The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Summerella July 1, 2017

There is a tree frog peeping loudly outside my kitchen door. Likely she is close by, and if I were so gifted, I might see her for myself. Surely, if my son were here, low vision child though he may be, he would locate the tiny amphibian in an instant. She is surprisingly loud and I consider looking for her, but I know that it would be in vain. For a moment, I am reminded of my child, and I miss him. I realize that I’ve spoken to him only once in the nearly two weeks he’s been away. It’s summer, and as always, he is with his father. Although at present I feel his absence very sharply, for the most part his time away is part of a schedule that works very well for me. When he is here during the academic year and life is fully underway I cannot stay on top of the maintenance required by a home with chickens, frogs, fish, basement and garage (never mind the arts venue), so this is the season when I turn my full attention to matters domestic. What is different this summer is that I am also making an effort to get out a little. To visit the world beyond my driveway, to hear some music, to meet some people, play a couple of new gigs, and shake off the antisocial mode which I find more comfortable and natural at this time in my life. There’s much to do, much to do. And thankfully, finally there’s some time in which to get it all done.

A jazz guitarist I’d known two decades ago through my ex husband was kind to reach out and invite me to the Jazz Festival here in Saratoga. (He may not have known that I wouldn’t have been able to afford a ticket on my own, so this was a doubly special surprise.) Having spent the last couple of months dieting and living a fairly boring, house-bound life, this was a perfect chance to welcome summer, enjoy some music and have a little interaction with people other than piano students. Truly, standing backstage and hearing such great music once again, feeling the kindness of my host and taking in all the wonder of such a perfect summer afternoon, I felt like a real-life Cinderella. I’d be back to feeding chickens and scrubbing baseboards soon enough, and so I allowed myself to fully sink into one absolutely glorious afternoon. We all wait a long, long time for summer, don’t we? Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend that it’s really here again. We must savor every moment, because the magic sure doesn’t last long…

Backstage at SPAC at the jazz festival. A Cinderella moment.

Resetting the stage.

This is a familiar sight for any Saratogian.

My friend, Dave Stryker’s quartet opened the fest. That opening spot can be a little less glamorous than it sounds. But they was swingin right out the gate. Mm-hm.

Mid-day it was Jean-Luc Ponty! Furreal, I wasn’t even sure the cat was still alive. ! Sorry, JL. They relived the Mahavishnu years. Nice.

Fish tacos. The best I have ever, ever had. Will be trying to duplicate this recipe for a long time. Lunch and a cold beer in the hot sun with Mr. Ponty’s band playing. A moment of summer perfection.

Next I followed the guys to the gazebo for a much more intimate show. (I am bummed to see myself looking so ‘thick’ in this shot. Ah well.)

The band. I almost forgot how good it feels to hear music that swings this hard.

Mr. Stryker. He’s got a new release out soon. Waste no time, get it for yourself. You will be happy. I promise. I’d asked Dave if he still enjoyed what he did, and immediately realized the ridiculousness of my inquiry. That was not really what I’d meant to ask. Instead, I’d wondered to myself how on earth he had the energy to continue to do what he did. But I guess if you’re really good at something that you love doing, you find the energy. I feel overwhelmed and just plain pooped so much of my life these days, that it’s kinda hard to imagine what that might feel like. But I do remember what it was like in my 20s and even my 30s; playing, recording and touring in bands wasn’t overwhelming, it was just what we did. Yeeks. These days I’m exhausted just thinking about it. !

Soon after the set I followed Dave to the shed and got a chance to hear a set from the wings.

I heard Danilo Perez (piano), who I had also known a few decades before, early in my ex’s career. Crazy, but Danilo didn’t look any older – and his smile, his energy and spark – all there. Wonderful to witness. That’s Joe Lovano in the hat to the right of the trumpet player – hadn’t seen him in years either. A nostalgic feeling to hear these sounds and see these people.

The end of the set.

I took a little tour of the grounds…

…and ended up sitting with Diz, (in the blue shirt at right) the local banjo/guitar/mando teacher at Saratoga Guitar. Diz and Liz. Cute, yes?

Ever heard or heard of the Suffers? If not, you’d like em. They’re from Houston – and that singer made sure we all knew it. Good on these guys – a couple of years ago they all had legit day jobs. Now look! Sweet.

This is Jacob Collier. WOW. Since he’s still only a babe in his early 20s, his vids from just a couple of years ago look like those of such a young boy… Hard to comprehend that he’s got honest-to-goodness jazz chops, can play so many instruments, that he sings so well and has such a positive personality and is so good with an audience. Mind blown. (Guess that was his melodica waiting on the stand in that first pic I took backstage…)

Closing out the night…. Miss Chaka Kahn. !!!

Sistah! Damn can she sing. And she is friggin gorgeous. What a glorious way to close out my Cinderella night.

…Cuz before I know it, it’s back on the farm. Dear Bald Mountain is aging rapidly now and gets a lot of tlc.

I stay inside, cleaning and culling our crap while the fish enjoy a rainy afternoon in the pond. I swear, they are joyful when it rains. They frolic. Furreal. I am not kidding. They love the rain.

The grosbeak visits again. (So does the dove – look to the far left!)

Up close.

