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.

 

Shift February 17, 2015

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Big shifts are underway. Frustratingly, the two I’m most keenly interested in are difficult to pinpoint and identify. Although the changes are slow-moving and subtle, sometimes it seems they appear overnight.

My own face and body are morphing into a form I never expected to see myself inhabiting, and my son, while still just a boy, occasionally evokes shadowy premonitions of the years ahead. I’ll catch a glimpse of his back and shoulder and understand it to be the sculpted shape of a young man, but then that idea falls away again and I’ll realize that it’s still just my little boy. A subtle turn of the head or bending of a limb will look somehow new and different, and again the approaching future reminds me that it’s coming. But still, it’s only a hint – nothing I can define, measure or quantify… And after my vision fades, it’s still a young boy’s body I see, and I’m relieved. Yes, I know big changes are coming, and deep inside I’m beginning to get ready. But my feelings remain mixed: being a single mother to a young child is exhausting; am I not indeed ready for the next chapter? I know that I am, and in fact I’m so looking forward to seeing what kind of young adult my son is to become – but I also know how terribly I’ll miss aspects of this intimate, magical time in our lives. Getting ready, breathing in….

Unlike the vaporous nature of the visions I have of my son, the snapshots I see of my own body are not momentary illusions, nor do they portend for more lovely visions to come. The relatively new jowls bracketing my jaw line are not an aberrations caused by the light. In fact, with more light and more careful scrutiny the changes appear more advanced than I might otherwise have thought. Low res pictures and dimly lit rooms may offer comfort and push the truth off to a comfortable distance, but I can’t fool myself for long. I know what’s going on here. And yeah, I know I’ve said it before, but likely I’ll say it again a whole lot before my run on this planet is through: This wasn’t really supposed to happen to me. Of course I know that’s not exactly true; I knew age would befall me, it’s just that somehow I imagined the whole process would be a tad bit, well, sexier. Aging didn’t seem all that bad when I saw the relaxed elegance of over-fifty models carrying firewood or sipping tea in LL Bean catalogues, or when women of a certain age happily rode bicycles alongside their silver-templed life mates during insurance commercials. It was possible to age with style and ease! It was really all about attitude, right? Yeah – the right attitude, a good head of hair, a long inseam and a snappy, clean jaw line. ! If I had those goin for me, I’d happily take the wrinkles around my eyes and the mane of silver. But age doesn’t manifest so neatly in most of us. Sigh.

At the risk of belaboring this discussion, I feel I need to completely clear about things. In order to become more comfortable with the subject of aging, I wish to blow the goddam top off of all this polite, tip-toeing around that folks do when talking about getting old. I have a low tolerance for euphemisms…. Please, friends, can we be as honest as possible with each other? I once knew a man who said that “woman don’t go gray. They go silver.” And while I still think it’s kinda cute – it obscures the truth of the experience. I’m sorry, but unless you look something like Emmylou Harris, gray hair for you will likely detract from the drama of your look rather than add to it. (I do know one person who has been blessed with a head of truly gorgeous gray hair. In this case I might even be tempted to call it silver. Yes, Francine, I’m talking about you.) I will not have this ‘glass half full’ nonsense about how beautiful a person’s wrinkles are, how the lines around one’s eyes are ‘earned’…. Bull fucking shit. I’m sorry y’all. I don’t find them ugly per se – wrinkles do not diminish my love for or attraction to a person – but they don’t demand my admiration as does the dewy, smooth skin of a young person. Come on. I am so tired of pretending shit’s what it isn’t.

Having said all of that, I’m going to need a way of living inside this wrinkling body while feeling somewhat ok about it. It’s been a while since I fell off the workout wagon, and I know that once I’m back on the horse again, that’ll help me feel better. And one day, I’m tellin ya now, if I should ever come across $5K that doesn’t need to go out as soon as it comes in, I’ll be making an appointment at a local surgeon’s office to get some help pulling things up again. Yeah, I’m not above it. Just not rich enough yet to put it on the list of options. So for now, it’s all about going inside to make the needed adjustments. And also – it’s about living for something else besides me, which brings me to another shift that’s underfoot these days…

Any moment I’m going to get a call from the forester, and I’ll don my snowshoes and join both him and the head logger in the woods. These guys are fantastic and fastidious and they’ve stayed in communication with me throughout the job. My parents got screwed over by the last outfit they had harvest their woods, some twenty-odd years ago, and this time I made it a top priority to find folks I could trust. The logger had some questions and asked that I accompany them on a walkabout, so he could make sure that he didn’t cut what I’d hoped to keep. So far the process has been as unobtrusive as I believe logging can be; the very roads on which they remove the trees recede from view into the forest from just a few feet away; the roads themselves are few and the cuts selective. (Might be one reason we’re not making the big money that we could if we cut more dramatically.) The other day I explored our property as I hadn’t since I was a child. It was thrilling, inspiring, and from the newly formed trails had me expanding my ideas about hosting nature walks in tandem with art classes. In the past I’d been asked by small folk music groups if I could offer camping space… Soon the answer will be yes. And there’s a huge basin of wetland that my parents had once discussed making into a pond (at the time there was state money available for it if it was to be left a wild area. Something to re-investigate.). There’s some gentle topography to the woods and even a creek – which one of the workers noted to me was not yet ‘categorized’, meaning it had yet to be named. ! See what I mean? So much potential has opened up now, there are so many options before us….

