Saturday, February 28, 2009

Left Behind Right Behind

This week was melancholy for me. Mostly, both Saul and I were rushing through our days trying to organize and wrap up everything that needed to be done before his spring break and trip to Israel with Ari on Friday. He will have to hit the ground running when he returns next Sunday evening, as school begins at 8 a.m. on Monday morning. That is no mean feat at this age.

Our friend, Elaine, came and spent the afternoon and evening with Mom last Sunday so that Saul and I would be able to get out together to see the movie, Coraline, in 3D, before it left the movie theaters. We enjoyed it, weird as it was, but we were a bit let down because of all the positively super hype it had gotten. Ari was able to meet us at the theater on his way back home from a New York party for his friend, Sam. We even called reservations ahead, before the movie began, to Bahama Breeze, across the parking lot from the theater, and were able to have a quick dinner together before Ari had to get on the road to make the three-hour trek back to DC.

Monday evening, I snapped a photo of Saul all dressed up to go to a meeting. I thought he looked wonderful in his new silk sport jacket.

All through the week, Mom was getting more and more apprehensive about Saul’s absence and was asking both of us multiple times during each day how much longer before he was leaving. Tuesday afternoon, Marianne, our hospice volunteer, dropped in, and spent a few hours with Mom so that we could have a very late lunch together and do some errands. Tuesday evening, Ken and Randi stopped over for a few hours to say goodbye before they left, also on Friday, for their month-long vacation in Hawaii. I was also pleased that my case of pomegranate juice from Pom arrived this week, my consolation prize for being one of the eight finalists in the Pom Blogger Contest.

Secretly in my heart, I had hoped that, at the last minute, the stars would align in some way that would allow me to go to Israel as well. For about two glorious hours on Tuesday, I thought there might be the glimmer of a possibility. Randi’s lifelong friend, Paula, had lost her job and was looking for work. I barely dared to ask about the possibility of such a commitment caring for Mom for over a week on such short notice. Before asking, Ari and I checked thoroughly to see if there was any possibility of my getting a seat on the same plane. I would have had to pay double, assuming there was an extra seat, but all that soon became moot because Paula was not ready and immediately nixed the idea.

Once I knew for sure that I was definitely not going, the melancholy really set in. I was delighted that Saul and Ari had the chance and did not hesitate for a moment to encourage them to go when the opportunity of a cheap flight arose at the perfect time. Marianne was excited beyond belief that she would have the opportunity to see her twin sister, and I was glad I sort of pushed her into making the snap decision to buy the ticket. The last two days, and especially Friday morning, I couldn’t wait for the trip to begin because I wanted to be into the process of getting through the week on my own, not waiting for it to happen. Saul and I have not been separated for 10 days since our teenage years, when he was gone for months at a time in the U.S. Navy. On Thursday evening, Mom became extremely ill and vomited several times. I thought that she had worked herself into a lather worrying, but as it turned out, she was finally able to sleep through the night and was feeling better on Friday morning. The hospice people feel that she had just caught a bug that was going around. My Thursday evening was hellish, though, worrying myself about how she would be feeling this week and if I would, God forbid, have to make funeral arrangements while everyone was away.

“Everyone” was an understatement. All through the week, I had been reassuring Mom that there were so many friends and family I could call on in an emergency. As it turned out, Larry decided to schedule a trip to Orlando. Roxy called to remind me that this is the week she will be vacationing in St. Thomas. Adele had scheduled a colonoscopy for Friday months ago and was out of the picture Thursday evening and Friday morning. Marianne, of course, was going to Israel, too. Jessica is on bed rest and can no longer make the trip home. Then, when we called to see if Beth would join me for Shabbat dinner, we discovered that she had suddenly decided to take a trip to Arizona. We were calling her on Thursday afternoon just as her plane had landed. Now, I know that I still have lots of great friends and neighbors out there that I can call on in a pinch, but Thursday was a bit of an all-time low for me.

On Friday, after the flurry of early morning packing activity which culminated with a visit by Kathy, Mom’s nurse; Darnice, her aide; Marianne, and the friend who brought her over, Peter; I didn’t know what to do with myself in the stillness of Friday afternoon. I sat at the kitchen table and watched the movie, Dr. Zhivago, for hours on t.v., a melancholy movie if ever there was one. I knew I would be lighting candles as always on Friday, but should I put a tablecloth on the table? Should I pour myself a glass of wine and make the beracha (blessing) myself? Should I take two challot out of the freezer and say the motzi myself? Should I cook dinner for myself and eat it alone at the kitchen table? By 4:30 p.m., Mom was sleeping peacefully, and I had decided I would just light the candles and go to bed with my New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle. Then, the phone rang. Adele had had an excellent report from her colonoscopy and was feeling much better. Would I like to come out to dinner with her while Erica and Ava stayed with Mom? Danny was taking Brenna to dinner and a movie and was staying over at Beth’s house next door to take care of her dogs.