And now the mourning dove. My mother hates them, swears at them when they linger in the road and calls them stupid birds (but notice, they never get hit. I think they know exactly what they’re doing.) How can you hate something with ‘love me’ eyes like this??

A few years ago I dropped a beautiful antique bottle which made me very sad, until I bent down to pick up the pieces and found this little bit… Magical.

Now shit’s gettin real. I have decided that rather than continue to put the crap (scuze me, the hand-me-downs) that friends have kindly given us into more and more and more bins, I will finally make a careful assessment of said bins and cull all that does not serve us. This is NO small feat.

Like with like. That’s how the sorting process starts for me. It can take 10 hours easy to get through this much stuff.

Refining the ‘like with like’ method. Hours and hours have transpired since the last pic.

And now items have been photographed, inventoried and put in bins to go out. All of it will be listed on Craigslist and if no takers, it’s off to the local church depository box. (Notice it is dark out now. This job started at 7 am. !!)

Elihu also wishes to lighten his load. He’s given me these items to sell. If he doesn’t get the $30 he wants for it, I believe I will finally have to put it in a box and give it to the Salvation Army.

Elihu and I are big fans of the crazy, bad English on ‘Chinesey’ things. Just look at this gem: Hot/Power/Invincibility/Thunder Burst/Speedy

Delight/Blazing/Top

Powerful/Deluxe…. and our very favorite: Make haste    !!!

I can’t touch his bird collection. In fact, I’m not sure this thing will move until the kid’s graduated from college. Taking this down would be the end of an era. Certainly it would signal the end of Elihu’s childhood.

His collection even includes a dead stuffed parakeet of ours named Seamus. Famous Seamus, that is.

Outside, the wild turkeys pass by our homestead without a chicken or a duck so much as flapping a wing.

The pantry is next. How does this get so out of order when I start out so clean and tidy?? Dang.

Ahh. I will sleep so much more peacefully tonite.

Using a flash, you can spot many a wing-ed thing in E’s densely packed room.

Before the planes, it was all about the birds. Naturally.

But this is how E’s room really looks. Dark and chill.

Finally, a moment to enjoy my favorite room in the house.

How sweet is this? A clean, quiet house and a freshly tuned piano. Girl’s gonna be sheddin a little before bedtime I think. It feels so good to have an organized house and a to-do list full of check marks. Now for a little Phoebe Snow, some Joni too, and maybe a couple of prog rock faves and hair band ballads to round it all out. My summer day comes to a perfect close.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busking and Back September 7, 2015

Never let it be said that we don’t live a rich life. Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself on account of our meager monetary situation, I have to step back and pause for a moment to remind myself of the bigger picture. True, we may not have a lot of money, but Elihu and I are rich in life experiences. For one, my son gets the advantage of two homes. In one situation he gets to enjoy a bit of road life with his musician father as well as a bustling household with two younger siblings and a crazy little dog . And when he’s here, he enjoys a nice mix of town and country living. We’ve come to know so many disparate sub-cultures in our life here, and better still – we’ve come to feel at home in all of them. From the down and dirty local animal auction house to the tony happenings in town, we’ve been lucky to get an inside look at it all.

Recently Elihu busked on the crowded streets of Saratoga. He sounded great (as usual) but better still got the chance to play with some other musicians. Many times I looked up to see him laughing in pure bliss. He was in the midst of some real action; he’d chosen a couple of very good nights to be out and playing. There were street musicians and performers taking up every niche and corner, and the sidewalks were absolutely filled with every manner of human being. The well-appointed racing crowd and the tattooed bikers, the young, leggy college girls and ancient, shuffling men, even young parents pushing strollers with sleeping young children draped over their shoulders. Bentleys and Maseratis trolled the streets, dogs and pet pigs walked the strip and the air was filled with sounds bouncing in from all directions. (When walking past a hot rod Elihu remarked ‘nice car’ to which its owner replied ‘nice mom’. I explained that while a few years ago I might have taken offense at the fellow’s remark, these days it was something of a treat to know I wasn’t completely invisible as I often feel these days.)

After several hours of playing, Elihu and I decided to head home sometime around midnight. We walked back to our car, which was parked behind a friend’s home just two blocks from Broadway, an incredibly valuable parking spot in the bursting tourist town. A full moon illuminated our walk through the alley. The scent of lingering phlox blossoms hung in the air, while the first sunflowers of late summer had already begun to bloom. Now the only sound we could hear was a chorus of invisible crickets. Only moments earlier we’d heard the acoustic assault of the street; the constant chatter of people milling about, street performers, loud, drunken people calling to each other over the crowds, and cover bands from almost every venue competing for airspace, their music ricocheting back and forth between the buildings on narrow Caroline Street. We’d seen a man throwing up in the middle of the road, we’d seen more than a few drunken woman come crashing down from their five inch heels onto the pavement, and we’d seen every manner of human – from homeless souls hunkering down in the shadows to handsomely dressed couples, women topped with the finest in modern millenery creations. The alley we walked down seemed almost like a dream in the wake of it all. “It’s so hard to believe that all that noise is completely gone now. Just a minute ago we were in it, and now, look, listen… Can you believe it?” Elihu said. He was thinking just like me. Yeah, I agreed, it was pretty mind-blowing. “Here we are almost in the country! We went from the city to the suburbs in only minutes!” he continued. “Yeah” I agreed, “and just wait ten more minutes, and we’ll really be in the country.”

