The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Minor/Major April 25, 2021

This morning I took my son to have his first covid vaccine. As he is still 17 and a minor, I was allowed to accompany him. But for his second vaccine in three weeks, I will be made to wait outside.

There really is no way to prepare a mother’s heart for this transition. Of course I’ve known it was coming and have tried as best I can to make peace with the new reality. Come this Wednesday, Elihu will no longer be a minor. No longer will I be the keeper of his medical records, no longer will I be responsible for his money, no longer will I be the recipient of his grades. How very strange indeed. I have been this person’s sole keeper in every way for the entirety of his life – and in just one moment the whole thing comes to a close. Thankfully he is an incredibly responsible person, and he is well-equipped to take the reigns. But me, I’m just not ready to hand them over.

When Elihu was two and a half years old he had a bad case of the flu, and I took him to the emergency room. There was a one-year-old in the waiting room, and Elihu doted on the tiny boy. The child had had an earache and was frantically crying in distress, to which Elihu responded with such tenderness. He cooed to the toddler, helped distract and soothe him. They spent a good fifteen minutes together, and by the time we were called in, Elihu had coaxed the child into a quiet and peaceful state. It was shortly after we got into the car and began to drive home that Elihu spoke his very first sentence. “When I grow up, I want to have a baby, Mama”. I looked in the rear view mirror, stunned at what I’d just heard. I saw him just sitting there, his pacifier returned to his mouth and looking out the window. My tiny boy, such a huge concept. My son had always been different, even at that age I’d known it. This sentence was just the first of many confirmations. He has always been wise beyond his years.

I first knew there was something distinctly different about my son when he was four months old. Aside from being colicky and hard-pressed to sleep without me next to him, I just knew something was not right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but clues were starting to add up. When I walked him outside in a stroller, he’d close his eyes and slump to the side, but when we’d enter a dark indoor space he’d sit up and open his eyes. He couldn’t open his eyes in the great room of our home, the south wall of which was entirely made of windows, but he came to life in the dark basement playroom. I knew he had an inability to see in bright light, but until he could speak to us, we’d be left to guess about how he experienced his world. One evening I remember nursing and then rocking him, trying unsuccessfully to get him to sleep. And so I held him tightly to me and twisted my torso from side to side, desperate to find the rhythm that would finally take. I remember pulling him away from my chest and looking into his eyes, to find that his pupils were rapidly bouncing up and down. I flushed with adrenaline; had I just done this to him? Had I shaken my baby? A careful inventory of my actions told me that I had not, and yet something had changed. I remember wishing so dearly that I could just know if he was afraid, if he was in discomfort. How, oh how could I make it better?

It was my friendship with the keyboard player in Steppenwolf that became the key to understanding what was ‘wrong’ with Elihu. Years earlier I’d met John Kay, the lead singer and fellow who penned the iconic song “Born to Be Wild”, and I’d known him to have some condition with his eyes that made him colorblind, light-sensitive and also unable to drive (ironic, isn’t it? His song is the anthem for bikers everywhere, and yet John’s never driven a day in his life). As I sat at my desk pondering my son’s situation, I flashed back on this memory and immediately fired off an email to Mike. He responded, confirming my suspicion. And there it was. Without an internet search, without a doctor’s diagnosis. I’d learned that my son had Achromatopsia. Now, finally, I knew.

I’d had some neighbor girls take Elihu to the park, and instantly I felt a deep panic, an intense need to find and hold my baby. Now that I knew, I had to make it better. I ran through the streets until I spied the small clump of kids – Elihu was riding on the shoulders of one of the taller girls, his eyes squinted shut. I grabbed him from her and held him to my chest, shielding his eyes from the daylight. I shall always remember how I felt in that moment; I become a fiercely protective mother, and in that instant I became wholly dedicated to my son’s comfort and ease. In the months that followed I found a low vision doctor in Chicago – who actually specialized in Achromats – and Elihu would soon get his first dark glasses. He would take his first steps outdoors, and our world would become a little less stressful. And even though his father loved him dearly, he did not share my concerns for our son. He wasn’t moved by Elihu’s first steps in daylight, he thought I made too much of Elihu’s light sensitivity, and he would often chastise me for coddling our boy. But I didn’t care. Like I said, my mother’s heart was fierce. Nothing would prevent me from being Elihu’s champion.

There was so much I needed to impart to my son. Ever since he could walk it was my deepest desire to equip him to live as well as possible in this difficult world. My heart longed to give him ease, to give him insight and understanding. There was so much to teach him – where to begin? Folks who know me understand that I’m pretty frank and unedited in my speech. I say what I mean, and I believe for the most part that it’s better to express than to withhold. And that’s the tack I took with my son. If my four-year-old wanted to know how an engine worked, I was going to explain it to him. Seriously. He was going to get the real story, not some dumbed-down explanation meant just for kids. I always spoke to my tiny son as if he was an adult. That’s not to say I didn’t coo to him as a baby, or speak in tender, maternal tones to him – in fact I always spoke to him as gently and lovingly – and respectfully – as possible. I never scolded him as if he were an idiot. I always offered an explanation of actions and consequences, as if he understood. Because if he didn’t yet understand, he would at some point.

How could I teach him about the seasons, the holidays, the traditions of our world? How could I convey the context, the meanings of so many seemingly random cues? And if he saw no color at all, and if indeed the world was hazy and hard to see, how could I teach him to discern things? All of this nagged at me during my son’s childhood. And so I chose to read to him. A lot. (I wish now that I’d kept a list of the dozens upon dozens of books we read. I implore all new parents who might be reading this to keep a log of the tomes you read to your child. In revisiting them you will also revisit shared childhood memories.) Since my son’s vision was not great, and since reading for a good length of time fatigued him, I felt it was best that I take on the job. Every night of his life until he was around ten or eleven I lay next to him and read. Oh the places we went together. The adventures we had. What a huge and full life we had just from our nighttime books alone. This, I think, is in large part why my son turned out to be such a thinker. Having limited vision has also contributed; he has been left to live much of his life inside of his thoughts. While the other kids were watching movies or playing video games, Elihu was identifying birdsongs, inventing melodies of his own or creating lines of poetry.

My mother’s heart had always been heavy with the knowledge that my son would not always be able to join his classmates in so many experiences that most kids consider mundane. Swimming doesn’t work well on account of the bright light that usually accompanies the experience. Moving fast – as in running – is dicey in that Elihu can’t really see things until they’re upon him. When he was smaller the two of us had a system we used while out walking whereby he would minimize the many missteps, falls and scrapes that came of his limited vision. Elihu couldn’t always discern differences in grade, so as we walked together I’d quietly offer “step up” or “flat surface” as we went along. So imagine my surprise when one day at lunchtime my legally blind child whizzed by me on a bike in front of his school! His fifth grade teacher had taught him in just a few periods. I’d always wondered how – or even if – we would tackle this skill. I cried! Oh such gratitude I had for that dear woman! This step was huge. And it opened new doors for my son that I had previously thought would never be options. And can you imagine that my twelfth-grade son has been getting straight As in his phys ed classes? In fact he is even rather aggressive in some sports – but if you’d told me this a few years ago I would not have believed it possible.

Elihu’s father had decided to leave the marriage our son was five. I’d thought that Elihu was too young to grasp the situation, and so when we moved across the country to live in a house next door to his grandparents, I’d thought it wouldn’t be a big deal. He would have everything he needed, lots of nature around, and family too. I always welcomed his father into our home, and have always encouraged their relationship, so he saw his father quite a bit in the early years here at the Hillhouse. (My friends never understood this arrangement; they thought it was wrong to have my ex stay here with us. I thought it was the humane and right thing by way of both dad and son. My comfort could take a back seat for a few days here and there.) I did absolutely everything I could to ensure my son had the best possible childhood. I think I did the best I could with my situation.

However, it became apparent in the first few years post-move, that Elihu had been deeply saddened by the change. I’d thought that if I’d kept up appearances and continued to be of relatively good cheer that it would mitigate any possible negative outcomes. I hadn’t wanted my son to suffer the emotional challenges that other children of divorced parents do. Yet for a while my dear son really was troubled. If I’d expected him to be sensitive to the nuances of life, how was it that I thought he wouldn’t notice this huge life change? A year or so after we moved here I chose to speak to him candidly about the divorce, how it had troubled me too, but how both people needed to be in agreement for marriage to work, and how his father and I were not in agreement. I believe that the truth helped him to understand and make some peace with the situation. It was a really tough experience for both of us, but we got through it by addressing it honestly. Hard a time as it was, it helped us each to grow and become more emotionally resilient.

I needn’t worry about my son now. In fact, I’m tremendously eager for the life that awaits him. He is completely ready to take on absolutely anything. (Recently I apologized – again – for having brought him into this crappy world. I asked him if he might be a bit discouraged about the challenges ahead. “On the contrary,” he answered. “I’m excited. I’m gonna make life my bitch”. !!) Me, I’ve never been particularly good at anything – I don’t enjoy working hard (unless it involves music or writing, then I’m all in), I never did well in school, never had a real day job, never felt like I did things the right or ‘normal’ way. Whatever that may be. However there is one thing I know that I have done very well: I have raised a happy and successful human being. I have given my son love, respect, education, humor and a shit-ton of really good, home-cooked meals. I have spoken to him as a peer. I have held nothing back. There are plenty of books on child-rearing which will tell you I did a lot of things wrong. Most parents would probably frown on my parenting choices. So glad I didn’t listen to all that static.

