Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Keeping Busy

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today, a little colder than normal, but crisp. Again, rain is expected tomorrow. I am at that in-between time at the end of the month before my work starts to flow in and I have to deal with deadlines. I climbed back into bed to watch Matt Lauer in Vientiane, Laos, after Saul left for work. I felt tired, depressed, and listless, but I could not get back to sleep. I wound up missing most of Vientiane distracted by yet another documentary about the tea in China that Saul had recorded on TIVO from the Sundance Channel. Not as dire as the ones I mentioned earlier last week, but still a little depressing because of the Chinese government's insistence on trying to sell us mass-produced chemically-fertilized factory tea instead of allowing us to directly subsidize farmers producing artisan-type organic teas as they have been produced in China for generations. Because of this, the art is dying out. Saul, Ari and I were in Beijing in January, so we now have even more interest in all things Chinese. We observed that, having just about destroyed all vestiges of the past during the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese government has discovered that tourists are actually coming because of the remaining vestiges. There has been a rush to preserve and restore, and in some cases totally reconstruct the past as they get ready to host the Olympics. Perhaps, as hoards of tourists descend upon China this summer, they will realize what an international treasure Tibet and the Dalai Lama would be for them if they just let the people observe their own culture and adopted a laissez-faire attitude.

I felt guilty laying in bed on such a beautiful day. Life is short as I have been reminded, and beautiful days are not a dime a dozen. I spent a few minutes staring out the windows at my beautiful pink and purple flowered trees, which also only appear that way for about two weeks each year if the weather holds out. Then I contemplated the garden. Now that I have a reasonable landscaper, I could wait until he is available and just give him instructions. It needs to be made presentable even if I don't plant anything. I thought about not planting anything. Every year, I spend a lot of money growing things and some years, I wind up involuntarily feeding it all to the local wildlife, or at least, the local insects. Why bother? I was in that kind of mood today. Then, I decided that letting that mood and the sober reality of the expense rule my actions would be very counterproductive to my well-being. I dressed for gardening, grabbed my gloves, and went out to pull a few weeds. By the time I had finished pulling those weeds my mood was gone and I grabbed a shovel and started moving the overgrown gravel from my garden walkways into a pile in front of my composter to be used under the new patio. I must be crazy, I thought. I am shoveling heavy shovelfuls of rocks at age 58 when I could pay someone else to do it. After 10 minutes, I was ready to give up. I took a little break and then got a second wind. It was a long second wind. I was able to keep shoveling for another hour and cleared a whole side! Then, I weeded. Then, I used the garden weasel and cleared the whole front section. I was able to keep going for 3 hours. I don't feel too bad this evening after a hot shower and some aspirin. Maybe I will be sorry tomorrow, or maybe I will plant the garden anyway, just as an expression of hope that this year will be better.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Shomer Guf and the Funeral

Laura did call late last night to give us the details about the funeral home, Goldstein's. She spoke with Saul and he relayed to me that I would be there with Barbara Shatz, a friend of Faith Rubin and mother of Michael Shatz, who took over Jessica's job at Beth Hillel/Beth El. I had not seen Barbara in a few years. When she came in and went up to the coffin, I thought she seemed much taller and thinner than I remembered. We were relieving a cousin of Jay's, Bonnie, who had been there for the previous two hours. It turned out, when I asked Barbara about Michael, that she is actually Barbara Shotz, mother of Todd Shotz, who co-produced the television series, "Jericho" with Barbara Steinberg's son. Saul and Ari were especially big fans of the Jericho series. We began watching it because of our AJ connection and then became hooked.

My instructions were to be there at 8:30 a.m., to park on the upper side lot, and to knock on the double doors there and that the people who were there before me would open the doors. I decided to drop Saul at Chestnut Hill College for his 8:00 a.m. class and then return to pick him up so that we could go to the funeral together at AJ at 1:00 p.m. I did as I was instructed, arriving at 8:15 a.m., but it appeared dark inside and no one heard my knocking. After about five minutes of pounding on heavy glass doors, a car drove past me and into the lower lot. I followed it down on foot and explained to the emerging funeral home employee that I was there to watch a body and that no one had appeared to let me in. He invited me to enter with him through the garage doors underneath. He punched a number code into an inside door and we entered the building. I was on the lower level. We stood just outside a room where the bodies are kept and one of the funeral directors was there closing the doors on a refrigeration unit into which he had just placed a draped body. On tables around the room were several other draped bodies, probably three or four. My first impression was that the bodies that lay under the draping seemed very small when viewed that way. I wondered for a brief moment if one of them was Sandy, She was very tiny. When I explained my mission and told the funeral director for whom I was there, he introduced me to another man who was also a shomer who showed me the way upstairs to a regular reception room, in which I have been present too many times before, and in which the kosher coffin reposed at the front. It was a style of coffin that I am all too familiar with as it is the one all of us intend to use at some time, hopefully long into the distant future.

As I had said before, the custom of shomer guf is one I was honored to have been asked to participate in and that I think should be restored to more common practice. It takes a village to observe our rituals properly, and I think that is the point. These rituals have fallen out of use because a lot of our families have become so fragmented by busy lifestyles. Most people do not realize that they have a right and even an obligation to guard and protect the body of a loved one until it is properly buried. The obligation cannot be undertaken by the bereaved, but is the responsibility of the community that surrounds and supports the bereaved. Today's funeral proved that Jay and Sandy certainly do have that kind of loving community. Those that know about it usually hire a shomer when everyone else is too busy. In Judaism, all of these death rituals were designed to ensure modest and respectful treatment of the body. That is why we have closed coffins and simple shrouds. Often, horrible things are done to the body in order to make it look good in clothes in an open coffin.

