Thursday, January 29, 2009


Okay, today was a bit disappointing. I haven’t had the urge to write about my week because I didn’t have any cool pictures to put up this time and I didn’t want to displace all those beautiful photos and Jamie’s wonderful, and graphic, description of her first week of motherhood. God willing, and weather permitting, the family will all be here for dinner tomorrow night, including our new Presley Bella. First thing tomorrow morning, Saul’s cast is coming off and I hope that he won’t be in pain and can help me prepare for our 18 guests for dinner.

An hour ago, I found out that I did not win the Pom Wonderful Contest for bloggers with my Spinach Salad entry, but I was one of the eight finalists, so my site is listed with a live feed there, and the number of competitors checking me out should boost my blog’s exposure, which is more than I had hoped when I entered. I have caught the contest bug, and spent last evening looking at former finalists in the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest where the grand prize is a million dollars. This morning, before I was fully awake, I came up with what I think is a brilliant idea for a submission, and spent the morning playing with it. Saul was very happy when he came home from school today and had several breakfasts all laid out on plates and waiting for him. He hadn’t had a chance to have lunch. We all had my experiments for lunch and dinner.

Another disappointment was that the mandelbread photo I submitted to Foodgawker was rejected for too much light glare. I just discovered Foodgawker, so this was my first rejection. I submitted four more photos this evening, but took them into Photoshop first to tweak them a bit.

My friend Roxy and I have been doing a lot of talking lately about persistence. Her husband, George, is at war with the squirrels on his property which have been demolishing his bird feeders. Roxy is constantly amused watching the clever ways they are able to beat his systems for thwarting them and is convinced that the squirrels are winning the war because of their persistence. They are constantly trying new ways to get at the prize and don’t give up until they succeed. Roxy has been submitting the memoir she wrote to publishers for a while now and has gotten her share of rejections. The squirrels are an inspiration to her to keep trying, and I have been cheerleading her since she began to just keep sending it out no matter how many times it may be rejected. It is a good memoir, and persistence will get it published someday.

Mom’s health has been sliding the last few days. I suppose I have been anticipating this time, but it is still hard to stay cheerful. For the last couple of weeks, she has been getting more and more shaky with her walker. In addition, she has had a struggle to get up from her chair and we have had to bring the wheelchair in order to get her back to her bedroom. I can no longer rely on Saul with his fractured arm to help me lift or support her. In the last week, she has given up the struggle to get to the kitchen table with her walker and has resigned herself to the wheelchair. A few days ago, Kathy, her hospice nurse, watched her walking and deemed her a falling risk and said it was no longer safe to use her walker to get to the bathroom at night by herself. That means that I am back to emptying the commode next to her bed in the morning. It is no big deal, but I fear what will happen if a time comes when she can no longer get out of bed. That will cause suffering for all of us.

I learned a great lesson from Saul two years ago when he had the stroke that temporarily (thank God!) paralyzed his right side. He never lost his sense of humor through the whole ordeal and I learned from him that a sense of humor and a positive outlook can get you through almost anything. Mom looks forward to his coming home every day because he jokes with her and makes light of her condition. It takes a special strength to be able to laugh through the pain. Perhaps it is genetic. Within a few days of having his first leg amputated, his father appalled me by making jokes about having one foot in the grave. That is another story that I have already written and will put up here someday. Suffice it to say that Orthodox Jews believe in being buried with all their body parts and his leg was truly in his grave.

I am working on that part of myself that wants to wring my hands and cry out in misery. I intend to persist in suppressing that part and developing the better part of myself that can find laughter and love in every aspect of the human condition. As long as I live, I will persist. It is quite a struggle for me, though.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More Pictures of Presley Bella Parker

The Birth of Presley Bella Parker (Jamie's Labor Story)

My Labor Story
Jamie Beth Parker
Written: January 25, 2009
Birth of Presley Bella Parker: January 14, 2009

I am writing this story in the hopes that more women will commit to natural childbirth. My husband and my close family and friends all know that when I put my mind to something, it will happen. Anyone can put their mind to something; it’s just a matter of breaking through all the fear and doubt, and fully realizing the love and confidence available on the other side.

I started my labor at home a few weeks before I went into active labor. At first it started as tightening at the top of my abdomen (Braxton-Hicks contractions), and then it moved down lower, like menstrual cramps. I slowly became dilated with every contraction. At three weeks before my due date (January 12, 2009), I was three centimeters dilated. I was checked again by the doctor one week before my due date. At this point, I was four centimeters dilated and 80 percent effaced. I had my next appointment scheduled for January 14, 2009. Andy decided to go with me in case any decisions needed to be made regarding an induction. The night before the appointment, I noticed a bit of wetness that didn’t seem like normal discharge, but it wasn’t pouring out of me, so I figured I would ask about it at my doctor’s appointment the next day. We made sure everything was packed for the hospital before we went to the appointment, since my obstetrician is located next to the hospital. Sure enough, my midwife, Claire Szymanski, confirmed that my water had indeed broken and that we would be directly admitted to the hospital in about an hour. I was about five centimeters dilated and 90 percent effaced at this point. She told us to go have a light lunch and handle any last-minute arrangements, and to arrive at the hospital in an hour or so.

Andy and I agree that this is not how we pictured going to the hospital. We both envisioned the labor pains beginning at home, in the middle of the night, rushing to the hospital in total anticipation. Instead, Andy stopped by his work for about 15 minutes while I called my mom, sister, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law from the car to let them know the exciting news. Then, Andy and I enjoyed a nice relaxing lunch where we both just stared at each other in awe at how it was all going to happen so matter-of-factly. No drama, which is a first for me.

During this time, I also took the opportunity to remind myself that it didn’t matter how it all unfolded. I knew my commitment was to do this naturally. I wasn’t attached to it, but definitely committed one hundred percent. Meaning, I would consider an epidural or other medication if the moment called for it, but living moment by moment, I would recommit myself to natural childbirth with each contraction, with each minute that passed.

We arrived at the hospital around 1 pm, but we filled out paperwork and waited around for about an hour or so. My water had already broken, so the hospital did not send me through triage, as they normally would. They directly admitted me to a room. I think we ended up in the labor room around 2:30 pm. Our first nurse, Pam, was a joy. She even told the next nurse, Krystin, “This is Jamie, she is thinking about going natural. Scratch that. She IS going natural.” This boosted my confidence even more. One of the best pieces of advice I can give to women who want to go natural is: Surround yourself with people who believe you can do it and will stick with you no matter what. If you don’t like your nurse or feel that they are not listening to your requests, ask for another one. Krystin was a bit dry in personality, but she was definitely with me. She told me the doctor ordered for me to be put on Pitocin. At first, I was not happy to hear this, since I wanted to go completely natural, but I told her I wanted to be able to move around and be more active during my labor than most women (dance teachers just can’t be confined to a bed when they are in pain). She checked with the doctor, and although they put me on two drips of Pitocin an hour, which is a trace amount, I was still able to move around.

I started having stronger contractions while straddling a birthing ball, which is basically an exercise ball, like the ones they have at the gym. This helped open me up for more dilation. I was bouncing on the ball, while chatting with my sister, Haley, my mom, and of course, Andy. We had my IPOD playing in the background. We listened to Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, John Mayer, and anything that played in shuffle mode. My mom began to rub my lower back with tennis balls, while Andy helped me breathe through contractions, and Haley assisted by doing what she does best… cracking jokes. I must say, she provided the best comic relief for me to keep my mind busy.

