The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Real Ideal October 28, 2017

Ever since some friends and I found ourselves painting the walls of my new home in a mad dash to finish the project on the eve of our wedding, I have adopted a phrase which has served me well through the years: “Lower your standards and you’ll always be pleased with the results”. (Jokes have subsequently been made that I may have brought the divorce on myself by setting the bar so low at the very start. !)

Nearly every endeavor of some significance seems to involve more plots twists and surprises than one could ever anticipate at the outset. These little ‘spanners in the works’ can leave one ready to throw a laptop out of a window or just stay in bed and hope the world outside might forget all about you. But the impulses are brief; after all you couldn’t get your work done without the laptop – however old it may be – and by 8 o’clock your child would be be desperately pleading with you not to make him late. And then there are always the roosters. They never let you forget it’s time to start all over again and get things done.

Initially, a great new idea buzzes with possibility. The idea inspires, promotes new ideas, it sheds light on a potential path into the future. For a moment, everything seems right. A vision emerges, a plan to bring the idea to life takes shape. But the reality that follows is so seldom as pure, easy and straightforward. And therein lies the challenge.

Traffic, spilled coffee, sick pets, sticking brakes, cancelled students, lost music, failing technology. Those are the fairly mundane bumps in the road. Then you have the state returning your non-profit forms repeatedly when you, your attorney and your accountant had thought it looked good and was ready to go. You have board members that don’t respond to emails. Your emerging business has needs, but no money. Your venue looks so lovely, and the calendar of events is starting to fill up, but then the new AC units get hit by lightning in the middle of the cooling season and the septic tank cracks. Yes, these things can happen. And yes, they happened to me. And I have staved off tears and desperation by reminding myself to lower my standards. To relax a little, because somehow, (as Martha Carver always said) “Things always work out.” That, and a little Monty Python skit here and there have helped tremendously over the past few months as I’ve watched how quickly an ideal situation can become a real one.

If my son remembers me for nothing else, he’ll remember me for saying this time and time again: “It’s not a mistake if you learn something from it”. There are so many tiny heart breaks in the craft of building model airplanes – the kind of model that actually flies, not the kind that sits on a shelf looking pretty. The practice of building and then flying a craft inevitably results in crashing. There’s a slogan model aircraft enthusiasts enjoy sharing: “Build, Fly, Crash, Repeat”. This is not a hobby for the faint of heart. It is not a hobby for mentally flabby folks like me, either. There’s a lot of analytical thinking that goes into the building and repair. It’s a hobby that involves a mix of unlikely gifts; the appreciation for aesthetics and beauty, the ability to physically assemble delicate parts, a knowledge of mechanics and technology, and the understanding of basic physics. And the underpinning of the whole hobby is that deep, unquenchable desire to know what it feels like to fly… A tall order, and thanks to the unrelenting properties of this physical planet, a plan that’s bound to fail at some point. I can think of no other undertaking that better illustrates the relationship of ideal and real. And let me tell you, the undaunted spirit of these flight enthusiasts is inspiring. We can all take a lesson from these folks. A crash is just a means to a repair, and who’s to say the new craft might not be an improvement upon its former self?

Another saying my son will remember me for is “You never know until you go”. Been saying that to him since he was a toddler. Truly, you can hear about something, but until you experience it for yourself firsthand, you can never really know it. Recalling to myself the several aforementioned philosophies has helped me to traverse a very challenging chapter in our lives over the past few months. An absence of posts here on this blog will attest to our busy life (never before in the 6+ year history of this blog have I let more than four weeks go between posts. Talk about ‘lowering ones standards’. !).

Readers may enjoy a little update on the Studio, and I am pleased to tell everyone that things are indeed a whole lot better than they were a year ago. I was glad for our insurance, because it helped pay for some of the AC repair – but at the end of the day it’s still mom who fills in the gaps. The deductible, the electric bill. The stuff for which I cannot find a grant to help subsidize. It’s easy to find a small bit of grant money for a sexy project – everyone loves to see high school kids performing and ‘staying out of trouble’, but no one – that I’ve come across yet – is interested in funding the repair of a septic system, much less helping to pay the monthly operating costs. I can’t provide a platform for things to happen until the basic costs are met, but that point doesn’t seem to matter to the folks giving out money. It may seem hard to believe, but just to keep the venue open, insured and heated/cooled, it costs me – out of my own, impoverished pocket – around $800 a month. Slowly some events are starting to help me cover those costs, but it will probably be another year before “we” (I have to bite my tongue all the time – I want to shout “We is actually just ME!”) break even. I’m going to boldly suggest that in a year’s time I might even glean a tiny income from the place. Maybe. I’ll set my standards low, so that I’ll be more than thrilled when the money does finally come in…

Last week I took our roos (and also our 12 pound duck whom we named Christmas Dinner) to the Amish farmer to be butchered. It was a fine, sunny fall day and every last corner of the hilly countryside and winding road looked like a perfect magazine shot. After I got home and the birds were tucked inside the chest freezer, it was off to the Studio for a sound check. Then I picked the kid up at school, made sure he had something to eat and a plan for his evening. Homework, tuba, building, get the birds in and collect eggs. Oh, and please don’t spend too much time at your workshop, I cautioned him as I left. I paused for a moment in the driveway to take it all in. I could’ve listed a dozen things that needed tending, fixing, or replacing, but for one moment I let them all rest, and I turned my attention to the miraculous moment in which I was existing. My son was happy, thriving and well-taken care of (and probably pretty psyched to have the house to himself once again), and I was about to join dozens of happy and excited kids at The Studio. What? Amazing. For just a moment it all seemed perfect. Maybe even ideal.

