Monday, September 29, 2008

A New Year

Tonight at sundown, the two Jewish High Holy Days marking the start of our new year begin--Rosh Hashanah. Unlike on the Christian Gregorian calendar, which is solar and counts forward from the ground zero of the birth of Jesus and backward for the time before that, our calendar is lunar and runs in a straight line forward into the future, supposedly from the beginning of time. Tonight we begin the year 5769. Like in most Jewish families, I spent my spare time this past week preparing special dishes to be consumed by family and friends over an especially-beautifully set table. In many secular Jewish households, this meal, and perhaps the sending of Rosh Hashanah cards, is the only observance of the new year that takes place. I know because I grew up in one of those families. For a lot of other families, these two holy days and Yom Kippur mark the only time they will enter a synagogue all year.

After marrying into an observant family, initially, I was charmed by the traditions of Judaism. In my early thirties, when I began to actually study how those traditions came about and the deeper philosophy of life embodied in them, I was enchanted. That sense of wonder has never left me even through all the disenchanting moments that I have encountered in embracing synagogue life (and there have been some monumental disenchanting moments!) I believe the reason for this is that for every petty, nasty, or dishonest personality with whom I have come in contact, there have also been wonderful, caring, and intelligent people who are my friends, teachers, mentors, and role-models. Our traditions provide a blueprint for those of us who are still struggling with meeting the challenges of day-to-day living with a sense of acting, not in a business-as-usual mode, but with an eye to helping improve the lives of those around us, and thereby our own lives. For me, there is no better avenue to invest meaning in my life.

I am always struck by the contrasting approaches to celebrating a new year. The Jewish new year is welcomed with hope, a bit of apprehension, and contemplation. The secular new year is welcomed with revelry and abandon. I have always felt more attached to the September new year. With teachers and students beginning a new school year after the end of summer vacation, the timing always seemed more authentically like a new year to me. During Rosh Hashanah, the metaphor is that of asking God to inscribe us in the book of life. During Yom Kippur, the metaphor is that of a sealed decree. This year is singularly difficult with Mom at home in hospice care. While any one of us could suddenly die in an instant, the poignancy of contemplating who shall live and who shall die in the coming year under these circumstances is all the more urgent.

Mom is greatly looking forward to Ari visiting with us for the next two days and misses her great-granddaughters, who will be feasting on their father's wonderful dishes in Baltimore while he oversees his school and tries to give his students a sense of meaning as well as a sense of tradition. I am content to know that my granddaughters will have all the lovely memories of time spent with their family feasting and learning the significance of their heritage, although I also will miss their presence at my table.

My brother and sister have arranged to stay with Mom while Ari, Saul and I attend services. I am really looking forward to my mornings of quiet prayer. When we return, we will have leisurely meals, good food and great conversation. Some of the dishes I prepared include homemade challah, matzoh ball soup, sliced brisket in gravy, meatballs and Moroccan sausage, kasha and bow tie noodles, tilapia lamaize, Israeli salad, potato salad, apple-shaped oatmeal molasses cookies with apple butter filling, sweet potato bundt cake with coconut brown sugar glaze, and apple slices dipped in assorted honeys, like chestnut and orange blossom (I collect honey during my travels).

This morning, Mom had warm bread pudding that I had just taken out of the oven with the top of a chocolate and peanut covered vanilla ice cream cone melted over it for breakfast. As a hospice patient, she is encouraged to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food, even with diabetes. Eating it certainly made her very happy and, as careful as she has been all her life, I think that the lack of medical value placed on happiness grossly underrates the internal ability of the spirit to heal the body and mind. I can definitely see, in her case, that pills to heal the body and mind were counter-productive. When the decree is finally sealed and life is coming to an end, which part of my days will be most meaningful? Perhaps it will turn out to be baking bread pudding, or perhaps it will be praying that I am able to bake it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Eyes and Ears

I am an extremely visual person and I never realized how differently people learn until I gave birth to a son who is extremely aural. I rushed Ari to a pediatric optometrist when he was two years old thinking that there must be something wrong with his eyes when he switched off Sesame Street on television to go and listen to children's music on a cassette tape. When he was learning piano, he fought all attempts to make him more proficient at reading music. He has an incredible ear for languages, learns them easily, and is always amused that I cannot hear the subtle differences between how he pronounces a word and how it sounds when I say it. In the four years I spent in college learning to teach, this subject was never even mentioned. Perhaps it is now. In high school, I almost failed history because for two years I had a teacher who was too lazy to write down her test questions and dictated them instead. I'm sure she was also an aural learner.

This past weekend, I visited the newly-opened Newseum in Washington, D.C. It had been a very heavy week caring for Mom, even though she seems to be growing a little stronger each day. I had been looking forward to this respite with the kids and thanks to the cooperation of Beth, Adele, and Candi, we were able to leave Friday afternoon for D.C. Our membership at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia had entitled us to waive the $20 per person entrance fee at the Newseum. Unfortunately, I hadn't really thought through the fact that a museum dedicated to news reporting would visually conjure up for me all the horrific stories and Pulitzer Prize-winning photos of my lifetime (as well as a few lifetimes before me) in one fell swoop. Although there are a few light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek exhibits, the expression "if it bleeds, it leads," comes to its ultimate manifestation in this place. The Holocaust Museum in D.C., which I have visited a few times, did not have as deleterious an effect on my psyche as it only covered the one huge atrocity over a relatively short period of history. The Newseum is a visually-effective portrayal of atrocities of every type perpetrated by people on other people in the unholy name of war, greed, prejudice, politics and insanity. I read many facts about occurrences that I hadn't known before and wish I could forget. At the time they were happening, I had looked away to spare myself the unpleasant memories. On September 11 each year I am careful not to turn on the television. I saw much news footage in the first few hours of that day as events unfolded that is too horrible to contemplate and is still rattling around in my brain, imprinted on my too-sensitive visual memory. The twisted metal "sculpture" in the photo slideshow below was the communications tower at the very top of the World Trade Center.

