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The clouds swirl, collect into masses of white, edged with grey. The watery blue sky seems thin, unsubstantial when confronted with the density of the clouds. Which of course, is nuts, because clouds are not really "there" in the first place, they have no substance.

"Okay, I'm nuts", I think, and look again at the roundness, the super-cake-risen in the sky mound of white vanilla-angel-food goodness. It's hard to describe clouds without referring to the cliches of puffy snow, cotton-candy, cotton balls, floating mounds of whipped cream, etc. etc. etc. "There you go," I say to myself, "trying to describe something that's been painted in words a gazillion times before, trying to put a new spin on it, a new view, and well, with all the food analogies I've ended up just making myself hungry."

So what about the clouds? What's important about them? Is it how they affect the temperature of the day? The way they constantly shift, lift, dissipate, form a picture and then evaporate? Is it how they look against the sky? I glance out the window and the sky too has changed from weak watery blue to a slightly more saturated baby blue - a clear, happy color - the kind of color that is never sad and looks good on everyone.

The horizon is a long brown edge of modest mountains, topped with scrub-brush bushes, bare limbed trees just beginning to bud, and the inevitable rows of houses side by side. Thankfully, the houses are a minimal part of what I see, and most of the view is Mother Nature's design. Expansive, spacious, long stretched out acres of nothing but earth objects. Serene. Could be a little greener, more tall leafy trees would really make it perfect, but as it is, the natural state of the landscape being desert, anything green, or less than burnt brown is okay.

There was a time when the thought of living in a place of palm trees, cactus and astro turf type lawns would have made me cringe. "Brown hills? Scrawny yards? No way, not me. I'm a mountain pine tree, squirrel climbing, rustic, earthy, oak trees type of girl." But Time has these very subtle turns in the path of a lifetime that find you living for years in a place you thought was going to be temporary. Events have filled your home, with holidays and birthdays and babies crawling and parents aging and you find yourself still here. Five years has turned to ten and then twenty and more... your baby is off living in her own apartment, your sisters scattered around the country, and it's just the two of you now. The man you married, your best friend. Both of you listen to your knees creak as you go up and down the stairs, lifting the suitcases for travel seems to get harder, and the idea of living anywhere else is a faint and distant dream. There is no regret, for this place, this house, this home, has been abundantly warmed with the history of our lives. Our stories are here. Our frustrations, our joys, our tears, and oh, so much laughter resonates in the walls, the wooden floors, and the very old green carpet.

Home. The cabinets may need resurfacing, the floors a good sanding, the draperies replaced and the kitchen sink would enjoy being white again, and yet, despite the flaws, it is our beloved nest. The place we raised our daughter. The place we played hide and go seek, built forts with bed sheets and big cardboard boxes. We face painted, baked giant Halloween cookies, sang, danced, read aloud and watched and cried through "Homeward Bound" and "The Parent Trap."

The family room has been through more transformations than a Beverly Hills housewife. It started out as a playroom - complete with tiny kitchen, pots, pans, dishes, table and chairs where we had a many a make-believe meal. Sturdy shelves filled with read-aloud books, pictures books, and that proud moment when your child has made the leap to read-to-yourself books. There was a bright yellow and red Flintstone push-with-your-feet-type car, a sturdy white toy chest built by Grandpa, a very bouncy rocking horse, cherished dolls and games galore.

The inevitable passage of time, and toys moved into cupboards or closets and the space became a school room with maps, and charts, and desks (for teacher and student). More books filled the shelves, easels and paints, Italian vocabulary words, the well-worn multiplication table, and all the familiar examples of "learning" as we home schooled for many years. The slumber parties, the make-believe, and even a movie studio when we filmed an episode of The Wiggles with four 10 year old girls imitating the 4 male characters, singing about fruit bowls, and cracking themselves up hysterically in the process.

