Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fringe Benefit (by Jessica)

It's been a while since I posted last, but with good cause. After wrapping up the summer bootcamp, I was asked to become a mentor for the fall bootcamp. I accepted with great pleasure (especially because that means that I can attend the bootcamp at no cost) but also because I know that I am the type to be extra motivated to "lead by example." As a teacher this has always been my M.O.

Little did I know at the time, that one of the fringe benefits of my healthier and leaner lifestyle over the summer was that Alex and I are now pregnant with our 3rd child! For those of you who have known us for a long time -- YES this is a GOOD thing! After much thought, discussion and consideration of our future, we decided it was now or never. With Alex's acceptance of a 5 year contract, we know that we are here for a while. Izzy will be going off to Kindergarten in the Fall, and Sami is getting more responsible and able to help out more around the house. I have a job that is flexible and work with a staff of people who are all like family. It seemed like the perfect time.

I am due on my sister-in-law Naomi's Birthday (May 21st) and that is perfect too since Alex's school year will be coming to a close, and most of the family will either be off or more available for the summer months. Now, I just need to get past the crippling nausea/exhaustion stage and into the "invincible" stage of pregnancy that should start right around Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I am still a mentor for the bootcamp, which started 3 weeks ago, and which has been even more fun than the first with everyone watching out for me and patting my recently bulging belly affectionately. I am the only participant who is not competing for inches lost. Everyone agreed that I was exempt from having my waist and hips measured! :)

Nonetheless, I am finding it to be very challenging to restrict my calories and sugars etc. when I need to eat every couple of hours to keep the nausea to a minimum. While carbs are good for my stomach on the inside, they are not so great for the belly on the outside. The good news is, this stage is temporary, and my doctors have advised me to continue working out normally as long as I don't over do it.

In case you were wondering, the girls are also ecstatic, and Izzy has made it her business to inform everyone she meets that "her mommy has a baby in her belly!" The only snag is that both girls have decided that they only want a sister. I told them I would do what I can, but no guarantees. With our family's track record the odds are not in our favor!

I know that Jamie posted her ultrasound pictures, but my doctor is not that technologically advanced. Suffice it to say we have pictures of our 6 week "grain of rice," and our 8 week "lima bean." Our next shot at 14 weeks should be a little more "Tweety bird-like!" Even after the first 2 kids had weekly ultrasounds, Alex still has no clue what he's looking at, so don't feel as if you have missed anything! :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Snow!?! Ice!?!

OMG! I did not choose wisely! Yesterday's post was about bringing in my beautiful summer potted plants, trees and herbs. I thought we would bring them in today as Saul spent most of Sunday making space for them in the garage. When I opened my bedroom blinds this morning, it was raining hard, very depressing considering that we should have been celebrating a long-awaited Phillies victory in the World Series and six innings into play, the game was cancelled due to a torrential (and unexpected) downpour. But then, I noticed what looked like a few large snowflakes among the drops. "No, it can't be," I thought, "it must be just lots of small leaves blowing down in the wind." As I gazed in growing dismay, within 10 minutes there was no doubt that large snowflakes were falling in what began to resemble a blizzard. Within two hours, everything was blanketed with snow and ice and I could barely see across the street. I called Roxy, who lives about 45 minutes away in Yardley, and she told me it was only raining there. After a while, I called Saul at school in Chestnut Hill, about 30 minutes away in the other direction. He said that (oh my!) there were a few snowflakes mixed in with the rain. I turned on the weather report and discovered that I was in a small pocket of heavy snow brought in by a nor'easter. The station was reporting that Lansdale, one township over, was reporting an inch-and-a-half of snow on the ground. By then, I was really beginning to worry when it would stop, not only because of fear of losing my herbs and pet potted trees, but because very large trees around the house were bending over precariously from strong wind and the weight of heavy ice on not only branches, but leaf-covered branches! Thankfully, the worst appears to be over as I write this. The snow has changed back to rain and the ice has melted off the trees. We should have taken another hour on Sunday and brought everything inside. Who knew?! Certainly not the people who planned the logistics for the World Series. There was a big scramble to put up the team from Tampa Bay because every hotel room in the city was filled. They had to be quartered in Delaware.

Among my garage denizens are a kaffir lime tree that I brought home in the car several years ago after a trip to Key West with my brother and sister-in-law; a carob tree that I grew from seeds spit out of a carob pod eaten at a Tu B'Shevat seder at least 25 years ago; a bay leaf tree that I gave to my father-in-law as a tiny stick of a potted plant and that he nurtured almost until he died and which is about 20 years old now; and a miniature fig tree whose cuttings reside vigorously in various residences all over the East Coast, now about 9 years old. Although the fig tree itself has been very hardy, this is the first year that it has actually produced some figs. I feared that it was sterile. As you can tell, I am as attached to these demanding warm-weather life forms as some people are to their pet poodles. I feel about as bad about my decision not to bring them in until today as you would feel if you inadvertently left a dog outside on a freezing cold night. I hope I can make it up to them :-P.