After I had a couple of hours sleep to recover, the rest of the weekend was as delightful as I could have wished. We spent some time at Port Discovery, an incredible children's museum in Baltimore, where the girls and Jessica had the opportunity to paint their own faces. We had a delicious breakfast with Izzy at First Watch Cafe in Pikesville, observed people learning the trapeze along Baltimore's Inner Harbor, rode on the outdoor carousel there, and had a very leisurely lunch after Port Discovery at P.F. Chang. The girls were given Wikki Stix there instead of the usual crayons and were able to keep themselves amused all through the extremely slow but congenial service. We ordered almost every vegetarian offering on the menu and were very pleased with the food. On the way back to our car, we photographed Baltimore's Holocaust Memorial. We also revisited two of our favorite Chinese places, Michael's Noodle House, and Hollywood East Cafe in Wheaton.

Candi started a new job on Friday working for a company that produces wind energy, so I am losing my Tuesday/Thursday relief. The situation was great while it lasted. Saul and I had a private evening together on Tuesday at an unusually uncrowded Cheesecake Factory in King of Prussia Mall. I guess due to the stock market meltdown on Monday, both the restaurant and shopping mall were uncharacteristically quiet. Thursday, we were regaled with stories about the Galapagos trip by Larry over dinner at Red Lobster. Then, we had the best time watching the movie, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" with our 3D glasses. The movie was great fun and features my favorite movie star, Brendan Fraser. I was afraid I had already missed it in the theaters this busy summer. Fortunately, it was still playing and turned out to be a private screening. We were the only ones in the movie theater!

I'm really happy that Candi was able to find a job so quickly, but now I need to begin to make other arrangements for Mom's care. Perhaps eventually she will be able to recover enough to be left alone for short periods of time.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Getting On With Life

Friday we stayed in bed until almost nine. Mom ate a normal breakfast in the kitchen in her wheelchair and was sponge-bathed by the home health aide. I enjoyed getting out by myself for a few hours to shop for supplies while Saul caught up with computer work and Mom napped. I spent hundreds of dollars putting in supplies for the long haul as my freedom to go shopping at the drop of a hat will probably be limited in the future. My siege mentality always kicks in at times like these and I have to say that usually I make pretty good choices.

When I returned home, Jamie had stopped in for a visit and lunch, having been in the neighborhood earlier to see her holistic doctor, Susan D. Yatsky. I enjoyed spending the afternoon preparing Shabbat dinner and we were visited by Rabbi Tsurah August from the hospice service just as I was completing my challah dough. She made a comment about needing to say a shehecheyanu because it was the first time she had visited a home on Friday afternoon where a challah was being made. How sad! We wheeled Mom to the kitchen table and sat with Rabbi Tsurah to describe the circumstances that had brought us to this point. Then, we all held hands around the kitchen table while the Rabbi said a mishaberach. She was warm and friendly and extremely poised. There was not one awkward moment in the half-hour she spent with us, no small feat under the circumstances. Jessica arrived with Izzy in time for her to shape her own small round challah and paint the other four small rounds with egg and sugar glaze. For the first time in many years, we forgot to sprinkle them with sesame seeds and Beth commented that she liked the glaze better that way. Shabbat dinner was homemade chicken soup with homemade kreplach and matzoh balls, chicken paprikash, kasha and bow tie noodles, steamed cauliflower, sauteed portabello and maitaki mushrooms, Israeli salad, and peaches and strawberries dipped in individual bowls of warm chocolate for dessert.
Mom joined us for dinner. I was so exhausted after dinner that, after putting Izzy to bed, I excused myself from Jessica and Beth, who had cleaned up the kitchen, and went right to sleep.

Saturday morning, Izzy knocked on our bedroom door at 6:15 a.m., but Saul sent her off to her mother's room to watch cartoons in bed for a while. Having gone to bed early, I was up and making Izzy breakfast by 7:30 a.m. At 8:30, I woke everyone else to see if they were going to synagogue. Saul and Jess decided to go, but Izzy wanted to stay home and play. The novelty of having everything to herself (including me) without her sister around was irresistible. Ken and Randi stopped over with a container of cubed watermelon heart from Wegman's for Mom. He, Mom and Izzy took turns sharing them before they had to leave to prepare for some afternoon company and babysit Haley and Erik's new puppy, Ziggy. Ari arrived just after Saul and Jess returned home and, along with Beth, we all had leftovers for lunch. Earlier in the morning, Adele had agreed to come and stay with Mom for the afternoon, so I was able to accompany Saul, Jess, Ari and Izzy on their visit to Lion's Gate to visit Saul's Mom. We were caught in a huge traffic jam on the way there and the journey took two hours. G.G. Sima again was delighted to see us and seemed to know who we all were this time. We commented that her nails were beautifully manicured. Jessica had noticed that the artificial silk orchid plant right outside her room had been watered with a bottle of Deer Park that was sitting next to it. When we mentioned it to the aide as we were leaving, she nodded and said that Sima gets up in the wee hours, looks for things to do and is very helpful to all the aides. She used to get up at 4:00 a.m. every morning to manage a bakery for most of her adult life. She was always a terrific cook. I learned how to cook and bake from her. She kept a number of houseplants and helped Saul's father with the garden in the summer. I fear that most of the activities that once made her feel useful have vanished from her sheltered life at Lion's Gate. My fervent wish for my own life is that I am always the one to care for others rather than be cared for myself. On the way home, which was again clogged with traffic, we stopped at King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting Mall for dinner to have miso soup and sushi. I left Ari and Jessica watching television to go off to bed early again. I worked on the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle before falling asleep and found it to be a particularly difficult one having to do with puns.

