Thursday, December 31, 2009

Poconos Repose

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Saul and I were thrilled and delighted to be on the road, the SUV fully loaded with boxes of food, towels, sheets, and warm clothing, a full half-hour before the realtor was due to arrive with potential buyers for our home, and all this with only a minimal amount of screaming and yelling about my obsessive need to clean everything, and his frustrating assurances that we can buy anything we forgot “up there.” We stopped for breakfast on the way at a Cracker Barrel near Allentown and had a very large and enjoyable breakfast seated directly in front of a toasty fire in their huge stone hearth. Our waitress was a bubbly joy who anticipated our every need and seemed to greatly enjoy her job, kibitzing with everyone around us. The place had the feel of a neighborhood diner where regulars come in every morning and sit at their usual table and have their usual breakfast, socializing with other regulars. The people at the table next to us had brought a bag of Christmas gifts for some of their favorite waitresses, including ours. The woman at the table on the other side of us was writing holiday cards as her meal arrived, “just as she liked it” according to our waitress.

The snow at our home in the Poconos, in Ari’s words, was just enough to lend the right atmosphere, but not so much as to inconvenience anyone in the least. We spent about an hour unpacking and stocking the kitchen and making the beds. Then, we just hung out in front of our own huge fireplace, playing with our iPhones and watching old Betty Boop and Popeye cartoons on television from a dvd player. We went to bed early, reveling in the peace and quiet and anticipation of seeing our children and grandchildren the next day.

Although I had brought plenty of provisions for breakfast, Saul and I decided to dine out at a favorite breakfast place that we have been patronizing for twenty-five years, Van Gilder’s Jubilee. We have not been up to our Poconos home for almost two years and wanted to see if the restaurant was still the same. For the most part, it was. After breakfast, we decided to take a 20-minute drive to The Crossings, a huge outlet mall. We thought that right before Christmas it would be incredibly busy and we were prepared to turn around if it was. As it turned out, we were there early enough in the day to avoid the crowds, truly enjoyed ourselves puttering around in all the shops, and came home with some fantastic bargains. Jess called to say they would be arriving shortly just as we were beginning to get fatigued and the crowds were starting to arrive. When we returned home, I put dinner to warm in the oven, set the table, and Saul started a roaring fire. Everyone was relieved and happy to be sitting down to dinner together. Ari called to say that he would be driving up after work. He arrived before the grownups went to bed and I slept like a baby that night knowing that my whole family was together and that we would have a few relaxing days together. Early in the morning, Izzy wandered downstairs, began a sleepy conversation with Ari, and then told him that he looked just like Uncle Ari. He told her that that was because he really was Uncle Ari. Yona, for the first time ever, slept for a full 12 hours.

Alex and Jess were out with the girls first thing in the morning, all dressed and bundled for a day on the slopes. Saul, Ari and I stayed home to bond with Yona. Ari has hated skiing all his life. When he was six, I promised him that if he went down the slope standing on the skis of one of Beth’s friends who was a ski instructor, I would never bother him about learning to ski again. By age six, he had been skiing numerous times and I was convinced that once he had the thrill of zooming down the hill really fast, he would love it and want to continue to learn. After much trepidation, he tried it, hated it, and I have kept my promise. Yona, as usual, was an angel baby. She babbles away happily whenever she is awake and looks as though she might walk before she crawls. She is just starting to get the hang of getting her knees underneath her, but she takes steps if you stand her up. She turned eight months old this week.

The slopes were nearly deserted. The staff said that the resort had been that way since the opening of the season, and it was not just because it was Christmas Eve day. With rental of the girls equipment, and lift passes for Alex and the girls (Jessica decided not to ski) the total came to over $180. I fear that the lack of disposable income has affected the ski resorts in this part of the country, but perhaps it is just the lack of good skiing weather for the time being. The weather on Friday and Saturday was dreadful. We awoke to misty sleeting rain and wind, and everyone had work to finish up on their laptops which was made possible with a Wi-Fi connection from a new system that Ari brought with him (MiFi) that allows computer hook-ups anywhere. Eventually, we spent the day hanging around the house in front of the fireplace, and eventually, playing cards. We taught Sami how to play poker. For Shabbat dinner we had a choice of soups, Alex’s lentil and his chicken soup; homemade challah; Israeli salad; iceberg lettuce salad; warm edamame; smoked turkey in giblet gravy; black and white rice; chestnut stuffing; cranberry apple chutney; sautéed sugar snap peas; and kohlrabi coleslaw.

