Monday, November 30, 2009

Thanksgiving Week 2009

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I began last week with cooking preparations for our five days in the Baltimore/DC area for Thanksgiving vacation. Alex was planning an “All American” Thanksgiving meal with a twist, brought on by a humorous jibe from Ari about Alex making hot dogs and hamburgers for Thanksgiving. I am hoping that Ari will comment with the details of that conversation, for I know that if I try to re-create it here, Ari will find fault with the retelling. Anyway, I was not party to the conversation, but it gave our iconoclastic Alex the idea to make his own sausages (hot dogs) and gourmet hamburgers for our Thanksgiving meal. (He roasted two standard turkeys also, just in case… there wouldn’t be enough? :o9).

During the previous week, I had mailed my never-used, sausage-stuffing kit for the Kitchen Aid mixer to Alex, as he had succeeded in finding kosher collagen sausage casings, a feat I had attempted years ago, with no success, pre-Internet. On Monday and Tuesday mornings I made cranberry apple chutney, jumbo pareve oatmeal peanut butter and raisin cookies, pareve pumpkin pie; and kohlrabi coleslaw and carrot cake to finish off a five-pound bag of organic carrots from Costco. In addition, Saul and I made 91 (Saul counted them) gingerbread teddy bears and royal icing so that Sami and Izzy could decorate them in preparation for assembling our family cookie extravaganza. With all the cooking and running around to markets to assemble the necessary ingredients, and then putting the house in display mode and packing, we did not get on the road until 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, when CHC was finished for the week. In addition to packing food and clothing, we also took two cases of my cookbooks, Bubbie’s Kitchen, for Jessica to send to Beth El in Pikesville, where they will be used for a Jewish cooking curriculum. I am really gratified by that.

In the midst of my preparations on Monday evening, Ari called because he wanted to prepare a potluck lunch item to take to the office on Tuesday. Based on the list of what everyone else was bringing, I suggested he make deviled eggs, for which I have no written recipe… yet. In my frustration over talking him through the process on our iPhones, I mentioned Skype, and we suddenly all went “eureka,” we can do this. In what can only be described as a reverse cooking show (Ari coined the term), he set up his laptop with Skype on the kitchen counter, and we adjourned to our computer to supervise his preparations. I love modern technology! We could actually see the texture of the yolk mixture and made suggestions for opening up his star tip on the pastry bag a bit with a ball-point pen so that the mixture would not get caught in the corners. I think the deviled eggs were well received and the leftovers that I ate the following day tasted pretty good to me.

Sami spent Monday and Tuesday at the nearby Waldorf School, going through two normal school days with those who seem like they are about to become her new classmates. Jess and Alex learned about the school from one of Jessica’s coworkers who thought the school would be a perfect match for Sami’s strengths. So far, after much research, Jess and Alex, along with Sami, seem to be very excited about the prospect of Sami beginning classes there very shortly, perhaps before winter break.

Our drive down to Baltimore to drop off our food contribution for Thanksgiving and beyond was nasty at rush hour on Tuesday. Within half an hour the sun began to disappear and a light rain began as we inched along I-476 and I-95 with the moving, but extremely voluminous traffic. We were pleasantly surprised, in the latter part of the trip, that the traffic eased up tremendously, although we were rained on for most of the journey. Alex was well into his frenetic kitchen routine as we arrived, Yona observing benignly, perched behind him in the backpack. He helped us unload our car and we continued on to DC where we met Ari at 8:00 p.m. for another exceptionally delicious meal at Bombay. By the time we reached Ari’s condo, I was totally exhausted and fell asleep in Ari’s recliner even before we had time to make up the sofa bed.