The life that I’m living now was certainly never part of the plan. If you’d have told me that one day I’d be a single mom living in the country, that my kid would play tuba, build airplanes and speak German, that I’d be raising chickens and selling eggs, that I’d be running a community arts venue on my own… If you’d have told me any of this a decade ago, there’s no way I would’ve believed you. Cute story – but not mine. But look, here we are.

Trips to the emergency room, cancelled events, governmental red tape and failing cars can wear a gal down, but honestly, this life has turned out to pretty close to ideal. Really.

 

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Here’s a link to the gallery page of The Studio’s site. The main page is not current – I will endeavor to make updates after I publish this post and before I finish the grant proposal which is due this coming week. ! Don’t even get me started about the annual Halloween party happening tonite – I will cobble together a costume in the 11th hour. Elihu however is well prepared and is thrilled to be going as Otto Lilienthal. Elihu will be proudly declaring the German aviator’s last words “Opfer müssen gebracht warden” throughout the evening. (Otto died of a broken neck after falling from one of his thousands of flights. His final words translate as “Sacrifices must be made.” Indeed.)

 

Up Is Down December 27, 2015

coop pic

The day after Christmas we buried our beloved red hen, Thumbs Up. Elihu wasn’t here, but he was on the phone with me as I placed her in the ground. I put the phone on speaker and set it down as I shoveled the dirt upon her, my son sobbing along with me the whole time. Chickens may live well over a decade, yet this gal hadn’t quite made five years. Somehow we’d always thought she’d be here as Elihu grew up. With a personality more like a golden retriever than simple red hen, she animated our household in the most delightful way, and it’s hard to imagine how different the energy will be around here now that she’s gone. I’m almost surprised at how deep my grief is over this loss. My father died two years ago tonight, and while it should go without saying that I dearly miss him, this recent loss is just so fresh and acute that I cannot shake it. And with my son so very far away, my heart is breaking all the more.

These days I’m larger than I’ve been in years, and that too is nagging at my heart. Being unable to fit in my beautiful clothes, and becoming out of breath just going up a flight of stairs, all of this has me grieving for a time when I felt and looked my best. In the past I’ve managed to pull myself up and out of my funks, and I’ve shed as much as fifty-five pounds in one year, but I don’t know where the resolve will come from now, and I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll ever turn things around. My fingers are getting knobbier and ache with arthritis each day; this alone is a hard reality to accept. Every evening I take my relief in glasses of wine, the worrisome double-edged sword; it’s the much longed-for and soothing end to my day, yet it’s a source of countless useless calories that only add to my problem. I manage to pull myself through the days until that blessed evening hour when a sleeping pill will take me away from this waking world. And when the next morning arrives, I am once again overwhelmed and under-confident that I can do anything about it all.

When I hear about successful people who have jobs, money, families and such, becoming overwhelmed with depression, it’s hard to understand. Me, it seems that if you can pay your bills, then things couldn’t be all that bad. Right? But then I look objectively at myself; I have a lot going for me, so this current state of my spirit can’t really be justified. But still, I can’t help but wonder how differently I’d feel about life if only I had a little bit more money. If I had a job – and a paycheck. I know how glorious I feel each year when I get my tax return – the whole world opens up. Fuel oil, a haircut and color, new shoes for the kid, a barrel full of scratch grains for the flock, dinner in a restaurant – all sorts of things become possible, and with that possibility I feel a certain spiritual uplifting. It’s crazy, honestly, because none of this shit really changes my day-to-day reality, but somehow, having just a tad more than enough can feel so very, very good.

Recently I learned that Facebook had been charging me methodically over the past few months for many small commercial posts. Somehow (and I am not alone judging by the hundreds of comments just like mine, oh how I pray it comes to a class action suit one day!) I misunderstood a one-time ‘boost’ for a contracted series of boosts, thereby creating a slow but devastating hit to my PayPal account. Now this is the ‘slush’ fund I count on for Christmas and other treats. Imagine my surprise when I went to buy a couple of gifts for my son to find under the tree on his return, and there was nothing left. What the hell? Following the charges, I found the source of the problem. And I realized it was a case of ‘me versus the machine’. I would not win this fight, nor would I ever see that $300 again. Holy fuck. I was feeling shitty enough right now. Now this. Mom had made it plain that she was unable to help at this time – property taxes were approaching – so I knew I couldn’t go to her. I asked an old friend if he could loan me the sum – just til early January, as that’s when my students were returning – but after a few days there was no response. Feeling ill about having appealed to him for help, I’d been wishing I could take it back. But that wasn’t possible. What was posted was posted. Ugh.

Phooey. Thumbs Up is dead, I’m broke and fat, and my kid is a thousand miles away.

