The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Highs, Lows and Loss April 2, 2016

We’ve had a lot of fun mini adventures here lately. However, tempering the moments of fun and light come the inevitable moments of drudgery, the tasks fundamental to the maintenance of physical life here on this planet. There are very few idle moments around here, and while generally I’m thankful for the brisk pace and new experiences that we’re fortunate to enjoy, it’s the other crap that often puts me in a crabby mood. Taxes must be filed, applications for summer programs must be filled out, applications for tuition assistance, for heating assistance, for food stamps, for teaching proposals, for class descriptions, email addresses must be entered into the database, old ones culled, websites must be maintained, chickens, frogs and fish must be fed and cleaned up after. And a twelve-year-old boy always seems to be hungry. And don’t get me started about dust bunnies or laundry or leaf-filled gutters. Yeah, there is never an end to it all. And yeah, I’m grateful for all we have, but still…

It was my Uncle Paul’s birthday on March 31st, and in that my mother doesn’t keep up with her only sibling and family, I thought it might be a good idea to check in. My Uncle Paul had a stroke a few years back, and so his speech is slow – combine that with Aunt Sandy’s proclivity for endless small-talk and chatter, and poor Paul is relegated to a virtually speech-free existence. Thankfully, it being his birthday, Sandy passed the phone over to him and I had a brief exchange with my only living uncle. I heard him speak long enough to understand a certain gentle humor, as well as a fatigued sense of surrender. This was understandable, as I’d learned (this is a good example of how little my family members communicate with each other) that his daughter, my cousin Janice, had finally lost her battle with colon cancer last summer.

Summer before last I’d insisted that mom, Elihu and I visit the Jackson family, and now I was especially glad that we did. In spite of having virtually nothing in common with my newly re-met cousin, I’d liked her. She’d battled cancer for six years, ever-smiling, ever sweet of demeanor. I’d admired her for that alone. She’d even demonstrated her kindness to me in a thoughtful, hand-written letter at Christmastime. To learn she’d died was, although distantly sad, no deep heartbreak for me. Instead I felt relief for her – because she’d been through the wringer over the past few years, with six-hour commutes once a week for chemo treatments to the daily indignity of living with a permanent colostomy bag. But more than all of this, her death left me wondering once again at the deep level of chronic heartbreak with which so many of my fellow humans must live out their time here on earth. It should just not be that a man should lose his physical faculties, live until old age, and then witness the slow death of his only daughter. Fuck that. No matter whether one believes in destiny, the wisdom of God’s choices or the necessity of working out karmic debt, seriously, how in hell does one make sense of this?

Recently, a local man went out for his nightly walk, suffered a fall, and subsequently died, alone, on the trail in the woods behind his house. His wife had gone to bed just as he had gone out for this routine stroll, and he had likely laid there on the ground, in the cold of night, long before he finally succumbed to his fate. A former president of local Skidmore College, mom told me that he once played harpsichord as part of an event at dad’s Baroque Festival in which five harpsichordists all performed… This morning, as I awoke fresh to a new day of possibility, my greatest challenges being tidying my home and feeding a growing boy, I remembered the news of this man’s death, and thought immediately of his wife. How must she be feeling on this very morning? She had laid sleeping in her bed as her husband, mere yards away, laid on the cold ground, dying. Man. It’s stuff like this that tempers my frustration with the toil of the everyday and helps to quiet my bitchy outbursts as I get back to this precious business of everyday life.

The other morning, on the way to school and in the absence of the usual polka soundtrack, Elihu began some intense existential rumination. He’d recently noted that every physical thing – outside the natural world, that is – had first existed in a person’s mind before it came to take form in physical reality. While I’d offered this concept to him in the past, apparently the corresponding light bulb moment had only just arrived. “So literally, we are living in other people’s minds. We live in the creations of other people’s thoughts!” He laughed, he shook his head in amazement. He had a half-dozen other threads of thought beginning to germinate too and he struggled to identify them. He’d begun to express his new ideas just recently on the long drive to Schenectady for a flying meet, and clearly in the five minutes of commute that remained there was little time to make headway with any of them. “Yeah, it’s true.” I summed up. “Every structure you see out the window existed first in someone’s imagination.” I paused for a moment, wondering how to bring the conversation to a tidy close. “It does take a while to get things physically manifested here on this physical plane, but in time, and with tenacity,” I said, as much to remind myself as to inspire my child, “just about anything can be realized.” He sat there, quiet, looking out of the window. He was clearly deep in thought, because he didn’t ask for me to turn on any polka music before we arrived at school.

The past few weeks have been a tangled flurry of life, death, simple pleasures and challenging tasks. So far, real heartbreak and tragedy are not ours personally, and for this we’re both appreciative. Elihu has recently met a gentleman that we readily refer to as his new flying mentor, and in the short time we’ve known him he’s already opened up a whole new world to us. So this particular adventure has begun, if you’ll pardon the pun, to take flight. ! From the lowest notes on Elihu’s C tuba to the ceiling of the Schenectady Armory, we’ve had some truly exhilarating experiences lately. And since one never knows when the whole affair may come crashing to a close, we’re savoring the whole shebang –  we’re flying along on the current of our life, learning from the highs, the lows and all that stuff that fits somewhere in between.