On Wednesday morning, Saul and I slept late, did a few loads of Ari’s laundry, and ate some quick leftovers before heading out to Baltimore to see Izzy’s kindergarten Thanksgiving program, along with Jess and Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, at Wellwood International Elementary School. On the way back to DC afterward, we made plans to have dinner with Ari and our cousin Julie, who lives in DC, at a new Indian restaurant, Fusion, that has recently opened in Ari’s neighborhood. It was definitely more upscale than the previous night in ambience, presentation, and price. I think the food was not quite as tasty and the portions quite skimpy in keeping with its city sophistication. Ari will be happy, however, to add this sleek neighborhood restaurant to his pantheon of trendy new places to enjoy within the city. Julie came out to dine with us despite suffering with a terrible cold, but muscled through it, and even drove all the way to Adele’s the next day for Thanksgiving dinner.

On Thursday, we all slept late, lounging around and talking, catching up on computer work, and finishing up the laundry chores. Eventually, I pulled myself out of bed and made us all breakfast—juice, sunny-side-up eggs, toasted bagels, assorted cheese, jam, and hot tea. We left for Baltimore around 3:30 p.m. When we arrived, the table was set beautifully and Alex was in the final throes of preparing an incredibly varied and unusual Thanksgiving dinner. I pitched in to clean up the counters and wash the large pans and serving platters in the sink while Ari began loading the dishwasher and overseeing the french fries sizzling and sputtering in their large pan of hot oil. Matt made delicious cosmopolitans which made the final minutes of preparation a lot more pleasant, and Saul and Ari sampled some of the assortment of bourbons which Matt had brought. The dishes were almost too numerous to list, but included an appetizer of pastrami and avocado with a chipotle sauce, three different soups, three different types of homemade sausages, four different types of hamburgers, sliced roasted turkey, purple mashed potatoes, regular mashed sweet potatoes, homemade hand-cut french fries, grilled eggplant, edamame and carrot salad, tossed salad, kohlrabi coleslaw, sauerkraut, and a huge number of condiments which included olives of every size, shape and color, pickles, hot pepper relish, an assortment of mustards, cranberry chutney, fried onions, pickled garlic, etc. etc. etc. I ate way, way too much!

The twenty people at the dinner included, Jess and Alex, Sami, Izzy, and Yona; Saul, Ari, and me; Alex’s parents, Maury and Elaine, Alex’s brother, Aaron, his wife, Stacey, and their three children, Jacob, Lilly and Zach; Alex’s sister, Naomi and her husband, Matt; Stacey’s parents; and our friend, Larry. At the beginning of dinner, each person at the table expressed the things for which he or she were most thankful during this past year. After a long interlude at the end of dinner, during which the children played, the babies were fed, and the grownups digested a bit, we ate dessert, which was pumpkin pie, peanut butter oatmeal cookies, and chocolate almond bars. Yona had been to the pediatrician the previous day and was diagnosed with a severe ear infection in both ears. On medication and with a high fever, she spit up on both me and Jessica, Jessica before dinner, and me afterward. We were quite worried for about 48 hours until the fever finally broke. She was really a trooper throughout the whole ordeal but, needless to say, Jessica did not get much sleep this weekend and Alex had good reason to be exhausted, also.

On Friday, Ari had an appointment to pick up his old computer, which had been repaired, at the Apple Store in Clarendon, Virginia. We had a lot of fun browsing, and Ari left with a new printer, buying me a “magic mouse” that I wanted as a gift. The scrolling ball on my optical mouse had ceased to work the previous week in addition to all my other computer problems. We had lunch at The Cheesecake Factory in Clarendon while waiting for the computer to be finished with its repairs, and then Ari and I went browsing for furniture in Crate and Barrel while Saul returned to browsing at the Apple Store across the street. Larry and Alex’s parents had stayed over at Jess and Alex’s, and we were again joined by Aaron and Stacey and the kids for Shabbat dinner. Yona was less feverish on Friday. We dined on a prodigious amount of glorious leftovers, which should go by a loftier name in this instance.

