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Sunday, December 14, 2014

Follow Me to D.C.

Dear Mom,

I think it was 1988 when you led your first group of 8th graders to Washington, D.C.

And it continued to be a tradition every spring until you retired, almost 25 years later.

I just spent a few minutes searching for the photo of the "Follow Me to D.C." t-shirt that inspired the title of this post. I can't recall which class that was...but I remember it was a year when your annual pilgrimage coincided with one of Leigh Ann's business trips to the capital city.

As she told it, she commandeered the microphone and offered the kids $5 or $10 for the shirts -- which had your photo on the front and the "follow me" text on the back. We thought they were such a hoot! I think you were a little less thrilled at the prospect of your mug shot trotting around town.

Wonder if anybody still has one? I think L.A. and I both sent ours to the rag bag years ago.

I hit Facebook and found a few classic photos of you directing traffic...

The photo above came with this fun fact from one student:
I got sick in the national gallery of art and miss Cheryl told me to yak on my plate when we were eating lunch at the I did!

One of your traditions was to make up a list of "firsts" for each group. I think that's such a neat idea -- I'm not sure when you started it, but it's a lovely way of realizing you can ALWAYS find something new, no matter how many times you've been somewhere.

Becky Reep posted the sweetest comment on this one:
 I remember the sweetest and most respectful prayer Miss Cheryl prayed at Monticello at the slave burial area in honor of those buried there. It was a pretty day like this and the birds were singing and miss Cheryl nailed it. Love and respected Miss Cheryl even more that day. That moment sticks with me even today.

Your D.C. trips were a huge part of your legacy...even the time you retired, you were sorta like this about most school stuff...

I'm sure you'd kill me for posting that photo, but Leigh Ann and I thought that shot from your retirement luncheon was so quintessentially YOU.

Anyway, as you and our loyal readers know, Leigh Ann and I have spent the year scattering your ashes in places that either were or would have been meaningful to you. I debated a bit whether D.C. should be included...most of us wouldn't want our "work stuff" to define our resting place. But we decided it was such a special place to you, we couldn't not let it be one of our six destinations this year.

So, off we went this week. Leigh Ann had a work trip that we planned around...and we even got Miss Betty to agree to join us! Here's a shot of all of us in the lobby of the Willard Hotel, which was beautifully decorated for the season.
 LA had to work on Wednesday, so MB and I hit the streets. It was cold, but we bundled up.

We had dinner at Jaleo, a sampling of Spanish tapas including dates, croquetas, tortilla. patatas bravas, steak etc.

Thursday morning, Leigh Ann worked and I wrote, while MB enjoyed exploring on her own. We met up for lunch. I ordered these scrumptious pork shanks. 
Then, we were off for the main purpose of our trip: finding the best spot to scatter your ashes. We started our walk toward the Tidal Basin and the major monuments.

I'd not been to the FDR Memorial, and I'd been intrigued by the fact several students had reminisced about your "Why water?" exercise there. So, I'd wondered if it might make a nice resting place for you. Plus, Eleanor is certainly one of our most noteworthy First Ladies, and you DID love studying about them. (We'd briefly pondered whether we could scatter your ashes near Jackie O's grave in Arlington, but I figured you'd not want us to break any rules.)

FDR was a strong leader who faced tremendous adversity. I was fascinated by the Ken Burns documentary series about the Roosevelts this year; several historians commented about what terrific strength it took for FDR to remain upbeat and strong despite his polio. That makes me think about how brave you were all three times you faced cancer.

So, it felt like the perfect spot. Leigh Ann scattered your ashes here. We loved that the spot had both an old tree and a new tree, and we gave each one a healthy pour. So, you have a view of the Washington Monument straight ahead...
 And the Jefferson to the right. It will be a lovely place in the spring when the trees are in bloom.
I also found it sweet that this pagoda is there, a gift from the Japanese people. I consider it a little tribute to your smart, funny Japanese sister-in-law Nanami. It was presented in 1957. Maybe Aunt Debra can think of what y'all would have been up to that year.
From there, we visited the Jefferson Memorial, where we tried to figure out if we'd spotted Marine One flying overhead toward the White House. (There were two of them...isn't that the protocol for transport? These are the sort of questions we wished you'd been with us to answer!)
From there, we walked to the Museum of American History to see the exhibit about the First Ladies. Then we called it a day and ate some soup for supper. 

