The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Off Balance June 15, 2014

Since Madeline’s been gone, it’s just felt different around here. Elihu’s noticed it too. The small flock that remains is a rather dull bunch, as something about the attack on the coop the other night has the birds behaving a bit less like themselves – and ironically, perhaps in some cases, a bit more like themselves – than before.  For the most part the gals all meander about as they’ve always done, only we notice they’re not quite as brave as they used to be. They don’t take over the porch (a frustrating but endearing activity), they don’t seem to make it as far as their once-favorite flowering quince bush, and in general they stay uncharacteristically close to the house most of the day. Austin, our slightly neurotic guinea fowl, deprived the past few months of his best pal Maximus, has been acting quite nasty to his coop mates, challenging poor Baldy, pulling every last feather from his royal rear end, as well as running after the hens in fruitless circles as they cluck in distress. And since Madeline – the one rather calming element in the the group – has been gone, he has become something of a bully. Elihu and I both know we need to get him some hens, but emails to local chicken friends turn up no prospects. He’s becoming a drag on the flock, and his bursts of incredibly loud calls of  ‘chank chank chank’ (I suppose him to be expressing some inner conflict – at least he can get it out, good for him in that regard) that sometimes last for five minutes at a stretch and permeate every closed window with ease – well, this is becoming much more than an occasional nuisance.

The absence of our goose Maximus has changed things too. We hadn’t lost any hens to predators over the past two years, the time since we’d had him. But with the coming of warm weather, we’ve had a handful of losses. No coincidence. I guess a two foot tall white gander made an impression on the neighborhood fox and raccoon. With that imposing figure no longer standing guard in the door of the coop at sunset, the critters have nothing to dissuade them. And no one to slow them down, either. Poor Bald Mountain did his regal best the night we lost Madeline; he had put up something of a fight with the attacker, and was covered in new, open scratches and was limping even more than before (in the past he’s lost a spur and returned home quite beaten up after fending off potential invaders). The back half of Baldy’s comb had been bitten off, and though the wound was beginning to clot, he was covered in fresh blood when we first saw him.

We came home shortly after dark to a message on our phone machine from our neighbor. He had discovered Bald Mountain on his front door step. Putting the story together it seems that after the confusion of the attack, he’d ended up fleeing, running through the woods and across the field to our neighbor’s house, where they found him on the stairs of their front door, seeking safety. Neighbor Chad was more than a hero, and wrestled the rooster onto his lap, driving him home on his four wheeler. But by then the damage was done. Madeline had been lost in the skirmish, and Azalea, as we later came to learn, had hunkered down in the darkness for her survival. What a good boy is our Bald Mountain, what a fight he must have  given. How stunned and impressed we were at how far he’d traveled to save himself (it is quite a distance). And that he sought out a house, a light, something he clearly recognized to represent the safety of home – it all has us even more grateful for our poor old fellow. Now, if only Austin, that damned nuisance of a guinea, would let poor Baldy alone.

It occurs to me, as I look about at my tail-less rooster, my psycho guinea fowl and my frantic hens, that this is no longer a harmonious homestead.

It’s also becoming a drag to go out these days. To get dressed, to make myself presentable enough to go before people. Somehow I made it through the last few weeks of school, but these days, like a blossom bursting forth overnight from a tiny bud, I too seem to have expanded my own previous dimensions in a very short time. Regret mounts when I think back to last summer; I inhabited a body of a sexy size 10 (for me this was a huge personal victory) and yet now I find I’m surfing Ebay at 2 am searching for fat shirts with empire waists and stretch waist pants, some even size 16. Sixteen? When the fuck did this happen? I ask myself over and over as I find myself unable to button the waist on the few remaining ‘fat’ pants I find in some long-forgotten storage bins. Seriously, how did I get here? Oh, I know how. The stress of this past year really got to me – the new music I’ve needed to learn and play, the unpredictable and horrific panic attacks I’ve suffered with (yes, they are no mere annoyance, they are irrational yet real experiences of pure terror) and the relentless nature of single motherhood have called for a deep soothing, one that only entire tubs of hummus and double portions of curry chicken with a half bottle of red wine can provide. Yeah, I’ve been riding this train for a while now, and now it’s finally arriving at its destination.

The kid”ll be gone on Tuesday for a good month and a half stretch, and finally I won’t have to concern myself with the preparation of three meals plus snacks all day long. I have no new music to learn, no one to perform for. ‘Me’ time is finally here. But then there’s that catch – the one my astute child himself brings up when I talk about how much ‘progress’ I intend to make in his absence. “I know what you’ll end up doing, Mommy” he says, his voice dripping with cynicism, “You’ll say how fat you are, you’ll look at all the work you have to do at the Studio and all the stuff to do around here, you’ll feel sorry for yourself and then drive to Stewart’s and get a bag of chips and a bottle of wine. Then you’ll tell yourself it’s just for tonight. But it won’t be.” Really? Am I that bad? I wonder. Am I that obvious? Crap. With a month to myself stretching before me, I feel hope and despair rising up inside of me all at once. Ich.