No, I didn’t want to go out to dinner, but persuaded Adele and Erica to join me for dinner. In an hour and a half, I set the table with tablecloth, napkins, china, stemware and flowers. I took two small challot out of the freezer. I made minestrone soup by doctoring some cans of Amy’s organic and adding Saul’s homemade dumplings. I washed last week’s two remaining heads of romaine (six came in the package from Costco) and served them with my homemade Russian dressing. I cooked black and white rice with sesame oil and raisins. I sautéed a package of boneless chicken breasts with shallots and snow peas and topped them with a satay sauce. For dessert, I served pareve chocolate mousse crepes that I had made previously and stored in the freezer. We had a great dinner with berachot (blessings). At 5:32 p.m., while Mom was still sleeping and before Adele and Erica arrived, for the first time in my entire life, I lit the Shabbat candles and had no one to whom to say “Shabbat Shalom!” I think that makes me a very lucky girl!

So yes, I am in “left behind” purgatory, but I am also consoled by the fact that I am doing the right thing caring for Mom, keeping the home fires burning, so to speak, allowing Ken and Randi to take a much-needed vacation with an easier mind, and helping provide a rare opportunity for Saul, Ari, and Marianne to visit family in Israel. During the week, I will have help from Adele, Paula, and my friend Laura as well. I truly hope every one of my friends and family who are traveling have a safe and relaxing vacation as well. I hope to be right behind you as soon as the time is right for me.

P.S.: Adele came for a visit today again. Saul and Ari called on a cell phone they borrowed about 1 p.m. this afternoon to tell me they had landed safely and about what a wonderful adventure they had had so far. Towards evening, I had just climbed into bed and switched on the t.v. when I heard Saul and Ari speaking to each other in the next room, my office. I went running in, and there they were, looking at me live from my computer screen (from Shira and Mark’s house). And there I was, looking at them. We had left Skype open and available so that we would be able to communicate, and communicate we did! For this, I ran over to Mom’s room, woke her and wheeled her in front of the computer screen so that she could talk to them also. All this for free! What joy! I love the computer!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

More is More and is Enough Really Enough?

Although this was a short week for me because of last Monday being Presidents Day, I think I was suffering from a bit of cabin fever due to the amount of work both Saul and I had to finish, the fact that it took me a couple of days to finally get rid of the heavy feeling in my chest from my allergic reaction, the fact that I won’t be seeing my granddaughters for a few weeks, and that I suddenly realized that Saul and Ari will be leaving for Israel next Friday. The only time I ventured out the door during this week was to run over to Costco to pick up supplies for the next couple of weeks while I am further shut in taking care of Mom.

My computer is both a curse and a blessing. I love my work doing desktop publishing, but it keeps me sedentary and terribly frustrated on occasion. On the other hand, my computer allows me to vicariously participate in the pleasures of others’ travels and lifestyles in ways that were never before possible. During this week, some of the cousins that Saul and Ari will be visiting in Israel were traveling in Thailand and sent us their photos, 172 of them, which are brilliantly colorful and fascinating. Tonight, before sitting down to write this, I viewed them again. That reminded me that I had never really found the time to view all of our friend, Larry’s, photos from his trip to Southeast Asia. He has been neatly depositing his specially-prepared photo DVD’s and CD’s from his travels on my desk for several months now. I really enjoyed spending an hour taking an armchair tour and comparing the two sets of photos. On Facebook, I wrote a list of 25 random things about me and #16 was that I have not been able to give up my dream of taking a bicycle trip across the south of France. Knowing this, Saul sent me a link during the week to a Smithsonian trip that is a bicycle trip through the Burgundy region—more delicious, vicarious travel. I will definitely cling tighter than ever to my dreams of visiting all these places, and my computer allows me to feel more connected to the outside world and my family and friends. Ari will be taking his laptop on his journeys in Israel and, hopefully, I will be able to speak to him and Saul as we are able to view each other through the magic of Skype.

