The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Gleaning September 21, 2014

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and it was a day of the great year-end harvest at a friend’s vineyard here in Greenfield. Mike and Kelly began to plant vines several years ago with the hopes of making their own wine one day. The first batch was made last year, and this year the operation’s really begun to pick up speed, as Mike’s finally built himself a great structure in which he’ll make and house his stock. The vineyard sits on Martha’s farm land, and when she’s gone, much of her property will go to a land conservation group in town, and the rest of it, plus the grand, two-hundred year old farmhouse will go to Mike and his family. He and I have known this farm since we were tiny, and it feels wonderful to see it enjoying a re-birth with his new business. My son derives a great sense of continuity knowing that I worked on this farm when I was his age, and he’ll continue to have a relationship with the place well into his own future. Who knows, maybe even his children will one day find themselves helping to pick the bounty at the end of a growing season.

The temperature for working outdoors was simply perfect, the grapes were at their targeted sugar composition, and the harvest was a success. (I will note that one of Mike’s young daughters had a rather bad accident which landed her in ER. While she’s ok, she did require some extensive sewing up. We feel horrible that it happened, but relieved that it wasn’t worse.)

IMG_3718Martha Carver’s grand farm house, once lived in by Elihu Wing, one of Greenfield’s earliest residents, and built in 1802 by his father, Prince Wing, who supplied neighboring Saratoga Springs with the horses needed to pull the increasing number of carriages in town.

IMG_3713As when I was a child, horses now live on the farm again.

IMG_3674We stop in to visit Martha. Just in time to meet egg farmer Dick as he makes his weekly delivery. He’s kind of a rock star in our world.

IMG_3657A visit with resident hound dog Masie. A real sweetie and Martha’s faithful companion.

IMG_3668I love all the little details of this house, unchanged since I can remember.

IMG_3558As a child I went haying in these fields. Amazing how land can find new purposes – and in such a relatively short span of time.

IMG_3566This is what we’re cutting free from the vines.

IMG_3604It took a lot of friends to help bring in the huge harvest.

IMG_3611There were kids and dogs everywhere.

IMG_3583Elihu and I get started.

IMG_3581It was kinda like a treasure hunt. Grapes were everywhere.

IMG_3574Elihu and Sam enjoy some grape juice. It was so very delicious – surprisingly tart, yet at the same time sweet. Hard to describe, but lovely to taste.

IMG_3559When we’ve filled our five gallon bucket it gets driven back to the weigh station.

IMG_3587This took about fifteen minutes to pick, and weighs in at around 18 pounds.

IMG_3589Then it gets hauled off the the wine making shed.

IMG_3591The total take for the day was around four thousand pounds. !!

IMG_3697Here’s where it ends up. The old farming gear in the foreground was in use when I was young.

IMG_3616First, the grapes go in here to get de-stemmed and seeded.

IMG_3622Then they go into that giant red vat. Gravity alone pushes the juice out, and it comes thru a tap into the waiting bucket. That’s the slow way – the faster, more labor-intensive (and thorough) way is to squeeze the juice out. Either way, the juice goes then goes through tubing into giant stainless tubs after it’s pressed.

IMG_3631Here’s where the juice is held for now.

IMG_3634The big space inside. There’s storage for casks on either side, just outside of the frame.

How cool is it that ‘Red Red Wine’ just happened to be playing as we got to the wine shed? Seriously. (Ok, so this is white wine, but still.)

IMG_3306Yeah, fall’s on its way.

IMG_3318This was an unintentional harvest; from our chicken poop/compost pile emerged this gigantic squash plant…

IMG_3310…with crazy-big leaves.

IMG_3345And lots of blossoms. I’m careful to pick just the male flowers to fry up for supper, as there are more of them than the female blossoms, plus females, of course, will turn into fruit if pollinated. One year we had a serious shortage of bees and had to knock up our blossoms by hand. For real.

IMG_3326Here’s a newly knocked-up blossom.

IMG_3340Here’s a cross-section of a female blossom. They grow closer to the main stem while the guys kinda stick out a bit more.

IMG_3331The result. Pretty! We’ll leave them to grow a bit more before we pick em.

IMG_3352We have so very few apples and pears this year. Just as well; my post-Atkins weight gain all started last fall when an abundance of fruit ‘necessitated’ I bake lots and lots of pies. !

IMG_3355I found a turkey feather where our old garden was last year. Turkeys are always roaming through our property. My mom feeds hers daily, and they come right up to her house. Mine keep a safe distance from bird-chasing eleven year old boys.