I haven’t done my taxes yet this year either. Filed for an extension. But I’ll need to file for another soon. Plus I need to re-apply for food stamps, something which in of itself is very much like filing taxes. This is support we desperately need at this point; living these past three months without that help has been pretty brutal. Between having to eat and wanting things such as a bike, a bike rack to carry said bike, orthodontics and bass lessons, it’s been tough. Time’s been at a premium too, as with all the outside work my new job requires, I just haven’t had the time to sift through a year’s financial information. So this too is something I have on my growing to-do list for the time ahead. And then I remember the bag of chips, the bottle of wine… Yeah, this kind of a desk-bound project is likely to inspire a desire to consume empty calories. When you’re at this end of the spectrum, it’s kinda hard to remember what it was to live at the other end of it – it’s almost impossible to remember what it was like to be the super diet-conscious, portion-conscious, yoga class-attending person that you once were long ago. But I’ll find my way back, eventually. I hope.

There is also the garage to deal with. Looks like a bomb went off inside. The detritus of a long, unforgiving winter. My office is filled with bins marked ‘to file’, ‘to archive/scan’, ‘to do, medium importance’, ‘to-do, urgent’ (now that’s kinda funny, the bin’s been sitting there for months, untended), piles of Elihu’s art need to find a home, piles of clothing I can no longer fit into sit, waiting, while mice leave tiny turds all over them and begin to pull at the threads… Water continues to seep into my basement, and a white, fluffy mold has burst through my paint job of a couple years ago, sending a funky smell (and millions of funky-smelling spores too, no doubt) into the air. Piles of hand-me-downs sit, waiting to be put away, as well as do a thousand other tiny artifacts of our life. I know that my situation is not so far from most folks, and certainly I am not the only single parent with an extra heaping of life on their plate. But still… I just shake my head in deepest wonder…. How does everyone else do it?

Elihu and I spend a fair amount of time on the streets of Saratoga, watching the people walk past. He busks, I sit on a bench, read and watch. And I wonder about each one of these people. They all look so well-tended, so healthy. They wear trendy clothes, they sit outside at the hip restaurants and spend $200 on dinner without batting an eye. How do they do it? What do they do for a living? Do they have bins of un-filed crap at home like me? Yes, they’re out strolling the boulevard, looking fine, but are they happy? What kind of thoughts do they have? What motivates them? Do they feel fulfilled? Empty? Searching? If one didn’t ask these questions, it would seem that everyone is doing just fine, doing exceptionally well, thank you. I search their eyes for answers, I lean in to overhear bits of conversations in hopes of finding answers. They give no clues away. Perhaps their basements are moldy and full of piles too. Maybe not. They just look so good on the outside, there’s no telling.

I think back on the chapters of my life in which I felt the most promise, the most fulfilled, the most in balance. And, ironically, for all the moaning I’d done last year about turning 50, I can in retrospect say that for about half that year I felt the best that I had in a long time. And the time before that in which I remember feeling really good about things was when Elihu was a toddler – I’d successfully lost 55 post-baby pounds, I had a husband, a child and a home I loved, I was singing regularly in front of a top-notch, swinging big band, and life felt wonderful. Before that, it was a time in Chicago when I was playing in tons of bands, on the move all the time, making music I loved and being nearly constantly in the company of dear friends. These were the times I felt things to be most balanced in my life, and thank goodness I have those memories – they remind me of how it felt, how it might feel once again, if all goes well. It may take a little alone time to consider the new recipe I need these days to find myself living a balanced life once again; it’s my hope that a little reflection will re-invigorate my quest and bring some answers to light.

I know it’s important that I use my time wisely and get stuff done – but I also know it’s important to find peace in doing simply nothing at all. And, somewhere in between, lies that perfect balance. Here’s hoping I can come close.

 

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…)

 

Control January 12, 2014

Yesterday the weather was misty, white and damp. The trees seemed to be floating in the sea of melting snow, and the lines of the garage appeared smudged and indefinite from our windows. When Elihu went out to shut in the chickens last night he said the air smelled like summer. At a balmy 48 degrees it was decidedly more spring-like than the below zero temps we’d just experienced a few days earlier. Even so, the driveway was still one big sheet of ice and the rain continued to fall all day, so we stayed inside.