As we turned onto our road, the full moon shone over the big field, and once again we were both floored by the almost immediate contrast between environments. Coming home is all the more precious on the heels of such chaos. Oh, and his take? Elihu made a cool $106. American Pharoah, the celebrity horse that everyone had staked their hopes on might not have made the big bucks as expected, but my little horse rode home a winner.

IMG_0068The county fair was also a highlight of the past couple weeks…. The Dekalb corn sign reminds me of my previous life in that small town of the same name (and yes, the variety of corn is also from that same Midwestern town).

IMG_0071Seriously? Sigh. And the next car sported a sticker that read “Drop Warheads of Foreheads”. Ich.

IMG_0072Kindred of that scary, ‘warheads on foreheads’ group, no doubt. How long will this close-minded, hateful thinking continue?

IMG_0075One kind of horse in action…

IMG_0078…and another.

Always a loud affair.

IMG_0111In this culture, folks know the cars and riders well. This guy’s a small celebrity…

IMG_0114…and he’s got the merch to prove it.

IMG_0148Elihu rushes past the cows…

IMG_0158…and into our friend Paul Van Arnum’s stand of planters and miscellaneous curios.

IMG_0175I’ve known Paul since I was four (his daughter Sherry and I are the same age and she was also matron of honor at my wedding). He and his wife Betsy are some of the hardest working people I’ve ever met. He runs a greenhouse and must keep the wood fires burning night and day all through the endless cold months. They have had their stand at the local farmer’s markets and fairs for decades; every last item must be unloaded, set up, and then packed away afterwards. Loads of physical work. He’s getting older now, and understandably he’s slowing down a bit. Not sure he’ll be at the fair next year, I hear they didn’t renew their contract for the booth space. Every era must end sometime, but I’m still a little sentimental. Glad we stopped by.

IMG_0189Paul’s thing is lava rock creations. None are to scale, all are absolutely charming; made with sincerity and love.

Watch as these little plants react to being touched.

IMG_0185Of course Elihu delights in the duck fountain. In the end, it’s always about the birds. (Btw – this year there were NO BIRDS of any kind at the fair due to a local bacterial infection in the area’s poultry. Huge bummer – and what’s more, we learned that the emu hen we’d been visiting and smooching for years had died in June. It took the wind out of our sails for sure, but on goes life. We’re thankful we had the opportunity to know a friendly emu.)

IMG_0129A beautiful sunset over the Washington County Fairgrounds.

IMG_0117A mysterious midway with the moon behind.

IMG_0144And a magical, serendipitous meeting with Phoenix and Jonah, two former Waldorf classmates whom Elihu has dearly missed. My son seldom smiles like this!

IMG_0198Phoenix is on the Scrambler too – he’s in the middle, waving.

IMG_0201The first ride of the year is a little scary as it starts…

IMG_0204But oh how we loved it. Went twice. Soothing and repetitious, it had a hypnotic effect.

IMG_0219This one is my all-time favorite. Being on a budget, I only went once, otherwise I would have gone on it again and again. There was some speculation as to the back story here: last year the ride was absent due to ‘technical difficulties’, and this year it returned as 1oo1 Nachts, rather than Nights. Technical or legal glitch – or perhaps both?

IMG_0196My legally blind son takes his chances on slim odds… He needs to get the ping pong ball into a narrow-mouthed glass jar in order to win a goldfish. I prepare him to be disappointed – even those with good vision don’t stand to win.

IMG_0234But wouldn’t ya know – for the second year in a row my kid actually won a fish! The man at the stand even remembered him, which made us both happy. (The fish now resides in our pond with six goldfish cousins.)

IMG_0334On to another kind of nightlife on the busy streets of Saratoga Springs, New York. Racing season is nearing its end, and the streets are jam-packed with revelers.

IMG_0331Elihu enjoyed sitting in with a group….

A little snapshot of Broadway buskers.

IMG_0315… and then he teamed up with Chris. We’ve seen Chris on Broadway over the years, but this is the first time they’ve played together. They were equally matched in skill and enjoyment. (He goes by ChrisUnited – no space – if you want to do a search for him.)

IMG_0317They made some money, but that wasn’t the reason these guys were playing.

Wish the audio were better – I promise you they sounded so much better in person.

IMG_0324They had an absolute blast.

IMG_0327Lots of personality here! This was a night we’ll always remember. Only a few more summer nights to go…


Post Script: The Studio’s open house and ‘friend-raiser’ will be on the last Sunday of September, from 1 – 5. There’s so much to do I almost think my head will explode. Elihu’s also going to be playing tuba in the orchestra this year, so we’re faced with a whole new adventure on that front. Because of all that’s been going on, I’ve found it challenging to create posts – and there will likely be far fewer in the coming months. Thanks as always for coming along on our adventures, and we’ll see you again as soon as possible…

 

