The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Big Year December 31, 2012

I’m feeling the need to write some sort of summation, some sort of re-cap of this past year. There’s just so much to remember… too much. Lots of people we know and love have died. That’s the first thing I think of. The world didn’t end. That’s the second thing I think of. And it just continues to go on and on…. that’s what I think next. So what do we take away from 2012? I’m not exactly sure. But I do think something new is underway…

I do think we’ve turned a corner, that energetically we as a species have changed our trajectory, but I admit, it doesn’t necessarily look that way from today, New Year’s Eve, 2012. There’s been plenty of violence, pain and ignorance this past year to make it seem as if it’s business as usual on this silly planet. Yet still, I believe – call me naive if you like, I’ll accept that – that we as humans are no longer on the downswing. There is now a critical mass of people on this earth who share a witness to the corruption and inequity all around us. There has never before been a time in history when so many are so educated and informed about the world in which they live. And although the number of folks in communication with each other thru social media and other devices may still represent a minority of the planet’s population, I believe the global trend is moving towards mass connection on an order we can’t quite envision even today. I dunno. Could be incredibly optimistic here. Maybe. But maybe not. May as well keep hopes up, keep expectations high.

For me personally, this year meant the end to my four year divorce process. I also got my first real job in a decade. I quit smoking in earnest too. No more bummed smokes here and there to take the edge off of life. Took the death of a friend to get me there, but I made it. So this year has been good. Heartbreaking, poignant, but solidly good and forward-moving. I’m surprised, however, that I don’t find myself in the high spirits I thought I might be today – could simply be that my son is gone and my house has taken on a quiet, solitary mood. Could be that my day to day reality still seems like a challenge; the magic of the coming New Year doesn’t necessarily mean it will be any easier to resist a smoke, workout daily or miss things and people absent from my life.

I’ve said it before and I say it again now, this is a tough planet on which to live. In order to try and help us all along here, I’m going to do my very best to right the wrongs I’ve committed, to take the hopeful path when doubt arises, and if all else fails, watch a Monty Python skit if I just can’t wrest myself out of a hopeless funk. !

It’s been a big year, yet the future’s much bigger still. I wish for us all the very best and brightest adventures ahead…

 

37 Things December 20, 2012

“37 Things to Hoard by 12/21!”. This, and other doomsday-related messages pop up when I open my Yahoo account. I smile to myself. A little late, dontcha think? I gave up my personal dilemma long ago (but notice the ads still follow me.) I’m goin with the up scenario. No, not as in ‘up in flames’, and no, not up as in the Rapture, leaving my clothes in a heap on the ground behind me… I just mean that I’m going with the glass half-full – or rather the planet half-full – attitude. Yes, world, the Mayan long-count calendar is coming to an end within the week. Finally. There are a lot of folks been sweatin out this big event for a long time now, and while there might be egg on their faces come Saturday morning, at least they’ll be able to breathe easy again. That’ll be nice. I’ll feel good for em. They’ve learned some practical life skills over the past couple of years, and they’re equipped to coast for while now. Won’t that feel good. (Seriously, no box-store runs for at least a year! What a boon!)

I make light of it now, but a couple of years ago I was in turmoil. Many different flavors of it. Divorce issues, severe lack of money, depression, and now this end-of-the-world shit. Really? I decided to get to the bottom of it, separate the wheat from the chaff. I went through two years of study – from doomsday blogs and ultra right-wing ‘build your bunker now’ types to folks who were awaiting the time humanity would return to inner earth for renewal. Yup – it’s a big world, and there are lots of posited time lines and possible outcomes. And with what I learned about cutting-edge study of matter and time itself, I’m quite willing to accept that any – and every – possibility might literally occur – and all at the same ‘time’. Just gotta step outside the box of our currently agreed upon reality of how space and time work. ‘Just’, ya know? Hmm.

