The Elysian: A Love Story

Lately, my husband has been working literally around the clock, always writing, always brow furrowed over some puzzle. How to improve his reports and produce them more efficiently? How to help teachers better understand the inner workings of their students young brains? In the temporary absence of date night, I have found solace in my pots and pans. Oh brown butter and sage, oh truffle oil, you have saved me! My husband, though busy, is happy and nearly always full.

This may or may not have had something to do with his decision to finally make good on a request I have been making for the past three years.

You see, my husband loves to travel as much as he can. It is specifically the food indigenous to whatever region he is visiting that pushes him to book our flights on Southwest, endure some long awful plane ride with him in the 18th row and me in the 26th, wedged between a crying baby and an overly talkative businessman who refuses to take the diamond ring as a hint, and hole up in whatever grungy shithole had the best deals on Expedia. Accommodations, and their general fitness for human occupancy, do not register on my husband’s radar. As long as we are in a beautiful setting eating lots and lots of great food, he could care less. Don’t make me get into our trip to Napa Valley. The food? Incroyable! The scenery? Magnifique! The Econolodge? A near death experience.

For a very long time, I have been wearing him down. I tell him at every opportunity that we could save the dough on airfare and just stay for a night or two in a gorgeously well appointed hotel in Chicago, our very own home town. I am an accommodations lady, what can I say? Give me high thread count and a soaking tub and I am putty in your hands!

So after a particularly tough week of barely seeing anything of my husband other than the back of his head as he tap tap tapped away at the keyboard, he announced that he had something planned for us. A surprise. And I, ever the bratty North Shore transplant to the big city, asked: Is this going to involve travel? The thought of packing my bags and shipping off for a road trip to Ann Arbor was . . . less than agreeable. Blessedly, my husband was unaffected by my scrunched nose – down which I looked at him – and bad attitude. He just smiled. “No travel babe, but you’ll need a bag.”

Is it? Could it really be what I hope it is?

As things turned out, it was. Never one to let go of the reins and allow myself a real surprise, I relentlessly prodded my husband for information over the course of the week. Finally, he caved. He had booked us a room at the Hotel Elysian, a brand new boutique hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast, complete with dinner reservations at one of the Hotel’s very talked-about restaurants: Balsan.

I immediately called the one and only Mireille Hamon and booked an appointment for a makeup application. I had been looking for an excuse. She had a wedding booked that Saturday but graciously squeezed me in beforehand. I promised her that I would take a taxi straight home and sit completely still with my arms extended away from my body, lest I mar her artistry and arrive at dinner looking less than fresh.

By the time Saturday rolled around, I could barely contain myself. I hopped in a cab wearing yoga pants, a black tee shirt and gym shoes. Because who doesn’t look sexy in loungewear and full-on evening makeup?

Mireille greeted me with a huge smile, as always. I plopped down in the wooden barstool at her worktable and described the dress I would be wearing to dinner while her assistants organized her go-bag for the wedding, speaking to each other in alternating French and English and pretending not to eavesdrop. With each detail I gave, Mireille’s eyes opened wider. By the time I had finished describing the white silk dress with a portrait collar, red embroidery creeping up the pleated skirt and a big red leather belt, I thought she might drop to the ground to roll around in glee. This is why I love her. Mireille’s sense of play is absolutely powerful. I can tell you right now; this woman was born to do exactly what she does.

As we both agreed that it would be wonderful to make a nod to the early 60s style of my dress, I sat back and let her play. The matte eyeshadow in bone and deep charcoal, the winged eyeliner, and the big red lips were fantastic. She took one look at me and announced, in her absolutely edible Parisian accent: “We must do lashes!” And so there were false lashes, lots and lots of them, applied gingerly with the back end of a makeup brush.

After taking a step back to really examine her handiwork, she spent the better part of ten minutes telling me how gorgeous I looked, snapping pictures, asking her assistants to join in the fun. “Come, just look at her! How beautiful?” And the assistants: “Oh, she looks wonderful! Let me help you take some pictures, these should go on the website!” Is it any wonder I make my way to her little studio on Oak Street once a month to have my eyebrows done no matter what? I left the place practically purring, so pleased with myself that I almost forgot why I was there in the first place.

Our arrival at the hotel jogged my memory.

When you pull up to the circle drive of the Hotel Elysian, your feet will barely touch the ground. A team of 6 were dedicated to opening our taxi doors, collecting our luggage, welcoming us warmly to the hotel and generally kissing our asses. Did I mention no one would accept a tip? And this is all before we entered the lobby. Which was incredible.

