Monday, December 29, 2008

The Eight Nights of Chanukah

The week flew by with Izzy with us for the first three nights of Chanukah. During the week, she accompanied Saul on a bunch of errands, delivering some work for me, going to the bank, dropping off some small packages for friends at Chestnut Hill College, etc. Afterwards she went upstairs to the playroom and created a lovely pink “happy painting.” Saul took down our box of Chanukah decorations from many years ago and together they went around the house and hung them while Saul regaled her with stories about the decorations made by her mother and cousins. She loves to be in the kitchen as much as we do, so we were in the midst of making yummy sufganiyot when our friend, Susan, came to visit for a few hours. Mom was not having a good day, but we were able to persuade her to come out of her room to visit for a few minutes. One afternoon, I took a nap while Saul and Izzy made bread pudding for Mom’s breakfasts. I filled, frosted, and decorated a carrot cake that had been in the freezer since Thanksgiving.

Wednesday was spent in preparation for the arrival of Jess, Ari, and Sami. Alex was working USY’s International Convention during the week and couldn’t join us. Jess was working only a half day, and Ari’s office had decided to close on that day of Christmas Eve, so they were able to get a relatively early start. Beth had the day off also. Saul and I had spent the morning preparing a festive meal for this rare occasion when we would all be together. In the afternoon, Ken and Randi called and had no plans, so I invited them as well knowing that we would have plenty of food. Everyone pitched in before dinner and, after lighting our Chanukah candles, we had a very relaxing, beautiful, and delicious meal. We had fish lamaize, which was especially good prepared with the frozen cod steaks from Costco. I had some duxelles that had been hanging around the freezer for a while, so I made an hors d’oeuvres that was beloved from our catering days, Bouch ees Savelli. We refer to these generally as hot cheese and mushroom puffs, but they sound a lot more exotic when we use their French name. They can be frozen after baking and rewarmed, but they are even better eaten directly after they are made. I took my homemade potato latkes from the freezer and we ate those sizzling from the oven with sour cream and applesauce. Saul prepared a vegetable lasagna with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. We had the carrot cake and chocolate Texas Sheet Cake squares, left over in the freezer from Larry Shipper’s birthday, with coffee from our new French press coffee pot, a Chanukah gift from Larry that evening. We put the girls to bed with a story from the new pop-up book, The Tales of Despereaux, that we had given Izzy for Chanukah topped with a “Shmuel” story from Saul.

Thursday, I made everyone cornmeal pancakes for breakfast. We lounged around the house all day. Jess has been taking long naps whenever she has a chance because of her pregnancy. Beth and Adele came with Brenna after lunch  and the girls played and watched movies for several hours. I baked my challot a day early so that we could take the girls to see the new Despereaux movie on Friday afternoon, and Izzy and Sami helped me make 100 knaidlach for the soup which we froze on cookie sheets.

I slept late on Friday as I had been up during the night with pain in my left arm again. As soon as the pain goes away, I forget to be careful of it and I seem to find new ways to strain the arm again. We arranged for Mom’s volunteer from hospice, Marianne, to stay with her from 11:30 a.m. I readied whatever I could for dinner and we left in two cars to see Despereaux. Beth, Ari, and I picked up the tickets, while Saul, Jess and the girls picked up Brenna. We met at Wegman’s for lunch. Everyone walked around and got whatever they wanted and then we met upstairs in their cozy dining area. It was a great place to take the kids on many levels. We didn’t have to worry about slow waitstaff, there is a nice kosher section, and upstairs, the kids could get up from the table without causing consternation. We arrived at the movie theater just in time for our 1:30 p.m. showing. Beth and Ari bought each of the girls a tray with popcorn, Skittles and a drink with which they were delighted. The movie was fun and enjoyable, but not the blockbuster I was expecting after seeing a glowing review from Gene Shalit.

When we returned home, everyone pitched in to get Shabbat dinner on the table in time. I had invited Marianne to stay, but she was a little overwhelmed by so many new people, and said she would come back another time. For dinner we had homemade challah, homemade chicken soup with knaidlach, wilted spinach salad with apples, oranges, pecans and cashews with a hot maple, orange, and sesame dressing, smoked sliced turkey in gravy, previously done on the Weber Kettle and frozen, kasha and bow ties, black and white rice, and baked sweet potatoes (a little heavy on the carbs, but we each have our favorite), cranberry apple chutney, kohlrabi coleslaw, and Israeli salad. For dessert we had frozen pareve chocolate mousse crepes with Morello cherries from Trader Joe’s.

We had made plans to spend the rest of our time in Baltimore and DC until after New Year’s Day, so I write this blog post from my laptop in Ari’s bedroom. Agnes came to stay with Mom and we left after Shabbat was over on Saturday night. We had dinner at the girls’ favorite Chinese buffet in Plymouth Meeting Mall, King Buffet, where they eat their fill of load-your-own miso soup with lots of tofu and seaweed (they actually do love this), wonderfully fresh sushi with real slices of tuna and salmon atop the rice, and ice cream. Jess drove our SUV down to Baltimore with the girls while Saul, Ari and I drove directly to DC in Ari’s Prius.