During the weekend, we took a drive to the National Harbor in Virginia to check out the new location of “The Awakening” sculpture which we had visited in its old location at Hains Point with Sami several years ago. We had dim sum at China Garden in Rosslyn and at Mark’s Duck House in Fairfax, Virginia. We decorated all the gingerbread bears with Sami and Izzy. On Saturday evening, ten of us dined at Mango Grove, a beautiful Indian (yes, a third Indian meal!) vegetarian restaurant in Columbia, Maryland. Earlier in the month, one of their chefs had played a major role at one of Jessica’s wonderful programs at The Pearlstone Center. We asked the owner of the restaurant, a lovely and gracious hostess, to choose our dinner menu when we arrived, and we were absolutely delighted with her selections.

We spent a few hours with the kids in Baltimore before leaving, reluctantly, for home late on Sunday afternoon. We stopped for a very light dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in King of Prussia to take advantage of a coupon offer for a free slice of cheesecake. Saul had a salad and I had an appetizer, but I guess the slice of Kahlua Cocoa Coffee cheesecake topped with mounds of whipped cream we shared negated any real attempts at lightness to which we had aspired. Major dieting is in order now, but the free-for-all feasting was a blast these past few days!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

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I was feeling depressed and tired last Thursday morning (November 19) and went back to bed after making Saul’s breakfast and after he left for classes. I was dozing and having a really having a hard time getting up when the tail end of a conversation between Matt Lauer and Scott Hamilton intruded on my consciousness from the television which I had failed to turn off. I opened my eyes just in time to see bald, old Scott Hamilton sailing through the air in the back flip at the end of his routine. Suddenly, I felt ashamed of myself for letting my approaching big birthday get me down, along with all the old memories of pleasant times, long gone, that were evoked this past week. If Scott can do that at his age, I can get out of bed and get myself in shape, too.

Tuesday, November 10, was spent in a surprisingly delightful way preparing for and cooking a meal for 50 people in the kitchen of MBI-EE. Our friends Jerry and Betty arrived here at 11 a.m. just as I had finished loading the car, and we had a great conversation on the way there. About an hour later, the first of the volunteers arrived to help prepare, later joined by Saul, who arrived after school, and, at the end, Larry, who also arrived after school. By 4 p.m. we had finished preparing everything and cleaned up. The atmosphere in the kitchen was absolutely congenial! We had to turn away volunteers who were disappointed that we did not need them. Tired, but satisfied, Jerry and Betty, Larry, Saul and I had a wonderful dinner together at Jasmine in Glenside.

On Wednesday morning, Adele came early bringing some of the contents of her attic to sell to Amanda from Sazz Vintage Clothing who was here at 9 a.m., right on schedule, to look over Mom’s clothing. I was delayed by phone calls in my bedroom, and as I walked into Mom’s room to join Adele and Amanda, my breath left me as Amanda began lifting a spectacular pink net dress out of a large green trash bag. A vivid memory of Adele coming down the stairs looking scintillating in that dress flashed before me, and once again I remembered the look on the face of her rather nerdy-looking date, Aaron, as she descended the staircase. The dress was strapless and completely made from layers of pale pink netting. The full skirt was appliquéd with pale pink velvet roses with green velvet stems and leaves which were set with a sprinkling of rhinestones. Amanda was very happy to purchase that dress along with many other outfits that both Mom and Adele had saved. I could not believe that we were still in possession of clothing that had been worn in the 1950s and 60s. I can imagine the effect that dress will have when restored to its original glory and worn by a new fashion-savvy teenager at some prom in the future. Mom had an elaborate old sewing box and Amanda was really delighted with that as well. Adele and I spent the rest of the morning going through Mom’s clothing that Amanda did not want and could not squeeze into her car, including items of clothing that had remained in the attic after she had been here the last time during the summer. When we finished, we had 36 trash bags full of clothing. I though that was interesting considering that we had 36 suitcases that we gave away to the Salvation Army after our summer garage sale. We had just enough time to meet my old schoolmate, Roxy, and celebrate her big birthday with a delicious lunch at Blue Sage in Southampton. We had a great time conversing, and a great lunch topped off by a shared chocolate panini for dessert, one of my favorite desserts ever. I think the lunch was cathartic for Roxy who, along with her husband, George, had just gone through the trauma on Monday of having to put their old and suffering dog, Jake, to sleep. Saul arrived late after a long meeting, but Beth came over and helped him load the SUV with the bags in time to drop them off at the Salvation Army store in Lansdale before they closed for the evening.