The two hours I spent sitting with Barbara at Sandy's coffin were spent sharing our memories and stories about Sandy and Jay and discussing our families. Barbara had brought with her books by Anita Diamant and Rabbi Harold Kushner. Anita Diamant's book explained the significance of the rituals and Rabbi Kushner's explained the manifestations of the bereavement process. Yesterday, when we visited Jay, he was waiting for reporters from Channel 6 to interview him to air a segment on preventing DUI. Barbara asked me if I had seen him on Channel 6 on the 11 o'clock news. Of all times, last night we had a problem with Comcast and our televisions and phones were not working. We tried to reach Comcast this morning before leaving, but we were on hold with a recording for 20 minutes and finally, had to give up. They finally fixed the problem this afternoon, but in a call to Ari in our travels today, we were able to have him download the link so we could watch the broadcast. Seeing the smashed car in which she died was a far more chilling experience than sitting with Sandy's body for two hours this morning.

By 12:30 p.m., the parking lot at AJ was full and people began parking on the grass as they do during the High Holy Days. The sanctuary was so filled with people that many were standing for the service along the walls. Jay spoke eloquently with great humor and love about his marriage to Sandy and their life together. Both of their sons spoke beautifully as well and obviously have their parents ability to reach out to an audience. Rabbi Rosenbloom spoke of Sandy's many accomplishments and likened her life to a work of art that she had created all around herself. Of course, as expressive as they were, words can never quite capture the essence of a person. You had to have known her. I was very glad to have had the pleasure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Sandy and Jay

It has been one of those terrible rainy days when you just don't feel well even when everything is going well. Obviously, it is not. On awakening, you sort of hope as the realization dawns of the loss of a great friend, that you just had a bad dream that will shake off and be forgotten as you regain consciousness. I can't even imagine what it is like for Jay, the children and her parents when the moment comes when you realize the awful reality.

I succeeded in getting some work done today, catching up with business, cleaning up and doing laundry left over from traveling back and forth from the kids. When Saul came home from teaching, we decided a condolence phone call, while it would have been emotionally easier, would just not do for someone who was there for us every day last year at the hospital. I called my friend Laura and she said it would be okay to come down and see Jay. Laura has been busy every minute arranging food and logistics and even working out a schedule for people to be Shomer Guf for Sandy's body. She asked us if we would be at the funeral home tomorrow about 8:15 a.m. Saul could not because he is in the midst of finals and had arranged for Larry to administer some tests so that he can attend the funeral at Adath Jeshurun. Little did we know that when he covered Larry's classes while he was sick before Pesach (he never did make it to the sedarim) that we would be asking him to return the favor so soon. When Laura heard that Saul could not be with me to stay with Sandy's body, she tried to let me off the hook, saying she would try to locate someone else. I told her that I wanted to be there, so now, sensitive lady that she is, she is trying to arrange someone else to keep me company. I am honored to have been asked either way. I have the perfect reading material to take with me. Larry bought me a Torah with a commentary from a woman's perspective for my birthday last month. I had been studying Tanach with Faith Rubin every Thursday for 20 years up until 2 years ago when I left Temple Sinai for Melrose B'nai Israel. Because the class was mostly women, and because it was Faith Rubin teaching, I think I have studied commentary from a woman's point of view. The book should have some interesting new tidbits to offer, though, I think.

Jay, who ordinarily is a very spry man, was moving around very slowly and deliberately so as to protect his injured ribs. His face was a little swollen on one side. Considering what he has been through in the last 36 hours, he appeared to be handling the situation as best he could surrounded by his children and those who love him. I remember when Aunt Sarah died, Uncle Jack said that the reality of the loss comes when the shiva is over, everyone goes home, and you go upstairs and get into bed alone. Shiva is a comforting ritual that temporarily distracts from the loss of normalcy until the initial shock has worn off. Saul and I printed a large version of the beautiful photo that was taken at the black and white party to give to Jay to help remember the good times. They had just taken a vacation in Paris for Jay's 60th birthday.

Larry Shipper sent this link with the details of the accident and a photo of Sandy that does not do justice to her bubbly demeanor. As we arrived to see Jay, everyone was preparing to meet with reporters who were coming to interview them to publicize the injustice perpetrated by drunk drivers. Unfortunately, I think that no matter what the publicity or consequences are against drunk drivers, there will always be people with no self-respect and no respect for others who will continue their evil habits. Who knows? One of us may be a future victim. We need to keep plugging away to get the message across, because if it had reached just that one irresponsible drunk woman, Sandy might still be with us today.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sandy Schinfeld

This is difficult to write because I am still in shock. Perhaps when I have had a chance to absorb more of the shock, I will write again. Last night, my good friend Sandy was killed in a car accident by a drunk driver on Broad Street who plowed into her side of the car. She was returning from some event downtown with her wonderful and loving husband Jay. She had been on the bima at services at Adath Jeshurun earlier in the day for an Aliyah. I heard the news from our mutual friend, Laura Feller, who reached me by cell phone early this morning while Saul and I were on our way from Ari in Washington to Jess and Alex in Baltimore to attend yizkor services at Chizuk Amuno, the synagogue where Alex is the principal. Laura’s voice had been so altered by hours of crying that we did not recognize it.

Our hour-long drive to Baltimore was done with much care through tears and stunned silence interrupted by sporadic expressions of disbelief. The comforting words of the yizkor prayer book, so well-designed to deal with all the manifestations of grief, took on new meaning in this terrible situation. Not knowing what we could physically do to help our friends at that moment, we were comforted at least a little bit knowing that we could pray.

