My son is at the kitchen table adding to an already thirty-five thousand word essay on his unfavorable feelings about Abrahamic religions, and I am sitting just outside the door in the sunshine, putting the world off just a bit longer, myself also writing. Or at least trying to. The material isn’t coming the way it usually does. There is a dull sense of dread present in my gut today which is making everything much harder to do. There is quite likely a bit of unpleasant news waiting for me soon in my inbox, and I cannot bring myself to look. And there is some information forthcoming from my mother’s doctor which also might not be good.
This day, however, is a counterpoint to the threatening unknown which awaits.
It is the most perfect sort of late spring day one could wish for – clear skies, just the right temperature and no heavy humidity to weigh things down. The occasional breeze delivers the rare scent of irises. Every so often a single-engine plane buzzes by overhead, preparing for its descent into the nearby community airfield. Water trickles endlessly over the rocks in our small pond, and the usual backyard birds do their thing. The chipmunk who I hand feed each morning has paused for a very un-chipmunk-like length of time in a crook of the apple tree, as if he too knows how perfect a day this is and wishes to take it all in. Knee-high grasses dotted with stands of pink and yellow flowers bend in the wind, common fritillaries and the occasional Karner Blue butterfly dancing among the blossoms. This is a moment I do not take for granted. I hope to linger in this pleasantness of the day and in this state of unknowing for as long as possible.
My mother has had a recurrence with breast cancer. She’s 87, so when I heard this, my first thought was that this was the ‘get out of jail free’ card she’d hoped for. There would come a decline in her health, a need for increasingly generous doses of morphine toward the end, and then finally she’d die a peaceful, pain-free death at home, something she’d long made clear that she wanted, and something which I had promised her I’d make happen when that time arrived. Instead, she is choosing to have a mastectomy, followed by a home-based recovery. No chemo, but likely radiation. If she were a decade younger, it might not concern me as much as it does. If her strength and mobility were a bit better I’d be more confident that the surgery would do more benefit than harm. As things stand, I’m apt to think this action might make her remaining time on the planet less than ideal.
I think some skilled nursing might be in order after the surgery, maybe a few days at a rehab center. But my mother is insisting that I’m making a big deal out of this and says if her doctor’s not concerned, then why should she be? She insists that she won’t need help and reminds me that there’s hardly anything left of her breast now anyway, as if that somehow mitigates the trauma. But she’s a good planner, and so has already made and frozen food for the recovery period, something which will certainly help. (Recently she made a slightly dramatic comment about maybe finally being able to get her favorite pizza after the surgery – as if for the past several years she has been actively prevented from enjoying this perceived luxury. Her Silent Generation stoicism and predilection for passive-aggressive comments drive me positively nuts.)
So tomorrow we’ll learn whether the cancer has metastasized or not. Mom got a funny feeling from the way in which the doctor talked about her case, and it has her suspecting that the news might be bad. I’ve got a funny feeling about a recent situation in my life that has me suspecting bad news, too. And so here we exist, in this perfect spring day, neither of us knowing the outcomes that await us.
My son being home offers a nice distraction from my empty calendar and ignored inbox. There are still meals to be made and a bit of shuttling around to be done while he’s here. Errands, haircuts, doctor appointments and prepping the Airbnb all help to fill the space. But my students are just about wrapped for the summer, and there are no gigs on the calendar, aside from a few solo shows in the fall. There’s time for a few farmers market dates I suppose, but still, those offer very little motivation to get out of bed in the morning. When Elihu goes to Europe with his dad for the summer (he leaves in a week), I will be faced with long days. But then again, mom may need my help. From where I sit right now, I just can’t tell.
The following few months contain a lot of unknowns.
It’s times like this when I need those lists, those spiral bound notebooks which I filled up when I was light-of-heart and full of inspiration. It’s times like this when I’m so grateful to have reconnected with my high school bestie. There is no tribe to which I belong in this town, and now that my son’s life is expanding and taking place mostly elsewhere, it has me further questioning where home should be, and what it is that I should be doing in this world. I almost don’t even feel that I can say with complete integrity that I’m a writer or a musician, when there is so little pay and work isn’t consistent. The only thing I’ve ever known myself to be with absolute conviction is a mother.
I hear Elihu moving about the kitchen making some food. He and I have both done very little today. I didn’t make anything to eat, just couldn’t find it in me. I called out to him to bring me some naan just now, and he did. I’m glad for the company, and for the bread. I’m glad for the fine spring day.
When people say to me “Happy Easter”, I feel a bit conflicted. The “Happy Passovers” don’t bother me, nor do the “Happy Ramadans” I hear from my Muslim relatives. But I can understand why it bothers me; I was born into a Christian family, one which conveyed mixed signals about the religion, let alone the origin or meaning of the holiday. We were a secular family who went to church together maybe five times, tops, during my childhood. The subject of religion was never spoken of in my family; we were one of those educated, white, liberal households who hung their cultural hats on the Episcopal Church, but who seldom actually went there.
In that my parents were music lovers, and in that classical music – more specifically Baroque music – was their thing, a lot of religious texts went along with the territory. And that always confused me greatly. They would sing along with choirs, lifting eyebrows and swaying with great emotion, yet the words they sang were completely counter to anything they espoused to believe in real life.
My mother is fairly foul-mouthed person who would often loudly chastise religious folks for being “goddam Christers”. There was a strong implication in my household that anyone who believed in Jesus – or who was loud about their beliefs – was tacky and ignorant. This message, however subliminal it might’ve been, was delivered to me loud and clear. So when I was 12, I decided that I needed to learn for myself what this religion thing was all about, and I asked my mother to please drive me to St. Augustine’s for service every week.
Sunday school and the occasional youth group events went along with the experience. And, after noticing peers serving as acolytes, I asked if I might not be one too. So began my five-year stint as an alter “boy”, attending the 8 a.m. services with the ancient and unintelligible Fr. Lightburn and sometimes, with nerves present, the high services for Christmas Eve or Easter with Father Mazza himself.
I loved the ritual, the mystery, and the notion that I was performing actions that had been done by so many before, for hundreds of years, in the very same manner. I felt the essence of reverence in the pouring of the water over the priest’s hands before he prepared the sacrament for communion. I loved the very name of the container into which the water spilled – the lavabo bowl – its Latin-derived name just reeked of antiquity. The service – in particular the smaller, less well-attended one – pulled me in. I loved the silence (no music accompanied these early services), the robes we wore, I loved the lighting of candles (there was a slightly stressful moment when you held the long taper up to the candle and waited for the wick to take the flame), I loved the way we two acolytes stood during the service, motionless, flanking the alter. I loved the language too – I relished the recitation of the Nicene creed. (For me it was never the same after the church later modernized the text.) All of this motivated me to try and better understand the meanings behind the pageantry. It seemed disingenuous to be part of a service, the reasons for which weren’t entirely clear to me.
For several years in my adolescence, I struggled with the concept “God is everywhere”. How could this be? And how disturbing was this? I knew He was supposed to love me, but really? Did he also watch me as I undressed? Was he in the shower with me too? This I never liked.
One day in youth group we’d baked little heart-shaped dough pieces onto which we’d painted the words “God Loves Me”, and I remember a moment in the green, wet grass outside in the church’s courtyard when I got it. I had been holding this small thing in my hand and thinking very hard. If God was everywhere, then God had to be… energy! What else was everywhere? Energy was present – latent or active – in every single thing in the universe! Finally, I had figured it out. I was giddy. I was ready to accept this religion thing now. The Jesus-coming-back-to-life thing would still need some work, but at least I now had some sort of reliable footing onto which I could build.
And so I passed the next decade thinking that yeah, there was merit to the basic tenets of Christianity. But of course, the more one learns about the world, other cultures and other religions, and about how power works in general, the more one grows understandably skeptical about the whole concept of organized religion. By my mid-twenties I was pretty sure that the truths that Jesus et al were trying to share with the world had been corrupted by the filter through which the information was given; the messages were coming to us through a lens of privileged men (I’d say “white” men, but there are more races implicit in the re-telling than just the white guys). We were not getting the unadulterated truth. The message – as well as the terms and conditions which the religion laid out for its believers – had become mainly a vehicle for power and suppression. And it was not always easy to know where the truth ended and the falsehood began.
My mother-in-law was the first person to introduce me to more metaphysical ways of organizing the world. She was a bit wacky – and she never really liked me much – but she taught me a lot, and I can credit her for expanding my ways of thinking. A lot of the stuff she turned me on to was, especially at the time, very “woo-woo” and would’ve had most mainstream folks rolling their eyes and passing judgement. But it was material worth considering. After all, we humans have an innate need to quantify and qualify our existence, and every little bit of information helps us along the path. Even if we choose to be atheists or agnostics – that in and of itself is a choice. Like the old Rush song goes, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”. Me, I’ve always chosen to keep my thinking open.
When my husband left me, it threw me into an existential tailspin. I spent hours upon hours reading all manner of material related to spiritual thought. I meditated, I visualized, I learned about ancient texts and beliefs in energy. At the time, I was desperate to learn why my husband had treated me so badly, how he could possibly have justified his behavior, and how it was that he simply didn’t care anymore. The concept of past lives was the only thing that supported my new reality. This idea held the possibility for a definite cause-and-effect phenomenon which helped to explain things. And for a very long time I was fully invested in that belief.
Now, I just don’t know.