IMG_3361The new flock on the hill.

IMG_3347And our house atop the same hill. Our yard has four terraced levels to it, this was taken from the third one down from the house. At the bottom of our yard, the woods continue on down to the road below.

IMG_3537The pullets have started laying! But look at how small their eggs still are. Not all of the gals are laying yet, either. We’ll still have to buy eggs from Dick before we’re back to self-sustaining again.

IMG_3535It’s been a while since we’ve had any variety in the color of our eggs. All eggs, regardless of whether they’re green, brown or white, taste just the same. It’s just fun to have different breeds and enjoy the variety of colors.

IMG_3764After enjoying a fun visit and bonfire with our neighbors, we ended up setting our own pile on fire. We’d waited for the perfect night, and this seemed to be it. We even said goodbye to these crazy gingerbread figures we’d had around for a while. It was our own burning man.

IMG_3746I found some sparklers leftover from the 4th.

IMG_3798The grapes have been harvested, the eggs are in our fridge, and all of our scraps and sundries have gone to the heavens in the fire. Onward into a new season we go. Good-bye and thank you, summer. Hello and welcome fall.

 

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The Bs Are Back In Town June 1, 2014

Birds, bees, budding flowers, busking and boys give us lots to do around here. Although I make an effort to be the least-scheduled family in town, there’s still so much to do (often too much to do) that our days are always full.

Let me make it clear that we also consider just laying about the house something that’s important to ‘do’. Personally I feel it’s a very healthy thing to have time in which to do nothing at all. Today, as we lay about doing  just that, Elihu lamented that he was one of the few kids he knew who didn’t have a trophy. I made it clear to him that those trophies represented many, many hours at lessons, practice and competitions too. And lots of time in the car. I hoped to make it clear to him that the variety of activities that he enjoys in his life – and the relatively relaxed manner in which they occur, ‘laying around’ time included in that – is something he’d miss if he jammed his hours of freedom full of commitments. As it is, today we played hookie from a 4H horse event, something I’m still trying not to feel guilty about. But in that this next week is his last week of school, and in that I still have lots of new music to get in my fingers today and hours yet of playing and practicing still ahead (you’d think it would be done by now, right? me too) I know I made the right choice. The resurgence of panic attacks over this past year are another reason to cut back on extra, outside activities. Yes, Elihu’s classmates likely have more densely-packed schedules, but for the most part, I’m not made of the stuff that it takes to live like that. My son may well have a full and fast-paced summer of activities with his father ahead of him, but here at the Hillhouse, we’re about keeping things as mellow as possible, as we kick back and chill with the Bs.

IMG_3797We love bumble bees.

IMG_3796Glad to see em back in town.

IMG_3750Birds are back and in business too. Our resident Phoebe mom is patiently sitting on her new clutch.

IMG_3761Wild strawberry blossoms promise a good crop, if only we can beat those other Bs (the bunnies!) to it!

IMG_3933This is my favorite week of the year – now already gone by – the peak time for Lily of the Valley. Our bird sculpture by Vietnam vet Ace stands guard over the patch of flowers.

IMG_3730The most heavenly scent you can imagine.

IMG_3854

Neighbor Stephanie kindly gave us half her flock of chicks (we only had two hatch out this year).

IMG_3859Birds and babies – both in a box. (Clever, huh? That’s the kind of invention-by-necessity that comes of having three little ones.)

IMG_3880The big B. Gotta keep practicing…

IMG_4430

The butterflies are back, too.

IMG_4429

We’re at the cemetery, gleaning a few lilac suckers and lily of the valley plants to add to our homestead.

IMG_4458Elihu admires the bird on the top of this ancient gravestone.

IMG_4463Back home planting our new additions. This is in front of the flowering quince, which has now lost almost all of its blooms.

IMG_4465These are the lilacs we hope to grow here for ourselves one day. I expect it’ll be a decade before we get results like this.

IMG_4703Last week Elihu and I dug up some wild Columbine from the roadside and transplanted them here too. This is the very last bloom left.

IMG_3703Male brown-headed cowbird, acting innocent.

IMG_3702But he’s got the ladies on his mind and he erupts into his mating display. Can’t help himself, it’s that time of year.

 Here’s a short vid of the boy doing his little dance. We’re lucky to have this platform feeder and the window tinting cling – it acts as a bird blind and allows us to witness some interesting stuff up close.

IMG_3692Here he is with his gal in the morning light.

