The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Deep Summer July 20, 2015

It’s hard to believe it’s here again; that muggy mid-section of the year which from the bleakest winter day you cannot fathom ever returning… One hundred degrees in the sun, and the kind of relentless humidity that presses in and clings to every surface. Me, I can hardly stand this weather. But my son, he loves it. Ever since he was tiny he’s always said that he wants to go to Vietnam one day. He says that he actually loves this heat and humidity, and while I can’t help wonder if he doesn’t enjoy it all the more because it irks me so, I think I’m beginning to believe him. He isn’t slowed at all by the heat, but for me, it drives me to the brink. I find it hard to choose the right clothes. Hard to move around once I’m in those clothes. Hard to keep motivated. This is one of the reasons I feel so landlocked here in Greenfield; there is no escaping to the relief of a windswept beach. Instead, the vapors of the forest and field hang thick and unmoving in the air. While I feel a certain nostalgia at the scents of goldenrod, ferns and dampened pines (they remind me of my childhood; summer vacations, overnight camp and Baroque music), I can also say that that certain perfume brings with it a feeling of dread; there will no escaping the sweat that comes along with it. And think of all the musicians who must contend with the weather as they fight to keep their poor instruments in tune! It just seems to add insult to injury that the humidity spikes so mercilessly just as the outdoor music festival season reaches its peak. If only the weather could level out sometime in mid May and remain there until the fall. Yeah, if only.

I whine about it because it’s nice to get it off my chest, but truthfully, I bear it all with a bit more dignity than it might seem. It’s really more of an inner sort of anguish. I do manage to keep up with Elihu, I invent new itineraries for us, I make sure we aren’t lying about the house day upon day…. Every so often there are those afternoons where it just makes more sense to remain indoors on the comfort of the couch, surfing the great world beyond on our laptops, but for the most part we’re out and about. There are chickens to feed, gutters to clean, weeds to pull and concerts to attend. There’s busking to be done, there are frogs to be caught, tubas to be practiced and trampolines to be jumped upon. (Or is that the other way ’round? No, wait, that’s a joke…)

My last post had me cringing a bit; all that backward-longing, the clumsy pep talk about my future… In re-reading it, it feels as if I was saying the things I thought I should be feeling…. All that second-guessing of my goals and abilities, an encrypted bid for outside vindication veiled in the modest, self-effacing style of a middle-school girl’s journal entry. I guess it struck me as slightly jive because another two weeks on, and I’m exactly where I was before my spike of can-do spirit. The return of my son, and with him, the nonstop daily job of being a single mother, it’s reminded me that simply starting over again as a working musician is not exactly going to be simple. First, what to do with the kid? I’m making headway with material, but still, there’s new stuff to incorporate, and I find it’s sinking to the bottom of the list. It’s harder to find the oomph to learn tunes that I don’t particularly enjoy. And so I don’t. But that’s ok for now, because The Studio is entering into a new phase with much outdoor construction taking place, in addition to a good deal more to complete on the interior, and I need to be present for all of it. And I still have to feed the kid. Me, when my kid’s not here, I go for hours – entire days – without a thought of food. I’m all about getting shit done. But the brakes slam on pretty hard when the kid’s back. Which is ok. Elihu is 12, he’s on his way to being a young adult. He might still find making Ramen a bit of a challenge (he’s got his dad’s spazzy gene when it comes to some simple tasks), but in a pinch he could probably get through a day without me. So while my snazzy new role as rockin keyboard mama might not come to fruition this summer, I think next year it’ll be much more likely. I’m not stalling here, just investing my energy where the reward will be greatest. And in all honesty, cover jobs will always be there. The Studio will not build itself, nor rent itself out. I’ve put a great deal of time into the place lately, and can see the light now. I don’t wish to be overly cheerful and optimistic about its future – I admit it, I’m still too nervous; bold, decisive language still frightens me. I’ve spoken robustly about our future here before, but in this moment, I’m just kind of holding on until we can get the plumbing turned back on and the kitchen finished.  I think those final touches will embolden me to be more visionary. Hell, for the time being I’m choosing to blame my chill attitude on the less-than-chill weather.