A few months back, I started speaking aloud Nichirin’s Buddhist chant “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo” every day. I’m no closer to allying myself with the Buddhism thing than I was before I started chanting, (and I do think many Buddhist folks I know are just as fanatical about their beliefs as are super-devout members of any religion) but I do feel very much in agreement with the way in which all sects of Buddhism champion a continued effort towards a higher level of peace and acceptance. Plus, I am growing more comfortable with the concept of impermanence. And I’m not chanting for religious reasons per se, but for the mental focus it brings to me. The way in which it offers clarity and specificity to my goals. For me it’s a vehicle for good and productive living rather than an expression of any belief system.
And it has me thinking again.
Are we part of an individually, soul-based continuum – or a more general, energy-related, molecularly described continuum? Either way, we are unquestionably made of stardust. We are, on a purely physical level, made of the cosmos, and to that physical cosmos we shall return.
I’m sure that Jesus lived, and I know he was a great teacher of love, and although I’m not convinced, I think he even might’ve come back for a minute. I’ve had plenty of my own metaphysical and unexplained experiences, so I can’t dismiss this high-profile event out of hand. And while I’m questioning such things, I might also ask: Did lamb’s blood painted on doorways really prevent the deaths of newborn babes? Did the angel Jibreel really visit Mohammed and impart to him the teachings of the Koran? Did Siddhartha really banish the evil Mara?
What seems to matter more than the verity of any of these historic claims is that they provide us with belief systems, something we humans crave. We want to know that waking up this morning was necessary. We need to feel important, validated and purposeful. And all of these teachings, at their heart, are about the very same things.
Spring is a time of renewal. And it doesn’t much matter what we call it, or how exactly we got here. A renewal by any other name is still just that. All of it is correct. All of it is right.
Life is chugging away for us here, full of projects and deadlines and the usual related stress, but our life has also been filled with the many seasonal and traditional delights which we look forward to all year; those which help to lighten our load at a time when the world begins to press in on us. Finally it is Lily of the Valley time. Finally, the beautiful apple tree outside our door is at its fragrant and colorful peak. And finally, Elihu and I may walk the side of the road and harvest fiddleheads for our supper. With our birthdays both just past, this is the magical week of the year in which life seems to take a breath in, and everything hangs, suspended, in a rare, timeless window as we enjoy the forgotten corners of our property, noticing the tiny miracles around us with new eyes.
So many wonderful things have happened since the last post, and also, many challenges have popped up in their midst. I suppose we’re lucky to have had our precious, private moments alone here at the Hillhouse, and I’m very aware that any problems with which we are beset are most certainly first-world concerns, so at the end of the day, my complaints are not dire. And yet, being for the moment without water as we are, it is tempting to want to pout and wonder why us? Why now? Mech. A couple five gallon buckets will flush just fine, and for now we’ll just have to buy a bottle or two of Saratoga water at our local Stewart’s Shop so we can brush our teeth and make tea. Things are not so bad. I should like to say at this time that I have never taken our toilsome pump for granted. It’s done what it could, and now we have come to the point we just hoped would never arrive. But so we continue, just one more inconvenience added to the list of life that never ends…*
Where to start? Personally, I’m still feeling as if it’s just me toting the barge where the Studio is concerned, but that’s not entirely true. Artist and friend miChelle has stepped up, offering her art for our summer open house in June. Along with her modern sculpture and paintings we’ll be featuring a local jazz pianist – as well as the middle school jazz ensemble which he coaches, and in which Elihu plays string bass. It’s the promotion that’s hanging me up – that’s never been my strong suit, but there’s no avoiding it. Thankfully another board member has also made her design help available to me this week, and that lifts a huge weight off of me. This will be a week of posters and email campaigns. One hurdle at a time. One crisis, one jam session, one flock of chicks in the living room, one tuba lesson at a time, somehow, I’ve made it this far. I’m beginning to think that things might just be ok.
A few months ago, Elihu’s teacher put an envelope in my hand which contained an application to a residential summer science program at a prestigious local technical college. It had looked interesting, and I thought if Elihu didn’t get in, the process of getting transcripts together, soliciting letters of reference and writing essays might be a good learning experience on its own. At the very least, it would be good preparation for the college process which lay head. Why not give it a try? Although it had seemed pretty straightforward, the application did become a brief source of stress and teenage drama in the household, and when I personally delivered the completed package to the Dean’s office, it was a great relief to us both. But afterward, life quickly moved on, and the whole thing fell to the back of our minds. Until the other day, when I found a large envelope in the mailbox…
I was good, I waited til the kid came home. I poured myself a glass of wine – on the ready to take the edge off of our loss, or… Elihu opened the envelope, and the first word we both saw was “Congratulations!” I had no idea how this sort of thing felt. I had gone to a college which had no entrance requirements save a high school diploma; the world of academic success was completely foreign to me. Furthermore, my son goes to a school which is itself structured in a way unlike all other schools; no tests or grades are given to mark and measure progress. That my son is doing well in math or science still seems rather subjective to me. But here was at the very least a measure of his potential… I couldn’t help but wonder if it wasn’t simply his teacher’s glowing letter – or even Elihu’s own words, which ended with “I dearly hope you’ll choose me to participate…” No matter – success was his! Or maybe – dare I say ours? I do not wish to claim that which I did not earn – but surely, I will accept a nomination for Supermom, Spring of 2016. Tears came to my eyes immediately – but to my chagrin there was no moment of close bonding to follow… “I have to call Daddy!” he said with urgency, and without a second of hesitation – he didn’t even stay long enough for his eyes to even meet mine – he dashed off to his room. So instead, I enjoyed a glass of wine by myself at the kitchen table, basking in this new and wonderful feeling of accomplishment and success.
Sundays are a day of lugging and loading. Mornings start with a tuba lesson (on the second floor!) and end with a jazz ensemble rehearsal which requires a string bass. It goes without saying that both must first be unloaded and returned to their proper resting place before the other can be loaded up. That and the lugging of 5 gallon buckets of water, plus the lugging of a dead porcupine (whose roadside death we mourned, but whose body will hopefully entice the local turkey vultures to pay us a visit) have me feeling that I am earning my keep and more (not to mention the upkeep of an increasingly stinky flock of young chicks residing in our living room). None of it is lost on my dear child, who does what he’s able and works to make sure all that lugging is for good reason. I have this kid’s back, yes – but in all honesty, he has mine too. We hosted our first jam session at The Studio last week, and thanks to his great ear and true love of playing music, we were able to pull it off. I enjoyed my secret dream of playing drums (oh so rudimentary but rock solid are my beats) and got to see how it all might work. And it did. But without Elihu, it wouldn’t have. He knows how important he is. I thank him. (I also remind him that if he likes to eat – then he’s gotta play. !)
Last night we took ourselves out to dinner with the last of my tax return. It certainly wasn’t a justifiable expense – but each year we have a tradition of Elihu having frogs’ legs for his birthday dinner. Although mom had taken us out the weekend before for steak – a great treat to be sure – Elihu was still jonsein for his all-time favorite. I had told him that we probably wouldn’t go this year, and he’d accepted it ok, so when I suggested we go to the Wishing Well he yelped with delight. This kid had earned it. And truly, we both had such a great time. As usual, tables around us arrived, ate and left several times over by the time we’d finished our dinner. Elihu and I like to linger. We enjoy talking, we enjoy savoring and taking our time. We don’t like plates cleared until the very last moment. I don’t know how I got so lucky. Until this kid no longer cares for my company – or heads off to college – who needs a date? I know of no one whose company I enjoy more…
After supper we joined our friend Rob at the piano. He ran to his car to get a pair of brushes – which he told Elihu would sound really good on the resident bongos – and I played a couple of tunes while he was gone. When Elihu got the brushes in hand he and I did a couple of blues tunes. He sounded great – the brushes allowed him to swing in a new way, and I gave him a couple of breaks in which to stretch out. That was a memorable night for me; I can’t forget the way he looked at me – he was smiling ear-to-ear in the most delighted way I’d ever seen. It’s an experience that musicians sometimes have when they’re playing together and when things just sound and feel so good… And to share this kind of moment with my own kid? Man, that was a gift. I’m pretty sure he felt the same way too. We had even laughed out loud as we played. Later, when we finally said our goodbyes to our friends at the restaurant and headed out into the dark, spring night, we were both in such a happy mood. We walked to the car in the cool, softly scented air, coasting in the afterglow of a wonderful night out. Friends, music – and frogs’ legs too? Wow. Perfection had been achieved.
On the way home from the Wishing Well it began to rain, and I obliged Elihu’s plea to search out some frogs who would certainly be hopping across the roads by now. We popped in his very favorite polka CD and made a detour down winding Braim road. Our search turned up only one frog, who he deposited into our tiny garden pond when we got home. Our moods remained cheery and spirited by the fresh rainfall and the wonderful night out… Elihu retired to his room to read, and something prompted me to pick up my accordion – after years of having let it languish in the corner – and I soon found myself standing on the kitchen steps, under the awning, playing a polka out into the velvet-black night (by some small miracle our neighbors were all gone, and the lights were out in all directions – a very rare thing these days – an absolute gift from the Gods, I was convinced!). Somehow, I found those left hand buttons as I hadn’t since before my son was born. My accordion was the only other sound besides the rain; the melodies punched through the darkness and echoed out through the hilly woods. And oh, what a sound. What a feeling. What a night.