Sunday morning I arose early again, gave Izzy breakfast, cleaned up the messes from the previous day, and finished the crossword puzzle with some help from Saul and Ari. Saul, Jess and Ari also had awakened reasonably early. Ari and Jess went out to the garage to clean up and load our full-size freezer into her SUV. I haven't used it since our Passover seders have moved to Jess and Alex's home in Baltimore two years ago. Then, Jess prepared herself to go to a wedding shower for local friends and left. About two hours later, Ari left with Izzy to babysit for Jess and Alex in Baltimore for the evening. Saul and I reached Beth's currently-unemployed friend, Candi, and much to our delight, she agreed to stay with Mom on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:00 to 9:00 p.m. so that we can go out together. She also agreed to stay with Mom this weekend so that we can visit the kids in Baltimore/Washington. I hope this arrangement works out well because it will provide needed income for Candi while she searches for employment and will also give us the leeway to get away together for periods of time and occasional brief vacations.

Mom seems to be growing a bit stronger now each day, although there are still some daily rocky periods and she is sleeping for many hours. At least the horrible swift downward spiral she was experiencing seems to have abated. Yesterday, I wheeled her from her bedroom out onto the deck and we sat quietly for two hours enjoying the beautiful blue sky and temperate weather until Saul returned from school at 4:00 p.m. I asked for the return of the physical therapist and she will be here today. Mom seems willing to push herself more for Sue than she does for us. Like caring for a baby, we worry about whether we are spoiling her, or whether we should push her harder to care for herself. In the meantime, I am awaiting Candi's arrival at 3:00 p.m. and looking forward to my afternoon out with Saul.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Not Actively Dying

The last few days have been an emotional roller coaster as I try to deal with the physical as well as spiritual aspects of Mom's decision to opt for hospice. Initially, it seemed that Mom was growing a bit stronger each day, but bad periods were still occurring where she seemed weak, shaky and disoriented. I was unsure in any given moment what should be my best course of action. Should I let her sleep for 20 hours a day? Should I coax her to continue to eat and drink when the hospice guidelines say not to pressure a dying person to do so? Should I even pressure her to get out of bed if she didn't want to sit in a chair? In the morning, even though we monitor her at night, I would walk down the hall to her room wondering if I would find her alive.

On Monday, I spent a half hour privately conversing with her hospice nurse trying to determine how close to death Mom might be. She was very non-committal. I asked her about the psychiatric nurse that she had told me would be visiting to decide if Mom needed medication for clinical depression. She said that since there was only one, she probably had not gotten to us yet because of a busy schedule. All Mom's vital signs were still good although she now had been off medication for 10 days. That afternoon, the psychiatric nurse called to schedule a visit for the following morning.

Tuesday, she and I spent almost an hour talking about Mom privately. During the course of the interview, she told me that Kathy, Mom's hospice nurse, has an uncanny knowledge of when a patient is close to death from her years as a hospice nurse. They often see the same patients and Kathy would let her know that she shouldn't have bothered. Linda, the psychiatric nurse, would be shocked, saying that the patient looked fine to her. In one particular incident like that, the seemingly stable patient was dead within three days. After she spoke with Mom and me for a while, Linda left saying that she would meet with Kathy and determine whether they thought Mom needed antidepressants. She asked me whether Kathy had given me any indication of the seriousness of Mom's condition and I told her that although I had tried to feel Kathy out, she had remained very non-committal, but that she had immediately shot down my hope that Mom was still reacting to her medication. Tuesday evening, thinking about these conversations, I was convinced that Mom was very close to death and that Kathy probably felt I was not ready to handle the information.

In addition, my niece Jamie called. She is the one with the "little angel" who wrote the very optimistic blog about her grandmother's condition. She expressed concern that we were sending out negative signals to Mom by encouraging her to sign up for hospice and by the way we were caring for her that would convince her that her imminent death was inevitable. I spent an hour on the phone with Jamie mulling over the sometimes subtle differences between encouraging someone to fight for their life and giving them permission and support to give up the fight when they feel it has become too difficult to continue. Each day that we were at the hospital, Mom would look me sadly in the eye and tell me that she didn't know how much longer she could fight the horrible feeling inside her. I think that by the end of the conversation, Jamie understood that we weren't really sure at any given moment whether to be cheerleaders or consolers. Adele called and offered to visit for a while and Saul and I took the opportunity to go out for an hour and have a sandwich together for dinner.