The up side is that my mother is still here, my neighbors are all wonderful and supportive, and I have friends who help buoy my spirits through the lifeline of the internet. My house is warm (bless this mild winter!!) and my son is has two goddam tubas and a myriad of instruments to keep him happy. We have six happy fish, three happy frogs and fifteen remaining fowl. I have a view of Vermont and a fucking grand piano. Ok, so my Wurlitzer needs a bunch of work, but hey. I have one.

Looking back over the years I see this same sort of lament over and over here on the blog. And it gets a little tiresome, I know. Sometimes it kinda feels like reading the journal of a middle school girl: ‘poor fat me, no one has it as bad as I do, no one understands me’ again and again. Things aren’t really so bad, I know it, but still…  I haven’t figured out how to pilot this Studio thing, I haven’t approached anyone to join the board yet, and my office is a fucking nightmare of unfiled paper and undone to-do lists. Yes, the refrigerator is organized, the pantry tidy, and the floors are as clean as they’re going to get for now. My house is in order now, but my life is not. It’s up to me, I know it. Holding out hope that I’ll find the oomph inside me to get the Studio going, to lose twenty-five pounds, to get my teaching materials filed and organized. But from where I sit today, I can’t imagine how I’ll get any of this shit done.

Yesterday I was rocking my sweet Thumbs Up after she had died. I was holding her against my breast, her neck against mine… I looked out past the Christmas tree to the hills beyond and remembered the year before last; I had been rocking in that same chair, looking out over that same view, tears streaming down my cheeks as I anticipated the imminent death of my father. Here I was again, so sad, so sad. Still, this was part of life. Nothing so wrong with being sad, I thought to myself. Maybe the best thing one can do is just invite the sorrow in and push through it hard. Sad doesn’t last forever, after all. Nothing does. Which ultimately, I suppose, is a great gift.

On Christmas morning I rose in an uncharacteristic panic; in my gut I had felt something to be very wrong. I sat up in bed and felt fear wash through my body. Without second-guessing myself I ran to the coop. The backyard was eerily quiet… where was Bald Mountain? I opened the door – the coop was nearly empty. Had there been an attack? Had the automatic chicken door opened too early and allowed a predator to enter? Adrenaline flushed through me. There, on the top roosting bar, were two old gals. Usually there were three. Shit. Thumbs Up…. where was she? I panicked, opened the other door and searched the run. There, in the far corner, was my girl. Hunkered down, seeking solitude, I knew in an instant this was a bad sign. She’d been in and out of the kitchen clinic several times over the past month, and I knew things weren’t good with her. But I didn’t know they were this bad.

I rushed her inside and this time decided to demystify her ailment. I knew it was an impacted cloaca of sorts; she couldn’t pass normally, and this was dangerous. I risked cutting into her flesh and creating a possibility for infection, this I knew, but I had to do something. So I did. I removed strange-looking tissue and tried to relieve her as much as possible. I bathed her and dried her and returned her to a bed in the mud room. We’d lost a hen here just a few weeks ago – this was ominously familiar. I stayed with her for a while, talking to her and taking photos that I knew in my heart would be the very last ones…

I called mom, the one person on the planet besides my son who ultimately has my back at the end of it all – and told her what was going on. God bless my mom. Offering me guidance and advice – here she was at nearly 81, and here I was at the age of 52 – and my mom was still my mom. It almost felt physical, the relief upon hearing her consolation. I was touched by her care and concern for me. She was saying things that made me feel better… Even if I might have said those same things to myself, hearing it from my mother was different. Yes, we agreed, there was nothing left to do for Thumbs Up. I might as well go on with my day as planned. I would go to the nursing homes and visit those who had no visitors.

With a book of carols and a harness of old-fashioned jingle bells in my bag, I headed out. First I visited my old next door neighbor who was happy at my unexpected visit. Her daughter and son-in-law soon arrived, and it was nice to see her tiny apartment full of people and holiday spirit. Satisfied to know she would have company for the day, I took my leave and went to another retirement home nearby.

The second nursing home was empty save for one woman who sat alone in the lobby while Christmas music played quietly, almost as if mocking the cheerless atmosphere. A large tree and a multitude of poinsettias beside a gas fireplace tried to give the place a cozy, home-like feel, but they were too contrived to do the trick. There was no one at the reception desk, in fact the office and dining room were dark when I arrived. I walked up to the woman, sat on the couch beside her and began talking. We passed a half hour before we saw another resident walking past. The woman I’d been speaking with said her son was coming to get her, but she didn’t know when. I’d begun to wonder if these plans were real or imagined.

The woman who next joined us was tall and lean, with her shoulder-length silver hair in a striking blunt cut. She, it turned out, was from Holland. She recounted a long life; how she’d come here at the age of 23 knowing no one, how she ended up going back to school for chemistry, how she married and had children, settling in a well-to-do New Jersey suburb. She wondered at her old home, the one in which she and her husband had shared over fifty Christmases. “Ach” she said, waving a hand in the air, “It was sold years ago. Who knows where all my things have gone. All my chairs, the curtains, the paintings….” She seemed disgusted, heartbroken and resolved all at the same time. My heart ached again, but I didn’t let on. Here it was my job to be the giver-of-cheer and hope. I asked if I might see her room here, how she had decorated it, where was it that she now lived. Both she and the first woman enthusiastically offered to take me on a tour.

