The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

May Past June 4, 2015

We’re just a few days into June, but still, May seems eons ago now… Lilacs have browned and withered, the trees are all completely leafed out, and our thoughts turn now to graduations and picnics… I wanted to remember the recent events before too much time went by. A day or two in our modern culture can seem like a month, and I worry that the most recent weeks will be lost if I don’t document them now. As of this writing, I’m aware that this is all old news, but please indulge me as I share with you the events of late May here in Greenfield.

Much is changing in our lives these days; we’re soon to lose Martha – as well as the last remaining open fields in our small hamlet (several new “For Sale” signs indicate more new construction may be here very soon), my son is on his way to seventh grade, the wildflowers alongside our road have succumbed to their annual cutting from the town’s over-zealous campaign to keep the landscape looking as tidy as a true suburb, and at last the discomfort in my knee is no longer something I might simply be imagining – it’s been diagnosed and the verdict returned: I too, am getting older. Arthritis has made itself at home in my very own body. Nothing is as it was.

Every few years in one’s life there comes a time of sameness – where you fall into a little groove in your life; you see the same people, you do much the same thing, you eat the same things, watch the same shows, sing the same songs. And – you even look pretty much the same as you always have. For a year, maybe a couple of years, maybe even a decade – life gets into a comfy little routine, and while there are times when you might find it confining and a bit too predictable, still, it feels nice. After all, your life is familiar. You know where you are in relationship to everyone else. And things are just fine the way they are. You might even wish things could remain so until the end of your time here on this planet. Only thing is, it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing in this particular universe can remain static for long. And so…. one moment you look up and find that the landscape has changed. Friends have died, places have changed, and your body no longer looks or feels like the body you thought you lived in. There comes a critical mass of evidence from various sources, in and around you… and then in a flash, you get it.

There may still be many wonderful adventures ahead in your life, but that doesn’t soften the sting. Things have changed. The landscape of your life is all of a sudden very different. And so you pause for a moment, cuz it’s heavy stuff. The path you thought you knew well has taken a turn, and you weren’t prepared for it. So yeah, you can’t help but grieve. But still, at some point, you’ll have to move on. Even more change than this is yet to come, whether you like it or not. So you gotta get up, take a breath in, and relax into the new life ahead…

IMG_1361Hard to believe that 12″ of elevation made all the difference between life and death. The grapes on the bottom tier suffered from a couple hours at 32 degrees, while the vines only a foot higher up were spared. Sadly, Michael’s lost four years of growth overnight with this late-May frost.

IMG_1366The leaves and tiny baby grapes just crunched to dust in my hand – and less than twelve hours after the freeze! Devastating news to Mike, who’s worked tirelessly for years just to finally glean a modest crop or two of fruit.

IMG_1363See the tiers of wire? Vines on the top level did not freeze – those only inches below did. Amazing.

IMG_0836A happier sight: Friend Jo (who grew up the next property over through the woods – only we never knew each other!) rides her Mustang Sierra to the Studio to check out our new ‘trails’ out back. She rode to our place a couple miles through various trails through the woods to the north, where she has her stable.

IMG_0838I’ll have to savor this view; soon the property across the road will be sold and likely developed. Something I never, ever in a million years thought would happen.

IMG_0856The trails were kinda rough. We may need to let the debris settle and ‘cook’ for a year. Then we can pack down the softer material and begin to flatten it. For now, it just offers a nice pathway through the trees.

IMG_0859This will be a nice parking lot when the time comes. In the extra space beyond, we’ll have a grassy area with picnic tables and concrete pads for sculpture exhibits. (The trails extend out into the woods from the far end of the open area – upper right corner of pic.)

IMG_0590Twelfth grader Dan came over to show Elihu a couple of chords on the mandolin. He made the instrument the focus of his senior study – and went from knowing next to nothing about the instrument to becoming quite an expert mandolinist!

IMG_0588This was just what Elihu needed – now he’s off and running.

IMG_0526Elihu draws his signature cartoon character “Stanley” on the board in his medieval cloak, as he awaits his classes performance of monologues.

IMG_0390Mr. Esty encourages the children to add more physicality to their pieces by doing so himself…

IMG_0560A beautiful job by all. But I did have a favorite.

