The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Free Day February 5, 2014

Just about everyone at school yesterday was hoping today would be a snow day. When one of the teachers at school passed me at recess I had only to ask her “what she thought” and she replied “Mr. R bets his life on it.” I knew what she meant; the eighth grade teacher had been known to refuse to take soup orders for lunch based on his inner conviction that the following day would be cancelled on account of the weather. His ability to predict snow days was the school’s ultimate barometer. While the kids outwardly hoped for a snow day, the teachers themselves didn’t necessarily editorialize on the subject… even so, I thought I could detect a subtle sense of hope in the air… Who among us couldn’t use a break from the daily grind? It might screw up some parent’s routines, it might throw a monkey wrench into things for some, but for me it looked like a rare opportunity… Piles of hand-me-downs, laundry, stacks of paper in my office, music that needed to be learned, all sorts of things awaited a few hours of my attention.

Some time around three this morning I awoke, feeling a horrible nausea. I’d thought it was Studio-related, because it was the first thing that entered my consciousness. The blending of my tragic mistake and the queasy stomach was unbearable. Then I realized (with some relief, as I was concerned that this might be my physical condition for the next few months) that I might be sick. I ran to the bathroom as my mouth began to create massive amounts of lemony-tasting saliva… Ok, here we go, I thought. I threw my hair back in a clip and positioned myself at the toilet. But just as my chest began to gather itself for a good first heave, I wondered if it might not be possible to stop things where they were. I didn’t care to go through all that labor to upchuck a mere handful of food eaten six hours ago – all that horrible, tooth-eroding crap in my mouth. No… I found the Pepto Bismal and chugged it. Maybe… A sharp headache suddenly appeared in my temples and my body broke out in a flash of sweat. I was aware of a stomach bug going through the schools, maybe this was it. Now I really hoped for a snow day. I sat there another ten minutes until the feeling passed, and grateful my body seemed to respond to the Pepto, I headed back to bed. Before I laid down I took a look outside – no snow was falling yet, and things didn’t seem much different than they had six hours ago. I checked the school website but there was no update yet. I got into bed, and was asleep in what felt like seconds.

I awoke a few hours later in the middle of a wonderful dream, and panicked to see it was almost 6:30… my body didn’t feel right yet, but it was time to get up. Ugh. I slumped to the computer, checked the site and to my relief saw that it had been updated with a little icon of falling snow and the words “Snow Day!”. Back to bed, and asleep in no time. Some time later I heard Elihu trudge into the room, and still feeling exhausted and not my right self, I umphed a response after which he got into bed next to me, his red stuffed parrot (Lenny Birdstein) in his arms. Good kid, he let me sleep an hour or so before he began talking. Soon we were comparing hands, fingers, talking about this and that, making jokes and cracking up. Somehow, I was feeling better. After a bit of silliness I got up to make us “cakes of pan”. We had a lovely little breakfast, and enjoyed watching the chaos of the bird feeder by the kitchen window. On snowy days, our place was always jammed with activity. We were even cheered to see the first Starlings we’d had visit here in a couple of years. Nice morning.

Love being home in the mornings as I get to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the to-do list before me, I was happy to watch the Colbert Report as I made the bed and began to tackle the laundry. Two of the women from Pussy Riot were on and I couldn’t help but be absolutely awed by them; they were beautiful, intelligent, funny and brave. I remember being heartbroken and angry – and feeling powerless too – at the news of their arrest and incarceration a couple of years ago, and it was inspiring to see them now free and carrying their message to the world. Made my to-do lists seem like nothing. Put my whining in perspective, and had me in a hopeful mood. Hope I can keep it going through the day. Elihu’s working on his Language Arts homework and I’m finishing up this post before getting back to it. Maybe today will be just what we need to do a little catch-up before we get back into the game. Thank you snow, for the free day.

