The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

All Saints (Go Cubs) November 2, 2016

Were it not for the directives written on the kitchen’s dry erase board, yesterday I would have had no idea what to do first.

The morning had the distinct feel of a ‘morning after’. Clothes laid draped over every single basket and chair back, contents from purse and backpack had been hastily dumped to make mad, last-minute searches for lost objects, and both Elihu and I had comically bad bed hair. Me, I still wore a raccoon’s mask of the previous night’s witchy kohled eyes. Finally, we were there. The day after; November first.

Halloween night had seemed like a distant dream – like a storm arriving after great anticipation, it had caught us up in its frenzy of costumes and clutter, pumped our systems full of sugar and then swept off into the distant night leaving us exhausted and in great need of a long night’s sleep. On the morning after I awoke in a cold, motionless space. My head was free of to-do lists, free of immediate concerns. For one rare moment, I was not in a state of mild panic. It was just me and a silent house. The day was sunny and clear, and there were almost no leaves remaining on the trees. My head was as still as my room, as bare as the branches. After stalling for a good long while in my horizontal position, I finally rose and walked, bare feet on the cold floor, to the kitchen and turned the kettle on. The quiet had seemed somehow extra quiet. I tried to think, but no thoughts came to me. I must have had things on my mind – things that desperately needed doing… but what on earth were they? Thankfully, the me from the day before – the one going a hundred miles an hour – that thoughtful woman, she had written a list. What a relief. As I cupped a warm mug of coffee in my hands, I allowed my mind to remain vacant for a good long while as I stared out of the window to the mountains beyond. And then I dove back in.

Although it was a mere day and night ago, the morning after, All Saint’s Day and day of the dead, the day of the thinnest veil between the here and the hereafter – it seems already to have been last month. So much has happened in the past thirty-six hours. Many wonderful and serendipitous meetings have occurred. There have been dozens of tiny errands, a handful of new financial scares and a few stressful concerns, but the final take is that things are off to a pretty good start. I’ve made some mistakes, but I suppose none are for naught. I am definitely learning.

Yesterday is what I personally consider to my own New Year’s Day. For me, Halloween is always the raucous end to a long, long year, and the cold and silent morning after is the quiet beginning of a new one. This coming year promises to hold some fine surprises. The challenges – especially the financial ones – are not over, but I’m beginning to feel a little hope. Some friends encourage me to embrace only the possibility; they insist that my holding onto fear and ‘scarcity’ thinking will only bring more of the same. Maybe so, but my hope is still guarded and a bit weary. One never knows though. And certainly one should always hope for the best…

The Studio is taking on a new life; people are finding me – and the space – and becoming excited for the potential. I’m beginning to realize a couple of things in the process: firstly, that I am clearly not my father and must dispel for once and for all the romantic notion that the space will continue in the same manner in which it began (namely a performance space for early music) and secondly, that I must embrace the new programs that are now coming to the venue. There will come a day when Baroque music will resound again within those walls, but the reality doesn’t indicate it to be anytime soon. But that’s ok, because a great new adventure is beginning.

Oh ye saints, if you can still hear me on this day after, I pray that you will watch over me and my new friends as we pilot this little community arts center into the future. And, please, while you’re at it, do you think that you could see to it that the Cubs win the World Series? If you could, it would be really nice. Don’t fret too much over it though. Whatever happens, I’m sure it’ll be ok. But still..

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Post Script: A heartfelt thanks to all Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones. 108 years is a long time to wait. So thanks. Really. Thanks from all of us. Down here we’re grateful and happy as we’ve never been before. We appreciate any energetic help you may have tossed our way… After all this time, it seems that we really needed it! Luck, skill, tenacity or divine assistance, howsoever it came our way, we’re delighted to the heavens for having had it in our grasp when we needed it most. Saints be praised….

 

 

Gone One Year December 27, 2014

My dad died one year ago tonight. As I sit here, I try to remember the feeling of the day, the order in which things happened. I’ve lost track of some details – some things are fuzzy, and that bothers me. But I’m lucky to recall this distinctly: I remember most how normal the day had felt. For the first time in years, it was just we four Conants together in the house. All of us at our posts, a low level of activity and busyness going one which had created a feeling of normalcy and well, comfort. My mom was in the kitchen puttering about, my brother at the dining room table on his computer, my father was sleeping in his hospice bed in the side room, and I sat in between them, on the couch in the living room, taking it all in. Feeling how homey it was. I knew we were waiting for dad to die, we all did, but still, it felt good to be there. All of us together, one last time. I can’t know how mom and Andrew were truly feeling, but I remember that I was quietly petrified, but somehow doing ok. In spite of what we where there for, it was a good afternoon. One year ago today.

We were all touching dad when he went; mom and Andrew holding his hands, I was holding both his feet. After sleeping quietly for hours and hours, it was a little after eleven at night when dad uttered two loud vocalizations. I alerted my brother and mom, and then it began. The final half hour. And at the very end, he faked us out three times – we’d thought he’d taken his final breath when he’d take another breath in… By the third one we were actually laughing – and crying of course too – because here was dad, in his last moments on earth, taking a curtain call. When he finally passed, our cat Mina, who stays on dad’s desk in his office (and had gotten up on his bed earlier that day – a move very uncharacteristic of her) meowed twice, as if to confirm that dad had finally left us. Finally, we could cry. Mom, who I’ve seldom seen cry in my entire life, allowed herself tears. Andrew too. And after years of being at the receiving end of my brother’s hate and venom (it’s not his fault, he is not well), I hugged him, told him I loved him and that he was the best brother ever. So thanks, dad, for helping each of us find a little closure in your passing.

