The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Snowy Valentine February 14, 2015

Elihu sits beside me on the couch. We’re both engrossed in our own activities, but stop now and then to say “Love you” to one another, just because we can. We’re content to be snug at home after another full week of activities. Tomorrow he leaves to be with his dad for winter break, so me, I’m a bit sentimental today. But Elihu’s just plain happy. He’s looking forward now to seeing his father again. As good as our relationship is, I still think it’s important for him to have some time and space apart from me. And I’ll make good use of the time too; his time away will give me the chance to file the massive piles in my office, do my taxes, prepare lesson plans and tend to the Studio. Lots to do, few pauses in the ongoing agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I might be busy, but I’m grateful for it all. Still not sure how the coming years will pan out; from where I sit tonight, my future is one big unknown. But whatever happens, I’m so happy to be sharing it with my dearest Elihu, my one true valentine.

IMG_1936Pulled into the grocery store parking lot and saw this outside my door. Sweet.

IMG_1710It’s not hearts I see each morning when I start the car in sub-zero temps, instead it’s lovely geometric designs in the frost on my windshield.

IMG_1237We visited mom’s place so Elihu could fly helicopters with Uncle Andrew (he lives down the driveway). Mom’s working on the New York Times crossword puzzle and watching the opera. Classic weekend stuff.

IMG_1239The two of them talked endlessly about accelerometers, flybars and swashplates. It’s “Geek” to me. !

IMG_1254Here’s the old craft that’s back in the air again thanks to some new replacement rotors (a thank you to friend Gene for assisting with that!).

IMG_1160Elihu and Andrew enjoy the vertical space of the great room.

IMG_1269Look what mom sees routinely outside her kitchen window. Turkeys and deer side by side.

IMG_1325Mom tells me the snow is even deeper today, one week later; she says it’s up to the deer’s bellies.

IMG_1277The Studio can be seen off to the left outside of the same window.

IMG_1336Drama erupted as I accidentally knocked a glass of water onto Andrew’s bag. He flew into a frightening rage, violently knocked over a chair and left for a few minutes. He came back and behaved as if nothing had happened. I guess that he had a restorative nip of booze to help him keep his cool. In his tirade he had screamed that I did everything I could ‘to fuck him up’… His situation is so sad, and we’re all powerless to help. Mental illness – and the self-medicating that goes with it – is a tricky thing. Laws that are meant to protect individual’s rights end up preventing others from helping those who can’t help themselves. Elihu’s heart is broken to see his uncle like this. He loves him anyway. Good kid.

IMG_1339And so our visit ends and we take our leave while mom sets about fixing the busted stool. Sigh.

IMG_1415Back at home we make a go at sledding the big hill. A no-go. It was way too deep. Shoulda started grooming our run before all this snow fell.

IMG_1531After some major effort, even lil man threw in the towel.

IMG_1510Then he tried his hand at something that he’s always been good at – catching birds. Here’s our dear Austin, the goofy guinea fowl. Both boys are red-cheeked!

IMG_1720While Elihu’s at school, I pay a visit to my friend Ken. Here’s the view from his current digs. Classic Saratoga.

IMG_1724Another fine Saratoga home.

IMG_1723One more view. Saratoga Springs often reminds me of a little HO train set village.

IMG_1742Ken shows me his current project.

IMG_1741I guess snowy weather is good for staying inside – and painting. But of course, you have to know what you’re doing to produce something like this. Seriously, how talented is this guy? Amazing.

IMG_1948After school we check out the logger’s progress.

IMG_1939Look at the size of the tires on this skidder! And the chains are just massive.

IMG_1963Every year we host these folks when they perform at the Flurry – a dance festival in town that is now in its 28th year. Musicians and dancers come from all over the East coast. It’s one intense and immense event.

IMG_1967Sherry baked this gorgeous bread for us!

IMG_1971They also brought us some homemade maple syrup. !!!

IMG_2070Packed up and ready for anything.

IMG_1984Here are John and Matthew – aka the Swing Peepers – doing their thing for the kids. It’s entertaining for all (see a short video clip at the end of the post).

IMG_1997Elihu sat in on his djembe with an Irish jam. Some purists might not have dug it too much, but no matter, he played just fine.

IMG_2027Playing his drum was fun, but he was really jonesin to fly. Dylan stops to check it out.

IMG_2031Dylan introduced us to his dad, Amadu, who’s from Senegal. He made this enormous kalimba himself.

IMG_2034Dylan and Elihu check out a concertina.

IMG_2038Here’s Paul Rosenberg, one of the Flurry festival’s founders. He calls and leads community trad dances throughout the greater Albany area. I guess you might say he’s a local treasure.

