The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Sow Busy October 22, 2016

Life is really, really busy. Isn’t it? And recently I’ve come to understand that it certainly aint just me. In fact, I have a feeling my life doesn’t come close to those with whom I rub elbows each day. But still, I’m busier than I’m entirely comfortable with being (if only being busy equalled money coming in rather than money going out, I might actually welcome it!). With the addition of starting a small (very small) business on top of the single mom thing (3 meals a day folks, sometimes more – from shopping to prep to cleanup) to playing tuba police, to de-worming and de-miting some 30 poultry by hand daily to trying to put the clean laundry away – never mind the hour or so a day I spend in community with my far-flung friends on Facebook (I don’t consider it a waste; it’s my connection to old friends. Some days yes, it can be a pure waste of time, but mostly it’s not) and oh, yeah, that’s right, teaching piano lessons (that’s the only ‘real’ thing I do!) I find that when I lay down at night exhausted, I can’t sleep for all the to-do lists competing for my attention. Yes, I write em all down. And no, I don’t do social media or tv (what tv?) before bed. And yes, I read books. But still…

I can’t say things aren’t going well. Cuz they are. Well, better, at least. This fall has seen the deaths of several friends, and while I didn’t know any of them very well, I had quickly grown very fond of them. Their permanent absences in my life make me more keenly aware that I actually do have work to do here on this planet, and when I remember that the possibility does exist that I might follow them to that other plane without much warning or time to prepare, I double down on my efforts to accomplish those things yet before me on my ‘real’ to-do list. As in ‘really’ doing something of good for my fellow anguished, over-busied humans. Busy though I may be, I gotta keep remembering the light at the end of the tunnel.

And I do actually mean light. I mean to bring a little light to the world; music, art and the delight of having created either or both – and the community and sense of belonging that those things in turn help to grow. In my short time on this earth I wish to bring people together, I wish to see them supporting each other, being witnesses to each others pain as well as their joy. These words look a bit trite when I see them on paper, but it’s true. I just want to have a life party. Like my mother, the consummate host, I just want to offer people the venue in which to come together. Some may need the community of movement, of healing arts, others need to sing, to play an instrument, others find their peace learning how to paint an image in their mind’s eye. (Adding in some food and wine to the mix couldn’t hurt, either.) Also, I’d like to know that this entity will continue to live after I’m gone. So there’s a real goal ahead. There’s just so much to do in order to make the crudest, simplest versions of those dreams come to life. And for the most part, it’s still just one woman behind the curtain.

But that’s changing. Recently I’ve begun to actively reach out and seek a little help. I do however still suffer from the routine handicap of not having enough money. I can barely feed my teenage boy much less fill in the expenses of the Studio.  (All I can say on that front is thank you friends, and thank you mom.) When Elihu leaves town for a week here and there to visit his dad, I relish the dramatically lower food bills. Food stamps are never enough. I pad our menu with a slightly healthier diet of ramen noodles (add an assortment of chopped raw vegetables, stir an egg into the hot broth, add lemon juice or spicy asian oil), I make the most out of our flock and fill my kid up with a half a dozen eggs every morning, yet he’s a growing boy, hard-pressed to weigh in at 80 pounds and is always ready to eat. Food is probably the least of my financial worries though. I’ve learned some tricks, and can make a little go a long way. It’s a bit harder to make heating oil last. Thank the gods that this year has been quite warm so far; I’ve only had to rumble the old furnace to life a handful of times. Back in our morning’s ritual is making sure the thermostats are pulled down so we don’t wast precious fuel during the daytimes. At a balmy 65 degrees today, so far, so good.

The Studio has finally begun to take on a life of its own in some ways. I’ve been agreeing to participate in every manner of community event that comes my way in an effort to meet people – and finally get out in the world. Elihu is 13 now, and I can leave him alone with some confidence that if hungry, he can find something, and if bored, he has instruments to practice, books to read and homework to finish. It hasn’t been ideal, but I’ve left him home alone for great swaths of time lately – and this past week, seven days in a row! No matter how capable a kid I’ve raised, I don’t feel great about that. But I assure him this time spent away is all an investment in the Studio. He’s smart, he gets that, and he’s a good person too; he never makes me feel bad about it for a second. I know he misses me because bedtimes in these recent days have reverted a bit in their feel… He beseeches me to stay longer, to just sit with him. He holds my hands (we’re not a touchy family mostly at Elihu’s insistence – that’s one thing I still miss about being married; the quick, familiar pats, hugs and flyby smooches) and he touches my face. With great mirth and joking he pulls at the extra chin fat I now carry around, which although slightly demoralizing, becomes quite hilarious. We laugh together again, we sit in each other’s company. We enjoy our rare, quiet moment together. Because tomorrow will be here soon, and the tornado of life will swallow us up again.

We fairly live for Saturdays at this point. Tomorrow, I was really looking forward to going through my kitchen and tidying it up a bit. That, however, will not be happening. My main computer has been so violently assaulted from the outside world that it no longer even opens to the malevolent Bing page (as it had for months – apparently I was already being attacked at that point) and so, without being able to establish connection whatsoever with the outside world – not to download assistive programs, not to ask a friend’s help, nothing – it looks like I’ll have to pull apart my office and bring the tower in to some computer repair joint, and in so doing, use up my precious one day off. Sorry kid, it’s a book and the back seat of the car for you, I fear. That or a good solid afternoon at the tuba. Or both. God bless my ancient laptop and that beautiful horn.

