Refusing to let Hurricane Isabel rain on their parade

Sun Staff

Emily Shifrin describes her home as chaotic. It's a description that seems to apply to all aspects of her life these days.

Earlier this year, she was confined to 12 weeks of hospital bed care, then gave birth four months ago to premature twin boys.

Yesterday, at her family's stone and stucco Tudor Revival in the Stoneleigh neighborhood on the edge of Baltimore County, two dogs barked incessantly, and the sound of hammering shuddered throughout her home as workmen toiled to complete a behind-schedule renovation.

Oh, yes, and the bat mitzvah party for her stepdaughter, Molly, scheduled for this weekend in the back yard, had to be moved at the last minute because of the arrival of another source of chaos - Isabel.

Fear, not of Hurricane Isabel but of her likely aftermath, forced the Shifrins to shelve plans that had been in the making for months.

Molly took fliers to school yesterday announcing to friends that the party was being moved, and she and her parents planned last night to send e-mails and make telephone calls to other guests - 60 in all - that the one-time backyard bash instead will take place in a second-floor hotel meeting room.

"I was totally shocked," Molly said yesterday as she recalled being confronted Sunday with the possible consequences along the East Coast of Hurricane Isabel. "It was pretty disappointing."

Molly acknowledged she doesn't put much stock in weather forecasts, and it didn't help that yesterday was picture-perfect, and that Isabel had been reduced at one point to a Category Two storm.

"I've been thinking it's going to rain all week and be muddy," she said. "I woke up this morning and saw the weather and said, 'What?!' "

Emily Shifrin began tracking Isabel last week, growing increasingly nervous by the day. But she mentioned nothing at first, because Molly was so excited about the party.

A 20-by-50-foot tent with tables and chairs had already been rented, along with a moonbounce and a cotton candy machine. A caterer had been hired, as had a disc jockey.

"Saturday is supposed to be nice, but the problem is, what would Thursday and Friday be like?" Emily Shifrin said. "If it rains for two days, the lawn's going to be a mess. That's one issue, but the other is that they just wouldn't be able to set the tent up."

On Saturday, she discussed the matter with her husband, James.

Two issues, she said, were critical: Could the contract for the tent and furnishings, which cost about $1,500, be voided, and was it possible to find an alternate space to hold the party on such short notice?

The first issue was easy, she said, when Taylor Party Plus canceled the tent agreement. The second challenge looked more ominous.

"I called the VFW, American Legion, local community halls, friends asking if they had any ideas - even our temple," Shifrin said.

Every place was already booked.

Finally, the Sheraton Hotel in Towson told her that another group would be vacating a meeting room at 5:30 p.m. Saturday - one hour before Molly's bat mitzvah party was to begin.

So on Monday, Molly was confronted with three options: move the party to an inside location; keep the party in the back yard and risk being forced to cancel; or change the date.

She decided she wanted to keep the date, then reluctantly agreed to have the party moved.

"Molly really wanted to have her party here," Shifrin said. "Her sister had her party here, and a good time was had by all. A big success."

The biggest disappointment, though, is the loss of her favorite caterer - Andy Nelson's Southern Pit Barbecue.

"It is so good," Molly said, "Their motto is, 'If you haven't had Andy's, you haven't had barbecue.' And they are right ... I so much wanted Andy's."

But by yesterday afternoon, despite the frantic search for a new location, despite having to alert guests, change the menu and explain it all to Molly, despite everything that Isabel had wreaked before even a drop of rain had fallen, Emily Shifrin was able to put things in perspective.

"They [the party rental people] said they had a lot of tents that were supposed to go up starting tomorrow," she said. "A bat mitzvah is one thing, but as significant as it is, it's not a wedding. I feel sad for a lot of people."

Even Molly seemed to be getting over the shock. It helped when her friends pointed out that they can make more noise in the hotel than they could have in her back yard.

"I am going to make the best of it," she said. "We always have fun, no matter what."

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