On a happier note, I found the energy last night to actually set up the related recipe blog that I had envisioned in an earlier posting. I am very pleased with the initial results of my efforts and you can link back and forth between the two blogs with the link in the upper corners. I hope you will enjoy having easy access to these family favorites. I know I will enjoy not having to search through faded pieces of paper, old magazines and newspaper clippings any more.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Beauty of Dahlias

I have always gardened in an area that is subject to frost, Zone 6, if you know anything about gardening in the continental United States. At this time of the year, the temperatures are beginning to drop to near-freezing at night. I have begun my yearly ritual of deciding on which day to bring all my tender potted plants into the garage for the winter. It is a tug-of-war on my heart because just now is when all those tender, warmth-loving plants are at their most beautiful. Bringing them into the garage for the winter means that they will languish and some will die, but for a while, I will continue to have fresh herbs for my meals and flowers to cheer me through another few weeks despite the frost. When I designed this dream house of ours, I made two mistakes. One was that, although I provided for three large windows in the garage, I failed to provide for heat. The other was a pre-fab fireplace that is way too small.

handle the frost situation in a very interesting way. My gorgeous riot of colorful flowers and lush foliage wither away into dry nothingness during the cold days. I have to remind myself to water the pots from time to time during the winter because they appear to be completely dry and bereft of any life. There are actually tiny tubers left in the soil that amazingly bring forth new shoots shortly after I bring the pots outside in the spring. By this time of year, I am awed by the vigor and beauty that result from warm sunshine, water, and a little plant food. How awesome that these flowers resurrect themselves every year from dry nothingness and multiply in strength and beauty! My youngest grandchild, Daniella Izzy, has the Hebrew name Dahlia Yaffa, which means "beautiful dahlia." I hope she will be as resilient as these flowers.

I was shut in most of this past week, unable to arrange for coverage for Mom during the last of the two holidays of this High Holy Day season, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. During Shemini Atzeret, there is a yizkor service during which we remember loved ones who have died. I asked Saul to recite yizkor for my father. Simchat Torah is a joyous celebration that marks the end of the Torah-reading cycle for this year and the beginning of a new cycle where we begin again at Beresheet, or Genesis. It is marked with dancing and singing and an opportunity for everyone to have an Aliyah, the honor of being called up to the Torah during its reading.

When I was a child growing up secular in a Jewish neighborhood of Philadelphia called Logan, the celebration of Simchat Torah was my only exposure to my religion. A few houses away on the block on which I lived was the home of the dynastic Tolner Rabbi, Moishe Twersky, at 8th and Rockland Streets. On the evening of Simchat Torah, the very Orthodox congregation would spill out of their tiny confines to dance spirited horas in the wide driveway that ran down the back of our homes. On that night, they did not seem to mind the rest of the neighborhood joining in their celebration. The rest of the year, what the serious, black-coated and hatted men from the neighborhood did inside was a great mystery to me.

Being home-bound is not a great hardship for me. Once my work deadline was met, foodie that I am, I spent whole days cooking things to use up leftovers in the refrigerator. Frequent shopping at Costco results in over-purchasing beautiful produce at remarkable prices. This week, I made bread pudding, apple-plum compote, spanakopita, sauteed mushrooms with linguine, cream cheese and olive spread, gruyere apple spread, Israeli salad, kohlrabi coleslaw, purple sweet potato cake with brown sugar glaze (which looked pretty horrible, but was very tasty), chicken satay, leek and potato soup, vegetable miso soup, two carrot cakes, and more pumpkin cookies. Only Beth joined us for dinner on Shabbat. She had a great vacation in Arizona and came back tanned and relaxed. Unfortunately, she told us that Ed, after his knee surgery, and against his doctor's advice, had taken a vacation in St. Lucia. When he returned, he developed a blood clot that broke apart, and he is currently in the ICU at a hospital in Florida, near his parents' home, so that the doctors can thin his blood to break up the clots and make sure they do not travel to dangerous areas.

I also read a book this week, given to me by my friend, Jan, who sits next to us in synagogue. Jan is a hospice nurse, and the book is called "That You May Live Long" by Richard F. Address and Hara E. Person. It provides advice and insight to caregivers from a Jewish perspective and was very helpful to me because reading about the experiences others have had in dealing with this difficult situation made me realize that my problems are not unique. Neither are they as bad as many of the situations described. The book clarified some of the stickier moral issues of my dilemma as well. The only quibble I have with it is that, because it is a collection of the writing of many authors, certain points are repeated over and over, and these are some of the drier, more abstract, and less practical aspects (read boring) of the moral lessons.