When you finally lose a parent, it feels like an initiation. Having two parents – especially two who are still under the same roof – feels a bit like a bonus these days. I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures and videos of us all while we were together, and I’m tempted to indulge in regret. It just kinda felt as if it would always be thus. I’ve said it before, and I’ll likely say it again more than a few times: this is a hard planet to live on. Even when you have it good, it’s still not easy.

My agnostic friends will think I’m making stuff up in order to feel better about the whole thing – but me, I know that we move on to another plane of existence after this. I know it aint over, and that I’ll see my dad again. I even know he’s aware of me here and now, and that when I think of him, I send him my love and energy through the ether, and he receives it where he is. I know this. For my friends who don’t believe there’s anything beyond our simple, earth-bound lives, all I can say is, I can’t wait to see the look on your face when we meet again…

Here are some photos I’ve been digging up all morning. I’m missing a chunk of time in between when Elihu was little and now – but for some reason, life must have taken over and I just neglected to take pictures for a while. I guess I just kinda forgot that it’s the everyday things that are more worth remembering than the exceptional. But I’m lucky to have these. And so lucky that I got to be the daughter of Robert Conant.

Some pics from dad’s professional life…

IMG_4697An early promo shot.

Early Promo Shot 001Dig this one. !

Fort Dix, 1951Entertaining the troops at Fort Dix, 1951. (I have this Challis harpsichord now here at the Hillhouse.)

the first Baroque Fest with mom and dadThe Conants start the Festival of Baroque Music at the Seagle Colony in Schroon Lake, New York, 1959.

robert shaw choraleWorking with Robert Shaw.

dad and Paul DoktorThis may have been a bit beneath his dignity, but hey, a gig’s a gig. With Paul Doktor on viola.

IMG_4682Love this shot. Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College.

IMG_4685Henryk Schering and dad at Orchestra Hall in Chicago.

IMG_4667The Viola da Gamba Trio of Basel, Switzerland was an important part of dad’s professional life for many years. (With August Wenzinger and Hannelore Mueller.)

IMG_4704Always loved this one.

IMG_4692Dad as conductor.

IMG_4668Taken from the balcony of the Studio.

IMG_4678Studs Terkel’s interview with dad on WFMT in Chicago.

IMG_4672Kenneth Slowik was a huge part of our lives growing up as well as a very important part of dad’s professional life, and we still count the Slowiks as family.

FBM's 50thThe Festival of Baroque Music celebrated its 50th season in 2009. At that time it was the longest running early music festival in the country.

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Now some pics from dad’s personal life…

Dad as a young boy 001Dad as a young lad in Severance, New York on Paradox Lake, early 1930s.

mom and dad wedding

Before my time! Nancy and Robert are married in NYC, 1955.

dad and me at harpsichord in Hamden

1963, Hamden, Connecticut. Guess who’s on dad’s lap?

me dad afc at orch hallAndrew and me backstage with dad at Chicago’s Orchestra Hall, early seventies.

Conants by the StudioWe four Conants in front of the Studio, Greenfield Center, New York, early eighties.

dad and me in the StudioDad and me at the Studio, early nineties.

IMG_5756A snapshot of the many talented young men who helped dad to run the Festival of Baroque Music through the years; they’re all really like family to us, and the Slowiks, Ken (far left) and Peter (3rd from the left) have been part of our family for over three decades.

IMG_6547_0001Dad and Mom in their spots. This is one of those things I kinda never thought would change.

IMG_6527Dad and Elihu, Christmastime of 2005.

IMG_0553This is how dinners looked for years and years. Many happy meals around this table thanks to mom’s amazing talent as cook and hostess.

Dad's 80th Birthday 103Since Elihu could talk, he and his grandpa enjoyed speaking to each other in this made-up, Eastern-European-sounding language, complete with hand gestures and lots of crazy nuances. It was incredibly funny, and amazing to behold. Dad himself was extremely gifted at doing impressions and speaking in accents, and was known for his ever-present sense of humor. There was a lot of profound hilarity through the years in this household!

Dad's 80th Birthday 112Grandpa and Elihu are having a good time.

elihu, grandpa and duckA few years later, Elihu shows grandpa a duck he caught at Congress Park.

IMG_4660I like this one of these three.

IMG_6519_0001Grandpa, winding the Grandfather’s clock. ! (This clock is the same one behind dad and me in that first shot of me as a baby on his lap at the harpsichord.)

the Studio new signThe ‘new’ sign. Can’t believe it was four years ago now. Deep down I think that I just couldn’t bear to do anything with the place until he was gone. It still feels like his place; just putting up the new sign (replacing his Baroque Foundation sign) was kind of a big step.

the studioThe Studio that dad built in 1974 – architect, Michael Curtis. The place has looked a bit cheerier in years past, but it will once again. All in time.

Dad's 80th Birthday 050Dad and ‘the two Jims’ at dad’s 80th birthday. These guys have been around the Festival for over twenty-five years. The stories they retold at dad’s ‘living wake’ last year had us all but peeing in our pants. It was a perfect send-off for dad. (That’s Martha, seated at left.)

