The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Stone Cold Busy March 1, 2015

From what I understand, the frost now reaches five feet down into the ground here in the Northeast. And as if things weren’t already taxing enough what with foot upon foot of snow covering every last rooftop and sub-zero temps occurring daily, now water mains are freezing, adding inconvenience to insult and injury. Thank goodness we ourselves haven’t experienced a loss of power or water on top of it all. I suppose we should count ourselves as lucky. And even though I might be the busiest poor person I know, once again, I suppose I should count myself a lucky gal to have a life filled with unending industry. After all, we still have food and heat and more than a few instruments around to play. So things aren’t truly dire. But some days, I swear it just feels like too fucking much. Some days all I want to do is to succumb, to whine, to moan and pound my fists on the responsible person’s chest, to get some answers, to get an apology for all this unending winter, my relentless to-do list and the continued lack of income… Just when I’m at my wit’s end, it does help to know I’m not the only one about to lose it…

Last night Elihu and I snuggled onto the couch, my legs on the table, his on mine, as we settled in for our weekly dose of Prairie Home Companion. The sound effects always make him giggle, and the anecdotes remind us of our life back in the midwest. Stories of fishing shacks on the ice, wide expanses of fields stretching out to the horizon, and people who speak using pinched, nasal-y vowel sounds (interestingly, the local rural accent is similar in many ways to the rural folks ‘out there’.) This week the program was centered around the host’s very same lament: an unrelenting season of cold that had gone on long enough. It made us laugh to hear his take on the ceaseless winter, and in some small way helped to make our own burdens a little easier to bear.

Earlier in the day we’d tried our hand (or feet, as it were) at snow shoeing. I’d only just tried it for the first time a couple of weeks back, and had enjoyed it so much I wanted to share it with the kid. He was excited – which is very rare for Elihu because he really does NOT like winter (Think bright, bright, bright. Headachey, hospital white all around. Exhausting for an achromat) – and so I jumped at the chance to get out in the woods with him. Out the trail we trekked, til we found a spot to don our shoes so we could go off trail. But that, dear readers, became a good twenty-minute process fraught with bindings that broke and straps that would not loosen, nor when finally loosened would tighten up satisfactorily. The whole thing was a comedy of errors, and I felt the clock ticking on Elihu’s patience. In the end, we bagged on the shoes and walked the trail to its end. Elihu asked where the wetlands were, and I told him they were at the end of a different trail. He was very disappointed. His expectation was that we had been headed there all along, and I apologized if I’d lead him to believe that. We took from this a lesson learned: identify your expectations up front. Not a total wash though, the woods were beautiful. The forest does look pretty in snow, I gotta say.

We’d had another miscommunication the day prior too. A friend had needed help driving to some errands, as he was without a car. He kindly offered lunch in return, but since my jam-packed day couldn’t allow for that, I suggested we do errands after school, and he made lunch into dinner. So when Elihu and I arrived at his place to find no one home, I panicked. Our friend’s not in great health, so I began to freak out. I imagined him on the floor, unable to respond. I began to wonder – just how do I dial 911 on my phone? It’s in a different area code – so what exactly do I dial? I made a mental note to figure this out just as soon as I got home. Without a smart phone sometimes things become tricky; over the next hour we made a couple of trips to the local library to use the computer so I could check Facebook. Again, nothing. Cold adrenaline followed us back to his house again. Poor kid was tired, and hungry too. He lamented not being able to go out for dinner. I knew it wasn’t a prudent move, but did it anyway. I took us out. Used the lesson money I’d just made – earmarked for the gas tank – and splurged. We had a good time, but the consensus was we didn’t need to go there again. Another lesson learned I suppose. When I got home I found out that my friend was fine, and he was upset with me for not getting his call. Double checked the log, no call was received. I was upset that he’d invited me, that I’d fit him into my schedule, I’d worried about him for hours, ended up spending money I didn’t have to spend, and then got scolded after the whole fiasco. My call log still shows no missed calls, and I don’t know who’s right, or what happened. Just another frustration on the list. I pray that soon clarity and peace come to my life. Because I am exhausted. (And broke, too.)

The things I’m doing these past few weeks – and the weeks coming up – are all important, necessary things. Costume and prop help for my son’s play (Six foot potted palm, check. Burlap sacks from the coffee store, check. Eleven tunics and sashes, check. Headscarves, check. Oversized gold coin for comic moment, check.). Mammograms and colonoscopies and appointments with arthritis docs, dentists too, for both me and the kid. Piano students to teach, rehearsals to attend. Trips to the feed store, the grocery store, the music store, the hardware store. Check-ins with the loggers, with the carpenters at the Studio, with the lawyer, the town clerk, the accountant, the county department of public works. I bought a computer in December which has yet to recognize the printer, let alone the piano keyboard. So it’s trip number three to the computer repair guy, this time with tower, printer, piano and cords all in tow (Windows 8.1 seems to be rife with problems). And then there’s this tuba in my living room which needs a case and a teacher to go along with it.

I’ve begun to fantasize about taking a vacation. I’m fifty-one and I have never once in my life had a real, stay-at-a-hotel-on-the-beach-and-do-nothing vacation. I begin to wonder if I am even able to sit on a beach for a week with nothing to do. Could I? I’m beginning to think I could. It’s not close to being an option, but I can’t shake the idea. I’ll bet it would feel great to step off a plane somewhere warm… My son sticks his face in the humidifier’s cool output, telling me that it feels like the air in Florida, only better, and says it almost makes him want to cry. I so get it.

This week is our hump. He’s got a lead part in his play, and I’m playing piano for the Missoula Children’s Theatre production at the local elementary school. Both of these things don’t usually happen at the same time, so it will be a tricky week for us. Lots of logistics. Me, I don’t like lots of stuff to do. I don’t like stress, I don’t like fast-paced schedules. Just gotta get through this week.

