Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poconos Repose

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.
If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

Saul and I were thrilled and delighted to be on the road, the SUV fully loaded with boxes of food, towels, sheets, and warm clothing, a full half-hour before the realtor was due to arrive with potential buyers for our home, and all this with only a minimal amount of screaming and yelling about my obsessive need to clean everything, and his frustrating assurances that we can buy anything we forgot “up there.” We stopped for breakfast on the way at a Cracker Barrel near Allentown and had a very large and enjoyable breakfast seated directly in front of a toasty fire in their huge stone hearth. Our waitress was a bubbly joy who anticipated our every need and seemed to greatly enjoy her job, kibitzing with everyone around us. The place had the feel of a neighborhood diner where regulars come in every morning and sit at their usual table and have their usual breakfast, socializing with other regulars. The people at the table next to us had brought a bag of Christmas gifts for some of their favorite waitresses, including ours. The woman at the table on the other side of us was writing holiday cards as her meal arrived, “just as she liked it” according to our waitress.

The snow at our home in the Poconos, in Ari’s words, was just enough to lend the right atmosphere, but not so much as to inconvenience anyone in the least. We spent about an hour unpacking and stocking the kitchen and making the beds. Then, we just hung out in front of our own huge fireplace, playing with our iPhones and watching old Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons on television from a dvd player. We went to bed early, reveling in the peace and quiet and anticipation of seeing our children and grandchildren the next day.

Although I had brought plenty of provisions for breakfast, Saul and I decided to dine out at a favorite breakfast place that we have been patronizing for twenty-five years, Van Gilder’s Jubilee. We have not been up to our Poconos home for almost two years and wanted to see if the restaurant was still the same. For the most part, it was. After breakfast, we decided to take a 20-minute drive to The Crossings, a huge outlet mall. We thought that right before Christmas it would be incredibly busy and we were prepared to turn around if it was. As it turned out, we were there early enough in the day to avoid the crowds, truly enjoyed ourselves puttering around in all the shops, and came home with some fantastic bargains. Jess called to say they would be arriving shortly just as we were beginning to get fatigued and the crowds were starting to arrive. When we returned home, I put dinner to warm in the oven, set the table, and Saul started a roaring fire. Everyone was relieved and happy to be sitting down to dinner together. Ari called to say that he would be driving up after work. He arrived before the grownups went to bed and I slept like a baby that night knowing that my whole family was together and that we would have a few relaxing days together. Early in the morning, Izzy wandered downstairs, began a sleepy conversation with Ari, and then told him that he looked just like Uncle Ari. He told her that that was because he really was Uncle Ari. Yona, for the first time ever, slept for a full 12 hours.

Alex and Jess were out with the girls first thing in the morning, all dressed and bundled for a day on the slopes. Saul, Ari and I stayed home to bond with Yona. Ari has hated skiing all his life. When he was six, I promised him that if he went down the slope standing on the skis of one of Beth’s friends who was a ski instructor, I would never bother him about learning to ski again. By age six, he had been skiing numerous times and I was convinced that once he had the thrill of zooming down the hill really fast, he would love it and want to continue to learn. After much trepidation, he tried it, hated it, and I have kept my promise. Yona, as usual, was an angel baby. She babbles away happily whenever she is awake and looks as though she might walk before she crawls. She is just starting to get the hang of getting her knees underneath her, but she takes steps if you stand her up. She turned eight months old this week.

The slopes were nearly deserted. The staff said that the resort had been that way since the opening of the season, and it was not just because it was Christmas Eve day. With rental of the girls equipment, and lift passes for Alex and the girls (Jessica decided not to ski) the total came to over $180. I fear that the lack of disposable income has affected the ski resorts in this part of the country, but perhaps it is just the lack of good skiing weather for the time being. The weather on Friday and Saturday was dreadful. We awoke to misty sleeting rain and wind, and everyone had work to finish up on their laptops which was made possible with a Wi-Fi connection from a new system that Ari brought with him (MiFi) that allows computer hook-ups anywhere. Eventually, we spent the day hanging around the house in front of the fireplace, and eventually, playing cards. We taught Sami how to play poker. For Shabbat dinner we had a choice of soups, Alex’s lentil and his chicken soup; homemade challah; Israeli salad; iceberg lettuce salad; warm edamame; smoked turkey in giblet gravy; black and white rice; chestnut stuffing; cranberry apple chutney; sautéed sugar snap peas; and kohlrabi coleslaw.

On Sunday, the weather finally dawned beautiful, sunny, and not too cold. Most of the snow was washed away, but Alex decided to chance taking the girls skiing again because they both loved it so much. The rest of us began cleaning up the house in preparation to leave, but both Ari and Jessica wanted to have breakfast at Jubilee for old time’s sake, so we dropped what we were doing to get there early, in advance of the usual Sunday morning crowd. In the past, we have had to wait almost an hour for a table if we arrived after 10 a.m. on Sunday. We were surprised to find the restaurant with plenty of tables, and when we left after 10 a.m. the crowds had not materialized.

After breakfast, we went to The Crossings, with Jessica on a quest to find boots and a new ski jacket for Sami. She found the boots, and a gorgeous jacket, and adorable, funky, high-top embroidered sneakers for Izzy. Ari got a toaster oven and two beautiful sport jackets from Brooks Brothers. Saul bought a well-made black leather jacket at Eddie Bauer that fit him like it was tailored to him, a remarkable find. We bought other items as well and were all very pleased with our purchases. Alex called to tell us to take our time shopping, that the girls had exhausted themselves on the slopes, had eaten some lunch and were asleep, and that he was not particularly tired. Because the slopes were not crowded, they were able to make multiple runs down the mountain without having to wait in line for the ski lift. The resorts have done away with the half-day passes they used to sell, but skiing for a whole day without breaks in between is exhausting. When we returned, we finished cleaning a packing and everyone left for home.

Sami and Izzy returned with us as they are off from school this week and both Alex and Jessica have to work. Yona has been taking turns reposing in both Alex’s and Jessica’s offices. This is the first time the girls have been here since Mom’s shiva and they both were a little shocked at the emptiness of her room now that her possessions have been distributed among the family and I have prepared the room for showing the house. On the way home from the Poconos, we stopped for dinner at King Buffet, their favorite sushi restaurant. Jess, Alex and Ari found a fantastic restaurant in Harrisburg on their way home with memorable dishes that Alex is now recreating at home.

We discovered on the net that the Philadelphia Art Museum was open on Monday this week because of the holiday and decided to take the girls there for the family crafts workshops that they run. We had so much fun that the girls did not want to leave and, as it turned out, we never got to see any of the museum itself. We took them to a kosher restaurant on South Street called Chickpeas and had a huge late lunch of kebab, shawarma, hummus, salad and chicken soup. We were all too tired to return to the museum and headed for home where we all took naps. I made the girls a light dinner of ravioli and, after some t.v., they went back to sleep at the usual time.

On Tuesday we were waiting around for our air conditioning compressor to be worked on, but we finally rescheduled when they kept changing their time of arrival later and later. Beth called and we decided to have dinner together at Bacco, a nearby Italian restaurant for which I had purchased a $25 certificate. The food was very good, but pricey. The coupon made the visit worthwhile. I was also pleased that they had finally gotten rid of the raucous, loud music that had made conversation impossible on previous visits years ago. At dinner, Beth said that she had wanted eat at King Buffet but that it was no fun to eat there alone, so we arranged to meet for dinner there the following evening. When Saul and I returned home, we had some leftover chocolate cake with the girls and curled up in bed together to watch The Parent Trap.