Such a strange thing that along with my greatest success also comes my greatest challenge: letting it all go. How do I do that? Elihu has been my partner for seventeen long years. Seeing him off into the world is going to be the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life. But it’s essential for my growth, for his too. It’s a mandatory part of the process. And once I’m past the fear, I know there’s going to be a lot of joy.

Because this next chapter of our lives is going to be huge. Major, in fact.

______________________________________________________________________

An update on the college journey:

With a GPA of 4.3, an extensive lists of personal achievements, fluency in four languages plus some pretty exceptional writing skills, Elihu and I had felt he had a fairly good chance of being accepted at the nation’s top schools, but it proved to be a surprise when he was rejected by all of the places where he applied (save Harvard, more on that shortly).

We both understand that this year is a unique one; with gap year students plus those forced to wait a year due to the pandemic, there are a whole lot more students vying for spots. At the end of the day Elihu has been accepted by RPI (Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York) with a generous scholarship, but in that he attended two summer programs there – and it’s a mere 35 minute drive from home – he’d rather go somewhere new, different and a bit further from home. Plus his interest in liberal arts has really ramped up over the past few years, so he’s been hesitant to commit to a technical school.

He has been put on the Harvard waitlist, and he’s done everything in his power to distinguish himself from the crowd. He’s personally written to every administrator who might have a part in the final decision. Truly, he’s been tenacious. But in an unexpected twist, Elihu has been strongly advised by several mentors not to choose Harvard, even if accepted. They make the point that he will more easily rise to the top in a less demanding school, and that he can attend an Ivy for graduate work if it still appeals. Interesting input, and it will remain under consideration.

How surprising to us that at this late date Elihu still does not know where his future lies. To his credit he’s completely calm about the whole thing. Not much he can do. He’s done his very best, and now it’s just time to let the universe do its thing… Feel free to visit my Facebook page for updates. (We have been told that Harvard will respond with their decision by mid May.)

 

Poised for Flight February 9, 2021

It’s a good thing that pregnancy lasts nine months. One needs that sort of time to mentally prepare for what’s coming. At least as best one can prepare for that sort of life-changing event. (I was in labor and pushing and still had no real concept that in a short while I’d have a real-live person to take care of.) And it’s a good thing that it takes a child some seventeen years to reach the point at which they can (somewhat) safely leave home under their own steam. Good for that too – cuz it takes that long to wrap one’s head around the idea of your tiny child actually becoming an adult.

This is the last year that Elihu will live with me, and so every experience from here on in becomes for me our ‘last time’. And lately I find I am constantly trying to understand how we got here so soon. There is a saying about childhood which is so true that it takes on a painful poignancy for me these days: the days are long, but the years are short. Indeed.

How is it that I can recall my son’s tender years as if they were still happening today? It feels as if tomorrow we might return to the things we did routinely for so many years. We will surely spend another weekend making towers from toy blocks, won’t we? We will most certainly drive down a country road on a rainy summer night and fill a bucket with frogs, won’t we? No, I don’t think we will. There is no time now for block towers and summertime frogs. There are airplanes to build, videos to produce, new languages to learn. There are college interviews and performances to prepare for. There are school projects and homework. Every day there are things that require hours of Elihu’s focus. There’s no time to spare at this point in his life.

Wistful as I am to recall all that was and all that will never be again, I take comfort in knowing that the childhood which I provided for my son (most of which is thankfully documented here in this blog) has helped to make him the successful and enthusiastic young man he is now. He has become an intriguing mix of Elon Musk and Henry David Thoreau. Not only does he thrill to aviation, physics and science-related thought, but he is deeply in tune with nature; he hears and knows all the birds of our region, he observes all the animals of the woods and those who visit our homestead and knows their behaviors well, and he also sketches them and writes about his time spent alone in the woods with great sensitivity and skill. He studies markets and investing and takes a great interest in learning how businesses operate. He is convinced that it’s a good idea to learn Chinese at this time in history, and so over the past year he has taught himself how to speak simple sentences as well as write many characters (he’s studying Japanese too; the similarities and contrasts fascinate him). The life that lays before him is a grand panorama of possibilities.

Every day he tells me that there’s not enough time to get it all done. Me, I’m prone to a constant mild state of depression, and somedays (many days, actually) it’s a challenge for me even to arise from bed. “Doesn’t it ever overwhelm you?” I ask, seeking out his weakness, for surely he must have one… “Never” he’ll always answer. (His father is an extremely driven fellow; here is a likely case for nature over nurture. True, I gave my child many gifts, but perhaps this heightened go-get-em attitude isn’t one of them). Lest I downplay my own positive energetic influence on the kid, I offer this anecdote: recently he suggested we take on a project, and I told him I wasn’t sure, as it seemed terribly idealistic, to which he responded “Tell me when we have ever failed at doing something which at first seemed too idealistic”. Come to think of it, he might be right. Although I’m losing a bit of steam these days, on the whole I’ve been a fairly driven mom. The two of us have shared a life unlike many others. And so I concur. We are pretty good at getting our hands on idealistic goals. So. There can be no regrets. This time of letting go and moving on is just as it should be.

This past fall Elihu and I shared a rite of passage which had been a long time coming here at the Hillhouse. Several years ago we’d begun to have our chickens (or as we simply say ‘birds’) butchered by a local Amish family, inspired by an observation my son had shared with me. One day, when Elihu was around eight, he suggested that we eat our birds. I admit, the thought had occurred to me, but it just seemed, at that point, too real. I would rather not have acquainted myself with the realities of butchering and eating one’s own chickens. At its essence, the act of raising chickens was still a gentle, romantic effort to make myself feel more like a ‘real’ country girl. Kind of an exercise in achieving rural street cred. Collecting and selling eggs was enjoyable, and everyone found it charming. Leave it to my contemplative son to burst my bubble and throw down the gauntlet. “If we raise chickens and we don’t eat them, then having them is an act of vanity”, the boy had said to me. Man. This kid went right to it, didn’t he? And so, from then on, in the first week of school each year, when the air had just begun to turn crisp and cool in earnest, we’d arise early one morning, box up all the young roos, load them into the car (more than one rooster is not necessary to keep the flock going, plus they don’t lay eggs – and they fight) and we’d drive them to the Amish butcher, returning home with a cooler full of farm-raised chicken.

We’d always known that this chicken-raising chapter would come to a close, and most likely that would be when Elihu left for college. I certainly enjoy the lovely energy they impart to our homestead, and I’ll probably have them around for a few years yet until they succumb to old age or the resident predators, but we won’t be stocking the incubator each spring as we have for the past decade. This past year we got a bit over-ambitious and raised up some forty birds – twice again as many as in past years – and so by summer’s end we were left with eighteen extra roos who needed ‘doing in’. In that our regular Amish farmer friend had packed up his wife and fourteen kids and headed for Alaska, we needed to find someone new to ‘process’ (the euphemism used in polite conversation for killing, eviscerating and cleaning) our birds. I was having no luck until I found a fellow in mid-state New York. A good five hours round trip. I didn’t relish the cost in time and money making the cross-state drive, but I still wasn’t emotionally ready to step up. Naw – it was a nice idea at heart, and it certainly would be a good skill to have under my belt – but I just couldn’t do that. I didn’t have it in me to drag a blade across a chicken’s neck. So I felt a good deal of relief to have found these folks. Realizing I’d hit up another Amish family, when I thanked them I added that it had been ‘such a blessing’ to have found them. But shortly thereafter I misplaced the scrap of paper on which I’d written their phone number. Having called from my landline, with no stored records of recently made calls, it seemed more than daunting to try and find these people again. I gradually came to understand that our plans might have to change yet again. Boy, did they change. And at the end of the whole adventure, I realized that the true blessing had been in my losing that piece of paper. We were forced to face our final farming frontier.

We had visited a local farmer in a last-ditch effort to hand off the dirty work to someone else, but it was he who convinced us that we should just do it ourselves; it wasn’t that hard, and we’d feel really proud of ourselves when we were through. In his deep Greenfield country accent he proceeded to tell us the little tricks we might not learn elsewhere. He repeated the steps over and over before lending us his metal cone. We would affix it to a tree, invert the birds, pull their heads down through the hole at the bottom, and slice their necks. Of course, this was just one part of a longer and still messier process, but it was certainly the most daunting from where we stood. A deeply cold weekend passed, and Elihu and I bailed. We went to return the unused cone to the farmer, and he looked disappointed in us. He turned to walk away and said “do as you please”. Elihu and I paused, and looked at each other. We both knew. It was clear that we needed to step up. Assured that the farmer wouldn’t yet be using his cone until he dispatched with his turkeys shortly before Thanksgiving, we re-borrowed it and headed back down the country road, this time both of us steeling ourselves for the task at hand for which we still weren’t convinced we were ready.