That was only a week ago at this writing, and yet it seems many months have gone by since then. So very much has filled our weeks – another week of students, school, tuba and bass, chickens, friends, errands, pets, excursions and all the mortar of life which fills in every available space in between. My friend Beth has more than solved my design quandary – she’s lifted The Studio to a whole new level with her graphic gifts… Her infusion of time, energy and enthusiasm has reinvigorated my own, and right now, I’m beginning to feel like I’m not all alone in this (save good old mom, who at the end of the day is always filling in the monetary gaps. I cannot wait til I can relieve her of this burden for good. Guilt is all I feel these days on that front. !)
Things will be changing here soon. I realize that the magical country life we’ve enjoyed til now will change a bit. Nothing’s changing overnight, and we will always be who we are, we will always live where we do – but our routines change, the landscape will change, the scope of our world will enlarge – most of this is good and welcomed. But I’m a sentimental gal, and I’ll always remember our simple, early days here with fondness. Maybe we’ll be able to preserve some of that as we move into our future. Yeah, I think we will. But inevitably, some things won’t be the same. That’s the nature of life. Things change. Things evolve. Kids grow up. And thirty-somethings become fifty-somethings. ! But thankfully with all the change come those surprises that make us forget the tiny heartbreaks. It’s exciting to think of what’s yet to come. And it’s that sense of anticipation that takes the edge off of the loss of what is no longer.
As I write this I think of Crow Field… I haven’t even mentioned the field yet… The huge field that lies just outside our window – the one in which we search out Woodcocks, fly planes and kites, and in general love and enjoy every day of our life here – it will become someone’s suburban backyard by summer’s end. A large house is going up in the field which we have come to think of as our very own. Of course the field is not ours, and we’ve known for years now that every year we have had the field there for us to enjoy was a very precious thing. Elihu broke out sobbing – and even began to shout and swear – when he learned that it had been sold. When I told him I’d found the ribbon marking off the house’s footprint, he told me he felt sick.
We’re acclimating slowly to this new idea of a big house in the big field. Slowly. It still seems as if it will never happen, but that’s how we felt about the ‘new’ house at the end of our driveway; and it did finally arrive. And as kind as the neighbors are, their windows are without curtains and their lights and sports bar-sized tv can easily be seen in our house. I so wish they’d consider window treatments. Hell, I wish they’d think of us – and realize that their light interferes with our space… But they don’t, and that has me worried the new neighbors won’t either… I suppose we’re damned lucky to have the space we do, so I try to keep it all in perspective and just keep going. After all, we live on a generous lot, we have room to run, room for a flock of chickens and a pretty nice view out the window. And we have a hell of a lot to look forward to with The Studio too; we are embarking on a new era, and things will only get more exciting in the coming years. Of this, finally, I have no doubt. Elihu and I will try our best to accept the loss of our field, as we welcome in the new friends we’re about to meet on our path. “Things”, as Martha Carver would say, “always work out”. Ok, Martha. Gonna to have to trust you on this one.
May has but one week left – and Lordy what a lot we’re planning on packing into it. This post itself is also rather jam-packed and I apologize if it’s too much. Skip stuff as you need (maybe I shoulda said that at the beginning!). Not having had the time to make weekly posts, this is something of a catch-up effort. Next time shouldn’t be such a novel. The photos that follow are also voluminous. Skip it all if you like. Those, like me, who enjoy voyeuristic windows into other people’s lives will enjoy; those who meant only to pass a few idle moments on their phones will either be long gone by now, mildly annoyed or checking out at this point. ! A tidier post to follow next time, I promise…
*(At the end of this writing we learned it was merely a broken switch – and not the whole water pump – which needed replacing. The greatest relief I’ve known in a long time, all thanks to our angel/neighbor – Zac? Nope. This time it was his father! We had help from absolute royalty, I tell ya. I do not know where we’d be without the timely help that family has given us through the years. !!!)
We started the month by launching Elihu into his teen years…
Elihu’s Hess biplane takes off from the cake’s runway, aglow with candles for runway lights…
The entertainment at Elihu’s birthday parties has always been the hatching of chicks.
This year, one hatched in my hand.
Here they are at different rates of drying off… Fuzzier ones are about 3 hours old, wet ones a mere 3 minutes old, and sometimes still trailing their shells and egg sacs behind.
Chicks are cute, but the trampoline is always the #1 hit here at the Hillhouse. (Eternal thanks to Karen H!!)
A quick smooching of Athena before heading to school the next morning.
On May 2nd, this is what Spring looks like here.
Driving to school in the morning, we savor that vast, beautiful field while we still can. We’ve passed so many hours in that field together, with much hilarity involved. Elihu invented his Monty Python-inspired athletic events ‘Tussock Jumping’ and ‘Bramble Dodging’ in our crazy cavorts across the uneven terrain en route to visit neighbors on the other side of the field.
When I return home from driving Elihu to school, I am always welcomed by my beloved flock.
Each night, Elihu takes time to bond with the chicks, who will stay in our living room for a few weeks.
Weekends mean tuba lessons.
How lucky is this kid? He loves his teacher, and his teacher has chickens. ?!!? (Plus Mike lives only 10 minutes from us. That is more than amazing. !)
First, Mike plays along with Elihu on his warm ups.
And now, Elihu’s first-ever tuba duets with one of Mike’s six children. Afterward he remarked on how well she played. I added “yeah, and she’s really pretty, too.” Replied my low-vision (but not blind!) son, “Yeah, I noticed that.” !! She’s the same age too. Crazy. Two tuba-playing, chicken-owning kids just a couple of miles down the road from each other. Wow.
Later on that same day…
A bunch of middle school kids who are playing jazz. Ok, now this happens only 5 minutes from our house. Again, how lucky are we? The word “very” comes to mind over and over. And thank you John Nazarenko, for making this happen. Elihu is enjoying this beyond any musical experience he’s had thus far. (I know 13 year-olds don’t like to be called ‘cute’, but hearing these kids doing tunes like “Song for my Father” and “All Blues” is just that. Sorry. Next year they might be hip. But not yet. Today, they remain cute.)
These two kids really seem to play well together – and Elihu tells me W has a peculiar sense of humor too. This may be the start of a great friendship…
Post-rehearsal, Elihu’s in front of Zankel Hall, checking his phone for all those jobs that will surely be coming in by now….
Dad’s office, with the Steinway in the background. During his lifetime, this room was mainly taken up with harpsichords. Now that the piano is moving to the Studio, only my old suitcase Rhodes remains.
May 7th. Birthday of Brahms, Tchaikovsky and…. Elizabeth Conant! And what a birthday gift is this!
The Studio before…
…and The Studio after.
A Steinway at The Studio! Woo-hoo! This changes everything.
Ah, but the birthday girl herself has some schlepping to do… First jam session tonight… gotta get the room set up and ready… Aren’t I getting a bit too old for this?!?
Hillbilly load-in begins.
Sketchiest move I’ve ever made. Man, I guess I am getting tired. Or old. Or both.
Thanks to the assistance of kind and always-smiling Alex at the guitar store, the room is now set up! Now that was a most appreciated birthday present. Thanks for the help!!
In early May, the trees are still rather bare.
It arrived in a big envelope. I admit, that alone had my heart racing just a bit…
Wow! What a surprise was this!! Personally, I can’t remember ever receiving an acceptance letter. And so I live vicariously through my child. ! RPI will be a chapter unto itself, no doubt…
The chicks are still cute and fuzzy, and things are feeling very happy around the house.
On Mother’s Day, Elihu plays a little music for grandma…
…and then proceeds to ‘intentionally not smile’ in a posed picture – something which bugs mom to no end. (He says he merely wants to ‘be taken seriously’ when having his picture ‘formally’ taken.) Btw – can you believe my mom is 81? I don’t think she looks it. Do you?
Mother’s Day ended with an E and E selfie with chick. This, we hope, will be the rooster to take up Baldy’s post one day.
In early May, the chicks still live in a box in the living room. See how one is now perching on the edge? This tells us they’ll be moving to the garage soon. When they can fly – it’s all over. (That’s Elihu’s bass recorder on the left. People always ask us what it is.)
Friend and chord/melody style guitarist, Dan comes over for a bit of rehearsing. Hope we’ll be playing together this summer – if I can ever find the time to learn some new tunes. ! He’s been patient with my crazy schedule. More than grateful to finally have a guitar player to work with.
This is what happens when siblings take lessons together. One must always provoke the other. Little Coco is ready to strike with a subtle, but annoying tap on the shoulder of her big sister. !!
Oscarina, the large and lighter-colored fish at the bottom is a Koi, and is growing rapidly. Thankfully, she will now be residing in the prestigious local arts colony, Yaddo. The move went off without a hitch and we can visit her anytime we like. Yay!
We’re off to the Wishing Well for a fancy schmancy dinner. If we had our druthers, we’d eat like this once a week!
The heavenly scent of Frogs’ Legs. Unique to this establishment.
A dark selfie. So few pics of we two.
Rob plays piano here – a lot! I got to take up his post for a few minutes and enjoyed playing with my son on drums. A wonderful night all the way ’round.
Finally the weather’s right for painting The Studio!
Keith Sr. is doing some much-needed restoration too. It’s been decades since the exterior’s had any attention. Phew!