Wednesday evening, we ordered a pizza and Beth brought over her two new housemates, Manuel and Ilsa, along with a great bottle of wine. We all seemed to have lucked out at finding each other. Beth is delighted with this lovely married couple as they are considerate housemates, and they are delighted that Ilsa no longer has to commute to Warrington from Deptford, New Jersey, to her job as a dietitian in a nursing facility. Manuel, who was a CPA in Mexico City, has been looking for a job in this area. During our evening together, Beth and I realized, almost simultaneously, that Manuel might be able to fill a job that Ken had mentioned to us at lunch the previous week. Ken interviewed him and sent him there and, although they did not want him for that particular job, they liked him so much that they offered him another opening they were trying to fill that will take advantage of his Spanish-speaking abilities with extensive travel. In the course of our congenial evening together, we learned that they had rented out their house in Mexico City and had come to the United States with the offer of a job from a friend in Texas. Shortly after making all the arrangements, the friend was laid off along with most of his department, and the person who was supervising was sent to another branch of the corporation.

The dinner we had prepared on Tuesday took place on Thursday evening. I went shopping to pick up a few last minute items. Saul and I picked up Natalie on our way there and stopped to pick up a few more items at Produce Junction in Glenside. Jerry and Betty greeted us when we arrived, a little freaked out at the lateness of the hour, but everything was ready, thanks to the help of competent volunteers, right on schedule. In eleven years of catering, I don’t remember a single incidence where the diners, without exception, were as delighted with the dinner as they were that night. We had cod lamaize on lettuce cups with grape tomatoes, assorted twist rolls, marinated salad, brown basmati rice, haricots verts with cashews, apricot-glazed boneless chicken cutlets, and jumbo oatmeal peanut butter and raisin cookies. Exceptional plates of gorgeous pareve chocolates were prepared by one of our congregants, Susan, who makes them professionally. Some were lightly gilded, others were shaped liked leaves in keeping with the fall theme, some like honeycombs, and with various flavors and textures, such as mint, nuts, and pretzels. Enough food was left and put away in the freezer and refrigerator, after everyone had eaten their fill, to produce a small luncheon the following week. The speaker, Alan Butkovitz, newly re-elected Controller of the City of Philadelphia, was knowledgeable on a number of topics regarding city planning and responded well to questions from the audience. That night, I slept like a baby. The satisfaction of having pleased that many people so thoroughly was a joy to me.

Friday, we finally remembered to take to car to the dealer for its scheduled check-up. Saul and I had breakfast together at the Perkins across the street, receiving the call just as we were finishing that the car was done and was in great shape. Larry and Beth joined us for Shabbat dinner. We had home-made challah, home-made smoked turkey and split pea soup, home-made guacamole, stuffed cabbage over pappardelle noodles, and gezer hai. For dessert, we had pareve chocolate mousse crepes.

Last weekend, while Saul was volunteering with Team Children, I napped and did the New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle. The weekend was fraught with tension as I began to discover more and more problems with the upgrades we had installed which inhibited my ability to get my computer work finished in time for deadlines. Late Saturday night, Saul was up until three in the morning, saving my files, wiping my hard drive clean and beginning the process of reinstalling everything. Early Sunday morning, we transferred my working files to a laptop so that I could continue to make progress on meeting my deadlines this past week.