Yesterday morning, Jessica informed us that she was not able to get coverage for the dogs on New Year’s and would not be able to join us for the weekend. We immediately made plans to stay at the Sheraton in Towson, which has an indoor pool, so that we can all be together. So, we are heading off to Maryland again today. Since we will not be in Philadelphia for New Year’s, we headed out early yesterday to the Convention Center to watch the Mummers rehearse and check out the floats. When we arrived downtown, Izzy was hungry and we popped into Reading Terminal Market, across the street from the Convention Center, for ice cream cones from Bassett’s, my favorite place for ice cream on the planet. Then, we were extremely disappointed to discover that the information that was published both on the web and promotional materials had been incorrect. We would not be allowed in to see the Mummers perform until 4:00 p.m. We headed back to the Art Museum where we spent a few hours crafting again and I finally was able to tour some of the museum with the girls. They decided they would rather have dinner with Beth than see the Mummers perform, so we met Beth at the restaurant as planned. Everyone went to bed early.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Snowy Weekend, Flight Canceled

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.
If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

We were very excitedly looking forward to this weekend. Although a giant snowstorm was predicted, the forecast seemed to show that we would be able to get out of town before it began. Then, on Thursday and Friday the weather predictors began moving up the starting time earlier and earlier.

Our cookie packaging on Thursday evening went smoothly even though we had a bit of a bump in the morning. Early in the day, Adele realized that we did not have enough cellophane on the gigantic 30-inch wide roll to cover all the packages this year. I checked around and remembered that last year we had used up a second roll that we had purchased 20 years ago. After an hour of checking around on the net, I located what we needed by contacting the florist supplier for whom I had worked over twenty years ago, and was able to buy the roll from a salesman with whom I had worked, at wholesale price, from his garage in Jenkintown. We had a great conversation about our lives 20 years ago and he filled me in on some of the details of the lives of people I had known back then. Saul drove to Jenkintown immediately, paid him, and he loaded our trunk with the 45-lb. roll. After eating pizza that Ken had brought and lighting the seventh Chanukah candle, the cookie packaging went very efficiently and we were done in record time this year by 10:00 p.m. Our crew included us, Adele and Larry, Ken and Randi, Beth and Larry Shipper, who participated in this for the first time this year. He is a quick study! :o)

Since we were supposed to leave for Chicago very early on Saturday morning (7:15 a.m.), I encouraged Jess not to come up this weekend with the girls as we had planned. In addition, our realtor had called earlier in the week to say that he would be bringing potential buyers either Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning. They eventually chose Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and that would have meant that Jessica would have had to clean up the house and be out of here very early on Saturday. That left us with the dilemma of how to get the cookies to Jess and Ari for the kids’ teachers and their offices. Jess enlisted her in-laws, who were traveling down for their grandson, Jacob’s birthday party on Sunday. Friday morning, we loaded up the car and delivered cookies to Marianne, Laura, and Chestnut Hill College colleagues and then headed down I-95 to the border of Maryland to meet Maury and Elaine to hand off the cookies to them at a Cracker Barrel at Exit 109B on their way to Olney, Maryland.

When we arrived back home at about 3:30 p.m., we decided to do some last minute shopping at Costco mainly to pick up fresh flowers for the Shabbat dinner table and so that our potential buyers would enjoy them also. Larry and Beth joined us for dinner, which I pulled from the freezer earlier in the day—homemade challah, smoked turkey split pea soup, iceberg lettuce salad, stuffed cabbage, potato latkes, and chocolate cake. By Friday afternoon, the major snowstorm was predicted to start at 3:00 a.m. and I hoped that if the flight was going to be canceled anyway, it would happen before I arrived at the airport. Saul and I finally finished packing and fell asleep around 11:30 p.m. wondering if we would actually be flying out to visit Susan and Ted in Chicago or not. We both kept opening one eye about every hour to check on the storm. We were both awake before the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. and discovered that not a flake had fallen yet and that there were no delays at the airport. We were on the road to the airport by 4:30 a.m. allowing an hour to reach the parking garage where we had made arrangements to leave our car. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:15 a.m. About halfway down to the airport, the blizzard began with a vengeance. We encountered almost an inch of snow already on the highway and in the pre-dawn darkness, with strong winds whipping the heavy snow, visibility became increasingly poor. Finally, I asked Saul to turn around and take us back home. Whether the flight was officially canceled or not, neither one of us wanted to take off for an optional vacation trip in a blizzard, and neither one of us wanted to take the chance that we would be stranded in Chicago and miss a vacation at our home in the Poconos with our children and grandchildren.

In our efforts to turn around on unfamiliar on and off ramps, and with the poor visibility, we accidentally began to head the wrong way into oncoming traffic coming off the highway, but luckily realized our mistake in time to quickly back up out of the way and find the correct on ramp. Within 15 to 20 miles, as we began to approach home, the snow began to diminish to a flurry. Within a few miles of our home, the roads were dry and there was not a sign of a snowflake. Arriving home, we immediately canceled and rescheduled our trip online for June to avoid losing our initial money, but the summer flight is costing an additional $200 because we were the ones who canceled. Our flight was the last to leave Philadelphia before every other flight was canceled for the day. We took a chance on the cheap rates, but in this case, we gambled and lost. As I finished unpacking, the snow was beginning to fall here. We called the realtor at 8:30 a.m. to see if our potential buyers were still coming. The snow was heavy by then, and they were not, but they asked if they could come Sunday morning at 10 a.m. When I finally fell asleep, I was out until after 3:00 p.m. On Sunday morning, at 8:00 a.m., peering out the window at the pristine thick white blanket of snow which covered everything, we again called the realtor to find out if we should hustle to clear a path and put everything away, but were relieved that they wanted to reschedule yet again for Tuesday morning. For a while, we lazily dozed off, enjoying the muffled quiet of a heavy snow day, but soon we awakened to the sound of plows and snowblowers as everyone began to dig out. By 11:00 a.m., our trusty guy who mows our lawn and plows our snow had completely cleared our driveway and shoveled all our sidewalks and walkways. The sun appeared and began to melt away the cleared areas so that by late afternoon, the plowed roads were already dry. We spent the afternoon cleaning and organizing the house and shampooing rugs and furniture.

We decided to meet our friend Larry, whose later flight to Chicago on Saturday had been canceled, for dinner at the Bonefish Grill. He had a coupon for $10 off that was about to expire on December 31. We ate a very satisfactory meal, early, at a nearly empty restaurant where the entire staff participated in serving us—very, very unusual for Bonefish Grill on a Sunday evening. Saul and I shared an entrée and I had wanted to order their signature chocolate brownie dessert, but neither Saul nor Larry would agree to share it with me and I could not begin to eat something of that size by myself. Returning home, I ate a slice of leftover chocolate cake from Shabbat dinner with a mug of tea. Then, Saul opened a tin a chocolates that were a gift from his department chairperson. I had a few of those as well and headed off to watch television in bed before intending to go to sleep early.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. When Saul answered the door, there were Manuel and Ilsa, Beth’s renters from next door, bearing as a gift for us a beautiful chocolate-glazed chocolate cake that they had made themselves. I invited them in for coffee and to share the cake, and to be polite, I had yet another slice of delicious chocolate cake. I can definitely say that there is such a thing as too much chocolate, although I never would have believed it before!