Keithie Jr. paints on the crew along with dad. Elihu and Keithie went to Kindergarten through 3rd grade together. No matter how different their life paths, that kind of bond made so early in life will always last.
Keith is maturing just a wee bit faster than my own child. Ya think? All in due time…
Another week’s passing and the green is really starting to show now…
Which means the apple tree is reaching its finest hour!
My cherished Lily of the Valley is finally here too!
As is the flowering quince (which appears more of a salmon or coral shade than in this pic).
In future Springs, this view will include a large house in the background. We are both still in a deep state of disbelief as our hearts ache with the loss.
Thankfully, other delights distract us. Elihu and I stood among the branches of the apple tree and enjoyed the constant hum of bees, flying hither and yon, as they visited every possible blossom. It was crazy the sound they made. Quite loud, and a resonant, almost single pitch.
Crazy cowbird, goofy guinea fowl.
Outside our kitchen window the red bellied woodpecker visits the platform feeder when the suet is gone.
Elihu takes a peek, but the woodpecker gets the feeling he’s being watched.
Outside, our two resident males hang out in the morning sunshine. Rooster, Bald Mountain is caught here mid-crow. Austin, to his left, is our crazy-ass Guinea Fowl. Never let it be said that birds do not have distinct personalities. !!
And chickens do have favorite foods too – pink apple blossoms are one of em.
Comic relief. And some serious attitude, too. !
We hope this will be the new resident roo one day…
…Cuz this old boy’s not gonna last forever. Poor Baldy, he limps when he walks, he sits whenever possible, and he only fertilized two of sixteen eggs this year. Yeah, he’s pretty much lost his mojo. But we love him still.
We saw this wonderful creature – the turkey vulture – just down the road. Having just passed a dead porcupine, we got an idea…
Out with the tuba, in with the poor dead creature.
Wow, sixteen pounds. Impressive!
We were sad to see she had been nursing a litter. We laid her to rest in our yard so that we might entice the turkey vulture and then watch it do its thing from our kitchen window.
Elihu picks up Christie, the stand-in for Thumbs Up, as she is the only truly friendly hen remaining.
A mutt of a hen (Araucana, Barred Rock and more), she lays olive green eggs.
Elihu carries Christie back to the house…
… and Pumpkin follows him back. (“Our” field is behind the row of trees.)
This is what the end of a weekend looks like. Sometimes I want desperately to run far, far away….
…until we settle back into our groove at home. Then everything is once again right with the world.
Lilacs uplift us too.
And look! It’s my long-lost accordion. I’ve left it out now to show my students (and to try to relearn all I’ve forgotten!) If an accordion doesn’t make things better, I don’t know what will!
It’s heavy, but it’s sparkly and loud, so who cares?
Usually a very trim, streamlined bird, this male brown-headed cowbird is showing signs of puffing…
…he’s mid-puff now… hoping to wow a mate he will rise to his full height and size while emitting an ultra-sonic high chirping which sounds like a video game….
Inspired by the constant presence of birds in his life, Elihu, thankfully, occasionally finds time to draw birds. His love of drawing birds preceded all of his other, equally obsessive loves.
After supper we headed out to Caffe Lena for open mic. I knew Lena as a child, and so it makes me happy that Elihu continues to know this place as I did. (Bill Cole’s Woodwinds shop is just behind him – that’s where Bill kindly tweaked Elihu’s ‘beater B flat’ tuba and brought it up to speed. Great guy – kind, fair, and expert at what he does.)
“Good Folk Since 1960” is the slogan here. I can recognize a half-dozen artists at a glance whose shows I attended when I was Elihu’s age or younger.
Elihu has the ‘big kids’ laughing as he folds the performer’s entry cards into tiny origami cranes.
Before he plays, I want to make a pilgrimage to the men’s bathroom wall, upon which Elihu wrote at age 6 on the occasion of his first open mic. (It’s in red, and to the right and below the tree drawing.)
And here it is. Can ya read it? So sweet!
These guys were fun. They gave the night the perfect bit of energy and humor.
But for me, this was the highlight of the evening…
I cut off the first line, as I was switching from camera to video… His first line was “I bought some instant water, I just don’t know what to add to it”. Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg are obvious favorites of this kid.
An old house in Saratoga that for some strange reason always stuck in my mind as a child. I liked the crazy roof over the stairs on the front porch. When I was little, it appeared cozy to me. Now, it strikes me as sketchy. Just as well – it’s history now!
Ah, the impermanence of it all. There goes the cozy roof.
This little guy is next, I was told by the developer. Thankfully, the new structures will be aesthetically similar, or at least in keeping with the vibe of the neighborhood.
Modern Saratoga looms in the background.
This is the sort of thing that will replace the old houses. Not too bad. Could be much worse.
I’m something of a demo groupie. I can’t take horror movies, but rather I am drawn to the violent and animated quality of a back hoe claw. It seems almost sentient…
On the way home I pass a picturesque cottage just down the hill from me, and I see it with new eyes. How charming it is at this time of year when all the white apple blossoms are in bloom.
Look how much things have grown in just a week’s time! This is the “lightning tree” which Elihu and I visit each Easter, and around which he has made a small stone structure with rocks from the stone wall at the field’s edge.
Saturday in the park. Congress Park, that is. In the foreground at the right is the baby willow tree that I had planted in memory of Jamaican-born banjo player Cecil Myrie, who died in October of 2014. He invited Elihu to busk with him when Elihu was just 6, and Cecil gave him his first two dollar tip. Our lives changed that day. (Can you imagine how truly grand this tree will look at the water’s edge in a few decades? I’m thrilled that I was able to contribute to the landscape of this handsome and historic park.)
Not exactly a brass plaque, but it works.
The willow tree with war memorial in the background. Wait – who’s that guy in the yellow shirt?
Shoulda known. It’s my kid – and he’s carrying a duck. !
Elihu loves to share ‘his’ birds.
We are such scofflaws!
Sometimes it really is hard to believe this kid is legally blind.
Since Elihu can no longer rely upon the ‘cute’ factor when busking, he’s trying out some new material. It seems to be working.
This is how we recycle our paper (and wood scraps) in Greenfield. Afterward, the ashes get tossed into the woods, where, as we say in this family, they “Go back to God”.
It’s been said that the fastest way to take off ten pounds and a couple of years is a selfie taken from above. !
Under the moonlight, we discover hundreds of tiny, white violets that we’d never seen before, growing all across our lawn. How is this possible??
A flash reveals them.
We lay on our backs in the moonlight and pick the tiny flowers until the hour gets so very late… Sunday night, back to school hours, we can’t stay out forever…
After Elihu went to bed, I took a long, mournful look at the silhouette of the field which will most certainly be transformed by this time next year.
At the end of the evening, I had the field and the full moon all to myself. I savored the moment, as I try to do with as many moments in time as I can be present for, because you almost never fully realize what you’ve got – until it’s no longer there anymore. For now, all is well. And hopefully, no matter what happens down the line, we’ll find a way to embrace the changes as they happen, and find a way to savor all those future moments too.
We’re just a few days into June, but still, May seems eons ago now… Lilacs have browned and withered, the trees are all completely leafed out, and our thoughts turn now to graduations and picnics… I wanted to remember the recent events before too much time went by. A day or two in our modern culture can seem like a month, and I worry that the most recent weeks will be lost if I don’t document them now. As of this writing, I’m aware that this is all old news, but please indulge me as I share with you the events of late May here in Greenfield.
Much is changing in our lives these days; we’re soon to lose Martha – as well as the last remaining open fields in our small hamlet (several new “For Sale” signs indicate more new construction may be here very soon), my son is on his way to seventh grade, the wildflowers alongside our road have succumbed to their annual cutting from the town’s over-zealous campaign to keep the landscape looking as tidy as a true suburb, and at last the discomfort in my knee is no longer something I might simply be imagining – it’s been diagnosed and the verdict returned: I too, am getting older. Arthritis has made itself at home in my very own body. Nothing is as it was.
Every few years in one’s life there comes a time of sameness – where you fall into a little groove in your life; you see the same people, you do much the same thing, you eat the same things, watch the same shows, sing the same songs. And – you even look pretty much the same as you always have. For a year, maybe a couple of years, maybe even a decade – life gets into a comfy little routine, and while there are times when you might find it confining and a bit too predictable, still, it feels nice. After all, your life is familiar. You know where you are in relationship to everyone else. And things are just fine the way they are. You might even wish things could remain so until the end of your time here on this planet. Only thing is, it can’t stay that way forever. Nothing in this particular universe can remain static for long. And so…. one moment you look up and find that the landscape has changed. Friends have died, places have changed, and your body no longer looks or feels like the body you thought you lived in. There comes a critical mass of evidence from various sources, in and around you… and then in a flash, you get it.
There may still be many wonderful adventures ahead in your life, but that doesn’t soften the sting. Thingshavechanged. The landscape of your life is all of a sudden very different. And so you pause for a moment, cuz it’s heavy stuff. The path you thought you knew well has taken a turn, and you weren’t prepared for it. So yeah, you can’t help but grieve. But still, at some point, you’ll have to move on. Even more change than this is yet to come, whether you like it or not. So you gotta get up, take a breath in, and relax into the new life ahead…
Hard to believe that 12″ of elevation made all the difference between life and death. The grapes on the bottom tier suffered from a couple hours at 32 degrees, while the vines only a foot higher up were spared. Sadly, Michael’s lost four years of growth overnight with this late-May frost.