Post Script: After a productive day indoors, we both suited up and went outside to enjoy the fresh snow (which never stopped falling the whole time). We shoveled narrow corridors through the snow to the coop and garage, fed and watered our flock, and after our chores were finished, we flattened paths for sledding down the hills in our yard. Elihu enjoyed a couple of good runs and some classic wipe out moments. We stayed out for quite a while, and our cheeks were rosy even an hour after we were inside and dry. A memorable and refreshing afternoon. (Note to self: add “rope tow” to ultimate dream wish-list for the property…)

 

Bad Bird January 22, 2014

It has been a long day. Started early and cold. When I went to let the birds out I found Bald Mountain, our three year old resident rooster, upside down and wedged in between a milk crate and the wall, his back end almost bare of feathers and covered in blood. It took a good struggle to free him without hurting him further. Shit. The goose had done it again. Maximus had recently led the flock in pecking two hens – one to death, one to the point of a mercy killing – and this time he’d taken Baldy on all by himself. I’d seen him tugging at the remaining feathers when I arrived, and while I really yearned to give him a good scolding whack, I knew it wouldn’t fix anything. Remorse is not something a goose can feel, and lessons are short-lived. Besides, I was on chicken medic duty once again. My heart sank to see several frozen trickles of blood hanging from the crate. I wasn’t even sure the rooster’d make it to the house alive. But he did, so I began my now-familiar poultry-saving regimen.

The first order of business was to get the poor fellow in the kitchen by the radiator. Next, I provided him with some water and a bowl of my custom mash of high protein feed, nutritional supplements and crushed baby aspirin. Then I waited, hoping he had enough steam left to eat and drink. It took him a while to adjust – he even had a hard time standing at first. All I could think of was my son and how much he loved this stupid bird – we’d done in dozens of gals we’d named, we’d eaten em too, but above all, Baldy meant the most to him. He’d fathered the whole flock, he himself was born of two of our very first chickens. I myself don’t hold a lot of sentiment for boy birds on the whole; they are so fundamentally motivated by the need to procreate that they become a nasty pain in the ass at some point in their lives. That goes for geese too. That damned gander leaves me alone cuz he thinks I’m his gal. (Actually, that’s not entirely accurate. He has tried to ‘get busy’ with me many times, but I won’t put up with that sort of behavior. I just swat him away and tell him ‘no’. I feel bad for the guy; he’s just frustrated and lonely, but I do have my limits!) I’m spared his wrath, but no one else is. The poor UPS guy always honks his arrival before daring to exit his truck. Piano students run from the goose, and the rooster too… Yeah, I’m not a big fan of the boys. But we need Baldy around if we’re to keep the flock going in the spring, and he means a lot to Elihu. So I wait around for the injured bird to make a move. Thankfully, within a few minutes he’s going at the bowl of mash and shortly after he’s drinking. Hope that helps. He sure looks bad. But he’s a fighter. I think he’ll make it. But the question then becomes, what do we do with him after he’s better?

Yeah, this throws a monkey wrench into things. Can’t return him to the coop cuz Max will lay into him again. So we need to quarantine him until the warm months return. Crap. That means one more chore on mama’s list. Gotta put the rooster in the brooding pen in the garage. Get him good and strong. Then, when spring comes, we can try him in the flock again. Either Max will have forgotten, or his cabin fever will have abated (I strongly believe that his behavior is a result of close quarters and cold weather). I consider the additional work load. I’m not thrilled with it, but I see no options. I make a note to discuss this with the kid later on.

Meanwhile, I have an appointment with the family attorney to go over mom and dad’s affairs, I have recess to monitor, an annual physical appointment with my doc, a chorus to accompany and a string bass to pick up. All these things go relatively smoothly but for the fact that I left something behind at the doctor’s office and had to return the twenty-some miles round trip to pick it up, plus Elihu admitted rather apologetically to me (as we were leaving school) that he had ‘a project on Egypt due tomorrow’. Really? I’d seen the email at the beginning of the month telling us of the project but had myself forgotten the due date. Half my bad too I guess. So then were were off to Walmart to buy some clay and paint. Also stopped in at mom’s to rehearse a couple of tunes for Friday’s open mic night at school (he has a set of congas there that grandma got him for Christmas). Still had to make dinner, clean up and begin the sculpture of Horus, which yet needed to be baked, cooled and painted. Time was escaping us, and it wasn’t until nine that Elihu was finally in bed. Not bad, really, when you consider all that we got done. I’d pushed the cooking temp up a bit, and then super-cooled the bust in the freezer. The whole thing was a bit on the sketchy side – Elihu’s own words – but hell, at least it was done.