Saturday night, the Philadelphia Phillies won their second game of the World Series. The beginning of the game was delayed by rain and they did not begin to play until almost 10 p.m. Because of that, we were up until three in the morning. Yesterday, I cooked and baked while Saul began preparing the garage to accommodate our leafy bounty. At 3:30, Adele came to stay with Mom, and we made the hour-long drive over to visit Saul's Mom at Lion's Gate. As usual, she was delighted to see us and looked relaxed and well-cared-for. After an hour's visit, though, she seemed anxious that we get on the road home. Perhaps that was because it was beginning to grow dark outside, or maybe it was because we were interrupting her routine. She told us that some friends from her old neighborhood had come to visit her recently and were very impressed with her surroundings and new lifestyle.

This coming week, I have arranged for Agnes to stay with Mom during the weekend so that we can travel to Baltimore and Washington again to visit our children and grandchildren. Leslie Fine from Fine Care will be coming today to make a new assessment of our situation.

I have also decided to set up an additional blog, coming soon, that will be linked to this one and will contain the recipes for a lot of the food mentioned in here. Roxy sampled the kohlrabi coleslaw last week, loved it, and I didn't really have a recipe to give her. My niece, Erica, also had wanted to make it, but my general description of how I concoct it did not produce the proper results. Yesterday, as I was making a fresh batch, I measured my quantities so that even I can duplicate it exactly the next time.

You may have noticed, if you are a regular reader, that Saul has tweaked the blog to include more advertising, New York Times headlines, a new search engine, etc. Please feel free to take advantage of these new features.

For now, I am hoping I am able to maintain my balance as the cold weather approaches. If I am destined to have cabin fever this winter, I hope to make the cabin as warm and comfy as possible so that when spring returns I will be able to meet it, like the dahlias, with renewed vigor.

Monday, October 20, 2008


Besides being a great medium for building delicious houses and cookies, gingerbread is also used as a noun for describing unnecessary or quaint decoration. I haven't written for over a week and that is because my week and my life has been filled with delicious gingerbread. In Judaism, we have a custom called hiddur mitzvah. It is our way of taking a commandment and beautifying it even more. An example would be that we are commanded to build a rudimentary sukkah in a certain way, but decorating the inside and setting up a beautiful table there is performing hiddur mitzvah--adding the gingerbread, or beautifying the commandment.

Last Monday was very depressing for me, although it was definitely perked up by an unexpected and spontaneous visit from my dear friend Roxy. I had worked all day Sunday to meet my deadline in the hope that some opportunity would present itself on Monday that would allow me to spend Sukkot with my children and grandchildren in Baltimore. I was glad I had spent so many hours on the computer because I was able to relax and chat with Roxy, but after lunch, when she left, I was so depressed about not being able to get away that I climbed into bed and didn't have the energy to do anything more. After about half an hour, when I couldn't fall asleep, I forced myself out of bed and forced myself to make what I thought would be a futile phone call. I called Leslie Fine of Fine Care, who had made an assessment visit to our home over the summer, (see blog post of Wednesday, July 2, entitled Monday and Tuesday at Beachcombers) and asked if she, by any chance, could provide a live-in companion for Mom for the following two days. To my unbounded delight, she thought that she could, and after a few phone calls, she did. She arranged for a woman named Agnes to meet us at 7:30 a.m. the following morning at our local train station. We agreed to take Agnes back to the station on Wednesday evening by 7:00 p.m. Beth came over while Saul and I ran out to get some supplies and we all had a lovely, lantern-lit dinner on the deck. Mom was okay when I told her what was planned. Then I gleefully began to pack our bags.

There was a big glitch on Tuesday morning when Agnes called at 7:15 a.m. to say she was on the train and Saul went over to pick her up. Because of her heavy accent and the fact that she was unfamiliar with trains, first she missed the proper train, then she got on going the wrong way, and then a nasty conductor insisted that she was not getting off at the right station and sent her on to the next one. While someone from Fine Care frantically tried to ascertain her whereabouts, Saul languished at the station for almost two hours and finally, he drove to the next station to pick her up. By the time we arrived at Chizuk Amuno in Pikesville, Maryland, services had just ended. The upside was that we were just in time for an incredible luncheon in the atrium of the synagogue. The synagogue erects a large sukkah in the middle of their atrium with smaller sukkot around the perimeter. Each sukkah had a different array of foods set out buffet-style. The large one housed soda and lemonade, macaroni and cheese, ziti with tomato sauce, fruited kugel and a large assortment of pastry and cookies. Another had Israeli food--salad, felafel, hummus, baba ganoush, tahina, and pita. One had wraps with tuna and egg salad and Caesar salad. One had hors d'oeuvres and one had a make-your-own-sundae bar. We sat at scattered tables under the trees and hot sunshine and had lunch with our family. I took a nap back at the kid's home during the afternoon and then cleaned up the kitchen from Alex's elaborate preparations for dinner in their sukkah. We had an amazing dinner with three generations of a family that has been at the synagogue for five generations. Alex made lentil soup, sushi, artichoke halves with oil and garlic, baba ganoush, curried turkey, roasted chicken, blue mashed potatoes and steamed cauliflower. For dessert he served fresh fruit salad in an elaborately carved watermelon which was accompanied by chocolate babka. In between courses, Sami and Izzy played hide and seek inside with the two little girls who had joined us. The weather was perfect and the sukkah, which is screened to protect Alex from the bees to which he is deathly allergic, protected us from mosquitoes as well.