Friday, MB and I headed to Arlington. We amused ourselves doing some fourth grade math to figure out the subway. 
We visited the Kennedy grave sites, and it was poignant to me to see 1994 on Jackie's headstone -- 20 years since she died, the year I graduated from high school. I'll always remember that, since you'd saved in your "funeral file" the clipping from Maurice Templesman's reading of "Ithaka" at her funeral. Blucher read it so beautifully at your service.

Near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers, we found the Challenger memorial. That's a day in history that bonds me to Miss Betty, as we were returning from the fourth grade trip to St. Augustine when the shuttle exploded. I heard it on my little transistor radio but didn't understand the impact until we got back to the parking lot, and all the parents were crying.
We hated to miss the changing of the guard at Arlington, but the timing didn't work out. We had a unique invitation we couldn't turn down! Darrell Goodman saw we were in town, and he invited us to his restaurant, Mama Rouge in Georgetown. He gave us the VIP treatment -- first came calamari with spicy mustard and shrimp dumplings.
 Bao buns with pork belly.
 Sticky glazed salmon -- this was probably my favorite!
 A sampling of barbecued chicken, steak and brisket.
It was amazing! There was an orange chicken dish I didn't capture. We were stuffed by the end...and so full of pride at his talent and success. What a sweetheart to take care of us like that! It was the icing on the cake of a perfect trip.

They flew out that afternoon, but I stayed over Friday night to see Hilary and the adorable little Molly bug. I also got to meet Scotty and her new baby boy, Jude. 
Saturday we had brunch with Caroline and Angelina. 
I felt like you would have blessed the whole trip...or that you were there with us, blessing it in your own way. Funny enough, as I went through the old trip photos on Facebook this evening, I read that handwritten list. The last one caught my eye: the Willard Hotel. Not sure what your little "moment" there would have been, but that's where we stayed. A #cssthing for sure.

I am full of gratitude knowing that you are with me and within me at all times, in all the best ways. 



Friday, December 5, 2014

Mothering Spirits

Dear Mom,

Wow -- hard to believe it's been a month since my last entry. I'm going to take that as a healthy sign. Obviously, I still miss you so much and constantly find myself wanting to tell you things.

But it's also a big relief to be on "the other side" of this grief journey. I remember really vividly in March being at work and going downstairs to get get a cup of coffee from my trusty Pret. Suddenly, I realized it had been three months since you died, and that the worst was over. It was like getting some sort of heavenly reassurance.

Little did I know that there would still be some bumps to come in the summer. Dad's stroke and the changes that led me to resign at work were still months away. The second half of this year ended up being far more of an emotional roller coaster ride than I could have imagined.

Anticipating Christmas without you is pretty heavy stuff, so I'm just focusing on the good stuff. Mostly that it's a HUGE blessing I've been able to take time off from work and be really deliberate about what I want out of life. I could, of course, write much more about that. But let's minimize the navel-gazing today and focus on the fun stuff...

First off -- Miss Frances came back for her THIRD trip to NYC this year! I could not resist giving her this arrival present...
I got it at the shops set up in Bryant Park one day when I went to the library to write and use their printers.

Frances stayed at the Leo House in Chelsea, which is run by the Catholic Church. It's very reasonable and in an awesome location. We brunched at Cookshop.
She was here for more than a week, so we had a few little outings together. Sunday she joined me for church and introduced me to the West End Grill on 8th Avenue. Funny enough, they once got a reservation meant for the establishment in the big Q.
One night, I cooked supper and invited Neil over to meet her. Our last outing was brunch at the Meatball Shop, and then she treated me to this:

It was a wonderful show and something I'd never have discovered on my own. That's the lovely thing about having visitors in town...they really do get me out and about.

Speaking of...I just realized there is a new section of the High Line to explore. Somehow I'd missed the fact that a whole new leg opened up. I think it was in September. It's quite lengthy and made me think of you. That time we got photo bombed by Kurt on the High Line will forever be one of  my favorite NYC moments with you.
Leigh Ann and I have continued to scatter your ashes in places that either were or would have been meaningful to you. I'd wanted to do some in Central Park and intended to do it with Frances. But the day she and I met for the matinee, it was too darn cold. It just didn't seem right.