Good timing though. I just made some updates to the Studio’s site before my computer got all wonky. They’re rudimentary – hell, the whole thing is rudimentary and not exactly how I’d prefer to represent the place, but still. It’s a start. It’s what I’ve been able to pull together. I’m learning though. I still can’t figure out how to put a border around a box of text without having to choose a new color for the inside of the box (why doesn’t it default to the background color??) but these, and other small nuisances are just that, and before a year’s time I hope to have them figured out. It just takes time. But therein lies the rub. Everything takes time. !!

A woman I’d known from Chicago came to visit last weekend. As life would have it, her parents just happen to be the landlords for my new bestie in town. A small world coincidence that still amazes all of us. She swept into town for a couple of days, we enjoyed a night out and an afternoon over salad, she visited my home and the Studio (at which her parents once attended concerts of my father’s back in his day) and she gave me some good ideas on how to economize my time. Good input from the outside world. I’m trying to maximize the fruits of my labor, honest I am. It’s just that when you’re one woman, you can only do so much. Hence my recent informal (but ball-busting) campaign to ‘get out’ and meet people. The way I figure it, I’m planting seeds at this time in my life. All of it: raising the kid, starting the Studio, meeting new friends, volunteering to help others, even saying yes to lunch dates (a new one in my world!). All of this busy-ness is the sowing of a new garden. When I realize that I too might be struck with a blood cancer, a terminal illness or an unforeseen accident, I am doubly resolved to sow this garden (and also to write my silly passwords down!). I feel a new urgency to save my hundreds of blog posts, archive my father’s papers and memorabilia, learn where my grandmother is buried and get my kid off to college…

There is nothing I enjoy more than just sitting on the front stoop with a cup of coffee, watching my chickens. There really isn’t time for that these days, but I know that if I can get this garden started, that time will come again. So it’s back to busy. If I can get back to sleep first, that is. !


Here, friends, take a peek at what’s been consuming me for the past three years...We’re finally up and running. Whew! It really does feel good.

And here’s our Facebook page, which will give you lots more photos of the place. Woo hoo! Dare I ask you to “Like” it? Yes, I do! Please – like us!




Slaying the Dragon October 10, 2016


Around this time of year my son’s school celebrates an event they call Michaelmas. During the course of the day the children, from first through eighth grade, (with the eighth graders acting as leaders) must go on quests throughout the nearby woods, gathering clues, assembling objects, traversing obstacles and learning to work together toward a shared goal. As they emerge from the woods, the leaders carry a staff from which flies a colored banner for each of the challenges they met. When all the students finally converge at the shelter there is a large, outdoor enactment of St. Michael (pronounced “my-ky-EL”) slaying a great dragon. The action carries the metaphor of courage, of surmounting obstacles and facing down fear. A large feast of vegetable soup and bread – made by the older high school students – awaits them at the end of their full day.

In the days of old, this autumnal season of gleaning and preparation for the long, cold months ahead required courage, planning, and a supportive community. All of those elements are represented once a year in this magical and transformative day. This year, my son Elihu was a leader. This year was also the very first Michaelmas for which I was not present: I no longer work at the Waldorf School, and so as a parent and not an employee of the school, I was not allowed to participate. Rather, I had to drop off my child, knowing that this day would be different from all those before. He was on his own now. So too was I. As I watched my coonskin-capped son disappear down the wooded path, I turned my car for home, my own dragons waiting there to meet me.

Those who’ve read this blog from time-to-time will be aware that I have endeavored to start a small business. It’s a community art center which still awaits its proper non-profit status from the IRS, however I have been advised by my attorney and my accountant that I should continue to operate as if I were already a true 501 (c)(3) corporation while I wait for the determination. And so that’s what I’m doing. There’s been a board meeting, there have been open houses, art classes, concerts, jam sessions, workshops, seminars, yoga classes, meditation circles, community gatherings – bills have been paid and the electric hasn’t been cutoff yet. (Well, ok, once it was. But it was one of those ‘crossed in the mail’ deals. It was restored within hours.) It’s beginning to look like it might just work. I’ve known for years that it was my fate, but my stomach was queasy at the notion. I, after all, have spent my 53 years on this globe deftly avoiding anything that resembles a ‘day job’. And here I am, formally still unemployed, and yet with a great job before me.