Deep Summer July 20, 2015

It’s hard to believe it’s here again; that muggy mid-section of the year which from the bleakest winter day you cannot fathom ever returning… One hundred degrees in the sun, and the kind of relentless humidity that presses in and clings to every surface. Me, I can hardly stand this weather. But my son, he loves it. Ever since he was tiny he’s always said that he wants to go to Vietnam one day. He says that he actually loves this heat and humidity, and while I can’t help wonder if he doesn’t enjoy it all the more because it irks me so, I think I’m beginning to believe him. He isn’t slowed at all by the heat, but for me, it drives me to the brink. I find it hard to choose the right clothes. Hard to move around once I’m in those clothes. Hard to keep motivated. This is one of the reasons I feel so landlocked here in Greenfield; there is no escaping to the relief of a windswept beach. Instead, the vapors of the forest and field hang thick and unmoving in the air. While I feel a certain nostalgia at the scents of goldenrod, ferns and dampened pines (they remind me of my childhood; summer vacations, overnight camp and Baroque music), I can also say that that certain perfume brings with it a feeling of dread; there will no escaping the sweat that comes along with it. And think of all the musicians who must contend with the weather as they fight to keep their poor instruments in tune! It just seems to add insult to injury that the humidity spikes so mercilessly just as the outdoor music festival season reaches its peak. If only the weather could level out sometime in mid May and remain there until the fall. Yeah, if only.

I whine about it because it’s nice to get it off my chest, but truthfully, I bear it all with a bit more dignity than it might seem. It’s really more of an inner sort of anguish. I do manage to keep up with Elihu, I invent new itineraries for us, I make sure we aren’t lying about the house day upon day…. Every so often there are those afternoons where it just makes more sense to remain indoors on the comfort of the couch, surfing the great world beyond on our laptops, but for the most part we’re out and about. There are chickens to feed, gutters to clean, weeds to pull and concerts to attend. There’s busking to be done, there are frogs to be caught, tubas to be practiced and trampolines to be jumped upon. (Or is that the other way ’round? No, wait, that’s a joke…)

My last post had me cringing a bit; all that backward-longing, the clumsy pep talk about my future… In re-reading it, it feels as if I was saying the things I thought I should be feeling…. All that second-guessing of my goals and abilities, an encrypted bid for outside vindication veiled in the modest, self-effacing style of a middle-school girl’s journal entry. I guess it struck me as slightly jive because another two weeks on, and I’m exactly where I was before my spike of can-do spirit. The return of my son, and with him, the nonstop daily job of being a single mother, it’s reminded me that simply starting over again as a working musician is not exactly going to be simple. First, what to do with the kid? I’m making headway with material, but still, there’s new stuff to incorporate, and I find it’s sinking to the bottom of the list. It’s harder to find the oomph to learn tunes that I don’t particularly enjoy. And so I don’t. But that’s ok for now, because The Studio is entering into a new phase with much outdoor construction taking place, in addition to a good deal more to complete on the interior, and I need to be present for all of it. And I still have to feed the kid. Me, when my kid’s not here, I go for hours – entire days – without a thought of food. I’m all about getting shit done. But the brakes slam on pretty hard when the kid’s back. Which is ok. Elihu is 12, he’s on his way to being a young adult. He might still find making Ramen a bit of a challenge (he’s got his dad’s spazzy gene when it comes to some simple tasks), but in a pinch he could probably get through a day without me. So while my snazzy new role as rockin keyboard mama might not come to fruition this summer, I think next year it’ll be much more likely. I’m not stalling here, just investing my energy where the reward will be greatest. And in all honesty, cover jobs will always be there. The Studio will not build itself, nor rent itself out. I’ve put a great deal of time into the place lately, and can see the light now. I don’t wish to be overly cheerful and optimistic about its future – I admit it, I’m still too nervous; bold, decisive language still frightens me. I’ve spoken robustly about our future here before, but in this moment, I’m just kind of holding on until we can get the plumbing turned back on and the kitchen finished.  I think those final touches will embolden me to be more visionary. Hell, for the time being I’m choosing to blame my chill attitude on the less-than-chill weather.

Things are moving. There is no stasis, that’s for sure. Every week there’s a new adventure, and even more so when lil man’s here. Elihu will be rejoining his father for much of August, and there will be house guests here in his absence, so much will be going on during the summer that remains. My enthusiasm might be wilting a bit in all this heat, but heatwaves don’t last forever.

IMG_0025Sussy takes the heat well. Behind her are sprouting some super-gigantic goldenrod plants, well-fertilized by their location in the middle of the chicken run. Chicken poop can result in some crazy-big plants. !

IMG_0013I actually enjoy cleaning the gutters. I always seem to put it off for months and usually get to them when – you got it – it’s super hot out. Once you’re sweaty and uncomfortable, why not get even more sweaty and uncomfortable? Better to be productive than not.

IMG_0011On rainy nights the frogs are easy prey on local roads. We stock our pond each year with a variety of sizes.

IMG_0062Martha’s birthday was a couple of days ago. We’d planned on having a party anyhow, but it just didn’t work out that way. We did all meet up in the kitchen. (See how lost we all look. Even the camera couldn’t find its focus!) Every birthday of Martha’s we can remember was always the very hottest day of the summer. Strangely, this year the heat broke and the weather was cool and rainy.