We passed the rec room, which I knew to have a piano, as I’d played it years ago for a program my friend had organized. I sat down and opened the book of carols. The room was half-darkened, and the carpet sucked up every sound. In the quiet I began to play “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to which the ladies began to sing. I moved gently into several more slow and beautiful melodies, after which I felt it best to conclude. Then we three moved down the long corridor to the first apartment. It belonged to the tall Dutch woman who had introduced herself as Nellie; I learned from the plaque on her door that her full name was Pietrenelle. Adorned with white ceramic windmills and wooden shoes, her room was much as I would have expected. We moved on to visit Phyllis’ room, after which we headed back to the lobby. Two more folks had arrived in anticipation of dinner, and soon the smells of food began to waft into the air. I was surprised to see a middle aged man accompanied by a bulldog come through the front doors. “Dan!” Phyllis said, her countenance lifting as she saw the two. “Are you Dan?” I said, looking at the man and then gesturing to the dog. “He should be Dan!” I laughed. “He is actually a she...” he responded. Dan had not a clue as to the reference I was making (Yale’s school mascot is a bulldog named Dan. My dad was a Yaley, and of course, my son shares a name with the school’s philanthropic benefactor, Elihu Yale.) “…and her name is Lucy”.

I assured the women that I would be back to visit again, and I could see happiness and relief on their faces. This, if only a small bit of hope in the world, was better than none. I had done something. Not much, but the last two hours had been very pleasant, and I hoped the effect would last a little while.

When I arrived home I saw a horrible sight: Thumbs Up had fallen from the bench and was now propped up, wings spread, on the laundry detergent bottle. She was breathing in and out very, very fast. I tried to move her, and her head wobbled. Then she erupted in a spasm of movement, writhing her way across the floor, faltering on wobbly legs. This reminded me of a nervous disorder, but until now it had only seemed a gastric affliction. None of this mattered now. I gathered her up and put her in a nest on the floor. I tried to share her experience, breathing in and out breath for breath. Shit. This was horrible to watch. I couldn’t touch her, it would have caused her more pain. Her eyes were half opened; she was trying to maintain. Mom was waiting for me; she’d gone all out and made a thirteen pound turkey and all the works of a Christmas dinner. I really did not want to leave my precious girl. My heart yearned to hold her as she died – but I knew it could be an hour yet. Showing my mother love by being with her for supper was ultimately more important. I left reluctantly, and before I closed the door I told my beautiful red hen goodbye and that I loved her.

When I returned two hours later Thumbs Up was dead, as I’d expected. But her death had been violent; she had gotten up and out of her bed and died a few paces away, her bowels evacuated on the floor. I imagined her last minutes, I knew they were painful. The only consolation now was that she was gone. I was surprised by my immense and immediate grief; I ran to her, held her close to my heart and wept as I hadn’t – in two years.

She died on Christmas, and I placed her underneath the tree that night. The next morning I held her for a long time before I dug the hole, called Elihu, and finished saying goodbye. Yesterday I made my errands, and today, while I’d planned to finally assess my overflowing office, I’ve done nothing but choose photos and write. As casual as this blog may appear, it takes hours to create a post – even longer when dealing with pictures. Uploading is tedious and time-consuming. In between I take little breaks to look at the tree, or out the window at my flock. Like prodding a fresh wound to see if it still hurts – I’ll rest my eyes on the little white marker under the flowering quince bush.

Everything has its time, everything has its season. We get fat, we get thin. We get sick, we get better. We lose our way, and then we find it. We all flourish, we all fade. And whatever goes up, no matter how we might wish it otherwise, will eventually come back down. What a path is this life! Bless us all as we make our way through this great, mysterious journey. A hearty thumbs up to us all, and also to that little red hen who gave us such delight along the way.

IMG_0486I got to spend some time with Miss Lucy, the newest addition to the neighborhood. That was a treat.

IMG_0528Got busy getting down to all that grunge at the bottom of everything. This takes time. Glad it’s done.

IMG_0557The day before Christmas. All is well, and it sure doesn’t look like anyone will be dying anytime soon. Thumbs Up is the light red one on the left in back.

IMG_0576Butt shot – look away if you find it gross. Part of chickening. Austin, our comic guinea fowl enjoys the platform feeder. He thinks he’s a songbird.

IMG_0567Thumbs Up was calm in her bath as I removed scar tissue and gunk. It almost seemed as if she knew I was trying to help her. Such a good girl.

IMG_0594Getting her warm and dry. Again, while many hens might have protested, she stood there willingly. Perhaps because she was almost done with it all… Who knows.

IMG_0700Christmas day, she was different. After all, she herself had sought seclusion. I brought her to the stoop for a last visit with her flock.

IMG_0755I opened the door, and as she has so many times before, she hopped up and walked inside. I know no one else would have been able to tell, but she had an unsettled look about her. She made strange sounds and stood a little too erect, plus her eyes had a distracted appearance. Call me crazy, but hey, she died only hours later. I try to honor the ‘God voice’ when it tells me something. It’s a mistake to ignore it.IMG_0759Specks, the only hen who we’ve had longer then Thumbs Up, watches as her sister comes inside.