Ordinarily, I sleep at Ari's condo in DC because of my allergies to the dog. But because Ari was in San Francisco for business most of the week, I decided to try a night in Baltimore. Between the fact that we were outside most of the time, and that I sleep with a CPAP mask that filters my air, I was able to stay there without too much discomfort from my allergies and hay fever. The CPAP, which is prescribed for sleep apnea, also has had the added benefit of eliminating the hay fever that has plagued me since I was nine years old. I often wonder why they don't prescribe it to people suffering from severe hay fever. In addition, I no longer have to take all those antihistimines that dried out not only my sinuses, but my hair and skin as well.

Wednesday, we attended Alex's children's service for which he has written his own siddur. He puts out enough energy during the hour of this service to light up a city. Inside the main sanctuary, we watched a lively costumed production of a story in which a lonely wealthy man surreptitiously places challot inside the ark for God. A very poor caretaker finds them and considers them a gift from God. When, after a time, the truth is discovered, the rabbi intercedes to explain that both have performed a mitzvah and the wealthy man invites the poor man's family into his home to share his Sabbath bounty--our own Jewish version of Dicken's Christmas Carol. The play was done with much humor and enthusiasm. Then, the congregation adjourned to the atrium for a repeat of the previously days' luncheon. After an equally delightful repast, we schmoozed for a while back in the kids' sukkah and headed for home. We stopped and picked up some pizzas at Costco and had dinner with Mom and Agnes before taking her to the train. Adele had come on Wednesday and dyed Mom's hair. When she accidentally dropped the comb on the floor, Agnes grabbed it, washed, dried and handed it back to her before she had a chance to bend down. When we commented to Ari about her "germophobia," Ari commented that we had hired her for the wrong grandmother :-). Mom was very happy with Agnes and said that any time she called her, Agnes was at her side. In the few minutes that I was showing her around the house before leaving, I had assumed that Agnes was from Jamaica because of her thick accent. Wednesday evening, I learned that she is actually from Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa that she told me dolefully has been suffering through a war for 11 years.

Sami was off from school on Friday for an in-service day, and I was supposed to meet Jess halfway on Thursday evening to pick up the kids for Friday and Saturday and return them on Sunday. At the last minute, we decided that the expenditure of gas and time for one day of school was wasteful and I brought both girls home with me. On Thursday, we spent several hours together baking gingerbread men and women and a gingerbread house. Then we made the dough for pumpkin face cookies. Back when Adele and I had a catering business together, we had two special jack o'lantern cookie cutters made by the metal shop teacher at Cooke Junior High where Saul taught for 16 years and where we had first met as students. Adele and I make molasses/oatmeal sandwich cookies that are filled with spiced pumpkin butter. We used to send them to our clients as gifts. They are my favorite cookies and are Jessica's favorite as well. In the late afternoon, I took the girls over to the large playground at the Gwynedd Township Park to get some much-needed exercise. They awakened me at 4:00 a.m. on Thursday and I sent them back to their room, but on Friday, they slept until 6:00 and didn't wake us until 7:30 a.m. After breakfast, I cleaned up the house and worked on the computer. In the afternoon, we continued making pumpkin cookies and while I went out to shop for dinner, the girls helped Saul get ready for Shabbat. Beth is vacationing in Arizona this week so our only guest was Larry Shipper. The soup course was a serendipitous find at Costco--Amy's organic soup. A case of 12 kosher pareve cans included lentil and minestrone. Both turned out to be delicious and Izzy had two bowls of the lentil. We also had hydroponic lettuce with Russian dressing, leftover mashed potatoes, Alaskan salmon burgers, black and white rice, and for dessert, the pumpkin cookies and ice cream.

Saturday morning, Saul took the girls to synagogue while I stayed home with Mom. He had wanted to take the girls to visit his mother, but felt that it would be too much for him without me along for the long ride back and forth. While they were gone, I filled in the gingerbread cookies with royal icing to prepare the brides and grooms for Haley and Erik's engagement party Saturday night. After lunch together, we tucked the girls and Saul in for a nap while I worked on a challenging New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle. Adele and Ken had stopped in for a meeting I requested regarding Mom's monetary situation on Friday afternoon and Adele helped pick out an outfit for Mom to wear to the party. It was going to be her first time out of the house since I brought her home from the hospital at the end of August. After I helped the girls shower and dress, I went off to shower and dress myself while Saul supervised the girls as they finished decorating the cookies. Mom had managed to dress herself, but refused to let me set her hair. It still looked pretty good, though, and I just combed it for her and gave it a little hair spray. As the time to leave grew near, Mom called me on the intercom in a panic saying she couldn't catch her breath. I realized it was anxiety and calmly asked her to come into the kitchen to help Saul and the girls with the cookies. The distraction worked and other than some shortness of breath as Saul was helping her into the car, she was okay. Everyone at the party commented on how wonderful she looked.