As we lay in bed recapping our day, we came to the dilemma of the birds. I pitched the idea of butchering Max. While Elihu was an enthusiastic consumer of all the hens we’d done in, he told me that he would never consider eating Max. Ok, fair enough. A new home? Only if it was a good one – a humane one. No bird auctions, no unknown destinations. Ok. Then what? Elihu agreed that keeping the rooster apart til the weather warmed was about our only option. He agreed to share the duties, and we left it at that. I’m not looking forward to keeping up two bird camps, and I must admit that while I’ve shared some very special moments with Maximus, I’m quite a bit less thrilled with our goose at the moment. I’ve had enough bad birds in my life and I’m not keen on keeping company with yet another. But for the time being, Max is lucky. Our goose isn’t cooked quite yet.

Post Script: You can see Baldy in one of the three photos on the lower right of our home page here. This pic was taken almost two years ago. Elihu’s affection for his roo is easy to see. I can report that three days later Baldy is doing quite well – crowing loudly in our tiny kitchen, strutting and scratching in the manner of a chicken on the mend. His back end is mostly bare, and in near-zero temps we just can’t put him outside quite yet. As he is a fouler smelling fowl than any others I’ve ever had inside my house before, we’re going to move his digs to the basement this weekend. Out of sight, out of smell, but definitely not out of earshot. ! No alarm clocks needed here!

 

Fallout May 15, 2013

Just how on earth does everyone else do it? A busy week, food to prepare, laundry to wash, school projects to complete, calls to return… Never mind the added inconvenience of a toilet that no longer flushes, a severe lack of counter space on which to prepare said food – and homework assignments which continue throughout. Oh, and violin practice. Yeah, right. Seriously, how does everyone deal with all of this… life? The other day Elihu himself mused aloud “I wonder how families with five kids manage. How do they get everything done? Imagine five kids to feed, five kids doing homework and then actually getting all of them getting to bed!” I was impressed that he’d made such an observation. Not that his mother hasn’t encouraged such thinking – I’m a frequent self-mutterer, ever in search of that missing piece of information. Other households can’t be this chaotic, this cluttered and un-picked up, can they? Maybe. The other day, utterly exasperated with the barrage of crap all about me, I complained to my mother as I waved an arm toward the kitchen table which was piled high with the detritus of a life fully lived. “Is everyone’s house such a mess? I don’t remember things looking like this when I was growing up. Did they? Did I just forget?? I cannot believe life needs to be like this!” She was uncharacteristically unphased by my frustration. In a surprisingly matter-of-fact tone she told me that she thought that yes, other households probably did look like this. Then she added that that’s what life looks like. Still, I wonder. Really?

I like right angles and clean surfaces and find great joy in knowing that things have been put in their proper places, like with like. In fact, a tidy house gives me enormous pleasure. If you are familiar with the characteristics of the Zodiac signs, then you may know that this is a hallmark of the Taurus. A love of things beautiful, of home, of things comfortable. Stability and domestic peace are top priority for the bulls. I feel myself to be quite definitely Taurean by these standards. And when my home is a scattered mess of stuff, I simply can’t feel true peace. Now I realize that if it were indeed ‘true peace’ that I was experiencing, it would have no requirements and no conditions. If I were truly a woman of inner balance I suppose a sloppy house would not stand in the way of a contented soul. But sadly, I am quite linked to the state of objects around me, and as things are now, inner peace is a long way off.