The lobby at the Hotel Elysian is covered in white marble and boasts a pair of the most beautiful, jarring sculptures I have ever seen. The concierge must have caught me staring and explained to me that they are made of maple syrup and amaranth, among other things. When he saw my husband slowly creeping towards the sculptures, he assured us loudly that they were not, in fact, edible.

Upon check-in, we were informed that the standard king rooms had been overbooked . . . and that we had been upgraded to a deluxe executive suite on the top floor. This never happens to us. Not even on our honeymoon. We took the elevator up ahead of our luggage, which was to arrive later with more smiles and tip refusals. In the room we were greeted by gorgeous gray and cream updated midcentury décor, dark brown cabinetry that looked so much like a chocolate bar you almost wanted to take a bite out of it, and more white marble. In the mini-fridge, of all things, was (and this is a shout out to all of you Michiganders out there) a Zang bar from Zingermans. Within minutes my husband and I were curled up in bed in fluffy hotel robes, fighting over the last bite of the Zang bar.

If there is native Chicagoan pleasure more embarrassing or shameful than dressing up in your finest and walking around the Gold Coast like a tourist, I couldn’t identify it. But it really is just that, a pleasure. My husband and I promenaded slowly around Oak and Michigan, whittling away the last hour before our dinner reservation arm in arm. I introduced my lipstick red Stuart Weitzman pumps to the Chicago pavement gingerly, smiling boldly into the faces of other strolling couples.

By the time we were seated at our table at Balsan, we had worked up a serious appetite. We started the meal with some of the biggest, briniest oysters I have ever eaten (which I slurped down with gusto and can almost taste on my tongue right this moment) and – to my in-laws, please cover your eyes now – something ridiculously sumptuous called Lomo Iberico, a cured pork loin from a very specific region of Spain in which the free range pigs feast on wild acorns. And to my in-laws, if you are reading this, I swear to you your son didn’t even smell it; he didn’t even look at it!

The meal proceeded with a parade of morel mushrooms and bleeding egg yolks, of earthy beets and cool mint, of rich buttery cheeses and pure honey with the crunch of the hive still in it. By the time we ordered our blackberry and corn parfait for dessert, our waiter congratulated us and told us he was very impressed by the sheer quantity of food we had ordered and consumed.

Thankfully, I am delighted enough by my own healthy appetite to have been only mildly offended.

And best of all, once we had retired to our hotel room and once again wrapped ourselves up in those fluffy hotel robes, my husband turned to me and said:

"We should do this once a year."


Excuse Me, Miss? Your Freudian Slip is Showing

For the last few weeks, I have had the extreme displeasure of lying on the couch and sweating through an attempt to process my reaction to bumping into my analyst at a birthday party.

It really isn’t as glamorous as you’d think. Bumping into your analyst outside of his warm but safe home office, scrubbed of the more personal items you’d expect to find in someone’s residence (like their real books, not their DSM-IV or their Civilization and its Discontents).

The stray cooking smells from the night before, the dog occasionally bursting into the waiting room from a carelessly cracked door into the main part of the house – the door through which I never cross – I can handle that. But the chance meeting? My analyst looking taller than expected in jeans and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up, drinking a domestic beer at an unnamed location on the near South Side of Chicago? Seriously?

Here is how The Event transpired. At least, this is how I remember The Event. And we know what they say about memory. I was sitting on a bar stool in a starched white shirtdress and offensively red flats. I was sipping a glass of water and staring absentmindedly at my vintage box purse, flipping the clasp open and closed, foot bouncing under my crossed knees. The crowd of people with whom I had been reminiscing about my very recent wedding had disappeared somewhere, as had my husband. I distinctly remember thinking to myself: Isn’t that just like him? To wander off soundlessly and without any warning, as if he hasn’t even realized he’s slowly begun to walk away, fascinated by some tiny inexplicable thing?

And then.

And then suddenly I looked up from my glass of water and there was a very tall man standing directly in front of me. I can honestly say that I don’t remember seeing him walk over. There was no time to prepare myself, to take a deep breath and smooth my hair. To hijack the closest female partygoer and wrest from her purse some surface in which to examine my teeth and make sure they were lipstick and spinach free (and that’s to say nothing of the nostrils). As we did some type of very strange hug? no hug? dance - oh no, excuse me I was just leaning in because it is quite noisy in here and I can’t hear you and don’t you just stay locked up in your home when I’m not in session with you? – I quickly realized that in my complete shock, I had dribbled a fairly large amount of water from my mouth onto my chin. Fantastic.

What ensued after the initial shock of seeing him right there in person, without his ubiquitous office chair (for back support I’m assuming) or Freud bobble-head doll poised sternly behind the Batman action figure laid out in front of him is this: I stopped functioning. The blood pounded in my ears, making it impossible to monitor the volume of my voice. I stammered hopelessly, trying to land the spinning wheel of my tongue on some acceptable bit of casual conversation. “Worlds collide” is what finally came out while I silently thanked my parents for my fancy college degree and sparking social skills.

