The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Summerella July 1, 2017

There is a tree frog peeping loudly outside my kitchen door. Likely she is close by, and if I were so gifted, I might see her for myself. Surely, if my son were here, low vision child though he may be, he would locate the tiny amphibian in an instant. She is surprisingly loud and I consider looking for her, but I know that it would be in vain. For a moment, I am reminded of my child, and I miss him. I realize that I’ve spoken to him only once in the nearly two weeks he’s been away. It’s summer, and as always, he is with his father. Although at present I feel his absence very sharply, for the most part his time away is part of a schedule that works very well for me. When he is here during the academic year and life is fully underway I cannot stay on top of the maintenance required by a home with chickens, frogs, fish, basement and garage (never mind the arts venue), so this is the season when I turn my full attention to matters domestic. What is different this summer is that I am also making an effort to get out a little. To visit the world beyond my driveway, to hear some music, to meet some people, play a couple of new gigs, and shake off the antisocial mode which I find more comfortable and natural at this time in my life. There’s much to do, much to do. And thankfully, finally there’s some time in which to get it all done.

A jazz guitarist I’d known two decades ago through my ex husband was kind to reach out and invite me to the Jazz Festival here in Saratoga. (He may not have known that I wouldn’t have been able to afford a ticket on my own, so this was a doubly special surprise.) Having spent the last couple of months dieting and living a fairly boring, house-bound life, this was a perfect chance to welcome summer, enjoy some music and have a little interaction with people other than piano students. Truly, standing backstage and hearing such great music once again, feeling the kindness of my host and taking in all the wonder of such a perfect summer afternoon, I felt like a real-life Cinderella. I’d be back to feeding chickens and scrubbing baseboards soon enough, and so I allowed myself to fully sink into one absolutely glorious afternoon. We all wait a long, long time for summer, don’t we? Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that it’s really here again. We must savor every moment, because the magic sure doesn’t last long…

Backstage at SPAC at the jazz festival. A Cinderella moment.

Resetting the stage.

This is a familiar sight for any Saratogian.

My friend, Dave Stryker’s quartet opened the fest. That opening spot can be a little less glamorous than it sounds. But they was swingin right out the gate. Mm-hm.

Mid-day it was Jean-Luc Ponty! Furreal, I wasn’t even sure the cat was still alive. ! Sorry, JL. They relived the Mahavishnu years. Nice.

Fish tacos. The best I have ever, ever had. Will be trying to duplicate this recipe for a long time. Lunch and a cold beer in the hot sun with Mr. Ponty’s band playing. A moment of summer perfection.

Next I followed the guys to the gazebo for a much more intimate show. (I am bummed to see myself looking so ‘thick’ in this shot. Ah well.)

The band. I almost forgot how good it feels to hear music that swings this hard.

Mr. Stryker. He’s got a new release out soon. Waste no time, get it for yourself. You will be happy. I promise. I’d asked Dave if he still enjoyed what he did, and immediately realized the ridiculousness of my inquiry. That was not really what I’d meant to ask. Instead, I’d wondered to myself how on earth he had the energy to continue to do what he did. But I guess if you’re really good at something that you love doing, you find the energy. I feel overwhelmed and just plain pooped so much of my life these days, that it’s kinda hard to imagine what that might feel like. But I do remember what it was like in my 20s and even my 30s; playing, recording and touring in bands wasn’t overwhelming, it was just what we did. Yeeks. These days I’m exhausted just thinking about it. !

Soon after the set I followed Dave to the shed and got a chance to hear a set from the wings.

I heard Danilo Perez (piano), who I had also known a few decades before, early in my ex’s career. Crazy, but Danilo didn’t look any older – and his smile, his energy and spark – all there. Wonderful to witness. That’s Joe Lovano in the hat to the right of the trumpet player – hadn’t seen him in years either. A nostalgic feeling to hear these sounds and see these people.

The end of the set.

I took a little tour of the grounds…

…and ended up sitting with Diz, (in the blue shirt at right) the local banjo/guitar/mando teacher at Saratoga Guitar. Diz and Liz. Cute, yes?

