Tuesday, July 7, 2009

An Ordinary Life

I missed two wonderful days with Saul and the girls while I attempted to catch up with my work. Two beautiful summer days went by while I stared at my computer screen, cooked, straightened up, and did laundry, and while Saul took the girls to Beachcombers for morning swimming lessons and afternoon art sessions. Tuesday evening, Saul grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and Izzy helped me make a concoction with different types of beans which she chose from my shelf—red kidney, black, and cannellini beans cooked with roasted garlic tomato sauce, some brown sugar and worcestershire sauce. Very early Wednesday morning, the girls and I made taro pancakes together and I taught them how to make the bread pudding that G.G. has been enjoying every morning for almost a year, now. Also on Wednesday morning, we went to Redner’s right after breakfast to pick up odds and ends to refill the refrigerator, especially Pink Lady apples. We then arrived at Costco shortly after it opened at 10:00 a.m. to replenish our supply of giant fresh strawberries and enjoy their free continental breakfast of croissants, apple cake, orange juice and coffee. We arrived back home in time to make lunch for Ken and his partner’s son, Josh. We had potato leek soup, croissants, macaroni and cheese, tuna salad, leftover homemade potato salad, Manchego and membrillo, smoked gouda, gorgonzola crackers with Betts cheese spreads, ice cream and warm bread pudding. Josh said it was the best lunch he has had since coming to work with his father and my brother.

My friend and colleague, Laura, arrived at 2:00 p.m. to go over the work being done for her school district’s calendar, and Saul took the girls again for yet another glorious day of swimming and clay. Sami has been waiting impatiently for the Wednesday clay sessions since last summer. They raised the age requirement to six this year from five last year, but Izzy was able to persuade the teacher to let her work with the clay, as she, too, had been waiting a whole year to be old enough. According to Saul, both girls were reveling in being covered with clay and needed showers before getting back in the pool. Their mother, who has a degree from Columbia University in archaeology, also used to revel in being covered with dirt and clay as she worked during her junior year in Israel to piece together ancient broken pottery from the digs. It must be in the genes!

Thursday, we planned a very full day together and I was finally free. I told the girls that they would have to completely cooperate with no bickering if we were to accomplish all the fun things we had planned, and they did. We completely cleaned their rooms and packed their clothes for the week with their other grandparents that was beginning with their being picked up by their parents the following morning. We had them at Beachcombers for their swimming lessons by 11:15 a.m. At 12:45 p.m., we went back home and I prepared a quick lunch of grilled cheese on whole grain bread while the girls helped each other shower and dress. By 2:15, we were at the AMC theater in King of Prussia for a 3D showing of the new Ice Age movie, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which was hilarious on many levels from 5 years old to adult. After the movie, we went next door to Nordstrum Rack, where we hunted for a light blue shirt for Sami to wear in a color-coordinated formal family portrait scheduled for the next day in honor of Alex’s parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. We wound up buying a butterfly-patterned tee with a sequined boa that Sami loved, although because it wasn’t solid, I think she wore a different turquoise-y one for the photo. We also bought them shoes there, pink and white sandals for Izzy, and blue and orange sandals that light up for Sami. Shoes have been an obsession for both girls since birth, another trait that must somehow be in the genes, although in the case of their mother, it seems to have skipped a generation. While Saul paid for our purchases, we walked across the parking lot for our pre-arranged, 5 p.m. call-ahead dinner at Bahama Breeze, where we were to meet old friends from 25 years ago, who had worked at Cooke Jr. High with Saul and Larry.

A few days earlier, we had received a call from Tony (a.k.a. Antoine the Magnificent) who, like Saul and Larry, retired from the Philadelphia public school system and was now adjuncting at three different colleges. He teaches history and was having a terrible time learning the software, “Blackboard,” that he needed professionally for his jobs. Saul and Larry agreed to spend Thursday evening back at our house bringing Tony up to date on the software, hence, the meeting at dinner. Also meeting us at the restaurant was another teacher, Jules, and his wife Maria with whom Tony and his wife, Mary, had stayed in touch. All the timing had gone perfectly, except that Tony and Mary were almost an hour late for dinner, usually a nightmare when one has a five-year-old and eight-year-old at a restaurant without an attached playground. The girls were wonderful, however, and eventually, I left early with them to put them to bed while Saul wrapped up and came back home with Larry. Jules and his wife, Maria, had just returned from a 4-month-long cruise around the world and had very interesting stories during dinner. I spent the evening conversing with Mary and Larry as Saul worked with Tony for a few hours.

Friday morning was pandemonium. A couple of weeks ago, we signed papers to put our house up for sale. Since then, beginning with the garage sale, I have been decluttering little by little. A photographer was coming at noon to take photos of the house for the website, including a panoramic virtual tour. I knew that Jess and Alex would be picking the girls up in the morning, so I figured I would have an hour or two to run around and do last minute rearranging and cleaning. Unfortunately, Jess could not get here before 11:30 a.m. Then, my sister decided to bring her granddaughter, Brenna, to play with the girls. Then, Ken and Randi called to say they were on their way over to visit Mom. Then, Erica and Dan showed up with Ava. Jess and Alex showed up with Yona and Alex’s sister, Naomi. Pandemonium is the only way to describe what I was trying to manage on Friday morning. Fortunately, my sister and sister-in-law pitched in and helped get things done. Everyone was still here when the photographer and realtor arrived to take the pictures. Seeing all the cars outside, they must have thought we forgot and were having a party. Saul stood in the foyer and, in his booming voice, announced that it was time for everyone to skedaddle. They did. I don’t remember if he was quite that quaint in his announcement, but no one was offended. We managed to remove everything that needed to be removed, and the session went really well. Both photographer and realtor were pleasant and cooperative and were finished within an hour. I felt as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders when they finished. We grabbed Adele who had been sitting with mom in her room during all the commotion and went out for a leisurely lunch. She told mom that morning that we had put the house up for sale and assured her, as we had instructed, that we would be arranging for her to be with us no matter what was in the future, that she would never be in a nursing home. We are asking a high price for our house and are really in no hurry to move right now. Should someone pay the asking price, we have viable alternatives in Baltimore, including for nursing care. I would have waited a while longer, but it was necessary to get the ball rolling towards the move while Saul is off for the summer.