While I don’t know how exactly it is that I’ll be using the Studio and the surrounding eighty acres of woodland, I do know that I will be sharing this space with people. I have a list of ideas, some likely not very realistic (hell, none of this seemed remotely possible two years ago!), some more practical than others, but I’m not comfortable sharing them yet. In the year’s time since the Studio’s big flood, I’ve posited so many possible scenarios and gotten so ahead of myself, that in going forth I’m going to make an effort to chill out a bit. To hold my cards a bit closer to my chest. Not to run through the halls blabbing my big ideas, lest they turn out to be wildly unrealistic and naive. Bad enough I suppose that I’m beginning to create all this infrastructure without so much as a concrete business plan. I do, however, have a general trajectory in sight, and above all else, my goal is to add some love and light to the world. I want to help bring people together, to create community without pressure, without the need for people to spend beyond their means… I’d like to create a space where people can come by for no good reason. I’d like to provide a platform for people to create, learn, perform and interact, all without the pressures of holding their work to professional standards. The summer art classes, while not personally mine, have set a nice tone for the place. Deep in my mind’s eye, I do have a vision for the place. From where I stand today, I simply cannot know how much of that will come to pass – hell, if any of it will come to pass. I may not know exactly what I’m doing, but I still dearly wish to succeed at it, whatever the final product may end up looking like. And with all of you here as my witnesses, failing becomes far more unpleasant a thought; I’m motivated by both lofty and not-so-lofty reasons. But whichever direction this whole project goes, it’s safe to say that things are improving.

I, my son and the Studio are all on the edge of something new. The ground trembles as the trees fall, my son’s legs ache as they grow longer, and for the first time in my life, my fingers actually hurt when I play the piano. It’s such a confusing mix of happy anticipation for the new adventures ahead – and dread for the disappointments that will also come along with that same future… My heart skips a beat sometimes when I realize that there’s no possible way of ever going back (or is it just A-fib?  !). I know what I’m getting ready for, and yet I don’t.

Although I may not know much about the particulars of this next chapter, I do know this for sure: the big shift is finally underway.

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This came my way via Facebook yesterday… Worth a quick peek.

 

Long Winter’s Haul February 8, 2015

We’ve had another full week here at the Hillhouse. It’s been relentlessly snowy too, and that’s getting to be a bit tiresome for us. But then it’s tiresome for all of us in snowy territory. At our place in particular the garbage piles up outside our door as roadside bins become covered in great mounds, recycling goes out the window as bottles, cans and paper get tossed along with the trash, and lazy folks like me can just forget about composting altogether. Every last bit of refuse simply gets put in one common bag and tossed on the heap to be dealt with weeks hence when the many feet of snow finally melt towards the end of March. It’s usually about then that Elihu begins to sink into the despair of a never-ending winter, and that’s the time I have to remind us both that by his birthday – April 28th – no evidence of winter will remain. (So far, that’s never been wrong. But hey, never say never. !)

Knowing the snow will be gone in two and a half month’s time helps to keep us sane. Keeping busy, watching birds from our kitchen window, flying rc helicopters and snuggling up on the couch with some good books are the other staples that help us to keep it together as we wait out the long, cold season. There’s also plenty of time to practice our music, and that’s a big bonus of indoor living that I’m always grateful for.

But while it’s fun to hunker down inside and get cozy, I can’t help but feel that getting out in the weather, aside from just an afternoon of sledding, might be good for us. There are two hitches to that goal: one, it’s terribly bright outside and that can discourage Elihu from wanting to go out. I totally get that. Yeah, he could probably use both his contacts and his glasses, and that would offer relief, but at the end of the day he’s still a kid and as such doesn’t really have the patience for the contacts. So for him, mostly he’d rather just stay inside.

The other sticking point is the depth of the snow. I’d like to walk out in the woods to check the loggers’ progress, but I’m not sure it’s possible to walk back there without snowshoes. The snow’s up to my knees already, and with more coming, the going won’t get any easier. So that will likely be the next adventure. (I’m on the lookout for used ones, but ’tis the season. So far I haven’t found any good deals. I must remember to look for snowshoes in the garage sales of July.)

Here are some snowy snapshots from our past week…

IMG_0679The Hillhouse property looks so beautiful by morning’s light.

IMG_0670At the right you can see our garbage pile. Kind of. Hard to believe under all this there’s a pond and a garden, just waiting for Spring…

IMG_0762Things are moving along at the Studio. Snow doesn’t affect these hardy mountain men in the least.

IMG_0765They’re even ready to work at night. !

IMG_0726I’ve been underfoot so much on the job site that the forester got Elihu and me our own safety vests. It was very kind of him – and a very good idea too.