The leaves and tiny baby grapes just crunched to dust in my hand – and less than twelve hours after the freeze! Devastating news to Mike, who’s worked tirelessly for years just to finally glean a modest crop or two of fruit.
See the tiers of wire? Vines on the top level did not freeze – those only inches below did. Amazing.
A happier sight: Friend Jo (who grew up the next property over through the woods – only we never knew each other!) rides her Mustang Sierra to the Studio to check out our new ‘trails’ out back. She rode to our place a couple miles through various trails through the woods to the north, where she has her stable.
I’ll have to savor this view; soon the property across the road will be sold and likely developed. Something I never, ever in a million years thought would happen.
The trails were kinda rough. We may need to let the debris settle and ‘cook’ for a year. Then we can pack down the softer material and begin to flatten it. For now, it just offers a nice pathway through the trees.
This will be a nice parking lot when the time comes. In the extra space beyond, we’ll have a grassy area with picnic tables and concrete pads for sculpture exhibits. (The trails extend out into the woods from the far end of the open area – upper right corner of pic.)
Twelfth grader Dan came over to show Elihu a couple of chords on the mandolin. He made the instrument the focus of his senior study – and went from knowing next to nothing about the instrument to becoming quite an expert mandolinist!
This was just what Elihu needed – now he’s off and running.
Elihu draws his signature cartoon character “Stanley” on the board in his medieval cloak, as he awaits his classes performance of monologues.
Mr. Esty encourages the children to add more physicality to their pieces by doing so himself…
A beautiful job by all. But I did have a favorite.
As I had to take over for Elihu in the pit orchestra (tambourine w/Mr. Esty on violin), I missed the very beginning of his monologue, and the end was a bit short too. My kid, if I may say so, was the most animated of the bunch.
Grandma was partial to “Giles” as well..
Back at home, relaxing with those he loves most.
Nothing so restores the soul as a quiet moment with a gentle hen.
My version of chick rock.
Oops! Every now and then it happens.
The penny kinda gives some perspective. This egg was really more like a pigeon egg.
Elihu uses a shield made in 5th grade during their Greco-Roman studies block. He is deflecting the awesome power of a four-week old chick. !!
He will not relent! (The chick looks confused.)
What?? Oh well. Defeat!
My young Icarus.
We’ve decided to empty the garage of all our past costumes. The mice have wrecked so much, it seems futile to keep holding on to them, regardless of the hours and hours of work they represent.
Here’s the Ben 10 character Wild Vine, attacking helpless Elihu.
With the kid inside it looked even cooler.
Time now to give some of em up to the fire gods. Elihu often says I have something of a Jim Carrey-esque vibe to my facial expressions. Guess I see what he means.
Here it begins…
Dust to dust… (Extra points awarded to those who can spot the Caddyshack reference.!!)
…it starts kinda slow…
…then roars into a short-lived inferno.
No biggee for the kids, who ran back to the trampoline almost as soon as the flames started.
After the initial burst of paint-fueled flames, we topped it off with some wood and then roasted marshmallows over the fire.
Goodbye, dear neighbors! Always love to have you stop by for a visit.
The sixth graders before leaving for a two-day excursion which will conclude their Medieval studies block. It rained the whole time, but they had a wonderful experience even so. It’ll be a trip they’ll never forget.
This is my new post these days; long hours spent at the farm keeping Martha company. Lately she’s become quite angry and belligerent with mom and me. I don’t take it personally – it’s got to be frightening to lose control over one’s life. Hopsice requires having someone in the home round the clock, and Martha’s still not thrilled with having people in her home all the time. Can’t say I blame her. We’re all doing the best we can.
On a happier note (pun slightly intended), dear friend Ken stopped by for a quick visit. He gave me a little demonstration of his Viennese Harmonium – from the back of his rental van.
How much fun is this?
Ken and his daughter took us Conants out for a lovely dinner. That’s my hermit-like brother Andrew on the left. A rare sighting!
Spring is marked each year by bedside bouquets of lily of the valley, and a few chapters of our treasured Bird Book for Children. We finished the book on the last eve of May. Til next year, Mr. Burgess.
When all is past, there lies pure comfort and peace.
Never in my four years at the helm of this blog have I passed so much time in between posts. But there are many good reasons for such a break. Too many, most likely, to accurately recount here.
The digest begins like this: Two weeks ago the logging job stopped, and with it came not only the money from the harvest, but the work in earnest began on the Studio (thereby spending all of the windfall in short order.) The logging site was left with a lot more mess than we’d agree upon, and I met with the forester to discuss cleanup, a task I knew would be very hard to enforce once the big machines had left the premises. I’d seen the gear there on Sunday, but by the time I’d finished my early morning rehearsals at school on Monday morning, I returned not only to find every last piece of earth-moving equipment gone, but huge heaps of dirt, stumps and stone ringing the work site. So not what we agreed upon. But then again, they were there to get the timber, not to leave me with a squeaky clean parking lot. But still. One more thing on the list to make right.
Meanwhile, there were decisions to be made about materials and finishes and such, while daily life continued without slowing down. Lesson plans, rehearsals, paperwork for the Studio, meetings, meals and homework all kept going, much to my frustration. I’m not a great multi-tasker, and as such the past month has been a bit trying for me. Panic attacks have been kept at arm’s length (thanks to the miracle of Xanax I can avoid them almost altogether), and as if a perfect bipolar patient, I swing back and forth from one emotional extreme to the next several times in the course of a day. One moment I’m brimming over with hope and visions for a successful future, the next I wonder what in hell it is I think I’m doing here and I’m just about ready to take a job at McDonald’s and excuse myself from the whole affair. Exhausting stuff.
One week ago Elihu and I drove to Philadelphia to meet my cousin (my late father’s nephew), his wife, his sons and one wee one too. It was the first time I’d ever met any Conant relatives as an adult, so it was an important visit. My cousin also took us to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – box seats, no less – where we heard not only Mahler’s 5th, but also a new concerto written for tuba (!!!). Serendipity came through for us after the concert and we found ourselves walking backstage, escorted by the composer of the piece himself. Elihu was beside himself with the thrill, and I’m afraid that I caused him no small amount of embarrassment as I lost my cool and fell into something of a star-struck stage mom in the presence of both composer and soloist. We chatted with the tubist, and offered to meet up with her again in the summer, when the orchestra (of which she is a member) makes its summer residency in our hometown of Saratoga Springs, New York.
For me the trip involved a lot of driving – more than twelve hours in the car for a brief, weekend stay (and with panic attacks threatening the whole way it was a bit more stressful than it might have been otherwise). But it was well worth it for the new relationship we now have with our family, not to mention the memories we made that will, to use the most trite but accurate expression, last a lifetime.
Since our return from Philly everything at the Studio seems to be happening without pause; decisions I might like to have labored over a bit longer need to be made ASAP; purchases, while modest, are still adding up to steeper totals than I’d imagined, and the reality of our lot in the wake of now-absent loggers still has me concerned. But it’s all good, as I must remind myself. Sometimes even hourly. I’m tempted to cry almost daily with all the money that’s going out… It feels surreal to live on food stamps and state assistance and then turn around and pen a check for several thousand dollars as if it were business as usual. I can’t wrap my brain around the discrepancy between the commerce of the new business, and the lack of commerce here at home.
In an effort to drum up some income (as well as play music again!) I’ve begun to make some plans. Since Elihu is now old enough to be left at home alone for more than a quick run to the convenient store, I’m starting to think about getting something together for the summer tourist season and actually finding some work. Breaking into the local ‘music scene’ (there really isn’t one – it’s just a summer extravaganza of wedding-esque cover bands) is proving to be much more difficult than I’d thought. In spite of knowing a handful of musicians, I can’t seem to find a single job. Not even a freebie – and Lord knows I’d be happy just to sing. My gear is as out-of-date and out-of-the-loop as I am, and my now-ancient (make that vintage) Yamaha S80 won’t cut it anymore, even if I should find work. (Yes, I do still have my Rhodes and Wurli, but those are in dire need of work and require an extra pair of hands to move.) The days of lugging a 70 pound board around – plus amp and gear – are just plain over. Some of my pro friends might pooh-pooh my desire for a lightweight keyboard with, gasp, built–in speakers, but that’s the way this gal is headed, I’m afraid. I found a candidate for a new board on Craigslist, and when this income-free week of Spring break is over and students resume, I hope to make it my new piece of gear. Let’s hope it ends up paying for itself in the coming months.
Sometimes it feels as if I’ve taken a giant hiatus from my life after having become a mother – and a single one to boot. When I stop and look at the stats, I realize that I haven’t worked as a musician since shortly after Elihu was born. That means I’ve been dormant for over a decade! Not that I have any regrets; being present for my child as he’s grown up has been a blessing that many are never given the option to experience. Yeah, being broke has been a drag, but even so, it’s been acceptable, because I’ve been able to be here for my son (plus, when in a true pinch, grandma has always had our back. The significance of that cannot be understated.) I have an amazing child in part because I’ve chosen to be with him and not farm him out to daycare while I grind out a minimum hourly wage. It’s all worked out ok thus far, but I pray things will be changing soon. I’m tired of just getting by. They say do what you love and the money will follow. God I hope. People ask me what my business plan is with the new place, and honestly, I can say that I still do not know. I know what I intend to achieve, but the hows are still the struggle. Lists are being made and ideas being created – and tossed out just as fast. Something will take shape, I know. Just not sure how. But whether I make music myself, or make music possible for others, as long as I can somehow glean an income in the process, I’d be the happiest gal around.