IMG_4513Phoenix comes over for an afternoon, which starts in the music room. The boys kept switching instruments. Fun to see kids with such a natural feel for music just doing their thing – and with such joy, too.

This wasn’t the best of their performances, but it’s the only one with a distinct beginning and ending. Good enough for now.

IMG_4528Farm boys, yes, Waldorf too – but electronica is still key.

IMG_4536Phoenix tried Ramen noodles for the first time (in his memory, that is.) I told him about the old folkloric belief that if you try a new food that you like, you add 100 days to your life. He was stoked.

IMG_4552

Bikes and birds, a natural combination, right?

IMG_4578We meet up with Phoenix’s twin brother, Jonah, and it’s now all about Pokemon.

IMG_4571Heard of poker face? This is Pokemon face. !

IMG_4709

After we left the boys, Elihu busked downtown Saratoga on Broadway for a while. Netted a cool $40 in less than half an hour. Too bad the kid’ll be gone for much of the tourist season. I advise him to rake it in now while he’s still cute and little. He might not be quite as successful as a gangly teenager. We’ll see.

IMG_4538Dishwasher update? Well, it’s not magic. Helpful, definitely, a life upgrade, unquestionably. But yet there are still things for which a dishwasher is not suited. Plus I have only one of some things I use often. So I guess the dish rack will be back soon too.

IMG_4635Bonding with his birds.  This is about ten days after we got the new chicks and they’ve grown like crazy.

IMG_4662Elihu’s shot. He likes em up close and super-cute.

IMG_3837This is what we two call ‘Crow Field’. It’s one of the last wide-open fields left in Greenfield. We treasure this field if for no other reason than that ‘our’ woodcock returns to it year after year – plus we love the expanse, the air and light… the vast space with no interruption. Our little homestead is on the right, just beyond the dark line of trees. At the base of the trees is an old stone wall and barbed wire fence from the days when the whole area was open land for cattle grazing. Now enormous trees have grown up, making it nearly impossible to imagine what it looked like only fifty years ago – with a view of Albany to the South, Schuylerville to the North, and Vermont in between. Did I mention that the field is for sale? Had Elihu in tears last year to learn it, and me in a funk for months, but now we count each day that it remains as a huge gift and blessing in our lives.

IMG_3740Elihu drew this at age six, shortly after this we got our first chicks. Elihu always said he wanted ‘twenty chickens, a coop and a run’. We started with a few chicks in the basement, moved em to the garage, then finally outside and into a retired wooden shipping crate. That was then, this is now. Today, we have a coop, a run and (some one hundred birds and five years later) twenty resident chickens. That’s a happy ending, huh? We do so love birds of any kind, and there’s no doubt that they add a lot of enjoyment to our lives. We’re glad to be raising up a new flock again, and glad too to see our migratory friends return for another summer here at the Hillhouse.

 

Connected September 25, 2013

Elihu’d been asking me frequently over the past few days if I was unusually stressed. It was easy for me to think I lived in my own world, my thoughts entirely private and unnoticeable as I marched forward through my days… In the car, driving us here, there and all points in between, running out to tend to the chickens, standing at the counter making supper, and then not long after standing at the sink washing dishes, even later on in the evening sitting at the piano, concentrating on the page before me. True, we spent a lot of time together, but these days, I agreed with his observation that we’d gotten suddenly very busy – and we hadn’t been living together as much as we had been living side by side. My focus was seldom on him, but more on the task at hand. We were now at the end of our day and enjoying a quiet moment’s conversation before bedtime. We’d been so busy doing, doing, doing…. but yet we hadn’t checked in with each other in a while. We ‘needed to connect’, he’d said to me quietly. “Mommy, please tell me, are you stressed these days?” I stopped, turned to face him, looked straight into his eyes, and gave him my full attention as I answered his question.

Yes, I admitted to being stressed these days. There was a lot of new music to learn for the fall, there were other classes to prepare for and students too, plus the never-ending list of farm and home-related work. There was a new string bass to move around now, and lessons to pay for. Doctors appointments and house repairs. Grandparents that continued to age and change. While there’d never been an absence of things to think about and plan for here at the Hillhouse, this recent spell was indeed a bit heavier than many. So yes, I was stressed. He too admitted to being a bit pooped with our non-stop life. There was a moment of quiet. It was not quite 7 pm, and we were attempting an early bedtime in order to catch up. I’d already read to him from the current favorite book about a pair of wild Golden Eagles. But tonite it hadn’t done the trick. Elihu was still just as wide awake as moments before.  And he felt needy as I put the book away and then moved in to kiss his cheek and leave. He pulled me back down with his still-small arms and asked me to stay for a bit. Oh well. Ok. Things – all those stupid things on my never-ending list – they can wait. They can. Elihu needed me, and I probably needed him too. So I stayed, and we talked by the hallway light that streamed in through his half-closed bedroom door.