IMG_0759We’re at mom’s house here, which is a couple hundred feet away from the Studio. Here’s the view from her kitchen window. While we ate one of her corn-fed deer last week (roadkill that our neighbor promptly butchered and put in his freezer), she has all but one of her regular flock of turkeys visiting now. She would know; she counts em daily. If that missing bird had ended up on the side of the road, we mighta had turkey for dinner too.

IMG_0733They came so close to becoming our national bird. Goofy birds, but gorgeous plumage.

IMG_0714I’ve cancelled my cable tv (again) in order to save some money. Realizing that the cable person still needs to physically shut off the service at the top of the pole (which would involve carrying a ladder thru very deep drifts), I hope to dissuade the fellow/gal from following through. Never hurts to ask, right?

IMG_1000Back inside we enjoy a quartet of Blue Jays at our feeder.

IMG_0867Our resident Red Bellied Woodpecker glows in the early morning light.

IMG_0708The colors continue inside with our blooming Amaryllis.

IMG_0974Breakfast on a snowy winter’s day.

IMG_1015Later on our friend Larry stopped by with his fiddle and banjo – he’s going to park them here for a bit while he finds a new place to live. A great deal for us! If you leave Elihu in a room with an instrument long enough, he’ll figure it out.

IMG_1019They get it all tuned up.

IMG_1024At first it doesn’t sound too promising…

IMG_1028…but what a few minutes and a little rosin can do! Elihu sounds pretty good.

IMG_0797Elihu’s discovering his inner David Amram

IMG_0808He’s working out parallel harmony parts. Doesn’t sound half bad.

IMG_0827But in the end, it’s really all about the bass…

IMG_0836… and clever new ways to approach the instrument. This is Elihu’s “sleeping man’s technique for lazy players”… Just lie down beside the instrument and play as usual. !

IMG_0887And now for something completely different… Mom has taken us out to dinner. We’re at Istanblue, the local Turkish place. This is the octopus we ‘discovered’ a month or two back. It blew mom away – she concurred, it was the best she’d ever had.

IMG_0889We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

IMG_0893I’m having Iskander (in the foreground). It’s essentially gyros meat on top of a bread stuffing topped with a tomato and yogurt sauce. Pure heaven.

IMG_0906If it weren’t for selfies there’d be no pics of the three of us.

IMG_0937And now, to the theater. We’re at the local middle school’s production of Mary Poppins. Amanda Leske, the gal playing Miss Poppins, was off-the-chain good, from her snappy portrayal of Miss P to her vibrant, in-tune singing. Her talent must be in part due to genetics; her dad’s an award-winning banjo player in town.

IMG_0935The gal in the yellow was in Elihu’s kindergarten and first grade classes. Amazing to see her so grown up. Janie did a fantastic job of playing her character, also named Jane. I had to include this pic because the girl in blue is Alex, a one-time piano student of mine and friend from down the road. Her parents are both Chicagoland ‘expats’ like me. (We share a love of food the likes of which cannot be found here in upstate New York. !)

IMG_0970More amazing still were the aerial feats of the production. Here, Mary Poppins takes flight after her job in the Banks’ household is done. A fitting end to a lovely night for my little aviator and me.

 

Sixth Starts September 4, 2014

Going from fifth grade to sixth is a thing. It’s more than just another grade level, it signifies a whole new era in a child’s life. No matter whether you call it Junior High or Middle School – we all can agree that some big changes are about to happen now. Neither small children anymore, nor yet the older, more adult-like children of high school, but playfully somewhere in between; now they’re better able to learn more challenging lessons in class, to grasp more nuanced concepts and techniques for doing things like making music or playing sports. They’re a bit bigger than they were before, and yes, they’re a bit smellier too.

And on top of that, soon they’ll be wrestling with much more: all those agonizingly embarrassing moments as mistakes are made and as jokes find their targets, the ongoing awareness of social strata, cliques and what it is to be popular (or not so popular), and, of course, the real beginnings of romantic expression. How this thing works in such a small and static group of kids, I don’t know. I’ve been told that Waldorf kids will often ‘date’ (!) up or down a grade to relieve the tension of ‘dating’ within their own small class. (Please folks, understand how very loosely I use this D word.) As a sixth grade girl, I myself remember ‘going’ with a young man, but that simply consisted of being made to feel sick in the stomach from a mixture of horror and intrigue as my girlfriends made me walk next to my ‘boyfriend’ on the way home from school.

Here at the Waldorf School of Saratoga Springs, the middle school years are also marked by a physical separation from the younger grades; their classrooms are now on the ground floor. It’s a metaphor none can miss. And I, as a parent, find a certain, stinging nostalgia to this time; no longer do I watch the class eagerly bound up the stairs, listening to their many feet rumble on the creaking wooden staircase. Now, they slip to the back of the building and are gone… Gone to those new places, gone to meet all that new learning, all that life… Now my child is just that much less my child – and more a child of the world. But that’s ok, I know that’s what’s supposed to happen. And hey, my son even turned to kiss me – on his own – after getting out of the car this morning. So I have it good, I know. And so does he.

