Friday, September 18, 2009

The Lost and Found Month of August, Part 3

I had wanted to avoid traveling back home in the dark from Florida. Saul and I have done the trek by car from Philadelphia to Florida and back many times over the years beginning with the first year we were married, when we traveled with my sister, Adele, and her husband, Larry, the first year that Disney World opened. I-95 had not yet been completed for the whole State of Georgia and passing slow-moving cars on a two-lane road with oncoming tractor trailers in a pouring rain caused my sister a melt-down that gave her a dread of long car trips for many years. In one of our more recent trips, Saul and I had encountered a dreadful thunderstorm on the way home in South Carolina at night. We were so tired and so blinded by the torrential rain and lightening flashes that we pulled over at the first light in the storm and slept in the parking lot of a convenience store for two-hours before the rain let up enough for us to continue to a motel. I resisted Ari and Saul’s desire to leave in the wee hours of Tuesday morning because I did not want a repeat of that experience. I also wanted to squeeze in as much time as possible before leaving our incredible accommodations.

I thought we should take two days to make the journey considering the fact that we were traveling with two kids under 10 and a 3-month-old baby. We squeezed as much as we could out of our foreshortened vacation and decided to “play it by ear.” Ari, Jessica, Izzy and Yona traveled in the PT cruiser and Saul and I took Sami in our Honda Pilot. We stopped for a late lunch at a Shoney’s in North Carolina after our large, late breakfast. My worst fears about bad weather were realized as we began to encounter really bad storms in North Carolina as we approached the South Carolina border. While it was uncomfortable to be driving in heavy rainstorms with huge tractor trailers during daylight, the real stress came as night fell, we were very tired, and nearby lightening bolts and blinding rain persisted for hours. Although I pleaded with Ari that we should stop somewhere for the night, he was determined to finish the drive back home. I think that part of that determination was because he had not had a chance to really say goodbye to his grandmother before we left for vacation. We plodded on, passing many accidents, taking it slowly and carefully, and praying that no other drivers would do something stupid.

During the drive, we received a phone call from Adele saying that Beth’s ex-husband, Ed, had stopped in to visit Mom, having heard how badly she was doing. He told us that the air-conditioning in her area of the house was not working and that he had played with the thermostat, but that the temperature in her room was up to 80°F. We have a wonderful service person for our heating and air-conditioning. When Adele reached him at 10:00 p.m. and explained the situation, he said he would be there within the hour to fix it… and he was! He and Ed rigged up something to keep Mom’s room cool until a broken part could be procured to fix it permanently. Eventually, the heavy rain subsided, we made a short stop for gas and some food in Virginia, and continued on until we reached Ari’s condo in DC where we loaded Jessica’s and the girls things into Ari’s Mercedes and she continued with the two girls home to Baltimore. We then followed Ari as he drove the PT Cruiser to National Airport to return it. Ari took over the driving from Saul after that as we headed directly for home. His condo in DC was being staged by the realtor for an open house the following weekend and was in the throes of being painted. We were not supposed to be returning for another week. Ari and Jessica were supposed to have flown back to National Airport the following Sunday evening.

We arrived back home at about 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday and went directly in to see Mom. She was aware of our presence, as we received a half-smile, but she was no longer able to really respond verbally as all her effort was directed to her breathing. Ari joked about his kiss being scratchy because he was looking rather scruffy after not shaving for several days. After we all slept for a few hours, he shaved and went back in and received one of the last smiles she was able to muster when we joked that now she must really be glad to see him.

We slept most of Wednesday. Thursday, I spent most of the day on the computer working to meet the deadline on the publication I had begun on vacation. Thankfully, the work went smoothly. For Shabbat dinner on Friday, I invited our friends, Susan and Ted, who are Larry’s sister and brother-in-law. They live in Chicago and we have, by coincidence, missed seeing them for one reason or another the last several times that they had been in to visit. We had been due to miss them again because of our vacation. Also on Friday, Jessica drove to our house in her SUV with the girls, leaving Ari’s Mercedes in Baltimore. I believe that the last time I saw Mom smile was when Jessica placed Yona on her bed. We picked up fresh supplies at Costco, and made a reasonably easy dinner drawing on stores in our freezer of homemade chicken soup, matzoh balls, and dumplings, along with our new-found store-bought glatt kosher stuffed cabbage. Sami, Izzy and Brenna all helped to produce a newly-invented (by Sami) recipe for oatmeal, peanut-butter, banana and cherry cookies, some of which we packed away for Alex for his upcoming birthday. We rounded out the meal with salad and brown basmati rice. I went in to Mom to ask her if she wanted to join us for a few minutes, or have us light the Shabbat candles in her room. She indicated by barely shaking her head that she was not up to either. (Later, I was reminded by her hospice chaplain, Rabbi Tsurah August, that we could have had an explosion if we had lit the candles in her bedroom with the oxygen machine.) Susan asked to see Mom after dinner and I tried to discourage her, knowing how poorly Mom was feeling, but she assured me that she had been a nurse and would be able to handle the situation. She did go in to visit Mom and I could tell by her expression afterwards and her words of comfort to me that she did not feel there was much time left.