Yesterday Elihu asked the logger how much longer they’d be there, in his answer lay a great gem of hope for all of us in snow territory: Not much longer. “Why?” Elihu had asked. The logger explained that soon the ground wouldn’t be cold enough to support all that heavy machinery. In a few week’s time they’d be sinking into the mud. My kid looked at me. I couldn’t see past his big, dark glasses, but I kinda knew what was registering in his eyes. The fishing shacks on Lake Desolation will get pulled in sometime soon too. Here was evidence that things were not going to remain like this forever. And hard as it might be to envision now, all of our planning and building and fixing will one day come to an end too. We’re all just waiting it out, preparing for the big changes that are headed our way. Like the tiny seeds that sleep all around us in a bed of frost, we too contain the promise of a changing future.

It’s cold for now, but we all know that ‘now’ never lasts… And in this case, knowing that makes me stone cold relieved.

IMG_2997Elihu, tooting his own horn. Sounds pretty good for just a couple weeks.

He was kinda fatiguing here, but you get the general gist. Oom pah.

IMG_2757Off to see the cutting job in the woods. This is the main (and widest) of all five trails.

IMG_2769We run into John on the skidder, who offers Elihu a ride into the woods. Cool!

IMG_2772It’s a long way up!

IMG_2782There they go…

IMG_2785…pulling entire trees behind em.

IMG_2791Most of the remaining woods looks like this. Not bad for post-harvest. Also, they’ve cut in such a way that it will encourage new growth. Elihu or I may do this process again in another twenty years.

IMG_2794Some parts have remained more densely wooded.

IMG_2802But the main ‘road’ out looks a little open. The forester assures me it’ll ‘green back in nicely’.

IMG_2809Show shoes under his arm, Elihu makes his way over the waiting tree tops to the landing.

IMG_2848It’s impossible to fully comprehend how much power this takes. I mean, those are entire trees. !!

I get a little nervous seeing how banged up my ‘keeper’ tree has become through this huge loading process.

IMG_2874Onto the truck they go. This is all hard wood, and it’s going to Finch Prime, a paper mill in nearby Glens Falls. Folks, use your paper with respect and gratitude. I wish my trees to have been cut for good use. Sigh.

IMG_2899Small heart = Good wood.

IMG_2898Big heart = Not so much.

IMG_2916I like this pattern – I see two birds flying away at right…. However because of the heart it’s probably not worth as much.

IMG_2901This is what thirty-six tons of hard wood looks like. Hard wood is heavier, resulting in a smaller-looking load. Pine would have been stacked to the very top. (Either way, it’s safe to say it’s a lot of elephants.) Not a penny’s come in yet from the harvest due to the many tiers it must go through, and even when it does get here – it goes to mom first (it’s her property after all). She’ll be financing the rehabbing of the Studio from the lumber sales, and in turn the Studio (as a 501(c) 3 in the state of New York) can give her the tax deduction for her gift. I’m hoping a slight trickle down might aid us a little, but the Studio may turn out to be a bigger money sponge than I think, so if any cash makes it to us it’ll be a nice surprise.

Here’s the driver telling us this is a lot of paper here…

IMG_2942Checking in at the Studio. Took a previous day’s digging (not by me!) to access it.

IMG_2924Doesn’t look like much, but insulation’s in and drywall’s going in now.

IMG_2927There’s been some major settling – the carpenter thinks a heavy roof load of snow might be making things worse…

IMG_2928Yikes. Will have roof shoveled this week.

IMG_2922Storage will be a challenge. Live music and visual arts both require stuff. Not sure what we’ll do.

IMG_2951 A quick visit with grandma (and cat Annie).

IMG_2976Mom goes through a photo album from the ’30s. Amazing the number of anecdotes I’m hearing for the first time.

IMG_2953Mom and dad found Annie on their anniversary, hence her name. Annie is the most kitten-like cat you’ll ever meet. It is, however, beginning to creep into all of our minds that she is now very old, in spite of her kittenish demeanor. She’s got some health problems, and is as light as a feather. I can see concern in my mother’s face when the subject comes up. It will be an enormous loss when Annie leaves us. (Her toungue is almost always sticking out. So cute, and so Annie. !)

IMG_2993At the end of a long, cold week, Elihu gives up just a few feet short of the back door and falls on his back into the snow. Hard to believe by the time he turns twelve it’ll all be gone. At least one hopes. !

 

Cusp January 19, 2015

Two thousand fourteen was a tough year for me. Can’t say it was necessarily a bad year, but it was the year in which my father was newly gone, the year in which his concert hall suffered a flood (at my negligence; in order to save money I hadn’t properly winterized it), and it was the year in which I left the safety net of my part-time job at the Waldorf school in order to set about creating a new business. I did manage to get heating and cooling units installed in the Studio, and this past fall I spared no expense and had the place properly shut down for winter. At a glance, maybe not much. But progress, nonetheless. You might say I began to plant the seeds of change. And soon, we’re going to see them begin to sprout…

The biggest holdup – one that’s been in the works for nearly two years if you can believe it – is the logging of our family’s property. It’ll give us some start up money to get some basic fixes done to the place, not to mention a completely new floor (which still makes me sick to think of as the old floor was gorgeous…. and paid for) and some tlc on the weather-worn exterior. And besides that, we’re going to need a place to park all those cars. In the past, my parents only used the Studio in the summers, and parking on the expansive lawn worked out fine. Me, I’m going to need year-round parking, in a level place where I can clear snow and not worry about damaging the grass. Our plan is to create a parking lot in the woods just to the east of the building – in the very place that mom and dad had also initially intended for it to go when they built the Studio in 1974. Back then when they realized the cost – and saw that they had plenty of space for cars on the lawn, they shelved the plan. But now, needing access to my mom’s woods out back for the logging job, it’s become a perfect opportunity to kill two birds with one proverbial stone: the loggers need a ‘platform’, or a wide space in which to park their huge equipment, and I need a parking lot. They’ll open up the space whether we use it or let it grow back again – so why not use it to our advantage? The loggers will also need to construct a proper load-bearing road into the property, complete with enormous metal culvert and lots of fill – another structure which will benefit us tremendously. And then, on top of all this ‘free’ infrastructure, we’ll get money from the lumber. It kinda seems too good to be true. Knowing what I do about life, and how the best-laid plans can quickly go awry, I’m going to be keeping a close eye on every step of the process. (In a few moments I’ll take a break from my computer and go to meet the crew for the very first time. So that makes today hugely significant in the re-birth of the studio.) As I noted to my son recently, I was eleven when I saw the Studio built, and he, at the very same age, is here to see the Studio re-built. Perfect.