Everything in life is constantly moving and changing, but one doesn’t always see the change in distinct, clearly-defined ways. This year, however, there’s no doubt about it. The change is easy to spot. Yes, this is different. Because this is sixth grade.

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He’s up super-early, but still moving swiftly to get stuff done before it’s time to go. Loading a couple final Pokemon cards into his binder (which, btw, is not going to school. It was just on his mind).

IMG_2589Gettin that backpack zipped up quick.

IMG_2595Elihu appears a bit thoughtful in the backseat en route to his first day of school, but we’re listening to polkas, his very favorite kind of music. Hm. Can one be pensive and listen to polkas at the same time?

IMG_2596On the move..

IMG_2597And being greeted by Mrs. Maguire, once again, at the door. She knows every last student and has the lovliest, warmest way of making everyone feel truly special.

IMG_2599He’s on a mission; there’s no looking back now.

IMG_2604I’m not the only one watching with bittersweet emotions on this first day of school.

IMG_2602Such bright and gentle weather this morning.

IMG_2610This is the Rose Ceremony, in which the 1st graders ceremonially cross over the rainbow bridge and are welcomed to the Lower School. Here the faculty sings to them as they enter the space.

IMG_2613Here they come – the new 1st grade, led by their teacher (who will be the group’s teacher all the way through 8th grade). She was the school’s well-loved handwork teacher in years past, and it’ll take some getting used to her ‘belonging’ to one grade and not the whole school.

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A dad and a grad. Adam is a baker par excellence and West-African-schooled drummer, and Kai just spent his freshman year of college in Norway, studying violin. (Adam has two younger boys at Waldorf.)

IMG_2629Here the new 6th grade teacher (in blue, with tie on the right) expresses his wishes for his class through the coming year. Elihu’s previous teacher left her post at the end of last year, as she’d done the 1st through 8th cycle twice before and felt a shift in career focus was what she needed at this time. The transition from 5th to 6th is a good one for such changes. Btw – while we dearly loved Abigail, my son is beyond thrilled with his new teacher. And I’m happy for him to have a male presence in his life on a daily basis now.

IMG_2631The boys in blue… of course, mine’s the one with the dark glasses.

IMG_2663As with years past, we celebrate the first day of school with a visit to the Congress Park ducks. Soon they’ll take flight and migrate.

IMG_2665With a half a loaf of bread to work with, Elihu easily snatches up several ducks in our short visit.

IMG_2666He’s getting a better grip on this one.

IMG_2677And now he’s savoring having her in his arms. This never gets old.

IMG_2649I suppose this doesn’t get old either… Some boys come home to a dog, Elihu comes home to a hen.

IMG_2651Sometimes even two. Yup, things are off to a fine start this new school year.

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Cool and New September 1, 2014

It’s a lovely, late summer morning. A cool, humid breeze blows gently in from the east, causing the still-green trees to gently nod and twist. The temperatures inside and outside match, at a comfortable 70 degrees. For the first time in a long while, one can detect the season that’s coming in a few weeks. Though still green, the leaves are not the bright, lit-from-within green of spring, nor are they the rich, full green of a tree deep in the middle of its growing. Now, they are what I call a tired green… Just the faintest hints of olive and yellow begin to emerge when the light is just so. As I sit here this morning, the light itself is gray, the skies heavy with a coming rain, the green still looks like summer. But the rays from a setting sun would betray what’s really going on. This is that time of year in which we must all make our internal goodbyes, our quiet inventories of all that we’ve managed to do during the brief time when we didn’t have to wear anything extra to go outdoors… This is when we sigh, we surrender ourselves to the inevitable change. We shrug our shoulders, declare to friends that whether we’re ready or not, fall is just about here. School, after-school programs, the tasks of making lunches and cooking planned, sit-down suppers… Routine is coming. And soon after, colder weather.

Although I’d given notice at the Waldorf School back in June, and was assured mid-summer that I did not need to concern myself at all with the possibility of being needed again at school in the fall – that there was already an interested prospect for my replacement in the works – plans changed, as I had suspected they might. Apparently the ‘new’ gal who’d been enthusiastic about the post came to realize that the time it actually represented (yeah, I know, how hard could it be to be a musician? Ya show up and just play, right?) wasn’t worth the lousy money they were offering. Coulda told her that. For me, however, it had been worth it, as I had wanted to be with my son, I had wanted to get my reading chops up again, I had wanted to make driving him into town every morning worth the gas money. But it wasn’t enough for her, and I’m back on the hook. Which is a lousy thing at this particular time. I have a lot going on with the Studio – much of which I must do with my own hands – and this job will interrupt my workdays in awkward ways, blacking out entire mornings or afternoons, causing more delays in my progress. I wasn’t able to work this summer because I had things backing up here at home, I had a few house guests, many large-scale outdoor projects, and at the end of the summer I had a child about. This fall I’d planned to hit the ground running… But now I’m stopped. I can’t see an entire movement program at the school hanging in the balance should I refuse to play. I can’t do that to the kids, or the school. I had promised I’d help if they absolutely needed me, and disappointingly, now it turns out they do. They assure me it’s only for the first quarter. Yeah, the quarter in which I begin to teach my class at the high school, start up again with piano students, begin a new diet – plus it’s the quarter in which I must get both the Studio and my home ready for winter. Pretty lousy timing to be sure.