Saturday morning, Saul and I took Sami and Izzy to shul at MBI-EE. When we returned, we had lunch together with Jess and Ari. Then, Jess, Saul and I took all three girls to Beachcomber. Yona loved the water and was very calm and relaxed. Ari decided to stay home and sat with Stacey in Mom’s room and watched a movie with her while Mom slept. Later in the afternoon, he went and did some errands in the neighborhood, among them, bringing home ice cream. We ordered in pizza for dinner.

Ari and Jessica decided to return home to DC and Baltimore on Sunday. I persuaded Jessica and Alex to leave the girls with me. Alex, particularly, had strong doubts about leaving them, but they would have had great difficulty arranging for child care on short notice in the last weeks before school started. I assured them that should Mom die during the last week of Camp Bubbie and Saba, I would be very sensitive as to how to handle Mom’s death with them in the house. On the way back from Florida, I had spoken with Sami and told her that her parents were hesitating to send her back to us because G.G. might die soon. We discussed it for a while and Sami was insistent that she wanted to return to us. Also, the girls had helped me bake Haley’s wedding cake, which was waiting in Beth’s freezer, and she wanted to be present to help me decorate it before the wedding. During the week, Adele came almost every day, bringing Brenna, who had finished with camp. Each day, the girls would go into G.G.’s room and hug and kiss her before leaving for their activities. Each evening, they would go in to say goodnight. Saul took them to the “castle playground” in the mornings, and to the swim club in the afternoon. My publication finally went to the printer on Tuesday afternoon. Adele would come and sit with Mom for hours almost every day. Ken and Randi were very occupied with preparations for the wedding that week, but had come frequently during the week before while we were on vacation, as had Jamie with Presley.

On Tuesday, Mom was visited by our friend Laura, who wanted to see her one more time to say goodbye. Then, she was visited by Rabbi Tsurah, who sang to her and recited the Viddui. As Rabbi Tsurah was leaving, Rabbi Addison arrived. All were incredibly sensitive and loving and each one told her how beautifully and gracefully she was handling her ordeal. She was also visited one last time by Marianne, her wonderful volunteer, and every day by Kathy, her nurse.

On Wednesday, I was able to spend a few hours at the pool with everyone. It was my last day there this summer. Wednesday evening, we removed all the tiers of Haley’s cake from Beth’s freezer and left them out to defrost. Thursday, the girls helped me to make several batches of buttercream icing before leaving for the pool with Saul. Izzy couldn’t get enough of it once she had her first lick of the remains on the bowl and beater. Saul had gone to pick up Angela early in the morning because Stacey had known weeks before that she could not work the weekend of the wedding. We had decided to double up on Debbie and Angela’s hours because of the severity of Mom’s condition. She needed constant 24/7 care and no one person could do all that.

Until about Monday, the aides had been managing to get small quantities of juice, water, Ensure and yogurt into Mom. After Monday, she no longer could muster enough suction to get much liquid up through a straw and she began to choke frequently on even small quantities of liquid. We had stopped on our harrowing trip from Florida at Smith’s Chevron in South Carolina to pick up cases of their renowned peach cider. We found that Mom loved this juice and after Monday, the aides, Adele and I had begun frequently swabbing her lips and mouth with the peach juice instead of water. She was less likely to choke on the liquid this way and was able to suck some juice from the swab. We all knew she could not live much longer this way with no food intake and very little liquid. According to the hospice guidelines, the final instructions say that for someone “actively dying,” the dying person is actually better off not consuming food and drink at the end. The body can no longer process the food properly and the person usually no longer wants or needs it. Forcing unwanted food and drink can cause unnecessary distress.

Once the cakes were frosted, I called Beth for moral (as well as physical) support in rolling out the fondant. I had had an awful time with the fondant for Haley’s sister Jamie’s wedding cake and, although in the end it looked flawless, I was beginning to roll out the fondant with trepidation. On one of our first attempts, Beth cracked the wooden handle of my rolling pin with the pressure. Luckily, she had one of her own and retrieved it from her home next door. We began to get a feel for it as we finished each tier and thought they looked very pristine and nice as we completed each one.

We took a break and Beth went home once the tiers were completed and trimmed as Saul had returned with the girls. Adele, Saul, Sami, Izzy, Brenna and I went to dinner at nearby Franconi's Pizza that evening. Adele put the girls to bed and left with Brenna, and Saul and I began assembling the tiers inserting wooden dowels for support. Debbie arrived shortly before we finished assembling the cake so that Angela could go to sleep. All during the day I had been going in and out of Mom’s room, although by now, we all felt that she was hearing us from a distance. We had a discussion in her room about it on Monday, when her nurse, Kathy, came to visit.