My life has been rather consumed by outside events lately, and I’ve been going, going, going, with no time to stop and just breathe. Up until dad died my time had been all about the wait, right after his death it was all about the details, and getting through it. Shortly after that my son returned home, then school began and with it new music, new classes, new schedule. Apparently, it’s been getting a bit too much for my system, as the recent return of panic attacks has pointed out. On Friday I had a roaring, unrelenting headache and was worried about another episode of panic hitting me while at the piano during afternoon classes, so at lunchtime I confided in Elihu’s teacher my situation. She encouraged me to take a sick day. Really? The thought had never occurred to me. I mean, if I don’t show, there’s no music. The class is different, the teacher’s lesson plan is screwed up. I don’t want to do that to anyone. Personally, I gotta be deathbed sick not to come in. Or do I? I was feeling horrible enough. The idea of staving off a looming episode of panic was in of itself creating more of the same, and that headache was just about enough to make me throw up. Maybe I could wave the white flag just once. I went to my car and called the high school. Told em how lousy I was feeling, and that was it. I cast the possible consequences out of my mind. And wow, I felt better. So much better. I’d taken the reins and pulled the cart over for a short rest, and it looked like things were still going to be ok.

Elihu and I spent yesterday in our pajamas – we even managed to go next door to visit with mom without ever having to get dressed – and we went to bed in the same. Yesterday we just needed a moment. Even played hooky from his 4H group. It was just too much. Between his asthma and my panic, we were a little beat. I’m usually strongly motivated by doing what I should, doing what’s right and polite. But yesterday I let us both off the hook. I felt a little bad about the 4H thing, especially as Martha’s sponsored his membership, but our own mental and physical health superseded all of that. And although we spend the day in our bedclothes, it was certainly not an idle day, not by far. Because we cleaned house.

Contributing in part to my ill-ease these days has been just knowing that my house is, well, filthy. Absolutely filthy. Messy, ich, maybe a little. Systems needed tending; the cabinets, pantry and kitchen drawers were getting to be tangled, tossed-about snarls of stuff, but that was just a matter of putting like with like. That I can do (although it still requires time, that most valuable commodity of all), but it’s the cleaning that I find so daunting. As in wiping cabinet fronts, dusting the tops of shelves, sweeping the cobwebs off of the ceilings, and of course, dealing with the floor. I think back to those blessed days in Evanston when I’d had dear Marianna come in two whole days a month to help me keep my house in top shape. Even then, I’d work by her side as she cleaned; keeping a house in clean, working order takes many unseen hours of manpower. I know damn well that I could not have kept that house without her help. Yes, my current house is much, much smaller, yet it’s still no small task to see to its care. The past month or more it had just been too much. So yesterday was the day to take it on.

I’ve just woken up and have begun to assess my progress from yesterday. Sitting in my chair right now, listening to the basement sump pumps kick in every so often as their chambers fill with snow melt, I feel relief. While I may not have washed the kitchen floor (on the docket for today) I did manage to vacuum the whole place, and dust too. It feels better to sit here and look about me. Elihu, bless his ten-year old soul, organized and tidied the pantry, and I set other little corners in order. The kid even straightened out his room and it looked just as good as if I’d done it myself. We’d been a happy mood last night as we dined on artichokes and grass-fed beef burgers grilled outside on the rainy porch. I enjoy my son’s company so very much, and am increasingly grateful for his presence as he shows himself to be not only an able-bodied young person, but one who is earnestly cheerful and enthusiastic about doing his share. He derives a good bit of pride in helping to make his surroundings attractive. I think it helps to make him a healthy, balanced young man. It certainly helps me! To have a child that wants to help, that asks what he can do to help me… I’m probably luckier than I realize. (Not holding my breath, I realize we still have those teen years ahead.) So it lifted my heart a great deal  – and my burden as well – to accept the capable assistance of my wonderful son. And sharing a few lovely meals together was the perfect complement to our refreshed home.

In an attempt to take the bull by the horns and stop this panic thing in its tracks before it got worse, I’d recently asked my doc about going on antidepressants again. I’d taken them five years ago, when we moved here, in order to navigate the transition from my old life to this unfamiliar one. I guess they’d done what they were supposed to, because somehow, we got here. When they’d served their purpose I stopped taking them. That process, as I recall, was not without its unpleasantness. And so too, apparently, is the process of getting back on the drug. I took Sertraline for four days when I realized this was not the same experience as before. The last situation had been far different, after all. If for no other reason than the sheer amount of gin I had been drinking to get through. ! I’m not keen on admitting it (nor the Marlboro reds smoked at 4 am, but hey, it was a very tough time) but I do so in order to illustrate a point: finding the right drug – or the right solution to a medical problem – is not always as easy as one might hope. Lots of factors affect your reaction to a drug. In my last case I was already a bit impaired because of the alcohol, so my body was physically in a different place. Who knows the rest of the physiology. Back then I was acutely upset, and my distress these days is of a different nature. All of this must come into play, I’m sure. And – I would like to emphasize this clearly – it’s critical that one listen to and heed the wisdom and guidance that comes from inside. If it doesn’t sit right with you, pay attention to that feeling – take that tiny hunch and magnify it ten times! While I realized that the benefit of the drug might still have been a week or more away, I could see the process wasn’t worth it. In fact, it actually made my panic worse. Gave me sweaty hands, a headache, and in spite of prescription sleeping pills, it gave me insomnia. I felt as if I was in a tube, getting farther and farther away from my surroundings. In an attempt to gain control of my very life, I was, ironically, losing control. And loss of control is a founding component of panic attacks. Yeah, I was going to have to figure this out myself. Disappointing at first, but empowering when I thought about it from the standpoint of control. I wanted to be the one driving if I was able.

