The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Our Way September 10, 2014

As so often happens with my plans for things, everything I had on my list for the day has changed. The cable company is working on the line at the moment, so there’s no internet, no phone. The builders are moving my driveway right now, so there’s no way to leave the property to do errands. Elihu’s home sick anyway, so everything I’d hoped to do today is postponed until the next window of available time. He’s put in some time practicing his bass, so I suppose I might follow suit and get some time in at the piano. By now I do have some experience with unexpected changes, so I’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with it. Might just be an opportunity today to do something I might not have done otherwise.

We’re not quite in our new groove here at the Hillhouse, but we’re on our way. It certainly feels this year as if we’re at the doorstep of a new age in both of our lives. To me, it feels like that past six years here were about learning this new way of living; being a single parent, raising chickens, beginning a garden, making some fixes in the house, figuring out how to go it on our own, and in general getting our feet firmly planted on our own soil, as it were. The neediest days of the tiny child are now gone, and so too are a lot of the unknowns that came with our new life here. Now I know how to start my furnace, how to butcher a bird, shoot a gun (not that I’ll ever do it again), and prepare my garden. I’ve learned how often I need to clean out the gutters so my basement doesn’t flood and how many mice I can expect to get rid of in a week. I’ve got skills I didn’t have when we started out on this adventure, and I’m far less intimidated by the varying routines that go along with the changing seasons.

Elihu has also got a good foundation for himself; he’s a good person, with sound judgement and a good heart who eats well, plays well, learns well and has a wonderful, witty sense of humor. With his tinted contacts in (the new pair just arrived!) and his braces off, his chickens, his sketching tools, a string bass, plus his new ability to ride a bike – it feels like he’s ready for anything. Finding the Waldorf School a couple of years ago was one of the most important pieces in the puzzle. Elihu loves going to school, and for that I feel beyond blessed (in fact he really didn’t want to stay home today, but his asthma was bad, so I insisted. He had done his homework early, so that helped in my decision). Lately I’ve been teaching him how to prepare some basic meals, and I feel he’s able to fend for himself in a whole new way. Truly, it offers me some relief now, and allows me to invest some of my energy in other directions.

Our new direction is becoming clearer, but it feels like it’s been hard to actually get underway – there have been so many small detours. Elihu gets his contacts, but the first time he puts them in, they rip. I get the supplies to insulate the Studio, but can’t find the time to do the work. I left my job to free up more time, but ironically, the few classes I play end up cutting my day in awkward sections, leaving me too little time to drive back to Greenfield and get any work done. Plus the cost of gas will just about match the income. Not good, but I remind myself, not permanent. Nothing is permanent. I just have to be patient, and prepared.

It feels like we’re at the bend of a road now, but the straightaway is just up ahead… My neighbor came over last night with her three kids, and we chatted as the four children bounced on the trampoline. She too felt as if a big change was underway in her own life. Could be that we both see the new house that’s going up in between us as somehow symbolic – it certainly is for me, but there’s more to it than the changing landscape. She and her family have put their house on the market and hope to move. That means change for us, too. Two new families will soon be living next door. The dynamic of the neighborhood is yet to reveal itself.

Then of course, there’s the Weight Watchers adventure beginning anew. It’s not a complete unknown to be sure, but something feels different this time. At my age, I feel I have less time to horse around – with my health and with my happiness. So I’m thinking more about balance – I’m more about the long haul than I am about just getting it done. And I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for the way in which I might want to approach all the new projects coming up. Low and slow… Take more time if need be. Get it done, but take care to do it right. No more quick fixes.

I was eleven years old when my parents built the Studio. I still remember well running through the skeleton of the structure with my little brother, I remember first seeing the plans, then the cardboard model of the building, and finally, after one busy summer, there it was. It’s funny, but I don’t remember much of my life before the Studio was there. That means that in some way that my truly conscious life began at eleven; the same age Elihu is now. That thought intrigues me; both my son and I coming to know this new incarnation of the Studio in the same year of our lives. It gives the shift a certain symbolic emphasis, and it helps inspire me. And I can use all the inspiration I can get. !

I hear the earth-moving equipment busily re-directing the trajectory of my driveway as I write this, and it too seems like another metaphor. The next time we leave our property, we’ll be heading out in a new direction, and in the next couple of years, our lives will be going forward into the future in a new direction, too. Our plans might change from day-to-day, and we might sometimes take the scenic way over the highway, but in general, we know where it is we’d like to go. We have our destination in mind, even if we still don’t quite know our way.