Yesterday, I found my nirvana… and totally unexpectedly! Alex’s sister, Naomi and her husband Matt were moving from an apartment to a condo in DC. Alex drove in from Baltimore yesterday morning to help them, and a bit later, Jessica came in our car and dropped the girls with us at Ari’s home so that she could go on to help in whatever way she could. The weather was unseasonably warm, but the skies were cloudy and gray and rain was predicted, so the zoo was not a great option. We checked online to see about children’s programs at the Smithsonian, but the same children’s show was playing that we had seen last year. We feared we would encounter huge crowds as we had the day after Thanksgiving. Ari mentioned that he had heard good things about a nearby attraction called Glen Echo Park. When we checked online, we found that they listed a Frosty the Snowman production at 1:30 p.m. We left knowing little more than that about Glen Echo Park.

As we parked the car on their lot and began crossing a rustic bridge leading to the park over a wide and scenic creek, a number of families began trickling out. We assumed we had just missed some happening, but the last family out assured us that there were several performances throughout the day. We passed a number of unusual round buildings called yurtas which house various art classes that are offered at the park, some of which were open with works for sale. Then, we came upon a beautifully painted restored building, just like the one I remembered, that housed a restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel just like the one I had loved as a child at Hunting Park. Peeking through the windows, I couldn’t believe my eyes! Here was the whole vision intact and lovingly restored in this little neighborhood park in Maryland that had been an amusement park at the turn of the last century. Unfortunately, it was closed for the winter and is not due to open until May, but just knowing that it is there in all its glory waiting for spring weather to return is enough to make my heart soar. In addition, a tour was being given at noon and the doors were opened so that we could go inside the building for a closer look. The girls had climbed onto various animals before we realized that it was forbidden in the winter and the tour guide chased them off. Even the machine for the brass rings was still there intact. There is an interesting history to the carousel as well for a protest was staged there because it was one of the last places in Maryland to be integrated.

We arrived at a puppet theater first that had a production of The Nutcracker that was just letting out. We felt as though we had arrived a little too late for everything, but were assured that another show would be starting within the hour. A little further down we found the production of Frosty, but it was sold out. We went back and purchased tickets to the Nutcracker performance. Then, we waited out the few minutes until starting time at the playground of the park, where the girls went on the swings, sliding boards and other apparatus. Admission to the park itself was free. As it turned out, The Nutcracker was one of the best shows I have ever seen for the price of a $10 ticket. It took place in a gem of a little restored theater and involved live characters in elaborate full head masks and beautifully crafted and mastered marionettes. I have been to performances of the Philadelphia Ballet’s Nutcracker that were not as imaginative nor kid-friendly as this. A granny-like, bubbly attendant arranged everyone so that the smallest children were sitting right in front of the stage and, although there was no dialogue, even the smallest paid rapt attention to the colorful action up front and throughout the theater. At the end, the actors removed their “heads” and revealed themselves. We purchased a first print, limited edition storybook that supports the production with photos from the production. One of the actors took it backstage to have it signed by all of them for Sami.

After a few more minutes at the playground and a trip to the very clean restrooms, we headed out for a late lunch at a pizza place in Bethesda. By the time we returned, Alex and Jess had finished moving Naomi and Matt and were ready to return home. We lit the eighth night Chanukah candles with cousin Sylvia joining us on Skype from Israel. She is very worried because her son, Eli, is in the army, and with the problems in Gaza, every moment that she is not sure of his whereabouts is tense. In addition, or perhaps because of the tension, she fell and broke her two front teeth and banged up her face. There is not much we can say except that our thoughts and best wishes are with them during these trying times. 

Ari had stayed at home to finish up some work and was hungry, so we headed out to Michael’s Noodle House in Rockville for dinner. On the way back, we picked up some ice cream for dessert at Whole Foods. We ate it in front of the television and went to sleep.

This morning, Saul and I were supposed to be in Baltimore by 9:00 a.m. to take the girls to Port Discovery while Jess and Alex were at work. About 20 minutes into the trip, Jess called to say that Sami, who had developed a low fever and headache during the previous day’s outing, was still not feeling well and that Alex was working from home and staying with the girls for the day. We turned around and went back to Ari’s house, dropping him off at work and spending the day resting and catching up with work, as well as downloading our photos and writing this blog post. This evening, we picked Ari up after work and went to Adas Israel here in DC to say yahrzeit for Saul’s father who died on the last day of Chanukah several years ago. Then, we drove out to College Park to try a new kosher shawarma place, Pita Plus. Ari had heard about it on a neighborhood blog called The Prince of Petworth. We all had shawarma laffa which was delicious, authentic-tasting, and reasonable for kosher food. The laffa was so fresh, that it must be made on the premises or nearby. There is no ambience, but the restaurant was filled with both Israelis and frum families, a good sign.

