The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Wishlist November 30, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal... — wingmother @ 12:40 pm

Bass Happy Boy

Although we’re a household of modest means, we’ve created a rather rich life for ourselves here in the country. However, we have by no means done it alone; through the years we’ve been the beneficiary of much assistance in many forms and from many sources. From small monetary donations to informative tips, from in-kind gifts to the more conventional and institutional forms of aid, we’ve been blessed to receive enough to keep the fires burning and the engine moving forward.

This is a season in which everyone beseeches us to give more, I know, and I hate to add to that din, but still… I’m coming to the end of my ability to store media here on this WordPress platform, and if I were to delete the old pics in order to post new ones, they would disappear from the blog. Which I don’t really want (selfishly I rely on this online journal to remember our personal history; this, for me, is our family scrapbook), so I’m hoping to raise $300 in order to boost my storage space enough to last well into the next decade. If you’ve enjoyed any of these 550 plus posts and you’ve passed up the tip jar icon thus far, I hope you might consider leaving a small tip – just a dollar or two – on your next visit. Santa, as I hear it, has been investing all of his resources into tuba and bass-related paraphernalia as well as more mundane purchases such as heating oil and liability insurance and would welcome a little help if anyone is so inclined.

There may be a reason I’ve never been very good at business. I hate asking. My pitch, although colorful and perhaps touching at times, is anything but over-confident. Most folks have a limit for the self-loathing and needless self-deprecation of others. I know I do. And all that self-doubting business doesn’t necessarily inspire philanthropic support.

That being said, there are a couple of things I can say with complete confidence: firstly, this blog brings enjoyment to many readers, and secondly, my son is in love with all things that resound in the bass clef. These things I know.

The bottom line? I hope you’ll consider leaving a small tip for The Hillhouse in the jar over the holiday season.

Maybe think of it as buying me a cup of coffee, or Elihu a cup of his favorite peppermint tea. But regardless of whether you hit the tip jar on the way out or not – I still offer you a sincere thanks for your audience here; you must know that that in of itself has far more value to me. Only thing is, this modest blog – despite the advertisement for disposable adult underwear that accompanies it (gasp – is that honestly my demographic now??) – sees not a penny of that revenue, contrary to what some readers have come to believe.

Again, thanks for coming along with us on our adventures here. Tips or no tips, we couldn’t wish for better friends.

Post Script: Thanks for the personal emails, messages and Facebook responses, your input is most welcome, but I wanted to be clear that I’m in need of proprietary WordPress storage – which costs $299. I have hard drive storage for all my images, but they must be stored on the WP platform in order to show up here in the online posts. Also, I want to thank our friends for making such generous contributions in such short order! (Honestly, just a dollar or two would suffice!) We’ll let you know our progress… xo


Sonnet November 21, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Elihu's Room,Mommy Mind,Pics,Waldorf Life — wingmother @ 9:56 am

frog in pond

If I learned how to construct a Sonnet in my school years, I certainly can’t recall it now. Elihu, however, is in the midst of a creative writing block in school, and the form is very much on his mind. So are frogs. Yesterday the seventh grade recited Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60 for the school assembly. All of these elements combined have resulted in this work…


The Wide Variety of Frogs           by Elihu Conant-Haque


There are so many different kinds of frogs

They jump, change color, swim and even fly

Frogs live in woodlands, rainforests and bogs

But frogs need clean, warm climates or they’ll die


The Wallace Frog with hands outstretched, soars high

His skillful twists and turns no frog can match,

The distance of his fall is what he flies

Below him treefrogs climb like acrobats.


The Golden Treefrog speedily doth climb,

How graceful is he sitting ‘pon his log

And tho’ they didst for naught to help my rhyme

We’ll note the Pickerel and Leopard Frog


And whilst I stand for my anuran friends

If e’er you hated frogs, please make amends.


Tribe November 14, 2015


Elihu loves everything low – especially if it’s made of metal. There is no doubt about it, this kid’s found his tribe.

Elihu’s flight got in very late last night, but the kid, he’s a trooper. He’s traveled a lot more than many adults I know, and in spite of having to deal with some really draining hurry-up-and-wait situations, his spirits seldom flag. Last night was no exception; he passed through the exit hallway as nonchalantly as if he were merely getting off the school bus. He coolly walked up to me this time – for the first time ever – without being followed by an employee of the airline holding out a clipboard for my signature. No one checked for my ID to see that I really was his mother. Nope. None of that stuff anymore. Just a lone ‘young traveler’ (as Southwest now officially refers to him) returning home.