When Saul and I had finished assembling the tiers, we decided to call Beth, again, for backup support. Beth is an engineer and the cake was encircled by three satin ribbons on each tier. We figured if anyone could get them straight and evenly-spaced, it would be Beth. She carefully measured the thickness of the ribbon, the height of the tiers, and calculated the distance that should be placed between them. We also discovered that it was a job for six hands in order to attach the ribbon with royal icing and hold the ends in place as the cake was being encircled with it. It took us a few hours, but it worked and looked really beautiful. During this process, Angela came in to say goodnight. When we finished the ribbon, Beth went home and I piped the bottoms of the tiers with leftover buttercream to give the cake a finished look and hide the cardboard circles on which the tiers sat. The floral part of the cake was being finished by Erik, the groom’s, father, who is a florist, with a ring of white roses on every tier. As we finished up, Debbie came in and was admiring the cake as she was preparing a tuna fish sandwich to take back with her to Mom’s room. We were discussing the cake for about ten minutes while she was preparing her sandwich when I suddenly realized that Mom was alone. I went in to sit with her while Debbie was finishing up. It was a little after 11:00 p.m.

I sat down on the closed commode lid next to Mom’s bed. I gently touched her forehead, which was warm and told her that I was there beside her and that I had finished Haley’s wedding cake and it was beautiful. Within a few seconds, I suddenly realized that her breathing sounded much easier than it had for the last week. Then, with growing alarm, I realized that perhaps I was merely listening to the sound of the oxygen tube in her nostrils. I quickly walked to her bedroom doorway where the machine stood directly outside and flipped off the switch calling Saul from the kitchen at the same time.

I walked back to her side and listened for her breathing as Saul entered the room, looked at her from the doorway, and announced with distress that she was gone. Her eyes were closed as they had been for several days. He began to cover her face with the blanket, and I would not let him because I still was not sure. She had just been warm to my touch a few seconds before. Debbie came in behind him and affirmed his assessment that Mom had died and was distressed that she had left Mom alone. We assured her that Mom had probably waited for the one moment she was alone to take her leave as we had been warned by the hospice nurses, and many other experts, that many women do not want to die in the presence of their daughters. There practically had not been another opportunity for Mom to be alone for some time.

Angela, who had just settled in for the night, joined us from across the hall and was briefly distressed that Mom had died on her watch, but seemed relieved when we indicated that we had been expecting it to happen within a short time. For a just few moments after Saul realized she had died, he became very distressed and began to cry, shocking me, because I had seen him react in even more intense situations with a “take charge” and “do-the-proper-thing” attitude. I believe I just stood beside her for the first few minutes, stroking her forehead and feeling it begin to turn cold. Saul immediately recovered his composure and called Adele on his cell phone. She said she would be coming right over. Then, he called Ken, who did not wish to see Mom this way and had told us as much previously. After that, he called hospice and was told that someone would be on their way immediately to certify her death and handle other details, and that he would arrive in about 20 minutes. Saul then called Jessica, Ari and Beth. Adele arrived, tear-stained, with Erica and Larry. Erica, despite her mother’s dire reports, had not believed that her grandmother was so close to death. She had come a few weeks earlier to wash, set, and style her grandmother’s hair. She appeared to be shocked. Beth came in right after them looking very distressed. Her birthday is August 21, and we had feared that Mom might die either on her birthday, or on Haley’s wedding day. I believe Mom chose her exact moment to exit and that she was well aware of these dates, having been a remarkable keeper of family dates all her life.

The certifying hospice nurse arrived at about 11:45 p.m., probably about a half hour after I had entered her room. He listened for a heartbeat and informed us that there was none. He called the funeral home where, years before, she had gone with Saul and prearranged and prepaid for everything. He put Saul on the phone with them to make sure that a shomer would be waiting for her when she arrived and throughout the period until she would be interred. Then, he spoke to us with compassion and kindness, asking about her final days and hours, and about her life. He began to fill out the paperwork that would become the official death certificate and, since it was about 12:15 a.m., was going to make the date of death August 21. When we explained that there was a family birthday on August 21, he certified her time of death as 11:55 p.m. on August 20. He left after making sure that all was in order and that we were all okay. The girls had been asleep for several hours in the next room and, although they are heavy sleepers, we had closed their bedroom door while everyone was coming and going. They did not stir at all.

I told Adele that I would wait with Mom for the funeral directors, and oversee the removal of her body, something that Adele did not want to see. I sat in Mom’s desk chair in her bedroom for most of the couple of hours taken by the whole process, becoming tearful at times, but also feeling a sense of relief that the ordeal was finally over, that she was peaceful, and was able to die in her own bedroom surrounded by those who loved her, as she had wished. Briefly, I wondered about how my end would come and those of my other loved ones.