And until a few hours ago, it looked as if the path might be getting a little clearer. A local historic folk music venue had planned on holding all of their concerts throughout the next two months at the Studio while their venue underwent a renovation, however I am deeply sad to report that today I learned it wasn’t going to happen. And so, after feeling the greatest relief I have felt in a very long time at the prospect of two months solidly booked, I am back in the thick of the woods, feeling the dread once again begin to creep in around me. This is a time in which I need to steel myself against my own dragons. I need to raise my own staff now and win some banners of my own. How this will happen I still don’t know. I feel very much as if I am off the path and merely guessing at my way. All I can tell myself at this point in my quest is to keep putting one foot in front of the other…

This past year I’ve spent a good deal of time in my office; at my desk, organizing, planning, filing, (and stalling) – and eating. The weight loss I enjoyed a year ago is history. I’ve accomplished a lot, yes, but in some ways I’ve taken some steps backward. My hands are much thicker with arthritis than they used to be, and my old broken neck injury is manifesting in some new tension and discomfort. Yeah, things are becoming more challenging than they used to be, and it takes more energy and resolve than I remember to tackle this crap. But this is the terrain I’ve been warned about by friends a decade or two ahead of me on the path. The aging thing in of itself is a quest that requires courage and tenacity. And then there’s the starting of a new business. For me, a musician and free spirit by nature, it’s not something that comes with ease. I’m willing to work at it, but it’s still a little more daunting in real life than I’d imagined.

Guess it’s time to slay a few dragons….



Goodbye Nel September 15, 2016

To read all of Nelly’s poetry, you can visit


My former mother-in-law probably never really liked me. But I suppose, after being family for over two decades, she had likely come to love me in some way. I know that I can say the same of her. She was never terribly kind to me, but it didn’t hurt me as much as it might have, because I realized she had come from a different world. Hers was a culture in which women served their men, a culture in which her power lay in her role as daughter, sister, mother and wife. Catholic by birth, spiritual by nature and married to a Muslim man for over fifty years, she was, to say the very least, a mixed bag. She was never entirely comfortable with the fact that I had my own life, that I had my own pursuits, and most of all, that I didn’t give it all up in service to my husband.

Nelly was born in Chile in the early ’30s, raised in Peru (where her father oversaw the crews that cut into the dense jungle to build roads – something akin to a culture of the Wild, Wild West in America) and lived her adult life in the Midwest, starting her American adventure in Ohio, then moving to Chicago. My ex-husband was her only son. The trio was close, and despite my being married into the family, I never made it into the inner sanctum. The group was rife with personal dysfunction, yet in spite of this, they each enjoyed a good deal of financial and professional success. I marveled at Nelly over the years; how she could be so savvy with some things, so progressive in her spiritual beliefs, and at the end of the day she didn’t really have any close or lasting relationships, nor did she really seem to engage deeply with anyone outside her small family. She’d have short, intense friendships that would burn out when she, clueless to the needs and expectations of her companions, would demand too much of them or leave them worn out. Nelly lived in her own world, and she created it the way she wanted it. She, a woman who dyed her hair fire-engine red using her husband’s Congo red laboratory stain, was indisputably one-of-a-kind. She drove me nuts, but I do owe her a debt of gratitude for helping to create a major shift in my life and my understanding of the world.

Nelly had been a designer and a very skilled dressmaker in her early years, and she always had an artistic and musical sense. She wrote poems, she sang, she painted. As she lay in her bed this past year, Fareed played guitar for her, Riaz played recordings and delighted as she hummed along, and Elihu recalls reading her poems aloud. Shortly after she died yesterday in the early morning, peacefully in her sleep, Fareed picked up her book of poems and it fell open to this page…

The Harbor

Swiftly the winter days

Rinse their glum

At the harbor

Spring will be here soon

In bloom


Drunk in love

With loving

Stringing metaphors


I am


Silvery water

Turns into mirror

Shining holds the image

Of the sky


Anticipating sweetness

I see the seagulls

Twirling and dancing



The lone boat glides

With the lone rower

Across the silky waters

Good bye…



August Ends August 26, 2016

Elihu returned home from his father’s a couple of days ago – and with great fanfare, as he came bearing guests. I’d thought lice were for other people’s kids, but apparently not. I knew that in greeting a 13-year-old boy at the airport there’d be no huge embrace, that it would be mellow, but our new predicament absolutely assured him no such embarrassment would take place. Instead, we smiled, kinda high-fived and giggled our way to the escalators with our little secret. When we arrived home he paused in the doorway. “I guess I have been gone a long time, cuz I can smell the house now. And you’re right. It smells old.” I don’t mind – heck, living in it I hardly notice it anymore, but I do remember a time back in our first days here when I thought the joint smelled like a cross between your ancient aunt’s split level and a summer camp. A little paint and tlc has redeemed us just a little, but in the end, it is what it is. Like its owner, it is decidedly middle-aged and beginning to feel it.

So much has happened since Elihu has been gone. It’s hard to know where to start, but the essence of my summer experience can be distilled by saying that milestones have finally been reached. It kinda breaks my heart that I let my weight creep up as I busied myself ticking crap off the eternal to-do list, however I take some solace in knowing that so much is behind me, and so much has been accomplished. My son’s pants are now short and his hair is long. All is as it should be.

At the moment Elihu and I are suffering through summer colds and a few final lice treatments. We’re hunkered down in the cool of the cellar after a nice afternoon in the sun, he at the downstairs tv playing Mario, me at the computer sorting through hundreds of photos and wondering if I should post any – or all of em. Ultimately there are so many sweet moments lost to the camera, and often the images I do have aren’t of the greatest quality. No matter, they convey the essence of our summer and help us to remember how August came to a close in the year 2016.

the whole gangThe Studio has come back to life this summer, and that, of course, is huge.