Our reunions are different these days, and I struggle to remember what it felt like to see that tiny boy coming around the corner and running into my open arms. Now we just sort of pair up and begin walking to the escalators as if no time had passed, and as if we were nothing more than casual acquaintances. Which is ok, cuz however brilliant I may think my child to be, he is still 12. And self-respecting 12-year-old boys, no matter how much they love their mothers, do not want to be seen running into open arms, being gushed-over and animatedly doted upon. It’s my deepest desire to hold him tight and have him return the embrace, but I check myself. And secretly, I congratulate myself for holding back; because I actually do think that I’m settling into my new role as mother of a pre-teen with some style and dignity. It’s not easy, but it’s important to adjust, to respect the change that’s taking place here. And it’s got me thinking.

The little boy chapter is coming to a close, this new teenage chapter is yet to begin, and what follows is almost too much for me to even contemplate. One day, in a mere minute or two at the rate things are moving, my son will move out. And away. The way things are looking now (with his growing love of all things German), it may well be very far away. Our airport reunions will be far fewer. They may one day become more joyful, animated events, but nonetheless, there will be less of them for sure. As I sit beside him at baggage claim, I can see in the super-bright overhead lighting that there is a darker and more obvious patch of hair above his lip, and my heart sighs heavily. It’s coming. This young man is changing right before me. And one day, he’ll be out in the world doing his thing, and by then… it’ll be just me. I don’t mention this observation of mine, but as I study his elongated fingers and note how he sits almost as tall as me now, my heart whimpers. This will not be easy. I’m definitely gonna need a plan.

As we chat on the walk back to the car Elihu asks what I did this evening. I tell him that a friend had come over, and we’d had dinner and hung for a bit. Elihu asked about the nature of my relationship, and I told him. Me, I don’t want another element in my life. Not romantic, an any rate. I’m just not interested. “Does he know that?” Elihu asked me, sounding more like a bestie than my young son. I told him that yeah, I’d made it clear. There was a pause. “So, then, what do you want?” Elihu asked. I thought about the wide-open expanse of life in front of me and considered it a bit more critically than usual.

Recently, I’d made digital copies of some ancient videos. They represented so many of my old worlds, and it blew my mind to see things that I never thought I’d see again… My son, a tiny baby, being given a bath in the kitchen sink in our old house in Evanston. A clip or two of me at the radio station getting ready to go on air. Seeing Elihu’s father and me, performing together, happy and doing what I’d loved so well, it had cheered my spirits and saddened me all at the same time. Seeing me as an even younger, huge-haired rocker was amusing, and remembering that world was like peering into a dream… Then there were the alt-country bands, the indie projects and a million little worlds in between. Bits and pieces. A haphazard mosaic of my young adult life.

And then even longer ago here were fuzzy clips transferred from my dad’s super 8 reels of us as a young family – back in the early 70s when the Studio was just being built. Clips of concerts and rehearsals, of harpsichords being loaded into old Volkswagons. family dogs running underfoot, too-long scenes of cherished family cats doing nothing much at all. Almost every adult was smoking, and all were laughing and happy in this world of their own creation. I was peering through a magical window to see my mom, dad, Frank and Martha, and the many musicians who’d spent time with us in summers past as young adults – most of them far younger than I am now. These people were my whole world when I was young, and now many were simply dead and gone.

I thought of all the friends and peers whom I’d loved who were now so far-flung across the globe and fully embedded in their contemporary lives… All these groups I’d also been a part of once. All of it – the distant past and even the not-so-distant past – seemed in stark contrast to our current life. We had friends, yes, we had wonderful neighbors and truly good people in our lives, but still, there was something still missing. “What do you really want?” Elihu asked me again as we finally reached the car in the airport parking lot. After another moment of thought, I answered him, happy to have finally identified it for myself: “A tribe.”

Everyone needs to belong. Groups – in whatever form they manifest – are for most of us, essential. And all of us belong to several groups at any one time. Even here and now, in my somewhat smaller life, we belong to certain populations. The Waldorf school is one. Elihu’s peers, another. And there are those who help to make up our family by virtue of their physical proximity to us. But in revisiting these videos and recordings from another era, I’m reminded of the bonds that are absent in our current life. I miss being part of a community – of musicians.

Musically speaking, things appear somewhat fragmented in this area. I meet musicians who seem to know only folks whose genre they share. I inquire about folks outside their worlds, and they don’t really know much. Back in ‘the day’, in Chicago, while there were surely separate and distinct genres of musicians and scenes, there was often an overlap. Pop musicians would hire jazz guys to play on their tracks, jazz guys would stop in the dive country bars and marvel over the hidden talent there, hard rockers and R&B artists would mingle at the same parties. And me, I benefited from all of it. Me, I floated all over the place. As a result, I felt at home in many worlds. But the thing of it was, all these disparate musicians were aware of each other on some level. There was a commonality among all musicians, and one almost always felt an inherent sense of belonging. At least that’s how it felt to me. But here, in this small town, it doesn’t feel like that at all. Granted, I’m not working here as a musician, and I don’t get out a whole lot, but I’ve made some small inroads, and from what I can see, there are a lot of ‘micro scenes’, and no substantial cross-pollinisation between em. I’m not sure which population I might belong to. Honestly, I’m not convinced I belong in any of them.

