Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Most Controversial Post You Will Read Here (so far)

My mother has been complaining that I haven’t contributed anything in a while, which I suspect is one of her last resorts of guilt (or what I like to call “Jewish therapy”) besides me having no immediate plans to get married.

The truth is, I haven’t really felt inspired by anything in particular recently, and I’ve been writing quite a bit for work, so my creative powers have been sapped by crafting catchy sound bytes for expert declarations and various rebuttals.

In any case, I’ve been watching a bunch of DNC and political coverage this week, and I’ve just got to get something off my chest about that. This might not make my mother too happy, but Jewish therapy is an interactive process.

I kind of feel like everyone is tip-toeing around the issue of racism in this country, out of the fear that they might offend the offenders. It’s not the juicy, network news racism you baby-boomers had in the 60s that involved fire hoses, sit-ins and German shepherds, but the kind of racism that sits just below the surface.

To state it in the most blunt terms, every time I hear “blue collar,” “lunch-box Democrats,” or “working class” to describe people who voted for Hilary Clinton, I think it’s safe to assume that we’re talking about racists.

Does anyone truly believe that a whole bunch of classically misogynistic teamsters threw their support behind Hilary because they really believed in her as the best possible candidate for President? Puh-leeeeez! I can just imagine all the miners out there in coal country talking about how it was “high time to put a strong, independent-minded woman in charge of our nation’s security.”

Can we just stop deluding ourselves? True, she would have made as good a candidate as Barack, but I question how many of those 18,000,000 cracks in the glass ceiling came from people who just couldn’t stomach the idea of a black man running our country. I can hardly understand why a white, suburban woman who’s been living in various positions of political privilege since the 70s became such a “working class hero” all of the sudden.

That being said, I'm not a hater. Her contribution is truly historic (or "herstoric" as the case may be). But to paraphrase something her husband said last night, this time she just wasn't "on the right side of history."

Discuss…. ☺

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Auschwitz and Alzheimer's

Friday morning at 9:00 a.m., Saul called Lion's Gate to make sure we could visit his mother Saturday afternoon. He reached an answering machine and left a message that he would like a call back. By noon, we were beginning to get upset that no one had called us back and he tried again. This time, he reached a woman who claimed to be manning the desk for someone else and who didn't know much. She couldn't find any record of his mother at Lion's Gate. By now, we were both freaked out and he called his sister on her cell phone. She said she would have to call him back because she had just arrived in Nashville to return her daughter to college. He insisted that she tell him their mother's whereabouts before hanging up and she gave him a room number at Lion's Gate. After a third call back to Lion's Gate we were told that his mother was in an Alzheimer's unit in a place called Safe Haven and could not be reached by phone. We were told that we would be allowed to visit her the following day. At first, we were not sure if Safe Haven was even on the same grounds as the assisted living apartments in Lion's Gate, but eventually were more assured when we were given directions that indicated that both facilities were in the same place. Given the uncertainty of the situation, our lack of information from his sister, the failure of the institution to respond to our inquiries quickly, and the unfortunate choice of the name "Safe Haven," we were conjuring up images of padded cells.

My own mom was extremely ill on Friday and felt badly that she was not up to joining us for Shabbat dinner when we celebrated Beth's birthday with the coconut cake she had requested. Dinner was heavy on carbs, the better to deal with stress and anxiety--home-made challah, potato leek soup, Israeli salad, wild salmon burgers, warm potato salad and corn on the cob.

Ken and Randi came over early Saturday morning to stay with Mom, and Adele came and relieved them at noon. After a brilliant sermon by Rabbi Addison (based on a sermon by Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg) which connected the lessons of Parashat Ekev with events which took place at the Beijing Olympics, we nervously headed off with our friend Larry to Safe Haven, about an hour's drive away.

Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day. The Lion's Gate complex which is only two or three years old, is beautifully maintained. We were sent around the parking lot to another entrance where we waited in a lovely reception area for about two or three minutes for a receptionist to appear and admit us as visitors. After signing in and being given visitor's stickers to put on our clothes, we were sent down a long hallway to knock at a door. When no one answered, the receptionist came and put a pass card into a slot and opened the door for us. We quickly scanned the u-shaped seating in front of a large television console and spotted his mother dozing in an easy chair at the end among about a dozen other residents obviously in various stages of Alzheimer's. We went over to her and Saul nervously put his hand gently on her shoulder to wake her. The three of us were incredibly relieved when after only a second or two of confusion she broke into a huge smile and was obviously delighted and surprised to see us there. She politely introduced us to whomever among the group was awake and cognizant enough to be aware of our presence. She remembered that Larry was our good friend even though she did not remember his name.

We asked to see her room which was only a few feet from where she sat in the chair. She ushered us into a positively immaculate small room with a double bed, easy chair, and chest of drawers with some old family photos on top. There were no photos of Sami and Izzy, but in the course of our hour-long conversation it was apparent that she remembered everything about them and the time she had spent living with them at Jess and Alex's home. On one wall was what served as a kitchenette--a built-in college dorm-sized refrigerator, a tiny sink and a few cabinets and drawers, mostly stocked with bottled water. Her private bathroom was also spotlessly clean. Her toilet seat had cracked but she explained that someone would be coming to fix it soon. She opened a small closet door and showed us her clothes (about two dozen items) hung neatly on the bar. As we sat and talked in her room for a few moments, we put the halvah we had brought into her refrigerator. She used to hoard potato chips and eat them whenever she wanted a snack, so we brought her a bag of those, too. We photographed her room and the schedule of activities tacked on the wall, which included manicures!

She herself has never looked better. Her hair had been recently dyed her preferred shade of blonde and was beautifully coiffed. In the last few months that she had been living alone, she had just about starved herself down to skin and bones. Now she has put on a few pounds and appears to be a healthy weight. She was neatly dressed in attractive clothing.

We were very pleasantly surprised when she invited us to rejoin the group in the social area outside her room. All her life we had known her to be anti-social and reclusive, so fearful of strangers that she had taped her window shades to the windows at the edges to prevent anyone from peeking into her house. Now, she animatedly described to us the wonderful staff people that take care of her. As we exited her room, we were introduced to a few of the staff who invited us to take a walk with her in the square atrium garden off the social room. One of the women on staff put a pass card into a slot by the door to open it and advised us that the doors would allow us to re-enter without a pass. We walked around the small square atrium and admired the flowers in bloom and peered into windows at the corners which revealed a craft area with a doll house, and another dining area and play area with a baby's crib. We pulled some chairs together and sat under a shaded overhang and chatted about her life this past month. She was as relaxed and happy as we have ever seen her and not so much at a loss for words as she had started to become in the last two years. She told us that a rabbi lives on the premises and is delighted with her ability to read Hebrew when he conducts services. She said she is satisfied with the food and that she is very well fed. While we were sitting in the atrium, a staff member brought her a small plate that contained chunks of fresh watermelon and cantaloupe and cheese. She characteristically offered it to us first and would not partake herself until we insisted we would not eat it. She ate a bit, but did not finish it.