IMG_0650See how her tail is drooping? This is an unhappy hen, likely in physical discomfort.

IMG_0762I would take her pain on myself, if only I could. How can I love a hen so much?

IMG_0790My new friends at the nursing home, Phyllis and Nellie. Oh, and Lucy, the bulldog.

IMG_0824A sight I’ve seen all my life. Mom does it all.

IMG_0835Always superb.

IMG_0834This silver had been in my father’s family for a long time.

IMG_0857I smooch my old cat, Mina. She can’t live with us as Elihu is very allergic. My ex husband and I got her over 15 years ago. She is ancient now, and she won’t be here too much longer herself.

IMG_0885I expected to see Thumbs Up gone when I got home, but it was shocking nonetheless. My heart positively broke. Strange that we’ve butchered and eaten so many of our own birds, but this, somehow, was entirely different.

IMG_0957So beautiful were her colors.

IMG_1067I finally place Thumbs Up in her little grave. Pumpkin, the only remaining red hen, comes to see what’s going on.

IMG_1080A small piece of limestone marks the spot where Thumbs Up rests under the flowering quince bush.

Thank you, little red hen. Don’t tell the rest of the flock – but you were always our favorite.

 

 

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.
IMG_0183


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.

 

Cute and Cuter January 11, 2015

Today we’d planned to clean up after Christmas. Down with the tree, to the cellar with all those bins, out with the broom, vacuum and dust cloths. Homework and lesson plans were on the list too. I was looking forward to cleaning house for a fresh start and Elihu and I were both looking forward to getting caught up in general. After talking a bit about the things coming up in the week ahead, we enjoyed watching the birds on our feeder after breakfast, and if it weren’t for Elihu’s slightly prophetic suggestion at around 1:04 of this video, it wouldn’t have warranted posting. But it was too coincidental to pass up. I’d so hoped things would quiet down around here after the holidays, but apparently not. On with the adventure…

Ok, so check out what Elihu says at around 1:04. “Squirrels are cute, but newly hatched chicks are cuter.” I bet you know where this is going….

A few minutes later I went out to feed the birds, and I heard a frantic cheeping sound. ?!?!?  (The first half of this vid has no clear audio, but some may still enjoy getting a look at our setup.) Checkout the behavior and relationship of mom and baby. Amazing.

Ok. So maybe letting our broody gal set on her clutch to just “see what happens” might not have been such a good call. We’ve never had a chick hatch naturally, without an incubator, so we kinda didn’t think it would happen. But it did (and there are fifteen more viable eggs still under a hen!). In the dead of winter we’re now faced with keeping chicks warm and fed. Lucky for them they’re so darned cute!

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A sad Post Script: Our new little member of the flock died today. It appears she froze. Although still underneath her well-meaning mother when Elihu found her there, mom was pressed up against the cold cinder block of the brooder pen’s outside perimeter. When Elihu found the chick she was cool to the touch. (I keep wondering why the mother settled there – when there were warmer spots just a couple feet away. ?) How sad we’ve been all evening. Perhaps if I’d just left them alone in the main coop they’d have been fine. I don’t know, but in any case, fretting too much over it isn’t productive. At this writing the two broody hens are sharing a nesting box under a heat lamp in the brooder pen, so things seem ok for now. I don’t want to rock the boat and introduce any new elements. They seem to be comfortable, and they have food, water and safety from other members of the flock. We’ll just have to wait and see how things turn out.

 

Full Fall October 27, 2014

Last night Elihu had a hard time getting to sleep, in spite of having just weathered a full weekend. Bleary-eyed, he panicked slightly at the thought of school starting up again the very next morning. “Wait, was that a whole weekend just now? Are you sure tomorrow’s a school day?” he asked me, with a genuinely puzzled look on his face. He shook his head. “Honestly, that felt like five minutes just now. I guess it’s just because we did a lot”. He waited for a moment and sighed. “It just feels like we really need another day. You know what I mean?” He was right. Not only the weekend, but the past several weeks had been full. In his words, we’d experienced “a lot of life” recently. Indeed. Death, too. We lost our friend Cecil a few weeks back, but no matter, things just kept on going. Projects and homework and teaching and all manner of life’s tasks have filled the space in between then and now (plus a rare night out in downtown Albany to see comedian Steven Wright – a really big deal for us), and today we find ourselves looking to Halloween, this coming Friday, as the informal conclusion to a full fall.

Here’s a photographic digest of the past few weeks…

 IMG_0011These colors, from just a few weeks ago, are now gone. So much changes in such little time in this season of transition.

IMG_0009I hung these guys in the small woods across from our house, and it’s made Elihu’s long walk down the driveway after he gets off of the bus a little spooky. He lobbied for me to take them down, but I’ve waited long enough to pull out the scary decorations. Up they’ll stay. (They continue to give me a start now and again; either when shutting the birds in at night or casually looking out of the window, even when I first come down the driveway, my mind off in another place.)

IMG_0015Just scary enough.

IMG_0028These are our hungry birds up in the burning bush. The bugs aren’t as plentiful now, so they’re eating the berries off of whatever they can.