While I try to stay rather MOR (a possibly archaic radio term meaning ‘middle of the road’) about expressing my opinions on this topic (guess I’ve just blown that), I hold a much more radical take on the significance of this particular time in our planet’s history than many of my friends and peers might, or at least would admit to. Here is where my plight gets dicey: remain silent on issues I’ve spend hours studying or share information I’ve learned – as well as my corresponding opinions? I’ve heard it said that the worst sort of prison one can live in is the prison of caring what other people think. Lord knows I get that. Since I was a little girl I’ve been in rather too-desperate need of validation from all sorts of people. Course it starts with mom and dad, and if they’re not forthcoming (really, being of their generation, how can they be expected to be?) then it’s peers, boyfriends, husband, neighbors, even fellow musicians. Thankfully, I’ve grown a bit beyond my adolescent neediness, but I can readily admit that I’m not quick to rock the boat if I feel everyone likes and respects me. Not really willing to go too far out on a limb if it means I’ll end up crazy Lizzy… Preamble, be gone…

This is how I’m thinking: I know that the planet is reaching the end of one ‘age’ and the beginning of another. We, here on Earth, are reaching a new pivotal location in our galaxy (yes, we will arrive there precisely on Friday – doesn’t that sound plain silly when ya put it that way? Somehow saying 12/21/12 seems to give it more oomph!) that many believe will have an effect on us. Those are just measurements. So what? Well, shit’s gonna change. But what exactly that change will be, no one is sure. Take that back – lots of folks are sure, but there’s no consensus. As with the study of anything off the measurable path and into the netherland of spirit and intuition, one can only subscribe to that information that resonates with oneself. If it feels jive, then cast it aside. If it stirs something within you that says ‘yeah, that feels right’, then you’re getting close. Seems I’m implying that there can be many different truths about life, right? Right. Just like the blind men who identified the elephant each by a different part, each confident that his reality was the only reality – when in truth, they were all correct – in the same way, I believe we are all after the same truth – of which there are going to be many, many aspects and interpretations.

I’m going to keep things simple so that I might bring a coupla folks to my line of thinking: I’m going to live right here, right now, in this moment with as much integrity as I’m able. If I screw up, ok, I start over. Each new moment is an opportunity to start fresh. I won’t worry about hoarding fresh water or food, cuz it’d run out eventually anyway. I’m not gonna worry about a meteor, or floods, or fiat money crashing – I’m just going to try my hardest to live in alignment with the feeling deep inside me that tells me I’m on the course for good. If I feel crappy about a decision, I make a note to rectify it if I can, be brave when it’s daunting to do so, and make healthier, more loving decisions in the future. Oh yeah, I sound like a fucking saint, huh. Well, it’s all a grand, ongoing experiment. Plenty of days I just don’t feel like I have it in me for another day, and I’d rather sit at home eating cured meats and ignoring it all. But I know that that would ironically make living – and enjoying living – harder. The distractions only last so long, and then there you are again, with your own, lonely self, wishing life were more joyful and much, much less tedious.

I admit I’ve been blowing off the skills many of my brethren have been honing for years in preparation for this very time. Not some way-off future date, but goddam day-after-tomorrow. So there’s no time to remember how it feels to be ‘good’ at meditating (I could once sit in silence and darkness and keep relatively clear in my head for what felt like ten minutes but was closer to an hour. Couldn’t do that today.) There’s no community I can find to share this turning point with – in spite of all the social media… and so I come, feeling fairly unprepared and all alone, to a rather anti-climactic climax here at the end of December, 2012, planet Earth. Here we are. But where exactly are we and where, oh where, is the party?!

Well, after this Friday, I personally believe we will be entering into an age in which peace and understanding will permeate all cultures, a time when technology will grow at an exponential rate, leaving smart phones sitting on shelves right next to rock-carving tools. When the awareness of one’s own spirit will be second-nature, when the man-made institutions of religion are no longer needed and disappear altogether. But I do not think this will happen all at once. Nope. This is still Earth, and we are still humans, and linear time still binds us. But nevertheless we are all tiny particles of God, and we will come to remember that in the next thousand or more years – and behave accordingly. Maybe we’ll see and feel some of the change during our own lifetimes. Hopefully it’ll pick up speed during our childrens’ lifetimes. Dunno. But somethin’s afoot, of that I’m sure.