Dad's 80th Birthday 016And here is the only known photo of the four men in my life: Dad, brother, ex-husband and son. Goofburgers.

1231102110This is how dad spent much of his last few years, resting on the couch. The lamp in the background hung in his childhood home in Passaic, New Jersey.

Elihu with hand over heartAlmost as if a sign of things to come, young Elihu reverently puts his hand over his heart in the same room in which his grandfather would leave this world.

Dad's HeadshotThere is just never a good time for goodbye.

As Elihu said to you in his final parting: see you shortly…

Robert Scott Conant, January 6th, 1928 – December 27th, 2013.

Post Script: Here’s a recording of dad playing – granted, his is the 3rd of 4 harpsichord parts (I know, four harpsichords? Wow) and it’s impossible to know what exactly he’s playing, but nonetheless, he’s in there somewhere… 

 

Dream Gift December 25, 2014

For the most part, my dreams aren’t that mysterious. While they take place in some fabulously surreal landscapes, the subjects are easy to recognize. My dreams are a Dadaesque montage of various and sundry events from my current life, taking place in the settings of my earlier life. Usually things happen alongside modified versions of a vast lake (Michigan), in a place under a canopy of trees (Evanston) or beside a modern city on that same lake (Chicago). My inherent nostalgic bent thrives as I sleep, and upon waking I feel a hazy sort of satisfaction to have returned ‘home’ for a visit. My dreams look backward, not forward. I see no sense in keeping a dream journal to glean hints of powerful hidden foreshadowing, because from stem to stern, I’m just not the kind of gal who thinks a whole lot about the future.

Until last night. I slept in fits and starts, due to a stubborn cold which made my breathing difficult and irregular, and as a result I was able to awaken in the midst of several dream sequences, all of which I can easily recall. And the thing that struck me, as I reviewed the scenes in my head before rising, was that they took place here. And now. And – more intriguing to me – was the fact that they were all somehow centered on the Studio. There was construction, industry, there were people working together, sharing the vision… Hammering, drilling, the smell of lumber, the sight of studs awaiting drywall… At one point I awoke in a start, yelling out loud “We must have two bathrooms!”, and found my heart pounding as I sat up in bed, still panicked that the contractors had overlooked this very important feature…. When I came to, and realized that we did have two bathrooms, I was greatly relieved. I pulled the scene back into my mind’s eye and studied it more closely. Now this was interesting; there were some design ideas there I hadn’t considered before that just might work… Merry Christmas indeed. This felt like a gift.

People may tire of my manic swings, hell, I myself can’t believe how low and high I can go in such short order, and how endlessly I can do so… But I’ve long been mulling over the idea of what’s missing in my life these days, and how I need to redefine myself and live into the future ahead. A lack of planning skills is in some way why I’m here, now, in this present funk. So I need to start envisioning how it all might look one day… Elihu will be gone into the world in too little time, and if I think I’m having an existential crisis now, just imagine how it’ll hit me then!

I know, as well as everyone does, that the main objective of life is to express love in the world, and that expression takes its form in service to others. I’m not a big fan of hard work, or methodical process, so I’ve chosen to do my part in the service sector in the guise of smiles to strangers, small talk to disenfranchised-looking folks and such. Not meaning to sound too full of my self, I do admit a certain ease when it comes to expressing compassion and connecting with people. Elihu once remarked about me that I seemed to make friends wherever I go. Yeah, kinda. But that’s easy. I kinda feel I need to step it up a bit more.

I love teaching, I love coaching kids, and it’s the best feeling in the world when they get something. Hell, I love it when my adult students get something. I have never been a particularly hard worker, so I’m keen on sharing my slacker shortcuts with anyone. If I can save anyone else from all the time spent not understanding what the hell was going on – in music, in life, in any endeavor – then I feel I’ve done something of service to my fellow humans. That’s all well and good, but somehow, I gotta cast a bigger net. But I’m so afraid. I try to identify what imaginary, invisible thing it is that holds me back. After spending the last two days reading the memoirs of three successful women writers, I can identify one thing right off the bat: I don’t have an insatiable drive for success. Seriously. I am fucking lazy. I’m not being all needlessly self-effacing here; I’ll admit that when I’m in it, I’m in it. And I can work my ass off. I can produce tangible results like crazy. I’m good at organizing, assessing and restoring visual order (when given the wide-open space and freedom from parenting duties). So yeah, I can work. But it’s private. There’s no one to judge, to witness. And like I said, I don’t experience this kind of work ethic until the place is clear of kid duty. And see, that’s one big problem. These other women did it fine with kids in the mix. Me, I just don’t get that. Plus they had spouses, boyfriends, even goddam deadlines. I do remember the adage “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”, and I can vaguely remember a time in my life when that might have been said of me, but right now, the way I feel here and now – forget it. I get panicky just trying to envision coaching a small ensemble, never mind running a series of educational programs and making sure that our 501(c)3 papers are in order. Shit. How will this work? I can’t do this. Can I?