I think Jay and Sandy have been among the most fun-loving of all our friends. I first met Sandy in a three-hour weekly class while I was trying to learn Hebrew from our friend, Ruth Baram, at Gratz College. I remember that during that time, she was planning for Noah’s Bar Mitzvah. Shortly afterward, we began to work together when she was planning a big party and fund-raiser for Adath Jeshurun. I believe she called it Lox, Stock and Barrel. Because I had been publishing the AJ News, she recruited my services as a desktop publisher to design the logo and invitations for the event. I had never seen such bubbly enthusiasm as she figured out all the ways in which she could create the atmosphere of turn-of-the-century immigrant Jewish life in America. In lieu of monetary compensation, Saul and I accepted an invitation to attend and I know it was the most fun of any synagogue event we have ever attended, and there have been quite a few. When I first began my business 22 years ago, desktop publishing was in its infancy and my first office was a computer desk in our bedroom. Sandy was a perfectionist and we worked long hours into the night. She had no qualms about climbing into bed while we were working. Publishing software was not as friendly back then and it took forever to get the same effects that take seconds now. If she fell asleep, we would wake her when the work was completed. One night, we worked until 1:00 a.m.! How could you not become fast friends with a client who climbs into your bed and falls asleep? We worked on many events together over the years. I think that probably the last one for AJ has been the design of the case and the collaboration with Mordechai Rosenstein to produce the artwork for the Parashat HaShavuah display, an ongoing fund-raiser for the synagogue that was Sandy’s brainchild.

Six years ago, I almost died from a massive blood clot in my right leg. Actually, the blood clot did not come as close to killing me as the overthinning of my blood from Coumadin in response. At first, I was not allowed to eat a long list of leafy green veggies, including spinach and seaweed because they counteract the medication. When I began to bleed internally from the overdose, they not only gave me Vitamin K in shots, but I was encouraged to eat all the leafy greens I could swallow. I was confined to bed for a month and I was in a lot of pain. Sandy made a special trip to visit me with what I still remember as being one of the most delicious spinach soups I ever tasted. She just showed up with it when she learned of my situation. It was one of the most thoughtful favors ever done for me.

While I was bed-ridden, somewhere in my brain a plan formed to throw a black and white party if I survived and had the strength to prepare it. Everyone we knew came to that incredible party months later. I have these great pictures of Sandy and Jay in their black and white outfits. We had a blast! Laura and Marc Feller are in some of the photos also.

Many years ago, Saul and I were at the Philadelphia Craft Show at the Convention Center downtown. We bumped into Sandy there with her good friend Laura. Laura had become the public relations person for the School District of Springfield Township and needed someone to help prepare a newsletter. Over the years, we have become fast friends as well.

Jay is a gynecologist and obstetrician with offices at Abington Hospital. When Saul was hospitalized for the stroke last year, Jay came to look in on us every day before going into the office. Sandy visited as well and was her usual warm, welcome and empathetic presence. Jay has the most wonderful sense of humor. When Saul wondered aloud why they were x-raying his pelvis, Jay told him it was to check if his birth canal was wide enough. At one point, when we were home, Jay really had Saul going on the telephone, admonishing him for missing his Pap smear. I heard Saul saying over and over, “are you sure you don’t mean Marilyn?” until he figured out that Jay was pulling his leg again.

They have been here for Shabbat dinners a few times, although not as often as we would have liked because of their busy schedules. Sandy had been working overtime on her doctorate lately. The last time they were here, we agreed that we would get together soon for a meal at the Indian Restaurant they liked nearby.

Over the last few years and as lately as a month ago, we helped Jay and Sandy to prepare and refine a family Haggadah that would reflect their personal observance of Pesach incorporating family photos and stories. Obviously, none of us knew that this Pesach would be Sandy’s last.

Each year we thank God for sustaining us and allowing us to reach each joyous season. As we say goodbye to Pesach this year and I hear almost everyone express relief that their limited diet is over, I find myself wishing the holiday with its seders could last forever. I am nostalgic for the past occasions when our loved ones were all here and we shared beautiful evenings feasting and telling stories. I will try to hold on to every treasured memory. Our time on earth is so fleeting and we are such fragile creatures. We can never take for granted that we will all be together for yet another year.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


When I climbed into bed last night, I was happy to have a new issue of Saveur to read. I was a charter subscriber, so I have every issue going back to No. 1. Lately, I am letting my 35-year-old subscription to Gourmet expire. Curling up with glossy issues of food magazines so that I can travel to distant cultures in my head has been a favorite pastime all my life, but in the last few years, I feel that I am paying for the privilege of reading special advertising sections. Saveur seemed to be holding onto its integrity a little more than Gourmet, but I think after last night's reading, I will let it expire also. Most of my newer recipes come from perusing the Internet these days to fill specific needs.

While I was trying to sort out the magazine articles from the advertising, Saul was watching a documentary about a phenomenon that is killing oceans and seas all over the world. The gist of it was that we are so heavily fishing that we have removed most of the sardines and small fish that eat a type of plankton that when it dies naturally, sinks to the bottom in such large quantities that its rotting causes the proliferation of methane and other harmful gases at the bottom. After a certain amount accumulates, it explodes upward and causes the water to change from blue to yellow, creating a horrible stench, and causing such a huge amount of fish kill that you wouldn't believe that there were that many fish in the sea.