IMG_2056This is why Elihu’s here; an African drumming workshop led by Ubaka Hill. She made it a fun experience and it left Elihu in a fantastic mood which lasted all afternoon.

The Swing Peepers sing for the kids and their parents.

Elihu plays his djembe with the Irish jam session.

Ubaka Hill leads a room full of percussionists in the final number (check out the dynamic changes near the end).

IMG_2076After all of that we were starting to get hungry… a special day requires a special meal. To the Indian buffet!

IMG_2114Finally, we’re back at home on a snowy winter’s night. Me and my little Valentine.

 

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.

 

Thinking Thanks November 27, 2014

It’s often my son who turns me around. Sometimes I self-police, but usually it’s him. I’ll moan over my arthritic, misshapen fingers, or worry about running out of heating oil, or I’ll make some grumblings about the plight of the divorced, single mother, and there he is, to turn it all around. “But just think, you can play music with those fingers”, and “Isn’t our house nice and toasty right now?: or “If it weren’t for you and daddy splitting up, we’d never have known this life!” Sure, I’ve said all those very same things to myself, but it always helps to hear them again from an outside source. Yes, all of this is true. And while it’s become something of a trite, Facebooky sort of platitude by now, it really does make things so much nicer when we’re deeply appreciative of all that we do have, right now. It’s always easier to condemn than to praise, likewise it’s often easier to feel disappointment than gratitude. But putting that extra oomph of energy into turning it around, and seeing things ‘half full’ is worth the effort. Contentment becomes the prize.

Yesterday we spend a snow-bound day inside and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. The kitchen is currently a hot mess on account of my negligence, but it doesn’t bother me. Nor did it last night, as Elihu and I cozied up on the couch and looked over his favorite childhood books together. Nor did it distract me when we decided to actually use our fancy, modern tv in the basement and watch a whole movie together. ! Nor did I fret over the unkempt house when we went outside in the darkness to marvel over the still-falling, sparkly snow that lay in great mounds over everything.

We retired late. The two of us often rely on help to sleep – benadryl for him on bad nights, half an ambien for me – but last night we both gave it a go without assistance. He got into my bed, and we chatted a bit after I turned out the lights. “How is this going to end?” I asked him, “If we both love talking so much?” “Ok, Good night” he said, and not another word was spoken, although we both tossed and turned for a good forty-five minutes before we finally slept. But a good night’s sleep we had, and my dear child is still in bed as I write.

Later today we’ll go to grandma’s for a proper Thanksgiving dinner. There may yet be drama to follow, but for now I’m not worrying about it… I’m looking forward to all the annual food favorites – all around a proper table, on the good china, with good wine… After that we’ll pack up a meal and bring it to Martha at the farm. Our family traditions have morphed and diminished with time, but I’m grateful that things are winding down slowly, and not changing all in an instant. It was a year ago today that my family had its final meal together, and with dad being gone this year, it feels different. We’ve had time to adjust, thankfully, and all is as it should be. Throws a bit of a nostalgic, melancholic feeling on things, but still, there’s so much we do have – and so much that we have already had in our lives – that it’s ok. Sad some moments, but happy others. Such is life here on Earth – contrasts we struggle to reconcile, losses we must work to accept. The stressors in our lives may constantly vie for our attention, but today it’s best not to listen. Instead, let’s look around the room and sigh with satisfaction at those simple gifts we are so blessed to have in our lives right now.

IMG_1638We needed to fix our dove of peace that floats over the garage at this time of year…

IMG_1633Elihu is a great help.

IMG_1642Still needs a little tweaking, but isn’t she lovely?

IMG_1662The first thing I see outside this morning: the beautiful view from our living room window to the southeast.

IMG_1699The sun pokes through for a moment as powder falls from a branch.

IMG_1650The view from our kitchen window, in the same direction.

IMG_1654The birds need a little help this morning! Platform feeder’s under a good eight inches…

IMG_1657Stanley the Tree Sparrow on the kitchen’s dry erase board.

IMG_1678And my dearest bird boy, sleeping in on a snowy, Thanksgiving morning. Thankful am I.

 

Sono Stanca March 12, 2014

Man, has it been a week. Tonight I am pooped. I’ve kept going and going, and now that I’ve plopped down in my chair to sit for a moment, it’s all just hit me.

And on top of it all, this afternoon it started snowing again. Not just the pretty fluffy white stuff – but rather the dense, wet, instant slush sort of stuff. By late afternoon all after school programs were cancelled (my piano class included, thank God) and we were off the hook for the evening. Pretty sure that tomorrow’d be a snow day, we may have gotten a bit too relaxed with our schedule this evening, as Elihu has only just gotten to bed, and as I write this he is reading still. That’s never easy to wrap up. I’ll spend a minute more here, then go play nighttime police duty.