Jess called this evening to say that the Pearlstone Center where she works has decided to close until after New Year’s, so technically, we are off the hook for baby sitting tomorrow as well. I hope that whatever impromptu plans we make tomorrow will turn out as well as our encounter with Glen Echo Park did, but I don’t know how we can possibly top the day we had yesterday.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Feel Good Weekend

Catering special dinners for 100 to 150 people makes me nervous. There is nothing like the potential of somehow failing to feed hungry people who have paid for their dinner to raise your blood pressure. I guess I let myself be talked into doing these things for the same reasons that people go skydiving. When everything goes according to plan, the experience is exhilarating. Just like skydiving, there seems to be an infinite number of unpredictable variants that can cause things to go wrong—malfunctioning ovens, bad weather, illness, overcooking, undercooking, etc. I let myself be talked into doing this again because I knew I had an even better support system than the last time.

I was not disappointed. We all had a great time putting this dinner together and working together in the kitchen. Preparations went so smoothly that we did not even have to go in on Thursday as I had planned. Saul and I used the day to rest and catch up with odds and ends around the house. Ari was able to leave work early on Thursday and arrived here during the daylight hours. Beth came over for a while to stay with Mom, allowing us to go out together to grab a sandwich for dinner.

An icy rain began early on Friday morning. Ari and I went out to a nearby dollar store to pick up some additional foil trays for the potato latkes. Beth took a half day off on Friday and the three of us left around 1:30 p.m. to do the final errands which entailed picking up flowers, ice, and some additional paper goods. Adele was supposed to stay with Mom if Mom was not up to attending the dinner, but between the icy weather and the fact that Adele was developing a stomach virus, I arranged for Ken to stay with Mom instead. I think Mom was disappointed that she wasn’t going, but I had no way of knowing if the weather would take a turn for the worse and leave us stranded in some way. That also meant that Saul could not leave the house until 5:30 p.m. I wondered what kind of attendance we would have.

As it turned out, I had more volunteers who arrived by 4:30 p.m. than I knew how to put to work. Beth took over the part of the dinner that absolutely paralyzes me with fear, namely, the warming of all the food with limited oven space so that the chicken is neither dried out nor raw and everything is ready and hot when the time comes to serve everyone. She did a masterful job.

Produce Junction had beautiful roses that were in sturdy packaging of 25 for $8.50. With some additional greens, statice, and baby’s breath, we had elegant centerpieces for under $45.00 for 13 tables. I had scattered colorful dreidels and silver foil-covered chocolate Chanukah gelt on the tables along with rose petals we had purchased for a dollar. The dreidels kept not only the children amused, but quite a few adults as well and the chocolate was a great nosh for the “eat dessert first” people.

The evening began with a short and meaningful service at which our new choir debuted. I had a few really poignant moments at the end of the service when the choir lovingly harmonized Shalom Aleichem,” welcoming the Sabbath. In those few moments all the senses were satisfied. Beautiful traditional harmony filled the air. Eyes were greeted by the carefully prepared tables. The scent of warming potato latkes and roses was in the air. The room resonated with the anticipation of a warm and welcoming evening among friends. The opportunity of being present and responsible for those few moments was the exhilaration of my skydive. After that, the ethereal feeling was replaced by the nitty gritty of making sure that the dinner that followed ran smoothly. In this I was assisted by an appreciative and able crew. The dinner ran as smoothly as anyone could have wanted and I was personally thanked so many times I was embarrassed. The rain and ice were gone when we were ready to go home, and had not kept more than just a few people away.

The menu for the dinner was: wine and grape juice, challah, tilapia lamaize on Boston lettuce cups, marinated salad, boneless chicken breast with peach-apricot sauce, string beans with cashews, potato latkes with applesauce, maple pecan pie, plates of hand-made chocolates, coffee and tea.

Saturday, Saul, Ari and I all slept in. In all the excitement, none of us had realized just how tired we had become. After a late breakfast and a challenging Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle that took a few hours, I found I still needed an afternoon nap. After the nap and a light dinner, I was ready for bed again by 11 p.m.

Mom rallied somewhat this weekend with her visits from Ken, Ari, Beth, and today, Izzy. Jess sent Izzy to us with her other grandparents who were on their way home after being in Baltimore this weekend for Alex’s brother’s daughter’s second birthday party. When 4-year-old Izzy spontaneously reached up to hug her great-grandmother, I observed that Mom was shedding tears of joy at seeing her again. She spent as much time with Izzy as she physically could, but more and more she retires to her bed in frustrated exhaustion. We have also noticed that her sundowning syndrome has worsened lately. We had hoped that it had been mostly caused by her over-medication, but now, that does not appear to be the case.

Ari and I went shopping at Costco and Giant this afternoon when this morning’s delicate icicles began to melt. Our friends Susan and Paul were supposed to visit today, but begged off because of the ice. As we were pulling into the parking lot, neighbors from our old neighborhood whom we hadn’t seen for many years, Vince and Fran, crossed directly in front of us. We were able to connect with them for a few moments, and I hope we will be able to see them again when the rush of the holidays is over. Ari left around four to have dinner and light Chanukah candles with his sister in Baltimore on his way back to DC. This evening, we woke Mom and lit our Chanukah candles. I warmed up some potato latkes I had prepared and frozen a while back for dinner with sour cream and applesauce and made some pasta as well—a lot of carbs, but then, the weather makes us crave comfort foods.

