Friday, February 19, 2010

OMG! What a Week!

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Many years ago, I read a children’s story that helps me deal with life’s adversities and serves as a parable for the Conservative view of an all-powerful God as opposed the to the Reform or Reconstructionist view that God has set the world in motion and now commiserates with us, but is powerless, when natural laws arbitrarily cause pain and suffering. It is a story of an exemplary rabbi whose fondest wish is granted when he is permitted to travel the world with the prophet Elijah as he goes about facilitating the work of God. The one caveat he is given is that he may not question Elijah’s actions. If he requires an answer, Elijah will explain, but then they must part company. To try to make a long story shorter, they encounter four situations in which Elijah intervenes to change the outcome. In each of the four situations, the rabbi is appalled at the unfairness of Elijah’s actions and finally can no longer contain himself. He questions, receives the explanations, and then must part company with Elijah. In each of the situations, the full explanation of what has occurred reveals true justice and mercy. You can click on this link if you want to read the whole story.

On a more personal level, I had a very bad week, but I am consoled that it all could have turned out much worse, and some of the events that appeared to be really disappointing, might have even saved our lives. The worst began with a phone message on both my home and cell phones from Abington Hospital that they needed me to return for another mammogram and ultrasound. When I finally reached them after frantically and repeatedly dialing the number they had left, they said that they had seen a “mass” that bore further investigation. I have now spoken with a number of women who have received these kind of phone calls. Universally, it can be said that your heart stops and your life stops at the initial shock. After scheduling another appointment over a week later (the earliest appointment I could get), I left a message at my doctor’s office to please call me as soon as possible. When he did get back to me, about two hours later, his first words were “Don’t panic!” “Too late,” I said. Mercifully, he then patiently gave me about six reasons why I should not be too alarmed. Many of you reading this may benefit from knowing that many diagnostic centers have changed from film to digital and so are able to pinpoint problem areas that were not visible before. I had waited two years since my previous mammogram, and breast tissue changes over time, not necessarily in a pathological way. Because of recent changes in law, both a human and a computer look at everything now and either one alone is capable of triggering further testing. My doctor also said that in my case they should not have called it a mass. It was calcifications that he said could have been caused by something as simple as a bump to my breast. Needless to say, I was very relieved after my conversation with him, but not so much as to put the thought of cancer out of my head for over a week. The funny thing is, about an hour before the phone calls, I had been clearing off my desk and I had just been glancing over a very detailed, glossy brochure that had been handed to me after a synagogue board meeting by my friend, Janet, who is a hospice nurse. I had not wanted to refuse it, as she had taken the time to write a cover letter and prepare a presentation about breast cancer. Just before the phone call came, I had decided not to toss it into the trash bin, buried it at the bottom of a stack of papers to be filed, and said a little prayer in my head that I would never need to look at it again. After I spoke with the doctor, I retrieved it and read it from cover to cover. As it turned out, yesterday, after undergoing the additional mammogram and ultrasound, I was given a clean bill of health and was told to return in six months for another test just to be sure. I was very lucky this time, and I will never go two years again without a mammogram.

Our friends, Laura and Marc were able to be plowed out after our second major record-setting snowstorm on Tuesday night and Wednesday just in time to meet us on Thursday evening for dinner at The Drafting Room to celebrate Saul’s and Laura’s birthdays. We never seem to be able to settle on a date to get together, but when we finally do, we have a great time! Friday afternoon, after I waited at CHC for Saul to finish with meetings, we headed out for Baltimore/DC in our more snow-worthy SUV with Izzy’s 30-inch-tall Cat in the Hat birthday cake secured in the back. Alex had brought his parents down for the weekend, and we were joined by his sister Naomi and her husband Matt, sister-in-law Stacey, with her three children, and Ari for Shabbat dinner. Alex had prepared a delicious baby artichoke appetizer served on ciabatta bread and a huge amount of beautiful, varied and tasty sushi, arranged attractively on large platters. We had brought with us a variety of homemade cookies and cakes that had been taking up space in our freezer since December to make way for the hamantaschen to come. For dessert, everyone seemed to have a different particular favorite, from the lime-anise biscotti to the chocolate toffee squares. We had decided to leave Izzy’s birthday cake in our car until Sunday to keep it chilled and to protect it from the dogs. Before Ari drove us to DC that night, Saul dutifully remembered to give Jessica the keys to our car, just in case it needed to be moved.

Saturday evening, we all decided to get together for dinner in Baltimore. The small restaurant, Thai Arroy which is providing a vegetarian cooking demonstration for Jessica’s Pearlstone Center on Sunday, agreed to seat 10 of us at 6:30 p.m. We let the chef choose our all-vegetarian menu and were extremely pleased with the service, presentation and taste of all the varied dishes, among them, green curry, crispy fish in tamarind sauce, and mock duck. The girls were extremely pleased with the chocolate mousse cake for dessert, while the rest of us were wowed when we sampled their unlikely signature desserts of gingko nut and sweet taro mousse, and pumpkin custard. By the time we left, people were standing in the doorway waiting for our tables. Baltimore was virtually buried in snow, and we were lucky to have found parking. It took us a long time and back-ups into various driveways to negotiate our way around the streets which were only plowed enough for one car at a time going in one direction to traverse down them. In all the excitement and brouhaha, Saul, who had moved our car to allow everyone out of the driveway, forgot to leave our keys with Jessica. On the way back to DC, we hit a bad pothole hard, but were very lucky that the tire did not go flat and we were able to continue on our way home.