Things are moving. There is no stasis, that’s for sure. Every week there’s a new adventure, and even more so when lil man’s here. Elihu will be rejoining his father for much of August, and there will be house guests here in his absence, so much will be going on during the summer that remains. My enthusiasm might be wilting a bit in all this heat, but heatwaves don’t last forever.

IMG_0025Sussy takes the heat well. Behind her are sprouting some super-gigantic goldenrod plants, well-fertilized by their location in the middle of the chicken run. Chicken poop can result in some crazy-big plants. !

IMG_0013I actually enjoy cleaning the gutters. I always seem to put it off for months and usually get to them when – you got it – it’s super hot out. Once you’re sweaty and uncomfortable, why not get even more sweaty and uncomfortable? Better to be productive than not.

IMG_0011On rainy nights the frogs are easy prey on local roads. We stock our pond each year with a variety of sizes.

IMG_0062Martha’s birthday was a couple of days ago. We’d planned on having a party anyhow, but it just didn’t work out that way. We did all meet up in the kitchen. (See how lost we all look. Even the camera couldn’t find its focus!) Every birthday of Martha’s we can remember was always the very hottest day of the summer. Strangely, this year the heat broke and the weather was cool and rainy.

IMG_0096As life would have it, there was another place we wanted to be that same night… Forty years ago at the age of 12 I first heard the great David Amram here in Saratoga, and now Elihu is here, at the same age, taking in that same experience. (Locals, please go hear the Dylan Perillo Orchestra – some of his musicians played behind David. They had a wonderful roster of tunes in their set, great charts, and a solid, swingin feel. Leader Dylan is the bassist, and his on-mic style was minimalist and quirky ala Steven Wright. Needless to say Elihu was way beyond impressed. And dig this – Chicago pianist Ron Perillo is his cousin. Say what? The world contracts once again.)

IMG_0102I have been lucky to share the stage with David a couple of times. Luckier still to witness him playing an impromptu version of “Pull My Daisy” on my Rhodes, back in our Evanston home. Crazy thing is, he remembers all of it.

IMG_0091The man and his necklaces.

IMG_0078Elihu gets up close to the neck gear…

IMG_0079…and enjoys a bit of a chat with David.

IMG_0126The next day there’s action at the site of the Studio’s future parking lot.

IMG_0140The site is being excavated in order to tie in the new kitchen to the existing septic system. A friend helped me with some post-construction cleaning inside, and between the two of us we put in over ten hours. Still so much to do.

IMG_0124Al, our earth-moving friend, has changed the grade behind the Studio in order to provide a perennially wet spot some necessary drainage. Formerly surrounded by woods, it’s a bit odd for me to see the building so exposed. We will be replanting evergreens at some point in order to fill in the space. We’re just doing things the right way so as to avoid problems in the future. A modest venue, but so much work has gone into it.

IMG_0231A far less modest venue: SPAC. Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Chicago friends, this is what Ravinia wishes it were. Sorry, but true.) Today we are here to see New York City Ballet, which makes SPAC its summer home. I grew up going to the NYCB regularly, but today is a first for Elihu.

IMG_0163We arrived with two hours to kill inside the park before the ballet started, so our first stop was the Auto Museum.

IMG_0172A car very similar to the one my grandfather, Judge Conant, drove in 1932. Dad recalled holding on for dear life in the rumble seat with his brother David as their father raced down the winding Adirondack roads.

IMG_0176Far less glamorous was my first car, a 1986 Mustang. Yellow. One of the only non-cool Mustangs ever.

IMG_0183We lunched at the Gideon Putnam Hotel with Saratoga’s finest. Remind me to tell the story sometime of how I once spent the night there with Patti LaBelle and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s not what you think. But memorable. !

IMG_0184Heading down to the backstage area.

IMG_0188Took this on the fly – we kinda snuck in backstage for a quick look-see. The dancers are there on the left, just outside the wings waiting for their entrance.

IMG_0142Elihu’s very first look at SPAC from the inside.

IMG_0150Our seats are in the front row – check out these tympani covers.

IMG_0217We’re right behind the pit!

IMG_0215We need seats like these – it’s the only way my little Achromat can see… Even here there isn’t a lot of definition. But I was impressed that he could see well enough to glean the story from the movement… Made me happy.

IMG_0203At intermission we made a new friend. I went to find him on Facebook and wouldn’t ya know, we have a couple of friends in common already. Once again, small world.