Secretly, I’ve held the hope that one day I might bring the music to me; that I might create my own scene here, rather than searching for one out there. While the Studio is currently a bit too ambient and live a room in which to host anything but the most acoustic of musical ensembles, I hope to figure out a way to deaden it up a bit so I can begin to think of casting a wider net. As I imagine a future in which all things might be possible, I envision the room, once again full of people. Alive with music. A place in which people can meet each other. A place where a new tribe might assemble.

It is beginning to happen. Maybe not in a terribly obvious way, but things are starting to take shape. There is now a weekly yoga class. I see the looks on the faces of folks who are seeing the space for the first time. And just as in my father’s day, I hear people remark with surprise as they scan the room that they had ‘no idea’ a place like this existed here. But it does, and it calls for people to gather within its walls.

As the room fills with a dozen middle-aged moms in search of time for themselves, I begin to see more possibility growing… When Kristin dims the lights and begins to coach our bodies to move and our minds to relax, I begin to feel a future growing in this place. The way isn’t clear yet, but it isn’t as vague as it was a year ago. This is a time of transition, I remind myself again. I need to be patient. I also need to stick to my to-do lists and be vigilant about following through and keeping on the path. Things will get better, the way will get easier, and someday, oh I pray, I’ll find my new tribe along the way.


To Eleven November 4, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Growing Older — wingmother @ 12:02 am

For most folks I suppose the holidays – from early December to early January – are the busiest. Or at least the most jam-packed months in terms of having things to do. Me, it’s usually fall. Things don’t clear usually til November hits. Most years mid-fall is full; there have been many hours invested in an elaborate costume, plus there’s getting the house ready for winter, cleaning the coop and other various homesteading activities, and always, there’s the constant business of cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry and teaching lessons. Although I no longer hold a day post (that’s a disguised way of saying day job; I still like to think playing piano at my son’s school, although it took up entire days, was not a true ‘day job’, thus I can maintain my lifelong record for never having ever had such! Is this a crazy thing to take pride in?), there never seems to be enough time to go around. Granted I still waste time almost daily on Facebook – my lifeline to the outside world – yet even when I forgo that destination for a couple of days in a row – there still seem to be more than a half a dozen things that need to get done in any one moment.

“Just hug me” Elihu said tonight as I began my ‘all-that-I-didn’t-get-done-today’ lament. “Forget about it. Just hold me.” So I did, and I kissed his brow, desperately grateful to have him in my life. Sometimes I’m not sure but what I don’t use my son – and my role as single mother – as an excuse for not accomplishing more than I do. But tonight I let myself off the hook. While it hasn’t necessarily been hectic around here, between nursing sick hens back to health in the kitchen (and losing one too), learning our furnace needs repair work, cleaning out the gutters and giving the house an overall pre-winter cleaning, there’s been steady, constant activity. And so for a moment, in my son’s darkened bedroom, with the plastic stars on the ceiling glowing above us, I stopped. I wrapped my arms around this inspiring, crazy kid of mine, and for a few minutes my heart lightened.

After I closed his door, I allowed myself an hour on the couch to peruse old copies of Dwell magazine. Being a huge fan of architecture, and especially the modern stuff, at first I found the photos jaw-dropping. The voyeuristic peek into the lives of the uber hip gave me a charge. And then, all of a sudden, it didn’t. That nagging feeling started in again. I was missing something. The world was going on out there, and I was stuck in here. All those gorgeous places. Places I would probably never visit, fine finishes I’d never see in my own home, complete, tidy and happy-looking families of which I’d never be a part. I tried to console myself; I’d traveled a lot, after all. I myself had owned a couple of mid-century beauties. And even now, I’d made a nice home here in spite of a nearly non-existent budget. And after all, wasn’t my real treasure – all that really mattered in the world – there with me in the next room?

Over the past weekend a young college student was hit and killed as he was walking home on Halloween night. Drunk driver. And in a flash, there went a mother’s whole life. That mother had been plunged into a relentless, living hell. Her life had been forever changed. I’d been ruminating on that for the past two days, ever since I saw the makeshift memorial at the side of the road and had returned home to google it. Each and every time I begin to doubt that my existence has any real value in this fathomlessly large world, I remember Elihu – and then that boy who died. It shakes me back.