IMG_0281The view is modest, and certainly doesn’t come off very impressive in this shot, but in person it’s nice to see Saratoga Lake again now that the leaves are off the trees.

IMG_0299Neighbor boys Ryan and Brandon came over for a visit, and Elihu led them on a quest to find all the gourds that emerged from our compost pile.

IMG_0338Big sister Ava helps count the take.

IMG_0329The children’s father Chad pats our favorite resident roo, Bald Mountain. (Chad saved our rooster last summer after a nasty raccoon attack. Baldy had run through the woods and towards the light of their front door in a heroic effort to find safety. Covered in blood, Baldy perched on Chad’s lap as he drove the rooster back home on his four-wheeler. We were out so didn’t know – it’s such a blessing to have neighbors like this when bad things happen. It’s a profoundly good feeling to know someone’s got your back.)

IMG_0270The young brothers are more than a little freaked out at the skeletons, so we had the boys introduce themselves.

IMG_0317They didn’t turn out to be terribly edible, but they’re pretty. And they were a fun surprise.

IMG_0343This wasp’s nest was also something of a surprise; it hung from our cellar door and grew from the size of a fist to this giant ball in about a week’s time. It’s gorgeous up close, with its delicately spun paper in layer upon layer. Glad to have this specimen to examine up close. (That’s a 30 pound pumpkin next to it, just for a little better perspective on its size.)

IMG_0257Here too was another surprise from the skies. Mom found it near her house, likely it had flown into a window and broken its neck. For years she’s adamantly professed her hatred for Starlings, but had now changed her mind. When I asked her why, she told me it was because she hadn’t known before how beautiful they were. ! I did’t bother to tell her I thought that was a pretty lame reason.

IMG_0264Elihu must always admire the wing.

IMG_0262I admire the interesting claw; three sickle-shaped claws face one direction with the fourth claw facing the other way.

IMG_0325This new gal reminds us a lot of our dear late hen, Madeline, whom we lost earlier this year, so we’ve ended up just calling this one “Madeline Two”. We might be onto round two of many previously used hen names. I suppose it’s just as well when they end up in the freezer eventually.

IMG_0667Thumbs Up is molting now. So are many of the wild birds. They’re getting ready to grow in a brand-new, more robust set of feathers for the long winter ahead. Up close they can look pretty bedraggled and pathetic while mid-molt.

IMG_0675A close up of the pin feathers coming in on her neck. They feel like plastic are made of basically the same stuff as your nails.

IMG_0400Appropriate.

IMG_0411Inappropriate. !

IMG_0137Elihu joins George and Peter as they play music for Waldorf’s annual Autumn Festival.

IMG_0108Then Elihu helps turn the hand crank as Vermont farmer Fred DePaul demonstrates some sheep shearing techniques. (Fred used to do work for our octogenarian friend Martha Carver many years ago.)

IMG_0125Here Fred shows how yarn is made from wool.

IMG_0200Look!! It’s Phoenix! A former classmate and much-missed friend, we haven’t seen him in months. This is a happy reunion.

IMG_0431Our friend Ken came to stay for a visit! Here he shows Elihu how he begins to paint a small landscape.

IMG_0436It’s interesting for us non-painters to see the whole process.

IMG_0444Elihu can’t see any color at all, but he can see values and can understand what Ken is doing and why.

IMG_0440There’s usually a lot of laughing going on when Ken visits.

IMG_0649And guess what? This visit Ken brought his eleven year old son! Our kids were yapping nonstop and getting along from the moment they met.

IMG_0659The boys roamed around the property in pursuit of the chickens.

IMG_0666At home with the flock already.

IMG_0419Mom came over to see our progress on Elihu’s Halloween costume. Here she shows him a photo of him on his first Halloween at the age of six months. He went as Dom Delouise as chef – and this year I’m going as the chef, he as my creation. Full circle.

IMG_0414Ken and mom always enjoy a visit.

IMG_0459Here we are, at our local costume contest!

IMG_0458The middle school girls think his costume is awesome.

IMG_0508And finally, after years of not even placing (??), Elihu wins for most original costume. Yay!

IMG_0481Cute!

IMG_0523We ran into two ninth graders from Waldorf!

IMG_0472And we ran into this creepy guy outside on the way to the haunted hayride.

IMG_0476Kind of a surreal shot…

IMG_0636On we go to our last stop, a party our friends hold every year. Elihu’s gone to it nearly all of his life.

IMG_0562Here’s our hostess, Bairbre McCarthy, as Sherlock Holmes.

IMG_0609Finally, the plate of spaghetti helps himself to a little snack as host Hank, as Robin Hood, chats with Grandma.

IMG_0579Another kid Elihu’s age. Cute costume!

IMG_0575A little fly buzzes around the table, and in Elihu’s own words “Ahh! This is going to bring my rating down to three stars!” (Elihu was a spider when he was this tiny guy’s size, and I had gone as Little Miss Muffet, you know, as in ‘the spider who sat down beside her.’)

IMG_0630Goodbye, and thank you! We had a great time as always!

IMG_0646When Elihu I and got home a couple hours later – look what Ken had done!