After a while, we told her we would try to visit next weekend again with Ari, Sami and Izzy. Ari has a wedding in Philadelphia this week for his friend Matt. Jessica and Alex have two different social engagements this weekend and were unable to get a babysitter because of Labor Day. We checked with the receptionist about visiting with small children and she said there would be no problem. I also asked if we could ever take Saul's mother out of the facility for a family function or wedding. At first I was told never, but when pressed, the receptionist told me that it could be arranged with his sister's permission because she has the power of attorney. We would never remove her from the facility because obviously she is thriving there and removing her, even for a family simcha, would cause her anxiety. I asked the question because I was curious about our limitations. On the ride home we were extremely tired from the stress of the previous day and felt as if a great weight had been lifted off of our shoulders.

Saul's mother had been incarcerated at Auschwitz as a girl (an unbelievably horrific experience that she spoke about on only one rare occasion) and had lost all of her immediate family, except for one sister, in Auschwitz. She had told me in recent years that she was not really afraid to die, but was afraid to suffer. To my mind, she has gotten her wish to die without suffering. Eventually, the Alzheimer's will remove all traces of the horrible memories that haunt her and she will gradually fade away in a clean and caring environment. It will be for future generations to never forget the horrors of the Holocaust.

We arrived home about 4:30 p.m. to find Adele extremely distressed with Mom's condition during the day. She had been very weak and had to be cajoled to eat and drink. When we returned, we were able to convince her to come to the kitchen for a bowl of soup using her cane. As I went to warm her soup, Adele turned her back for a moment and Mom slipped and fell to the kitchen floor banging her head. Saul was in the bathroom at the time. Adele and I helped lift her onto the kitchen chair. She was very distressed and did not want to eat even though she said that nothing hurt. She wanted to return to her bed but was too weak to walk. She had a cold sweat and became cold and clammy. Saul went into the attic and brought down an old folding wheel chair and we wheeled her back to her room and tucked her in. Then, we debated about calling an ambulance. I called the 24-hour number for Abington Home Health Care and within 5-minutes I was called back by a nurse named Trish who asked pertinent questions about the situation and finally recommended that we call the ambulance. She recommended that we check Mom's blood sugar, which had been a perfect 113 that morning, and it was only 77. I requested from 911 that they not use their sirens when responding because the experience had freaked Mom out so when we had taken her to the hospital two weeks earlier. The same people arrived as last time and were extremely sympathetic, efficient and polite. Again, I rode in the front of the ambulance and Adele and Saul drove to the hospital separately.

Mom was extremely distressed to be at the hospital again. In the course of doing the usual testing, she was catheterized to get a sterile urine sample. I feared that this would cause a urinary tract infection and it has. Saturday night, however, we were told that all her tests were negative, all her numbers normal, and that probably she was clinically depressed. They sent her home. By 11 p.m., we wheeled her into her room. Saul and I both had a good night's sleep knowing his mother was happy and that my mother, having just been completely checked out, would not die in her sleep.

Sunday morning I was angry. Mom was able to get herself into the kitchen for breakfast and while she was eating a two-egg cheese omelet I made, I stripped her bed, put all the bedclothes in the washer, and piled her pillows on her easy chair. I was worried that she would develop pneumonia if she laid in bed any longer and convinced her that she should sit up in a comfortable chair in the living room rather than use a bed in another room. I took my time finishing making up her bed so that she would not be able to go back to it. I spoke with Adele on the phone and told her what I had done and told her that I was going to clean up the rest of the mess in Mom's room. Adele said she would come and help. I spent the rest of the afternoon gathering huge piles of paper from all over Mom's room and desk, dumping it all on the kitchen table to be organized into important paper and junk mail. Adele sat down after we finally finished cleaning the room and making the bed to begin going through the papers. We were about to go out for dinner together when we were unexpectedly visited by Ken, Randi, Haley and Eric, as well as Haley and Eric's new miniature dachshund, Ziggy. Eric had proposed to Haley that morning and had given her a diamond ring which she proudly displayed. Mom managed to rally to the occasion and we took some nice photos before they left. Haley and Eric have been together for a few years now and we all like him very much.

We waited as Mom finished her bowl of soup and we saw her off to bed before leaving for dinner at King Buffet. Her cell phone has a speed dial with numbers indicated by a sticker on the back to reach all of us in case of emergency.

Adele and I went through some of the pile of papers on the table when we returned. We looked in on Mom and were distressed that she did not appear strong enough to get herself to the bathroom. She whined to leave her alone when we tried to get her to sip some Ensure and while we put a waterproof pad under her from the hospital just in case.

Monday morning I awoke at six to get breakfast ready for Saul before he left for school at seven. I took a glass of orange juice into Mom's room at 6:45 a.m. but she appeared to be very comfortably sleeping and I decided not to wake her. I went in again at 8:15 and woke her. She drank the orange juice and a few sips of Ensure and begged me to let her sleep some more. I told her I would wake her in an hour. At 10:00, she wanted to sleep just a little more. By then, she had been sleepiing for 15 hours. I did not give her her morning medication. At 11:00, Eric her nurse arrived and we stood at the front door discussing her condition and my concerns. She called to us from her room and, when he checked her out, all her numbers were fine. He changed her heart monitor battery and refitted the leads. She sat in her chair and we talked for a while and then I left her watching television to work in my home office. She would only take an Ensure and a yogurt for lunch. Margie, her aide, came about 2 p.m. and sponge-bathed her and changed her clothes. She still will not let any of us wash her hair. I had put in a call to her new doctor about discontinuing some or all of her medication to see if that would improve her condition and was told that her doctor was away and would not be returning until the day of Mom's appointment on September 3. The assistant told me to contact her previous doctor about her medication. Her previous doctor could not be reached because of a power failure and Adele physically went over to his office. He called me while she was with him and gave me permission to discontinue two of Mom's blood sugar medications, Glyburide and Metformin. He also said that Mom was probably clinically depressed and said that any medication prescribed for that would take at least two weeks to take effect. He suggested I return her to the ER if anything really serious occurred. He suggested to Adele, also his patient, that she take a low dose of Xanax.

Saul had a very good day at school. Everything went smoothly there, at least.

At dinner time, I prepared a two-egg omelet, determined that I would get some protein into Mom when I awoke her from her nap. Saul had checked on her earlier and had commented that she was sleeping in a position unusual for her. When I went in with the omelet, I was unable to awaken her even with pushing and prodding. She was feverish to the touch. Stricken, I ran to get Saul and together, the two of us worked at getting her awake. She finally opened her eyes and spoke to us and was fairly lucid. We called Ken and explained what had happened. He put in an emergency call to the new doctor. She called back within a few minutes and asked many questions about our situation. When she heard that Mom had been trying to walk but was too weak, she felt that it was not clinical depression and told us she would be notifying the ER to expect Mom and that she would order some tests other than the usual ones. Mom became absolutely hysterical when she realized we were taking her back to the hospital. Ken and Randi came immediately and the three of us wheeled her to his car and drove her to the hospital around 7:00 p.m. The usual tests were done which she again passed with flying colors, but the ER staff said she was going to be admitted for sure for tests requested by her new doctor.