I was only allowed to have up to three people in the labor room, so my dad was patiently holding his breath in the waiting room. Haley decided to go out to dinner with him, as my labor progressed. My mom and Andy stayed to support me. At this point, around 5-ish, my labor pains became more intense. I experienced each contraction as an individual moment, and did not focus on anything in the past or the future. We switched to more soothing music on my IPOD, such as Mozart and baby lullabies. Andy helped me break through about three or four really strong contractions by reading a guided meditation to me. I followed along, word by word. For some contractions we did this hug-dance movement I had learned by watching an episode of A Baby Story on TLC where a woman chose to go natural.

After that, we tried playing Mad Libs, but that was very short-lived. I think we got through two adjectives, and that was it. Haley came back from dinner and cracked another joke, but at this point, it hurt me too much to laugh, so I told her that the comedy hour was over. She immediately got the message. My mom left the room for a moment to eat something that my dad and sister had brought her. I needed to use the bathroom, so Andy and Haley followed me with my IV and the Pitocin drip. I was standing over the toilet after emptying my bladder, and I yelped to Haley and Andy, “I feel like I need to push.” They both stood there and had no idea what to do. Haley asked, “Do you want us to get the nurse?” I said yes.

This is when the really hard labor kicked in (around 5:30-6 pm). We turned off the music. My mom came back into the room as I sat in the bed next to Andy, leaning on his shoulder for support and moaning. We simply breathed together through each contraction. The Breathing and Relaxation course we took at the hospital was well worth it. My mom began to press harder with the tennis balls on my lower back. I kept focusing my thoughts on each contraction and how each one made me more dilated than the last one, essentially bringing us closer to meeting our daughter. The nurse finally came. A new one this time. Her name was Krissy. She was even dryer than Krystin, but was extremely focused on her job. She did not get caught up in any drama or bother herself with coddling me, that is for sure. She was simply there to do her job. For some reason, her way of being just worked for the moment, even though it seemed like she didn’t believe that I would go natural. Who knows what she was thinking. Like I said, she was very dry, just there to do her job and help deliver our baby.

I remember screaming through about seven or eight really bad contractions for about 20 minutes as I transitioned into the pushing phase. My acupuncturist and holistic healer once told me that allowing my throat to open up through vocals and/or breathing can actually help move labor along. Everything is connected in the body. This may sound a bit graphic, but the throat is very similar to the vagina, the lips very similar to labia… and so on, and so forth. Thus, opening the throat can help open the birth canal. This transitional labor was very tough. There is no doubt in my mind that if I had about two or three more of these contractions (as the baby moved through the canal), I would have asked for an epidural. Haley and I were talking the other day and she said she thinks it would have been too late at that point. Thankfully, it was time to push.

Before I went to the hospital, my birth plan was to have Andy and my mom in the labor room supporting me, while Haley would serve as relief if my mom or Andy needed a break. Then, I was planning to have my mom and Haley leave when I started pushing, so Andy and I could be alone for the birth of our daughter. Once I got ready to push, however, I realized it did not make sense to ask anyone to leave. Each person had played a unique role in helping me get to this point. Andy positioned himself on my left side, by my head, while Haley and my mom each held my left and right legs, respectively. Krissy, the dry nurse, was near my head on my right side coaching me. My midwife, Claire, had thankfully made it to the hospital in time to deliver the baby. She kept saying, “You were made for this, girl” and “I can’t believe I just saw you in my office earlier today, and now you are ready to deliver.” We all could not fathom how fast everything had happened. There was also a doctor available, the head of my practice (All About Women), Dr. Helen McCullough. She stopped by to check on me in the very beginning of my labor, ordered the Pitocin, and then came back for the delivery. During the pushing, she stayed on my left side, while Claire stayed on my right. Both were just staring down at me and seemed impressed with my progress.

As I pushed, I remember screaming again. Dr. McCullough calmly said, “Jamie, now it’s time to use your energy for pushing, not screaming.” This was a good point. All of my cheerleaders (Andy, Haley, and my mom), including the doctors, and even Krissy, were counting to 10 with each push. I felt their energy all around me, like a positive force field. I pushed for about 20 minutes. I describe my pushing phase as seven sets of pushes. I pushed about three times per set, so I guess you could say it took me approximately 21 pushes to get her out. Again, I focused… each push bringing me closer to meeting our daughter.

If you are easily nauseated, skip this next paragraph. I pushed really hard towards the end of the pushing phase, bearing down with all of my might (and every back muscle I have), when this huge wave of yellowish fluid came gushing out from between my legs. My sister and my mom both jumped back in horror, but to their credit, they held steadily onto my ankles, keeping them raised. Knowing how Haley does not like the sight of blood or guts, I lovingly asked my sister, “Are you ok?” She choked back her laughter and asked, “Am I ok? Are YOU ok?” It was quite hilarious, actually. I must’ve been delirious or having some kind of out-of-body experience to have asked that. It all happened so quickly.

I remember an extreme burning sensation as the baby’s head came through. Claire aided this process by putting some gel around my vagina and pressing down on my perineum. They did not do an episiotomy. Later, they told me I had second-degree tearing. Once her head was out, we needed one last push for the shoulders. I breathed deep and pushed again. This was probably the most painful part, but also the quickest. Presley arrived at 7:34 pm. As they placed her on my chest, Andy cut her umbilical cord and blessed her with his tears. I was still in shock. Although, I remember thinking she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. This moment was nothing short of a miracle. For the first time, I could not focus. My mind went blank.

Andy, my mom, and Haley followed Presley around the cleaning and testing area in the labor room, while I delivered the placenta and was all stitched up. When the nurse brought our daughter back to me as a little bundle, it all hit me. I cried my eyes out. I have never loved so fiercely in all of my life. Now that we are home and Presley is over a week old, I feel exactly the same. In fact, although it seems impossible, somehow, I love her more each day.

Before I went into labor, my mantra was: “I AM MADE TO DELIVER NATURALLY!” Now, it is: “I AM A BREASTFEEDING MOM!” There is no doubt in my mind that I will continue breastfeeding our daughter. It doesn’t matter how it unfolds. All that matters is my commitment.



George Carlin, who died recently and was one of my favorite comedians, had a whole routine that I thought was hysterical about stuff.

Although I hadn’t seen the routine for a long time, I began thinking about it for several reasons. One of them is that last year in January, I was enjoying an incredible, last minute vacation in Beijing. China has the largest collection of beautiful useless stuff that I have ever seen. They have been manufacturing and exporting it to the rest of the world for many years. Having inherited a huge collection of other people’s stuff myself, there was very little in the way of souvenirs that I wished to purchase and, of course, I already have a lifetime’s worth of my own stuff, which is weighing rather heavily on me right now. In addition, the Forbidden City is a monument to the collection of priceless, mostly useless stuff—a thousand years of incredible artistry—all mostly neglected and disrespected until the last few years, in the modern effort to merely feed and house a burgeoning population. I have this pile on the corner of my desk that has all kinds of miscellaneous papers that I put there because I want to keep or file them. It has been piling up for a year now, and I finally found the time to go through them, throw out the ones I no longer wanted or needed, and file some of the others. In going through them I ran across the nine-page text of emails that went back and forth between us and Jess, Alex and our granddaughters during the China trip. The following is an excerpt that I wrote for Sami:

We went to a palace yesterday and heard a story about an Empress and her socks. She lived in the beautiful palace and was very proud of her beautiful socks. Her name was Cixi. They were made of pure silk and had beautiful designs embroidered on them by servants. She changed her socks every day and never wore them again. It took one servant seven days to embroider each pair of socks so she had a whole lot of servants that did nothing but make her socks. It cost so much for her to live in this wasteful way that her kingdom ran out of money and was taken over by other nations. The people of China hated her for being so wasteful.