Last night, after dinner with Larry and Beth, and Beth’s new friend, Bob, we were discussing the features of Ari’s new car. Ari hadn’t really wanted to drive out with a new car that day we were test driving, so he kept saying to the dealer that when they had a car with all the features he wanted in stock, he would return. They kept finding cars that had all the features he could name. Finally, we learned that one of the features they offer is a panoramic roof. Practically the entire roof is glass with electrically-operated screens that open and close at the touch of a button. Ari wasn’t really wowed about the feature, but I was. While we drive around DC, I am usually sitting in the back seat craning my neck to try to see the tops of the buildings we pass. I love architecture and the Belle Epoch style of DC buildings provides endless varieties of visual stimulation. At the time I was studying art and architecture in college in the late 1960’s, the less-is-more, Bauhaus-style architecture was very much in vogue, and old ornate buildings were being torn down and replaced, left and right, by modernistic concrete and glass monoliths. Although that happens today in every modern city, it seems as though DC has made a special effort to preserve and restore its beautiful ornate old buildings. Tonight, looking at the extremely ornate architecture of southeast Asia, I was struck by the contrast to western-style architecture. The Asian spirit embraces decoration in ways that seem over-the-top to western tastes. As much as I could appreciate the movement toward pure functionality of design, though, I find that my eyes want to feast on that which is more complex. Tonight, foodie that I am, I was saying to Saul that ornate Asian architecture is like feasting on an elaborate banquet. After a while, the tastebuds become over-sated and require a palate-cleanser, an amuse-bouche, before one can continue to enjoy the complicated flavors. Modernistic buildings are visually the equivalent of a palate cleanser. They are delicious in their own way, a necessary component and counterpoint to a visual palate that can be over-stimulated and therefore, cease to bring pleasure. Just as I would not want to live on a constant diet of rich and complicated food, neither would I want to live on palate-cleansers. The contrast is what makes life enjoyable. For me, where architecture is concerned, more is more, and variety is the spice of life.

Shabbat dinner this week was homemade challah, more chestnut soup, caesar salad, cod lamaize, mashed potatoes with three lillies (sweet onions, red onions and elephant garlic), and steamed buttery asparagus. I had a lot of leftovers in the refrigerator and freezer which I needed to use up, so I made a trifle. Trifle is a magical dessert that binds failures and leftovers into something new and beautiful. The following items went into the trifle: the last of Izzy’s leftover birthday cake, sliced thinly into three layers of the trifle; a half-jar of morello cherries and their juice that had been leftover for a few weeks; a pint of pistachio ice cream that Ken had brought for Mom that was an awful turquoise-y color and had no pistachios in it from Maggie Moo’s; a pint of delicious home-canned peach chunks that was a gift from our friend, Laurel, last weekend; layers of home-made vanilla custard sauce, the essence of a trifle; a half jar of Trader Joe’s blueberries in syrup; some beautiful fresh strawberries; and whipped cream. Larry complained that there was no chocolate, so I also served some leftover Asher’s chocolate-covered pretzels that were a gift from our friends, Betty and Jerry as well, all downed with French-press coffee.

Maybe for some, less is more, especially if it causes you to lose a few pounds. For me, visually and food-wise, more is more, and if enough was really enough, what would be left of the creative urge?

Monday, February 16, 2009

When the Stars Align

I had begun writing the last blog entry on Friday, but was interrupted and finished it up on Tuesday, February 10, Saul’s birthday, so it has not been so terribly long since I last wrote. I spent the end of last week recovering from this nasty cold. I was beginning to feel better by Thursday afternoon and was looking forward to the kids all visiting this Presidents’ Day Weekend. Saul ran out to Costco to pick up some last minute supplies before heading out to a meeting at Chestnut Hill College. He rushed through and went straight there in order to be in time for the meeting, but as it turned out, the meeting was canceled and the notification not emailed until 9 a.m. for an 11:30 a.m. meeting. With all the rushing around, he uncharacteristically had not checked his mail when he first awoke. So much for the convenience of modern communication!

He was to have gone straight to the doctor for his two-week checkup of the fractured arm, but instead, I had the benefit of his help getting dinner ready for a while before he needed to be there. The doctor was pleased with the progress of his healing and range of motion and said that he would evaluate again when Saul returns from Israel to see if he will benefit from physical therapy.

Mom’s hospice social worker, Marian, returned from a leave-of-absence for surgery, and we spent an hour at the kitchen table after Mom fell asleep discussing the progression of her condition. I let her know that Adele, Ken and I, along with Saul, have definitely decided to see the process through at home no matter what lies ahead. She let me know that I could count on Mom being kept on hospice for at least the next two-month evaluation period beginning March 1.

Shabbat dinner was a rather low-key affair this week considering how I was feeling. I made a large pot of chestnut soup because I discovered that it is one of the few things Mom will eat and enjoy these days. She lives mostly on Ensure. I also made Israeli salad, Boston lettuce salad with homemade Russian dressing, baba ganoush, macaroni and cheese and baked salmon burgers from Costco. I took homemade challah out of the freezer. For dessert, we had slices of Izzy’s leftover birthday cake with fresh blueberries and some chocolate-covered popcorn that Larry brought. Beth had other plans, but we were joined by our friend, Faith. Jessica picked up Sami early from school and drove our SUV up from Baltimore. Ari’s plane landed early at 5 p.m. from San Francisco, but he decided he was too tired to make the three-hour drive from D.C. He also is getting over his cold and seems to be suffering all the same symptoms two days ahead of me. He, unfortunately, had the added misery of fluid in the ears during landings and endured the annoyance of a clogged ear all weekend. I hope he is better by tomorrow when he is due to fly back again to San Francisco for a few more days.