Randi volunteered to sleep over with her in her hospital room and we assured her that she would not be left alone. Mom was relieved but still freaked out and wanting to go home. We promised her that this would be the last time she would have to submit to hospital tests. While I was making her eggs, I had suddenly remembered that Mom had a sodium deficiency a few years ago that had caused her to take to her bed and not be able to get up. We had rushed her to the hospital against her wishes back then. I remembered that on Saturday night, the ER doctor had said that her sodium level was a little low, but nothing drastic. Last night, her levels were even lower when I inquired about them.

Tuesday, Ken picked me up at noon so that I could relieve Randi at the hospital. Mom could not say enough about how wonderful she was to have there to advocate for her and to help her. Doctors and nurses came in and out all day to poke and prod Mom and ask us all lots of questions. The neurologist said there were some issues that possibly could be treated in his office, but that the problem at hand was not neurological. The endocrinologist came in at 5 p.m. and gave us the most hope saying he was ordering testing to try to find out if the low sodium level was being caused by a malfunction of an adrenol gland and that, in some cases, there is medication for the problem. Adele relieved Saul and me around 6:30 p.m. and spent the night with Mom sleeping on a cot. She left at 6:00 a.m. and I relieved her at 7:15 a.m. having Saul drop me off before heading to school.

Mom was perkier and ate well all day, but can no longer stand up without support. She has not been out of bed since Monday. In the afternoon, she asked to sit in a chair and was able to do so for two hours. Physical therapy was ordered, but was not scheduled in time yesterday and I fear that Mom is so weak now that she will not be able to get out of bed when they do come today. I began writing this in the wee hours of the morning yesterday (Wednesday), but did not have time to finish before leaving for the hospital to relieve Adele. It is now almost 1 a.m. on Thursday, and I had been asleep since I arrived home at 7:30 p.m. Saul met me at hospital in the early afternoon and we had lunch in the cafeteria. He has spent the last two afternoons catching up with work on his computer in a lunchroom on Mom's floor. When Adele relieved us yesterday at 6 p.m. we stopped and had dinner at The Drafting Room before heading home. As soon as I got in bed, I fell asleep sitting up with the television remote in my hand. I don't even remember closing my eyes. The most frustrating part of all this is that Mom has now been tested with every high tech machine that the hospital has available and according to their standards, she is in perfect health except for her occasional irregular heatbeat. Her sodium level is so little below normal that no one believes it is causing a problem. The endocrinologist did not appear again yesterday.

I will be going back to the hospital again this morning to relieve Adele and I dearly hope, as Mom does, that they will just send her home now to be comfortable in her own bed. We all feel that we gave one more shot at trying to find a solution and have exhausted all the medical solutions we have available. Perhaps this is just a situation where medical science does not have all the answers and no one is willing to admit to us that people sometimes just know when their end is in sight as loathe as they are to leave this existence. According to their tests, Mom is a practically perfect 86-year-old specimen. If we had not been living together, Mom probably would have taken to her bed and died a number of times in the past few years. If we had not been there to prod her out of her sleep on Monday, she would have died. It is difficult to know from minute to minute how to handle this situation and to act in a way that will not leave us feeling guilty and questioning our actions in the future. It is no wonder that our society has created institutions where the responsibility for these stressful and unpleasant decisions can be made by others far away from our consciousness.

Izzy was supposed to be here this week, but when it was time to say goodbye to her parents, she had a meltdown. I suspected this would happen and wasn't surprised. I remember how differently time progressed when I was a child. Leaving her parents again for a week must have loomed before her like an entire summer of their absence. Alex and Jess have been alternating and taking her to work with them until day care begins next week. As things have turned out, I would say it was for the best, although I would have loved to have just one more week of summer.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Stealing Some Time

Saul went off to Chestnut Hill College to take care of business for a few hours yesterday morning before the semester starts on Monday. They had scheduled him to teach a course in web design (Dreamweaver) twice a week from 8 to 10:30 p.m. without his knowledge until a contract came in the mail a few days ago. Since his stroke last year, he had let them know that starting classes at 8:00 a.m. and then teaching until 10:30 p.m. was just too strenuous a day, but apparently no one remembered that when the catalog of courses was set. While he was gone, I caught up on some housework, some computer work, responded to some email and spent some time on the phone with my friend Roxy. While we were speaking, Saul called to say he was on his way home and wouldn't mind having lunch out. We have been enjoying our former status as dinks (double income, no kids) this week by taking long lunches together between work and caring for Mom. I asked Roxy if she would like to meet us somewhere between our homes for lunch and we all decided to have lunch at Blue Sage, a vegetarian restaurant we all positively love. Lunch was excellent as usual. Saul and I shared a beet and pumpkin soup with wasabi cream. He had the Farmhouse Cubano sandwich and I had the El Fino Wrap. Although I am trying to cut down on carbs, the chocolate panini dessert is one of my favorite dessert combinations of all time and I have learned to make some pretty spectacular ones as a caterer for eleven years. I reveled in every bite of it. Life is worth living and ignoring putting on a few extra pounds because of desserts like this one. We had a delicious and leisurely lunch for two hours before heading back home to crank out some more work. I took a one-hour nap and awoke to talk with Ari on his cell phone as he headed home from work.

Mom was not in a good state yesterday. She drank orange juice and ate oatmeal through a straw, but at least she sat at the kitchen table. Before we left, I made her a smoothie with a vanilla yogurt, a bottle of Ensure, and a few home-canned peaches. She had finished it in the kitchen by the time we left for lunch and immediately went back to bed. Saul made the mistake of giving her medication before she had her soup last night and she refused to eat more than a few mouthfuls before heading off to bed. No amount of pleading or browbeating could get any more food into her, nor could we find any way to encourage her to sit up a little longer even to watch the game shows she always loved on t.v. Watching t.v. jut seems to annoy her now. Someone from Abington Hospital called to follow up on her since her hospital stay for dehydration. The woman to whom I spoke was really not equipped to answer the difficult questions I was posing and felt that the geriatric assessment was the best course of action under the circumstances.

Saul and I stayed up late last night because I had not had a chance to finish watching the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics that we had recorded on TiVo and Saul joined me after working on the computer for a few hours to see the parts he had missed. A little before 4 a.m. Mom buzzed us on the intercom. She said she was choking, but she sounded okay. I ran to her room as quickly as I could and found that she had taken off the bra she was wearing under her clothing (she has been sleeping in her clothing for a long time now, but has begun wearing her sneakers into bed as well and refuses to let me remove them) and had disconnected at least one of the three contacts to her heart monitor which set the receptor monitor beeping in a very annoying fashion. She was not really choking at all. I had to go back and get Saul, who has been dealing with the mechanical aspects of the monitor. We spent the next hour replacing all the contacts, twice, while on the phone with a very helpful employee of the monitoring organization. After the second set of contacts and rebooting the system twice, the infernal beeping continued. We were advised that a new monitor receiver would arrive in about two days and that there was a "silence" button that we could press. We were advised not to unplug anything or the whole process would have to start over again from day one. About five minutes after we were back in bed, Mom called again to say that the beeping had resumed. We all decided to try to ignore it and went back to sleep. Saul got up about 8 a.m. to make sure that Mom had some orange juice and found that somehow, miraculously, the whole thing was back online and was happily chugging along silently. I stole an extra hour of sleep.