On Wednesday, Kathy came to examine Mom and again found her vital signs good. I was determined to try to get her professional opinion on the death issue. She told me that she had met with Linda and that they had decided that Mom did not need the antidepressant. I told her what Linda had said about her ability to predict and she finally seemed to understand what I wanted to know. As she went out the door, she said to me that it was her opinion that Mom is "not actively dying" and that she should make all efforts to enjoy what is left of her life. She also reminded me that Mom has a heart problem and is no longer on medication for it. Just because she is not actively dying does not mean she could not have a heart attack or stroke in the next five minutes. So could we all as we unfortunately learned with Saul last year. Right before his stroke, he had taken a stress test and passed it with flying colors. When she uttered the words "not actively dying" it was as though a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. At least I know now that I should assume the role of cheerleader and coax Mom to continue her fight. Kathy told me that it is all right to let her sleep as long as she likes and that she will wake up and ask for whatever she feels she needs to eat or drink.

Today, I was more relaxed and able to get a few hours of work done on the computer. The tension that remains now is finding someone to stay if we want to go and visit the kids for a few nights on the weekend. The situation now is surprisingly similar to having a new baby in the house. Roxy called this morning and asked if I would like a visit. I was delighted to have the diversion and we ate lunch here and spent a few hours rambling on about our lives. We still have many years’ stories with which to catch up. She left at 3:45 p.m. to avoid rush hour traffic on her way back.

Lately, I seem to need a two-hour nap to keep myself going. I left Saul with Mom around 5 p.m. and when I arose at 7 p.m. and wandered down the hall to Mom's room, I was surprised to find our long-time friend, Elaine, sitting on the bed conversing with Mom and Saul. She had called around 5:30 p.m. to ask about visiting and they had not wanted to wake me. When Mom grew sleepy, we continued our conversation in the kitchen over a light dinner.

Haley called in the late afternoon to say that she and Erik had chosen a site and set a wedding date of August 22 next summer. She asked me if I would make the wedding cake and I agreed.

I have really been enjoying reading the entries of my guest bloggers and the comments on those entries. I am very proud of Jessica. I know how difficult and daunting maintaining this change in her lifestyle must be. I have to say that I agree with Ari about being terrified of Sarah Palin being a heartbeat away from the Presidency. The more I hear about her, the more terrified I am becoming and I wish it were otherwise because there are enough other things in my life right now to terrify me. I am just happy for the moment that none of us appear to be "actively dying."

Some More Provocative Musings

I had the pleasure of Skyping with my cousin Shira Karanevsky in Haifa earlier this week, and, among other things, we had a brief discussion about the Presidential election. Shira and I share a passion for Israeli politics, and have had some epic late night discussions (in Hebrew, no less) about the world as it is and as it should be.

In any case, she asked me specifically what I thought about Sarah Palin, and all I could think of to say to her was:

היא נורא מפחידה אותי

which I'd best translate as "She terrifies me."

Then today, I stumbled across this AP interview with Matt Damon, where he pretty much says the same thing. I particularly enjoy the "bad Disney movie" analogy.

Anyway, my friend Tom has aptly pointed out to me that I, as a male, should avoid being drawn into any conversation or disagreement with a woman about what is or is not sexism, since a man can never win any point on that subject. Personally, as the token boy in the "immediate extended" family, I feel like I have that right--at least within this particular circle. Moreover, I often find that making provocative statements is a great way to start really intelligent and groundbreaking conversations.

So without further ado, I need to get something off my chest here. If a woman characterizes herself as a female dog--let's say for example, a "Pitbull with lipstick," is it sexist to call her a bitch? I mean, that would be in keeping with Merriam Webster's definition of the word, right?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008


It's official! If for some reason, the winner of the Reinvent U bootcamp of Summer 2008 is unable to maintain her workout and nutrition routine, I will take her place as the winner!

On Friday I participated in the closing ceremonies of the Boot camp. This included a fashion show featuring the boot campers (not a terribly flattering outfit on me, but I did not get to choose), and a keynote address by a local radio personality (horrible at best.) She talked for 30 minutes about all of the different weight loss trends she has tried over the years that failed, and then went into detail about how she now is working out at Curves and has lost 8 lbs. Woo hoo for her!

The rest of the evening was much more positive with all of us women taking a "walk of confidence" up to the mic to give a quick word about our own feelings about our individual accomplishments, a funny slideshow of our photo "outtakes" from the past 12 weeks, and a beautiful solo performance by one of our own.

The finale of the evening was the awarding of prizes. The top 5 women were all within 3 points of each other after adding up the number of pounds lost + inches lost + body mass percentage points lost. In the end I was the runner-up to the winner who beat me by 3 ounces. Yes! If I had worn lighter pants to the weigh in I would have won! I lost by the weight of a travel size bottle of shampoo!

The winner, of course, won $1000, a white diamonds watch, and a 1 year membership at the fitness center. I won a spa day at a local day spa, and a gift bag of assorted stuff. Yet amazingly, I am not bitter!

The woman who won was my workout partner Jeanette. 3 weeks ago, our group voted unanimously to have her make a speech at the closing on our behalf. She is a spirit filled woman who embodies the mission of Reinvent U. I joke with her all of the time about her smile which is one of the most amazing I have seen, and which gets bigger and bigger the harder she works! She will be an excellent spokesmodel for the program, and able to inspire others to take the challenge.

Meantime, I lost: 26 pounds, 5 inches around my waist and hips, and 6% of my BMI in 12 weeks! I feel great, and I have been to the gym twice since Friday. I am determined to make it to the gym on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturdays after Shul for my "me time," and to continue keeping my portions small and well balanced.

The next boot camp starts mid October (during sukkot) and is an 8 week maintenance program before the next 12 week starts. Frances has asked me to be a mentor for the next one, but I am worried about having too much on my plate already! (pun intended) We'll see after the mentor's meeting on Monday!