On Sunday, the weather finally dawned beautiful, sunny, and not too cold. Most of the snow was washed away, but Alex decided to chance taking the girls skiing again because they both loved it so much. The rest of us began cleaning up the house in preparation to leave, but both Ari and Jessica wanted to have breakfast at Jubilee for old time’s sake, so we dropped what we were doing to get there early, in advance of the usual Sunday morning crowd. In the past, we have had to wait almost an hour for a table if we arrived after 10 a.m. on Sunday. We were surprised to find the restaurant with plenty of tables, and when we left after 10 a.m. the crowds had not materialized.

After breakfast, we went to The Crossings, with Jessica on a quest to find boots and a new ski jacket for Sami. She found the boots, and a gorgeous jacket, and adorable, funky, high-top embroidered sneakers for Izzy. Ari got a toaster oven and two beautiful sport jackets from Brooks Brothers. Saul bought a well-made black leather jacket at Eddie Bauer that fit him like it was tailored to him, a remarkable find. We bought other items as well and were all very pleased with our purchases. Alex called to tell us to take our time shopping, that the girls had exhausted themselves on the slopes, had eaten some lunch and were asleep, and that he was not particularly tired. Because the slopes were not crowded, they were able to make multiple runs down the mountain without having to wait in line for the ski lift. The resorts have done away with the half-day passes they used to sell, but skiing for a whole day without breaks in between is exhausting. When we returned, we finished cleaning a packing and everyone left for home.

Sami and Izzy returned with us as they are off from school this week and both Alex and Jessica have to work. Yona has been taking turns reposing in both Alex’s and Jessica’s offices. This is the first time the girls have been here since Mom’s shiva and they both were a little shocked at the emptiness of her room now that her possessions have been distributed among the family and I have prepared the room for showing the house. On the way home from the Poconos, we stopped for dinner at King Buffet, their favorite sushi restaurant. Jess, Alex and Ari found a fantastic restaurant in Harrisburg on their way home with memorable dishes that Alex is now recreating at home.

We discovered on the net that the Philadelphia Art Museum was open on Monday this week because of the holiday and decided to take the girls there for the family crafts workshops that they run. We had so much fun that the girls did not want to leave and, as it turned out, we never got to see any of the museum itself. We took them to a kosher restaurant on South Street called Chickpeas and had a huge late lunch of kebab, shawarma, hummus, salad and chicken soup. We were all too tired to return to the museum and headed for home where we all took naps. I made the girls a light dinner of ravioli and, after some t.v., they went back to sleep at the usual time.

On Tuesday we were waiting around for our air conditioning compressor to be worked on, but we finally rescheduled when they kept changing their time of arrival later and later. Beth called and we decided to have dinner together at Bacco, a nearby Italian restaurant for which I had purchased a $25 certificate. The food was very good, but pricey. The coupon made the visit worthwhile. I was also pleased that they had finally gotten rid of the raucous, loud music that had made conversation impossible on previous visits years ago. At dinner, Beth said that she had wanted eat at King Buffet but that it was no fun to eat there alone, so we arranged to meet for dinner there the following evening. When Saul and I returned home, we had some leftover chocolate cake with the girls and curled up in bed together to watch The Parent Trap.

Yesterday morning, Jessica informed us that she was not able to get coverage for the dogs on New Year’s and would not be able to join us for the weekend. We immediately made plans to stay at the Sheraton in Towson, which has an indoor pool, so that we can all be together. So, we are heading off to Maryland again today. Since we will not be in Philadelphia for New Year’s, we headed out early yesterday to the Convention Center to watch the Mummers rehearse and check out the floats. When we arrived downtown, Izzy was hungry and we popped into Reading Terminal Market, across the street from the Convention Center, for ice cream cones from Bassett’s, my favorite place for ice cream on the planet. Then, we were extremely disappointed to discover that the information that was published both on the web and promotional materials had been incorrect. We would not be allowed in to see the Mummers perform until 4:00 p.m. We headed back to the Art Museum where we spent a few hours crafting again and I finally was able to tour some of the museum with the girls. They decided they would rather have dinner with Beth than see the Mummers perform, so we met Beth at the restaurant as planned. Everyone went to bed early.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Snowy Weekend, Flight Canceled

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We were very excitedly looking forward to this weekend. Although a giant snowstorm was predicted, the forecast seemed to show that we would be able to get out of town before it began. Then, on Thursday and Friday the weather predictors began moving up the starting time earlier and earlier.