And he was predictably calm, asking me to introduce him to my husband – who had miraculously reappeared unbidden – and my mother, making small talk with my father - most likely about something very adult, like subprime mortgages or the ailing state of the American auto industry. After which, he proceeded to talk shop with my psychologist husband for the better part of what seemed like an hour (a clear exaggeration, I know). And it pissed me off. A lot.

I sat there on the barstool, feet dangling about a foot above the floor. I twirled a piece of hair between thumb and forefinger and wondered if the red lipstick I had chosen so proudly and confidently earlier in the evening looked horribly trashy. I watched the Double Dutch ropes of their conversation swing wildly in front of me. In my concentration, my tongue had found its way deep into the pocket of my cheek as I attempted to make my leap. At any moment I expected either one of them to say: “Oh sweetheart, leave the serious talk to us men.”

Where had my swagger gone? Hadn’t I spent week after week over the past seven years stretched out nervously on the couch, allowing my analyst to bask in my self-consciously hilarious glow? I mean, wasn’t I just like Woody Allen but better, on account of attractiveness and no proclivity towards young girls or my own adopted offspring? Was I? Wait . . . was I (but really mostly my parents) paying him handsomely to laugh at my jokes?

The weight of my normalcy absolutely crushed me. Here I was, being sucked into a black hole of my own blah. I was just a regular narcissist with regular misconceptions about my own power and fabulousness.

You know that fantasy you have where your analyst walks into a party you’re attending and you’re wearing a devastatingly perfect outfit and you’re even having a good hair day and you find out that he really does want to talk to you?

Well . . . let me tell you.


Fit to be Tied

Let me give you a picture of how my wedding day began.

You see, my husband and I aren’t much for tradition, so we spent the night before our wedding in the same hotel room. I high-tailed it to bed right after we arrived at the Westin North Shore, tired from our rehearsal dinner and the previous night of poor sleep. My husband felt the need to socialize with our guests, so he headed upstairs to our hospitality suite. He must have asked me 67 times whether I cared if he went upstairs without me. I reassured him I didn’t, and that my only requirement was that he re-enter our shared pre-wedding chambre quietly and without flipping on lights. I was determined to look refreshed and well rested on my wedding day.

With that, my husband kissed me and headed to the hotel’s 15th floor with a napkin full of mini donuts - leftover from the rehearsal dinner - tucked deep into his palm.

I fell into our well appointed bed at about 11:30pm and was asleep within minutes. Upon drifting off, I remember thinking: how lucky am I? Most brides have trouble sleeping the night before their wedding and here I am, so exhausted from the day’s activities that I couldn’t keep my eyes open if I tried.

And then . . .

And then about an hour later, with a crash, my husband ambled into the room. With the lights off, I could hear him shuffling around slowly, step by step and trying not to trip on anything. I squeezed my eyes shut. I was determined to ignore the bear rifling through the treats in our hospitality box and just. fall. back. asleep! Which I did, at least for a short while.

The next thing I remember is waking up to the extremely bright bathroom light shining directly into my eyes. You see the bathroom in our hotel room was situated directly opposite the bed, so an open door in the night lead to a kind of “sweat it out of him” beam of light straight to the face. I seemed to remember requesting that this exact circumstance be avoided at all costs. Which is probably why I turned my head away from the excruciatingly bright light and proceeded to yell something to the effect of: “What the hell are you doing?! Shut off the damn light!” To which my husband replied: “Ughhh, I have really bad heartburn.” Why this required sitting on the toilet like a chair, with the lid closed and the bathroom door wide open, I have absolutely no idea. I requested, yet again, and politely of course, that he close the damn door. Finally, he complied. And I spent the next hour or two attempting to fall back asleep. By the time my ailing husband returned to bed, I grudgingly turned toward him and wrapped my arm around his belly (you see, I am the big spoon in our relationship, which I assume looks pretty funny because I’m 5’3” and my husband is 6 feet tall). It was a wordless promise from me to my groom that I would no longer be a little gremlin upon awakening; that he could be assured he would face a lovely human bride walking down the aisle towards him.

I awoke to my alarm the next morning at 5:45am.

My husband slept like an absolute log through me jumping out of bed and brewing coffee in the noisy and inexplicably complicated one cup coffee machine in our hotel room, through me pouring my usual cereal (toted with me from home, because who wants to switch up her routine on the morning of her wedding?) very loudly into a glass cup and clicking away at the keyboard of my old Mac laptop while I checked my emails. I thought about leaning the hotel lamp towards his head and flipping on the light while gently shaking him awake, but figured I’d best preserve the tentative truce we reached the night before.