When the two men came to retrieve her body, we closed her bedroom door and left Debbie to guard the girls’ closed door to make sure we did not disturb them. They removed Mom’s blankets and, with my permission, wrapped her in the white jersey sheets on which she had been laying that I had recently purchased for the hospital bed into which we had moved her once she could no longer get herself onto the commode. As Saul had arranged, they wheeled in a gurney through the outside door that leads from her bedroom onto our deck, efficiently lifted her with the sheets onto the gurney that was topped with an opened plastic body bag and zipped her in. Although the whole process only took a few moments, it was quite a stark and disturbing thing to watch. I felt obligated, as part of the whole shomer process, to make sure that her body was treated with respect, and it was. The men offered their condolences, wished us goodnight, and disappeared across the deck into the night.

Saying that I felt at a loss when they closed the door behind them is an understatement. I was relieved when a discussion began to take place about whether Angela should stay over. Debbie offered to drive her home, but was notorious at getting lost. I could tell that Angela preferred to go home as we were all wide awake, but was fearful of Debbie getting lost. Adele, Larry, and Erica were anxious to get home as well. Saul offered to drive Angela home and I asked Debbie if she would stay for a while with the girls so that everyone could go back to bed and I could accompany Saul and Angela. That way, Saul would have company and we could talk on the way back. Debbie stayed for the extra hour and a half until we returned and, by then, I finally felt ready to sleep.

In the morning, we left G.G.’s door closed and the girls assumed that she was sleeping and did not ask any unusual questions while we ate breakfast. We preferred to wait for Jessica and Ari to arrive so that their mother could discuss G.G.’s death and the upcoming funeral and shiva period that would be taking place on the Monday morning after Haley’s wedding on Saturday night. Saul took the girls after breakfast to the playground for a few hours and then they climbed into our bed to watch a movie while we waited for our kids to arrive. While they were gone, I busied myself with straightening up the house in anticipation of the crowds of friends who would be arriving after the funeral and during the shiva period of seven days. Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, had invited us for Shabbat dinner that Friday. They had been scheduled to babysit for the girls during Haley’s wedding, which was adults only. Jessica told the girls that G.G. had died the previous night. Before they had a chance to ask, she explained that G.G. would be bathed, wrapped in a soft, clean, white material, like favorite pajamas, and laid in a special box. Izzy asked if the box had a lock on it and Jessica responded that it did not. Then she described that the family would be burying the box at the cemetery so that G.G. Evelyn could be next to G.G. Phil, who was her beloved husband, and her parents, and that we would say nice things about G.G. and the wonderful things we remembered about her. Afterward, everyone would be coming back to the house to have a meal, like a party, but not a festive party, and that lots of people would be visiting all week to talk about how much they loved G.G. and we would say prayers for her. They accepted this explanation without asking many more questions and Izzy went back about her business while Sami appeared to be more pensive and melancholy.

Alex’s parents prepared a wonderful and delicious Shabbat dinner for us, as they always do, and we were able to drive back home just in time to avoid a teeming thunderstorm.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Lost and Found Month of August, Part 2

Our drive down to Florida was wonderful! Armed with a new DVD player and an album full of DVDs that the girls had not seen for a while, a car refrigerator (leftover from our trip cross-country 25 years ago with my father’s insulin) filled with water and juice boxes of Honest Kids, and bags full of our favorite snack foods, we proceeded down I-95 relatively free of traffic jams and bad weather. We stopped at various points along the way for restaurant meals, and Izzy developed a liking for Shoney’s because of a particularly favorite fish wrap that she had there. During the drive, we all watched the sun come up together and hunted for the first palm tree, which I actually saw in southern North Carolina.

After our day on the beach in St. Augustine on Monday, our three-hour drive to Orlando on Tuesday, and our big late lunch at Golden Corral, we had a late dinner at a Bahama Breeze. Because we were relatively late we were seated immediately. The food was good, and they also honored a slightly outdated, and other-location coupon for $10 that I happened to be carrying. We decided to spend the rest of Tuesday evening lounging in our beautiful house, in our pajamas, watching a DVD of the old “Charlotte’s Web” movie that we loved 25 years ago.

Wednesday, after crafts at the clubhouse and my meltdown, and then a few hours in our own pool, we took the girls to Downtown Disney and had dinner at The Rainforest Café. We were given a whole spiel by the hostess about a 90-minute wait which could be shortened by purchasing a $20 preferred membership which would also shorten future waits for dinner. When we turned to find another restaurant, we were told that outside dining was available with a much shorter wait. We were directed through a short, cave-like tunnel to a charming rustic veranda on the lake with a view of Pleasure Island and its hot air balloon. We were seated immediately. The food was quite good, although extremely overpriced, and the service was very attentive. We lucked out because the evening was relatively cool for August in Florida. The anxious wait for food at a restaurant with a five-year-old has now been eliminated with the advent of our new iPhones, which keep the girls occupied indefinitely with such games as Tic-Tac-Toe, Cooking Mama, and Chicktionary. We watched the sun set over the lake and then spent several hours as the girls amused themselves with constructing mini Legos characters, racing Lego cars, Mr. Potato Head and My Little Pony characters.