As I had to take over for Elihu in the pit orchestra (tambourine w/Mr. Esty on violin), I missed the very beginning of his monologue, and the end was a bit short too. My kid, if I may say so, was the most animated of the bunch.

IMG_0565Grandma was partial to “Giles” as well..

IMG_0443Back at home, relaxing with those he loves most.

IMG_0459Nothing so restores the soul as a quiet moment with a gentle hen.

IMG_0499My version of chick rock.

IMG_0070Oops! Every now and then it happens.

IMG_0072The penny kinda gives some perspective. This egg was really more like a pigeon egg.

IMG_1164Elihu uses a shield made in 5th grade during their Greco-Roman studies block. He is deflecting the awesome power of a four-week old chick. !!

IMG_1176He will not relent! (The chick looks confused.)

IMG_1181What??
IMG_1182Oh well. Defeat!

IMG_1148My young Icarus.

IMG_1194We’ve decided to empty the garage of all our past costumes. The mice have wrecked so much, it seems futile to keep holding on to them, regardless of the hours and hours of work they represent.

IMG_1324Here’s the Ben 10 character Wild Vine, attacking helpless Elihu.

IMG_1311With the kid inside it looked even cooler.

IMG_1310Time now to give some of em up to the fire gods. Elihu often says I have something of a Jim Carrey-esque vibe to my facial expressions.  Guess I see what he means.

IMG_0006Here it begins…

Dust to dust… (Extra points awarded to those who can spot the Caddyshack reference.!!)

IMG_0014…it starts kinda slow…

IMG_0020…then roars into a short-lived inferno.

IMG_0034No biggee for the kids, who ran back to the trampoline almost as soon as the flames started.

IMG_0054After the initial burst of paint-fueled flames, we topped it off with some wood and then roasted marshmallows over the fire.

IMG_0057Goodbye, dear neighbors! Always love to have you stop by for a visit.

IMG_0137The sixth graders before leaving for a two-day excursion which will conclude their Medieval studies block. It rained the whole time, but they had a wonderful experience even so. It’ll be a trip they’ll never forget.

IMG_0165This is my new post these days; long hours spent at the farm keeping Martha company. Lately she’s become quite angry and belligerent with mom and me. I don’t take it personally – it’s got to be frightening to lose control over one’s life. Hopsice requires having someone in the home round the clock, and Martha’s still not thrilled with having people in her home all the time. Can’t say I blame her. We’re all doing the best we can.

IMG_0176On a happier note (pun slightly intended), dear friend Ken stopped by for a quick visit. He gave me a little demonstration of his Viennese Harmonium – from the back of his rental van.

How much fun is this?

IMG_0189Ken and his daughter took us Conants out for a lovely dinner. That’s my hermit-like brother Andrew on the left. A rare sighting!

IMG_0064Spring is marked each year by bedside bouquets of lily of the valley, and a few chapters of our treasured Bird Book for Children. We finished the book on the last eve of May. Til next year, Mr. Burgess.

IMG_0065When all is past, there lies pure comfort and peace.

 

Full Fall October 27, 2014

Last night Elihu had a hard time getting to sleep, in spite of having just weathered a full weekend. Bleary-eyed, he panicked slightly at the thought of school starting up again the very next morning. “Wait, was that a whole weekend just now? Are you sure tomorrow’s a school day?” he asked me, with a genuinely puzzled look on his face. He shook his head. “Honestly, that felt like five minutes just now. I guess it’s just because we did a lot”. He waited for a moment and sighed. “It just feels like we really need another day. You know what I mean?” He was right. Not only the weekend, but the past several weeks had been full. In his words, we’d experienced “a lot of life” recently. Indeed. Death, too. We lost our friend Cecil a few weeks back, but no matter, things just kept on going. Projects and homework and teaching and all manner of life’s tasks have filled the space in between then and now (plus a rare night out in downtown Albany to see comedian Steven Wright – a really big deal for us), and today we find ourselves looking to Halloween, this coming Friday, as the informal conclusion to a full fall.

Here’s a photographic digest of the past few weeks…

 IMG_0011These colors, from just a few weeks ago, are now gone. So much changes in such little time in this season of transition.

IMG_0009I hung these guys in the small woods across from our house, and it’s made Elihu’s long walk down the driveway after he gets off of the bus a little spooky. He lobbied for me to take them down, but I’ve waited long enough to pull out the scary decorations. Up they’ll stay. (They continue to give me a start now and again; either when shutting the birds in at night or casually looking out of the window, even when I first come down the driveway, my mind off in another place.)