But somehow, we were. We watched many videos, we practiced holding our birds, inverting them, calming them… We practiced dragging a backwards butter knife across the correct spot, just under the ears, so as to have some muscle memory to guide us when our hearts were beating and our adrenaline pumping. And there was a lot of setup involved. We needed tables, buckets of cool water to clean blades, ice water to hold cleaned birds, hot water to scald, knives to butcher (carve out and clean), knife sharpeners to keep the process efficient and of course, the blades themselves with which to kill. I went to a restaurant supply house to get the sharpest knives to afford the swiftest and most humane dispatch. I also ordered metal gloves for us – there could be no error when it came to our safety! Having lost a chunk of my eyeball only a few months earlier (and also having been encouraged by a friend who’s an attorney with an appreciation for injury and the need for risk mitigation) we knew that this was serious and that we had to use the proper equipment. We did everything as right as possible. We cut no corners. But we did cut chickens’ necks.

I did the first two; although Elihu had truly exhibited a robust and manly attitude of doing this with confidence and ease and starting the process out himself, when it came down to it, he just couldn’t go first. But it kinda made better sense for me to go first, as I, being the resident chef, was the one with better knife skills when it came to cutting meat. That first kill takes a lot of mental fortitude, I can tell you. But the efficacy of the dispatch is made possible by the compassion which you hold for this creature; firstly, you are deeply grateful for the bird giving its life, and secondly, you do not wish to cause any more stress and pain than absolutely necessary. All this motivates your successful and swift actions. After our first kills, Elihu and I were both shaking with adrenaline. It is a violent act, of this there can be no doubt. But as with anything one does, the first time is the most foreign, it is the hardest. The killing does become easier. (Lest I appear to be patting ourselves on the back too much, I wish to add that only a few generations ago every grandma across the globe was routinely grabbing a hen from the yard and doing it in for the family meal without a second’s pause. Fully aware of this, it’s partly what kicked us in the butt to finally do this for ourselves).

After two long days of butchering and processing (it’s a lot more work than you’d think!) we finally stood together in the fast-waning light of the quickly cooling fall afternoon, and sighed together. My son is not a physically affectionate person, and we hug perhaps only a time or two a year, but in this moment he turned and wrapped his arms around me. “We did it” he said, neither triumphantly, nor sadly. It was mostly just a release. I knew. I felt the same way too. This had been hard, but we had learned so much. We had risen to a difficult challenge and met it. Finally, we had earned our stripes. Finally, we were farmers.

The two days we spent processing our birds was a rite of passage for both of us. But more importantly, it was a delineation of sorts which marked the end of my son’s childhood, and the beginning of our relationship as adults. We had worked as a team, we had communicated well, and we had each needed the other’s help in equal measure. It felt solidly good. And although it may have been an important day for us personally, and while I do think we were both aware of that as we went about our tasks, there was simply too much to do for either of us to slow down and indulge in moments of nostalgia or reflection. (That’s what this post is for….)

How will I exist after my son, my partner, my only true friend, is gone from our home? I’ve been so busy being a mom, my eyes always on the next project, the next event, the next appointment, the next adventure – that I never paused to think too terribly deeply about the life that lay beyond the seemingly endless tasks that made up my life as a single parent. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always known, deep down, that it would be a huge existential challenge for me. Also, I’m not one for mapping things out too precisely. Not to say I don’t make plans, it’s just that I don’t always envision the details. They always seem to sort themselves out. I never know how I’ll make it to my goals until the process has begun and I’m under sail, but at least I’ve always had an idea of where I’m headed. But now I find that my sails are full and I’m under power and moving, without quite knowing my destination.

My panic attacks have gotten much worse over the past few months, and I can definitely say that it is not covid-related. No. I know what’s going on here. I think of it all the time. My son is leaving soon, and I will be alone. There will be no one with whom I can laugh, talk, play music, or marvel over new ideas. It nags at me constantly, and quite frankly, if I were to sit with the feeling for more than a passing moment, it would be utterly terrifying. I keep running from one task to another… I spend hours at the gym, I learn new music, I shop, I clean, I do all the various mundane things I can to distract myself. But I do not sleep well. The end of our time together is coming so very soon, and every cell in my body seems to know it. And these days my son no longer stays in his bedroom (he has full reign of the basement, and he truly loves the privacy and space, plus his workshop is there too) and his absence across the hall, mere feet from me, is hard in of itself. I had hoped it might serve to prepare me, but it doesn’t seem to be working. I realize that all parents must watch their children leave (if all goes well, that is), and yet there is something about this situation which just feels different. Elihu and I have had a partnership for all these years. We have been more than just parent and child. It has always been we two against the world. Now it will be just me against the world. Daunting doesn’t come close.

Of course I have been muttering under my breath for the past decade that there is never enough time to do all the personal projects that I wish I could. And I have long complained aloud about the ceaseless, mundane chores that drain me of my energy and constantly wear me down (sometimes it would be so nice just to have a partner for this reason alone; “Sweetie, could you please get supper tonight? I have teaching materials to prepare”…) I fully admit it, this domestic shit has made me damned cranky over the years! (Regular readers may know this aspect of me well). But on the flip side of my laments are all the hours of caretaking for my son which were truly done from a place of love and with a profound desire to provide the very best in comfort, nutrition and support for my child.

When my former husband used to complain, post-divorce, that I needed to go out and get a ‘real’ job, I would always counter that I already had a ‘real’ job: it was raising our child! Why should I take a shitty, low-wage part-time job, only to hire babysitters in my absence, netting just a couple of dollars an hour and thereby delegating the care and raising of my child to a stranger? What was the advantage to that? I don’t see how this is hard to understand. My job has always been to be a mother. And I gotta say, I’ve thrown myself into this job as I have no other. Usually I’m a ‘jack of all master of none’ kinda gal, but in this case, while I may not have mastered it, I do think that I have truly kicked some parenting ass. It’s been a long haul, and I complained my way through much of it, but I did it well, and if were given a second pass at it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it any differently. So I have no regrets. We’re simply at the doorstep of the next era. My kid’s time has come, and so has mine. All is as it should be. (I really shouldn’t complain – no more sinks full of dishes! No more scrambling to get a good, hot dinner ready before running out to a gig, no more endless loads of laundry and piles of electronics and plane parts strewn about the house! No more taxi service! No more tuba-toting! Goodness, it’ll be a veritable vacation!!)

This is why I keep lists. There are so many things I want to do, but as excited as I am when inspiration hits, it’s just as easy to forget what the hell I just thought of when the fire dies down. I’m fond of saying: If I don’t write it down, it won’t get done. These lists will be my touchstones when the kid is gone. Without a directive or a goal, I will sink. So I’m gonna need those lists. Gotta keep my eyes on the prize. Gotta carve out my own life again. It’s been so long… I haven’t been single and alone in the world since I was 23. That’s a long time, friends. I deeply treasure my solitude, but this gonna be way different.

Before I was as mom, I spent a good portion of my time in solitude. I’ve never had friends with whom I hung out; I was in a lot of bands, had a lot of friends, but no truly close friends, and certainly very few whom I might’ve done social things with. I was too busy, and my life just didn’t have room for that. My bands provided a social life for me. And when I had free time I was fond of just getting up and going, doing whatever I pleased on my own schedule and on my own terms… and that works really well when you fly solo. Even when I was married, I spent most of my time being alone (my former husband, himself also a musician, was gone most of the time). So it seems I should be ready for this next chapter. Yet somehow, this feels different. No bands, no beau, no commitments. Sometimes it seems heavenly to me – I mean, haven’t I been jonesin all these years for a respite? for some time to myself? – but I know the reality will be another story. When I wake up in an empty house, with no structure to my day and nothing critical to do but to simply exist, it will get real. Once the kid flies the coop, it will take this mother hen some time to figure out what life looks like in an empty nest.

But it’s all good, as they say. I know that the past twelve years here at the Hillhouse have been a huge blessing. Every up, every down. Every emergency, every challenge, every heartbreak. Every moment spent quietly sitting in the coop amongst our birds, every evening spent cracking up at the dinner table, every deep conversation each morning on the drive to school. For as crappy a way as this whole adventure began, and as unfair a situation we were thrust into without a choice, and for all the hardship we’ve experienced along the way, I can still say it was so much more than worth it. We’re both as ready as we’ll ever be.

And my young aviator is finally ready to fly.

 

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.

 

Blue Moon, Red Fox August 1, 2015

A Blue Moon rose last night over Greenfield, and from my lovely spot here on the hill its rise was gorgeous. It’s been a week that’s run the gamut for me emotionally, and this was a good way to bring the week, and the month, to a close.