Today, we decided to head up to the mountain house a day early to be out of the house when, hopefully, our potential buyers finally arrive. I arose early this morning and began preparing food for our stay. Saul awoke later and spent the morning helping me. I had mentioned to Larry at Bonefish Grill that I had a coupon for a free slice of cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory that was also about to expire on December 31. We decided to meet for lunch there today. I told Larry to choose the flavor that we would share. He chose pumpkin, but they were all out of both types of pumpkin cheesecake that they carry. Larry, looking at me dolefully, said that he supposed I did not want any form of chocolate cheesecake. I told him to choose anything else that did not contain chocolate. We finally settled on a key lime cheesecake, and it was really incredibly delicious and tasted better with each bite. It did not become cloying, as some flavors do. After lunch, we headed to Trader Joe’s and Costco to pick up supplies sufficient for being snowed in in a mountain retreat with three little girls. Tonight, the car is packed with food in the cold garage, and hopefully, we will be totally packed and on the road, house in total display mode, before our visitors arrive. I hope they love the house as much as we do!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chanukah Week 2009

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.
If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

We are in the homestretch now for winter vacation, one of the most wonderful perks of Saul being a college professor. Stretching ahead of us is a lovely one-month vacation and the freedom to travel anywhere, complete projects around the house, or just lay around for a while. Being who I am, I hope to do all three, but Saul is always pointing out to me that my expectations for what I hope to accomplish are totally unrealistic. That fact never seems to deter me from trying to do it all anyway.

The beginning of last week involved a lot of cookie-baking in preparation for our family cookie extravaganza which, hopefully, will take place on Thursday evening. I made my usual seven varieties, and this year I decided to try an eighth. Several months ago, Mom’s hospice volunteer, Marianne, brought me a package of walnut-shaped cookie molds that she purchased in Europe. A friend had requested that she bring some back and she kept a package for herself. She gave them to me last year after I gave her some of my cookies and told me that I would be more likely to use them than she would. I almost never watch Martha Stewart on television, but a week or so before she gave me the molds, while I was flipping channels, I had caught the tail end of Martha and Jennifer Esposito making walnut cookies. After I received the molds, I looked up the segment on Google and printed out the recipe. This past week seemed like the perfect time to try it out, and I am very pleased with the results. I can’t wait to deliver some to Marianne.

I spent several hours this past week trying to arrange vacations. My mother’s cousin, Ronnie, whom we visited in Arizona a few years ago, invited us to attend the bat mitzvah of her granddaughter in Jacksonville, Florida, in January. I tried very hard to arrange some time in Orlando so that as long as we were paying for a flight down to Florida, we could do a week of vacation as well. So far, no luck in getting any kind of cheap rate, and I don’t know whether we will go at all. We were invited to Rabbi Addison’s daughter’s wedding in Israel for New Year’s Eve. Flights to Israel are very expensive right now as well, and I would hate to spend so much and go such a long way for only a few days vacation. Her invitation arrived with a personal, thoughtful and endearing two-page letter about the influence Saul’s teaching has had on her life. I would love to be there for her wedding, but I suppose it is too late to make arrangements now.

During the week, our friend Larry found a cheap flight to Chicago—$170 round trip. We decided to join him in his visit there to his sister and her husband, our friends, for a few days this coming weekend. I dearly hope we do not encounter snow, but such are the hazards of taking advantage of good rates and winter vacations. I am also very excited that I was able to arrange a family, two-week vacation this summer at the same house in Ocean City, New Jersey, that we enjoyed so much two summers ago. When we queried the girls about which had been their favorite vacation so far, Ocean City beat out Hawaii, Disney World, St. Augustine, and Hershey. They really liked the boardwalk with its varied diversions at night and being on the beach during the day.

On Monday, I picked up a birthday cake we had ordered at Costco and delivered it to Saul at CHC for a celebration during his computer club of the first female admiral in the U.S. Navy, who was also responsible for inventing COBOL computer programming language, Grace Murray Hopper. While there, I had lunch with Saul in the cafeteria.

Wednesday evening, we met Ken and Randi at a new Afghan restaurant in Horsham that we had wanted to try and had been hearing good things about called Yalda. The ambience was very pleasant, exotic, and comfortable and the owner/chef was very eager to please us. We spent two hours dining and conversing over very delicious food which seemed like a combination of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.

After his last class on Thursday, Saul stopped into the cafeteria at school for lunch where they had prepared a special Christmas banquet. By late Thursday afternoon, Saul’s last full week before finals, we were exhausted again and decided to drive down to Baltimore/DC on Friday, after going to bed early and sleeping late. As usual, preparing the house in case it would be shown over the weekend took an extra couple of hours. I took with me all our Chanukah paraphernalia and, traveling the long way over Rte. 1, we arrived shortly before Shabbat dinner was scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Ari had been able to leave work early and arrived just a few minutes before us. Jessica had invited friends, the Hoffmans with their two young children, who arrived right on schedule and were wonderful dinner companions. Saul and I were thrilled to be able to light the first Chanukah candle along with our Shabbat candles with all of our family gathered around, a real luxury for us as for many years, Ari lived in California.

Alex prepared a beautiful dairy Shabbat dinner. We had a creamy black bean soup; grilled, glazed salmon atop olive bread with homemade mango salsa, avocado and chipotle mayonnaise; spinach salad; grilled sea bass; mashed potatoes; and steamed Brussels sprouts. Of course, in honor of the holiday, we had a big platter of G.G. Sima’s potato latkes, which I had made previously and frozen, along with sour cream and applesauce. Naomi Hoffman has been experimenting with ice cream flavors this past year and brought a sampling of her homemade ice cream: raspberry swirl, orange/Szechuan peppercorn, pumpkin spice, and chocolate with Girl Scout thin mints. They were all absolutely delicious and the Szechuan peppercorn lent a sort of a floral note to the orange, a bit like rose petals.

During the weekend, we stopped at Ari’s office to set up two electric chanukiot in the windows there. We looked at some houses for Ari, saw one that was perfect, and were all extremely disappointed to discover that again, the house was put under contract the day we looked at it. He has decided to put his condo back on the market. We traveled to Baltimore from DC to light the second candle after Havdalah together. Alex has been learning guitar for a few years now and accompanied our candlelight prayer. The Havdalah prayer is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful traditions in Judaism. For a few moments, I was wiping happy tears from my eyes, so awesome was the moment, holding Yona, with all of us together singing the prayer and passing the besamim (spice) box. After that, we treated everyone to dinner at Sushi Ya, where Jess and Alex and the kids are so well known that the host asked me about Jess as soon as I came in with Sami, and where Izzy has a sushi roll named after her. One of the dishes we ordered, agedashi tofu, moves in a fascinating way when it is first brought to the table. We had been planning to take the girls to see The Princess and the Frog, which opened this weekend, but the hour grew too late and Alex took the girls home to put them to bed while Jess, Ari, Saul and I wandered over to the movie theater and discovered that there was nothing else playing that we wanted to see. On the way back to our parked car, we wandered into Home Goods, where Saul found exactly the type of rolling briefcase that he had been trying to find to replace the falling-apart rolling backpack that he has been taking to school for many years. There was only one and another customer was sorely disappointed that we decided to take it. Ari bought it for Saul as a Chanukah gift.