Luckily my husband is blessed with that wonderful ability, which some men possess, to look just like a little boy in his sleep.

I’m just saying, this may or may not have factored into my decision to let him slumber.

At 6:40am, just before I walked out of the room to meet my mother downstairs, I kissed my soon-to-be husband on the forehead and whispered “We’re getting married soon!” And even through the lacey fog of sleep, he smiled and squeezed me.

My mother was waiting in the circle drive in front of our hotel, sitting in her car crying. Of course. My bridal trousseau occupied the entire back seat, looking regal even slung across the leather upholstery. I fretted over whether the dress would be wrinkled when we finally pulled down the zipper on the garment bag. And while the hotel coffee and my prenuptial nervous energy worked their magic, I talked at my mother a mile a minute. And like all new brides, I said things to my mother to the tune of: “Can you believe this is actually happening? Can you believe the day is here?” as if no one else in the history of marriage had ever felt exactly what I was feeling at that very moment. As if I was the only young woman to have ever felt her heart pound at the thought of walking slowly down the aisle toward her future, while the very moment when she will actually do this races towards her at unbelievable speed. Your life is moving forward, it is unstoppable. This is both wonderful and terrifying.

What I felt is indescribable, but you know I will try. I felt cracked open; joyous and full of something important, lonely and nervous and excited and very ready.

When we pulled up to the circle drive at Twin Orchard, the truck from Ronsley carrying our floral arrangements and other décor was unloading its contents into the club. My breath caught in my throat. You know, I don’t know why, but I didn’t cry much during the year of my wedding planning. I didn’t cry when my husband proposed or when I found my wedding dress. I didn’t cry when I found the perfect pair of wedding shoes. But the flowers. When we walked into Ronsley’s warehouse for the floral mockup and were given a little peak into my wedding day, that’s when I choked up. Maybe it is the force of the flowers’ beauty that gets to me, all the more jarring for its ephemeral quality. Flowers are so intensely gorgeous, opening their secret fertile centers with complete audacity. And then soon, within days, they close up. They are gone. It is like your wedding day; it arrives with an explosive crash of colors and sounds and tastes and smells, it is the most beautiful celebration of love, and then it is over. In any case, I saw those flowers and a feeling of optimism washed over me. This was my wedding day and it was going to be more wonderful than I had even imagined.

I spent the next 3 or 4 hours in hair and makeup. My makeup artist explained to me that having the eyelids touched tends to relax people greatly, which is probably why I found myself almost snoring in her chair more than once, my head colonized by a small army of Velcro curlers. And so the bridal party buzzed around Twin Orchard’s women’s locker room, a pin here, an application of mascara there, while I tried not to lose my shit and explained to the photographer for the millionth time: “The schmoozing is what terrifies me!” Oh the schmoozing! The horror of it! It was 11:30am by the time I was ready to get into my dress and to, once again, luxuriate in the experience of allowing someone else to dress me. One woman held up my hair while another buttoned the dress and snapped my great grandmother’s diamond watch closed around my wrist, while yet another lifted the skirt of my dress to help me into my beautiful wedding shoes.

What can I say? I was a natural bride. It came easy to me.

And then.

And then I was ready to gather the hem of my heavy dress to my knees and climb the stairs to the main floor of the country club and to my groom. When we finally saw each other, we were like nervous children. We kept kissing each other lightly and staring into each other’s faces, awkward around the cameras snapping pictures of such a strange, overwhelming moment (I still have yet to see the professional photos and I wonder what our faces will look like). And even during the ketubah signing, I was too busy figuring out how to breathe in my dress and shoving my face full of grapes and crackers in order to prevent myself from fainting during my trip down the aisle to really absorb what was happening. And when we were finally under the chuppah, technically already married from the moment we signed the ketubah with our witnesses, my husband and I gripped each others’ hands desperately. The public nature of it all, magnified by the fact that we had decided to do the ceremony in the round with faces staring at us from ALL directions, was . . . daunting.

It wasn’t until the rabbi pronounced us husband and wife, and my husband stomped on the glass with a satisfying pop (after one botched attempt where his foot just kind of slid off the side without doing any damage at all) that I was able to throw my hands up and yell “woohoo!” Which I did, embarrassingly, at full volume.