A few days later, we had a surprisingly warm Monday, and it was as if you whispered to me: this is it. Doing it on my own actually felt quite healing and peaceful. I will always be sad you didn't get your bucket list fall trip to the Big Apple -- the trip we'd booked and were planning towards when your leg started giving you so much trouble.

So, it seemed poignant to scatter some of your ashes in the city during the fall. There were still lovely golden leaves on the trees here and there.
I toyed with a few spots that seemed meaningful but finally selected the Shakespeare Garden, as it felt the most peaceful and secluded...and had a sort of literary poignancy that seemed perfect for you.

When I got there and unzipped my cargo from my backpack, I felt a bit self-conscious that I was going to get in trouble...or that people would wonder what I was doing with my plastic bag of mysterious grey matter.

At first, I was sorry these people were around...
But then I thought again and realized their presence was seemed to be a grandmother knitting, as her granddaughter jabbered on about this and that. A beautiful, unexpected moment of motherly care that seemed like the ideal blessing for my impromptu ceremony. Life goes on. There is mothering and daughtering, growing and knitting, learning and teaching all around us.
I'm not sure if you ever went into this little spot, but it would have been something you would have loved. And it's not far from the Delacorte Theater, where you queued up for Shakespeare in the Park tickets the summer Leigh Ann interned in New York during business school.

The garden is decorated with quotes...
But this is the one I will always love most:
"This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath, may provide a beauteous flower when next we meet."

I gave you a healthy sprinkle on that spot and will look forward to visiting you there this spring.

After I wiped my tears, I walked over to the castle and looked out over the park.
I knew I'd picked the right time for that little ceremony for a couple of reasons. For one, it was Thanksgiving week. Two, I'd joined my church the day before! It's definitely a "different" sort of Methodist congregation, but I absolutely love it and feel it's the right place for me.

I've attended off and on the whole time I've lived here and finally decided I needed to plant some roots. In addition to joining, I've been volunteering at the food pantry on Tuesdays.
I'm sad you won't ever be able to be there with me, so it was really special to have Frances visit and experience it with me. It's sweet to sit down each week and see the same two song books in the pews at Centenary -- the red Methodist hymnal and The Faith We Sing contemporary supplement.

Thanksgiving Day, I rode the train from Penn Station to East Hampton and joined Neil and Nate for an absolutely fantastic meal with Neil's family from Winter Park and Memphis. They all made me feel so welcome and included.

Funny enough, this year marks ten years since I first met Neil's mom and his Aunt Jackie. We all traveled through Peru together in 2004 when Jackie was principal of an American school there.

On Friday, we bundled up and did a driving and walking tour of the beautiful homes, with a quick step down on a few of the boys' favorite beaches.

I headed back on Friday, but the gang reported my Lasso Lasagna was a big hit for Saturday night's dinner. I purchased a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's second memoir for a few bucks at the secondhand shop in East Hampton, and it was the perfect entertainment for my train ride home.

I've been spending a lot of time by myself, and it's been absolutely delightful. I'm mostly just reading, writing, running errands, and catching up on my DVR.

That included a Homeland marathon, which was just AWESOME because (a) I love the plot this season (b) I have a huge crush on Peter Quinn.

My real life affinity for International Men of Mystery is well documented, but hopefully this little screen obsession is harmless. What's not to like about a smart, sexy man who can shoot your way to safety?! It's sort of a fascinating twist on my liberal feminist leanings.
But seriously -- Peter Quinn is a million times better than Brody.

I wish you were here to discuss!

(Incidentally, remember all those hours we spent watching Damian Lewis in The Forsythe Saga? I wonder who besides us has ever seen that whole thing. Maybe my friend Jennie, as I'm pretty sure she's the one who put the book on my radar.)

Okay, time to get some "real work" done! I need to check off my chores, as there is something special brewing next week. And...the rest of December is going to be full of adventures I am pretty sure you would agree are the "A answer" as Leigh Ann and I navigate our first holiday season without you.

Just to be a little cheesy -- but that's what I always do here at the end -- I can't help feeling deep gratitude for the time with Frances, Jackie and Mary I've shared in this post. One of the greatest gifts you gave me was an appreciation of and affinity for cultivating friendships with women of all ages. It's awesome to know mothering spirits are always around us, if we just open up and let ourselves experience their presence, with love and thanksgiving.