Elihu asked me about the House Cafe, and for me to tell him what was going on with it now. He asked me why daddy doesn’t just sell it. I explained that he had too much invested to let it go. Kinda like us and our chickens. Kinda. I could tell that sleep wasn’t coming any time soon, and both of us had a head full of concerns and queries…. so I let him continue. “If you and daddy had never bought it, would I have been a city boy? Would I have been living in Evanston and playing video games and going to a regular school? I nodded. “Pretty good chance of that.” We sat in silence for a moment and took that in. I began to remind him – to remind us both, really – of all the things we’d have known nothing about had we not come here to this place…. “No homing pigeons. No geese. No garden. No chickens, eggs, butchering. No Jonah, no Phoenix, no Ms. Reid… no Waldorf. You wouldn’t be playing recorder, or knitting, or playing string bass… singing in rounds, bringing fresh baked bread in for lunch, playing your djembe on the street… everything would have been different. Maybe all of it would have been just fine, but certainly very different.” I looked into his face with a slight smile for emphasis. “So. Do you think you’re doin ok here?” I ask him gently. He smiles. He tells me yeah, he knows he is. I probably don’t need to go on, but I do. “I know it’s still not the same without having your daddy actually live with us, and you know I’m really sorry about that, but in the end, there’s just so much that factors into it. I dunno, it’s kinda like I just can’t even consider regretting it. Cuz it’s how it is.”

Without a second’s pause, he asks me “So are you happy?” He was sincere, and his face waited for my appraisal of things. He wanted to know. Heck, I wanted to know! Yeah, so, was I happy? I can’t deny I feel stress sometimes, but hmm… I did a little scan of my feelings. I was surprised to feel the confidence, the lack of hesitation in my answer. “Yes. Yes, I would definitely say that I am happy!”I answered him, smiling wide and true. But then I looked at my knobby fingers which are just this past month beginning to hurt in earnest. “But I’m also kinda bummed that just when I am feeling so good about things that these start popping up. And the sad thing is, they’ll probably never go back to the way they used to be even just a month ago”. Elihu takes my largest, most arthritic finger in his cool thin hands and gently kisses it. “Never say that, Mommy. Say ‘they will be better, and they are better now and I can feel how well they’re working…” he is not joking, not being ironic, sarcastic or clever. My son is coaching me to employ a little more loving and positive ‘self-talk’. Oh how I wish I could share his hope, but I fear that I must find a way to incorporate this new mild handicap into my life and hope that before long it just blends into the landscape. Least that’s what I tell myself for now. Ok, so it’s a stressor, to be sure. But it’s not the larger point here. What is rather remarkable, is that Elihu has had me realize something that I wasn’t quite sure I even believed myself! Don’t think I’d ever really committed to the feeling of being happy with my life.  I was happy with my life. Forgetting the fingers for the moment, my quick internal assessment confirmed it once again. Yup. I loved our life. Wow. We both waited in the darkness for a minute, each of us recounting past adventures and feeling proud of all we’d learned. Yeah, there was no point to worry about what we might have been if we’d never come here. Obviously, that was not the future that served us best. This was.

I sometimes wonder how it is that I can accurately convey the nature and nuance of the relationship exists between Elihu and me. Adults caution parents – and especially single parents – not to treat their children as peers – as their buddies. But I’m not so sure I’m completely down with that approach. My son still knows I’m mom, and certain things are ok, certain things aren’t. There’s not a lot of protestation, because I feel I have a fairly intelligent, loving and well-reasoned kid. For the most part he accepts the few rules I lay down. To be truthful, a single child in a one parent household is going to have a different sort of relationship with the parent he or she lives with. It’s going to be unique. It’s going to be what it is. And in our case, our relationship, if I may borrow from the current vernacular of the fifth grade boys, is awesome. It’s all good. Even the bad. And thankfully, these days there’s not a whole lot of that. Thanks to my beautiful boy for checking in with me and reminding me of what’s important.

Staying connected like that helps remind us how good things are.

