The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Relic July 3, 2015

It’s not my home anymore, and today this sight is truly a relic of my long-gone past, but still the shores of Lake Michigan restore my soul as nothing else can.
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In the wake of Martha’s death, things have changed around here. For one, in the short time between the lovely farewell party we held for her at the farm and the day in which her relatives returned to organize her house, several of her belongings had been stolen. It had to have been an inside job, which leaves the few of us who know the place well to be suspects. I don’t truly think Martha’s niece thinks that we did it, but I can’t know this for sure, and that cloud of distrust has given this transitional chapter a very unsettled feeling. But it sure helps to wind things up there, and at the same time helps propel me back into my own life, something that’s been on hold for a while now.

It’s more than strange to see the farm no longer inhabited. Not a soul remains. Only stuff. Things upon things, more piles and objects than one can comprehend. It is a house that has been receiving its contents for half a century. And now, with their final caretaker gone, they sit, silent and enigmatic, most of their stories lost to those who are left to dispatch with it all. For me, I don’t find myself wondering so much at the items – if the stories are lost, at least their purposes speak for themselves – but more to the point are the unanswered questions – why was Martha saving all of this stuff? For what use was it all intended? Hoarding can just as easily be achieved with elegant, historical relics as it can with modern junk. In the end, things that aren’t of use are essentially just that. Junk. Stuff that sits inert, waiting for someone to give it a new life. So while this house may seem at first glance to be full of precious antiques, I see it a little differently. I see it as a repository for things that at present aren’t realizing their potential. (And in some ways, I also see the place as a mirror for my own life in this moment.)

When mom, Elihu and I visited Chicago a few weeks ago (for the memorial of another dear, old friend), we were given the rare opportunity to see the places where my parents raised my brother and me – and personally it was a way in which I could finally say a deep and meaningful goodbye to those chapters in my life. Our old home had been lovingly restored, the new owners more than happy to share with us every nook and corner of the place. We had the good fortune to eat familiar, much-missed food at places that were once regular destinations in our lives. We re-acquainted ourselves with the new city skyline, saw neighborhoods where some old places were razed and new ones erected, and we took it all in with enthusiasm and great interest. The lake, the unending stretch of beach that goes on for mile after mile, that boundless expanse of horizon which I still miss so very much… We saw it all, and we experienced it all together. And at the age of eighty, I’m not sure my mother will return in her lifetime. I know I will never return in the same way. (As for Elihu, he doesn’t remember his Chicago life, brief as it was, so for him it’s just an interesting anecdotal chapter that came before his time.) This trip was the perfect conclusion and farewell to our former lives. And this time it made coming home to Greenfield truly feel like coming home.

Shortly after we came home from our brief visit to Chicago, Martha died. And a week later, we had her memorial celebration. After that, the items went missing from her place. And now, the farm is no longer our space to enter freely. Ultimately that’s ok – there’s plenty I need to get to; the Studio, my teaching, my own home and property, my chickens, my health, my daily routines (which have been anything but routine over the past month or more) and, of course, my son. I’m resurrecting my quest to find piano solo jobs in this bustling tourist town, and last night made more than a dozen stops in my first attempt to sus out how things work these days. I learned plenty in just six hours of conversation and visits. I’m not up to speed in many ways. I’m out of practice, unfamiliar with my songs, my keys, even the silly lyrics. And technology? Forget about it. My lack of a smart phone and tablet all but cuts me off from the world around me. My songlist itself needs some serious updates (I’d thought I could hang my hat on the novel concept of being nostalgic and ironic, playing mostly a diet of guilty pleasure radio hits for the over 50 set, but the wisdom on the street is that I need a serious infusion of more current material, regardless of my cute little shtick.) I recall a time in my life when I had several hundred songs up and ready to go without a second thought; now I second guess it all. Did I really ever do this before? Was I really a musician in a former life? I certainly never jobbed with a vengeance, but I got work. More importantly – I almost always had work; and if I didn’t, it ended up finding me. Here, in Saratoga, a world in which I’ve never worked professionally, I don’t have the infrastructure of dozens of musician friends nor the good reputation I once took for granted to proceed me. And I certainly don’t have that ‘famous’ guitar-playing husband to help give me an added boost of credibility. All I have is me. (And a new rig, thank God. Wait, make that ‘thank mom’. !) Here, in this ‘new’ town, in this new life, it feels like I’m a relic.

Things can change, this I know. And thanks to a handful of magically timed recent meetups with some very wonderful women I know and a little outside perspective, I’ve been able to reinvigorate the vision. If it weren’t for my hairdresser – whom I merely visited yesterday for a quick hello – I wouldn’t even have set out to meet all the people I did. She urged me to go and close those deals which I’d proposed just a few months ago. And sitting in her chair, whom should I meet but an old friend of Martha’s. It seemed another push from the universe to let go of the past and move into my future.