The whole week was spent in great tension, working long hours on an unfamiliar and ill-adapted computer. One of my clients made life even more difficult by changing the format of their publication without any understanding of the process by which it is produced, and then asking for changes just at the moment when it was about to go to press. Saul has been an angel about trying to get everything working smoothly for me again, and it has not been easy, I have not been an angel, nor are we finished with the problems. To break the tension, I baked cookies and mandelbread. Our exterminator was coming for his routine spraying on Wednesday and, now that the plants are in the garage for the winter, I have the area around them sprayed, although not the plants themselves. I figured I had better pick and make use of my gigantic limes before the spraying, so several hours on Wednesday were spent preparing my favorite lime cornmeal cookies and lime and anise flavored mandelbread.

I spent a few hours on Tuesday going through a large carton of greeting cards that my mother had saved for many years. I had asked Adele to pull out any that had personal notes written in them, but evidently the task was too heart-wrenching for her. We had saved them for one of Adele’s neighbors who uses them for craft projects, but found that she was no longer doing them due to an illness. As I was dumping them from the carton into a trash bag for recycling, I realized that there were still photos and notes among them. A number had been sorted into a manila folder on which Adele had written, “greeting cards that Mom kept because she treasured them.” I opened every single card after my discovery, sorting out the ones on which lengthy notes were written and the ones containing photographs. I also sorted out all of Ken’s Bar Mitzvah cards including many from friends and relatives who died many years ago. After going through all the cards, I realized that my heart had been totally wrenched and that Adele had a theme going of which I had never really been aware. For many, many years, Adele had been purchasing large, exquisitely-decorated, sentimental cards from all of us for Mom’s birthdays and for Mothers Day. I realized this toward the end of sorting through all the cards and felt really bad about tossing them out in a trash bag. So, I dumped them all back in the carton and went through them one-by-one again, removing any that said Mom, Mother, Dad, or Father. I plan to make a scrapbook with them for Adele with a still-in-the-wrapper scrapbook that we also found among Mom’s things.

Thursday, I went to Faith’s Talmud study class where one of the themes we discussed was the abundance of prayers that exist in Judaism to show our appreciation for even the smallest of life’s blessings. Saul and I had dinner that night with Adele and Ken at a new restaurant, Luigi’s in Warminster. Ken called the following day to ask if I still had the bag of cards, as one of his secretaries recycles old cards into Christmas wreaths. By a stroke of luck, or perhaps inexplicable coincidence, Saul had neglected to put out the recycling on Thursday morning, and the bag of cards was retrievable from the trash bin. Soon, they will be new again.

We spent this past Friday morning at the doctor’s office for routine blood work for Saul. His blood pressure was great in spite of all the tension. After his fast, we had breakfast/brunch together at The Cheesecake Factory in Willow Grove, absolutely the best place to have an omelet in the area! They gave us such a big booth that we called Larry, who lives nearby, to see if he wanted to join us. Our phone call found him sick in bed with a fever.

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping and preparing Shabbat dinner. I invited Beth to bring Ilsa and Manuel for dinner and they were our only guests this week. We bought a variety of Middle Eastern food at Costco so that Saul could treat his global studies students with the leftovers this coming week. We had Manchego and membrillo, hummous with pine nuts, tzatziki, peach mango salsa, and crackers, home-made challah, potato, leek and Cope’s dried corn soup, vegetable lasagna, kohlrabi coleslaw, and fresh-from-the-oven warm home-made chocolate chip cookies with French-roast coffee. Life is indeed very good for us, and in keeping with the theme “Everything Old is New Again,” I will try to stay more upbeat about my upcoming big birthday and see if I can find ways to renew my old self.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Staying Centered

I am having some trouble reconciling my philosophy for how I should live my life with actually living it. Circumstances around me are creating stress and I am struggling to keep relaxed and focus on all the truly wonderful blessings of my life. I fear it is in my nature to worry inordinately about everything, even those things to which I should not give a second thought.