Recently I shared some of my boating stories with a friend. He was a bit surprised to learn that I’d crewed, and that I’d been to so many faraway places. That I’d had this other life long before I’d had this one. But hell, that was only one of many lives that had come before. And I suppose that’s what’s at the crux of my ongoing internal struggle. All the exciting stuff seems to be behind me. Yeah, a part of me knows that’s not entirely true. The Studio lies before me, potential unrealized, a dream yet to manifest. It’s just that I’m still doing it all myself. The board of directors is as it has been for the past half century; family and friends. And going forward, that ain’t gonna cut it. That contributes to the tiny voice that nags at me… Enlist help, find people to share the load, the dream… Get this done, get this going, get things moving forward… Turn things up already…

My life is full, Lord knows it. Most of the people on this toilsome planet don’t have it so good. Hard to remember some times, but I need to remind myself of this over and over again. Don’t we all have moments of existential doubt? Mech, I know a handful of folks who very likely don’t – but I’m pretty sure most of us have our internal battles. The trick, I suppose, is to turn down the volume on the doubts and crank the other voices up to eleven.

Post Script: When I visited the funeral home’s page to leave my condolences for the young boy who had recently died, I was stunned to see that his middle name was Elihu. Imagine my shock at seeing such a thing; I have never met another Elihu before, and to see that this boy shared a name with my son took me aback. In fact, perhaps now because of that, I think many, many times during each day of that boy’s bereaved family. I treasure my son beyond expression, and I know that mother treasured her boy too. I learned how incredibly special, talented and loving he was, which makes this loss seem all the harder to understand. So please everyone, always give your children the ultimate in tenderness – and let them know how very much you value them. Savor every moment with them, because none of us is immune to sudden loss or tragedy.

Michael Elihu Hedges obituary


Retro Post: October’s Bright Blue Weather October 17, 2015

Filed under: An Ongoing Journal...,Pics,Retro Post — wingmother @ 11:33 pm

This was originally posted on October 12th, 2012.

Helen Hunt Jackson (1830-1885)

October’s Bright Blue Weather

O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October’s bright blue weather;

When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And Golden-Rod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant;

When Gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning;

When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining;

When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing;

When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting;

When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October’s bright blue weather.

O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October’s bright blue weather.


Each year there is one crisp, blue and yellow day that expands almost til it bursts; the day on which I instantly recall this poem. I first learned about it from a friend, Les Brownlee, who, when in his eighties and nearing the end of his incredibly full life as a pioneering black journalist in Chicago (he coined the phrase “eyewitness news”), robustly recited aloud the first lines of the poem on just such an October day many years ago. I knew instantly that I would make it part of the landscape of my years, a personal tradition to keep for my own. While I would never commit the poem to memory in it’s entirety as Les and those of his generation did so often and so well, I would work to learn the first few lines and to have them on the ready as a surprise autumnal gift to give at just the perfect moment.

Surrounded by the red and white of Les’ beloved alma mater UW Madison (and the occasional fighting badger adorning a wall clock or hand towel) my husband and I would join a generous-sized gathering at his home on many Sundays throughout our life in Evanston, Illinois. He and his wife Priscilla were the family and hearth we were missing in our contemporary, parent-less lives. That era has long since come to a close, but how lucky I am to take with me those memories of friendship and inclusion – as well as a few choice poems and stories.

One or two days a year, when the weather turns just so, I think of you, dear Les, and I send you my gratitude for helping to write a lovely stanza in my own life’s poem.

Post Script, October 2015: The mild days of fall are fast disappearing now, so too are the leaves. Fall is stunning for one or two brief weeks, but by month’s end, there’s not a leaf left. It’s hard to imagine how the landscape will transform in the coming days. We’re savoring it all here at The Hillhouse, as we’re not quite ready for all the dull, gray branches and cold air ahead.

Here are some pics from our colorful life this past week…













The view here is bright and blue.


Spin October 12, 2015

If I can get to sleep by ten, I’ll be waking to see the clock by three. If I push my bedtime back to midnight, it’s almost certain I’ll be up again by five. Even with the prescription sleeping pills. My mother’s body has worked this way for years – so it’s not really a surprise. The difference between us is that she accepts it, but me, I don’t want to. I cherish my sleep, and I’ll do whatever I need to do in order to get it. My dreaming world is far more interesting and compelling one than this waking one. Besides, my body has always needed and wanted sleep. Always. I find that either exactly seven or nine hours is best. Less or more seems to throw me off. But five? That’s more my ex-husband’s speed. Not only do I need sleep – but I fairly live for it. I exist for those heavenly departures from the constantly-running mind. The endless worry over money, over heating oil, over my worsening arthritis. The endless tangential branches of thought that almost never return to their origin, the constant interior spinning of my head.

Once, when remarking that I hardly knew what to do first in order to get the Studio completed, a friend asked if I had ADD. The idea had come as a complete surprise. Did I? I didn’t think so, cuz I did manage to pull off a lot – but maybe, maybe… Further contemplation on the question tells me that that’s not the issue. It’s just that I have so many interests and goals, and for the time being, it’s just me getting them all done. As my son gets older, he does more for himself, and that helps a lot. And soon, with any luck, it won’t be just me piloting the Studio into its future. But for the moment, it feels like the world won’t turn unless I figure out how to turn it… And my thoughts just won’t turn off.