My day started at six a.m. and didn’t end until lil man was back home and we two settled into bed around 2:30 (his flight from Chicago – where he’d been visiting with his father – got in after 1. A super late night.) My day started by learning, praise Allah, that I didn’t have colon cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps, but that was all (my grandparents died of colon cancer, and my cousin, two years my junior, is on her third round of chemo in her fight against the disease). My day filled quickly after the doctor’s appointment, and I only returned after dark to close the chickens in before I headed out to the airport to pickup Elihu. It was a day full of unplanned-for events, the enjoyable company of friends, and the gleaning of much important professional information. I felt a bit like an outsider though. Yes I’d left Chicago more than six years ago by now, but I’d been cloistered away ever since in the role of rural, impoverished, single mom. Yesterday it felt like I was starting all over again. But at least I was beginning on my own, not in the wake of a famous husband, not on the reputation of a varied career as keyboardist, not as a frontman for a well-loved band, not as any of those things. Just as me.

I still have a hard time letting go of my past life because sometimes I worry that nothing can match its glamour; that instead of a fruitful future, I can expect a long, bleak road ahead. That kind of thinking has been easy to succumb to in the past, but I need to get rid of it now. It’s ok to hold on to a keepsake – there’s nothing wrong with being in possession of a relic or two – but there’s still a lot of junk in my house that no longer serves me which I need to clear out, so that a new life can have the space and freedom to move on in.


IMG_0085The most beautiful, perfect sendoff for our dearest Martha. Michael made a fine toast (we all raised a glass of Martha’s regular evening drink – gasp – Apricot Brandy) after which we all sang Martha’s favorite song, “Simple Gifts”. That big, beautiful farmhouse came alive again, and I’m sure wherever Martha was, she was pleased.





A real-life tableau, undisturbed for decades.

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Ever a practical woman, Martha wrote her own obituary, as well as her final wishes and disbursements here in this plain, spiral notebook. She called her matters ‘mundane’; simple though they might have been, mundane they were not.

IMG_0152A last image of what has been our ‘normal’ for the past five decades. Mom and Andrew sit in the kitchen at the farm as they have since he and I were tiny.

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IMG_0048Is my own collection of stuff any less of a mystery? How in hell did this crap all find me? Another garage sale of epic proportions in on the calendar for this summer. My house will not end up like Martha’s. (Besides, there’s no space; it’s a mere four rooms to her ten.)

IMG_0052I am of the opinion that if you do not see it, you will not use it. I’ve labeled all this stuff and use it all pretty regularly. I’m doing my best to keep my crap confined to this storage room and nowhere else.

IMG_0058I’d thought my new rig was so modern and ready-to-rock, but alas, the bulky 3 ring binders of charts (and my reliance on them too) instead of a handy tablet is a handicap in this day and age. No matter, for now it’ll have to do. Until I can store it all in my brain, that is.

IMG_0103I try to keep my world as simple as possible. Hopefully, a tidy home will provide a solid platform for a full and invigorating life to come. If some things are about to change in my life, I’ll need some things in place that never do. That’s just the kind of gal I am. I’m fine with some change, and I feel it’s important to routinely clean one’s house out of unused items, but I utterly depend upon some things remaining just as they are.

IMG_0025Here’s a pic of our first-born hen this year, whom we named Martha. Sadly, for no reason I can understand, she died one morning this week. We’d never before had a hen who was half red and half white. She was as unique as her namesake.

IMG_0014I don’t cry anymore when our animals leave us, but my heart still breaks. I’d hoped to have a living remembrance of Martha here on our tiny farm, but I’ll have to let go of the sentiment and attachment. Sorrow and regret can zap a person of their hope, and I need to keep mine strong and healthy. Goodbye and thank you, tiny, feathered friend.

IMG_0002It’s not exactly in my backyard, but Saratoga Lake’s not terribly far.

IMG_0011Our house on the hill lives in the middle ridge of this photo – in the darker blue section just above the treeline, with the Adirondacks beyond. For me this is a new body of water, a new horizon. This beautiful view gives me a new perspective on things, and that’s something I could really use right about now.


       Post Script: Martha suffered a stroke in the mid 80s which left her left side paralyzed. While she was able to drive for a while, and did far more than one would expect for a person in such a situation, she was clearly stopped in her tracks by this life-changing event. It has been posited that her stuff remained in disuse because she was never again able to resume her activities and projects as she’d planned after her stroke. Heartbreaking to think how everything can change in a minute. A good reminder for us all to use our lives as fully as we’re able, and while we’re able, too.

 

November’s News November 20, 2014

Today the sixth grade went on a field trip to see a production of The Secret Garden by Albany’s Capital Repertory Company. A quick, last-minute search informed me that it was a musical – not what I’d expected (Lucy Simon, Carly’s big sister wrote the music, Marsha Norman the lyrics). At first my heart sank at the discovery, but no matter, I figured it would be a good production. Happily, the show did not disappoint, and even though I, as a driver and chaperone, paid my own gas and parking, I feel it was worth the expense. These rare day trips are always worth whatever small sacrifice I need to make, because this era of ‘parents going along too’ won’t last forever. Plus I want very much to have these shared memories with my son, and with his classmates, too.