After the wonderful weekend in Baltimore and DC, I was looking forward to having Jessica here with the girls just a few days later. Jessica and Erica had arranged for a sleepover here so that the girls could celebrate Brenna’s upcoming birthday. Last Friday was a day off from school for Sami and Izzy, so Jess was supposed to come in on Thursday evening and return on Saturday evening. At the last minute, Brenna had a strep throat and the sleepover plans were canceled. It rained heavily on Thursday evening, and I did not want Jessica to make the long drive in the rain at night. During the week I spent a few days cooking, putting away in the freezer a supply of potato knishes and potato latkes from the leftovers of a twenty-pound bag of giant Idahos from Costco. Saul spent some time, as I was between jobs, updating my computer with a new system—Snow Leopard, and updating my InDesign CS2 to CS4. Also canceled at the last minute was lunch on Wednesday with Roxy to celebrate her 60th birthday. We rescheduled, hopefully, for tomorrow.

After the anticipation of a full house, our last minute lack of plans left us a bit disoriented. We forgot to take Saul’s car in for a scheduled service appointment, sleeping late instead on Friday.
Later that morning, Adele and I had a lunch date with Marianne, Mom’s hospice volunteer. We met her on the grounds of Foulkeways, a Quaker retirement and assisted living community where she resides, which is just down the street from where we live. We were in awe of the sheer size of the community, not to mention the beauty of the facilities, the engaging productiveness of the people we met, and the delicious lunch we were served. The community sits on a lushly green and well-manicured 110 acres which are so surrounded by wooded tracts and a residential neighborhood that neither Adele, nor I, ever knew of its scope although we have driven past it regularly for at least 20 years. The community was having a crafts fair that day and a great deal of talent was on display. I bought a stunning hand-made doll coat and hat as a future gift for my friend, Faith, who collects dolls, and a packet of beautiful beads from BeadforLife made from paper by women in Uganda. There is such an assortment of sizes, shapes and colors, and with the unusual glazing, one would never guess of what they are made. The main building in which we were attending the fair also housed a magnificent restaurant-like dining facility with large walls of windows overlooking the grounds, a full-scale cafeteria downstairs surrounded by cozy sitting areas with sofas, game tables and fireplaces. Marianne ushered us into a two-story-high, well-stocked library, complete with a computer room, all lit by natural daylight pouring through the huge windows and skylights. An art room was available and well-stocked, even possessing a kiln. As we toured with Marianne, we observed workmen putting the finishing touches on a new greenhouse, flanked by new installations for playing croquette and tennis. Marianne also took us to see her apartment, which is filled with a lifetime of her memories. Most impressive was a large oil portrait of her and her twin sister as children of about nine years old. She gardens on the grassy area that belongs to her, adjoining her patio, and paints with oils in her apartment. We were greeted as we entered by her adorable little dog, who keeps her company and to whom she speaks only in Hungarian. She volunteers at a soup kitchen in Norristown in addition to her hospice volunteer work, and is a great fan of the opera and attends regularly with friends. All week I have thought about her life, the poignancy of the losses of many of her loved ones, the dispersal of her family by the Holocaust, and the grace with which she moves through her daily activities. I sense that there is an overwhelming sadness, but also joy in the little pleasures of her daily life.

Beth and Larry joined us for Shabbat dinner this week. I prepared a relatively simple meal, which Saul assembled in the afternoon while I took a brief nap, a rare luxury for me on Friday afternoons. We had lentil soup, caesar salad, salmon burgers, home-made potato knishes, and maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts. For dessert, Larry brought cinnamon buns, which we ate with warm home-made baked rice pudding, topped with whipped cream. I took my home-made challah from the freezer this week. We were very excited to hear that Beth got an engineering job this week and will be starting work in nearby Plymouth Meeting after Thanksgiving.

