Party Time

It’s the season for birthday parties again here at the Hillhouse. Elihu turned twelve on the 28th of April, and I will be turning 52 on the seventh of May. For all intents and purposes, he and I are forty years apart. This is the one week we like to joke that ‘we’re not the same age’. (I had him nine days shy of my fortieth birthday. That was not a great birthday – I was fat, unkempt and exhausted. I remember bursting into tears that day, and my mother, whom I was so lucky to have there for that first, whirlwind week, responded by laughing. She assured me it wasn’t so bad. Turned out, it wasn’t.)

And here we are, more than a decade later, Elihu embarking on his thirteenth year. He’s lived here now for more than half his life, and we’ve established a nice groove of traditions too. He simply can’t wait for his birthday party each year; days before the event I’ll find him staring off into space and when I ask him what he’s thinking of, he tells me it’s his party. Each year he hopes it’ll be the biggest, funnest party yet, and each year he his seems to get his wish. Just one week ago, while we didn’t have the sun and warmth of today, we had a house filled to the rafters with folks of all ages, coming and going, music and laughter upstairs, downstairs, inside, outside…. And, of course, we had a most delicious cake, which sported a menacing Pokemon character that greatly impressed all the sixth grade boys present.

The night before his party I myself had a night of partying which is quite uncharacteristic of my current life. The credit union where I bank was throwing a party for its members – and having never been to the local casino and track before (crazy, right?) I decided I’d go. They even gave us some cash for gaming, so I tried my luck. Result? I lost all that I bet, then won it all back. I cashed out where I started! Ha! In my world I’d call that winning.

For many folks the holidays – from November to early January – are their busiest months. But not so for us – in addition to birthdays and mother’s day (not such a biggie here) come end-of-year plays, recitals and projects, and all of that makes Spring the most heavily-committed time of year. For me personally, Halloween and Birthday party season are the big landmarks on our calendar. Each year after I successfully navigate the logistics of a busy Spring, I experience a great flush of relief, because for us, life is truly at its best when it’s at its simplest. While I love a good party, enjoy the company of my friends, and of course I cherish the memories we make – the two of us just being at home after it’s all over and done – that’s my favorite party time of all.

IMG_8064At the Harness Track. Not to be confused with the historic flat track that Saratoga Springs is famous for.

IMG_8065These guys race with carts and drivers – and these horses run with a different gate than the horses at the flat track. The course is also a lot shorter (I like that you can see the whole thing without needing binoculars). That’s about all I know. The place is about eight miles as the crow flies from my house, and we can see the incredibly bright lights from our perch on the hill. It used to annoy me, but I’m used to it now.

IMG_8058This is the room where it’s all about the runners. Monitors line the walls, keeping patrons up on all the many other races taking place in different parts of the country. No slot machines here. Folks I saw were mostly bleary-eyed and drinking coffee as they studied pages of sheets filled with data and stats and start times. This part didn’t really scream ‘fun’ to me. (But for some, this is the culture. This is why they’re in Saratoga.) Immediately after taking this shot I was approached by a security guy who asked me please not to film or record the patrons. He leaned in close to me, lowered his voice and took a certain pleasure in explaining why; “You see, some of the men might not be here with their wives. And some of these women might be out with someone other than their husband. Ya get what I mean?” he nodded, conspiratorially, as I slowly began to nod my head with the revelation. Gotcha. So this is how the other half lives. And so close to home. Who knew?

IMG_8072I’m about to eat at the huge restaurant that overlooks the track.

IMG_8076The view from my table. This is pretty exciting. I can see how people can get caught up in it.

IMG_8078There they go…

IMG_8118…and here I go, off for my first-ever night of gambling. (If ten dollars in counts as gambling, that is.)

IMG_8097Slot machine stupor fills the hall – as does a harmonically resonant Bb above middle C, the result of a constant dinging and humming from thousands of machines. Talk about the stuff of panic! Shoulda brought ear plugs.

IMG_8124I have ‘Zero valuable points’. Love it.

IMG_8111But things are about to change…

IMG_8140Ta-da! Back where I started. Fine by me!

IMG_8141The gals from the credit union and me. Haven’t done this full-on party with the posse stuff in years…

IMG_8145A little dancing, and now what, ladies? Shots? Ok. Ya talked me into it… cheers!

IMG_8174And now for a completely different kind of party… This little fella comes out each year to mark the easy-to-miss driveway.

IMG_8178Things start out so peaceful and tidy…

IMG_8235The sixth grade boys. Elihu is so happy!

IMG_8326The cake arrives!

IMG_8334For those not in the know, that’s the Pokemon character Mega Rayquaza on the cake. (??) To use the vernacular of the sixth grade boys there present: “Sweet!”

IMG_8319A little jamming in the basement. Emma plays drums in the high school bands. She knows what she’s doing!

IMG_8298The downstairs rig.

IMG_8341The upstairs rig. ! This is a kid who has it all.

IMG_8379How lucky were we that Elihu’s class teacher, Mr. Esty came? And he brought both of his sons too!

IMG_8377Miss Jessica chills in our favorite Eames knockoff chair. Vinyl, not leather. Still gorgeous. You too, sister!

IMG_8271Outside the chickens provide entertainment.

IMG_8276Thumbs Up enjoys a smooch from classmate Norah, who is a talented skier, pianist, and bee-keeper.

IMG_8250Inside, it’s all about the newly hatched chicks.

IMG_8347Alex gets a turn.

IMG_8258For me the highlight of the day was seeing my eighty-year-old mother ride off on Chad’s four-wheeler. !!! He was incredibly generous and helped many of the kids to ride on their own too.