In Elihu’s first full year at Waldorf I was present for just about every single field trip the class took. The following year, in spite of a full schedule playing piano at the school, I somehow managed to attend most of the trips, and even though I had to beg out of a class again today, I managed to go along once again. I don’t take any of this for granted, I feel it’s a true gift. As a parent with the flexibility to be there, it would be a missed opportunity if I didn’t go when I was able. Although on the car ride back Elihu played the perfect eleven-year-old boy, making crazy jokes with his buddies and laughing the whole ride, when it was just the two of us again driving home from school, he effused over the production. He told me that he ‘was in tears for much of it’. (I found it moving too, but not to the degree that he did.) And that each actor played an instrument – and sang as well – he found that more than impressive. When we got home he was excited to call both his father and grandma to tell them about his day at the theater.

Tomorrow is the fall school assembly, and although the orchestra’s too large to fit on the stage and so won’t be performing (much to Elihu and grandma’s great disappointment), Elihu will be singing with the middle school chorus as well as doing a spoken word piece with his class, and also a eurythmy performance in costume. (As a self-respecting sixth grade boy he cannot openly admit to enjoying his movement performance, but in private Elihu has several times told me how beautiful the costumes are and how much he’s looking forward to wearing them.) Tomorrow should be another good production. And for once I’m not accompanying anything, and I will be thoroughly enjoying my non-participatory role in the audience.

A couple of days ago I had my first hair cut and color in over seventh months. (I know.) I just love the place I go to; it’s homey, comfortable and casual and I almost always meet someone new and enjoy some pleasant conversation when I’m there. I have a great respect for those who can cut and style hair; they express such nuance with each creation. And that no two heads are the same just makes what Wendy does for me all the more impressive. She’s a talented woman, and I’m grateful that I found her. (She always makes Elihu feel like a rockstar, too.) It’s been so long since I’ve felt like spending the money on myself, but truth be told, there’s almost never a good time. Somehow, this month my bills were caught up and I’d even managed to tuck some Christmas gifts away early, so I was able to free myself from the guilt of the extra expense and enjoy being there. Freedom from worry is good, yes – but even better is that fresh haircut feeling. ! And I know I’m just kinda sneaking this in here – but I’ve lost 15 pounds since September on a renewed dieting campaign, and it hasn’t been til now that I’ve felt I deserved spending the money on my hair. Diet results or not, I’ve done a lot over the past seven months. I’ve covered some ground and made some improvements in my corner of the world. This was a nice reward.

Beyond today, I’m not sure what will fill our time when school lets out for break, as the Thanksgiving vacation week looms long and empty at the moment. It’s the first Thanksgiving that Elihu will have been here in years. Last year, while Elihu was in Illinois with his father, we four Conants had our last meal together while dad was alive. I remember the food was so good that we ate robustly, hardly checking in a moment with each other. It was only as dad wiped his beard and began to push away from the table that I realized…. this was probably was, no – it was – our very last meal together as a family. I’d felt both sad and grateful in that moment – sad that it had felt so natural that I’d let it pass without any special moment of savoring it, grateful that we, who hadn’t eaten as a group around the same table in a decade or more, had all been here together one final time. In a way it was perfect that Elihu was absent; it gave us our last real moment as a family. I’m grateful for it, grateful, grateful. Hard to believe it was a year ago. That the season of my dad’s death was a year ago. This year, thank God, we’ll have the energetic addition of young Elihu to help keep things happy and bright. Mom’s even inviting another couple to join us. Things feel much better than they had originally. One concern however, is Andrew. After several months of attending AA meetings every single night, he’s fallen off the wagon yet again. (An intervention was never done at the insistence of a friend in AA who ended up mentoring – and then giving up on – Andrew.) This is an emotionally charged time, and Andrew is a goddam time bomb. It’s one thing to call the sheriff in to prevent him from taking a knife to me with immediate family present, it’ll be a horror show if it happens in front of folks we don’t know all that well. (I suppose it would be even more horrific should he actually make good on his threats.) With his nephew being present, that might help mitigate things. Never can tell with Andrew. We shall see.

Martha was taken to the hospital day before yesterday – her sixth (or perhaps seventh?) such visit over the past year. I’m always prepared for it to be ‘the time’, but it never is. I was glad that Elihu’d brought his string bass to the farm the other night to play for her. He played her favorite song “Simple Gifts” and other things, all of which made her happy and brought up stories from when she was a music teacher at Skidmore College half a century ago. Then Elihu found a shofar from the farm’s music room and after a few minutes found he could play a couple of discernible notes on it. That again brought up another story. Mom too was there with us in the kitchen, and Martha’s hound dog Masie made the rounds sitting on our feet as we visited… “If this visit to the hospital is to be Martha’s last, at least we had a good time the other night” I had thought to myself. But within a day she was given the green light, and yesterday I found myself wheeling Martha back up the stairs and into her enormous farm house once again. Which is where she ought to be. It’s always best to be home.

And tonite I find myself actually enjoying my home in a free moment. To-do lists done for the day, laundry, dishes, tidying… All of it done. The kid is even asleep. Often it takes Elihu a very long time to fall out, but today was full and after reading a chapter or two he was ready to sleep. I so seldom find myself in this place – usually it’s not until late that I can sit in front of my computer. Usually I feel the dull panic of a night growing later, and the morning looming just around the corner… But right now I am fairly content in the middle of a peaceful night, in my cozy, candle-lit living room in the middle of a month that hasn’t turned out as badly as I’d expected it to. As far back as I can remember, this was the month I always hated most of all. It was bleaker than any other month. It was gray and cold and snowless. And aside from a recent dusting of snow (we’re six hours east of the snowbound region of New York), so far this is just about as I remember all Novembers to be. But somehow, what with all life’s tiny diversions, I haven’t been so disheartened by the month this time around. Yes, it’s been cold and bleak out, but thankfully there’s been enough going on inside to keep our lives warm and colorful. Ah, but let’s all hope that it doesn’t get too colorful around here in a week’s time… Because as much as we all like a good story, I think we can agree that sometimes no news really is good news.