Not a day goes by that I don’t wonder how it is that other people live. What are they content to accept? To let go of? How differently might they tolerate the same conditions? As I wonder, I feel a persistent, low-grade guilt; I must be a wimp. I don’t even have a day job, yet I almost feel as if I can’t keep up. How do folks with friggin day jobs handle life? I wonder… does it help to have a partner? Once, years ago, I mused to my mother that I felt like a single mother. “All mothers are single mothers” she replied without the slightest bit of irony. Yeah, there’s just so much work to be done. But still, I can’t let it go… am I missing something? Sometimes I wonder how different things might be if I had a dishwasher. I cook each and every night. Takeout’s not a remote option on our budget (oh how very different from the last life I knew in which restaurants were part and parcel of daily life). And for some reason, cooking for two seems to involve just as many pans, dishes and utensils as does cooking for a bigger brood. Limited counter space means that things get quickly out of hand if not cleaned up promptly. But honestly, I just can’t find the energy to deal with it night after night. Thankfully, Elihu’s big animal report is done and I’ve learned all the music I need to for the eighth grade play, so our load’s a little lighter. Kind of. Got both a paycheck and food stamps today and so went shopping. Nothing sexy, just toilet paper, dishwashing liquid, bread, vegetables and such, but now there it all sits, taking up half my kitchen floor, waiting to be put away. Ich. Today I am pooped. Fell asleep during a rehearsal this afternoon, and frankly, I’m not sure where the energy to write this post is coming from (I enjoy it, maybe that’s part of it…). I just wish I could catch up. I was going to take a picture of the mess on my kitchen table but didn’t even have the energy for that. Hell, you probably know what a big mess looks like anyway. (Or do you?)

In my mind I’m going over the easiest dinner possible. How I can pull it off without washing anything, without moving anything or putting anything away. Then I’m thinking about bed. Oh how I want to go to bed now. But then there are chickens that need tending, chicks too. Elihu helps, yes, but in the end, it’s mommy that gits her done. As I write this in fact, he’s searching the house up and down for something. He can’t find it, but most likely I will. Thankfully, he understands I’m not feeling up to full mommy duty right now. He’s trying his best. And in a minute, after another moment of pause in my chair, I’ll pull myself together and do the same. I’ll bust it out. I’ll find his charger, I’ll make supper, I’ll put some things away. And then… finally… I can fallout.

 

One Up, Two Back June 11, 2012

Today has been a classic ‘one step forward, two steps back’ sort of day.

First off, I did call the gal at the drilling company, and we had a good talk. Ended up getting a lower grade pump with the same warranty. As this pump isn’t for non-stop household use but rather for part-time hours (and at this point only seasonal as well) I figured I could go with the less expensive model. Plus she assured me that any other pumps I found on the internet by the same name weren’t the real thing; they were black market knockoffs. Really? Sounded kinda silly to me, but I didn’t know enough to counter. Plus these pumps were made in Denmark. That I liked. (Much more reassuring than had they been made in someplace like Texas.) I’m already a big fan of Danish design, so I’m going to trust that they make good pumps too.

I joined the crew at the site and watched as they dug the trench from the well to the building, moved some immense boulders and finessed a new line into the Studio. All went well. Satisfied, I left to go pickup Elihu at school.

Elihu’s classmates are each contributing a small drawing of a rainbow which will be used to fashion a larger, end-of-the-year thank you card for their teacher. I carry the pens and paper in my purse and plan to have him do a quick drawing before I pass it off to the mom who’s putting the card together. I linger at the school looking for her but can’t find her. I know she lives a bit further out in the country in our general direction, so I make a mental note to drop the art off at her place later on that afternoon.