As usual, other adventures continue, and recently Elihu and I went to a rehearsal of Haydn’s “The Creation” by the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center. We got great seats up front by the basses. ! I feel so lucky that this beautiful campus, along with all the cultural experiences it provides, is less than five miles from our house. Talk about the best of both worlds: peace, quiet and privacy with nature all around, and yet within minutes we can be hearing world-class music or dining at gourmet restaurants. Lucky are we!

Along with all the activity and changes going on in my life, I’ve added another to the list: hot flashes. A couple of years ago I got an IUD in order to deter the near-unending perimenopausal periods I was experiencing, and since they’d finished completely, I’d thought I was over the hump. Honestly, I didn’t think hot flashes would come til after the device was removed, if they came at all (my hope was to avoid them altogether). And now I suspect that after I have it removed one year hence, the hormonal change will descend on me with a vengeance. So this may only be the tip of the iceberg. My mother suffered badly from intense hot flash episodes for well over a decade. Even after hearing about them, I would still think to myself “It’s just a quick sensation of warmth. Really, how bad can they be?”…. Now I get it. Yeah, I’m guessing they’ll be mighty unpleasant. The first one hit at night, and initially it was not only uncomfortable, but it was frightening too, and in that respect reminded me of a miscarriage; some new variety of discomfort was growing inside me, and while it had familiar aspects to it, something very different was going on. A bit of nausea came along with it as well, and that was unexpected. But I suppose, like everything else in life, I’ll adapt and eventually get used to it.

These days I’m becoming more receptive to the idea that nothing lasts. I’m not resisting change the way I used to. Absolutely everything changes, and the sooner you surrender yourself to that notion, the easier your life will be. So here I am, standing on the edge of tomorrow, waiting for whatever comes next…

IMG_5749The other day Elihu and I marked off the perimeter of the Studio’s new parking lot with flags. This photo shows how things have looked for the past forty years on this stretch of Wilton Road, looking west. My parent’s property is on the left. Mom’s house, Andrew’s house and the Studio are all just behind these woods (that’s our neighbor’s driveway in the foreground).

IMG_5753And this is where the new driveway will be going very soon (that’s our neighbor’s house behind the big tree).IMG_5756Here’s the old salt box my folks put out in anticipation of the parking lot they never made. You can see the Studio’s white roof to the far left, beyond the woods.

IMG_5765This interesting-looking tree will go. Behind to the right (red) is the Studio, on the left is mom’s house.

IMG_5676Now we’re off to hear some music – and hopefully fly some RC helicopters too.

IMG_5673This hall both looks and sounds beautiful.

IMG_5620Best seats in the house!

IMG_5623Love the conductor’s red cowboy boots.

IMG_5616Just look how close we are to the bass section! (Note the C extensions on the necks which allow the bassists to play even lower.)

This singer performed at dad’s Baroque Festival years ago. Elihu’s music teacher from Waldorf is also playing clarinet in the orchestra.

IMG_5644Elihu has to say hello.

IMG_5645Kinda like meeting rock stars.

IMG_5658Proving true to his love of all things super-low, Elihu makes a beeline to the contrabassoon.

IMG_5653Hard to imagine I grew up with several of these in my house. Seeing or hearing a harpsichord always makes me nostalgic.

IMG_5690The house manager was sweet and opened up a classroom in the music building for us.

IMG_5704Lots of vertical room to enjoy!

IMG_5713After a slight mishap Elihu made some successful, on-site repairs. This pic may seem fairly ordinary, but actually, it’s not. Elihu is wearing his new tinted contacts here, and therefore able to see in the bright, natural light without sunglasses. A huge quality of life upgrade. He doesn’t wear them often, but when he does his world opens up.

IMG_5737Later on that night Elihu continued to be inspired by the afternoon’s concert.

IMG_5746And the inspiration carried over into the next morning.

IMG_5770After letting the girls (and boy) out for the day, I headed over to meet the forester and the logger who’ll be working in our woods over the next few weeks.

IMG_5775You can see the Greenfield hills in the distance. It’s a lovely view down my driveway, so long as I don’t look off to the right and see the vacant, new-construction house that looms over the field.

IMG_5777They’re here!

IMG_5806Assessing things from the road…

IMG_5790…and then from the interior of the woods where the parking lot will go.

IMG_5792These trees will all be gone soon – the ones marked with green tape will stay as feature trees.

IMG_5813Got the signed lumber contract in hand! It’s real now!!

IMG_5826Heading back home down my driveway. Feeling good, and excited for the days ahead.

 

November Pics November 22, 2014

Life’s been so full lately that I haven’t had time to archive my recent photos – plus my computer’s been in and out of the shop for weeks now, making a life sans-smart phone a tedious one indeed at times. I’ve had to visit the library a time or two to check my email. Makes me feel a bit like a vagrant, but I suppose it’s a good thing to be humbled every now and then. (Certainly helps me better appreciate the luxuries of a laptop and my favorite cozy chair.)

The changes all around us are imperceptible in the moment, but when I compare the images of this November with those from a year ago, my heart skips a beat to know how different things are now. For one, my father is gone. And now there’s a house at the end of our driveway, its windows staring straight into ours where there used to be nothing but a gentle field. We no longer have a goose guarding our home, and some favorite hens from our flock are gone. My son now plays string bass with some proficiency, and has finally experienced the freedom that tinted contacts offer. Plus, the kid is taller than last year for sure. (He’s still the shortest in his class, but hey, it’s all relative.)

Last night Elihu’s school had their fall assembly, in which each of the grades, from 1 through 12, performed. It lasted but an hour (that alone impresses me – the faculty has engineered the logistics beautifully) and it gave us all the things one expects in such a program. It had parents feeling proud, in love, in awe, and once again, in disbelief at how our children have grown so. Truly, it seems only yesterday that my dear Elihu sang in his first grade concert… And the other children, I watch them in amazement too, trying to understand this mysterious growing process that shows itself only in brief, acute moments. It’s a good thing that most of life’s big changes don’t happen all at once; myself, I like to have time in which to take things in, to figure out where things stand in the present, so I can move more mindfully into the future. But no matter how thoughtfully one approaches life, sometimes there is just no substitute for the perspective one gets in looking back.