Mom drank an Ensure straight this morning, but did not touch her oatmeal all day. She moaned through most of the time she was in the kitchen chair, but said she was not in pain, nor could she explain why she was moaning. Her nurse called to say that he would be later than his scheduled 9 a.m. visit and would be here between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. Saul and I had 12 p.m. dentist appointments and had to leave before he arrived. Mom was very unhappy about having to get out of bed to sit in an easy chair near the door to wait for him, but we were delighted to have a valid excuse to get her out of bed. I spoke with him on her cell when he arrived and he said all her vital signs were perfect again. He suggested that he alternate with a psychiatric nurse when we discussed the upcoming geriatric assessment and I agreed. Saul realized that the physical therapist had not come last week, and Eric realized that the physical therapist, who was on vacation, did not realize that Mom had been sent home from the hospital within 24 hours of being admitted. He told us that physical therapy would resume next week.

After our satisfactory routine dental checkups, we stopped at Produce Junction in Hatboro and continued on to Wegman's in Warrington, where we shared a bowl of soup for lunch. Mom had not touched her oatmeal, but had eaten a yogurt we had opened and left on the table and had finished a large mug of herbal tea with milk from the morning along with one medjool date. She will not eat two and I am hoping that she is eating a few of the fresh grapes and blueberries I leave on the table, but I am not sure that she does. Saul keeps a count of a package of graham crackers that she keeps in her room and finds that she has occasionally eaten one. The home health care aide came today also, so she was sponge-bathed and in clean clothes when we arrived home. The aide had piled her dirty clothes and towels in the laundry room neatly and I washed and folded them. Mom would not let her change the sheets, but she was put on notice that that would happen the next time she came. Mom likes the woman and I think she will let her do what she is supposed to do.

Our friend, Faith Rubin, had called earlier in the day and we had arranged to meet for an early dinner. We were joined by our friend, Larry Shipper, and all of us met up at The Cheesecake Factory in Willow Grove Mall. Larry offered to go along with us after synagogue on Saturday morning to visit Saul's Mom who has now been in assisted living at Lion's Gate in Voorhees, NJ, for almost a month, the amount of time his sister Rif said they recommend avoiding contact while the resident adjusts to the new lifestyle. We will call Lion's Gate tomorrow to see if we can visit.

Mom had a bowl of soup for dinner when we returned, which she again insisted on drinking through a straw, took her medication, and went immediately to bed. Ten minutes later, we awoke her to sing "Happy Birthday" into Beth's voice mail. During the day, Mom had remembered that it was Beth's birthday and had asked to be included when we called her. Beth called back later this evening to tell us she would be joining us for Shabbat dinner tomorrow evening. She turned down my proffered cheesecake for her birthday cake, but when pressed, said she would like a coconut cake. I had concocted a great recipe for a three-layer coconut cake a few years back when I hosted a black and white party, and it has been a family favorite ever since. If you would like the recipe, you will have to request it in a comment.

It is now 11:30 p.m. I don't know where the time goes when I sit down to blog. Saul is still plugging away on his computer also. I hope we get to sleep for eight hours tonight. I can make do with less if I can catch cat naps during the day, but Saul really doesn't function as well unless he gets them uninterrupted.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to the Grindstone

In spite of all my ideas and efforts to have Camp Bubbie and Saba end with a bang not to be forgotten, the girls had other ideas about the last days of camp. They wanted to stay in and do all the homey things we had done all summer. Thursday was a beautiful day and we spent the afternoon at Beachcombers. Brenna joined her cousins and afterward, everyone wanted to just stay at home and hang out. They didn't even want to go out for ice cream at Freddy Hill and opted to make sundaes at home. Friday morning was spent catching up on some computer work while finishing the laundry. They wanted to stay in and eat leftovers for lunch as well. I finished packing all of Sami's things and enough of Izzy's things to get through a week. Then we all napped for an hour or so. We picked up Larry Shipper (who was also invited) at home and headed to Alex's parents' home for Shabbat dinner and to deliver the girls to them for their vacation week. We left an hour and a half for the drive considering the Friday traffic, and it took us exactly that to reach their 55+ community in Cranbury, NJ.

They prepared a beautiful meal for us and the table was gorgeously set with their beautiful antique china and fresh flowers. The girls behaved like little ladies during dinner and Maury had only a mild heart attack watching them help Elaine clear the dirty dishes carefully, one-by-one. Maury baked challot that were especially delicious and we had a variety of salads and succulent baked chicken and couscous. Dessert was cinnamon babka and a stunning fresh fruit salad. Beth looked in on Mom who was not up to the long car trip and warmed a bowl of soup for her. She has not been eating much else.

We decided to sleep in on Saturday as it was the first day all summer that we would not be awakened by the girls by 7:30 a.m. Instead, Mom decided to go into the kitchen at 7:00 a.m. and accidentally set off the burglar alarm. We spent most of Saturday vegging out and trying to make up for lost sleep. The Sunday NY Times Crossword puzzle was not challenging and I finished it in an hour. I finally finished reading "Loving Frank," an historical novel about Mamah Borthwick Cheney, who influenced Frank Lloyd Wright's life and work, and with whom he had a scandalous affair while she was married to another man and the mother of two children. Being a bit of an FLW fan, and knowing the horrific details coming at the end of the story, I felt as if I were watching the Titanic right before the iceberg. It has taken me all summer to get through the novel, which I did not find to be particularly well written. The ending provided even more gory details than I had known previously and I did not sleep well Saturday night after that.

Sunday, Mom called us extra early on the phone intercom to say that she had gone into the kitchen, could not open the orange juice carton, and had gone back to bed without eating or drinking anything. I got up early and made us all breakfast. I spent about two hours walking around the house putting away and organizing all the odds and ends that had been left out during Camp Bubbie and Saba, laundering the girls bedding and making their beds. Then, Saul and I began to dig into all the work we had left for the week the girls would be gone. Mom was having a bad day. She drank her oatmeal through a straw. She barely ate any lunch and at dinner time she whined and cried that she would not eat or get out of bed. I spent an hour on the phone with Adele and Ken trying to decide how to handle the situation. I was afraid to give her the evening medication if she did not eat. Just as we were at our wits' end, she trudged down the hall with her cane and sat down at the kitchen table. We managed to get a bowl of soup into her and then she took her medication and went back to bed.

Monday morning, I could tell by her coloring that she was feeling better and she was up awaiting her visit by her nurse, Eric. Eric found all her vital signs normal and Ken had a phone conversation with him explaining her erratic behavior. Eric was sympathetic but basically said that you can't make someone do what they don't want to do. Every meal and every hour is a struggle for the last few days. Last night, Saul and I both had the idea to start giving her Ensure as a part of her diet. We went to Costco today after our eye doctor appointments and picked up a case while Saul was fitted for his new prescription eyeglasses. Whatever is wrong behind my eyes, apparently doesn't involve my vision in any way, thankfully. I have just finished my 10 days of anti-inflammatory drugs and the problem seems to have lessened if not disappeared. The eye doctor seems to agree with my internist that the problem is in the sinuses behind my eyes.