IMG_8228That’s neighbor Ryan on the left and my mom on the right. Can you believe he’s in kindergarten?? He’s very talented and naturally skilled at riding.

IMG_8439Cally entertains us by blowing bubbles – with her lips! You can always count on this girl to add interest to any occasion.

IMG_8358Ok, so somewhere in the world someone’s probably made a beer float, ya think? What the hell, just to be sure, let’s try one ourselves. Genesee Cream Ale and birthday cake-flavored ice cream… here goes nothing…

IMG_8361Ok mom, waddya think? That bad? Here, let me try…

IMG_8360That bad.

IMG_8433Elihu got some flying in, too (that light blue thing is his quadcopter). No day is complete without this activity in some form on another.

IMG_8380Vivianna and Norah chill on the couch. Elihu gave out little fans as party favors – a nod to his love of aviation.

IMG_8402The party’s not complete until the Carrico clan arrives!

IMG_8472All three Carrico girls made some noise at the piano while grownups chatted and Elihu got lost in his 3DS.

IMG_8496These girls know all about chickens. We got some of our current flock from them as chicks last year.

IMG_8416There was a seventy-eight year spread in ages at the party! Mom and baby Rachel.

IMG_8423Makers and fixers of anything under the sun, the Carrico men take an interest in the design of the antique rocking chair.

IMG_8500The party is officially over when this bunch goes. Goodbye, thanks for coming! We had so much fun visiting!

IMG_8161Too bad a school day followed; lil man was still wiped the next morning. Well worth it though.

A weekend of party times we won’t soon forget.

Lining Up

Every time I hear someone refer to the ‘circle of life’ I cringe. Because I don’t think of life a a circle at all. Seasons, migratory and mating patterns might be cyclical in nature, but our tiny private lives are not. To my thinking the circle idea is just plain wrong. If this were a circle we were in, we’d end up at the place where we started, and we’d do it all over again. (For the sake of this conversation, let’s not concern ourselves with the afterlife – I’m just talkin worldly stuff here.) People are fond of explaining away the death of a pet to their little ones by saying that ‘it’s all part of the circle of life’. I think it might be better to tell the child that every living thing in the world dies. Life always comes to an end. Yes, it can be sad, but it happens to all of us. When I hear someone say ‘circle’, I kind of expect things to start all over again. And in a way they do – only the subsequent rounds are played with a new cast in brand-new situations. There may be similarities in old and new events – but still, that doesn’t make the whole play a circle. It’s still just a trajectory of actions moving into the future. The way I see my life here on this mortal coil – it’s a line. You start at the beginning, and you proceed through all sorts of events until you reach the end. And if you’re successful, you make it to old age. Then you die. You travel from point A to point B, making a line. Not a circle.

The eighth graders are doing the Lion King for their class play, and I’m playing piano. One of the most popular songs from the play is, of course, the ‘Circle of Life’. I’ve become a bit more immune to the expression due to the number of times I’ve now heard it, but as I listen I can’t help but reflect more deeply on the transient nature of our brief lives here on the planet. Yesterday Elihu and I attended the funeral of one of Greenfield’s old-timers, and today we’ll go to a birthday party of two wee ones. Life and death side by side like this make me more keenly aware of this finite timeline we’re all living, and how important it is to live with intention and gratitude as we go along. Our sense of time may slow or speed up depending on our age and our circumstances, but at the end of the day, when it’s time to say goodbye forever, it always seems as if life wasn’t quite long enough – even when it was. I’m sure that Olga, at 94, felt it had been long enough. And I never worry about those who’ve died. All those prayers for the dead strike me as just plain useless and beside the point. I’m not worried about them; it’s those of us left behind who need the prayers. Those of us who are left behind to bear the heartache and loss have a much harder job by far than the ones who are dead and gone. Those of us whose lines are still being drawn, those whose ending points are still somewhere over the distant horizon…

IMG_7482Elihu had never been to a funeral before, so I thought it would be a good life experience for him to have. We didn’t know Olga well, but she was our neighbor and it felt good to know she was always there. Her passing truly marks the end of an era here in Greenfield.

IMG_7485As soon as we walked in we saw the Carrico clan… they live across the big field, and a couple houses over from Olga.

IMG_7509Elihu loves little kids, and we’re so glad to have these wonderful girls as neighbors.

IMG_7496Stephanie’s belly is more like a circle than a line for sure! She’s coming along with mystery baby number four!

IMG_7488Inside, Elihu marvels over the changes that happen in a long lifetime.

IMG_7492Olga, young and old.

IMG_7489It’s nice to see smiles on such a say day.

IMG_7519The funeral procession makes a long line up Lake Ave.

IMG_7521After Catholic Mass at the local church, the family brings Olga to her final resting place in the town cemetery. Elihu had also never been to a church service like this – while it was in reality about forty-five minutes, he could’ve sworn it was three hours. ! Talk about experiencing time differently! (I so get it though.)

IMG_7545It was a lovely day, a lovely service, a lovely goodbye.

IMG_7552The line between the cemetery and the field seems to stretch on forever….

Lucky Eleven

Eleven years ago this very minute I was standing in my bedroom in a mild state of confusion. Water was gushing out of me as if someone had turned on a faucet. Nearing two weeks past the due date in my pregnancy and this night truly unable to get comfortable, I’d only just fallen asleep minutes earlier. That night my husband and I had just finished a dinner of pasta and wine while watching The Producers before going to bed well after midnight, both of us figuring we’d be getting a good night’s sleep in before any action began. Wrong. Before long I was stuck in the middle of a searing, non-productive back labor at home, with no good end in sight. Some seventeen hours later, after giving it my best and ending up with blood spots all over the whites of my eyes from five hours of pushing to no avail, I was on Lake Shore Drive being driven through rush hour traffic to the hospital for an emergency C section. Nothing about my beloved son Elihu, from start to present, had been what I’d planned on. Including his gender. I was convinced I was having a girl. Wrong again. And so it was that my son was released from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Hospital as “Baby Boy Conant”, now over a decade ago.