IMG_4985Our weeks end on Sunday, which is tuba lesson day. Can you imagine that Elihu’s tuba teacher not only lives in our town, but he has chickens? (And goats and horses, and he built his own house, and he has six children – including a set of quadruplets – and he’s one of the best low brass players and teachers in the region. And he’s a super nice guy. Say what??)

IMG_4993Imagine a tuba lesson that starts like this. !!

IMG_4997Yup, Elihu is a lucky, happy boy.

IMG_5018Finally Elihu’s reading has gotten to the point where it’s not the focus of the lesson – but technique and sound are.

IMG_5078We went to the high school’s performance of Bye Bye Birdie, where, as our usual serendipitous good luck would have it, we enjoyed front row seats, in spite of our having arrived late. ! Elihu’s tuba teacher’s eldest daughter played trombone in the pit orchestra, as did an old friend. The fellow conducting and playing keyboards is the music teacher here; I use his classroom to teach my adult ed class entitled “Not Your Mother’s Piano Teacher”. Oh – and one of my piano students did the lighting. An extremely impressive production, as always. Truly, more than top-notch all the way around.

IMG_5028Later on we Skyped with some dear friends in France. Regular readers may remember young Lilas and her mother, Mary. Mary’s the daughter of old family friends from Greenfield – Mary’s mother was an actor and performed at my father’s Baroque Fest ages ago – so it’s nice to keep this connection. Mary also teaches at the Waldorf School there – so we’ve got that in common too.

IMG_5177I have new friends who’ve moved here from Sicily – and they kindly gave us this Easter treat. There’s a boiled egg baked inside! Apparently this is traditional in many European cultures, but for us it was a first.

IMG_5544It seems the Easter Bunny is still visiting the Hillhouse…

IMG_5549Which made one big kid very happy.

IMG_5560Since Elihu sees no color whatsoever, eggs need high-contrast decorations to stand out. Why the blue? you ask. To add some depth, I suppose. Also cuz I thought it was pretty.

IMG_5673A tradition for many years now (and which we skipped last year as he was with his father), we visited what we call “the lightning tree”. Every year Elihu adds a bit to the primitive stone structure at the base of the charred-out tree. I was happy to see the ‘mom and son’ cairns from three years ago had survived the wind and weather. We passed two hours there as if it were ten minutes. So much fun.

IMG_5681A closer look at the rocks… A winding hillside road is off to the left, the woods directly ahead and to the South, our house a bit off to Southwest, and the big field is just out of the frame to the right.

IMG_5692This tree hangs precipitously over the edge of a good fifteen foot drop to the road; you can see the pavement through the roots where the tree has been burned away.

IMG_5734During our fort-making we found several surprises…

IMG_5742Remainders of a time when this was all cow pasture and farm. We also found a garden rake and remnants of a small shack.

IMG_5800Heading home. There’s a break in the stone wall (which divides our property from the field) where the birch tree leans out. Just out of frame (sigh) and to the right is the new construction house, the sight of which still depresses us both.

IMG_5825Elihu regaled mom and me with some pretty funny new jokes during Easter supper.

IMG_5987While out and about I saw this license plate. !!

IMG_5429Got myself my biannual hair cut. Old friends have chided me for maintaining something of an ’80s’ hairstyle, but I argue that it’s best to work with what one has. Me, I’ve got curl. This is my perennial, scrunch-n-go favorite. Think what you will. It works.

IMG_5536Ah, the endless battle against the hardest water known to man. This stain was created in less than two weeks’ time. Yup. Many times it’s been posited that we should bottle the stuff and sell it. Saratoga Water – meh! How about some Greenfield Gold?

IMG_5514My favorite visitor to the platform feeder, our beloved guinea fowl, Austin. He is a real goofburger.

IMG_5205Elihu has a loaner C concert tuba at home (Ed, we can never, ever thank you enough!) and what we affectionately call a “B flat beater” tuba, which we own, and which is kept at school in order to prolong mom’s back health. !! My kid must play in two different tunings – me, I’m immensely impressed by that. Btw – musician joke digest: Guy hears the breaking of glass… Runs to his car…. Finds TWO tubas in the back seat…

IMG_5301We’re at the Schenectady Armory – the huge and gorgeous room where local model aircraft enthusiasts meet weekly to enjoy windless, indoor flying.

IMG_5233And this is Jesse. It’s safe to say that this man has forever changed Elihu’s life.

IMG_5225Jesse’s old school; he’s got a rubber band winder with a 1:15 ratio. That loads a lot of power onto the band. His crafts in flight are something rare to witness; as one circled gently around the room high over our heads on a nearly one minute-long flight, there was simply not a work spoken by anyone present. It is a thing of such magic and beauty that no comment can accurately express the delight one feels to watch as it soars…

IMG_5360Jesse even let Elihu fly some of his RC planes. A gentleman and a wonderful teacher, the trust he put in Elihu was a real gift. It enabled my son to finally get the feel of flying a plane.

IMG_5356Hanging with the new posse. Click here to watch Elihu’s first walkalong glider experience, and click here to watch mom give it a try the following week.

IMG_5376Ok, this almost made my head explode. Elihu loves, loves, loves the German language, and of all things – there’s a German restaurant on the way home… So we stop in for a bite of bratwurst…

IMG_5378…and wait, you’re kidding me, right? There’s a friggin tuba player arriving just at the same time as us!!

