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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Gone Fishin’ August 23, 2013

Now that it’s late summer and Elihu’s home, we’ve fully immersed ourselves in the culture of doing nothing much. But that in of itself is very important stuff here at the Hillhouse. Big items are on the docket for the little remaining summer vacation; the county fair, our tiny pond, unscheduled sunny afternoons and neighbors’ swimming pools. The things that make a summer. If the phone rings when we’re at the creek with a net, we won’t rush to answer. And if we’re in the coop just sitting with our flock, or feeding the goldfish in our pond, let em leave a message. Everything else can wait – but summer can’t.

gone fishin 2013 004

Our new pond, complete with five goldfish and an ever-changing number of frogs.

gone fishin 2013 094Lil man has spent hours and hours here. So glad he likes it. !!

gone fishin 2013 064His fish even come up to him when he wiggles his finger.

gone fishin 2013 014Frogs and fish co-habitating nicely.

gone fishin 2013 018Catch-and-release all day long.

gone fishin 2013 024Lil man and his mama.

gone fishin 2013 103Elihu’s pic. Magazine-worthy! Not bad for a legally blind kid. !

gone fishin 2013 130A closer look through Elihu’s eyes…

gone fishin 2013 048One of the many creatures that visits our prolific butterfly bush all day long.

gone fishin 2013 085The apple tree and a seat with a view. Note our flourishing corn in the middle (it’s down the hill).

gone fishin 2013 088Taking a close look at a walking stick we found.

gone fishin 2013 073Here she is…

gone fishin 2013 076And here she is too.

gone fishin 2013 143Early in the evening we cap off our day with a concert by local favorites The Zucchini Brothers. Drummer Sam is a friend of ours. Although we note Elihu is several years beyond the audience demographic, he wasn’t embarrassed to be there (phew) and we both really enjoyed the band. They’re good musicians and funny guys.

gone fishin 2013 139

Snuck a pic in – he didn’t have time to stick his tongue out.

gone fishin 2013 163On the way home we saw the same tiny black helicopter we’d visited at the local airport in the hangar (see June Interim post). This heli passes over Saratoga nearly every evening. Think I might pen a note and leave it on the craft… never know if the pilot might want company some time… This is a good time of year for serendipitous little adventures, after all.

Life as usual can wait a bit longer while we go fishin…

 

Cooped Up August 11, 2013

As I suspected, this morning things looked a bit brighter. Nothing like chickens to lift your spirits and make you forget any grudges you might be holding onto. Yup, I love my chickens – and my goose too. I might just become the crazy chicken lady in my aged years – hell, I might already be the crazy chicken lady. Cuz I really do love my flock. They have spunk and charm. And while I would completely understand if you didn’t believe me when I said that they each have individual and distinct personalities, I can assure you  that you’d be wrong if you thought so. They are the best entertainment for a weary heart and the gentlest companions. They’re nutty, they’re pushy, they’re maternal and many are a lot smarter than you’d think. And some are horny all day long (boys, eyeroll). They never cease to distract me from whatever thoughts might be consuming me in the moment. They make me smile, and those silly birds make me grateful.

I spent most of the morning in the garden weeding and cleaning up the property as best I could with a meager pair of hand clippers, and then devoted my afternoon to cleaning and repairing the coop. (That cordless 18 volt drill was the best gift I ever got myself. I shouldn’t have waited til the age of 50. If you don’t have one yet, get one. Biggest quality of life upgrade ever.) To the background of the local reggae radio show I measured, drilled, cut, shoveled, and fussed around in the coop, knocking just about every chicken-related ‘to-do’ item off the list. Between my cleaned up run, the new pond, the garden and front walkway I just finished, I am feeling quite satisfied with myself. Just about ready for the year-as-usual to start back up again. Maybe not quite, but almost. Still got a few child-free days left. Gotta make hay while the sun shines.

Garden August 2013 052The nesting boxes. My goal today is to change the position of the top row to discourage overnight roosting (they poop inside the nesting boxes when they spend the nights perched on the edge. Too much mess in with the eggs.) Gotta configure some sort of cover that makes them unable to rest on the sides.

Garden August 2013 061Here’s Madeline. She’s an old-timer. She looked like a sparrow when she was born. She’s the only gal with a tiny rose comb on her head and ‘makeup’ around her eyes. She’s the first to escape an enclosure, the first to get back in. Clever girl.