We did a little stock-up shopping in anticipation of a snowed in couple of days (Friday there’s no school anyway) and by the time we got home we found all sorts of fun little diversions that each involved more time than we realized. Between errands, dinnertime and our play we’d passed hours before we’d noticed how late it was getting… We played our penny whistles, our recorders and kalimbas, home-made drums of mason jars half-filled with water, shakers, hand drums and more… and then there was the block tower building, the melodica playing, the learning of obscure polkas, the knocking down of previously made towers with remotely controlled spideresque robots… I suppose we carried on so because we’re both fairly convinced that tomorrow there’ll be no school, no orthodontist appointment, no piano students, no nothing. And I cannot wait. I can accept the snow once again without complaining, because I know that by Elihu’s eleventh birthday on April 28th there will be none of it left. This I know. So it allows me to accept the current situation with a cooler head. But the busyness of our lives, the non-stop to-do list, the chaos (albeit a joyful sort) of school, the ongoing domestic chores – all of it has me wanting to cry uncle at the moment. So I’m looking forward to an unscheduled morning.

I hear Elihu’s turned off his light on his own. Good boy. I’ll go in and check on him now, tell him I love him so, and wish him sweet dreams. We’ll both be sound asleep before long. It’s been such a long day. Good night friends….

 

Snowy Valentine’s February 14, 2014

Yes, today was another snow day here in the great Northeast (you won’t hear me arguing – ┬áit’s always a treat to sleep in an extra hour). We are indeed beset with the stuff. I could hardly manage to shovel yet again, as I had to work to fling the snow high enough to get it out of the way. Worked up a healthy sweat, and felt good when I got back inside. It was nice to move my body a bit; Elihu and I had done hardly a thing all morning but sit on our butts, play video games and scoot around the internet following miscellaneous tangents and such. It was nice to have a day off, but after a while I felt it wise to use my day a bit more productively, so I washed the sheets (not something I do very often, I’ll admit, but later tonite we have guests arriving), vacuumed the place and did some other domestic chores. A satisfying mix of work and play.

Towards the end of the afternoon we migrated to the living room where we began to play a little music. Elihu had come up with a fun little funky, bluesy groove, and after that was played out we started a little old-fashioned jam. He gets the nuances of the different styles, and he has a great natural ability to cop a sound – but if left to his own he’d prefer simply to ‘oom-pah-pah’. The kid still loves polkas. Thought it might have been a phase, but it seems to be sticking around. That’s fine by me. You may not believe it, but there is some pretty amazing polka music out there – if you venture a bit beyond Myron Floren et al (and he’s fantastic, don’t get me wrong), there’s a whole world of charming and marvelous historic recordings to enjoy. I don’t care to be falsely modest here, I am proud of my kid’s ability to play, and happier still that it’s something we can do together.

My heart belongs to only one fellow – and how lucky I was to be able to spend the whole day with him. Tomorrow he goes to spend his winter break with his father. I’ll miss him, and I’ll remember this Valentine’s Day fondly.

IMG_0243A little music, some RC helicopter fun and tower-building. A perfect, easy-paced day.

 

Free Day February 5, 2014

Just about everyone at school yesterday was hoping today would be a snow day. When one of the teachers at school passed me at recess I had only to ask her “what she thought” and she replied “Mr. R bets his life on it.” I knew what she meant; the eighth grade teacher had been known to refuse to take soup orders for lunch based on his inner conviction that the following day would be cancelled on account of the weather. His ability to predict snow days was the school’s ultimate barometer. While the kids outwardly hoped for a snow day, the teachers themselves didn’t necessarily editorialize on the subject… even so, I thought I could detect a subtle sense of hope in the air… Who among us couldn’t use a break from the daily grind? It might screw up some parent’s routines, it might throw a monkey wrench into things for some, but for me it looked like a rare opportunity… Piles of hand-me-downs, laundry, stacks of paper in my office, music that needed to be learned, all sorts of things awaited a few hours of my attention.