And what an adventure has ensued… We love our little tradition of birthday parties here, from hatching out chicks to jamming in the basement (well, kind of) to silly string on the trampoline to poker-like pokemon action at the table to the ancient model T driving the neighbor kids back home. It all comes together one day in late April and nothing, not even a brief downpour, can dampen the joy of the day. (After all, our parties go to eleven.)

IMG_2206Some intense gaming at the top of the afternoon

IMG_2236then the action migrates downstairs to the music room for a bit… but still, kids are constantly on the move

IMG_2241they do stop long enough to try to get something together

IMG_2285let’s not forget the trampoline… it’s just getting going (pre-silly string, that is) Look who surprised us by coming! It’s the twins, Cora and Sophia! That absolutely made my kid’s day. And my mother just kept admiring all the red hair present.

IMG_2289Annabelle is daddy’s girl. That family’s a brainy, techie bunch.

IMG_2225our beloved Thumbs Up entertained everyone. She allowed herself to be picked up and set down anywhere. Here Sam and Eva get a good chicken-smoochin in.

IMG_2316And Miss Coco’s bringing the chicken back to the party

IMG_2296kinda fuzzy, but can you see? Babies and chickens in the kitchen. Fun!IMG_2210Recognized immediately by his Pokemon peers. Charizard. I think. ?

IMG_2248the closest we’re gonna get to having all twenty-something kids in one shot.

IMG_2303the little kids hear the frantic peeping coming from inside an egg in our incubator… this chick worked hard all afternoon

IMG_2325With mom watching over from the steps, our neighbors get ready to load up on Zac’s Doodlebug. Stephanie has three little ones to bundle up and get ready. Let me not forget our other neighbor mom Casey – she has three little ones too, only her oldest can do it pretty much all herself.

IMG_2332Loading up six little ones for a ride home

IMG_2335Good-bye! Thanks for coming!

IMG_2343Out of twenty-four eggs, this lil gal’s the only one to have hatched on her own so far….

IMG_2338This little one struggled valiantly for seven hours, and then I realized that like me, she too needed just a little help. We very carefully peeled her free of her shell and laid her there to dry and rest. A chicken C section!

IMG_2351The end of night selfie. Thanks everyone for coming to Elihu’s 11th birthday party!

A Happy Birthday Post Script: The little C section chick, although still a little scraggly-looking, is doing just fine in the brooder tank with her/his only other sibling. A third chick died mid-hatch, and no other eggs have shown signs of life. Such is the chance one takes when breeding your own chickens. 

Harpsichords and Airplanes

Recently, a local musician I know called and asked to borrow a harpsichord. Naturally, this is a very serious request, and he may have found it challenging to ask me at first. He knew, however, that he stood a chance. I personally like this fellow, and he has long been a part of my father’s Baroque Festival. Plus I really want to help people when I’m able to (especially because these days it seems most folks end up helping me). Apparently the instrument they’d planned on was no longer available do to logistic problems. At first I wasn’t entirely on board. It did take a little lobbying before I was able to agree. My father and mother also needed to be in agreement, and I myself only felt comfortable after having a chat with the concert’s director. In the end, my father’s gorgeous, double-manual Flemish harpsichord built by Allan Winkler, with lavishly painted soundboard, replete with flowers and one Eurasian Hoopoe (a metaphor used by Baroque instrument builders to symbolize how this ‘dead’ wood sings once again), will be part of Handel’s Messiah at the Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, New York. The concert is tonight.

My father has been out of the house fewer than a dozen times over the past year, and I made sure this would be one such occasion. Dad has also played harpsichord in this very cathedral years ago, and of course, he has performed the Messiah many times. (In fact, on Amazon one can still purchase a CD of his 1966 recording with Robert Shaw.) My young son sang in the local children’s choir last year, and he enjoys dropping in on the local men’s chorus rehearsals. I think both dad and Elihu will love the concert this evening. To hear his beautiful instrument in that space alone will be worth the trip. I’m so glad my father agreed to this – it will bring joy to so many. The very presence of a harpsichord in music – however delicate – adds a dimension and nuance like no other sound. Growing up, the sound of a harpsichord was easy to take for granted, it was always around me. Later, as I grew up and then apart from my parents, I can remember the feeling I got when I would hear a harpsichord… it comforted me, it sparkled there in the mix of other instruments, a tiny, beautiful voice that always reminded me of my father. I am so happy to be able to hear this music tonight with my father at my side. I pray he enjoys it too – in spite of the fact that he himself is not playing the instrument he has loved so well.

Before I can begin to think about the coming night, what to wear, how to get there, how tricky it will take to get dad up the stairs once we’re there… all those concerns must wait for a few minutes as I fulfill a promise made to my son early this morning. Yesterday, I had let him down. Today, I will not. Elihu, as a lover of all things that fly, has decided that he wants to give his pal Keith a radio controlled plane for his birthday, which comes just two days before Christmas. Elihu is concerned that once again both his folks and Santa will confuse Keith’s desire for an RC Plane for an RC Helicopter. It is my son’s greatest joy today to know that he, with his own money, is buying a plane for his friend, and that we will deliver it anonymously on the eve of his birthday. And so my very next task will be to place our order, paying an up charge if necessary to get it here in time.