On Sunday, the day of Izzy’s 6th birthday party, we decided to go by way of College Park, Maryland, where there is a kosher shawarma restaurant, Pita Plus, that we love. We brunched on great laffa shawarma, picked up extras for Jess and Alex to enjoy, and headed for the party so that we would be there in time to retrieve the cake from the back of the SUV. As we were about to pull into a gas station to fill up, about five minutes down the road, we hit a really big pothole extremely hard. As we pulled up to the gas pump, the tire pressure lights went on and we could hear the air escaping from the tires as we opened the car door. We had flattened both tires on the passenger side. Ari called his free Mercedes Roadside Assistance and discovered that they could not assist us as they could only put on a spare, or bring us gas, or perform other minor services to get us on our way. We tried putting air in the tires, hoping that we had only knocked the air out, but discovered holes in both side walls. Our AAA Plus services were much more helpful and we were able to arrange a flat bed truck to transport us and the car 18 miles in the wrong direction to the only tire store we could locate that carried the specially-sized tires we needed. They only had three in stock altogether. The man who came to rescue us with the flatbed, after we had waited about an hour, looked at the tires and told us that a third tire had a big bubble in it and should be replaced also. If it had blown out on the highway we were about to enter, we very likely would have had a serious, if not fatal, accident. So we called the tire place, NTB, and told them to hold all three tires for us. The bill came to about $700 including the insurance against further blowouts (a good deal considering the number of potholes looming ahead because of the blizzards). The flatbed guy also advised us that if we were willing to wait, the township might reimburse us for the expense of the tires because of the pothole.

Hearing our predicament, Jess and Alex arranged for AAA to come to unlock our SUV so that they could get at the birthday cake in time for the party. AAA came to them by 2:00 p.m., a half hour after the party began, so the cake really made a grand entrance. The party was well attended despite the snow. The kids came in costume, dressed as storybook characters. They made scarves, decorated Pinkalicious cupcakes, rolled sushi, and made animals from toothpicks and raw vegetables and fruit. We sat, disappointed in the crowded waiting room at NTB for about two hours, but we were very cognizant of the fact that our situation could have turned out much worse.

We had some dinner with Jess and Alex when we finally arrived, and watched Izzy open her presents, most of which are being donated to Ronald McDonald House. This had been prearranged on the invitations. Then, we headed for home, dropping off Maury and Elaine in Cranberry, New Jersey, and bringing Sami along with us for the week as her Waldorf school was closed this past week.

We all had a wonderful time together this past week. Unfortunately, as warmer temperatures finally arrived and the snow began to melt, a serious problem arose. On Tuesday evening, I happened to look up at my dining room ceiling and was frightened to see wet spots developing along all the cross beams behind the drywall. We went to bed wondering what we should do about the problem. By morning, water was dripping all along the ceiling onto the hardwood floor below, the drywall had cracked, and flakes of it were starting to fall. We feared that the ceiling might collapse and I hastily mopped, put out buckets, and moved rugs, furniture, and curios out of the way. I spoke with my brother, who recommended I call our friend, Isaac, who does home renovations. He was able to send some workmen over by 1:00 p.m. who gouged out the ceiling to let the water run more freely to prevent the ceiling from collapsing, and hacked away the ice that had lifted the roofing tiles slightly, allowing ice to creep under the flashing, which then melted and ran down the beams.

Ari was supposed to come in this weekend, visit his friends Shira and Josh, who were celebrating the birth of their new little girl, and take Sami home on Sunday. Around Wednesday, Jess called to say that the parents of Sami’s class had decided that the program for which she had practiced to read Torah (which was cancelled last week due to the snow), should take place anyway on Saturday. So we all changed our plans midweek, and left for Baltimore/DC late Thursday afternoon after my happy mammogram and ultrasound. Adele came to stay with Sami while Saul accompanied me to the diagnostic center. After dropping Sami off at home in Baltimore, we met Ari after work for a late dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in Bethesda and had a great view out the window during dinner of a very talented crew scooping vast mountains of snow from the street below us, loading it onto dump trucks, and driving it away.

I left the house with large buckets under my dripping ceiling, not knowing what I will find when I return home. But, I am with my family, we all seem to be in relatively good health, Yona cut her first tooth and began crawling on the same day. Sami and I baked hamantaschen, painted on canvas with acrylics, watched movies together, and I taught her how to make origami cranes, to which she attached real feathers from my sewing box and made a mobile. It may have been a week filled with adversity, but despite all that, I feel truly blessed.

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