IMG_5379 This is what lil man has to look forward to… (Let me tell you – a soft case is a walk in the park compared to the hard case I move every Sunday!)

IMG_5399OMG – the charts are even in German. !!

IMG_5406An afternoon of flying followed by live polka music with a tuba player in a German restaurant?!?! WHAT? (Oh – and we learned later that Elihu and Jeremy the tuba player both study with Mike Meidenbauer!)

IMG_5996Recently The Studio was host to an event. A success I suppose, in spite of the fact that the host’s car got stuck in the mud and she needed a tow truck to get her out and now I gotta figure out how to fix the lawn. Sigh. Two steps forward, one step back… Overhead’s still killing me at the moment, but all in due time, I suppose…

IMG_5999Elihu donned his Grandpa Robert’s madras bow tie for his school Spring Assembly for the Waldorf School.

IMG_6038How I wish I had a better picture, but from way in the back this was the best I could do. Elihu and pal Drake performed a tongue-twister sketch which they wrote, the last line of which was “Fancy froggy fanciers feed my farmed, frivolous, furry, frightened, fluttering, flightless fruit flies to phyllobates frogs from Florida forests.” !

IMG_6125A bow-tied man is a man of good character, no matter the age. (The fellow on the left even plays tuba. !) A fine performance, and a fine conclusion to a fun and full couple of weeks.

 

Springing Forth April 5, 2015

Never in my four years at the helm of this blog have I passed so much time in between posts. But there are many good reasons for such a break. Too many, most likely, to accurately recount here.

The digest begins like this: Two weeks ago the logging job stopped, and with it came not only the money from the harvest, but the work in earnest began on the Studio (thereby spending all of the windfall in short order.) The logging site was left with a lot more mess than we’d agree upon, and I met with the forester to discuss cleanup, a task I knew would be very hard to enforce once the big machines had left the premises. I’d seen the gear there on Sunday, but by the time I’d finished my early morning rehearsals at school on Monday morning, I returned not only to find every last piece of earth-moving equipment gone, but huge heaps of dirt, stumps and stone ringing the work site. So not what we agreed upon. But then again, they were there to get the timber, not to leave me with a squeaky clean parking lot. But still. One more thing on the list to make right.

Meanwhile, there were decisions to be made about materials and finishes and such, while daily life continued without slowing down. Lesson plans, rehearsals, paperwork for the Studio, meetings, meals and homework all kept going, much to my frustration. I’m not a great multi-tasker, and as such the past month has been a bit trying for me. Panic attacks have been kept at arm’s length (thanks to the miracle of Xanax I can avoid them almost altogether), and as if a perfect bipolar patient, I swing back and forth from one emotional extreme to the next several times in the course of a day. One moment I’m brimming over with hope and visions for a successful future, the next I wonder what in hell it is I think I’m doing here and I’m just about ready to take a job at McDonald’s and excuse myself from the whole affair. Exhausting stuff.

One week ago Elihu and I drove to Philadelphia to meet my cousin (my late father’s nephew), his wife, his sons and one wee one too. It was the first time I’d ever met any Conant relatives as an adult, so it was an important visit. My cousin also took us to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – box seats, no less – where we heard not only Mahler’s 5th, but also a new concerto written for tuba (!!!). Serendipity came through for us after the concert and we found ourselves walking backstage, escorted by the composer of the piece himself. Elihu was beside himself with the thrill, and I’m afraid that I caused him no small amount of embarrassment as I lost my cool and fell into something of a star-struck stage mom in the presence of both composer and soloist. We chatted with the tubist, and offered to meet up with her again in the summer, when the orchestra (of which she is a member) makes its summer residency in our hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.

For me the trip involved a lot of driving – more than twelve hours in the car for a brief, weekend stay (and with panic attacks threatening the whole way it was a bit more stressful than it might have been otherwise). But it was well worth it for the new relationship we now have with our family, not to mention the memories we made that will, to use the most trite but accurate expression, last a lifetime.

Since our return from Philly everything at the Studio seems to be happening without pause; decisions I might like to have labored over a bit longer need to be made ASAP; purchases, while modest, are still adding up to steeper totals than I’d imagined, and the reality of our lot in the wake of now-absent loggers still has me concerned. But it’s all good, as I must remind myself. Sometimes even hourly. I’m tempted to cry almost daily with all the money that’s going out… It feels surreal to live on food stamps and state assistance and then turn around and pen a check for several thousand dollars as if it were business as usual. I can’t wrap my brain around the discrepancy between the commerce of the new business, and the lack of commerce here at home.

In an effort to drum up some income (as well as play music again!) I’ve begun to make some plans. Since Elihu is now old enough to be left at home alone for more than a quick run to the convenient store, I’m starting to think about getting something together for the summer tourist season and actually finding some work. Breaking into the local ‘music scene’ (there really isn’t one – it’s just a summer extravaganza of wedding-esque cover bands) is proving to be much more difficult than I’d thought. In spite of knowing a handful of musicians, I can’t seem to find a single job. Not even a freebie – and Lord knows I’d be happy just to sing. My gear is as out-of-date and out-of-the-loop as I am, and my now-ancient (make that vintage) Yamaha S80 won’t cut it anymore, even if I should find work. (Yes, I do still have my Rhodes and Wurli, but those are in dire need of work and require an extra pair of hands to move.) The days of lugging a 70 pound board around – plus amp and gear – are just plain over. Some of my pro friends might pooh-pooh my desire for a lightweight keyboard with, gasp, builtin speakers, but that’s the way this gal is headed, I’m afraid. I found a candidate for a new board on Craigslist, and when this income-free week of Spring break is over and students resume, I hope to make it my new piece of gear. Let’s hope it ends up paying for itself in the coming months.