After he fell asleep, and I had finished with my magazine, another documentary followed which talked about the amount of plastic floating in the oceans. There is one vast area where the currents flow in a circular motion and trap all the debris in the center, like a toilet bowl that can never flush. Some of the plastic in that area has been there since the dawn of the age of plastic. When samples were gathered, it was discovered that there was actually more plastic than plankton in the water. All this was discovered because baby albatrosses were dying out and when opened up, it was discovered that their stomachs were full of plastics fed to them by their mothers. Then, the documentary talked about plastic baby bottles and how putting them through the dishwasher 10 times caused them to leach out many more times the amount of a harmful chemical as when they are new.

When I woke up in this morning, the Today show was talking about rice being rationed because climactic conditions around the world had caused the price to double and people to start hoarding it. Although it is an absolutely beautiful day outside, I can't help but feel that an axe is about to fall. Gas is expected to reach $4 a gallon by summer, a million more houses are being foreclosed in the next few months and people on television are finally starting to acknowledge that we are in a recession, not just heading toward one. My husband has no trouble sleeping after watching these documentaries, and my children have always thought I take all these things too much to heart. This morning, I feel sort of like I did after reading about the coming AIDS epidemic back in the early 1980s. My life goes on in a fairly normal way, but I worry about the future of our country and the world and what all these changes will mean for the quality of life of my grandchildren.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Carpenter Bees and Woodpeckers

Last spring, in desperation over not being able to use our beautiful cedar deck and gazebo because of loudly buzzing, hovering carpenter bees, we hit on a novel and relatively successful way to get rid of them. For the last several years, we had been borrowing a kit from my brother, Kenny, designed to keep them from coming back each year. This involved spraying a poison with a special nozzle into each hole and then plugging it up with a specially-designed wooden plug. Every carpenter bee makes exactly the same size hole. We had been doing this for several years. Eventually, the plugs fall out and we noticed that the bees were multiplying despite our best efforts. Our deck was becoming swiss cheese.

Last year, we hit upon the idea of netting them in a butterfly net and then just stepping on them. When we went looking for a butterfly net, the closest thing we could find in a sporting goods store was a telescoping metal basket with a long handle for grabbing fish that had been line caught. The pole and loop were the right size, but the openings in the metal basket were way too large. We had just bought nylon mesh bags to hold our snorkel gear for Hawaii and they turned out to be just perfect. We removed the metal basket from the loop and attached the mesh bag. We were able to kill dozens of the bees in the space of one week.

The holes were especially annoying because we had just had the deck painted and little piles of sawdust were appearing under each hole. Did I mention that Saul and I designed and built the deck and gazebo by hand with help from various friends and relatives? We dug the holes for the footings and everything! Anyway, shortly after we had limited our bee invasion to an occasional visitor, Saul went out one morning last summer and found huge, gaping, ragged excavations where most of the holes had been. Also, there were little tiny holes around the excavated areas. Curious and upset about what was going on, we called in our exterminator, who was mystified and told us he had never seen anything like it. We eventually came to the conclusion that the gaping holes could only have been made by a bird because of their inaccessible location, and that the tiny holes were probably from its claws grasping the wood to get at the juicy bees inside. This was later confirmed by the exterminator who did some extensive research.

Now, it is spring. The landscapers did a beautiful job. We have not gotten around to repairing all those jagged holes with wood putty and paint. The bees are back. As of yesterday, we had netted a half dozen. It will probably be a daily activity for a while to get rid of them before they bore more holes and lay eggs for the woodpeckers to get at. Isn't nature wonderful!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Passover Passed

I always feel a bit let down when the sedarim are over no matter how wonderful the experience. We always thank God for sustaining us and allowing us to live to see yet another joyous occasion, but once the sedarim have passed, I always wonder if we will all be together in good health for the next seder. This was a particular milestone for us because last year, Saul came right out of the hospital and directly down to Baltimore for the first seder. His recovery has been miraculous considering the extent of the stroke. He is almost as good as new. I just turned 58, the age at which our beloved Aunt Sarah died of breast cancer. She never missed coming to help us prepare the food for the seder. I remember the pain with which she was struggling as I washed the dining room floor in preparation and I remember thanking God that I was healthy and able to scrub it on hands and knees as tired as I was. The following year, we all spoke to her from the seder as she lay in her hospital bed in Georgia and Uncle Jack prepared to fly her home to us. As I put away the last vestiges of Passover and prepared a room for her, she died. I miss her terribly even all these years later and I wish she could have been here, like my mother, to enjoy my grandchildren with me.

Alex did a Herculean job (or perhaps a Samsonian job?) preparing both the amazing feast and the 70-page custom Haggadah. Jessica, as usual, ran hither and yon to make sure that everyone had what they needed to get the job done. There were many children present, from 3 weeks to 7 years old. It was boisterous, warm, erudite, nostalgic, sparkling, stimulating, funny, and delicious. I loved every minute of it! Here's hoping next year will be even better!!

Beth, I promised you the chestnut soup recipe, so even though Passover will not pass over until next week, here it is:

Chestnut Soup (serves 8 to 12)
14 oz. peeled, cooked, ready-to-use chestnuts
1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
2 large leeks, split, washed thoroughly, and chopped, or 1 large Bermuda onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine, vermouth, sherry, or anything else dry that you have left over
12 oz. mushrooms (any type or a mixture will do) cleaned and sliced
2 tbsp. Osem pareve chicken soup mix dissolved in 4 cups boiling water
1 tsp. freshly ground black or white pepper
3 cups low fat milk
1 cup heavy cream