Ever heard or heard of the Suffers? If not, you’d like em. They’re from Houston – and that singer made sure we all knew it. Good on these guys – a couple of years ago they all had legit day jobs. Now look! Sweet.

This is Jacob Collier. WOW. Since he’s still only a babe in his early 20s, his vids from just a couple of years ago look like those of such a young boy… Hard to comprehend that he’s got honest-to-goodness jazz chops, can play so many instruments, that he sings so well and has such a positive personality and is so good with an audience. Mind blown. (Guess that was his melodica waiting on the stand in that first pic I took backstage…)

Closing out the night…. Miss Chaka Kahn. !!!

Sistah! Damn can she sing. And she is friggin gorgeous. What a glorious way to close out my Cinderella night.

…Cuz before I know it, it’s back on the farm. Dear Bald Mountain is aging rapidly now and gets a lot of tlc.

I stay inside, cleaning and culling our crap while the fish enjoy a rainy afternoon in the pond. I swear, they are joyful when it rains. They frolic. Furreal. I am not kidding. They love the rain.

The grosbeak visits again. (So does the dove – look to the far left!)

Up close.

And now the mourning dove. My mother hates them, swears at them when they linger in the road and calls them stupid birds (but notice, they never get hit. I think they know exactly what they’re doing.) How can you hate something with ‘love me’ eyes like this??

A few years ago I dropped a beautiful antique bottle which made me very sad, until I bent down to pick up the pieces and found this little bit… Magical.

Now shit’s gettin real. I have decided that rather than continue to put the crap (scuze me, the hand-me-downs) that friends have kindly given us into more and more and more bins, I will finally make a careful assessment of said bins and cull all that does not serve us. This is NO small feat.

Like with like. That’s how the sorting process starts for me. It can take 10 hours easy to get through this much stuff.

Refining the ‘like with like’ method. Hours and hours have transpired since the last pic.

And now items have been photographed, inventoried and put in bins to go out. All of it will be listed on Craigslist and if no takers, it’s off to the local church depository box. (Notice it is dark out now. This job started at 7 am. !!)

Elihu also wishes to lighten his load. He’s given me these items to sell. If he doesn’t get the $30 he wants for it, I believe I will finally have to put it in a box and give it to the Salvation Army.

Elihu and I are big fans of the crazy, bad English on ‘Chinesey’ things. Just look at this gem: Hot/Power/Invincibility/Thunder Burst/Speedy

Delight/Blazing/Top

Powerful/Deluxe…. and our very favorite: Make haste    !!!

I can’t touch his bird collection. In fact, I’m not sure this thing will move until the kid’s graduated from college. Taking this down would be the end of an era. Certainly it would signal the end of Elihu’s childhood.

His collection even includes a dead stuffed parakeet of ours named Seamus. Famous Seamus, that is.

Outside, the wild turkeys pass by our homestead without a chicken or a duck so much as flapping a wing.

The pantry is next. How does this get so out of order when I start out so clean and tidy?? Dang.

Ahh. I will sleep so much more peacefully tonite.

Using a flash, you can spot many a wing-ed thing in E’s densely packed room.

Before the planes, it was all about the birds. Naturally.

But this is how E’s room really looks. Dark and chill.

Finally, a moment to enjoy my favorite room in the house.

How sweet is this? A clean, quiet house and a freshly tuned piano. Girl’s gonna be sheddin a little before bedtime I think. It feels so good to have an organized house and a to-do list full of check marks. Now for a little Phoebe Snow, some Joni too, and maybe a couple of prog rock faves and hair band ballads to round it all out. My summer day comes to a perfect close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deep Summer July 20, 2015