Sometimes it feels as if I’ve taken a giant hiatus from my life after having become a mother – and a single one to boot. When I stop and look at the stats, I realize that I haven’t worked as a musician since shortly after Elihu was born. That means I’ve been dormant for over a decade! Not that I have any regrets; being present for my child as he’s grown up has been a blessing that many are never given the option to experience. Yeah, being broke has been a drag, but even so, it’s been acceptable, because I’ve been able to be here for my son (plus, when in a true pinch, grandma has always had our back. The significance of that cannot be understated.) I have an amazing child in part because I’ve chosen to be with him and not farm him out to daycare while I grind out a minimum hourly wage. It’s all worked out ok thus far, but I pray things will be changing soon. I’m tired of just getting by. They say do what you love and the money will follow. God I hope. People ask me what my business plan is with the new place, and honestly, I can say that I still do not know. I know what I intend to achieve, but the hows are still the struggle. Lists are being made and ideas being created – and tossed out just as fast. Something will take shape, I know. Just not sure how. But whether I make music myself, or make music possible for others, as long as I can somehow glean an income in the process, I’d be the happiest gal around.

Today it’s Easter, and while this year my son may no longer truly believe in the Easter bunny (can’t help but think he maintains his belief to please his mum!), outwardly his show of enthusiasm doesn’t let on. Last night we watched the old 70s TV special “The Easter Bunny’s Coming to Town” (with Fred Astaire narrating) and today we quoted our favorite passages from the show as we dug into our colored eggs. To my chagrin, when his little half brothers called this morning, they had Elihu turning the house upside down for hidden eggs, which the Easter bunny had not bothered to hide at 3 in the morning when he was filling the basket. The Easter bunny can only do so much. ! And now, I think my kid gets that. But no matter whether he believes or not, it’s still been a special morning for us. We’re both happy to be at home, together. That makes it a good day, no matter what.

Soon we’ll gather the last eggs from the coop for the incubator, and after that we’ll take a long, leisurely walk around the property. We’ll visit the fox’s den in the side of the hill, we’ll check to see how little snow is left in the shady spots, and we’ll see how our mom-and-son cairns by the lightening-struck tree have weathered the years. We’ll shore up the piles of rocks, agree that it was a fine walk, and head home to await an evening meal with grandma and Uncle Andrew.

I’m not sure how things will pan out in the days to come, but today I’ll try not to worry too much about it. Instead, I’ll continue to do what I’ve done for the past ten years of my life – I’ll enjoy watching my son as he makes his way through his childhood and towards his future.

IMG_5592The family! Yay for the Conants of Philadelphia!

IMG_5573Big ones and wee ones…

IMG_5577…and funny ones, too! Just look at that chicken purse! Love it. We’re definitely related.

IMG_5696The Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Elihu just kept expressing his amazement over the space. He’d never been to a concert hall like this before. A night he will never forget.

IMG_5683The hall, gorgeous; the Mahler, rich; but Carol – beyond anything he’d expected. Elihu was simply transported. He loved the piece, and he was given a new appreciation for the virtuosity needed to play such music. Suffice to say he aspires to much more than the common polka these days. Thanks, Michael and Carol.

IMG_5699Chatting backstage with tuba soloist Carol Jantsch and composer of “Reflections on the Mississippi”, Michael Daugherty.

IMG_5697My son and Mr. Daugherty, whom we later learned shares a birthday with Elihu!

IMG_5700Elihu is psyched. !!!

IMG_5616Philly by the light of day. I was interested to learn that the sculptor of this famous bronze figure of William Penn atop the city hall clock tower was by Alexander Milne Calder, the father of modern sculptor Alexander “Sandy” Calder.  There’s even a plaza which is home to works by both father and son.

IMG_5625City of brotherly love…

IMG_5627… and lots and lots of art. There is literally a large piece of art on every corner. Loved that.

IMG_5629So what does lil man want to do when in this historic, all-American city? Eat Vietnamese food, of course! (Wing Phat? How appropriate for my little aviator!)

IMG_5632Hello, cousin Matt!

IMG_5637Tasty quail! We had Pho, too….

IMG_5649Thanks to Matt and Stephanie for taking us to this sweet Asian grocery store (oh, and lunch, too)!

IMG_5648Helpful signage.

IMG_5655Fish heads?

IMG_5659We liked this one… We all agreed it mighta been worth $10 to watch the staff running around trying to catch a loose bullfrog…

IMG_5663Spring-loaded and ready to leap.

IMG_5606Headed back home we can see the famous Boathouse Row across the river.

IMG_5566The whole area is full of boulders and hills. Most of the local houses are themselves made of stone.

IMG_5556A jam-packed weekend had my lil man zonked out.

IMG_5721In the morning, it’s scrapple for breakfast! A Philadelphia delicacy!

IMG_5728Cousin Dave, waving goodbye in front of his stone house. Thank you for the hospitality!!