Sorry I haven't linked anything up, but I am stealing time right now. Maybe later I'll come back with the photos and links...

Monday, September 8, 2008

Taking Care of Mom

All my focus and energy has now turned to making sure that Mom is as comfortable and at peace with the situation as is possible under these trying circumstances. After fighting with us all to be alone during the two weeks we were on vacation, she has now become anxious that both of us will leave her alone. When she voiced this concern a few days ago, Saul assured her that she would never be left alone again even for a few minutes. For the next week, I plan to be with her 24-7. After that, Beth's friend Candy, who was just laid off and is searching for a job, will come and sit with her for a few hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays to give us some time off to go out together.

Mom spent all day Friday in bed. Unfortunately, there is more than just the spiritual component to this job of "primary caretaker" and taking care of Mom's physical needs is a large part of the job description. When I helped my mother physically care for my father for two weeks in hospice 15 years ago, I came to view this unpleasant responsibility as holy work. I have the highest regard for the people who do this type of work for a living. It is truly a shame when children treat kind people they have hired to care for their aged and infirm parents as menial labor.

Saul and I prepared a Shabbat meal based on food we had in the house. When Ken and Randi decided to join us for dinner, I asked him to pick up some tuna to grill on the barbecue. The tuna was delicious and grilled to perfection. The rest of the dinner was deviled eggs, red lentil and vegetable soup, Israeli salad, mashed potatoes and sweet potato bundt cake with brown sugar glaze. I was out of heavy cream for the glaze and substituted coconut milk. It was a good substitute. Although Rosh Hashanah is a few weeks away, I formed the challah dough into rounds instead of braiding it as usual. I made four small rounds so that I could freeze some of them for the High Holy Days. Our long-time friend Faith, who was supposed to have dinner with her family, changed her plans at the last minute and joined us. Mom expressed her desire all day to join us in the kitchen for dinner. When we saw how she was struggling, we suggested that she wait and we would wheel her in at the last minute. In the end, she declined the opportunity to be wheeled to the kitchen. Through dinner, we took turns sitting with her in her room. Randi was able to feed her three deviled egg halves and some soup. When dinner was over we all joined her in her bedroom and sat around the television watching the path of hurricane Hannah on the Weather Channel. Hannah is supposed to be followed by Ike and we all worry about Randi's sister Lori and her husband who live in Florida. Mom was relaxed and in good spirits.

Saturday, Saul and I stayed in bed until 8:30 a.m. and after breakfast, he worked on his laptop in Mom's room while I finished the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle and went back to sleep for a few hours. Hannah had arrived here and we were grateful for the opportunity to stay at home and just rest as the torrential rain poured down. In the afternoon I went upstairs to put away the last of the kids playthings from their theatrical production and was captivated by the sound of the rain on the large skylight. When I went to clean up the dollhouse that Saul's father had built for Jessica, I was absolutely shocked to find it as neat as a pin, a state in which I have never encountered it in the last thirty years of children playing with it. I dearly hope that doesn't indicate that one of our children has OCD. In the evening, I mentioned to Mom that I had had a beautiful comment on my May 15 blog about the carousel in Hunting Park from someone named Lulu in Russia. I read the blog entry to her from Saul's laptop on her desk and we spent some time reminiscing about life in Logan. We tuck her in at night now like we did with the kids all summer. She even has a blue blanket that makes her feel comfortable, just like Izzy. She has become so weak that she began to have trouble inserting and removing her false upper teeth. Saul, somehow, has been able to figure out just where to grab them to take them in and out properly. He is definitely a man of many talents!

Sunday morning, we were awakened by distressed calls from Mom on the telephone intercom at 6:00 a.m. She had stomach cramps. When I called hospice, it took me an awkward full ten seconds to remember my phone number for the nurse to call me back. She called back with a sleepy voice herself within five minutes. She recommended that we give Mom Senakot Sor Milk of Magnesia, a mild laxative. We had neither in the house and Saul drove over to the 24-hour Giant Supermarket to get them before we realized that we had Dulcolax in the house because Saul had a colonoscopy a few months ago. By the time he returned, Mom's pain had dissipated and she was asleep. We decided not to wake her and tried to go back to sleep ourselves. Saul succeeded for an hour, but I just tossed around and finally got up to have breakfast.

Around 9:30 a.m., Mom awoke feeling okay and expressed a desire to be wheeled to the kitchen. Once we got her there, she agreed to eat oatmeal for breakfast as she has done almost every day for the last 15 years. She sipped her oatmeal through a Chinese bubble tea straw and ate the same one-and-a-half cup quantity she usually eats. She also had two bites of the sweet potato cake before asking to be wheeled back to bed. She seemed satisfied that she had been able to finally get to the kitchen and eat something.

When I am overwrought, I cook, clean, and organize. These activities create the illusion that I am in control of my life. I began to prepare lunch about noon using up leftovers in the refrigerator and cleaning the drawers as I emptied them. I made a large bowl of tuna salad and potato salad. Adele had told me that our cousin Anne was coming in from northern New Jersey to visit her mother in Elkins Park, and son, who is at Penn. Anne wanted to visit Mom with her mother, Mom's younger sister. When she called to ask I was very pleased. Adele came for the afternoon at 2:00 p.m. bearing a broccoli kugel she had just baked and Anne and Aunt Ruth came a few minutes after that also bearing food and flowers. We all sat down and had lunch until Mom woke up. Saul had spent a few hours organizing some of the pile of papers we had removed from Mom's room. Mom was up to having visitors and after a short while, they convinced her to be wheeled outside her room onto the deck to enjoy the gorgeous weather that followed in Hannah's aftermath. Beth came over and joined us for a few minutes as well. We all chatted on the deck for about half an hour until Mom grew too tired and asked to be wheeled back to bed. She fell asleep after a few minutes and we all moved to the kitchen to chat for a while longer until Anne and Aunt Ruth left. Adele went to read in Mom's easy chair and Saul and I took a nap.