We arrived at the party at Ken and Randi's house right on time. The girls were very proud of their cookies. The finished downstairs of the house had flooded when a neighbor had removed large trees and regraded the property behind them. After a lawsuit, Ken and Randi had spent several months ripping out floors, rugs and walls and redecorating. The results were beautiful. Haley and Erik were glowing also. There were many children to keep the girls amused. The food was yummy and plentiful. Randi's neighbor, also named Randi, regaled us with a Sarah Palin impersonation. We tucked in two tired children and their great-grandmother about 10 p.m.

Yesterday, we needed to leave the house by 7:00 a.m. to be in Baltimore in time for a Sukkah hop by bus for Sami's religious school class. Every other morning, the girls were up by 6:00 a.m. Yesterday, I had to wake them. Adele came early and stayed with Mom all day. Jessica, who is programming director for the Pearlstone Retreat Center, was managing a large conference on all things "green." After dropping Sami off, we headed over to help Jess set up, but when we called her to say we had gotten lost, she was freaked out about the lack of preparedness of some of her partner organizations and said she preferred that we not be there too early. We stopped at a coffee shop called Snickerdoodles where Izzy had a giant butterfly sugar cookie with hot chocolate made from white Ghirardelli. Saul had pumpkin spice coffee and I had cafe au lait. In the course of our lost meanderings, we watched a fox lumber across a corn field. It was the first time Saul and I had ever seen a fox in the wild. Then, we decided to go back to Jess and Alex's house to wait for Alex and Sami to finish school. Saul had school work to finish. After a while, Ari joined us and I convinced Ari to accompany me to take the girls to Port Discovery instead of to the green conference. Saul stayed behind to finish his work. Alex stayed behind to mow the lawn. By 4:00 p.m. we were all back home and Jess was disappointed that we had not come to the conference because, after her initial freak-out, she had pulled it all together beautifully. Of course, we had no way of knowing that. We sat in the sukkah and had tea and cookies and discussed next summer. Jess had been planning to send Sami to Camp Ramah in the Poconos for the summer. The previous evening, they had decided not to send her. The rules had changed and she was no longer eligible to spend a full summer at her age, only a half session. The half session costs five thousand dollars. A full summer costs $7,200. The half session is only three-and-a-half weeks. Considering the cost, we could all take another two-week fabulous family vacation in Hawaii with our timeshare. Camp Ramah will have to wait another year.

About 5:00 p.m., we headed for home taking the long, scenic and relaxing route over Route 1 and the Conowingo Dam. Adele said that she and Mom had had a good day together.

Today, Saul was up early to take Larry to the train station before school so that Larry could be at the airport in time to catch his flight to the Far East. He will be visiting Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar with his sister and brother-in-law. All this was planned before the recent cyclone and we thought for sure that the Myanmar leg would be canceled, but it is proceeding as planned. The photos from this journey should be quite interesting and I can't wait to hear about this adventure. I spent most of the day on the computer catching up with work before Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah begin this evening. I sent the unfinished gingerbread house and icing home with the girls to finish, but I kept a few of the leftover cutouts to nibble on to remind me of my wonderful gingerbread-like week.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


We are all news junkies in this household, Saul especially, even when we watch our frivolous stuff on television. Saul likes reality t.v., like "The Amazing Race" and "Survivor." I like cooking shows. Mom has always loved game shows like "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune," and "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" In between, what we all have in common is that we switch back to the news, usually CNN these days, when we are not watching the "Today" show or the regularly-scheduled local news. In between, as we work, there is the Internet. Lately, that has meant watching our economy implode or watching presidential campaign promises of how it will be fixed. My tendency, and Mom's as well, is to want to switch it off. I spent most of my week worrying about how bad things could get here as we watched the snowball growing bigger and faster as it rolled down the mountain toward other world economies. Saul seems to be able to watch it and compartmentalize the pain and worry so that it does not affect his whole day. I wish I could!

During Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services this week, Rabbi Howard Addison continued on his theme of the blasts of the shofar. Teruah, (the blast that is an alarm call to the community to come together) was an exploration of the personality conflicts between the Biblical twins, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob grew and became more whole as a person, becoming Israel only when he was able to incorporate some of Esau's character traits into his own personality. By contrast, Esau was never able to incorporate Jacob's character traits into his personality and did not grow. The sermon was a call to examine ourselves, our personalities, and those traits that we find distasteful in other people to find ways to temper our behavior and grow as human beings. This call to introspection and spirituality is especially welcome right now when the trappings of materialism are being stripped away. The tekiah gadolah (a blast that is sustained and echoes for a moment even when the horn ceases to be blown) was a call to reflect on the effects that those who came before us have on our lives and the effects that we will have on those who follow us.