IMG_4937For just a week or two each year, the heat and humidity threaten my sanity.

IMG_4933Finally dealing with some foot issues. Lots of issues in fact seem to coming to the fore at this time in my life. !

IMG_4446My old friend Dina – whom I’ve known since I was very young – has been proactive about staying in touch and visiting. She, her boys and furry dog flew in from Seattle and we met at a local art museum.

IMG_4487Mom came too – she and dad used to enjoy coming to the Clark.

IMG_4468Fancy shmancy.

IMG_4598On the way home we stop at a Stewarts – the local version of a 7-11. We ponder the after-market stickers on our drinks which read “produced with genetic engineering.’ ! ?

IMG_4614Serendipity arranged for my favorite chicken art gallery to be right next door.

IMG_1993Dan and I are now enjoying a fairly regular rehearsal schedule. Man, it sure is nice to have my own space in which to keep gear set up and ready to go.

IMG_1996Dan just had this guitar made for him. His thing is playing a 7 string, which gives him some great opportunities to play nice bass lines underneath. This solid body Tele style is new to him and so far, so good.

IMG_2029This doe stuck around for a long time, munching away as we played.

IMG_2054Glamorous it aint, but hey, it’s a gig. Can’t say a sister aint tryin.

farmers marketThis may not be so glamorous either, but it’s my first piano single job since before my son was born. That sure took a minute now, didn’t it? It was hot, sweaty, rainy – and my tent leaked – but it was a success in my book.

IMG_5033…and that gig lead to this one. Vacation Bible School. Say what? A unique job to be sure.

IMG_5017The tiny, one-room church. No frills here!

IMG_4921Miss Shirley tells the gang about miracles – the theme for the week’s camp. She blew a referee whistle to get the kids’ attention before marching them into the church as I played “Onward Christian Soldiers”. Shirley don’t mess around.

IMG_5020If you’re on your way to Heaven, clap your hands…

IMG_5279The schoolhouse on top of the hill, just above the old church.

IMG_5231Lovely tall windows…IMG_5235…looking out onto ancient playground equipment. Seriously, this looks like fun to me!

IMG_5241I visited the church cemetery – this is the famous Allen family here. There’s a road up the mountainside – a dead end – on which every single family is an Allen. You do the math.!

IMG_5243Infant grave.

IMG_5272And many more of the same. These were kinda creepy, handmade and rather crude. But well-tended and well-remembered.

IMG_5308Much of the congregation was made of Allens, but not this little spitfire – this guy is Shirley’s great-grandson.

IMG_5294They were all very nice and welcoming, but a little too mainstream Christian for me.

lakeThe church owns this beach on the great Sacandaga Lake.

IMG_5310And on the way home I saw lovely views of this man-made lake.

IMG_2091Back at the Hillhouse I enjoy my own watery retreat.

IMG_5423One day I hopped in the car and headed out to Saratoga Lake cuz I so missed water. I noticed a happy group at the far table, and it turned out I knew a couple of the folks there – they were Waldorf peeps!

IMG_5431Who could believe that I’d meet a woman who grew up in Islamabad, Pakistan here in Saratoga? Crazy world.

IMG_5418It’s racing season.

IMG_5421The cars, if nothing else, tell us so.

IMG_5171Back at home, I enjoy a majestic summer sky. The greens of the trees are starting to look tired, and although the sun is still hot in the middle of day, the nights are cool and there’s a subtle feeling of change blowing in around us. But what a good summer it’s been. Lots of new experiences, visits with friends and nature all around.


And… Scene August 14, 2016

It’s taken me thirteen years to get back on the horse. Until day before yesterday, I hadn’t played piano and sung since before my son was born. Even so, regular readers and friends will know that the past decade has not been idly spent; I have learned so much and come so far. And it’s not as if I haven’t played piano over the past years, I’ve done plenty of that. Accompanying kids’ plays, choruses, dance classes, talent shows (and tonight you can add something new to my resume: Vacation Bible Camp. Oy!). It’s just the solo thing has been elusive. And I’m not kidding myself to think that playing one little date at a farmer’s market changes everything, and yet somehow, symbolically, it does. Plus I recently learned that the songs I enjoy playing (which heretofore I’d been labelling my “Guilty Pleasures Book”, sounding way too much like a condom ad for my comfort) are actually part of an identified genre. It’s called Yacht Rock. Those who know me from my ‘past’ life may know that I have crewed on boats, spent lots of time sailing, and yearn for the water like nothing else. Finally, something that marries my love of Pablo Cruise with the sea….

This past month I’ve also performed as a jazz singer for the first time in a long while. I’d been searching for a chord-melody style guitarist for years now, without much luck, and finally found my new pal Dan. Ok, not a glamorous start to our career perhaps, but a nursing home job is better than nothing. Plus he’s hipped me to a couple new tunes, some even with verses that were new to me – and that’s always like finding treasure. We rehearse once a week (in the Studio! Nice to have a joint of my own in which to work!) which gives us a nice momentum as we work on our book and our arrangements. I had forgotten how much I love to sing, and how natural it feels. As they say in showbiz: it’s good to be back. !