We drove to Arundel Mills on Sunday, had lunch at a Golden Corral, got badly needed haircuts for Saul and Ari, shopped a bit, and took the girls to the Egyptian movie theater to finally see The Princess and the Frog in XD (extreme digital). The movie was very cute, incorporating all of Disney’s successful shtick from other animations. I was delighted to hear the girls giggling all through the movie. We had a light dinner at Chevy’s in the mall where they provided the girls with dough stuck with crayons with which to amuse themselves before dinner arrived, and the children’s meal included small vanilla ice cream cones made from crispy tortillas. Although the weather had been dreadful for most of the weekend, the rain disappeared before our long drive home. We were grateful for the relaxing drive as well as the most pleasant and memorable weekend with our children and grandchildren.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December Dawns

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.
If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

After our five-day Thanksgiving vacation, both of us were extremely tired and a bit let down that we did not have the chance to do very much with the girls. The drive from DC to Baltimore is best done at off hours when the traffic is light, or else it sometimes takes as long to travel from DC to Baltimore as it does to travel from Philadelphia to Baltimore. We resolved to return the following weekend, and so we did. I began writing this from Ari’s dining room table.

Saul had long meetings at CHC in the afternoons this past week. We still have not become accustomed to the shortened daylight hours. We arise before dawn, and by the time Saul arrives home, it is almost dark. One morning, after running his power down on the iPhone, the wake-up alarm failed to go off. Luckily, I awoke just in time for Saul to throw on some clothes and make it to school only five minutes late for his first class. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it rained so hard and was so windy that many trees came down causing detours that made the commute even more difficult.

Adele came over with a carload of clothes and shoes for the Salvation Army on Wednesday morning and she joined Roxy and me for a spur-of-the-moment lunch at Wegman’s, which was a very pleasant diversion. I should have taken the clothes myself to the thrift store, but decided to wait for Saul. By the time we set out together, the roads were slick with heavy rain and it was hard to see in the dark. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper the whole route because of several accidents. The Salvation Army store was closed when we arrived and we returned home disgusted with ourselves that we had not called first to make sure the store was open.

Probably because the house is up for sale, my appliances have begun to fail. My modular Dacor cooktop, which I love to pieces, developed a short in one of the elements and the repairman came on Thursday morning and got it working, but needed to order a part to finish the job. While he was here, he took a look at my 17-year-old Sub Zero refrigerator and made some suggestions for spiffing it up before it bites the dust as well. When Saul arrived after school, again we set out with my carload of Adele’s clothing, this time in daylight and with nicer weather. Unfortunately, we then discovered a sign on the window saying that the facility shut down on November 28, and was preparing to reopen in a new location on December 5. Feeling really stupid, we adjourned to a new restaurant on Rt. 309 for a late lunch/early dinner so that we could regroup and decide where to take our load of clothing next. The restaurant, which replaced a Bennigan’s, is named Gimaro. Before setting out, we had previously purchased a $25 coupon for $4.00 on and had an amazing meal there for very little money, the one smart thing we did in that 48-hour period. After a few phone calls during lunch, we discovered that the PEAK Center had moved their warehouse into the old Atlantic Book Warehouse just a mile from our home and we were very happy to deposit our carload there after lunch. Finally, we headed over to the AMC Theater in King of Prussia to take advantage of a free movie ticket that was about to expire. We saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox at Jessica’s recommendation that it was “adorable.” She had taken the girls to see it the previous weekend and they liked it very much. Suffice it to say that we were very happy that we had not spent a lot of money to see it.

After preparing the house for display on Friday, we packed and left for Baltimore, intending to pick up Sami from a Chanukah party at the Waldorf School. She will be starting school there on January 4, and the class invited her to participate. Alex and Jess mixed up the time she was supposed to be picked up and Jess wound up retrieving her instead. While Saul caught up with schoolwork on the computer, Jess and I took Yona to the pediatrician for her flu shots and to check up on the previous week’s ear infection. There is still some fluid in one of her ears, but she is otherwise great. The plan was to have an adult’s only dinner for Shabbat. Jess gave the girls dinner early. Then, Saul and I took them to Gifford’s for ice cream. The tiny shop was filled with almost two dozen mostly rowdy, loud children and some of their parents, so we could not wait to leave. We luckily happened upon a nearby Barnes & Noble where we spent a quiet hour reading to the girls before attending a beautiful family service run by Alex at Chizuk Amuno. The girls went home with friends for a sleepover at their house after that, and we returned to finish putting dinner on the table.

Ari drove up from DC on Friday evening and we were joined by Alex’s assistants, Abby and Isaac, who are engaged to be married this coming year. Ari made cosmopolitans before dinner. Alex had fried up the most delicious shnitzel which we ate with quinoa with chestnuts, carrots and mushrooms; chicken noodle soup with turkey-shaped noodles; steamed cauliflower; falafel; leftover cranberry apple chutney, kohlrabi coleslaw; and spinach salad with candied pecans and avocado, among other things. Jess had bought chocolate and cinnamon babka, and had defrosted pareve chocolate mousse crepes. We took the chocolate babka home to Ari’s house because none of us had any room left for it and Alex is allergic to chocolate.

Over the weekend, we had dim sum at China Garden in Rosslyn and briefly stopped into Ari’s office nearby so that he could help out a co-worker. The short drive down Rock Creek Parkway in the snow was so beautiful it made me happy to be alive and in-the-moment. We spent some time wandering around the mall at Pentagon City where we viewed some beautiful hand-embroidered “paintings” of incredible delicacy made by families in Suzhou, China, at an art gallery. Then we picked up some odds and ends for Ari at Target in Columbia Heights. He spent the evening with old friends who were visiting in DC while we watched Bride Wars on television. Because of the bad weather, again we had not spent as much time with the girls as we would have liked. I decided to put Jessica’s zip code in and see what restaurants within five miles had coupons. We narrowed it to three and Jessica chose a place she had been wanting to try called Café Hon. Then, with travel karma intact, and like the story of Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! by Dr. Seuss, we “ran right into a circus [Christmas] parade.”

Jessica explained that Baltimore is known for a particular type of character—the type of woman who wears large beehive hairdos, flashy glasses, leopard prints, and who calls everyone “hon,” (short for honey). The café was an homage to all that with a two-story high pink flamingo out front and fake-leopard-skin lined booths. The decor was straight out of the 1950s. The food and service were wonderful, and the girls, including Yona in her high chair, behaved like angels. A group of women dressed as “hons” who had participated in the parade came in and we took Sami’s photo with the woman who had won this year’s contest for the best “hon.” Sami and Izzy, having had no background in the fads and fashions of the 1950s, asked about a million questions about the weirdness of it all, trying to get a handle on what they were observing. I don’t think they really succeeded. In the end, the café did not let us use our coupon, but we were so pleased with the whole serendipity of the afternoon that we hardly minded. The restaurant was situated right down the street from the parade judges stand and sits on the main street in old Baltimore City. Among the interesting sights of the parade was a truck fitted out to be a steam calliope, something none of us had ever seen or heard before in our whole lives. Also parading were a group from the Hog Island mummers in assorted costumes, a motorcycle group called S.O.B.s (Semites on Bikes) who have as their logo a skull wearing a skullcap, various high school marching bands and the usual assortment of paraders who you would expect to see at a hometown parade. The afternoon was weirdly delightful, and when we returned, Alex was hard at work stuffing more sausages, refining and perfecting his technique. The girls went out to finish building a snowman, and we headed for home.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Week 2009

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.
If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

I began last week with cooking preparations for our five days in the Baltimore/DC area for Thanksgiving vacation. Alex was planning an “All American” Thanksgiving meal with a twist, brought on by a humorous jibe from Ari about Alex making hot dogs and hamburgers for Thanksgiving. I am hoping that Ari will comment with the details of that conversation, for I know that if I try to re-create it here, Ari will find fault with the retelling. Anyway, I was not party to the conversation, but it gave our iconoclastic Alex the idea to make his own sausages (hot dogs) and gourmet hamburgers for our Thanksgiving meal. (He roasted two standard turkeys also, just in case… there wouldn’t be enough? :o9).