Rooting hormone – where can I get that stuff? And how much longer will those cuttings last before it’s too late to root them? If I get a 32″ wide door for the utility room door and frame it smaller, will the sink fit inside? Will people fit through ok? Who’s the biggest person who needs to get in there anyway? Gotta measure that sink. Can’t forget to cancel my old car insurance and call the new agent back asap… How will I afford the additional storage space for the blog? Gotta get a sweep for that east-facing door, have to make sure the thermostat works in the outside closet before it freezes, gotta pay Al, gotta pay Joe, gotta buy a new door – and is that door still sitting at the side of Locust Grove road? – gotta pay the lawyer, the dentist, the electric bill for the Studio… I’ll need more students to make the new expenses… Man, how will I make the insurance payments? How can I get people in the place? How do I keep going with no money? I’m getting fatter these days and sure am glad I kept my bigger clothes… How will I ever get back into shape again? Shall I start Weight Watchers again this week, and how embarrassing will that be? Why oh why did I let myself go over the summer? How will I make Elihu’s costume? Wonder if the head or the shoulders support the weight… Damn these arthritic fingers, I can feel them crossing now…. When was it I first noticed that? August? Beginning of September? There’s no going back, my fingers will never, ever be as they were… God I wish my fingers would just stop getting worse. No sense worrying about it, but damn it, I can feel them right now, rubbing against each other. But then again, what am I complaing about? I have fingers. And they work. Could be so much worse. I don’t have cancer… yet. Dare I even think that? I used to think I’d never get cancer, but just look at all of my friends who have had it, they probably didn’t think they’d get cancer either…

And on it goes. But deeper still, beneath the white noise-like chatter of my conscious thoughts is a near-constant sense of fear, of imminent doom, rumbling away. I used to wonder if I was the only person – but I’ve always known that I couldn’t possibly be; there are enough of us here on the planet that I can be damn sure that I’m not the first to do or think anything. Just yesterday I came upon the blog of a fellow who describes himself as a constantly depressed ‘type’. And for him, as it is for me, it isn’t that he’s unable to laugh or to enjoy life, it’s just that he always starts from a melancholic place. That’s just the way he’s always been. It relieved me to hear someone else talking like this. Someone else for whom good cheer and positivity must be cultivated. When I read his ‘about’ page, my first thought was finally. Finally someone else who isn’t always up, who isn’t wired to see a glass half full. Someone who knows better, and has to work go get there. I honestly do feel it’s easier for some than others. Me, I look at my hoarder, depressed and alcoholic brother and I realize there’s a physiological component to my temperament as well. Aside from the general ill-ease I feel, there’s always the threat of panic attacks – or at least acute pre-panic episodes. My panic attacks may be helped along by certain triggers, but at the end of the day, they are physical events over which I simply do not have the sort of control I might wish. People may think it’s a way in which to shirk responsibility for oneself, but it’s not so. That being said, there are some things I can do to help keep myself aloft as well as to keep the panic events to a minimum, and they’re on the list. Even if I can’t control the panic thing entirely, it’s true that I need to take more action. And I think of the things I mean to do about it as I lay in bed each night, spinning.

“You know why you’re having panic attacks these days” my new friend miChelle said with complete confidence. “It’s because you’re not meditating”. I knew that she was, in part, correct. I also knew that I wasn’t exercising in any way, and that contributed. So did drinking alcohol daily. The challenge about drinking is just as it was for me with smoking; you’re always chasing that buzz, that wonderful, warm and ‘hopeful’ feeling, but it’s gone almost as soon as you feel it. It’s elusive, and demands you chase it down the hole. But in the end, it just makes it even harder to sleep, adds more useless calories to your day, and leaves you with a fuzzy headache the next morning. It helps to know that the Studio’s hump is behind me now, and so too are my taxes (which I got done late this year!) so I can afford to turn more of my attention to figuring out a game plan for living better. At least I don’t smoke anymore. That God for that. 

Another spin cycle starts… People who know me personally might think of me as energetic, positive and outgoing, and on the outside, yeah, I am. But that’s not how my soul feels… Daily, sometimes even hourly I think of the horror that fellow humans live with; the poverty, the disabilities, the indignities, the physical torture at the hands of other humans. I’m always aware that unspeakable pain and fear exist on the planet at this very moment. I also realize that because I’m powerless to change anything other than my small sphere of influence; fretting over this stuff is wasted mental and spiritual energy. So instead I take moments throughout the day to send my love and peace to these people. Even those back through history. I try to comfort them across time and space, because I feel for them. Remembering them should help me to understand how fortunate I am, but somehow, I can’t get it as I know I should. Why am I so deeply bothered by other people’s traumas? Why do I feel as if I myself might also be only steps away from a horrible fate? The view outside my window is lovely, my child is thriving, and so far, I’m not in pain or acute distress. So far. Man, what is with me? I feel like Woody Allen here.