The morning that I decided to chuck my meds I also decided to go downstairs and see if I couldn’t get the treadmill working again. After fiddling around with the fuse and the starter I got it to move again, so then logged forty-five minutes of a brisk walk before I got to my day. That felt good. What a hopeful start. The tiny voice inside – like the spec in ‘Horton Hears A Who’ – had shouted to me that I must move. Throwing some endorphins in the mix might even help with my panic attacks. No doubt, my body needed action. While making breakfast and getting lunches ready for school I’d been watching the relentless barrage of early morning paid-for tv spots that advertised workout routines for transforming one’s body… so the January push to get back into healthy living was underway. I didn’t need to buy a ten dvd set. I had all I needed. Lucky me. One more time, here I go…

I don’t necessarily believe that my struggle with panic is over, but I can see a bit of relief ahead. The important thing for me, I think, is that I’m going to do this myself. I have begun to take back a little control. Whether it’s subduing the clutter in my home, attacking the floors with a thorough vacuuming or getting on the treadmill for a half hour’s walk, it’s taking control – taking action – that helps move me towards my goal. There is one thing that still looms large and uncontrollable above all, and that’s going to be the biggest challenge for me: coming to terms with my father’s death. I do think his passing has contributed to my panic. His departure from this world is permanent, and on some level that idea to me is flat-out terrifying. It’s more than I can bear some moments. But I need to come to peace with it somehow. That’s going to be another issue before me in the coming months as I try to regain control as I’m able, and maybe more importantly, relinquish those things over which I can never be in control. Tricky balancing act, but it’s a challenge every single one of us is working on each day.

I’m stuck here on this silly planet for the time being, so I may as well do my best while I’m here. It’s so easy to want to give in, to throw in the towel, to not fucking care anymore. Life sure can press in on you. The thing is, sometimes you just gotta reclaim what control you can and press right back.

 

Kitchen Sink Day November 24, 2013

As Elihu talks to his dad I sneak to my room for a break. I haven’t stopped getting things done since I awoke this morning, early as any weekday. And although I’m pooped, I feel a wonderful sense of satisfaction at all I finally managed to address. September and October tend to be busy months for me, and things hadn’t quite slowed down til now. There was a fall assembly for our school just this past Friday, and it had become an energetic marker of sorts in our calendar. Now that it was over, we found ourselves feeling a bit more free. Plus things had become just a tad more stressful this past week as I had somehow sprained my right wrist turning jump rope for the lower school girls. (Guess I’m not in top shape, huh?) I wasn’t sure just how bad it was until I absolutely tanked trying to play some Bach for a high school class. The lateral, side-to-side movement of the wrist that’s necessary for crossing over and under and thereby moving horizontally across a piano was nearly impossible. (I realized only after trying the piece during class how bad it was; in mere seconds I as covered in sweat. Apparently, I’d been playing – albeit badly – at a rather brisk tempo and had everyone quite out of breath trying to keep up! All I was aware of was that it hurt and I wanted to get through it as soon as I could. It was good of them all to have a sense of humor about it. I was a bit embarrassed.) It seems a bit better today; I favored the left hand as I cleaned and had the bad wrist tightly bound for most of the day. We’ll see. Tomorrow I’m on again. Thank goodness it’s a short week due to the holiday.

Oh the things I got done, and yet my mind won’t release the things I didn’t quite manage: re-caulking the bathroom, moving the nesting boxes, adding fresh bedding to the coop, cleaning the gutters, sorting out the junk drawer… I don’t fret too much, because the house, at the very least, looks tidy – and every last surface has been wiped down, every cobweb swept, every inch of floor vacuumed and/or washed, every doorknob and handle is ick-free, every framed object now crystal clear. I even took back the kitchen sinks, bleached and rubbed til they became white again! The wood has been oiled, the vinyl Eames knockoff chair has been Armor-Alled. I even walked around the outside of the house with a rubber mallet and coaxed those sticking windows shut for winter. Finally. Elihu’s collection of RC helicopters of the past few years had a good going-over and we ascertained which ones worked, and sadly, which ones could never hope to fly again. We dusted off his bird collection, we sorted thru all of his clothes, we made executive decisions, tossing books, games, things we once loved but had no need for now…. He was even able to set up the tank for his soon-to-be-arriving tree frogs (the next mom/son adventure here at The Hillhouse). Elihu’s been waiting for this shipment of vines, substrate and corkwood for weeks and he was thrilled to see his vision come together today.