By the time I got home and checked my messages, I found the workers had made several attempts to find me – there was a situation that needed some attention ASAP. Apparently a couple of pipes had burst over the winter, in spite of my having drained the system. Or at least I’d thought I had; some friends had come over in October and offered to help me drain the pipes for winter – only we may have been one freeze too late. I don’t know – it seems kinda crazy to me that there should be such damage done in so short a time – but it whenever, however, it doesn’t matter. It’s done. “We looked everywhere but couldn’t find a mop or anything” the kind fellow went on; he felt pretty bad, but there was nothing he could do. I called the shop right away and thanked them. They’d done their job, and they’d done what they could. Which was really just shutting off the main valve after realizing that the place was flooding fast. And we were so close to finishing this project and opening our doors for the summer. So close…

After hearing the messages, I pile a laundry basket full of old towels, drag the huge dehumidifier up the basement stairs, get it all in the car and head next door. When I first see the situation, it doesn’t look so bad – although the carpet in the bathroom hallway is dark with water, it still seems ok. But then I walk on it and feel the volume of water beneath my feet. Phooey. I sop up what I can, get the machine cranking and set up the tubing to drain into a sink. Now I too have done all I can, all there is to do now is wait. Ok. Time to turn my attention back to school business.

Back at home Elihu begins to work on the rainbow for his teacher’s card. He needs to finish his book report too – something he’s been dragging out for weeks now. His teacher has been more than kind granting him extra time for having joined them late in the year. As he adds lines to his arch I test out the markers on a sheet of paper first before handing them to him – as he of course cannot see the colors for himself. He finishes his rainbow then adds a soaring eagle. He signs “Love, Elihu” in the teensiest letters possible a the bottom. Perfect. Now back to the book report. Where is it? I can only find the paper on which I’ve tested the markers. Oh no. Oh no. No! I have been testing out the markers on his book report!!

It’s actually not so bad, because at Waldorf, kids do their assignments in a large lesson book. Elihu has been told that he can do his report on another piece of paper and then glue it into his lesson book. So this will be fine. We can easily cut it out. But this is not acceptable to Elihu, who has now become a raging, crying, frustrated little kid who is fully invested in using this as his ultimate reason not to continue. The next hour is spent with Elihu lamenting between sobs that he’s “been working on this for months“, and that “all his work has to count for something” and therefore he “shouldn’t have to do any more” and me countering that all the hard work in the world is for naught if the assignment is not completed. Crappy job or not, it must be finished. I even use his beloved Waldorf as a tool. I am ashamed of myself, but I am desperate that he finish this assignment. I stay committed to my act, I say that perhaps he should return to Greenfield Elementary if he can’t do the work at Waldorf. It is a veritable battle of wills, of egos. He nods his head yes, that maybe he should go back to Greenfield, because he will NOT do any more on this book report. Wow. He’s committed to his act, too.

I let him writhe on the couch for a bit, to let off some steam. After some time he comes to me as I sit in my chair writing, and he slides in next to me. He doesn’t need any more discussion, any more lecturing. He needs mommy now. So I say nothing, I just hold him. His tears are drying now, but he’s still a little sniffly. I give him the opportunity to ease up on his stance. “Want to just try one sentence at a time?” I ask in a much softer tone, to which he nods yes. I hug him again, and we sit for a moment. He gets up and walks into his room.

Just now Elihu returned with the entire book report finally completed. He threw it at me and said “don’t thank me. Don’t say anything at all or I will be really mad.” Then he left the room. A few seconds later I can hear the whirring of his helicopter moving about the living room. In a while we will have supper. By then things will have settled down. If he’s playing with a flying toy, I know he’s already feeling better.

I’m feeling better too. But I’m not looking forward to spending the money I’d saved on the cheaper pump by way of plumbing repairs (and then some. !). So much for the windfall of a bonus interior paint job! Sheesh.

One step forward, two steps back. Ever onward…

Digging the trench for the new water line

Getting closer…

Down to the nitty gritty…

Good news: we have water. Bad news? It’s in the wrong place. Sigh.

I can’t forget the goal… what a beautiful room, huh? This room has seen over forty years of music and theater and will continue to do so as soon as we’re over this little hump…

Post Script: The Studio used to get its water from a shallow, hand-dug well a hundred yards away (which belongs to the 200 year old farm house in which my brother now lives) but the line ruptured last year. We supplied the Studio with water using a hose from my parent’s house to get us through last season. This year we’re going to have our own water source, making the Studio a true stand-alone building. (We still need heat – but that’s another chapter for the future.)