There are times when I think if I only had a partner, things would be so much easier. Someone to say ‘don’t worry, I got the dishes, you go and update the website.’ Or someone to make supper, go shopping, run into town… But then I scold myself. I know damn well that while it might be nice to have a dear friend and peer in my camp (and having someone who actually made decent money in the household would undoubtedly lift an enormous burden) I’m not sure it would fix everything. In fact, it’d be one more person who needed a piece of me. And the way I feel about life these days – I just don’t have the energy for that. 

I can tame the spin a bit by getting it down on paper. Seeing the lists helps. And I’ve collected half a dozen small spiral notebooks in which nearly every item has a line through it. Lest I lose myself in despair I must remember that the Studio is open for business and populated each week (albeit by only a couple dozen people), and one year ago the place was gutted and barren. So I got that going for me. Which is nice. (Yes, my in-the-know friends. Caddyshack.)

Elihu and I walked in the woods just down the road and visited the beaver pond this afternoon. Years ago there was no trail; my mother gave us the directions she’d used in those days – we were to head east until we came upon Sessleman creek, at which we should take a right, following it until the waterfall at the pond’s head. (Elizabeth Sessleman, of the family for whom the creek was named, married Ralph Ellsworth and they built the home in which we now live.) As we entered the property we met a fellow walking two big dogs, and he told us to follow the trail, crossing the bridge and continuing on to the lookout. I expressed my surprise at the infrastructure, and he told me that the property had been donated to Saratoga PLAN, a local land conservation group. Martha had given her land to them too. While it was ultimately good news, it did kinda sadden me that the old days of finding one’s way through the woods without benefit of a trail were gone. But the trek didn’t disappoint, and in fact my previously cranky pre-teen enjoyed himself thoroughly. We were met with cairns everywhere, and there were even Tibetan prayer flags hung at the entrance to the lookout, which perched over the waterfall at the creek’s end – the creek which my mother had followed years ago on foot. 

In the woods, all my panic-related thoughts eased. The scent of a damp forest in continual, soft decay restored us both. Penny-sized flecks of mirror-like mica peeked out from beneath the moss, and the roots of huge trees hugged giant boulders, coaxing them gently out of the ground in super slow motion. The trail had some pretty elevation changes throughout, with large ledges of exposed rock marking the topography. We found our way down to the water’s edge and although we found none, we kept on the lookout for frogs.  Elihu wove me a bracelet from sedge grass and noted that he really was a Waldorf kid. ! We followed a small penninsua out into the water and had a fine time exploring. As the sun began to dip down below the treetops, we turned and followed the trail loop back to the road.

Now we’re home. It’s been just about as fine a fall day as one could ever have, and we’re pleasantly tired, holed up in my bedroom and waiting for the electric space heater to take the chill off. I feel better, both for having moved in the fresh air, and for having had the chance to express a little of my inner world to the outer one, so very far from the confines of my tiny room. For now my head is clean, and even though my house might not be the same, I feel fairly content. I’m in my favorite chair, and Elihu is here beside me in my big bed, cozy and playing a game on his Ipad. Every now and then he tells me he loves me. He asks if I’m happy, and I tell him that I am. It feels good to be home, healthy and safe. So for now, I’m going to try not to worry about anything at all. Because I know very well that the world spins just fine without me.

IMG_0035Not far into the woods we came upon Sessleman Creek. The bridge is fairly new.

IMG_0039It flows pretty well here, glad there was a bridge to cross it.

IMG_0223A ridge of rock pokes out from the forest floor and has me imagining a sleek, mid-century home atop it…

IMG_0079After a short walk we come to our destination, the big pond formed by beaver dams.

IMG_0075We’re on a ridge about 30 feet above the expanse of water, but Elihu can’t see anything but the closest trees. He gets that there’s some ‘white’ out there, but that’s it. I promise him that when we get home I’ll show him the pics of the water on the computer. This kind of stuff always breaks my heart, but I don’t dwell on it – especially not in front of him – because it’s simply how things are.

IMG_0052Next comes the bridge over the waterfall. Not long ago this bridge wasn’t here either.

IMG_0092Looking back at the waterfall bridge. We found dozens of small cairns throughout this part of the trail, so I left one too. It’s at the bottom of the pic, silhouetted against the water.

IMG_0130The forest floor, a gorgeous tapestry.

IMG_0147Mica glowed like diamonds everywhere. They looked beautiful to Elihu too. Thankfully the up-close world is visible and vibrant to him.

IMG_0178Down at the surface of the beaver flow.

IMG_0188The view back at the place from which we came; it hardly looks like any elevation at all, and yet the bridge and waterfall are mid-way to the tops of the trees, in the center of this pic. (I felt the elevation on the walk back up!)

