The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Hallow’s Eve October 31, 2014

What a night. It’s close to midnight and Elihu and I are just getting to bed after a very full and happy Halloween. Our day included a play by the ninth graders, a school costume parade, and a fine night of trick-or-treating topped with a moment of magic and mystery as Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi (the unofficial ‘queen’ of Saratoga).

IMG_0767A room full of joy as the ninth graders get ready to perform Brer Rabbit for the Lower School, an annual tradition.

IMG_0770The girls.

IMG_0804The play…

IMG_0811…and the audience.

IMG_0786With a nod of his head, Mr. Fron leads the students in a four-part round of ‘The Ghost of John’ as he plays along on the recorder. Elihu can be seen on the right behind his Roman shield.

IMG_0855The pumpkin relay – you can only use your arms to hold it as you run.

IMG_0876Ethan shows some seriously clever costume-making, bringing the sub-culture of ‘steam punk’ alive.

IMG_0943Now we’re out, doing famous Caroline Street. Every kid in town is here!

IMG_1005This was the spookiest house on the block. Over the top and perfect in every way.

IMG_0957Look! It’s our friends from Greenfield – and they’re piano students of mine, too!

IMG_0960Waldorf kids.

IMG_0966A gorgeously spooky house.

IMG_0979Abe Lincoln sits down to have some spaghetti and meatballs.

IMG_0989Elihu ran into some old classmates he’d known from back in Kindergarten – some had even left Greenfield. That we saw all four of these guys was a fun and completely unexpected surprise.

IMG_0994I must taste this before I can serve it…

IMG_0995Oh dear, is that a head in my linguini?

Everywhere we went people were crazy for Elihu’s getup. At first it kinda suprised us, because in years past his costume has been far more elaborate and structurally sophisticated, but at the end of the day, an obscure comic book character just doesn’t have the same kind of crowd appeal as a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti.

Elihu was really getting into his character, and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear him saying ‘that’s-a one-a spicy meat-a ball’ as well as other little improvised ditties about spaghetti…

IMG_1014Now we’ve moved across town to North Broadway; the Riggi Mansion

IMG_1023In spite of an hours-long line, we somehow found ourselves quite close to the front – and no one objected, so off we went… Before ten minutes had passed we were presented to the King and Queen… Kinda looks like they might even take a break for some pasta!

IMG_1026Whew! Thank goodness this selfie worked! Ya got one chance, then the line just keeps movin on… But hey, this shot will be nice for the memoir, huh?

IMG_1027This too.

IMG_1043Cinderella Riggi and the golden ticket. Wow. A magical ending to a magical day.

And now – to bed!

 

Full Fall October 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

IMG_0015Just scary enough.

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

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

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

IMG_0338Big sister Ava helps count the take.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0264Elihu must always admire the wing.

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

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

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

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

IMG_0400Appropriate.

IMG_0411Inappropriate. !

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

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

IMG_0125Here Fred shows how yarn is made from wool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0666At home with the flock already.

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

IMG_0414Ken and mom always enjoy a visit.

IMG_0459Here we are, at our local costume contest!

IMG_0458The middle school girls think his costume is awesome.

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

IMG_0481Cute!

IMG_0523We ran into two ninth graders from Waldorf!

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

IMG_0476Kind of a surreal shot…

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

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

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

IMG_0579Another kid Elihu’s age. Cute costume!

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_0725Pretty good, huh?

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

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

IMG_0375…a view from the inside looking up.

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

 

Ongoing October 20, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

 

Costume Mama

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

October’s First October 1, 2013

Thought I’d re-post this fine poem today, in honor of the first day of October. This is the month of my parent’s wedding anniversary, it’s the month when I pull out all the stops and make my son a killer Halloween costume, and it exists in that delightful window of fine, temperate, mosquito-free weather when the trees seem to glow from the inside out and the air smells rich and invigorating. I just love fall. It always seems just a bit too brief, so each single day of it –  each hour even – is a treat to be savored.

October’s Bright Blue Weather   by Helen Hunt Jackson

 

 

Falling Back October 24, 2012

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

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

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