Ari arrived home safe and sound, and Izzy couldn’t wait to get into her pajamas and be doted on by her two adoring grandparents at bedtime. I read her Purplicious, and Saul regalled her with “Shmuel” stories about his childhood Chanukah experiences in Israel. She was sound asleep by 7:45 p.m. I am looking forward to having the family together here this week for a few days when Sami finishes school and the others are off for Christmas.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Winner Winter Dinner

I feel so good about today that I must write about it this evening, even though I am very tired. There is enough material in the last 24 hours to fill a number of blogs, and my family complains that I am too long-winded. Nevertheless, I will try to condense everything that pleased me into a few short paragraphs before I head off to bed.

Mom had not been feeling well for the last few days and had barely gotten out of bed. This morning she was up and having breakfast with us by 9:30 a.m. She was much better and in good spirits.

The cookie evening last night made me realize that, although our family bickers and we get on each others’ nerves much of the time (like most families, I imagine), when we finally decide to cooperate on something, we are able to move mountains, as evidenced here by our joint production. Ken picked up three large delicious pizzas at Spatola’s on his way here. We all sat around the table for a while eating, socializing and reminiscing (with perhaps a little bellyaching thrown in) before we got around to the work of sorting everything out. Everyone spent some time with Mom commiserating about how she was feeling. Everyone seemed to leave with a sense of contentment and accomplishment. Cookies can do that for people sometimes.

Everything was organized and ready to transport to begin work on the new members dinner by the time Marianne, Mom’s hospice volunteer, arrived to stay with her. They seem to be developing a nice rapport and Marianne seemed genuinely pleased to be here. Saul and I took a ride over to the new Trader Joe’s that just opened nearby to get the Grade B maple syrup for the maple pecan pies I will be baking, and they had just restocked their shelves. As an inveterate foodie, I just love the ambience at Trader Joe’s. The staff is inordinately friendly. The samples, delicious.

We arrived back home just in time to meet Betty and Jerry who were volunteering to help us prepare the dinner. In the only glitch of the day, we had a misunderstanding, and while they had driven themselves to the synagogue, we were waiting for them to arrive here before leaving. This set us back an hour which, because everything else went so smoothly, did not affect our plans for the day adversely or cause us to finish up later than expected. In fact, we were able to get more done than we expected. While we were waiting for them, I decided to check my email and found a friendly letter telling me that I was a finalist for a recipe blog contest for Pom. That really floated my boat! I didn’t remember what the prize was and had to go back to their site to learn that I was in the running for a $5,000 grand prize. There was also a lovely thank you note from the executive director whose newsletter I had been working on for the last few days.

Even though a light sleet fell throughout the day, we were able to purchase all the ingredients for the marinated salad for 100 people from Produce Junction for under $20, and in just a few minutes! The restaurant where we were supposed to meet for lunch, Rizzo’s, was closed, but we had a really nice meal at a new and cozy Asian bistro, Jasmine, I spotted just around the corner. We made it back to the synagogue to begin unloading just in time to meet our other volunteers, Larry and Natalie. Despite the bad weather, everyone was in good spirits, feeling that we were preparing something wonderful and enjoying each others’ company. From my experience, this type of atmosphere enhances the taste of the food, a weird karma thing I have noticed over the years. The special crackers (Nish Nosh) I had brought back from Baltimore for the office secretary pleased her immensely.

Marianne was relieved by Janet, a fellow congregant who volunteered to help out, and who is a professional hospice nurse. Evidently, the whole day for Mom went on without any glitches as well and when we returned home, she was all smiles.

I made a large omelet for dinner and Saul began working on downloading the prepared video from Eliezar’s birthday party in Israel. Saul said it is great. I haven’t seen it yet, but perhaps it will appear here in a few days if it is a compatible size or can be compressed. I spent a long time schmoozing on the phone with both Ari and Jessica this evening. That always pleases me.

So far, I am well on my way to recreating all the good feelings of last year’s new members dinner. I hope the next few days will go as smoothly. Especially after today, I am really looking forward to them.

Monday, December 15, 2008


What a difference from last week! I was really glad I went to the emergency room last Sunday night because, otherwise, I would have worried about the pain in my left shoulder and arm all week. It was a lot easier when I couldn’t find a comfortable spot while sleeping to know that it was muscle pain keeping me awake. Last night was the first night that I wasn’t awakened by the pain and I can feel that it is dissipating a little more every day.

Saul and I both suffered from overdoing everything these last two weeks since Thanksgiving. His joints suffer when he eats too much salt and retains fluids. My stomach suffers when I eat things like pickles and chocolate. We have both been very conscientious this week and both of us are beginning to feel dramatically healthier. We have unfortunately discovered that, at this age, a few days of falling off the wagon and a worrisome downward spiral begins to develop.

The weather was rainy and cold most of the week—a good time for nesting. Saul enjoyed his finals week, finishing up everything, including grades, for the semester last Thursday. During the week he cooked pancakes for his students at Chestnut Hill College, a college tradition, and attended some meetings and celebrations. I didn’t mind hanging around the house, cooking and baking. I like my nest a lot.