And with that, I offer this rather lengthy pictorial retrospective on our month thus far…

IMG_1367

 Elihu brought his bass to the farm and played for Martha her favorite song, Simple Gifts.

IMG_1371

The farm’s kitchen, the epicenter of my life since I was tiny. That’s mom on the left.

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Mom helps fix Martha’s supper. This image has me pondering the plight of aging; my mother, whose own age is beginning to lessen her physical abilities, is the caretaker for Martha. Interesting the hazy lines between old and really old. Both of these women were superior take-charge gals ‘in their day’. Martha still, however, rules the roost, giving mom step-by-step instructions on how every last duty is to be carried out. Sheesh. Watching these two, dare I say, ‘control freaks’ in their late-in-life interactions is a good lesson for me: it is good to know how to delegate, but more important to let people help you on their own terms. Trust, I believe, is at the heart of the lesson. It’s hard to relinquish control, I get that. But aging kinda forces it on you. Best to be ready.

IMG_1383A quick smooch with Masie before we head out.

IMG_1465Our first dusting of snow. Beautiful, yes, but we’re not quite ready. Elihu hit his forehead and yelped ‘already?’ when he saw this. I swear he was close to crying. He’s not a cold weather kid. In fact, for some unknown reason, since he was very little he’s been telling me that he wants to live in Vietnam one day. ?? I love him more than anything in the world, but I don’t think I’ll be moving along with him. Naw. I’ll be in Italy.

IMG_1482

Good weather for indoor tower-building.

IMG_1498The tallest one yet.

IMG_1188The Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs in the evening, such a cozy sight. Had a parent’s meeting, and thankfully, my son is now old enough that leaving him for an hour or so is possible. Hope when I get home he’s ready for bed…

IMG_1296When going in to say goodnight, I found a poem on Elihu’s desk. Turns out when he can’t sleep (which is every night, just like his ma), he writes poems in his head, then gets up to write them down before he sleeps. Has a bunch of them apparently. !

IMG_1327Downtown there’s a makeshift memorial on Broadway for Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie. The day after he died I posted the photos and obit on the lamppost – within hours people had added balloons, flowers and candles as well as assorted trinkets, including cigarettes, banjo picks and a fireman’s hat.

IMG_1180The look of town has changed rapidly over the past decade, but local folks will recognize these three Saratoga homes, untouched by progress. Seriously, they looked the same in the late 1960s as they do in this 2014 photo. Feeling as I do about change, I relish this image.

IMG_1144We’re giving our young Buff Orpington rooster away to a new home soon, so he’s enjoying a final visit to the kitchen.

IMG_1137Goodbye, handsome fella! (The bird, that is.)

IMG_1412

Nice to see this Red Bellied Woodpecker again this year (a confusing name when it’s really its head that’s noticeably red). Took this from across the room as he’d spook if I got close.

IMG_1417Today we’re going to visit our old goose, Maximus at his new home across town (we’re also giving them the rooster seen above). This is a special morning, so it requires a special breakfast. I surprised Elihu with a pancake in the form of his signature cartoon character, Stanley the Tree Sparrow.

IMG_1436We’re at the gate – and can hardly wait!

IMG_1438I stood and watched in amazement. The flock was free to escape this bird-crazy boy, yet somehow, Maximus did not flee. In fact, he allowed Elihu to get close…IMG_1441!!!!

IMG_1448“Family” selfie. Miss this guy. It’s such a good feeling to smooch a goose. Elihu and I can smooch a chicken and eat a chicken too – the same one, in fact – but we both agree that goose is off the menu for us both now. It just feels different.

IMG_1454They go for one last run before we leave. Max is happy here; he has a pond, lots of open acres in which to roam (note the yak in the background!) and finally, Max has a girlfriend. He has a great life here, so that makes us happy too.

IMG_1459And a final smooch…. for now. See you again, Maximus!

IMG_1508Back at the Hillhouse, giving some love to the king of the roost – and our only resident rooster now – Bald Mountain.

IMG_1151Eyes wide open (indoors, with no lights on), showing me what ‘perfect hair’ looks like. Right on.

IMG_1533Okay, seeing Maximus was special. But this is in a whole new realm of special. These babies ($600 after all was said and done if you can f*ing believe it – they’re just goddam soft contacts!!) are about to change Elihu’s life…

IMG_1284An ordinary picture, right? Look again – this is Elihu, eyes wide open, outside, WITHOUT his dark red sunglasses!! This moment, humble and ordinary as it may appear, is no such thing.

IMG_1189Elihu, about to join his classmates at school for the very first time without dark glasses, is overcome with emotion. I thought I was taking a picture of a smiling child, when he began to sob. You can see the feeling beginning to dawn on him in this image…

IMG_1193He joins his friends on the foursquare court and waits for someone to notice…

IMG_1197Yes!!!

IMG_1216He’s still squinting a bit (he’ll need some supplemental dark glasses for outdoors), but finally Elihu can open his eyes outdoors. Whew!!

IMG_1224I take a quick peek into his classroom to make sure things with the contacts are still ok…

IMG_1242Elihu wants to visit the music store after school with his new contacts in…

IMG_1254We love the use of glockenspiel in some of our favorite polkas. I wouldn’t mind a set of these myself, even if I have no current use for them…

IMG_1263We love this place. I try to make sure he’s not the annoying kid… but he enjoys trying things out for a spin. It is a great opportunity to get an understanding about how different instruments – and different setups – can feel.

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Singing his heart out. He’s been looking forward to this performance for weeks. And again, no dark glasses. A new world for him. Can’t help but think back on his first grade concert… He sang his heart out then, too.

IMG_1511The sixth grade does a eurythmy performance. Eurythmy is the art of sound made visible, and is an important part of Waldorf education. (That’s my little eurythmyst on the far left. He was so psyched to finally be doing his performance in costume.)

IMG_1513And this is Elihu, ending the number and leaving the stage with a flourish.