Another reason that I was thinking about stuff is because Ed, Beth’s ex-husband, joined us all for Shabbat dinner on Friday. He came to pick up Beth, who is traveling to Syracuse with him, so that he will have help to go through all the stuff that his parents left behind in their house there. They have been living for several years in a lovely retirement community in Florida and using the house in Syracuse only occasionally. Ed now has the enormous job of going through and getting rid of all that stuff so that they can sell the house because they have decided to stay permanently in Florida. Beth has become somewhat of an expert on getting rid of stuff on eBay. Beth and Ed were friends from college for 17 years before they decided to marry. They divorced last year, but have been working hard on forging that friendship back together again. Perhaps going through all that stuff will help them rebuild their friendship.

Because of this current economic crisis, people have curtailed buying a lot of useless stuff, and that hurts the economy even more. Now is the time to create a change in our society and perhaps influence global society to stop wasting our resources on manufacturing pretty, useless, or poorly designed objects, and put people to work creating well-designed, artistic, and USEFUL objects as well as clean food and water.

Just to be consistent with past blog posts, our guests at Shabbat dinner this week were Beth, Ed, and Larry. Mom was cajoled into joining us, but needed to be wheeled to the table. She began feeling ill after about 20 minutes, and I wheeled her back to bed and gave her oxygen. Dinner was the only time on Friday that she was out of bed. I shopped in the morning, and in the afternoon, Saul with his one good arm helped me prepare: homemade challah, deviled eggs, warm edamame, leek and potato soup, kohlrabi coleslaw, Israeli salad, iceberg lettuce with homemade Russian dressing, vegetable lasagne, and carrot cake. We also had leftover membrillo and Manchego, quick black bean soup, and carob sheet cake. I have to stop cooking for a few days now so that we can finish up our leftovers. I still have a backlog of recipes and photos to put up on the other blog, though, so keep watching.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Putting Out Good Karma

I decided to check out the word “karma” since my family uses it all the time, particularly the expression “travel karma.” Colloquially, it can be expressed as “what goes around comes around” and that is pretty much how we understand it. Negative thoughts and motives as well as actions are palpable and influence everyone and everything surrounding you. Bad things happen to everyone, but how you deal with a bad thing can send out positive and uplifting energy. Bad intentions can be as deleterious as bad actions. People respond positively to love and understanding. We all are conscious that we will die and how we deal with each other in this short life transcends all our petty vices and mundane concerns in our day-to-day lives.

Obviously, I am feeling philosophical today about this past week, the inauguration, and the change that was promised :-). I think that so far, Barack Obama has begun putting out good karma from the highest level and there are signs that the effects of his actions are beginning to spread. They are just little things, like shushing Joe Biden when he began picking on Chief Justice John Roberts’ bungling of the oath. His speech had kind and respectful words thanking Former President Bush for his service, and I believe that, rather than indicting some of Bush’s policies as some have suggested, he was only trying in a no-nonsense way to point out how his administration would be different from the previous one. The transition seemed to be above pettiness in every way. John McCain stepping in to facilitate the approval of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was another sign of good karma flowing in Washington. Considering the crowds at the inauguration and the frustrations of moving around Washington on Tuesday (see previous blog post) the celebrations were a tremendous illustration of what positive things can happen when large masses of people have good intentions. It is exactly the opposite of an angry mob. I was struck by the simplicity of Ari’s photo of the overflowing trash can. I have never seen anything like it before. People were obviously concerned with being unable to deposit their trash properly and for the most part, seem to have neatly stacked their litter around the wastecan so as not to deface the streets of DC. It remains to be seen if the good karma will continue to flow, or whether it will be overwhelmed by a deluge of bad intentions. Having watched Obama operate for the past few years, I think that he has mastered the art of responding to evil intentions and actions with inner calm and the desire to discover the right thing to do in a situation and then respond in an appropriate and positive manner.

I have been playing with food this week, my own personal way of creating good karma. With Saul’s right arm in a cast, we couldn’t eat out comfortably even if we had the opportunity. So the comfort of creating good meals at home has sustained me and kept me from feeling shut in. I am still enjoying my nest very much.

Today was especially exciting and filled with good karma. Ari called me this morning and said he had located a cheap flight to Israel on United Airlines beginning the week that Saul is on spring break. I told him that I thought that he and Saul should take this opportunity to go and that, if it was meant to be and would be possible, I would come at the last minute. Saul came home from school relatively early and they began to discuss making the trip and to work on getting the tickets. A few minutes after he arrived home, my friend and colleague, Laura, came to discuss some work with me and we sat at the kitchen table over the papers to lunch on the Manchego and membrillo, crackers, cashews, hummus, compote, carob cake, etc., that were some of the results of my foodie impulse this week. She brought me some perky daffodils, always creators of good karma. Then Marianne, Mom’s hospice volunteer arrived. At 1:15 p.m. Mom had not been up yet and we went in to wake her to see if she would join us all at the kitchen table. Marianne was able to coax her out to the table, but she only drank a half glass of orange juice and was not up to eating her warm bread pudding. After a few minutes, Darnice, Mom’s hospice aide, arrived to bathe her. Having introduced Marianne and Laura, I sat at the table with them while Mom went off with Darnice, and Saul began to discuss the possibility of the trip to Israel.

Marianne is a Holocaust survivor from Budapest who has a twin sister in Jerusalem, who, by the most remarkable coincidence, married Saul’s original rabbi from when he first came to the United States. Her sister had asked her to come to visit in February because there was an apartment available for her nearby at that time. She had demurred, having recently checked the expensive airline prices and worried about the economic situation here and her living arrangements in a nearby retirement community. She was incredulous at the price of the ticket, and we offered to arrange for a flight for her also. Within 15 minutes, thanks to the miracle of computers, all three of them are booked on a flight to Israel for one week, leaving at the end of February. Marianne fairly danced out of here, so excited to call her twin and tell her that she was coming after all. I sent Laura off with some foodie care packages for her husband, Marc, more good karma.

So despite all the bad things that have been going on this week—dealing with the cast, Mom’s worsening physical condition, having to stay at home, etc.—there is also a feeling of happiness, excitement and all-around good karma that resulted from dealing with bad situations with the best possible intentions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Change (and a Few Million of its Closest Friends) Comes to Washington

(by Ari)

Ed. Note: The memory card from my Fuji camera is acting up, so right now I only have pictures I took on my iPhone. I'll try to straighten this out on Wednesday and put up better pics.

Update (Wed. 10:30 AM): New pics uploaded to the set.

I had gone out to the Mall (the National Mall, that is) for the concert on Sunday, and decided that my current gear (wool scarf, gloves and 180s), while passable for a 3-4 hour venture, would be woefully inadequate for what was likely to be an entire day’s outing for the Main Event. So I drove up to Arundel Mills yesterday and outfitted myself with a new hat, a bigger, thicker scarf, and some long johns. Apparently a few thousand other people had the same idea, but I managed to dig through a pile of debris at Moddell’s and get the last adequately sized pair of cotton/wool blend ankle-length long johns in existence.

I went to bed reasonably early last night, and managed to get showered, bundled up, and out the door by about 7:05 this morning. What follows is a rough “twitter-like” account of my perspective on the day.

I get to the Georgia Ave-Petworth metro station as the sun is coming up, and the crowd isn’t too bad. I see that the next train going in the right direction is about 11 minutes away, which is pretty bad for what was supposed to be a rush-hour schedule. I realize that I’m not going to make it to the Mt. Vernon/Convention Center stop before it closes at 7:30. Not the end of the world, but as I watch the minutes tick away, the crowd on the platform continues to build. I notice that the next train will be an 8-car train (the normal length is 6), and I move as far down the platform as I can to get away from the crowd growing down by the escalators.

