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.


Ryan K. said...

Hi Marilyn, Found your post via Google search feeds for "Hunting Park." I saw your prior post which links to a post of mine on Philly Future about the old Hunting Park carousel and I will be praying for you to win the lottery!

I'd love to host you here in Hunting Park any time. There are many good things going on despite news reports to the contrary. I live by 9th and Wingohocking and work at a community center on Marshall and Cayuga.

Please contact me at or call my cell at 215 668 9555.

We just upgraded our website at the community center so it now includes a blog:

Hope to hear from you soon.


Marilyn said...

Hi Ryan! I am glad to hear that good and articulate people like you are working with the community to restore Hunting Park to its former family-friendly state. I will definitely check out your blog on a regular basis. Many years ago, probably about 20, a very courageous man who lived across the street from the park tried to rid it of drug dealers and was murdered for his efforts. I don't believe that anyone ever stood trial for that murder. The whole affair made very big headlines at the time and I wish I could remember the name of this unsung hero. Please be careful and keep up the good work you are doing.

I lived in Logan at 8th and Rockland until I was married in 1971. My husband lived around the corner in a first-floor apartment over a beauty salon at Franklin and Rockland. We first met at Cooke Junior High School in 1962. We recently drove back through the neighborhood and took a picture of the house where I grew up, but the only way we recognized it was by the street number. I am afraid that it is true that you can never really go home again.