On Thursday, the girls and I made an elaborate breakfast of taro pancakes (with mix brought back from a Hawaiian trip), eggs, sauteéd mushrooms, avocados, and toast. Jess, Yona and Ari were due to arrive by airplane at midnight and our day was set up so that Saul would not be too exhausted to make the 45-minute drive at that hour to pick them up at the airport. We took the girls, this time together, to crafts at the clubhouse, where they made beautiful sand art paintings. Then, after a few hours in our own pool and lunch by our poolside, we drove a few blocks to the beautiful water playground on the grounds of Summer Bay where we all had a great time frolicking in the spray. We headed off to Golden Corral again for dinner that evening hoping to avoid a long wait for dinner, but we spent almost 20 minutes in a long line just to get our trays and be seated. I let the girls watch movies until they fell asleep that evening, and dozed while Saul headed off to the airport. All went according to plan, the plane arrived on time, and Yona was a trouper on the flight. We were so overjoyed to have them with us to enjoy our beautiful house. Although they had seen photos that we had emailed, they were unprepared for the true beauty of our set-up.

Friday, August 7, was Sami’s birthday, and we were up bright and early to spend the day at Disney World. As part of her birthday celebration, Jessica had booked princess makeovers for the girls at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Cinderella’s Magic Castle. After parking in the handicap area, we were able to walk the short distance to the monorail area, buy our tickets for the day and claim Sami’s free birthday ticket after waiting in line for about an hour. During that time, we took turns handing Yona around so that no one would be overtaxed in the heat. Sami received a button proclaiming her birthday so that all the park employees could make a fuss over her. After a short, air-conditioned ride on the monorail to the Magic Kingdom, we rented a motorized cart for Saul, who has bad knees, and arrived just in time for the morning parade.

After that, I ran ahead with the girls and was able to secure great seats without any wait for the 3D movie, “Mickey’s Philharmagic,” which they absolutely loved. We had a few anxious minutes when we did not locate the rest of the group whom we thought had entered behind us. I had left my wallet, bag, and phone in Yona’s stroller. We checked out “It’s a Small World” thinking that they had continued on to reserve a place in line, but then returned when we did not find them there. As it turned out, they had not gotten into the same show that we had, and had entered the very next showing. We were very relieved to see them as they exited. Together, we all went to “It’s a Small World” and enjoyed it so much that we did it twice because the lines were so short.

We had just enough time for lunch before the girls’ scheduled appointments for their princess makeovers. Kosher food was available in the nearby Tomorrowland section. It was so crowded there, in a huge semi-circular venue, that we split up to purchase food and scout for tables. With the help of a Disney hostess and some aggressive table appropriation on Saul’s part, we were able to secure a tiny table against a wall which we traded for an equally tiny table more in the center so that we could crowd all the way around it. The food was passable.

The boutique set-up was, like most things at Disney, over-the-top. A salon inside The Magic Castle with a couple dozen hairdressers, manicurists, and make-up artists dressed as ladies-in-waiting, all rehearsed to play their parts, and furnished with just the kind of banquettes and mirrored stations that you would expect to see in a baroque castle. Izzy chose to have long, blond hair extensions, and Sami chose rainbow hair extensions, very representative of their personalities. Their hair was elaborately braided, teased, and sprinkled with glitter from a star-tipped magic wand. They were fussed over for more than an hour. When given a clear plastic, handled, face protector for the glitter application, Izzy asked why it was called a “magic mirror” when it didn’t reflect anything. The attendant was at a loss to answer as no child had ever asked that question before. We spent another hour on the Peter Pan ride and the carousel as we headed out of the park as the weather became unbearably hot. I thought we would all faint from the heat on the short walk back to the car.

When we arrived home, the girls asked for and received permission to destroy their elaborate coifs in our pool. Ari and I headed over to the Publix supermarket to purchase Shabbat dinner fixings for Sami’s birthday Shabbat. We purchased sparkler candles and an absolutely gorgeous and delicious white chocolate and raspberry-filled vanilla layer cake for which a helpful employee provided a box of assorted plastic “happy birthday” picks from which we could choose. Another employee marinated sea bass filets, which were on special, in our choice of teriyaki sauce. We bought ice cream and good fresh-grated parmesan cheese to make fettucine Alfredo. We also bought some pre-packaged salad and added tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.