So that metaphoric hump has been traversed. I’ve got my gear, my book, my gameplan. All good. And today marks four years since I quit smoking. Nice. The Studio has a full calendar of rentals, including recording sessions, meditation workshops and weddings. Yes. My bedroom has been painted for the first time since the house was built in 1970. Whew! Elihu has been gone for one month, and I have been busy, busy, busy since he left. It’s a great relief not to have to make food three times a day, not to have to keep track of another person – and not moving that silly tuba every week is pretty nice, too. I’ll welcome the routines when they start up again in a few weeks, but for now I’m using every moment to its fullest and ticking the boxes off as best I can. The list, however, never, ever ends, and I’m realizing (have I not realized this before?) that I must somehow make peace with that reality of life. One project wraps successfully, and then something new pops up. One issue resolves, and another beckons for attention.

Like my weight, for example. It’s a damn good thing I didn’t toss my ‘fat’ clothes a year ago – cuz I’m back in em again. When I’m busy, I tend to eat crappy, carby, salty, fatty foods. Who wants to nibble on kale when filing? A bag of potato chips is so much more motivating! And my reduced-fare membership to the Y ran out, requiring a new application process that will take a month til I get in the system again. So that’s kinda fallen off the map. I have never been this large before in a non-pregnant state, and it’s really, really disheartening. I don’t know how I’ll find it in myself to find the discipline it’ll take to drop twenty-five pounds. I’ve done it half a dozen times before, I know I can do it, but each time it gets just a little harder to summon the oomph.

A week ago we Conants lost our eldest cat, Mina. That too was a major change in life for me. Mina was originally found in a junk yard in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, and she’d come with me from Evanston to Dekalb to Greenfield. She was a tortie with tiny tufts of black whiskers on the top of each ear, and she always had sort of an annoyed look on her face, which was part of her charm, really. She was a sweetie to be sure. Not a big cuddler, but she always purred when you were near. She lived next door with my mother, as Elihu’s allergies are just too dire for us to share space with a cat. But in spite of the different address, she was a part of our life. I really think she resisted leaving us; it took her a long time to die. Finally, after a vigil of several days, and with no energy left to sit, she lay on the island in mom’s kitchen as we talked to her, soothing her as best we could, telling her how much we loved her. She would occasionally meow, something very uncharacteristic of her, and we knew she was in a disquieted state. (Mina also meowed twice just seconds after my father died. You can think what you will, but for me, I knew that she sensed his departure.) Finally, at 6:45, I bent over and looked into her glassy, tired eyes… I told her that she needed to leave us by 7 o’clock. I told her that it was ok, we’d see each other again, and that it would feel like no time had passed, I promised her that everything was honestly going to be fine. I thanked her for being such an important part of our lives, and I told her we loved her. Five minutes later her heart finally stopped. Mina was a living link to my past life. And now that link is finally gone. We buried her under the flowering quince bush, next to Thumbs Up.

The other night I finally spoke to Elihu. I’ve talked to him only three times since he left to be with his father. That’s ok though. He himself says that he’s fine until he talks with me, and then he starts to miss me and get a little homesick, so it’s just easier not to call. Which I totally get. It is hard to switch gears. While he was speaking to me the other night, I went to the piano and tried to match the pitch of his voice…. “You’re trying to figure out how much lower my voice, is, aren’t you?” he asked. I confessed. He laughed. When he left his eyes were level with the bridge of my nose. I almost dread how tall he’ll be when he comes home. Sometimes I wish that just for one moment he could be a five year old boy again, and that I could scoop him up in my arms and hold him tight…

There are just a few things left on my list. Then Elihu returns, and the new school year will start with many new elements; the eighth grade will now reside in the high school building, the Studio is now up and running as a real business, I have a duo partner for my jazz gigs and I’ve finally found a way to brand my solo act. That’s all got me feeling pretty hopeful for the future. Ok, so the arthritis is still an issue, so is my weight, and man I don’t know if I’ll ever get on top of the clerical crap that goes with life. But hey. Things are, from a wider perspective, much better than they’ve been in a long time.

And…. Scene!




Charley My Boy July 25, 2016

Although I got off to a late start last night, I did finally go out. There was a fundraiser for the New York City Ballet at which the bassist for the orchestra was leading a small band, and a local fellow was to be playing with him too – enough of a reason to find a dress that I could still fit into and put something other than work boots on my feet. My evening started off quite Cinderella-like, as I had to scoop the last errant members of the flock into the coop before I could be on my way, and by then the event itself was half over and the sun was already down. Half was better than none, I told myself as I waffled once more on whether or not to even go. My windshield was sticky with sap from the trees (the windshield spritzer motor long gone) and my skin was beginning to dampen in the warm, humid air (the AC was on its way out, too). My glasses were smudged, and I’d forgotten to don any jewelry of merit.  I hesitated another moment in the dark car, pondering. “Fuck it” I finally said out loud, turned on the ancient Marshall Crenshaw CD I had in the player, and started down the long, potholed driveway.