 

Bounty September 20, 2013

“This should be worth a short blog post, don’t you think?” Elihu asked me, as we unloaded the take from our garden, my apron full of apples, beans, watermelon and cucumbers. “Just a short paragraph, ya know? Not a big, long post. Just a quick picture and a paragraph.” I agreed, even knowing that ‘just a short post’ – let alone with photographs – would represent almost an hour’s work. But the spirit of our afternoon had been so lovely, that I had to honor his request.

We’d just walked the perimeter of our property, something we do far too infrequently. We were both newly impressed with the variety of views, elevations and features of the place, and once again felt doubly blessed to be here. We really do live on a stunning piece of property here. The change in grade alone makes for a very picturesque walk; from a peek to the distant Saratoga Lake to the image of our house high atop our hill and far above our heads  – it’a an impressive span of micro environments. There are the woods and the pockets of field in between, the apple and pear trees, the garden and even the last tier of lawn below. We concluded our circumnavigation of the place in our garden, and did a thorough inventory and picking while there. Personally, I was fairly disappointed with our success – or lack thereof – however Elihu was just beaming. “I’m proud,” he said, hands on his hips, surveying the garden and wandering flock beyond, “just look at all we’ve done. And tonight, we’re going to eat only food we know.” He paused. “I feel very proud right now.” Although my final inspection of the corn showed some insect infiltration and not exactly the yield I’d anticipated, I thought back on our past summer suppers. I had to agree with him. If nothing else, it just plain felt good to look out on all of it and know that it was something we’d created ourselves.

“You gotta take a picture of this” Elihu said as he spread our take out on the island. So I did. He couldn’t stop raving about the apples – he counted 72! – and how beautiful they all were (the pears were too high for his reach.) I promised that I’d not only bake fresh bread, cook lamb from local friends at “Elihu Farm” as well as serve up our beans and cucumber with dinner, but I’d make some apple pies too. I made dough for two pies and two loaves of bread. As I write, the house is slowly filling with the scent of baking apples and cinnamon. The lamb was delicious beyond our expectation, and right now we’re both feeling pretty good about life.

Here are a couple of pics from the last few days. Such bounty in our lives…

Bounty Sept 2013 030Elihu’s very first bass lesson. He was in heaven!

Bounty Sept 2013 042He must show grandpa and grandma right away…

Bounty Sept 2013 048So into it…

Bounty Sept 2013 014We spent almost an hour watching this Great Blue Heron on a local pond. Had to use both the binoculars and the camera’s zoom to get a pic… Elihu was simply enthralled. He was in love with this bird, this woods, the ducks and fish, this pond…. he was in love with all of the world in that moment. Couldn’t stop telling me so.

Bounty Sept 2013 062We’re announcing to our extended family of egg customers that we need to say good bye for the winter…

Bounty Sept 2013 054And finally… here is the bounty which so inspired Elihu to create this post. Amen.

 

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…

 

Town and Country August 4, 2013

What do Susan Lucci, backyard ponds and karaoke bars have in common? They have each been a significant landmark of my weekend thus far. I feel I must admit that while I did actually see Ms. Lucci, at the time I wasn’t aware of exactly whom it was that I had seen in the carriage sitting across from the Queen of Saratoga, philanthropist, filthy rich and unendingly effervescent Marylou Whitney. I saw these fine ladies pass by from about a hundred feet away as I sat on the outside porch of a downtown restaurant. I had finished a long and arduous day in the garden on Friday, and I thought I’d treat myself to a night out. The town was celebrating the 150th anniversary of the track with a parade down Broadway and ice cream social at the Casino. The theme was a “Floral Fete” and the parade showcased bicycles, horse-drawn carriages and old-timey cars festooned in live flowers (the idea being they were decorated as they had been a century and a half ago when the races first began).

While I’d had in my mind the very intention of sitting outside at one particular restaurant, I had no idea the reality I’d be up against. Even as one lone diner I faced an hour’s wait. No matter, I gave the hostess my cell number and went to a bench out in front to read. Wendy, the gal who does my hair (and whom I give credit for my radical new blonde “I’m 50 and I’m worth it” highlights) was on the very bench, waiting, as I learned, to see her young granddaughter in the parade. We’d hardly chatted more than a few minutes when the hostess called my name. I had my front row seat! Had an good meal, an enjoyable margarita, and before long the parade had begun. The street was absolutely packed, and in just a few minutes the magic carriage was gliding past in front of me. All my life I’d heard of her – but never seen her with my own eyes. (My father loves to recount Marylou’s response to him when in the 1970s he’d asked her if she’d consider donating something to his Baroque Music festival: ‘I’m sorry, that’s not my bag, honey!’) So here she was. Marylou. And her junior husband beside her. And, as I learned later, Susan Lucci, her long-time racing buddy was in the carriage too. I snapped a couple of pictures, hoping to take a closer look later on. Marylou, nice. But Susan Lucci? Wow.