Moments later my husband and I were secreted away to a private room so that we could absorb the enormity of what had just occurred and, yet again, eat our way clear of a medical emergency. And that’s when the magic happened, but not in the traditional sense (this is for all of you who are familiar with the tradition behind cloistering a new Jewish husband and wife in a private room immediately following the wedding ceremony – for those of you who aren’t familiar with this tradition, well . . . just use your imagination). It was in this room, finally left to only one another, that my husband and I were able to settle back into our own skins and see ourselves as family. That is when the tears came and when I kissed my husband’s face a thousand times and forgave him for every wrong I ever imagined he had done me, and some of the future ones too. I was able to look at him and see his sweetness and his strength. And I realized, with total force and immediacy, what my body already knew. He is my heart.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Altar

I am sitting here at my home computer in the middle of the afternoon on a Tuesday. I don’t usually have the pleasure of lolling around the house mid week, but with a signed marriage license comes a little freedom to self indulge. At least in my case.

You see, I put in almost two full years at my job without any vacations to speak of, so I had racked up enough PTO to really marry in style. And here I am, a married woman enjoying a week at home followed by a week in the Mexican Riviera.

I have settled back into the tiny 750 square foot (mostly vertical space) apartment that I share with my husband which looks like an episode of Hoarders; with my clothes spilling out of my dresser and still-boxed wedding gifts wedged into every corner of free space (A word of advice to any would be renters: please don’t let a sexy West Loop loft with a huge kitchen and a wide open floor plan fool you. You will end up cursing your lack of walls when all the areas of your home life sort of bleed together and you can’t close the door to your messy room when you have company. Because there is no door). And all my plans to launch myself into a flurry of housekeeping are quickly slipping through my fingers as the departure date for our honeymoon approaches. But as we await our Mexican fiesta in our disorderly home (which I swear will soon be spotless), I can’t help but reminisce about our recent wedding weekend.

Where do I even start? I can tell you that my husband and I, with so many out of town guests and our two big Jewish families, opted for a sort of extended affair. Celebration began Friday evening June 4th with a lovely brisket and potato dinner (I think there were a couple varieties of salad, but I tend to just avoid all that) at my family’s synagogue in Northfield, followed by an aufruf. For those who aren’t already familiar with the term, an aufruf occurs during Shabbat services and basically consists of the congregation chucking Sunkist Fruit Gems - in varying stages of staleness - at the couple to be married that weekend. I believe this practice of pelting the soon-to-be married couple with kosher gummy candy is meant to symbolize the congregants’ wish for the couple to enjoy a sweet start, or a bountiful start. It was a painful initiation into our life as a married couple, but I was content to nurse my wounds by stuffing my face with grapefruit flavored Fruit Gems during the remainder of the service.

The aufruf was followed by a very full Saturday. My mother swung by the hotel at 9 am to drive me and some of the other female guests to a private jazz class at the Deerfield Park District. The vast majority of us were wildly over caffeinated, which is good in terms of motivation when it comes to jazz dance. I should note that I came prepared, wearing black yoga pants with a flashy hot pink leopard print fold-over waist.

So we passed our morning doing ridiculous jazz stretches; gripping the barre and bending forward, sticking our asses way out behind us, squatting down between our own legs like dogs preparing to do . . . what dogs do best. The whole affair ended quite wonderfully with my mother and I next to each other on the ground in Savasana, holding hands and weeping openly to a Pretenders song that one of my mother’s jazz classmates (also a radio DJ on XRT) had dedicated to us, to be played at our private class. Somewhere in between the stretching and Savasana, there were definitely big white top-hats popping off of our curly heads over and over again to the tune of One Singular Sensation. It was, in short, a gas.

Before our rehearsal dinner and after One Singular Sensation, I had time to attend the famous basketball game which occurs at all of my husband’s family get-togethers. Invariably, the Southern contingent attempts to score higher than the Northern contingent but their victory never materializes. The games are intensely competitive, unsettlingly violent and often occur during the joyous occasion of a wedding. In the grand tradition of brides about to enter my husband’s family, I attended the game with a tight jaw and squinted eyes, waiting every moment for my husband’s mangled body to be delivered into my arms, just one day before the wedding.

My husband made it through the game blessedly unharmed, and crowing about how fit he had become over the last year in preparation for the wedding. He scored at least one point, and felt he had successfully defended his manhood. I was thrilled he displayed no black eyes, obvious bruising or broken bones.

So while my husband showered the thick layer of salt out of his full rug of body hair, I dressed in the outfit I had picked out for the rehearsal dinner and waited so many long months to wear. It was an off white silk button down blouse with puff sleeves and a bow at the neck, paired with a confection of a big gray bubble hemmed skirt. The skirt is by one of my favorite local designers, Shernett Swaby (plug - go check out her shop in wicker park, she does free alterations for life on all of her pieces!), and boasted big tucks and folds in the fabric with rows of pleats in loops all around the skirt, running around it like train tracks. I wore my favorite shoes, a delicious pair of royal blue patent leather Stuart Weitzman peep toe pumps with wooden spike heels. They are the color of a blue raspberry Jolly Rancher and I love them. My husband looked absolutely dashing in a pair of charcoal gray custom tailored dress pants, a light blue french cuff shirt and a deep purple tie with cufflinks to match.