IMG_5745One last look at the Philly skyline…

IMG_5794… and then it’s on to the New Jersey Turnpike. The language of roadways is different all over; one travels by highway, expressway, turnpike, thruway, freeway, tollway and parkway. Phew!

IMG_5787Next time.

IMG_5914This tells us we’re getting close to the end of our trip…

IMG_5916And so our wonderful little adventure comes to a close as we return home. To snow. !

IMG_5969Sadly, I saw this hairy woodpecker being hit by a car. He lived long enough for me to bring him home. We admired his beauty, then buried him along with our other birds under the flowering quince bush.

IMG_5997Elihu had his buddies over the other day. They had a blast.

IMG_6021Elihu and Sawyer enjoy the hens.

IMG_6025I took the boys for a walk down the road to see how the Studio was coming along.

IMG_6028The sign will need to be moved to mark the new driveway and parking lot, a couple hundred feet to the east.

IMG_6056Mud season begins.

IMG_6032The boys have fun in the room that’s almost prepped for its new floor.

IMG_6030A kitchen will add greatly to the building’s functionality.

IMG_6043The view from the Studio’s balcony. The boys are enjoying the last of the snow.

IMG_6072Elihu got a little asthmatic after all that running around, but it was worth it.

IMG_6195Easter morn.

IMG_6197Digging for treats.

IMG_6120Elihu gives Thumbs Up a good smooching.

IMG_6149Elihu and his chickens.

IMG_6152The bigger picture.

IMG_6317A sight we seldom see; neighbors out for a walk on the hillside road. They wished us a happy Easter as they passed.

IMG_6322Mom and son cairns.

IMG_6291The lightening-struck tree. Still looks the same as past Easters.

IMG_6356I found a kite under the snow and we had fun watching it whip in the wind.

IMG_6393Our own Calder-esque bird sculpture by friend and Vietnam vet Ace, and our garage’s dove behind.

IMG_6377Almost home. A perfect Easter day.

Happy Spring to all our friends around the world, and may good things blossom anew for each and every one of you.

 

Earliest Spring Pics April 2, 2013

Super Egg

the biggest egg we’ve had yet, a double yoker, of course

Big and Smalla ‘fairy egg’ on the left. Wow. !

Bottle Garden

found this bottle in the old dump on a walk in the woods. A ready-made terrarium growing in the snow!

Easter Sunrise

Easter morning sunrise

Easter Basket

the Easter basket

Chicken Smooch

some Easter smooching

Crow Field

a fine morning walk down the field on Easter morning…

late March 2013 654

a view of  Braim road from our hillside woods

Fox Den

so this is where the fox lives!

late March 2013 653

a lightening strike burned out the inside of this tree

late March 2013 659

so Elihu gets an idea…

Woods Rock Garden

he made a little rock wall by the tree

Rock and Tree

kinda sweet, huh?

E & E Rocks

mommy and son rocks

Model Painting

painting a plane model he got in his basket

Cowbirds

watching a pair of brown headed cowbirds at the kitchen feeder

Before Dinner

a little DS before supper

Easter Ham

mom carves the Easter ham

Easter Supper

Mom worked hard on Easter dinner all day. It was delicious, of course, and especially enjoyable because we sure don’t get meals like this too often.  A fine end to a fine day.

 

 

Bunny Belief March 30, 2013

We’re at that time when I can’t be sure if the holiday magic will hold any longer, if my son will truly believe, one more time, that gifts have been magically delivered as he slept… My son is so thorough in his thinking, in his reasoning and internal deliberations, that it seems impossible to me that he can truly still believe. And yet he does. Yesterday, as we sat cuddled on the couch, I made the mistake of telling him not to get his hopes up for anything big on Easter. (My goal was to plant some doubt so that the appearance of the Easter bunny would have even more of an impact. Not a good choice.) He burst into tears and told me not to say such a thing. “I want to have hope, mommy. I’m just nine years old, don’t take away my hope!” he told me. I was instantly very sorry I’d said anything at all. I was also struck by how much his comment seemed to imply; there seemed some foreshadowing in his remark of the adult reality that lay just around the corner. He must know, I thought to myself, but he’s still holding on…

On most most holidays and school breaks Elihu stays with his father. This past year was my first Christmas here at home with Elihu, and tomorrow will only be my second Easter here with him. I had wondered about the Easter bunny’s visits to Dekalb. I want to have some consistency, and it seems that the Easter bunny keeps many different methods and traditions in different households, so as we made our weekly drive to deliver eggs yesterday I asked him about it. Seemed fairly similar to my experience growing up. There were some differences, but I was relieved to know the bunny wasn’t in the habit of delivering handsomely wrapped birthday-worthy gifts because the Greenfield bunny had made no such preparations. (The Greenfield bunny is quite satisfied with several finds; a hand-crafted, dark chocolate bunny from the local candy shop, some wooden airplane models and a small bird puppet. The eggs, on the other hand, proved challenging as Master Elihu knows his eggs by shape – each hen has her signature style – plus dying an already dark egg is tricky. I couldn’t use the few white eggs we have, as Cora’s eggs are also very distinctive. A dilemma. Ended up drawing designs with sharpie on the most generic-looking medium brown eggs I could find. Since Elihu sees no color at all this seemed a good choice.)