The train gets there, and it’s waaaay too crowded. There’s no way that people down at the escalators can get on the cars toward the front and middle, let alone the people who are undoubtedly waiting at Columbia Heights, U Street/Cardozo and Shaw/Howard U. I squeeze myself into the last car, and steel grip a grab-bar. As we go by Columbia Heights and U Street, about 10 more people manage to squeeze into the car “Tokyo Style,” but at this point my grip is holding me up as well as some annoying hipster boyfriend/girlfriend. I observe, with some consternation, that the girlfriend is making things worse by leaning into the boyfriend (and by association, into me) every time the train brakes.

We finally make it to Gallery Place/Chinatown, and I am relieved to extricate myself from the shiny silver sardine can. I head up and out as quickly as I can, and make it up to 7th and H. My plan is to get through security toward the Mall at 7th and D, but I hit the wall of people at 7th and E, and it doesn’t look like anything is moving.

I have a quick call with Julian, one of my co-workers, about a project to brief him on a number of conference calls he will be handling for me, as I am certain that I will, at some point, become incommunicado. To my amazement, I have both voice and 3G data service, which I believe to be a small miracle. Maybe AT&T figured out what they did wrong on Sunday.

The crowd at 7th and E is still not moving, and I can’t see if anything is moving through security down the block either. I overhear some crowd rumblings that this entrance is closed, and that the only way to get down to the mall is through the entrance at 12th and E. I head down E Street, and immediately pass a panic-stricken Anderson Cooper, who is undoubtedly trying to figure out how to get down to the CNN set at the Newseum at 6th and Penn. He’s being led down the street by an enormous handler, who is shouting into a cell phone.

I get down to 12th and E, but it’s basically the same scene as down at 7th. Big crowd, people patiently waiting, but nothing apparently happening. There’s even a line forming up 12th Street stretching ¾ of the way down to F. I take a few pictures with my Fuji camera and my iPhone.

An ambulance starts making its way down E Street straight into the crowd. There’s no way it’s going to get through, but it tries anyway. It gets stuck smack in the middle of the crowd. People get a little angry, because a few hundred people have used the ambulance’s wake to insert themselves into the middle of all the people who had been waiting patiently. For the next 20 minutes or so, the ambulance tries to move both forward and backward, potentially injuring a few more people in the process. I amazingly still have a data connection, and keep myself busy texting with friends and reading the news on the USA Today iPhone app.

My co-worker Tom emails me from home to check and see where I am. When I email him back that I’m waiting to get in at 12th and E, he informs me that the news had already announced that all the entrances east of the Washington Monument have been shut down, and that my only chance of making it down to the Mall is to head west toward the Lincoln. Unfortunately, this means that I have to head north up to I Street and around the White House before I can start moving south toward the Mall again.

I get to 18th and I, and become part of the mass of bodies moving south down 18th Street. It looks a bit harrowing, but the crowd is moving at a reasonable pace, and I have renewed hope that I will actually make it down to the Mall today.

I finally make it to 18th and Constitution, and have a clear and easy shot up the hill to the Washington Monument. I move across to the south side of the Monument, in the hopes that the crowd is thinner there, and I make it about halfway between the Monument and 14th Street. Unfortunately, any direct view of the Capitol is blocked by trees, but I have a fairly clear view of the Jumbo-tron.

After some jostling around, I am pretty much settled in a spot next to a nice African-American family from Georgia. I am grateful to be with them, as opposed to being in front of the annoying college kids initially.

The crowd watches the Jumbo-trons and reacts to the various political figures as they are shown coming into the Capitol and announced. Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton—big cheers. Dick Cheney in a wheelchair—raucous laughter. George W. Bush—boos louder than Sarah Palin at a Flyers game. Barack—ear piercing screams.

Pastor Rick Warren starts out well to lots of bowed heads. I’m impressed by the inclusive nature of his words, but then he ruins it all at the end by mentioning Jesus—even gives a nod to the reprehensible Jews-for-Jesus with a “Y’shua” reference. Ugh.

You saw it all on TV, so I won’t re-tell it here. We pretty much saw the same thing on the Mall, except with a creepy delay between picture and sound. Some people start moving through the crowd before Obama’s speech, which is not so great for those of us trying to watch and listen.

The crowd breaks up a bit during the closing Benediction, so I start moving back toward the other side of the Monument. I get a few pictures on the way, but my Fuji camera stops working properly, and my iPhone is running low on battery.

I get back out to 18th Street, and start heading north, but it’s really slow going. I decide that there’s no way I’m getting back on the Metro today. Home is at most 4 miles away, and moving feels better than standing still.

I finally make it the 4 or 5 blocks up to 18th and Penn, and though the street is blocked off, presumably for parade marchers, I see that people are moving down the sidewalk toward 17th, in the direction of my old office at 17th and Penn, to which I still have an access card. I make it through the security checkpoint in front of my old building and head upstairs to the kitchen/break room on the 2nd floor.

I come upon a group of about 15 people hanging out in there and watching CNN on the big flat screen TV. I unwrap myself, hit the bathroom, make myself a tall cup of hot coffee, and stretch out in one of the big comfy chairs.

I head downstairs and pick up a sandwich at the Potbelly on the corner. It’s crowded, but I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes. I look around at a few hundred freezing people hanging about at 17th and Penn, and feel VERY LUCKY to go back upstairs to the big comfy chair to eat my lunch. I hang with the group and watch the President have his lunch with Congress, the Ted Kennedy fiasco unfold, and the limo procession up Pennsylvania Avenue on CNN before bundling myself back up for the walk home.

I hang around 17th and Penn for a few minutes having a surreal experience as I watch the color guard and limos I just saw on CNN rounding the corner. I decide that it’s enough for the day and start walking up H to 15th. The scene at 15th and K is crazy once I get out of the no-car zone and back into the real world. The service roads are filled with vendor tents, and military guys in fatigues and fluorescent vests are making their best effort at directing traffic. I ponder the need for the vests, since desert camouflage sticks out like a sore thumb in an urban setting.

I head up Vermont and across Thomas Circle and Logan Circle to 13th Street. The walk feels great, and the big hill up to Columbia Heights really gets my blood flowing again. A man carrying belongings in a few plastic shopping bags strikes up a pleasant conversation with me for a few blocks. He looks homeless, but he tells me he watched the inauguration at home, so who knows?

I make it home just as the last daylight fades, amazed that the walk only took about an hour. As I let myself in, I ponder the coincidence that the sky looks just like it did when I set out this morning. The parade on TV is still going strong, and I feel bad for Barack and Michelle that they will have very little time to change into evening wear for tonight’s Inaugural Balls. I call Mom and Dad to let them know I got home, and they DEMAND that I post the details of my day to the blog.

My iPhone finally gets a whole bunch of email for the day, and I see that some of the attorneys I work with out in San Francisco want me to dial-in to a meeting and clarify some data patterns I had identified to them on Friday. I’m an hour late, but they’re still there when I call, and we have a good discussion.

I sit down to write this blog post.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oops! Wrong Color

Friday worked out okay, considering all the things that could have gone wrong. I awoke just before the alarm went off at 5:15 a.m. I hadn’t slept well because I was concerned that Saul wasn’t sleeping well with his fractured arm in a sling to keep it somewhat immobilized. Having taken pain killers, he actually slept better than I did, only awakening when he needed to shift his position. Our outside temperature gauge was reading only 8°F., so I dressed in several warm layers and headed out right on time to pick up our friend Larry to drop him off for his colonoscopy. I was right on schedule to drop him off at the clinic as well. Our mutual friend Faith had arranged to pick him up and deliver him home after the procedure.