IMG_0096As life would have it, there was another place we wanted to be that same night… Forty years ago at the age of 12 I first heard the great David Amram here in Saratoga, and now Elihu is here, at the same age, taking in that same experience. (Locals, please go hear the Dylan Perillo Orchestra – some of his musicians played behind David. They had a wonderful roster of tunes in their set, great charts, and a solid, swingin feel. Leader Dylan is the bassist, and his on-mic style was minimalist and quirky ala Steven Wright. Needless to say Elihu was way beyond impressed. And dig this – Chicago pianist Ron Perillo is his cousin. Say what? The world contracts once again.)

IMG_0102I have been lucky to share the stage with David a couple of times. Luckier still to witness him playing an impromptu version of “Pull My Daisy” on my Rhodes, back in our Evanston home. Crazy thing is, he remembers all of it.

IMG_0091The man and his necklaces.

IMG_0078Elihu gets up close to the neck gear…

IMG_0079…and enjoys a bit of a chat with David.

IMG_0126The next day there’s action at the site of the Studio’s future parking lot.

IMG_0140The site is being excavated in order to tie in the new kitchen to the existing septic system. A friend helped me with some post-construction cleaning inside, and between the two of us we put in over ten hours. Still so much to do.

IMG_0124Al, our earth-moving friend, has changed the grade behind the Studio in order to provide a perennially wet spot some necessary drainage. Formerly surrounded by woods, it’s a bit odd for me to see the building so exposed. We will be replanting evergreens at some point in order to fill in the space. We’re just doing things the right way so as to avoid problems in the future. A modest venue, but so much work has gone into it.

IMG_0231A far less modest venue: SPAC. Saratoga Performing Arts Center. (Chicago friends, this is what Ravinia wishes it were. Sorry, but true.) Today we are here to see New York City Ballet, which makes SPAC its summer home. I grew up going to the NYCB regularly, but today is a first for Elihu.

IMG_0163We arrived with two hours to kill inside the park before the ballet started, so our first stop was the Auto Museum.

IMG_0172A car very similar to the one my grandfather, Judge Conant, drove in 1932. Dad recalled holding on for dear life in the rumble seat with his brother David as their father raced down the winding Adirondack roads.

IMG_0176Far less glamorous was my first car, a 1986 Mustang. Yellow. One of the only non-cool Mustangs ever.

IMG_0183We lunched at the Gideon Putnam Hotel with Saratoga’s finest. Remind me to tell the story sometime of how I once spent the night there with Patti LaBelle and Stevie Ray Vaughn. It’s not what you think. But memorable. !

IMG_0184Heading down to the backstage area.

IMG_0188Took this on the fly – we kinda snuck in backstage for a quick look-see. The dancers are there on the left, just outside the wings waiting for their entrance.

IMG_0142Elihu’s very first look at SPAC from the inside.

IMG_0150Our seats are in the front row – check out these tympani covers.

IMG_0217We’re right behind the pit!

IMG_0215We need seats like these – it’s the only way my little Achromat can see… Even here there isn’t a lot of definition. But I was impressed that he could see well enough to glean the story from the movement… Made me happy.

IMG_0203At intermission we made a new friend. I went to find him on Facebook and wouldn’t ya know, we have a couple of friends in common already. Once again, small world.

IMG_0221Afterward we met Andrew, another twelve year old – only he was a dancer! That was fun.

IMG_0228Crossing the bridge that leads across a creek far below, Elihu stops to mimic the concert posters.

IMG_0230Can’t forget our buddy Yannick! We are excited to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra – and hero, tubist Carol Jantsch – at the end of August.

IMG_0202This selfie gives you a little idea of the perspective here. Or maybe not quite. Trust me, it’s a long way down. Take note of that white formation on the right – shortly it will be the site of a dramatic moment in our afternoon.IMG_0239En route to the riverside walk we sample a spring. It was the most displeasing of all the springs we have tasted – and Elihu actually enjoys that sulfury-tasting crap. We thought this spring was “Horrendable”.

IMG_0240A long way down.

IMG_0334It’s exciting to finally be here!

IMG_0251The mineral-laced water from this particular spring has created this huge deposit in the form of a small mountain. Much of its surface is continually under a film of falling water.

IMG_0345Up close. It shimmers in real time, as a film of water descends.

IMG_0342Here’s a look back at the bridge we were on earlier.

IMG_0357The narrow ledge upon which we walked was all chalky white mineral residue covered with running water.

IMG_0360The water empties into the stream.

IMG_0367Here’s the path we followed to get downstream.

IMG_0285Once we were at the water’s edge, we had fun. The father of these boys grew up in Rogers Park in Chicago – just off of Devon Avenue – blocks from where I myself (and Elihu’s father) had lived. Later this man lived in Buffalo Grove, the town in which my late friend Bob Gand lived. He’d spent time in my hometown of Wilmette, too. He didn’t seemed impressed by it all, but I sure was. Small world stuff always blows my mind.

IMG_0298When wildlife wasn’t to be found, we busied ourselves making cairns in the running water.

IMG_0328I ended up making ten of em. I had a blast.

IMG_0356Elihu catches his breath after a frightening couple of minutes and an urgent lecture from a short-of-patience mom.

Things turned – and turned scary for a moment – when Elihu misjudged the relative elevations of the path and the water. He mistook a ledge for a shallow entry into the water, and in an instant he was up to his waist in the creek, clinging to the rough rock by his fingertips. I did a lightening-fast assessment of the situation, and realized the water was not more than three feet deep there, and if need be I could jump in and grab him. I was overcome with fear and anger all at once, and before I made my move to rescue him I chewed him out.