A little anxious that everything be in order, I arose early today and went to my secret hiding spot in the basement to do an Easter basket inventory. Because of Elihu’s vision, he’s not good at spotting things. I’m continually surprised at how quickly and easily visiting kids will see things that I’ve stashed ‘out of sight’. Because color offers Elihu no clues (bright green plastic grass for the basket, for example) and since things beyond ten feet don’t register much, my job is made much easier. As I retrieved my goodies I felt completely satisfied that it was all still perfectly secret. I was happily surprised to see that I’d saved a few more things in the months leading up to the holiday (when on a budget one must plan ahead) and was very satisfied to see that it made a tidy looking cache of loot. Pretty too. I even got myself a single hyacinth bulb and a nice new ceramic vase for it at the dollar store – just to show the bunny had something for me too. That would further support the case that I had nothing to do with it. Might be over thinking it, but it’s probably the last such time I’ll have to do so.

Yeah. He’ll be ten in a month. It’ll be over soon. At least it can’t last too much longer. So, as with Christmas this year, I approach Easter with the same emotions, the same tender nostalgia. I will savor it all. Every surprise, every laugh, every egg. And Elihu’s right, having hope is important – especially at this time of year. After all, isn’t that what Easter itself represents – apart from any religious significance? The renewed life of springtime and with it, hope… And belief, yes, that’s important too, cuz I know this Easter bunny sure is happy that one certain little boy still believes.

 

Retro Post: How I Spent My Summer (2011) April 13, 2012

In filing a mass of papers from our life over the past year or more, I’m finding things that I’d like to share. For no particular reasons, and also for many tiny ones. So here’s Elihu’s first mandatory assignment of third grade; the classic summary of his summer vacation, an assignment for which he was given just four rather small boxes in which to recount his adventures. Hardly seems enough, but he gets his points across. I don’t keep any formal memory books, but I’ll archive these pages somewhere safe for us to revisit when Elihu’s kids are themselves writing little pieces kinda like this.

How I Spent My Summer Vacation by Elihu Haque (w/drawing of long-necked bird leaning in to inspect the title)

Flying RC planes. This plane has a four foot wingspan and flew above the clouds. My friends came to see.

Went to Chicago. Got to see old friends. It was fun to see my mom’s old friends. Got to play at Mom’s gig. (He sang at Fitzgerald’s with The Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago.)

Playing at the Green Mill. Played hand drums with dad. Played for one whole set. (Yup, he did. And tonite, all these months later, he is very likely on stage at the Green Mill playing his djembe while I am writing this.)

And overall it was a great summer, no I mean AWESOME!!

 

Easter Hope April 8, 2012

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 10:28 am
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Just read over my post from last Easter. Bright, sunny, warm and full of gratitude and optimism it was. Full of hope for the future. Hmph. This morning marks day three of my tummy not feeling right. At least the headache’s gone. I compare this Easter with last. I’m certainly not feeling as chipper this morning. But stepping back a bit further, I wonder: what’s changed for me in a year? What does Easter mean to me right now? Do I still feel that kind of hope for the future?

Martha no longer has it in her to leave her kitchen. To make the trek to our house for Easter dinner. She has always come to our house for the holiday dinners. This will be the first time ever that she hasn’t, making this past Christmas dinner her last one at mom and dad’s. There has to be a last time, it’s only you hardly ever know while it’s happening that it is going to be the last time. The time you needed to pay careful attention to every little detail lest you forget how it felt, sounded, smelled… My husband always used to say I spent too much time looking back, feeling sad, dwelling on the poignant… Maybe. I like to think it’s about making peace with it, identifying it – showing the past my deep appreciation. I have a memory from Easter, now some ten years ago (as Elihu was not yet born) when it had snowed, and Ruthie’d gotten her car stuck in the driveway. As I helped Martha across the snow and up my parents’ long driveway, I made some comment about getting ‘purchase’ on the snow. “I like that word” Martha’d said in her commanding tone. I’d told her that I agreed. Yes, I told her I’d very much liked the word ‘purchase’ used with that meaning. And I noted how you didn’t hear the word used too often these days in that context. “No, you don’t” Martha agreed, in her broad voice. I remember the snow, the two older women who’d been there for my whole life, still able to walk, drive, conduct a life outside their homes. Ruthie’s been gone six years now.  A lot changes in ten years. Today Martha can hardly manage to leave her kitchen. A lot changes in a year, too.

In my sick bed I found myself pulling two books from a pile I’d intended one day to read. Both were about death. Read “Imperfect Endings” cover to cover; a book about a woman’s process with her mother’s intentional death. Consumed with my own inability to process the idea of the final goodbye, and impatient to take the time to finish another book, I searched for more immediate information on Youtube. Watched a film by Terry Pratchett on assisted suicide. It was enough for now. Got into bed. Felt strangely unsafe in taking my prescription sleeping pill. Dreamt all night of saying goodbyes. Awoke hoping that all this contemplation would make it easier to get down to the nitty gritty before it was too late. I had questions for my dad, my mom. Must ask them. They know I love them, I’m able to tell them, but while they’re still fully present – I must spend some time with them. They will only live on in my witness. My witness, and that of their friends and loved ones. I feel it’s important that I devote some energy to this. This witness to their lives.