BTW – the party’s at my place. Thought I’d kickstart this next grand cycle with a little celebration of friends and community. Get it off to a positive, hopeful start. So I gotta get my party list and go shopping. Maybe I’ll take a look at the ’37 things’ and see if they’ve got any ideas for entertaining in Age of Aquarius…

 

Election Addendum November 10, 2012

Seems an ancient topic only three days after the event, but some thoughts linger in my mind which I’ll express here now, before life swiftly sweeps us into the future and these musings hardly warrant a read-though…

On election night I’d gone to bed shortly after Elihu. I know that the only time I have to myself is after he’s asleep – but I can never last that long to enjoy the window. And that particular night I had a heavy, waiting heart, so going to bed seemed the gentlest and best thing to do. However, I awoke with a start at 11:36 and realized that we’d probably chosen a new president by now, that the waiting was likely over – so I turned on the TV. It had already been on the comedy channel – and so it was through a characteristically heavy-handed bit by my beloved Mr. Colbert that I learned the breaking news. What a lovely way to awaken from my nap… I was relieved, quietly thrilled, and I was laughing. Thank you, Stephen.

While I might have gone directly back to bed to enjoy a sound sleep, I simply could not. I had to stick around and hear from the men themselves. So I did the dishes, I tidied the kitchen, arranged things for the next morning’s breakfast and packed lunches to pass the final hours. I heard Mitt speak first. And was I thrown – for the first time, I could hear the humanity in his voice. Relieved of the campaign, he was, I believe, finally able to represent himself as a person. As he thanked his family, friends and team members I heard genuine gratitude. I was riveted; who was this guy? First I’d seen of him! It wouldn’t have changed my vote – fundamental principals remained – yet it warmed my heart to see him let down a little. I actually liked him in that moment. He was behaving like a real person. ! At the risk of appearing a bit naive and sentimental here, I believe that when he thanked his family, he was speaking from a place of real love, and that is always transformative; it is inherently honest. So now he can go spend some quality time with his five sons and their families (it’s Mrs. R who’s the unsung hero here, I think). Good. Let’s move on.

The following day I heard a few passive-aggressive comments from people whom I took to be Romney supporters. Only long after the moments were gone did I think that maybe it might have been a more powerful choice to call out the elephant in the room – and maybe even have a short, civil chat about the beast. I understand that there’s some steam to be let off from the folks whose candidate lost, but do I need to pretend that I didn’t hear the almost, but not quite under-their-breath remarks on the subject? Am I supposed to – as I did several times – merely chuckle politely and just sort of ‘oh well’ it away? Won’t do so if another such situation arises, but I doubt that it will. It hardly seems there was an election. From a churning ocean to a still pond. Crazy.

Reiterating my sentiment from the previous post, I say again that as humans we all share a few basic goals in life, regardless of race, economic status or gender. I hope that this simple reality might one day bring a certain peace – and balance of representation – between all political parties (and I do mean all; the ballot shows us we have more options than an appetizer menu, but it’s still for all intents and purposes a two-party show). I’d hoped that in the meantime we could treat each other with respect and civility, but it doesn’t look likely. While it’s certainly human to feel anger and disappointment – the way in which you express that is governed by your personal self-control and sense of decency. So far, I’ve only seen rage expressed by Mitt fans. I’ve heard a lot about Obama signs being defaced or stolen (both through the media and in my own neighborhood) – but I have not once heard the same about a Romney sign. I’ve been mulling over this phenomenon, trying to get at the root of the reason, and I’ve arrived at this thought: I feel that this is symptomatic of a larger issue that seems to belong to the Republican mindset: fear. Anger may be the symptom, but fear is its first form. Fear and anger bear some nasty fruit. But where does this fear come from? It grows in an environment absent of love (as well as the tolerance that love engenders). Taking someone’s Obama sign off their front lawn is not an act born of love, ya know? You gotta be pretty angry to go and make that happen. Please understand that I by no means think that all Republicans are fear-based vandalizers – (some of my oldest and dearest friends are Republicans!) however I have never heard of equally hate-inspired acts attributed to Democrats.

To many it may seem simplistic, but I believe that the last vestiges of fear (control, hoard, distrust of others, keep to self, save self and those like me) are living under the wing of the Republican party. I also believe the party represents a mindset that will one day in the not-too-distant future become obsolete. This world cannot thrive and grow into a healthy future with fear-based groups controlling her populations. We see this changing in dramatic ways all over the globe, and while it’s perhaps not as overtly apparent here in the US, we too are morhping slowly into a new culture of love and understanding. Our interconnectedness, our diversity, our shared economically-challenged realities – and our brotherly love for each other as fellow citizens of one planet – these things have finally gotten their foothold in our modern world, and we have begun our journey up and out of the mess we’ve made.

