The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

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…

 

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…

 

Culinary Tour July 11, 2013

One of the main objectives of our trip to Chicago was to taste all that food that both of us miss so. When Elihu stays with his dad they’re based out of DeKalb, which is a good hour west of the city. So when Elihu visits the Midwest, he doesn’t get to eat in the city much. This time, we had a local favorite every day of our trip. I was in heaven. Saratoga Springs may have some fancy shmancy restaurants – but there aint nothing like the places ‘back home’. Indulge me, if you will, as I share the highlights…

July 2013 trip B 027I’d prefer it from a small neighborhood joint, but Al’s Italian Beef was the first place we saw when we got off the train…

July 2013 trip B 022This was lil man’s first Italian beef sandwich. He dug it. Me too. (My first real carbs in months!)

July 2013 trip B 469Our first dinner was at the iconic Heartland Café in Rogers Park.

July 2013 trip B 456I had what I’ve been ordering for over a quarter of a century: the Dukes Tostada.

July 2013 trip B 457It always ends just like this.

July 2013 trip B 569Aha! Finally, after two long years, we’re at Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston!!

July 2013 trip B 751Such a great, warm vibe in this place.

July 2013 trip B 727Dave’s wife Ellen (at left) is such a magical and loving hostess. Always has little surprises for the kids. Never ceases to impress.

July 2013 trip B 697The ubiquitous signed wine bottles and cozy booth.

July 2013 trip B 621Elihu pays a visit to Dave himself in the kitchen. Ellen first carried Eli through this kitchen when he was not quite a week old.

July 2013 trip B 732Elihu visits Tuan, who’s worked there for decades now. He’s from Vietnam, and Elihu has wanted to learn Vietnamese for several years now (have no idea why or where that came from). Tuan’s telling him to learn Mandarin instead as it’s more useful.

July 2013 trip B 741There’s Paul (and Jimmy’s backside). Bye guys! Love ya!

July 2013 trip B 858Ok, time for some REAL Mexican food.

July 2013 trip B 847I woulda had the goat if I’d seen it first. Phooey.

July 2013 trip B 845Ah, Jarritos de tamarindo in a bottle. Yes.

July 2013 trip B 559The next day, a little something sweet from Belgian Chocolatier Piron on Main Street in Evanston.

July 2013 trip B 561And away he goes with a cool $10 bag of treats. !

July 2013 trip B 919Our friends Chloe and Brad took us out for sushi at Hot Woks, Cool Sushi in Chicago! So nice of you guys! (Tastiest, most delicate spring rolls I’ve had in years.)

summer trip 2013 A 038Next stop, Ethiopian Diamond in Rogers Park. Man, have I missed injera. This was SO good. Even better leftovers, too.

summer trip 2013 A 042You just use your hands to eat by picking up the food with the flat, spongy injera bread (which has a lemony sort of flavor).

summer trip 2013 A 057You know this place is the real deal cuz all the Ethiopian taxi drivers eat here. They were so kind and shared some of their fish with us. It was off-the-hook good.

summer trip 2013 A 031And with a cold Ethiopian beer – heaven.

July 2013 trip B 937Being in the business ourselves, we just had to stop in and see what this was all about.

July 2013 trip B 942These poor creatures are caged in the same room in which they are dispatched. Ich. But they had room to move and were fed and watered generously. I forgot to ask the guy if he said prayers before butchering or if he used any different techniques. Not convinced there was necessarily a more humane element to the preparation of halal meat.

July 2013 trip B 943He can’t resist.

July 2013 trip B 949These are the cones. The birds go in upside down, the necks are slit and they bleed out. Doesn’t sound like it, but it’s actually a rapid and fairly humane way in which to do it. No matter what you think, it’s way, way less stressful on the bird than the whole factory experience.

July 2013 trip B 500On to my MOST important culinary destination of this whole trip. Can Evanstonians guess where this might be??

July 2013 trip B 489You’re right! The Evanston Grill! Bless this place, unchanged in thirty-some years.

July 2013 trip B 513And this is what we’re here for. Mr. Lee’s Bi Bim Bop. Like none other in the world.

July 2013 trip B 522I just love the Lees. They are the hardest working people I know. No time off ever, except Sundays. And they go to church on that day, so I sure don’t know when they rest. !

July 2013 trip B 495How touching – Elihu’s drawing and our photo, sent at Christmastime, have been put up on the wall. (Those are the Lees’ son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren to the right of our pics.)

July 2013 trip B 1015This might be a new item on the menu. But then again, maybe I just never noticed it before as I was so focused on Bi Bim Bop. !

July 2013 trip B 1027The Lees have known Elihu since before he was born. I fueled up here often during my pregnancy with him. Later, as a mere baby, Elihu himself ate – and very much enjoyed – the Bi Bim Bop too. (That’s Oscar in the back, a tall Mexican fellow who has been the only cook at the Grill – besides Mr. Lee – for a decade. He DJs on the weekends.)

July 2013 trip B 1036One of my favorite views. Mr. Lee always has WFMT playing (the local classical station) and a stack of newspapers by the door. Never a more soothing and peaceful feeling was there in a diner.

July 2013 trip B 686And speaking of diners, this join hasn’t changed in forever either. Yay!

July 2013 trip B 685Love the homey, unpretentious feel. Such a wonderful neighborhood hang. Sometimes there’s hardly anyone there…

July 2013 trip B 664But on weekend mornings the place is packed.

July 2013 trip B 666I just LOVE that you get your cream in a pitcher. No fumbling about with those crazy-wasteful tiny half and half containers. !

July 2013 trip B 681One of the major reasons I come here (aside from the turquoise vinyl booths): their home made hot sauce. You can even buy a bottle. For $2.50. Why, oh why did I buy only one? I shoulda left with a case! My tiny bottle’s almost empty now!

July 2013 trip B 682

I cannot explain how exquisite this sauce is, and how it simply transforms an ordinary breakfast.

summer trip 2013 A 251

Well, diners may be just fine for the commoners, I guess, but the fancy folk go downtown. We’re finally at Reza’s for Middle Eastern food – and of course for Elihu’s number one favorite dish of ALL TIME: roasted quail.

summer trip 2013 A 253This place has high ceilings, a courteous waitstaff and doors that open to the street outside. It might be a classy place, but there really is no classy way in which to eat a quail. It really is a hands-on sort of thing.

summer trip 2013 A 258The enthusiasm just can’t be contained.

summer trip 2013 A 260It’s all over in short order.

And so ends our culinary tour of Chicago. Undid a bit of my previous weight loss success, but there is no question but that it was entirely worth it. I have no regrets, because nothing beats really good food.

A Post Script: Can’t find my pics of Cross Rhodes in Evanston. That was another important stopping point on our tour. I’m still trying to re-create their vinegar-y, oregano-y sauce on my own here. I’ve come close… but no cigar!

Two more post-post items, called to my attention by Facebook friends: first, Cross Rhodes owner and familiar face to all who ever entered the place, Jeffrey Russell, died last September. Thankfully, I knew way ahead of time so my heart wasn’t broken all throughout my meal. Second, there are two Ethiopian Diamond locations, each run by the same family – one’s on N. Broadway, one on N. Clark, both in Chicago, both fantastic.

If you haven’t tried any one of the places mentioned in this post, then DO. Each one has something extraordinary and unique to surprise and impress you.