afternoon, I felt like a real-life Cinderella. I’d be back to feeding chickens and scrubbing baseboards soon enough, and so I allowed myself to fully sink into one absolutely glorious afternoon. We all wait a long, long time for summer, don’t we? Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that it’s really here again. We must savor every moment, because the magic sure doesn’t last long…

Backstage at SPAC at the jazz festival. A Cinderella moment.

Resetting the stage.

This is a familiar sight for any Saratogian.

My friend, Dave Stryker’s quartet opened the fest. That opening spot can be a little less glamorous than it sounds. But they was swingin right out the gate. Mm-hm.

Mid-day it was Jean-Luc Ponty! Furreal, I wasn’t even sure the cat was still alive. ! Sorry, JL. They relived the Mahavishnu years. Nice.

Fish tacos. The best I have ever, ever had. Will be trying to duplicate this recipe for a long time. Lunch and a cold beer in the hot sun with Mr. Ponty’s band playing. A moment of summer perfection.

Next I followed the guys to the gazebo for a much more intimate show. (I am bummed to see myself looking so ‘thick’ in this shot. Ah well.)

The band. I almost forgot how good it feels to hear music that swings this hard.

Mr. Stryker. He’s got a new release out soon. Waste no time, get it for yourself. You will be happy. I promise. I’d asked Dave if he still enjoyed what he did, and immediately realized the ridiculousness of my inquiry. That was not really what I’d meant to ask. Instead, I’d wondered to myself how on earth he had the energy to continue to do what he did. But I guess if you’re really good at something that you love doing, you find the energy. I feel overwhelmed and just plain pooped so much of my life these days, that it’s kinda hard to imagine what that might feel like. But I do remember what it was like in my 20s and even my 30s; playing, recording and touring in bands wasn’t overwhelming, it was just what we did. Yeeks. These days I’m exhausted just thinking about it. !

Soon after the set I followed Dave to the shed and got a chance to hear a set from the wings.

I heard Danilo Perez (piano), who I had also known a few decades before, early in my ex’s career. Crazy, but Danilo didn’t look any older – and his smile, his energy and spark – all there. Wonderful to witness. That’s Joe Lovano in the hat to the right of the trumpet player – hadn’t seen him in years either. A nostalgic feeling to hear these sounds and see these people.

The end of the set.

I took a little tour of the grounds…

…and ended up sitting with Diz, (in the blue shirt at right) the local banjo/guitar/mando teacher at Saratoga Guitar. Diz and Liz. Cute, yes?

Ever heard or heard of the Suffers? If not, you’d like em. They’re from Houston – and that singer made sure we all knew it. Good on these guys – a couple of years ago they all had legit day jobs. Now look! Sweet.

This is Jacob Collier. WOW. Since he’s still only a babe in his early 20s, his vids from just a couple of years ago look like those of such a young boy… Hard to comprehend that he’s got honest-to-goodness jazz chops, can play so many instruments, that he sings so well and has such a positive personality and is so good with an audience. Mind blown. (Guess that was his melodica waiting on the stand in that first pic I took backstage…)

Closing out the night…. Miss Chaka Kahn. !!!

Sistah! Damn can she sing. And she is friggin gorgeous. What a glorious way to close out my Cinderella night.

…Cuz before I know it, it’s back on the farm. Dear Bald Mountain is aging rapidly now and gets a lot of tlc.

I stay inside, cleaning and culling our crap while the fish enjoy a rainy afternoon in the pond. I swear, they are joyful when it rains. They frolic. Furreal. I am not kidding. They love the rain.

The grosbeak visits again. (So does the dove – look to the far left!)

Up close.

And now the mourning dove. My mother hates them, swears at them when they linger in the road and calls them stupid birds (but notice, they never get hit. I think they know exactly what they’re doing.) How can you hate something with ‘love me’ eyes like this??

A few years ago I dropped a beautiful antique bottle which made me very sad, until I bent down to pick up the pieces and found this little bit… Magical.

Now shit’s gettin real. I have decided that rather than continue to put the crap (scuze me, the hand-me-downs) that friends have kindly given us into more and more and more bins, I will finally make a careful assessment of said bins and cull all that does not serve us. This is NO small feat.

Like with like. That’s how the sorting process starts for me. It can take 10 hours easy to get through this much stuff.

Refining the ‘like with like’ method. Hours and hours have transpired since the last pic.

And now items have been photographed, inventoried and put in bins to go out. All of it will be listed on Craigslist and if no takers, it’s off to the local church depository box. (Notice it is dark out now. This job started at 7 am. !!)

Elihu also wishes to lighten his load. He’s given me these items to sell. If he doesn’t get the $30 he wants for it, I believe I will finally have to put it in a box and give it to the Salvation Army.

Elihu and I are big fans of the crazy, bad English on ‘Chinesey’ things. Just look at this gem: Hot/Power/Invincibility/Thunder Burst/Speedy

Delight/Blazing/Top

Powerful/Deluxe…. and our very favorite: Make haste    !!!

I can’t touch his bird collection. In fact, I’m not sure this thing will move until the kid’s graduated from college. Taking this down would be the end of an era. Certainly it would signal the end of Elihu’s childhood.

His collection even includes a dead stuffed parakeet of ours named Seamus. Famous Seamus, that is.

Outside, the wild turkeys pass by our homestead without a chicken or a duck so much as flapping a wing.

The pantry is next. How does this get so out of order when I start out so clean and tidy?? Dang.

Ahh. I will sleep so much more peacefully tonite.

Using a flash, you can spot many a wing-ed thing in E’s densely packed room.

Before the planes, it was all about the birds. Naturally.

But this is how E’s room really looks. Dark and chill.

Finally, a moment to enjoy my favorite room in the house.

How sweet is this? A clean, quiet house and a freshly tuned piano. Girl’s gonna be sheddin a little before bedtime I think. It feels so good to have an organized house and a to-do list full of check marks. Now for a little Phoebe Snow, some Joni too, and maybe a couple of prog rock faves and hair band ballads to round it all out. My summer day comes to a perfect close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mix June 4, 2017

Our eldest hen Specks is gone. The fox got her in one of the many rounds she’s made on our property this spring on the quest to feed her new litter of kits. How can I begrudge her? Again and again she takes birds from our fast-dwindling flock. We take the hits in stride; we cannot truly shed tears, but our hearts become so very heavy at times with the losses. Specks was the last descendant of our original flock, and her sudden departure two weeks ago still causes me grief. A large bird, she was white with odd little flecks of black and brown, heavy-lidded eyes and a gentle demeanor which allowed for one to easily scoop her up for a quick passing smooch. She was sister to our beloved Thumbs Up (who died on Christmas day of 2016) and her death marks the end of an era for us here at the Hillhouse.

But our losses have not stopped there. The tenacious mother fox has come to visit – and in broad daylight – repeatedly, sometimes several times in one afternoon. Day before yesterday, when we were just at our neighbors and Elihu was happily flying his favorite new helicopter, we lost our young rooster Alden (son of Bald Mountain and hopeful new king and father of future generations) as well as a few other girls. Not all of our hens have names, and that does make it easier when one of them turns up missing, however now we are down to a bare-bones flock of just eight hens, half of whom have endeared themselves to us with charming traits and distinctive personalities. I hold my breath every time we do a count; is chatty Christie still with us? Laid-back Gildie and curious Scottie? These three are the ones I watch now, staying my heart for what seems the inevitable loss to come.

Bald Mountain is still here. Though no longer the robust, take-no-prisoners eleven pound bird he once was, he manages to hold his head erect (although his arthritic tail often flags) and continues to crow in the face of being beat up by the drake and chased by the fox. He is a survivor. Truth be told, he is our family dog and when he finally goes there will be a huge shift here. All of my students and all of our friends know Baldie. He is still the reigning king. But even a king must meet his maker, and we hold out hope that when his time comes, he goes peacefully in his sleep. It would be a hugely bitter pill for us to swallow if he should lose his life to the fox. But we know it’s a possibility, and so every day we proceed with guarded hearts, hoping for the best but on the ready for anything.

So much has happened since my last post that the prospect of catching friends and readers up has felt like an impossible task. Our lives have been jam-packed with deep conversations, medical emergencies, end of year concerts and exams, gigs, gear malfunctions, car drama, epiphanies, mounting electric bills and overflowing septic tanks. But along the way we’ve experienced the incredible and sometimes completely surprising generosity of friends and neighbors that have offered critical relief and support just when we needed it most. And we’ve enjoyed tiny little revelations and gifts that have kept our spirits up while other events threatened to drag us into despair. (Perhaps I should really be saying “I” here instead of “we” to be more truthful; Elihu is far more even-keeled in the face of sudden challenges than I am.)

There are moments when I know that our life is magical and that we are lucky, and there are moments when I just wish that it were fucking over already, cuz I’m tired. And sometimes I just don’t know how much more of this crap I can take. But then I remind myself that I still have work to do here on this earth. I remind myself that Elihu’s tiny years are over, and that the years he’ll remain here at home will be short and I will want to savor them as best I can. And certainly, it will be easier from here on in. As a friend and father of six children had noted to me when I told him that my son was now 14: “the heavy lifting is over”. Yes, it is. And I have a capable child – and more important, he is a child who is willing and eager to assist me in any way he can. Finally he understands how much work it is to keep a house, a menagerie of animals and a plot of land. How much work it is to make sure that food is made, that laundry is done, that the house is kept clean. That the tuba lessons cost a dear chunk of my income. That his mother doesn’t have quite the energy that she did when we started this whole adventure in the country nine years ago. Yeah, my kid gets all of this, and he’s helping out more and more, which is something that I doubly treasure when I hear tales of the disengaged, screen-addicted children with whom parents can hardly make a connection. There’s no doubt that I’m fortunate.