This afternoon we dropped our house guest Ken off at the train. He is setting out for an unknown adventure of his own, going to live somewhere new and turn to the business of tending to his health and even more importantly, his painting, his peace and his sanity. I feel like Elihu and I are also embarking on a new life; middle school, playing in a full orchestra and wearing contacts for my son, restoring and building the Studio while still working part-time, keeping a supportive home life and a full teaching schedule for me. I’m a little afraid, to be honest. It’s a lot on its own, and on top of it I’m planning on beginning another weight loss campaign at Weight Watchers in a week’s time (sponsored by my mother) and that will be an enormous challenge, I’m sure. The Atkins diet, while allowing me great and relatively fast success, assured I was seldom hungry (yet it also assures one gains it all back when eating as one did before). I know well enough – from having lost 55 pounds after Elihu’s birth – that WW is not as easy-going as Atkins. And me, I’ve been finding my solace over the past few months in chips and wine – exactly as Elihu had predicted I would over the summer – and this will not be an easy habit for me to break. Yeah, I have no friggin clue how I’ll pull through. Some folks have suggested the ‘humiliation’ diet: admitting – to the pound – on my blog how much I weigh each week, how I’m failing or succeeding – in real-time. Naw. I don’t have the stomach for that. So I’ll continue to share my experience, and at the risk of seeming catty, will casually fail to mention any hard and fast numbers. As you may see, I’m trying to give myself a bit of cover, a bit of safety to withdraw into should I – in the words of sixth grade boys these days – experience an ‘epic fail’. As of this moment, I really don’t have the confidence that I’ll make it. Still hoping against hope that I’ll find it in me to pull the motivation out of thin air.

As soon as the train had slid north out of the station and our friend was safely off on his journey, we turned to go and in our path found a young boy with caramel-colored skin standing beside an enormous, broken duffel bag, a faint smile on his face, in the middle of the pavement and looking lost. Happy, but lost. Like he could use some help. I asked him where he was going, and he told me Skidmore. “A student?” I asked, feeling almost silly – he was clearly too young to be anything else. Man, he looked like a lost doe in the woods… “Yes” he answered – with a gentle voice, and some vague, hard-to-pinpoint sort of accent. I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to figure out what kind of accent it might have been – or even if he had an accent at all and maybe I wasn’t just confusing it for a relaxed conversational style. I asked him where he was from and he told me New York. “Well, Brooklyn, actually” he added. Hm. “We can give you a ride to campus, would you like that?” “Oh yes”. He was still all smiles, despite having to move his broken and uncooperative bag to the car. In a short ride through town I got a few answers from him and his profile began to flesh out a bit. Raised by a single mom, one of three kids, the last to leave home, and in possession of a flip phone almost out of minutes and just a handful of change to his name, he was undaunted and ready for his new start. “So how were you going to get to school? What were your plans?” I asked, mystified. “You were my plans, I guess.” he smiled his response. What an interesting person, I thought to myself. What an interesting adventure is this life…

We found his new dorm and there was a cheerful crowd of students there to not only meet him, but to carry his bag for him and welcome him with handshakes and pats on the back. Byron (who liked poetry and computer programming and answered with surprising enthusiasm for an eighteen year old when I asked if his first name was Byron, “as in Byron Keats”) had made it to the end of a long day’s travel, which had started very early that morning on the subway, where he and his mother had parted ways. All I could think of was: what if this were my boy? Left to find his way on his own, not enough juice left in his phone to let me know he’d arrived and not enough money left to eat? I felt maternal towards him and wouldn’t leave until I was satisfied that he was safe and sound and at his destination. Just as he was about to be swept away by the welcoming committee to his new room – room 222, another seemingly serendipitous nod from the universe that things were all as they should be – I opened my arms to hug him goodbye. I kissed his cheek and held him as his mother would have if she’d been there. It was the least I could do for her, so far away from her baby. I insisted he get in touch when he was able, and then, not entirely sure that he ever would, made a mental note of the dorm name. Then off went Byron, on his new adventure, leaving us in the same, cool-headed manner in which we’d found him. Off to his new world. It started to rain, and we turned to head back the few miles left to our place, where soon we would be starting off on a new life of our own.