Our cookie packaging on Thursday evening went smoothly even though we had a bit of a bump in the morning. Early in the day, Adele realized that we did not have enough cellophane on the gigantic 30-inch wide roll to cover all the packages this year. I checked around and remembered that last year we had used up a second roll that we had purchased 20 years ago. After an hour of checking around on the net, I located what we needed by contacting the florist supplier for whom I had worked over twenty years ago, and was able to buy the roll from a salesman with whom I had worked, at wholesale price, from his garage in Jenkintown. We had a great conversation about our lives 20 years ago and he filled me in on some of the details of the lives of people I had known back then. Saul drove to Jenkintown immediately, paid him, and he loaded our trunk with the 45-lb. roll. After eating pizza that Ken had brought and lighting the seventh Chanukah candle, the cookie packaging went very efficiently and we were done in record time this year by 10:00 p.m. Our crew included us, Adele and Larry, Ken and Randi, Beth and Larry Shipper, who participated in this for the first time this year. He is a quick study! :o)

Since we were supposed to leave for Chicago very early on Saturday morning (7:15 a.m.), I encouraged Jess not to come up this weekend with the girls as we had planned. In addition, our realtor had called earlier in the week to say that he would be bringing potential buyers either Wednesday afternoon or Saturday morning. They eventually chose Saturday at 9:30 a.m. and that would have meant that Jessica would have had to clean up the house and be out of here very early on Saturday. That left us with the dilemma of how to get the cookies to Jess and Ari for the kids’ teachers and their offices. Jess enlisted her in-laws, who were traveling down for their grandson, Jacob’s birthday party on Sunday. Friday morning, we loaded up the car and delivered cookies to Marianne, Laura, and Chestnut Hill College colleagues and then headed down I-95 to the border of Maryland to meet Maury and Elaine to hand off the cookies to them at a Cracker Barrel at Exit 109B on their way to Olney, Maryland.

When we arrived back home at about 3:30 p.m., we decided to do some last minute shopping at Costco mainly to pick up fresh flowers for the Shabbat dinner table and so that our potential buyers would enjoy them also. Larry and Beth joined us for dinner, which I pulled from the freezer earlier in the day—homemade challah, smoked turkey split pea soup, iceberg lettuce salad, stuffed cabbage, potato latkes, and chocolate cake. By Friday afternoon, the major snowstorm was predicted to start at 3:00 a.m. and I hoped that if the flight was going to be canceled anyway, it would happen before I arrived at the airport. Saul and I finally finished packing and fell asleep around 11:30 p.m. wondering if we would actually be flying out to visit Susan and Ted in Chicago or not. We both kept opening one eye about every hour to check on the storm. We were both awake before the alarm went off at 3:45 a.m. and discovered that not a flake had fallen yet and that there were no delays at the airport. We were on the road to the airport by 4:30 a.m. allowing an hour to reach the parking garage where we had made arrangements to leave our car. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 7:15 a.m. About halfway down to the airport, the blizzard began with a vengeance. We encountered almost an inch of snow already on the highway and in the pre-dawn darkness, with strong winds whipping the heavy snow, visibility became increasingly poor. Finally, I asked Saul to turn around and take us back home. Whether the flight was officially canceled or not, neither one of us wanted to take off for an optional vacation trip in a blizzard, and neither one of us wanted to take the chance that we would be stranded in Chicago and miss a vacation at our home in the Poconos with our children and grandchildren.