Today I took Elihu to a gig with me. A few times a month I host a karaoke singalong at a nursing home, and I’d promised to bring him along to sing and perform a couple of songs on his recorders. When he’d finished his short set, he sat down at the resident train table and began to tinker with the unworking engines and track while I entertained the crowd. Before I had finished, he had the N scale train running again around the table, through the tiny mountain and switching successfully in the tiny model downtown. Trains were Elihu’s very first love, and his time with this train set put him in a very happy mood. We said our goodbyes and then, as we’d planned, we made our way to a small airfield just a few miles up the road so he could look at the planes there.

It was a tidy, well-kept place, the main road in lined with blooming dwarf lilac bushes and neatly cut grass all around. We could see a handful of small high wing planes (most of which Elihu readily named for me) and after we’d walked the perimeter, we found a man fueling his own small craft. We began to chat, and he lead us around the sheds where we took a closer look at the handful of planes. This fellow and Elihu became engaged in the usual shop talk, and it was soon apparent to this man that the kid really knew aviation. So while I chatted with Joe, another very personable fellow there who had been doing some work on his vintage Cessna (the only other person at the airport) he and I watched as pilot Doug and Elihu taxied away on the grassy runway for an impromptu flight. Within minutes of arriving at an unfamiliar airfield here I was sending my one and only child into the air with a man whom I’d only just met moments before. And whose last name I didn’t know. But this is how Elizabeth and Elihu live. Magically guided are we.

Doug was a sweetie and let Elihu fly the plane. Doug told him to pay attention to the horizon and not the gauges. To look at his relationship to the land… Then Doug turned his attention to his phone, letting Elihu savor that rare moment, that longed-for experience. They were up for fifteen minutes or so, and as they made a pass to the west, silhouetted against the expanse of cumulous clouds behind, all I could think was  “There he is. My boy. My boy, up there in the sky!”

On the way home we stopped to visit a friend from Chicago who’s in town to assess the health and living situation of her older parents. Not a happy, easy occasion. My son was hopped up on his recent flying ‘high’ and wished for us to get home, but the detour was necessary. After a little pow-pow with my friend and her parents’ neighbor, Elihu and I had my out-of-town friend follow us to the retirement home that was on our route home. Linda leaned into the car window and kissed me goodbye. When we pulled away Elihu said “Yeah, I can feel how she’s thinking about other things.” He had been anxious to get home, but he understood the seriousness of the situation and was patient with the extra time the errand had added to our day.

The waning sun cast a yellowish glow on the treetops and created a olive green tone to the shadows. The countryside on our short drive home looked like a painting, like a dramatic exaggeration of its own beauty. Lovely as it was though, this short drive was feeling much too long for both of us. But finally the golden trees alongside the road were ours.  After such a long day away, we were deeply relieved to finally be returning home.

Like the old days, when Bald Mountain’s own son Alden would beat him up and leave him bloody, stumbling, hurting and missing a good portion of his feathers, the old rooster had suffered a violent night in the coop, and we’d taken him back into the kitchen for some TLC and recuperation time (it was the drake who had attacked him this time). He greeted us with a loud crow, made even louder in the natural amplifier of our tiny kitchen. Yup, this was home. A rooster in the corner, poison dart frogs and tree frogs in the kid’s room, a half dozen week old chicks in the basement, and some overgrown goldfish who desperately need to be moved to the outside pond before they grow too big to turn around inside their tank.

I like to think I have a tidy, organized house. And if you visit our living room or bedrooms, it does look pretty peaceful and orderly. But add some critters, and things change. The animals, they’re just messy. And stinky. There’s no denying the stink. Most of them don’t always live here, though. Only when they can’t live outside. And for the moment, that’s the situation. The tiny chicks that our mama duck hatched out (to our complete surprise) still live in the damp, ever-flooding basement. It won’t always be thus, but for now, it’s the reality. I tell ya, one day you’re living like a proper lady from town, enjoying the finer things in life and making plans to go to the ballet, and the next your in your nightgown, offing a raccoon in the pouring rain with a sledgehammer. Yeah, things tend to swing from one extreme to the next around here.

We just never know. Gut wrenching emergencies and stunning, irreversible changes threaten our hopes for a happy future, and then certain other little events which we have long dreamed of and hoped for suddenly drop into our lives, and we find some problems solved and new opportunities opening up…. Lean years, rich years, sick years, healthy years, dismal years, hopeful years… so much of it all mixes together in even shorter, smaller nuggets that it’s hard to organize it all. Does life suck and is it unfair? Yes! Does life thrill you and even let you win every now and then in the most exciting way? Yes!

I am convinced most folks in this privileged, Western world can experience an incredibly full, expansive life. I might even go so far as to say that it might just be possible for a person to have it all. However, I don’t believe it is ever possible to have it all at the same time. !

So – savor what you have, deal with what needs dealing with. Avoid the stuff that the God voice warns against, and do the stuff that the God voice recommends. Enjoy the free and unstructured moments in between all the rest. Cuz life sucks. Cuz life rocks. Cuz life does all the other stuff too. And aren’t we glad of it? Imagine how boring life would be without these little surprises and challenges.

Life is what it is. It’s a little of everything. Highs, lows. It’s a little bit airplane, it’s a little bit sky… A perfect mix.

My boy Elihu, piloting his way through the clouds…

_______________________________________________________

Elihu and I want to thank Paul, Elinor, Priscilla, Heather and Doug.

Thanks for your kindness, it’s made all the difference.

_________________________________________________________

 

Post Script: Photographs from the past several weeks may appear soon in an all-image offering…

 

Whirlwinds of March March 13, 2017

This past week we’ve experienced a good dose of dramatic and angry-sounding winds here in our corner of upstate New York; several mornings we’ve awoken to see fresh tree limbs scattered across the property. Daily the coop door bangs shut even after we’ve made an attempt to prop it open, and at night the wind through the forest that surrounds our house can sound like a swarm of enormous jet engines passing us on all sides. It’s been cold too, as in single-digit cold, which can make it feel like an all-out assault mounted against us by the elements. The snow is almost all gone now, due to a few unseasonably warm days, but the game is still on; winter is by no means done with us. Truly, we are exhausted by it, but at least we know that it won’t last much longer. Elihu’s birthday is on April 28th, and by then the snow will be gone for good. Each year at about this time, when our patience is at its very end, we remind ourselves of this definitive marker, which promises us unconditionally that there are just a few weeks left. !

Day before yesterday the air was a bit warmer, the wind had calmed down, and as I was outside fixing the fencing and making minor repairs to the coop I heard a new sound… At first it registered as familiar, but it took me a minute to really get it. The red-wing blackbirds were back! Every year our amazement at the turning of the seasons is refreshed; it’s nearly impossible to imagine how different things will feel in only a month’s time, and even harder to grasp that such a change will truly happen at all! Today it sure doesn’t seem as if anything will ever change, but before too long, a few early robins and a line of turtles sunning themselves on nearby pond banks will seal the deal for us. At the moment, however, I pray that all those dear creatures who presently remain suspended in winter’s torpor will stay there for just a little bit longer, as it is still bitter cold outside. (Also, our snow-less terrain will be changing again soon, as there is a winter storm warning for the next two days promising 12 – 18 inches of snowfall. Oh well.)

The recent weather in our interior lives has been a bit windy and dramatic too. A recent heated exchange with Elihu’s father over his attending the Waldorf School including some angry emails from him prompted me to pen a terse response. I knew, even as I posted my note to him on Facebook (polite, to-the-point and with a small degree of good humor), that it wasn’t likely to serve me in any productive way. Yeah, I knew it. But being told “Fuck you” by my son’s father as I tried to defend the importance of Elihu’s school, man, that was too much. Seriously not cool. In hindsight I can understand that he was stressed, and in no frame of mind to respond kindly. Lots on that guy’s plate: travelling internationally (and with a Muslim name no less in this crazy Trumped-up world), having his time with his son challenged (on account of reducing unexcused absences in high school), having to keep up with his financial commitments. Yeah, I get it. In future I think my own policy should be to wait at least 24 hours so I can cool down a bit before firing off a response to his angry communications. But regardless of the situation, regardless of how carefully I might intend to preserve what remains of our relationship, I will never get my props from that guy – and I think I understand that fully now. No well-written letter, no physical evidence, not even a happy and thriving child will get any witness – let alone gratitude – from him. But that’s OK. I have a full plate, and a happy kid. I had my life with Fareed, and in that wonderful life I made friends, I became part of a very unique family, I traveled, I became a better musician, and I learned things – and in the end I got a wonderful child out of it too. So that relationship fulfilled its role in our lives. Yes, it was a good chapter. (The transitional one that followed, er, uh… maybe not so much!) But I’ve been learning throughout the entire journey, so nothing has been lost. All is as it should be… OK. Next adventure?

Elihu himself has had a magical week. Yesterday he played an adjudicated tuba performance (NYSSMA – New York State School Music Association) and received a score of 97. As his teacher told him earlier today at his lesson, this is a pretty important accomplishment in that just over a year ago Elihu had only the most rudimentary reading skills. (Yes, he knew his bass clef, but finding the notes on the tuba made it a whole new ballgame.) The judge made some lovely comments about Elihu’s interpretation and musicality, and this, although perhaps not entirely surprising, still kind of shocked us both. We’d prepared for some level of disappointment, so this was a pretty thrilling conclusion.

