We all have talents.
When it comes to holidays, I totally excel at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving is a no-brainer for me. I love food. I love wine. I love big dinners with my closest friends and family. Of course my favorite holiday is the one where you are supposed to eat and drink all day with your nearest and dearest. And be thankful for all your have in life, of course.
I do Christmas well too. I painstakingly decorate my tree with hand strung popcorn and cranberries. I have amassed an amazing collection of ornaments over the years. We bake an obscene number of cookies. Filling the children’s stockings (not with socks and flashlights, thank you) gives me great joy. I make the contents funny and meaningful, and enjoy the stocking ritual more than I do the unwrapping of presents.
Sadly, I’m kind of sucky at Halloween.
There’s no reason why. Halloween means fall. It’s the holiday for my favorite color, orange. I love how happy Halloween makes the kids. Carving pumpkins is fun, especially now that the boys are old enough to help, and I don’t have to do all the work. I don’t even really have to decorate the house by myself anymore because the kids take care of it, although this year, Halloween snuck up on us. We didn’t have the usual countdown of days and we never got our fake cobwebs on the bushes or any of our other decorations out of the storage bin except two strands of skeleton garland.
So where does the angst originate? For me, it’s the costuming. I might be able to put together an outfit, but visualizing a costume is a different story. I sometimes get paralyzed over this process, especially when the kids give vague orders like they did this year: “just order us vampire teeth and claws and we’ll figure out the rest.” I know I have to let go and just trust that their vision is fulfillable once we put it to the test tonight. Maybe I’m a tiny bit scarred by Halloween four years ago when Jack was going to be a zombie but decided at the last minute that he wanted to be an “army man” and threw on a camo t-shirt and grabbed a neon nerf gun as a prop. He looked like he did any other day outside playing with his friends.
Whatever the naissance of my panicky Halloween state, I sit at my desk today not consumed by the election or superstorm coverage, but by the internal debate as to whether I should buy werewolf hair (Jack says they don’t need it) in case whatever they have planned doesn’t work accordingly. Or maybe I can just let go of the worry and grab another piece of candy.
We neurotically baked. Sugar cookies. Banana muffins (no nuts). Rustic Apple Tart. Homemade pizza (three kinds). We watched a lot of movies. Five, to be exact, including Young Frankenstein. We built a fire. We kept our electronic devices plugged in at all times and knocked on wood every time we looked at the clock and noticed how much time had passed since the worst of Frankenstorm had hit us. I drank wine.
And after kids were finally asleep on the living room floor where I decided we should camp out in case one (or more) of the tall trees in our yard tipped, I watched with horror the flooding that was occurring on the coast of New Jersey and in New York City.
In DC, we haven’t had a lot of good news since Teddy won the President’s Race, but that Hurricane Sandy left us relatively unscathed is a relief. If only we could continually channel this spirit of community and neighborhood that prevails during times of crises and let it be our guiding force everyday of the year. But sadly and cynically, by tomorrow, I expect partisan bickering to return to the shores of the Capitol and the nation.
If you don’t go to Biker Barre, you might not have met co-owner Katie Fouts. She’s a badass on (and off) the bike. And the woman can dance, if her spin room moves are any indication. I suspect she teeters on the edge of crazy fun to go out on the town with. She’s inspiring. (I’m a sucker for the whole “I was unhappy in my previous career and made a complete change” storyline.) She’s energetic, smart, and gorgeous.
I was most honored when Katie approached me a few weeks ago and asked if she could engage my services in finding her a gown (make that two) for Inaugural festivities in January.
By way of an aside, let me note that Katie plans to attend the balls regardless of who wins the presidency, though she assures me she does have a preference as to who emerges victorious. Attending an Inaugural ball just happens to be something on her DC Bucket List.
Initially, we met to discuss strategy, over wine of course. We decided she needs a black dress for Inauguration Eve and a spectacular dress for the big night. She set a budget. She started a Pinterest board, Cinderella Time. And we scheduled our initial date to shop.
Who knew our shopping date would fall on Frankenstorm Eve? Being ever the cautious one, I questioned the sanity of heading out to Tyson’s after her Sunday Brunch Spin class as planned. We discussed rescheduling. But the endorphin high after her class pushed us both to go for it. (I mean, it wasn’t even raining yet.)
We hit two stores: Neiman Marcus and Saks. At Neiman, I suggested we look at every dress. I pulled gowns we had pinned and gowns we were unsure of on the hanger because I wanted to push her boundaries.