IMG_0221Afterward we met Andrew, another twelve year old – only he was a dancer! That was fun.

IMG_0228Crossing the bridge that leads across a creek far below, Elihu stops to mimic the concert posters.

IMG_0230Can’t forget our buddy Yannick! We are excited to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – and hero, tubist Carol Jantsch – at the end of August.

IMG_0202This selfie gives you a little idea of the perspective here. Or maybe not quite. Trust me, it’s a long way down. Take note of that white formation on the right – shortly it will be the site of a dramatic moment in our afternoon.IMG_0239En route to the riverside walk we sample a spring. It was the most displeasing of all the springs we have tasted – and Elihu actually enjoys that sulfury-tasting crap. We thought this spring was “Horrendable”.

IMG_0240A long way down.

IMG_0334It’s exciting to finally be here!

IMG_0251The mineral-laced water from this particular spring has created this huge deposit in the form of a small mountain. Much of its surface is continually under a film of falling water.

IMG_0345Up close. It shimmers in real time, as a film of water descends.

IMG_0342Here’s a look back at the bridge we were on earlier.

IMG_0357The narrow ledge upon which we walked was all chalky white mineral residue covered with running water.

IMG_0360The water empties into the stream.

IMG_0367Here’s the path we followed to get downstream.

IMG_0285Once we were at the water’s edge, we had fun. The father of these boys grew up in Rogers Park in Chicago – just off of Devon Avenue – blocks from where I myself (and Elihu’s father) had lived. Later this man lived in Buffalo Grove, the town in which my late friend Bob Gand lived. He’d spent time in my hometown of Wilmette, too. He didn’t seemed impressed by it all, but I sure was. Small world stuff always blows my mind.

IMG_0298When wildlife wasn’t to be found, we busied ourselves making cairns in the running water.

IMG_0328I ended up making ten of em. I had a blast.

IMG_0356Elihu catches his breath after a frightening couple of minutes and an urgent lecture from a short-of-patience mom.

Things turned – and turned scary for a moment – when Elihu misjudged the relative elevations of the path and the water. He mistook a ledge for a shallow entry into the water, and in an instant he was up to his waist in the creek, clinging to the rough rock by his fingertips. I did a lightening-fast assessment of the situation, and realized the water was not more than three feet deep there, and if need be I could jump in and grab him. I was overcome with fear and anger all at once, and before I made my move to rescue him I chewed him out.

Poor kid, with his vision, things are bound to go wrong at some point, but still, I always tell him he has to be so much more diligent about assessing things that anyone else. Without good depth perception, life can be dangerous. He knows this, but he hates that it’s true. He blows things off that he shouldn’t. He hates that he can’t just be a curious 12-year-old boy who can take off running with everyone else. He always has to look twice, and sometimes it happens that he’s sure he knows what he’s seeing – when he really isn’t. Step or flat surface? A crap shoot most of the time.

This time it ended up ok, and as I told him it’s a good experience if he learns from it. He was still so mad at me for getting mad at him that I don’t think he took that in. But it’s something this mom has no trouble repeating. Good advice for anyone – achromat or not. Learn from it and it’s not a mistake. It’s a lesson. Crisis averted – this time.

IMG_0035Treasures from our river visit.

IMG_0001The heat finally breaks with a heavy summer downpour.

IMG_0022We’ve got a bit of a drainage problem in our garden beds. On the to-do list…

IMG_0010Who are we fooling? Raincoat? Ridiculous!

IMG_0018Elihu insists he jumps tons higher when the trampoline is wet. So high it looks like he’s walking on the treetops… Happy boy, happy summer, happy rainy day. For the time being, everything’s finally cool.


Post Script: While I had personal misgivings about the immature nature of my reflections in the previous post, I actually received a note in the mail from a dear friend saying how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s hard to know how feelings translate to readers. I guess one never knows, do one?

 

Lake Day September 3, 2013

We didn’t plan on it, but yesterday we found ourselves headed up north for our fourth annual end-of-summer day in Lake George. We’d planned on a final day in Saratoga, but en route changed our minds. We had a very lovely day – which ended just in time as a tremendous downpour started right after dark. We made it home through a raging rain, and after a brief recapping of our day and some last-minute, late-night roughhousing, we got into bed on the final non-school night of summer vacation.