Another magical element to the week was Elihu’s successful and short-lived GoFundMe campaign to raise money to buy a collective pitch/3D RC heli. It’s been a while (in the helicopter world 1 year = 5 years of ‘normal’ time) since Elihu’s had a brand-new heli. He’s fixed up the old ones and done his best to keep everything in the air, but at the end of the day, many of his craft weren’t designed to be fixed, but rather simply replaced. And now that he’s got some skills, he really wanted a craft that could support him as he learned a new, more sophisticated technique of flying. But on a $5 weekly allowance, the $250 heli he wanted (by his 14th birthday) would take a loooong time to save for. I made the suggestion that he could start a campaign – but the content was on him. We posted a couple of pics and he wrote the text. It took about a half hour to create, and in a only few hours’ time after posting it he’d reached his goal. He was running around the house laughing and laughing and gleefully jumping over the furniture (well, he does that anyway, but still…).

He promptly ordered the heli, making sure the guy at Horizon Hobby knew of his past disappointments. And wouldn’t ya know, the box arrived FedEx like 2 days later… I missed the first delivery and had to cancel some appointments to make sure I was here to receive it the following day, but oh how worth it it was. !! A triumph, a moment, a rite of passage. Let’s just hope he goes slow and takes all the advice he’s given. This will take a whole new level of skill. I’m confident he’ll do fine, I just hope it doesn’t take him one broken-up craft to get there.

When Elihu told me at the age of six that he wanted to play tuba, I knew he meant it. But who coulda known just what that would mean a few years down the line? And when Elihu began his obsession with birds, and then in time aviation, how could I ever have known the adventures that would ensue as a result? When he was told he needed to play bass before he could play tuba, who woulda thunk he’d take care of business as he did? Me, I was always a path-of-least-resistance kind of person from the start. I did the bare minimum I had to in order to get by. My kid, he’s not like that. He’s one to face stuff head one, assess it, devise a strategy and then dive in. When Elihu does something, he fucking does it. And he does it with such deep interest, such integrity, and such modesty. And the thing is – he does things with true joy. Not the laugh-out-loud sort necessarily (although sometimes that is how it manifests – like when he’s flying a helicopter or playing his djembe and he just can’t stop grinning), but rather it’s something that’s deeper, more lasting. He spends a lot of time in thought, and a fair amount of time reflecting on all the things he’s learned. He’s a fun kid to have around, and many are the times I’ve thanked him for choosing me to be his mother. I’m learning right along side him, and I’m enjoying myself too.

It’s a good thing that things are going well on the kid front, because challenges abound regarding The Studio these days. Forget about updating the website (one can clearly see that I have indeed forgotten about that!), there are mechanical issues popping up as we pilot our way (we? Make that ‘me’) through our second winter. Pipes are freezing, despite my cranking the super-expensive baseboard electric heat, renters are still enjoying last year’s prices (oy, I started so low I cringe to think), the terrain is either too muddy, too icy or piled too high with snow, and mom is still essentially funding the balance. We had a productive board meeting recently, but until we have a larger board, and until I can start assigning people tasks (I suppose in the real world we’d call those ‘committees’) it’s going to remain just lil old me doing it all. But overall, things are so much better than last year at this time, and I have to constantly remind myself of that.

Over the past month I’ve experienced some personal exchanges with folks who’ve stepped up to tell me they think this Studio thing has been a big mistake, a personal detour of sorts, and that I should just let it go. Some folks have wondered why I don’t just work for someone else and give myself a break from all the stress. I myself had some similar thoughts recently, and it was my mother who quite angrily insisted that quitting wasn’t an option. I suppose an existential crisis is inevitable along the path to creating something new like this. All I need to do is read back over this blog through the past few years to see just how far I’ve come. It’s easy to miss in the thick of it. You know, forest for the trees. This weekend has been another in a series of challenges, and thankfully the renter was very kind about it. It’s all been a huge learning experience. From how to run a business to how to maintain a building – to learning how to deal with a variety of different personalities and expectations. Huge. Learning. Experience. (I’m not such a fan of that “word/period” technique, but it does kinda Make. The. Point.)

Now it’s late and I’m losing my recall for the events of the past few weeks. Now I need to summon the focus to wake bright and early tomorrow and start hittin it all again. Make lunch, breakfast, do the chickens, check in with renters at the Studio, get kid to school, hit the Y, do some fast grocery shopping, prepare for a new student, learn the new score for the kid’s musical, put the groceries away (sometimes that’s easy to overlook!). Then there’s the small matter of tweaking the Studio’s bylaws, CCing everyone on the changes, and a few other Studio-related items which are too mundane to list, but can easily eat up the hour I may (or may not) have left after all else is checked off the list. Not sure I’ll get to the website. My taxes and school tuition assistance forms and the monthly emailing will also have to wait another day or two. A girl can only do so much! Maybe after the kid’s in bed…

You too? Yeah, I kinda thought it wasn’t just me. Every last one of us in this contemporary world is busy, busy, busy. But what an adventure, huh? Just today Elihu remarked that neither one of us tended to do things by “half measure”. When I looked to him for his reasoning behind it, he swept his hand in an open gesture toward our small living room. “You don’t just have a piano, you also have a harpsichord. I don’t just have a tuba, I also have a bass. And I don’t just have an alto recorder – I have em all! And we play all of them, and we enjoy playing all of them. And I don’t just love aviation, I live aviation. You don’t just love meeting new people and experiencing new situations, you live for that. And we don’t just keep a couple of chickens – we actually hatch our own flocks right here in our own little incubator.” As I looked around the room with a fresh new perspective, I nodded in agreement. I told him I hadn’t thought of it like that, and I confessed that I often felt our simple life here had sometimes become way too complicated. “We just don’t do things by half-measure” Elihu repeated. We stood there together for a moment in silence, looking out at our cozy room. “But we love it that way, don’t we?”  Yup, I guess we do.

No, there’s nothing half-hearted or half-measured about our life here. And I’m sure my son is probably right. Neither one of us would truly enjoy a static, predictable life – even if it meant all the warmth and sunshine of Florida. And while we treasure our peaceful and quiet time at home, sometimes it’s still a lot of fun to live in the midst of a whirlwind.

The eighth grade class jokes and just kinda hangs out… Elihu, meanwhile is…

Teaching himself Japanese. Not a huge surprise. He’s got a handle on German, so it’s time to branch out.

Back home, Elihu brings Mr. Duck inside for a quick visit with Grandma.

Just look how this kid is growing! See how short both his pants and shirtsleeves have become!

We’ve finally discovered why hens like to park underneath Bald Moutain’s belly: he is covered with a huge number of poultry mites. No amount of topical treatments have rid him of these pests which cause him to itch all over, and without respite. Some hens like to crawl underneath him and pick off the mites as little snacks. I called the local vet and can you believe I have a $156 credit there?? That means that this coming Thursday Baldie will be getting the full-on salon treatment via some internal medication that will put an end to this 8 year old roo’s troubles.


Elihu loves so many animals. This tiny, dime-sized poison dart frog lives with two others of another variety in a vivarium that is self-sustaining. Elihu spent months researching the construction of this sophisticated environment online before putting it together himself. All I can say is God bless the internet, and go YouTube!

Elihu and a new craft made entirely of his own design.

It’s a ‘scale’ paper model. Looks nice and flies surprisingly well. Who knew?

This is the constant state of our kitchen table. I’m ok with it now, but check back with me in a couple of months. !!

This is the super-blah looking time of year. Sigh. And still so cold!Ah, but Sunday morning breakfast makes it better.

So does a quick smooch with Alden, Bald Mountain’s son and the father of future flocks.

Sundays around here mean tuba lessons! In this pic Elihu’s magnificent teacher, Mike Meidenbauer, goes over some smaller points regarding the interpretive aspects of the tuba concerto Elihu will be playing at NYSSMA, an adjudicated performance which is graded and requires scales, sight reading and performance. We adore Mike for many reasons, and perhaps top on our list (although he is a highly regarded low brass instructor) is his joyful and humorous way of interjecting colorful language into a lesson. (He also has chickens!) Mike, Elihu and I are cut from much the same sort of cloth. We find his natural, humanistic way of teaching beyond refreshing.

Warming up, Elihu said he felt like “an elephant in an aviary”.

Kid did well, and he wore my dad’s shoes, too. That made us both happy. Hope it made grandpa smile, too.

Who woulda thunk? Neither of us! Wow!!! and Phew!!!

Proud Mama keeps on boasting…

Back at home, I’ve missed the Fed Ex driver once already, and knowing how precious his delivery is, I make double sure he doesn’t pass us by a second time.

I realize that sometimes our ‘doorbell’ confuses folks. The real bell is an actual bell that hangs on the side of the door. It came from my father’s childhood summer home on Paradox Lake in upstate New York, and it was likely used to call my dad and his brother up to the house for dinner. I just love that the same sound is now a familiar part of our life here. So far, however, very few folks have been brave enough to actually use it.

The package did arrive. !!

Here it is!

Suh- WEET!

Elihu has lamented for a while now that he doesn’t have a YouTube channel, but he has so much information to impart, and he thinks his input could be of value to someone out there. Finally, I sat down and got to work creating a channel. We took his first-ever formal “video” of his heli’s unboxing (which I’m told is definitely a “thing”) and uploaded it. He is now probably the happiest boy that ever walked the face of this earth.

Whew! What a whirlwind this March has been!

Link to Elihu’s new YouTube channel: Copterdude

(For some reason the link cuts off the start of the video – scroll back to catch it from the top.)

P.S. Even though you don’t need one more item in your inbox, I hope you’ll consider subscribing to Elihu’s channel. Thanks for considering!