After my dinner I followed the throngs to Congress Park in hopes of hearing the Dixieland band. Met the leader just as they were going on to play. Gave him my cd and card. Told him how I missed the old music, and how I’d love to sing. He then told me they “were looking for a singer”. Really? Might I be so lucky? Indeed, this was the feel of my weekend thus far. I was in the stream of life, and so far things were going along nicely. Ran into Charlie, one of the handful of people I know in town (it was he who’d told me I’d just seen Ms. Lucci) and felt an even keener sense of things all happening with an element of magic. I snapped some pictures of young women strolling the park in 1890s costumes, took another swing around the beautiful park, then headed back to my car. The town was packed, and I’d had enough of humanity for the day.

Early Saturday morning I resumed my work outside and after a culmination of a good thirty hours’ of manual labor I had finally finished the hand-tilling of my side yard, I’d finished installing the edging for the garden beds (cutting, painting and drilling the lumber) and I’d completed the pond. This was a lot of work. A lot. Exhausted at the end of the afternoon, I sat surveying my work and realized that while it might have represented a supreme effort on my part, if I’d been a guy it might not have seemed such a big deal. And it occurred to me that maybe that wasn’t quite fair. It’s a lot of work, man or woman. Or was it? I’m not a very big gal, and these days not exceptionally strong, so to someone else this might have been just another day’s labor in the yard. But to me, my accomplishments took on an extra-triumphant feel. A ‘me against the world’ sort of victory. Maybe if I was a guy I wouldn’t be quite so satisfied – or impressed – with my work.  But regardless of the gender question, a job had been done – and it was one I never could have afforded to pay someone else to do for me. So what if the timbers didn’t end up being quite plumb after the soil went in? And even if the pond didn’t quite fill as I’d hoped, even after checking it over and over again with a level – so what? At least it was done, and finally, after five years here, the entry to my home didn’t look trashy anymore. No longer would I hope the view would excuse the mess outside my door. Finally.

Armed with a little remaining value on a gift card for another downtown restaurant, I was able to justify a second night out. I knew that there was a pianist playing at the joint, and I was vaguely aware of a karaoke night at another place down the street. Might not be the Saturday night of days past, but it was something. Turns out I had the most wonderful dinner I’d had in months, and also enjoyed the company of the gentleman who’d been playing piano – as I was the last guest in the dining room. I invited him to share my table, and he told me stories of when he’d played the swingin old joints in Saratoga Lake back in the late ’40s. Thoroughly enjoyed my meal and the company. Finished up and headed out to the karaoke place down the street. Never having sung karaoke out in public I was hesitant at first to jump in, but forced myself to enter the club and find a place at the bar. I perused the song books and thankfully found my hopeful tune. Surprisingly I didn’t have to wait too long before I was called up. I sang. I so enjoyed singing. Thought I sounded good, too. But I learned three important things about karaoke. One, you gotta sing for the demographic of the room. Otherwise, no one gives a shit. Two, you can’t sing too well. (Same effect as for point number one.) And three, while they ask you “what key” you’d like your song in, that doesn’t seem to count either. You get what you get. Good thing I’ve sung plenty of male charts and have routinely had to break up melody lines, going up or down an octave to make it work. I can deal. But still, why ask if you don’t intend on delivering? All that aside, and in spite of my unfamiliarity with the culture of karaoke, I enjoyed myself immensely. And honestly, I wasn’t singing to connect, or to make anyone feel my message. I was singing for purely selfish reasons. Cuz I love to sing, and I don’t get many opportunities to do so these days… Who cares if no one knew “Fooled Around and Fell In Love”? I’m a singer of classic, American popular songs, not a pop or a blues singer. Just to be able to sing something out of my usual purview was pure joy.

At last it was time for Cinderella to go home. The night before I’d pooped out by 9:30, but now it was approaching 2 am. Too much later and I’d screw up the following day (morning is the high-drive productive time for me). The town was still popping, just not with anything that interested me. It’s a young town, and every bar has a cover band playing in an open window or interior courtyard to smartphone-wielding drunks. Young ladies in obscenely high heels and unfathomably long inseams crowd the narrow streets and make me feel a bit older than I had just a few hours earlier. Time to move. On the way to my car I did manage to catch the very end of the only true jazz set in town. They were good players too. A nice surprise and the perfect way to end my night in town.