Today is a day of supreme witness. Whether we believe the story of Jesus’ resurrection or not, it seems we all share witness to a kind of universal hope on this day. The kind of hope that says ‘things might not be so great today, but they will get better.’ The kind of hope that offers a gentle smile, a shrug of the shoulders, a wink of the eye. If we don’t allow ourselves to feel the profound hope and promise of Jesus, most of us allow ourselves to accept a little uplifting of the spirits on this day. In my own home there is a mix of celebration and implied disdain for the holy narrative that inspires the holiday (so too at Christmas). I always find this dysfunctional dichotomy a little hard to take, but as our discussion of things spiritual has been historically limited to discussion about what time I needed to be at church in order to acolyte as a teenager – I’m sure not about to expose the topic now. Better to sip the Bloody Marys and nibble at the shrimp. Talk about the garden. Because now, I have a big swath of earth, turned and ready for seeding, a real almost-garden to talk about. One year ago that was only a dream. Yup, a lot can change in a year.

Been in my sick clothes too long. Must shed them, make the bed, get into a shower. Not quite feeling up to it, but a friend is hosting a brunch, and I’m to be there at 10:30. Moving slow, I’ll definitely be late. She’s giving her granddaughter six baby chicks for Easter on the condition that she let Elihu house them for her. (He agreed.) I’ll meet the new members of our flock shortly.

Later, we’ll bring Martha a pitcher of Bloody Marys and a tray of cocktail shrimp, her favorite. We’ll sit about the dusty kitchen and chat, dad half-nodding, his face showing his discomfort at all the rapid-fire small talk being tossed about the room, scraps of ideas moving too fast for him to make sense of. Once he said we sounded like chickens. I thought this was funny, and accurate. His growing distance from the action allows him some perspective. He may not catch everything that’s said, but he very much gets the gist of what’s going on around him.

I hope he has the stamina for our afternoon, for after we leave Martha and her hound dog alone again, we Conants are off to Winslow’s, a local restaurant known for its simple, home-cooked fare. My mom is found of reminding me that the chef is “CIA trained”. After having a burger there with Elihu a few weeks back (oh-so-indulgently served on thick, buttered toast) I met an attractive man about my age whom I thought might be the owner; he wore chef’s clothes and stood behind the bar ready to settle my bill. I asked him if the accordion player still played there on Wednesdays. After a tiny bit of confusion (he thought I had perhaps mistaken him for that accordion player) he offered that his mother had in fact made him take lessons when he was a kid. “Really?” I asked. “Because I play too. Or did play.” I made some comment about how lame my left hand was with the buttons, making a hand position in the air – he smiled, so I wasn’t off base, but the conversation had no where to go. He was closing, I was paying, and that was pretty much it. But I was intrigued- could this be the ‘CIA trained’ chef? This middle-aged, longish haired fellow who once took accordion lessons? A thought, the likes of which had not once seriously entered my consciousness since moving here, began to flicker… was this man, perhaps – unlikely, but just perhaps – single??

Given the reality of my life plus the cautioning tone of a friend I’d shared this with, I’d decided just to shelve the whole idea. But today I’d be going back. Maybe another opportunity. ? Maybe not. Either way, it keeps me moving through my day, as my sick tummy would rather have me stay in bed. Yes, I can say that it’s hope that compels me onward today. I hope that little Raiden loves her chicks. I hope that Martha enjoys her shrimp. I hope that mom, dad and Andrew enjoy the restaurant. Dare I hope to catch sight of the accordion-playing chef? While he yet exists in my imagination, and I may well learn one day that he’s happily married with three children and a dog, for now I’ll ignore that possibility. After all, today is a day of hope, right?

May we appreciate fully all the good that we’ve had in our lives, the good we have with us right now, and may we keep our hearts open to all the wonderful experiences that we are yet to know. A Happy, Hopeful Easter to us all.

 

Easter Morn April 24, 2011

Hallelujah! The Lord has risen, and so has the temperature! Fully expecting to see a figure beginning with 3 or 4 on my kitchen door thermometer, imagine my surprise and joy just now in seeing 60! Really? Wow – gotta let those chickens out, surprised I haven’t hear them crowing yet. (Two days ago I awoke to see snow covering everything, and rather thickly, for a spring snow. I’d thought briefly to post a picture on Facebook, but snow in April hardly warrants surprise for northerners.) It’s a lovely, sunny, warm and still Easter morning here in upstate New York. I look around and imagine all those farmer types who might be just a little miffed that they’ve got to dress up and go to church on such a good day for getting some outside work done. Then I think, well, at least it’s great weather for getting the kids dressed up and loaded in the minivan… That’s better. Should really start this day with a more uplifting sentiment.