I had indeed missed the height of the evening, which was just as well. Before entering, I hung back and assessed the crowd from behind the glass doors. The fundraisers I see in the locally-published glossy magazines wouldn’t be affairs at which I’d be very comfortable. High fashion, low body fat with a smattering of trout pouts, those scenes were simply not me. But if that population had indeed attended tonight’s fundraiser, they had by this time satisfied their social duties, and had returned home on a Sunday night, retiring to bed at a healthy hour. No, this crowd did not look intimidating. I entered the party and filtered through the thinning – and aging – ranks of the guests, and shortly after I arrived found the leader of the band, whom I’d known pretty much only through Facebook. He was kind to introduce me to someone, and I was off.

My father’s 52-year long early music festival still lives in the memory of many here in town, and although that population is aging, there are still many of them about. I’m always grateful to hear my name received with such warmth and recognition; the Festival of Baroque Music was an important part of the arts scene in Saratoga for half a century, and its leader was not only one of the world’s foremost harpsichordists, but he was a gentleman of great heart and good humor – and it seems everyone who’d ever attended the Festival knew it well. Even shopkeepers to whom my father sold ads for the concert programs (yes he did the work himself!) remember dad with a great fondness. My father was an ambassador for goodness and integrity, and I’m always filled with gratitude when I see the impression he made on people has been so memorable and lasting. Last night his good reputation preceded me on several occasions. I met a handful of folks who’d known about the Studio through dad’s music, so I handed out cards and expressed my hopes that we’d stay in touch.

The charts were fun; the band was doing old-timey jazz, the likes of which I’d performed for years with my much-missed Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago (my God you never know what you got til it’s gone!) and in fact, I almost teared up when I heard Black and Tan Fantasy – and it’s not a tune to make one cry, but it immediately brought back vivid memories of a cherished time in my life that was now long over. My nostalgic jag didn’t last though, I was smiling by the time I heard that familiar final minor cadence. The sax player had a delightfully old-timey sound which was a relief to hear. So often when you bands play old-style charts, the players execute them with a modern sound, which to me, kinda spoils the whole thing. If you’re going for the historic tunes – and historically accurate arrangements – play em the way they did back in the day. Just sayin.

I walked the room, looking at programs, posters and articles from the NYCB of my youth. I recognized images of Suzanne Farrell and Peter Martins, Gelsey Kirkland and Jacques D’Amboise – rockstars of my early teen years whom I’d sometimes followed through town when they made extremely rare appearances at the pedestrian joints on Broadway alongside the commoners. Peter Martins even put a cigarette out on my foot at the Adelphi Hotel once. Or almost.

We were standing in the lobby, enjoying a solo harpsichord performance when Peter took a final drag off his butt, then flicked it to the ground. It landed on my foot, which I retracted at the unexpected sensation of heat, and when I leaned in to assess the damage, I watched as the dancer’s foot slid towards mine in a motion meant to squash the ember on the floor. I withdrew my own foot and watched as Peter Martins finished the task, his eyes never once leaving the musician. He didn’t realize he’d hit my foot with a hot cigarette, and furthermore he had no idea he’d meant to step on my foot, too. Instantly I felt a mixture of horror, indignation – and awe. Because I was, after all, a thirteen year old girl standing two feet from one of the most exquisitely formed men on the planet. I wanted to be miffed, I’d wanted at the very least an apology. But knowing none was coming, the moment had passed and the point was moot, I decided instead to take the little event simply for what it was: a brush with ballet greatness, and an interesting little anecdote for the archives.

After the band finished, I greeted them and proceeded to pester them with a few questions, which I likely posed with too much enthusiasm. It was easy to get excited – this used to be my world after all, and I still miss it dearly, even a decade hence. The poor fellow who played clarinet, I caught him with cases under his arm and eyes on the door when I stopped to grill him a bit longer than I probably should have for some insight into the working music scene. We’ve met before, so thankfully he was patient with my inquiry. I appreciated what he had to tell me, which, as I might’ve guessed, wasn’t too terribly inspiring. There’s work to be had, but getting in seems the trick. And the money that these dates pay really isn’t much better than it was twenty years ago. Nothing terribly new or insightful, but I came away with some sense of possibility, and my mood was good enough to propel me to downtown Saratoga, where I thought I’d see for myself what a Sunday night looked like during racing season.

It was fairly quiet on the street, but to my surprise there was live music in three separate bars. I saw a fellow a little older than me sitting in the window at one place, playing guitar and singing. Good start. I found a place at the bar and began to jot down the tunes he was playing in my tiny notebook. I always do this when I hear musicians doing the cover thing, because I haven’t still quite gotten a handle on the repertoire. I’m convinced that the soft-rock hits of the 70s and 80s should do just fine in a town that caters mostly to a demographic my age or older – but I’ve come to see that there is a wide mix of ages partying side-by-side, and that a working musician pretty much needs a U2 tune or two in her bag of tricks, and much as it might make me want to weep, it seems that “Moondance” cannot be omitted from a night’s entertainment, no matter how many thousands of times it’s been played.

Soon after I sat down, I was joined by a large, well-toned man. He had a trim, slightly red beard, and wore a cap, which I suspected was used to cover a balding pate. He wasn’t a bad looking fellow, and in fact, had he not been so many drinks in, I might’ve given him a bit more consideration. What I did like about this chap was that he possessed a sense of humor. A construction worker and hunter, he had practical life skills. But surpassing any of his merits on paper, he had a certain twinkle in his eye – that lively, animated sort of presence that I don’t come across all that often. I could tell he was clearly a decade younger than me, but owing to his mild inebriation and my low-cut decolletage, this wouldn’t have mattered at all to him, even if he’d known the truth. I stuck around for a few minutes because I found myself getting a kick out of him.