IMG_0015Just scary enough.

IMG_0028These are our hungry birds up in the burning bush. The bugs aren’t as plentiful now, so they’re eating the berries off of whatever they can.

IMG_0281The view is modest, and certainly doesn’t come off very impressive in this shot, but in person it’s nice to see Saratoga Lake again now that the leaves are off the trees.

IMG_0299Neighbor boys Ryan and Brandon came over for a visit, and Elihu led them on a quest to find all the gourds that emerged from our compost pile.

IMG_0338Big sister Ava helps count the take.

IMG_0329The children’s father Chad pats our favorite resident roo, Bald Mountain. (Chad saved our rooster last summer after a nasty raccoon attack. Baldy had run through the woods and towards the light of their front door in a heroic effort to find safety. Covered in blood, Baldy perched on Chad’s lap as he drove the rooster back home on his four-wheeler. We were out so didn’t know – it’s such a blessing to have neighbors like this when bad things happen. It’s a profoundly good feeling to know someone’s got your back.)

IMG_0270The young brothers are more than a little freaked out at the skeletons, so we had the boys introduce themselves.

IMG_0317They didn’t turn out to be terribly edible, but they’re pretty. And they were a fun surprise.

IMG_0343This wasp’s nest was also something of a surprise; it hung from our cellar door and grew from the size of a fist to this giant ball in about a week’s time. It’s gorgeous up close, with its delicately spun paper in layer upon layer. Glad to have this specimen to examine up close. (That’s a 30 pound pumpkin next to it, just for a little better perspective on its size.)

IMG_0257Here too was another surprise from the skies. Mom found it near her house, likely it had flown into a window and broken its neck. For years she’s adamantly professed her hatred for Starlings, but had now changed her mind. When I asked her why, she told me it was because she hadn’t known before how beautiful they were. ! I did’t bother to tell her I thought that was a pretty lame reason.

IMG_0264Elihu must always admire the wing.

IMG_0262I admire the interesting claw; three sickle-shaped claws face one direction with the fourth claw facing the other way.

IMG_0325This new gal reminds us a lot of our dear late hen, Madeline, whom we lost earlier this year, so we’ve ended up just calling this one “Madeline Two”. We might be onto round two of many previously used hen names. I suppose it’s just as well when they end up in the freezer eventually.

IMG_0667Thumbs Up is molting now. So are many of the wild birds. They’re getting ready to grow in a brand-new, more robust set of feathers for the long winter ahead. Up close they can look pretty bedraggled and pathetic while mid-molt.

IMG_0675A close up of the pin feathers coming in on her neck. They feel like plastic are made of basically the same stuff as your nails.

IMG_0400Appropriate.

IMG_0411Inappropriate. !

IMG_0137Elihu joins George and Peter as they play music for Waldorf’s annual Autumn Festival.

IMG_0108Then Elihu helps turn the hand crank as Vermont farmer Fred DePaul demonstrates some sheep shearing techniques. (Fred used to do work for our octogenarian friend Martha Carver many years ago.)

IMG_0125Here Fred shows how yarn is made from wool.

IMG_0200Look!! It’s Phoenix! A former classmate and much-missed friend, we haven’t seen him in months. This is a happy reunion.

IMG_0431Our friend Ken came to stay for a visit! Here he shows Elihu how he begins to paint a small landscape.

IMG_0436It’s interesting for us non-painters to see the whole process.

IMG_0444Elihu can’t see any color at all, but he can see values and can understand what Ken is doing and why.

IMG_0440There’s usually a lot of laughing going on when Ken visits.

IMG_0649And guess what? This visit Ken brought his eleven year old son! Our kids were yapping nonstop and getting along from the moment they met.

IMG_0659The boys roamed around the property in pursuit of the chickens.

IMG_0666At home with the flock already.

IMG_0419Mom came over to see our progress on Elihu’s Halloween costume. Here she shows him a photo of him on his first Halloween at the age of six months. He went as Dom Delouise as chef – and this year I’m going as the chef, he as my creation. Full circle.

IMG_0414Ken and mom always enjoy a visit.

IMG_0459Here we are, at our local costume contest!

IMG_0458The middle school girls think his costume is awesome.

