Thursday, December 31, 2009

It's that time of year again...

The New Years' meme.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?
Bought a house.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
This question doesn't...really apply to me.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes! Kristen. And H.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Well, yes. Brad.

5. What countries did you visit?
I didn't visit any foreign countries, but Hawaii was really cool.

6. What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009?
Job security.

7. What dates from 2009 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
October 3, 2009- moving day.

December 9, 2009- Brad's day.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Setting up my own business, complete with studio, office, all new gear and computer.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Oh, Lordy.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
No, but I had life-changing surgery.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The House.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?

Heh. Our real estate agent and attorney who implored the guy at Wells Fargo to physically walk over to the damn fax machine and check it while still on the phone instead of giving us the run-around AGAIN as what should have been a 45-minute closing dragged into its third hour.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Honestly? My own inability to cope. And the newspaper industry. I'll not get more specific than that.

14. Where did most of your money go?
See #8.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Covering the inauguration.

16. What song will always remind you of 2009?

"The One Who Knows" by Dar Williams and "On The Phone With My Sister" by Catie Curtis

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder?
Happier in general, sadder as of late.
b) thinner or fatter?
Much thinner.
c) richer or poorer?
Um....I own more valuable things now? So...?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Vacationing at the beach. Didn't make it there this year.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Working around the clock.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
At my parents' with the fried dough and seafood and lots of rounds of Jingle Bells with Aiden.

21. Did you fall in love in 2009?
I literally hugged all the extra counter space in the mudroom the first time our real estate agent showed us the house. Does that count?

22. What was your favorite TV program?

Intervention, Obsessed and Hoarders, my Monday night trainwreck lineup. And Glee! Oh, yeah. Glee.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
No, but I think some people hate me now, actually. So that's awesome.

24. What was the best book you read?
I guess the Julie/Julia Project.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

"In Your Time" by Bob Seger

26. What did you want and get by year's end?
A new comforter. Uggs.

27. What did you want and not get by year's end?
Forgiveness and reconcilation.

28. What was your favorite film of this year?

Nothing comes to mind.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 30. I ate sugar-free pudding at a My Little Pony-themed party.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

No comment.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2009?
Hand me downs.

32. What kept you sane?


33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Healthcare reform.

35. Who did you miss?
My laid-off co-workers. I can't believe that we're all that's left. There should be a lot more people depicted here.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
It's a tie between Salonia and Lesley. Yeah. Definitely.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009.
When grieving, set up a support network of people who love you but don't know the deceased. Go to them first. Seek out solitude and embrace it during the anger phase.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

"If anyone knows how strong you are, it's your little sister. It's your little sister." -Catie Curtis

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Sneak Preview: Heather and Dan

On Sunday, I got to shoot Heather and Dan's wedding at the Round Hill House in Washingtonville. This was the first wedding I've ever been to where lots of my old high school besties and Joel's and my contemporary New York friends combined for one awesome party.

Their wedding announcement actually made the New York Times, which was so exciting.

Why, yes, that is the bride in her veil and hiking boots running back to the limo (parked at a gas station) with the Sunday New York Times.

The bottom of her shoes say, "Hi, Ma!" written in red nail polish, which was a little surprise for her mom when they kneeled for a blessing.

The black and white shot, above, is my personal favorite so far. Just sayin.'

I gotta give credit where credit is due... The limo shot, below, was taken by Joel. :) Nice one, honey.

Congratulations, you guys! Have fun in Argentina!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


We're looking after Gunner, my parents' silly, slobbery black lab for a few days while my mom and dad visit my sister in Boston. This dog... first of all, I should say that Gunner is all boy. He is a Man's Dog. He hunts with my dad. He isn't bathed all that often, though Bella is bathed once a month, which is decidedly more frequent than most dogs.

He's such a sweetie, though. He's getting along pretty well with our trio. Bella put him in his place once or twice, but it wasn't anything more than your standard reminder of rank in the pack. She is the quintessential Alpha, which is fine as long as we feed them separately. She's being very, very nice about letting G-man get up on the couch with me, even if it means that she has to stay on the floor because there's not enough room. (Gunner is BIG when he stretches out.) That wouldn't fly at my parents' house where Bella, the guest star, prances around like she owns the place and likes to usurp Gunner's spot on the couch and the bed. Nice, my little girl, no?

Meanwhile, Gunner farts like a trombone and refuses to go up the stairs to the second floor unless you put him on his leash and walk him up. I really can't figure this out. We can call him, cajole him, invite him, what have you, but without a treat as a bribe or specifically escorting him up the stairs on his leash, he stays at the bottom of the stairs and cries like the loneliest dog in Dogville. Which is heart-breaking, but also... what? Why, dude? Just COME ON UP AND SNUGGLE WITH US EVEN THOUGH YOU KIND OF SMELL BAD AND I KNOW THAT WAS YOUR FART BECAUSE YOU GAVE YOURSELF AWAY WHEN YOU TURNED AND SNIFFED YOUR OWN BUTT. Sheesh.

The cats are acting like nothing is out of the ordinary, except for the tiptoeing. They tiptoe everywhere. They are out and about, cuddling next to Gunner on the bed and everything, although Ollie like to stay at the top of the stairs after sending Fred down first, which Fred does.... very very slowly in a slow tiptoeing way of tiptoeyness. He's either the protective big brother or bait. Not sure which.

