Afthead at the White House

Dear readers.  The weeks before Christmas are chaotic and filled with high expectations, high demands, and fun…fun…fun.  So when a work trip pops up the answer is inevitably no, unless the request comes from the White House.  Yes, my friends, you read that right.  I was invited to the White House.  Now let me get a couple of questions out of the way:

  • Yes, I went on the work trip two weeks before Christmas.
  • No, I did not get to meet the President or the First Lady.
  • No, I did not get to hug Joe Biden, even though that was Afthead Junior’s number one request.
  • No, I did not sit in the Oval Office.  In fact, I didn’t even make it to the White House building.  My meeting was in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building or EEOB seen on the right, behind the many fences, in the image below.  It is very close to the White House, and still pretty darn impressive, as you will see.

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After checking in with security, being sniffed by a dog, x-rayed, and being checked by security again I was presented with my official credentials, that I had to return, and the badge I still wear everywhere except to sleep because it is pokey.

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Do you see that?  It says “The White House.”  Then it says “Johanna Levene.”  That’s me!  The weird part about being in the EEOB – I am so official using the acronym – is that once you get through all of the security you just get to wander around this insanely cool old building.  All the important rooms are locked with a badge reader – like the Vice President’s office, so one couldn’t just wander in for a hug – but you can just walk into many of the historic rooms if there isn’t a meeting going on.

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The ceilings are impressive.

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The stairwells are impressive.

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The library is impressive.

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The conference rooms are impressive.  This is part of the Secretary of War Suite.

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The wallpaper is impressive.

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I am impressive (and very smiley, because my badge says White House.)  I cannot believe my Christmas cards were made before I got this picture.  Maybe next year….

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But the computers are archaic.  Just kidding.  Oddly there were flat screen TVs in all the conference rooms, and they looked completely out of place.  However, in the Secretary of War Suite there was also this little set up in case you brought your typing skills, or some ink and parchment and wanted to pen a founding document real quick.

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After my meeting – yes I actually participated in a four hour meeting in addition to taking all these pictures – I ate lunch in the coffee shop (lunch at the White House); tried to get into the Truman bowling alley (locked); and bought a bunch of Christmas presents at the White House gift shop.  As I left I came the closest to the actual White House itself, so of course I took a picture.  Yeah, that’s the West Wing there on the other side of the parking lot.  Wave to President Obama.  Then I turned around and snapped a picture of the EEOB one last time, because you can’t get this angle unless you are a White House visitor.

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This was my first White House invitation in my thirteen year career, and the best part about the meeting is that it was actually important I was there.  This was no gratuitous White House invite.  I briefed my boss’s, boss’s, boss’s….on and on… boss before the meeting, and he used my talking points in his presentation.  I got to speak. I made a call to action.  It was pretty darn cool.  I think I deserve a congratulatory pat on the afthead.


In case you are interested in learning more of the history of the EEOB or White House check out these great sites:

West Wing Tour: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/west-wing-tour

Eisenhower Executive Office Building Tour: https://www.whitehouse.gov/about/inside-white-house/eeob-tour

 

 

 

Solstice Gift

My husband raced downstairs tonight with happy crinkles decorating his eyes.  “I have a present!” he announced.

My daughter waited in anticipation, but I didn’t even need to ask.  Only one thing could make him so happy:  our chickens laid their first egg a month before we expected it, and on the shortest day of the year no less.  A week after temperatures didn’t reach 0 Rosie decided it was time to make an egg. (Well, we think it was Rosie.  Even though she is the youngest in our flock her comb and waddle are the most developed, which is supposed to indicate egg laying readiness.)

The upside?  Well, the beginning of eggs of course.  The downside?  My chickens have trumped any hope of me being responsible for delivering the true joy of Christmas this year for my family.  I’ve been trumped by a bird.  My daughter is running around singing, “All I want for Christmas is another egg…another egg… Oh!  Another eeegggg.”  My husband semi-jokes that he’s going to sleep with the egg tonight.  There is nothing wrapped or planned that can match the miracle of the first egg this season. 

I think I have a tiny bow downstairs.  Maybe I’ll stick that on the tiny precious gift and call it good.  (Or is that what they call gilding the lily?)
Happy solstice everyone!  May your own families be as lucky as the Aftheads and have their hearts filled with whatever gives them joy this week.  

Afthead Holiday Party

I’ve just finished cleaning up from my third annual holiday party.  Yep, me, the introverted Afthead throws a holiday party every year, but it’s my kind of party.  I pick up five of my daughters friends after school and we craft for four hours.  I am their hostess, their coach and their mentor as they learn new skills making gift for themselves, their friends, and their families.

Every year I have a plan.  I buy supplies: yarn, pipe cleaners, beads, and Popsicle sticks.  In the days before the party my daughter and I make sample projects and test out what is too hard, what doesn’t really come together, and what we can reuse from last year.  The event begins with an after school snack while I casually lay out the demo items we’ve created, showing what they could make for their mom, sister, dad, or grandpa.  Some things grab their attention, and some things don’t, but ten minutes into the party it isn’t about me anymore: it becomes all about them.  I hand them each a gift bag to store their loot and they start crafting.

It is a marvel to behold, an experiment in personalities.  We hand select friends who can sit and craft for four hours with breaks only for food and to find the scissors.  Learning from our past mistakes girls who want to be the center of attention or who can’t sit still aren’t invited back, because there are lots of parties where you can dance on the table, chase friends or wear pretty dresses.  This party is different; I and the girls love it.