The sun was beginning to rise as I returned home about an hour later. Adele and I arrived at exactly the same time, around 7:00 a.m. Saul was at the table, having some breakfast, and we joined him, sharing slices of the two different angel food cakes I had baked on Wednesday with cups of tea. Mom joined us at the table about 7:30, very unusual these days. For the last week she has been at the table only long enough to have a few bites before she feels exhausted and needs to go back to bed, 20 minutes approximately. When Saul came into her room after his x-rays on Thursday, she hugged and kissed him, crying in relief that he appeared to be his usual good-natured self, albeit with a very painful arm and hip.

I drove Saul to see Dr. Rubin, who did both of Mom’s hip replacements. We have been using this medical team for 30 years now. His associate, Dr. Junkin, set Jessica’s broken collarbone when she fell out of bed at age two, and did her ACL surgery when she had a skiing accident. The team has treated Saul’s arthritic knees, and Dr. Takei, their hand specialist, diagnosed Mom’s hand problems and performed surgery on my hand as well. Luckily, Saul needed no surgery for the fracture in his radius bone and was given the option of choosing whether or not he wanted to be casted for two weeks. Two weeks is the maximum for which a cast is allowed in this situation, so that his elbow joint will not freeze up. Saul chose to be casted knowing that he would probably inadvertently damage the arm and cause pain with too much moving around.

When the technician came in to cast his arm, she asked him to choose from a variety of colors. Saul is “wardrobe-challenged” and has trouble figuring out whether stripes go with plaids, so he immediately turned to me to choose a color. We debated for a bit, feeling silly about having such a choice in the first place. Would dark colors negate his students being able to sign his cast? The technician assured us that would not be a problem. Would black flake off at home and leave unpleasant traces on the carpeting? The technician made a joke about real men choosing pink. Easy, plain old white was not one of our options. Blue might have been pastel or royal, and we felt silly asking. Valuable time was passing and our indecision was becoming annoying. Finally, I said to get purple because it is Mom’s favorite color and her hospice team is always joking about how she matches her walls and bedspread with her gloves and scarves. Wrong choice. When we spoke to our granddaughters on Friday evening, they told us how they were the only ones in their classes in Baltimore who were wearing Eagles green instead of Ravens purple. How could we have forgotten?! What ribbing Saul will take from his students unless we find some way to cover up the Ravens purple cast.

Once the cast went on, Saul’s pain disappeared for a while. We stopped at Whole Foods and Costco before returning home and bought some wonderful food for Shabbat dinner and the weekend. After we had a quick lunch of new and addictive Tuscan Three Cheese Kettle-Cooked Potato Chips dipped in pine nut hummus, Adele headed for home and Saul and I spent the whole afternoon napping. I arose at 4:00 and prepared my version of the 30-minute meal for just the three of us (Larry was too tired to join us, but his colonscopy was good news). We had homemade challah from the freezer, quick black bean soup, salt and pepper glazed baked potatoes topped with scallion sour cream, pan-sautéed buttery steelhead trout with carmelized shallots and lime, leftover kohlrabi coleslaw, and the angel food cake for dessert.

We were back in bed by 7:30 p.m., but we were all still exhausted this morning. The temperatures outside have been absolutely frigid. This evening Saul and I rearranged our bedroom to switch sides of the bed on which we sleep. The edges of the cast are sharp enough to cut skin in a few places, so we filed them down with an emery board today. The cast itself is so rough that Saul has to sleep with it on top of the covers so as not to rub himself raw, and I was on the wrong side of him and spent the night trying to avoid contact with it.

This afternoon, we were visited by Bob, Mom’s deceased brother Jack’s son, who has really been wonderful about coming to see her from time to time. Bob’s mother, my Aunt Sarah, was more like a sister than a sister-in-law to Mom, and all of us miss her and Uncle Jack dearly. It is hard to believe that they are both gone for so many years. My granddaughter, Samara, is named for Aunt Sarah.

We spent much of the day watching the progress of Barack Obama’s train as it left Philadelphia, stopping in Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, Maryland, before its final stop in Washington, DC. The CNN news team we were watching was broadcasting from the frigid outdoor patio at the Newseum, where we took photos when we visited a few months ago. I hope the weather warms up soon!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That’s Life!

Here is the photo of Presley Bella I promised yesterday. Isn’t she gorgeous?!

Life certainly is uncertain. Saul gathered our trash and set out down the driveway this morning to put it out for pickup. We had just been commenting over our quick 6:45 a.m. breakfast that we had received a dusting of snow last night. On the way back up the driveway to leave for school, he slipped on a snow-covered patch of ice, landing on his right hip and elbow. After the initial shock, he went on to teach, but called me around 10:30 a.m. between classes to let me know he was going to the doctor when the office opened at noon because the arm had gotten worse. The doctor sent him on to Abington Hospital after that for x-rays which showed that his arm definitely had a break in it.

When he returned home, driving with his left arm, he put his arm in the sling that was left over from his stroke, and that I have been using from time-to-time since I injured my left arm. He took the prescribed pain killer, and is now resting a little more comfortably, but wondering how he will be able to sleep. Are we falling apart because we are getting old, or is all this just a series of unfortunate events? I picked up a bag that was too heavy; he hit a patch of ice; and even the stroke two years ago had a parallel in a twenty-something woman across the hall in the hospital whose stroke was in exactly the same place as Saul’s. I hope it is just a series of unfortunate events and that we are not falling apart piece by piece. Some days, in this cold dreary weather, it seems that way.

Tomorrow morning, the orthopedists will be setting his arm. Adele is coming first thing to stay with Mom so that I can cover for Saul, who was supposed to take our friend Larry to have a colonoscopy first thing in the morning. I’m dropping him off, coming back to take Saul to the doctor, and then our friend Faith will bring Larry home after his procedure. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad that dinner will be a very scaled-down event tomorrow evening. Faith has a grandson’s birthday party. Adele has a dinner engagement. Beth has another engagement as well. And who knows how Larry will feel? It is nice to have a break, but sometimes having dinner for just us gets a little melancholy.

I finished up my publication and was able to get it to the printer right on deadline today. I glazed the maple angel food cake, which looks homey and inviting—something to look forward to having for dessert tomorrow evening. Most of the other angel food cake is gone already. I made us all mushroom omelets for dinner. Jamie called us this afternoon and was very bubbly. Mom lit up when she spoke to her on the phone. Below, Saul put the photo at the top onto Mom’s digital picture frame and froze it with Presley’s photo. Note the big smile!

This evening Ken called and we heard the origins of the name, Presley. Evidently Andy and Jamie had decided on the name, Preston, for a boy. When they learned they were having a girl and were discussing names while they were vacationing in Italy, an Elvis impersonator arrived at their café to perform. They took that as a sign and the rest is history. I believe the Bella is for my father’s mother. I think that is the story, but if I have gotten any of the details wrong, I’m sure they will be corrected in the future. Jamie did have a relatively easy labor and was able to give birth naturally as she wanted with her mother, sister and husband in attendance.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A New Baby Girl! The Angel is Born!

Around 7:45 this evening, Ken called me to say that his oldest daughter, Jamie, had given birth to a 6 lb., 9 oz. girl, Presley Bella, around 7:30. Presley is her first child and although I don’t have a post-birth photo yet, you can see what she looked like in utero in two earlier blog postings, Our Little Bean and Our Little Angel—No Longer a Bean. Her labor did not last very long, about four hours, and both are doing well this evening. I will post a photo of our family’s newest addition as soon as possible. Congratulations to Ken and Randi on becoming grandparents, and to Andy and Jamie on becoming parents! Let’s hope Presley continues to be a little angel all of her life.