Poor kid, with his vision, things are bound to go wrong at some point, but still, I always tell him he has to be so much more diligent about assessing things that anyone else. Without good depth perception, life can be dangerous. He knows this, but he hates that it’s true. He blows things off that he shouldn’t. He hates that he can’t just be a curious 12-year-old boy who can take off running with everyone else. He always has to look twice, and sometimes it happens that he’s sure he knows what he’s seeing – when he really isn’t. Step or flat surface? A crap shoot most of the time.

This time it ended up ok, and as I told him it’s a good experience if he learns from it. He was still so mad at me for getting mad at him that I don’t think he took that in. But it’s something this mom has no trouble repeating. Good advice for anyone – achromat or not. Learn from it and it’s not a mistake. It’s a lesson. Crisis averted – this time.

IMG_0035Treasures from our river visit.

IMG_0001The heat finally breaks with a heavy summer downpour.

IMG_0022We’ve got a bit of a drainage problem in our garden beds. On the to-do list…

IMG_0010Who are we fooling? Raincoat? Ridiculous!

IMG_0018Elihu insists he jumps tons higher when the trampoline is wet. So high it looks like he’s walking on the treetops… Happy boy, happy summer, happy rainy day. For the time being, everything’s finally cool.


Post Script: While I had personal misgivings about the immature nature of my reflections in the previous post, I actually received a note in the mail from a dear friend saying how much she’d enjoyed it. It’s hard to know how feelings translate to readers. I guess one never knows, do one?

 

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… 

 

Hallow’s Eve October 31, 2014

What a night. It’s close to midnight and Elihu and I are just getting to bed after a very full and happy Halloween. Our day included a play by the ninth graders, a school costume parade, and a fine night of trick-or-treating topped with a moment of magic and mystery as Elihu won a $100 bill from Mrs. Riggi (the unofficial ‘queen’ of Saratoga).

IMG_0767A room full of joy as the ninth graders get ready to perform Brer Rabbit for the Lower School, an annual tradition.

IMG_0770The girls.

IMG_0804The play…

IMG_0811…and the audience.

IMG_0786With a nod of his head, Mr. Fron leads the students in a four-part round of ‘The Ghost of John’ as he plays along on the recorder. Elihu can be seen on the right behind his Roman shield.

IMG_0855The pumpkin relay – you can only use your arms to hold it as you run.

IMG_0876Ethan shows some seriously clever costume-making, bringing the sub-culture of ‘steam punk’ alive.

IMG_0943Now we’re out, doing famous Caroline Street. Every kid in town is here!

IMG_1005This was the spookiest house on the block. Over the top and perfect in every way.

IMG_0957Look! It’s our friends from Greenfield – and they’re piano students of mine, too!

IMG_0960Waldorf kids.

IMG_0966A gorgeously spooky house.

IMG_0979Abe Lincoln sits down to have some spaghetti and meatballs.

IMG_0989Elihu ran into some old classmates he’d known from back in Kindergarten – some had even left Greenfield. That we saw all four of these guys was a fun and completely unexpected surprise.

IMG_0994I must taste this before I can serve it…

IMG_0995Oh dear, is that a head in my linguini?

Everywhere we went people were crazy for Elihu’s getup. At first it kinda suprised us, because in years past his costume has been far more elaborate and structurally sophisticated, but at the end of the day, an obscure comic book character just doesn’t have the same kind of crowd appeal as a good old-fashioned plate of spaghetti.

Elihu was really getting into his character, and if you listen carefully you might be able to hear him saying ‘that’s-a one-a spicy meat-a ball’ as well as other little improvised ditties about spaghetti…

IMG_1014Now we’ve moved across town to North Broadway; the Riggi Mansion

IMG_1023In spite of an hours-long line, we somehow found ourselves quite close to the front – and no one objected, so off we went… Before ten minutes had passed we were presented to the King and Queen… Kinda looks like they might even take a break for some pasta!

IMG_1026Whew! Thank goodness this selfie worked! Ya got one chance, then the line just keeps movin on… But hey, this shot will be nice for the memoir, huh?

IMG_1027This too.

IMG_1043Cinderella Riggi and the golden ticket. Wow. A magical ending to a magical day.

And now – to bed!

 

One Gone October 1, 2014

IMG_4914

Yesterday I lost an earring. It was one of the pair that I’ve worn nearly every single day since I left Illinois, now just over six years ago. They were a lovely pair of ‘little nothings’ the shopkeeper and I had agreed when I bought them as a memento to mark the beginning of my new life. Tasteful, elegant, simple and understated. A pretty pale blue, a color that might match the water or the sky on any given day. Perfect little accessories; always there, always giving me the confidence to feel put together and tidy, even when I mostly wasn’t. You’d hardly even notice them on me, yet still, they did their job, and when I went without them, I always felt unfinished. Those sparkly little nothings did their thing just as they were meant to. Except when all of a sudden one was gone.

