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.

1 comment:

sabasenders said...

I just love to read your posts. It reminds me of the wonderful life we lead together.
I am so proud of our children, and their children. Life is good.