My Mom had a few rather bad days where she slept for all but an hour or two each day and felt ill when she was awake. Yesterday, Marianne, her hospice volunteer and new friend, agreed to come over and spend the afternoon so that Saul and I could have a date. She was here from 1 to 5 p.m. and told us that Mom was awake and conversing with her the whole time. When we returned, Mom seemed happy and was comfortable. Yesterday morning, she told her hospice nurse, Kathy, that she had no regrets about her life. Kathy said that someone making a statement like that on hospice is extremely rare. I pointed out that Kathy would really be in a position to know such things, and she nodded vigorously that she does know and that, usually, she hears a list of regrets. The best she hears mostly is that “it was my life, and I lived it the way I wanted to live it.” This information is sobering and really should get lots of people thinking about their priorities. Mom had a good day today and was delighted to hear of the birth of her newest great-granddaughter before she fell asleep this evening. Presley is her fifth great-granddaughter and there are no great-grandsons yet. May all of us with children be so lucky as to live in good health to see our great-grandchildren!

On our date yesterday, Saul and I went to The Drafting Room, a nearby restaurant that features microbrewery beer and very good food. We purchased $40 worth of coupons on a few days ago for $6.00, half price off the usual fee, with a special we saw on It was a very good deal! After a satisfying late lunch, we dropped Saul off to have his hair cut, and I went next door to browse for a few food items at Genuardi’s. I was out of cake flour and I had defrosted a quart of egg whites left over from baking challah. Then we went to Lowe’s to return a doorknob that wasn’t working properly. Such are our dates these days! I wanted to try two new recipes for angel food cake that I had seen recently that required cake flour.

I spent some relaxing hours cooking beautiful food this afternoon. I made membrillo from the quinces. I used the peels and drained liquid to make a syrup to cook the fresh rhubarb and apple slices. Look for the recipe in the future on my other blog. I haven’t figured out what to call it yet, but it is definitely delicious. Perhaps I will name it Apple Slices Presley Bella. I also made a chocolate swirl angel food cake that is definitely worth making again. If Presley is going to be an angel, it might be more appropriate to name the cake after her. Ordinarily, I am not too fond of angel food cake, but this one is delectable even without icing. At one point this afternoon, while the cake was in the oven and the apples, rhubarb and quinces were cooking, I was trying to figure out if there was anything I could add to make the house more fragrant. If there is a heaven, I’ll bet it smells like this. You can keep your Chanel No. 5. The other cake is a maple angel food cake. I hope I have the energy to bake it this evening.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Happy Friday! Echh Weekend.

I just love finding beautiful food really cheap. Other people may enjoy fashion bargains at upscale boutiques, collectibles at flea markets, jewelry at estates, or even housecleaning supplies at house sales, but for me, the most joy comes from great food items at reasonable prices. I left Saul at home with Mom around 11:30 a.m., met Ken in the parking lot near Costco to exchange some paperwork and mail pertaining to Mom, and went over to Assi Market to browse for some items to fill in for Shabbat dinner. At very reasonable prices, I bought a whole bowlful of large, ripe and fragrant quinces, my second favorite fruit after fresh figs. When we moved to this house over 16 years ago, I dug up my two two-year-old quince trees and replanted them here. Unfortunately, they developed codling moths many years ago, which destroys the fruit, but leaves the trees and the beautiful flowers intact. I have tried everything I have ever read to get rid of the moth cycle, both organic and chemical, but to no avail. I plan to make membrillo with the quinces soon, but once I do that, the incredible fragrance that is perfuming my house will begin to disappear.

I also bought fresh rhubarb. I plan to experiment with it. I usually use it for a favorite strawberry-rhubarb pie, but I have this large bag of frozen blueberries in the freezer, and I may combine it with those instead. The seedless black grapes I purchased were exceptionally good. Another great find was dewy fresh water chestnuts. These bear no resemblance whatsoever to the canned variety, and are reminiscent of fresh coconut when peeled and eaten out of hand, but moister and sweeter. We used them to make wonton filling and filled the wontons on Saturday afternoon while watching t.v. I took bags of fresh spinach from the cart as the man was stocking the shelf. I just enjoy wandering the aisles of the Assi Supermarket, and wondering how to use the myriad of products that are unfamiliar to me, such as fresh banana flowers (not leaves), bitter melon, exotic choys other than bok choy, and dried fungi of every sort. I spent two refreshing hours browsing leisurely to Asian music and returned home in time for a quick lunch with Saul and to make my challah dough.

Snow was expected in the evening and I persuaded my sister to join us for dinner and to sleep over so that Saul and I could go to synagogue on Saturday morning. After lunch on Friday, Saul and I enjoyed the afternoon preparing a beautiful dinner. We had fresh challah; homemade chicken soup with matzoh balls and the last of the frozen homemade wontons; fresh spinach salad with diced apples, chopped almonds and pomegranate seeds with a hot maple-sesame dressing; assorted pareve knishes that Larry brought from Lipkin’s kosher bakery; baked boneless breast of chicken with satay sauce; maple glazed brussels sprouts with chestnuts and pomegranate; kohlrabi coleslaw; fresh lemon-limeade; and pareve chocolate mousse crepes with coffee. Our friend Faith joined us for dinner bringing beautiful purple tulips to remind us that spring is just a few months away. Mom’s new friend and volunteer hospice worker, Marianne, joined us as well. Marianne is a Holocaust survivor from Hungary. She is 80 and was a little nervous because this was her first Shabbat dinner. I tried to put her at ease by assuring her that we didn’t expect her to do anything but enjoy dinner. Beth had dinner with Jess and Alex in Baltimore. Ari was supposed to join them, but absent-mindedly left his keys on his desk at work, had to turn around when he arrived home to retrieve them, and lost an hour. Mom spent the entire day in bed on Friday, only coming into the kitchen long enough to say the berachot and have a bowl of soup and a few bites of chicken before she returned to bed. Everyone left relatively early.

Saturday morning, Saul and I awoke and looked out the window. There was a heavy fine snow coming down with almost an inch on the ground. We decided not to try the 40-minute drive to synagogue and I went back to sleep until almost 11:00 a.m. I had no idea I was so tired. Saul spent some quality time conversing with Adele over breakfast. She has been so hassled lately that we have had a difficult time just sitting down to talk. I finished cleaning up the kitchen from dinner. After spending an hour visiting with Mom in the bedroom, Adele left for home. The snow tapered off and stopped by 11:30 and the roads were clear. I was really sorry I chose to go back to sleep because I was beginning to get cabin fever and would have preferred to go to synagogue for services and socialize a bit. I kept Saul company while he filled wontons and by 4:00 p.m. was tired enough to go back to sleep again. When I finally shook myself awake two hours later, Shabbat had ended and I sat down at the computer to work for the next seven hours.