 

Sow Busy October 22, 2016

Life is really, really busy. Isn’t it? And recently I’ve come to understand that it certainly aint just me. In fact, I have a feeling my life doesn’t come close to those with whom I rub elbows each day. But still, I’m busier than I’m entirely comfortable with being (if only being busy equalled money coming in rather than money going out, I might actually welcome it!). With the addition of starting a small (very small) business on top of the single mom thing (3 meals a day folks, sometimes more – from shopping to prep to cleanup) to playing tuba police, to de-worming and de-miting some 30 poultry by hand daily to trying to put the clean laundry away – never mind the hour or so a day I spend in community with my far-flung friends on Facebook (I don’t consider it a waste; it’s my connection to old friends. Some days yes, it can be a pure waste of time, but mostly it’s not) and oh, yeah, that’s right, teaching piano lessons (that’s the only ‘real’ thing I do!) I find that when I lay down at night exhausted, I can’t sleep for all the to-do lists competing for my attention. Yes, I write em all down. And no, I don’t do social media or tv (what tv?) before bed. And yes, I read books. But still…

I can’t say things aren’t going well. Cuz they are. Well, better, at least. This fall has seen the deaths of several friends, and while I didn’t know any of them very well, I had quickly grown very fond of them. Their permanent absences in my life make me more keenly aware that I actually do have work to do here on this planet, and when I remember that the possibility does exist that I might follow them to that other plane without much warning or time to prepare, I double down on my efforts to accomplish those things yet before me on my ‘real’ to-do list. As in ‘really’ doing something of good for my fellow anguished, over-busied humans. Busy though I may be, I gotta keep remembering the light at the end of the tunnel.

And I do actually mean light. I mean to bring a little light to the world; music, art and the delight of having created either or both – and the community and sense of belonging that those things in turn help to grow. In my short time on this earth I wish to bring people together, I wish to see them supporting each other, being witnesses to each others pain as well as their joy. These words look a bit trite when I see them on paper, but it’s true. I just want to have a life party. Like my mother, the consummate host, I just want to offer people the venue in which to come together. Some may need the community of movement, of healing arts, others need to sing, to play an instrument, others find their peace learning how to paint an image in their mind’s eye. (Adding in some food and wine to the mix couldn’t hurt, either.) Also, I’d like to know that this entity will continue to live after I’m gone. So there’s a real goal ahead. There’s just so much to do in order to make the crudest, simplest versions of those dreams come to life. And for the most part, it’s still just one woman behind the curtain.

But that’s changing. Recently I’ve begun to actively reach out and seek a little help. I do however still suffer from the routine handicap of not having enough money. I can barely feed my teenage boy much less fill in the expenses of the Studio.  (All I can say on that front is thank you friends, and thank you mom.) When Elihu leaves town for a week here and there to visit his dad, I relish the dramatically lower food bills. Food stamps are never enough. I pad our menu with a slightly healthier diet of ramen noodles (add an assortment of chopped raw vegetables, stir an egg into the hot broth, add lemon juice or spicy asian oil), I make the most out of our flock and fill my kid up with a half a dozen eggs every morning, yet he’s a growing boy, hard-pressed to weigh in at 80 pounds and is always ready to eat. Food is probably the least of my financial worries though. I’ve learned some tricks, and can make a little go a long way. It’s a bit harder to make heating oil last. Thank the gods that this year has been quite warm so far; I’ve only had to rumble the old furnace to life a handful of times. Back in our morning’s ritual is making sure the thermostats are pulled down so we don’t wast precious fuel during the daytimes. At a balmy 65 degrees today, so far, so good.

The Studio has finally begun to take on a life of its own in some ways. I’ve been agreeing to participate in every manner of community event that comes my way in an effort to meet people – and finally get out in the world. Elihu is 13 now, and I can leave him alone with some confidence that if hungry, he can find something, and if bored, he has instruments to practice, books to read and homework to finish. It hasn’t been ideal, but I’ve left him home alone for great swaths of time lately – and this past week, seven days in a row! No matter how capable a kid I’ve raised, I don’t feel great about that. But I assure him this time spent away is all an investment in the Studio. He’s smart, he gets that, and he’s a good person too; he never makes me feel bad about it for a second. I know he misses me because bedtimes in these recent days have reverted a bit in their feel… He beseeches me to stay longer, to just sit with him. He holds my hands (we’re not a touchy family mostly at Elihu’s insistence – that’s one thing I still miss about being married; the quick, familiar pats, hugs and flyby smooches) and he touches my face. With great mirth and joking he pulls at the extra chin fat I now carry around, which although slightly demoralizing, becomes quite hilarious. We laugh together again, we sit in each other’s company. We enjoy our rare, quiet moment together. Because tomorrow will be here soon, and the tornado of life will swallow us up again.

We fairly live for Saturdays at this point. Tomorrow, I was really looking forward to going through my kitchen and tidying it up a bit. That, however, will not be happening. My main computer has been so violently assaulted from the outside world that it no longer even opens to the malevolent Bing page (as it had for months – apparently I was already being attacked at that point) and so, without being able to establish connection whatsoever with the outside world – not to download assistive programs, not to ask a friend’s help, nothing – it looks like I’ll have to pull apart my office and bring the tower in to some computer repair joint, and in so doing, use up my precious one day off. Sorry kid, it’s a book and the back seat of the car for you, I fear. That or a good solid afternoon at the tuba. Or both. God bless my ancient laptop and that beautiful horn.

Good timing though. I just made some updates to the Studio’s site before my computer got all wonky. They’re rudimentary – hell, the whole thing is rudimentary and not exactly how I’d prefer to represent the place, but still. It’s a start. It’s what I’ve been able to pull together. I’m learning though. I still can’t figure out how to put a border around a box of text without having to choose a new color for the inside of the box (why doesn’t it default to the background color??) but these, and other small nuisances are just that, and before a year’s time I hope to have them figured out. It just takes time. But therein lies the rub. Everything takes time. !!

A woman I’d known from Chicago came to visit last weekend. As life would have it, her parents just happen to be the landlords for my new bestie in town. A small world coincidence that still amazes all of us. She swept into town for a couple of days, we enjoyed a night out and an afternoon over salad, she visited my home and the Studio (at which her parents once attended concerts of my father’s back in his day) and she gave me some good ideas on how to economize my time. Good input from the outside world. I’m trying to maximize the fruits of my labor, honest I am. It’s just that when you’re one woman, you can only do so much. Hence my recent informal (but ball-busting) campaign to ‘get out’ and meet people. The way I figure it, I’m planting seeds at this time in my life. All of it: raising the kid, starting the Studio, meeting new friends, volunteering to help others, even saying yes to lunch dates (a new one in my world!). All of this busy-ness is the sowing of a new garden. When I realize that I too might be struck with a blood cancer, a terminal illness or an unforeseen accident, I am doubly resolved to sow this garden (and also to write my silly passwords down!). I feel a new urgency to save my hundreds of blog posts, archive my father’s papers and memorabilia, learn where my grandmother is buried and get my kid off to college…

There is nothing I enjoy more than just sitting on the front stoop with a cup of coffee, watching my chickens. There really isn’t time for that these days, but I know that if I can get this garden started, that time will come again. So it’s back to busy. If I can get back to sleep first, that is. !

 

Here, friends, take a peek at what’s been consuming me for the past three years...We’re finally up and running. Whew! It really does feel good.

And here’s our Facebook page, which will give you lots more photos of the place. Woo hoo! Dare I ask you to “Like” it? Yes, I do! Please – like us!

 

 

 

The Much of May May 23, 2016

Life is chugging away for us here, full of projects and deadlines and the usual related stress, but our life has also been filled with the many seasonal and traditional delights which we look forward to all year; those which help to lighten our load at a time when the world begins to press in on us. Finally it is Lily of the Valley time. Finally, the beautiful apple tree outside our door is at its fragrant and colorful peak. And finally, Elihu and I may walk the side of the road and harvest fiddleheads for our supper. With our birthdays both just past, this is the magical week of the year in which life seems to take a breath in, and everything hangs, suspended, in a rare, timeless window as we enjoy the forgotten corners of our property, noticing the tiny miracles around us with new eyes.

So many wonderful things have happened since the last post, and also, many challenges have popped up in their midst. I suppose we’re lucky to have had our precious, private moments alone here at the Hillhouse, and I’m very aware that any problems with which we are beset are most certainly first-world concerns, so at the end of the day, my complaints are not dire. And yet, being for the moment without water as we are, it is tempting to want to pout and wonder why us? Why now? Mech. A couple five gallon buckets will flush just fine, and for now we’ll just have to buy a bottle or two of Saratoga water at our local Stewart’s Shop so we can brush our teeth and make tea. Things are not so bad. I should like to say at this time that I have never taken our toilsome pump for granted. It’s done what it could, and now we have come to the point we just hoped would never arrive. But so we continue, just one more inconvenience added to the list of life that never ends…*

Where to start? Personally, I’m still feeling as if it’s just me toting the barge where the Studio is concerned, but that’s not entirely true. Artist and friend miChelle has stepped up, offering her art for our summer open house in June. Along with her modern sculpture and paintings we’ll be featuring a local jazz pianist – as well as the middle school jazz ensemble which he coaches, and in which Elihu plays string bass. It’s the promotion that’s hanging me up – that’s never been my strong suit, but there’s no avoiding it. Thankfully another board member has also made her design help available to me this week, and that lifts a huge weight off of me. This will be a week of posters and email campaigns. One hurdle at a time. One crisis, one jam session, one flock of chicks in the living room, one tuba lesson at a time, somehow, I’ve made it this far. I’m beginning to think that things might just be ok.