We like to think we live simple lives, yet so much stuff finds us anyway… But today we tamed much of it. So much that had been taunting me for the past two months is now off the list. My summer dresses and clothes were removed from my closet and taken to my downstairs office (and gown emporium) for over-winter storage. Art materials for the Halloween costumes have finally made it down to the basement, too. Truth be told, the metaphoric ‘bump under the rug’ is gone from sight only because most of it has simply been taken downstairs to the basement, where it waits for the Next Phase. Nice thing is, it can’t taunt me quite as loudly if I’m not walking past it every day, ya know?

Now sorting it all out – that ‘Next Phase’ of which I speak – that is an enormous task that waits for my upcoming child-free week, a time which both Elihu and I are very much looking forward to. He’s joining his dad on the road in Orlando, Florida for some hotel-style Thanksgiving action with the boys in the band, while I am going to hunker down up here in the Great Northeast and Put Stuff Away. I know other folks must also face this job from time to time, but I swear it feels like my cross alone to bear, like I must be the only one in the world doing this fruitless-feeling activity. Somehow, stuff always finds its way into our house. And if mommy don’t put it away – it’ll likely still be sitting here by the time the kid goes off to college. Ah well, I got myself the right kid. He actually does notice when things have been put away, tidied. And he appreciates it. He’ll thank me for it without the slightest prompting. (And he enjoys actually being able to find things when he’s looking for them!) Yeah, he’s a good kid when it comes to sharing in the tasks as he’s able, and being grateful for what it is that I do. But still, he’s just not quite old enough to help out much when it comes to boxing it all up, labeling it and getting it put away just so. That, in the end, is still for now a strictly mommy job. Not for ever, but for now.

Feeling like something different for supper – something truly flavorful and fun, kinda like a reward for such a long and productive day – I threw together a bunch of things in a pot with lots and lots of spices. Chick peas, tomatoes, onions and garlic, olive oil, generous with the salt (my thing) plus the leftover chicken that I wasn’t able to partake of the other night – our first bird. I did not show her any respect the other night; just couldn’t bring myself to eat. Seeing her parts still made it too personal. But all chopped up and stewing in a tasty brew, this was somehow more easily acceptable to me. Mentally, I could eat this and feel much better about it; it wasn’t beckoning to be identified. Plus, truth be told, it was pretty good, which helped to distract me from my concern as to who it was I might be dining on. While I thought it delicious, it was a bit too much for my son, who complained that it was ‘thick with flavor’ (exactly what I was going for!) and ate it just cuz there weren’t any options. (Good kid. Eat what your mom makes.) As I’d been adding generous spoonfuls of this and that, simmering, tasting and finding it all working quite well, I laughed to myself when I thought of a name for this new stew. Rather like my day, it had a good deal of things in it, and rather like my day it brought a good deal of satisfaction. Chock full of just about everything I had on hand – but the kitchen sink. And so I dubbed my new concoction “Kitchen Sink Curry”. If only we had some mango pickle! (This also reminded me of a friend who, years and years ago when digital keyboards were in their infancy, had dubbed a custom-made sound of his the ‘kitchen sink’ patch, for similar reasons. Cute.)

Dinner done, dishes done, laundry done…. well, almost. A small, non-threatening pile remains on my bed. I’ll knock it out in no time. Might be a good idea to see how well the right hand’s working on the piano, but the house is so quiet that I don’t think I’ll manage that tonight. I’ll get the last of the clothes put away, hit ‘publish’ on this post, then finally, snuggle down into my bed feeling pretty good about this day on which I got just about every last little thing done – including the kitchen sink.