This morning, after breakfast and a few more hours on the computer, we had a phone call from Ken saying that he, Randi and Haley were in the car on their way over to visit Mom with Haley’s dog to cheer her up. I told them it was not all right to bring the dog into the house. I love dogs, but I am allergic to them. This time of year, exposure to my allergies weakens me and makes me prone to catching colds. Two years ago, when Saul had his stroke in mid-March, I was just recovering from a bronchitis that lasted seven weeks. I had already taken a chance last week spending so much time at Jess and Alex’s house. When they arrived at 1:30 p.m., they awakened Mom, and Ken stood outside on the icy deck holding the cute little dachshund with Mom’s outside door wide open so she could see him. She was upbeat and good natured about the whole situation, but refused to get out of bed. When they left, she immediately fell back asleep and slept until 4:30 p.m., when Saul finally persuaded her to get out of bed and have some bread pudding with cream, orange juice, and a half cup of hot tea with milk. She drinks the tea with a straw, having trouble steadying the cup in her hands. Tonight, she choked on the liquid twice and went into a coughing spell each time that weakened her and sent her unsteadily back to her bedroom with her walker. She agreed to try the oxygen for a little while, but after a few minutes, called Saul to remove it because she didn’t want to fall asleep with the tubes up her nose.

Saul and I were very conscientious about getting our work done the last few days, but tomorrow, the spring semester begins and I feel a bit let down that we were not able to have a little time away this weekend. Our friend, Susan Odessey, who is a wonderful artist, had a showing of her work this afternoon at the Artists’ House Gallery on North Second Street in downtown Philadelphia and then a reception at her home. We really feel badly about missing this opportunity to support her and have a pleasant afternoon, but you have to do what you have to do.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Seeing Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes

(I’m in the second row, second from the right.)

No, I did not have a real near-death experience yesterday. My children and husband constantly chide me because I try to live every day as though it is a near-death experience. I guess they are trying to tell me that I tend to manifest this philosophy in the annoying tendency to be over-dramatic and over-sensitive. For me, there is no other choice. Living this way is the only way that gives my life meaning and purpose. It doesn’t take much to get my life flashing before my eyes.

Monday morning I was determined to find some photos of our house in the Poconos. Our family purchased the house, which has been the site of memorable family vacations, back in 1983, and how that came about is a beautiful story, but it has outlived its usefulness to us now and, despite the housing slump and bad economy, or perhaps because of it, we decided we should try to put it up for sale on Craigslist. I never got to looking for the photos on Monday. My desktop publishing work for this month has started to trickle in and after that, because of a fortunate series of events related to my recipe blog, I think I am becoming addicted to the Internet.

Just before I left for winter vacation, I received notification that my pomegranate recipe is a finalist for a $5,000 grand prize. They will be choosing the winner at the end of this month. Out of curiosity, we went surfing the net to see if we could figure out how many finalists I was competing against. We never did get that information, but in the process, we came upon something called The Foodie BlogRoll. This is a website for people and organizations with food-related blogs. The conversations taking place there were all abuzz with information about the Pom pomegranate contest and how some had won cases of pomegranates with which to experiment. I applied for membership in The Foodie BlogRoll right before I left on vacation, and within a few days was accepted. Monday, once I finished my work, I began perusing the list of almost 3,000 member food blogs for those that looked interesting to me. Oh, my goodness! I was like the proverbial kid in the candy store. I finally tore myself away at 2:00 in the morning. Dipping in and out of other people’s lives in this way is really addictive! I also found it incredibly stimulating creatively because there is so much talent and passion out there, not to mention that someone living in a place like Ipoh, who may find their day-to-day life relatively mundane and uninteresting, is incredibly exotic to me, as my life is probably incredibly exotic to someone living in Ipoh. From the beginning, when I put in links for which my friends say “duh, who doesn’t know that?” I have explained that I imagine my reader to be a little old man in China.

On Monday, my long-lost friend Roxy from high school days and I had tentatively made plans to meet for lunch on Tuesday to finally celebrate her birthday, which was back at the beginning of November. The weather was supposed to be snowy and icy, though, so we decided to decide in the morning. We chose a restaurant we both love that is about midway between us, Blue Sage, the best vegetarian restaurant I have ever experienced. We met early at 11:30 a.m. to avoid the approaching storm system, just as the restaurant opened. Catching up on our lives was the beginning of my process of “seeing your life flash before your eyes.” I was dredging up memories of giving birth that I hadn’t thought about in years, among other things.

After a stimulating and delicious two-hour lunch, we embraced and then started home. Shortly after that, tiny specks of ice began to bounce off of my car making a distinctive, and rather pleasant sound. On the way home, I stopped to drop off a belated Chanukah gift for another friend who had spent winter vacation in Israel with her family. It was the first trip to Israel for her grandchildren. She has visited many times. While I was with her, I bumped into two other people with whom I share old memories.

Yesterday, Saul had meetings at Chestnut Hill College for a few hours at lunch. Mom is now afraid to walk down the hall with her walker without him. She says that she is weak and afraid she will fall and that she doesn’t trust my strength to see that either she doesn’t fall, or, if she does, that I will be capable to help her get up. She rushed through eating her bread pudding to make sure that he walked her back to bed before leaving for his meetings. I am not sure what will happen when he returns to school next week for spring semester. Despite my assurances, I suspect that she will cease getting out of bed when he is not here. Her good moments are becoming fewer and farther between. I arranged for oxygen to be delivered yesterday, but she was not happy with the tubes, the benefits were not dramatic, and I am afraid she will trip over the tubes, which would really be a disaster. She is still able to laugh and make jokes about her situation whenever she is not feeling completely miserable, though.

While Saul was in his meetings, I caught up with business and housework. In the evening, he had a board meeting at the synagogue. Finally, I began going through our old photographs looking for photos of the Poconos house. Between the years when I diligently organized our kids’ baby pictures into photo albums, and about seven years ago, when we first started using digital cameras and archiving our photos on disc, I had accumulated hundreds of photos that were thrown, in no particular order, into a half dozen miscellaneous bags and boxes all over our closet. I suspect that unless you are a zealous scrapbooker, you probably have the same system. In the space of about three hours, my entire life flashed before me. What a wonderful life it has been! Experiences and vacations that I hadn’t thought about in years suddenly flashed back in glorious and youthful color. I had always thought myself rather awkward and ugly. Now, from the viewpoint of being a somewhat overweight old woman, I can see that I was pretty attractive at one time. If only I had realized that at the time how much more comfortable I would have been in my own skin. In the random mix, I came across several photos of my Birney Elementary School classes. I posted a blog a few months ago about a conversation with my mother where I vented about my perceived inadequancies in elementary school and my jealousy over a fellow classmate. Last night I studied those photos carefully for a while. I was surprised to find that, through the lens of time and experience, I now think that I was one of the more attractive girls in the photo and the girl who was the object of my envy was probably not the beauty I thought she was at the time. I hope I can somehow use that revelation to help my granddaughters maintain a positive self image.

This morning, my email contained a forward from Saul’s cousin in Israel with a YouTube clip from Fox News about the situation in Gaza. Her note read: “Isn’t it interesting to see how we are portrayed abroad? Do people really believe this?” After viewing it, I really felt ridiculous about the subject of my last blog post ;-P. Her son is serving military duty right now.

BTW, in the very last group of photos, I found two of the house in the Poconos.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Box—A Sign of the Times

I hope this rant will be the short blog post that everyone in my family keeps telling me is de rigueur. As you might be able to tell from my profile and previous posts, I am pretty old for a blogger. I have been catering, cooking, and developing recipes for a long time.

Many years ago, the problem began with the standard one-pound (16 oz.) can. One day, we suddenly noticed that it was only 15 ounces and the price had gone up. Then, items that were packaged in the freezer case came in the same size box, but the weight of the contents inside kept getting smaller for the same money. This situation can be very problematic when you are using old recipes that call for standard quantities. Over the years, we have had to modify our recipes in many cases, to accommodate new standard sizes that never seem to stay standard.