During the previous week, I had mailed my never-used, sausage-stuffing kit for the Kitchen Aid mixer to Alex, as he had succeeded in finding kosher collagen sausage casings, a feat I had attempted years ago, with no success, pre-Internet. On Monday and Tuesday mornings I made cranberry apple chutney, jumbo pareve oatmeal peanut butter and raisin cookies, pareve pumpkin pie; and kohlrabi coleslaw and carrot cake to finish off a five-pound bag of organic carrots from Costco. In addition, Saul and I made 91 (Saul counted them) gingerbread teddy bears and royal icing so that Sami and Izzy could decorate them in preparation for assembling our family cookie extravaganza. With all the cooking and running around to markets to assemble the necessary ingredients, and then putting the house in display mode and packing, we did not get on the road until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when CHC was finished for the week. In addition to packing food and clothing, we also took two cases of my cookbooks, Bubbie’s Kitchen, for Jessica to send to Beth El in Pikesville, where they will be used for a Jewish cooking curriculum. I am really gratified by that.

In the midst of my preparations on Monday evening, Ari called because he wanted to prepare a potluck lunch item to take to the office on Tuesday. Based on the list of what everyone else was bringing, I suggested he make deviled eggs, for which I have no written recipe… yet. In my frustration over talking him through the process on our iPhones, I mentioned Skype, and we suddenly all went “eureka,” we can do this. In what can only be described as a reverse cooking show (Ari coined the term), he set up his laptop with Skype on the kitchen counter, and we adjourned to our computer to supervise his preparations. I love modern technology! We could actually see the texture of the yolk mixture and made suggestions for opening up his star tip on the pastry bag a bit with a ball-point pen so that the mixture would not get caught in the corners. I think the deviled eggs were well received and the leftovers that I ate the following day tasted pretty good to me.

Sami spent Monday and Tuesday at the nearby Waldorf School, going through two normal school days with those who seem like they are about to become her new classmates. Jess and Alex learned about the school from one of Jessica’s coworkers who thought the school would be a perfect match for Sami’s strengths. So far, after much research, Jess and Alex, along with Sami, seem to be very excited about the prospect of Sami beginning classes there very shortly, perhaps before winter break.

Our drive down to Baltimore to drop off our food contribution for Thanksgiving and beyond was nasty at rush hour on Tuesday. Within half an hour the sun began to disappear and a light rain began as we inched along I-476 and I-95 with the moving, but extremely voluminous traffic. We were pleasantly surprised, in the latter part of the trip, that the traffic eased up tremendously, although we were rained on for most of the journey. Alex was well into his frenetic kitchen routine as we arrived, Yona observing benignly, perched behind him in the backpack. He helped us unload our car and we continued on to DC where we met Ari at 8:00 p.m. for another exceptionally delicious meal at Bombay. By the time we reached Ari’s condo, I was totally exhausted and fell asleep in Ari’s recliner even before we had time to make up the sofa bed.

On Wednesday morning, Saul and I slept late, did a few loads of Ari’s laundry, and ate some quick leftovers before heading out to Baltimore to see Izzy’s kindergarten Thanksgiving program, along with Jess and Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, at Wellwood International Elementary School. On the way back to DC afterward, we made plans to have dinner with Ari and our cousin Julie, who lives in DC, at a new Indian restaurant, Fusion, that has recently opened in Ari’s neighborhood. It was definitely more upscale than the previous night in ambience, presentation, and price. I think the food was not quite as tasty and the portions quite skimpy in keeping with its city sophistication. Ari will be happy, however, to add this sleek neighborhood restaurant to his pantheon of trendy new places to enjoy within the city. Julie came out to dine with us despite suffering with a terrible cold, but muscled through it, and even drove all the way to Adele’s the next day for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Thursday, we all slept late, lounging around and talking, catching up on computer work, and finishing up the laundry chores. Eventually, I pulled myself out of bed and made us all breakfast—juice, sunny-side-up eggs, toasted bagels, assorted cheese, jam, and hot tea. We left for Baltimore around 3:30 p.m. When we arrived, the table was set beautifully and Alex was in the final throes of preparing an incredibly varied and unusual Thanksgiving dinner. I pitched in to clean up the counters and wash the large pans and serving platters in the sink while Ari began loading the dishwasher and overseeing the french fries sizzling and sputtering in their large pan of hot oil. Matt made delicious cosmopolitans which made the final minutes of preparation a lot more pleasant, and Saul and Ari sampled some of the assortment of bourbons which Matt had brought. The dishes were almost too numerous to list, but included an appetizer of pastrami and avocado with a chipotle sauce, three different soups, three different types of homemade sausages, four different types of hamburgers, sliced roasted turkey, purple mashed potatoes, regular mashed sweet potatoes, homemade hand-cut french fries, grilled eggplant, edamame and carrot salad, tossed salad, kohlrabi coleslaw, sauerkraut, and a huge number of condiments which included olives of every size, shape and color, pickles, hot pepper relish, an assortment of mustards, cranberry chutney, fried onions, pickled garlic, etc. etc. etc. I ate way, way too much!

The twenty people at the dinner included, Jess and Alex, Sami, Izzy, and Yona; Saul, Ari, and me; Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, Alex’s brother, Aaron, his wife, Stacey, and their three children, Jacob, Lilly and Zach; Alex’s sister, Naomi and her husband, Matt; Stacey’s parents; and our friend, Larry. At the beginning of dinner, each person at the table expressed the things for which he or she were most thankful during this past year. After a long interlude at the end of dinner, during which the children played, the babies were fed, and the grownups digested a bit, we ate dessert, which was pumpkin pie, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and chocolate almond bars. Yona had been to the pediatrician the previous day and was diagnosed with a severe ear infection in both ears. On medication and with a high fever, she spit up on both me and Jessica, Jessica before dinner, and me afterward. We were quite worried for about 48 hours until the fever finally broke. She was really a trooper throughout the whole ordeal but, needless to say, Jessica did not get much sleep this weekend and Alex had good reason to be exhausted, also.

On Friday, Ari had an appointment to pick up his old computer, which had been repaired, at the Apple Store in Clarendon, Virginia. We had a lot of fun browsing, and Ari left with a new printer, buying me a “magic mouse” that I wanted as a gift. The scrolling ball on my optical mouse had ceased to work the previous week in addition to all my other computer problems. We had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory in Clarendon while waiting for the computer to be finished with its repairs, and then Ari and I went browsing for furniture in Crate and Barrel while Saul returned to browsing at the Apple Store across the street. Larry and Alex’s parents had stayed over at Jess and Alex’s, and we were again joined by Aaron and Stacey and the kids for Shabbat dinner. Yona was less feverish on Friday. We dined on a prodigious amount of glorious leftovers, which should go by a loftier name in this instance.

During the weekend, we took a drive to the National Harbor in Virginia to check out the new location of “The Awakening” sculpture which we had visited in its old location at Hains Point with Sami several years ago. We had dim sum at China Garden in Rosslyn and at Mark’s Duck House in Fairfax, Virginia. We decorated all the gingerbread bears with Sami and Izzy. On Saturday evening, ten of us dined at Mango Grove, a beautiful Indian (yes, a third Indian meal!) vegetarian restaurant in Columbia, Maryland. Earlier in the month, one of their chefs had played a major role at one of Jessica’s wonderful programs at The Pearlstone Center. We asked the owner of the restaurant, a lovely and gracious hostess, to choose our dinner menu when we arrived, and we were absolutely delighted with her selections.