While the girls and I napped, Saul, Jess and Ari, set the table, and prepped our simple, but delicious, meal. After dinner, we debated about whether take the 15-minute drive back to the Magic Kingdom. We were all tired and groggy from the heat of the day, but decided, in the end, to push ourselves to take advantage of all the money we had spent on the park to re-enter for the spectacular lighted parade and fireworks display. We were very happy we did push ourselves because we all got a second wind, the weather was delightful, and the show was breathtaking.

Saturday, we lounged around the house all day, taking advantage of our pool, jacuzzis, and great leftovers. In the evening, we again headed for Bahama Breeze. We had feared encountering a long wait on Saturday night, but were pleased that they honored our “call ahead” and we were able to bypass a big crowd. The line of traffic to get into Downtown Disney on Saturday night was so long that we opted to go shopping for crocs for Izzy that we had promised her. In trying to avoid the traffic, we went several miles in the wrong direction, wasted an hour, and were very happy to discover that Target is open until 11:00 p.m. in the suburbs of Orlando on a Saturday night. Izzy got new crocs and was very happy.

In view of the crowds we had encountered on the weekends, and the fact that we had a 3-month old baby to worry about in the heat, we decided that our forays to the parks would be during the week.

Sunday, we again spent a full day enjoying the house and pool. We had dinner at a nearby Chinese/Japanese buffet that was quite good, had passable sushi, and was really reasonable.

On Monday morning, while Saul, Ari and I were at a craft session at the clubhouse with Sami (Izzy was being punished) making foam picture frames, Adele called to give us the terrible news that Mom’s condition had worsened and that hospice had changed her status to “actively dying.” Her breathing had assumed a pattern indicating that the end was near and her swallowing had deteriorated so that consuming liquids in anything but small quantities was causing her to choke. She was no longer able to get out of bed even to use the bedside commode and the aides were changing regular adult diapers because she could no longer lift herself onto a bedpan. Our vacation house had been reserved for two weeks from a Tuesday to a Tuesday. Saul and I had bought vacation insurance for $50 at the outset. We offered to fly home leaving all of them behind with the car to enjoy the second week, but they would not hear of it. When we inquired about canceling our week, we were directed to see a manager in a nearby office complex who immediately told us they would refund our time-share points. Ari and Jessica had been scheduled for a flight home, but they preferred to accompany us home the next morning. Ari spent long hours on the phone Monday morning trying to arrange a trailer to carry our luggage as we would not all fit in the SUV with our luggage. In the end, it turned out to be most economical to rent another car, one way, to be returned to National Airport in DC.

While Ari was making these arrangements, Saul and I took the girls to the water playground at Summer Bay. When we had finished making the arrangements, we headed out to Universal Studios City Walk, which is free and is Universal Studios’ equivalent of Downtown Disney, except that the parking cost $12. The heat was crushing and, as we had remembered from a previous trip a few years back, there was still nowhere to get into the shade except souvenir stores and restaurants. We opted to have a late lunch at Emeril’s. At 2:30 p.m. we were practically the only ones in the restaurant. The food was really delicious and served in elegant ambience on white tablecloths. The price for an ample three-course lunch was under $25 and a great value. Afterwards, we let the girls frolic in a fountain where the water would spurt up intermittently to cool off, despite the fact that they were not in bathing suits. In the evening, we headed off to Downtown Disney so that the girls could buy souvenirs. We split up because Izzy was hungry and Sami was not. I stayed with Sami so that she could play while Jess and Ari got Izzy a tuna wrap, which I understand she threw up when she choked on it while swallowing. The girls chose their souvenirs, a custom-constructed Star Wars lightsaber for Izzy that Saul helped her build. Sami chose a rainbow-lighted spinning toy.

We finished whatever packing remained early Tuesday morning while Saul and Ari went to the airport to pick up the second car, a PT Cruiser. We all loaded the cars, reluctantly dropped off the keys, and had breakfast at a nearby Cracker Barrel before getting on the road for the long drive back home at around 10:45 a.m.

To be continued…

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Lost and Found Month of August, Part 1

Writing blog posts and cooking have become such an integral part of my routine during the last year and a half that not being able to collect my thoughts about my life and write them down in a timely and chronological way has been weighing heavily on me during this long and difficult period. I always have a problem when I tell a story trying to put events in a meaningful order so that my reader or listener can understand them. The big joke in my family is that everyone is always begging me to get to the point while I circumnavigate around all the facts trying to decide which are most pertinent. Considering the amount of time that has gone by since I last wrote and the vicissitudes of my joy and sorrow, I think there is no way I can tell about my last month in any kind of really logical fashion, so I will try to just catch up to this point in time in any way I can.