There are two red foxes in our neighborhood now, and sadly, late one afternoon, in broad daylight and as I witnessed helplessly from inside the house, a fox grabbed our dear Sussy and ran off with her (Elihu took a rare shot of her that appears at the top of the last post’s photos). I shouted and ran after, but it was too late. It wasn’t til the next day that I realized how hard our dear, chatty hen had worked to evade the predator; there were four distinct spots of struggle which started on one side of the house and concluded out back. A day or two later Elihu, neighbor Zac and I watched as the fox made another pass at the yard, crossing over the creek and through the field without so much as picking up his pace to a trot as I yelled after him. Clearly, this place was easy pickins, and my shouting was no deterrent. This is so frustrating. Last year I did battle with a family of raccoons, and to my chagrin I ended up killing two of them. The humane trap isn’t as straightforward a solution as one might think (and then there was the skunk which I did end up catching – and then releasing – thankfully without getting sprayed). What’s more, foxes do live up to their reputation as being clever creatures. They can figure out all sorts of inventive techniques to reach their prey (and they are notorious for evading traps). This new situation is very distressing – I can never leave our property with confidence, but truthfully, even if I am here, I’m not sure I can do much to stop this visitor from making off with one of our gals. And while there are a good twenty birds I could lose without much regret, there are three of whom Elihu and I are so deeply fond, that to lose them would be a true heartbreak. All I can do is hope that somehow they’ll be spared. (We’ve lost four hens in the past month, and now the loss of eggs is becoming a challenge as our young gals aren’t laying yet and we still have regular egg customers.)

This is our sixth year raising chickens, so we know that unexpected loss goes with the territory. But still. It’s hard to shake a loss, especially when you lose one of those ‘special’ birds that has shown herself to stand out from the flock in any number of endearing ways. I can assure you this: even a simple chicken may possess unique tendencies. Elihu himself will scold me for anthropomorphising these creatures – but nevertheless, it’s sad to lose a hen who added such good cheer to our homestead. Mom is a good lookout and calls us with advance warning; she lives just one property over, and daily she puts out corn for the deer. Just this past week the foxes (this is how we know there are two and not just one) have joined the raccoons, deer and turkeys at mom’s place (between the furry creatures and all the birds, her house looks like Snow White’s cottage!). I just hope the foxes eat their fill there and forget about their taste for chicken. I should think it would be a whole lot easier to eat what’s given to them than to hunt – and tear apart – a bird. At least I hope so. Elihu and I found a fox den in the woods on the side of the hill and covered it with sticks. I’ll return soon to see if they’ve been moved. If so, at least we’ll know where they live. That will give us something to work with. This is an adventure that’s likely only just begun. It’s all so discouraging; just when you think you’re past the rough spots, there’s always some new challenge. But truly, that’s life in the county.

At this writing Elihu is back in Chicago with his father, and will return again in little less than two weeks – coming in on the late night flight that arrives after 1 in the morning. Later that evening we plan to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra, so it’ll be a long day. But no point sweating over that just yet; that may as well be a year off… House guests arrive any day now, and between the Studio, my search for piano jobs, staving off the ever looming panic attacks, teaching a handful of students and life in general (oh yeah, and fox hunting) there will be plenty to keep me occupied.

A few weeks ago I’d tried my hand at another garage sale, in order to get an infusion of summer cash into my pocket – and to once and for all get rid of all this stuff that has remained in my possession all these years. I finally unpacked the one last box from my move here, and at last knew definitively what should stay and what should go. The sale was a lot of work – and a bust too, netting me a mere $47 after two hot and sweaty days, not to mention the many hours spent in prep. And after it all, I was still left with my stuff, plus the trash that had come with the process. Rather than spend more money I hardly even had, I decided to muscle up and get rid of it by myself – the old fashioned way: by going to the dump. I hadn’t been to a dump since I was a kid and my dad would load up the station wagon and back it up to the big, sandy pit here in Greenfield. The place has been closed for years, and thankfully, somehow the forest has reclaimed it. (It’s actually kind of eerie – in driving by you would never know that there’d been a huge, open space there once upon a time. I shiver to think of the stuff that’s hiding just below the roots…) I did have to shell out $25 for the car load, but what a relief to finally have my big trash out. Now I gotta muster the oomph to load up the car again and schlep all that leftover stuff to the Salvation Army store a few exits up the Northway. Believe me, when the last extraneous scented pillar candle and ironically amusing coffee mug is finally out of my garage, I will feel a relief that will, I’m hoping, be something of a spiritual experience.

The one thing that has pained me most about living here – aside from the lack of affordable, good ma and pa restaurants and any true ethnic diversity (those wonderful little joints usually come along with that missing diversity) – is that there’s no water in my world. Yeah, there’s a lake just about a half hour drive in any direction, but that aint the same as living on the shore of one. And ten miles may just as well be a hundred. Anyway, even if I do make it to a shoreline, I have no means of getting out onto the water. I don’t have any boating friends here, so I don’t have an in. This was something I could live with for a few years, but just a few days ago I reached my limit. What was stopping me from at the very least finding my way to the local sailing club? I didn’t even stop to think about it, I grabbed my bag and got in the car.

I’d heard about the sailing club – but no one I’ve asked ever seemed to know where it was exactly, or how you got there. Good Lord, people, are you not all smart phone equipped? I myself had a mere map on paper – and that was all I needed… It was a bit further off the beaten path than I might have guessed, but easy enough to find. I pulled in and discovered an old home on a lovely, tree-shaded lawn that ended at the water’s edge. I parked, got out of the car and crunched up the gravel driveway as a man in front of me, looking up into a tall white pine, said quietly “there’a a bald eagle in that tree” and pointed behind my shoulder. Sure enough – stock still he sat, surveying the water for dinner. I always have a pair of binoculars in the car for appreciating birds and scenic outlooks, so I doubled back to get them. I offered them to the man for a look. He enjoyed them for a minute, then thanked me as he handed them back. I stood there feeling more than well rewarded. I’d finally found this place – and got my first sighting of a wild bald eagle. This had to be a good sign.

I went in and found two high school boys on the porch waiting for their charges in the youth summer program to arrive. We had an enjoyable chat, and I got a better idea of the vibe there. Although there were the requisite high-end cars in the lot, the place didn’t have an overly highbrow feel to it, instead it felt homey and very family-friendly. I passed my card to one of the boys, the one who’d said his own mom might actually like to take me out on the water. I also wrote a note on my card and pinned it to the bulletin board. I hesitated for just a second, but decided to do it. Nothing to lose. I snapped a couple pics of the old-timey, nautical-themed interior, then got on my way after admiring this rare view from the underdeveloped west shore of the lake.

Until the magical day I get on the water again, there’s always much to do around here. Progress is stop-and-go with the Studio, but things are still moving forward. We now have doors that actually lock, and we’re just a day or two away from a kitchen with actual running water. ! Bits and pieces are still annoyingly hard to complete; a strangely-shaped box office needs some desk and counter space, but just how that will work is still not known. A large crack has erupted in the new wall which the carpenter suspects is being caused by a leak in the roof. There’s an enormous pit in front of the place that will need to be back filled after the plumbers finish their work. We still need to order and install an art hanging system, and there are knobs and face plates to go up. Small crap – construction mess and various bits and pieces – still lay about on folding tables and it all needs to go out or back where it belongs. Much of the tedious little stuff I can do myself – and in fact that’ll get to that this next week, but my hands are tied when it comes to addressing perennial leaks and joining pvc pipe. But on the whole, this process has been fascinating, and I’ve learned a lot on the way – it’s been a supreme game of ‘which comes first’, and for me, a person for whom linear thinking is often a great chore, it’s helped me to organize my actions effectively. Sometimes (hell, who are we kidding, make that most times) it feels as if nothing has actually been accomplished – that I’ve been spinning my wheels and getting nearly nowhere, but the photos from our ‘then’ and ‘now’ tell me otherwise. Much as I’d like to think I’m a happy, positive energy in this world, the inner side of me is more of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of gal, and panic and worry are forever tapping me on the shoulder to remind me of the ‘what ifs’. But I’m working on it.

This may be my last solo day for a while, as my friends arrive soon to stay here for the week, and Elihu returns not long after they leave. I feel a mix of that dull, waking awareness that summer is on its way out, and a growing dread for the unknown future of my world. One of the things that does lighten my heart as I plod along on this planet are uncommitted days in perfect weather – just like this one – when my garden comes alive with color and my chickens surround me, purring and chuckling sounds of contentment. So today, this first day of August, I’m not going to do much, and I’m going to do my best not to feel guilty about it either. I’m going to savor my solitude, my birds and my garden, as I enjoy the memory of last night’s Blue Moon. I’ll be back to hunting red foxes soon enough.

IMG_0204This was not actually the true Blue Moon, but the one the night before. Still looks pretty full and sure is beautiful.

IMG_0149Usually I’d scold Austin and shoo him off the bird feeder, but he’s alerted us so well whenever the fox has been here that I feel he deserves this special treat.

IMG_0145This is the trio we love – Thumbs Up, her sister Specks, and our eldest rooster and father of the whole flock – Bald Mountain. He himself has battled a raccoon – losing his comb in the process – and made it out alive. In fact, he’s survived many attacks in his six years here. Elihu loves him like a favorite dog. If too much time passes without hearing him crow, I go searching for him to make sure he’s still with us. He may be old, but he’s still fully loaded.

IMG_0056Went to the movies with mom and Andrew the other night, but it was still light out, so the birds hadn’t roosted yet. Not wanting to risk losing our favorites, I put one gal under each arm and stashed them in our screen porch for safety. I’d left the window to the porch open – and look what these clever girls did for added security! Do ya see em? They let themselves in through an open window.

IMG_0057Smart girls.