We spent a few hours with the kids in Baltimore before leaving, reluctantly, for home late on Sunday afternoon. We stopped for a very light dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in King of Prussia to take advantage of a coupon offer for a free slice of cheesecake. Saul had a salad and I had an appetizer, but I guess the slice of Kahlua Cocoa Coffee cheesecake topped with mounds of whipped cream we shared negated any real attempts at lightness to which we had aspired. Major dieting is in order now, but the free-for-all feasting was a blast these past few days!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

I realized recently that my blog is being read on Facebook by many who do not realize that there are photos, slideshows and videos attached, so hereafter, my blog posts will begin with a live link to my blog. If you are reading this at already, just ignore.

I was feeling depressed and tired last Thursday morning (November 19) and went back to bed after making Saul’s breakfast and after he left for classes. I was dozing and having a really having a hard time getting up when the tail end of a conversation between Matt Lauer and Scott Hamilton intruded on my consciousness from the television which I had failed to turn off. I opened my eyes just in time to see bald, old Scott Hamilton sailing through the air in the back flip at the end of his routine. Suddenly, I felt ashamed of myself for letting my approaching big birthday get me down, along with all the old memories of pleasant times, long gone, that were evoked this past week. If Scott can do that at his age, I can get out of bed and get myself in shape, too.

Tuesday, November 10, was spent in a surprisingly delightful way preparing for and cooking a meal for 50 people in the kitchen of MBI-EE. Our friends Jerry and Betty arrived here at 11 a.m. just as I had finished loading the car, and we had a great conversation on the way there. About an hour later, the first of the volunteers arrived to help prepare, later joined by Saul, who arrived after school, and, at the end, Larry, who also arrived after school. By 4 p.m. we had finished preparing everything and cleaned up. The atmosphere in the kitchen was absolutely congenial! We had to turn away volunteers who were disappointed that we did not need them. Tired, but satisfied, Jerry and Betty, Larry, Saul and I had a wonderful dinner together at Jasmine in Glenside.

On Wednesday morning, Adele came early bringing some of the contents of her attic to sell to Amanda from Sazz Vintage Clothing who was here at 9 a.m., right on schedule, to look over Mom’s clothing. I was delayed by phone calls in my bedroom, and as I walked into Mom’s room to join Adele and Amanda, my breath left me as Amanda began lifting a spectacular pink net dress out of a large green trash bag. A vivid memory of Adele coming down the stairs looking scintillating in that dress flashed before me, and once again I remembered the look on the face of her rather nerdy-looking date, Aaron, as she descended the staircase. The dress was strapless and completely made from layers of pale pink netting. The full skirt was appliquéd with pale pink velvet roses with green velvet stems and leaves which were set with a sprinkling of rhinestones. Amanda was very happy to purchase that dress along with many other outfits that both Mom and Adele had saved. I could not believe that we were still in possession of clothing that had been worn in the 1950s and 60s. I can imagine the effect that dress will have when restored to its original glory and worn by a new fashion-savvy teenager at some prom in the future. Mom had an elaborate old sewing box and Amanda was really delighted with that as well. Adele and I spent the rest of the morning going through Mom’s clothing that Amanda did not want and could not squeeze into her car, including items of clothing that had remained in the attic after she had been here the last time during the summer. When we finished, we had 36 trash bags full of clothing. I though that was interesting considering that we had 36 suitcases that we gave away to the Salvation Army after our summer garage sale. We had just enough time to meet my old schoolmate, Roxy, and celebrate her big birthday with a delicious lunch at Blue Sage in Southampton. We had a great time conversing, and a great lunch topped off by a shared chocolate panini for dessert, one of my favorite desserts ever. I think the lunch was cathartic for Roxy who, along with her husband, George, had just gone through the trauma on Monday of having to put their old and suffering dog, Jake, to sleep. Saul arrived late after a long meeting, but Beth came over and helped him load the SUV with the bags in time to drop them off at the Salvation Army store in Lansdale before they closed for the evening.

Wednesday evening, we ordered a pizza and Beth brought over her two new housemates, Manuel and Ilsa, along with a great bottle of wine. We all seemed to have lucked out at finding each other. Beth is delighted with this lovely married couple as they are considerate housemates, and they are delighted that Ilsa no longer has to commute to Warrington from Deptford, New Jersey, to her job as a dietitian in a nursing facility. Manuel, who was a CPA in Mexico City, has been looking for a job in this area. During our evening together, Beth and I realized, almost simultaneously, that Manuel might be able to fill a job that Ken had mentioned to us at lunch the previous week. Ken interviewed him and sent him there and, although they did not want him for that particular job, they liked him so much that they offered him another opening they were trying to fill that will take advantage of his Spanish-speaking abilities with extensive travel. In the course of our congenial evening together, we learned that they had rented out their house in Mexico City and had come to the United States with the offer of a job from a friend in Texas. Shortly after making all the arrangements, the friend was laid off along with most of his department, and the person who was supervising was sent to another branch of the corporation.

The dinner we had prepared on Tuesday took place on Thursday evening. I went shopping to pick up a few last minute items. Saul and I picked up Natalie on our way there and stopped to pick up a few more items at Produce Junction in Glenside. Jerry and Betty greeted us when we arrived, a little freaked out at the lateness of the hour, but everything was ready, thanks to the help of competent volunteers, right on schedule. In eleven years of catering, I don’t remember a single incidence where the diners, without exception, were as delighted with the dinner as they were that night. We had cod lamaize on lettuce cups with grape tomatoes, assorted twist rolls, marinated salad, brown basmati rice, haricots verts with cashews, apricot-glazed boneless chicken cutlets, and jumbo oatmeal peanut butter and raisin cookies. Exceptional plates of gorgeous pareve chocolates were prepared by one of our congregants, Susan, who makes them professionally. Some were lightly gilded, others were shaped liked leaves in keeping with the fall theme, some like honeycombs, and with various flavors and textures, such as mint, nuts, and pretzels. Enough food was left and put away in the freezer and refrigerator, after everyone had eaten their fill, to produce a small luncheon the following week. The speaker, Alan Butkovitz, newly re-elected Controller of the City of Philadelphia, was knowledgeable on a number of topics regarding city planning and responded well to questions from the audience. That night, I slept like a baby. The satisfaction of having pleased that many people so thoroughly was a joy to me.

Friday, we finally remembered to take to car to the dealer for its scheduled check-up. Saul and I had breakfast together at the Perkins across the street, receiving the call just as we were finishing that the car was done and was in great shape. Larry and Beth joined us for Shabbat dinner. We had home-made challah, home-made smoked turkey and split pea soup, home-made guacamole, stuffed cabbage over pappardelle noodles, and gezer hai. For dessert, we had pareve chocolate mousse crepes.

Last weekend, while Saul was volunteering with Team Children, I napped and did the New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle. The weekend was fraught with tension as I began to discover more and more problems with the upgrades we had installed which inhibited my ability to get my computer work finished in time for deadlines. Late Saturday night, Saul was up until three in the morning, saving my files, wiping my hard drive clean and beginning the process of reinstalling everything. Early Sunday morning, we transferred my working files to a laptop so that I could continue to make progress on meeting my deadlines this past week.