 

Badass Not September 17, 2014

Back in the day, I kinda thought I was a badass. I wasn’t, of course, but I tried hard to convince myself – and many of the people around me – that I was. Inside I was full of self-doubt, but I was still together enough to pretend to the world that I was fine. More than fine. And truthfully, there were moments when did indeed feel strong and confident. Maybe there were some moments when I really was a badass. Good at something in my own way. I think I knew it on some level, yet still, a voice nagged at me… They’ll figure you out one day if you’re not careful…

But for a while, there was something I truly did have going for me. I was in shape. And for a few years there, fitness was my thing. Really my thing. Worked out six days a week, and worked out well, thoughtfully. I’d have women come up to me and ask me for tips, for help with their routines. Back then I hadn’t the life experience to know that a good measure of that fitness was, plain and simple, thanks to youth. And thanks also to a chronic sense that somehow I could just never measure up. And so I made up for it the best ways I could. Being a mini rock star in my small sub-culture, dressing fine, and being on stage – whether I actually was on stage or not. Always fundamentally insecure, always trying to appear that I wasn’t trying. And frankly, the only true barometer I had that showed me I was truly good at something was seeing my hard work paying off in the form of a fit body. So I kept at it.

Until, of course, life took over. My story is not unique, really. Nope. Woman has kid, becomes busy, hell, becomes divorced, poor, run-down by the duties of the post, and, well… Next thing you know a decade’s passed and thirty extra pounds have come to live on your frame. It does sneak up on you. I had no true understanding of how large I’d become until it became necessary, once again, to buy ‘fat clothes’. That, and the observations of my young son that “I really was getting big now”. One can only stall so long. Clearly action was needed. But when I stared down the solution in the face, I wondered how I would approach it. What motivated me then didn’t drive me now. I couldn’t just put on the 80s hair metal cassette and kick some ass… It wasn’t about any of that anymore. How was I going to do this? Sure vanity drives me still, I think all humans share that to some degree, but this time it was more about my quality of life. And the very length of it, too. I’d taken enough of those online tests that determine your ‘actual’ age vs. your ‘age in years’ to know that my prospects weren’t quite as good as I pretended they were. Bad enough I’d smoked all those years. Then there was this inactivity thing on top of it. Ich. Time to move.

At first, I did not want to go to the Y. For one, all I’d ever gone to were women’s gyms. There I was off the hook. Didn’t have to look good for anyone. (Keep in mind, the last time I spent a lot of time working out I was much younger, and my wiring was different than it is now.) And this time, some shadow of that adolescent concern still bothered me. It bothered me for or a day or two. Until I realized that, unlike the me at 25, it honestly wasn’t about my ego anymore. My fitness or lack thereof. And ironically, in some ways, being an overweight, middle-aged woman gave me a new feeling of freedom. Some of it due to the anonymity of my demographic, some of it due to the fact that I don’t care so much anymore how I appear because there are more important things in my life. Course I do care, but also, I don’t. You know, not in the way I once did.

The variety of ages and abilities of the people attending the Y blows my mind. I’ve never before been a part of such a diverse population. Not in my jobs, not in my small, personal world. Not really even on the street. But at the Y – there are ninety year olds and two year olds all doing something. Hell, there are mommies pushing infants in jogging strollers… It’s amazing. Kinda reminds me of the picture books for young children that show all the goings-on of the outside world. Like a Richard Scarry book, or like a Sesame Street short. People of all shapes and colors and ages are there, just doing their thing. Gives me a lot of latitude just to chill and concentrate on doing my own best – and not worrying about looking my best while I’m doing it. I’m still kinda acclimating to the idea of being really sweaty and gross looking in front of, well, everybody, but it is freeing. And while I may not be able to go as low into my squats as the women in my Zumba class (seriously, when did I become this friggin weak??) I know that it’s ok. I don’t have to be a badass anymore. I just have to be. Thank God.

As I’ve passed my first week of routine workouts, I’ve come to notice a couple of things. One, is that my long morning workouts have not served yet to raise my overall energy, instead, I feel like passing out on the drive home. ! This, I hope, will change before long. I remind myself that it’s hardest in the beginning. That I haven’t worked out like this in a decade. (At least one hopes these are sound arguments for hanging in there.) I’ve also come to observe something about the way I move through the world – about the way in which many, likely most folks move in this world: I used to move through this world in spite of my body, now I’m moving through the world because of my body. Simply walking has become a more thoughtful process. And crazy as it might sound, I feel less daunted by it. It feels more familiar. I don’t look for the closest parking space anymore cuz I don’t dread the walk. Ok, so maybe I might not love the walk, but still, it doesn’t feel like quite the burden it did just a week ago. Which is hopeful, because this time, I have a feeling this workout thing might have to become part of my life for the long haul.