Friday, Larry had a Masonic funeral to attend and did not join us for dinner. Only Beth joined us for Shabbat dinner and was so tired out by her week that she was especially delighted that her nest is right next door. Dinner was homemade challah, chicken soup with Saul’s delightful dumplings, smoked turkey, kohlrabi coleslaw, black and white rice, and pareve chocolate mousse crepes. We had the peace of knowing that Ari had returned safely (and triumphantly) from his business trip to Austin, Texas, when we fell asleep that night.

Ken stayed with Mom while we attended services at Melrose B’nai Israel-Emanu El on Saturday. Rabbi Addison spoke again about the necessity for Jacob to absorb those characteristics of Esau that were distasteful to him as a child in order to grow as a person, to develop compassion and understanding of others to enable him to make peace with his brother. When we arrived home, we had a leisurely lunch of leftovers and took a long Shabbat nap—very restorative. Saturday evening, while Saul made some more bread pudding for Mom and watched t.v., I tried to catch up with my computer work and did some blogging. We slept late on Sunday morning. Beth agreed to come over for a couple of hours to stay with Mom so that we could shop together to finish gathering everything we need to prepare a new members dinner for about 100 people next Friday at the synagogue.

Mark, Saul’s cousin Shira’s husband, sent us some photos from Saul’s cousin, Eliezar’s, 60th birthday party this past weekend. I can’t believe how old we are all becoming! The last time we actually visited them in Israel was in 1990. Back then, we were middle aged. We all look like we remember our parents looking, now.

Last night and this morning I was able to make the final tweaks to my publication so that it is ready to go to print. Tonight, the family is coming here for pizza and cookie swap. Tomorrow and for the next three days, everything will be about getting the dinner together. Various congregants have agreed to stay with Mom. I hope the weather will be nice and that Mom will be up to joining us there for dinner on Friday. Last year, there was a warm and wonderful atmosphere and ambiance to this dinner. I hope I can help duplicate that feeling again this time.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Winter Blahs and EKGs

I hesitate to call this past week a bad week, because all has turned out okay in the end. As you can tell if you have been looking at my other blog posts, I have been making a lot of cookies, a pastime that is very Zen for me. As a matter of fact, Beth came over one evening and we quietly sat for a few hours while I iced and she decorated gingerbread bears. I have added the photos to the gingerbread people blog post. While doing that, we watched an episode of The Simpsons, and the children’s animated movie, Cars, on television. Baking cookies was a great way to start the month and hopefully put me in a good frame of mind to deal with the rest of my week.

One of the hospice volunteers who comes to visit Mom is a Holocaust survivor, originally from Budapest, where Mom’s father was born and raised. In an unbelievable coincidence, she told us that her twin sister lives in Jerusalem and, in the last few years, married a rabbi there from Canada after his wife died. In further conversations, we discovered that the rabbi whom her sister had married had been Saul’s family’s rabbi for many years here in the United States before he moved to Canada. While she was here with Mom, Saul and I got haircuts and had a late lunch together. I chose poorly, and thus began my downward spiral. I suffered a long time ago from esophagitis. I had the condition for about ten years between the time I had a serious virus right after my thirtieth birthday until it was properly diagnosed and I was able to cure it around the age of 40. Nowadays, if I feel any discomfort from what I have eaten, I take Prilosec, which is a wonder drug for me. If it had been available back then, I would never have had to go through all the pain and suffering I experienced over those ten years. My father, in his day, only had bicarbonate of soda to deal with the condition. I remember the many times he was hospitalized with ulcers and seeing him there obviously in tremendous pain. When Tagamet was invented, that became the wonder drug for both of us. He used to live on baked potatoes at the height of his problems. I once lived mostly on bread, crackers and water for almost three months.

Ken and Randi invited us, along with Larry, to Shabbat dinner this past Friday, and Randi made us a really incredible meal—a delicious Caesar salad, homemade roasted peppers with capers and fresh mozzarella, parmesan and pistachio-crusted fresh haddock filets, and quinoa pilaf. I timed the challot so that we left as soon as I took them out of the oven. They were still warm at dinner when we made our brachot. For dessert with our coffee, Randi had a mini carrot cake from Wegman’s, and beautiful fresh raspberries and blackberries with home-made whipped cream. There were also chocolates from Stutz, a local confectionery for many years that still makes good chocolates. We all ate heartily, including Mom. With some help from Ken, Mom was able to make it down the stairs to see the renovation that had just been completed. Ken made her comfortable down there and screened the animated movie, Kung Fu Panda, for her. She enjoyed it very much. It was a very good day for her.