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the leek or onion pieces and sauté them stirring frequently until they are translucent—5 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms and pepper and sauté about 5 more minutes. Pour in the wine or sherry, increase the heat to medium high, and cook the mixture until the liquid is almost gone. Reserve a half cup of chestnuts and add the rest. Add the pareve chicken stock and simmer the mixture, covered until everything is very soft about 15 minutes. Pour in the milk and pulverize everything smooth with a stick blender. Add the cream. Chop the reserved chestnuts coarsely and add to the soup. Keep on low heat until warmed through. Serve warm.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Passover Denial

I had intended to post something every day. After all, how difficult is it just to write a few lines? Unfortunately, I have been plopping into bed here at Ari’s house at 12 or 1 p.m. The last few days I have been a sort of tag team baton. Tuesday, I was picked up by Matt and Naomi. They live near Dupont Circle here in Washington. Matt works in Baltimore as a sports show producer and Naomi teaches in a charter school here. Naomi had a doctor’s appointment in Baltimore. They dropped me at Jess and Alex’s and continued. Jess left work early, met me after a few minutes, and we shopped for Passover stuff. A considerable kink has been put in our preparations this year. The corporation that makes Mother’s Margarine has moved and did not distribute this year.

Considering the limitations of Passover, not having this staple available is downright annoying. There are a few other minor companies that distribute kosher-for-Passover pareve margarine, but finding a source of availability, considering the number of people looking, is like searching for the holy grail, if you will excuse my mixed metaphor. The prize goes to Beth, who did find it on the Net, but at an outrageous expense for an untenable quantity.

We met Sami’s school bus, picked up Izzy at school, and dropped them off at gymnastics. Then we went to Wegman’s on the outside chance that nobody frum had looked there. No luck! Also, the maid who was supposed to come that afternoon and finish the kitchen so we could cook begged off because her earlier client asked her to stay longer. Naomi joined us and we had a wonderful dinner at Sushi Ya with just us girls. Matt works until 10:30 p.m. usually and Alex had Hebrew school. After we got the girls to bed and spent a little while moving around and unpacking kitchenware and collecting laundry, Naomi drove me back to Ari’s. Matt had stayed over at a friend’s house to watch a special hockey game. I spent an hour surfing the web for anti-margarine desserts for Passover and passed out.

The next morning, I went to work on the computer making corrections to try to finish up this job and get it to the printer. Matt picked me up at 1:30 p.m. and we arrived at Jess and Alex’s just a few minutes before the maids. I printed out some promising recipes and tried to make chocolate crepes in a two-foot area of the kitchen, but had to resort to setting up a work station on top of some boxes in the dining room to be able to get anything done while the maids were cleaning. When they finally left (after doing an amazing job in a very short time), I was able to get the crepes made and some homemade Passover noodles. When Jess came home at 6:00 p.m. we figured out a strategy for making a mousse to fill the crepes. Alex came in a few minutes later with the girls from Hebrew school and Jess ordered dinner from a kosher Chinese place. While Alex was taking care of a humongous pot of chicken soup, Jess and I concocted a mousse by making zabaglione (a recipe courtesy of Tyler Florence of the food network). We substituted Sabra for the Marsala wine and when it had almost reached the requisite 160 degrees for killing salmonella bacteria, we melted in bittersweet chocolate. After reaching 160 for a minute, we put it in an ice bath and then whipped it until it cooled. It was a good consistency for filling the crepes and was quite delicious, although a little boozy.

Alex was anxious for us to finish in the kitchen so that he could begin his whirlwind of activities. By the time Matt returned to pick me up at 10:45 p.m. the kitchen looked like a butcher shop with turkeys, cornish game hens, roasts, etc. everywhere.

Ari got some amazing photos and videos of the Pope mobile as his new job is right down the street from where the event was getting started.
and on Flickr.

Today, Matt had an eye doctor appointment in Columbia. I could have driven to Baltimore myself, but my work is still hanging around. I hope it can go to the printer this afternoon. Also, Alex is more than a little manic right now trying to get it all done and I fear I will only make him crazier. He and Jess have a lot more energy than I do at this age. I am afraid that my days of all-nighters are long gone. I feel a little queasy today and after long hours with the dog, I need some time to clear out my chest congestion from the allergy. Izzy was so cute yesterday. Without my ever mentioning anything about my allergy, she patted me and told me that if any of Zeek’s hair gets on me, she will give me tissues to clean it off. Saul tells me that Larry caught something and was throwing up last night. He covered an InDesign class for Larry today. Hopefully, he will be up to the seders this weekend.

Jess told me that they have been making various jokes and puns at work concerning Passover for weeks now. It is a very big thing at the Retreat Center where she works. Last night, while we were filling and rolling crepes, she talked about being in Passover denial. Unfortunately, ready or not, here it comes!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jamie and Andy Have Gray Walls

Sima Senders with Samara at Lions Gate on her eightieth birthday
I am hoping that I am done with the gray theme after this. I am ready for a new color to present itself, as long as it is not blue.

Saturday morning, during services, we were asked to take charge of the food for the Israel 60 celebration. I need to check my calendar to see when Izzy is coming to stay for the summer, but with Saul off from school by then, it should work out. Saturday evening, we all drove out to Jamie and Andy’s new home in Delaware for a housewarming party. Their home is just three years old, really lovely, with a great layout, and nice yard. On the first floor the walls are painted two soothing and appealing shades of gray. My kids are always chiding me for loving gray so much and urging me to add other colors. I have acquiesced, but I really am happy with monochromatic colors, especially gray. For me, it is like having a blank canvas on which I can let my imagination loose. Anyway, I loved the gray walls and I hope Jamie and Andy will have many happy years together in their beautiful new home.

I crept out of bed early on Sunday to try to finish my work before leaving for Washington. Ordinarily, with Passover coming at this late date in the month, everything would be squared away, but my sources have not been very empathetic to deadlines this year.