IMG_0051Smart boy, too. He parked himself on the table because he’s a big, heavy bird and likely couldn’t get to the top of the fridge.

IMG_0039This business of euphemistically calling a dump a ‘transfer station’ gets me. Can’t we just call this place what it really is?

IMG_0040I got in line to have my full vehicle weighed on the drive in.

IMG_0043We’re headed to the building in the distance.

IMG_0023Inside this hangar-sized structure is a mountain of trash. Ya just back up your car and heave away.

IMG_0021A large claw pushed the incoming mess to the back as folks continued to fling their trash onto the heap. Decades ago, before recycling was hip, I’d taken it upon myself to collect the recycling of my apartment building neighbors and drive it to a recycling center. My friends all knew me as the gal ‘who’d take your stuff’. I even had T shirts made that said “The earth is a finite resource. Recycle.” I sold them in Garbage Magazine (long out of print) and to anyone I could. I was – and still am – profoundly frightened of our long-term prognosis with respect to our cast-offs. I remember feeling very conflicted about even having children because of it. Many times I’ve apologized to my son for bringing him into this mess. Our future is not for the faint of heart.

IMG_0077Ah, but this is what Genesse Cream Ale was made for. To help us forget! Mom brought over a couple of cold ones, including this gem on the right: the very last of the original bottle shapes. They don’t make em anymore, which makes me a little nostalgic. Screw it, let’s drink!

IMG_0080I’ll miss those short, squat bottles. Genny in a long neck just isn’t quite the same.

IMG_0198Finally! It’s a very long, private drive to the shore, but I wasn’t daunted.

IMG_0192Here’s the lovely home of the Saratoga Lake Sailing Club.

IMG_0185A cozy feel just like you’d imagine. Even has that certain smell…

IMG_0186Ah, nautical memorabilia. Gives me a gentle feeling of being home at last. It’s been over a decade since I’ve sailed, and honestly, I couldn’t get underway without help these days, but there’s something about being on water and powered by wind that makes everything finally OK. It erases care and unites one with the world. Really.

IMG_0190Here’s the view from the club.

IMG_0189The bump in the center is Snake Hill, on the lake’s southeast side, and I can see it from my house all year ’round.

IMG_0194And look! A sailboat!! So close, and yet still, so very far…

IMG_0187Love this. Cheat the nursing home. Die on your Laser. !!

IMG_0180How’s this for bird watching? My first ever sighting of a Bald Eagle in the wild. Awesome.

IMG_0047But these are the birds I love most. I love to know they’re living a happy life here. While they enjoy roaming free and foraging in the grass (cutting my feed bill by more than half) they’re safer in the run. Now I let them out only when I can be out with them.

IMG_0036And this, I assume, is a happy frog living in our pond

IMG_0134I also like to think that even our fish are happy.

IMG_0126This time of summer our garden looks lovely – and that, even if it’s only a moment’s distraction from the endless concerns of money, my unknown future and endless to-do lists – makes me happy too.

IMG_0278The Blue Moon rises to the left, and the casino and harness track glow in the distance off to the right.

IMG_0269Burning what’s left of the paper and boxes.

IMG_0068After seeing me ‘standing alone’, the moon retreated behind the clouds and left them glowing around the edges in the dark night sky. Goodbye for now, Blue Moon. Most likely things will be very different around here the next time we see you.


Post Script: I made the decision to let the chickens out today, because they seem so much more content to roam, take dust baths and sit in the shade. As I sat working at my computer Austin began to sound an alarm, and I looked up to see a fox about ten feet away from me, and creeping closer still. I yelled and the fox merely slowed his pace… Unbelievable how brave… Finally I grabbed a couple of rocks and threw them, and he/she did then retreat towards the woods, but it stopped a few times to look back to see if he/she might not be able to get past me and grab just one hen… Now I simply cannot go inside until sunset for fear of an event. Time to wash the car and do a little weeding I guess.

 

 

Defeat, Distraction and Divots July 12, 2014

These days I tend to think of my life as being empty. Void of the things that made it fulfilling and enjoyable a decade ago. And certainly, in some ways it’s true. The nature of my life now is completely different; back in the day I lived in a bustling metropolitan area and was always involved with several creative projects at any one time. I enjoyed the great privilege of producing and hosting my own radio show, of performing in all the great venues on a regular basis, and most nights of the week were concluded in the company of friends at a restaurant eating great food. I shared my world with people who also lived their lives inside a whirlwind of creative endeavors. Yeah, it was an incredibly enjoyable time in my life. And while this chapter might not be as thrilling, it’s really no less busy, no less full. I have to remind myself it’s just different. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, it’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m constantly faced with new challenges, both physical and emotional, and I learn from every one of them. It might not be as flat-out fun as the way I seem to remember my old life as being, but if I take a step back and observe things as objectively as I can, it appears I am not living an empty life at all.

Actually, my life in the country is chock-full of tiny events, and I am still a busy woman, only it’s a different kind of busy. In fact, I sometimes wonder how many years it will take me to find myself moving again with more regularity and less urgency. How long til I reach a point of equilibrium? Of balance, of true contentment, of peace and ease? When will the need to put out small fires cease? I suppose my feelings of discontent are partly due to the Studio and my apprehensions about all the unknowns before me, and I suppose things will only get more demanding on that front. But that’s ok, I have a suspicion that that sort of work is likely to bring more contentment than trying to trap raccoons, finding ways to keep the water out of my basement or dealing with less-than-forthright neighbors in sketchy real estate deals.

I am grateful that my partner, artist and teacher Ceres Zabel, has just successfully concluded her first week’s class at the Studio. All the kids had a great time, they learned a lot and came home with beautiful pieces to show for it. This weekend we have more work before us as we tidy the main room and turn what is currently a construction zone into a tamer, cleaner version of a workspace. More elbow grease. But that kind of work feels better than any other. I can’t wait til the classes are done for the summer and I can begin to get the insulation in and the sheet rock cut and back up – with my own hands. Until this whole experience I never would have considered doing some of the labor myself, but I’m discovering that it doesn’t hurt to try and learn how to do things yourself (plus a lack of funds kinda motivates as well. !). There hasn’t been a husband or partner around for the past six years, so I’ve had to suck it up and figure things out for myself when shit’s hit the fan. And this Studio experience is like more of the same – only on a larger scale. I have learned so much in this adventure, and it’s barely begun. So much yet to learn.

Actually, learning things is was makes things interesting. I can thank a recent heartbreaking and shady sale of the adjacent property for a quest which turned into a day-long hunt for maps, deeds and property descriptions and had me driving all over the county to collect information. I learned some interesting things along the way, some of which had absolutely nothing to do with the business at hand, but hey, isn’t that what makes life more fun? It wasn’t an errand of joy necessarily, but it turned out to be a joyful day of sorts. If nothing else, a nice diversion from the stay-at-home grind of chasing chipmunks and chickens and comparing quotes from contractors.

And then there were the lovely, impromptu visits over the past few days with neighbors, and the moments of pause they provided in my busy life. My house is cleaned out, now only the organizing remains. The field at the end of the driveway (thank God not Crow Field – the big one where the Woodcocks return each spring) will likely see the building of a too-big-for-the-lot house by fall. After penning letters giving both the seller and the buyer a piece of my mind, all that’s left to do now is to get back to building my own life and business. A couple of diversions have taken my mind off of the changes – both welcome and unwelcome – that are appearing on the horizon, and now it’s time to get my eyes back on the path directly ahead.

Diversions keep it all possible, they prevent the reality of life from becoming too daunting and dark. Thank goodness for kids and frogs, unexpected visits from neighbors and tiny, impromtu outings. Oh, and thank goodness for calls from your own child who tells you that he’s driving ‘right now’ down the strip in Las Vegas and then says ‘oh my God I have to go now Mommy cuz there’s too much to see…”. I am happy, happy, happy to know my son is enjoying himself and seeing the places I can’t afford to show him myself. I’ve already seen them, now it’s his turn. He’s in the middle of a great summer, and my heart lifts to know it. Knowing that makes whatever hardships I might be feeling in the moment so much easier to take. I miss my son, but  I know that he’s living a summer he’ll never forget. And in my own way, I guess I am too.

IMG_7961Less than an acre, but soon there’ll be a four bedroom house squeezed onto one of the few remaining fields in Greenfield.

IMG_7960What saddens me is that this field is next to my driveway. What angers me is that the owners asked that I pay to have my driveway moved so that they could sell their lot. (My ancient right-of-way makes the lot too small to develop – legally. That doesn’t seem to have stopped them in the end.)

IMG_7964Here is the tiny bit of disputed land – make a triangle from the rock on the right, the white plastic jug in the driveway, and the right rear tire of my car. But hey, if this is what it takes to prevent a house from going up, so be it. It’s the law, but the law doesn’t seem to be working. As long as I don’t have to move my driveway (more like a road really), than I’ll just have to accept the unwelcome change.

IMG_7981Neighbor Ryan stopped by for a little frog catching. Just when poor Stanley (the frog) and his family thought they could relax. Ha!

IMG_7993Mom Boat Tailed Grackle gets ready to feed her ‘baby’. (Big baby, huh?)

IMG_7995I’ve got a primitive and slow camera, but look at this! Love it.