Of the ten gown we brought into the dressing room, the first three I suggested she try emerged as favorites. I will hold back on sharing a photo of the top contender for now, as we want to see her in a different style by the same designer. (We may stage our own little public opinion poll.) While we loved the David Meister Animal-Print Gown on her (pictured at the top) I feared that she’d be yanking up the strapless bodice all night and that the sequins would chafe her underarms. We also loved a Catherine Dean gown (pictured below) for its edgy factor, but it was way over budget. (I don’t normally endorse trying on dresses over your budget but in this case, we wanted to try something out of the ordinary.) Both dresses were flattering, but neither was our favorite.
Our Inaugural Gown Pursuit continues. Stay tuned for the next update.
In the meantime, if you can introduce Katie to an eligible bachelor who’s tall, hunky and able to match her dance moves step for step, maybe she’ll comp you a spin class.
I bought some firewood and a bag of votives. I would have bought batteries too except who knows when one is at the grocery store what kind of batteries one’s flashlights take? I have a full wine cellar, and I can mercifully cook on my stove thanks to the old fashioned pilot light. At this moment, our iEverythings and Kindles are charged, and I’m using as many electrical appliances this morning as possible. Forget reading. Time to watch TV. I immediately got in the shower after waking up so that I could blow dry my hair. I made a latte on my espresso maker. I’m doing laundry and using the computer. My rain boots are by the door in case I need to make a quick escape.
It sounds cavalier, but it’s all my form of panic management. I manage what I can control, and hope that talking to the majestic 30 and 50-foot trees that surround my house will be enough to keep them firmly rooted in place.
Last night, when I read this storm story from the Weather Channel, the severity of what we are about to face hit me. This shit is real. And it’s scary. In the end, there’s not a lot we can do to combat mother nature (except maybe address climate change). So hunker down. Stay safe, my friends. And if you need a glass of wine by the fireplace and have a vehicle that will get you to my house, feel free to drop on by.
Fuck funerals. I (mercifully) hadn’t been to one since my former boss, Senator John Chafee, died in 1999. I worked for him. I respected him. But I wasn’t his friend. And there’s something different about the death of someone at the end of their life than someone so clearly in the middle of it.
Angelika had so much energy left in her that I didn’t know what to expect at her service today. Well, I knew I’d cry. I knew that I’d pass on the viewing. A body is just a body once the spirit has moved on elsewhere.
I wasn’t surprised to see a broad congregation of mourners. She was so much to so many different people.
But I was surprised to not recognize a soul.
How strange to be among scores of mourners and not know a single person. Oh, I knew immediately when her dear son Christopher walked in the room that he was indeed the man I’d heard so much about. I knew her husband was her husband before he was introduced. I’d been hearing stories about them for many years. I knew the details of their family vacations. I knew her son had a chemistry set when he was a little boy. I knew her granddaughter asked her to bring apple juice as a treat on her last visit to Amsterdam.
Her mother read a psalm in their native German. Her sister and daughter-in-law concurrently read the German and English translations of a favorite poem. Her son and husband choked back tears during their very heartfelt tributes. And through it all, it was clear to me that this room of people all carry the spirit of Angelika within them. Within us.
Thank god for the box of tissues in the pew.
By the time I made my way out at the service, I couldn’t contain the sobs. And I went right on not containing those sobs straight into the arms of Angelika’s patient husband at the head of the receiving line.
He held me with a strength that I was accustomed to in Angelika. He let me cry. I mumbled something about his wife being very special to me. He didn’t push me away or hurry me along so he could move on to soothing the rest of the mourners. He held tighter and just let me cry. Was it one minute or five? I don’t recall exactly. As I pulled away, he invited me to come to their house for a private reception afterwards, but I made my excuses. I felt I had imposed enough.
That’s the crazy thing about grief. It’s selfish, but it’s genuine. It’s all-consuming. It’s fucked up. This poor man lost his wife of 26 years and he’s the one comforting me? But part of her lives in him now, just as part of her lives in me. And that practically makes us family. At least, for a brief moment today, that is what it felt like.
If the night sky seems to be shining a little brighter, it’s because the universe gained another star. Monday night, my friend Angelika died, the victim of a stroke that was too much for her body to overcome. I’m told it was peaceful and that she was surrounded by her family.