Several months ago, before I began blogging, I wrote an essay about my mother as my hero for a writing contest about which I learned from my writer's group. I have never read the essay to her because I thought it would be embarrassing. Now, I don't believe I could read it to her without breaking down. I am posting it here now and perhaps one of you will be able to read it to her when you visit:

Wise Words Over Dirty Dishes

“What’s the matter with you lately?” my mother inquires as we stand in our usual places by the kitchen sink, her washing, and me drying dishes after dinner.

“You seem so sullen since you started sixth grade.”

“Don’t you like your new teacher?”

Actually, I like my new teacher, but that isn’t what I’m thinking about. I know that everything I am thinking shines like a beacon from my face the moment I lose myself in thought. She must have looked up from the dishes in the sink as I allowed my mind to wander. I consider whether to even tell her why my face has assumed its troubled countenance. It’s not like she can do anything about it. It’s not like she could understand the pressures and disappointments of my sixth grade day.

I consider the stock answer. I can force a bright, cheery smile and say, “Oh, nothing! My teacher is okay.”

Maybe she will think that she misread my expression and leave me alone—something my eleven-year-old mind has begun to tell me is a desirable state. I consider this for a brief moment, but it occurs to me that this is a rare opportunity because my eighteen-year-old sister has begged off drying the dishes this evening to study for her first upcoming college midterms.

I decide that it will actually be a relief to bitch to anyone at all about my unlucky plight. I plunge into my woeful complaint.

“You know that girl who lives across the street, Karen Horvath?” I ask.

“Yes,” says my mom, “don’t her parents have a jewelry store downtown? She seems like a nice girl.”

“Yes, exactly,” I scowl.

“So what is your problem with her?”

“Okay, she is sitting at the desk right next to me this year. She has been in every class I have had since kindergarten, and my problem with her is that her life is completely perfect. I should know, because I have been with her in class five days a week since we were five. She is really smart. She gets all ‘A’s all the time. The teachers love her. Her parents buy her the greatest clothes, so she never looks stupid like I do with my chubby baby clothes with the puffy cap sleeves. She never has to wear stupid hand-me-downs like I do.

I rant on and on while my mother regards me patiently. She doesn’t even seem to get that I abhor her part in choosing my clothes. She doesn’t even seem to get that I am trying to say that her taste is atrocious. I decide to press on, looking for an argument, so that she will have to defend her taste and I can point out further examples of how ridiculous I think I look compared to Karen.

“She is an only child so she doesn’t have to put up with a bossy older sister and an annoying, mean, younger brother. Everybody likes her. Boys in our class even like her.”

I think about the girls in class who are already wearing training bras, not undershirts, like me. Karen, slim and pretty, has just the hint of development, while a few others in the class have already grown to need real bras. If a person could really turn green with envy, I would have been a florid shade of emerald.

As I rant on about Karen’s perfection and my egregious imperfection in every aspect of life, my mom continues to regard me with what seems to me to be infuriating indifference and lack of sympathy. Finally, receiving no argument, no defensiveness, and not even a reassurance that my life is not as miserable as claimed, I clam up.

She continues for a moment to regard me with a benign, somewhat concerned expression, and I think ruefully, either she hasn’t heard a word and is thinking about something else, or she just doesn’t care that I am a fat, stupid, ugly girl with nerdy friends and bad clothes. I have worked myself into a veritable frenzy of self-pity and have reached for the tissue box in the corner to dab at my teary eyes.

“You know,” she begins, “that in this world there will always be people who are richer, prettier, smarter and more popular than you.”

“Yes, I guess so,” I sniffle.

“Long ago, when I was a girl, I realized that jealousy was a totally unproductive emotion. If you allow yourself to wallow in it, it will make you feel bad about yourself for the rest of your life no matter how you improve yourself. It eats at you and prevents you not only from enjoying your successes, but the successes of your friends and family as well. No matter what you achieve, there will always be someone out there who is better, richer, or smarter. If you want satisfaction in your life, you had better learn how to keep jealousy out of your heart. I learned this at any early age and I have managed to rid myself of it. You will be happier if you do so as well.”

With that, my mother goes back to washing the dishes and I go pensively back to drying them. I start examining what I know of my mother’s life from an eleven-year-old standpoint and I find her faultless. Yes, there are many reasons why she could be jealous of other people. Her brother married a woman who told her point blank that if anyone in the family had a diamond ring, she would have the largest. If anyone had a house, hers would be the grandest. My mother continued to have a friendly relationship with this aunt despite her mean spirit and competitive words. I believe that she truly feels sorry for her sister-in-law who is consumed by jealousy over material possessions. She does practice what she preaches, I decide.