 

Stress Test September 30, 2013

The last few days I’ve been experiencing a dull, ever-present concern in the back of my mind for the things going on in a hospital room in Chicago. I don’t dwell on it, and I continue to live my life, but I keep wondering… Just how bad are things? How much has the situation improved? Has it improved at all? And more than I should, I worry about my ex. Perhaps now he’s finally beginning to consider the inevitable events of the next few years. Both our parents are getting old, and this is relatively new territory for us – or at least more so for him. I’ve been living close to it, thinking about it, planning for it – doing all that for a few years now, yet Fareed and his folks aren’t the type to discuss such plans. So it makes sense that he might be caught a bit off guard. Hell, I suppose no matter how much planning and discussing one does, it probably always throws one off guard to find your mom has fallen, that your dad has had a stroke, that an emergency has finally happened… There can’t ever be a good time for bad news. But at least it should be talked about, and ahead of time if possible. The Conants have done a good job of that at least. Got the DNRs in place, the health care proxies and such… My ex father-in-law’s heart attack and subsequent surgery are a huge alarm bell that the times are changing. My dad’s thing is so slow moving that it doesn’t have the same effect as a catastrophic event. Sure my dad’s not himself, and if I compare him to what he was like just a few months ago, it can break my heart. But at least he’s moderately healthy, moderately ambulatory. He kinda seems the same on the outside. But shit. Honestly he’s not at all the same as he was, and we all know it.

This stuff is just plain awful., no matter what form it takes. It’s just plain sad. It’s that stuff that you kinda think everybody else goes through, but that somehow, just somehow, you – will not. You, being special and different, are going to manage to sidestep this canyon of heartbreak and fear… somehow, your story will be easier, different… Things will wind up tidily. But hey, even if they do, you still have that matter of death at the end of it all. Maybe there will be no regrets, nothing left unsaid, and a full life left at the right time, but still, it’s there. The end. The end of your parent’s life. Why is it that we just don’t talk about this stuff? Or is it just my families? I hope that with my son – and with families coming up these days – that we will be able to discuss our aging processes with complete ease. Maybe that’s being naive or over simplifying it, but still it’s a hell of a lot more likely that my son and I will not have the problem on the topic that generations before have. I certainly pray not.

I heard good news from Elihu that his grandpa is indeed doing better. Still ‘being  breathed’, but better. I hope they’ve got him doped up pretty good too, cuz it cannot feel too pleasant having a tube like that down one’s gullet. And it looks like they’re getting his lungs clear of liquid too. All much better news. So the knot in my stomach unties just a bit, but not a whole lot. Because I still have items on the list that aren’t going away anytime soon: I have much new music to learn. Music that I need to be able to play to tempo in just a couple of days for my new accompanying post at my son’s school. I hadn’t thought it would be this much of a challenge, really. How hard could a couple of classical pieces be? Hmm. Schumann with his stupid ‘Des Abends’ in D flat, and Mr. Debussy with his etherically beautiful but pesky ‘Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum’…. it’s not so much the key in  this case but the damned tempo that has me concerned… Oh I love my old friend Mr. Bach, and his sons too, and I really have missed using both my brains and my fingers at the same time, but this is a bit much. Lots to bring up to speed while life continues on without pause. A Halloween costume is underway, I must ship a desk to a friend in France, I have a friend’s child coming home with us after school this week to cover a gap in childcare, the chickens await butchering, Elihu and his boat of a bass must get to a lesson tomorrow, and I am down to less than $60 in my checking account. All of it overlapping. Ich. I don’t like the way it feels. I know it won’t always be thus, and that everything that’s happening is on its way to becoming something better, something good and satisfying. Ultimately, things can only get better from this moment on. I think. Maybe not, but hopefully. .. Right?

But what softens the load is the image I see outside of my kitchen window (as I wash dishes for the third friggin time today, sigh). Elihu is dancing through the yellow leaves which cover the ground by the creek, he is jumping over the pond, crossing the small plank bridge, squatting down and reaching, then jumping up, running around to the other side and squatting down once more… He’s on his ‘final tour before torpor’ of the remaining frogs. (Each one he shows me has me a bit concerned; might they not want to hunker down in the mud before it’s too late?) Today he is happy, happy, happy. Finally, NOwhere to be. No errands, no visits, no ‘just next door’s, no visitors, no nothing. Nothing but frogs and chickens, that is. And all to the soundtrack of the aforementioned Debussy and Schumann. Not a bad way to pass a warm, early fall afternoon. I’m happy to have the excuse to play so much music, really, as before this new job I could never – would never – have justified this many hours at the piano when there are so many other necessary things to do, not the least of which is simply to be with my child. But in playing the piano with all of the windows open – as my son runs around the property hither and yon – I am actually with him. He can hear me, and I can see him too. And It’s one of the loveliest ways to pass an afternoon. We’re each doing our thing, each one close to the other. In moments like these, I sometime feel that life can’t get much better- regardless of the stress that’s yet to show up in my week, in my life even.

Elihu would tell you the same. We love being home, doing nothing, and simply being side by side. It makes the rest of it all – commitments, homework, chores, extra life stress – all worthwhile. So let’s all hope that life looks much more peaceful next week this time… Because living in a state of stress has begun to feel like a test of my abilities. And I am not a fan of stress – or tests.