 

Song of the Spheres January 1, 2012

It was on a New Year’s Day, more than half my life ago, that I heard it. I’ve only told the story a handful of times; I’ve seldom felt that anyone would really believe me. I’ve also never felt brave enough to take the chance that my listeners might think me crazy. In the telling of this story they’d know that I wasn’t entirely legitimate or believable anymore. There was the great possibility that my audience might think that I experienced something entirely in my imagination. Maybe even pity would ensue. “And she seemed so together..”. What still surprises me about this event long ago was that I was in no particular way educated or prepared to receive such an experience; I wasn’t focused on things metaphysical or spiritual nor was I in any special state of mind that day when I set out for a walk in the woods. It was a snow-covered New Years’ Day like any other here in upstate New York.

It was cloudy and gray on that first day of January. That’s always been my favorite kind of weather – I love the mood it sets. Timeless, directionless, calm. It just feels centered, peaceful. We four Conants were in our tiny farmhouse, each doing nothing much out of the ordinary. Without much to occupy myself, I decided to take a walk outside. All my growing up I’d spent hours upon hours in the woods in wintertime. My brother Andrew and I had so much fun as kids playing on the frozen expanses of water that lay in low spots in the forest, breaking the ice like glass and marveling over the beautiful shapes and patterns it made. Today, rather than head out to the low parts of the woods, I thought instead I would head up the hill and explore the woods just beyond the edge of our open yard. There was a stand of many uniform-sized Scotch pines that clustered together in that spot, creating a space in the woods that was unlike all others. Only recently did I learn that the trees had been planted there by the property’s previous owner. That explained the perfect, almost surreal quality to the area.

I’d been walking only a very short time when I arrived at what seemed to be the center of the trees. I drank in the vision; hundreds of pine trees, all the same shape and size, going on in each direction as far as I could see – trunks, straight and black against the snow, me in the middle. Me, nowhere. Me, anywhere. I might even have panicked as to how to get home but for the tracks I left in the snow. I was truly free to feel the essence of what it was to be here, now. The forest was quiet. Not a snap of a twig, not a rustle of a rabbit, nothing. All was softened by a foot of snow. Then, after a few moments of silence, something began to change, almost imperceptibly at first. I may have thought my ears were ringing. I do remember wondering – if only for a split second – if I might not be hearing music coming from the old house. But any wondering vanished as the phenomenon began to grow. Something was happening. I was imagining nothing. I was hearing music. Gorgeous, sophisticated music. This was very real.

I don’t remember feeling scared. I do remember feeling a sense of urgency; I knew this was a rare phenomenon and that I had to understand it as best I could, and as quickly as I could. I would be methodical and identify its elements. First, where was it coming from? I turned in circles, looking out to the branches, hearing the music flowing around me, from above, from below. From everywhere. As soon as I thought I’d found the right direction, and stood facing it, even cupping hands to ears, it would slip somehow, and it then seemed to come from another direction. And I cannot say it changed directions, it was more like it truly seemed to come from each  direction equally. “Ok”, I thought, “Forget that. Just try to concentrate on what kind of music it is.” So I listened a moment more. It was contrapuntal, with several different voices. They were moving toward each other, away from each other, moving in parallel – many lines that wove themselves together in the most organic way. The first thing that came to my mind was Bach. That would have to do for now, I had to identify the instruments. I listened. Bells, clear, pure-toned bells. Yes…. No… As soon as I was satisfied with my answer, the sound morphed. Into voices. Yes, voices. Male? Female? Can’t tell. Both? Yes… No… no, wait… then again, it changed. It became horns. Pure, sine-wavelike tones that seemed to be French horns, no, kind of, but not exactly… I realized that the music was all these things at once. After I’d spent maybe three or four minutes trying to identify its components, I realized that I’d done all I could. All that was left was to simply enjoy it. To soak it in. So I just stood there, marveling. Dumbfounded and yet not. I just stood there, alone, in the music.