We were so delighted when a new Trader Joe’s opened in our neighborhood because we no longer had to travel long distances to obtain these large, comparatively inexpensive boxes of Barbara’s Shredded Oat Cereal which we love. We were down to our last box, so Saul ran over to get some more. Only because I lined the new ones up with the old did I realize that there were subtle changes. See how many you can find. Will things ever get larger again? …in my lifetime?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Samara’s Corner

The Day at Port Discovery!
We ate yogurt and clementines before we went to the museum. I went into the maze with Izzy. Then we went into The Diner to serve Bubbie, Saba, and Mommy. After that we went to the Art Workshop where we made real strawberry lemonade chewing gum—yummy! But we couldn’t eat it in the museum, so we ate a small piece and gave the rest to Bubbie to take home for us. The flavor only lasted for 1 second. Then we saw karaoke. Then I went and ate soup and chicken nuggets at Pita Plus.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Hope for a New Year

As my friend Larry recently pointed out when I mentioned on Friday evening that he must be up to date on my life as he is a regular reader, I haven’t written for almost a week. Time flies when you are having fun! On Tuesday, we relaxed, watched t.v., and, like good parents, tidied up Ari’s home a bit and did his laundry. Ari needed to work a full day, so Jess, Alex and the kids (Sami’s fever had disappeared) met us at Pita Plus in College Park for the shawarma. The owner recognized us when we walked in and was delighted that we had come back two days in a row and brought four new diners as well. We had the same waitress as the previous day, a beautiful Ethiopian woman who had grown up in Israel. Alex was in his glory with the shawarma laffa and ordered another to go. We also brought one back home for Ari who was as happy as we were to eat the same delicious sandwich two days in a row. We shared a hot appetizer combo plate that included tasty tahina, felafel, schnitzel, kibbeh, and Moroccan sausages. Izzy and Sami loved the matzoh ball soup and Izzy demolished the complimentary plate of sliced Israeli pickles. Dinner includes the typical Israeli condiments: pickles, olives, beet-dyed pickled turnips, and a pickled carrot and cabbage salad. In Israel, some of the restaurants advertise 24 different types of salads the way American ice cream parlors advertise 24 different flavors. Alex told us that after the drive home, he worked out in his gym for a half hour, rested, and then ate the second laffa.

We drove Ari to work on Wednesday, New Year’s Eve day, and then went back home to pack our bags and wait to see if he would be able to leave work in time to have lunch with us before we left for Baltimore. He had plans to hang out with friends, some of whom were coming to DC from Philadelphia for New Year’s Eve. Jake, a California-raised fraternity brother from GW, whom Ari later found out was a distant cousin related to us by marriage, has moved to Philadelphia this past year. We missed him in DC, but hope he will visit us soon in Philly. He was sleeping over at Ari’s on New Year’s and we were spending the night in Baltimore.

While we were having breakfast at Ari’s, the weather went from bright and sunny to a violent snow squall in a matter of minutes sending half of DC into a power failure. An hour later, the sun returned and the winds died down. We picked Ari up from work at 1:30 and decided to drive to Wheaton for dim sum, but the trip took us almost an hour in traffic snarled by backups at various traffic lights that were dead. Thank goodness for the Prius’s nav system that helped us avoid major intersections with Ari detouring us by back roads to our destination. When we arrived at Hollywood East Cafe, they were freaked out because their power had just returned a half hour earlier. We were able to enjoy a late lunch, but New Year’s Day is one of the busiest days of the year for dim sum and losing several hours of prep time was a big hardship for them.

After lunch, we stopped at a bustling liquor store in Silver Spring to pick up Scotch for Ari to take to his friends’ party. He chose a 12-year-old Glenlivet Single Malt and sent an extra bottle with us as a gift to Alex who adores single malts. We dropped Ari at home, loaded our bags in our SUV, and drove to Baltimore. When we arrived around 6 p.m., Alex had already prepared 8 pizza crusts and a large variety of toppings for us to make our own pizzas. After making our personal favorites and putting them in the oven for a few minutes, we sat down together to a beautiful cheese and fruit board that Jess put together, and Alex’s world-class guacamole. After demolishing the pizzas, we all got into comfy pajamas and settled down with the girls under warm comforters on sofas in the playroom to watch the On Demand animated movie, Space Chimps. The movie (which was light and entertaining) and some other cartoons kept the girls awake until almost midnight, but put Alex and Jessica to sleep almost immediately. Izzy fell asleep at 11:45 p.m., but Sami managed to stay awake to watch the ball drop in Times Square. We all went to bed by 12:15 a.m.

We slept late on New Year’s day and when I awoke, I went downstairs and improvised eggnog pancakes from a recipe on the net with the girls which we ate with beautiful fresh strawberries and blueberries, whipped cream, and real maple syrup. In the afternoon, we went for a brisk walk through the neighborhood with Zeek on a leash, while Izzy rode her two-wheeler (which she now rides without training wheels) and Sami, her scooter. Shortly after returning, we arranged to meet Ari in Columbia, Maryland, for dinner at a favorite Indian vegetarian restaurant, Mango Grove. Columbia is about halfway between Baltimore and DC. We had a varied and beautifully presented repast there, but although we all ate the same things, Alex became ill on the drive home. The reaction was so immediate and so violent, that we think he may have an allergy to one of the seasonings in the food. He uses so many of the exotic spices in his own cooking regularly, that we can’t imagine which one it could be. He recovered very quickly.

Saul and I left early on Friday morning, stopping for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel at Exit 80 off of I-95. We arrived home at noon, just in time for Saul to put Agnes on the train so she wouldn’t have to wait in the cold weather. It had just begun to snow. Mom had been telling us all week that she felt awful, but that Agnes was very attentive to her needs. There is very little we can do for her now, only try to keep her as comfortable as possible and try to keep her spirits up. During the time when we were all together here last week, Ari and Jess had gone into the attic to try to find some chapter books for Sami. They came down with an old photo album with family pictures ranging from 1945 until 1960. We thought they would make Mom feel good about her life, but she cried after looking at them. Knowing how life had turned out badly for some of the family members made her melancholy.

While Saul was dropping off Agnes, I prepared the challah dough, and when he returned, went to Assi Market to pick up some produce for Shabbat dinner. We were joined by Ken and Randi as well as Larry and Beth. Randi came with the ingredients and mixed up pomegranate martinis for us as we finished preparing dinner. Larry brought a gigantic box of variously flavored popcorn, some chocolate covered, and some caramel and chocolate drizzled, which we had for dessert with fresh raspberries and blackberries, ice cream and French press coffee. Along with the challah, we had devilled eggs; potato leek soup; wilted spinach salad with hot sesame dressing, apples, oranges, pecans and fresh mozzarella; black and white rice; salmon burgers; Israeli salad; and kohlrabi coleslaw. We decided not to wake Mom as she was sleeping peacefully, but towards the end of dinner, she joined us and ate a bowl of soup. She opened some belated Chanukah gifts from Jamie’s party and immediately went back to bed.

Saul and I slept late today and did not go to synagogue. Rabbi Addison is away visiting his family in Israel and we were exhausted. Dealing with Mom on an hourly basis is very draining even though she sleeps for long hours and is mostly living on Ensure through a straw. The constant awareness that a life is, little-by-little, drawing to a close is a strain on us, especially since we are not getting any younger either. The awareness of our own limited mortality is in evidence almost all of the time. I spent most of the day curled up reading the new Saveur magazine from cover to cover, my own form of escape, as well as finishing up the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle. We are looking forward to this new year which, God-willing, will bring a healthy new great-niece and a healthy new granddaughter. I hope that if this is to be Mom’s last year, she will go peacefully to her final rest without too much suffering. I hope the changes in our government will return us all to a more peaceful, prosperous and productive time in the near future.