Today it’s Easter, and while this year my son may no longer truly believe in the Easter bunny (can’t help but think he maintains his belief to please his mum!), outwardly his show of enthusiasm doesn’t let on. Last night we watched the old 70s TV special “The Easter Bunny’s Coming to Town” (with Fred Astaire narrating) and today we quoted our favorite passages from the show as we dug into our colored eggs. To my chagrin, when his little half brothers called this morning, they had Elihu turning the house upside down for hidden eggs, which the Easter bunny had not bothered to hide at 3 in the morning when he was filling the basket. The Easter bunny can only do so much. ! And now, I think my kid gets that. But no matter whether he believes or not, it’s still been a special morning for us. We’re both happy to be at home, together. That makes it a good day, no matter what.
Soon we’ll gather the last eggs from the coop for the incubator, and after that we’ll take a long, leisurely walk around the property. We’ll visit the fox’s den in the side of the hill, we’ll check to see how little snow is left in the shady spots, and we’ll see how our mom-and-son cairns by the lightening-struck tree have weathered the years. We’ll shore up the piles of rocks, agree that it was a fine walk, and head home to await an evening meal with grandma and Uncle Andrew.
I’m not sure how things will pan out in the days to come, but today I’ll try not to worry too much about it. Instead, I’ll continue to do what I’ve done for the past ten years of my life – I’ll enjoy watching my son as he makes his way through his childhood and towards his future.
The family! Yay for the Conants of Philadelphia!
Big ones and wee ones…
…and funny ones, too! Just look at that chicken purse! Love it. We’re definitely related.
The Kimmel Center, home of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Elihu just kept expressing his amazement over the space. He’d never been to a concert hall like this before. A night he will never forget.
The hall, gorgeous; the Mahler, rich; but Carol – beyond anything he’d expected. Elihu was simply transported. He loved the piece, and he was given a new appreciation for the virtuosity needed to play such music. Suffice to say he aspires to much more than the common polka these days. Thanks, Michael and Carol.
My son and Mr. Daugherty, whom we later learned shares a birthday with Elihu!
Elihu is psyched. !!!
Philly by the light of day. I was interested to learn that the sculptor of this famous bronze figure of William Penn atop the city hall clock tower was by Alexander Milne Calder, the father of modern sculptor Alexander “Sandy” Calder. There’s even a plaza which is home to works by both father and son.
City of brotherly love…
… and lots and lots of art. There is literally a large piece of art on every corner. Loved that.
So what does lil man want to do when in this historic, all-American city? Eat Vietnamese food, of course! (Wing Phat? How appropriate for my little aviator!)
Hello, cousin Matt!
Tasty quail! We had Pho, too….
Thanks to Matt and Stephanie for taking us to this sweet Asian grocery store (oh, and lunch, too)!
We liked this one… We all agreed it mighta been worth $10 to watch the staff running around trying to catch a loose bullfrog…
Spring-loaded and ready to leap.
Headed back home we can see the famous Boathouse Row across the river.
The whole area is full of boulders and hills. Most of the local houses are themselves made of stone.
A jam-packed weekend had my lil man zonked out.
In the morning, it’s scrapple for breakfast! A Philadelphia delicacy!
Cousin Dave, waving goodbye in front of his stone house. Thank you for the hospitality!!
One last look at the Philly skyline…
… and then it’s on to the New Jersey Turnpike. The language of roadways is different all over; one travels by highway, expressway, turnpike, thruway, freeway, tollway and parkway. Phew!
This tells us we’re getting close to the end of our trip…
And so our wonderful little adventure comes to a close as we return home. To snow. !
Sadly, I saw this hairy woodpecker being hit by a car. He lived long enough for me to bring him home. We admired his beauty, then buried him along with our other birds under the flowering quince bush.
Elihu had his buddies over the other day. They had a blast.
Elihu and Sawyer enjoy the hens.
I took the boys for a walk down the road to see how the Studio was coming along.
The sign will need to be moved to mark the new driveway and parking lot, a couple hundred feet to the east.
Mud season begins.
The boys have fun in the room that’s almost prepped for its new floor.
A kitchen will add greatly to the building’s functionality.
The view from the Studio’s balcony. The boys are enjoying the last of the snow.
Elihu got a little asthmatic after all that running around, but it was worth it.
Digging for treats.
Elihu gives Thumbs Up a good smooching.
Elihu and his chickens.
The bigger picture.
A sight we seldom see; neighbors out for a walk on the hillside road. They wished us a happy Easter as they passed.
Mom and son cairns.
The lightening-struck tree. Still looks the same as past Easters.
I found a kite under the snow and we had fun watching it whip in the wind.
Our own Calder-esque bird sculpture by friend and Vietnam vet Ace, and our garage’s dove behind.
Almost home. A perfect Easter day.
Happy Spring to all our friends around the world, and may good things blossom anew for each and every one of you.
Birds, bees, budding flowers, busking and boys give us lots to do around here. Although I make an effort to be the least-scheduled family in town, there’s still so much to do (often too much to do) that our days are always full.
Let me make it clear that we also consider just laying about the house something that’s important to ‘do’. Personally I feel it’s a very healthy thing to have time in which to do nothing at all. Today, as we lay about doing just that, Elihu lamented that he was one of the few kids he knew who didn’t have a trophy. I made it clear to him that those trophies represented many, many hours at lessons, practice and competitions too. And lots of time in the car. I hoped to make it clear to him that the variety of activities that he enjoys in his life – and the relatively relaxed manner in which they occur, ‘laying around’ time included in that – is something he’d miss if he jammed his hours of freedom full of commitments. As it is, today we played hookie from a 4H horse event, something I’m still trying not to feel guilty about. But in that this next week is his last week of school, and in that I still have lots of new music to get in my fingers today and hours yet of playing and practicing still ahead (you’d think it would be done by now, right? me too) I know I made the right choice. The resurgence of panic attacks over this past year are another reason to cut back on extra, outside activities. Yes, Elihu’s classmates likely have more densely-packed schedules, but for the most part, I’m not made of the stuff that it takes to live like that. My son may well have a full and fast-paced summer of activities with his father ahead of him, but here at the Hillhouse, we’re about keeping things as mellow as possible, as we kick back and chill with the Bs.
We love bumble bees.
Glad to see em back in town.
Birds are back and in business too. Our resident Phoebe mom is patiently sitting on her new clutch.
Wild strawberry blossoms promise a good crop, if only we can beat those other Bs (the bunnies!) to it!
This is my favorite week of the year – now already gone by – the peak time for Lily of the Valley. Our bird sculpture by Vietnam vet Ace stands guard over the patch of flowers.
The most heavenly scent you can imagine.
Neighbor Stephanie kindly gave us half her flock of chicks (we only had two hatch out this year).
Birds and babies – both in a box. (Clever, huh? That’s the kind of invention-by-necessity that comes of having three little ones.)
The big B. Gotta keep practicing…
The butterflies are back, too.
We’re at the cemetery, gleaning a few lilac suckers and lily of the valley plants to add to our homestead.
Elihu admires the bird on the top of this ancient gravestone.
Back home planting our new additions. This is in front of the flowering quince, which has now lost almost all of its blooms.
These are the lilacs we hope to grow here for ourselves one day. I expect it’ll be a decade before we get results like this.
Last week Elihu and I dug up some wild Columbine from the roadside and transplanted them here too. This is the very last bloom left.
Male brown-headed cowbird, acting innocent.
But he’s got the ladies on his mind and he erupts into his mating display. Can’t help himself, it’s that time of year.
Here’s a short vid of the boy doing his little dance. We’re lucky to have this platform feeder and the window tinting cling – it acts as a bird blind and allows us to witness some interesting stuff up close.
Here he is with his gal in the morning light.
Phoenix comes over for an afternoon, which starts in the music room. The boys kept switching instruments. Fun to see kids with such a natural feel for music just doing their thing – and with such joy, too.
This wasn’t the best of their performances, but it’s the only one with a distinct beginning and ending. Good enough for now.
Farm boys, yes, Waldorf too – but electronica is still key.
Phoenix tried Ramen noodles for the first time (in his memory, that is.) I told him about the old folkloric belief that if you try a new food that you like, you add 100 days to your life. He was stoked.
Bikes and birds, a natural combination, right?
We meet up with Phoenix’s twin brother, Jonah, and it’s now all about Pokemon.
Heard of poker face? This is Pokemon face. !
After we left the boys, Elihu busked downtown Saratoga on Broadway for a while. Netted a cool $40 in less than half an hour. Too bad the kid’ll be gone for much of the tourist season. I advise him to rake it in now while he’s still cute and little. He might not be quite as successful as a gangly teenager. We’ll see.
Dishwasher update? Well, it’s not magic. Helpful, definitely, a life upgrade, unquestionably. But yet there are still things for which a dishwasher is not suited. Plus I have only one of some things I use often. So I guess the dish rack will be back soon too.
Bonding with his birds. This is about ten days after we got the new chicks and they’ve grown like crazy.
Elihu’s shot. He likes em up close and super-cute.
