Tuesday, October 20, 2009

September 2009

As I am writing this, we are well into October, and I really liked keeping a journal that was current, so I will try to capture the essence of my month, which disappeared before I knew it. I also can’t wait to get back into my kitchen again to take the time to play in my “laboratory” with my foodie experiments and hopefully use some of those end-of-summer fresh herbs that will be gone in a week or so. I did get a chance to put up some hot pepper relish with a small pile of assorted varieties that Beth harvested from our garden.

Ken had a barbecue for friends and family on Labor Day, a relaxing and warm, feel-good day with good food and the chance for us all to say Kaddish together and remember Mom.

In the course of going through Mom’s things with the family after her death, we came across many old photos and letters that we had never seen before. One of the old letters was from my mother’s uncle to his three brothers and sister (my grandmother) about the arrangements for the tombstone for his mother (my great-grandmother for whom I am named) at a cemetery, not far away, but which I had never visited. When I mentioned to Larry that I had found this letter and planned to visit her grave sometime, it turned out that most of his family is interred there and he had wanted to visit for a long time also. On one beautiful sunny Sunday before the High Holy Days, and after a few nasty days of rain, we decided to make the trip. I found the grave of my great-grandmother and one of her sons and his wife (not the one who wrote the letter) and Larry found the graves that he had sought out as well. We took photographs of the gravestones and went to another very old nearby cemetery as well for other relatives of Larry. Since we were in the neighborhood where Saul’s father is interred, we visited that cemetery as well and said the Kaddish prayer. After that we had lunch together. I think we were all really glad it was such a beautiful day because walking around an old cemetery and contemplating your own demise is quite a downer. Stuck in my brain is the image of what was once someone’s costly and imposing gravestone, almost completely covered by the branches of a nearby 15-foot hedge, and wrapped in vines. All that was visible on the tombstone were the words “gone but not forgotten.” Everything else had disappeared under the thick invasive foliage. How ironic! In time, even the most powerful rulers and civilizations are gone and forgotten.

Our only weekend at home during September was so that we could attend the late night services at MBI-EE for Selichot, a forerunner to the High Holy Days. As is our habit, we met our friends Faith and Larry for dinner after Shabbat (this year at Cheesecake Factory) and then continued on to the service. As a precursor to the service, we viewed outtakes of the powerful documentary, The Power of Forgiveness, featuring Elie Wiesel with group discussion accompanied by the incisive viewpoints of Rabbi Howard Addison.

For the following four weekends, we traveled to Baltimore every Thursday afternoon to be with our children and grandchildren as all of the holidays fell on weekends this year and Saul does not teach on Fridays. Because I am allergic to Jessica’s pets, and because Ari’s home in DC is staged for sale, we stayed at the Marriott Resort in Hunt Valley almost every weekend. Ari found a deal on the Net that included a third night stay free and breakfast, which was in a lovely, white-tablecloth restaurant on the premises, and involved an ample buffet as well as omelets and waffles cooked to order, lox and bagels, and fresh fruit, as well as all the usual array of breakfast options. The service was incredibly friendly and helpful. We also enjoyed the use of an indoor, heated pool, along with Jessica and the girls, Aaron and Stacey and the kids, and Alex’s mom, Elaine.

The reason for the “almost” every weekend was because after we had made our reservation for the Yom Kippur weekend, we were notified the day before we were to arrive that the hotel was hosting a horror buffs’ convention and that people might be walking the corridors in costume. I was uncomfortable staying in a hotel with a thousand people who loved horror movies enough to participate in a convention, not to mention the effect this might have on Sami, who will not go to the dinosaur exhibit at the Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian because she is afraid to look at bones. At the last minute, we made arrangements to stay at a Hyatt in Owings Mills, but, although closer, it was not nearly as nice or as good a deal as the Marriott. At their indoor pool, we were joined by Elaine and two little girls who are friends of Sami and Izzy. Ari stayed at the hotel also for the first two weekends. When we went back to the Marriott for the following two weekends, the staff told us that the horror convention people were very well behaved and low-key. Whatever was unusual about them, evidently went on in their rooms behind closed doors.

Alex, as usual, made amazing meals for us all through the holidays. Some of the highlights included the best roasted carrot soup any of us have every tasted, fresh grilled tuna and sea bass, sushi, braised corned beef, baba ganoush, curried tomato soup, and incredible salads of many different types with a variety of homemade dressings. I made the desserts and special holiday round challot, including date bread, apple butter sandwich cookies (I cut these in the shape of apples with a small apple cutout to expose the filling which is made with applesauce rather than pumpkin), carob cake, oatmeal peanut butter raisin cookies, Presley Bella Angel Food Cake, and a cheesecake for one of the dairy meals.

We were able to help decorate the sukkah with Jess, Alex and the kids, and were joined on Sukkot weekend by a long-lost childhood friend of Jessica’s named Beth, whom she connected with on Facebook over a year ago. The weather at the beginning of Sukkot was the best I can ever remember with the exception of the first Friday evening, when we were chased inside for dinner by raindrops right after making our brachot (blessings). My niece, Beth, joined us and slept over at Jessica and Alex’s for the last weekend during Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. On our last weekend, we met Ari on the outskirts of DC on Thursday evening after work to enjoy an exceptional Indian restaurant called Bombay that had been lauded in The Washingtonian magazine. We also dined with Beth at Michael’s Noodle House in Rockville, MD, which was not quite as good as on previous visits, which may have had something to do with the dishes we ordered. We are still exploring their menu. One day, Jess, Ari, Saul and I had lunch at a Korean mall near Jessica’s house and walked around the food court to choose our lunches. Jessica had a beautiful bento box with fresh sushi and sashimi. We also caught the movie, The Informant, with Matt Damon, which was entertaining, but could have waited for viewing on television. During the drives back and forth, we purchased and read the new Dan Brown book, The Lost Symbol, on CD, very gruesome and a bit disappointing, although the subject matter is right up our alley.

During the shloshim period of thirty days after the funeral, which this year led up to Rosh Hashanah, Saul and I went to say Kaddish for my mother every day. Between trying to catch up with my work which I had neglected as long as possible, arranging to be with a minyan every day, preparing desserts for the holidays, driving back and forth for the 2 to 2-1/2 hour journey each way to Baltimore and Washington, cleaning and staging our home to be shown by realtors while we were away, packing, unpacking and laundering proper clothing for the holidays, and sorting out my mother’s possessions (she saved everything!), it is no wonder that I have not had a lot of time for blogging as well. Jamie, with Presley in tow, spent two afternoons helping go through Mom’s clothing. Randi came and spent some time, too. Adele was here almost every day and went through drawers, closets, and boxes in the attic. Beth has been helping us to purge by putting our extraneous furniture and miscellaneous stuff up on eBay and Craigslist for sale.

Our home looks wonderful, but it is very, very quiet now with Mom gone and the girls back at home for the school year. Right now, I am finding that to be a good and soothing thing after the year-long daily parade of aides, nurses, social workers, relatives, and friends through the door. At times, though, especially on dark, rainy days, depression sets in and I now have the luxury of indulging it sometimes. Then I remember that I should be savoring every minute that life is good.

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