The next morning, I awaken determined to eliminate jealousy of other people from my life. At eleven years old, I have a fighting chance.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Summer's End

A good deal of time has gone by since I last wrote and, unfortunately, there is a good reason for that. I spent Thursday with Mom at the hospital waiting for an answer as to whether all the tests had been finished. She was miserable the whole four days she was there and despite all the good results on her tests, she continued to grow ever weaker and more distressed. A physical therapist was able to coax her out of bed on Thursday afternoon and, with great effort, she managed to walk with a wheeled walker out into the hallway and back into bed. We lobbied hard to get her released as the tests had all been completed and everything appeared to be normal. We managed to convince everyone that Mom would be cared for at home much more easily than in the hospital. Anxious to get back to her own bed, she smiled sweetly at everyone who was involved in the decision and told them she was feeling much better. They released her at dinner time and Saul, who had joined us after school, drove us home.

Friday, as usual, was spent shopping for and preparing Shabbat dinner. We were very excited because Ari was leaving work early, picking up Sami and Izzy in Baltimore, and coming to dinner. Because everyone was free for Labor Day Weekend and wanted to see Mom, we wound up being 14 people for dinner. My cousin Bob joined us along with Adele and Larry, Erica and the kids and Ken and Randi. It was quite a juggling act to care for Mom, shop, and get dinner on the table for 14. Ari got caught up in a tremendous traffic jam and was rear-ended by an elderly man who was unable to write down the information and asked Ari to do it. Miraculously, there was not even a scratch on either car and everybody appeared to be fine. The man did have a small cut on his forehead from bumping his head. Ari did not arrive for dinner until 8:15 p.m. having spent a total of seven hours on the road. Mom was too weak to come to the table and we all took turns sitting with her in her room. Dinner was strawberry soup, tilapia lamaize, Israeli salad, incredible corn on the cob and ice cream. We also had a few unfrosted Pinkalicious cupcakes and that is another story.

We were worried that Izzy would not want to come for the weekend after she had opted to stay home the previous week. She told her mother that she would be really happy to come if Bubbie would bake Pinkalicious cupcakes with her. Bubbie baked the cupcakes and on Sunday morning we made cream cheese icing and dyed it pink for Izzy and purple for Sami. Sami likes the book Purplicious better. Brenna joined us Sunday and helped decorate the cupcakes also.

Randi came to stay with Mom on Saturday while we went to synagogue with Ari and the girls. Adele relieved her at noon while we made the hour-long drive to Lion's Gate to visit Saul's mom as promised. We had lunch at a Cracker Barrel nearby. The girls were a little apprehensive and had lots of questions about G.G. Sima's new living arrangements. She was as delighted to see us as the previous week and the girls warmed up immediately to both her and the surroundings. Saul's mom immediately remarked on how big and grown up they both looked. She has not seen them in almost a year. She also did not seem too sure about Ari. They tossed a beach ball around in the atrium and played monkey-in-the-middle with G.G. When they discovered that the unit was laid out in a big square around the atrium, they did laps about five or six times. They found lots of playthings in one of the common areas that contained a mock kitchen with plastic food, a crib full of baby dolls and a box containing cheerleaders' pompoms and plastic hats. They put on a show for us pretending to be cheerleaders. After an hour, we could see that G.G. was becoming a bit anxious and we said goodbye.

Shortly after we returned home, I gave the girls dinner and put them to bed early. Saul drove Ari downtown to a western-themed pre-wedding barbecue at the Ethical Society. While I slept, Saul arose at 1 a.m. and brought Ari back home.

Sunday morning, Ari attended a brunch at his friends' Josh and Shira's house. After the girls frosted their cupcakes, while Adele stayed with Mom, we went to Beachcombers and had an absolutely glorious reprise of summer. Michael and Jennifer gave us a bunch of ground cherries from their garden, a fruit we had never experienced before. We liked them. We returned home by 5 p.m. so that Saul could drive Ari to the wedding at the Betsy Ross House downtown. After showers we all had macaroni and cheese and leftovers for dinner. Mom and Adele slept for most of the afternoon. Saul left again to pick up Ari around 1 a.m.

Labor Day morning it was time to pack up all of Izzy's summer things to send back home. I rushed around giving the girls breakfast, tending to Mom, finishing laundry and cleaning up the house. By noon, most of Izzy's stuff was packed and Adele arrived with Brenna, Ava, Erica and Larry. Eighteen-month-old Ava had surgery on Friday to remove tonsils and adenoids and to correct a problem with her foot. She was sporting a baby-sized cast and looked very unhappy. Beth joined us all for lunch and since it was a beautiful day again, we decided to squeeze in two hours on the last day of summer 2008 at Beachcombers Swim Club. Ari needed to get on the road and saying goodbye on this last glorious day was one of the most difficult things I have had to do in my life. Sami was teary as she sat in Ari's car and we hugged and kissed her goodbye.

Tuesday morning, Mom's nurse Eric came and examined her. Over the weekend, a fill-in nurse had come twice and had advised him of Mom's deteriorating condition and the fact that we had decided to discontinue all her medication when she was released from the hospital fearing that she was having a reaction to all that they had been giving her. Her list of medicines included: Lipitor, Cozaar, Actose, Glyburide, Metformin, Lopressor, and Leviquin. The endocrinologist had suggested replacing the Actose with Prandin. All of us have a history of over-reacting to medication and since nothing else had worked we all decided to try this. Mom was feeling so awful that she preferred to take a chance on possibly having a stroke or heart attack rather than go on living the way she was. Saul checked her sugar every morning to make sure it did not go too high or too low. Sunday morning Izzy watched the whole procedure while Saul explained to her what he was doing. She wasn't the slightest bit squeamish and all the while patted G.G. Evelyn's arm gently telling her that it would only hurt for a second like getting a needle. Since we had discontinued her medication and had promised her that she need never return to the hospital, Eric asked if we would like to switch to hospice services. We all decided that there was no down side to this decision for us and Wednesday morning, we were visited by a hospice nurse.