This act is over, and now a new one begins…

 

Bright Eyes August 13, 2014

When Elihu was teeny – just barely a toddler – I’d take him to a home daycare in the northern Chicago neighborhood of Rogers Park for one day a week so that I could catch up on domestic chores and in general have a couple of hours off (his father wasn’t around a lot as his teaching job took him out of town nearly half the week, and gigs often took up the remaining days). Miss Loretta, the gal who ran the place, was a tall, grand black woman who appeared a little daunting at first; her large ponytail and huge frame towering over us as she stood at the top of the stairs to her front porch waiting for her charges to arrive. Although she could be all business at times, she could also be the sweetest, most caring woman. She had nicknames for some of her favorites; babies whom for some reason or another stood out from the rest. What with Elihu’s eyes and bizarre vision issues, you can be sure he was in that population. And I’d always kinda liked that Miss Loretta had called him “Bright Eyes”; it had a charming, hopeful quality to it. It wasn’t derogatory, it didn’t sound sinister, yet it recognized both Elihu’s challenge and his beautiful spirit all at the same time. I liked it. “Well hel-lo, Bright Eyes!” she’d greet us each Wednesday morning in the open porch door. Once inside, in the dark wood paneled interior of her living room, he must have felt safe – I know that as a mother, my heart filled with relief the first time I saw it. With a child as light-sensitive as mine, it just wasn’t possible to leave him – much less bring him – to many places. (Another reason for the weekly visits; we two hardly ever got out – the world was just too bright.)

Bright Eyes passed a year of his life visiting Miss Loretta, and I think about her from time to time; I wonder if she’s still in the business of tending to a house full of tiny children and babies. I wonder if she ever thinks about her kids, and where they are these many years later. Next time we’re in Chicago, we’ll have to pay her a visit, because’ Bright Eyes’ now has a whole new meaning, and I think she’d be very pleased to see it for herself.

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Here we go… off into a brand-new era. No kidding. The world has opened up to my son. Hope begins to grow, as does a new realm of possibility. It’s just the very beginning of the journey. Ironic that through Elihu’s dark tinted contacts he can now see a brighter future. ! You go, my beloved Bright Eyes!

Before our visit to the eye doc.

These might help Elihu’s vision to shake less. Jury’s still out on them, but they do offer something worth checking into more thoughtfully at a later date.

The BIGGEST moment of his life so far.

Back inside with the contacts in and the shades wide open. He can’t get over it. I can’t either.

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 Our most heartfelt thanks go to everyone at Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs. They had no ego issues, there was no battle for control, they simply rose to the challenge and helped us out. They’ve listened to our needs and responded to them. We couldn’t find anyone else in the area to be so cooperative, proactive and upbeat about it all. We love everyone there!

 

May Daze May 9, 2014

Elihu asked me last night why I often say that ‘when we get past something’ we’ll be alright… He wanted to know why I’d say from time to time that we’d be ok once a certain event, a certain time or a certain holiday was over. “Like Christmas, you kept saying ‘We’ll be ok as soon as we get past Christmas.’ Why do you keep saying things like that? What exactly do you mean?” I hadn’t realized my offhand remarks had made such an impression on him. It gave me pause for sure. I wanted to learn from this, yes, but at the same time I wanted him to understand my point of view too. “It’s just that we hit these super-busy spots in the year, and I just can’t keep up. I can’t keep up with the food, the laundry, the work. And it gets harder when there’s more to do.” He understood, but warned that my comments didn’t sound as benign as I was making them out to be. Wow, I do really try to keep from getting too dark with him, but he’s a sharp kid. He gets my meaning. And again I wonder, is it just me complaining? It can’t be. I’m not that crazy-different from most folks. I like to flatter myself into thinking I might be, but I’m pretty sure I’m not experiencing anything that out of the ordinary. Or am I? After all, there is no partner to tag-team with, no one else to step in for a minute, no one else to make it happen. Ok, yeah, so there’s a lot to do. But I’m not the only single mom here in this world. I just express myself without much editing, I guess.

This past week Elihu has felt it too – it wasn’t just me feeling the overwhelm of a busy, end-of-the-school year rush. There has been a lot going on recently in a very short amount of time. And today, Elihu got it. After being patient and good for an hour long appointment at the eye doctor after school, he finally broke down in tears. “I’m SO tired” he moaned, and pushed his face into my shoulder. But he’d made it. Me too. Still have another couple weeks of recitals, performances and then the big pentathlon event for the fifth grade, but most of our landmark events were past now. And we enjoyed them all, every moment. But we’re kinda zapped now. As I write, he’s relaxing in his bedroom, organizing his collection of Pokemon cards, and I’m sitting here wondering what in hell I’ll make for supper. But this is a mere blip on the screen in view of the two huge, life-changing events that happened just today: Elihu learned how to ride a bike!!!! And what else? Get this – Elihu learned how to put contacts in his eyes!!!! We’re on the path to tinted contacts – something that will radically change his life forever. These two landmarks have us elated, proud, relieved – and ready to collapse. This is one May we will never, ever forget. We’re definitely in a daze tonight, but man, it’s a happy one.

IMG_2645Going back two days (feels like two months ago by now) to a window on my birthday morning. Guinea fowl Austin on the bridge, our beloved flock below and Ace’s sculpture “Mayfly” to the left.

IMG_2745

Hey, we had the garage cleaned and painted last year, why the splotches of mud??

IMG_2743A-ha! Our friends the Phoebes have returned and once again made their nest atop the garage light. Ah well, we can always wash up the mess after the babies are raised and gone. So very glad you came back! Nice to see and hear you again. Now I think this is a very sweet birthday present.

IMG_2777Here was another sweet birthday experience… I got to write and play music for the eighth grade play. Mr. Ruel introduces “Tuck Everlasting” to the Waldorf students in the charming theater space of the local Episcopal Church, Elihu is in the dark hair and shirt in the center.

IMG_2666Jessie explains the magical properties of the spring in the wood, and its awesome implications.

IMG_2687Angus Tuck tells young Winnie “I just got to make you understand” as he explains the dangers of living forever.

IMG_2704A climactic scene in which the tension rises and the play takes a turn.

IMG_2709Well done, eighth grade!

IMG_2728There’s been a delay with the carpenter… still hoping this job will be history soon.

IMG_2731What a perfect birthday present from mom! The name says it all too! Finished with washing dishes by hand soon!!