How very good it feels to give someone just what they need, just what they want – be it a harpsichord or an airplane.

Saturday Starts

The roosters are crowing, the goose is honking, the crows are cawing, the blue jays are scolding. Their voices are so loud, I almost feel like I’m in a tent. I hope the noise doesn’t wake Elihu, as this is my morning alone-time. It’s Saturday, and thankfully, there is no place we need to be. I let the birds out for the day a good hour ago, then quickly got back into bed to finish a book. I don’t get very far reading at night – I’m asleep before I can take much in. But the mornings are quite different. Rested and clear-minded – it’s a perfect time to read. I’ve just now finished my book, wasted some time on Facebook, and have begun to ponder a cup of tea on the couch before he calls to me.

I reflect on our early morning moments. They are a tender time, something I know will not last too much longer. As a preteen I don’t think he’ll care so much for his mommy crawling into bed with him and crooning in soft tones. But these days, it’s what he still wants. And truthfully, it’s what I still want. These are moments that sustain me. “I need some mommy love” he’ll say to me, putting his thin arms around my neck. And I’ll kiss his forehead, trace his hair with my fingers and listen as he tries to recall his dreams for me. We give ourselves a good five minutes like this each morning before the hustle of breakfast-making and backpack-assembling begins.

No matter how sweet the moments that may follow, all mothers know that sinking feeling inside when the tiny voice first cries “mommy….” interrupting a project, a chore, a moment of thought. It wasn’t until this past year that his call no longer bothered me in the same way it had for the past seven years. I think it’s because these days he doesn’t truly need me in the way he did when he was smaller. When he calls to me now, chances are he can wait a minute. Don’t get me wrong – I love my son above all else and always rise to the occasion – no matter what I’m doing or where my mental focus is, I always bring my attention to my child when he needs me. And I always respond when he calls to me. But thankfully, we’re over the hump. It’s not as it used to be. There’s a lot of need in those first years. It’s exhausting. I simply cannot fathom having more than one child – much less being a single mother with more than one charge. I have all I can manage with integrity, I believe.

Just as I’m beginning to listen for Elihu’s voice calling softly out to me, I am startled – to the point of leaping from my chair – at a sudden, loud noise. A piece of furniture has fallen over. “Elihu?” I shout – “are you ok??”. Nothing. I wait, I listen. Not a sound. I go to his door, open it and look to his bed. He’s not in it. Or is he – sometimes he hides under the covers – I bend in to look more closely…. “BOO!” he laughs, standing behind me in the hallway. It’s official, my kid does not need mommy time this morning. He cracks up at my surprise, then whizzes off through our small house on full-awake mode. Seeing that he is clearly doing just fine without me, I retire to my room and go back to the computer.

A few minutes pass. The house becomes quiet. I’m beginning to wrap up my post – I hadn’t intended it to be but a brief musing on the morning, and it seems I may have gotten a bit off track. “Mama?” he calls softly, as I continue to type, “can you please come see me?” I save my work, and go to join him in his bed. We enjoy our time again. Our window hasn’t closed yet. Thankfully he is still somewhere between little boy and young man. It’s a great combination. No longer does he need me to get him dressed. He can even get his own breakfast. He does pretty well without me for the most part.

Still, there’s no substitute for a warm embrace to start a Saturday.

City Stage, Historic Field

My head is brimming with images from the weekend as I sit at my desk contemplating the weekday’s tasks. An enormous bowl of fragrant rose petals sits on my piano, telling me that the Saturday when my nature boy was enthusiastically collecting them in his plastic grocery bag was not so long ago as it now seems. Somehow, at the beginning of a week, the past two days feel to be a month ago rather than mere hours.

Elihu participated in his first official talent show in Schenectady on Saturday as part of the 11th annual Juneteenth celebration at the city’s grand municipal park. Having learned that the holiday commemorates the end of slavery in America, at first I doubted the appropriateness of his performing there. Then I reconsidered the bigger picture and the benefits of his experiencing what it is to be the only white person in a black event. I thought back to my days playing in R&B groups on Chicago’s west side; I remember being the only white person among thousands of black people and at the time thinking how lucky I was, as a white girl, to know this experience. I wished all white people in America could have this experience just once. For one teeny moment in time, I could see through that window and feel what it was to be the only one ‘of my kind’ in a crowd. I wasn’t sure this would even register to Elihu, and while I didn’t want to make it an issue, I did have hopes that this opportunity might get him thinking.

As we sat in the wings waiting for his turn, he told me his heart was beating fast. “Feel it” he insisted, taking my hand and placing it on his chest. I took it to mean his joyful, unselfconscious days were coming to a close; he was now aware that he was going to perform in front of hundreds and he was getting nervous for the first time. He’d been a little nervous before, but this seemed different. Without a list to refer to, we sat waiting for the MC to call his name. The nice twist here was that, in this world of foreign-sounding, black-culture names, his was not met with an uncomfortable pause. Instead, the huge man announcing the contestants gave the name his best shot, got it right, and then politely and with good humor inquired if his pronunciation of it was indeed correct. “Yeah” I thought. This was a nice start.

Elihu picked up his djembe and walked briskly to the stage, where he sat down to play. He’d sat with the monitors downstage of him, as a smart performing boy should; those are the speakers you hear yourself in. However, with him being so little, and the stage so big, the MC asked him to move all the way to the front so as to be seen. I hoped this didn’t throw him off his game. He moved, took no time to compose himself (oh-oh) and began. He started his groove a little too fast I thought. I remembered my mother gasping under her breath when my father, at the harpsichord, would sometimes start a Scarlatti sonata at a gate that she feared he could not safely execute. I too felt that concern, but no matter, he would make it work. He got going and just when he had momentum, threw in a false stop. (Good boy, just like mama told you.) Then he resumed in the smattering of applause resulting from the fake-out and threw in some of his quarter note triplets. It all felt good. A little fast, but good. He knew the right time to stop, and I was proud. He even remembered to bow just before he left the stage, inspiring a third wave of applause. Good little man.