While we were in DC, we had purchased a digital picture frame, half-price, at Micro Center, as a Chanukah gift for Saul’s Mom. He loaded it with hundreds of photos. We were able to arrange for Adele to stay with Mom while we were at Shabbat services, and then Ken and Randi spent the afternoon with her so that we could visit his Mom at Lion’s Gate in New Jersey. As soon as they unlocked the door to the Safe Haven facility for Alzheimer’s patients, we spotted her conversing with one of the staff. She recognized us immediately, was thrilled to see us, but disappointed that we hadn’t brought the “two little girls.” In conversing with her, we noticed a deterioration in her mental state. She was beginning to lose her Hebrew language ability, did not remember family members in Israel, and was at a loss for words frequently. Her ankles are more swollen than I have seen them in a long time, so I suspect she is retaining fluids due to a weak heart. She was happy and in good spirits, though, again telling us how pleased she is with the facilities, the staff members and the food. Considering what she was like before, never happy with anything, we are grateful that she is finding comfort at the end of her lifetime. During the long drive, I was becoming aware that I was developing a stiff neck that was being aggravated by the car’s vibration. We stopped on the way home and had lunch at a deli where I again ate all the wrong delicious things that aggravate my stomach, especially sour pickles and pickled tomatoes. I took a Prilosec before going to bed on Saturday night. The pain in my neck was growing worse.

On Sunday, I went shopping to get some needed items for the cookies and carried in a heavy bag which contained a five-pound sack of flour among other heavy items and lifted it onto the counter. I carried it in my left hand. Saul and I made a number of cookies, including mango teacakes with white chocolate glaze, lime cornmeal cookies (my favorite of all the ones we make), and mini chocolate ganache cupcakes. For dinner Sunday night, we layered fresh tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and drizzled it with extra-virgin olive oil and salt and pepper. We also had fresh spinach ravioli dressed with sour cream and parmesan. Tomatoes were the last food item I was able to put back in my diet after the acid reflux finally ceased. By bedtime, my neck and back were aching and my stomach was feeling unsettled. I took a Tylenol PM which usually works like a charm on aches and pains and keeps me asleep until morning.

I awoke at 2 a.m. from the gripping ache from my neck down to my elbow. I was nauseous and in a clammy sweat. It suddenly occurred to me that although I had been thinking this was a combination of stomach problems and muscle strain, I might be having a heart attack. I was shocked that the Tylenol PM had not worked and decided to take a Prilosec and wait for a while to see if I felt better. I didn’t. I checked the symptoms for a heart attack in women on my computer and scared myself silly when I learned that it can manifest as a pain in the back or jaw. I decided to try to drive myself to the emergency room without waking anyone. Saul is a heavy sleeper and would have been beside himself, and he needed to leave the house by 7:30 a.m. for the final week this semester. Mom could not be left alone. If I was, indeed, having a heart attack, at 2:30 a.m. on Monday morning, I was unlikely to harm anyone else on the road. I reasoned that if I needed to call 911 on my cell, I would be halfway to the hospital. If I arrived at the emergency room and felt okay, I could just turn around and go home and nobody would be the wiser. I didn’t feel worse on my trip to the emergency room of Abington Hospital, but I didn’t feel better either and I decided to go in. It was the first time I had ever gone there when there were no other patients in sight. Within about 5 minutes, I was in a hospital gown and hooked up to an EKG machine. The attendant was calm and told me the EKG looked okay to her, but that a doctor would be reviewing it immediately. The doctor came in within a few minutes and told me the EKG was perfectly normal. I was interviewed by a resident about my symptoms and past history. Then a medical assistant set about the difficult task of taking blood while putting in an IV connection. He believed me when I told him I was the world’s worst person for finding a vein and took his time. He only had to stick me twice, eventually getting what he needed from my hand. I was then wheeled down the hall for a chest x-ray of my heart. After about two hours in the emergency room, and the assurance that I probably was not having a heart attack, I felt much better and wanted to go home.

Although I had been reassured that everything they had done looked perfectly normal, the doctor wanted to keep me overnight and run a series of other tests because of my age and symptoms. I told him that it would really be a hardship because of my mother. I assured him that I would contact my doctor to schedule additional tests if they were warranted. The medical assistant, who took my blood, read and explained the release forms to me, and I had to sign in a few places to extract myself from the hospital against the doctor’s recommendations. He was very formal about the procedure when I tried to be a little light-hearted about the situation, explaining to me that what I was doing was a “big deal” as far as the hospital was concerned. By 5:40 a.m. I was getting back into my clothes to drive home, and I decided to call Saul and wake him to let him know that everything was okay and that I would be home in time for him to go to school. He was furious with me for not waking him, but understood my reasoning when I explained the situation. I would have summoned him immediately if the EKG reading had been a problem.

My doctor did not return my call on Monday, something about which he is usually very conscientious, probably because he determined that there was nothing dire in the results from the hospital. On Tuesday, Larry came over to stay with Mom when the ache in my back and arm persisted and the doctor was able to fit me in at 2:15 p.m. Saul met me at the doctor’s office after completing administering his final exam. The doctor did another EKG in his office just as a precaution which turned out normal as well. He actually felt the area on my upper back from which the pain was emanating and said that I had a large knot there in the muscle. He told me that he agreed with my assessment that I had unwittingly created the perfect storm of symptoms and gave me a pain-killing topical cream, Voltaren Gel, to apply to the area so as not to irritate my stomach further with pills. He told me if the pain persists beyond a few more days that it may turn out to be a pinched nerve, in which case, I will need further testing. He also gave me a prescription to have a stress test done once the pain has dissipated.