The rest of today has been spent on phone and computer. Adele stopped over in the afternoon with Erica, Brenna and Ava so that she could visit and Erica could wash and style Mom's hair. They were treated to a dose of my struggle when Mom again pleaded to be left alone and cried and refused to get out of bed. Yesterday, Ken arranged an assessment with a geriatric specialist so that, hopefully, we will know whether we should just leave her alone, or whether dementia, clinical depression or over-medication is the problem causing her to act this way and we can reverse the process somehow. Adele also called while she was here and arranged for Mom to see the new doctor who is taking over the practice of her retiring physician. Adele also notified her insurance company of the change. Right now I am so happy not to be an only child and to have the support of brother, sister and husband in this struggle. Sometimes, I am just too tired to deal with it and they are there for me. Most of my major computer work is finished as of this evening and Saul has been making progress preparing for the new semester which begins on Monday. Izzy will be returning for the week on Monday without her sister, who also begins school now. As much of a grind as this week will be, I am greatly looking forward to having her back for a few days to lessen the pain of separation a bit and stretch the summer a little longer.

Samara's Corner

In the last week I:

I went to the zoo with Brenna and Izzy and we had vanilla smoothies with peanut butter crackers for lunch and we had pizza for dinner with Beth. We went to the pool and got our arms painted. I got a rainbow with arms. Izzy got a butterfly with arms. Brenna got a dog without arms and we got our beautiful blue and purple ceramic clay birds.

Editor's Note: The drawing is of soba noodles with sliced baby bella mushrooms which Sami liked so much that I had to make it two more times for her in the last days of Camp Bubbie and Saba.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Last Week of Camp Bubbie and Saba

Friday morning, the girls watched movies that I had recorded for them on TiVo--The Rescuers and Happily N'Ever after. We used some of the quiet time to catch up with work and begin preparations for Shabbat dinner. Saul and the girls made matzoh balls. The girls were models of decorum at the doctor's office where we went for check-ups early in the afternoon. The doctor was delighted with Saul's blood work and the fact that he has lost 14 pounds. Although his knees may be shot from all the walking and biking in Ocean City, the rest of him is in good shape. The doctor gave him a prescription for a test if the tick bite gets the Lyme disease bull's eye around it and told him not to worry. My blood pressure was good and I got 10-day prescriptions for Clarinex and Celebrex. I developed some pain behind my eyes on and off during vacation and since then, and evidently there are sinuses behind the eyes that can become inflamed. Although I haven't felt anything there, he said my throat is red.

The girls look like the picture of health right now with their beautifully and gradually tanned skin and relaxed expressions (as you can see from the photos).

We stopped at Trader Joe's to buy fresh kosher chicken. Izzy was cheering for the chicken as we didn't realize she had been chicken-deprived this summer. Dinner was fresh-baked challah, chicken soup with matzoh balls, grilled marinated chicken, iceberg lettuce with Russian dressing for Larry, and Israeli salad for the rest of us, and jasmine rice. Larry brought pareve pastry cigars in various flavors and we had an assortment of summer fruit dipped in individual bowls of chocolate for dessert. We tried out our new Cars and Board Games cartridges on the Wii before going to bed early.

Saturday, we went to synagogue. Rabbi Addison was away on vacation, but about three dozen members were in attendance, more than most of the large synagogues in the area would have on an ordinary August Shabbat. The girls found several other children with whom to play. We all took a nap on Saturday afternoon after lunch and we promised the girls we would go out in the evening if they slept. It was quite late when we were ready to leave and the evening turned into a dud. Dinner was very ho-hum at the outdoor patio of the new California Pizza Kitchen in Plymouth Meeting Mall and by the time we had finished eating, the Mall was closing and the merry-go-round was inaccessible. We saved the evening for them and redeemed ourselves by letting them watch movies in our bed for a while before tucking them into their own.

Sunday morning, I put the house in order, cleaning up after our weekend and I was frustrated because by noon when I was about to spend a few hours on the computer, we were beset by sporadic thunderstorms. It seemed that every time I thought we were finished with them and restarted the computer, I would again hear distant thunder and have to shut it down. I finally gave up and took a nap. The girls spent most of the day in pajamas playing and watching movies. We spent an extra amount of time with the girls putting them to bed and reading them the storybook that Jessica had put together about our vacation in Ocean City.

Monday, I awoke at 5 a.m. to catch up with the work I had not been able to complete because of the thunderstorms. By 9:30 a.m. I had completed everything I needed to accomplish for the day. Larry dropped off Brenna, who is done with camp, so that the cousins could be together for the day. The weather was incredibly beautiful and uncharacteristically cool for August and rather than go to the swim club, we decided to take advantage of our Philadelphia Zoo membership. I made us all lunch at home. Mom was having a bad day. I had taken her breakfast to her room and she barely ate anything. At lunchtime, she requested that Saul make her a yogurt smoothie and bring it to her room because she wasn't feeling up to joining us in the kitchen. We arrived at the zoo at about 2:30 p.m. and spent an absolutely delightful two hours there. Our membership entitled us to access the Tree House and the girls had not been there on our previous visit. They loved it and we took some marvelous photos there. We stopped at King Buffet on our way home and had an early dinner. Brenna was a bit tired and cranky when we arrived there and did not want to eat. That changed when she saw Sami getting soft ice cream from the machine and making a sundae. Among other things, she ate clams (which she loves) both large and small as she does not keep kosher, and examining them and playing with the shells was a revelation for Sami and Izzy. When we arrived home, about 6:00 p.m., I made Mom a bowl of soup and took it to her room. She had only half finished her smoothie. Erica and Beth came over and we all played with the Wii for a while. Everyone went in to say hi and spend a few minutes with Grandmom, but she was still not feeling well. They all went home early and the girls went to bed without argument having exhausted themselves with the Wii.

When we got into bed for the evening I decided to return a phone call to Roxy. While we were speaking to each other, Mom tried to reach Saul on the phone intercom. I put Roxy on hold and went down the hall to see what she wanted. She was extremely ill, dizzy and unable to get out of bed to go to the bathroom. I carried the commode from her bathroom (it has been there since her last hip surgery) and put it right next to the bed. I tried to help her sit up so that she could use it but she just sank back down saying she was too dizzy and unable to sit up. She was very distressed and I held her hand which was uncharacteristically warm while we wavered about how to proceed. Then, we began a debate involving Adele also about whether to call an ambulance to take her to the hospital. In the end, she did not object to our calling an ambulance as she has in the past. As timing would have it, throughout the evening, Ken was on a conference call with his partner and a big potential client in Hawaii. Beth came over to stay with the girls and within a few minutes eight emergency personnel were in Mom's room prepping her for the ride in the ambulance. I threw on some clothes and rode in the front of the ambulance. Saul drove himself down a few minutes later and Adele met us there almost immediately after the ambulance arrived. Around midnight, we were told that she would be admitted and Saul and I left to relieve Beth. Adele called us about 1 a.m. after Mom was stable and resting in her room. The problem appeared to be dehydration.