The landscaper that Beth located on Craig’s List has been wonderful. He came Saturday with his girlfriend and did a terrific job at Beth’s. Sunday afternoon, he came with his brother to begin our property. He was unhappy about how the liriope looked after he began trimming it. He said he would return this afternoon to do a better job. Not bad, considering that I thought it looked just fine. How refreshing to find someone who still takes pride in his work. When Saul returned from his Masonic meeting this evening, the huge pile of mulch on the driveway was gone. He did not have a chance to see the finished job, but the guy said he would be back tomorrow to collect his (very reasonable) pay.

I will be happy to post the recipe for chestnut soup when I return home on the 22nd, Beth.

Rif called Saul this evening and they had the first civil conversation they have had since October. Now that the air has been cleared a little bit, I hope he will be able to sleep better. We had all called his mother for her eightieth birthday and sent flowers and strawberries. His mother sounds reasonably happy and that has put us all more at ease.

I came to Washington with Ari last night because Saul has classes this week and an executive meeting at Chestnut Hill College on Friday that he absolutely has to attend. I told Jessica I would help with the Passover desserts, so coming Friday night would not have done the trick. Naomi and Matt have to be in Baltimore tomorrow and are coming to pick me up in the afternoon. By then, the maid should be done cleaning and the house fully kashered so that I can begin preparing. I hope the weather will be good the rest of the week so that I can have some respite from my dog allergies outside.

This morning, after I made breakfast for Ari and he left for work, I went back to bed. I thought I had slept well last night, but I fell asleep until 10:30 a.m. I think that the relief of not having anyone to worry about but myself was the reason. Mom spends most of her time in her room these days, but the problem with her hands and the fact that she is a little off-balance these days is probably weighing on me. We have been living together for over 15 years, now, so I rarely think about the psychological effects of our lives together.

Saul and I have not been apart for five days since Jessica was born. Back then, they kept you in the hospital for five days after a normal delivery. Imagine that! Now, you are lucky if you get 24 hours. She was born the day before Passover. Thirty-three years have come and gone and how the world has changed! I guess I’ve earned the gray hairs, but the biggest reward will be seeing my little ones tomorrow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Only the Soup is Gray Today

I began to notice that I seem to have a gray theme going here. As usual, Friday is about Shabbat dinner. Since there was a tremendous amount of mac and cheese and bread pudding left over, I decided to make a dairy dinner. Trusty Costco came through with some gorgeous wild tuna steaks from Senegal to put on my charcoal grill. Is that terribly un-eco of me? Am I helping fishermen in a third world country to make a living? Is the fish from African waters clean? So much to worry about these days other than “is it fresh?”

The soup is actually grayish-brown chestnut soup. Bear with me on going far afield on this one. I hate flying. It frightens me, but I do it anyway. When Ari lived in California, I took Atavan every time I flew there. I always thought I felt quite normal when I took it except it kept me from getting panic-stricken. Once, I went to Trader Joe's from right off the airplane. Among other things, I bought an enormous number of packages of peeled chestnuts. When Ari asked me what had possessed me to buy so many, I couldn't even remember the shopping trip! The chestnuts moved to Washington with Ari and a few months ago, I brought them home to Philly. He recently saw them in the closet and commented on the fact that they expired a few months ago. In keeping with my theme of cleaning out before Passover, I decided to use them today. The soup is actually quite delicious. If there is any interest, I will post the recipe.

The rest of the menu is spinach salad with warm non-bacon dressing. I also bought beautiful fresh strawberries to go with the bread pudding. If I ever finish writing this, I am planning to make some chocolate chip cookies (of which we will probably eat a few tonight) to take to Jamie's housewarming. Her invite said no gifts, but I feel funny going to a housewarming empty-handed.

Beth is coming tonight and possibly Megan, who is taking the PE exam today. We had the funniest coincidence last night. After working for hours on the garden, we debated whether to go out for dinner. It was already 7:15 p.m. when we were done showering, but I felt like having a salad. We decided to go to Pumpernick's. I remembered that I had a coupon. We found it after several minutes. We also needed to pick up a prescription for mom at Giant.  We left our driveway and found ourselves behind Beth's car at the corner. She noticed us and waved us alongside. It turned out that she and Megan were stopping at Target to buy a battery and then going to Pumpernick's for dinner. We wound up having dinner together, needless to say. Great minds not only think alike, they seem to act in unison.

Shabbat Shalom, all!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Amazing Grays, Not!

Oh, the quandary over what to do about aging hair! You lucky guys who can decide at some point to shave it all off and look clean and macho rather than worry about receding hairlines and telltale gray.

My last trip to Hair Cuttery produced a nice color. The hair is colored and then what is known as a partial highlighting is done with aluminum foil. The process cost over $100 with tip. I expected it to last a while at that price. But here we are about two months later and there are more than a negligible amount of aging roots. 

I have quite a few friends with beautiful, soft white shiny hair—Susan Odyssey most recently, Larry and Susan Shipper, Elsa Wachs. I wouldn't mind if my hair looked like that. But my roots look to me like a combination of gray, brown and white, and a pretty mousy combination at that. The hairdresser agreed with my assessment. So today, I asked if there is some secret dye that one uses to get aging hair to look like that until one gets old enough to produce the monochromatic variety naturally. She was polite enough not to laugh at me and was able to appear only mildly amused at my question. No dye achieves that look, but once you get there, there are special shampoos to keep it shiny white. 