It’s hard to believe it’s here again; that muggy mid-section of the year which from the bleakest winter day you cannot fathom ever returning… One hundred degrees in the sun, and the kind of relentless humidity that presses in and clings to every surface. Me, I can hardly stand this weather. But my son, he loves it. Ever since he was tiny he’s always said that he wants to go to Vietnam one day. He says that he actually loves this heat and humidity, and while I can’t help wonder if he doesn’t enjoy it all the more because it irks me so, I think I’m beginning to believe him. He isn’t slowed at all by the heat, but for me, it drives me to the brink. I find it hard to choose the right clothes. Hard to move around once I’m in those clothes. Hard to keep motivated. This is one of the reasons I feel so landlocked here in Greenfield; there is no escaping to the relief of a windswept beach. Instead, the vapors of the forest and field hang thick and unmoving in the air. While I feel a certain nostalgia at the scents of goldenrod, ferns and dampened pines (they remind me of my childhood; summer vacations, overnight camp and Baroque music), I can also say that that certain perfume brings with it a feeling of dread; there will no escaping the sweat that comes along with it. And think of all the musicians who must contend with the weather as they fight to keep their poor instruments in tune! It just seems to add insult to injury that the humidity spikes so mercilessly just as the outdoor music festival season reaches its peak. If only the weather could level out sometime in mid May and remain there until the fall. Yeah, if only.

I whine about it because it’s nice to get it off my chest, but truthfully, I bear it all with a bit more dignity than it might seem. It’s really more of an inner sort of anguish. I do manage to keep up with Elihu, I invent new itineraries for us, I make sure we aren’t lying about the house day upon day…. Every so often there are those afternoons where it just makes more sense to remain indoors on the comfort of the couch, surfing the great world beyond on our laptops, but for the most part we’re out and about. There are chickens to feed, gutters to clean, weeds to pull and concerts to attend. There’s busking to be done, there are frogs to be caught, tubas to be practiced and trampolines to be jumped upon. (Or is that the other way ’round? No, wait, that’s a joke…)

My last post had me cringing a bit; all that backward-longing, the clumsy pep talk about my future… In re-reading it, it feels as if I was saying the things I thought I should be feeling…. All that second-guessing of my goals and abilities, an encrypted bid for outside vindication veiled in the modest, self-effacing style of a middle-school girl’s journal entry. I guess it struck me as slightly jive because another two weeks on, and I’m exactly where I was before my spike of can-do spirit. The return of my son, and with him, the nonstop daily job of being a single mother, it’s reminded me that simply starting over again as a working musician is not exactly going to be simple. First, what to do with the kid? I’m making headway with material, but still, there’s new stuff to incorporate, and I find it’s sinking to the bottom of the list. It’s harder to find the oomph to learn tunes that I don’t particularly enjoy. And so I don’t. But that’s ok for now, because The Studio is entering into a new phase with much outdoor construction taking place, in addition to a good deal more to complete on the interior, and I need to be present for all of it. And I still have to feed the kid. Me, when my kid’s not here, I go for hours – entire days – without a thought of food. I’m all about getting shit done. But the brakes slam on pretty hard when the kid’s back. Which is ok. Elihu is 12, he’s on his way to being a young adult. He might still find making Ramen a bit of a challenge (he’s got his dad’s spazzy gene when it comes to some simple tasks), but in a pinch he could probably get through a day without me. So while my snazzy new role as rockin keyboard mama might not come to fruition this summer, I think next year it’ll be much more likely. I’m not stalling here, just investing my energy where the reward will be greatest. And in all honesty, cover jobs will always be there. The Studio will not build itself, nor rent itself out. I’ve put a great deal of time into the place lately, and can see the light now. I don’t wish to be overly cheerful and optimistic about its future – I admit it, I’m still too nervous; bold, decisive language still frightens me. I’ve spoken robustly about our future here before, but in this moment, I’m just kind of holding on until we can get the plumbing turned back on and the kitchen finished.  I think those final touches will embolden me to be more visionary. Hell, for the time being I’m choosing to blame my chill attitude on the less-than-chill weather.

Things are moving. There is no stasis, that’s for sure. Every week there’s a new adventure, and even more so when lil man’s here. Elihu will be rejoining his father for much of August, and there will be house guests here in his absence, so much will be going on during the summer that remains. My enthusiasm might be wilting a bit in all this heat, but heatwaves don’t last forever.