The competition had a table of judges on stage, and although they were just about to offer their critiques and opinions, Elihu fell apart when he walked back to me. “I want to go now! I’m tired! Please, let’s GO!” Having the video going, and wanting to hear the remarks, I managed to quiet him long enough to record it all. We ended up staying for the young girl who sang after him, as Elihu was now curious to see what kind of competition he was up against. The 16 year old girl sang her own song to a track she’d produced herself. When she started, Elihu whispered “I give her a 10”. But as the track got longer and showed little variation in arrangement, and as her pitch got funkier, he leaned in and amended his score “I give her a seven”. Somewhat invested, we stayed to hear her results. Surprisingly, she scored a perfect 40. ? I guess it was impressive that she did it all herself. Execution and editing will come with time. We decided to take a break and come back later for the final scores.

It was refreshing to see so many black, asian and indian faces at the festival.  Since leaving Chicago I’ve been disappointed to find myself living in such a homogenized, white world. This summer festival lifted my mood. Elihu and I passed some time at the duck pond while we listened to the competition ringing out from the amphitheater over the large city park. Near its conclusion, we walked back to learn that he had placed second, and two acts tied for first, the young gal we’d heard after him being one of the winners. With no farewell save a quick swap of business cards with the MC, we made our way back to the car to head out of the tangle of roads that traversed the lush greens and ponds.

Nearing the exit we discovered the largest, most gorgeous rose garden I have ever seen in person. Elihu, nearly as infatuated with flowers as with birds, agreed whole-heartedly that we stop and see it for ourselves. Not five minutes inside, he discovered that many of the thousands of blooms were fairly falling off the stems as they had gone by. He begged I find a bag somewhere as he meant to collect them. Slowly we made our way through the grassy aisles, smelling and oohing over each and every variety. What we’d thought would net a few handfuls of petals became the next hour’s obsession, and as we left Elihu had a bag full to bursting of fragrant petals in every color. During our visit to the garden I offered to take photos of couples who tag-teamed solo pictures of each other, and I had them do the same for us. (I have so very few pictures of Elihu and me together – is it not always the mom absent in the bulk of family photo albums?) A wedding party was also there taking pictures. It was hot and humid and the young tuxedoed men mopped their brows while their dates giggled.

An ice cream truck pulled up beside the garden and sounded its mechanical tune over and over, calling everyone to line up. Elihu had never heard an ice cream truck before, nor was he aware of ever having seen one. I explained that it was a thing, and that he had to take part – even if he didn’t like ice cream (he’s his mama’s boy, we choose salt over sweet any day of the week, and ice cream is not a temptation to either of us). We stood in line with the well-dressed wedding party and enjoyed the playful vibe as they teased each other about the silly names of the treats they were getting. I decided on our confections quickly – with so many waiting behind us there wasn’t the time to explain the choices. Elihu was surprised that it wasn’t actually ‘real’ ice cream, but rather an ice cream-like thing on a stick in a gooey wrapper. I explained that this was also part of the experience, and that in towns and cities all across America this was actually a beloved part of summer.  So we gave it the old college try, trying to stay ahead of the sticky drips as we sat eating our whatever-they-were treats on a stick, sitting on a bench in the rose garden. Ok, got it. Done. We tossed our treats long before they melted to resume our tour. After a nice chat with some nuns from a nearby Catholic church (and also taking a couple of group photos for them) we returned to the car to head for home.

We took the long way back. Since we are reading a historical novel set around the battle of Saratoga in the Revolutionary War, we ended up making our way north via some landmarks we’d read about in the story. Starting in the tiny town of Stillwater on the Hudson river, we then went north toward the sight of the battle we were reading about; the famous surrender of General Burgoyne to our Generals Gates and Arnold. Not even realizing the serendipitous nature of our mistake, we ended up entering the service entrance to the battle field in an effort to perhaps hear some meadow birds. A vast field, sweeping towards the sky beckoned. We pulled over, got out, and prepared for a walk.

Only the horizon and sky could be seen at the end of this lovely, gravel road which cut through the tall grass. As we walked nearer the summit, I could now see we were exactly in the middle of the very battle field we’d been reading about! Ahead was the small, restored cabin where the generals had studied their maps and made their strategies. Once atop the hill, the view towards the east, Hudson river less than a mile away in that direction, was stunning, windswept and vast. The foothills on the other side of the river were distinct and easily seen – I could make out silos and barns, fields and hamlets within the dark cover of forest. Beyond were the mountains of Vermont. Truly a stunning sight, made even more exhilarating by the huge breadth of the great lawn on which we stood. Even Elihu got it. Although through his eyes the mountains were no more than a bumpy, fuzzy horizon, the sheer expanse was still evident to him. Plus, there were more birds singing in this spot than we could ever recall hearing in one place. We two lingered there, as the sun began to set, with no need to leave, to return home, to close this moment. We unlatched the shutters to the small cabin and peered inside to see the desk, quill pen and spectacles laid atop an ancient map. We stood on the porch of the cabin, wind in our faces, and tried to imagine this place, so different, so hectic and busy and important all those years ago.