IMG_8004The juvenile is gray with dull, gray and brown eyes. Adults are black with iridescent greenish-blue plumage and have strikingly contrasting yellow and black eyes.

IMG_8146Elihu will be bummed he missed the annual blooms of our rare Canada lily.

IMG_8148Time for art camp at the Studio!

IMG_8324Ceres has been running her Odyssey School of Fine Arts for over twenty years – its new home is now in the Studio.

IMG_8326After a short lesson, the kids get down to work.

IMG_8307Today they were given magnifying glasses to help inspect the details on the blooms and leaves they were to draw.

IMG_8329Here’s Mason’s final product!

IMG_8351Miakota’s had a great time this week.

IMG_8306Tom gets started…

IMG_8331…and here’s his final drawing.  Nice shading!

IMG_8344Much trickier than it looks.

IMG_8023Now to peel back the many layers of  the property line mystery…

IMG_8032We may live in a virtual culture, but there’s still plenty of paper hidden away in the vaults.

IMG_8039It’s details like this that I’ve come to the department of Public Works to see for myself.

IMG_8030Ah, the crazy language of property description.

IMG_8046Course I’m a bit of a map freak, so this was very exciting. Here’s a local map from over a hundred and fifty years ago.

IMG_8052Here’s a town that doesn’t even exist anymore – it was built around an old glass factory, just north of Lake Desolation. (I love the way each building has its owner’s name written beside it.)  It’s kind of like the East’s version of a ghost town. You can find bits of glass and pottery in the woods on the site but not much more as humidity eventually claims everything. When the industry collapsed and the town was no longer needed, some of the houses themselves were moved down the mountain on rollers and re-constructed in Saratoga Springs – a good ten miles away. Impressive and amazing to me.

IMG_8073I’m a great fan of all things modern and mid-century, and I’ve always loved this lobby of the county building, complete with lamps made of the same granite as the table upon which they sit, and dig those original (and sadly kinda shabby) metallic gold lampshades!

IMG_8066Now onto a title insurance company. Bit of trivia for Barbra Streisand and Robert Redford fans: this is the site of some interior restaurant scenes from The Way We Were.

IMG_8063Disappointingly, there’s not one single detail left that would even give you and idea for the soda fountain it once was. (Also a disappointment was finding no deed or title description to be found that mentioned my driveway and thereby proved, on paper, of its existence before we bought the place.)

IMG_8067More movie fun facts: the scene in which Bob ties Barbra’s shoes in the moonlight was filmed here at the historic Medbery Inn in downtown Ballston Spa, New York in 1972.

IMG_8374I stopped by Zac and Stephanie’s and before I knew it, I’d tagged along with them to the local Polo grounds to see my first game. Saratoga Springs is a horse town, and this famous Polo field is a mere three miles from my home, yet I’ve never been. (Maybe cuz it’s $30 a car, and I’m usually traveling solo.)

IMG_8441The ground rumbles when the action gets close. All that prevents the ball from flying out into the onlookers is an 8″ tall board on the perimeter of the field, and the incredible skill of the players.

IMG_8443There they go!

A short bit of live action on the field (which is I hear is the size of nine football fields).

IMG_8449Wow! One of the kids in our group actually got a ball!

IMG_8437The half time tradition of ‘stomping the divots’. The horse’s hooves leave footprints, some of which are pieces of sod that can be stamped back into place. One must be careful to tell chunks of dirt apart from other, similar-looking mounds before stomping. !

IMG_8368I haven’t tailgated in decades – this was a multi-generational party with lots of kids. Grandpa Phil (in blue) chats with son Zac (in yellow). These guys are my saviors – they helped fix the Studio up so we could open, they’ve helped me catch varmints, close up my chickens, fix water pumps and more. This is Annabelle in the pink sunglasses, she’s the big sister of three.

IMG_8208At the end of a full couple of days, I head back home down my beautiful and peaceful driveway. I’ve never taken this rural landscape for granted, but there’s never a good time to see it go. I’ll miss this field terribly. But on we march, into the unknown of the future, grateful for what still remains.

 

Blue March 16, 2014

It’s probably the cold. Day four and it’s still pretty bad. My nose is sore, I’m pooped and this endless winter isn’t helping. My poor kid is fed up too, and he’s not even sick. But God bless that little man, he finds joy enough to keep both of us afloat when I’m at the very end of my rope. Not saying that Elihu hasn’t felt it too – oh he has. He’s had his mini-meltdowns, been brought to a point of near weeping for the endless cold and indoor living. But he rebounds fairly well. Better than I do.

House-bound as we are we’ve had to make do like the rest of the world in our northern neighborhood. But even with the gift of a new tv in our basement, we’ve found other things to keep us entertained. Good thing too; I’m fairly ready to sink into despair. A quick visit to the Studio today was a bit discouraging and had my mood becoming even darker; the workers have torn out more of the walls than we’d originally planned on. It was not a happy surprise. Guess it was necessary. Must have been some additional damage, I don’t know. It’s Sunday, and there are no answers today. Gotta get thru til tomorrow before I find out where we’re at now. But for the moment, I rest in a very blue mood.

I’ll get to bed soon, heal myself with a generous night’s sleep, and then rally tomorrow. Another long week ahead, more on my plate than I can ever see achieving, but what can I do? Either give in or push back. Right now I don’t feel the strength to do a single thing. But knowing that I share my life with such a boy as Elihu gives me the inspiration I need to keep it together just a little longer. After all, blue moods don’t last forever….

IMG_0803

A little music….

IMG_0776

and then some tower-building.

IMG_0791

Impressive, huh?

IMG_0822

In the end, it’s always about the birds…

IMG_0815

Because they’re such a big part of our daily lives.

IMG_0849

Inspired by his desire for Spring, Elihu drew this lovely picture. I had not the heart to tell him that the reeds were as blue as the jays… He would have been heartbroken that his use of color wasn’t accurate. But notice what a lovely mood has been created precisely because of the blue palette…

IMG_0844

Maybe blue’s not such a sad color after all.

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Let’s hope a good night’s rest helps us do away with the winter blues…

 

Out, Away, Over November 28, 2013

A lot has happened in the past twenty-four hours. Just yesterday Elihu and I awoke to a cold house. I knew we were approaching the witching hour, and had begun to keep the house at a brisk fifty-five degrees in order to stall the inevitable. I’d done my paperwork and made the calls to receive our long-anticipated annual heating oil grant, so now it was just a waiting game. My heart positively sank to think I might have to live out the holiday weekend in a cold house. I had lots to do, and doing it in forty degrees did not appeal. Thankfully, I learned I’d been relieved of this fate when we returned home from school yesterday to find footprints in the snow and a respectable seventeen inches of oil in our tank. You know that feeling when your paycheck first hits your checking account? That blissful moment of security, of hope… of possibility? That’s exactly what I felt when I retrieved the oil-soaked yardstick from the tank. To know that we’ll be warm for the next couple of months gives me the greatest relief. This oil is a gift I fully appreciate. I no longer take something as basic as this for granted – the way I did in my previous life. In my fine, suburban Northshore home, going without heat never once appeared on my radar – not even close. But here, now, it’s a real concern. There’s no pipe that magically delivers fuel into your home. The thermostat no longer hovers endlessly, mindlessly, in the mid seventies all winter long. (I remember my mother telling me as a youngster to go and put a sweater on if I was cold. Now, my kid tells me the same thing when I begin to complain about the chill inside our house!) There are consequences here in the country for not properly budgeting your resources. And even while I admire the replenished level in my tank, I do that know I’ll have to start saving for my next tank soon. But this does give me a week or two of respite. And that’s pretty big. Definitely something I’m thankful for.

And Elihu is gone now too. No longer a bittersweet event, instead it’s a time I savor and use wisely. Like my fuel oil, it too won’t last, so I must use it as efficiently as possible. Last night I allowed myself some veg time, as I waited for his father to call and let me know he’d arrived ok in Florida. With about two hours to kill, I grazed my way through the leftovers in the fridge as the comedy channel played. I surfed the internet, seeking out all the information I could on the culture of Orlando. With Steven Colbert in the background, I perused Wikipedia articles and poured over images. It struck me that this place was very sci-fi like in its growth. It reminded me of the bizarre city of Benidorm, Spain. Once a nothing little coastal town, it sprung up virtually overnight, growing into a cluster of vertical glass hotels and artificially created tropical gardens. I first saw the place when I awoke from a nap in the backseat of our car. It was nighttime, and we were driving north to Barcelona. I thought I was dreaming at first; in the middle of a vast, black nothingness arose the futuristic vision of a gleaming city. When I figured out that I wasn’t still dreaming I awoke the others and alerted the driver. This we had to see. Glad we did – it was probably the most surreal place I’ve ever visited. Nothing natural about it. No evidence (that we could see) of any history or organic pattern of growth. This was a cancer on the land that had struck quickly. It strikes me that Orlando is much the same. First came the early settlers and later the orange farm magnates (Dr. Phillip Phillips, crazy!) and finally giant tourism-based corporations (Walt and friends) and then boom! – from the 1980s til now the place has exploded. It’s a manufactured destination, like its Spanish cousin. And I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that. And if one goes there with that in mind, and one visits not for the indigenous, historical characteristics, but instead goes with the goal of experiencing a fantastically fabricated, commercial smorgasbord, then I suppose it’s a fine place to visit. I’m not a fan of the whole Disney/theme park thing in general, but I readily cop to enjoying the luxury of a five-star hotel. I remember well what it was to travel, stay and dine in top-tier luxury. And no matter one’s ethics or values, I believe few humans would ever disdain such an experience. And that’s likely what Orlando is built upon. Transient luxury and faux finery are better than none at all, I suppose.