Somehow, either while planting the new trees at the end of the driveway, or more likely, while getting a quick shower in before running out to teach, one had silently freed itself from my ear. Instantly, the one remaining earring had become completely useless. Instantly alone. All of a sudden this thing that had always been there, was not. These earrings weren’t given to me by a friend, they hadn’t been in my family for generations. They shouldn’t have meant so much – and truly, after all the loss I’ve learned to accept over the years it really is nothing – and yet, still, they meant a lot to me. As a pair. But that one, lonely remaining earring had no purpose anymore. All it did was make me sad. It reminded me of what was gone, of things that can never be retrieved. How perfect things had been, and how perfect they no longer were. How things change in an instant. How one thing can make all the difference. This musing launched me into a new line of thinking and I began to miss other things too; landscapes, homes, bands, people – things that were once here but are now gone. Things I miss still. I’ve been missing my dad a lot this past week, and this one remaining earring makes me think of him again. One thing without the other. Ich.

We’re about to lose another precious thing right now, as Saratoga’s beloved banjo man, Cecil Myrie is in his final hours. His bone cancer has accelerated rapidly over the past few weeks – just since Elihu and I popped over for an impromptu visit and short jam last month. We both feel very lucky that we were able to sit and make some music with him one last time, because it would be our last opportunity. Our jam was cut short by acute pain in Cecil’s chest, and we left him in hopes of taking him out to play on the street one more time. When we called next, he was feeling much worse and declined to go. I was relieved to hear that some of his friends had been able to catch him on a good day and did in fact get him out on Broadway for one final performance. I just can’t get it through my head that we will never again hear strains from Cecil’s banjo floating over the Saratoga streets again, the backdrop of that town for the past three decades. For as long as I can remember – either while living here or visiting – Cecil was always present. He was as dependable and permanent it seemed as the buildings themselves. Slowing to a stoplight on the main drag of town, windows open, there he was. Singing out “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and accompanying his song with that signature, folksy style that shouted Cecil’s name alone. My son had grown up knowing him, and in fact, as I think back on our relationship with the man, I recall something special… The first two dollars that Elihu ever made busking were given to him by Cecil, from his own banjo case. And we have them still. Above Elihu’s bird collection, tucked away in his closet, are those two dollar bills, kept as a reminder of this very generous gift, one which essentially started my son’s career as a paid musician. It was certainly an inspirational moment for Elihu. For us it really was the beginning of an era.

A now here we are at the ending of an era. It’s so sad, and it makes us feel that we feel we need to do something. But what? Hoping to create some way of honoring our friend, Elihu and I come upon an idea. When one thing ends, another thing begins, right? It seems a good idea, so we make some plans… After Elihu’s bass lesson today, we’re going to head over to the hospital to say our goodbyes to Cecil. Elihu is going to ask Cecil for his blessing to play banjo and sing on Broadway. Elihu and I have been wondering lately how he might increase his musical offerings, and this seems a natural fit. Elihu sings loud and well, he’s gifted with stringed instruments, and Cecil had been his first mentor on the street. Certainly Elihu can do this with love in Cecil’s memory with or without his blessing… But just maybe it might mean something to our friend. It’s one gift we can give to Cecil before he leaves us. He’s given us so much; it lifts our hearts to think we might be able to give something back to him.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll hear those familiar songs brought to life again in a new way over the streets of Saratoga; a living remembrance of that one, cherished voice that we’ll always miss so dearly… the one that’s gone.

IMG_0889Bringing flowers from our garden to Cecil, not too long ago.

IMG_0903Cecil shows Elihu the bass box.

IMG_0934Cecil gives me a little lesson.

IMG_4850The last time I saw Cecil out on the street, he was in a wheelchair being pushed by his wife – they were passing this vacant lot in their neighborhood when I waved and shouted hello to them. A perfect place to pick some flowers for him.

IMG_4848Sunflowers for Cecil.

IMG_4856A very sad time.

IMG_4866Marianne and her son-in-law Prince, both from Cecil’s church, come to pray for him and say goodbye.

IMG_4867Nurses do God’s work on the planet. Dan’s own young sons have grown up knowing Cecil and his music.

IMG_4855A view to the south from his windows.

IMG_4928Cecil’s youngest son Josh.

IMG_4930Elihu sang a beautiful song for Cecil and told him that he loved him. Hard to believe that Elihu’s known Cecil for more than half his life. Cecil even tried to speak and opened his eyes while we were there. We know he was with us, even if he couldn’t communicate well.

IMG_4852Some of Cecil’s discography on display.

IMG_4853Now this is how we all remember him. Our banjo man on Broadway.

Goodbye and thank you, Cecil Myrie, we love you so, and we’ll miss you dearly.

And to use Elihu’s parting words to his own dying grandfather, we’ll ‘see you shortly’.

A video of Cecil playing Don’t Worry, Be Happy (a little too dark to see him well).

A much shorter video of Cecil at his post on Broadway by the now-gone parking lot (here you’ll see him fine).

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Here’s a link to a post from two years ago in which Cecil played a part…

 

Gleaning September 21, 2014

Yesterday was the last day of summer, and it was a day of the great year-end harvest at a friend’s vineyard here in Greenfield. Mike and Kelly began to plant vines several years ago with the hopes of making their own wine one day. The first batch was made last year, and this year the operation’s really begun to pick up speed, as Mike’s finally built himself a great structure in which he’ll make and house his stock. The vineyard sits on Martha’s farm land, and when she’s gone, much of her property will go to a land conservation group in town, and the rest of it, plus the grand, two-hundred year old farmhouse will go to Mike and his family. He and I have known this farm since we were tiny, and it feels wonderful to see it enjoying a re-birth with his new business. My son derives a great sense of continuity knowing that I worked on this farm when I was his age, and he’ll continue to have a relationship with the place well into his own future. Who knows, maybe even his children will one day find themselves helping to pick the bounty at the end of a growing season.