The fast for both of us was among the easiest we can recall, probably because of the temperate weather. Adele joined us for dinner on Wednesday evening before Kol Nidre and stayed with Mom until we returned. We had a dairy dinner--home-made challah, apples slices dipped in honey, cream of cauliflower soup, salmon burgers, roasted garlic and sauteed onion mashed potatoes, Israeli salad, baba ghanoush with pretzel chips, chocolate rum cake and creamy bread pudding. I invited our friend, Elaine, who joined MBI-EE this year, to break the fast with us. We had Sabra and Frangelico cordials, home-made date bread, apples and honey, challah, orange juice, sesame bagels and cream cheese with smoked kippered salmon, sliced tomatoes, red onion, cucumbers, red bell peppers, and leftover chocolate rum cake and creamy bread pudding. Ken came to stay with Mom most of the day and Adele relieved him around 4:30 p.m. so we could go back to synagogue for the beautiful Neilah service. The final sounding of the shofar, which marks the end of the holy day and the end of the fast was at 7:07 p.m. We had come home and set the table in the afternoon and Mom had tried to stay awake to join us, but finally gave up and went to sleep shortly before we arrived home. Adele remained and broke the fast with us.

Friday, Saul and I spent the morning catching up with our long-neglected gardening work. Mom seemed to be rejuvenated by spending most of the previous day with Ken. She had awakened by 9:00 a.m. and had breakfast in the kitchen. Then she took herself outside to sit on the deck while we worked. When the aide came to bathe her, she agreed to sit in the shower for the first time in months rather than be sponge-bathed in bed. When the aide left, I set her hair for the first time in months, as well, as she sat on the deck. When she finally went inside to nap, I removed the rollers and combed her hair and she looked so wonderful that I grabbed her hand mirror to show her how great and relaxed she looked. The weather has been glorious, neither too hot nor too cold with only gentle breezes occasionally wafting through the trees. I spent the whole afternoon on my computer work as I now have a deadline coming up again, while Saul continued weeding, caught up with his email, and got Shabbat dinner underway. Our friend, Faith Rubin, joined us for dinner along with Larry and Beth. There was not a lot of work to get dinner together this week because we had so many leftovers. I took my home-made round challahs from the freezer. I had bought a bag of frozen, individually-wrapped, Hawaiian ahi tuna steaks at Costco and had defrosted them. I seasoned them with salt and pepper, coated them with evoo (extra-virgin olive oil) and dipped them in black and white sesame seeds. Then, I seared them on both sides in a very hot cast iron skillet. They were delicious! I think perhaps they were even better than the fresh tuna that I usually buy, probably because they were flash-frozen on the ship when they were caught. I also made cole slaw substituting kohlrabi for the cabbage and Saul and I together prepared fresh spinach salad with hot non-bacon dressing that included hard-boiled eggs, avocado, fresh mushrooms, cucumber, red onion, and tomato.

Yesterday, while Saul went to synagogue, I stayed home with Mom and finished a very challenging and clever Sunday New York Times Crossword puzzle that involved the word "typo" with one letter being a typo in each of the clues. Unfortunately, on the way home, Saul developed car trouble, apparently the alternator beginning to go. He arranged with a friend who has a used car dealership a few minutes away to drop it off. The car died on the way over. He called AAA where we have priority service to have it towed the rest of the way. He called me to tell me that they said the tow truck would be there within the hour and that he wanted to conserve the battery in his phone. An hour-and-a-half later, when I was unable to reach him by phone, I apprised Mom of what was happening, made her promise not to walk around until I returned, and made sure she had her cell phone handy. I found him still sitting in the dead car waiting for AAA. He had not answered my call because they had put him on hold for a long time while they tried to determine what was taking so long. The tow truck finally came about 15 minutes after I arrived and followed us to the dealership which was already closed for the evening. As we were pulling up to the dealership, Beth called to say that she was with Mom. She had called while we were gone and when Mom told her what had happened, she came over to keep Mom company until we returned, which was a big relief to us. Another interesting part of the story is that while Saul was stranded, a breath-takingly beautiful African-American woman had noticed him stuck there for a long time as she had done an errand, and stopped her car to go over to him and offer assistance. He was overwhelmed not only by her beauty, but by her kindness and concern. When we returned, Beth stayed and we all had dinner together, again dining on our delicious leftovers.