During the weekend, Saul caught up with some of his students working for Team Children while I stayed home, relaxed with my Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and began to read from the folio of letters Adele and I found written by my father to my mother, almost daily, from May of 1943 until December of 1943, while he was stationed in England during WWII. Immersing myself in these letters for the weekend left me in a strange state of mind. My father was an excellent, prolific and descriptive writer. Holding these letters and V-mails written in his own neat hand at the age of 27, younger than my youngest child right now, and listening in my head to his reassuring voice to my mother (aged 20) advising her of how to deal with the tribulations of raising their baby daughter (my sister), aged 6 months to one year, I felt closer to him, in certain ways, than I had ever felt in his lifetime. Looking at photographs of the two of them at that young age gave me a perspective of them that had been forgotten since my childhood, or perhaps, had never existed for me, as I am more than seven years younger than my sister. I felt more bereaved than ever before to have lost their physical presence forever. Several times, I had to put the letters down and walk away, trying to contain my tears as I read my father’s brave and poignant words about their separation being necessary in order to make the world a safe place in which the two of them could raise a family. Little did they know, in 1943, the horrors of the concentration camps and just how horrific life would have been for them if Hitler had succeeded.

Saul and Beth moved my plants and trees into the garage on Friday morning as a hard frost was expected the following morning. With the type of fall weather we have been having, the trees are covered with fruit and flowers as though it is late spring. The kaffir lime tree is spectacular and is harboring grapefruit size limes as well as delicate and aromatic white flowers and I hated to move it from its favorite spot on the deck.

My computer was acting strange as I tried to begin my new work for the month and, on investigation, we discovered that there were glitches in some of the new upgrades on many levels. Saul spent many hours researching and finally taking it back to most of its original state while I agonized quietly in the background, hiding my anxiety in another room.

I had let myself be cajoled into cooking another dinner at MBI-EE, this time, for the Men’s Club. So a large part of this last week has been occupied with locating and gathering all the materials and foodstuff that is necessary to produce a dinner for 50 people. Saul, like me, enjoys the hunt for the items on the list, but there is a certain amount of anxiety associated with producing a dinner for 50 diverse people and satisfying them.

On Monday morning, Adele called to say that Ava had been rushed to the hospital the previous evening with a very high fever. She was diagnosed with H1N1 flu and sent home with a prescription for Tamiflu. She is doing much better now, and the fever has gone down.

I felt myself swinging back and forth like a pendulum this week between despair and elation—the despair of evil in the world, the finality of death, and a feeling of the futility of it all; the elation of learning of my young parents brave attempts to make a good life for their family in the face of all that, and in knowing that in many ways, they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. From moment to moment, the pendulum could go either way for me. From moment to moment, I strain to stay centered.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Dawns

I am up before the break of dawn blogging. Dawn comes earlier since Saturday night when daylight savings time ended, so at least we are not usually waking to the alarm clock in pitch darkness, but only until the days become even shorter. I really dislike the short days of winter.

This week has been wonderful in many ways, but it has also had its share of aggravation. Ken did have the H1N1 virus, but he is almost completely recovered now, and is back at work. Our trip down to Baltimore and DC was delightful. As has become my habit, I ran around the house like a maniac while Saul was at school, cleaning and putting things away in case a realtor wanted to stop in with a potential buyer for our home while we were gone. At the last minute, I discovered that the heating and air conditioning people who had come for a check of the systems a week earlier, and who had discovered that the compressor on our three-year-old HVAC system was shot, had unplugged our sump pump to use the electrical outlet and had failed to plug it back in. We had especially heavy rains last week and so, the basement was flooded.