IMG_0025Sussy takes the heat well. Behind her are sprouting some super-gigantic goldenrod plants, well-fertilized by their location in the middle of the chicken run. Chicken poop can result in some crazy-big plants. !

IMG_0013I actually enjoy cleaning the gutters. I always seem to put it off for months and usually get to them when – you got it – it’s super hot out. Once you’re sweaty and uncomfortable, why not get even more sweaty and uncomfortable? Better to be productive than not.

IMG_0011On rainy nights the frogs are easy prey on local roads. We stock our pond each year with a variety of sizes.

IMG_0062Martha’s birthday was a couple of days ago. We’d planned on having a party anyhow, but it just didn’t work out that way. We did all meet up in the kitchen. (See how lost we all look. Even the camera couldn’t find its focus!) Every birthday of Martha’s we can remember was always the very hottest day of the summer. Strangely, this year the heat broke and the weather was cool and rainy.

IMG_0096As life would have it, there was another place we wanted to be that same night… Forty years ago at the age of 12 I first heard the great David Amram here in Saratoga, and now Elihu is here, at the same age, taking in that same experience. (Locals, please go hear the Dylan Perillo Orchestra – some of his musicians played behind David. They had a wonderful roster of tunes in their set, great charts, and a solid, swingin feel. Leader Dylan is the bassist, and his on-mic style was minimalist and quirky ala Steven Wright. Needless to say Elihu was way beyond impressed. And dig this – Chicago pianist Ron Perillo is his cousin. Say what? The world contracts once again.)

IMG_0102I have been lucky to share the stage with David a couple of times. Luckier still to witness him playing an impromptu version of “Pull My Daisy” on my Rhodes, back in our Evanston home. Crazy thing is, he remembers all of it.

IMG_0091The man and his necklaces.

IMG_0078Elihu gets up close to the neck gear…

IMG_0079…and enjoys a bit of a chat with David.

IMG_0126The next day there’s action at the site of the Studio’s future parking lot.

IMG_0140The site is being excavated in order to tie in the new kitchen to the existing septic system. A friend helped me with some post-construction cleaning inside, and between the two of us we put in over ten hours. Still so much to do.

IMG_0124Al, our earth-moving friend, has changed the grade behind the Studio in order to provide a perennially wet spot some necessary drainage. Formerly surrounded by woods, it’s a bit odd for me to see the building so exposed. We will be replanting evergreens at some point in order to fill in the space. We’re just doing things the right way so as to avoid problems in the future. A modest venue, but so much work has gone into it.

IMG_0231A far less modest venue: SPAC. Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Chicago friends, this is what Ravinia wishes it were. Sorry, but true.) Today we are here to see New York City Ballet, which makes SPAC its summer home. I grew up going to the NYCB regularly, but today is a first for Elihu.

IMG_0163We arrived with two hours to kill inside the park before the ballet started, so our first stop was the Auto Museum.

IMG_0172A car very similar to the one my grandfather, Judge Conant, drove in 1932. Dad recalled holding on for dear life in the rumble seat with his brother David as their father raced down the winding Adirondack roads.

IMG_0176Far less glamorous was my first car, a 1986 Mustang. Yellow. One of the only non-cool Mustangs ever.

IMG_0183We lunched at the Gideon Putnam Hotel with Saratoga’s finest. Remind me to tell the story sometime of how I once spent the night there with Patti LaBelle and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s not what you think. But memorable. !

IMG_0184Heading down to the backstage area.

IMG_0188Took this on the fly – we kinda snuck in backstage for a quick look-see. The dancers are there on the left, just outside the wings waiting for their entrance.

IMG_0142Elihu’s very first look at SPAC from the inside.

IMG_0150Our seats are in the front row – check out these tympani covers.

IMG_0217We’re right behind the pit!

IMG_0215We need seats like these – it’s the only way my little Achromat can see… Even here there isn’t a lot of definition. But I was impressed that he could see well enough to glean the story from the movement… Made me happy.