We arrived at Di Pescara in Northbrook Court Mall in good spirits and, once inside, were immediately handed mini grilled cheese sandwiches balanced atop espresso cups filled with tomato bisque. As an unabashed lover of grilled cheese, it is difficult for me to imagine a better way to be greeted.

Because our rehearsal dinner menu was - in my opinion - both delicious and plentiful, we felt justified in subjecting our guests to both a photo montage and a loooong series of uproarious toasts (or more accurately roasts) given by friends and family. There were some hilarious parallels to be drawn from the pictures of my husband and I as children: round oversized glasses, a prominent spray of freckles dominating the middle region of our faces, and a particularly funny pair of softball team head shots in which my husband and I were - by chance - manipulated into the same ridiculous pose with bats swung over our shoulders and outsized baseball caps riding low on our foreheads. Unfortunately, I think I looked about 20% tougher than him. But such is life.

There was blessedly little mention of the fact that while I was being bat mitzvahed, my husband was most likely graduating college.

And I will never tell another soul (who hasn’t already heard) about my husband’s childhood amateur science experiments. Only that they involved zip lock bags. And a freezer.


Shower Scene

For some time now, since my first bridal shower actually, I have wanted to sit down and write a post about the experience of being showered. As it were.

But nothing came.

So I waited, hoping that by the time my second shower rolled around, I would be ready to put pen to paper. As it were. And here I am, post-second shower, feeling a little rudderless but determined nonetheless to share the experience with my 6-ish readers.

I will admit I was very nervous Sunday morning, April 18th in the hours before my first bridal shower. Something about imminent schmoozing always tightens my ribcage a little bit. I drove myself North to Deerbrook Mall, where my mother and our family friend Babette waited behind the locked doors of Connie Pagano salon – opened early just for the three of us. I walked from the parking lot to the salon with my hand held high over my head, the weight of my shower dress in its garment bag working a nasty knot into my right shoulder. I banged on the door until our hairdresser let me in, and before my mother had the chance to hug me, I saw the tightness in her face and the sharp intake of breath. We are both fantastically skilled at carrying our anxiety in our bodies.

We sat there kibitzing with Babette and Setta (the hairdresser), laughing at the fact that my mother and Babette now sit once a week in the salon to have their hair styled – just like their mothers did in the 60s. And periodically, a very serious look would settle over my mother’s face - or my own - as we remembered some other piece of wedding planning we had neglected, or just the simple fact that in a few hours a room full of expectant faces would be turned toward us . . . well . . . expectantly.

I applied my own makeup in one of the giant salon mirrors as the hairdresser tamed my mother’s Ashkenazic mane.

And then it was time. We raced to my parent’s Deerfield home to jump into our shower dresses. My mother wore a stunning Etro knee length sheath dress with a muted paisley print and one lone ruffle running down the front of the skirt. I wore a bright reverse border print dress with a fitted bust and an explosive box-pleated skirt (with pockets!).

Upon arriving at Green Acres Country Club, we walked into the dining room where the hostesses awaited us and the rest of our guests. As I entered, they turned towards me one by one as if in an old film, smiling fantastically with their arms outstretched. And I felt, in a way - and please excuse the dated reference - like a deb at her coming out ball. You see, most of the hostesses have known me for many years, if not since I was a small child. They have seen the tough times, the lack of self-care and withdrawn discomfort that must have surely read as supreme self-absorption. And it was easier facing them than I thought it would be, in my crisp dress and carefully coiffed hair. Because even as they all complimented me on the look of my straightened locks, I was loving my natural curls and my unpainted face and my sometimes messy insides that aren’t as scary as I thought they were. And it was me wearing the beautiful dress, not the other way around.

So there I was, hugging my old friends and laughing at myself and loving my fiancé right out loud.

And about a month later, I burst into the dining room at Idlewild Country Club with a furiously insistent growling in my belly that needed quieting before I could even think of playing nice. Judy, one of my future mother-in-law’s good friends, walked up to hug me and I latched onto her open arms with what must have been a death grip. When she offered to show me where the washroom was located, I told her that first I needed mixed nuts or some crackers. ANYTHING. NOW. So while she looked frantically for something to stabilize my dangerously low blood sugar, I tried my best to calm the crazed look in my eyes and avoid crying like a child as I balanced on my precarious four inch heels.

Like I said, I’m still a little messy sometimes.

