Friday, June 27, 2008

Baltimore and DC

I am delighted to report that I am writing this blog from Ari's dining room table in DC. Mom has been okay. They sent her home after her EKG at Abington Hospital and so far, no news is good news. We also were able to arrange coverage for her most of the time we are away. Adele took her back to her house after the EKG and gave her dinner. Afterwards, Beth had come over after work and brought her home to sleep. Jamie picked her up yesterday and went with her to lunch with my brother, Ken, whose business is only a few miles away. After that, Jamie dropped her off at Adele's again. Ken told me he would be responsible for Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday until we arrive home. My sister and brother have really come through for us, although I know that things are difficult and complicated for them as well.

In addition, with Aunt Ruth's help, we have managed to convince Mom, "sort of," to allow us to try to arrange live-in help for her for the two weeks we will be on vacation in Ocean City, NJ, with the kids, and possibly beyond the vacation. We contacted an organization called Fine Care, which has been advertising locally for quite a few years, and who provided wonderful care for our friend Carol Shackmaster's stepmother, Sophie Beilan, of blessed memory, at her home when she died of cancer in her late 90's. In her early 90's, Sophie traveled with her synagogue choir to perform in Israel. She was a wonderful lady. Many years ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a party for her and my uncle, Stefan Strauss, of blessed memory, when they were honored during Simchat Torah by Adath Jeshurun. I have scheduled an assessment with Fine Care to take place at my home on Tuesday evening. Adele and Ken have arranged to be present. The whole situation is something about which I have mixed feelings just as Mom does. Having a stranger moving into your home feels like having someone arrange a marriage for you. It could turn out to be a wonderful arrangement, or it could be a nightmare. When we built our home 16 years ago and combined households to care for my father (who died the month before the house was completed), we agreed that should Mom need nursing care, we would see that she received it at home. I have had the luxury of working at home for myself for the last 33 years, 11 of them catering (Senders Catering) and 22 of them in desktop publishing (Details & Designs). We always assumed that it would be cheaper to provide care at home than in a nursing facility, but that remains to be seen.

On a happier note, we spent Thursday morning packing and preparing for our trip (even though we were not sure then that we would be going) and headed off to the swim club with the girls. Around 5 p.m., we had dinner at the snack bar there, Boca Burgers with bleu cheese sauce and fries. Then we headed home for showers. The girls dressed in their pajamas, set up their DVD player in the back of the car, and we left around 6:45 p.m. for Baltimore. We took the long way there which involves Route 202 to Route 1 and then over the Conowingo Dam. The trip takes an extra half hour that way, but it is usually a scenic, leisurely drive compared to the 2-hour I-95 Route. Unfortunately, it was not leisurely enough. Saul was pulled over and given a $90 speeding ticket for doing 69 in a 55-m.p.h. zone just before we were about to make the right turn in Bel Air, MD. Izzy, who has enough chutzpah for a 4-year-old to fill two adult Hell's Angels, was annoyed that the policeman dared to pull us over and make her late to see her mommy, and she let him know it while he was at our car window. In addition, she kept pointing out to him, after I had explained to her why we had to stop, that everybody else was going much faster than her Saba.

Jessica had returned a little earlier from her latest adventure in weight-loss boot camp when we finally arrived around 9:15 p.m. We kissed the girls goodnight and headed to DC arriving around 10:30 p.m. Ari had our comfy sofa-bed from IKEA all made up and ready for us. The next morning, we rushed to leave at 8:00 a.m. so that Jessica could leave for work on time, but she called as we were preparing to leave to say that Alex's plane was arriving early and that she was leaving with the girls to pick him up herself before going to work. That gave us a chance to drop Ari at work before heading out for Baltimore. Alex, workaholic that he is, had planned to go into the office that day. When we arrived, he began to show us some of the wonderful items he had brought back from Israel. There is one that we think is particularly special. Years ago, at a house sale, we had purchased a Megillat Esther for a pittance that was beautifully illustrated. When Saul's father was too ill to go to synagogue to hear the Megillah read, Alex and Jessica brought it to his bedside and they all read it together. Alex purchased a beautiful silver and wood casing to house the scroll. When I asked him how he knew it would be a perfect fit, he told me he had become so familiar with handling it over the years that he just knew. When I get the opportunity, I will photograph some of the items and the Megillah and put them up on the blog. The place where most of the items were purchased is Yad L'kashish (Lifeline for the Old), which employs the elderly to make its products and uses its profits to benefit the elderly in Israel.