It was such a joy to have everyone here together for a while. I sat up late talking with Jess on Friday night after the girls were tucked in bed with their “Shmuel” story. They told me, when I went in to kiss them goodnight that the story had been about our second date, which was a disaster culminating with my accidentally breaking his favorite pair of sunglasses. Jess has been feeling pretty good during her pregnancy so far, despite the fact that she is having to take everything very easy.

Saturday morning, the girls woke me at 5:45 a.m. The clock in their room was set incorrectly. I gave them some breakfast and proceeded to straighten up everything that I had been too sick to do during the week. I was feeling good for the first time in several days. By eight, everyone else was up. Mom allowed herself to be wheeled to the table for breakfast and I felt organized and energetic when I showered before dressing to attend services. Jessica stayed at home with Mom while we took the girls to services. Faith’s school was closed for Presidents’ Weekend, so she was able to join us at services on this rare occasion. Larry, who lives down the street from her had brought her along. Our friend Elaine also showed up Saturday morning. We had sandwiches and salads during a luncheon after services that was sponsored by the president of the congregation in honor of his son’s Ben Torah, an event that takes place one year after the bar mitzvah, before leaving to take the girls to visit their G.G. Sima at Safe Haven at Lion’s Gate. The Torah portion was Yitro, which happened to be Saul’s portion, also. Among other events of the Exodus, this portion includes the Ten Commandments. Rabbi Addison spoke about the path we take to become better and more enlightened human beings. There was a discussion of whether one must recognize one’s shortcomings before repentance occurs and one can strive to eliminate bad qualities, as is the generally-accepted order of things; or whether one must first recognize the Godliness in one’s nature before recognizing and repairing character flaws—an interesting idea. Rabbi used the example of an overcritical parent whose child feels that nothing will please the parent and who becomes rebellious and resentful as a result; whereas a child who recognizes that the parent sees his or her potential will be more likely to strive to please the parent.

We rendezvoused with Ari at Lion’s Gate in the parking lot on his way up from DC and we all went in together to visit Saul’s mother. The rabbi at Lion’s Gate had just finished his service as we arrived and a woman had begun working with the assembled patients on some word recognition skills. Saul’s Mom lit up when she spotted the girls. There were longer silences during this visit and more confusion, but she appeared as happy and well-cared-for as ever. Ari brought the girls back in his new car, and Izzy was as delighted as he was at age five to sit in the driver’s seat, make pretend she was driving and figure out what all the neat buttons on the dashboard do.

While we were were at Lion’s Gate, Erica and Jessica had persuaded my Mom to let them color and style her hair. She looked wonderful when we returned, and joined us for dinner as well. The stars aligned all weekend. The weather was good enough for us all to make the long drives comfortably. Mom was well enough to allow her granddaughters to work on her appearance. Sunday morning, the weather was bright and sunny enough for us to attempt to wheel Mom out of the house and into the car for the 20-minute drive to attend Ava’s second birthday party at Adele and Larry’s home. The stars also aligned long enough for her to feel up to going there in the first place and to sit and socialize for about an hour.

Although I had taken pills for my allergies, I became asthmatic in the hour I spent there with the cats and dogs. On top of the little bit of my residual cold, my chest became congested, and I slept for three hours when we returned. I hated missing those hours because the time we all spend together as a family seems so limited to me. This morning, Saul had school, so we were up before the girls at 6:00 a.m. They joined us about 20 minutes later and Saul reluctantly kissed them goodbye. I gave them breakfast and had them all to myself for a while. Mom allowed herself to be wheeled to the table for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. and, like me, cherished every minute we were able to spend together. When Jessica and then Ari joined us, we had very little time together before all the rushing around to begin to pack for home. They left around 11:30 a.m. and I have not been able to push away the sad thought that I may not see them for a few weeks, now.

My foray into Facebook has come just in time. Because of if, I was able to participate in a great deal of kvelling among friends and family over the successes of my wonderful son-in-law, Alex, who is not only a consummate educator, but an acclaimed author as well. He has produced an array of imaginative and useful books and materials for bringing Judaism to children and young adults that will be an incredible legacy for our future. During the week, I also received a personal note about my blog along with a wedding invitation from Saul’s cousins in Belgium, who are making a wedding for their daughter at the end of February, right before Saul is due to leave for Israel. If only we could travel by air as easily as we are able to get in the car and travel around our neighboring few states. I hope the stars will align so that everyone has a brilliant and smooth time in our encounters in the next few weeks. In Yiddish, we have the expression, “bashayrt,” which means basically the same thing, that all circumstances will fall into place so that we achieve our heart’s desire and that the journey will be effortless and enjoyable.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Grandparents Day and a Great Birthday Weekend

The ride down to Baltimore went smoothly in more ways than one. Saul had a glitch in that he had forgotten he was supposed to help proctor an exam. We made arrangements for Agnes to arrive an hour later which still gave us plenty of time to get to Baltimore for dinner, but Larry came to our rescue and filled in for Saul so that he could leave without us having to rush. Agnes arrived at the train station right on time, too.