Garden August 2013 080Here’s Bald Mountain. Must have been in a fight, as he’s lame in one leg and missing a spur. In spite of his limp, he rules this roost, making the other two roosters run the other way when he approaches. He sits much of the day, likely to rest his bad leg.

Garden August 2013 082Ok, now this can look a little strange when you see it in person. This is a hen taking a dust bath. They do it instinctively to protect their skin from mites, but also it gives them relief from the heat. Notice how her nictitating (lower) eyelid is closed as she fluffs and beats her wings into the dirt.  Sometimes I’ll see a dozen girls all laying on the ground, wings splayed out and eyes closed – and they look positively dead! But no. They’re just having a good dust bath. An essential part of being a healthy, happy chicken. She’s enjoying herself to be sure.

Garden August 2013 085Here she is flinging the dust onto her back.

Garden August 2013 096She’s really getting into it now.This is the good life.

Garden August 2013 136Here’s the new river rock I put down to contain the mud. I had thought this would deter the girls from pecking around on the ground – after all, there’s no dirt anymore. They must have memories of tasty bugs here, cuz they were so persistent in their scratching that they actually pushed the rocks to the side and exposed swatches of ground. !! Wow. Naughty but impressive work, girls. !

Garden August 2013 133Max really likes to chew on things. He has some dog toys he likes, but that doesn’t stop him from finding other goodies. He loves brightly colored Crocs and will head right for your toes if you’re wearing em (he likes bright pink the best).

Garden August 2013 002Maximus has discovered our new pond. I have given up trying to prevent him from getting in. Hey, the pond is no less pretty for the little bit of goose poop he might have left behind. Life is for living, and ponds are for swimming.

Garden August 2013 026He’s getting absolutely worked up. I don’t think he’s ever had this much water to move in before. And he is a water bird, after all. This is in his very DNA.

Garden August 2013 025Around and around he went. Joy, joy, joy.

Garden August 2013 022

It’s even deep enough that he can put his whole head and neck straight down.

Garden August 2013 047Happy goose, happy, crazy chicken lady. What a perfect summer day we all had. Think I’m ready for Monday now…

 

Lost August 6, 2013

Kid’s been gone over two weeks. Maybe it’s three by now. You’d think I’d know, but I don’t. Been busy, busy, busy, trying to get all the things done that I simply can’t during the year. I suppose now that he’s ten it’ll become easier for me to do things. He can get himself something to eat or entertain himself easily enough. It’s just that I always feel badly about digging into solitary projects like filing, organizing teaching materials or other time-consuming stuff when he’s home. Which is why I’m hitting it so hard now. But today I feel stopped. The sun is shining and the day is bright, yet I can’t shake this feeling that the world is passing me by. I’m here in my windowless basement office, going through boxes and files and papers that just never seem to end. And I wonder, as I have so many times before, how on earth do working people deal with all this crap? There’s never an end to things that need tending to, never an end to the drawings and schoolwork that needs to find a home, there’s never an end to the personal correspondence, the filing, the bills, the paper…. And yet, at the end of the day, when someone asks me “what do you do all day?”, I’m hard-pressed to properly explain myself. Which leads me to this very moment. Right now, I’m feeling tetherless and lost.

In going through my music closet, and in finally opening great manila envelopes marked “to look at and file”, my past spills out onto my lap in old set lists, cocktail napkins scrawled over with chords, laminates and other small, useless items that only break my heart today. I remember the feeling of hope that went along with that time in my life. Our lives seemed all yet ahead of us then. Yes, I can say that I knew I was enjoying a good time in my life, and I did enjoy myself. I loved doing what I did, and I never took it for granted. But there was always another show coming up, another project, another seed of hope… I was always swimming with a fast-moving current. There was never anything static about that time in my life. But my life now is very different. Aside from my beloved son, I have to admit to myself, there’s very little of that sort of hope inside me today. There just doesn’t seem to be any forward pull. Yes, I have my writing, I suppose. Dear friends and readers who check in to bear witness to our tiny adventures, but is that in of itself a destination? What, I wonder, as I hold the evidence of a life once fully lived and enjoyed, just what the hell is my ‘thing’ now? Mom? Part-time accompanist at my kids’ school? Goddam recess monitor? Man. So much hope, so much forward-looking energy in these old scraps of paper. Yet where did they land me? I haven’t touched my Wurlitzer in ages. I haven’t played in a band since I left Evanston. It’s been two years since I’ve sung a proper show. And I miss it all like crazy. I fully admit to flat-out jealousy when I see the Facebook updates of my friends who are still making music. How lucky they are to be playing. To be doing what they love. I do know that I’m lucky to be here, and to have this new chapter from which to learn and grow, but still….