IMG_0127Now Elihu can finally see the open area, and he gets how big it is.

IMG_0181The enticing shoreline of the other side.

IMG_0193Contrast – the visual component Elihu appreciates best of all.

IMG_0216Cairns on the trail back.

IMG_0224Up, up and out of the woods.

IMG_0235At the trail’s head Elihu leaps from boulder to boulder. Sometimes it really is hard to believe he’s legally blind. !

IMG_0268He’s hardly stopped running all afternoon. We get home and what does he do? Goes straight to the pond to look for frogs.

IMG_0303Me, I head inside to start supper. This is a view I enjoy very much. I love an excursion, but oh how I love to be home. Like the woods, it’s one place where the world doesn’t always spin so fast.


Bag O Dad October 9, 2015

My father’s ashes have resided on North Broadway in Saratoga Springs for nearly two years now. We pass the funeral home each morning as we drive to school. Some mornings we wave and say hello to grandpa, sometimes we call out to him, letting him know that we haven’t forgotten, and we’ll come to get him soon… but most days we do forget. In our minds, that historic mansion on North Broadway is just where dad lives now. Among the tony, gentile and wealthy folk he so often joked about. He had liked to speak in different accents, and would happily interject “I weesh to be reech” into conversations – he even said it again just a few days before he died, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Many were the times he would tell us how life would look for a gentleman of such means; he made mock instructions to his imagined staff, told us how he’d lunch with Marylou or take tea on the veranda. For as long as I can remember, he would make good fun of the money’d folk and their upscale habits, but deep down, I don’t think dad would have minded one bit if such fortune were to have befallen him. Had he the money to express himself fully in this world, I have no doubt he would have surrounded himself with the finest of everything (most notably wine and double-manual harpsichords.)

We’ve always liked knowing he was there, quietly resting on a shelf in the fine home. It feels familiar now, to know that dad “lives on North Broadway”. As I said to the funeral director on the phone today – when I finally felt it was time to see if dad hadn’t overstayed his welcome – that it had been dad’s pleasure to have lived across the street from the Riggis, he generously offered that it instead was the Riggis who were honored to have had him as their neighbor. The Riggi’s enormous home – one which they themselves like to call the ‘Palazzo Riggi’ – has become something of a tourist destination, especially on Halloween. Readers may recall that Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi herself last year for his unique costume. While I posed with the Riggis and my son for a quick selfie, I noticed the Burke Funeral home mansion just behind the camera, and in that second the clash of realities seemed surreal. I said a quiet hello to him as we left the decadent celebration, and once again I wondered how long it would take for me to face the idea that dad was now no more than a shoebox of dust. It still didn’t feel real. Telling ourselves that dad was there somehow offered me some comfort. But the idea of actually seeing – and holding – the small box of his remains felt too real. Last fall I still wasn’t ready. God bless those folks at the funeral home. They’d never once called to tell us to come and pick him up. In fact, the funeral director had even said, shortly after dad’s death, that there was no hurry. I’m not sure most funeral homes are so lax. Don’t know, but I’d like to believe that we’ve been given some good, old-fashioned small-town care here. Yeah, it’s felt nice to know dad was there, taken care of and safe. I feel silly saying that, but there it is.

And here we are. I think we Conants are ready. Tomorrow would have been mom and dad’s 56th wedding anniversary. They married on 10/10 in Manhattan’s upper East side on a fine fall day. After their service they celebrated at the Harvard Club (a Yale man at the Harvard Club? Shhh…) and as they entered the limousine to take them away into the night, they received a telegram of congratulations. Can you imagine? There’s a photo of them, somewhere, in the back seat of the car, leaning in to read the message. It was truly an entirely different era. I think it’s just as well my father’s no longer here with us in this modern world; he was an old-school gentleman and scholar. His was a world of typed correspondence and hand-written notes… it was a slower, gentler world; a world of telegrams, paper and ink.

Although my mother doesn’t come out and say it in so many words, I can sense she might be starting to wonder at how things will end for her. I’m sure she wonders how long she’s got. How can you be 80 and not have such thoughts? I know that I, at 52, have come to understand in a much more profound and real way just how limited our lives are. As comfortable as we humans may have become at ignoring our ultimate fate, there still comes a moment or two when the idea finally gets your attention. I tell ya, knowing that in the next couple of hours I’ll be putting a box with what’s left of my dad’s body into the back seat of my CRV is a little surreal. And it makes this whole idea of actually dying begin to feel very possible. ! Look, I know this is business as usual; all of us deal with death. And at some point in many people’s lives they’ll be faced with the receipt of a loved one in powdered form; in a box, a bag, or if the comedy of life insists, all over the kitchen floor. (I was greatly relieved when Danny told me that the cremains were inside a bag which was then inside a box. !) I shouldn’t be making this such a big deal. But when it’s your first time, when it’s your deal, it is big. I do feel I’m readier for it than I was a year ago, but to be honest, my heart begins to race at the thought of holding dad’s remains. This morning I was missing my father deeply. Maybe having what’s left of him back home again will help soften that. And then again, maybe not.