IMG_0508And finally, after years of not even placing (??), Elihu wins for most original costume. Yay!

IMG_0481Cute!

IMG_0523We ran into two ninth graders from Waldorf!

IMG_0472And we ran into this creepy guy outside on the way to the haunted hayride.

IMG_0476Kind of a surreal shot…

IMG_0636On we go to our last stop, a party our friends hold every year. Elihu’s gone to it nearly all of his life.

IMG_0562Here’s our hostess, Bairbre McCarthy, as Sherlock Holmes.

IMG_0609Finally, the plate of spaghetti helps himself to a little snack as host Hank, as Robin Hood, chats with Grandma.

IMG_0579Another kid Elihu’s age. Cute costume!

IMG_0575A little fly buzzes around the table, and in Elihu’s own words “Ahh! This is going to bring my rating down to three stars!” (Elihu was a spider when he was this tiny guy’s size, and I had gone as Little Miss Muffet, you know, as in ‘the spider who sat down beside her.’)

IMG_0630Goodbye, and thank you! We had a great time as always!

IMG_0646When Elihu I and got home a couple hours later – look what Ken had done!

IMG_0702The next morning we’re off to do a little creating of our own as Elihu’s classmates begin to make their costumes for the school Halloween parade.

IMG_0713The students are required to go as something from their studies; the boys are going as Roman soldiers. They’re going to hide behind their shields.

IMG_0727This is what we’re going for… Not enough time or material for all the details, but we’ll get as close as we’re able.

IMG_0725Pretty good, huh?

IMG_0745And here’s the final result a few hours later. Good thing I had some paint leftover after doing my kitchen hallway. It was the perfect color red!

IMG_0378Back at home Elihu keeps on creating and builds the tallest tower yet from his Keva blocks – sixteen stories, all the way to the ceiling…

IMG_0375…a view from the inside looking up.

IMG_0249We love our adventures, but in the end, we both really enjoy staying home more than anything else. Here Elihu is surrounded by his very favorite things; his bass, some paper airplanes, and those silly Pokemon cards. After a full fall schedule, there’s no place like home.

 

Stuffed July 6, 2014

We are a culture of stuff. Crap just seems to find most of us, regardless of whether we are filthy rich or dirt poor. Our contemporary American culture grooms us to become professional consumers and collectors from the earliest age. Even our organic, untouched human nature, regardless of cultural affiliation – always in search of wholeness, satisfaction and existential peace – places great importance on objects to help us fill those voids and still that pesky uncertainty. We all know that a flag is really just a piece of fabric, but plenty of us are still a little squeamish about seeing it hit the ground. Trinkets and mementos tug hard at our heart-strings by offering us tangible evidence of long-gone memories.  Finery represents to the world our good taste and our economic success. And then of course, there’s that ‘new-from-the-box’ rush against which few of us are immune. Stuff is comforting, it’s exciting. It’s what we crave. To many of us, our stuff really, really matters.

To some of us, our very identities are completely identified by and wrapped up in the stuff that we own. Most of us live with a low-level of this affliction, but as the current run of tv programs on hoarding will bear out there’s also a growing population of people who act like absolute magnets for matter; people who feel somehow safer, more emotionally protected and at peace when completely surrounded by stuff. All contingencies of life are potentially prepared for, all heartbreak warded off, memories continue to live, and past hopes and dreams, whether realized or not, linger comfortingly in the physical realm. Most of our stuff is merely a collection of inert, valueless objects, but to the super-invested owner, the very experiences or memories those objects represent – whether either in the past or possibly yet to come in the future – are one in the same with the object.  Owning an object also seems to mean owning control over the thing that it represents. And control gives one a feeling of comfort. Of predictability, stability and ultimately, of safety. To have control is to have the illusion of peace. And the illusion of peace can sure feel better than no peace at all.