IMG_2735A quick, late-night trip to Stewart’s to grab a birthday cake for myself. Yes, I ate both of them. !

IMG_2791The next day starts with a double smooching of chickens.

IMG_2806Dinah and Thumbs Up share Elihu’s lap and really seem to like it there.

IMG_2819Now it’s time to go to the gig. Elihu regularly donates the proceeds from his Eggs of Hope sales to Drilling for Hope, a non profit run by local woman Karen Flewelling. She asked Elihu if he’d play drums for the opening night of “Faces of Rwanda”, a collection of gorgeous black and white pictures taken of Karen’s last trip by photographer Emma Dodge Hanson. Twins (and classmates) Jonah and Phoenix join him here.

IMG_2850This is a photograph from her recent trip to Rwanda of villagers drilling a new well.

IMG_2827Pics of donors and the Rwandan children that they’re helping to send to school.

IMG_2826We looked and we looked and yay! We finally found our friend from so far away! Hopefully we will be sponsoring this very student in the years to come. Wow. I can’t believe we’ve been able to help someone else here on the planet. We, of so very limited resources are absolutely rich in the world-wide scheme of things. This helps to keep things in perspective for sure.

IMG_2838Classmate Ben helps Elihu find his picture on the big wall at the exhibit.

IMG_2845Karen says hi to Elihu; he just made another gift to Drilling for Hope to help Karen do her wonderful work in the world.

IMG_2902The view from my post most of the day: high school eurtythmy class. They’re in costumes now, getting ready for the big performance at Zankel Music Hall at Skidmore College next week.

IMG_2853After my high school classes are done for the morning, I rush over to the Lower School to see how Elihu fared. And just as I got out of my car and pulled out my camera – who should come riding up on his bike (a thing he could not have done only a couple of hours earlier) but my amazing boy!!! Talk about a surprise!!!

IMG_2854And just as effortlessly as he rode to me, he then promptly rode away. Sigh.


IMG_2862The sanctuary of an empty, fifth grade classroom, pre-lunch.

IMG_2873And the same room moments later. All are in a good mood.

IMG_2895After lunch I get to hang out with the kids for a bit as I’m on yard duty. Our equestrian friend Cally (who’s also an incredibly talented singer) smooches a home made horse doll and lil first grade buddy Tylor admires a beeswax figure Elihu’s working on.

IMG_2907Now we’re visiting a new eye doc in hopes she can be a little more proactive in getting Elihu red tinted contacts. It’ll be new territory for her. She was very kind and positive. We’re hopeful…

IMG_2925These have a crazy, futuristic Harry Potter-esque vibe – maybe even a little Brazil-esque feeling to them too (yeeks). Elihu’s trying out some mild prism glasses here to help him find the null point in his nystagmus (shaking of pupils).

IMG_2918The doc’s assessing Elihu’s ability to read – hard to know if his vision challenge is a product of light sensitivity, acuity or both.

IMG_2934Assistant Jen shows Elihu how to put contacts in his eyes.

IMG_2930Here he is – with contacts in! They’re not tinted, they’re just to give him an idea of how it all works.

IMG_2947One more spin around the park. (The bike was a gift from the local program “Bikeatoga”; thanks guys, we so appreciate it!) I told Elihu ages ago that riding a bike was the closest thing to flying that he’d ever know. Today he laughed and said I was right.

May we remember the feeling of this special day in May for years to come.

 

Scare January 10, 2014

“What happened to your fingers?” one of the eighth grade girls asked me today as we stood chatting and waiting for the teacher to arrive. It was more than the uncensored nature of youth that allowed her to ask me without first editing her thoughts (or her surprised tone) – I’d spent some time with this class accompanying them at several performances, so by now they felt pretty familiar with me. While her question initially stopped me in my tracks (I kept my cool in spite of it), I appreciated the candor of her question, because it confirmed for me that it wasn’t all in my head… I’d known it was bad, or at least not good, for a while now. In fact I’d even heard slight gasps from my adult students in class last year when showing them the hands that had just demonstrated something intricate on the piano. There had been a slight pause in the room as people began to reconcile the music they’d just heard with the hands they now saw before them…

The nodes on the distal joints of my fingers can’t be ignored anymore – certainly not be me, nor by folks I meet for the first time. They are large, they are painful, they get stuck in between the black notes – and they are not getting any smaller. Just this past week I had a painful day of great sensitivity on the fourth finger of my left hand, and the next day there it was: a fresh, new node. A newly deposited growth of bone, I suppose, from what I’ve seen and researched online. Just about a year ago I’d gone to an orthopedic doc, before it had gotten terribly bad, and I was more than disappointed to hear him tell me there was basically nothing I could do about it. There were some drugs I might take, but they had a lot of potential side effects which probably weren’t worth it, he advised. I’d been prepared to hear something like this, but it was quite disappointing even still. I mean, come on. Everybody and his brother has arthritis and has for as long as we can remember – and I still have so few options? Seriously??

As a young adult I can remember looking at my mother’s hands and thinking that the distortion in her fingers was almost unbelievable. As if she certainly must have done something to have earned them. Knuckles don’t just blow up like that unprovoked, do they? Well, no matter who or what was responsible, a fate like this was certainly this poor woman’s cross to bear, but thank goodness, I’d think confidently to myself, that’s not my future. I’d even had such smug thoughts knowing damn well that while I do get my musical talent from my father, I look not a thing like him. No. Rather, I look like my mom. So here I am, at the start of my fifties and my own beloved hands are blowing up like those of an old peasant granny. For heaven’s sake. This is so not me! Come on guys! I beg my hands. I love you guys! I appreciate you guys! Why are you doing this? Why? I plead with them, even kissing them like a mother would her child. But onward they go, their shapes morphing almost as I watch; the minute, intermittent stabbing sensations and dull, hot pain confirming for me that things are, in this very minute, continuing to get worse. I’ve cut out wine. I’ve cut out acidic foods. Dairy. Salt. I read, I Google, try something else. I drink water. I try to think positively. But my fingers respond to nothing. My disease is progressing without my consent, and I am sad. Scared, too.