I’ve had a handful of men show interest in me since I’ve lived here, but I simply haven’t felt a similar interest in them. I wouldn’t say that this chap was all that different – only that his humor and that certain spunk he showed held my interest even after my beer was almost gone. In spite of the beers he’d himself already put away, I could still sense the goodness in him – regardless of his ultimate agenda. (With men – and especially the drunk ones – I assume that’s always where they’re hoping it goes…) Before I realized what was happening, he wrapped his enormous arm around my waist and said “Kiss me”. I suppose I coulda ended it right there with a slap or a shove, but he seemed like a big kitten, really, and there was no time to think before Charlie had pulled me in for a smooch. It wasn’t a lingering kiss, nor a romantic one. It was, in fact, more like the generic kiss I offer all those in my life for whom our parting warrants a quick peck. But the point remains, it was a kiss. By a man. And truth be told, dear readers, this is the first man from whom I’ve received a kiss since my husband kissed me goodbye nearly nine years ago. I paused for a moment to drink in the irony: Charlie was the baby that my husband conceived with his then-girlfriend which propelled us into our life here in New York. Charlie is the person responsible for our life in Greenfield. If my ex had asked for a divorce before Charlie’d come around, things might have gone very differently. Many times through the years I’ve whispered to myself “Thank you, Charlie” in a quiet acknowledgement of the critical role he’s played in our new life. And now look, here was a Charlie of my own to keep things moving along! “Charley, my boy” I said under my breath after the kiss, referencing a song I’d sung in that old timey jazz orchestra so long ago. My drunk friend, oblivious to the quote, just winked and smiled.

My relationship with Charlie did in fact end when the drink was over, because as that same time the guitar player was packing up, and I was on a mission. I gave Charlie another quick kiss of my own, before saying goodbye and leaving him no choice but to return to his drink alone. I introduced myself to the musician, and when I gave him my card, he stopped. “Is Robert your father?” he asked, with a tone of great surprise. I told him that he was, and before I could add anything, Jeff went on to tell me how much he’d thought of my father, how he’d sold him a couple of minivans (the Conants always needed extra long vehicles to schlep around harpsichords) and furthermore he went on to say that my dad was the only customer he ever hugged – and more than once! My father, my father. I know what a loving and kind man he was, I do, but I certainly never realized just how much he’d shone that love and kindness into the world. The night had been such a revelation to me, and a comfort, too. My beloved father was still preparing my path, even now.

My new friend and I enjoyed a chat as he wrapped cables and tucked things away, but the information I ultimately sought couldn’t be proffered in the minutes we had left; it was late, after all, and he wanted to get home. Thankfully he offered to get together sometime by the light of day, so we could compare set lists and talk gear (I’m an unintentional Luddite who, over these past 13 years of child-rearing, has become ultimately lost to the culture of Ipads and modern PA systems). My heart was happy and hopeful as I hugged Jeff goodbye. Finally it felt as if there might be a new chapter ahead. Getting up and running as a musician had proved to be a much bigger undertaking than I’d first thought it would be, but at least now I might have a little help.

I moved across the street to a joint that’s known for its live music all year ’round. I saw an act I’d seen before, but this time I stopped to check them out more carefully. They are a duo; the woman plays drums, standing up, and sings too, and the man in his shabby, indie-hip garb and road-worn guitar provides the harmonic component. I couldn’t see bass pedals, and it didn’t seem they were playing with a track, so the source of the bass was a mystery until afterward when I went up to say hi, I learned that the drummer was hitting a pad that triggered the notes. They had a sweet and tidy setup. The merch table was filled with stuff, and to my surprise (for they are primarily a cover band as are all the bands in this town) there was a small line of folks wanting to buy stuff after the show. I watched the woman as she graciously allowed pudgy, drunk tourists to take selfies with her, and I noted how ‘on’ she was; that professional thing that my ex turns on whenever in the presence of another person, that thing that I personally find a major pain in the ass to cultivate. I was never good at schmoozing. Me, I play – and I want to leave. Go have a burrito. Hang with friends, musicians. Not hang with drunk, idiotic bar patrons who wouldn’t turn down a Jimmy Buffet cover. But I watched as this woman did just that. And I thought to myself, ‘man, you are so good at what you do, sister’. It’s one thing to hold together – and front – a two hour show. But it’s entirely another thing to have the post-show hang down. Good for them. I learned a lot, but mostly I learned that this really was not my world.