When she returned with a martini glass full of mixed nuts, I was curled up in a chair in the Country Club’s lobby, licking my wounds, with the crumbs from a decimated pack of oyster crackers – brought to me by the club’s gracious manager - covering my lap. I looked up at her and smiled sheepishly, crossing my Stewart Weitzman clad feet daintily in front of me and apologizing for my Oscar-worthy entrance. Thankfully she laughed in the most sincere way and told me not to worry, that she had been there herself many times.

And this is what I love about spending time with my future in-laws and their friends. They seem to understand - much like my own family - that no matter how friendly or well adjusted you may be; you can still have your . . . moments. So I recovered as gracefully as possible, put away my claws and rejoined the human race.

The shower was intimate and beautiful. And each woman gave to me, tucked into a binder with a lemon motif on the cover, a family recipe and the story attached to it. My future mother-in-law presented me with her mother’s recipe for white cake with mocha icing, which is famous in the family and called “Shasha Cake” in deference to the woman who created it. And she warned me that baking the cake can be an undertaking, and that my newly acquired family will surely and firmly judge the results.

The passing of this recipe to me warmed my heart more than I can possibly say. Because I have seen the pictures of my fiancé eating the last real Shasha Cake ever made. And I have sat with my future in-laws eating this aunt’s or that aunt’s Shasha cake, ruthlessly grading its success against the genuine article while everyone invariably recounts stories about Shasha herself. And it scares me to know that someday soon, I will be the one whose baking prowess is ruthlessly graded. But I will rise to the occasion, hoping that the woman who I never had a chance to meet would have been proud of the results.

And the man with whom I am so deeply in love - and whose name I will soon carry - will smile up at me, belly full of memories.


Change of A Dress

Saturday, April 17th at 10:00 am, I arrived at Dimitras Bridal with a half eaten granola bar from Starbucks shoved hastily into my clutch purse and too much coffee in my system. I also carried with me: a necklace fashioned from the sapphires and diamond in my great grandmother’s engagement ring and a Stuart Weitzman bag, and inside that a box and inside that a protective pouch and inside that a pair of pewter Chantelle pumps wrapped in tissue paper like exquisite candy.

My maid of honor, Colleen and I waited outside the shop for my mother and grandmother to arrive, glamorously rumpled in a yellow cab. In a matter of minutes, the cab rolled to a stop in front of us and my grandmother pulled herself up from the back seat, already misty eyed. My mother followed, and for no less than 30 minutes we hugged each other in varying patterns: mother - daughter, granddaughter - grandmother, mother - mother in law, grandmother - maid of honor, group hug . . . you get the idea. It is the Jewish way.

Now some of you may remember that in my post about Myron and Phil’s, I made a passing reference to my grandmother’s career as a lounge singer. If you don’t remember, here’s the background: my grandmother’s career as a lounge singer in mostly Chicago but also Vegas blossomed only in her 40’s when she had launched all three of her children out of their family home. The origin of this shift in her life is still unclear to me. Did she wake up one morning with an empty nest and a husband married to his job and think to herself: Today I am going to start singing professionally? I really can’t even imagine how the idea occurred to her.

In any case, she ended up nurturing a nice little name for herself and has retained the most gregarious of personalities. In terms of wide-eyed gasps of joy and uncontrolled sobbing, I knew she wouldn’t disappoint.

So we all piled into the rickety elevator at 1011 North Rush Street and swayed our way to the 3rd floor where my wedding gown and copious boxes of tissue awaited us. The seamstress met us at the door and ushered us to the North facing side of the small shop where they house the evening wear, away from the hustle and (cue rim shot) bustle of the first time bridal appointments. She pulled me into a dressing room, strapped a medieval looking white bustier on me and then zipped me into my Enzoani gown with a fitted bodice and a beautiful lace bolero.

And then came my absolute favorite part of the very few bridal appointments at which I have been guest of honor. The seamstress reached down to pick up my Stuart Weitzman pewter Chantelle pumps which I had extracted from bag, box, protective pouch and tissue paper. I bent forward slightly, picking up the heavy layers of my dress to expose one ridiculously small—and now red from so much standing—foot. This is when she, poised on the ground in front of me, slipped my foot into the shoe and then motioned her hand for the other foot. I placed it in her care and received my other shoe. How could any women, even the ones who didn’t dream of their wedding as a little girl (like me . . . surprised?), not love this moment? The bodice of your wedding gown grasps your waist and your shoulders curve over gently as you pick up your skirt, and your perfect wedding shoe pops onto your foot—aided by the seamstress. Are you not - in this moment if never again - Cinderella awaiting the prince’s ball, stomach aflutter? There is just something magical about wearing a gown so fantastic, so full of heavy silk and crinoline that you can’t even put on your own shoes.