Around 11:30 a.m., Alex went to the office and we took the girls into Baltimore to Port Discovery, a children's museum that turned out to be one of the best we have ever visited. Just before the policeman had stopped us, I had noticed a billboard advertising a new "Robots" exhibit there. When I asked Jessica about it, she said she had heard good things about it. That was an understatement! We found street parking, but the signs were so confusing that we flagged down a mounted policeman who was going by on a very large horse to see if we were parked legally. Even he wasn't sure, but he advised us to go for it. We stopped for a Mexican lunch across the street from the Museum at a restaurant called "Howl at the Moon." The place was practically deserted for lunch, but seems like the bar crowd in the evening is what keeps it hopping the rest of the time. They had a children's menu, however, and were very accommodating. The food was good. 

We decided to buy a $95 one-year family membership at the museum. Regular admission is $11.50 per person over the age of two. If we visit twice, we will have gotten our money's worth and we had so much fun, I am sure we will visit more than twice. We started at the top, the third floor, with the robots exhibit. One activity involved tables of interlocking colorful robot parts that could be assembled and then plugged in to motorize them. There is a huge climbing construction that radiates out to all the floors in various contraptions from the ground floor to the ceiling of the building. There was a waterworks room that had all kinds of interesting and imaginative installations to teach about water and pipes and sinking and floating objects. One water table held Legos with which to construct boats to see if they would float. What could be better for a child than water AND Legos!

There was a mystery room where kids entered a dark tunnel and crawled around in the darkness before emerging by climbing up into another room. Izzy held onto the leg of a little boy who took a shine to her and mentored her through the journey. After that, she went through herself over and over again. She took Sami, who is afraid of the dark, by the hand and tried to encourage her through, but Sami pulled away from her and came back out. When we were tired of chasing them around, there was a play 50s diner room where adults could sit at diminutive red leather booths, order from a menu and have play food delivered to them on trays by their children. There was a cash register with play money, a play refrigerator, stove and sink, and a jukebox. We had to coax the girls out of there eventually because their play kitchens at home and at our house are among their favorite toys. Jessica asked us to be back by 5:00 p.m. so we left a half hour to make a circuit around the second and first floors to see what we had missed. There were wonders too numerous to mention any one of which could fill a whole day. No more worries for us about what to do on a rainy day in Baltimore! We showered the girls and helped them dress, left them in the care of Alex who came home from work first, and headed back to Washington.

We picked up Ari at the office, filled his Prius with gas, and drove over to a new shopping facility that has reasonable underground parking near his condo. We spent an hour wandering around Best Buy,  Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond. I was really pleased to find gardening gloves for children at Target and a little beach chair shaped like a giraffe for Izzy that she had been coveting since she had seen one at the swim club. The movie, Persepolis, had just been released on DVD and was for sale at Best Buy. We thought the movie was amazing when we saw it together on our last trip into DC and Saul had been waiting for it to be released on DVD so that he can show it to his Middle Eastern studies class at Chestnut Hill College.

We put our purchases into the car and walked across the street to have dinner at "The Heights" (meaning Columbia Heights), which is at the border of Ari's neighborhood, Petworth. The place is very gothic-looking, but its huge windows keep it from being overly dark and brooding. We had grilled rare tuna with sweet chili sauce and jasmine rice, horseradish-coated tilapia over a giant spinach-stuffed portobello mushroom and crab cake with mashed potatoes. All our generous portions were extremely well prepared, nicely presented, fresh and tasty. The complimentary salads were mixed greens with jicama, beets, and grape tomatoes in an orange vinaigrette. Delicious! We considered ordering a house-made pitcher of either red or white sangria, but after that kind of day, I was afraid I would just slide right under the table after a glass or two. Saul and Ari opted for beer, and I ordered blueberry lemonade. We were very pleased with the check which, by DC standards, was very reasonable.

I stopped at Marshall's as we headed back to the parking lot because I had forgotten to pack a few shirts that I had planned to take with me. I bought two nice tees and two blouses. By 10 p.m. I was sound asleep. Today, after we dropped Ari off at a Starbucks downtown (of all places!) for an important meeting, we are just hanging around the house, catching up on email and blogging. Jess, Alex and the kids are off to Cranberry, NJ, for a weekend with Elaine and Maury. When I spoke with Mom this morning, she was in good spirits. All is well with everyone. We are waiting to see how Ari's work day pans out before we decide what to do about dinner. I am really enjoying just hanging around here, blogging at the dining room table, and gazing out the window.

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