After I wrote my last published post on July 24, about my mother, זכרונה לברכה, posing for a photo shoot with Haley in her wedding gown, I wrote another post on July 26 entitled Xword Weekend about my adventures at the Smithsonian Institution in DC at the all-day crossword puzzle seminar that was purchased for me by my family as a Mother’s Day gift. Although I had finished writing the text for that blog post, I never had time to set up all the links to it that I usually prepare, and a few very hectic days went by before I had a chance to sit down with the draft while we were on vacation in Orlando, Florida, to link it all up. I spent a few hours alone one morning while Saul took the girls to a craft session at Summer Bay’s clubhouse and not only finished linking it, but began a new post entitled, “My Week as a Blur.” Unfortunately, being in a strange place on an unfamiliar laptop, I somehow lost all the work I had done to link up the post and spent an hour crying over “spilled milk,” in a warm jacuzzi, lamenting the fact that I should have been with Saul and the girls instead of sitting at a keyboard. I resolved that this was a sign that I should avoid the computer while on vacation. After a few days, however, I began to wake up at night worrying about the deadline on one of my publications. I decided the stress of not getting my real work done was weighing too heavily, so eventually, I worked on the laptop through a couple of nights while everyone else was asleep to get caught up with my desktop publishing work. It was fortuitous that I did.

Here is the blog post from July 24 which I have now linked up again:

Xword Weekend

I wrote this blog entry over a week ago, but did not post it at the time because my life became so hectic that I did not have time to link it. I am posting it from my dining room table in Orlando, Florida, while I am on vacation, and will begin the process today, August 5, 2009, to catch up with my previous week.

We spent the weekend in Baltimore and Washington. Sami and Izzy had not seen their parents and new sister, Yona, for a few weeks. My Mother’s Day present from my family was an all-day seminar on crossword puzzles at the Smithsonian Institution that took place this weekend. I have loved crossword puzzles since I was a teenager and in recent years, have begun to find even the most difficult ones less of a challenge. I attended this seminar, led by Stanley Newman, who holds the Guinness Book world record for fastest time to complete a New York Times Crossword puzzle (2 minutes and 14 seconds), hoping to learn tricks and secrets for constructing them. I had always wondered how it was possible to get them symmetrical. I learned that constructing them is a skill, quite different from the ability to solve them, that is probably best left to geniuses with a knack for both words and numbers. The symmetry arises from an obsessive and time-consuming hunt to incorporate theme words into a grid system. In recent years, the computer has made the job easier, but not much. I also learned that while about 50 million Americans do crossword puzzles, only about 500 construct them and only 5 make a full-time living at it. I did pick up a few pointers, though, such as the fact that “just deserts” is truly spelled with just one “s.” I also learned the answer to something that has been a burning question of mine for quite some time—that the person who designs the puzzle that Will Shortz chooses to appear in the Sunday New York Times is paid $1,000 for it, by far a greater amount than any other newspaper pays.

I had hoped to take the girls for their swimming lessons on Thursday morning before we all set out for Baltimore, but the rain began to teem just as it became time to set out for Beachcomber. I spent a lot of time rushing around putting the house into shape so that it could be shown while we were away, if necessary. It was not necessary, but at least we came home to a very clean and uncluttered house on Sunday evening. The girls helped me bake a sour cream pound cake for dessert for Friday evening. We left about 3:45 and arrived around 6:15 p.m. in time to have dinner with Jess, Alex, and the three girls at a nearby Egyptian restaurant called Mimi’s. The food was really tasty, the ambience unpretentious, and the service friendly and attentive.

Saul and I continued on to DC to sleep at Ari’s condo because of my allergies and brought him some shawarma for dinner. He had worked too late at the office to join us.

Friday, after Ari left for work, I went back to sleep and slept until almost 10:30 a.m. A long time has elapsed since the time when no one depended on me to be up and about early in the morning. Ari finished work early and we headed for Shabbat dinner in Baltimore. We were joined by Ari’s newly-married friends, Sam and Sarah, who have recently settled in nearby Maryland. We were also celebrating the engagement of Alex’s assistants, Isaac and Abby, with a bubbly kiddush wine. Alex prepared roasted butternut squash and pepper soup, garnished with papadums and chestnuts, sushi, seared sesame-crusted tuna, grilled halibut, herbed couscous salad, and steamed cauliflower with pine nuts. For dessert, we had fresh fruit and a beautiful assortment of leftovers from Yona’s naming, including sour cream pound cake, Presley Bella cake, mini cashew pies, mini filled chocolate cupcakes, chocolate mousse crepes, and mini strawberry cheesecakes. I was happy that I was able to spend an hour before dinner holding my new little Yona and giving her a bottle. We had a great time reminiscing about Ari’s teenage years with Sam and getting to know his wife, Sarah.