And maybe, if I live long enough, and well enough, maybe that’ll give me enough street cred to finally make me a legitimate, card-carrying badass.

 

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Our Way September 10, 2014

As so often happens with my plans for things, everything I had on my list for the day has changed. The cable company is working on the line at the moment, so there’s no internet, no phone. The builders are moving my driveway right now, so there’s no way to leave the property to do errands. Elihu’s home sick anyway, so everything I’d hoped to do today is postponed until the next window of available time. He’s put in some time practicing his bass, so I suppose I might follow suit and get some time in at the piano. By now I do have some experience with unexpected changes, so I’ve gotten pretty good at rolling with it. Might just be an opportunity today to do something I might not have done otherwise.

We’re not quite in our new groove here at the Hillhouse, but we’re on our way. It certainly feels this year as if we’re at the doorstep of a new age in both of our lives. To me, it feels like that past six years here were about learning this new way of living; being a single parent, raising chickens, beginning a garden, making some fixes in the house, figuring out how to go it on our own, and in general getting our feet firmly planted on our own soil, as it were. The neediest days of the tiny child are now gone, and so too are a lot of the unknowns that came with our new life here. Now I know how to start my furnace, how to butcher a bird, shoot a gun (not that I’ll ever do it again), and prepare my garden. I’ve learned how often I need to clean out the gutters so my basement doesn’t flood and how many mice I can expect to get rid of in a week. I’ve got skills I didn’t have when we started out on this adventure, and I’m far less intimidated by the varying routines that go along with the changing seasons.

Elihu has also got a good foundation for himself; he’s a good person, with sound judgement and a good heart who eats well, plays well, learns well and has a wonderful, witty sense of humor. With his tinted contacts in (the new pair just arrived!) and his braces off, his chickens, his sketching tools, a string bass, plus his new ability to ride a bike – it feels like he’s ready for anything. Finding the Waldorf School a couple of years ago was one of the most important pieces in the puzzle. Elihu loves going to school, and for that I feel beyond blessed (in fact he really didn’t want to stay home today, but his asthma was bad, so I insisted. He had done his homework early, so that helped in my decision). Lately I’ve been teaching him how to prepare some basic meals, and I feel he’s able to fend for himself in a whole new way. Truly, it offers me some relief now, and allows me to invest some of my energy in other directions.

Our new direction is becoming clearer, but it feels like it’s been hard to actually get underway – there have been so many small detours. Elihu gets his contacts, but the first time he puts them in, they rip. I get the supplies to insulate the Studio, but can’t find the time to do the work. I left my job to free up more time, but ironically, the few classes I play end up cutting my day in awkward sections, leaving me too little time to drive back to Greenfield and get any work done. Plus the cost of gas will just about match the income. Not good, but I remind myself, not permanent. Nothing is permanent. I just have to be patient, and prepared.

It feels like we’re at the bend of a road now, but the straightaway is just up ahead… My neighbor came over last night with her three kids, and we chatted as the four children bounced on the trampoline. She too felt as if a big change was underway in her own life. Could be that we both see the new house that’s going up in between us as somehow symbolic – it certainly is for me, but there’s more to it than the changing landscape. She and her family have put their house on the market and hope to move. That means change for us, too. Two new families will soon be living next door. The dynamic of the neighborhood is yet to reveal itself.

Then of course, there’s the Weight Watchers adventure beginning anew. It’s not a complete unknown to be sure, but something feels different this time. At my age, I feel I have less time to horse around – with my health and with my happiness. So I’m thinking more about balance – I’m more about the long haul than I am about just getting it done. And I can’t help but see it as a metaphor for the way in which I might want to approach all the new projects coming up. Low and slow… Take more time if need be. Get it done, but take care to do it right. No more quick fixes.

I was eleven years old when my parents built the Studio. I still remember well running through the skeleton of the structure with my little brother, I remember first seeing the plans, then the cardboard model of the building, and finally, after one busy summer, there it was. It’s funny, but I don’t remember much of my life before the Studio was there. That means that in some way that my truly conscious life began at eleven; the same age Elihu is now. That thought intrigues me; both my son and I coming to know this new incarnation of the Studio in the same year of our lives. It gives the shift a certain symbolic emphasis, and it helps inspire me. And I can use all the inspiration I can get. !

I hear the earth-moving equipment busily re-directing the trajectory of my driveway as I write this, and it too seems like another metaphor. The next time we leave our property, we’ll be heading out in a new direction, and in the next couple of years, our lives will be going forward into the future in a new direction, too. Our plans might change from day-to-day, and we might sometimes take the scenic way over the highway, but in general, we know where it is we’d like to go. We have our destination in mind, even if we still don’t quite know our way.

IMG_2715Back to bass-ics. Sorry.

IMG_2861Okay, maybe this is overkill. But those ones are still showing up.

IMG_2876Dare I? I awoke last night, and this is what I saw. Ok. I’m done now, promise.

IMG_2843The sixth grade will be working towards their Medieval Games at year’s end. Here’s one of their first archery lessons.