Tuesday morning, Randi went down to the hospital and called to say that Mom was sitting up and eating breakfast. Her vital signs were good and they might be discharging her. Randi left around 12:30 p.m. Saul and I took Brenna and the girls to Beachcombers and waited to hear whether Mom would be discharged. About 3:30 p.m. I received the phone call saying she was being released. I left Saul with the girls who were in the middle of Play Doh and face painting, and drove to Abington Hospital to retrieve Mom. She was delighted to be released so quickly and seemed to be feeling better. I took her straight home and settled her into bed. Then I drove back and picked up Saul and the three girls around 5:00 p.m. While I helped them shower, Saul drove over to Costco and picked up a large pizza and a large kosher hot dog for Mom. Beth joined us and then Adele arrived. Mom ate half a hot dog at the table with us. Then we all had leftover ice cream and cake from Sami's party. After that, Mom went off to sleep while the three girls watched The Rescuers in bed with me while I dozed and Adele, Beth and Saul schmoozed for a while. Around 8:30 p.m., Adele left with Brenna.

This morning, Mom was feeling terrible. Saul woke her at 8:00 a.m. when she had been sleeping for 12 hours. She was refusing to eat, saying she was too sick. With a combination of cajoling and browbeating, we managed to get breakfast little-by-little into her in the kitchen. Sami discovered a large corrugated cardboard folder from an oversized calendar in my office and she and Izzy took it, some additional cartons, scotch tape, and their art supplies box to their playroom upstairs ostensibly to prepare a puppet stage. About an hour later, signs began to appear around the house announcing the show, "Eligah the Profet" (sic) and advising us that they would yell when the show was ready. We videoed the show and loved every precious moment. While all that was going on, a nurse arrived who helped set up Mom's heart monitor. Her vital signs were good even though she was still feeling terrible.

We made Mom finish her oatmeal at lunchtime and saw that she finished drinking the smoothie she requested as well. I taught the girls to slice mushrooms with a small knife and for lunch we had soba noodles with mushrooms sauteed in sesame oil with scallions, fresh ginger, soy sauce, mirin, and fresh thyme from the garden. The girls were very curious about the brown soba noodles and I told Sami I would try to find her a video showing the unique way they are made. Both girls loved the dish and wanted to have it again for dinner. I told them tomorrow, maybe.

Wednesday is the day for clay at the swim club and we had to be there to pick up the clay birds that the girls had painted and that had been fired for them. This will be one of our last days together at Beachcombers. The girls are going to their other grandparents on Friday for a week and then school starts for both Saul and Sami. Izzy is coming back by herself for a week at the end of the month. I made cheese omelets for dinner and Saul went off to a meeting at Melrose B'nai Israel. Mom ate only half an omelet, but ate a full bowl of butternut squash soup at the table before going off to bed. Izzy had a temper tantrum at dinner and was carried off to bed by Saul before eating very much. She fell asleep shortly after that. I let Sami watch movies in my bed and just tucked her in a little while ago. It has been such a joy to have them here for the summer even with the occasional fit of temper from Izzy. I know I will be suffering from withdrawal as soon as they are gone.

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Thousand Natural Shocks

Here we go again with worries at 3 a.m. that may or may not have any foundation. I am actually feeling rather upbeat despite the gloomy title from Hamlet's soliloquoy. Although this past week has been among the most hectic this summer, it has been filled with joy as well as anxiety. Laura came to finish her school district's calendar with me on Monday and we were hoping she would bring her one-year-old granddaughter for us to meet, but her granddaughter was taken to the hospital Sunday night to be treated for croup. She is doing better now. Erica also spent Monday night in the emergency room at Doylestown Hospital. She has a virus and was told to spend the week in bed. I sent the proofed calendar to the printer on Wednesday.

Monday and Tuesday, Saul took the girls to Beachcombers to give me extra hours to make a dent in my computer work. Sami and Izzy both spent their afternoons with friends they had made at the club and had to be cajoled into leaving to come home for dinner. Izzy has been perfecting her underwater somersaults. They had their faces painted beautifully yet again by the talented lady who comes to the club. Tuesday evening, we went to the King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting Mall for miso soup and sushi just to allow me a chance to get out of the house. The girls love going there and were very well behaved, but Izzy didn't know where to put herself when she was finished eating because she was so tired by 8:00 p.m. She fell asleep as soon as we got into the car to go home and both girls went directly to bed sleeping in their dresses that night.

Mom has been up and down this past week. Some mornings, she is weak and I bring breakfast to her room. Other mornings, she seems much stronger and joins us for breakfast. Whenever the therapist, social worker, nurse or home aide see her, she is very upbeat and tells them she is fine. That does not bode well for getting the services to continue. Adele took her to both GP and cardiologist this week and both found no real problems in the course of their examination.

Wednesday, I caught up with my work enough to go along to the swim club in the afternoon. That afternoon, Saul was bitten by a tick on his chest. It was such a tiny black speck that he was not even sure it was an insect when he removed it, but there was a miniscule pinprick of blood when he did. Now, I am worried about Lyme Disease and whether the girls could have been bitten also and we missed it. Tuesday, each girl had what appeared to be two mosquito bites that swelled up until I dabbed them with alcohol and applied Benadryl Cream. All the bites were just about gone within hours. What if there is something on our scalps that we missed?

Yesterday was Sami's real 8th birthday. She had told Saul over the weekend that her fondest wish for her birthday was for me to spend the day with her using the portable easel I had bought for her for Chanukah last year and learning from me how to paint on the canvas that came with it. With her four-year-old sister around, we had never had the opportunity to use the oils or acrylics that came with the set. By spending a few more hours on the computer between 2:30 and 5:30 a.m., I was able to free up yesterday completely. I went back to sleep from 5:30 to 8:30 a.m. while Saul gave the girls breakfast. Adele picked up Mom early and took her to the hospital for a blood test that the doctor had ordered. Saul found a dead bird on our doorstep and spent about an hour being transferred from agency to agency inquiring if it should be saved for testing for West Nile Virus which has been found in this area. He eventually gave up and shoveled it into the trash. About 10:30 a.m. we took the girls to Toys R Us so that Sami could get a free birthday present (a small inflatable soccer ball printed like 101 Dalmations) and a mylar balloon. They also had a sale on Leap Frog cartridges and we bought them three more to add to their collection--WALL-E, a learn-to-write and draw program, and a math program. The girls took turns on a demo bike with an interactive screen where they pedal and zap moving targets with a flashing red button on the handlebars. Then, we went to Plymouth Meeting Mall for lunch. We went to Bertucci's at Sami's request. Bertucci's gives children pizza dough with which to play, crayons and children's menus with games while awaiting lunch. Coincidentally, we were served by one of Saul's students from Chestnut Hill College and were very pleased with the food and the service. After lunch we went into the Mall for free birthday rides on the merry-go-round which also gave the girls free large bumper balls in the color of their choice (blue for Sami and red for Izzy). While there, they also played with the interactive advertising movie on the floor of the Mall, a free entertainment that I am always forgetting is there, but they never do. The girls also tried on shoes, a favorite pastime for them since birth. We didn't find any shoes that were quite right, though.