What to do now?! I don't want to spend $100 every two months to maintain a color that only looks good for one month. I don't want the mousy natural look. I don't want to buy hair dye in the supermarket and go through the messy process at home, not to mention the experimental nature of trying it out for the first time. I don't want to keep running back to the salon to have my roots touched up. I opted for an all-over foil highlighting in a much lighter blonde so that, hopefully, as the roots grow in ever lighter and blend with the blonde I will be ready and able to recognize and take advantage of my aging roots while maintaining some semblance of an attractive hair color. The cost for this procedure with tip was $100. Supposedly, the touchups are not as expensive. I hope it looks okay longer!

I think this is my final attempt at looking presentable until my beautiful white head of hair appears. If this doesn't work, I'm going with mousy from now on.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Better Homes and Gardens

The gray has returned, but the rain held off. With that huge pile of mulch sitting on the driveway, I found it hard to sit around even though I had hopes that we could find someone to help with the landscape chores. So there I was again, tools in hand, digging trenches around my budding trees, propping up the clematis vines, and deconstructing my garden.

I don't know if I will plant a garden this year. Last year, even though Saul was recovering from his stroke, he was able to help me put up metal posts with deer netting to protect the garden. Danny did all the edging and moving of mulch, thank God! This year, even he is too tired from overtime at his job to do it again.  Anyway, while we were on our epic family vacation in Hawaii, a deer managed to barrel through the netting and destroy all the heirloom tomato plants, peppers, marigolds, beans and basils that looked so beautiful when I left. It was too late in the season to try to salvage anything. The red gravel walkways have become overgrown with weeds that have grown right through them and the landscape fabric. Likewise, the mulch around the edges has supported the growth of more prickly thistles than I believed were possible in such a short time—a daunting mess to say the least.

But I am a sucker for glossy catalogs of beautiful gardens that tout mouth-watering recipes for exotic varieties of fruits and vegetables. I don't know if I will be able to resist the lure of garden centers as I drive by scanning the kaleidoscope of colors and shapes for the perfect plant.

When I ran out of energy, I took a shower and then began to clean out the refrigerator. Usually, at this time of year, I am planning meals to use up leftovers before Passover. The seder has moved to Jess and Alex's home in Baltimore, but old habits are hard to break. I made a compote with leftover pears that were getting soft, plums that were too sour, and a host of jams, jellies, fruit toppings, etc. that each had a little bit in the bottom. A touch of vanilla extract made it all smell heavenly as it was reducing. I also made bread pudding with leftover bits of homemade challah and a small amount of leftover almond filling for hamantashen and the usual eggs, milk, vanilla, nutmeg and sugar. It came out delicious! I may have to keep cans of almond filling around from now on. I caramelized what was left of a bag of shallots and used up leftover cheddar cheese and noodles and made macaroni and cheese.

Saul went to a meeting this evening at Melrose B'nai Israel that is supposed to prepare us to host a parlor meeting of some kind about Israel. I guess I will hear the details when he returns. I don't mind hosting, but I hate meetings.

Will I ever be able to get up in the morning and, like Sami, just figure out what I will be creating today and just do it?

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

On Oak Leaves and Heather

No problem coming up with a really poetic title for today! Beth arranged for delivery of 20 yards of mulch for our landscaping and two pallets of edging stone for the small patio that is to be constructed between the end of the deck and the driveway. The sun finally made an appearance and my work is relatively up to date. So, I finally decided to tackle some of the prodigious yard work that has been beckoning ever since the daffodils and crocuses began to appear.

The whole art of landscaping hinges on finding the right plant for the right spot at the right time in the right light. I have never had the good fortune of moving into a place where the person before me made any good choices. In the case of my first house, the greenery was so hardy and overgrown that I did not discover until I had lived there several months that I had a stairs and walkway to my front door from my driveway and a gate in the fence in the back yard. Once Saul and I could afford to stop the hard labor and hire a landscaper, I chose a poor one. I knew more about the subject than he did and only (through much cajoling) was able to prevent him from making some really bad choices. The delicate creeping junipers I was expecting for my slopes were supplanted by some gigantic steely-branched variety that were in the ground before I had a chance to protest.

This house, which I have lived in for 15 years now, was practically a blank slate. We managed to preserve a number of large trees at great cost which died within the first five years. While I would not consider spending $300 on dinner for myself, I spent it on feeding those trees. Having had the 20-year experience of dealing with gardens and landscaping at the old house, I thought I would be able to avoid a lot of pitfalls. I was wrong!

I have made some really good choices. Investing in a berm filled with a variety of evergreen and deciduous trees has given us not only privacy from the house behind, but has prevented the basement from flooding by redirecting rain water.

When we built the deck and gazebo, I wanted something to plant along it that would show some color between the benches and the surface of the deck. I chose heather. I thought I was making a great choice because it is the right height, stays green in winter, tolerates the shade from the benches, has pretty lavender flowers even in January sometimes, and does not grow to great heights with steely branches that need to be kept under control. The problem is leaves. I suppose that where heather grows naturally on the moors of Scotland, there are no oak trees. Here, however, the leaves jam in great masses  between the heather and the deck and lodge their curly fingers between the fine-needled fronds of the plants.

Today, the plants that have survived the onslaught of smothering leaves by sending out stray branches here and there are covered in delicate flowers on those branches. The challenge to me is to get the leaves out of there without destroying the plants. I poke gingerly with the rake. The leaf vacuum is too strong. I remove the large masses of leaves from behind and finally resort to picking leaves, one-by-one, from the heather. This is my first foray into the garden this spring and my back gives out within a half hour. I don't have the heart to rip out these valiantly struggling specimens to try some other more efficient and labor-saving variety of plant. And if I did, I'm sure the deer, bunnies, and voles would find them delicious.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Titling My Days?