IMG_2839I think it’s pretty funny, the blind kid shooting an arrow. He’s been successful in hitting the bag, now he hopes to get closer. Problem is that while he can see the circle, he cannot make out the tiny arrow tip in front of him, so lining it all up becomes something of a crap shoot. He’s not daunted, however.

IMG_2791Finally getting to the big burn pile. Local folks boast that they like to ‘burn things up, Greenfield style’.

IMG_2786This is high Greenfield style. Burning things up in my bathrobe under the light of the full moon.

IMG_2858This gal has a beard. She’s one of the new flock Elihu calls Sylvia.

IMG_2835Thumbs Up is not as innocent as she seems; if I hadn’t caught her she would’ve been pecking her way through the groceries. No kidding. She can ruin a loaf of bread while your back is turned.

IMG_2723We love our Baldy. He’s still king around here.

IMG_2749One of the new gals surprised me by landing on my arm from out of nowhere.

IMG_2772Now this is kickin it Greenfield style. On my last hurrah before WW, I’m enjoying a glass of wine and some salt and vinegar potato chips while still in my bathrobe. (Don’t we love Sundays?) Hoo-haw!

And this is Elihu kickin it with Austin, our crazy guinea fowl. He adds a great dose of comic relief to the joint.

IMG_2719Here’s the new house smack at the end of our driveway. We can see it from many rooms in our house. Oh well. Time to plant some trees, I guess.

IMG_2879The driveway as it looked this morning, by this evening it will have been slightly modified. That’s ok, it’ll still lead to the road. All that matters is that we can still be on our way.

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Just a friendly reminder that if you’ve enjoyed my posts and would like to buy me a cup of coffee (that’s a blogger’s euphemistic way of saying ‘give me a small tip’) you can click on the tip jar icon at the top right of this page and it will allow you to do so rather effortlessly through Paypal. Thanks for considering, and thanks even more for contributing to the coffers of this writer and mother.

 

Threshold March 7, 2014

March has historically always been a jam-packed month for us. And yesterday we’d both kinda reached our limit. By the end of the night Elihu had shut himself inside his bedroom, where he cried and screamed out his frustration… He had said that he was upset over a perceived transgression of mine… I’d picked the bed covers up off the floor and put them back onto his bed, and in so doing had ‘ruined things’ as he’d had his bed ‘just the way he liked it’. Mm-hmm. Crazy talk, and I knew it, but there was no reason to press the point. Instead I left him to cry, sulk and in general get the residual crap out of his system. No point to counter his mood with volume, anger – or reason. I knew what it was about: this had been one incredibly busy and stressful week and it was finally manifesting.

Late winter is always a bit busier for us as I play piano for (among other things) the traveling Missoula Children’s Theater group, which produces a musical at Elihu’s former Elementary School. I love doing it, it revives for me the skill of light sight-reading, it always has a cute musical theme and is fun to play – and of course seeing all the kids (63 of em this year!) rising to the challenge of singing, dancing and reciting their lines – all in these incredibly inventive costumes – makes it more than worth it. But it’s an investment of time for sure, and our rehearsal days begin just when the school days leave off – and since we’re on an earlier schedule at Waldorf, it adds a bit of a challenge. Elihu just doesn’t get enough sleep during this week, plus the poor kid has to sit through hours of rehearsals (and it’s microwaved pasta for supper all week long too. Ich). He’s a trooper, and once again at the end of it all, I realize how much of a team we are. By the end of the show he knows all the songs, even offers me notes, and ends up having a ball watching the final production. (He was once in the chorus a few years back, and while he had a good time, he didn’t enjoy the overall experience enough to do it a second time. His performance skills shine in other ways…) Yeah, just about anywhere I go – teaching, playing, working – he comes along with me. It bonds us in a way I can hardly describe.

Today, as we left the school post-show, post-picture ops (with kids he’d known since Kindergarten all those years ago), we entered the cold, clear winter night with joy and relief in our hearts. Finally, finally, finally….  Finally we were over the hump, finally we could go home and just do nothing. I took one last look at his old school with a deep feeling of nostalgia. It was the last time he’d be there for Missoula while still a peer of the cast. Next year both he and his old classmates will be middle schoolers. I sighed, and tried to remember the moment, to capture it and lock it away in my memory bank… the sounds of the kids laughing, yelling, running and playing, shouting their goodbyes, and one by one finding their way back to their family cars. We all drove off into the night and within minutes we two were pulling into our long, beautiful country driveway. As we came closer to our little house, we mused that we’d always be part of the family we’d just left, and how lucky we felt to have a home in both Greenfield Elementary and Waldorf too. It made us feel included, safe, happy. And as we walked across the moonlit snow to shut in the birds, we both stopped for a moment to admire the exceptionally crisp and bright stars (one of which Elihu corrected me was Venus) and velvet-black night sky. How lucky we were, we marveled over and over to each other. That this quiet, lovely oasis was ours. We lived here. Every so often we’ll share a pause like this, and we’ll just sit in the stillness as we take it all in. And tonight, with this crazy week – and even crazier day – behind us (including a quick visit to the urgent medical care unit – more on this later), we really were present for those stars, the moon, the sparkling snow, the deep, beautiful dark woods beyond.