Stuff helps cover your shit up. It weighs you down and buffers you from any possible hurtful, frightening or unpleasant experiences. Stuff insulates you from pain of living – but only temporarily. It can help mask the fear, yeah, maybe, but in the end, stuff kills. In the end, it’s the stuff that has the control over you, not the other way around. If you’re a person that doesn’t feel the nagging tug of stuff, count yourself lucky. I know you’re out there; I’ve met a few folks for whom it’s never been an issue. “But what about all of your schoolwork, your artwork, your… you know, all your stuff?” I would press them, but the response from these folks would often come easily, matter-of-factly. They didn’t remember really, they guessed that they just didn’t ever think about it much. Their stuff just kind of disappeared over the course of their lives. Who knew? That kind of answer always blew my mind, because I myself have been in a constant battle with stuff since I was a young girl. A hand mirror given to my by Louis and Patty, a stuffed suede dog from Switzerland that Hannelore brought me, an empty spool of thread my grandmother left behind or an ever-growing box of my drawings and writings. I kept tight watch over my stuff and it broke my heart to think of it lost or gone forever. I try to imagine what it’s like not to live as I do, and I just can’t.

My basement is currently under siege; stuff from toys to clothes to aquariums to old paper mache costumes take up valuable space in a humid and dank, ever-shrinking space. Gifts of hand-me-downs sit in bins, waiting for their seasons, or perhaps even to be given away, broken candles await the winter project of making shiny new ones from the remnants, lps line up on sagging bookshelves, volumes of photo books too take up more shelves. Stuff just blooms from the corners and the mass seems to have grown bigger than the last time I took a casual inventory. For someone whose main goal in life is to live simply, I am years away – or at least many hours away – from that goal. And whenever I make some headway, it seems something throws me back again; a kindly drop off of clothes or toys by a friend or classmate, a couple of ‘bird things’ from grandma here and there, oversized drawings of Elihu’s, or hundreds of his unique paper airplane designs that now require storage in an enormous plastic bucket. When assessed one object at a time, most of them seem reasonable enough on their own. But there comes that certain threshold in the accumulation at which it all of it seems equally deserving of a rented roll off container.

A short time after college, and long before it was hip, I worked as a personal organizer. It was a short-lived endeavor, as I felt that most clients needed both a psychologist and organizer in one, and after a certain point, I didn’t have the skills to wrest unhealthy people from their hoards. ‘Assess a Mess’ ended before it might have realized a good measure of success; the job took a huge amount of energy and stamina to do right, and my own personal energies were going in a different direction. So it makes me wonder; if I didn’t have the stamina to deal with people’s messes back then (when I was young and had more oomph) how on earth will I deal with this mess, now? Plus there’s also another phenomenon to purging and cleaning out – it’s easier to do it for other people than it is for yourself. It’s simply not as easy to make the hard decisions when you’re so emotionally invested in things. But I also know this about cleaning house: when the time is right, you find it in yourself to get the job done. I’ve also known major cleanouts to happen around big life changes. Obviously there are the stories of death and divorce, cross-country moves or major career changes, but there are physical and emotional chapters too which play a part. When I was twelve, shortly after I’d first gotten my period, I did a heroic job of cleaning and organizing my hugely sloppy and congested bedroom. Martha, family friend and matriarchal figure, asked if I’d ‘just begun menstruating’. She seemed to have skills of divination; how on earth did she know? She laughed and told me that often ‘when girls become women’ they do something of that sort. I guess it’s kind of like the nesting that soon-to-be mothers are famous for.

There’s definitely change afoot in my life; I’m pretty sure it’s part of what’s been contributing to my panic attacks and bouts of deep depression lately. And if change is what I need to get this massive clean-out underway, I have a hunch that I’ll find it in me to get this thing nailed. Gotta unload a little of life’s ballast to set sail for new seas…

kitchen hoardThis is my brother’s kitchen, it’s a mixture of garbage and non-garbage items. Hard to tackle even if you’re feeling strong and of good spirit; how on earth can someone so compromised by depression even begin?

kitchen clutter

And here’s my mess, after coming home from a friend’s house and receiving the contents of her pantry and other assorted things after her recent out-of-state move. It was daunting, so much so that I hired a neighbor girl to help me get it packed away.

IMG_7558I’ve spent hours upon hours excavating my cellar and garage. It’s not quite organized yet, but at least it’s out in the open where I can see it all… I’ve posted ads in Freecycle and Craiglist hoping to give it all away. Maybe the key words ‘free stuff’ will move it out faster.

IMG_7721Sure enough, folks were coming by long before the thing was even supposed to start. Drat, I forgot to post ‘no early birds’. That’s ok. Everyone’s lighthearted. One woman even went to get me coffee when I mumbled something about not being ready so early (and also kindly invited me to visit her church one day)… I met a bunch of very sweet people that afternoon.