The experience of ‘picking dad up’ was made easier by the good-humored funeral director who welcomed us inside and never let up with amusing anecdotes and corny jokes. It wasn’t a show meant to distract – it was this fellow’s genuine personality. He recounted stories about terrifying nuns at Catholic school in his youth, and allowed Elihu his own boisterous expression as he bounded through the halls and jumped down half the staircase on our way out.

We then took dad out to lunch before heading back to mom’s. We hadn’t prepared her for his return, but in that I’d mentioned it recently, I suppose it wasn’t such a surprise. Mom doesn’t let on much of her inner feelings, and while she didn’t cry, I think I saw her eyes moisten just a bit. I’m glad that dad is home again, on this, the eve of their 56th wedding anniversary. Very likely he’s still somehow nearby, smiling and wishing his love upon us all, hoping that we can still feel his presence, and wishing very dearly that we should not be so sad… After all, this is a family of some deep-seated good humor, and we’re also pretty good about getting back to the simple things in life, which at the end of the day, are the reasons we’re all still hanging around.

IMG_0146A fine, rainy fall day as we head out.

IMG_0155Nostalgic for the way things used to be, I swing by Martha’s on the way to town. Still can’t believe she’s gone, too.

IMG_0166One year ago this week Saratoga’s Banjo Man, Cecil Myrie died. I see the Jamaican flag on Broadway and it reminds me… It was purely by coincidence that the Jamaican flag had been hung above Cecil’s makeshift memorial last year. Now it’s hanging at the other end of the strip. (We’ll be planting a memorial tree for him soon. Took a year to pull off!)

IMG_0179The Burke Funeral Home. One of the famous North Broadway mansions of Saratoga Springs.

IMG_0186Ok, this seems quite unexpected and unrelated… But our host insisted on showing us this very fancy, custom shower from the ’30s. Water came in at ya from all directions. Turns out mom and dad had one very much like it in their first NYC apartment on W 57th. And why shouldn’t it have had the finest appointments? “It was a very high class building” she reminded me, citing neighbors like Jose Ferrer, only a few doors down…

IMG_0189Elihu jokes around a bit with Nancy. She is, as my mother (also named Nancy) would say, “a good egg”.

IMG_0188So this is it. Sheesh. No pomp or ceremony. Tom just finds our box in the pile of other folks waiting to go home too.

IMG_0196I take a quick pic of the Palazzo Riggi from the second floor window.

IMG_0202Elihu’s like a ghost as he runs to the door, while I and my host (whose hand is in the far right) are making a much more measured and middle-aged descent down the carpeted staircase.

IMG_0203 (2)Finally, here we are. They even gave me a carryout bag. ! Oy. Bob in a bag. ! I do like the way it matches the mums, I suppose. !?!

IMG_0214Now this is the life to which my father could have grown accustomed with little effort. This fine Saratoga home belongs to the Wait family, the matriarch of which was once a board member for dad’s Festival of Baroque Music.

IMG_0234We’re at the Olde Bryan Inn. It’s a cozy place, perfect for a rainy afternoon lunch with dad.

IMG_0218Hmm, do ya think anyone suspects dear old dad is sitting right beside me??

IMG_0222Ah well, here’s to you, dad. Miss you.

IMG_0258We didn’t give mom much warning, but she seems ok. As she gives dads remains a heft, she says that she misses Annie (her cat who died two weeks ago today) a lot too – letting on that she must also be missing her husband. She never says so, that’s not her way. But she’s gotta be missing him, and especially today, on the eve of their anniversary.

IMG_0271She assesses the box, and the accompanying note of verification. (Dad’s correct date of death was December 27th, but as we couldn’t get anyone to formally pronounce him dead until the 28th – he died shortly before midnight – it will forever be legally recognized, albeit incorrectly, as the day he was legally pronounced dead. Oh well. We know.)

IMG_0302Within moments, it’s life as usual. The box sits in and among all the other day-to-day crap and clutter. Mom goes back to unpacking her groceries, and Elihu’s got his nose in a book on amphibians.

IMG_0307A closer look at the newly discovered book given to him by grandma.

IMG_0310And shortly thereafter, a live specimen in hand.

IMG_0324You’re a good-looking creature, little one. Please hunker down safely before winter, won’t you? You are one of the simple joys that keeps us going here on this sad, funny, ridiculous, heartbreaking and incredibly challenging planet. Good night frog, good night to all. And welcome back, dad. I know it’s not really you there in that box, but still.

It’s nice to have you home.


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