There is much more to come, more than I myself can even truly understand at this point (The Studio is but one item on the full menu of projects and commitments before us), so I realize that tonite’s respite might not be quite enough time for us to recharge our batteries for the next phase, but hey, sometimes ya just don’t have any choice but to keep going. I suppose one could simply throw in the towel and retire from all meaningful existence (and don’t think I haven’t considered that option a time or two!) but that really isn’t the responsible person’s option now, is it?

So on we march, over the threshold and into our future adventures…

 

The Other Shoe August 8, 2013

Thursday morning

We’re going to take dad to the hospital today as he’s been complaining of stomach pains for a few days now. While mom and I think it might be good old-fashioned constipation, and he’s been drinking more fluids to help things along, the pain hasn’t really gone away. Mom suspects all he needs is some hydration by way of an IV. That, and the overall stimulation that another atmosphere and new people might provide. I’m not so sure this will have a happy ending. Martha, the other matriarchal figure in our lives, is also in the hospital today. She awoke around four this morning because she was having difficulty breathing. Martha knows the drill well. She pushes the button on the pendant around her neck, calls her friends Doreen and Mike, and shortly an ambulance arrives. She’s been in the hospital – admitted through ER – many times over the past couple of years. Sometimes things appear dire, yet she always ends up returning to her large, historic farmhouse in Greenfield. And every time she enters the place, I pray she makes it home again. Above all things, Martha is a woman who must die in her house. And no matter how infirmed her state, it seems she always has the resolve to make sure that one day she will.

My father, on the other hand, might have a different story. If admitted, he might be considerably disoriented by an extended stay in the hospital. Mom’s hope is that he ends up staying for a few days. She’s even posited his going then to a rehab facility in town (Martha’s done that herself several times). But if he can be made well by a simple round of hydration, then why would he need to stay there? My suspicion is that mom isn’t even aware of her own secret wish to be relived of her care-taking duties, if only for a couple of days. I’ve been lobbying hard for a weekly visit from an private nurse, but mom continues to say ‘we’re not there yet’. ! A few days ago she began to acquiesce, and told me her intention was to call the office of the aging and schedule an in-home interview, yet every manner of obstacle has prevented her from doing so. She doesn’t work, dad doesn’t get up til way past noon. What on earth could be preventing her from calling, save her own, deeply-embedded fear of entering this next phase? This is all a sad new territory for sure, and it’s made even harder to navigate by virtue of my parents’ values and upbringing. They are not a generation that discusses their feelings. And my mother is definitely not one to accept help. This creates a challenging environment when it comes time to deal with these issues of aging. Man, if there’s one thing I’ve made good and clear to my own son, it’s that he should do what he needs to do when the time comes. If I don’t know who he is and I can’t wipe my own butt – then  by all means ship me off. And honestly – you may think me morbid, I do not care – I am all in favor of assisted suicide (however loathe that term) if a person should face an irreversible, debilitating disease. It’s even my hope to be able to sock away enough money to have that be a viable option one day (one possible place is in Zurich, Switzerland. It’s legal there). After all, looking to my father and paternal grandmother, the genetic possibility for growing old with dementia is a potential reality for me. I cannot pretend it isn’t.

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Thursday, early evening

I’ve been at the hospital for much of the afternoon with mom and dad. The staff at Saratoga Hospital continues to impress me, and I’m so very grateful for their service today. Turns out dad just had a hernia. Not a big surprise, he had one on the other side years ago which he had fixed surgically. The doc massaged it back into place, and dad felt relief right away. He had a CT scan which showed some ‘white matter’ around his brain; the ER doc surmised that it may have been many ‘tiny strokes’, but mom and I wonder if it might not simply be evidence of his memory loss and the related diminishing brain volume. Either way, my feeling is that it doesn’t so much matter. In my eyes, it’s my father’s quality of life and comfort that is most important now. Little prevention can be done to stop the progress of what’s probably inevitable. Guarding against falls is another concern of mine now too (mom and dad have a tile floor, argh. Knock on wood). In the end, dad’s cheerful, as well as he can be, and most importantly, feeling better. And I for one am relieved that he didn’t need an overnight stay in the hospital. (Although mom might feel differently.)

Martha was just down the hall, and on the way out, we wheeled dad into her room for a visit. It only just occurred to me right now – that it might have been the last time that dad and Martha will ever see each other in person. On Martha’s 87th birthday, just a few weeks ago, it took dad nearly fifteen minutes just to get inside her house. It was a huge production. I think we all knew as we watched his incredibly slow progress to the car afterward, that this was probably his final visit to the farm. This whole chapter is bizarre and bittersweet. I realize I’m lucky to have both of my parents alive and doing relatively well. So many of my friends are in that stage of life when they’re losing theirs. I watch, I wait, I worry. Nothing to do but try to savor the time remaining.  It’s tough for me, yes, but I think of my folks. My dad is actually blessed by his dementia; he can’t truly appreciate that his life is reaching its end. And my mother, while she herself is actually doing ok (in spite of bad arthritis and chronic back pain), I can’t help but I wonder if there’s not a low-grade worry present in her thoughts about how her own end will come. An occasional passive-aggressive aside will come out every now and then which betrays a darker side to her concerns. On the face of it however, she jokes, she makes light… There is a mildly haunting sense to this time in all of our lives, although none of us ever says as much. But even if we were to talk, what would we say? I’d like to think that Elihu and I will face these tough conversations with absolute honesty when the time comes, but I can’t know that for certain. I cannot begin to assume that I will behave any differently, or approach the last years of my life with any more candor than my folks. I just don’t know how it will feel to be in that situation. I’d like to think that I’ll be able to face it, but it’s been a bigger challenge than I’d thought just turning fifty!