We went to pick up our friend, Natalie, who had a glitch of her own when she dropped her handbag at the bank and then couldn’t find her house key when she arrived home. A neighbor told the locksmith she had to catch a flight, and they were there within 10 minutes to jimmy her lock. Unfortunately, such emergencies are very expensive! Her daughter arrived with a second key just as the work was being completed, and on the way down to Baltimore, she had time to completely ransack her bag and finally found the original key which had fallen out of its special wallet.

We arrived (with precarious snowman cake intact) in Baltimore just in time to drop off Natalie at Jessica’s home to be picked up by her son, and drive the three miles to Karen and David’s home to join them for dinner at 5:30 p.m. I had told Ari I had no idea how long we would be there—if we would be discussing our teenage years, or catching up with 35 years of our lives until now. As it turned out, we did both. One of the blessings of living to be old is being able to look a long distance out to the horizon of your youth, knowing that all your experiences, both good and bad, have made you, and your friends, better and wiser people. They are truly wonderful and warm people who have learned from their adversities, or as David puts it, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” We learned that their twin girls each has a set of twins, and they appreciate the joy of being grandparents as much as we do. We had a good laugh about many of our memories, but David, evidently, has very little memory of me as a teenager, and was shocked that I had been there at many of the events we recalled. Saul, though, is hard to forget! They were good friends back then and we all lost track of each other shortly after we were married. Karen prepared a delicious meal—crudités and dip, wine, salad, jasmine rice, baked salmon with hollandaise, and roasted asparagus. For dessert, she made a tart and tasty key lime pie and we sampled cookies from the tray I had brought. Their home was lovely with a toasty fire going in the fireplace to warm us from the frigid weather.

We finally tore ourselves away and reached Ari’s home in DC by about 10 p.m. Ari was suffering from a bad cold and we all went to bed as soon as we arrived. Despite his cold, Ari went into work on Friday. We left right after him to attend Grandparents Day for Izzy at her daycare class. We were met in the sanctuary by Izzy’s other grandparents, Maury and Elaine, who were staying with Jess and Alex. The program was lovely, but we were shocked at the rude behavior of about two dozen of the grandparents, who, despite the pleas of the staff to back off, stood right in the middle of the aisle through the whole program with their cameras a few feet in front of the children, and blocked the view of every one of the hundreds of other grandparents who had come to see their grandchildren. The program back in the children’s individual classrooms was beautiful and short, and we took Izzy home afterwards. I snipped some branches from their rose bush clipping off the thorns to make arms for the snowman cake. Jessica made a banner from a piece of ribbon. Alex went shopping and then came home to prepare dinner. Jessica, Elaine, Saul and I took Izzy to have a light lunch at Cosi. Maury went to buy a new pair of sneakers. Alex made an amazing dinner, as usual—miso soup, seared tuna and avocado salad, and many trays of assorted sushi. We had the leftover carob cake, which had been in the freezer and the experimental sesame snowball cookies for dessert.

During the weekend, Ari decided to test drive some of the new models he had seen at the DC Auto Show. After several hours at a Mercedes dealer in Tyson’s Corner, they made him an offer he could not refuse. Ari and I drove home in his new Mercedes while Saul drove the Prius. We went to Ruby Tuesday in Columbia Heights for a really late dinner around 10 p.m. that evening, but Ari was thrilled with his new toy and the deal he had gotten.

Sunday morning, we headed out early to pick up dry ice in Glen Burnie, MD, for making honey and maple candy at the party, and grabbed a quick breakfast at a Royal Farms nearby. By now, I had begun to catch the full-blown cold that Ari had, so during the party, I kept my distance from everyone. Jessica had set up a number of craft stations for the 25 children and some of their parents who attended. At one station the children decorated cupcakes with Oreo cookies and dried apricots to make penguins and polar bears. At another, they knotted penguin scarves and decorated paper handled bags in which to carry their items with assorted stickers that made various snowmen and penguins. They made snowmen out of mini powdered sugar donuts, marshmallows, mini pretzel sticks, and food color markers. At another station they decorated knitted hats with felt cutouts to make more penguins to match the scarves. At another station in the kitchen, they rolled the sesame snowball cookies. And at yet another station in the kitchen, they made honey and maple sugar candy by dripping it into holes in the dry ice and inserting toothpicks to remove it. After everyone had rotated through all the stations, we sang happy birthday to Izzy, served them their cupcakes with ice cream cups, and cut the snowman cake. I don’t know how it was possible, but the whole pandemonium really did take only the two hours allotted.