I gotta. The key to ridding myself of panic, of that paralyzing horror, the key to wanting to wake up in the morning and not distracting myself all day long by keeping a super-tidy house and making a killer tasty supper – the key to all of this is to be of service in the world. I thrive on being a good mother, and I thrive on buoying the spirits of those who seem to have withered under the weight of it all – cuz I so get it – but I think it’s time to be brave and take on more. This cold I’m currently experiencing has done a nice job of presenting me with a swath of guilt-free down time. Time in which to read, to learn what it feels like in someone else’s head, to get a new perspective, to digest… It’s been a good couple of days. My nose is sore as hell, I can hardly hear a thing in my right ear and my eyes are still disgustingly red and watery, but it’s all good. In a way, this miserable cold has kinda been a gift.

It’s hard to imagine that my position at Waldorf is over, at my choice, and that I have no tether. With an audience to witness this internal struggle, I haven’t left myself an opportunity for escape. (Believe me, I wrestle with whether or not to even include the whole Studio story here. I am so tempted to pretend these thoughts never happened, so tempted to continue teaching, being a mother, collecting eggs, all as if nothing else mattered. Who knows, I still might do that. Just sayin.) If nothing else stands to motivate me, I must remember my father. I cannot allow this amazing gift of such a beautiful venue go to waste. If nothing else, I must continue his legacy. It’s taken a year (and even so, I’m still not completely there) to realize that I can never, ever hope to come close to doing what he did. His gift was early music, and it’s not mine. To try and continue as before is impossible. Hard as it is to come to terms with, it’s true. I can only do what I do. My gift is connecting people, uplifting people, sharing insights, being a host. So I need to follow the spirit of my gift, in whatever form it needs to manifest.

It was last year on the 27th that dad died, and a year ago January that the Studio flooded and ruined the gorgeous oak floor on which so many performances had taken place. A year since my heart was doubly broken. While I haven’t done as much as maybe I’d originally thought I would in the year since, I have to understand that this has been an important year, a necessary year. Like my cold, this stopping-in-my-tracks business of the flood, the demo and the slow start to rebuilding, this seemingly fucked up situation has actually turned to reveal itself as a gift. The gift of time for inner adjustment, the time to let go of what things were, to begin to nurture an idea of what things might yet be…

Recently, the forester called me to say they were ready to put the landing in for the logging equipment. Two years behind schedule, the logging of my family’s woods was finally scheduled to happen – which would not only put some money in the coffers to continue rebuilding, but it would, in the process, provide the Studio with its own parking lot. I can’t remember feeling as happy, joyful and hopeful in years as when he told me the news. We’re waiting on a good deep freeze to get the heavy equipment in, and because it’s been so warm and rainy lately, I almost feel as if it’ll never happen. As if the call from the forester might just have been a dream. When I get super down, I try to conjure that feeling of excitement, of progress. Not sure I’ll believe it til I see it. The drive is marked, I’ve circled the keeper trees with nylon tape, and the crew will call me when they’re on the way. I’ve been told that when it starts, it’ll happen fast. Which is good, cuz I could use some forward movement just about now.

In such unsuspecting ways do these life gifts reveal themselves. And in so many ways, this waking life itself is kinda like a dream. It meanders around new corners and pushes you into strange, unanticipated situations. And sometimes, I think, it might just be better to be surprised. Isn’t it more fun sometimes not to know what happens next? After all, it’s the element of surprise that makes it so exciting to unwrap a gift…

 

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Post Script:  Speaking of service, today I remembered Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. as I searched my shelves for some new inspirational reading. My father and he were friends at Yale, where Rev. Sloane was chaplain – the two of them also sang in the Yale Glee Club – and I had Bill’s last book “Credo” autographed one year as a Christmas gift for my father. I was fortunate to enjoy a few conversations with Reverend Sloane; at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how lucky I was to have spoken with him. In revisiting some YouTube videos of him recently, I have a new appreciation for the fellow. In person he was just as warm and supportive as you’d imagine him to be. Here’s a short clip of Bill receiving an honor for his service, and some of this thoughts on the state of our world…

 

Saratoga Streets September 2, 2014

Well, it’s here. The end of the tourist season in Saratoga Springs, New York. Elihu was away for much of the summer, but he still got a little time in busking and meeting folks. I keep telling him to rake it in while he’s still relatively little and cute, cuz the tips just don’t come as easily when you’re a pimply-faced teenager (or an adult!). But in the end, he does it because he loves it, and the money is really just icing on the cake. He will likely continue to play into the cold months, but the sweet season is over for this year. Here are some highlights of our final weeks on the streets of Saratoga…

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I’m always extra proud of my son when he tips the other street performers without a word from me (and he always does).

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This is chalk art by Alexis Broz, now billing herself as the ‘original’ chalk artist of Saratoga. You go, sister, we know you are!

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Here Alexis left her imprint on a T-shirt artist’s street space.

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We ran into some fellow Waldorf School students and everyone hung out for a bit.

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Here’s the charismatic Eryn (and also a former student of Elihu’s teacher at Waldorf) doing her thing, shortly before jetting off to attend The American University in Paris.

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Another view of the same scene.

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Cecil Myrie’s a Jamaican banjo player who’s been a staple of the Saratoga street scene for the past three decades. (Here he’s showing Elihu how to play this resonant bass box.) He has bone cancer now, and in spite of his desire to, he just wasn’t able to muster the physical strength he needed to join us out on the town. As we chatted about life – and about Chicago – imagine my surprise when he recounted for me his memories of hanging out at the “Step-Hi Lounge” on Wabash… the very haunt in which I myself passed away many hours in my days as a film student at Columbia College. (CCC is right across the street, but the Step-Hi is now no longer: a parking lot takes its place.)