In our efforts to turn around on unfamiliar on and off ramps, and with the poor visibility, we accidentally began to head the wrong way into oncoming traffic coming off the highway, but luckily realized our mistake in time to quickly back up out of the way and find the correct on ramp. Within 15 to 20 miles, as we began to approach home, the snow began to diminish to a flurry. Within a few miles of our home, the roads were dry and there was not a sign of a snowflake. Arriving home, we immediately canceled and rescheduled our trip online for June to avoid losing our initial money, but the summer flight is costing an additional $200 because we were the ones who canceled. Our flight was the last to leave Philadelphia before every other flight was canceled for the day. We took a chance on the cheap rates, but in this case, we gambled and lost. As I finished unpacking, the snow was beginning to fall here. We called the realtor at 8:30 a.m. to see if our potential buyers were still coming. The snow was heavy by then, and they were not, but they asked if they could come Sunday morning at 10 a.m. When I finally fell asleep, I was out until after 3:00 p.m. On Sunday morning, at 8:00 a.m., peering out the window at the pristine thick white blanket of snow which covered everything, we again called the realtor to find out if we should hustle to clear a path and put everything away, but were relieved that they wanted to reschedule yet again for Tuesday morning. For a while, we lazily dozed off, enjoying the muffled quiet of a heavy snow day, but soon we awakened to the sound of plows and snowblowers as everyone began to dig out. By 11:00 a.m., our trusty guy who mows our lawn and plows our snow had completely cleared our driveway and shoveled all our sidewalks and walkways. The sun appeared and began to melt away the cleared areas so that by late afternoon, the plowed roads were already dry. We spent the afternoon cleaning and organizing the house and shampooing rugs and furniture.

We decided to meet our friend Larry, whose later flight to Chicago on Saturday had been canceled, for dinner at the Bonefish Grill. He had a coupon for $10 off that was about to expire on December 31. We ate a very satisfactory meal, early, at a nearly empty restaurant where the entire staff participated in serving us—very, very unusual for Bonefish Grill on a Sunday evening. Saul and I shared an entrée and I had wanted to order their signature chocolate brownie dessert, but neither Saul nor Larry would agree to share it with me and I could not begin to eat something of that size by myself. Returning home, I ate a slice of leftover chocolate cake from Shabbat dinner with a mug of tea. Then, Saul opened a tin a chocolates that were a gift from his department chairperson. I had a few of those as well and headed off to watch television in bed before intending to go to sleep early.

Suddenly, the doorbell rang. When Saul answered the door, there were Manuel and Ilsa, Beth’s renters from next door, bearing as a gift for us a beautiful chocolate-glazed chocolate cake that they had made themselves. I invited them in for coffee and to share the cake, and to be polite, I had yet another slice of delicious chocolate cake. I can definitely say that there is such a thing as too much chocolate, although I never would have believed it before!

Today, we decided to head up to the mountain house a day early to be out of the house when, hopefully, our potential buyers finally arrive. I arose early this morning and began preparing food for our stay. Saul awoke later and spent the morning helping me. I had mentioned to Larry at Bonefish Grill that I had a coupon for a free slice of cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory that was also about to expire on December 31. We decided to meet for lunch there today. I told Larry to choose the flavor that we would share. He chose pumpkin, but they were all out of both types of pumpkin cheesecake that they carry. Larry, looking at me dolefully, said that he supposed I did not want any form of chocolate cheesecake. I told him to choose anything else that did not contain chocolate. We finally settled on a key lime cheesecake, and it was really incredibly delicious and tasted better with each bite. It did not become cloying, as some flavors do. After lunch, we headed to Trader Joe’s and Costco to pick up supplies sufficient for being snowed in in a mountain retreat with three little girls. Tonight, the car is packed with food in the cold garage, and hopefully, we will be totally packed and on the road, house in total display mode, before our visitors arrive. I hope they love the house as much as we do!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chanukah Week 2009

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We are in the homestretch now for winter vacation, one of the most wonderful perks of Saul being a college professor. Stretching ahead of us is a lovely one-month vacation and the freedom to travel anywhere, complete projects around the house, or just lay around for a while. Being who I am, I hope to do all three, but Saul is always pointing out to me that my expectations for what I hope to accomplish are totally unrealistic. That fact never seems to deter me from trying to do it all anyway.

The beginning of last week involved a lot of cookie-baking in preparation for our family cookie extravaganza which, hopefully, will take place on Thursday evening. I made my usual seven varieties, and this year I decided to try an eighth. Several months ago, Mom’s hospice volunteer, Marianne, brought me a package of walnut-shaped cookie molds that she purchased in Europe. A friend had requested that she bring some back and she kept a package for herself. She gave them to me last year after I gave her some of my cookies and told me that I would be more likely to use them than she would. I almost never watch Martha Stewart on television, but a week or so before she gave me the molds, while I was flipping channels, I had caught the tail end of Martha and Jennifer Esposito making walnut cookies. After I received the molds, I looked up the segment on Google and printed out the recipe. This past week seemed like the perfect time to try it out, and I am very pleased with the results. I can’t wait to deliver some to Marianne.