In between all this, I have managed to get my computer work done on time, but I never realized how much I use my left hand and arm for a right-handed person. I am a left-handed mouse user; I usually wrench open both my sub-zero refrigerator and freezer with my left arm; and my left arm usually takes a position at the top of my steering wheel. As soon as the pain starts to subside, I find myself forgetting and doing things that aggravate it again. I have always avoided chiropractors feeling that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it,” but Jessica is urging me to see one ever since she had so much relief when she pinched a nerve in her leg exercising. If I do not get beyond this soon, I probably will seek one out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving Weekend in Baltimore/DC

We had a wonderful time and were fortunate in many ways these past four days. Agnes arrived at the train station right on time to stay with Mom. As we were preparing to leave, right on schedule, Mom’s social worker, Marian, arrived and we began to discuss what would happen when Mom was released from hospice on December 1. Naively, I had assumed that should I have a medical emergency, I would be able to call upon hospice and have Mom reinstated retroactively. Luckily, in previous conversations with my brother, Ken, who had spoken with a lawyer, I realized that even under these present dire circumstances, I might be held negligent should my mother die at home if I had not called an ambulance. Marian made me aware that were hospice to drop Mom, I would have to call her doctor in an emergency who would then have to notify the hospice service to reinstate her if we did not want an ambulance to take her to the emergency room. That would leave us without any quick medical lifeline. We left the house late with a heavy heart knowing that it was possible that we could find ourselves in this situation in the future. About an hour into our journey, Kathy, Mom’s hospice nurse, called on my cell phone to let me know that hospice would be keeping Mom on for at least another 90-day evaluation period. She had spoken with the social worker and knew that I was traveling and made the call immediately so that my mind would be more at ease this weekend. It was.

Ari was able to leave work early on Wednesday and was pleasantly surprised, as we were, when we arrived at his home in record time. Most of the really heavy traffic had been heading north. After unloading our bags, we headed off to our favorite Chinese restaurant in Wheaton, MD, Hollywood East CafĂ© where we had two delicious vegetarian dishes, crispy sesame eggplant, and snow pea shoots with roasted fresh garlic. The crispy sesame eggplant is sweet, salty and savory all at the same time and the texture is crispy and gooey on the outside and creamy and soft on the inside—perfection! I would love to be able to make this at home. Thursday morning, we went back for dim sum.

Alex, who loves to cook as much as I do, had outdone himself in producing a plethora of beautiful and delicious dishes, many with an Indian theme, for our Thanksgiving dinner. He made three different chutneys that accompanied my own cranberry apple chutney—coconut, cilantro, and tomato. A heart-warming and satisfying roasted corn soup seasoned with masala and garnished with a freshly-made papadum was our starter. This was followed by homemade samosas resplendent with a purple yam and edamame filling, and steamed artichokes. In addition to my chestnut bread stuffing, butternut apple crisp, and sweet potatoes with apricots and pecans; his side dishes to accompany the sliced turkey included a spicy vegetable medley, chick peas and potatoes (channa aloo), red lentil stew (dal), sweet potato stew, and steamed rice. Even the oblong flat breads were Indian-style, some plain and some seasoned with masala. For dessert, we had baked apples stuffed with persimmon slices, praline-topped pumpkin pie, and pareve chocolate mousse crepes. On the journey to Baltimore, Ari and I picked up an assortment of beers to accompany our dinner, including Guinness, Stella Artois, and Flying Dog. Alex produced a bottle of truly exceptional kosher wine—Tabor Mes’ha. Clearly, the bounty of our dinner was among the many things for which we each expressed being thankful. We tried our best when we sat down to dinner to forget the awful contrast of our lives at this particular moment with those poor unfortunate souls in Mumbai.

True to our plans, Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, joined us early Friday morning in DC with our granddaughters to visit the newly-reopened American History Museum at the Smithsonian. Elaine, Ari and I decided to take the girls there on the Metro, a great adventure for them, while Saul and Maury drove there and were lucky enough to find a handicapped parking spot directly in front of the Natural History Museum next door. We all arrived at exactly the same time proving Ari’s theory that taking the Metro is just as quick as driving in DC. The museum was crowded, as we expected, and after descending a beautiful, but impractical and treacherous see-through staircase and depositing our coats and bags in a locker, we were unprepared for just how crowded the place would become by 12.30 p.m. We should have gone directly to see the “Star-Spangled Banner” exhibit, which was already becoming crowded by 10:30, but instead we were distracted by the beautifully-restored old train cars in the transportation exhibit and wandered around there for an hour. I took Izzy to a well-thought-out and imaginative play area for a little while, but it was quickly becoming overtaxed by the enormous crowds. Izzy, who turns into a small bear when she is hungry, needed something to eat, so we popped over to the cafeteria for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and some milk. Some of the cafeterias at the Smithsonian are wonderful, notably the American Indian Museum and the Natural Sciences Museum. This was not one of those. We began to be alarmed by the crowds and decided to see the “ruby slippers” from the Wizard of Oz and the flag and leave. When we arrived on the third floor to see the slippers, the line was about a block long and we left. On the second floor, the line for the Star-Spangled Banner was completely filling the entire huge waiting area, so we left. We grabbed our coats and headed next door hoping the Natural Sciences Museum with its new Oceans exhibit would not be as crowded. On the way out, we were overwhelmed by the number of people waiting in line to get into the History museum. The line snaked for three blocks around the museum. The Natural Sciences Museum was the most crowded I have ever experienced. Ari, Saul and I took Izzy to ride the outdoor carousel, while Maury and Elaine took Sami around the exhibit and then joined us. Sami said the exhibit was boring and was sorry that because of it she only had one ride on the carousel instead of two like Izzy. Ari and I took the girls back on the Metro while Elaine joined Saul and Maury in the car. They beat us back by about 15 minutes.

