The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Party Time May 4, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8078There they go…

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

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

IMG_8124I have ‘Zero valuable points’. Love it.

IMG_8111But things are about to change…

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

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

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

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

IMG_8178Things start out so peaceful and tidy…

IMG_8235The sixth grade boys. Elihu is so happy!

IMG_8326The cake arrives!

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

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

IMG_8298The downstairs rig.

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

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

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

IMG_8271Outside the chickens provide entertainment.

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

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

IMG_8347Alex gets a turn.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8360That bad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Last Weeks of Saratoga’s Summer September 2, 2013

The 144th running of the Travers took place here in Saratoga last week – which may as well have been last year for the rate at which the racing culture moves (and life in general too, I suppose)… Lest we forget it, I’m here to remind you thru some pics and anecdotes….  And then moving ahead, this week was the town’s final official week of summer activities. Last night a different band played on every corner, and people of all ages filled the streets. There was not a parking spot to be found – except for those of us locals who knew better and used the few open spots in the ATC parking lot. (Heck, each one of us probably has a free Adirondack Trust Company pen laying around somewhere in our car… that counts for something, right?) The streets were more densely packed with humans, canines, pigs, horses (on police duty) and reptiles than at any other time in the year. It was poppin. Oh, and my kid was almost run over by a bicycle. His heart was racing all the way home. Excitement at every turn.

Travers Day 2013 005Backin up to last week. Elihu thought he’d try busking in front of the track, but everyone was in such a hurry to get inside that hardly a soul tipped. He was, however, remembered by his brethren tweenager peers who shared the outside common area and sold cold water to the incoming patrons. Street kids gotta support each other. Not being sarcastic when I say you could feel the love.

Travers Day 2013 012Inside, this is the first scene you encounter. Lots of people milling about under a canopy of trees outside the actual grandstand building. And as it turns out, this is the main experience for many at the races; they set up a picnic area outside and listen for the race results to be announced. Kinda seems to me like they’re missing the heartbeat of the place out here.

Travers Day 2013 013The famous red-and-white canopy that leads into the grandstand. This is also where the horses must cross. All pedestrian traffic is stopped to let the rockstar racers walk past on their way to the paddock.

Travers Day 2013 019Here comes a horse and his posse…

Travers Day 2013 020This duo reminds me a little of the Man of La Mancha and his horse…

Travers Day 2013 024Once inside we witness some crazy sub-cultures I’m not usually privy to… bigwigs and wiry little latin dudes from the streets excitedly sharing the good news about the last race. Just what is their relationship? What’s gone down here? Mm.  Wish I knew the story.

Travers Day 2013 046We found a small spot at the fence. Our neighbors hadn’t won all day long – until we got there. Just sayin. !

Travers Day 2013 027Here’s a look westward toward the main part of the grandstand.

Travers Day 2013 051Women’s hats are de rigueur  in racing season. I missed my opportunity to dress up my dollar store garden hat with a bit of colorful grosgrain ribbon. Ah well. There’s always next year.

Travers Day 2013 058Elihu’s assessment of this highly-touted race day so far? Crowds, crowds and more crowds has this young racing fan giving the Saratoga Racetrack a thumbs down. Oh dear. Not a very good first experience here at the track.

Travers Day 2013 059But we found the sweet spot where the photographers hang out. Shady, close to the action and free.

Travers Day 2013 060We also get to watch the comings and goings of the horse community. There is literally a village of people behind the scenes here. And they’re all passing right in front of us. From trainers to owners to jockeys to just plain horse hands to the folks that make their food, do their laundry… a whole working town supports this racing world.

Travers Day 2013 074

The horses might be superstars, but we have no idea.

Travers Day 2013 072

The owners and trainers are better dressed.

Travers Day 2013 073

You just have no idea which horse is which before they have their colors on.

Travers Day 2013 088

But it’s fun to see all the activity so close up.

Travers Day 2013 069OK, now lil man is feeling a bit more hopeful about seeing something meaningful today. We’re as close as one can get!

Travers Day 2013 100Getting the track ready for the 144th running of the Travers Race…. just minutes away now…

Travers Day 2013 102The riders have just passed us and are now getting ready to enter the starting gate. Elihu and I both admired “Will Take Charge” as he passed feet from us in his crisp blue and white…. and as he left (the last one to parade in front of us) I yelled after him to ‘Go and take charge, baby!’ We’d gotten the best and longest look at him, so in a rather off-hand way, we thought of him as our ‘pick’.