I spent several hours this past week trying to arrange vacations. My mother’s cousin, Ronnie, whom we visited in Arizona a few years ago, invited us to attend the bat mitzvah of her granddaughter in Jacksonville, Florida, in January. I tried very hard to arrange some time in Orlando so that as long as we were paying for a flight down to Florida, we could do a week of vacation as well. So far, no luck in getting any kind of cheap rate, and I don’t know whether we will go at all. We were invited to Rabbi Addison’s daughter’s wedding in Israel for New Year’s Eve. Flights to Israel are very expensive right now as well, and I would hate to spend so much and go such a long way for only a few days vacation. Her invitation arrived with a personal, thoughtful and endearing two-page letter about the influence Saul’s teaching has had on her life. I would love to be there for her wedding, but I suppose it is too late to make arrangements now.

During the week, our friend Larry found a cheap flight to Chicago—$170 round trip. We decided to join him in his visit there to his sister and her husband, our friends, for a few days this coming weekend. I dearly hope we do not encounter snow, but such are the hazards of taking advantage of good rates and winter vacations. I am also very excited that I was able to arrange a family, two-week vacation this summer at the same house in Ocean City, New Jersey, that we enjoyed so much two summers ago. When we queried the girls about which had been their favorite vacation so far, Ocean City beat out Hawaii, Disney World, St. Augustine, and Hershey. They really liked the boardwalk with its varied diversions at night and being on the beach during the day.

On Monday, I picked up a birthday cake we had ordered at Costco and delivered it to Saul at CHC for a celebration during his computer club of the first female admiral in the U.S. Navy, who was also responsible for inventing COBOL computer programming language, Grace Murray Hopper. While there, I had lunch with Saul in the cafeteria.

Wednesday evening, we met Ken and Randi at a new Afghan restaurant in Horsham that we had wanted to try and had been hearing good things about called Yalda. The ambience was very pleasant, exotic, and comfortable and the owner/chef was very eager to please us. We spent two hours dining and conversing over very delicious food which seemed like a combination of Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.

After his last class on Thursday, Saul stopped into the cafeteria at school for lunch where they had prepared a special Christmas banquet. By late Thursday afternoon, Saul’s last full week before finals, we were exhausted again and decided to drive down to Baltimore/DC on Friday, after going to bed early and sleeping late. As usual, preparing the house in case it would be shown over the weekend took an extra couple of hours. I took with me all our Chanukah paraphernalia and, traveling the long way over Rte. 1, we arrived shortly before Shabbat dinner was scheduled at 5:30 p.m. Ari had been able to leave work early and arrived just a few minutes before us. Jessica had invited friends, the Hoffmans with their two young children, who arrived right on schedule and were wonderful dinner companions. Saul and I were thrilled to be able to light the first Chanukah candle along with our Shabbat candles with all of our family gathered around, a real luxury for us as for many years, Ari lived in California.

Alex prepared a beautiful dairy Shabbat dinner. We had a creamy black bean soup; grilled, glazed salmon atop olive bread with homemade mango salsa, avocado and chipotle mayonnaise; spinach salad; grilled sea bass; mashed potatoes; and steamed Brussels sprouts. Of course, in honor of the holiday, we had a big platter of G.G. Sima’s potato latkes, which I had made previously and frozen, along with sour cream and applesauce. Naomi Hoffman has been experimenting with ice cream flavors this past year and brought a sampling of her homemade ice cream: raspberry swirl, orange/Szechuan peppercorn, pumpkin spice, and chocolate with Girl Scout thin mints. They were all absolutely delicious and the Szechuan peppercorn lent a sort of a floral note to the orange, a bit like rose petals.