Lake George Dept 2013 346Things started off in an interesting way as I saw a young man holding this sign at the side of the highway… (poor guy left his sign in our car. Oops.)

Lake George Dept 2013 003Here was some mother’s kid! And he needed a ride! I pulled over without thinking twice. Think what you will, he was smiling and just had a good feeling about him. What if this were my kid??

Lake George Dept 2013 007Elihu’s working his magic and cracking up our new friend Harrison (who by the way, was also a Waldorf kid. How crazy is that?) We had a short but very enjoyable ride with this young man. We wish him all the best and will be sending him our good thoughts as he continues his adventure (all the way to the west coast perhaps. !)

Lake George Dept 2013 008Good kid. I just hope he calls home to tell his supportive parents how things are going.

Lake George Dept 2013 020Didn’t feel quite right just leaving him there, but I guess that’s the idea. Good luck, Harrison!

Lake George Dept 2013 027We didn’t plan on this either, but a boat was just leaving, and the captain invited us along – why not?

Lake George Dept 2013 054Enjoying the northward view after a little picnic.

Lake George Dept 2013 061How the other half lives. The elegant Sagamore Hotel on Lake George.

Lake George Dept 2013 068Quite a spread. It resides on a small peninsula.

Lake George Dept 2013 092Perfect day for us. I love cloudy days, and they help Elihu to see better.

Lake George Dept 2013 079Dome Island. Public access. Maybe we’ll explore it one day. Never know.

Lake George Dept 2013 073More of the same, but it really gives a good feel for the day.

Lake George Dept 2013 072Parasailing – we’ll get to this one day too, I hope.

Lake George Dept 2013 096Cap’n Ed invited us into the wheelhouse. Once again, lil man is making em laugh.

Lake George Dept 2013 103I spent some time at the wheel too. Reminded me of the time I drove the multi-level tourist boat on Lake Como. Fareed grabbed the mic and began to announce the stops in Italian. A drunk captain just looked on and smiled. Another time, and another country to be sure. But this was fun and laid back too. (Probably a tad safer as well. !)

Lake George Dept 2013 112Now Elihu gets a turn. We both enjoyed telling Ed – after Elihu’s turn at the wheel – that he was legally blind. !!

Lake George Dept 2013 114He did really well. Yay!

Lake George Dept 2013 128We liked this scrolling map.

Lake George Dept 2013 139Ed took Elihu up to the private room on the top level for a look down below at the dance floor. Many weddings have happened here.  (And many drunken “Titanic” moments have happened on the bow, too.)

Lake George Dept 2013 144We shared the ride with very few people. It was a friendly bunch.

Lake George Dept 2013 154Passing the steam-powered, paddle wheel Minne Ha Ha. We rode on this last summer.

Lake George Dept 2013 169Pulling into the dock. Always interesting to watch. An impressive feat.

Lake George Dept 2013 184Now it’s on the the arcade. Funny, but this flying game blew Elihu’s mind last year and changed his life. Now, months after the introduction of Wii into our home, this is very old-school and he didn’t care to play it twice.

Lake George Dept 2013 187He ran outside when we ran out of cash. Made a little bit more, then dashed back inside….

Lake George Dept 2013 190to the kid-friendly gambling device. ! Elihu has new appreciation for the power of an addiction.

Lake George Dept 2013 213The sun came out and we were able to get a good look at the Adirondac – the boat we’d just been in (and driven.) The glass enclosure at the top right is the room from which Elihu and Ed were looking down onto to the dance floor.

Lake George Dept 2013 201Here’s where we passed the next hour. A beautiful, densely-planted garden in its late-summer glory. (The boat behind.)

Lake George Dept 2013 196Elihu was following the sound of grasshoppers and crickets.

Lake George Dept 2013 195He did find an insect making its sound – he described in detail the movements it was making, but when he tried his luck with the camera, it didn’t appear. Easy to hear – a real challenge to locate visually – by anyone, sighted or low-vision.

Lake George Dept 2013 200Elihu’s world is mostly an up-close one. Nice shot sweetie!

Lake George Dept 2013 258We love this door.

Lake George Dept 2013 255Elihu is showing the ‘Peace Officer’ how he can keep the peace with his Ben 10 omnitrix watch. He surprised them when he shot out a flying disc.