It’s a dull, ever-present sort of scared, it’s one I can live with. But there are other insidious types of fear that I find have been making headway into my life of late, and I don’t like it. I might be able to live with them too, but I sure as hell don’t want to. I may strike people as a strong woman – and some days I might agree – but I can feel that it’s becoming a bigger challenge these days to keep it together. Panic has resurfaced over the past year, chronic concerns over money feel even more real as my own aged years loom closer (and I have not a penny saved), and then of course there is always the concern for my son. His vision, his ability to participate as fully as he can in the world, and of late, I worry about his having contracted Lyme disease. We’ve begun his treatment, and docs assure me that in a young and vigorous kid like him, he’ll have no worries later on. It helps, but angry emails from his father telling me that I “need to take this seriously” as if somehow I do not, and telling me I might have been more vigilant when I in fact had been worried but hadn’t had him checked yet, this all makes it much worse. I don’t know how my ex still has such power to hurt and frighten me…. I summon my focus and I stand up to him. Right after, I beg my son in my heart to forgive me for not knowing, for not doing something sooner…

Tonight Elihu asked me to please stay and read to him. He said he was feeling ‘needy’. I hadn’t given him a lot of one-on-one time lately as I’d had too much life to deal with. Music to learn, house to clean, food to fix and such. Tonight, we agreed on a trade. If he’d let me just organize the mess in the kitchen – get it squared away just a bit – then I’d come in and read to him. I did, and shortly after I began to read we both started to drop off. I turned off the light and soon fell deeply asleep. The next thing I know Elihu is feeling for me in the dark and muttering something. He, like me, is a sleep-talker. He can even hold some conversations in this state, so at first I wasn’t concerned. But this was different. He reached out to me with outstretched arms, which I took for a hug, but he shook his head. “Machine” he said, pointing to his nebulizer. Can you imagine the shot of adrenaline that flashed through my body? I immediately got a packet of medicine, poured it in and gave him the mouthpiece. He looked drunk. After a few puffs he laid back down. I yelled his name and shook him – “Are you ok?” He waited for a moment, then nodded no. “This is different” he said through closed eyes.  “Do you need to go to the emergency room?” I asked. He nodded yes. “Yes, emergency room” he said, again his head drooping to the side. Holy fucking shit. White hot fear coursed through me and my heart began immediately to beat as if I’d run a race…. I thought back to a panic attack I’d experienced earlier that day. It was a close second, for sure, but man, these stakes were mind-bendingly high… I ran through the house, pulling on clothes, locating his rescue inhaler, my boots, keys, a blanket to wrap him in…. I came back and tried to tug a sweatshirt over his head, but he fell limply to the side. Holy shit, holy shit, keep moving… I was thankful that the ER was just about five miles away, and we could be there in less than ten minutes. Lucky…. “Elihu!” I yelled at him. “What?” he finally responded. Then a look overtook him, and he sat up, eyes fully open, as I tugged the sweatshirt down around his neck. “What are you doing, Mommy?” he asked. “We’re going to the hospital – to the emergency room! You said you needed to! Can you breathe now? Are you ok??” He shook his head and fell back down on the pillow. “No, I wasn’t waiting to go to the emergency room. I just wanted a more comfortable pillow.” He lifted his head up and I inserted the down pillow underneath him. He plopped back down onto it. “Honey, are you ok? He nodded. My heart was still pumping loudly, and I wasn’t convinced. But I realized that he was still deeply asleep, and that while he may have needed help with his breathing, it wasn’t as dire as his sleep-talking self had said. Oh my God, I kept thinking over and over again, the prospect of a life without my beloved son flashing uncontrollably, nauseatingly, through my mind. My God, I think, and I my face sinks into my hands. Holy shit.

For the most part, I’d say I’m a glass half-full gal. Might not always have been, but I am now. Only I’m not sure if I could remain so if I were to lose my son. For that matter, how will I feel about that glass when I can no longer play the piano? Many times I have thanked the universe for all that I’ve been blessed with. Even the unexpected divorce and all the unforseen events that followed. It’s all been one unpredictable adventure from which I’ve learned so much more than I ever would have otherwise. If I hadn’t once been scared shitless, I wouldn’t be here now. I remind myself that fear has its place. But truly, I don’t think I need any more. I’m good. I don’t want to have to find out if I do or do not have it in me to live through a tragedy. Please, universe, don’t try me. I’m good with things the way they are. And I aim to make things better, too. I aim to get my son tinted contacts this year. I aim to teach him how to ride a bike, to make dinner on his own. We still have so much more to do, I have so much more to teach him. Let’s just get through this night, please, I beg anyone who might be listening. My right index finger hurts, my head hurts. I am emotionally weak just thinking of yesterday’s new run-in with panic. I am scared. But I remind myself: I might be scared, but I am strong too. Posturing though it might be in this moment, as the adrenaline begins finally to subside, I challenge my fear. I tell it we’re done for the night. Running in to check on my son every few minutes as I write this middle-of-the-night post and finding him in a comfortable sleep, breathing nice, even and deep breaths, I begin to take back what power I can. I tell fear to leave us alone.

Soon I think I’ll get to bed myself. One more check on Elihu, one more set of good, deep breaths and I’ll lie down.Man, I sure could use a rest after all of this… And I’m pretty sure being brave may well require a good night’s sleep.

 

The House Cafe September 21, 2013

It was a time in which I learned an awful lot, and it seemed everything was happening all at once. It was a time which, while an important chapter in the course of my life, would not be one I’d ever care to repeat. I had three things weighing heavy on my heart: first was my son. Each day I’d drop off my special-needs, vision-impaired son at daycare and would remain in a state of low-grade guilt and discomfort all day as a result. I would rather have been with him, but it just wasn’t possible as now I had a new full-time job, item number two on the list…. I was the owner and manager of The House Cafe. While more my husband’s dream than mine, he already had a full-time job, so this role became mine. Truly, it was no mere coffee shop, rather it was a restaurant and a nightclub. Live music six days a week, a liquor license, food to order, store, inventory and prepare – and college-aged employees to get most of it done. And then there was item number three: my marriage. A union of over twenty years that was fast dissolving into thin air right before my eyes. It was profoundly frightening, Each day I felt as if I were walking through a horrible, waking dream, yet I had absolutely no time to deal with it. I was so busy, in fact, that most times I told myself it was just the stress of the job; things were just temporarily off course. One day things would be back the way they’d been. That’s what I had to tell myself in order to get though. I had left my familiar and beloved life behind in Evanston and had hit the ground in Dekalb running at breakneck speed, but it was still my greatest hope that a peaceful family life lay somewhere ahead.