A few months ago, Elihu’s teacher put an envelope in my hand which contained an application to a residential summer science program at a prestigious local technical college. It had looked interesting, and I thought if Elihu didn’t get in, the process of getting transcripts together, soliciting letters of reference and writing essays might be a good learning experience on its own. At the very least, it would be good preparation for the college process which lay head. Why not give it a try? Although it had seemed pretty straightforward, the application did become a brief source of stress and teenage drama in the household, and when I personally delivered the completed package to the Dean’s office, it was a great relief to us both. But afterward, life quickly moved on, and the whole thing fell to the back of our minds. Until the other day, when I found a large envelope in the mailbox…

I was good, I waited til the kid came home. I poured myself a glass of wine – on the ready to take the edge off of our loss, or… Elihu opened the envelope, and the first word we both saw was “Congratulations!” I had no idea how this sort of thing felt. I had gone to a college which had  no entrance requirements save a high school diploma; the world of academic success was completely foreign to me. Furthermore, my son goes to a school which is itself structured in a way unlike all other schools; no tests or grades are given to mark and measure progress. That my son is doing well in math or science still seems rather subjective to me. But here was at the very least a measure of his potential… I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t simply his teacher’s glowing letter – or even Elihu’s own words, which ended with “I dearly hope you’ll choose me to participate…” No matter – success was his! Or maybe – dare I say ours? I do not wish to claim that which I did not earn – but surely, I will accept a nomination for Supermom, Spring of 2016. Tears came to my eyes immediately – but to my chagrin there was no moment of close bonding to follow… “I have to call Daddy!” he said with urgency, and without a second of hesitation – he didn’t even stay long enough for his eyes to even meet mine – he dashed off to his room. So instead, I enjoyed a glass of wine by myself at the kitchen table, basking in this new and wonderful feeling of accomplishment and success.

Sundays are a day of lugging and loading. Mornings start with a tuba lesson (on the second floor!) and end with a jazz ensemble rehearsal which requires a string bass. It goes without saying that both must first be unloaded and returned to their proper resting place before the other can be loaded up. That and the lugging of 5 gallon buckets of water, plus the lugging of a dead porcupine (whose roadside death we mourned, but whose body will hopefully entice the local turkey vultures to pay us a visit) have me feeling that I am earning my keep and more (not to mention the upkeep of an increasingly stinky flock of young chicks residing in our living room). None of it is lost on my dear child, who does what he’s able and works to make sure all that lugging is for good reason. I have this kid’s back, yes – but in all honesty, he has mine too. We hosted our first jam session at The Studio last week, and thanks to his great ear and true love of playing music, we were able to pull it off. I enjoyed my secret dream of playing drums (oh so rudimentary but rock solid are my beats) and got to see how it all might work. And it did. But without Elihu, it wouldn’t have. He knows how important he is. I thank him. (I also remind him that if he likes to eat – then he’s gotta play. !)

Last night we took ourselves out to dinner with the last of my tax return. It certainly wasn’t a justifiable expense – but each year we have a tradition of Elihu having frogs’ legs for his birthday dinner. Although mom had taken us out the weekend before for steak – a great treat to be sure – Elihu was still jonsein for his all-time favorite. I had told him that we probably wouldn’t go this year, and he’d accepted it ok, so when I suggested we go to the Wishing Well he yelped with delight. This kid had earned it. And truly, we both had such a great time. As usual, tables around us arrived, ate and left several times over by the time we’d finished our dinner. Elihu and I like to linger. We enjoy talking, we enjoy savoring and taking our time. We don’t like plates cleared until the very last moment. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Until this kid no longer cares for my company – or heads off to college – who needs a date? I know of no one whose company I enjoy more…

After supper we joined our friend Rob at the piano. He ran to his car to get a pair of brushes – which he told Elihu would sound really good on the resident bongos – and I played a couple of tunes while he was gone. When Elihu got the brushes in hand he and I did a couple of blues tunes. He sounded great – the brushes allowed him to swing in a new way, and I gave him a couple of breaks in which to stretch out. That was a memorable night for me; I can’t forget the way he looked at me – he was smiling ear-to-ear in the most delighted way I’d ever seen. It’s an experience that musicians sometimes have when they’re playing together and when things just sound and feel so good… And to share this kind of moment with my own kid? Man, that was a gift. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way too. We had even laughed out loud as we played. Later, when we finally said our goodbyes to our friends at the restaurant and headed out into the dark, spring night, we were both in such a happy mood. We walked to the car in the cool, softly scented air, coasting in the afterglow of a wonderful night out. Friends, music – and frogs’ legs too? Wow. Perfection had been achieved.

On the way home from the Wishing Well it began to rain, and I obliged Elihu’s plea to search out some frogs who would certainly be hopping across the roads by now. We popped in his very favorite polka CD and made a detour down winding Braim road. Our search turned up only one frog, who he deposited into our tiny garden pond when we got home. Our moods remained cheery and spirited by the fresh rainfall and the wonderful night out… Elihu retired to his room to read, and something prompted me to pick up my accordion – after years of having let it languish in the corner – and I soon found myself standing on the kitchen steps, under the awning, playing a polka out into the velvet-black night (by some small miracle our neighbors were all gone, and the lights were out in all directions – a very rare thing these days – an absolute gift from the Gods, I was convinced!). Somehow, I found those left hand buttons as I hadn’t since before my son was born. My accordion was the only other sound besides the rain; the melodies punched through the darkness and echoed out through the hilly woods. And oh, what a sound. What a feeling. What a night.

That was only a week ago at this writing, and yet it seems many months have gone by since then. So very much has filled our weeks – another week of students, school, tuba and bass, chickens, friends, errands, pets, excursions and all the mortar of life which fills in every available space in between. My friend Beth has more than solved my design quandary – she’s lifted The Studio to a whole new level with her graphic gifts… Her infusion of time, energy and enthusiasm has reinvigorated my own, and right now, I’m beginning to feel like I’m not all alone in this (save good old mom, who at the end of the day is always filling in the monetary gaps. I cannot wait til I can relieve her of this burden for good. Guilt is all I feel these days on that front. !)

Things will be changing here soon. I realize that the magical country life we’ve enjoyed til now will change a bit. Nothing’s changing overnight, and we will always be who we are, we will always live where we do – but our routines change, the landscape will change, the scope of our world will enlarge – most of this is good and welcomed. But I’m a sentimental gal, and I’ll always remember our simple, early days here with fondness. Maybe we’ll be able to preserve some of that as we move into our future. Yeah, I think we will. But inevitably, some things won’t be the same. That’s the nature of life. Things change. Things evolve. Kids grow up. And thirty-somethings become fifty-somethings. ! But thankfully with all the change come those surprises that make us forget the tiny heartbreaks. It’s exciting to think of what’s yet to come. And it’s that sense of anticipation that takes the edge off of the loss of what is no longer.

As I write this I think of Crow Field… I haven’t even mentioned the field yet… The huge field that lies just outside our window – the one in which we search out Woodcocks, fly planes and kites, and in general love and enjoy every day of our life here – it will become someone’s suburban backyard by summer’s end. A large house is going up in the field which we have come to think of as our very own. Of course the field is not ours, and we’ve known for years now that every year we have had the field there for us to enjoy was a very precious thing. Elihu broke out sobbing – and even began to shout and swear – when he learned that it had been sold. When I told him I’d found the ribbon marking off the house’s footprint, he told me he felt sick.

We’re acclimating slowly to this new idea of a big house in the big field. Slowly. It still seems as if it will never happen, but that’s how we felt about the ‘new’ house at the end of our driveway; and it did finally arrive. And as kind as the neighbors are, their windows are without curtains and their lights and sports bar-sized tv can easily be seen in our house. I so wish they’d consider window treatments. Hell, I wish they’d think of us – and realize that their light interferes with our space… But they don’t, and that has me worried the new neighbors won’t either… I suppose we’re damned lucky to have the space we do, so I try to keep it all in perspective and just keep going. After all, we live on a generous lot, we have room to run, room for a flock of chickens and a pretty nice view out the window. And we have a hell of a lot to look forward to with The Studio too; we are embarking on a new era, and things will only get more exciting in the coming years. Of this, finally, I have no doubt. Elihu and I will try our best to accept the loss of our field, as we welcome in the new friends we’re about to meet on our path. “Things”, as Martha Carver would say, “always work out”. Ok, Martha. Gonna to have to trust you on this one.

May has but one week left – and Lordy what a lot we’re planning on packing into it. This post itself is also rather jam-packed and I apologize if it’s too much. Skip stuff as you need (maybe I shoulda said that at the beginning!). Not having had the time to make weekly posts, this is something of a catch-up effort. Next time shouldn’t be such a novel. The photos that follow are also voluminous. Skip it all if you like. Those, like me, who enjoy voyeuristic windows into other people’s lives will enjoy; those who meant only to pass a few idle moments on their phones will either be long gone by now, mildly annoyed or checking out at this point. ! A tidier post to follow next time, I promise…

*(At the end of this writing we learned it was merely a broken switch – and not the whole water pump – which needed replacing. The greatest relief I’ve known in a long time, all thanks to our angel/neighbor – Zac? Nope. This time it was his father! We had help from absolute royalty, I tell ya. I do not know where we’d be without the timely help that family has given us through the years. !!!)

IMG_5904We started the month by launching Elihu into his teen years…

IMG_5945 Elihu’s Hess biplane takes off from the cake’s runway, aglow with candles for runway lights…

IMG_6235The entertainment at Elihu’s birthday parties has always been the hatching of chicks.

IMG_5971This year, one hatched in my hand.