The whole week was spent in great tension, working long hours on an unfamiliar and ill-adapted computer. One of my clients made life even more difficult by changing the format of their publication without any understanding of the process by which it is produced, and then asking for changes just at the moment when it was about to go to press. Saul has been an angel about trying to get everything working smoothly for me again, and it has not been easy, I have not been an angel, nor are we finished with the problems. To break the tension, I baked cookies and mandelbread. Our exterminator was coming for his routine spraying on Wednesday and, now that the plants are in the garage for the winter, I have the area around them sprayed, although not the plants themselves. I figured I had better pick and make use of my gigantic limes before the spraying, so several hours on Wednesday were spent preparing my favorite lime cornmeal cookies and lime and anise flavored mandelbread.

I spent a few hours on Tuesday going through a large carton of greeting cards that my mother had saved for many years. I had asked Adele to pull out any that had personal notes written in them, but evidently the task was too heart-wrenching for her. We had saved them for one of Adele’s neighbors who uses them for craft projects, but found that she was no longer doing them due to an illness. As I was dumping them from the carton into a trash bag for recycling, I realized that there were still photos and notes among them. A number had been sorted into a manila folder on which Adele had written, “greeting cards that Mom kept because she treasured them.” I opened every single card after my discovery, sorting out the ones on which lengthy notes were written and the ones containing photographs. I also sorted out all of Ken’s Bar Mitzvah cards including many from friends and relatives who died many years ago. After going through all the cards, I realized that my heart had been totally wrenched and that Adele had a theme going of which I had never really been aware. For many, many years, Adele had been purchasing large, exquisitely-decorated, sentimental cards from all of us for Mom’s birthdays and for Mothers Day. I realized this toward the end of sorting through all the cards and felt really bad about tossing them out in a trash bag. So, I dumped them all back in the carton and went through them one-by-one again, removing any that said Mom, Mother, Dad, or Father. I plan to make a scrapbook with them for Adele with a still-in-the-wrapper scrapbook that we also found among Mom’s things.

Thursday, I went to Faith’s Talmud study class where one of the themes we discussed was the abundance of prayers that exist in Judaism to show our appreciation for even the smallest of life’s blessings. Saul and I had dinner that night with Adele and Ken at a new restaurant, Luigi’s in Warminster. Ken called the following day to ask if I still had the bag of cards, as one of his secretaries recycles old cards into Christmas wreaths. By a stroke of luck, or perhaps inexplicable coincidence, Saul had neglected to put out the recycling on Thursday morning, and the bag of cards was retrievable from the trash bin. Soon, they will be new again.

We spent this past Friday morning at the doctor’s office for routine blood work for Saul. His blood pressure was great in spite of all the tension. After his fast, we had breakfast/brunch together at The Cheesecake Factory in Willow Grove, absolutely the best place to have an omelet in the area! They gave us such a big booth that we called Larry, who lives nearby, to see if he wanted to join us. Our phone call found him sick in bed with a fever.

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and preparing Shabbat dinner. I invited Beth to bring Ilsa and Manuel for dinner and they were our only guests this week. We bought a variety of Middle Eastern food at Costco so that Saul could treat his global studies students with the leftovers this coming week. We had Manchego and membrillo, hummous with pine nuts, tzatziki, peach mango salsa, and crackers, home-made challah, potato, leek and Cope’s dried corn soup, vegetable lasagna, kohlrabi coleslaw, and fresh-from-the-oven warm home-made chocolate chip cookies with French-roast coffee. Life is indeed very good for us, and in keeping with the theme “Everything Old is New Again,” I will try to stay more upbeat about my upcoming big birthday and see if I can find ways to renew my old self.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Staying Centered

I am having some trouble reconciling my philosophy for how I should live my life with actually living it. Circumstances around me are creating stress and I am struggling to keep relaxed and focus on all the truly wonderful blessings of my life. I fear it is in my nature to worry inordinately about everything, even those things to which I should not give a second thought.

After the wonderful weekend in Baltimore and DC, I was looking forward to having Jessica here with the girls just a few days later. Jessica and Erica had arranged for a sleepover here so that the girls could celebrate Brenna’s upcoming birthday. Last Friday was a day off from school for Sami and Izzy, so Jess was supposed to come in on Thursday evening and return on Saturday evening. At the last minute, Brenna had a strep throat and the sleepover plans were canceled. It rained heavily on Thursday evening, and I did not want Jessica to make the long drive in the rain at night. During the week I spent a few days cooking, putting away in the freezer a supply of potato knishes and potato latkes from the leftovers of a twenty-pound bag of giant Idahos from Costco. Saul spent some time, as I was between jobs, updating my computer with a new system—Snow Leopard, and updating my InDesign CS2 to CS4. Also canceled at the last minute was lunch on Wednesday with Roxy to celebrate her 60th birthday. We rescheduled, hopefully, for tomorrow.

After the anticipation of a full house, our last minute lack of plans left us a bit disoriented. We forgot to take Saul’s car in for a scheduled service appointment, sleeping late instead on Friday.
Later that morning, Adele and I had a lunch date with Marianne, Mom’s hospice volunteer. We met her on the grounds of Foulkeways, a Quaker retirement and assisted living community where she resides, which is just down the street from where we live. We were in awe of the sheer size of the community, not to mention the beauty of the facilities, the engaging productiveness of the people we met, and the delicious lunch we were served. The community sits on a lushly green and well-manicured 110 acres which are so surrounded by wooded tracts and a residential neighborhood that neither Adele, nor I, ever knew of its scope although we have driven past it regularly for at least 20 years. The community was having a crafts fair that day and a great deal of talent was on display. I bought a stunning hand-made doll coat and hat as a future gift for my friend, Faith, who collects dolls, and a packet of beautiful beads from BeadforLife made from paper by women in Uganda. There is such an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors, and with the unusual glazing, one would never guess of what they are made. The main building in which we were attending the fair also housed a magnificent restaurant-like dining facility with large walls of windows overlooking the grounds, a full-scale cafeteria downstairs surrounded by cozy sitting areas with sofas, game tables and fireplaces. Marianne ushered us into a two-story-high, well-stocked library, complete with a computer room, all lit by natural daylight pouring through the huge windows and skylights. An art room was available and well-stocked, even possessing a kiln. As we toured with Marianne, we observed workmen putting the finishing touches on a new greenhouse, flanked by new installations for playing croquette and tennis. Marianne also took us to see her apartment, which is filled with a lifetime of her memories. Most impressive was a large oil portrait of her and her twin sister as children of about nine years old. She gardens on the grassy area that belongs to her, adjoining her patio, and paints with oils in her apartment. We were greeted as we entered by her adorable little dog, who keeps her company and to whom she speaks only in Hungarian. She volunteers at a soup kitchen in Norristown in addition to her hospice volunteer work, and is a great fan of the opera and attends regularly with friends. All week I have thought about her life, the poignancy of the losses of many of her loved ones, the dispersal of her family by the Holocaust, and the grace with which she moves through her daily activities. I sense that there is an overwhelming sadness, but also joy in the little pleasures of her daily life.

Beth and Larry joined us for Shabbat dinner this week. I prepared a relatively simple meal, which Saul assembled in the afternoon while I took a brief nap, a rare luxury for me on Friday afternoons. We had lentil soup, caesar salad, salmon burgers, home-made potato knishes, and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. For dessert, Larry brought cinnamon buns, which we ate with warm home-made baked rice pudding, topped with whipped cream. I took my home-made challah from the freezer this week. We were very excited to hear that Beth got an engineering job this week and will be starting work in nearby Plymouth Meeting after Thanksgiving.