After resting for a while at Ari’s, Elaine and Maury headed back to Baltimore for Shabbat dinner. We had planned to follow right behind so that I could finish filling and frosting the carrot cake and sweet potato cake I had made. There were so many leftovers from Thanksgiving, though, that Alex decided to serve the turkey and other dishes again. We no longer could use dairy desserts, so we just hung around Ari’s condo and dozed for a while before leaving for Baltimore ourselves. Some of the dishes, notably the soup, were even better the second day. Our Shabbat evening was warm, relaxed and incredibly delicious. The one dish that Alex added was a brunoised pastrami-spiced rare seared tuna appetizer topped with avocado that was delectable.

Ari, Saul and I spent the weekend in DC. Ari bought a 47-inch flat-screen LCD t.v. by Vizio at Costco and a high-definition TiVo at Best Buy. After an enjoyable dinner on Saturday night at a new British pub restaurant in Columbia Heights called CommonWealth, we began the process of installing a wall mount for the bedroom and rewiring and setting up the new connections for the t.v.s. As an appetizer at CommonWealth, we shared a cheese board accompanied by grainy mustard and a date spread. The cheese selection included: semi-hard: Bellavitano (CA); stinky: Grayson (MD); creamy: Blythedale Camembert (VT); blue: Stilton (UK); goat: Dersonval; cheddar: Cotswold (UK). Among the condiments on the table were malt vinegar and a jar of piccalilli. I thought it was quite a coincidence that I hadn’t thought about piccalilli for many years, had just mentioned it in my last recipe blog and had to look up the spelling in order to link it properly. It reminded me of my experience with orgeat syrup. Several years ago, I was reading an all-time favorite book of mine called Leo Africanus while I was accompanying Saul at a convention he was attending in Boston. In the book, the main character mentions being served orgeat drinks almost everywhere he goes. I had never heard of the stuff and there is not much in the way of food and drink of which I have never heard. One of those evenings, Saul and I were passing time in a coffee shop in Copley Place while waiting for our dinner reservation elsewhere and I asked him if, being from the Middle East, he knew anything about an orgeat drink. As he shook his head, I realized that right in my line of vision over his shoulder, was a bottle of orgeat syrup sitting on a shelf behind the coffee bar with other coffee flavorings from Torani. The person behind the bar thought I was a lunatic I was so excited at the coincidence and he took the bottle down for me so that we could peruse the ingredients. We discovered that orgeat syrup is almond flavored. I guess that piccalilli was just destined to enter my life again, although at the CommonWealth, the condiment did not look or smell good enough to want to sample.

Another task we accomplished this weekend was to install a sliding pants rack in Ari’s closet. He had coveted one at IKEA for a long time, but didn’t have room for the whole unit that ordinarily houses it. Luckily, IKEA sells all its parts separately, so Saul was able to jury-rig the hardware into Ari’s closet. On Sunday afternoon, we drove separately to Baltimore so that we could all make a short video to email to Amichai, the son of Saul’s first cousin Eliezar who will be celebrating his 60th birthday this month at a special occasion arranged by the family in Israel. I also used our time in Baltimore to shop at Seven Mile Market, a glatt kosher supermarket in Pikesville, for supplies for the new members’ dinner we are preparing on December 19, at our synagogue, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El. While there, I picked up an assortment of crackers, Nish Nosh by Beigel Beigel, requested by Anna Marie, the secretary there, that she has craved ever since our Israel Independence Day bash.

Saul and I finally headed for home on Sunday evening about 4:30 p.m. We encountered no traffic jams on our route over U.S. 1 all the way home. While traveling, we were listening on our XM satellite radio to reports that I-95 was backed up for 27 miles from the Maryland border to the Christiana exit in Delaware, with two-hour backups at the Delaware Toll Plaza. Mom and Agnes had a very good weekend together, although Adele was suffering with a bad cold all through her birthday this weekend.

This morning, after preparing breakfast and a box lunch for Saul at 6:00 a.m., and getting Mom’s breakfast ready at 7:00 a.m., I fell back into a deep sleep and did not waken again until the phone rang at 10:15 a.m. We had a great time, but I guess I am really exhausted from it all today.