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Cecil’s trying to give me a lesson, but I’m having a hard time here…

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Okay, I’m pulling it together now…

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But my lil man has it down. Just look at that left hand!

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And speaking of mentors, here’s our dear pal Ed, at Saratoga Guitar, giving Elihu a little impromptu lesson.

IMG_0883Looking good Elihu! Maybe next year you’ll have another trick up your sleeve when busking season arrives.

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Here he is on the final day of racing at the track (the major tourist attraction here since 1863).

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Here Elihu is playing alongside Skidmore music degree grad Paul, who plays the Gyile from Ghana, West Africa. It’s tuned in a crowd-pleasing pentatonic scale, and thanks to Paul’s great feel, he rocked those five notes hard all afternoon. Goodbye til next year, all you fellow buskers… it’s been a lovely season.

 

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Dream Gene July 23, 2014

Woke up in a sort of zombie-like state this morning. As usual, my dreams had taken me to far-off places full of fantasy, and in waking my heart sunk to remember the mundane reality I’d returned to once again. Not mundane in that it itself isn’t full of its own unique twists and turns or even challenges and new experiences, but rather mundane in the sense that the feeling is the same; my surroundings look the same as they did yesterday – and many hundreds of days before yesterday, too. The smell of my room is the same, the sounds of cars passing on the distant road, the birds, the whistling of the teapot – all of these are just the same as they have been all of my life. In short, my waking world hardly changes from day-to-day, while my dream state each night takes me to far off places and fascinating scenarios which almost always make waking a disappointing experience. How can waking life compete with a Mad Max futurescape in which handfuls of near-vacant apartment buildings with abandoned pools and gardens sit aside a vast, inland sea waiting to be explored? Or a mysterious, urgent migration to a dusty, desert country surrounded by masses of people and filled with amazing new landscapes? Just two of my several dreams last night. Just two places of the many thousands I’ve visited. I suppose I’d rather have those memories than not, it’s just that it makes coming back something of a bummer.

“You get that from your father”, my mom has always said when I begin to try to describe any one of my dreams. And it makes me smile to think of it. Yeah, my dad would be as confounded as I am when he’d vainly try to tell us about his previous night’s travels. “Oh sweetie boopis, I had a dream,” he’d start, smiling and trying my mother for an interested ear, and she’d almost always wave him off, saying “oh daddy”… Regardless, he’d make an attempt to draw us into his dreams; he’d begin to tell us bits and pieces of his recollections… He, like me, would struggle to convey the detail, the nuance, the essence of the dreams – with near fruitless results. I always felt bad for him that we couldn’t share in his visions with the enthusiasm he so desired, because I knew how he felt. Many times I’d raise my eyebrows and tilt my head in apology, telling dad that we sincerely wanted to share in his excitement, but we couldn’t possibly ever know what he’d seen. In the end we’d wind up chuckling at whatever humorous or fantastical remnants he could recall for us. Dad was a charming and funny man, and he could make just about any story, however incomplete, a delightfully entertaining little piece.

For years I’ve stated, in all sincerity, that my dreams are the better part of my life. Usually folks protest when I say this – some even seem to take offense from my remark – and they’ll remind me how much I have to be grateful for, how exciting my life here really is. I point out to them that I don’t disagree with them; I’ve had a wonderful variety of experiences in my life, and as most lives go, I’d say it was one of the more interesting ones to have lived. But still…. there is simply no way that this earth-bound life can compete, no matter how many places I visit, no matter how many lovely, serendipitous moments I experience, no matter how many delicious foods I taste or how much gorgeous music I may hear or how many beautiful pieces of art I may observe or how much exquisite weather I feel – none of it can possibly stack up to my dreams.

Usually, it’s the sense of place that strikes me first in my dreams. A landscape, the architecture, the light and mood, and mostly, the sense of space. It’s nearly impossible to describe, but my surroundings can be expansive and yet intimate at the same time. The best way I can think of to describe it is that it’s a bit like looking over a toy train set. In one glance you can see the town, the countryside beyond, you can understand the scope of the land to its horizon, and yet at the same time you can see the components that make up the town; the buildings, the cars, the signs, the tiny windows – and even the people inside the windows. You’re able to take all of it in and understand the whole scene from the minutiae to the monumental, all in one fell swoop. And it’s like that with my dreamscapes too. Often I visit a place on the edge of a large body of water. Often there are buildings, pools, gardens, pathways and plazas… I can trace the general components back to my hometown of Chicago; it seems to be the inspiration for this reoccurring theme. Lord knows I miss that lake and that city. I miss water dearly too, and so seem to make up for it in my dreams. But there are the adventures too – not always pleasant, but still compelling. Last night, for example, I suffered through a chapter of a ‘not prepared for the gig’ dream (which will no doubt have musicians smiling, this is not a phenomenon exclusive to me!) and while it was not pleasant, the feeling that was ever-present as a backdrop to the nasty situation more than made up for it. I was in a plastic, phenomenal place, and it promised to morph soon enough, taking me away and into a more agreeable situation. Truly, it’s more about that elusive feeling than the specifics. Language cannot convey this essence, this feeling. It simply can’t be shared with anyone else on the planet. Its memory can be savored, but only alone. Dreams, as transporting and restorative as they might be, remind me of how isolated each one of us truly is here on this earth. Dreams are my salvation, and sometimes my prison, too.