Having just set this up as a rather dark piece about a difficult time and a challenging job, let me now elaborate a bit upon what it was that made this experience so rich. As I once wrote – in my very first piece ever on this blog – I experienced a range of events in working at The House Cafe that I might have expected from a decade of management, not a mere two years. Some were terrible to live through, and some were very rewarding. Employees were for the most part intelligent kids with humor and good sense (not all of them, but most) and I loved to know that we ran a place that was comfortable and inviting. That it was a place in our small town where folks of all types could meet and hang. We had a toy box and couches, rotating installations of local art on the walls, we had a bright area up front, and cozy dark booths in back. Even four bathrooms. During the daytimes it was moms and tots and students studying, by afternoon it was the bands loading in. The place radically changed character at night – and frankly, as a mom to a little one, I wasn’t able to enjoy the shows too often. Sometimes I wouldn’t really want to; when the kids lined up around the block and down the hill I knew we’d be in for a heavy-hitting night. More than once I’d have to pack tiny Elihu in the minivan and stop by the club to tell the booking guy he had to close the doors. I know it was tempting for him (cuz he got paid by the head count) and it was tempting for me too to want that extra income – but we just couldn’t go over capacity. But as a business, you gotta admit that’s a pretty good problem to have!

I remember young Elihu – at the age of just four – helping me test mics before a show. They were clearly numbered, and he certainly knew his numbers, and he felt quite comfortable picking up a mic and speaking into it… so one by one we’d make our way across the board getting things ready. It was a large room, and in the evenings could be quite dark and cozy, so he was able to run around free from his usual super-dark sunglasses as I finished preparing for the night. Checking the sandwich line, the stock up front, the state of the green room downstairs. By no means did I run the place as well and thoroughly as I would have liked, but I feel I muddled through as best I could in my situation. Thankfully I’d had years of experience waitressing  and playing clubs, so that helped. But nothing prepared me for the experience of being stolen from by employees, by being yelled at by employees, by being told by the health department that I had to make improvements which I had no money to make, or learning I hadn’t enough money on hand to pay the musicians (this is the last thing I should ever want to do to a fellow musician!). Or finding that I needed to keep an inventory of every last thing in my storage closet lest my toilet paper mysteriously disappear. Or that pictures would be stolen off of walls, furniture would be broken, expensive microphones would routinely walk off and vomit would end up in the bathroom hallway at least once a week…

Of several memories, there is one I particularly like to recall. I’d been up front one late afternoon, working with the baristas, making coffees and sandwiches for a busy house, and had begun to make the rounds with a large plastic tub, bussing the tables. A local Dixieland band was playing, as they did one Sunday of each month. We’d just made it through the lunch rush and now things were settling down. I was in the zone of cleaning up – finding my groove and feeling good about a happy, successful day. I was lost in my thoughts, but was awakened from them when I’d heard my name spoken. I looked up, and saw that I was being called from the stage to join the band for a song. It was a Cinderella moment as I set down my load of dirty dishes, took off my apron to reveal a dress beneath, then pulled the pencil out of my udpdo and swung my hair loose. I walked up to the stage (a nice, raised stage complete with lights and a real grand piano – the one that now sits in my living room) and with only a couple of quarter notes to spare, started singing. Life at The House was seldom as picture-perfect as that moment, but it’s a nice one to have that one in the memory archives.

While I didn’t do the booking myself, I could – and did – suggest bands to have play. Sometimes I got em, and those too were happy events. It was enjoyable to now be the host rather than the guest, and to make performers feel at ease, taken care of. I myself made an effort not to engage with them too much, because for me as a performer I’d always wished for more space. And with my ex and other folks through the years I’d seen the relentless, in-your-face sort of presence that fans had. I know it goes with the territory, but I still thought it was important to make privacy available. When I was present, I think I did ok. But even though I was in that office from 9 to 5 each and every workday – weekends too – I didn’t have much of a presence in the place as a nightclub, as I was at home being mom. In hindsight, I think it all worked out. Wasn’t exactly as I would’ve liked, but it was ok. Like I said, I learned a lot.

After about two years though, I was reaching the end of my rope. I had wanted to turn my attention back to family matters, and I began to think about finding someone to replace me. But who? The universe must have felt my plea, for one day the phone rang. It was a woman who was just cold-calling us to see if we had work. She had lots of experience as manager of a coffee shop, and she lived in the area. And she was done with her last job, as in done. Like me, she’d had it and was seeking out something new. Strangely, I had time in my day, and she was only miles away, driving towards the place as we spoke. Within minutes she entered the office, within an hour I had a new manager. Within six months she owned the business. Finally, I was free. Jan was an angel to me at that time; she arrived just when I needed her, and she continued to not only run the Cafe in the same spirit as before, but she improved on it, making it into a Midwestern mecca for the college and patchouli crowds. Perfect. Even my twenty-something year old schefflera plant – now a good ten feet tall – stayed on to live and thrive in the Cafe. I made my exit feeling very good about The House Cafe’s future prospects.

Now, after some five years of Jan’s ownership, she too is wanting to move on. She, like me, is a single mom of a young boy (I think she even has chickens!) and I can’t blame her for wanting out. Running the place is a way of life. And for the most part, running a locally loved, well-established meeting place for the community can be very rewarding. Yeah, it feels really good to welcome regulars and get into a daily rhythm. When things are in place, it’s a good place to be. But no one can stay in one place forever, and so now The House Cafe of Dekalb is on the verge of yet another change. Jan’s leaving at the end of October, and the future of the place is very much in question. As I signed off on all aspects of ownership in the process of my divorce, I don’t know the particulars anymore. But I do know that this is a beloved landmark of that community, and I have my own personal hopes that another angel arrives just in time to save it.

The House Cafe Dekalb

The House Cafe of Dekalb, Illinois