The hospice nurse discussed all the services that were available to us. Under the circumstances, and according to Mom's wishes to never return to the hospital and never again have an invasive procedure, Mom decided to opt for hospice care and was able to sign the hospice papers herself. Adele participated in this meeting on a speaker phone.
As we were finishing up, a home health aide named Kimberly arrived and the nurse and I sat at the kitchen table finishing up while Kimberly sponge-bathed Mom and finally washed her hair. Mom refused to get out of bed to be taken to sit in her shower saying that she was afraid of falling. We learned that we would never have to prick Mom's fingers again and that she could eat anything she felt like eating. Mom and I talked about her decision after the nurse left and she seemed to be quite at peace with it.

Today, her whole demeanor was different. She just seemed more relaxed and comfortable than she has been in weeks. Ken came over at lunchtime and met with the social worker who pretty much gave us the same information as the hospice nurse. Her physical therapist came and coaxed her into walking a few steps with a wheeled walker. She immediately went back to bed.
This evening, Ed, Beth's ex-husband, came for a visit. Beth ordered pizza and at dinnertime we were joined by Adele, Larry, Erica, Beth, Brenna, Ed, Jamie, Ken and Randi. Mom was able to feel Jamie's baby moving inside her and Erica gave her a much-needed manicure. Ed has been in Kuwait this whole year and is on leave and about to have knee surgery.
Larry left for his trip to the Galapagos Islands this morning and sent us a website where we can check up on the progress of his group.

I also called one of my biggest clients to relinquish an upcoming job that has a hard deadline. I gave them the electronic file for a large job that I have been doing for them for 20 years. I felt that, should Mom take a turn for the worse at the wrong time, I would not be able to handle the pressure of meeting the deadline--another ending to something that has been going on in my life for a very long time.

I can feel that enormous changes are coming that will change the comfortable and pleasing rhythms of the last 15 years of my life when I built my dream house, expanded my business, entertained and cared for my family and friends, and grew old along with my sweetheart. I have always greeted change with optimism and excitement and I hope to effect an even better future this time as well. Change is inevitable and adapting to new situations is a fact of life. I hope to create an even better 15 years to come, but with summer's end, it is difficult to imagine that autumn and winter can be anything but cold.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Our Little Angel -- No longer a bean.

Well, here I am again, at the request of my family, to post yet another blog and update you on the pregnancy progress and more. As you can see, it has been over 8 weeks since I last blogged on the site (that's 2 months for you non-pregnant folks who speak in terms of months, and not weeks).

We recently discovered that our baby is a girl. We have been calling her Our Little Angel most recently. Yep... she has graduated from Our Little Bean (especially now that she is more like the size of a small potato)! We have also chosen to do a light green and purple Tinkerbell-themed nursery. If you know me well, you are aware of my obsession with all things Disney.

Some of you may think I am absolutely crazy, but I have also chosen to give natural childbirth. No, Erica, I am not one of those freaks who says, "I don't care if the baby is backwards, I will deliver natural or die trying!" However, I am willing to go as far as I can (hopefully, all the way) and as natural as I can. Of course, if the baby's or my life is at risk, then I will do whatever is necessary to have us both come out healthy on the other side. As both Aunt Marilyn and my mom will tell you, natural childbirth can be done... and breathing techniques work! Just ask my Aunt Patty. She delivered 5 children ALL naturally (that woman is amazing!).

So I know you've all been waiting to see updated portraits of Our Little Angel. Without further ado...

The one on the left is her looking at the camera. And the one on the right is her profile. Uncle Saul scanned the pictures vertically, so it would look like she was standing up (essentially, you should picture me laying on my side). Haha!

In other news, I want to give a shout out to Ari...
Your last post is not controversial. It is true! It's time for people to WAKE UP to what is really going on in this country. I will comment more on this and the reason why I like Sarah Palin as a VP choice in another blog responding to your blog. I want to make sure I have all of my facts straight... and my head is fuzzy from tired baby brain at the moment. I want to be in full sparring mode when I make my political comments. I just want to add that a) I am a registered Democrat, b) I don't like Sarah simply because she is a woman and would NEVER vote for Hillary Clinton, and c) I think gun laws, abortion, family values, and a few other issues that the media seem to focus on cloud the VERY REAL issues of what is going on in our own country regarding economy, environment, healthcare, and education. I think it was Orson Welles who said, "The media do not tell us what to think, only what to think about." We all need to wake up and start dealing with the things that really matter to the American public (like Ari said).

Also, I just wanted to say, before I say goodnight...
I am really glad I got to see Grandmom today. She seemed sick and frail, and I am not just being my normal optimistic self here, but I really feel like this is a sick phase she is going through... and I believe she will get better soon. The color came back to her face after my mom fed her ice cream. She seemed scared when she felt a pain in her chest, and then shortly after that she belched (twice - haha!), the fear went away and she realized she just had some gas. It was almost comical. She reminded me that it wasn't a joke (like her normal feisty self), so I could tell that everything was ok. She talked to Andy and I for a while (and believe it or not, SHE did most of the talking). That was when I noticed both of her eyes were open and clear. She was very alert and we were keeping her mind off of any pain or discomfort. I can tell that she wants more than anything to meet Our Little Angel and to see Haley get married. I believe and pray that she will be around and healthy to witness both events.

With love and thanks for allowing me to speak my mind... I bid you all a good night.