Drunk Charlie had also made his way across the street to hear the power duo, and I’d seen him in the audience singing along and offering his thumbs up of approval. Now he was by the door, and he had spotted me. He grabbed my hands and started to dance, and damn if this drunk behemoth wasn’t light of foot! He lead me around – the hand on the small of the back, the whole shebang – he turned me, dipped me, pulled me in, rolled me away – he had it. One of the things I’d so enjoyed about my ex husband was that he could dance. I’d made my seventh grade son take social and Latin dancing this past year because I insisted it was one of the reasons I had married his father. That got his attention. “Really?” he had asked me, with an open-jawed look on his face. “Really.” I’d answered. Yeah, I’ll go to weddings just to dance with a guy who knows how – or isn’t afraid to try to appear that he does. If the situation had been a little different, the drinks fewer and the night younger, dancing with Charlie might have held more appeal. I thanked him for the dance, made a slight bow, then dashed for the door before he could insist on anything more….

I grabbed two slices of pepperoni pizza and drove home to enjoy them with my last bottle of Fat Tire. Afterward, I tried a couple of songs on the piano, but it was beginning to sour in the midsummer humidity, and my results were less and less pleasant as a result. My night had come to an end, but what a sweet, enjoyable evening out it had been. And I laughed to myself to think that after all these years, I’d finally been kissed. Ha! Thanks, Charley, my boy.


Future Field July 22, 2016

The days are long, but the years are short.

These aren’t my words, but I’ll be citing them for a long time to come. The mother of a piano student and I were marveling over the way in which time seems to speed up once your children hit a certain age, and without pause she offered this lovely, succinct sentiment. To hear it put so correctly, so simply, it gave my heart a bit of relief. It felt good to identify the phenomenon so easily. Because it is absolutely so true. You hear phrases like these in your younger years and think, ‘yeah, I suppose that makes sense’, but until you’re there, you just can’t fully get it. Now that I’m arriving here myself, man do I get it.

Those days and nights of sippy cups and car seats, naptimes and baths – the stuff that seems to go on and on without respite – all of that stuff comes to an end before you’re fully aware that it has… And then, in what seems like only a few more minutes, you wake up to the reality one day that your child simply doesn’t need you as they once did. But that’s just the beginning. Then the landscape continues to change in new and unfamiliar ways… Your child is almost directly at eye level with you now, and it won’t be long… That mysterious change takes place at some point in adolescence when the child takes on a different look; the very essence of the young child has somehow disappeared, magically morphing into a young adult.

What exactly tells us this change has happened? What tiny contours have appeared that weren’t there before? How can such subtle shifts represent such a big change? I see my students as they grow during that mysterious passage from ten to fourteen and I am continually amazed by the process. Elihu and I attended the local high school graduation ceremony in late June and my mind was blown as I watched nearly a dozen kids who I’d known for the past eight years cross the stage in cap and gown, now indisputably young adults. I know this is happening now with Elihu, and I find myself daily readying my heart for the next couple of years. In perusing this blog I see a nearly endless childhood, a mother and young son moving through the world as a unit, discovering things together. But I know that our future story will soon become very different in its nature. That’s good, that’s fine, it’s all as it should be. I know. But still…

For the past month, the world has been doing what it does so well…. Offering up daily distractions, projects, serendipitous events, the shifting of gears and moving on to the new. At this point my son’s been with his father in Chicago for over a week, and I am settling into my annual basement organizing effort. I pour through piles of paper memorabilia, and as always – perhaps even more so because of my distilling sentimentality for Elihu’s quickly passing youth – I am beset with more crap than I have room for. I find letters to me in a child’s hand, sketches of birds and airplanes, tiny shells and rocks once stuffed into pockets in order that we might remember…. I am bound by these worldly anchors, and I am bogged down. Making decisions is more than difficult. I wonder: This can’t be how everyone else lives, can it?

I see photos on my hard drive of the field next to our property, the one in which we’ve chased woodcocks and flown kites for the eight years in which we’ve lived here. There is a physical ache when I open them now, as I know that within months a house will stand in that space, and a family of seven will spill over onto the open acres that we once thought of as belonging to the birds and the two of us alone… We always told ourselves that this was coming one day, it’s just that we never really seemed to believe it. It’s not the worst thing that could happen – we know this – but still, it hurts our hearts with a slow, deep burn.

It’s not my intention to sound whiny, it’s not that I mean to complain, because I have it good. I know I do. It’s just that nostalgia tugs at me and keeps me from moving forward. It prevents me from throwing out hand-written letters and ancient concert programs. This summer, as with so many summers before, I find myself struggling to let go of my past in order to move into my future. It feels as if I am holding onto the line that tethers me to the shore because the vast expanse of water ahead is just too frightening to comprehend.

I’ve hired an organizer to come and help me make the hard decisions. She’s come before and has been a great help to me. For me, she is a lifeline. This has to stop, and I need outside help. I cannot keep saving, accruing, collecting – and looking back. My brother is a hoarder of the highest order, my mother likes to make passive-aggressive stabs at me for “throwing everything out” and my father’s office is still piled high with paper two years after his death. I cannot go down this path like the rest of my family. Jesus wasn’t kidding when he warned us not to put so much emotional such stock into the physical crap here on earth, which he reminded us will ultimately become moth food or rust…

Today I will try to be bold, I will remind myself that these artifacts are not the memories themselves. In casting off the keepsakes I remind myself that I am not losing the experiences, nor am I losing the love of those with whom I shared those memories. All of those experiences are still inside of me. And no matter what the future brings, no one can ever take away the memory of a small boy running joyfully across a bright, sunny field…