 

Too Big September 10, 2013

So while I may have been feeling a little small and insignificant just two days ago, this evening I find my world so full that I’m hard-pressed to indulge myself in such concerns. I have gone from having virtually no work (perhaps contributing to the feeling of being a bit useless and small) to having almost more than I can handle. It’s kind of a shame that the work doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot of income (not saying it’s not appreciated, but it’s a small wage after taxes), but at the very least the work requires I use my brain, fingers and talent once again, and that certainly has value in of itself. I also get to be near my son, and become more involved with his school. That too is a good thing. My new job is essentially my old one; I’m playing piano for the movement classes at my son’s school. But now I’m playing for the high school as well as the lower school, plus accompanying a folk dance class, monitoring recess and playing for after school chorus too. It’s a position that just opened up all of a sudden, as the gal I’m replacing had family concerns she could no longer put off. And to think just days ago I was swimming in my own time. Not any more. While I’m a bit concerned about how I’ll how manage to get all the ‘regular life’ stuff done now that I’m working (not to mention make an elaborate Halloween costume over the next several weeks), I remember that old adage ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’. Today it seems I’ve lived up to it.

I’m almost done. I’ve been through a lot since I got up at six-thirty this morning. In addition to a full day of work (which in these first days ‘back’ is quite challenging for me as I’ve never been great at reading music – especially not to tempo and ready to go without much prep) I’ve taken my son to the dentist, dropped some donations off at a shelter, done the usual run of housework (dishes in particular are going to be tricky to stay on top of with a ‘real’ work schedule), practiced the piano for a good hour, assisted with homework, made supper plus picked apples from our trees, baked a pie with em, got the chickens in, eggs collected, washed and put in cartons. Makin a gun with my fingers and blowing away the imaginary smoke… Now one final pile of laundry sits on the bed. I got enough in me to see that through. Cuz I aint gonna to be this close and not finish the job. Yeah, my life suddenly got a whole lot bigger, and my personal sphere of influence is definitely larger than it was the day before yesterday.

On Sunday, Elihu and I went on a tour of some local water gardens. Having just added a little pond to our own homestead, we thought it might be fun to see what other folks had done. The tour was self-directed; we started at a neighboring town’s historical society and were given a map. We then made our way to the ponds and watergardens on the list at our own pace. The weather was of that lovely late summer, early fall sort…. sunny and warm with a chill at the end of the breeze. We lingered at each site, chatting with the owners, admiring their gardens, asking them questions and just enjoying the company of people. The tour culminated in a barbecue. It was a fun day, but as Elihu’d had a sleepover the night before (and therefore had not truly slept), he was more than tired at the end of our day. We came home and sat on the couch. He got onto my lap and laid his head on my shoulder. He was wiped out. “Carry me into the bedroom?” he asked, in a small voice. I considered it for only the briefest moment, but then realized that I could not. He was too big. Just when did this happen? I can never remember a time when I couldn’t just pick him up and carry him. Hadn’t I been doing this all of his life? I thought back over the past half year or so… I couldn’t put my finger on the last time it was that I carried him. Just which time, I wondered, was the final time? It was hard to believe. We were here at last. Kinda thought it would never come. My son had grown too much for me to carry anymore. He was just too big.

Things change all the time, and all around us, although we can’t always percieve it happening.  Situations weave in and out of each other, resulting in still more change and unforseen consequences… Things that once seemed bad now appear to open up opportunities for good, lean times morph into eras of bounty. The cold of winter becomes the heat of summer in imperceptible increments. You look up one day and wonder where you were while all this change was going on, cuz you don’t quite remember it happening. Yet all of a sudden, you notice that things are different. But that’s ok, you get it. You adjust. Life is just doing what it does, after all. Moving along… And you know that more change is coming, because it always does, at some point. Sometimes the impending change makes you nostalgic, sometimes it can give you the happiest sort of anticipation which nearly bursts from your chest… Either way, and no matter how contrary it may seem in the still of this very moment, you can be sure that things will one day be different. Things once too small will one day become things too big.

 

June Interim June 22, 2013

As usual, there’s too much to do, too much to post about. But the tiny moments are what give our life its shape and color, so whether it’s newsworthy or not, I’m going to post an assortment of photos from the past week. From busking on Broadway in Saratoga to loading up on grain at the feed store and much in between, we keep ourselves busy.

Thursday was the first day of summer, and thankfully, after incredible amounts of rain lately, the weather was classic summer – with a bright blue sky decorated by random wisps of cloud, all at a perfectly comfortable 75 degrees. Elihu and I made the pilgrimage to Arnold’s Feed and Grain in an effort to both cut our costs and use locally grown grain to feed our flock. We had a lovely drive and stopped several times to admire our surroundings. On the way, we also stopped at the nursing home to visit Ace, the sculptor of the beautiful pieces that live in our garden. On the way home we found our road dead-ended at the local airport! This was too good to pass up, so we paid them a little visit too. When we got home we worked some more on our garden, then passed the evening watching the lightening bugs and jumping on the trampoline in the moonlight.