It did indeed rain today. It rained so hard that I could hardly see to drive, so hard that when I pulled in the driveway I found its entire surface one large, moving sheet of water. All my new landscaping was a few inches under fast-moving water, and our creek bed was finally living up to its name. I called Elihu away from his video world and had him join me outside. We followed the stream of water down the yard and into the woods onto the steepest part of the hill. Down it tumbled, making wonderful gurgling and rushing sounds which excited us both and drew us farther along its path. We passed almost an hour making dams, pulling up leaves and roots, freeing up the water here, stopping its progress there… We both fantasized, as we have done for the past six years, about what it might be like if we could one day afford to free up our stream bed again. How exciting it would be to have a real pond, a real creek… But then again, would we necessarily enjoy it so much more than we were now? Our lives were so simple, yet it didn’t diminish our enjoyment of what we had. As I listened to my son’s still-high child-voice, I realized that perhaps next year things might be different. He might not enjoy passing an hour in the rain with his mother as he did today. That our life, just as it was right now, was delightful and precious. And that one day, in the not-too-distant future, I might well look back on this time with a sigh of longing. No matter if our water ran in nothing but a grassy ditch across the yard, no matter if our schedules were scattered and a little too full for our comfort, no matter if money and heating oil would be scarce again this year, I knew that we still had it good.

The year coming up looks more unfamiliar than any of those that have come before in our six years here at the Hillhouse, but somehow I know it’ll be ok. I’m not saying I’m not scared, cuz really, I am. In all honesty, I think I feel more frightened than ever before. Yeah, definitely. I am. Yet somehow, I’m not sure quite how, I’m managing to keep my cool as I face down this new life of ours and watch the old one disappear behind us in the rear view mirror. And like our new friend Byron, I guess it couldn’t hurt to keep a smile on my face along the way.

IMG_2522I can’t believe my artist pal’s been living in this kitchy, Americana barn for the past two years.  Cute, but enough already. Time to move on, indeed.

IMG_2533Engine’s here…

IMG_2526One final selfie…

IMG_2535Elihu spreads his wings as Ken departs.

IMG_2541Next thing we know, it’s “Welcome, Thoroughbreds!” Here we are at the lovely, wooded campus of Skidmore College.

IMG_2542A cheerful coed with a clipboard is here to meet us…

IMG_2545A whole team is here to meet us! I unload one of Ken’s paintings – done when he was about the same age as these kids – so that we can unload Byron’s bag.

IMG_2547I feel better when I see such a great reception.

IMG_2550After a hug, he’s on his way. All the best to you, happy freshman year!

IMG_2557We spy a hawk on the way home. Always a thrill.

IMG_2559This, however, is not such a thrill. My heart still sinks. I know we’ll adjust in time. Just one more new thing to accept.

IMG_2567After a vigorous rain shower, our place looks tidy and clean.

IMG_2564Spreading our wings now, ready to fly off into the new school year.

 

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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.

 

Moving Up June 25, 2014

Yesterday, my son’s old elementary school had its moving up ceremony for the fifth graders who were leaving to attend the local middle school across town in the fall. Wish I’d known about it, cuz I’d have been there. Of course Elihu doesn’t go there anymore, but his class does, and I’ve known all those faces and many of those kids since kindergarten. A dad of a friend said that there’d been a presentation at the event, a video that followed the children from then til now. He’d said that Elihu was in some of the pictures, and that he had been missed. Yeah, and I myself missed those kids, too. I’d played piano for them every year, Elihu and I had performed at the talent shows, I’d organized the talent show one year too, and generally I’d always felt at home in the school, even though Elihu left towards the end of third grade. Those first years just seem to bond kids as no others do. I myself had just recently visited a woman I’d known from first through fifth grade, and you’d think we’d been in constant touch through the years (we hadn’t) for the sense of familiarity that was natural to us. But see, that’s what comes of knowing someone since earliest childhood. There’s just no substitute for the relationships you make at the start of your life. Yeah, I wish I’d been there to see the kids one last time. The middle school is huge, and I won’t  have the opportunity to see many of them again. So tonight I’m feeling a little wistful, just a little sad. Things are changing, and I have to adjust once again. The moving up ceremony reminds me that my son too will be in sixth grade next year. (Only he’s moving ‘down’- downstairs, that is.)

Like Elihu, I too went to a private school in my early years, but the difference was that I left after fifth grade to join the larger Jr. High in my town. It was a deeply sad move for me in a couple of ways; I was leaving my friends – the only ones I’d ever known – and I was reaching a new age. Even I was aware that in entering sixth grade, and soon turning twelve, that I was no longer a little kid. It was a poignant time for me. And my kid seems to have a bit of that sense, too. It’s a time of change for both of us. Funny, you spend all those hours giving baths and getting meals and coaxing and cajoling and wondering if it’ll ever stop already – you’re pooped by eight, you’re isolated in your house, your world is small and always moving… And then there it is, the day when your kid’s bedroom door is always closed, the day when he smells, when hair starts to grow, when he starts to grow. Or at least I’ve heard rumors saying something to that effect. I still choose to believe that my son will hover here in this netherworld of non-child, non-man for years…. he will always be shorter than me. Right? The order of the world surely depends on it. Right? ??