Then, another metamorphosis into a grownup family room, with couches, TV, stereo equipment, easy chair and all the paraphernalia of adult lives. This dear house held concerts, hosted caroling parties, saw lessons being taught, observed the ups and downs of writing music and charting scores, rehearsals, recordings, many bowls of spaghetti, friends coming and going, and the child transformed into a young teenager dressed up for her first high school dance.

Our home - full of all expressions of our lives. Richly textured in the very walls and paintings and blankets and books and grandma's dishes. The millions of notes that have come out of the pianos, (yes, pianos), the dramatic curving staircase that has been the background for an improvised scene or song or glamour picture. All of it. Treasured - not for what the value of anything might be, but for the priceless gift of happiness, comfort, serenity and peace that comes from years of creating and living in our own house on the hill.

Jimmy used to sing me a song that I loved that told the story of a couple that built a house on a hill, added a wing or two, a thing or two and eventually grew old together, sitting on the porch, grateful to be "The Folks Who Live On The Hill".

We found our spot of quiet, our getaway from noise and bustle, our sanctuary in the hills. We have a porch, we actually sit on the bench out in front some times and look at the birds in the trees, or if its raining we stand and listen to the gush of water coming down the gutters and drenching the flowerbeds. When it's windy, we make sure to tie up the big wind chimes on the back patio and crack open the glass doors of the fireplace so the howling sound won't keep us up all night. We watch the parade of birds as the seasons pass - the quails, always in a family, marching along the top of the fence. The doves next door cooing and constantly in pairs, watching out for each other. The little red breasted birds that hop across the patio and taunt the cat. We've even had snow a few times on the mountains at the end of our street, and that is a glorious sight indeed, a splendid unexpected surprise in our landscape of brown.

It's not where I thought I would spend most of my life, but it has wound up being the perfect place to grow up and become "me". I've learned great contentment in "being", and knowing that the "out there" part of life can be anything, really, and what makes it rich and valued with quiet contentment is the inner dwelling. I used to collect pictures from magazines of big east coast style houses with wooden sidings, dormer windows, wrap around porches, all surrounded by acres of tall green trees. I drove Jimmy crazy with my pictures and yearnings and wants. He patiently let me paste my "dream" houses on the fridge, the pantry door, and even make a notebook full of these gorgeous homes that were definitely not in Southern California. He wisely waited as I began to realize "there" wasn't necessarily going to be any better than "here", and that what we had "here" was solid, real, beautiful and perfect.

Our house on the hill..."Darby and Joan, who used to be Jack and Jill." Sometimes you just need a little growing up to realize everything is really perfect and wonderful in this very moment, and adding a few more trees to the landscape, is just that...a few more trees. I can live with that. I have two beautiful liquid ambers that branch into the sky and I love watching them go through their cycles every year. Bright, happy spring leaves bursting out on the new branches, to the deeper green of summer, then the fading into well-worn brown in Autumn, and finally shedding every last one of the dry-as-paper leaves to stand bare and still in the resting time of Winter.

I look up at the sky again - it's still that pale summery blue that makes you want to take off your socks and shoes and wiggle your toes in the grass. My gaze shifts higher and the clouds that were clumps of white dandelion puffs are now stretched out, thinner, more transparent and barely visible. The change is there, up in the atmosphere, and me? I am here, on the ground, content, and happy to be in the best place I know, for now. Home.

The House on the Hill

Music by Jerome Kern Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Someday, we'll build a home

On a hilltop high, you and I,

Shiny and new, a cottage that two can fill.

And we'll be pleased to be called,

"The folks who live on the hill."

Someday, we may be adding

A thing or two, a wing or two.

We will make changes as any family will.

But we will always be called,

"The folks who live on the hill."

Our veranda will command a view of meadows green,

The sort of view that seems to want to be seen.

And when the kids grow up and leave us,

We'll sit and look at the same old view, just we two.

Darby and Joan who, used to be Jack and Jill,

The folks who like to be called,

What they have always been called,

"The folks who live on the hill."

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