During the weekend, we stopped at Ari’s office to set up two electric chanukiot in the windows there. We looked at some houses for Ari, saw one that was perfect, and were all extremely disappointed to discover that again, the house was put under contract the day we looked at it. He has decided to put his condo back on the market. We traveled to Baltimore from DC to light the second candle after Havdalah together. Alex has been learning guitar for a few years now and accompanied our candlelight prayer. The Havdalah prayer is, to my mind, one of the most beautiful traditions in Judaism. For a few moments, I was wiping happy tears from my eyes, so awesome was the moment, holding Yona, with all of us together singing the prayer and passing the besamim (spice) box. After that, we treated everyone to dinner at Sushi Ya, where Jess and Alex and the kids are so well known that the host asked me about Jess as soon as I came in with Sami, and where Izzy has a sushi roll named after her. One of the dishes we ordered, agedashi tofu, moves in a fascinating way when it is first brought to the table. We had been planning to take the girls to see The Princess and the Frog, which opened this weekend, but the hour grew too late and Alex took the girls home to put them to bed while Jess, Ari, Saul and I wandered over to the movie theater and discovered that there was nothing else playing that we wanted to see. On the way back to our parked car, we wandered into Home Goods, where Saul found exactly the type of rolling briefcase that he had been trying to find to replace the falling-apart rolling backpack that he has been taking to school for many years. There was only one and another customer was sorely disappointed that we decided to take it. Ari bought it for Saul as a Chanukah gift.

We drove to Arundel Mills on Sunday, had lunch at a Golden Corral, got badly needed haircuts for Saul and Ari, shopped a bit, and took the girls to the Egyptian movie theater to finally see The Princess and the Frog in XD (extreme digital). The movie was very cute, incorporating all of Disney’s successful shtick from other animations. I was delighted to hear the girls giggling all through the movie. We had a light dinner at Chevy’s in the mall where they provided the girls with dough stuck with crayons with which to amuse themselves before dinner arrived, and the children’s meal included small vanilla ice cream cones made from crispy tortillas. Although the weather had been dreadful for most of the weekend, the rain disappeared before our long drive home. We were grateful for the relaxing drive as well as the most pleasant and memorable weekend with our children and grandchildren.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

December Dawns

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After our five-day Thanksgiving vacation, both of us were extremely tired and a bit let down that we did not have the chance to do very much with the girls. The drive from DC to Baltimore is best done at off hours when the traffic is light, or else it sometimes takes as long to travel from DC to Baltimore as it does to travel from Philadelphia to Baltimore. We resolved to return the following weekend, and so we did. I began writing this from Ari’s dining room table.

Saul had long meetings at CHC in the afternoons this past week. We still have not become accustomed to the shortened daylight hours. We arise before dawn, and by the time Saul arrives home, it is almost dark. One morning, after running his power down on the iPhone, the wake-up alarm failed to go off. Luckily, I awoke just in time for Saul to throw on some clothes and make it to school only five minutes late for his first class. In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, it rained so hard and was so windy that many trees came down causing detours that made the commute even more difficult.

Adele came over with a carload of clothes and shoes for the Salvation Army on Wednesday morning and she joined Roxy and me for a spur-of-the-moment lunch at Wegman’s, which was a very pleasant diversion. I should have taken the clothes myself to the thrift store, but decided to wait for Saul. By the time we set out together, the roads were slick with heavy rain and it was hard to see in the dark. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper the whole route because of several accidents. The Salvation Army store was closed when we arrived and we returned home disgusted with ourselves that we had not called first to make sure the store was open.

Probably because the house is up for sale, my appliances have begun to fail. My modular Dacor cooktop, which I love to pieces, developed a short in one of the elements and the repairman came on Thursday morning and got it working, but needed to order a part to finish the job. While he was here, he took a look at my 17-year-old Sub Zero refrigerator and made some suggestions for spiffing it up before it bites the dust as well. When Saul arrived after school, again we set out with my carload of Adele’s clothing, this time in daylight and with nicer weather. Unfortunately, we then discovered a sign on the window saying that the facility shut down on November 28, and was preparing to reopen in a new location on December 5. Feeling really stupid, we adjourned to a new restaurant on Rt. 309 for a late lunch/early dinner so that we could regroup and decide where to take our load of clothing next. The restaurant, which replaced a Bennigan’s, is named Gimaro. Before setting out, we had previously purchased a $25 coupon for $4.00 on and had an amazing meal there for very little money, the one smart thing we did in that 48-hour period. After a few phone calls during lunch, we discovered that the PEAK Center had moved their warehouse into the old Atlantic Book Warehouse just a mile from our home and we were very happy to deposit our carload there after lunch. Finally, we headed over to the AMC Theater in King of Prussia to take advantage of a free movie ticket that was about to expire. We saw The Fantastic Mr. Fox at Jessica’s recommendation that it was “adorable.” She had taken the girls to see it the previous weekend and they liked it very much. Suffice it to say that we were very happy that we had not spent a lot of money to see it.