IMG_0203At intermission we made a new friend. I went to find him on Facebook and wouldn’t ya know, we have a couple of friends in common already. Once again, small world.

IMG_0221Afterward we met Andrew, another twelve year old – only he was a dancer! That was fun.

IMG_0228Crossing the bridge that leads across a creek far below, Elihu stops to mimic the concert posters.

IMG_0230Can’t forget our buddy Yannick! We are excited to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – and hero, tubist Carol Jantsch – at the end of August.

IMG_0202This selfie gives you a little idea of the perspective here. Or maybe not quite. Trust me, it’s a long way down. Take note of that white formation on the right – shortly it will be the site of a dramatic moment in our afternoon.IMG_0239En route to the riverside walk we sample a spring. It was the most displeasing of all the springs we have tasted – and Elihu actually enjoys that sulfury-tasting crap. We thought this spring was “Horrendable”.

IMG_0240A long way down.

IMG_0334It’s exciting to finally be here!

IMG_0251The mineral-laced water from this particular spring has created this huge deposit in the form of a small mountain. Much of its surface is continually under a film of falling water.

IMG_0345Up close. It shimmers in real time, as a film of water descends.

IMG_0342Here’s a look back at the bridge we were on earlier.

IMG_0357The narrow ledge upon which we walked was all chalky white mineral residue covered with running water.

IMG_0360The water empties into the stream.

IMG_0367Here’s the path we followed to get downstream.

IMG_0285Once we were at the water’s edge, we had fun. The father of these boys grew up in Rogers Park in Chicago – just off of Devon Avenue – blocks from where I myself (and Elihu’s father) had lived. Later this man lived in Buffalo Grove, the town in which my late friend Bob Gand lived. He’d spent time in my hometown of Wilmette, too. He didn’t seemed impressed by it all, but I sure was. Small world stuff always blows my mind.

IMG_0298When wildlife wasn’t to be found, we busied ourselves making cairns in the running water.

IMG_0328I ended up making ten of em. I had a blast.

IMG_0356Elihu catches his breath after a frightening couple of minutes and an urgent lecture from a short-of-patience mom.

Things turned – and turned scary for a moment – when Elihu misjudged the relative elevations of the path and the water. He mistook a ledge for a shallow entry into the water, and in an instant he was up to his waist in the creek, clinging to the rough rock by his fingertips. I did a lightening-fast assessment of the situation, and realized the water was not more than three feet deep there, and if need be I could jump in and grab him. I was overcome with fear and anger all at once, and before I made my move to rescue him I chewed him out.

Poor kid, with his vision, things are bound to go wrong at some point, but still, I always tell him he has to be so much more diligent about assessing things that anyone else. Without good depth perception, life can be dangerous. He knows this, but he hates that it’s true. He blows things off that he shouldn’t. He hates that he can’t just be a curious 12-year-old boy who can take off running with everyone else. He always has to look twice, and sometimes it happens that he’s sure he knows what he’s seeing – when he really isn’t. Step or flat surface? A crap shoot most of the time.

This time it ended up ok, and as I told him it’s a good experience if he learns from it. He was still so mad at me for getting mad at him that I don’t think he took that in. But it’s something this mom has no trouble repeating. Good advice for anyone – achromat or not. Learn from it and it’s not a mistake. It’s a lesson. Crisis averted – this time.

IMG_0035Treasures from our river visit.

IMG_0001The heat finally breaks with a heavy summer downpour.

IMG_0022We’ve got a bit of a drainage problem in our garden beds. On the to-do list…

IMG_0010Who are we fooling? Raincoat? Ridiculous!

IMG_0018Elihu insists he jumps tons higher when the trampoline is wet. So high it looks like he’s walking on the treetops… Happy boy, happy summer, happy rainy day. For the time being, everything’s finally cool.


Post Script: While I had personal misgivings about the immature nature of my reflections in the previous post, I actually received a note in the mail from a dear friend saying how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s hard to know how feelings translate to readers. I guess one never knows, do one?