During the weekend, Saul caught up with some of his students working for Team Children while I stayed home, relaxed with my Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and began to read from the folio of letters Adele and I found written by my father to my mother, almost daily, from May of 1943 until December of 1943, while he was stationed in England during WWII. Immersing myself in these letters for the weekend left me in a strange state of mind. My father was an excellent, prolific and descriptive writer. Holding these letters and V-mails written in his own neat hand at the age of 27, younger than my youngest child right now, and listening in my head to his reassuring voice to my mother (aged 20) advising her of how to deal with the tribulations of raising their baby daughter (my sister), aged 6 months to one year, I felt closer to him, in certain ways, than I had ever felt in his lifetime. Looking at photographs of the two of them at that young age gave me a perspective of them that had been forgotten since my childhood, or perhaps, had never existed for me, as I am more than seven years younger than my sister. I felt more bereaved than ever before to have lost their physical presence forever. Several times, I had to put the letters down and walk away, trying to contain my tears as I read my father’s brave and poignant words about their separation being necessary in order to make the world a safe place in which the two of them could raise a family. Little did they know, in 1943, the horrors of the concentration camps and just how horrific life would have been for them if Hitler had succeeded.

Saul and Beth moved my plants and trees into the garage on Friday morning as a hard frost was expected the following morning. With the type of fall weather we have been having, the trees are covered with fruit and flowers as though it is late spring. The kaffir lime tree is spectacular and is harboring grapefruit size limes as well as delicate and aromatic white flowers and I hated to move it from its favorite spot on the deck.

My computer was acting strange as I tried to begin my new work for the month and, on investigation, we discovered that there were glitches in some of the new upgrades on many levels. Saul spent many hours researching and finally taking it back to most of its original state while I agonized quietly in the background, hiding my anxiety in another room.

I had let myself be cajoled into cooking another dinner at MBI-EE, this time, for the Men’s Club. So a large part of this last week has been occupied with locating and gathering all the materials and foodstuff that is necessary to produce a dinner for 50 people. Saul, like me, enjoys the hunt for the items on the list, but there is a certain amount of anxiety associated with producing a dinner for 50 diverse people and satisfying them.

On Monday morning, Adele called to say that Ava had been rushed to the hospital the previous evening with a very high fever. She was diagnosed with H1N1 flu and sent home with a prescription for Tamiflu. She is doing much better now, and the fever has gone down.

I felt myself swinging back and forth like a pendulum this week between despair and elation—the despair of evil in the world, the finality of death, and a feeling of the futility of it all; the elation of learning of my young parents brave attempts to make a good life for their family in the face of all that, and in knowing that in many ways, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. From moment to moment, the pendulum could go either way for me. From moment to moment, I strain to stay centered.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Dawns

I am up before the break of dawn blogging. Dawn comes earlier since Saturday night when daylight savings time ended, so at least we are not usually waking to the alarm clock in pitch darkness, but only until the days become even shorter. I really dislike the short days of winter.

This week has been wonderful in many ways, but it has also had its share of aggravation. Ken did have the H1N1 virus, but he is almost completely recovered now, and is back at work. Our trip down to Baltimore and DC was delightful. As has become my habit, I ran around the house like a maniac while Saul was at school, cleaning and putting things away in case a realtor wanted to stop in with a potential buyer for our home while we were gone. At the last minute, I discovered that the heating and air conditioning people who had come for a check of the systems a week earlier, and who had discovered that the compressor on our three-year-old HVAC system was shot, had unplugged our sump pump to use the electrical outlet and had failed to plug it back in. We had especially heavy rains last week and so, the basement was flooded.

We stopped in Baltimore Thursday evening to drop off the pumpkin-face cookies, an exersaucer for Yona, and some glassware from the catering business many years ago for Jess and Alex. The girls were having pizza for dinner with Jess while Alex was at school and we had a chance to play with all of them for a little while. Ari was delayed in the office that evening, a situation that is becoming more and more common lately. After much debate about where to meet, we met at his house and set out to have dinner at Founding Farmers in downtown DC. Even at 8:30 p.m. we were told that there would be a 45 minute wait for a table. Luckily, we were able to find three seats together at the crowded, but sociably buzzing, bar in front of the World Series Game. Unfortunately, we watched our Phillies lose that night. We were able to assuage our considerable hunger immediately with house-made potato chips and crackers with an assortment of dips—green goddess, smoky cheddar, and sour cream; and excellent fried green tomatoes. Saul and I each had a chocolate beer that was on draught that must have had the highest alcohol content ever. We both were totally buzzed before even finishing the one glass. It was delicious, but also bitter, not what you would expect when hearing chocolate-flavored beer. In due time, we moved to a table to order dinner, which was very mediocre and disappointing considering the wonderful meal we had the last time we visited.

On Friday, we relaxed around the house while Ari was at work, sleeping late, playing with the laptops, and getting his laundry caught up. Our Shabbat dinner on Friday night was adults only. Jessica had given the girls dinner earlier so that they could attend a family service at the synagogue. We arrived in Baltimore and began to put dinner on the table as they were returning at about 8:30 p.m. Alex had made sangria, lentil soup, sushi, seared tuna, baked tilapia, and a huge salad with fresh figs and mozzarella. The challah was supplemented with a delicious olive bread. We were joined by Alex’s assistant, Abby, and Paige, a friend who was in town this past weekend. Abby’s fiancé, Isaac, was at a conference.

On Saturday night, we traveled again to Baltimore and went trick-or-treating with the girls in Pikesville at the end of Shabbat, to just a few neighbors down their street. Because the neighborhood is so traditionally Jewish, the holiday is scarcely observed there. The girls are in a public school, though, so it would be impossible to avoid the festivities of the season. The weather was rainy, so we walked with large umbrellas. Yona was very happy dressed as a Philadelphia Phillie in a backpack on Jessica’s back under the umbrella, and fell asleep there just as we arrived back home with the girls’ stash of candy.

On Sunday morning, Ari went to the office again while Saul changed his balky shower head, and then we dressed, cleaned up the condo and packed our things into the car. We were supposed to meet at lunch time for dim sum at China Garden in an office building near Ari’s office in Arlington. When we pulled into the underground parking lot, the barrier bar was broken, and no one was there to fix it. A line of cars backed up behind us, and we wasted a half hour while various people came to try to fix the machine. Eventually, we ran out of time to eat because we were meeting Jess and the girls at the Egyptian theater at Arundel Mills Mall to see Where the Wild Things Are together. We arranged for all the traffic behind us to back up in order to finally get out of there and had just enough time to make the one hour drive to the movie theater. Where the Wild Things Are was enjoyable, but we were a bit disappointed because of the rave reviews we had all seen of the movie. It was also very slow in parts. Max should have gone back home earlier! Afterward, Saul shopped for Crocs and bought a pair in the Croc Store. The girls got some new jibbetz for theirs, and we proceeded to a very enjoyable Mexican-style dinner at Chevy’s before heading for home.

Last night, we met our friends Susan and Paul for dinner at Cheesecake Factory in Willow Grove Mall. They are traveling the world these days. They just came back from Russia last month and are leaving for Dublin on Wednesday. When they return, they will be leaving immediately for Paris and Barcelona. We only get to see each other a few times a year, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Paul, since he retired, is writing beautiful poetry and performing it at local venues, and is doing glass and metal art. Susan is doing supervisory teaching part-time and continues to paint. Our dinner was exceptionally good, but our conversation was hampered by the intrusive noise levels in the room. We finished with coffee, cappuccino, and complimentary pumpkin pecan and tuxedo (dark and white chocolate) cheesecake topped with huge mounds of whipped cream, thanks to a coupon promotion card that we received last month. We all left more than sated. Ari called to let us know he was getting on the plane to Chicago for the next two days for a special two-day training session for work. As we were getting to bed, he called to say that his plane had landed safely.