After lunch, we dropped Adele off at her car and continued on to Costco to purchase dinner. I was too pooped to prepare much. Only Larry and Stacey were joining us and we needed to take a nap after the morning’s frenetic activity. For Shabbat dinner we had homemade challah from the freezer, strawberry soup, Boston lettuce with homemade Russian dressing, baked salmon burgers, homemade spanakopitakia from the freezer, ice cream and assorted chocolate and raspberry nut rugelach from Costco. Mom joined us for dinner for a little while, and Larry left early knowing how tired we were.

Saturday, we slept in. I finished two New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzles because I had not had a chance all week to finish the previous Sunday’s. This was fourth of July weekend and Ari was dog-sitting for Jess and Alex’s new puppy, Inky, who has been known to chew up furniture when left to her own devices. As a last minute impulse, we decided to meet Ari on the Eastern Shore of Maryland at a dockside restaurant where you can eat while watching the yachts float past. Larry decided to join us and we passed a pleasant few hours together on a beautiful, leisurely drive down Rt. 301 and a lazy and delicious afternoon. We left for home about 7:15 p.m. after ice cream on the dock because Ari needed to get back to let Inky out of her crate. Along the way, I got my fix of fireworks without the mosquitoes and standstill traffic.

Sunday became an amazing confluence of coincidences. We had discussed with Larry taking a reduced-price boat ride to Bartram’s Garden downtown, but had not made definite plans. Larry had an extra G.P.S. system which he had given to Jess and Alex some time ago. Jess and Alex had purchased a newer one and were no longer using it. Debbie, who had come to work for us caring for Mom, had gotten lost several times in the few weeks she has been here and was looking forward to borrowing it and perhaps purchasing it from Larry. Last week, when we were in Baltimore, we brought the box home with us and gave it to Debbie. Debbie was extremely disappointed when she was about to take a trip and it turned out that everything was in the box but the G.P.S. itself. Three times this week, I called Jessica to remind her to bring it on Friday when she picked up the kids to take them to their other grandparents. Saturday, I realized that she had not given it to us on Friday. We thought we could get it from Ari if she had forgotten it, but it turned out that she had brought it, but forgot to leave it in all the pandemonium on Friday. I told her that if she did not stop back at our house on her way home on Sunday, she would have to overnight it to us, so she decided to stop in on Sunday, but she did not arrive until noon. The boat ride was set to leave at 1 p.m. and we decided we would never make it there in time. When we called Larry to tell him our decision, he said that he had been cleaning his house all morning and had decided not to go anyway. I looked out the window at the absolutely perfect weather on Sunday and told Larry that he had cleaned enough and that it was time to go outside and play. He showered while Saul and I checked the Net to see how we could salvage the rest of our day. I mentioned Longwood Gardens to Larry, but he countered that a few days earlier we had been discussing Morris Arboretum, which none of us had ever visited, even though we have lived within a half-hour’s drive almost all of our lives. It also happens to be right next to Chestnut Hill College where Saul and Larry teach computer science.

So within an hour, we were on our way to visit Morris Arboretum for the first time on a gorgeous day. When we arrived, it looked unusually busy and we were told that many people were there for the opening of their newly-constructed feature, “Out on a Limb.” Immediately, as we entered this treetop construction, we met Larry’s sister’s husband’s children and grandchildren, who were having a family outing with brothers from Vancouver and elsewhere in this country, along with their mother. All I can say about Morris Arboretum is that I can’t believe what I have been missing all these years! What a magnificent afternoon! We became members and are planning to take the girls there next week when they return.

We finished up our afternoon with an early dinner of satisfying Mexican food and drink (Dos Equis and Margaritas) at a neighborhood restaurant in Oreland called Tequila Joe’s. I was sound asleep by 8:00 p.m. on Sunday night. Around 3:00 a.m. I awoke and switched on the television. TiVo had recorded a program called “American Masters,” which I love. Each program is an in-depth look at the life of a famous American. This particular episode featured Garrison Keillor. There were many profound and inspiring insights expressed by this man. One that particularly touched me was that, as a child, he had aspired to live the exciting life of a writer, thinking that the work of his carpenter father and farm-wife mother was menial and boring. Then, he said that as he became successful at his writing, he realized how much b.s. abounds in his chosen profession and how satisfying it must have been for his parents to have been creating things that were actually necessary and useful. He had aspired to live an exceptional life, but in the quest, he realized that the life stories of ordinary people are exceptional, that trying to live an exceptional life is uniquely unsatisfying and shallow, and that for him, an ordinary life is good enough.

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