Lake George Dept 2013 268Now on to supper. We follow a cozy, European-esque alley way to our favorite place.

Lake George Dept 2013 266Here we are! Even got our favorite corner table on the railing!

Lake George Dept 2013 284Tomorrow it might be ramen again, but one night a year it’s lobster and clams! (We learned a very important and expensive lesson this meal: always ask if the lobster is fresh. And it it’s a tail, it’s likely been frozen. Never before have we ever tasted such bad lobster. A great disappointment. But Elihu was good about it. Poopie!)

Lake George Dept 2013 300So much for a serious picture.

Lake George Dept 2013 274So we hit the bathroom. I’m thinking about a post that’s been making the FB rounds… Handwritten on a wall is a picture of this message: Things I Hate 1) Vandalism 2) Irony 3) Lists. No sooner had I thought of it, when I thought that Elihu and I should add our names to the ones on the wall in a commemoration of sorts to our day. My eyes landed – at that very thought – on this spot on the wall. It was our mark from last year’s trip. !! I told Elihu about the Facebook post, and naturally he cracked up.  Then I showed him this. Be both knew what we had to do…

Lake George Dept 2013 281Add to it!  (That’s a jumping frog. Elihu says it was hard to draw on the wall surface, plus I used a flash once and it screwed him up. So if the frog is off, it’s my bad. That soured the mood for a bit. Yeeps.)

Lake George Dept 2013 312But not to worry, the mood will soon be a happy one. It starts like this – just one dinner roll does the trick. (That, and a certain, special gift.)

Lake George Dept 2013 318He got her! But she’s a wild duck, and very strong. She knocked the glasses clear off his head.

Lake George Dept 2013 324Calmed down now. Aah.

Lake George Dept 2013 335Now to share the experience.

Lake George Dept 2013 345We drove home in a hard-pouring rain. Usually the road is covered in frogs. We hardly saw one the whole trip (maybe too much rain!) We made an extra detour down a country road and found this guy. He’s in our pond now. For Elihu, this was just the very best end possible to a very wonderful day.

 

Calling It A Day August 17, 2013

As I write this Elihu is downstairs playing his drum set. It’s interesting to hear him work out new ideas. I’m impressed with how long he’s been at it now; it’s been at least forty five minutes since I retired to my room to put away the laundry (I think it’s evident that’s not getting done) and he’s come up only once to make sure that I’d heard something new he’d been playing. I assured him I had. Earlier today he busked a bit on Broadway and again I heard new sounds. He’d played downtown on Thursday night too, and I was amazed that to hear how much better he was playing these days and how many new ideas he was coming up with. Cuz seriously, how much variety can one get out of one single drum? Quite a bit, apparently. And now, in the spirit of a summer night with no reason to get up early the following morning, Elihu is enthusiastically enjoying en extended practice.

Today the weather was just perfect with a late summer day’s breeze and softening sun. For me this is the time of year that evokes a certain sadness of things about to be gone by; although the daytimes are still distinctly made of summer, the evenings have a certain cool to them that signals the changes that are coming soon. Tonight, to the soundtrack of fireworks from a neighbor’s yard and the crickets in the nearby field, Elihu chased frogs and watched the goldfish in the diminishing light of day. The evenings now have grown too cool for shorts, so I wrapped myself in a long fleece bathrobe as I watched him play after we’d finished eating. Earlier, as I had made supper, I’d watched him from the kitchen window as he transported frogs from the creek to the new pond. To watch my son play as I cook or do the dishes is something I don’t take for granted; these are no doubt some of the tiny memories I will conjure decades from now when I can hardly remember ever having a young child.

But as the night grows later I begin to think about the school year that’s coming soon. It’s getting later than I’d realized. He’s finished with the drums now and has returned to his post at the pond. I wonder if I should call him in. Soon we’ll need to adjust his schedule back to reasonable bedtimes and super-early mornings. A late night like this makes me wonder if I’m being a negligent mom. But I have my reasons for allowing him this extended play… Given Eihu’s achromatopsia, I understand so well why it is that enjoys playing at night more than during the bright light of day. He’s finally free of those stupid sunglasses, finally able to see his world as it is. While I myself cannot tolerate the ubiquitous mosquitoes, for him it’s a price he’ll easily pay, for the reward is great. I however can’t give him my audience anymore on account of both the chill and the insects, so I leave him to his own. As I sit and write, he comes in every few minutes to update me. Now he’s rediscovered an old glider he’d made once out of foam core and cardstock. He’s rummaging around in the junk drawer to make some adjustments to its weight. He’s having luck with his project, so I’m still hesitant to put an end to it. But a few good tosses of his plane and I think I’ll have to get him in.