In part my sense of melancholy is heightened because today I too have made a change in my own life. And it’s probably bigger than I actually realize. In this moment, I don’t so much feel a sense of the change that might be around the corner; instead what I’m feeling is a sense of peace. I also feel possibility beginning to grow. And excitement. Yeah, I’m not dreading the fall as I’d been doing since I left my post at the piano just a couple of weeks ago. I’m no longer feeling a dull nagging inside that I’m not making wise use of my time. I made a change today, the kind of move that I wouldn’t have had the courage to do even a year ago, but as with many things in life, the stars all just kinda lined themselves up just so…

It started with a long conversation with my partner. I told her that I’d like to make the Studio my job, but I couldn’t if I still had this other job going at the same time. For a while now I’ve been fooling myself into thinking that I can work all day, be a mom, and somehow run a startup business on the side. Plus oversee the remodel of a building. Uh huh. See, as a single person who doesn’t run with a gang of friends, as one whose only sounding boards are mom and young child, I often feel alone, and often forget that my partner – while she currently doesn’t have a stake in the ownership of the building – has the perfect kind of energy and perspective I need, plus a deep personal desire to see this thing get moving. I don’t know why I keep feeling it’s all on me – and why I often forget to go to her. Hell, that’s how I met her a couple of years ago, in the very beginning. All I had was a venue and an idea, but no contacts, no friends, no money, no way to start… One afternoon I just ran out of hope and patience and through tears called the local arts council. The fellow there put me in touch with Ceres, and just as I was calling her, at my very wit’s end, tears rolling down my cheeks, she was at her wit’s end too and having her own sort of meltdown – but this lovely lady doesn’t cry, she laughs. ! So there we were, on the phone for the very first time; I was crying – and she was laughing. Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Man am I lucky to have found her.

So today I got myself unstuck, as it were. I left my job as accompanist at the Waldorf School. I promised not to leave them high and dry – I’ll make every attempt I can to find someone to replace me. I’ll even play if it’s an emergency – if they have no one at all – but I also made it clear that I didn’t want that sort of situation dragging out, because I need to leave this post. It requires my only free time at home, it requires I be on site all day, it leaves me no time to tend to the Studio. Not unless you count the window between getting home and making supper… but then when does one go grocery shopping?? I hate disappointing people, and I am uncomfortable not helping out when I know I have what someone needs… But clearly, this past year hasn’t been the most pleasant for me. The rise of panic attacks seems to have been brought on (after a nearly two decade period of dormancy) because of a particular cocktail of stressors. I used to think it would be wimpy of me not to take it all on, but now I see the reality. A couple of days of waiting for appointments, pricing materials and meeting with tradesmen has already shown me that if I’m not there to move this along, it aint gonna move anywhere.

Having publicly declared my intentions like this, I’m beginning to wish I had somewhere to hide should things go wrong, some way to retract all of this in the future should things really tank. Cuz I’m doing this before an audience of friends and readers, and we all know, once it’s out into the internet ether, there’s no taking it back. And I truly am scared here. I do not know what the fuck I am doing. I am not a business person, I don’t have great organizational skills, and I have never supported myself without backup income (part time job, husband, mom, father-in-law, etc.). Just how the hell am I supposed to net income from a friggin arts center? I’ve written only one grant proposal in my life (I got it, btw, but hey, that was years ago, the world was a kinder, gentler place back then) and I do NOT enjoy the idea of having to keep books, follow rules and in general, behave like a friggin grown up. Cuz I do not know the rules, I’m not even sure how to learn the rules, and moreover, I’m not even sure that I’m a real grownup. ! However, I will not freak out. Because I do feel pretty good right now. Pretty hopeful. Let’s just hope the hopeful lasts.

The big move is upon us. Moving up, moving down, moving out, but mostly, moving on….

 

Parting Time June 17, 2014

Well, it’s here. The day on which Elihu leaves to spend the summer with his father, the day on which I am finally free of all obligations to others. No meals to prepare, no running to the grocery store three times a week, no nudging or cajoling, no reminding or asking, no picking up after…and a whole lot less laundry. And since Elihu is now eleven, I worry about him a whole lot less. He can speak up for himself when he needs (for the most part, that is, as he’s still not completely comfortable expressing himself fully to his father), he can make better decisions for himself, and he’s a bit more laid back about minor omissions in his routine than I am. If it turns out he’s forgotten something – he won’t fret or bum out about it, he’ll just keep going. Me, I’d stew for a while, ponder the ‘what ifs’, rebuke myself for being so stupid, that sort of crap. But thankfully, along with those slender, guitar-playing fingers of his, Elihu retained this easy-going quality of his father’s as well. So he can roll with things, and that’s good, cuz it looks like lil man will be spending a lot of time living out of a suitcase in the coming weeks.