Some time around three this morning I awoke, feeling a horrible nausea. I’d thought it was Studio-related, because it was the first thing that entered my consciousness. The blending of my tragic mistake and the queasy stomach was unbearable. Then I realized (with some relief, as I was concerned that this might be my physical condition for the next few months) that I might be sick. I ran to the bathroom as my mouth began to create massive amounts of lemony-tasting saliva… Ok, here we go, I thought. I threw my hair back in a clip and positioned myself at the toilet. But just as my chest began to gather itself for a good first heave, I wondered if it might not be possible to stop things where they were. I didn’t care to go through all that labor to upchuck a mere handful of food eaten six hours ago – all that horrible, tooth-eroding crap in my mouth. No… I found the Pepto Bismal and chugged it. Maybe… A sharp headache suddenly appeared in my temples and my body broke out in a flash of sweat. I was aware of a stomach bug going through the schools, maybe this was it. Now I really hoped for a snow day. I sat there another ten minutes until the feeling passed, and grateful my body seemed to respond to the Pepto, I headed back to bed. Before I laid down I took a look outside – no snow was falling yet, and things didn’t seem much different than they had six hours ago. I checked the school website but there was no update yet. I got into bed, and was asleep in what felt like seconds.

I awoke a few hours later in the middle of a wonderful dream, and panicked to see it was almost 6:30… my body didn’t feel right yet, but it was time to get up. Ugh. I slumped to the computer, checked the site and to my relief saw that it had been updated with a little icon of falling snow and the words “Snow Day!”. Back to bed, and asleep in no time. Some time later I heard Elihu trudge into the room, and still feeling exhausted and not my right self, I umphed a response after which he got into bed next to me, his red stuffed parrot (Lenny Birdstein) in his arms. Good kid, he let me sleep an hour or so before he began talking. Soon we were comparing hands, fingers, talking about this and that, making jokes and cracking up. Somehow, I was feeling better. After a bit of silliness I got up to make us “cakes of pan”. We had a lovely little breakfast, and enjoyed watching the chaos of the bird feeder by the kitchen window. On snowy days, our place was always jammed with activity. We were even cheered to see the first Starlings we’d had visit here in a couple of years. Nice morning.

Love being home in the mornings as I get to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Feeling a bit overwhelmed at the to-do list before me, I was happy to watch the Colbert Report as I made the bed and began to tackle the laundry. Two of the women from Pussy Riot were on and I couldn’t help but be absolutely awed by them; they were beautiful, intelligent, funny and brave. I remember being heartbroken and angry – and feeling powerless too – at the news of their arrest and incarceration a couple of years ago, and it was inspiring to see them now free and carrying their message to the world. Made my to-do lists seem like nothing. Put my whining in perspective, and had me in a hopeful mood. Hope I can keep it going through the day. Elihu’s working on his Language Arts homework and I’m finishing up this post before getting back to it. Maybe today will be just what we need to do a little catch-up before we get back into the game. Thank you snow, for the free day.

Post Script: After a productive day indoors, we both suited up and went outside to enjoy the fresh snow (which never stopped falling the whole time). We shoveled narrow corridors through the snow to the coop and garage, fed and watered our flock, and after our chores were finished, we flattened paths for sledding down the hills in our yard. Elihu enjoyed a couple of good runs and some classic wipe out moments. We stayed out for quite a while, and our cheeks were rosy even an hour after we were inside and dry. A memorable and refreshing afternoon. (Note to self: add “rope tow” to ultimate dream wish-list for the property…)

 

Mo Sno Photo March 19, 2013

What fun we had today! Haven’t heard Elihu giggle and laugh like that in ages. And the best packing snow I remember in a long time… yay! Here’s a mini album of our afternoon outdoors. (The way I’m making such a big deal about it you’d think we don’t play outdoors much. Yes, sadly, that’s actually true. !) I’ve included a few extra shots in order to give folks a more complete vision of our property. In an unintentional nod to ‘Where’s Waldo?’ our goose Maximus makes a cameo in more than a few shots.

march snow day 2013 012the view of the sledding hill from our piano

march snow day 2013 018a closer look

march snow day 2013 024Elihu, fittingly, is using a goose quill in place of a plastic stylus with his DS

march snow day 2013 033the sledding hill is just beyond the pine trees to the SE

march snow day 2013 068here’s our grand Beech tree

march snow day 2013 072 and here’s the king of the hill

march snow day 2013 079and who’s this?

march snow day 2013 083he can’t be all bad, he’s wearing red sunglasses and an aviator’s cap

march snow day 2013 087smiley fellow

march snow day 2013 093the run has been made, now to enjoy

march snow day 2013 095movin now

march snow day 2013 101picking up speed

march snow day 2013 112and it’s a fine finish just shy of the pricker bushes!

march snow day 2013 120it’s a long, long walk back up

march snow day 2013 122the most enjoyable exercise I’ve had in years

march snow day 2013 135going in now

march snow day 2013 139coming around the South side of the house

march snow day 2013 142beech tree to left

march snow day 2013 143around the corner now on the West side of the house

march snow day 2013 152on the front porch (facing North now), eating snow

march snow day 2013 153the view from the kitchen window, our tiny bridge visible at the far left.

We love our little corner of Greenfield. And it’s just so pretty in the snow.