As we began to walk back down the hill through the tall field, we heard more birds still. Elihu’s frustration at not seeing the Snipe was finally too much, and he burst out angrily that it wasn’t fair that he, of all people, should not be able to see the bird when he knew so well what it looked like. But, God bless that kid, he didn’t dwell on it, as he easily could have – at least it would be entirely understandable if he did – and soon he was in joy again at his luck to have at least heard this bird for the first time.

In the car, we resumed our drive home – one we’d chosen to match as carefully as possible the route that our heroine took in the novel – and managed to make only one impromptu stop in order to smooch some cows as they were given their last meal of the day. I had a short conversation with the farmer, a tall, German-born fellow whose accent made it difficult for me to learn much more than that these gals were for breeding and not for milk. Pulling Elihu away, we got on the road and once again made for Saratoga.

As a means to more fully understand what it was to travel nearly 300 years ago through the woods at the pace of a horse, we took one final detour through Yaddo, an artists’ retreat on a lovely, wooded property just outside of town. Once inside the gates, we rolled all the windows down and merely idled. “This is as fast as she could go?” Elihu was going for complete accuracy. “Yup, just about”. After five minutes of this, we both got the picture. Mosquitoes came in the car, the humidity of the outside world closed in, and we were glad for our horseless carriage with the power of several hundred. Finally, we headed home.

The day was such a complete buffet of experiences. We’d started in the city, and ended back here putting our chickens in for the night. We both fully felt our good fortune and the magnificence of the day. We were in a fine mood as we sat to dinner Saturday night. I recounted our day, and in particular wanted to know more about his experience at the talent show. “So you were nervous for the first time, huh?” I asked, dreading his confession. “No! – I was excited! I couldn’t wait to play!” he protested. Wow. I was so thrilled. Good for him, good for him.

With our first-hand visions of the story’s setting freshly imprinted in our brains, we settled into bed eager to finish the final chapters of our historical novel. Some days it seems we’re writing a novel of our own, and this day had been a particularly enjoyable chapter to be sure.


The wave of yesterday’s Indonesian-style heat and humidity here in upstate NY was broken by an evening thunderstorm. We immediately opened all the windows to benefit from the cool breezes. While it made for good sleeping, the acoustic breach in our home also provided Elihu a direct line to the early morning birdsong outside his window, a sound which reached deep into his healthful rest to awaken him. Early. Very early. Five-thirty, to be exact. I looked up from my bed to see him standing there, smiling. “Do you hear them?” he asked, brimming with the thrill of a true birder. How could I not? I’d had an earplug stuffed into my upwards-facing ear. I too smiled. How could I not? It’s been Elihu’s constant dream to be up this early in order to hear the birds as they can only be heard at this hour, however on school mornings I refuse to wake him before 7:30 as he’s usually late to retire. I don’t want him fighting the nodding head thing in the middle of his day (that can wait til High School).  I also make no effort to wake him super-early on the weekends, as I don’t want to mess with his schedule too much. As I think of it it’s probably not he who needs the sleep, but me. Probably. Ok. We’re up. There are too many critters singing the delights of the pre-dawn hours to argue with. Where’s my robe…

It’s now approaching noon, and I’m wondering how that little birder of mine is doing. I am tired. I have much to do and cannot afford a mid-day lie-down. I will pour more coffee and muscle through, but what of Elihu? I pray he’s faring better than I am right now. Outside it’s back to jungle-like readings again, and inside the house is warming up. His recess will likely be inside, as we’d received a recorded message last night from his principal advising the kids drink lots of water and prepare for indoor activities at school today.

Maybe mommy needs to get to bed a little earlier tonite…

I Can’t Get Started

Today, I admit I have little to say that will be light and fun. I’m on the verge of a rant.

The raccoons are tenacious. They were able to rip apart a screen in the garage door. All my dear chicks, now quite large, were all lying dead on the floor of the coop/prison this morning. I’d done a good job constructing their room, and installing the screen in the door, but not good enough. All thirteen of their bodies lay there, not a one eaten. Might be a lot easier had they been taken. What a waste. A bloody waste. I can’t move them, Elihu asks complete honesty of me, and he wants to be a part of everything. I can’t toss them and pretend they where enjoyed, used; I can’t pretend they didn’t die in vain. When we arrive home today, in the early evening, this will be news to him. We will face it then.

I have hours before me of preparing music charts for Elihu. He has a concert this weekend and simply cannot make heads or tails of the music as it is printed unless it’s literally a few inches from his face. May as well sing into a box. So, I’ve hit upon the method. It’s time-consuming and requires I type the text, and literally cut and paste it into the enlarged score. Then I must once again copy this to make the final page. And I’m out of black ink. So, this is before me.

Also today I meet with an elder attorney to strategize about mom and dad’s future. We’re hoping to save their few assets from the man. I don’t believe they have much to live on. At the age of 48, and only because of necessity, I will finally learn the financial truths of my parents.

My house is a wreck. Books, drawings, dirty dishes, unmatched shoes and recycling litter the floor along with spots of dry chicken poop. The laundry is once again a huge task. (Bed wetting continues, and with it gobs more housework than I should have if things were otherwise.) Sheets need to be changed. I have but one set for each bed, so must get them done and on the beds before tonite.

Today we meet with Elihu’s mobility coach. Must remember to check in with auto insurance guy, as his checks recently bounced. Worried my insurance can be canceled. The lawn is now thigh-high and with a backdue amount of $800 on my electric bill along with all the others, how can I afford to call my mower guy?