Saul and I drove home with Natalie, who was dropped off early and helped with the party, in the Prius, which I love and which will now become our second car. We left our SUV for Jessica to bring home when she visits next weekend. Ari is flying to San Francisco on business from Wednesday through Friday and will drive up to join us after that. Then he will drive them home next weekend. Natalie treated us to dinner at Bahama Breeze in King of Prussia to thank us for taking her to visit her family, and we had a wonderful time there also.

Unfortunately, by late Sunday evening, I developed the full-blown cold with fever. I managed to work for a few hours yesterday, and again this morning, but I can feel the fever rising as I finish this. I went in to Mom’s room briefly with a surgical mask yesterday, but I have decided we will both be better off if I keep my distance. Saul looks in on her morning, afternoon, and evening, and gave her soup and aspirin yesterday. He checked on her to make sure she had everything she needed this morning before going off to work. This afternoon, Adele arrived to look after things for a while and I am looking forward to putting my fevered head back on the pillow. Today is Saul’s sixty-second birthday, and I just hope I can keep from giving him this unpleasant gift.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Snow, School Closings, Cupcakes, Cookies and Snowmen

Sunday, my cousin Anne and her mother, Mom’s sister, came to visit in the early afternoon. Anne brought with her wonderful New York bagels, special deli-prepared cream cheese, whitefish salad and lox. I had just finished preparing a sweet potato bundt cake as they rang the doorbell, and popped it into the oven. Mom seemed to really enjoy having the company when she awoke, and my sister stopped in, too, after meeting friends at the Wm. Penn Inn nearby for brunch. We all pulled up chairs in Mom’s room and I fear that, after a while, we probably wore her out with all our chatter, but most of the time, she is always commenting to me how quiet the house is when Saul is at school. Once the cake was glazed, we all had a slice with fresh limeade before Anne and Aunt Ruth left.

Monday brought an unanticipated pleasure. Heavy snow had been predicted for Tuesday, and my friend Roxy, who loves gazing out the window at the pristine drifts, the snow puff laden fir trees, and the gentle waft of large snowflakes wending their way down from the heavens, definitely does not like to be out driving in it. She called Monday morning to ask if I would like a visit. She had planned to meet her daughter, Sarah and Sarah’s husband for lunch and then stop over. As it turned out, I invited them to come join me for lunch. After a few hours of my computer work, which has increased quite a bit this month, I had fun setting the table for us with old china and silverplate and making the leftovers look more appetizing. We had macaroni and cheese, kohlrabi coleslaw, Manchego and membrillo with crackers, bagels with cream cheese, whitefish salad, (thank you, Anne), and sliced tomatoes, and homemade guacamole with tortilla chips. For dessert, we had slices of the glazed sweet potato bundt cake with French press coffee. (I finally made the coffee myself, Larry!) Sarah, whose husband, Billy, was not able to join us after all, left after lunch, but Roxy stayed for a while and visited with me and Mom. Getting together now is just like old times when we were back in high school. We talk about anything and everything. Roxy brought me a card with a beautiful sentiment written inside and a sleek, black eelskin wallet in which to store my million dollars when I win the Pillsbury Bake-Off :-). Marianne came to visit Mom for a while also on Monday afternoon as Roxy was preparing to leave and as Saul arrived from school.

Tuesday was spent on computer work and baking cakes and cupcakes for Izzy’s 5th birthday party this weekend. In the evening, the snow began as promised, and Chestnut Hill College was closed yesterday because of the accumulation. I was thrilled, because I didn’t know how I was going to finish everything I had to do before leaving today without Saul. We slept an extra hour and had breakfast together. Then, I made icing for the snowman cake while Saul wrapped the base in wintery wrapping paper. We had made the base with a tall wooden spike for a globe-shaped cake for Ari’s bar mitzvah many years ago. The snowman cake was a last-minute inspiration based on my baking of bundt cake this week, and the base was just perfect for this project where a tall and rather precarious cake needs to be transported over a hundred miles. By afternoon, the roads were clear and we recruited our friend Larry to stay with Mom for an hour while we shopped for the fruits and nuts needed to celebrate Tu B’Shevat at the synagogue. Tuesday evening, I had another fortuitous event (the previous one being the coincidence of Marianne being here for booking the trip to Israel). Natalie, a friend and fellow congregant of Melrose B’nai Israel, called to find out if Saul would be driving to the board meeting last night. I told her about needing to shop for the fruits and nuts for the synagogue and that Saul would definitely be driving if there was a meeting so that he could deliver the produce, because we would not be there this weekend. I told her this weekend was my granddaughter’s birthday in Baltimore. She told me that her granddaughter’s birthday was this coming weekend also in Silver Spring, Maryland. I offered her a ride. When she called to see if there would be accommodations (there are a dozen teenage girls staying over) her daughter-in-law was absolutely thrilled to have her there. She was positively giddy at the prospect of being there for the occasion. Total good karma all the way around!