IMG_2715Back to bass-ics. Sorry.

IMG_2861Okay, maybe this is overkill. But those ones are still showing up.

IMG_2876Dare I? I awoke last night, and this is what I saw. Ok. I’m done now, promise.

IMG_2843The sixth grade will be working towards their Medieval Games at year’s end. Here’s one of their first archery lessons.

IMG_2839I think it’s pretty funny, the blind kid shooting an arrow. He’s been successful in hitting the bag, now he hopes to get closer. Problem is that while he can see the circle, he cannot make out the tiny arrow tip in front of him, so lining it all up becomes something of a crap shoot. He’s not daunted, however.

IMG_2791Finally getting to the big burn pile. Local folks boast that they like to ‘burn things up, Greenfield style’.

IMG_2786This is high Greenfield style. Burning things up in my bathrobe under the light of the full moon.

IMG_2858This gal has a beard. She’s one of the new flock Elihu calls Sylvia.

IMG_2835Thumbs Up is not as innocent as she seems; if I hadn’t caught her she would’ve been pecking her way through the groceries. No kidding. She can ruin a loaf of bread while your back is turned.

IMG_2723We love our Baldy. He’s still king around here.

IMG_2749One of the new gals surprised me by landing on my arm from out of nowhere.

IMG_2772Now this is kickin it Greenfield style. On my last hurrah before WW, I’m enjoying a glass of wine and some salt and vinegar potato chips while still in my bathrobe. (Don’t we love Sundays?) Hoo-haw!

And this is Elihu kickin it with Austin, our crazy guinea fowl. He adds a great dose of comic relief to the joint.

IMG_2719Here’s the new house smack at the end of our driveway. We can see it from many rooms in our house. Oh well. Time to plant some trees, I guess.

IMG_2879The driveway as it looked this morning, by this evening it will have been slightly modified. That’s ok, it’ll still lead to the road. All that matters is that we can still be on our way.

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New Groove February 25, 2014

Not even out of the gate and things are already getting tricky. Thought the radiant heat thing was a done deal. Electric radiant heat, that is. The water delivery method, not so much. It’s twice as expensive, requires its own shelter external to the building for the boiler, the pumps and such, plus it’ll raise the entire floor a good five inches, requiring all doorways to be raised, making the ceiling shorter at the stage end. I realize that this system runs much cheaper in the long run, and its an efficient one, but it’s just not what I want. I don’t want the stage cramped and low. I don’t want to change the space. Just heat it.

I’d thought the heavens had opened up when I heard about these magic, wafer-thin (that’s my Monty Python-esque way of describing them) pads that one simply rolled out over the space and then covered with a lovely wood floor. (Wood, that by the way, is being cut from our Greenfield forest just behind the Studio and milled locally. That’s the romantic plan, at any rate, at this idealistic stage of the game, but I can just see my dreams being dashed right and left as I make my way through this process…) But in a single email my heart is broken again. The kind fellow who’d come out today to write up a bid on the heating system told me in one short sentence that the system I want ‘will not put out enough energy for that sized room’. And so the manufacturers of the electric radiant system he sells will not agree to it. Crap. I haven’t even started the demo and I’m off to a rocky start. Not the way I envisioned things so early in the game. Come on stars, I thought you’d planned on aligning for me here?

So I do a little online searching and find a system like the one I’d imagined in my head, and I dash off an inquiry… I feel a bit like a patient going from doctor to doctor in hopes of finding the diagnoses I want to hear rather than the honest one. Am I fooling myself? Or is this indeed a big world and might there be someone out there who won’t see my problem as unsolvable? I was feeling too blessed, too hopeful for a moment. Gotta breathe. And hell, how on earth am I going to make my living at this? How can I offset costs like these? One lousy payout by dad’s VA insurance will barely get the place demo’d. Shit. Wow, I am sounding a bit manic. Cuz yesterday – hell, even a couple of hours ago (before the heating guy emailed me the disappointing news) I was beginning to coast on thermals of excitement… man, things were just feeling so hopeful, so possible, and I was lifting, lifting….