This is what we two call ‘Crow Field’. It’s one of the last wide-open fields left in Greenfield. We treasure this field if for no other reason than that ‘our’ woodcock returns to it year after year – plus we love the expanse, the air and light… the vast space with no interruption. Our little homestead is on the right, just beyond the dark line of trees. At the base of the trees is an old stone wall and barbed wire fence from the days when the whole area was open land for cattle grazing. Now enormous trees have grown up, making it nearly impossible to imagine what it looked like only fifty years ago – with a view of Albany to the South, Schuylerville to the North, and Vermont in between. Did I mention that the field is for sale? Had Elihu in tears last year to learn it, and me in a funk for months, but now we count each day that it remains as a huge gift and blessing in our lives.
Elihu drew this at age six, shortly after this we got our first chicks. Elihu always said he wanted ‘twenty chickens, a coop and a run’. We started with a few chicks in the basement, moved em to the garage, then finally outside and into a retired wooden shipping crate. That was then, this is now. Today, we have a coop, a run and (some one hundred birds and five years later) twenty resident chickens. That’s a happy ending, huh? We do so love birds of any kind, and there’s no doubt that they add a lot of enjoyment to our lives. We’re glad to be raising up a new flock again, and glad too to see our migratory friends return for another summer here at the Hillhouse.
It seems I should be feeling some enormous weight removed from my chest; a great lifting of spirit at the conclusion of a stressful Spring full of performances and commitments. And to some degree I do, I guess it’s just not quite the experience of bliss I’d thought it might end up being. (Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than relieved it’s all behind me now.) Last night the 8th through 12th grades of the Waldorf School did their end-of-year performances in Skidmore College’s ultra-modern and gorgeous Zankel Music Theatre. After having secretly dealt with the idea of panick attacks resurfacing at such an event – and meditating daily to mitigate their probability, and even in spite of having taken 3x the normal dosage of Xanax to stave off such attacks from hitting onstage, I was nonetheless side-swiped, mid-performance, by a couple of doozies. The difference between the recent attacks and those of some thirty years ago is mostly the medicine, I think, and also a good deal of high-intensity mental energy spent beforehand in preparation. Those two things seem to make the attacks the slightest bit more bearable. But no matter how prepared you’d like to be, if you suffer from em, there’s really no hiding to be done; they’ll find you eventually. And let me tell you – that shit is not fun to deal with. It definitely takes away from you being able to enjoy – and fully live into and perform into – the moment. I just kept reminding myself that my role was supportive, that my job was to make movement easier for the kids; to make the movement as intuitive as the sound itself. I just kept thinking my only job is to make a beautifulsound… It helped a bit, but not as much as I’d hoped. But in the end, as it is with any on-stage errors, those that I made were much larger in my head than in reality. (Although I’m not going to be checking the Skidmore live broadcast archive to prove that theory. !!)
It was a lovely night. The teachers have the routine of the end-of-year performance down. So do the kids. They struck and re-set that stage ten times that night and kept the program moving along. Yeah, it was long, but yeah, it was also impressive, diverse and heartfelt. How proud I was of every kid up there. Hell, this may well be what it feels like to be a part of any school I suppose. I have nothing to compare it to, so I can’t be sure. But I had such feelings for all the kids on that stage… How can one not have strong feelings of solidarity after having gone through so much together through the long school year? But there’s just something about knowing each kid – even if it’s just their name – there’s something wonderful about having some sort of relationship to them – however small (in my case I’m the accompanist for movement and chorus classes – not super-exciting perhaps, but the kids do know that Miss Elizabeth used to be a real musician once upon a time. Seems she used to tour… she just might be kinda cool. Not sure, but there’s a small chance that the thought exists among the populace…) I could look upon any one of those faces and feel something unique… And I consider it no small blessing that I’ll come to know most of these children as they grow up over the next few years. How lucky am I?
Well, I’m a pretty lucky lady if for no other reason that I finally know how it feels to play a truly in-tune piano. !! And a honking big one at that. Same fellow who tunes my piano tunes the 10 foot Steinway I played on this night. Must give that fellow a call soon. My piano quickly became a disappointment after playing this gorgeous, responsive creature. Only wish I’d felt freer to really enjoy myself on it. There’s always next year. But I’m on it- getting ready for it already…
As life tends to do, the landmark events quickly and unceremoniously move into the mundane, everyday landscape of regular life. Within hours of leaving the stage with an arm full of flowers, it was life as usual. A visit to the local animal shelter, a stop at the town cemetery, the taking care of domestic tasks forgotten all week in favor of prior committments. The big news this week was not so much the performance at Zankel as it was the installation of our new dishwasher. And yes, you naysayers, I have found it to be just as life-transforming as I’d hoped! At least three hours of time have become mine since I first began to use it late Friday night. And my counters are CLEAN and EMPTY for the FIRST time in my nearly six years here. If folks don’t already know, I’m a BIG fan of right angles and empty surfaces. I like it when things are put where they belong. My life may be a mess, but God please grant me clean-looking counter tops. That way at least it looks like everything’s perfectly under control. !
Ok, so this is how the day starts. Josh will be installing my new dishwasher as I go about my very busy day.
We started out early with Grandparent’s Day at school. Mom in back at left, Elihu in front at right with pal Ben. Note the drawings on their desks that they’ve made on Classical Greece (their recent study block.)
Class Five gives a performance of a classical Greek poem for an audience of grandparents in the Eurythmy room . It was done masterfully.
This is a regular eurythmy class. The idea is simply that sound is made visible through movement. Kinda like dance, but not exactly.
Here the class is given direction for a new piece.
Same room, now it’s used for orchestra. This is the most utilized, multi-functional room I have ever, ever seen.
The bass section.
Later on the same day, here we are at Zankel. Fancy shmancy indeed.
We started with a little eurythmy rehearsal on stage in the late afternoon.
Now the High School orchestra rehearses.
Eurythmy in traditional costumes which show and enhance the movement so beautifully.
Alex has a solo in the Bach.
The Waldorf acapella group. Sublime.
A nice shot of the High School Chorus
They did some great pieces, including a lively arrangement of ‘Ain-a That Good News’ by William Dawson.
It’s growing next to impossible to take a candid of this 11 year old boy. Screws up his face as soon as he sees me lift the lens… Mom is in the striped shirt. She’s been with us since before 8 this morning, and it’s now well past 8 p.m. Long day…
Backstage the ninth grade girls dish…
And Miss Elizabeth tries to secretly listen in on what ‘the kids are talking about these days’….
Hey look! They got me flowers!! Apparently, they’d planned on giving them to me onstage with some fanfare, but I’d quietly slunk off after my bit was done. This is a new world to me! I was so very touched. Plus I just LOVE fresh flowers. A wonderful night. And did I mention the Steinway was ten feet long? Almost looked like a mistake it was so honkin big. And those bass strings. UN real. Woo hoo!
Ok, the night’s program was beautiful, the whole day in fact was a marvel, but this is the height of it all: a new dishwasher was at home just waiting for me!!
A dishwasher and flowers. !!
The next day starts out cool and green…
Elihu’s taken my camera to document our life from his perspective for a little while…
This is what lil man sees from his world in the backseat…
…and this is what’s on his mind most of the time.
On our way to the 4H meeting, I was struck by fresh activity in our long-dormant village cemetery…
We stopped to see that a local woman who’d died in early January was just being buried now.
Having just begun to read a book on the current culture of death in our country, I was fascinated and had to stop.
Wherever dear Agnes is now, I hope she can share in the joy Elihu finds in making a lovely, resonant percussive sound on the structure designed to lower her casket down into the vault. (I learned the proper terms from the man who’d set it all up a bit earlier.)
As a child, I’d ride my bike to cemetery hill and pump myself a refreshing drink of water at this now dry hand pump.
And this is how I think of this place looking. Most graves are over a hundred years old on the hilltop.
We’re over the hill and on the other side of Greenfield now at the locally well-known Estherville Animal Shelter for our 4H meeting.
It’s a very casual place, a casual bunch.
Aged horse Stardust (yes, I sang him his song) and goat Blossom routinely stand in the newly paved road. All of my 51 years this was a bumpy, uninviting dirt road which posed no threat to these two residents. Now the cars zip thru here and I can’t help but worry…
Elihu doped up good on allergy meds for moments such as these.
…and for these too.
Elihu found his sweet spot it seems.
Jessie and Sam – in the 4H shirts – are daughters of a guy I’ve known since I was their age. It’s nice to have continuity like that in the kind of displaced world in which we live in these days.
See this is why I have a ‘no hooved animal’ policy at our home. Give em an inch… Blossom is joining the party without an invitation…
After the club kids go home, Elihu remains to brush Stardust a bit. He’s got a lot of wild, winter hair coming off him and could use a little help being groomed.
Apparently goat Blossom and horse Stardust are inseparable.
After a good grooming they’re in search of treats in one of the out buildings.
Coming home to a clean, open counter. Oooooohhhh
See how nicely my flowers fit in the open space? What a nice reminder of our lovely weekend.
I can’t wait to wake up in the morning to a load of magically washed dishes. Truly, it feels like the dawning of a sparkling, new age.