Originally, I was only supposed to make cupcakes for the birthday kids to decorate with snowmen and penguins. Among the guests are a five-year old with a nut allergy, and one that cannot have milk or chocolate. For cupcakes, I made the Presley Bella Angelfood Cake without mixing in the cocoa. The batter made great dairy-free, nut-free, chocolate-free, and egg-yolk free cupcakes and there is not that headache of cutting an angelfood cake out of the ungreased pan. The batter made three dozen. The snowman cake is made from a sturdy and delicious sour cream pound cake recipe that I have been using for many years to make tiered wedding cakes. One of the projects that the birthday party kids are making is snowball cookies. Ordinarily, these cookies are made with lots of chopped nuts. I suggested to Jessica that we try to make them with sesame seeds instead. She called the nut-allergic child’s mother and found out that sesame seeds are okay. Last night while Saul was at the meeting, I made those to see if they would work instead of nuts. The result was fabulous and Saul declared that they are now his favorite cookie.

So here I am, bags packed, waiting for Saul to arrive to whisk us off to Baltimore. Agnes will be waiting at the train to be delivered here to take care of Mom this weekend. As a result of joining Facebook, we were invited to have dinner this evening at the home of a high school friend whom we haven’t seen in 35 years. He and his wife live only two miles away from Jessica in Baltimore. Hopefully, we will all get there safe and sound, along with our precarious, but precious snowman.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Facebook, Friends and Forgotten Blueberries

I love alliteration and this just popped into my head as a title for today. I read somewhere recently that the love of alliteration is a purely American silly phenomenon. I wonder if my little old man in China that I imagine reads this could answer if that is really true?

I opened a Facebook account last week. I had been avoiding opening one for a while for several reasons. One is that several months ago, Saul, in passing, informed me that he had set up one for me when he set up his own, along with photos. His intentions were good, but I think he still doesn’t understand why that absolutely freaked me out. I was so freaked out that he immediately removed it. Another reason was that I figured, with these blogs that I write, that not only is all the superficial stuff that usually goes into Facebook on display here, but also a lot of what goes on inside my head. I didn’t want another form of communication to keep distracting me. Lately though, I had begun feeling as though I was being “left out of the loop” because information about almost everyone I know was obviously being passed back and forth and I was only learning it secondhand—like being without a telephone years ago, or living without a cell phone now. So I now have yet another reason to become glued to this monitor.

On Thursday, when I last wrote, I was expecting 18 people for dinner Friday evening. On Friday afternoon, Jamie called, having learned that dinner had grown into a rather large gathering. She was concerned because she had pleaded with her doctor to be able to get his blessing to bring Presley here so soon to meet her great-grandmother. Jamie was worried that exposure to so many of us, including children who may have picked up a bug in school or daycare, would compromise her new baby. She was able to tactfully communicate with her cousin to let her know that she would prefer to see people in smaller groups. Erica and Adele were already scheduled to visit her at home next weekend on their way down to Baltimore for Izzy’s fifth birthday party. So I think that everybody is cool with everybody, and I only had 12 for dinner on Friday night.

When I set up my Facebook account, I learned that Ed, Beth’s ex-husband wasn’t feeling well while in Syracuse working on his parents’ house. I was concerned and mentioned it to Beth, who thought that probably it was not a cold as Ed believed, but a reaction to dealing with a lot of dust. I was also worried about compromising Mom’s health considering the weakened state she is in. As it turned out, Ed was here for dinner on Friday night only very briefly. He had to leave early to pick up someone at Kennedy Airport in New York, a long ride for him. I hope it truly was just dust for his sake as well and that he is feeling better. He had been so anxious to visit us and see Jamie’s new baby.

The dinner turned out absolutely wonderful, better than I had hoped. Marianne came and stayed with Mom early in the morning. We were in and out of the doctor’s office to remove Saul’s cast in record time. The stores that we stopped into afterwards to pick up groceries (Trader Joe’s, Costco, Assi Market, and Redner’s) were all very uncrowded. Jamie had requested chestnut soup when I asked her if there was anything special she wanted me to prepare for dinner. The peeled chestnuts happened to be on sale half-price at Assi Market. For Shabbat dinner this week, we had challah, homemade guacamole with tortilla chips, Manchego cheese with membrillo, chestnut soup, caesar salad (Randi came early and mixed up the dressing), macaroni and cheese, cod lamaize, kohlrabi coleslaw, fresh homemade lemon-limeade, and Presley Bella Angelfood Cake with French-press coffee. Adele had made the cake for her bridge group with the icing and had brought me a piece. The icing is so unusual and amazing, that I will be updating the recipe to include it. I may be using it on a few other cakes as well! Our guests were Presley, Jamie, Andy, Ken, Randi, Beth, Ed, Larry, and Faith.

Mom rallied in ways that none of us believed possible any more. She took herself into the bathroom with her walker and put on lipstick, and rouge. She also managed to get herself to the kitchen with her walker, although her strength gave out after that and we wheeled her into place with her wheelchair. She was animated at the table and had a whole bowl of soup, some of the lamaize, a few noodles, and a small piece of cake. She was awake for a few hours.