IMG_7710It’s sad for me to see things go… this little blue trike my kid dubbed “Mongey” when he was four. Never a cuter sight than that tiny boy pedaling along furiously, his baby curls blowing in the breeze…

IMG_7716The wizard, acquired at a truck stop and now missing an arm (which always inspired us to cry ‘it’s just a flesh wound’) has found a new, enthusiastic owner. (Btw – if you, new owner, should read this post, I have the power supply – find me and I’ll get it to you.)

IMG_7718There goes a model of the Tally Ho. I once jumped off the cap rail of that boat and kept this for years as a memento of that day.

IMG_7729Told this gal she’d have to wipe it clean; it was too hard for me to do.

IMG_7731My grandma Lydia’s raccoon coat is simply too musty for me… hope this woman will give it another go.

IMG_7775This cherub poster hung over my marital bed for years – in the early, posters-as-art days… My ex felt it should be on our walls here to help give Elihu a sense of continuity. ! I’d felt there were other, more important symbols of ‘continuity’ than this, and it’s been languishing in the basement ever since.

IMG_7767I’m even willing to part with my Noel candle, purchased at the Jewel in Wilmette (the one on Greenbay that had the escalators) as I, at the age of six, repeatedly begged to have it. (It lasted, untouched til the last of the giveaway, so I ended up sneaking it back into the garage. Shh..)

IMG_7769I was giving it all away…. I wanted stuff to move, after all. Ended up making $25 in tips. Good karma sales.

IMG_7821Unearthed from the vaults. Those on the top are from the bicentennial! And the Eli business was a nod to both Yale (founded by Elihu Yale, and my father’s alma mater) and a mentor figure of dad’s at Yale, who’s name was actually Elias. When my son’s name finally came into my head (he was nameless for a good week) I first saw in my mind’s eye this license plate. Crazy, huh.

IMG_7755I remember many nights going to bed with this fan in the window. It used to scare the pants off of me. As kids, Andrew and I would fake dare each other to stick our fingers into the unprotected metal blades. They don’t make em like they used to – and it’s a good thing, too!

IMG_7754Look – made by Montgomery Ward. A drop of oil and you’re ready to go.

IMG_7749It’s this young girl – also named Elizabeth – who’ll be enjoying the fan next.

IMG_7766More sentiment. This is the main activity that kept my son busy on our drive here when we left Illinois.

IMG_7806This is what’s left of an impressive Quetzacoatl/Archaeoptyrix (yikes, I don’t remember which!) costume I made year before last (complete with 12 foot wingspan on a working pulley system), and in the upper right, a goofy but earnest portrait of a young Navy man that I would love to pack up and send to Evanston’s Lucky Platter. Evanston peeps, ya think?

IMG_7804What’s a girl to do with an enormous monarch caterpillar costume?

IMG_7799I’m running out of steam…

IMG_7738Keep it going… I see some shabby chic makeovers in the future..

IMG_7740Make yourselves a big ol load of stuff…

IMG_7820The next morning, I’m left with just a few things..

IMG_7818A bunch of trash…

IMG_7819Some wonderful clothing which will go to a local community center…

IMG_7810And soon we’ll have our own Burning Man here – only it’ll be Burning Gingerbread Man…

IMG_7816Bald Mountain approves of the tidy garage.

IMG_7823Ya know what happened at the end? A really nice man named Dan showed up, and while my offerings disappointed, he did end up with an Oliver Sachs book, a couple of nice planter pots, plus he was a saint and helped me schlep all of the remaining items to the roadside for passersby to pick up and whisk away.

IMG_7826Good Free Stuff. Well, kinda. At least it’s free. And so now am I.

Aaaahh.

 

Ongoing October 20, 2013

I’ve spent nine hours today working on the Monarch caterpillar costume for Elihu and his classmates. While thankfully I have no other truly pressing projects, and while I did at least manage to cut out an hour for some domestic related stuff (a deep cleaning of the bathroom and a cursory vacuuming of the place) I can’t shake a dim sense that I might not have used my time in the best way possible. I scrutinize my hunch more closely and can’t really figure out what else it might have been that I should have done with my day. I feel a bit of regret at not having walked outside in the fresh air, not having visited my folks as I’d thought I might, but in light of my progress I let myself off the hook. It can’t be just me. I almost always feel a general tug of life – a dull, unfocused sense that I’m missing something, leaving some important thing undone. Not sure if it’s just a question of my personality in particular – of being nearly always engaged in an endeavor of some sort or another – or if it’s simply a question of my humanity in general. But it’s nearing nine at night, and in spite of the five completed caterpillar segments drying in my kitchen, I don’t quite feel I’ve used my day to its fullest potential. Sometimes writing helps ease the feeling; maybe this post will do the trick. Just gotta keep going.