The seamstress stood up and blessedly, like a pro, looked at me like she had never seen a woman in a wedding gown before. She beamed and exclaimed, clucked her tongue and repeated over and over again that I looked so beautiful. And I thought, who cares if they train the employees at Dimitras to moon over every bride like this? I’m going with it!

We walked out of the dressing room together and my grandmother, never one to disappoint any audience, nearly fainted.

As I stood up on the platform so that the seamstress could pin my gown to fit my statuesque 5’3” stature, my grandmother made a series of throaty noises and clutched her hands in front of her chest excitedly. She then said: “What are you, deformed? You look like you had liposuction!” (I must clarify; I am absolutely sure this was intended as a compliment). Colleen stood behind her, holding her cell phone in front of her face - as if to take pictures of me - in order to hide her shaking shoulders and hysterical laughter.

Then my 82 year old grandmother said, in a bridal salon at 10:30 in the morning: “You look like I did when I was a singer. They used to say to me: ‘If you had tits, you’d be dangerous!’ and I told them ‘Honey, I might not have tits but I am dangerous!’” And if I hadn’t been stuck on that platform with pins littering the floor in front of me, I would have walked over and squeezed her. Because who, really, gets to hear their grandmother say things like that?

And hats off to Colleen, who – if she couldn’t hold it together – at least had the poise to hide her face.


In The Trenches

This Saturday I will be attending my bachelorette party. My fiancé will be holed up in a log cabin for the weekend, planning to rip his groomsmen to shreds with a paintball gun.

I thought I might work with my Maid of Honor to plan something a little more civilized. Something that wouldn’t necessarily require the use of a tarp. So, we reserved a table for the 8:30 show at The Baton - which is rumored to employ the best female impersonators in Chicago.

With the inevitable scrutiny involved in spending my bachelorette evening with sharp witted drag queens, I of course began planning my outfit early. It was necessary for my emotional safety.

I began with a beautifully simple Leifsdottir bandage knit black mini dress that I convinced myself to buy on sale. This dress has been hanging in my closet since I purchased it, waiting for the perfect occasion to be woken from dormancy and paraded out for, let’s say, a bridal party and the very particular female impersonators of The Baton.

And I know it will work because the stretch knit fabric feels just so delicious against my skin, like a tee shirt really. And the allover rouching makes this very tight mini dress actually wearable. As most of you ladies already know, rouching forgives the body like almost no other dressmaker detail. The neckline is a wide v-neck that is just the tiniest bit asymmetrical, and the shoulders of the dress have about a half inch of extra gathered fabric, creating a wonderful touch of volume. The dress is, in a word, bitchy. And I love it. Not to mention - paired with bronze platform cutout booties – the dress makes my legs look like the Meryl Streep of legs. In that everyone loves them, they have received many accolades, but have only ever been recognized for their supporting roles and have never won the Oscar they really deserve.

So I had the dress and the shoes all figured out, but I needed the perfect completer piece. I hit Nordstrom Rack in search of some kind of outwear that would look great with the black dress and the bronze heels. I tried on many cropped moto jackets, which are very in right now, but nothing really worked. And then I found, tucked into an overcrowded rack of Trina Turk clothing, a trench coat bolero from Pink Tartan’s ’09 spring / summer line.

The bolero was made in that beautiful tan color of a traditional trench and had all the great details of a traditional trench: the belted sleeves, flaps at the bust, and shiny pewter buttons. But, it was cropped to the perfect length. The jacket hit right above the natural waist, and while the front was boxy in a pleasant way, the back was vented so it opened like a swing coat. The thing I loved most about the jacket is that it was perfectly in line with the cropped outerwear trend, but it carried enough classic detailing to look chic rather than trendy and disposable.

So I agonized over whether or not to purchase the jacket. While it was only a quarter of its original cost, it was still more of an investment than the moto jackets I had tried on. I visited The Rack a number of times over the following week, each time pulling out the bolero to look at it again, trying it on, and then hiding it on some rack where it didn’t belong – mixed in with mom jeans and August Silk.

I even once - on my way to see my makeup artist - popped into the store to visit my bolero, walked back out and then spent five minutes bouncing from the entrance of the store to the corner of State and Washington like a crazed pinball, convincing myself alternately to just purchase the damn thing and that I really didn’t need to be spending the money anyway.

In the end, it was mine.

I walked through the doors of Nordstrom Rack at the tail end of a Wednesday lunch hour and made a bee-line for the last rack on which I had hidden my bolero. It. Wasn’t. There.

In a frantic last ditch effort, I looked through the rack where I had originally found the jacket and, buried between hangers and hangers of inferior trench coats, there it was. I ripped it off the hanger, and with only the faintest blush of guilt, carried it victoriously to the register.

And now it hangs in my closet, waiting patiently for its big debut.

And it ain’t a tarp, but at least it’s water resistant.