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…

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