Part of my mood tonight might come from having just found Sinbad, the goldfish that Elihu won this summer at the county fair, floating dead in the middle of the tank – and doing so within mere minutes of my having replaced some of the water. He was alive when I removed a pitcher of the old water, yet by the time I had finished pouring in the new water (same tap, same temp, and not very much was replaced and it was gently added) he was no longer moving. Really? I tapped the side of the tank hopefully. I waited. But not a fin on the little critter moved… Oh no, not Sinbad! It had me stopped for a moment. I was so sad at it, much sadder than I thought was probably justified, and I was confused too… what had done it? Had I killed him? Did I do the wrong thing? I removed him from the water, touched him gently, apologized…. Crazy, huh. I thought then about Elihu. He’d likely be stoic – probably more pragmatic about it than me – but one never knows. Either way, there’d be no sense in calling him with the news. It can keep til tomorrow, when he returns from visiting his dad. For now it would have to be my own tiny, sad secret. Phooey. After a good eight weeks I’d thought we’d finally made it as successful fish owners. We’ve not had good luck with them in years past and had debated about getting them again. And I don’t feel good about getting pets that are ultimately doomed to an unplanned death. Then my thoughts turn to our chickens, and realize that most likely they’ll be dispatched on Thursday, and it has me thinking. All of them have names. And have been around for a while now, some a few years even. We can actually see some individual personalities among them. So how is it that I’m ok with their deaths, and yet thrown off by the death of a tiny gold fish? Ah well. It is what it is. Nothing to do about it now. ‘Just keep going’ I tell myself.

What does brighten my mood is not just that I’ll see my son again tomorrow, but that I’m actually really looking forward to my job. To seeing the kids again, to being in that wonderful, dark and cozy building, to playing that gorgeous piano. I remember my experience the past week at the high school and I being to get a little re-energized. I’d subbed for the absent eurythmy teacher – and had felt incredibly under-qualified to do so. In fact I’d dreaded the week, realizing how little I knew about the class. But I decided to use it as an opportunity to meet all the kids, one-on-one, and in the end I was able to meet each one of them briefly as we sat on the floor and made introductions. Having a bit more personal of a connection to them all, now I find myself looking forward to the week in a new and refreshed sort of way. And then I remember the new piano students I have, and they too have me eager to teach, eager for the brand-new week that awaits me. To think that less than two months ago I had hardly any work, and now I not only have a job (though it’s still far less money than one might think), but I have a job that I love, one that inspires me and has me actually happy to wake up in the morning. That alone makes me a lucky gal. I think of all the people in this world who are just trying to get through the drudgery of their days, much less actually enjoying what they do. Yeah, I’m in a good place.

But no matter how good things might be, it doesn’t take a whole lot of logistic details to get me feeling overwhelmed, so before I get to bed tonight I’m going to go through the calendar and make sure all my re-scheduled appointments and new students have been written in. Sometimes I keep things like that in my head – but even with my humble life here, there’s just too much going on for me to remember it all. I suppose that also contributes a bit to my general sense that things haven’t been ‘completed’, that there’s something still left undone… I have to remind myself for the umpeenth time that nothing’s ever really done. Yeah, I know that. But still it’s nice to see a to-do list from a couple of months ago with most of the items successfully crossed off. My mind races around and grabs a few more things I’d forgotten to write down. The list grows a bit, but then finally finds an end for the night. For now I relinquish that little nagging voice. Cuz I’ll be happy to lay down to sleep tonight, and happy to wake to a new day tomorrow.

Be they mundane tasks or thrilling ones, either way, I suppose, there is never an end to the things yet to be done. Like this big world and all our adventures within it, the grand list is always there, always in a state somewhere between ‘to-do’ and ‘done’, ever-changing and ongoing, moving towards a future into which we never quite arrive…

 

Costume Mama

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Falling Back October 24, 2012

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

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

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