This year we hit the perfect mix of guests.  There were two new girls on the invite list.  I taught one to finger knit and she was a prodigy.  Four hours she stood in her snow boots looping yarn over her tiny fingers.  She went home with three scarves.  The second new girl sat on the floor cross-legged making pom-pom after pom-pom: methodically winding the yarn around one arm of the puffball maker, closing it; winding the other arm, closing it; finding the good scissors, cutting the loops; and tying the yarn around the middle.  She’d wiggle the contraption apart and out would pop another pom pom.  Then she’d find another yarn and do the whole process again.

The evening’s transition is magical.  They start the day calling for my help.  Every one of them needs me, my hands, and my expertise.  Impatiently they wait calling out Coach Johanna, Jo Jo, Mom, Mrs. Johanna, but by the end they are helping each other and I am forgotten.  Today, with an hour left in the party, I was unexpectedly called.  They explained that a timer needed so the girls could prepare for a rendezvous.  Having no idea what they were talking about they explained, with the condescension of children, what they are learning about Colorado history right now.  In case you are also ignorant:

Rocky Mountain Rendezvous (in trapper jargon) was an annual gathering (1825–1840) at various locations held by a fur trading company at which trappers and mountain men sold their furs and hides and replenished their supplies.

The timer rang, and the girls set up shop to trade their precious crafts with each other.  There were no fights, no arguments, lots of compliments, and it was all their idea.  I contributed cookies to the event, which they appreciated, while letting me know my presence was not needed.

I learn so much from them.  Beyond expanding my knowledge of western history, I learn perspective about  my daughter’s own strengths and weaknesses in the light of her friends.  I learn more about the challenges and struggles they each have and they have together.  I learn how each of them has grown and changed since I last had concentrated time with them.  But I get to teach too.  I teach them that it is important to be kind to each other.  I teach them that we don’t have and Elf on the Shelf, because our family thinks the elves are creepy, but we don’t judge their family for having one.   I teach about our joint Christmas and Hanukkah celebration.  I teach them the wonder of making something with your own two hands and using your brain to take an idea and make it your own.  I hope I teach them that even as a grown up there are lots of different ways of having fun with your friends.

This is the one party every year when I don’t worry about what to wear, I don’t need a drink to loosen me up, and I don’t want to hide in my basement to recover.  Cleaning up from the event I love the dustpan full of yarn bits and googly eyes.  My daughter, having helped and chatted with her friends, starts her projects in earnest when everyone leaves.  She’s watched her friends and picked her favorite ideas to make over and over.  My extroverted daughter and her introverted momma are both energized when the evening comes to a close.

You can have your cocktail dresses, your high heeled shoes, your signature drinks, and your white elephant gifts.  Me?  I’ll take a group of kids and some glue for as long as they will have me.

Dragon Float at night

Afthead Mardi Gras – Best Day Ever

I missed posting for a week.  Well, I can’t say I missed posting, because I was at Mardi Gras with my husband and my daughter.  Yes, we took our daughter to Mardi Gras, for the second time.  Now before you call child protective services and have her taken away from me, let me tell you, Mardi Gras isn’t how you are imagining it in your head.  We saw no boobs.  Yeah, we saw some drinking, some public affection, some R-rated costumes, but we didn’t see the stereotypical Mardi Gras.

If you have never been you should find a friend who grew up in New Orleans, or went to college in New Orleans, or lives in New Orleans and schedule a trip.  It is the closest thing to pure fun I have ever experienced.  It’s marching bands, and dance troops, and old guy dance troops, and floats.  The floats are like nothing you have ever experienced.  They are huge and satirical and filled with men and women throwing presents at you.  Yes they throw beads, but also stuffed animals, footballs, Frisbees, toys, hats, costumes and instruments.  There are little kids sitting safely in these awesome ladder seats.  There are bigger kids on their parents shoulders reaching right up to the float, and there are slightly bigger kids running after the float cheering, yelling and screaming, “Throw me something mister!” and normally the mister (or misses) throws something.

Mardi Gras ladder for little kids.
Mardi Gras ladder for little kids.

Yeah, the crap is made in China.  Yeah, the guys on the floats look a little like KKK members.  Yeah, there is a very obvious class separation.  While I can recognize those unsavory details today, when I am at the parade I just don’t care, because it is so much fun.  Do I really want that white feather boa my daughter begged for?  No, and neither does she.  It is itchy and sheds feathers.  But at that moment it was the best catch of the day.  It was glamorous and envied.  Right now I look at the giant beads hanging in my studio, and I marvel that a 40 year old woman (and her 42 year old friend) could have received such attention.  (I did not bear my breasts for them, thanks for wondering.)

At Mardi Gras we stood side by side with strangers and we had fun together.  A lady I’d never met and never saw again picked up a special bracelet thrown to me, because I had a 45 pound kid on my shoulders.  A family who had been holding their spot at Bacchus for ten hours welcomed us to their tent.  We caught beads for their kids and they gave us frosty cold beers.  We shook our heads together when the twenty year old threw up in their tent.  I laughed with the woman next to me when someone threw beads onto her outstretched arms.  She was dancing not asking for beads, but it was a great shot.  We had a spaghetti dinner at our friend’s church for $10 (which also gave us the use of their bathroom all night) and then they sold us $3 wine and beer to enjoy while watching the parade.  Having fun with strangers is even better than having fun with people you know.

There is magic at Mardi Gras.  We had a dragon breathe fire at us, causing a white out in our vision, but not burning us.  Our kids ran up to huge floats blind to their tiny frames and they didn’t get run over.  Doubloons are thrown, and those gold, red, purple and silver coins are more valuable to my 6-year-old than the real dollars the tooth fairy brings.  If I hold them now their clinking and glinting brings back the magic and the fun.