The temperature for working outdoors was simply perfect, the grapes were at their targeted sugar composition, and the harvest was a success. (I will note that one of Mike’s young daughters had a rather bad accident which landed her in ER. While she’s ok, she did require some extensive sewing up. We feel horrible that it happened, but relieved that it wasn’t worse.)

IMG_3718Martha Carver’s grand farm house, once lived in by Elihu Wing, one of Greenfield’s earliest residents, and built in 1802 by his father, Prince Wing, who supplied neighboring Saratoga Springs with the horses needed to pull the increasing number of carriages in town.

IMG_3713As when I was a child, horses now live on the farm again.

IMG_3674We stop in to visit Martha. Just in time to meet egg farmer Dick as he makes his weekly delivery. He’s kind of a rock star in our world.

IMG_3657A visit with resident hound dog Masie. A real sweetie and Martha’s faithful companion.

IMG_3668I love all the little details of this house, unchanged since I can remember.

IMG_3558As a child I went haying in these fields. Amazing how land can find new purposes – and in such a relatively short span of time.

IMG_3566This is what we’re cutting free from the vines.

IMG_3604It took a lot of friends to help bring in the huge harvest.

IMG_3611There were kids and dogs everywhere.

IMG_3583Elihu and I get started.

IMG_3581It was kinda like a treasure hunt. Grapes were everywhere.

IMG_3574Elihu and Sam enjoy some grape juice. It was so very delicious – surprisingly tart, yet at the same time sweet. Hard to describe, but lovely to taste.

IMG_3559When we’ve filled our five gallon bucket it gets driven back to the weigh station.

IMG_3587This took about fifteen minutes to pick, and weighs in at around 18 pounds.

IMG_3589Then it gets hauled off the the wine making shed.

IMG_3591The total take for the day was around four thousand pounds. !!

IMG_3697Here’s where it ends up. The old farming gear in the foreground was in use when I was young.

IMG_3616First, the grapes go in here to get de-stemmed and seeded.

IMG_3622Then they go into that giant red vat. Gravity alone pushes the juice out, and it comes thru a tap into the waiting bucket. That’s the slow way – the faster, more labor-intensive (and thorough) way is to squeeze the juice out. Either way, the juice goes then goes through tubing into giant stainless tubs after it’s pressed.

IMG_3631Here’s where the juice is held for now.

IMG_3634The big space inside. There’s storage for casks on either side, just outside of the frame.

How cool is it that ‘Red Red Wine’ just happened to be playing as we got to the wine shed? Seriously. (Ok, so this is white wine, but still.)

IMG_3306Yeah, fall’s on its way.

IMG_3318This was an unintentional harvest; from our chicken poop/compost pile emerged this gigantic squash plant…

IMG_3310…with crazy-big leaves.

IMG_3345And lots of blossoms. I’m careful to pick just the male flowers to fry up for supper, as there are more of them than the female blossoms, plus females, of course, will turn into fruit if pollinated. One year we had a serious shortage of bees and had to knock up our blossoms by hand. For real.

IMG_3326Here’s a newly knocked-up blossom.

IMG_3340Here’s a cross-section of a female blossom. They grow closer to the main stem while the guys kinda stick out a bit more.

IMG_3331The result. Pretty! We’ll leave them to grow a bit more before we pick em.

IMG_3352We have so very few apples and pears this year. Just as well; my post-Atkins weight gain all started last fall when an abundance of fruit ‘necessitated’ I bake lots and lots of pies. !

IMG_3355I found a turkey feather where our old garden was last year. Turkeys are always roaming through our property. My mom feeds hers daily, and they come right up to her house. Mine keep a safe distance from bird-chasing eleven year old boys.

IMG_3361The new flock on the hill.

IMG_3347And our house atop the same hill. Our yard has four terraced levels to it, this was taken from the third one down from the house. At the bottom of our yard, the woods continue on down to the road below.

IMG_3537The pullets have started laying! But look at how small their eggs still are. Not all of the gals are laying yet, either. We’ll still have to buy eggs from Dick before we’re back to self-sustaining again.

IMG_3535It’s been a while since we’ve had any variety in the color of our eggs. All eggs, regardless of whether they’re green, brown or white, taste just the same. It’s just fun to have different breeds and enjoy the variety of colors.

IMG_3764After enjoying a fun visit and bonfire with our neighbors, we ended up setting our own pile on fire. We’d waited for the perfect night, and this seemed to be it. We even said goodbye to these crazy gingerbread figures we’d had around for a while. It was our own burning man.

IMG_3746I found some sparklers leftover from the 4th.

IMG_3798The grapes have been harvested, the eggs are in our fridge, and all of our scraps and sundries have gone to the heavens in the fire. Onward into a new season we go. Good-bye and thank you, summer. Hello and welcome fall.

 

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