Sunday I’ll tweak my home improvements with a renewed vigor. I’ll upload the pics from my nights out. And I’ll see if I can’t find Ms. Lucci in a frame or two. Things were so magical this weekend, that I almost expect I’ll see her waving directly at me. Let’s see…

MaryLou2013 019Elihu’s pal Keithie helps scrape the garage

MaryLou2013 021And his uncle Dennis paints the house while I tear up the walkway

MaryLou2013 032The girls follow my work, picking bugs from the fresh-turned soil

MaryLou2013 024Keithie and pal Schuyler take a break on the trampoline with poor Thumbs Up.

Karaoke 2013 1 009Next phase: digging out the pond area

Karaoke 2013 1 024Madeline watches as I lay down the liner

Karaoke 2013 1 021Framing up the garden. Not straight quite yet

Karaoke 2013 1 073I swear they follow me everywhere. Fresh poops always afoot.

Karaoke 2013 1 064Starting to fill up the pond. Guess who can’t wait to try it out. !

Karaoke 2013 1 060Curiouser and curiouser… they are fascinated and watch as the pond fills up

Karaoke 2013 1 036My handiwork just about done

Karaoke 2013 1 086Oh, but I don’t want poop in the fresh, clean water! Can’t leave til I goose-proof the pond. Must remember to keep Maximus inside the run until I can fashion a pond cover.

walkway 2013 002My stonework. (Smaller, river rock to fill in over the dirt at left.)

walkway 2013 011Ah. So happy it’s done! Looks so simple, yet represents so many hours. !

MaryLou2013 071Ok, let’s take a look at those parade pics, snapped from my cozy table for one on Broadway.  Hm, this is a bit disappointing. Reminds me of the time I saw Queen Elizabeth in Toronto. She appeared as the tiniest speck of white, discernible only from the hat on her head. Dear me. Marylou is in white to the right side of the carriage. Let’s see if we can get a closer look…

MaryLou2013 070Oh dear. In spite of my best efforts to enlarge and crop, there’s not much benefit. Let’s see one more…

Marylou in carriageWhy this isn’t Ms. Lucci at all – it’s Charlie Wait and his mother, Jane (she was on the board of my father’s Festival of Baroque Music for many years). A pillar family of Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 094This was a clever ‘float’. The fellows played tennis as the parade moved.

MaryLou2013 107Captures the feel of old Saratoga.

MaryLou2013 099A street musician plays a lap version of a steel drum. She called it a ‘tongue drum’. Elihu might be interested in one of these…

MaryLou2013 104This gal does the most intricate and amazing black and white mandalas.

MaryLou2013 108Well hello, Mr. Bass!

MaryLou2013 116A magician in the park under the big willow tree…

MaryLou2013 113And the carousel, a favorite of all ages.

MaryLou2013 117Old timey characters strolling around the park give the evening charm.

MaryLou2013 138Pretty.

MaryLou2013 139Outside the music tent – that’s my friend Charlie at the far right.

MaryLou2013 136And inside the music tent. My new pal Skip Parsons on right.

MaryLou2013 146The real party’s inside the Casino. I creep around, peeking in the tall, Victorian windows hoping for a glimpse of the host or her actress guest.

MaryLou2013 143Hmmm….

MaryLou2013 144I see a top-hatted waiter. Ah well. I get the elegance and the look of the era. That’s good enough for me.

MaryLou2013 155The Ice Cream Social begins to wind down as modern costumes mingle with old.

MaryLou2013 157Saratoga’s famous Phila Street. Caffe Lena upstairs at right, Hattie’s Chicken Shack below.

Karaoke 2013 1 096And the famous Caroline Street bar scene. Few cars can navigate through the nighttime crowds.

Karaoke 2013 1 095Every bar has a line to get in.

MaryLou2013 182Heading back to my car I see this fun percussion jam in the acoustically perfect drive-up banking tunnel of the Adirondack Trust Company. When Elihu gets back I’ll make sure he takes a spin with these guys.

MaryLou2013 187The ATC clock. As well-known to Saratogians as is the old Marshall Field’s clock in Chicago’s loop.

MaryLou2013 177The Adirondack Trust Company. A bastion of the old-world wealth upon which Saratoga Springs was built. I can remember my father securing a short-term loan for his music festival each year, a deal closed simply by a handshake with president, Charlie Wait. Another time indeed. I feel lucky I knew a bit of the older way of life as a child in this community. Now I often feel more like a spectator than a resident. But I’m doing my best to get out and keep up. For now, however, between Marylou sightings and karaoke bars I feel I’m sated. Done with town life for now.