This has been another wonderful day. We might not remember all of it, but we’ll definitely take away a few late summer memories. If not for the acupuncture appointment that Elihu accompanied me to this morning, then maybe for the visit to a friend’s house that netted him a vintage helicopter toy. And if neither of those stick, at the very least today will have been one of many fine summer days that help to create the overall emotional shadow of a very happy time in his life. Yup, it’s been another very good day, and I think that now we can finally call it a night.

 

Spring Day April 11, 2013

Another post by Master Elihu. It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree…. see?

I wake up in the morning, and it’s early spring and the ground is carpeted with flowers. I walk outside and see grasshoppers, hopping from flower to flower. A robin flits in front of me and lands on the ground. Listens, then pulls out a fat worm and flies away to his nest. The call of a hawk above me makes me look up; a red-shouldered hawk is soaring above me. He circles and circles and climbs so high that he is just a dot in the sky, then he’s into the woods and comes right back up with a fat rabbit which he then carries to his nest. A chicken, startled by the hawk flying so low overhead struts up to me and clucks a few times, hopping up the stairs, she looks at me inquisitively, as if to say got food? I reach down to the inquisitive hen, stroking her head. ‘No I haven’t got any – but if you go over to the coop there’ll be some.’ She struts away and a whole flock more of chickens comes up to me and asks the same question to which I give the same answer. Grabbing a stick just in case the mean rooster decides to attack me, I walk out to the coop to enjoy my big flock of hens. Red, brown, white, and black they hop up to perches, flutter from nesting box to nesting box, some quarrel about who gets the majority of the food and some simply just sit and enjoy the warm sun. It’s a nice spring day indeed, I think to myself as I watch a small frog hop from leaf to leaf. And I am sure there’ll be many more to come.

With that, I think I shall sit down and enjoy this one as best I can.

 

Peepers Piping April 9, 2013

Small signs of spring are beginning to appear in Greenfield these days; robins on the lawn, small patches of green along the roadside, and the very breeze itself now smells different… fresh, warm and clean…. and full of that sort of hope that really only comes with the promise of Spring. And last night, another important resident returned to confirm for us that winter was over. We even saw them with our own eyes as we drove back from the airport; they were crossing the road in the blackness as a light rain fell, coaxing them to move once again. When we got home and got out of the car, there they were. Only twenty four hours before, the night air had been completely silent, but tonight the neighborhood peepers in the swamp at the bottom of our hill had begun their chorus. Just like that. Absent one day, present the next. It’s a constant, high-pitched trilling sound, almost like a flock of chirping birds or maybe like a swarm of crickets… (I can remember some warm Spring nights in past years even being a little annoyed by them for their relentless performance!) The return of the peepers is to us as exciting and life-affirming as the return of the woodcock in the field just beyond our house. Irrefutable evidence that nature does continue to exist, in spite of the evidence being so hard to witness in our black-topped, fast-paced, I-padded world.

Torpor. What a word, huh? What a process, too. That’s the term for the kind of hybernation the little frogs in the swamp go through each winter. (Hummingbirds go into torpor each night.) The frogs hunker down into the mud and their metabolism, heart rate and body temperature drop to amazingly low rates. This is incredibly hard to get – I myself find my mind blown each and every Spring with the return of all sorts of creatures. In the middle of winter, the ground covered in white, I scan the landscape trying to imagine the thousands upon thousands of tiny creatures in just such a state, only inches from the surface. Alive, but somehow dead as well. It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around. And so very astounding when you see it in action. No bugs, then lots of bugs. No frogs, then, well, thousands of em. And all at once. I can hardly fathom it.

O thank you little peepers for adding yet another dimension to the changing of seasons. Your songs echo throughout the hilly woods and give us some reassurance that things are as they should be.