IMG_0702The next morning we’re off to do a little creating of our own as Elihu’s classmates begin to make their costumes for the school Halloween parade.

IMG_0713The students are required to go as something from their studies; the boys are going as Roman soldiers. They’re going to hide behind their shields.

IMG_0727This is what we’re going for… Not enough time or material for all the details, but we’ll get as close as we’re able.

IMG_0725Pretty good, huh?

IMG_0745And here’s the final result a few hours later. Good thing I had some paint leftover after doing my kitchen hallway. It was the perfect color red!

IMG_0378Back at home Elihu keeps on creating and builds the tallest tower yet from his Keva blocks – sixteen stories, all the way to the ceiling…

IMG_0375…a view from the inside looking up.

IMG_0249We love our adventures, but in the end, we both really enjoy staying home more than anything else. Here Elihu is surrounded by his very favorite things; his bass, some paper airplanes, and those silly Pokemon cards. After a full fall schedule, there’s no place like home.

 

Gleaning September 21, 2014

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and it was a day of the great year-end harvest at a friend’s vineyard here in Greenfield. Mike and Kelly began to plant vines several years ago with the hopes of making their own wine one day. The first batch was made last year, and this year the operation’s really begun to pick up speed, as Mike’s finally built himself a great structure in which he’ll make and house his stock. The vineyard sits on Martha’s farm land, and when she’s gone, much of her property will go to a land conservation group in town, and the rest of it, plus the grand, two-hundred year old farmhouse will go to Mike and his family. He and I have known this farm since we were tiny, and it feels wonderful to see it enjoying a re-birth with his new business. My son derives a great sense of continuity knowing that I worked on this farm when I was his age, and he’ll continue to have a relationship with the place well into his own future. Who knows, maybe even his children will one day find themselves helping to pick the bounty at the end of a growing season.

The temperature for working outdoors was simply perfect, the grapes were at their targeted sugar composition, and the harvest was a success. (I will note that one of Mike’s young daughters had a rather bad accident which landed her in ER. While she’s ok, she did require some extensive sewing up. We feel horrible that it happened, but relieved that it wasn’t worse.)

IMG_3718Martha Carver’s grand farm house, once lived in by Elihu Wing, one of Greenfield’s earliest residents, and built in 1802 by his father, Prince Wing, who supplied neighboring Saratoga Springs with the horses needed to pull the increasing number of carriages in town.

IMG_3713As when I was a child, horses now live on the farm again.

IMG_3674We stop in to visit Martha. Just in time to meet egg farmer Dick as he makes his weekly delivery. He’s kind of a rock star in our world.

IMG_3657A visit with resident hound dog Masie. A real sweetie and Martha’s faithful companion.

IMG_3668I love all the little details of this house, unchanged since I can remember.

IMG_3558As a child I went haying in these fields. Amazing how land can find new purposes – and in such a relatively short span of time.

IMG_3566This is what we’re cutting free from the vines.

IMG_3604It took a lot of friends to help bring in the huge harvest.

IMG_3611There were kids and dogs everywhere.

IMG_3583Elihu and I get started.

IMG_3581It was kinda like a treasure hunt. Grapes were everywhere.

IMG_3574Elihu and Sam enjoy some grape juice. It was so very delicious – surprisingly tart, yet at the same time sweet. Hard to describe, but lovely to taste.

IMG_3559When we’ve filled our five gallon bucket it gets driven back to the weigh station.

IMG_3587This took about fifteen minutes to pick, and weighs in at around 18 pounds.

IMG_3589Then it gets hauled off the the wine making shed.

IMG_3591The total take for the day was around four thousand pounds. !!

IMG_3697Here’s where it ends up. The old farming gear in the foreground was in use when I was young.

IMG_3616First, the grapes go in here to get de-stemmed and seeded.

IMG_3622Then they go into that giant red vat. Gravity alone pushes the juice out, and it comes thru a tap into the waiting bucket. That’s the slow way – the faster, more labor-intensive (and thorough) way is to squeeze the juice out. Either way, the juice goes then goes through tubing into giant stainless tubs after it’s pressed.

IMG_3631Here’s where the juice is held for now.

IMG_3634The big space inside. There’s storage for casks on either side, just outside of the frame.

How cool is it that ‘Red Red Wine’ just happened to be playing as we got to the wine shed? Seriously. (Ok, so this is white wine, but still.)

IMG_3306Yeah, fall’s on its way.

IMG_3318This was an unintentional harvest; from our chicken poop/compost pile emerged this gigantic squash plant…

IMG_3310…with crazy-big leaves.

IMG_3345And lots of blossoms. I’m careful to pick just the male flowers to fry up for supper, as there are more of them than the female blossoms, plus females, of course, will turn into fruit if pollinated. One year we had a serious shortage of bees and had to knock up our blossoms by hand. For real.

IMG_3326Here’s a newly knocked-up blossom.

IMG_3340Here’s a cross-section of a female blossom. They grow closer to the main stem while the guys kinda stick out a bit more.

IMG_3331The result. Pretty! We’ll leave them to grow a bit more before we pick em.

IMG_3352We have so very few apples and pears this year. Just as well; my post-Atkins weight gain all started last fall when an abundance of fruit ‘necessitated’ I bake lots and lots of pies. !