Elihu called around eleven. He was beyond thrilled to finally be in Florida. (A couple of hours earlier in the Albany airport he’d said to me “I think I’ve been to all fifty states now.” And yes, after a seven thousand mile tour with his dad this past summer, plus all of his previous travels, I agreed he’d come close. “How about Hawaii?” I asked. “No” he answered, “that doesn’t count; because Hawaii is its own country”. I assured him it was not, that it was the fiftieth state. Impressed by this fact, he added it to the list of places he aspired to visit, coming in right behind New Zealand and Australia.) He was beside himself with anticipation being in a place where it was not only warm (when just this afternoon he’d been lobbing snowballs at me) but where there was also an abundance of wildlife. His father had told us that the place was “sick with water birds”, so he was stoked. I’d even packed Elihu our favorite pair of binoculars – this was an opportunity no self-respecting birder could miss. And dad had reported seeing a golden-colored tree frog in his friend’s pool. This trip promised some serious stuff for a nature-loving young man.

He and his father had called me from their table at a restaurant in the Orlando airport. It was situated inside a giant atrium with both an enormous palm tree and a Christmas tree bedecked with lights and holiday decorations. The height of the ceiling impressed him as did the panoramic view of the airport beyond. It being nighttime, he could finally see outside – and was aware of distance in a way that he cannot perceive at all by day’s light. He told me he could see lights twinkling in all directions. “The ceiling here is like nine stories tall and I can see outside for miles!” he told me excitedly. My heart rose in my chest at his joy. How happy I was that he got it; that he was fully getting his sense of place. I was also very thankful that his first vision of this place was at night. I would never have told him that, as it would bring attention to the vision thing, and likely turn our conversation sour. But this was all I could think as he continued to tell me with great, childish excitement, about all the new and wonderful things he was seeing for the first time. I was so grateful for the dark of night, for the sparkling lights and the promise of a magical stay to come. ‘Enjoy this my dearest son’, I thought to myself, ‘because like your most fantastic dreams, before long this too will be nothing but a memory.’

Elihu safely and happily off in his own world for the next few days, I went next door to see how life had been going for mom and dad. Andrew had spent much of the past week drunk, and dad had just had a particularly bad episode. Following a long and challenging night, mom had finally gotten to bed after four a.m. With these two variables in the mix, plus a visit that needed to be made to housebound friend Martha, we agreed that our Thanksgiving would not be a sit down dinner at a given time, but rather we’d adjust ourselves to things as they happened. Mom agreed that she’d still make all the food (this gives her joy and purpose, believe me) and she’d just set it out for us to eat as we showed up. I’m still not sure how this will all happen; a trip to Martha’s means that dad is left alone. If Andrew and I go along as well, that is. Maybe I’ll stay back with dad. Not sure. Might have to bring some Scarlatti along with me! Hm. I begin to think that this might be a nice little opportunity to spend some time alone with dad – without others (namely mom) around. Mom tends to speak for him more and more… taking away what little voice he has left. He’s much more himself when she’s not around (no mystery there – she’s been hen-pecking at him for fifty years!) Yeeks, such a relationship they have. Symbiotic, I guess. They each seem to stoke the other in ways that work. Not saying it’s healthy, but it’s been going for decades. On some levels it obviously works for them. Who am I to judge? Happy or not, they are deeply linked and dependant upon each other. I guess it’s getting scarier for mom these days, and that’s upping her need to control things. She’s not from a generation that expresses themselves well – or at all – so that makes things all the more difficult at this stage of their lives. At least she’s giving in to it slowly and is finally accepting help (been pushing the in-home respite caregiver thing well over a year and only this week has she had someone to the house!!). Yeah, tomorrow will be a strange day for all of us Conants.

Fareed’s family is beginning to turn a corner too. Nelly, I understand, is now living with Fareed and his new wife (in our old home – and in the very room we’d once planned for his folks to live in as they aged. Same plan, different spouse.) She’s receiving some in-home care too. As both she and Martha have begun to have in-home care, my own mother is finally coming around to the idea that this is a good solution. Far cheaper than a full-on nursing home. And, though no one likes to talk about it, I added today that it increases the likelihood of Nelly or dad dying at home. I know neither of us – my ex’s family nor mine – have ever spoken in such specific language about this final stage, but at the very least I am confident that all four of them would hope to die at home rather than at an old folks’ home. Imagine them comfy at home, with a nurse to visit and make sure they’re taken care of, family around to visit and keep them connected… until that final time when they  just become too tired to stay around much longer…. could one wish for a better end?

Most of us contemporary American types aren’t good at talking or thinking about death. But it’s a-comin no matter. So I’m readying myself as best I can. Almost envy my peers who had no warning. Whose parents went quickly, tidily. Yeah, right. That’s easy for me to say. I don’t suppose any one way of losing a parent is easier than any other. No easy way to see this through, no matter what happens. But it will happen. And for those folks who are living through a lingering, meandering process, it can give those final holidays and landmarks a surreal and almost sickeningly poignant feel… knowing damn well this is the last time, knowing damn well that by Spring he either won’t know you any more… or he’ll be gone. Or maybe he’ll live another ten years knowing no one. Maybe. Anyway, you’re getting there. And you look back on last year and realize that it was your last, real Thanksgiving. Wow. It’s over. And yet, somehow, it’s not. Not yet. Not quite. A strange netherworld in which to live.

Being out of a resource, being far from home, or seeing a long-standing tradition come to a close are all things that get one to thinking. Thinking about the things we cherish, the things we take for granted, and the very transient nature of life. I know it’s hard to convince a teenager or a twenty-something that life is fleeting, but that’s ok. You’re not supposed to think that way when you’re young. You shouldn’t be thinking like that, or at least I don’t think so. Instead, you should be living those moments, feeling what it is to be in that experience, smack in the middle of your life. It’s that first half of life that gives you the standards by which you make your later-in-life observations (you know, like the ones I’m making here!). You can’t truly realize how precious things are until you know different. I do realize that life doesn’t always work like this for everyone, but it seems the usual course for most. Me, I find myself looking back and marveling over the routines I’d always taken for granted as the ordinary landscape of my life. And actually, I’m finding a lot of extraordinary in my past that I hadn’t quite noticed before. Never know what ya got til it’s gone… or til it’s almost gone, I should say.

Tonite I’m thinking to myself how blessed is the ordinary. How thankful I am for all of the ordinary I’ve ever known. I may go without for a time, or I may go for a time knowing true abundance, but either way, I must find as much contentment as I can with whatever it is that I have. If things aren’t going so well at present, at least I know that I have a future to look forward to. (Sometimes it’s nice to know that things keep changing.) Happily, I can say that in this moment, on this day, I’m thankful to have just enough.

 

Bird Boy Back October 23, 2013

“That’s not a Goldfinch.” Elihu knew what he was talking about, but yet I doubted him. Although the tiny bird was mostly an olive-ish brown, it had a yellow patch at the base of its back, and I, as a mere casual observer of birds, thought it to be a Goldfinch already changed into its drab coat for winter. But Elihu knew better.

I’d found the bird earlier that day, freshly dead, just beneath the laundry room window as I filled the chickens’ water buckets. Poor thing had crashed headlong into the glass and fallen, instantly dead, onto the ground just below. It was still slightly warm and still very supple. Couldn’t have been long ago, as it was morning and had likely happened since the sun had risen. This would be a good take for my kid – he loves to have a real bird to draw. So I brought it in, put it on a plate and left it on the table. Later when we got home from the airport, it was a treat to have this prize waiting for him. Immediately he began his inspection, wings out to admire the fan of feathers, a complete turning over to scrutinize the subject from every angle, a check with his mother to confirm its coloring. He then brought it straight to his desk to begin sketching it. “So if it’s not a Goldfinch, then just what is it?” I asked him, somewhat defiantly. I’m thinking, ‘yeah, kid, there aren’t a whole lotta other options. You just can’t see color – so you don’t understand.’  He didn’t miss a beat. “It’s a Yellow Rumped Warbler”. “What?” I asked, still unbelieving. After all, we’d complied a list of all the birds we’d ever seen or heard, dead or alive, here on our property. And this was not one I’d ever seen or heard before. “Look it up” he said, unphased by my lack of support. He continued to draw. So I grabbed a couple of field guides, a pair of dollar store reading glasses and laid down on his bed. I’ll be damned if the kid wasn’t absolutely right. “WHAT?!” I screamed when I saw the photo. “A Yellow Rumped Warbler?? I’ve never even heard of one, let alone seen one!” Elihu laughed. “How on earth would you know this?” I asked him, still not completely understanding how he could possibly have come to this conclusion. I know the kid was reading David Attenborough’s books and field guides cover-to-cover at six, I knew that he’d memorized every specimen in his two audio bird books, yeah, I knew all this. I realized that through his motivation to look up birds without my help he’d learned how to count, learned to look up three digit page numbers on his own at a very young age… but how was it that I, alongside him for so much of this process, had not learned about a fairly common backyard bird? Maybe this was more the issue here for me and my frail middle-aged ego; my kid had me beat. He knew exactly what he was talking about – and I didn’t.