I have many memories of dreams that are for me as real as any memories of this world. When you get right down to it – what’s the different between one memory and the next? They are both no longer current experiences; they are simply recollections of a past experience, whether real or imagined, and they both now live solely in your memory. The dream and the ‘real world’ memories are, therefore, equally real. I have learned so much from my dreams and traveled so extensively, that knowing I can’t choose to revisit these places and circumstances again – under my direct control, that is – often gives me a profound sense of loss and sorrow. How can I hope to make anyone understand? I’ve yet to meet another person, except for my father, whose dreams were so rich and vivid and full of detail. So real. Who yearned deeply to return to these places. Whose heart broke upon waking from them.

On mornings like this, it can take me a little extra time to get going. To shake it off, to come to, to get back to the to-do list. Maybe that’s why this morning’s unfolding a little slower than usual. I’ve completed all of the domestic projects I’d intended, my garden is as finished as it’s going to be (and looking rather pretty too), my coop is doing fine, the flock is blended, my house is clean and my basement organized. With nothing pressing in on me this morning (except the Studio – but that’s a whole new chapter which requires entirely new to-do lists) I find myself rather stuck. Not a bad place to be, I guess. It’s kinda like a pause in the flow. This morning it’s taking me a little bit longer coming to terms with this reality again. A couple of phone calls have come in as I’ve been writing this, and they’ve helped pull me back into the physical world. And today I could use a little help in waking up, because the dream thing in me runs deep. After all, it’s in my genes.

 

Toddlin’ Town July 14, 2013

Man, did we toddle around town. We saw so much in one short week. Still weren’t able to do some things on our list, but we did a lot… Again, might be too many pics for some folks’ interest, but thought I’d share em anyhow. I still can hardly believe I was in Chicago just a week ago. I kinda need these photos to remind me that yes, I was. (Btw – this is my final post on our trip. I promise.)

July 2013 trip B 016First thing we see as we step outside Union Station.

July 2013 trip B 019First thing Elihu does is whip out his drum and join a busker on the station steps.

July 2013 trip B 033Next, our friend Marja invites us up to her office on Michigan Avenue for a look at the city from the 21st story.

July 2013 trip B 042This view has what’s known in my family as a ‘high pucker factor’. I won’t mention which part of the body it is that puckers up at this dreadfully alarming height. I’ll leave the answer up to your fertile imaginations.

July 2013 trip B 091The view South down Michigan Avenue.

July 2013 trip B 101See that pointy building with the ‘bump’ on top? Some locals call it the ‘buglamp’. It’s a giant, blue light that has been part of the skyline since the ’30s. And I’m lucky to have been one of the few to have actually been inside the thing. Another enchanted story of a more innocent time… I had merely expressed my interest in visiting the dome to an employee of the building, and within minutes I was inside the two-story lamp, climbing a ladder to a makeshift plywood floor beside a giant blue light bulb. We swung open a large panel of glass and then sat with our legs dangling out and over the side, while we took in the breathtaking view of Grant Park to the East. In this day and age that sounds unbelievable. But it happened. And it’s a memory I treasure.

July 2013 trip B 109Now we’re looking East. Navy Pier visible just between the buildings on the far left. And speaking of that leftmost building, at 82 stories it’s the tallest building in the world designed by a woman-lead architectural team. “Aqua” has a lovely, continuous curving shape delineated by its balconies, and which gives the building the feeling of a wonderful, twisting sort of movement. I’m a fan of Jeanne Gang!

July 2013 trip B 074It’s the bean! Still think of this as a new part of Chicago, but it’s already been there since 2006. Oh, and it’s actually entitled ‘Cloud Gate’. Just so ya know.

July 2013 trip B 063That’s me and Marja waving. She’s got the bright yellow-green pants.

July 2013 trip B 065One of those classic tourist pics…

July 2013 trip B 753And now, to Evanston. This is my old, beloved home. Miss that living room and its enormous windows. In keeping with the former family’s traditions, each year we put up a giant, 20 foot Christmas tree that could be seen by all who passed. The place has been known to generations as ‘the Christmas tree house’, and in fact that’s how I first knew this place as a young girl.

July 2013 trip B 693Also miss the treasure hunts in those awesome city thrift stores. Dig that telephone!

July 2013 trip B 881We’re at The Guitar Works in Evanston. Owner Terry Straker is a pilot. Planes are more exciting than guitars any day. !