But as with any self-respecting manic episode, I found my heart descending to the very floor – literally – as my old friend Jim (and one time assistant to dad) shook his head despairingly and said to me  “In the end, it’s just an oak floor that needs to be replaced.” No romantic salvaging and re-purposing of this very wood – wood which Jim knew the meaning of in my heart – no point for all that labor. I searched, but saw no light of inspiration in his woodworking eyes. No, this was a tear-out and haul-it-away job. (In the back of my mind I continued to search for a meaningful good-bye, maybe instead of a burning man fest, maybe have a burning floor fest? I don’t know, something? All those memories, all that music… If only we could bring it to life again in some way. Or… maybe not. I must remember the object is not the memory…)

Ok. So now I can see around the corner, into this next, not-so-sexy phase. As the demo guy warned me several times “It’s gonna get a whole lot worse before it gets better”. Yeah. I think I get that – but it looks like pretty soon I’m about to really get it. It’s just that I know how I want things – but in the end, it’s probably going to be settled by cost. The re-build can’t happen without grants, gifts and donations, so I’m already in new and frightening territory. I can commit to a demolition of the existing damage, but beyond that, it’s still just a dream. I guess that’s what part of this new chapter is going to have to be about: dreams; keeping them inspired and alive no matter who says it’s not practical (and that would include my own inner naysayer), keeping the dream growing, adapting, interacting, improving… I have a glimmer of a vision, but as soon as I look at some slick website for another arts center, or as soon as I realize that this might mean I never make it out of town for the next ten years (these are the last of my good years I fear!!) or as soon as I realize that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING, well, then that kinda kills the buzz. So that’s when it’s time to bust out some tasty homemade Pad Thai for supper and then make a little music with kid.

Who, by the way, is kickin some ten year old butt on that big ol bass of his. We got to his lesson a little early today, and his teacher obliged him by giving him a longer lesson. Did they review the same-old same-old? Not so much. No, instead, my man Mr. F turned lil man onto a bit of walking bass stuff today. And even if it did finally end up in some out-of-the-blue mom and kid scene, tears, tantrum and all, at least for a good half hour we had a really sweet thing going. What he’d begun to learn in his lesson, we finished off at home. I gave him some more of that chromatic stuff he was searching for but couldn’t quite find… And when he got it – that had him just laughin and grinnin ear-to-ear. I remember how exciting is was to finally demystify that left hand walking stuff. So much fun to learn new tricks. The tears, it turned out, were not so much his frustration with my teaching as it was just his ‘turnaround burnout’. (Not the kind of turnaround that happens on a five chord.) Elihu was still in that midway-zone; having Daddy yesterday, having Mommy today, but never having the two together. Before long he was sobbing, his arms around me, face buried in my tummy. “It’s not fair” he said over and over. “I want my Daddy. But I want my Mommy too! I want them both at the same time!” All I could do was hold him and tell him I understood. Maybe the old man felt the tug of his son’s heartbreak all those hundreds of miles away, because the phone rang, and it was him. About to board a plane for Indonesia, but he had a moment. Thank God.

I turned to wash the dishes as I cursed the situation for the umpteenth time. Honestly, I was still pissed as his father for doing this to his son – at his choice to start two other families at the same time, to act without thinking any of it through. But then again, it was the consequences of those unplanned moves which then opened the way for us to live our life here. I very likely would not have been present for my father’s death had I been living in Illinois with two kids and a touring husband. And being with dad as he died – that was always on the short list of things I needed to experience. I did, and I am lucky. When I see my son’s heart so heavy, it makes me mad, but it’s tempered by realizing what we have right now – what we wouldn’t have had otherwise. As I finish up in the kitchen I hear Elihu laughing again from the other room. Think he’s over the twenty-four hour mommy/daddy hiccup. Think he’s settling back in again. Over the hump and back to the routine.

Think we can both settle in to our new grooves now. Lord knows I got a lot ahead, I gotta keep my thinking clear and my pace slow and steady. But man, so much unknown where I’m going. Hell, I guess there are a lot of unknowns in front of all of us. Best thing might just be to lay down a groove and keep on moving; everything around you might be going crazy, but you’ll be still be there, just layin it down, letting everybody know that the ship is doin just fine, and we’ll all arrive exactly when we’re supposed to. Both of us, my lil man and me, bass player and captain, it’s on us to bring the ship safely into port – and all in good time.