Mother’s Day never qualified as a ‘real’ holiday growing up in my family. My mother, whether being stoic, passive-aggressive, just plain honest or some mixture of the three always insisted that there was no need for such a day. “Every day is mother’s day” she’d say enigmatically, absolutely throwing me for a loop each time she did. But I never took her to task on it. I’m pretty sure we made her cards nonetheless. Even today I ended up making a bouquet for her and giving a small gift of a scarf – just because. We stopped in for a quick hello, because at this point in the game, how can we not? Now me, myself, I admit I don’t mind folks giving me some props and thanks for doing what I do – because I really do feel that my role is very important, and I feel that I do a pretty good job at it too. I don’t mean to sound self-righteous about it – but this is the most important job of my life, so a little respect from the world at large not such a bad idea. Nuff on that.
How about a couple of scrapbook entries to mark our day? I apologize if my photographic accounts are getting a bit too much or a bit tedious, but if it doesn’t get documented here, it doesn’t get documented anywhere. This is what my kid has to look back on someday. (Hope he feels more gratitude than regret when that time comes!) So thanks for bearing witness, and feel free to overlook this post entirely if you’ve had enough. Here’s hoping you mothers didn’t have to cook, clean or put things away today – unless you felt absolutely compelled to do so (I did).
These things are downright sexy, are they not? Good lookin yolks… And just think, this is how we all begin; as our mother’s eggs…
What’s better than yolks fresh from the farm? Bernaise sauce made from those fresh yolks! Here’s my made-to-order ‘deconstructed’ Eggs Benedict. This particular batch of Bernaise kicked ass. And it’s topped with fresh-cut chives from the garden. !!
Like clockwork – they first arrive here on Mother’s Day each year.
Next up, the chicks need to meet the great outdoors.
Still cute and fuzzy – but more than twice as big as they were two weeks ago.
Seriously guys? Ten open acres and you’re all hanging out in the porch? Sheesh.
The last glimpse of Saratoga Lake we’ll get ’til the leaves fall off the trees again.
Now we’re deep in the swampy area of my folks’ woods. Not easy getting around here. We were in search of a huge boulder Andrew and I would play on as kids – only difference is we came out here all those years ago in the wintertime when this was all one big sheet of ice. The ice made it much easier to get back here. After some searching, we didn’t find the rock, but we did find other sweet little diversions along the way…
Like the Marsh Marigold
And very few standing trees against an amazing, cloudless sky…
On the walk home we found what was left of a raccoon that had been at the side of the road for nearly a year.
Reminded us of a Dr. Seuss poem about ‘shin bone pinning’…
Having broken my neck once, I’m partial to this spinal remnant
Elihu gathers fiddleheads for our supper
This is the house where we Conants spent our summers (winter vacations too). Uncle Andrew now lives there.
With the shadow of the Old House to the right, Mom’s place is at the top of the driveway, and the Studio is on the left.
Elihu shows mom our bone treasures
Good old Annie, named so as she was found by my parents on their wedding anniversary, now many years ago.
Nothing like that salmon-pink of the flowering Quince
Two kinds of ferns to avoid, and one kind to eat.
After some labor-intensive de-fuzzing, they’re ready to be boiled. Next they’re sauteed in butter, and served with a squeeze of lemon. If not cooked well enough they can cause some tummy problems (that’s the nicer way of saying they can be ‘slightly toxic’.)
Nothing toxic here, yet. (The possible threat – however miniscule – did inspire a couple of very entertaining death scenes at the dinner table.)
We’re done with our lovely day. After a call to the other grandma in Illinois, we settle in for a few more chapters of our favorite Springtime tradition of all – The Burgess Bird Book for Children. Good-night all!
Always too much to tell. A slower pace in the country? Occasionally, but not often. The first half of May has been very busy here. Rather than tell you all about it, I’m offering a photographic retrospective of the last two weeks. Hope you don’t mind – there are quite a few pics here…Starting with a surprise visit one morning by Phil on his tractor, who’d come by to plow our garden. He’s doing it for nothing. Just being a kind neighbor. I told him I felt guilty about his helping us like that, but he responded that Mr. Sessleman had done it for him once upon a time, he was just passin it on. Hope I too am able to pass on some helpful kindness one day.
(This is earliest May – note how few leaves are on the trees, then compare to similar shots just a week later)
I like this shot – tractor, Elihu, goose, all in motion…
Elihu runs down the driveway after the tractor
May 3rd, the fourth graders dance around the May pole while singing (in harmony parts!) and weaving very intricate designs with the colored ribbons. This is a rite of passage for fourth graders at the Waldorf School.
Elihu and Dierdre bow to each other before the dance
Grandma and Grandpa were able to join us…
My mom remembers dancing around the May pole when she was in fourth grade, too!
A nice looking group, these wonderful fourth graders.
Elihu enjoys a little picnic with his grandparents
We take a look at the weaving job
Lovely up close
Then Elihu helps carry it off…
Now for a quick family picture…
Before zipping off to catch a duck…
Notice Elihu, to the right…
No bait used – nothing but extreme motivation and a finely-honed technique
A fine end to May day!
…and a fine start to our Merck Forest field trip as Elihu chases a turkey vulture across a field…
Visiting pastured sheep, Elihu dashes off in hopes of seeing birds…
The view was gorgeous. All I can think of is how much labor was involved in clear cutting the old growth forests and making them into farmland – at this elevation and nearly three hundred years ago, no less. Boggles the mind.
We visited pigs that lived out in the woods. !
Kids feeding kids.
Now to see the beautiful draft horse
The class sang a song about horses (in a round!) as they admired her
Ben found a B on the horse’s side
Elihu and I head up the hill to the barns in search of swallows
Bingo! Such striking markings and color
What’s this? A pigeon’s nest…
With eggs! Hope mom comes back soon to brood… think we scared her off
We watch the horse get hitched up to her gear. They really do farm with the horses here at Merck Forest.
On the trail to the car everyone fills the ‘elevator’ tree
Nora and I are having mint chocolate chip! This girl’s amazing – she used a balled up piece of tin foil from lunch to make a baseball, and found some sticks… within minutes she’d started a full-on baseball game.
We’re at the local Battenkill Dairy – our ice cream was made right on the premises. All of it. !
Ah, the apple trees…
And the flowering Quince, too
Look who’s returned one week later to till! Thank you Phil!!!
While Phil works, Elihu picks violets..
and then makes ‘Violet Angels’ in them…
Next on the agenda, some Cinnamon fiddleheads from our woods for supper. They’re fuzzier than Ostrich ferns (and slightly more toxic) and take a lot of prep. Mainly why they don’t work well in restaurants.
Cleaned and washed
Boiled, next to be sautéed in butter
We actually really liked them.
Onto the Saratoga City Ballet’s Spring production of Alice in Wonderland. That’s our friend Freya in the middle…
and this is our friend Mahogany
Here’s the only boy in the whole group. He is good. !
Love the en pointe thing. So much harder than it appears.
All three Waldorf kids afterwards. Mahogany and Freya are in seventh grade.
We went out for ice cream after the show (Atkins diet took a week off) and it was positively snowing white apple blossoms!
A few hours later and it’s our annual birthday dinner at the Wishing Well!
In short order Elihu was playing along with the pianist in the bar
Elihu’s very favorite dish of all: Frogs’ Legs. ! (I think he’s playing drums on the table with their little leg bones. !)
Yeeps. I’m trying them too. And they’re actually very delicious. And no, not really like chicken.
The pic above our table (Saratoga is a racing town.) This is pretty incredible, huh?
Happy 60th birthday to us!
Thanks for singing!
Yay! A picture of the two of us taken by someone other than me. !
The Wishing Well is an old-world joint. Lots of wood, mounted moose heads and such.
Elihu gets a good-night smooch from owner Brenda Lee (with whom I’d sung ‘Exactly Like You’ earlier in the evening – when I requested it and the pianist had – gasp – never heard of it.)
Good-bye WW – see you next year! (We love the place, but must note that our fiddleheads were better than theirs and that the escargot was not good. Wine not cooked off, not enough salt or butter, and gritty. We’re very forgiving, but it was a lot of money for a not so spectacular dinner. But it was fun to actually hear a person playing the piano. Plus I have learned that I cannot casually drink a martini these days. I got fairly loaded on nearly nothing. Times are a changin’.)
Another post by Master Elihu. It seems the apple has not fallen far from the tree…. see?
I wake up in the morning, and it’s early spring and the ground is carpeted with flowers. I walk outside and see grasshoppers, hopping from flower to flower. A robin flits in front of me and lands on the ground. Listens, then pulls out a fat worm and flies away to his nest. The call of a hawk above me makes me look up; a red-shouldered hawk is soaring above me. He circles and circles and climbs so high that he is just a dot in the sky, then he’s into the woods and comes right back up with a fat rabbit which he then carries to his nest. A chicken, startled by the hawk flying so low overhead struts up to me and clucks a few times, hopping up the stairs, she looks at me inquisitively, as if to say got food? I reach down to the inquisitive hen, stroking her head. ‘No I haven’t got any – but if you go over to the coop there’ll be some.’ She struts away and a whole flock more of chickens comes up to me and asks the same question to which I give the same answer. Grabbing a stick just in case the mean rooster decides to attack me, I walk out to the coop to enjoy my big flock of hens. Red, brown, white, and black they hop up to perches, flutter from nesting box to nesting box, some quarrel about who gets the majority of the food and some simply just sit and enjoy the warm sun. It’s a nice spring day indeed, I think to myself as I watch a small frog hop from leaf to leaf. And I am sure there’ll be many more to come.
With that, I think I shall sit down and enjoy this one as best I can.