July 2013 trip B 932This is the shit that makes me miss Chicago. Saratoga is nice, but sometimes I really miss all the funk of a city.

summer trip 2013 A 006Inside at the Green Mill. Like coming home.

summer trip 2013 A 002Looking up and seeing Von so unexpectedly made me tear up. Hard to believe he’s been gone almost a year. Bless you, Vonski. Thanks for helping us all to ‘express’ ourselves.

summer trip 2013 A 026Closest thing I have to proof I sang there that night. My kid forgot to snap a pic of Mama. Sure had a good time. A line down the street and around the corner, and shoulder-to-shoulder inside. Fun for a night, but not quite my speed anymore.

summer trip 2013 A 061Back in Rogers Park, the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago, where Fareed and I lived  for 12 years. We had a great little two bedroom co-op right on the beach, with a balcony and view of the city. (Evanston is the next town up the shore from here). The title of Fareed’s album ‘Manresa’ was not inspired by some exotic destination, but rather from the name of this very apartment building. (I have a similarly-posed pic of his dad from the 80s on the same spot.)

summer trip 2013 A 130At Evanston’s beautiful (and expensive!) South Boulevard beach.

summer trip 2013 A 071Ah, wind and water. Nothing comes close to that feeling.

summer trip 2013 A 119Folks who’ve never been to Chicago rarely think of beaches. But some of the very best are here.

summer trip 2013 A 117Just sand, water and horizon. And two pretty seagull feathers.

summer trip 2013 A 133Good-bye for now, dear beach!

summer trip 2013 A 136At our old next-door neighbor’s 4th of July party. That’s Barbara, the new resident of our old home resting on the fence.

summer trip 2013 A 152Chicago’s fireworks on Navy Pier, as seen from the Chicago Yacht Club. Not a great experience when you compare it to Saratoga. In a small-ish town it’s possible to get right up close and under the action. Here, the display was a good quarter of a mile away.

summer trip 2013 A 166But Elihu’s not really here for the fireworks…

summer trip 2013 A 179He was rockin it. Had a big crowd nearly the whole time – and dozens of folks recording him too…

summer trip 2013 A 184Tried busking at the bean but got shut down by the fuzz. We kinda thought it might happen. But they were nice about it.

July 2013 trip B 860Elihu was pooped! Lil man did really well. We packed a lot into a short time. (Note the Ben 10 Omnitrix watch. Elihu is usually so precocious and grown-up that I can sometimes forget he’s still a little boy. He wore that thing day and night for the whole week. So adorable. !)

summer trip 2013 A 214Our final stop in Evanston; the rose garden and crane fountain. Shortly thereafter Elihu and I parted ways, as he went to spend the next month with his father, and I left to catch the train back to New York. This was a phenomenal trip. Elihu will never forget his tenth summer. And it’s still not half over! Chicago’s finished for us this year, but no doubt there’ll be a few more summer adventures to come…

 

Family of Friends July 13, 2013

Here are some of our dear friends. We really just think of them as our extended family. It’s these folks who motivate us to visit Chicago when we can…

July 2013 trip B 439We met Marja first. Been years since I’ve seen her, but it’s like no time has passed.

July 2013 trip B 446And next, Judy joins us. She’s had a rough year, losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. The following day she and her two daughters are going to Costa Rica for a well-deserved break.

July 2013 trip B 448The three of us together again after many years. Marja toasted to all of us finding our bright, new lives as re-created women. We three are embarking on husband-less lives for the first time. We’re in different places regarding those losses and life changes, but things will definitely continue to get better for all of us.

July 2013 trip B 532The core of Evanston women we almost always see when we’re here. Doree next to me, Della across from her, and our host Priscilla, in back on right (in whose home we always stay. It’s just across the street from our old house.)

July 2013 trip B 494We love Mr. Lee! He’s been feeding us for years…

July 2013 trip B 553And I love these three men too. Great musicians, but more important, men of warm hearts, each with a wonderful sense of humor as well. Gus, on the left, leads the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago from the banjo chair; I thoroughly enjoyed singing with them for many years. Marshall in the middle is a multi-instrumentalist who, knowing me to be a guitar widow, once rode his bike to my house, guitar on his back, on my birthday, and serenaded me and Eli with an acoustic version of the Kiss ballad “Beth”. Tommy, why he pre-dates my ex husband, as he asked me out just a few hours before Fareed did, some 27 years ago. Don’t let his straight face and cool demeanor fool you. He’s a sweetie – as well as a deft, surfer-style guitarist.

July 2013 trip B 604And here’s Ann… Originally from Montana, she’s a long-time resident of the Chicago area now. She was Elihu’s first babysitter. Once a week she came to take over for a couple of hours. Fareed wasn’t around much to spell me, so this gal stepped in. She’s known Eli since he was just a few months old. I am still grateful to her for the respite she provided me.

July 2013 trip B 593Yay! Three-fourths of the Sniderman family! Dan plays trombone in The Prohibition Orchestra. I’d bring tiny Elihu to our gigs while his wife Lisa was pregnant with their first. Lil Elijah came after. (Joella’s sitting next to Elihu on my side of the booth.)

July 2013 trip B 611Rob, the fellow on the left was, was first known to me decades ago as ‘the guy who worked at Second Hand Tunes’. He’s a highly knowledgeable man of music, as is Bill, on the right, expert on all things R&B as well as a – gasp – published author on the subject!

July 2013 trip B 630And Richard is a greatly talented professional artist, specializing in vehicles of transportation. Trains, cars, planes. Elihu was deeply thrilled to see him draw. It was Richard who gave Elihu his first set of gray-scale markers. (Elihu sees no color.)

July 2013 trip B 796But at the end of the day, THIS is why we came. It was our old friend Carl Wilson’s 100th birthday on June 30th, 2013. He expressed a desire to see me at his birthday party – but was told it was impossible. He had no idea I would not only be there – but that I’d be singing, too! He wanted to hear ‘Stardust’ but got one better; he and I danced while singing it together as the music played. Everyone’s heart was bursting. A moment for the ages.