Post Script: This weekend marks the thirteenth anniversary of the murder of blues guitarist Elvin Bishop’s ex wife and daughter.  (He wrote ‘Fooled Around and Fell In Love’.) I cannot imagine how one continues to go on living in the wake of such a tragedy. Please send Elvin your positive and loving thoughts today….

 

Garden Sky Boy July 21, 2013

This summer will mark the longest time I have been apart from my son in his entire ten years. And in my fifty years. And as of tonite, if fellow mothers may believe it, it’s been a week since I’ve heard his voice. As his father went to Chile for a few days (with not more than a couple days’ notice given to mom), Elihu spent the time with grandpa and girlfriend. But now where is he? Finally, after some unsuccessful calls I check Fareed’s site, and see he’s in Indianapolis (which always gives me pause, as that’s where outside baby #2 – the one I quite honestly have to thank for our new life here – was conceived. Ouch.) So, it’s an organ trio thing. Not exactly the forum for an add-on djembe player. So where’s the kid? I remember Elihu telling me a story about a ghost he once saw at this club (others have also seen the same apparition, apparently), and I wonder if he’s summoned his courage and is walking about, actively seeking a re-encounter as dad swings his thing on stage. Hmm. No clue. Or has he been left with the drummer’s girlfriend in a nearby hotel room? Such are the questions that I, as Fareed’s ex, must ask. I don’t panic. Cuz no news is good news. I think. It’s not the landscape of most post-divorce parenting plans, but it’s the one I have to live with. So I try to push it aside, put it out of my mind, and I keep busy. Which is not really difficult. But still….

In my son’s absence things have changed, both good and bad. How to tell him, when my own heart sank to my knees, that the deer have effectively chomped off every single blessed tendril and stem of our promised bounty – that his beloved sunflowers came so close, only to be clipped short of their blooms… I could weep, only I can’t. I suck it up, plan to lay out some serious 9 gauge frames and massive swaths of remay in hopes of one more shot this year… I’ll keep this one to myself for now, don’t need to break his heart too. Might still save something… At least the new pond and perennial garden will be here to take the sting off of the failed (maybe not quite yet!) garden.

Everything I do in the soil is for us; for Elihu and me. I do love to work outside, and as I work, I hold those visions of this magical property that I hope to create one day; I try to imagine how it might look twenty years hence if I can just somehow manage to get it all done…. Yeah, I work for those faraway goals, but also I work for us, for now. For my son and me, that we might live in a place of beauty (and, of course, an excess of vegetables). Cuz I’m lucky to have a child for whom beauty is important. And lovely things are made lovlier still when they can be shared. But for right now it’s just me, the chickens and Maximus. They’re sweet company, but it is kinda quiet. I really do miss my son. But then I think of how thrilled he’ll be to come home at the end of a long summer away to find a pond with fish, frogs and flowers…  My little nature boy, my singer of songs, my aviator…

As I tidy my computer, tuck away files and make long overdue backups to far-away clouds, I stall a bit, and waste a few moments on a photograph of my baby, just a year ago, maybe just two years ago. Where is my tiny boy now? It seems he’s almost a teenager. Still not quite. He’s still a little boy, and I am grateful, grateful. I only wish that I could hold him just once – to ‘check in’ as he and I say in our own language – then send him back to his father again. But we’ve hardly even reached the halfway point of his summer away. So much longer to go. The photographs help, but they also make progress at my desk difficult. I miss him a lot.

Then I find a piece of Elihu’s writing from the Spring, and I smile. Is he taking after me? I flatter myself. This is nature, not nurture. Well, maybe. Either way, in my head I can hear his voice, reading his newest writing aloud, and he seems a bit closer…

The engine starts, and the propellor whirls around. The cockpit of your spitfire slides into place. Gripping the stick tightly you move across the tarmack of the aircraft carrier. A man waves you on, telling you it’s safe to take off. That is just what you do; revving the engine you speed across the runway of the large boat, you feel your front wheels begin to lift off as you pull back on the stick. You pull up quickly as you reach the end of the boat – and you are in the air. Circling around the boat once you slow down to fly right in front of the boat and make sure you are across from the other fighter planes. Checking on the radio to make sure the other fighters are going to do the same thing as you, you speed off into the clouds, ready for whatever adventures the skies hold for you.