Driving to school, having kept the death of his chicks from him for the time being, I began to pout a little. I lamented how disheartening everything was. I wondered angrily, and aloud, how the hell it was I was supposed to make a living when all I can make is $40 an hour, and even then it’s just a couple of times a week? I mean how the hell can I catch up teaching piano lessons?? Elihu tried to calm me. Usually, I keep it all to myself. But this morning, maybe cuz of the chicks, I was going off the edge. Elihu, very much about the law of attraction, coached me. ‘It feels great to have our coop just the way we like it, and to have all our bills paid so easily’. Ok Jerry Hicks. Thanks. I tried to lighten up a bit, but deep inside I was beginning to slide again. Bad enough I was so duped, so poorly treated by my ‘best’ friend of two decades – and continue to be so treated – but then there was all this life. And I faced it alone.

So, am I alone? The stats of my blog would have me thinking I’m not. So out of the hundreds of readers, the dozens who read daily, where the hell are the shout-outs, the cries of ‘we’re with ya, we know just how you feel’?? Man, guys, today can this not be such a private affair? Can I please have a couple comment posts here? I am fucking tired of living broke and alone; my consolations these days are my son and the hope that somewhere out there, others are sharing our journey and lending us their emotional energy and fortitude. It’s great to know that my little posts are enjoyed, and it’s great to hear from old friends unearthed by the machine of Facebook – but what of all the rest? Testing, testing, is this mic on???

Ok. That’s all for now. My apron is on and I’m going to do my best today. Here I go…

Fire Towers and Fiddleheads

Yesterday was such a bright and busy day that Elihu requested we have a ‘do nothing’ day today. And so we did. Not to say that nothing was done. I made meals, washed dishes, caught up on laundry, got the chickens out, put them back in, cleaned up the mess the raccoons had made of our platform bird feeder, collected eggs, cleaned up a hand-me-down gas grill (which is unfortunately trash despite my best efforts) and made a moth habitat in our gecko’s old terrarium. And all this without getting out of my pajamas (did manage to don an apron). Day is done, and I’m ready for bed. So there! It’s good to live off the road…

Yesterday Elihu, a classmate of his and I visited a local wilderness preserve in honor of the local hero: the Karner Blue Butterfly. It’s not doing so well these days (I believe it’s endangered) and lives primarily on a local blue lupine flower which is currently in bloom. A neighboring town created a day-long celebration around the week in which the little creatures could be seen flitting about the preserve. There were fun things to do for the kids – and there were lots of kids about. They were provided with nets to scoop up critters from the lake which they then could deposit into plastic bins for all to see and identify. The big boys ventured down the wooded slopes to the creek which was home to minnows, the preferred catch. As I sat in the sunshine feeling very good about the expanse of water before me (I love water, I crave it, I miss lake Michigan dearly) the boys chased after crayfish and snails. There was no hurrying this day along. I sat for over an hour. Young mothers with tiny babies and elderly couples wearing sun visors and too many clothes for the hot day shared the bench with me as I sat. I felt so blessed to be agenda-free on such an exquisite day.

After another hour holding snakes and admiring a small collection of injured and rehabbed birds of prey we then headed off through the woods and up the side of a good-sized hill to see the newly restored fire tower. We’d planned on going to the top. I didn’t think much of it, it didn’t look very challenging. I’d hoped to rush in and to the top without time in which to reconsider. We were stopped, however, and made to join a list of folks waiting for the privilege of climbing the ten open flights of stairs to the top. Elihu’s classmate said he wasn’t going with us. I lobbied in favor of doing it; I explained that if he didn’t, he might never remember this day – it would just be another summer afternoon of many – yet should he choose to climb the tower with us he would not only be very proud of himself, but this day would forever stand out in his memory. He didn’t consider my argument for even a second, but instead asked if he could return to the lake. I released him from the challenge, and soon he was gone.

Elihu and I were undaunted by our half hour wait, and were excited and ready when our turn came. Yet by the third flight of the wire mesh stairs it became evident to us that this would be a little more challenging than we’d thought. I was surprised that my low-vision kid, who can’t see images just twenty feet away from him was becoming nervous as we moved farther away from the ground. We both talked to ourselves encouragingly. Such things as ‘we can do this, it’s safe, people have done this all day’, and ‘imagine the guys who had to make this silly thing’. If it weren’t for the mom ahead of us (whose own kids and husband bailed by the second landing) I’m not sure we would have made it. Elihu and I cited an expression used by an old-timer friend of the family now many years gone. The old farmer would express the sensation of being up too high as inspiring ‘asshole pucker’. We’d cleaned the saying up a bit by making it into ‘pucker factor’. That factor was definitely palpable here. ! But by keeping our focus on the connection our feet and hands made with the metal as we pushed on, and by saving our consideration of the great altitude for the top, we finally made it.

Atop the tower was a small room, about 8×8, with of course, a hole in the floor through which we entered. The hole offered dizzying evidence of how far down the ground actually was. A 70-something fellow stood to welcome us, not that his demeanor made us feel so welcome at all. His face showed something more like scorn, fixed in an unamused scowl. To lighten the mood, and because he was there for us, really, I asked his name. ‘Larry’ he said. A pause. He wasn’t giving us any more. That distraction over, I finally looked about to enjoy the reward. It was stunning. We were now quite far above the tall treetops of the forest and could see the Adirondacks stretched out to the north and the Green Mountains of Vermont to our east. Larry even helped me to locate a landmark, the cell tower on our road, so that I might further appreciate where we stood in the lay of the land. I savored the cool, high-up breeze. It felt rare and free, unstopped by the hot goings-on of dirt, houses and asphalt. The air alone was worth the climb. Aware of the line of folks waiting below (although to stick my head out and actually look down upon the people waiting was not something I could quite bring myself to do) we wrapped things up and began our descent. I went first, and behind me Elihu was stopped at the prospect of making the first frightening steps back down. I was touched as Larry spoke to him as a father, gently telling him where to place his hands on the railing and offering tender encouragement. It revealed to me in that tiny moment so much about the man. Larry’d had a long day up there in that tiny box, and as unamused with giggling tourists as he might have been, in the end he was a very kind man. I thanked him in my heart as Elihu plucked up his courage and followed me down.