July 2013 trip B 786Carl, holding his great grand niece, who is just six weeks old. Wow.

July 2013 trip B 768Here he is, dancing with the always lovely Blair…

July 2013 trip B 771And check this out! Would ya ever have thought? He’s a hundred years old!  Hope we’re all getting that! Inspirational indeed.

July 2013 trip B 814Folks danced…

July 2013 trip B 811…and danced

July 2013 trip B 762Folks also sat it out in the sun while a nice breeze kept things from getting too warm.

July 2013 trip B 797Christie, the gal in blue, grew up in our old house across the street. Her father, Eugene Stoyke, was the architect of that gorgeous mid-century gem, built in 1955. Charlie, her husband, now enjoys beekeeping and silently panicking his uptight, new-moneyed neighbors. That’s Priscilla behind me. It’s her house we’re in, and I’m wearing the requisite fighting badger red and white in honor of her late husband and UW alumnus, broadcaster Les Brownlee (who is known to have coined the phrase “eyewitness news”).

July 2013 trip B 779My old friend, Mike. One of the greatest jazz guitarists around. It was an absolute joy to sing with him that afternoon for Carl’s landmark birthday. Mike is also the parent of a ten year old child; daughter Gabriella is a talented singer.

July 2013 trip B 823The party continued long after we stopped playing.

July 2013 trip B 834These two each got to sing a couple of tunes on the mic.

July 2013 trip B 871Here’s Priscilla and Elihu in the living room of her home. Which also feels very much like our home when we’re there.

July 2013 trip B 890Now it’s on to friends Chloe and Brad. They’ve got the good stuff.

July 2013 trip B 896Now this is something lil man will never forget.

July 2013 trip B 912Man, Chloe. You and your house are too cute.

July 2013 trip B 924Wait – we’re kinda cute together too, aren’t we? She was in my wedding. Another lifetime.

3Chloe and Brad lead a favorite Chicago-based band, The Handcuffs. Bye guys, thanks for such a great visit!

July 2013 trip B 978A too-short, but very enjoyable visit with our friends Stacy and Jeff. Once a rock guitarist who currently owns a recording studio, Jeff has just completed his training as a registered nurse. His wife, a performer, comedian, singer and writer, is a woman full of great warmth and spirit. In spite of some personal health challenges thrown at her over the past few years, she continues to demonstrate that it’s possible to live in love and kindness in spite of a profoundly crappy situation. This is their new baby Lulu. She is the gentlest, sweetest and most loving dog you’ll ever meet. She’s convinced me that Pitbulls are a very misunderstood breed.

July 2013 trip B 968And it’s on to the Stacey’s house. I played in a band with Julian and Jordan’s mom and dad – and I ‘knew’ Julian (younger, at left) when his mom was still pregnant with him. She was playing bass with a rather loud band in hopes of bringing on labor. Then, when the two were toddlers, I’d pick them up and ‘put them away’ when I was done playing with em. I’d pretend to squeeze the small boys into a bookshelf or bin, the refrigerator, sometimes even the stove. ! Made for loads of laughter. Now just look at em. Jordan (right) got married this past week. Julian’s the drummer in the family, and in fact he first learned to play on my old set.

July 2013 trip B 975Here we are with the addition of little sister Alaina. She has got the most beautiful voice, and her songwriting talents far exceed her age. Seems she’s moving to Nashville soon. Alaina Stacey. Remember that name.

July 2013 trip B 981And here’s mom Cindy! She’s trying on her dress for Jordan’s wedding. Not her usual attire, I feel I must add. !

July 2013 trip B 990Papa Chris Stacey.

July 2013 trip B 1008The two pretend to fall asleep at the end of our visit. Cuties.

summer trip 2013 A 138We stopped by to visit neighbors Rafael and Dennis on the 4th… Miss living next door to them.

summer trip 2013 A 209And neighbor on the other side, Jan. She once gave me the best piece of advice ever regarding moving into a new home: don’t make any big changes – especially with the lawn and garden – until you’ve lived there for one full year. That advice helped me in my two subsequent homes to make the best choices possible.

summer trip 2013 A 230We have a short visit with Fareed’s parents.

summer trip 2013 A 245The whole gang (at Reza’s).

summer trip 2013 A 274My ex mother-in-law, Nelly, and me.

summer trip 2013 A 284Guess only Elihu can get her to soften up a bit. If he can’t, nobody can!

summer trip 2013 A 282We did have a fun time hanging with Elihu’s dad. But there’s so much behind my ex’s eyes that I’ll never know – and that I probably never did know to begin with. Still, he’s great at just having a party (as a jam band guitarist, much of his time spent playing music is about creating that kind of energy). In spite of all the past hurt, I’m able to enjoy the occasional visit with this rather eccentric family, dad and grandparents too. But it’s probably just as well I don’t live near them anymore. Even after nearly three decades of living as a family, his folks have never seemed entirely thrilled with me. (But as Fareed always said, no one was ever good enough for him in their eyes. So I don’t take it personally). But we’ve been through a lot together, and I do love my former parents-in-law in spite of the craziness we’ve experienced through the years, so I made sure to tell them that when they dropped me off at the train. Never know when – or even if –  there’ll be a next time. Life, after all – friends and family included – is full of surprises, both good and bad.