After preparing the house for display on Friday, we packed and left for Baltimore, intending to pick up Sami from a Chanukah party at the Waldorf School. She will be starting school there on January 4, and the class invited her to participate. Alex and Jess mixed up the time she was supposed to be picked up and Jess wound up retrieving her instead. While Saul caught up with schoolwork on the computer, Jess and I took Yona to the pediatrician for her flu shots and to check up on the previous week’s ear infection. There is still some fluid in one of her ears, but she is otherwise great. The plan was to have an adult’s only dinner for Shabbat. Jess gave the girls dinner early. Then, Saul and I took them to Gifford’s for ice cream. The tiny shop was filled with almost two dozen mostly rowdy, loud children and some of their parents, so we could not wait to leave. We luckily happened upon a nearby Barnes & Noble where we spent a quiet hour reading to the girls before attending a beautiful family service run by Alex at Chizuk Amuno. The girls went home with friends for a sleepover at their house after that, and we returned to finish putting dinner on the table.

Ari drove up from DC on Friday evening and we were joined by Alex’s assistants, Abby and Isaac, who are engaged to be married this coming year. Ari made cosmopolitans before dinner. Alex had fried up the most delicious shnitzel which we ate with quinoa with chestnuts, carrots and mushrooms; chicken noodle soup with turkey-shaped noodles; steamed cauliflower; falafel; leftover cranberry apple chutney, kohlrabi coleslaw; and spinach salad with candied pecans and avocado, among other things. Jess had bought chocolate and cinnamon babka, and had defrosted pareve chocolate mousse crepes. We took the chocolate babka home to Ari’s house because none of us had any room left for it and Alex is allergic to chocolate.

Over the weekend, we had dim sum at China Garden in Rosslyn and briefly stopped into Ari’s office nearby so that he could help out a co-worker. The short drive down Rock Creek Parkway in the snow was so beautiful it made me happy to be alive and in-the-moment. We spent some time wandering around the mall at Pentagon City where we viewed some beautiful hand-embroidered “paintings” of incredible delicacy made by families in Suzhou, China, at an art gallery. Then we picked up some odds and ends for Ari at Target in Columbia Heights. He spent the evening with old friends who were visiting in DC while we watched Bride Wars on television. Because of the bad weather, again we had not spent as much time with the girls as we would have liked. I decided to put Jessica’s zip code in and see what restaurants within five miles had coupons. We narrowed it to three and Jessica chose a place she had been wanting to try called Café Hon. Then, with travel karma intact, and like the story of Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! by Dr. Seuss, we “ran right into a circus [Christmas] parade.”

Jessica explained that Baltimore is known for a particular type of character—the type of woman who wears large beehive hairdos, flashy glasses, leopard prints, and who calls everyone “hon,” (short for honey). The café was an homage to all that with a two-story high pink flamingo out front and fake-leopard-skin lined booths. The decor was straight out of the 1950s. The food and service were wonderful, and the girls, including Yona in her high chair, behaved like angels. A group of women dressed as “hons” who had participated in the parade came in and we took Sami’s photo with the woman who had won this year’s contest for the best “hon.” Sami and Izzy, having had no background in the fads and fashions of the 1950s, asked about a million questions about the weirdness of it all, trying to get a handle on what they were observing. I don’t think they really succeeded. In the end, the café did not let us use our coupon, but we were so pleased with the whole serendipity of the afternoon that we hardly minded. The restaurant was situated right down the street from the parade judges stand and sits on the main street in old Baltimore City. Among the interesting sights of the parade was a truck fitted out to be a steam calliope, something none of us had ever seen or heard before in our whole lives. Also parading were a group from the Hog Island mummers in assorted costumes, a motorcycle group called S.O.B.s (Semites on Bikes) who have as their logo a skull wearing a skullcap, various high school marching bands and the usual assortment of paraders who you would expect to see at a hometown parade. The afternoon was weirdly delightful, and when we returned, Alex was hard at work stuffing more sausages, refining and perfecting his technique. The girls went out to finish building a snowman, and we headed for home.