June 2013 end of school 305Elihu absolutely adores Austin.

June 2013 end of school 310Grandma says hello

June 2013 end of school 248A quiet moment with Maximus

June 2013 end of school 245Skin and feathers, all so soft

June 2013 end of school 332Later on Elihu plays recorder for Max

June 2013 end of school 271And then plays a game of tag with Austin. (See where Austin went?)

June 2013 end of school 181The Zen process of dishes. Must spend an hour and a half in dish-related labor each day. !

June 2013 Interim 103The blooming Locust tree branches pretty up our kitchen

June 2013 Summer Begins 030A spent bottle of shampoo? Huh? Well, it’s only after five years here that we’ve finally used it up. (Yes, Elihu does wash his hair regularly.) A few years ago I took some comfort in this bottle having come from…

June 2013 Summer Begins 029Skokie, Illinois!!   I’m over it now.

June 2013 end of school 205Boy’s play – outdoors

June 2013 end of school 237 Boy’s play – indoors

June 2013 Interim 069And boy’s play – on the street

June 2013 Interim 0724:20 somewhere…

June 2013 Interim 004One of those ‘quality of life upgrades’ – a bolt cutter. Everyone should have a pair.

June 2013 end of school 279The garden at first, with landscape fabric (a week away and I’ll lose the place to weeds if I don’t use it)

June 2013 Interim 025And now draped with Remay – a miracle poly cloth that protects against critters. It doesn’t look as romantic as a natural garden, but it works as a fence and is our greatest hope this year. The bolt cutter was used to cut the wire hoop frame underneath.

June 2013 Interim 026Sank up to my knees several times – actually panicked for a moment. Sticky stuff!

June 2013 Interim 059What resort is this?

June 2013 Interim 061It’s the private rooftop club at the Hillhouse! And here’s the rest of the view… garden, trampoline, apple tree to left. Note how our yard descends down the hill; it has three different terraced levels – including more yard below the garden.

June 2013 Summer Begins 020Elihu loves Irik a lot, but we need to find him another home soon… Three roosters is two too many.

June 2013 Summer Begins 035Peek a boo! This guy is part Jersey Giant, and he is the biggest chicken we’ve had yet. And he’s got feathered feet too. Cool.

June 2013 Summer Begins 053Ace’s bird…

June 2013 Summer Begins 068And Ace himself!

June 2013 Summer Begins 065Love that Ace was wearing an ace, too.

June 2013 Summer Begins 071Off to the countryside to the feed store. This is a magnificent view looking west across the mighty Mohawk River valley to the other side. Elihu can’t see well or far, of course, but somehow this vista got him – he really understood the distance it represented. He even saw that tiny puff of a tree on the ridge! Made me SO happy. This is not an average occurrence.

June 2013 Summer Begins 074I got some binocs that work particularly well with one’s glasses on – and BINGO! Now he can see birds and views…

June 2013 Summer Begins 081Mecca!

June 2013 Summer Begins 086A good third less than at the commercial Tractor Supply. Plus it supports a local, family-operated business. Even with the gas, it was a big savings. Now we’re all stocked up.

June 2013 Summer Begins 087Jim’s telling Elihu he thinks with a little leverage he might actually be able to handle a 50 pound bag. ! Mom’s not so sure…

June 2013 Summer Begins 094Thanks, Arnolds! Very pretty place you got.

June 2013 Summer Begins 099The nearest ‘city’ of Amsterdam, and its bustling downtown.

June 2013 Summer Begins 101Loved this sign since I was a kid. It’s the city library.

June 2013 Summer Begins 167It’s the Saratoga County airport! Woo hoo!

June 2013 Summer Begins 112Ok, so my legally blind kid recognized the profile – and correctly identified – this plane as it taxied in on the tarmac. Crazy.

June 2013 Summer Begins 153Mama loves vintage

June 2013 Summer Begins 156mmm

June 2013 Summer Begins 133Talk about the wind in your hair. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 136Can you imagine??

June 2013 Summer Begins 139Check out the word ‘experimental’ on the side. ?! Yeeps.

June 2013 Summer Begins 118Something’s coming in

June 2013 Summer Begins 124Beautiful in blue

June 2013 Summer Begins 150Not a very glamorous job, but necessary. !

June 2013 Summer Begins 149And a helicopter, too! That’s my dream – one day I have to know that feeling…

June 2013 Summer Begins 178Back at home, Elihu surprises Mama! He himself only weighs 58 pounds, after all!

June 2013 Summer Begins 175Chicken approved.