IMG_6083Here they are at different rates of drying off… Fuzzier ones are about 3 hours old, wet ones a mere 3 minutes old, and sometimes still trailing their shells and egg sacs behind.

IMG_5959Chicks are cute, but the trampoline is always the #1 hit here at the Hillhouse. (Eternal thanks to Karen H!!)

IMG_6248A quick smooching of Athena before heading to school the next morning.

IMG_6106On May 2nd, this is what Spring looks like here.

IMG_6250Driving to school in the morning, we savor that vast, beautiful field while we still can. We’ve passed so many hours in that field together, with much hilarity involved. Elihu invented his Monty Python-inspired athletic events ‘Tussock Jumping’ and ‘Bramble Dodging’ in our crazy cavorts across the uneven terrain en route to visit neighbors on the other side of the field.

IMG_6333When I return home from driving Elihu to school, I am always welcomed by my beloved flock.

IMG_6393Each night, Elihu takes time to bond with the chicks, who will stay in our living room for a few weeks.

IMG_6593Weekends mean tuba lessons.

IMG_6609How lucky is this kid? He loves his teacher, and his teacher has chickens. ?!!? (Plus Mike lives only 10 minutes from us. That is more than amazing. !)

IMG_7535First, Mike plays along with Elihu on his warm ups.

IMG_7543And now, Elihu’s first-ever tuba duets with one of Mike’s six children. Afterward he remarked on how well she played. I added “yeah, and she’s really pretty, too.” Replied my low-vision (but not blind!) son, “Yeah, I noticed that.” !! She’s the same age too. Crazy. Two tuba-playing, chicken-owning kids just a couple of miles down the road from each other. Wow.

IMG_6674Later on that same day…

middle school jazz bandA bunch of middle school kids who are playing jazz. Ok, now this happens only 5 minutes from our house. Again, how lucky are we? The word “very” comes to mind over and over. And thank you John Nazarenko, for making this happen. Elihu is enjoying this beyond any musical experience he’s had thus far. (I know 13 year-olds don’t like to be called ‘cute’, but hearing these kids doing tunes like “Song for my Father” and “All Blues” is just that. Sorry. Next year they might be hip. But not yet. Today, they remain cute.)

IMG_7663These two kids really seem to play well together – and Elihu tells me W has a peculiar sense of humor too. This may be the start of a great friendship…

IMG_6670Post-rehearsal, Elihu’s in front of Zankel Hall, checking his phone for all those jobs that will surely be coming in by now….

IMG_6450Dad’s office, with the Steinway in the background. During his lifetime, this room was mainly taken up with harpsichords. Now that the piano is moving to the Studio, only my old suitcase Rhodes remains.

IMG_6518May 7th. Birthday of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and…. Elizabeth Conant! And what a birthday gift is this!

IMG_6434The Studio before…

IMG_6537…and The Studio after.

IMG_6584A Steinway at The Studio! Woo-hoo! This changes everything.

IMG_6547Ah, but the birthday girl herself has some schlepping to do… First jam session tonight… gotta get the room set up and ready… Aren’t I getting a bit too old for this?!?

IMG_6553Hillbilly load-in begins.

IMG_6561Sketchiest move I’ve ever made. Man, I guess I am getting tired. Or old. Or both.

IMG_6575Thanks to the assistance of kind and always-smiling Alex at the guitar store, the room is now set up! Now that was a most appreciated birthday present. Thanks for the help!!

IMG_6872In early May, the trees are still rather bare.

IMG_7020It arrived in a big envelope. I admit, that alone had my heart racing just a bit…

IMG_7022Wow! What a surprise was this!! Personally, I can’t remember ever receiving an acceptance letter. And so I live vicariously through my child. ! RPI will be a chapter unto itself, no doubt…

IMG_6720The chicks are still cute and fuzzy, and things are feeling very happy around the house.

IMG_8134On Mother’s Day, Elihu plays a little music for grandma…

IMG_8138…and then proceeds to ‘intentionally not smile’ in a posed picture – something which bugs mom to no end. (He says he merely wants to ‘be taken seriously’ when having his picture ‘formally’ taken.) Btw – can you believe my mom is 81? I don’t think she looks it. Do you?

IMG_6701Mother’s Day ended with an E and E selfie with chick. This, we hope, will be the rooster to take up Baldy’s post one day.

IMG_7029In early May, the chicks still live in a box in the living room. See how one is now perching on the edge? This tells us they’ll be moving to the garage soon. When they can fly – it’s all over. (That’s Elihu’s bass recorder on the left. People always ask us what it is.)

IMG_7228Friend and chord/melody style guitarist, Dan comes over for a bit of rehearsing. Hope we’ll be playing together this summer – if I can ever find the time to learn some new tunes. ! He’s been patient with my crazy schedule. More than grateful to finally have a guitar player to work with.

IMG_7091This is what happens when siblings take lessons together. One must always provoke the other. Little Coco is ready to strike with a subtle, but annoying tap on the shoulder of her big sister. !!

IMG_7255Oscarina, the large and lighter-colored fish at the bottom is a Koi, and is growing rapidly. Thankfully, she will now be residing in the prestigious local arts colony, Yaddo. The move went off without a hitch and we can visit her anytime we like. Yay!

IMG_7437We’re off to the Wishing Well for a fancy schmancy dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d eat like this once a week!

IMG_7487The heavenly scent of Frogs’ Legs. Unique to this establishment.

IMG_7471A dark selfie. So few pics of we two.

IMG_7439Rob plays piano here – a lot! I got to take up his post for a few minutes and enjoyed playing with my son on drums. A wonderful night all the way ’round.

IMG_7067Finally the weather’s right for painting The Studio!

IMG_7076Keith Sr. is doing some much-needed restoration too. It’s been decades since the exterior’s had any attention. Phew!

IMG_7414Keithie Jr. paints on the crew along with dad. Elihu and Keithie went to Kindergarten through 3rd grade together. No matter how different their life paths, that kind of bond made so early in life will always last.

IMG_7423Keith is maturing just a wee bit faster than my own child. Ya think? All in due time…

IMG_7278Another week’s passing and the green is really starting to show now…

IMG_7274Which means the apple tree is reaching its finest hour!

IMG_7272My cherished Lily of the Valley is finally here too!

IMG_7238As is the flowering quince (which appears more of a salmon or coral shade than in this pic).

IMG_7249In future Springs, this view will include a large house in the background. We are both still in a deep state of disbelief as our hearts ache with the loss.

IMG_7001Thankfully, other delights distract us. Elihu and I stood among the branches of the apple tree and enjoyed the constant hum of bees, flying hither and yon, as they visited every possible blossom. It was crazy the sound they made. Quite loud, and a resonant, almost single pitch.

IMG_7098Crazy cowbird, goofy guinea fowl.

IMG_6761Outside our kitchen window the red bellied woodpecker visits the platform feeder when the suet is gone.

IMG_6799Elihu takes a peek, but the woodpecker gets the feeling he’s being watched.

IMG_6819Outside, our two resident males hang out in the morning sunshine. Rooster, Bald Mountain is caught here mid-crow. Austin, to his left, is our crazy-ass Guinea Fowl. Never let it be said that birds do not have distinct personalities. !!

IMG_7343And chickens do have favorite foods too – pink apple blossoms are one of em.

IMG_7403Feeding frenzy.

IMG_7347Comic relief. And some serious attitude, too. !

IMG_7292We hope this will be the new resident roo one day…

IMG_6337…Cuz this old boy’s not gonna last forever. Poor Baldy, he limps when he walks, he sits whenever possible, and he only fertilized two of sixteen eggs this year. Yeah, he’s pretty much lost his mojo. But we love him still.

IMG_7557We saw this wonderful creature – the turkey vulture – just down the road. Having just passed a dead porcupine, we got an idea…

IMG_7571Out with the tuba, in with the poor dead creature.

IMG_7582Wow, sixteen pounds. Impressive!

IMG_7595We were sad to see she had been nursing a litter. We laid her to rest in our yard so that we might entice the turkey vulture and then watch it do its thing from our kitchen window.

IMG_7597Elihu picks up Christie, the stand-in for Thumbs Up, as she is the only truly friendly hen remaining.

IMG_7599A mutt of a hen (Araucana, Barred Rock and more), she lays olive green eggs.

IMG_7604Elihu carries Christie back to the house…

IMG_7610… and Pumpkin follows him back. (“Our” field is behind the row of trees.)

IMG_8636This is what the end of a weekend looks like. Sometimes I want desperately to run far, far away….

IMG_8411…until we settle back into our groove at home. Then everything is once again right with the world.

IMG_8154Lilacs uplift us too.

IMG_8160And look! It’s my long-lost accordion. I’ve left it out now to show my students (and to try to relearn all I’ve forgotten!) If an accordion doesn’t make things better, I don’t know what will!

IMG_7650It’s heavy, but it’s sparkly and loud, so who cares?

IMG_7753Usually a very trim, streamlined bird, this male brown-headed cowbird is showing signs of puffing…

IMG_7697…he’s mid-puff now… hoping to wow a mate he will rise to his full height and size while emitting an ultra-sonic high chirping which sounds like a video game….

IMG_7698bingo!

IMG_8160 (2)Inspired by the constant presence of birds in his life, Elihu, thankfully, occasionally finds time to draw birds. His love of drawing birds preceded all of his other, equally obsessive loves.

IMG_8172After supper we headed out to Caffe Lena for open mic. I knew Lena as a child, and so it makes me happy that Elihu continues to know this place as I did. (Bill Cole’s Woodwinds shop is just behind him – that’s where Bill kindly tweaked Elihu’s ‘beater B flat’ tuba and brought it up to speed. Great guy – kind, fair, and expert at what he does.)