IMG_3355I found a turkey feather where our old garden was last year. Turkeys are always roaming through our property. My mom feeds hers daily, and they come right up to her house. Mine keep a safe distance from bird-chasing eleven year old boys.

IMG_3361The new flock on the hill.

IMG_3347And our house atop the same hill. Our yard has four terraced levels to it, this was taken from the third one down from the house. At the bottom of our yard, the woods continue on down to the road below.

IMG_3537The pullets have started laying! But look at how small their eggs still are. Not all of the gals are laying yet, either. We’ll still have to buy eggs from Dick before we’re back to self-sustaining again.

IMG_3535It’s been a while since we’ve had any variety in the color of our eggs. All eggs, regardless of whether they’re green, brown or white, taste just the same. It’s just fun to have different breeds and enjoy the variety of colors.

IMG_3764After enjoying a fun visit and bonfire with our neighbors, we ended up setting our own pile on fire. We’d waited for the perfect night, and this seemed to be it. We even said goodbye to these crazy gingerbread figures we’d had around for a while. It was our own burning man.

IMG_3746I found some sparklers leftover from the 4th.

IMG_3798The grapes have been harvested, the eggs are in our fridge, and all of our scraps and sundries have gone to the heavens in the fire. Onward into a new season we go. Good-bye and thank you, summer. Hello and welcome fall.

 

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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.

 

Magic Bus September 12, 2014

It’s the small victories that keep us going, right? Today will mark the first time my son will have taken the bus home from school, and that in of itself – what with the savings of another twelve plus miles in my gas-guzzling CRV plus the hour out of my day – can be taken as a small victory. It’s got me fairly giddy with freedom, yet in spite of having made great strides on my to-do list, I still feel as if I should be further along for all this pedaling. I didn’t make it to the Studio yet to put time in insulating, but I did find a local feed store that’ll deliver 200 pounds of layer mash for a modest delivery fee, and a price that beats the corporate-owned Tractor Supply Company. That was another win. I signed up for Weight Watchers online, got my cheapo laptop to talk to my printer (the tower’s done for, I’m afraid), and was able to get some necessary docs printed out. Maybe not much, but still. Progress.

And then there was the Y yesterday. It felt strange to be back in the culture of fitness; I realized, mid-mile, that it had been over a decade since I’d taken a stab at coming to a gym. Not since my son was a baby and I’d made it my priority to drop the enormous amount of weight I’d put on during pregnancy had I spent more than two hours in a health club. I’d tried once a few years ago, but couldn’t muster the focus. But now, having given up smoking in earnest more than two years ago, and finding myself drifting, without a sound excuse, pound by pound, up and up through the numbers… Now I had to do this thing. Funny though, for as incredibly difficult as it was to get the proper clothes together, figure out my schedule and then actually join a class (which was already going when I got there, ich, I’d so hoped to sneak into the group at the start and become invisible), once I got moving – it felt good. Wow. Not saying it was easy though – that Zumba class kicked my butt, and that itself shocked me. I’d not fancied myself quite so out of shape. Or quite so large. I hadn’t been in front of the mirror for the nearly hour-long class, so when I began to walk around the track and caught sight of myself in the mirror, I was disappointed. Man, I’d been getting into my groove again, sweating in earnest as I hadn’t in years, and now I was rediscovering my ‘old gait’ (it amused me to see how naturally my body found its preferred form) and beginning once again to think maybe I just might have a little badass left in me – when I saw my profile. Shit. Was I really that goddam wide? Guess so. Second lap. Check again, maybe it’s not as bad as it looked the first time. Maybe I was looking into a seam in the glass or something. Nope. Still wide.

Thankfully it didn’t dampen my spirits. In fact, I improved my time each lap, until I’d done a little better than a mile. It felt good to move again, and I was happily surprised at it. I would never have guessed I’d enjoy it so much. I hoped it wasn’t simply the magic of the first day. It’s the beginning of anything that’s the hardest, so I reminded myself that it was an achievement just to have finally gotten here. Today I felt a tiny stab of guilt at not going, but I simply cannot do it all. I’d neglected my desk for several days, and we all know how that stuff adds up. I’ve mapped out a morning workout each weekday after I drop Elihu off at school, and it looks like it’ll work well. That will give me time to work at the Studio, prepare teaching materials, work at my desk, and maybe (I almost dare not say it) begin to organize material for a book. I hesitate use the words ‘my book‘, but to be truthful, it’s on my mind. May take a while to get to it, what with Halloween coming (killer costume yet to be made – that’s hours upon hours of labor) and getting the Studio ready for winter. But with the school bus relieving me of a trip three times a week and a new, predictable routine, I think I might see some possibility growing…

Bus’ll be here before long, and I gotta get back to it. The bus number is easy to remember, and nice, big numbers, easy for my kid to see. Even if I’m next door at the Studio, I have the peace of mind to know my son is now old enough to walk down the driveway by himself and get himself a snack. He can ride his bike and watch the men working on the new house, he can play a video game or play his bass, read a book or spend time with his chickens. I feel freer and more hopeful about the future today, and I have a lot of things to thank, among them, that wonderful, magic bus.