While working on the garden on Friday morning, Saul had a short chat with our next-door neighbor, Alan. He and his wife Judy are both retired teachers with new careers, like Saul. As Alan was preparing to leave for work Thursday morning, his employer called to say that he was laid off and not to bother coming back to work. Alan said he had over $90,000 worth of orders for new kitchens he had designed, but the employer said that no new work would be coming and that his services would no longer be needed. His wife's business, which involves selling custom-made children's clothing and bedding items at craft shows has fallen off 40% and is likely to get worse as the financial crisis deepens. He told Saul that, although he had been president of the Young Republicans Club in college and had never voted Democratic, he was planning to do so now. When Beth came to Shabbat dinner, she was very disconsolate over the fact that there had been another round of lay-offs at Toll Brothers where she works as an engineer. A newly laid-off friend there had just adopted a baby after several years of trying to have a family only to discover that his wife had become pregnant. Another friend had been working for Toll Brothers for 17 years. Toll Brothers is the largest home-building company in the United States. Beth told us last night that she had offered to be laid-off first because she is single and felt that she would not have much trouble finding another job. Evidently, they decided to cut elsewhere.

Our big vice expense-wise is eating out, although the places we frequent are relatively inexpensive. We have begun to curtail these activities, not only because we can no longer leave Mom alone, but because it is far cheaper to eat at home. My family always tells me that I have the best restaurant anywhere here at home, but I am always curious especially to experience other ethnic cuisines and learn about new and unfamiliar ingredients. I only hope that the economy does not get so bad that I have to cut down on my food at home as well. I feel sorry for the people who only experience a good meal when they eat out and I am also worried that all the wonderful "mom and pop" local ethnic restaurants we frequent will close up as we all begin to cut back on our expenses. Owning and managing a restaurant is a precarious business even in good times.

As I watch the bad news unfold on CNN, I want to reach out and smack the newscasters as they smile, smirk and giggle their way through their broadcasts. Apparently, as they wisecrack with each other, most feel that they are somehow immune to the lay-offs and curtailing of luxuries to which they have become accustomed in their lives. Perhaps they have been coached to put on a happy face while presenting the sobering facts. There was quite a bit of giggling when I saw a financial adviser suggest that weekly manicures and pedicures were not a necessity and might be a way to cut back on spending. One newscaster was appalled when another suggested he might give his children hugs for Christmas this year instead of the usual array of stuff, all this taking place while Americans contemplate the far-reaching effects of a dismal Christmas shopping season this year. When we cut back, think of all the people who will lose their jobs--the restaurant managers, waiters, dishwashers, suppliers of restaurants, delivery people, manicurists, retail personnel, and the list goes on…

People who think that, because their job is relatively secure, the economic situation at the moment will cause only a little blip in their lifestyle for a short time have not really thought through all the implications and are kidding themselves. Greed at the top of society has brought about an economic crisis of world-wide proportions. I only hope that in solving this crisis, we will bring about a better world that is cleaner, fairer, kinder, and not given to wasting our resources to produce useless junk.

Monday, October 6, 2008


Saul thought I should use this title when I told him I was going into my office to write my blog. I decided that I liked the ambiguity of it. On the pleasant side, it is another word for autumn and the weather has been crisply cool in the mornings and at night, and perfectly temperate in the afternoons. After my initial hopeful efforts gardening in May and June, everything has been neglected all summer as we went on a two-week vacation, Mom's health deteriorated, and now she can no longer be left alone even for a few minutes. In previous years, I used to go out early in the morning to water and pull weeds. That has not been possible for at least six weeks now, plenty of time for the weeds to become giant and grass to put down its impossibly strong roots in places where it doesn't belong. Saul is on a five-day fall break from teaching this weekend, so yesterday, he went out to patch up those carpenter bee holes (see blog of Wednesday, May 7) and do some repair work on the deck before winter. Most of the holes are right outside Mom's bedroom. Unable to resist the beautiful day, I ventured out at the same time to begin weeding my trays of herbs that ring the gazebo. I left the sliding door in the kitchen open with the screen in place. As Saul was walking by carrying a large ladder, Mom began to call him urgently from the kitchen. I had just stepped down from the deck and in my hurry to rush in, I tripped, having not lifted my foot high enough, and hit the deck hard bruising my leg and cutting my hand. Seeing my distress and establishing that nothing was broken, Saul dropped the ladder and ran in to see what Mom wanted. It turned out that she wanted him to turn on the television in her bedroom. When he saw my cut hand, he returned to me with antiseptic and liquid band-aid. I just sat and cried for a while out of sheer frustration. Then, he went in and I went back to weeding. He came outside a little later when Mom had eaten lunch and gone to sleep and together, we finished weeding, removed and dumped planters that had mostly gone to grass and removed dirty and unsightly piles of leaves with a mulching leaf vacuum. Enough herbs and flowers had survived the neglect that I spent the last hour before darkness gazing out the window at our spectacular handiwork.

Today, when the aide came to bathe Mom, we took the opportunity to get some more work done outside. Unfortunately, she did not let us know when she left. Saul's cell phone rang and Adele and Larry were freaked out because Mom had fallen in her bedroom and couldn't get up. Adele had been talking to her on the house phone and she couldn't find her cell phone, so Adele had called the cell phone. In her hurry to find the cell phone Mom had gotten out of bed and slipped. She was unhurt, but insisted that Saul help her up. We each grabbed her under her arms and lifted her onto her feet. Her cell phone was exactly where it was supposed to be, in a bag that is attached to her walker. She is badly shaken, not so much by the fall, but by her dependence on someone else to help her up. We are feeling bad that we seem not to be able to leave her alone even for fifteen minutes.