I literally saw her 12 days ago. I still cannot believe that I won’t look into her brilliant blue eyes again. I won’t hear her voice giving me the sage counsel I had come to rely on from her. When I saw an email in her name in my inbox yesterday, I assumed it was a message from her. I never imagined it would be from her husband, breaking the news to me of her untimely passing.
So odd because the last time we were together, she made a comment about looking for a second home abroad, and I joked, “you can’t leave without me.” Her response: “I’m not going anywhere. I won’t leave you.” The last words she said to me as we parted ways were, “I love you”. How often do you get to look back on someone dear to you who has passed and realize you know fully and completely what you meant to them?
When death grasps someone unexpectedly, it serves as a reminder that our time on this earth is short and it’s important to live each moment as fully as possible. I know for my part, I will stop procrastinating away precious days and will pursue those goals that scare me but which have the opportunity to enrich my life. After all, as frightening as the prospect of failure can be at times, it isn’t scarier than death. I will surround myself with those who make me a better person and not waste energy on negative people, thoughts or activities. I can keep part of Angelika alive in me by embracing her teachings. I can make sure those close to me know how I feel about them. I can live each day with joy.
And now when I wish upon a star, that star will have a name. She may not always be able to grant my wishes, but I know that wherever her energy moved onto, she will continue to shine down upon me.
I’m working hard. I promise. I thought I had a final product yesterday. I was so sure I was done that I registered my short story with the Copyright Office. But then when I took on the project of formatting my story to Amazon’s recommended specs (a task I could not have done without the technical and emotional support of DC Celine) I started making tweaks here and there.
Out of Thursday’s Day of Irrational Tears I have salvaged an energy and motivation whose roots I don’t understand. But I’m going with it. I spent all day Friday on my story (I mean, working from home) and even after midnight, with Nancy and her Belmonsters sleeping over (thanks, George, for helping with bedtime) I snuck in some edits on chapter two.
Today, two soccer games and an Oktoberfest party will keep me mostly away from the computer, but my mind is racing, my heart is pounding and I’m ready to embrace the fear I feel at publishing something for the world to see.
Frankly, I’m just ready for you to read it.
Tuesday night, after “Flat George” kindly poured me a glass of wine, I placed him safely in Jack’s room and shut the door. After all, the kids were with their dad and my cats like to eat cardboard. My intention had been to move him to my room in the morning before I left for work. But I was running late and forgot.
I also forgot to warn the boys, who beat me home.
When I called to tell them I was on my way, Jack was frantic.
Jack: Mom, who is that creepy guy in my room?
Me: That’s no creepy guy! That’s George Clooney!
Jack: Well, I don’t want him in my house so I punched him and threw him in the basement.
Jack punched George Clooney and threw him down a flight of stairs? I hit the gas a little harder and rushed home to assess the damage to my poor George. Per my phone instructions, Jack had rescued George from the basement and secured him in my room. When I got home, I took the stairs two-at-a-time to my bedroom. And what did I find? Right where George’s cardboard heart should be was a hole.
It looked like a gunshot wound.
I didn’t cry. But I was angry. I talked to Jack about respecting other people’s property. I explained that he’d have to replace it. I cringed a little as I told him what George had cost. (Remember I did the Amazon equivalent of drunk dialing when I ordered him.) Jack grew somber. He apologized. He bowed his head and went to his room. He came back to where I was trying to figure out a way to salvage George and put a $50 bill on my bed.
Jack: There’s half of what I owe you, Mom.
When he turned around to walk away, I knew I wasn’t going to take his money or buy a new George. After all, we’re all a little damaged in the heart, no?
As Jack and Colin headed to art class, I took on my own little craft project. George just needed a patch on his broken heart. (If only it were that easy for those not made of cardboard, but I’m happy to affix red paper hearts to anyone who needs one.)
Later, I walked to pick up the boys from art class. We enjoyed a nice walk home on a perfect fall evening. I reiterated the importance of being respectful of other people’s personal belongings. Jack apologized again. I explained to Jack that I had saved George and that he could keep his $50.
When we got home, I more formally introduced the boys to George.
Colin: He’s a movie star? I haven’t seen him in any movies. What has he been in? Did you really meet him? Why isn’t he smiling?
Jack: How long is he going to stay here?
If I got 20 questions for bringing a cardboard man home, I can’t imagine what it will be like someday if I bring home the real deal.
There is no photographic evidence of this meeting because Jack refuses to be in the same room with George Clooney.