We stopped in Baltimore Thursday evening to drop off the pumpkin-face cookies, an exersaucer for Yona, and some glassware from the catering business many years ago for Jess and Alex. The girls were having pizza for dinner with Jess while Alex was at school and we had a chance to play with all of them for a little while. Ari was delayed in the office that evening, a situation that is becoming more and more common lately. After much debate about where to meet, we met at his house and set out to have dinner at Founding Farmers in downtown DC. Even at 8:30 p.m. we were told that there would be a 45 minute wait for a table. Luckily, we were able to find three seats together at the crowded, but sociably buzzing, bar in front of the World Series Game. Unfortunately, we watched our Phillies lose that night. We were able to assuage our considerable hunger immediately with house-made potato chips and crackers with an assortment of dips—green goddess, smoky cheddar, and sour cream; and excellent fried green tomatoes. Saul and I each had a chocolate beer that was on draught that must have had the highest alcohol content ever. We both were totally buzzed before even finishing the one glass. It was delicious, but also bitter, not what you would expect when hearing chocolate-flavored beer. In due time, we moved to a table to order dinner, which was very mediocre and disappointing considering the wonderful meal we had the last time we visited.

On Friday, we relaxed around the house while Ari was at work, sleeping late, playing with the laptops, and getting his laundry caught up. Our Shabbat dinner on Friday night was adults only. Jessica had given the girls dinner earlier so that they could attend a family service at the synagogue. We arrived in Baltimore and began to put dinner on the table as they were returning at about 8:30 p.m. Alex had made sangria, lentil soup, sushi, seared tuna, baked tilapia, and a huge salad with fresh figs and mozzarella. The challah was supplemented with a delicious olive bread. We were joined by Alex’s assistant, Abby, and Paige, a friend who was in town this past weekend. Abby’s fiancé, Isaac, was at a conference.

On Saturday night, we traveled again to Baltimore and went trick-or-treating with the girls in Pikesville at the end of Shabbat, to just a few neighbors down their street. Because the neighborhood is so traditionally Jewish, the holiday is scarcely observed there. The girls are in a public school, though, so it would be impossible to avoid the festivities of the season. The weather was rainy, so we walked with large umbrellas. Yona was very happy dressed as a Philadelphia Phillie in a backpack on Jessica’s back under the umbrella, and fell asleep there just as we arrived back home with the girls’ stash of candy.

On Sunday morning, Ari went to the office again while Saul changed his balky shower head, and then we dressed, cleaned up the condo and packed our things into the car. We were supposed to meet at lunch time for dim sum at China Garden in an office building near Ari’s office in Arlington. When we pulled into the underground parking lot, the barrier bar was broken, and no one was there to fix it. A line of cars backed up behind us, and we wasted a half hour while various people came to try to fix the machine. Eventually, we ran out of time to eat because we were meeting Jess and the girls at the Egyptian theater at Arundel Mills Mall to see Where the Wild Things Are together. We arranged for all the traffic behind us to back up in order to finally get out of there and had just enough time to make the one hour drive to the movie theater. Where the Wild Things Are was enjoyable, but we were a bit disappointed because of the rave reviews we had all seen of the movie. It was also very slow in parts. Max should have gone back home earlier! Afterward, Saul shopped for Crocs and bought a pair in the Croc Store. The girls got some new jibbetz for theirs, and we proceeded to a very enjoyable Mexican-style dinner at Chevy’s before heading for home.

Last night, we met our friends Susan and Paul for dinner at Cheesecake Factory in Willow Grove Mall. They are traveling the world these days. They just came back from Russia last month and are leaving for Dublin on Wednesday. When they return, they will be leaving immediately for Paris and Barcelona. We only get to see each other a few times a year, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Paul, since he retired, is writing beautiful poetry and performing it at local venues, and is doing glass and metal art. Susan is doing supervisory teaching part-time and continues to paint. Our dinner was exceptionally good, but our conversation was hampered by the intrusive noise levels in the room. We finished with coffee, cappuccino, and complimentary pumpkin pecan and tuxedo (dark and white chocolate) cheesecake topped with huge mounds of whipped cream, thanks to a coupon promotion card that we received last month. We all left more than sated. Ari called to let us know he was getting on the plane to Chicago for the next two days for a special two-day training session for work. As we were getting to bed, he called to say that his plane had landed safely.