Then, we went home, changed into bathing suits, packed up our two easels and art supplies and headed off to Beachcombers. Arts and crafts was in full swing so the girls went off to the grove to make woven paper mats with stickers while Saul and I set up the easels under a tree by the pool. Sami and I had a wonderful two-hour session with the paints while she enjoyed all the attention from other members, both young and old, who came over to watch and were curious about our activity. Then she grew restless and wanted to go swimming with her friends. I was pleased at what I was able to impart to her in those two hours and she was pleased with the results.

When we came home to change in the afternoon, Fed Ex had left a package on our doorstep addressed to Sami and Izzy from Jessica. Inside were two keepsake albums of photos of our vacation in Ocean City, NJ, with accompanying narrative that Jessica had drawn from this blog as well as adding some narrative of her own. After the girls were tucked into bed (Izzy fell asleep in our bed watching Sami and Saul play with the new Cars program on the Wii), I read the story aloud to Saul while we kvelled over the photos.

Today, Saul and I both have appointments for checkups with our doctor. Hopefully, he will advise us about what to do regarding the tick bite and some of the other "thousand natural shocks" that are worrying me. With a little luck, we will be able to deal with them all. No question that we want "to be."

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sami's Birthday Weekend

I am enjoying my hectic life right now despite the fact that I am very tired most of the time. I know that in a very short while, it will be too quiet to suit me. Mom's services from Abington Home Health Care have kicked in this time and she likes the nurse who comes for an hour twice a week to help her bathe and change. The physical therapist is a lady who helped her recover from her hip replacement surgery a few years ago. When the nurses are not here, however, she appears to be too weak to go about her normal routine and for the last few days, we have brought her breakfast in bed.

Because the nurse came Wednesday morning, the day of Naomi Taplar's retirement party, she was bathed and dressed and able to attend the party. Naomi Taplar has been teaching religious school at Temple Sinai in Dresher, PA, for 30 years and taught at Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park for years before. She taught my cousins, Anne and Jaine, and she taught my children as well. Both Saul and I taught alongside her for many years. The group of teachers with which we taught there formed a more-than-professional relationship. We attended each other's simchas and watched each other's families grow up. Naomi grew up in Canada and received an excellent Jewish education about which she was passionate. She is fluent in Hebrew and was able to pass her passion and knowledge patiently on to hundreds of children in three generations. Now in her 80s, she is retiring to Egg Harbor, NJ. The party was arranged and prepared by our friend, Faith Rubin, the educational director at Temple Sinai, and we had a lovely nostalgic evening dancing to the music of Bruce Fagan, and wondering where all the years had gone. Wednesday, during the day, Saul took the kids to the township playground and the pool so I could spend the day on my computer work. Right before we left for the retirement party, Saul's sister called to say that she had placed their mother in an apartment at Lion's Gate Assisted Living in NJ that afternoon. She told him that the facility recommends no t.v. or telephone in the first fews weeks to encourage participation in social activities and acceptance of the new lifestyle. At least he will be able to go to visit his mother now that she is in somewhat neutral territory. Once she has acclimated, we hope to be able to bring her to family functions.

Thursday, I was able to make such progress on my work that I felt comfortable joining Saul and the girls at Beachcombers Swim Club for a few hours in the afternoon.

Friday, we shopped for last minute items for dinner and for Sami's party and worked in the kitchen most of the rest of the day preparing Shabbat dinner and Sami's Beijing Olympic-themed birthday cake. Happily, Ari was able to leave work early on Friday and pick up Jess and Alex early as well. They arrived here to all of our delight by 3:30 p.m. Dinner was both cauliflower soup, which Jess loves, and strawberry soup, which Sami wanted to learn how to make, a large filet of wild sockeye salmon which Alex marinated with herbs from the garden and grilled over hard wood smoke and topped with portabello mushrooms and onions, and grilled veggies and black and white rice. For dessert, we had an assortment of fresh summer fruit--apricots, peaches, strawberries, cherries, lichees, and apples dipped in individual bowls of vanilla custard sauce, and cinnamon buns that Larry had bought on a previous occasion that I had frozen. Larry was not able to join us this week because he was attending a concert by one of Ted's grandchildren downtown. Beth joined us for dinner and although we were all tired, we spent a few hours before and after dinner enjoying Ari's new Wii which he had brought along to entertain us. I had put the chocolate cakes for Sami's party into the oven right before dinner and they began to bake over the edges of the pan and burn onto the element, so we had a few moments of frantic scrambling about trying to handle the problem. As it turned out, the cakes were practically indestructible. I was able to spoon the excess partially-baked batter from the two long loaf pans into yet a third pan and all of the cakes turned out delicious anyway.

Saturday morning, I awoke early, anxious to finish up the color flow sugar decorations I had begun for Sami's cake so they would have a chance to dry. Jessica was up early also and enjoyed finishing them up as I colored and prepared the icing for her. Beth joined us for dinner and also got involved in the preparation of the cake. We all enjoyed preparing it and were very happy with the results. Ari spent the day with friends and attended a friend's party in the evening. When Shabbat was over, I was able to put in a few hours on the computer having taken a nap in the afternoon. When Ari came in at 12:30 a.m. we both went off to bed.

The party began at 11:00 a.m. at Beachcombers Swim Club. We were all up early rushing around to pack up everything we needed to take with us. Ari and Jess went out to buy fresh bagels and ice cream. Beth came over to help us load up the cars. Mom came in Ari's car which we parked right beside the picnic area. It was a beautiful, breezy day, and she insisted on sitting in the car through the brunch of lox and bagels, whitefish salad, etc. Saul had gone a little crazy with a staple gun securing the tablecloths and managed to puncture a full gallon of apple juice which we then tried to tape up with tape from a roll of scotch tape that Beth had given Izzy (she loves scotch tape!). It didn't work, but at least the leak was slow! We were joined by Maury and Elaine Weinberg, Alex's parents, Adele and Larry Abramovitz, (Ken and Randi are away this weekend for a vacation in Cape May) Erica and Danny Graham with Brenna and Ava, Larry Shipper, our friend, Laura Feller, Jamie Parker, and two of Sami's little friends from the swim club, Sarah and (believe it or not), her sister Brenna. Five children and two of them were named Brenna! After the brunch, Ari took Mom back home and rejoined us. We set up camp by the pool, setting the remaining cake on our trusty blue folding table to share with others. Sami passed out Chinese party favor bags to some other friends who arrived at the pool later that included Kung Fu Panda Pez dispensers, inflatable balls and stars, dragon lollipops, jewel tattoos, and yo-yos.

We left for home about 3:00 p.m. after a wonderful, beautiful day. I helped shower all the girls while Jess, Alex and Ari packed and prepared to leave. Then, we sat in the living room while Sami opened her presents. Beth and Erica stayed for dinner so that Brenna would have more time with her cousins. I quickly threw together a dinner of macaroni and cheese and leftover soup and salad. The kids adjourned to the bedroom to play with the Wii. I read to the kids after Brenna left and put them to bed by 7:30 p.m. exhausted. Then, Saul and I showered and were asleep by 9:30 p.m.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Got Guilt?