Within maybe a minute of having given up my efforts to identify the music, it began to fade. Now I did panic. I remember calling “No! No! Please, don’t leave!”, turning in circles, trying to recapture the source, the moment. I was begging it not to leave, and realized that tears were coming down my face. But it continued to fade, as gently as any sound could ever disappear, and then in a few more seconds, it was gone. And the woods were quiet again. Not a thing felt any different than it had just a few minutes earlier. I’m surprised I wasn’t more shaken up. Rather, I wiped away my tears, collected myself and stood there. Wow. What had just happened? Why had it happened? Did it have something to do with it being New Year’s Day?? I knew it might never make sense to me as long as I lived. But even then, I knew I had been very, very lucky that the music had chosen to come to me. It would just have to be my secret.

I didn’t spend any more time in the woods. I walked down the hill, back to our small house. Without disclosing too much, I thought I’d at least inquire whether Dad had been playing records on his mother’s ancient all-in-one stereo cabinet, as he sometimes does over the Christmas holidays (I can hear him in my mind singing in a bold voice along with the music…”dance then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the dance, said He…”) but no. He hadn’t. “Why?” my mom asks, facing the sink, finishing some dishes. “Oh, I thought I heard some music when I was out in the woods.” I answer in the most non-committal way possible. Even if he had been playing records, there’s no way that tiny box could have carried all the way out there… “Maybe you heard something from the Michel’s?” she posits. ‘Forget it’ I thought, and let it drop. I didn’t mention it again to anyone for years.

A few years later, my parents sold their home in Chicago and moved year-round to upstate New York, where they then built their dream home, just up the hill from the small cottage where we’d spent our vacations. Once, after one of my father’s Baroque concerts, a group of friends and musicians enjoyed some food and drink ‘up at the house’ afterward, as was always the tradition. A woman who’d known me all my life, and who in the early years had sung at my father’s music festival was in the group that night. Perhaps because she was a dowser, and unapologetically so, as well as being a church-going woman of gentle character (loved by all who knew her), I felt comfortable enough to tell my story. I remember Ruthie looking at me, with that smile of hers, unsurprised, listening. When I finished, no one but she had anything to say. She pointed out that the house itself stood where those trees once did. Perhaps, she suggested, that the universe may have known of things to come. Hmm. Was that all it was? A heads up? A little nod from spirit that this is an auspicious spot to build a new house? Perhaps it was part of the equation. Don’t know. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter. I was very lucky that day. So I’ll just take it at that.

There is a sad and beautiful song called “The Night We Called It A Day” in which the lyrics mention hearing ‘the song of the spheres’. Sometimes, when I’d sing that line, I’d think to myself that I actually had heard that song. I wondered, had Mr. Adair? Or was he just using it as a poetic lyric? Just how many people had actually heard the ‘song of the spheres?’ Besides – was that what I heard? If so – if that music had been given a name – I must be one of many who’d heard it too. I’ve googled and searched. Never found any account similar to mine. Not until this past summer. I finally met two other people who’d also had their own unique and unexplainable auditory experiences. Made me feel a little better to hear their stories. Validated. Not so crazy, not so alone. That feels good. And I’m getting braver. That feels good too.

Now I’ve told my story. A nice way to start the new year, I think. May we all grow braver in the coming year, ears attentive and hearts wide open.

 

Inventory December 31, 2011

This has been an amazing year for me. Didn’t really hit me until I printed out all my 115 blog posts and created a dated table of contents. I was able to see in one fell swoop the passage of my year. It was actually rather stunning. One year ago this very night I had no blog. No stories had been told. The only voice I had was the damnable monkey mind which swung along from tangent to tangent, me following maddeningly behind it. Writing calmed the chatter somewhat; it gave it a destination, a goal, a form. And so I found my true voice, and with it I discovered a sense of connection, of peace.

So I got that goin for me. Which is nice. (Yes, reference intended. And btw – how cool is it that my kid shares a name with Ted Knight’s character in Caddyshack? ‘Elihu, will you loofah my stretch marks?... sorry, monkey mind). But today I feel especially hopeful for my future as I step back and admire the fruits of my vision and labor (as well as the labor of an old friend) as made manifest in my new, not-so-sketchy basement. Elihu has long been afraid to venture there, yet it’s where his drums are, it’s where my office is. It’s also been where EVERYTHING else was. You know, the crap that just kind of finds you. So this week I set out to tame the crap. I won! The result – sore arms and back, tired body – but the beginnings of a basement in which Elihu and I will make many hours of joyful noise along with students and friends. I’ve already spent a good bit of time downstairs just looking at it. Cuz it’s so beautiful. And it’s just the beginning.