He continued to laugh at me, and continued his drawing. “Remember the bird that got stuck in Martha’s music room?” I thought back – he was about seven then. I nodded. “That was a Yellow Rumped Warbler.” There was a pause. Elihu wanted to help me out a bit. “Remember the black on him?” And yes, I did kinda. It was very contrasty, very obvious. And I do remember that even back then it was a bird I professed not to know. “Mommy, that was a male Yellow Rumped Warbler.” I checked my field guide once more. Man, this kid was good. “Yeah, you’re right. You’re absolutely right. And I, my dear, am amazed at your skill.” He finished his drawing, complete with the beautiful detailed triangular patches of black on the top of the breast, something we’d not have known about had we not had the bird in hand. He had a huge smile on his face the rest of the evening as I continued to muse over my own inability to remember this bird and sulked ever so slightly. I wasn’t so pleased with myself, but my pride and joy at his success and happiness more than made up for it.

Last night, before we went to bed, Elihu offered to close the chickens in. He always does a head count. I’ve long given up on this task; I’m satisfied just to be done with my chores for the day and choose instead to tell em I love em all and close the latch. He came back, announcing that Julius Caesar was missing. This seemed highly improbable, as he was the young rooster emerging as the most royal pain in the ass of the whole flock. Mounting all the ladies and fighting the other cocks all day long, it didn’t seem like he’d be the first to succumb to wildlife. I grabbed a flashlight and went out to check for myself while Elihu got ready for bed. Sure enough, I counted only 29 chickens, and didn’t see the big white fella anywhere. I made a cursory check in the trees and around the coop, but saw not a thing. He would’ve stood out, his bright white body and huge, arching tail. I felt a slight sadness at his absence, and noted to myself that it was a selfish one: he was one delicious young bird we wouldn’t be enjoying on our table. Rats. I went inside and confirmed the news. “Darn” Elihu said. I began to comfort him when he stopped me – “I’m not sad, Mommy, it’s just that we didn’t get to enjoy him, someone else did!” We had a little laugh together, and were warmed at the thought of another creature sleeping full and happy this night, and so we let it go. After all, we still have another five roos that promise to be just as tender and delicious.

Birds in every form, enjoyed and appreciated in every way possible. And all thanks to one young boy who sure knows his birds.

 

Bounty September 20, 2013

“This should be worth a short blog post, don’t you think?” Elihu asked me, as we unloaded the take from our garden, my apron full of apples, beans, watermelon and cucumbers. “Just a short paragraph, ya know? Not a big, long post. Just a quick picture and a paragraph.” I agreed, even knowing that ‘just a short post’ – let alone with photographs – would represent almost an hour’s work. But the spirit of our afternoon had been so lovely, that I had to honor his request.

We’d just walked the perimeter of our property, something we do far too infrequently. We were both newly impressed with the variety of views, elevations and features of the place, and once again felt doubly blessed to be here. We really do live on a stunning piece of property here. The change in grade alone makes for a very picturesque walk; from a peek to the distant Saratoga Lake to the image of our house high atop our hill and far above our heads  – it’a an impressive span of micro environments. There are the woods and the pockets of field in between, the apple and pear trees, the garden and even the last tier of lawn below. We concluded our circumnavigation of the place in our garden, and did a thorough inventory and picking while there. Personally, I was fairly disappointed with our success – or lack thereof – however Elihu was just beaming. “I’m proud,” he said, hands on his hips, surveying the garden and wandering flock beyond, “just look at all we’ve done. And tonight, we’re going to eat only food we know.” He paused. “I feel very proud right now.” Although my final inspection of the corn showed some insect infiltration and not exactly the yield I’d anticipated, I thought back on our past summer suppers. I had to agree with him. If nothing else, it just plain felt good to look out on all of it and know that it was something we’d created ourselves.

“You gotta take a picture of this” Elihu said as he spread our take out on the island. So I did. He couldn’t stop raving about the apples – he counted 72! – and how beautiful they all were (the pears were too high for his reach.) I promised that I’d not only bake fresh bread, cook lamb from local friends at “Elihu Farm” as well as serve up our beans and cucumber with dinner, but I’d make some apple pies too. I made dough for two pies and two loaves of bread. As I write, the house is slowly filling with the scent of baking apples and cinnamon. The lamb was delicious beyond our expectation, and right now we’re both feeling pretty good about life.

Here are a couple of pics from the last few days. Such bounty in our lives…

Bounty Sept 2013 030Elihu’s very first bass lesson. He was in heaven!

Bounty Sept 2013 042He must show grandpa and grandma right away…

Bounty Sept 2013 048So into it…

Bounty Sept 2013 014We spent almost an hour watching this Great Blue Heron on a local pond. Had to use both the binoculars and the camera’s zoom to get a pic… Elihu was simply enthralled. He was in love with this bird, this woods, the ducks and fish, this pond…. he was in love with all of the world in that moment. Couldn’t stop telling me so.

Bounty Sept 2013 062We’re announcing to our extended family of egg customers that we need to say good bye for the winter…

Bounty Sept 2013 054And finally… here is the bounty which so inspired Elihu to create this post. Amen.

 

First of Fifth September 4, 2013

Yes, it’s a cliche to ask ‘where has the time gone?’, but it is inevitable that each parent will say such a thing on their child’s first day back to school. Each year feels special and new, each brings with it new skills, challenges and rites of passage. No matter the year, there will be certain changes that are unique to that time and a parent needn’t look far to find something to get sentimental and misty-eyed about.

The Waldorf School had today what they call ‘The Rose Ceremony’. It is a gathering of all twelve grades in which each teacher gets up before the group and speaks a bit about what will take place during the year, perhaps the challenges ahead, and usually there’s a metaphor told in a story or image to help illustrate the ideas. Elihu recounted some of them to me tonight as we lay in bed and went over the day. (Although I try to be present for as many school functions as I can, this morning I was playing piano for a Eurythmy class at a retirement home.) I asked him to tell me about his teacher’s speech. He said “she likened our progress to that of a dandelion seed, taking flight, finding a home in the soil, and beginning to grow. But she said it just the right way.” He even said “it was so beautiful that it almost made me cry”. (If there was ever a child made just for Waldorf, it is mine.) The kindergartners walked over the rainbow bridge into first grade, and the ceremony was complete.

Elihu hardly expressed any of the tenderness and contemplative mood of the morning’s ceremony by the time his half day was up and I’d come to get him. Over the moon at seeing his classmate buddies again, he was in super-high gear and acting every bit a goofy kid. Following a short pow-wow with the Eurythmy folks about my new schedule this year, he and I headed out to one of Elihu’s most favorite places on the entire planet. The duck pond in Congress Park. And so began a three-hour long visit with our webbed-footed friends. And in the process of picking up nearly twenty ducks Elihu made some new friends too. A world a way from school perhaps, but his spirit was no doubt buoyed by his joyful first reunion with his teacher and classmates.

And this evening, we enjoyed the first sweet corn from our garden! We enjoyed our many kinds of lettuce and tomatoes too. We were very satisfied with ourselves and immensely grateful that we even had the opportunity to know what it was to have our own garden. And eggs. And chicken. We smiled to ourselves all through bath and bedtime. Smiling still as he lay down to sleep, knowing today was just the first of so many wonderful, exciting new days to come.

first day of school 2013 042Boy-band hair and Waldorf-friendly, salmon-pink shirt, he’s oh so ready and off to fifth grade.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 003His new classroom.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 002A greeting and plan for the day by Ms. Reid.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 020Happy to see Phoenix…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 016…and happy to see Jonah. Crazy boys.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 012There’s pure joy in this pic.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 025Joy here, too.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 032There’s only one white one among hundreds… and he caught it right away!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 047Elihu and new friend try making the ducks jump. It’s kinda cute when the birds do.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 081Holding one, smooching another.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 085A baby up close. Hardly any wings! Seems a little late in the season for such a small one; they need to be off soon…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 110Our new pals, brothers Vinny and Tommy! Yay! Hope to see you here again sometime!

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 115Elihu in heaven.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 135He always wants a few moments ‘to connect’ with the bird.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 144He always admires the wing…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 150and other parts…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 182Such love.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 184He cannot help himself.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 215This gal took a picture too…

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 224Then came to say hi. Elihu always tries to ‘share’ his ducks.

First Day Fifth Grade 2013 239But enough about birds! The most important news in months…. fresh sweet corn from our garden is now ready!

Elihu topped off his already wonderful day with a favorite meal of chicken wings, salad from the garden and home-grown corn. He went to bed one happy young man. I’m feeling pretty good too. From Kindergarten to Fifth grade, from a seed to a full ear of corn. Lots of growing’s been goin on around here.