It seems I can no longer have a conversation with any member of my family (including my kids) that does not include a reminder that I have not submitted a blog entry in a while. I think that the ability to weild guilt must be genetic in the Ashkenazi Jewish DNA. Since I am the only human being at Pearlstone today, and I need to be at an appointment in Reisterstown in an hour anyway, I will use the quiet solitude to assuage my guilt, and catch you up on my life for the past month or so...

My last blog was just before Alex's return from Israel. As predicted, his return caused the need to adjust my "single gal's" routine a bit. and the weekend after he got back I got a pinched nerve in my lower back that my chiropractor said is a common side effect of rapid weight loss. I was grounded for a whole week from any extreme physical activity. But do not fear loyal followers of my quest for healthier living! While I have not been journaling my daily accomplishments and failures, I have been having a relatively easy time of keeping up the lifestyle.

My smaller portions have become routine, and I have combined the "gerber bowl method" with a system of calorie calculations. I am trying to eat approximately 1200 calories per day, which usually divides into 3 meals of 400 calories each, but sometimes winds up being a 200 calorie breakfast with a 100 calorie morning snack or sometimes, if I am having "one of those days" with which you are all familiar, I have my first meal at 1pm and reward myself with a 400 calorie snack at 3ish! :)

I am still working out regularly, if not as systematically as I was before. In addition to going to the gym for classes a few times a week, I have Monday and Thursday Bootcamp sessions, which have jumped up in intensity as we get further along into the program. This past Monday, our whole workout was outdoors in the hot humid night. We used the mall parking lot to run line exercises, did step aerobics on the parking bumps, and then went for a jog around the mall to the other side, where we ran steps for 15 minutes. I am now walking 3-4 miles every Thursday, and then we do stretches and lunge walks to wrap up.

During our vacation in Ocean City, it was a pleasure and a boost to my determination that I was able to bike for 5 miles each day without too much effort, go to the gym and work out for "fun," and walk miles and miles every day wherever we went. Alex and I only took our car out once the whole 2 weeks we were there, and that was because we would not have been able to carry all of the groceries that we needed. I resisted a lot of the temptations of travelling with my parents including an endless supply of snacks, desserts, and such in the house, and forays for ice cream every evening! I took a small lick here and there of the girls' cones just to clean off the "excess" (this should not be understood as a recreation of, but merely as a reference to, Grandpop Strongin's use of that word to insinuate something his children would not like, and which he would heroically "protect" them from, by eating 2/3 off of their cones for them.) There was one day when Alex and I went on a particularly long and very hot walk in the middle of the day, and when he stopped for water ice at Jakes I ordered a rootbeer float (a particular favorite of mine) but I only drank half, and Alex finished it for me as we walked home.

The day we returned from vacation (last Saturday) I went to the gym for bootcamp, and had my first weigh-in. We have reached the half-way mark, and will be weighed again at the end. I have officially lost 20 lbs, 2 inches off of each of my measurements, and 5% of my mass. It felt good to know that I ammaking quantifiable progress, but not nearly as good as wearing pants from the bottom of the drawer where I keep the ones that are too tight to be comfortable!

I also noticed a real change in the bathing suit photos from this summer's vacation compared to last summer's.
Hawaii Summer 07

Ocean City Summer 08

I hereby pledge to blog once a week, no matter what! Please stop with the guilt trips and reminders!

同一个世界同一个梦想 - Part One

So we've all really been enjoying the blog--both writing and reading. A common offline discussion topic has been, however, that it's a shame my mother didn't get started on it earlier, so that we could have blogged our photos and experiences during the week my parents and I spent in Beijing in January. Since one week from today will mark the start of the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, I figured I could use that as an excuse to show some of our better pics from the trip.

Some quick background is probably in order. Shortly after I gave my two-week notice at Skadden on a whim in mid-December, my Dad called me at the office to bring my attention to a really cheap Travelzoo Top 20 deal for a trip to Singapore, with a 3-day extension to Bali that would have only been a few hundred dollars more. My mother, though never one to initiate any plan that would involve her getting on a plane, has been longing to visit Bali for many years now. Though we called the company selling the deal within a few hours of it being advertised, it seemed that they were already sold out within the first two hours, and the subsequent deal they were offering us was not nearly as lustrous.

But the vignette that played out that afternoon really got my OCD wheels spinning, since I came to the realization that come December 28th, for the first time in 7 or 8 years I was going to be FREE to do whatever I wanted for at least several weeks, as I didn't really expect to get anything lined up in the way of new job interviews for some time after the holiday season wound down.

So within an hour or two after the Singapore/Bali disappointment, I had found a deal through Sherman's Top 25 for the three of us to spend a week in Beijing which included round trip direct flights from Dulles and two hotel rooms in the brand new Westin there. At the price we got, it took about 30 seconds to convince Dad, and thanks to Jay Schinfeld applying some reason (and a bit of peer pressure, I suspect), my mother agreed to take the plunge as well.

We all got an overdose of spontaneity that day when, after making the purchase, I remembered that we would all need to get visas for our trip (which was to begin about 10 days later) from a Chinese embassy or consulate, and that we had a very small window of time because of Christmas and New Years closings. So later that evening, my parents made the drive down to DC, and we trekked over to the relevant Chinese authority early the next morning to have pictures taken, fill out visa applications, and drop off our passports. Thankfully, for some extra money you can get your visa the same day if you get in by 10:30 and come back to pick it up sometime between 3PM and closing (sort of like a Chinese laundry).

Our January 2nd departure was delayed one day due to mechanical problems with the airplane, but they put us up at the Dulles Hyatt. In the ensuing madness at the airport, we met these two really nice women from Alabama who were heading over to lead a seminar for Chinese teachers on a special method of Science education for middle-school aged students. We grabbed our car from long-term parking, gave them a ride into DC for some siteseeing, and found out that we could leave our car at the Hyatt for free instead of parking back at the airport. But I digress.

In today's installment, I bring you pictures from the Badaling section of the Great Wall. It is the most touristy of sections and heavily restored, but we felt that it would suffice for our purposes. We became friends with the head chef at the Westin, and he arranged for us to have a personal driver take us out there (for about one third of what the hotel's normal charges were) so that we didn't have to worry about negotiating non-verbally with a cab driver, or signing on to one of those bus tours where they make you stop and buy overpriced junk at a Chinese herbal medicine place or a Jade factory. Essentially, we didn't want to waste a whole day doing two or three things we didn't want to do, just to do the one thing we did want to do.

One of the more entertaining moments of the trip happened here. When we got there, we ran into a massive tour group from some kind of company or factory. There must have been a few hundred people in matching red vests and hats, and they were taking group photos with a big banner at the entrance plaza. Since it was the dead of winter--the ultimate low travel season in Beijing, we found ourselves to be generally the only non-Chinese tourists in the Beijing area, so naturally, we attracted quite a bit of attention wherever we went. The group really latched on to my dad, and a whole bunch of groups lined up to take photos with him and my mom. I got a few good shots of the scene, which was pretty hilarious.