Travers Day 2013 103Elihu finally gets the hang of using binoculars – and is able to follow the horses for the entire race. Here they’re whipping past us. They run so fast and pass us so quickly that there’s little to see. Even the whomping of their hooves into the dirt, as impressive a sound as it is, is so short-lived that one is not even sure one heard it after they’ve passed…. Honestly, these races are all over so quickly that I’m tempted to be disappointed in the whole thing. But then you hear this tremendous roar from the grandstand… and that’s something. The energy of those who won, those who lost, those who almost won…. you can feel that. And for those who live inside this culture and for whom these horses, owners and riders have much more meaning, I can see how compelling this sport might potentially be.

Travers Day 2013 097

I, however, am left to simply imagine what this whole world must be like from inside. I don’t take my true thrill from a race watched – or won – but rather the sight of an anonymous race horse a mere feet away from me being lead back to its stall.

Travers Day 2013 108So. Who won? Guess. “Will Take Charge”. Elihu and I high-fived each other in the car when this gal told us the news. Snapped a pic of her commemorative program – just so we could prove we were here.  The bit about us wanting WTC to win can never be proved. Ah well.

Travers Day 2013 112Back in town to see if Elihu can part some tourists from their cash…

Travers Day 2013 110This kind of cash would be nice. !

Travers Day 2013 114Starting a little slow….

Travers Day 2013 116Ah, forget busking for now. Let’s go across the street and see what the lovely Alexis is drawing today…

Travers Day 2013 118She’s always very kind and lets Elihu try his hand at something nearby. Tonite he was trying to learn a bit about making things appear larger in the foreground. Not quite what he’d wanted to achieve, but a lesson learned. Almost. !

Travers Day 2013 122Hey – Alexis has a mom! (But don’t they really look more like sisters??)

Travers Day 2013 121A little scene gets going…

Travers Day 2013 126Elihu meets Faith, the tongue drummer gal.

Travers Day 2013 129I left em alone for a bit, came back and they’d switched instruments!

Travers Day 2013 156It’s getting dark now, and the scenes are shifting… Saratoga’s beloved Cecil is here playing banjo – and there’s a gal twirling her baton to his music. Elihu joins in too.

Travers Day 2013 160

The three actually have a charming little act going for a while.

Travers Day 2013 163Elihu’s trying out a knew skill

Travers Day 2013 175Things get active later at night as a new guitarist joins the corner. Cecil’s just about finished with his shift.

Travers Day 2013 183On the way to our car (to give Cecil a ride home) we hear these kids playing old-timey jazz. Right up our alley!

Travers Day 2013 185Elihu asks if he can join them, and soon all three boys are off and running….

Travers Day 2013 188They drew a crowd. Some folks danced, some made videos, but this mom just watched, grinning ear to ear.

The tenor guitar player’s mom put together a couple of nice videos of the boys playing. Here are the links:

Deed I Do     Bye Bye Blues

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So a week passes in what seems like a day, and we’re back on Broadway, busking and meeting people in the lovely and serendipitous ways that we’ve come to expect… here are a few more pics from earlier tonite…

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 002First off, Elihu is crazy for this Chevy that we parked next to. I wish he could see its color too. Wonder what he’d think of it…

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 012We check out the folksy folks. They were just getting going, so we listened a bit and moved on…

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 033We had supper at Circus Cafe on the sidewalk. People, dogs, pigs on leashes and boas on necks all passed as we dined…

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 038

Then Elihu joined JoJo Romero for a set of reggae. It’s a new kind of groove for Elihu, but he listens well and caught on right away.

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 037

Not sure if this pic is any better. Neither’s great.

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 049Ran into friends Marcia and Ceres. These gals had just come from a polo game. (So Saratoga.) Don’t they just look it?  So smart.

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 055Cassandra took some videos of us and put them on Jojo’s Youtube channel. Thanks, that was sweet of you!

Elihu plays along with Jojo from the sidewalk, first night

Elihu plays with Jojo Romero on stage, second night

Mama dancing

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 053Now a pic of me and lil man in front of what is supposed to be a one hundred and fifty year old race horse. !?

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 058

JoJo Romero and Elihu, post set…

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 056…and one more. Good night to our new friends, and thank you very much! Elihu had fun! This just in – Elihu and Jojo have the same birthday! (April 28th) How about that?

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 076Like Cinderella after midnight, my world changes… in my ballgown I must put the chickens in for the night.

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 067Yup, this is how every night ends. No matter how high-brow it starts off.

Sept 1st 2013 Reggae 109

What a week. New friends, good music, horses, dogs, pigs, pythons, frogs, goldfish and chickens… Whew.

We are all tuckered out and ready for bed. Summer’s over and school begins in just two days! Hard to believe.