Coffee cup in hand, I stand on my front steps and begin to think over all the things I’ve learned so far in my two years here, and then I begin to consider all the lessons yet ahead. I begin a quick inventory of the things that have begun to come into my field of awareness. First off, I’m really glad to have serendipitously come across the author Michael Perry through his latest book “Coop”, which I found directly in my path as I did a final once-over of the local Borders on its last day. Got it for a buck (sorry, Mike). Therein is a nice chunk of not only remembrances that parallel mine in many ways (growing up farming, a late sixties, early seventies childhood, going it alone with a capricious ‘try it and see what’s the worst that could happen’ attitude and more) but a lesson in the end which I would do well to learn from. He comes to the conclusion (bless that man, oh how I wish my ex had felt the same) that it is his wife who really holds down the whole operation as he spends a good deal of time on the road. He credits her for feeding the animals and tending the garden while raising the young children. Then he begins to realize that farming is in itself a job, and that he really cannot both farm and write professionally – at least to the degree he’d thought possible at the outset. My mother expressed her concern recently that this garden/chicken thing is a huge endeavor, and that I should be putting the bulk of my time into The Studio instead. Well, somehow, I’ve managed to juggle things before, and with nice results, so I’ve been thinking I can pull it off. But in the two days since she said this, the reality is beginning to sink in. A 20’x40′ garden. Forty chickens, a new coop and run (which I must build). An eight year old boy. A community arts center with summer camp programs (which I run). A concert hall dedication ceremony and Baroque concert with promo to be done, tickets to be sold. Sheesh. I haven’t even added in my new membership at the Y, my ambitious new ‘women on weights’ class or just general life. Caution rises up in me and a new, more responsible voice begins to emerge, telling me that it’s not about ego, that I have not failed if I can’t pull it all off, that I must remember that everything takes half again as much energy to manifest as one bargains for at the top.

Ok. Today at Easter dinner I will sound out mom and Martha – now the old women at the table – and I will see how crazy my plate looks to them. Just since I awoke about an hour ago I’ve already begun to research tillers and what that labor is about. Hmm. Front tine: cheap, but good for small gardens. Require more effort. Rear tine: expensive, good for big jobs, less grunting. My mom has a small Mantis I can use. That will have to do. I guess before my farmer neighbor came over the other day to offer a kindly consultation on my land, I’d had romantic, Foxfire-ish visions of swinging a hoe in the humid, hot July, laboring down the rows stopping to pluck a potato bug here and there, wiping my brow as I assessed my progress and happy to finally have a good reason to wear my floppy garden hat. Oh dear. I need to slow down and think this over.

I’m just so thrilled to be alive now, to have the tools for self-education right here in this little box. I have become a sponge these past two years. One can investigate virtually anything with google and you tube. That saves one a lot of time and mishap. While there is absolutely no substitute for jumping in and experiencing your own three stooges moments, it behooves one to do a little reconnaissance first. With these tools I add one more; getting out and visiting with those who have gone before. In my search for free lumber on Craigslist, and my forays into the countryside to pick up the stuff, I’ve enjoyed many very educational discussions with folks who’ve been at it for years. Building, fixing, raising, growing. So I’m asking a lot of questions. Man, the information just comes in. And so does the dawning realization that I just might not be able to pull it all off – at least not this year.

In the two decades I spent living with a classical guitarist, the most frustrating thing about it was quite literally, a fingernail. (This is the line that will get all partners of guitarists to smile, the guitarists themselves won’t, and I’ll get into that here.) Fareed was constantly swiping his right hand thumbnail with a teeny fragment of fabric-soft, ultra-fine sandpaper which he ALWAYS carried with him (or almost always – the occasional search for his missing sandpaper was as frantic as the search for the crying baby’s missing pacifier). The right hand thumbnail, to a classical guitarist, is the essence of who he or she is as a player. The very physical condition and shape of the nail combined with the technique (oh dear, to add flesh or not to add flesh? Segovia or Williams?) is what makes the ‘sound’. And by sound I do not simply mean it simply plucks the string; rather it creates the quality of the sound that defines the player. The endless filing of the nail was accompanied by daily and even hourly proclamations that his sound was getting closer. To what? I waited for years to arrive at that destination. My husband was always trying to improve his sound. Improve his thumbnail. Improve the angle at which it reached the string. He was in ceaseless pursuit of that elusive combination of a thousand micro-changes that were apparently ALL of great significance to the end result. He would announce hundreds of times with sincere elation that he’d made a discovery today! And I would try, so hard, and many, many, many times with genuine thrill, joy and love for him at his success, to share in that moment. But I’m sure you can imagine, that at the thousandth such proclamation it was hard to conjure real thrill. It was tiring. This day-to-day emotional roller coaster of the search for the perfect thumbnail shape. I began to get a grouchy about it sometimes. I found it very hard to believe that after years of fussing with it he hadn’t come upon the perfect shape. Or at least perfected some method of getting somewhere in the workable neighborhood.

But indeed, God is in the details. Many times in my new single life in the country I’ve smiled to myself at his unending process with a new light of understanding. I too, am realizing the umpteen million degrees to which one can take any endeavor. And all the different results that manifest from those nearly invisible changes. From growing seeds to monitoring the humidity in my incubator, I’ve seen the effects of subtle changes on the results. I guess I’m now a believer. I wonder how I might give him this gift; how can I tell him, with love, that I am sorry for my exasperation at his tiny triumphs? How can I convey, with humor intended (for it is kinda funny to me now) that I have a better understanding of how much more there is to anything than one can possibly understand at a casual, outsider’s glance? In my heart, I apologize to him many times for this, and I almost always laugh, because I am beginning to be humbled by how many choices go into life.

So on Easter morning, I am taking stock. I am renewed with hope, I am educated by my past. I am going to slow down today. Perhaps I’ll see if the trout lily is up in the woods. Heck, I don’t even know if it grows this far east. There’s so much I don’t know. It’s such an adventure, this life. A pain in the ass to be sure, but humor and gratitude oil the big machine. I’m off to git her started. Nice and slow, Elizabeth, you’ve got a lot ahead.