IMG_8220“Good Folk Since 1960” is the slogan here. I can recognize a half-dozen artists at a glance whose shows I attended when I was Elihu’s age or younger.

IMG_8210Elihu has the ‘big kids’ laughing as he folds the performer’s entry cards into tiny origami cranes.

IMG_8192Before he plays, I want to make a pilgrimage to the men’s bathroom wall, upon which Elihu wrote at age 6 on the occasion of his first open mic. (It’s in red, and to the right and below the tree drawing.)

IMG_8193And here it is. Can ya read it? So sweet!

IMG_8216Tuning up.

IMG_8239These guys were fun. They gave the night the perfect bit of energy and humor.

But for me, this was the highlight of the evening…

I cut off the first line, as I was switching from camera to video… His first line was “I bought some instant water, I just don’t know what to add to it”. Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg are obvious favorites of this kid.

(Click here fore the link to his performance at Caffe Lena at age six.)

IMG_8271An old house in Saratoga that for some strange reason always stuck in my mind as a child. I liked the crazy roof over the stairs on the front porch. When I was little, it appeared cozy to me. Now, it strikes me as sketchy. Just as well – it’s history now!

IMG_8287Ah, the impermanence of it all. There goes the cozy roof.

IMG_8340This little guy is next, I was told by the developer. Thankfully, the new structures will be aesthetically similar, or at least in keeping with the vibe of the neighborhood.

IMG_8315Modern Saratoga looms in the background.

IMG_8349This is the sort of thing that will replace the old houses. Not too bad. Could be much worse.

IMG_8342I’m something of a demo groupie. I can’t take horror movies, but rather I am drawn to the violent and animated quality of a back hoe claw. It seems almost sentient…

IMG_8379On the way home I pass a picturesque cottage just down the hill from me, and I see it with new eyes. How charming it is at this time of year when all the white apple blossoms are in bloom.

IMG_8391Look how much things have grown in just a week’s time! This is the “lightning tree” which Elihu and I visit each Easter, and around which he has made a small stone structure with rocks from the stone wall at the field’s edge.

IMG_8551Saturday in the park. Congress Park, that is. In the foreground at the right is the baby willow tree that I had planted in memory of Jamaican-born banjo player Cecil Myrie, who died in October of 2014. He invited Elihu to busk with him when Elihu was just 6, and Cecil gave him his first two dollar tip. Our lives changed that day. (Can you imagine how truly grand this tree will look at the water’s edge in a few decades? I’m thrilled that I was able to contribute to the landscape of this handsome and historic park.)

IMG_8526Not exactly a brass plaque, but it works.

IMG_8542The willow tree with war memorial in the background. Wait – who’s that guy in the yellow shirt?

IMG_8535Shoulda known. It’s my kid – and he’s carrying a duck. !

IMG_8514Elihu loves to share ‘his’ birds.

IMG_8499We are such scofflaws!

IMG_8568Sometimes it really is hard to believe this kid is legally blind.

IMG_8479Since Elihu can no longer rely upon the ‘cute’ factor when busking, he’s trying out some new material. It seems to be working.

IMG_8608This is how we recycle our paper (and wood scraps) in Greenfield. Afterward, the ashes get tossed into the woods, where, as we say in this family, they “Go back to God”.

IMG_8624It’s been said that the fastest way to take off ten pounds and a couple of years is a selfie taken from above. !

IMG_7149Under the moonlight, we discover hundreds of tiny, white violets that we’d never seen before, growing all across our lawn. How is this possible??

IMG_7155A flash reveals them.

IMG_7179We lay on our backs in the moonlight and pick the tiny flowers until the hour gets so very late… Sunday night, back to school hours, we can’t stay out forever…

IMG_8421After Elihu went to bed, I took a long, mournful look at the silhouette of the field which will most certainly be transformed by this time next year.

IMG_8427At the end of the evening, I had the field and the full moon all to myself. I savored the moment, as I try to do with as many moments in time as I can be present for, because you almost never fully realize what you’ve got – until it’s no longer there anymore. For now, all is well. And hopefully, no matter what happens down the line, we’ll find a way to embrace the changes as they happen, and find a way to savor all those future moments too.

 

Up Is Down December 27, 2015

coop pic

The day after Christmas we buried our beloved red hen, Thumbs Up. Elihu wasn’t here, but he was on the phone with me as I placed her in the ground. I put the phone on speaker and set it down as I shoveled the dirt upon her, my son sobbing along with me the whole time. Chickens may live well over a decade, yet this gal hadn’t quite made five years. Somehow we’d always thought she’d be here as Elihu grew up. With a personality more like a golden retriever than simple red hen, she animated our household in the most delightful way, and it’s hard to imagine how different the energy will be around here now that she’s gone. I’m almost surprised at how deep my grief is over this loss. My father died two years ago tonight, and while it should go without saying that I dearly miss him, this recent loss is just so fresh and acute that I cannot shake it. And with my son so very far away, my heart is breaking all the more.

These days I’m larger than I’ve been in years, and that too is nagging at my heart. Being unable to fit in my beautiful clothes, and becoming out of breath just going up a flight of stairs, all of this has me grieving for a time when I felt and looked my best. In the past I’ve managed to pull myself up and out of my funks, and I’ve shed as much as fifty-five pounds in one year, but I don’t know where the resolve will come from now, and I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll ever turn things around. My fingers are getting knobbier and ache with arthritis each day; this alone is a hard reality to accept. Every evening I take my relief in glasses of wine, the worrisome double-edged sword; it’s the much longed-for and soothing end to my day, yet it’s a source of countless useless calories that only add to my problem. I manage to pull myself through the days until that blessed evening hour when a sleeping pill will take me away from this waking world. And when the next morning arrives, I am once again overwhelmed and under-confident that I can do anything about it all.

When I hear about successful people who have jobs, money, families and such, becoming overwhelmed with depression, it’s hard to understand. Me, it seems that if you can pay your bills, then things couldn’t be all that bad. Right? But then I look objectively at myself; I have a lot going for me, so this current state of my spirit can’t really be justified. But still, I can’t help but wonder how differently I’d feel about life if only I had a little bit more money. If I had a job – and a paycheck. I know how glorious I feel each year when I get my tax return – the whole world opens up. Fuel oil, a haircut and color, new shoes for the kid, a barrel full of scratch grains for the flock, dinner in a restaurant – all sorts of things become possible, and with that possibility I feel a certain spiritual uplifting. It’s crazy, honestly, because none of this shit really changes my day-to-day reality, but somehow, having just a tad more than enough can feel so very, very good.

Recently I learned that Facebook had been charging me methodically over the past few months for many small commercial posts. Somehow (and I am not alone judging by the hundreds of comments just like mine, oh how I pray it comes to a class action suit one day!) I misunderstood a one-time ‘boost’ for a contracted series of boosts, thereby creating a slow but devastating hit to my PayPal account. Now this is the ‘slush’ fund I count on for Christmas and other treats. Imagine my surprise when I went to buy a couple of gifts for my son to find under the tree on his return, and there was nothing left. What the hell? Following the charges, I found the source of the problem. And I realized it was a case of ‘me versus the machine’. I would not win this fight, nor would I ever see that $300 again. Holy fuck. I was feeling shitty enough right now. Now this. Mom had made it plain that she was unable to help at this time – property taxes were approaching – so I knew I couldn’t go to her. I asked an old friend if he could loan me the sum – just til early January, as that’s when my students were returning – but after a few days there was no response. Feeling ill about having appealed to him for help, I’d been wishing I could take it back. But that wasn’t possible. What was posted was posted. Ugh.

Phooey. Thumbs Up is dead, I’m broke and fat, and my kid is a thousand miles away.

The up side is that my mother is still here, my neighbors are all wonderful and supportive, and I have friends who help buoy my spirits through the lifeline of the internet. My house is warm (bless this mild winter!!) and my son is has two goddam tubas and a myriad of instruments to keep him happy. We have six happy fish, three happy frogs and fifteen remaining fowl. I have a view of Vermont and a fucking grand piano. Ok, so my Wurlitzer needs a bunch of work, but hey. I have one.

Looking back over the years I see this same sort of lament over and over here on the blog. And it gets a little tiresome, I know. Sometimes it kinda feels like reading the journal of a middle school girl: ‘poor fat me, no one has it as bad as I do, no one understands me’ again and again. Things aren’t really so bad, I know it, but still…  I haven’t figured out how to pilot this Studio thing, I haven’t approached anyone to join the board yet, and my office is a fucking nightmare of unfiled paper and undone to-do lists. Yes, the refrigerator is organized, the pantry tidy, and the floors are as clean as they’re going to get for now. My house is in order now, but my life is not. It’s up to me, I know it. Holding out hope that I’ll find the oomph inside me to get the Studio going, to lose twenty-five pounds, to get my teaching materials filed and organized. But from where I sit today, I can’t imagine how I’ll get any of this shit done.

Yesterday I was rocking my sweet Thumbs Up after she had died. I was holding her against my breast, her neck against mine… I looked out past the Christmas tree to the hills beyond and remembered the year before last; I had been rocking in that same chair, looking out over that same view, tears streaming down my cheeks as I anticipated the imminent death of my father. Here I was again, so sad, so sad. Still, this was part of life. Nothing so wrong with being sad, I thought to myself. Maybe the best thing one can do is just invite the sorrow in and push through it hard. Sad doesn’t last forever, after all. Nothing does. Which ultimately, I suppose, is a great gift.