I can’t make much progress as I feel right now. I have no food left in the house, and I’m hungry. My hunger is no doubt helping to make my mood even darker, and I’m trying to muster the resolve to do something about it. It takes some gas and time to get into town, and I just can’t find it in me to go. I’m almost out of cash now too, cuz kids don’t take piano lessons in the summer (I sure never did), but that doesn’t stop bills from coming. August is always something of a financial challenge, and especially now in the wake of our July trip and some small home improvements. I know this has been a great summer, and I was so blessed to have visited Chicago (and to have eaten all that gorgeous food!), but it seems the spark has worn off. I know things aren’t bad by any means. I do. And I’m doing better than I was a year ago. I know it. Plus I’m home, surrounded by things I love, by nature, by a beautiful summer day. Even so, in this moment I’m still not quite sure where I am.

 

First Week April 20, 2012

We’ve come to the end of Elihu’s first week in the Waldorf School of Saratoga. It has been wonderful. He is more joyful than I’ve ever known him to be – if we overlook the brief over-tired episodes that have come before a bedtime or two. It’ll take us another week or so to fully get into our new rhythm, but it’s already underway, and it’s not the terribly difficult transition we’d thought it might be.

After Elihu’s third day, to my surprise and delight, he came home singing “Simple Gifts” and speaking in French.  “I wonder if there really are outdoor markets with so many things for sale…” he mused aloud dreamily from the backseat after I’d picked him up from school. In his class they’d been learning about a French marketplace. I assured him that even in this modern time, there were still open-air markets all over the world, and yes of course, even in France. Places with tables full of fresh vegetables and bushels of brightly colored flowers. I recounted to him an early memory I had of the marche in Vevey, Switzerland that I’d gone to with my family as a child. I remember vividly the colors, the abundance. (I also remember my mother pointing out Charlie Chaplin to me and commanding me to remember that always. I did.) Elihu was happy to hear my story, and inspired that he might one day visit such a place. I told him I was pretty sure he would.

Since we no longer have the drudgery of homework (the routine assignments he received in his old school were little more than time-wasters in my opinion), we can instead spend our time creating impromptu flying machines of balsa wood and rubber bands. Elihu is a good thinker, a good designer, and I’m happy to see him tenaciously going after his goals. With a little help from mom and a couple pieces of duct tape he assembles some interesting contraptions. Our afternoons (he’s home nearly two hours before he would have been at his old school) and evenings have become an enjoyable time of stress-free winding down. Of chasing chickens and paper airplane-making. Most days I teach – but my students don’t come by for a good hour yet after he comes home, so we have a lovely window of free, unstructured time each day. The quality of our life here has noticeably improved in such a short time. Each day I feel renewed and grateful.

Today after school we’re going to make our pilgrimage to Schenectady for Elihu’s annual low-vision evaluation. We will meet with a most beautiful human being named Dr. Albert Morier, an exceedingly patient and understanding man. A man who respects Elihu’s need to know things exactly as they are; a man who does not in any way see Elihu’s reduced visual acuity as any sort of real handicap. I once wept when Dr. Morier created a lens for me that enabled me to see things as Elihu does. It was as if I were underwater; I could make out nothing that wasn’t within my arm’s reach. He comforted me in such an elegant and understated way, gently redirecting my perspective on things. He diffused the potentially heartbreaking moment ( I don’t ever want to create extra anxiety in my son and don’t like him to see me afraid or heartbroken for him), and never allowed Elihu for a moment to fear his mild disability. I almost feel like a visit to Dr. Morier is as much for my own emotional stability as it is for Elihu’s physical health.

After that, Elihu and I look forward to having a special dinner out. Here in this part of the country there seems to be a trend towards restaurants that combine many Asian cuisines; it may well be going on all over, but in my experience this is unusual and new. Not a bad idea though, for in one place Elihu can enjoy his beloved sushi and I can indulge in some Thai panang curry. After our fancy supper out, it’s off to a concert by the Adirondack Pipes and Drums in Glens Falls. I’m not sure how much energy we’ll have after our fine meal – it’s been quite a week and Elihu may not have it in him to go. But drums and bagpipes are up there with birds, airplanes and tubas – almost always worth the drive. It seems the chances are good we’ll make it. We’ll see.