Once down, I shelled out $5 for a cloth patch of the fire tower so that Elihu might put it on his school backpack as a show of pride and accomplishment. He also received a little card from the fellow signing folks in that showed him to have ‘climbed the Cornell Hill Fire Tower’. So there.

We retrieved Elihu’s friend and hopped into the car to visit the butterfly preserve which was about a mile down the road. It was an open expanse of rolling hills with sandy trails and stands of blue lupine flowers. A few tall oak trees stood here and there giving the scene a dream-like feel. The little insects, while not ubiquitous, were to be seen flitting about through the stands of lupine and across the sandy path. Elihu’s friend and I tried our best to point them out to him, but without the benefit of color vision they are hard to spot. They are also less than an inch across, and would not cooperate by staying still long enough for us to pin down their location. I decided after a hot and dusty half hour that we would head back. Elihu began to cry, to sob. ‘I’m not leaving until I see a butterfly! This is why I came here in the first place!’ His pal kindly put an arm around him and tried to console him. ‘It’s Ok buddy, we’ll find you a butterfly, ok?’ That was an especially sweet thing to do, for this kid is a rough and tumble, dirt bike riding sort of kid – rather the polar opposite of Elihu. I have a snapshot of that moment in my mind’s eye. Inspired by the show of support I got on board too and declared that we would send out our request to the universe – and to the little critters – that we wanted to see one, we expected to see one, we had no harmful motives. And a magical thing happened.

I told us all to quiet ourselves, stop where we were, send out these thoughts and wait for just moment. As we squatted down on the sandy path, a little blue creature flitted over to us. I extended my hand, and she (makes it lovelier to call her that, don’t you think?) landed on it. She stayed. Elihu saw her. She was an exquisite pale blue with pink iridescence. The outside of her wings which were much more difficult to see as she flew were now plainly visible as she closed them for us. Astonishing how beautiful. I was surprised that she was so finely detailed, so subtly colored, so perfectly adorned. For whom? For what purpose? Surely for the purpose of beauty alone. ‘Can I hold her?’ Elihu’s friend asked. I touched my hand to his, and the little creature walked onto his hand. Finally, Elihu put his hand out, and the butterfly continued her walk onto his finger. My son could not resist; he cupped his other hand over her and brought her close to his eyes to see. I wonder how much he can see as his glasses are dark and red… I know he can’t see color, but he can see detail. He must see the tiny designs, mustn’t he? It seems that there is so much deeper a fascination of nature for this child, perhaps not in spite of, but perhaps because of his limited ability to see it as we do. This was a thrilling end to our day. Elihu lifted the creature to the air, and she departed. We three stood there, each one of us realizing how magical this had been. A perfect time to end our afternoon and head home. Thank you, little butterfly.

That night I made a tasty dinner of perfectly-prepared sirloin steak with fiddleheads for our vegetable. It is times like this that make me so grateful to have this young person alongside me in my life. I told him that these were picked right here in our area, and that they were considered delicacies in other parts of the country. While they were $20 a pound in Arizona, they were a fraction of that here, and they were fresh! My story wasn’t necessary to sell the vegetable; he is excited by anything of nature and the prospect of munching on these perfect curls of baby ferns was enough. They were asparagus-like and yet not, of the woods and green tasting with a slight crunch, luckily I’d prepared them pretty well. This was a simple meal, a perfect meal. (My kid has no desire for carbs in his meals – past and rice never get more than one bite. I sure don’t need ’em, so I rarely prepare any.) Dinner finished, sunburn stinging on our shoulders and the chickens safely in their coops, we got ready for bed.

A day of sunshine, butterflies, fire towers and fiddleheads. Another good one.

First Loss

Elihu and I went out tonight, and although my mother dutifully helped us by closing the mature chickens in their coop and securing the chicks as best she could, when we got home we found three of our most precocious young chicks dead inside the new enclosure. (I say ‘precocious’ because they were the only ones in the flock smart enough to go in after dark, something all mature chickens do naturally, plus they’d been making mock nests inside the coop for a week by now, another display of advancing sexual maturity.) My coop enclosure was sound, however the critter that got in was able to open the wire gate (!) in the outside run and enter the coop through the small chicken door. And we hadn’t even considered that to be a viable entrance for predators. We’d thought our run was secure. HA! Well, as Elihu noted, that while we two were out eating chicken for supper (tandoori, that is) apparently some crafty creature was enjoying a delicious chicken dinner as well.

I was surprised at how sad I felt at first.  Although I’d told Elihu not to look, and that I’d take care of it, he was adamant about seeing what had happened. We picked up the dead chicks very matter-of-factly, noting how warm one was, and from that guessing that she’d only just been done in (two of three were eaten, she was left behind – perhaps we interrupted the intruder?). We walked down the driveway a bit with the remainders of the dead birds and then unceremoniously tossed them into the woods. Not much one can do but to accept it, but it’s still kinda sad. But then again, we just ate a friggin chicken who had a crappy life and died a frightening and painful death. Is that really any better a fate than that of our chicks? (I think not.)

In the end, we’ve learned that we must ramp up our security and our vigilance. While it makes going out at night a little more challenging, I’m determined to figure something out. I’m getting kinda tired of living at the mercy of my chickens. The next major homestead purchase may well be an automatic coop door opener/closer. !