I have not had a whole lot to say about the candidates in this upcoming election because Ari has always been extremely interested, informed and articulate about politics and I have always sought out and, most of the time, deferred to his judgment. As soon as he was old enough to read, he would be making assessments of local candidates and advising me when I took him into the voting booth with me as a child. He was a very unusual child! This evening, before I began blogging, I checked my email and there was a transmission from the Obama campaign with a link to a specially-prepared 13-minute You Tube video about the connection of John McCain to the Keating Five. I was not very knowledgeable at the time it was happening about the details of the case. The financial aspects were very complicated and the events had little or no effect on me personally. I half-watched a documentary about the Keating Five a few months ago, long enough to learn that John McCain had been acquitted. I decided to watch the video this evening. When I was finished, I Googled Charles Keating and decided to see what Wikipedia had to say on the subject. I finally began to understand that the details of the situation in our economy right now are just a hugely magnified repeat of what happened with the failure of savings and loans in 1989. Everything I have learned about the current economic situation points to the fact that government deregulation in our capitalist society leads to corruption in business. If we do have regulation and our legislators are in bed with our regulators, that also leads to corruption. I don't understand how anyone of intelligence could vote for another Republican knowing that the party has always been for government deregulation. In view of the current circumstances, and particularly because John McCain has been personally and publicly involved in this very thing before and continued to push for deregulation up until the shit hit the fan, I don't understand why anyone would want to see all this chaos pushed under the carpet in the next administration while American taxpayers are again bailing out the very institutions that defrauded them in the first place. I fear that if McCain is elected, the status of the United States in the world will fall because of failure to punish those who engage in bad business practices that bleed the American taxpayer and weaken our allies' financial status throughout the world.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

On Beyond Zikaron

This title is an obscure reference to my favorite Dr. Seuss book, "On Beyond Zebra," in which the young narrator postulates more than the 26 usual letters found in the English alphabet with florid engravings representing fanciful creatures in an imaginary world. This particular book is my favorite Dr. Seuss because it represents a salute to those who think "outside the box" and gives a glimpse of the fascinating possibilities of an imagination gone wild. The Rosh Hashanah holiday that has just ended this evening is also known in Hebrew as "Yom Zikaron Teruah," (the day of remembering the sounding of the shofar). This is because we pray that God will remember us and inscribe us in the metaphorical book of life. Considering the financial crisis in this country at this particular moment, I think it is easy to see that big changes will be upon us in the coming year and it will take great imagination and a willingness to cull that which is truly valuable in our lives from that which is frivolous and wasteful to succeed in bringing a better world into fruition in the future.

Rabbi Howard Addison's sermons the last two days centered on the first two sounds of the shofar, the ram's horn that is sounded as part of the liturgy of this holiday. The first sound that is blown, called "tekiah" represents simplicity. His sermon the first day called upon us to examine our values to develop a true appreciation of what we really need in our lives to make us happy--that material possessions beyond a certain point do not necessarily create happiness and often cause great misery because greed was the motive in pushing for more and more. Today's sermon had the theme of "brokenness" represented by the sound of "shevarim." Rabbi spoke about Isaac and how he was the most broken of our three fathers for many reasons, most famously that his father almost sacrificed him on an altar at God's command. His life was redeemed and some of the pain assuaged, however, by his loving (and unusually monogamous) relationship with his wife and children, suggesting that we can heal the broken parts of our lives by concentrating on improving our relationships with others. Of course, I am taking an hour's worth of sermons and boiling them down to a few lines. There was much more of interest and much depth contained in the theme of the sounds of the shofar. I enjoyed the services and sermons very much.

Our friend, Elaine, joined our synagogue this year and I invited her to join us for lunch. Mom felt up to joining us for a short time in the kitchen and I wheeled her into the living room in the late afternoon after she had slept for a while to join us for a few more minutes before she went off to bed for the rest of the evening. Her therapists seem to feel that she is beginning to give up and, like me, don't know whether to try to push her to keep doing more. I suppose I am reassured that even the professionals who deal with this all the time are unsure of what course of action to take at any given moment. If I knew what was expected of me it might make the job easier, though.

This afternoon, Saul and Ari Skyped with Saul's cousins in Israel, Shira and Mark, and Sylvia. We found out that Saul's aunt (his father's sister-in-law) has been placed in a Jewish assisted-living community in New Jersey. Tomorrow, hopefully, we will find out if it is Lion's Gate where his mother has been living for two months.

Ari arrived back home in D.C. safe and sound this evening, loaded with leftovers. Jess called this evening also to let us know that she and Alex and the kids, as well as Alex's parents and a number of their friends had a wonderful holiday as well. Now we proceed "on beyond zikaron" (remembrance) bravely and hopefully into a new year.