For now, I cherish the little things that have been so familiar to me all of my life. That certain, charming way my father has of laughing. The way my mother always shows concern, the way she always takes care of things, and makes me feel in the end like everything will always be alright. I can’t grasp in this moment, today, that one day they will be gone. And as frustrated as they can make me, they are my only parents, and I love them so. Every remaining moment is important, because you never truly know when the other shoe will finally fall to the ground.

ER 2013 126I am a fan of Saratoga Hospital. The staff there have all been so kind and gracious.

ER 2013 063Dad was in good spirits all afternoon.

ER 2013 053There’s his gallbladder. All looks just fine.

ER 2013 078Now we’re in Martha’s room for a visit. Note how she raises her hand for emphasis as she speaks. She is still in control! And she remembers the name of every last person who comes into her room – not only that, but she remembers where they live! Martha always inquires where people are from. That’s signature Martha Carver. !

ER 2013 091That profile I know so well.

ER 2013 097You can see what a production it is to move dad.

ER 2013 101Aaron was so kind and patient.

ER 2013 105Mom needs a cane these days – she can’t walk far without it. Even so, she’s the rock in the duo so far.

ER 2013 113So fragile looking.

ER 2013 122What a relief. I asked mom if she needed help on the other end – getting him back inside the house – but she insisted she didn’t; she said it simply took a long time. I can’t help but wonder each time he leaves the house if this will be the last time he does. You just can’t ever know for sure.

 

Old Dog July 8, 2013

Spent the day trying to teach myself some new tricks. On the computer, that is. The most basic skills still elude me, and my excuse has been my 24/7 job as mom. I still stand by it; there’s just so much one person can do in a day, and in between writing, teaching, playing piano, keeping house and home and being mom I have about eight hours left in which to sleep – and I aint about to give that up. ! Plus I like to read at bedtime. That habit in addition to my chronic insomnia helps me define my priorities. So finally, with Elihu in Chicago for a bit, now I’ve got some time. Already hooked up my long-paid-for domain name with this blog – that in itself was a minor victory for me. Next on my list is to get some hyperlinks goin. It can’t be that difficult. I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little experimenting in the following paragraphs…

“My son and I recently took a lovely little vacation together in Chicago. We thoroughly enjoyed a boat cruise (on both the river and the lake), one which I highly recommend, given by the Wendella Boat Line.

After that spectacular tour, we headed north for dinner at the Heartland Café in Rogers Park (which is no longer owned by local legend Michael James. Although it’s clear they’re trying to march forward in the same spirit as before, the unmistakable vibe that’s been present for the past thirty-something years is sadly no longer part of the Heartland experience.)”

Ok. That seems to have worked too. This is all fairly easy stuff. Feel kinda silly about having put it off for so long. But the linked words still show to be underlined and blue in the working copy I see in front of me. Really? Hm. Gonna save and preview again…

So. Ascertained that the links are the same color as the text. Good. And while they appear sort of highlighted, they aren’t underlined. That’s good too. I’d rather  that the text appeared the same as the rest, but then again I suppose you wouldn’t realize that it was a link. I guess. Now my only concern is that until I go ahead and actually publish the post, apparently I can’t check to see if the links actually work or not. Really? Am I missing something? Here I go again…

Although unrelated to my above ‘hyperlink challenge’, I feel I must mention that my edits aren’t always successfully saved, in spite of my quite definitively hitting ‘save draft’. It is beginning to piss me off. Gotten to the point where I save the same version a over and over a handful of times until it seems to take. (When saves don’t take, it becomes insanely tedious to go over the entire bloody text trying to re-create the previous changes. Like it did just now as I re-wrote this past sentence for the third time. Really.) Upstairs, on my tiny and ancient little Mac, I’ve noticed that updates stop saving well after just a few versions… might be due to many pages up in sequence. Don’t really know. My trick is to close em all and restart. But now it’s happening on my ‘new’ (updated) PC. Seriously. What am I missing? Screw it for now. I won’t worry about it tonight, cuz I’ve got a pile of books I can’t wait to get to beside my bed. Been at my desk nearly ten hours now and am done. I think I did pretty well today for an old gal. Schooled my own way over, around and through some unforeseen obstacles, and in the end feel like I actually learned a couple of new tricks. Good dog.

Near-immediate Post Script: WordPress just told me I have a more current version of my post in autosave. Naturally I panicked, then checked it out, and realized that no, it is not the most recent, updated version. ! And I can also now see that my shiny new hyperlinks are bridges to nowhere. Sigh. Maybe it has something to do with the domain change today. Oh how I had hoped to get over these few hurdles by now. Good thing I still got lots of time to figure it all out. Thanks for your patient audience as I fumble about here…

A “refreshed the next morning” Post Script: Have re-pasted the links. Ok. Got in now. !