We, the humans, are officially outnumbered with Gunner here AND Scooter's mom was back yesterday, sans kittens. Ah, well.

Happy Birthday to Joel! I love you, sweetie. I got you a big farting black lab and a gift card to Best Buy as a present! Enjoy!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A tribute with an olive branch

Here's the thing about growing up in a small town. Everyone knows everyone, and bad news travels fast. About 350 people came to Brad's life celebration reception Thursday night. Every scout leader, teacher, coach, playdate host, neighbor and pool mom from our childhood showed up to offer their condolences and remembrances. As such, I had the incredibly bizarre experience of seeing every adult, pretty much, with whom I ever interacted from infancy through, oh, age 11 or so.

One woman, the mother of a friend and former playdate hostess from the baby group my mom joined in 1979, greeted me with: "Oh, Angie, we worried you'd never learn how to walk!"
Me: (taking a few steps away and back) "I know! My mom always said she was worried she'd have to carry me to the senior prom. How am I doin'?"

It was so strange to see people I haven't seen since I was nine, like, pregnant.

Me to Melissa R!ce: How can you be pregnant?!? You're nine!"
Person Overhearing This (who turns around): "No, YOU'RE nine!"
Me: "Karen! HI!!! I was hoping you'd be here after I saw your comment on Facebook!" (hugs)

You know, I work at a newspaper. We do a lot of stories about people who die. We cover murders, car crashes, children who die from diseases and in accidents, crimes and twists of fate and the natural progression of life into death. There's always a tendency to glamorize the deceased, to speak only of their goodness, to bury their flaws and gloss over their humanity by recounting only the best of times. But once in a generation, there's a person who comes along who genuinely inspires with their strength and spirit. Brad wasn't perfect. He could be cranky at times, and he could hold a grudge. But he never let muscular dystrophy hold him back. He lived life on his own terms. He made the best of every situation; he really did. It's not fair how much shit he had to wade through in his 33 years. He defied all the odds and broke all the rules, and his biggest fear was that people would think he gave up.

There were no publicly-led prayers, nor rosaries or incense, not too many flowers. The three of us who spoke gave toasts, not eulogies. I, literally, laid an olive branch when I toasted him (with a martini with olives, the way his Aunt Bev liked). He never stopped fighting, so I offered the olive branch as a symbol of peace. He hated olives. We always have them out as appetizers for big holiday meals, and he would just shake his head as I gobbled them down. (His nephew Aiden spat a black olive into my hand this past Thanksgiving, so maybe the tradition lives on.)

I also spent last week throwing myself into a project that was, truly, the last nice thing I got to do for Brad. I'll never get to shoot his wedding, or make videos and slideshows of his babies like they I have for his sister and all the other friends from my childhood. I poured a lifetime's worth of energy that would have gone to Christmas presents and birthday gifts into his tribute.

I know that it was hard for people who saw how focused I was on creating it to understand my urgency, but the following tribute ran on repeat all night long at the funeral home. I managed to make 50 copies, one for everyone at the pre-memorial lunch at Brad's favorite brewery, plus extras for all the coaches, teachers and scout leaders who showed up at the funeral home. I gave his mom a way to quickly answer well-meaning but probing questions about how the memorial was and how she's doing. She can just send people the link to this tribute or hand them a CD.

If you know me in real life, if you know my family, you might recognize the kids in this video. I'm depicted here, a lot. So is my sister. Brad's sister looks an awful lot like her adult self, so she's easy to pick out. Any time you see a red-headed little moppet, that's Jason. I'm the other person parasailing, and the girl with all the hair in the pictures taken on the boat.

By making this tribute, I gave his college roommates the gift of seeing him walk. It never occurred to me that they never saw that. I mean, of course they hadn't. Brad used a wheelchair from age 14 on. I just didn't realize that they never saw him walking, because he walked for so long, by the power of sheer will alone.

And.... unintentionally.... I gave myself all new images of old memories to hold on to. I'm grateful that this footage, these images, have replaced some of the intrusive thoughts that were coming to me, unbidden, of Brad's final days and hours. Those mental images clenched my stomach and blocked my throat with a lump that couldn't be dissolved, it seemed, except by anger. It was a kind of hurt that could only be burned off by a hotter fire, unfortunately. This past week has been an absolute hell, largely of my own making, but at least I got this part right.

Remembering Brad from Angela Gaul on Vimeo.

It was a gift only I could give, and it gave a lot of people peace. So maybe it's a start...?

Thursday, December 10, 2009


We said goodbye to Brad last night. Everything was on his terms, and in his time. There was no pain and no struggle. He took care of us as much as we took care of him, and it was my privilege to be encircled in the love that was in the room last night.

There is so much to say about my brother from another mother, but his story is not mine to tell. I am going to be on hiatus here for a while. I am still checking email, voicemail, carrying two cell phones and balancing everything as best I can. Yesterday was one of the most important, awful, beautiful days of my life, but I had an excellent teacher in the arts of strength and perseverance. The time has come for me to focus on those lessons and push on.

Peace to you and yours in this season of comfort and joy... See you later.