Saturday evening, we had dinner in Arlington, Virginia, at a place called Ray’s the Steaks, which was excellent. A thunderstorm developed while we were having dinner, but blew right through the area and was over in about 10 minutes. During the time I was at the crossword seminar, Saul and Ari arranged to switch our service from Verizon to AT&T so that Saul and I could get iPhones and also be on the same plan as Ari. Ari has decided to put his one-bedroom, one bath, condo up for sale as the mirror-image of his was just sold for a respectable amount of money. We spent all of Sunday morning looking at two/three-bedroom, two bath, houses with a realtor. At lunch time, we headed over to IKEA in College Park, Maryland, to have lunch there and purchase some glass tumblers for Ari’s office. Breakfast especially, and lunch at IKEA’s cafeteria are a really good deal, very diverse choices and very palatable food in bountiful quantity for the money. There was no huge waiting line for a table at brunch prime time on Sunday in DC. The cafeteria is pleasant and airy with lots of natural light and a play area in the center for children where their parents can keep an eye on them while dining. We all enjoy wandering around IKEA.

We picked the girls up to return home at 4:00 p.m. and set out over our leisurely route to avoid Sunday beach traffic on I-95. Just a few miles before the Conowingo Dam, the road was closed in both directions. We had to backtrack and detour and wound up on I-95 anyway. Since the ride home became extended, we stopped to have dinner at a Cracker Barrel in Elkton. About a half hour from home, we again encountered a terrible traffic accident where at least one car lay on its side and emergency vehicles were racing from every direction to the site. During the afternoon, Stacey had needed to call for Beth’s assistance to help get Mom back into bed from the commode when her legs would not support her.

As I finish writing this, I am about to print out my crossword puzzle which I have not had time to look at this past weekend, so that I can curl up in bed with it and concentrate on it so hard that I forget all my petty problems.

Here is the unfinished blog post I began writing on August 5 before my meltdown:

My Week as a Blur

As I am writing this sitting at a large dining room table from my gorgeous time-share vacation house in Orlando, Florida, I am gazing out at my private, hedge-lined, screened-in swimming pool through a wall of windows and sliding doors. Beyond the hedges lies a beautifully-landscaped, manicured stretch of green, about 30 feet wide, which culminates at the end point of a large lake. At the moment, the skies are gray. I hear distant thunder and the water is flowing quickly, spurred by the winds of the impending storm. Saul has taken the girls for a one-block walk to the clubhouse at the end of our street for a scheduled craft activity of “Colored Sand Art Dolphin Necklace.” That may be followed by “Pineapple Pete’s T-Shirt Coloring,” depending on whether Saul decides to spend the $10 for the t-shirt. Because our previous week was such a blur of activity, it will probably be easier for me to try to remember it backwards from today.

This morning, we awoke at about 6:30 a.m. and languished in bed for about an hour. The girls were hungry, so we fed them breakfast of apple juice, fresh fruit and yogurt and prepared to make the very short drive to the Publix Supermarket that is literally connected to this resort with an inner drive so that we could buy milk, butter, eggs, etc. for our two-week stay here. As we left, we encounted a pair of extremely large birds, about 4 feet tall, wandering about the lawns pecking for insects. I have not had time to find out what kind of birds, but will look them up later. When we returned, we donned our bathing suits to enjoy our private pool in the warm sunshine that has since disappeared. Last night we noticed a tiny frog in the pool, no bigger than a thumbnail. It was still tooling around in there this morning, so Izzy went in after it, armed with a colander, so that we could return it to the wild.

We arrived here in Orlando at about 2:30 yesterday to find that our house was not quite ready. We took the hungry girls to a nearby Golden Corral buffet for a late lunch while we waited, and received the call that the house was ready for us even before we finished lunch. Tuesday morning, we went for a long, early morning walk along the beach in St. Augustine, Florida, right outside our hotel door. The Holiday Inn in St. Augustine was perfect for us and the staff could not have been more helpful after our long 14-hour drive there on Monday. Dinner and breakfast for the children was included in the price of the room. The food was very good, relatively inexpensive for us, and well-prepared. After our walk on the beach, we had a well-stocked buffet breakfast, went swimming in the pool, and Sami and I went beyond the pool to play in sand and in the ocean for about an hour. The beach in St. Augustine has exceptionally compacted sand so vehicles are able to drive on it and bicyclists traverse it regularly. It doesn’t stick to the body as much as most other sand does. The Holiday Inn staff allowed us a late check out, so we were able to do it all, shower, and get on the road by 11:45. We could not have been more wowed by our house! Even though we had looked at samples of these homes a few years back, they were even more impressive than we remembered.

We had left on Monday morning at 3:30 a.m. I had forewarned the girls about how long a drive we were making and explained the schedule to them. We all went to bed early on Sunday night after loading the car. I expected them to be groggy at that wee hour, but both popped out of bed, wide awake and excited to begin the adventure. We awoke Mom to say goodbye and she was pleasant and smiling at the time, a great relief for us as we feared our leaving would cause a crisis.

To be continued…