There’s a trip to West Virginia on the itinerary, as well as a drive cross county to the famed hippie jam band fest High Sierra in California. Or, as those of the jam band culture prefer to say, ‘Cali’. Sheesh. My disdain for the jam band world may have been one of the many nails in the coffin of my marriage. In hindsight, I expect my husband only pretended to share my feelings for the culture at large; he and I enjoyed poking fun at the kelping (that flailing sort of pulse-less dance the hippie kids do), the accents, the attitudes, the personal filth in which they so easily lived… He, after all, has played in jam bands for decades now, and the guys in Garaj Mahal, for as dysfuntional a bunch as they were, they were our family, present for Elihu’s first few days, present for much of our marriage. I miss having those guys – and some of those goofy, groovy extended jam tunes in my life. However, that world itself is not a place in which I feel too terribly comfortable. I personally do not enjoy the scent of patchouli and simply cannot stand The Grateful Dead. It it not for lack of trying, let me tell you. In fact, as a thoughtful and intelligent musician I have many, many times tried to enjoy the Dead for myself, and when that has failed, I’ve spent time trying to at least understand what it is about them that has so inspired millions of fans. (I find it super-ironic that the one feature Dead fans cite at their most shining attribute is that they ‘groove’; because no, they don’t. As a rhythm section they are loose and sloppy, and melodically there is a meandering, never-settled quality which physically revolts me before long. I’ve tried to get over this; made many concerted, open-hearted attempts, but it just doesn’t work.) My kid will be living in the jam band world for a portion of the summer, and I am excited for him. It aint for me, but for him – it’s perfect. Lots of support, lots of opportunities to play with musicians, total acceptance and lots of love… a complete adventure. Glad he gets this amazing experience with his dad. Happier still that I don’t have to go along for the ride.

The few days before the great parting are always a strange mix of things for Elihu. One minute we’re laughing like dearest friends, the next he’s in tears over some tiny slight – but before long, he himself will identify it as related to the upcoming change. He loves being here, and part of him dearly just wants to stay at home all summer  doing nothing special, playing with his friends and doing summertime things, but then he misses his daddy like crazy. He wants to see his baby brothers too. Sometimes I’ll find him weeping by himself in his room over the whole mix of feelings. Sometimes he clings to me like a four year old and tells me he never wants to leave. Some times he yells at me that he can’t take me any longer and needs his father now. And other times he shouts to the sky that it’s not fair he can’t have both of us at the same time. Yeah, this time is always a bit difficult to navigate, it takes sensitivity on both of our parts. Reactions and feelings that appear to be about one thing are often about something altogether different. But by now the process is familiar to us, so we get through it ok.

For me, my rough patch will be the ride back from the airport and then the first few hours in the house all alone. While I’m invigorated by the work before me this summer, it’s never as easy as I imagine it’ll be in those first few hours after Elihu’s gone. There’s just something about knowing someone’s in the house – no matter if they’re within sight or not – that just gives the place that extra certain bit of energy. Like the kind our dear Madeline brought to our place. We now call it the “Madeline sparkle”. And when I’m alone in the kitchen, no young boy just around the corner, counting out his Pokemon cards on his desk, I’ll be able to feel it. The Madeline sparkle will be gone.

That’s ok, this summer in particular. I’m faced with a lot to take care of; a body to get back into shape, a healthy way of eating to re-learn, a building to repair, a summer camp to guide into the new space, a cellar full of moldy crap to assess, a garage full of the same (swapping mold for mouse poop here), gutters to clean, weeds to pull, small carpentry repairs to make, painting and assorted other domestic projects plus the very daunting task of marrying the new chicks with the older flock – all this is before me. Me, alone. A plumber and an extra hand to do what I alone can’t, but the rest is mine to do. And I can’t forget the piano too – I need to keep playing, lest my job in the fall become like starting over again. I have a few difficult pieces that I need to start on now, so that by fall they’re in my muscle memory. I have archiving of blog posts, filing and the mundane and dreaded business of taxes and food stamps to face. In some ways it helps to see it all in print like this, but in some ways it just makes me want to polish off a bottle of wine and a tub of spicy hummus in front of an entire season of Gilmore Girls.

Elihu’s in the bath now, singing to himself happy little songs about nothing in particular. He is adding his Madeline sparkle to the place, and I can feel it taking up space, filling the air with joy. Tomorrow morning at this time he’ll be nearly a thousand miles away, and the sparkle will be gone. The house will be completely quiet. Still such mixed feelings. It’s just that little bit of transition time that’s the hardest. But my to-do list and my personal goals will keep my eyes fixed on the horizon, and there’s tremendous promise for some greatly positive results on the other side. That makes it easier to dismiss the familiar yen for food, booze and reruns.

I haven’t measured Elihu against the wall of his closet in months. We’ll do that today, before he goes. And then he’ll put on a white oxford shirt and jeans, lean against the kitchen doorway, and I’ll snap a picture of what he looks like at the end of fifth grade. He and I are both keenly aware that this is the beginning of a time of great physical change for him, and we both want to document it. We mean to take the same picture over the next few years so that we can see the change up close. I sense we two are each at the doorstep of a brand-new era in our lives, as he approaches middle school and I begin to see the birth of a new business in the Studio… I still have some trepidation about what’s in store, and I think I probably will until my project is well underway. No matter what happens, we’re both about to do a lot, and to learn a lot in the process.

Yup, there’s an awful lot of life coming up, so guess we’d better finish packing and get underway. It’s going to be a very interesting summer.

IMG_6666Me and lil man on our last morning together for a while.