On Christmas morning I rose in an uncharacteristic panic; in my gut I had felt something to be very wrong. I sat up in bed and felt fear wash through my body. Without second-guessing myself I ran to the coop. The backyard was eerily quiet… where was Bald Mountain? I opened the door – the coop was nearly empty. Had there been an attack? Had the automatic chicken door opened too early and allowed a predator to enter? Adrenaline flushed through me. There, on the top roosting bar, were two old gals. Usually there were three. Shit. Thumbs Up…. where was she? I panicked, opened the other door and searched the run. There, in the far corner, was my girl. Hunkered down, seeking solitude, I knew in an instant this was a bad sign. She’d been in and out of the kitchen clinic several times over the past month, and I knew things weren’t good with her. But I didn’t know they were this bad.

I rushed her inside and this time decided to demystify her ailment. I knew it was an impacted cloaca of sorts; she couldn’t pass normally, and this was dangerous. I risked cutting into her flesh and creating a possibility for infection, this I knew, but I had to do something. So I did. I removed strange-looking tissue and tried to relieve her as much as possible. I bathed her and dried her and returned her to a bed in the mud room. We’d lost a hen here just a few weeks ago – this was ominously familiar. I stayed with her for a while, talking to her and taking photos that I knew in my heart would be the very last ones…

I called mom, the one person on the planet besides my son who ultimately has my back at the end of it all – and told her what was going on. God bless my mom. Offering me guidance and advice – here she was at nearly 81, and here I was at the age of 52 – and my mom was still my mom. It almost felt physical, the relief upon hearing her consolation. I was touched by her care and concern for me. She was saying things that made me feel better… Even if I might have said those same things to myself, hearing it from my mother was different. Yes, we agreed, there was nothing left to do for Thumbs Up. I might as well go on with my day as planned. I would go to the nursing homes and visit those who had no visitors.

With a book of carols and a harness of old-fashioned jingle bells in my bag, I headed out. First I visited my old next door neighbor who was happy at my unexpected visit. Her daughter and son-in-law soon arrived, and it was nice to see her tiny apartment full of people and holiday spirit. Satisfied to know she would have company for the day, I took my leave and went to another retirement home nearby.

The second nursing home was empty save for one woman who sat alone in the lobby while Christmas music played quietly, almost as if mocking the cheerless atmosphere. A large tree and a multitude of poinsettias beside a gas fireplace tried to give the place a cozy, home-like feel, but they were too contrived to do the trick. There was no one at the reception desk, in fact the office and dining room were dark when I arrived. I walked up to the woman, sat on the couch beside her and began talking. We passed a half hour before we saw another resident walking past. The woman I’d been speaking with said her son was coming to get her, but she didn’t know when. I’d begun to wonder if these plans were real or imagined.

The woman who next joined us was tall and lean, with her shoulder-length silver hair in a striking blunt cut. She, it turned out, was from Holland. She recounted a long life; how she’d come here at the age of 23 knowing no one, how she ended up going back to school for chemistry, how she married and had children, settling in a well-to-do New Jersey suburb. She wondered at her old home, the one in which she and her husband had shared over fifty Christmases. “Ach” she said, waving a hand in the air, “It was sold years ago. Who knows where all my things have gone. All my chairs, the curtains, the paintings….” She seemed disgusted, heartbroken and resolved all at the same time. My heart ached again, but I didn’t let on. Here it was my job to be the giver-of-cheer and hope. I asked if I might see her room here, how she had decorated it, where was it that she now lived. Both she and the first woman enthusiastically offered to take me on a tour.

We passed the rec room, which I knew to have a piano, as I’d played it years ago for a program my friend had organized. I sat down and opened the book of carols. The room was half-darkened, and the carpet sucked up every sound. In the quiet I began to play “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to which the ladies began to sing. I moved gently into several more slow and beautiful melodies, after which I felt it best to conclude. Then we three moved down the long corridor to the first apartment. It belonged to the tall Dutch woman who had introduced herself as Nellie; I learned from the plaque on her door that her full name was Pietrenelle. Adorned with white ceramic windmills and wooden shoes, her room was much as I would have expected. We moved on to visit Phyllis’ room, after which we headed back to the lobby. Two more folks had arrived in anticipation of dinner, and soon the smells of food began to waft into the air. I was surprised to see a middle aged man accompanied by a bulldog come through the front doors. “Dan!” Phyllis said, her countenance lifting as she saw the two. “Are you Dan?” I said, looking at the man and then gesturing to the dog. “He should be Dan!” I laughed. “He is actually a she...” he responded. Dan had not a clue as to the reference I was making (Yale’s school mascot is a bulldog named Dan. My dad was a Yaley, and of course, my son shares a name with the school’s philanthropic benefactor, Elihu Yale.) “…and her name is Lucy”.

I assured the women that I would be back to visit again, and I could see happiness and relief on their faces. This, if only a small bit of hope in the world, was better than none. I had done something. Not much, but the last two hours had been very pleasant, and I hoped the effect would last a little while.

When I arrived home I saw a horrible sight: Thumbs Up had fallen from the bench and was now propped up, wings spread, on the laundry detergent bottle. She was breathing in and out very, very fast. I tried to move her, and her head wobbled. Then she erupted in a spasm of movement, writhing her way across the floor, faltering on wobbly legs. This reminded me of a nervous disorder, but until now it had only seemed a gastric affliction. None of this mattered now. I gathered her up and put her in a nest on the floor. I tried to share her experience, breathing in and out breath for breath. Shit. This was horrible to watch. I couldn’t touch her, it would have caused her more pain. Her eyes were half opened; she was trying to maintain. Mom was waiting for me; she’d gone all out and made a thirteen pound turkey and all the works of a Christmas dinner. I really did not want to leave my precious girl. My heart yearned to hold her as she died – but I knew it could be an hour yet. Showing my mother love by being with her for supper was ultimately more important. I left reluctantly, and before I closed the door I told my beautiful red hen goodbye and that I loved her.

When I returned two hours later Thumbs Up was dead, as I’d expected. But her death had been violent; she had gotten up and out of her bed and died a few paces away, her bowels evacuated on the floor. I imagined her last minutes, I knew they were painful. The only consolation now was that she was gone. I was surprised by my immense and immediate grief; I ran to her, held her close to my heart and wept as I hadn’t – in two years.

She died on Christmas, and I placed her underneath the tree that night. The next morning I held her for a long time before I dug the hole, called Elihu, and finished saying goodbye. Yesterday I made my errands, and today, while I’d planned to finally assess my overflowing office, I’ve done nothing but choose photos and write. As casual as this blog may appear, it takes hours to create a post – even longer when dealing with pictures. Uploading is tedious and time-consuming. In between I take little breaks to look at the tree, or out the window at my flock. Like prodding a fresh wound to see if it still hurts – I’ll rest my eyes on the little white marker under the flowering quince bush.

Everything has its time, everything has its season. We get fat, we get thin. We get sick, we get better. We lose our way, and then we find it. We all flourish, we all fade. And whatever goes up, no matter how we might wish it otherwise, will eventually come back down. What a path is this life! Bless us all as we make our way through this great, mysterious journey. A hearty thumbs up to us all, and also to that little red hen who gave us such delight along the way.

IMG_0486I got to spend some time with Miss Lucy, the newest addition to the neighborhood. That was a treat.

IMG_0528Got busy getting down to all that grunge at the bottom of everything. This takes time. Glad it’s done.

IMG_0557The day before Christmas. All is well, and it sure doesn’t look like anyone will be dying anytime soon. Thumbs Up is the light red one on the left in back.

IMG_0576Butt shot – look away if you find it gross. Part of chickening. Austin, our comic guinea fowl enjoys the platform feeder. He thinks he’s a songbird.

IMG_0567Thumbs Up was calm in her bath as I removed scar tissue and gunk. It almost seemed as if she knew I was trying to help her. Such a good girl.

IMG_0594Getting her warm and dry. Again, while many hens might have protested, she stood there willingly. Perhaps because she was almost done with it all… Who knows.

IMG_0700Christmas day, she was different. After all, she herself had sought seclusion. I brought her to the stoop for a last visit with her flock.

IMG_0755I opened the door, and as she has so many times before, she hopped up and walked inside. I know no one else would have been able to tell, but she had an unsettled look about her. She made strange sounds and stood a little too erect, plus her eyes had a distracted appearance. Call me crazy, but hey, she died only hours later. I try to honor the ‘God voice’ when it tells me something. It’s a mistake to ignore it.IMG_0759Specks, the only hen who we’ve had longer then Thumbs Up, watches as her sister comes inside.

IMG_0650See how her tail is drooping? This is an unhappy hen, likely in physical discomfort.

IMG_0762I would take her pain on myself, if only I could. How can I love a hen so much?

IMG_0790My new friends at the nursing home, Phyllis and Nellie. Oh, and Lucy, the bulldog.

IMG_0824A sight I’ve seen all my life. Mom does it all.

IMG_0835Always superb.

IMG_0834This silver had been in my father’s family for a long time.

IMG_0857I smooch my old cat, Mina. She can’t live with us as Elihu is very allergic. My ex husband and I got her over 15 years ago. She is ancient now, and she won’t be here too much longer herself.

IMG_0885I expected to see Thumbs Up gone when I got home, but it was shocking nonetheless. My heart positively broke. Strange that we’ve butchered and eaten so many of our own birds, but this, somehow, was entirely different.

IMG_0957So beautiful were her colors.

IMG_1067I finally place Thumbs Up in her little grave. Pumpkin, the only remaining red hen, comes to see what’s going on.

IMG_1080A small piece of limestone marks the spot where Thumbs Up rests under the flowering quince bush.

Thank you, little red hen. Don’t tell the rest of the flock – but you were always our favorite.