Here are some pics of our post-Waldorf afternoon hours this past week…

 

Early Start April 16, 2012

Last night went smoothly. To bed, to sleep. Not much earlier than what was historically normal for us. I was a tad concerned our first early morning might be dicey. Today, Elihu’s first day of the Waldorf School, he rose at 5:30 on his own. He’d heard the creaking of the automatic rotating incubator in the living room and mistook it for the sound of me typing away at my laptop. I heard him call to me, and without checking the clock, summoned the mommy energy within to rise and go to his room. He was up. I mean up up. Not like half asleep, groggily calling out to me in the wake of some bad dream. Nope. He sat up in bed, eyes wide. “Oh” I said, “you’re up“. “Yes of course I’m up! I’ve been up since five! I heard you typing and thought I could finally talk to you.” I climbed into bed with him and explained what he’d heard and how when I’d first heard it again this year, while alone in the house, I’d been startled, even almost afraid. I caressed his head lazily and closed my eyes. “You know you don’t really have to be up for another forty-five minutes” I offered, hoping he might choose to doze. “Oh, but I want to be up. I want to have a whole hour with nothing to do but be with my chickens. I don’t ever want to feel rushed again in the morning.”

He was serious, for he jumped out of bed, ran to check the weather on my computer, then rushed back and got dressed in a flash. He came to me and picked up my arm, tugging at me to get up too. It was almost six. I noticed, to my own surprise, that I was not tired, not sleepy, that I didn’t really need nor want to lay in bed any longer. I too rose, and (as most mornings) still in my pajamas went out to open the coop. Elihu went to the cellar to tend to the chicks. Not used to having their coop door opened so early, the chickens were all still up high on the roosting bars. I’ve often thought that we’ve raised chickens on a rockstar schedule; they’re quite comfortable sleeping in, long after their neighbors have been up and set free for the day.

Our morning was unrushed and oh so pleasant on account of extra early rising. After a lovely breakfast (nothing new on the menu save an air of relaxation) and a shower for me we were ready to go. As we turned the car around to head for the road, we admired our flock, laughing at the show they put on for us. Austin, our guinea fowl, likes to hang out with Maximus the goose – although they constantly bicker they are always side by side (we jokingly call this an ‘alternative alternative’ lifestyle; same sex, different species), Bald Mountain, our alpha rooster, is always keeping second-in-command rooster Judson in check; Shirley Nelson our bearded Arauncana tries to stay out of the action, while Madeline is first in line to check it out. Thumbs Up (so named because of the silhouette of her comb) is precocious and smoochable. She’s the first to approach people, and often prefers our company to that of her flock. She watches the car carefully to see if we might open the doors and invite her in.

Finally, we’re off. I re-set the trip odometer and note the time. It takes us about fifteen minutes and 5.7 miles to reach the school. The third graders are all clumped together by the fence and they’re happy to see Elihu. Oh how happy I am to see this. Although Elihu has longed for this day, he is nontheless a bit hesitant. He hangs back to see where it is that he should go, what he should do with his backpack. He is greeted joyfully by name by the woman at the schoolyard gate, and she helps him get settled in. He even allows me a final quick kiss at my private beckoning for ‘un besito’. Then he is off. I try not to watch him too long. He is fine. He is finally where he should be. I check in briefly at the office, and there meet his teacher. I tell her that Elihu’s heart was so full of joy today. My heart is bursting too, but I don’t say this. Instead I make a little hop in place, and touch her arm. “I am so so happy we’re finally here’. I don’t want to be too over the top, but man do I mean it. I also don’t mean to act as if this heralds a conflict-free future for Elihu and me. I am aware their will be challenges in our future. There may be uncomfortable moments. I just think that we’ll be able to negotiate them so much better in this environment. At least that’s what I hope today.

As I drive home I cannot believe that my day is starting before Elihu would even have been on the bus in our old routine. I have so much to do, I don’t know where to start. I am mindful that I must pick Elihu up today, and that school lets out just past two. I still need to be economical with my time. What to do first? I am filled with joy and possibility. Plants begin to leaf out on the edge of the winding country road. Robins are everywhere. I laugh to myself. It feels so good to be up with the birds. Early bird gets the worm. Indeed.