Presley really seems to be an angel baby. When I first held her after Jamie had nursed her back in Mom’s room, she gave me a big smile just as Randi was about to snap our picture. They say that babies don’t truly smile until they are at least 8 weeks old, but don’t believe it. Presley is only two weeks old and the photo above of us is a real smile that happened just at the right moment to be recorded by Randi’s camera. I know that my kids smiled before 8 weeks also.

Yesterday, I had arranged with Adele to stay with Mom so that we could go to synagogue and on to visit Saul’s Mom at Lion’s Gate now that his cast is off. There was a small, but very warm crowd at services. Saul was given the honor of an aliyah. Rabbi Addison asked me if I would agree to shop for the fruit items needed for Tu B’Shevat next weekend, and I agreed to take care of it for the congregation, even though we will be in Baltimore. The Torah portion this week was Bo, which includes the accounts of the plagues visited on ancient Egypt which led to the Exodus. Rabbi Addison spoke brilliantly, as usual, about the nature of the ninth plague, darkness. The description of this plague speaks of the darkness as lasting three days, that it was so dark that the Egyptians could not even see each other in their dwellings, but that the Israelites had light in their dwellings. This mysterious darkness is not as easily understood as a swarm of locusts, frogs, boils, or cattle disease, to mention a few of the ten. It has been variously postulated as being a sandstorm, fallout from the mega-eruption at Santorini, depression and despair felt by Egyptians after having suffered the previous eight plagues, etc. I have always gone with the depression metaphor because the Egyptians were not even able to effectively light candles against the darkness. To me, it is the metaphor of the darkness of depression robbing one of the will to act in any way to dispel the darkness. It would explain why the Israelites had light in their homes, while the Egyptians did not.

Rabbi Addison posed a further explanation. That the same event can have opposite effects on people depending on their level of attunement. Think of it as being blinded by the light. People who are accustomed to living and working in environments where there is a lot of light, hardly notice when the light becomes even brighter. A person who is kept in darkness for long periods of time is blinded by the same level of light. The Egyptians were not attuned to the plight of their fellow human beings. They were blind to the suffering being caused by their enslavement of other people for the sake of their own individual comfort. Through Moses, God’s laws, and perhaps necessity, the Israelites had developed a community sensitive to each other’s needs and with a common purpose. They were attuned to the light. The metaphor here is that the Egyptians were in darkness because of their society’s inability to teach them to reach out to each other in kindness. Rabbi also indicated that, contrary to what one would think, Moses was not instructed by God to reach his arms up to bring darkness down from the heavens, but to reach out to bring about the plague of darkness. All these subtle details and interpretations are fascinating to me.

Larry was sitting next to us at services, and asked us if we wanted company on our visit to Lion’s Gate to visit Saul’s mom. We had a pleasant afternoon together. Larry offered to drive because of Saul’s arm and we decided to go in our vehicle. Shortly after we pulled out of the parking lot, I remembered that I had forgotten to put out a beautiful tray of blueberries that I had bought for dessert the previous evening. Blueberries are my brother’s favorite, and I noticed on Facebook that Beth really loves them as well. Oh well, I did have good intentions to serve a healthy alternative dessert, but everyone did love the cake, and Jamie jumped at the chance to take the leftovers home.

Saul’s mom was delighted to see us and seemed improved from the last time we visited. She is unmistakably happy with her situation. She brought out all the art projects she has been making, including the beautiful seder plate in the photos. She recorded a birthday message for Izzy and did not even have to be prompted to remember to leave a message for Sami as well. She asked us all the usual questions remembering that Jess is pregnant, that my mom has been ill, and that Ari is in DC and still not married. I promised her we would try to bring the girls over to visit very soon.

When we arrived back home, Adele told us that Mom had been good most of the day as well. She had gotten herself to the kitchen with her walker and had some breakfast. She was comfortable and talkative most of the day. I had an hour-long conversation with Aunt Ruth, Mom’s sister, who is planning to visit today. Then, I had an almost two-hour-long conversation with Jessica. Her cervix has dilated a bit more and her doctors are not happy. As with her pregnancy with Izzy, they are strongly recommending bed rest for at least part of the week, even though she may have had the same condition with Sami, who was late, and definitely had it with Izzy, who was born on time. Jess was able to make arrangements to work from home three days a week, but I know that she was dreading the possibility of being “sentenced” to bed rest again with this pregnancy.

We spent a lot of time discussing the arrangements for Izzy’s party, which has a winter snow theme, and the photography on my food blog. All the rest of my photos have been rejected by Foodgawker, so we discussed setting up a staging area where lighting, tripod, and camera have all been tweaked properly to give me the requisite clarity. I guess at some point I will have to prepare (and eat) all those recipes again. How sad! :-P