While my life is improving, I do have friends going through some truly difficult things. Some far worse than what I’ve endured. So I’m hesitant to simply say that this new year will be brilliant. For me, I believe it will be. And for our planet, I do think things will begin to get better. But this is indeed a world of duality – where darkness and light coexist. All I can do for those still facing personal challenges is give them my love. And that I’ll do so freely. For I now remember what it is to feel good, to feel hopeful –  something that’s taken a lot of time and work to achieve – and I mean to share it when I can. My heart truly goes out to those who have difficult personal journeys yet before them.

Whatever the future may bring, we have finally arrived at the last day of 2011.  So much talk about the changes to come. So much importance given to the year 2012. Regardless of the high profile Mayan calendar predictions, regardless of people’s varying interpretations of what this year represents, I believe it will indeed be yet another year of speedy change, upheaval and great transformation of we humans here on Earth.

In keeping with the frankness I’ve written with on this blog, I feel I must admit I’ve gone through a great deal of study over the past few years on the immediate future and how it might unfold. I’ve read hundreds of articles, visited countless websites and begun to pay better attention to the small voice of discernment inside of me in order to filter out what simply didn’t ring true for me. At first, when the messages of impending doom began to reach me, I admit I followed their leads, and often found myself investing a lot of time and energy into thinking all manner of horrific scenarios through to their gruesome conclusions. As time passed and my heart slowly began to heal, I began to pay less attention to the prophets of doom and gloom. For me it seemed that the healthier I got, the more attention I gave to the brighter promises for our shared future. In the wake of the huge change in my life and the depression that followed, I’d become familiar with the more metaphysical and spiritual approaches to mental and emotional health. Having spent a year working with a holistic counselor here in my new town, I found myself putting into practice ideas that had intrigued me for years. I learned the experience of timelessness through meditation, the toxic power of ignorance, guilt and regret, the ultimate power of love and forgiveness. The work I’d begun in order to heal myself became a foundation upon which I then began my search for answers and ideas about the upcoming earth changes that so many talk about. My new attitude brought me the possibility of a bright and beautiful future for us all.

It’s hard for us humans to understand whether we are victims of our environment or if we indeed create our realities as many insist. I do know that where we put our attention and energy helps pull in more of the same. It’s a crazy double-bind; you’re poor, so you worry about being poor, and more of that reality comes to you. I’ve wrestled with it for the past three years. (Whenever I say that I wish I had money – Elihu corrects me and says ‘mommy, you have that money now, and doesn’t it feel good? Little Buddha…). I find it’s not entirely accurate to say that we simply ‘choose’ how we feel about things, that we can simply ‘choose’ our realities. Ultimately, it’s true, but it’s not done in a minute. It’s much, much easier said than done. But I do believe that we can slowly turn the boat around, our intention going out before us, slowly pulling us closer to our goals, even while we’re throwing temper tantrums and crying in pain and just plain not feeling good. Thankfully, I do believe I’ve finally managed to turn my little boat around in spite of some pretty big waves.

So where is my little boat going? Where is this great ship Earth headed? I believe that it’s headed for a logarithmic explosion of connectedness and love. I do. I am stunned at the speed of inventions, the change of attitudes, the genuine collective desire for transparency and the good of all. When I moved here to New York three years ago, I didn’t know about Facebook yet. In spite of its frustrations and hiccups, it’s expanded my personal world in ways I am ever grateful for. In many ways my own life has grown exponentially because of my ability to connect with virtually (and virtually connect!) any bit of information I might be curious to investigate. I get so excited when I think of all the possibilities… I almost get panicked wondering if there’s enough time to learn it all…

Thank you, all you hundreds of people I do and do not know, all of you who’ve said hello and offered your support. I haven’t responded to many of you, and I feel pretty crappy about it. I want you to know that I’ve read everything you’ve written to me. I often feel conflicted when I hear from you; do I deserve this support, this attention? I’m moved to tears by so many of you, and I want to apologize for not responding with my most heartfelt thanks and love; it’s in great part because of you that I’ve been able to transform and grow. In this new year I promise to write everyone back. Because that’s the one thing missing from my inventory of this past year.

My heart is full. Thank you, dearest friends.