Hi All!

So I just realized that the date appears above my title anyway. Duh! If I want to write a little bit every day I will have to figure out a title every day or leave it blank. The thought of that is APPALLING!

On the other hand, it might be interesting to come up with just a title even if I don't write anything. It would be a creative coup to have thousands of titles (assuming I live for a few more years) for the days of my life.

I guess I could call today "Gray Monday." Maybe the next time I have one I can call it "Grey Monday." Would that be cheating? I spent the day cleaning up after a whirlwind weekend with children, grandchildren, and husband. The weather has been raining or gray for days now. I began digging into my work for this month. I did laundry. We asked a native Hawaiian when we were vacationing what they do on Kauai when it rains for days. Would you believe the answer was "laundry"?

It feels like a wasted day, but sometimes, you need clean clothes.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Hi All!
So, today is the first day of the rest of my blogs. It was a great day that is the culmination of a terrific long weekend. Ari decided to stay with us this past week while waiting to hear if and when his new job would begin. When they told him he was hired a few days ago, he told them he would start on Monday. We are all very excited because working for a startup company, not only will he be guaranteed a salary as good as the last, but he will have an opportunity to share in the profits for the hours he will be billing--a unique opportunity!
On Friday, Ari and I were able to join Saul on a bus trip taking his global studies class from Chestnut Hill College to the United Nations building in New York. I was there last with an elementary school class when the building was all shiny and new and the last word in modern up-to-date architecture and furnishings. It was amazing how tired and outdated a building can become in 50 years. I hope I don't look that tired and outdated. It was just as I remembered it, but shabby. Ari had never been there before. We had the standard tour plus a special meeting with some officials in one of the conference rooms. Most of  the  speakers were very dry and rah-rah this is the generation that can meet the challenges of creating peace and eliminating world hunger. There was a speaker named Bettina from Germany that did put a little spark into the proceedings by talking about the work of celebrity good-will ambassadors and mentioning the brilliance of the website for feeding the hungry.

We had prepared Shabbat dinner the day before—black bean soup, tilapia lamaize, vegetable lasagna and vanilla custard sauce to go with the giant strawberries that the Wieder and Wittenberg families had sent to mom for her birthday. We also found these delicious pomegranate ice cream bars at Costco. Beth and Larry came over early while we were on the bus and set the table and warmed everything up. We arrived home from the trip about 6:15 p.m. just as Jessica had arrived with Sami and  Izzy from Baltimore. She drove our SUV up with coolers in the back to pick up a huge meat order for Passover and for Aaron and Stacy and Matt and Naomi. Alex brought a USY group to Philadelphia by bus this weekend to tour colleges. Unfortunately, we didn't get to see him at all. We had left the SUV down in Baltimore last weekend while we were in Washington for the Cherry Blossom and Kite Festival--which, btw, was a gorgeous day weather-wise, cherry blossom-wise, and kite-wise. The only problem was almost no wind, which made it very difficult to fly our hand-painted, home-made dragon kite for the requisite 5 minutes. There are pictures of it flying, though. (See above.) Faith Rubin joined us at 7:00 and we had a warm and beautiful Shabbat dinner together. I was actually less tired than usual because instead of the usual Friday afternoon rush to get dinner on the table, I had a long bus ride. The girls were tucked cozily into their beds and we all went to bed at a reasonable hour.

One of the reasons why we left the SUV in Baltimore was that we were supposed to look at an apartment in Ocean City, NJ, last Sunday on our way home from Washington. Ari drove with us to help us decide so we did not need to pick it up and drive it home from Baltimore. We have finally given up on the plan to go to Israel this summer because the prices are just too high. The airfares at that time would be a small fortune for all of us, and the apartments are as expensive as they are here. The shekel is very strong right now and the dollar very weak. Great for Israel, but not so good for us. It is good to see the prosperity there, finally, though. On past trips, everyone was trying to deal with runaway inflation. I fear that it is now our turn.

Anyway, we decided on a vacation closer to home and found a nice apartment at 16th and Asbury. We will stay there for two weeks from July 12 until the 26. Ari will try  to  join us for a few days, and Beth said she would try to arrange to bring Brenna. We all have great memories of Ocean City from years past (except maybe Ari, who was just a baby when we bought the house in the Poconos and started vacationing there together). Whatever happened to those home movies of our little girls trying on Aunt Sarah's bras?

Saturday, we laid around most of the day, enjoying it immensely. The girls went next door to Beth's to play on the swings and brought her back over to have leftovers for lunch. We napped, talked about our plans for the summer and for the next few weeks, and watched old movies.

Sunday, today, we set up this blog so that I can continue writing at my convenience. I have written quite a bit this past year which has been well received by a women's writing group that I joined with my blast-from-the-past friend, Roxy. That is another story. Lately, I have been so busy with work and just plain enjoying life, that I haven't had time to write anymore and have stopped attending the twice-monthly classes for a few months. 

I have sent Ari most of my stories, but then Jessica complains that I didn't send them to her. Perhaps I will post them here. Anyway, I can write just a few lines or a whole Megillah this way and share my thoughts with you.

We all met Maury and Elaine in the Northeast to have a delectable vegetarian Indian lunch at a place called Taj India that Jess and Ari found on the internet. They all continued over to Simon's to pick up the meat order. They took the SUV, fully-loaded, back to Baltimore and on to Washington with Ari. We got to keep the Prius because the order would not have fit. We hope to switch back at Jamie and Andy's housewarming party next weekend.

Despite the gray weather this weekend, it was absolutely beautiful to have everyone together and happy.

Hope this coming week will be great for you!