Wednesday, April 28, 2010

25 Boxes

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I could not attend Faith’s class last Thursday because I had to wait around for the service guy from a company called Bill Vandegrift Inc., which was supposed to repair my ice maker, and which could only come that day precisely when I had to be in class. The freezer was intermittently buzzing as well, so I asked the service guy to take a look at that also. After about 15 minutes on the floor, he claimed he had fixed the buzz and told me that I would need a new ice maker as the gears were stripped and I would have to wait for them to order the part. He then presented me with a bill for $121.90. Within an hour of the time he left, the freezer began buzzing again, and when I called, I was told he would fix it in a few days when he returned with the ice maker. When we returned home after our stay in DC this past weekend, there was a phone message that we would need a new compressor to get rid of the buzz and that it would run between $1,200 and $1,500. This was on top of the cost of $129.00 for a new ice maker, and with additional labor costs to be determined (in addition to the original $121.90 for nothing). I had paid them over $350 just six weeks ago to fix a small part on my stove, replace the gasket on my Sub-Zero refrigerator, and touch up some paint on the bottom. I had asked him to check at that time and was told that the freezer seemed to be just fine. We called Sub-Zero to find out if this was the normal cost of repair and were told warily by one of their experts that this seemed a little high. I called Vandegrift, cancelled everything, and booked another company who will replace the compressor tomorrow afternoon, both parts and labor, for $850, sight unseen, and will determine whether the ice-maker can be repaired and if not, replace it for less than Vandegrift quoted. I checked with Sub-Zero about replacing these built-in units with new ones (over $5,000 each) and was told that the new ones are taller, which would necessitate my completely renovating and rebuilding my entire kitchen. I spoke with my cousin, Anne, this afternoon about my frustration, and we traded stories about “planned obsolescence” because she had encountered some frustrations of her own when she had to spend a fortune to replace plumbing pipes because Maytag had decided to widen the hoses on its washing machines ten years ago. She suggested I write a blog post titled “Planned Obsolescence,” and just print everyone’s horror stories so that we could all commiserate. If you have one you would like to share, please feel free to either email it to me, or post it in the comments.

On Friday, we packed our bags for our final weekend in Ari’s condo in DC. I waited, playing games on my iPhone, in Saul’s office at Chestnut Hill College while he attended a lunch meeting. He brought me back some lunch, which I quickly downed in his office, and then we set off for Baltimore at about 2:30 p.m. My pet allergies were really acting up immediately when we reached Jess and Alex’s house, so I spent a pleasant hour, in the beautiful spring weather, ensconced with two of my granddaughters in the hammock on the beautiful deck that Alex built last summer, reading a delightful children’s book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, to them. What could be better?! After a while, Alex’s sister, Naomi, arrived. We lit the Shabbat candles, and had challah with honey, matzoh ball soup, grilled chicken, salad, and rice. By the time Ari was able to get out of the office, we told him not to bother making the long drive. We packed up some food for him and headed off to DC. That night, I broke a plastic fitting on my CPAP, so I did not sleep very well the rest of the weekend.

We had dim sum twice during the weekend, and I fear that Hollywood East Café, in its new location inside Westfield Mall, is more visible and is being discovered, or rediscovered, by the masses. We dropped off an entire carload of Ari’s stuff at a huge Goodwill distribution center. Ari was expecting the movers at 9:00 a.m. on Monday morning and everything had to be in boxes and ready to go by that time. By 8:30 p.m. Saturday, we were exhausted, but decided to drag ourselves out for a quick dinner of pho at Pho 14 a Vietnamese restaurant with vegetarian options in nearby Columbia Heights. We were really impressed seeing the renaissance taking place there in the very slick, upscale, urban center that is rapidly developing on 14th Street around the renovated and re-purposed Tivoli Theater. In between organizing and putting things into boxes, we made runs to the corporate apartment where Ari will be staying in the absence of settling on a house. On Sunday, we made plans to stop by an open house on Otis Place so that Ari could further negotiate in person a written offer that he had made earlier that had been rejected. The house is one to which we had looked when trying to decide what could be done with some shells of houses that Ari had bid on and had been rejected on in favor of cash buyers. Originally, he believed he could not afford it. We were very gratified when we discovered that they were anxious to continue negotiations.

As soon as we finished with the open house, we stopped at Ari’s apartment to pick up our car and drove both cars to Jess and Alex’s where Ari had agreed to babysit in a pinch while Jess and Alex attended an honoree dinner at the synagogue. As it turned out, over the weekend Ari had been asked to do a presentation and demo of a software called “Relativity” on Tuesday for a law firm in Philadelphia. That, in turn, allowed me to stay in DC on Monday to help Ari with the actual move and provide moral support. Saul drove home alone from Baltimore because he had to teach a class on Monday morning, stopping for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory in King of Prussia Mall. Ari and I had leftovers for dinner with the girls. I had the pleasure of giving Yona a bottle and rocking her to sleep in the same chair I had used to rock Jess and Ari to sleep. On our way back to DC, Ari and I encountered a thunderstorm with such teeming rain as I had never before seen north of the Carolinas. When we finally arrived in DC, we discovered that it had not even rained there.

On Monday morning, we were both up bright and early to strip the beds, finish the last of the laundry, and pack up the last of the boxes for the movers. Ari had contracted with a firm called “Great Scott Moving” and had discussed the contents of his condo. During the course of the conversation about what the move was likely to cost, he was asked to estimate the number of boxes he would need to move. The cost they quoted was based on 25 boxes. We were indeed able to pack all his stuff into 25 boxes, and when we had finished, I was a bit jealous. I told Ari that when I move, I would dearly love to be able to pack all my stuff into 25 boxes. I am from a family of savers, some to a pathological degree, and have spent what I am sure is months of my life accumulating, sorting, packing, cleaning, rearranging, and otherwise caring for an assortment of pure “stuff” belonging to me and many other members of my family that was totally irrelevant and unnecessary for my well-being (or anyone else’s for that matter). I have reached a stage of my life where I desire to live a very zen existence surrounded only by those items that contribute to my well-being. I don’t want to worry about keepsakes accumulating dust, or taking up space in drawers and closets. I don’t want clothes in my closet or drawers that I haven’t worn in years. I only want enough food-related items to prepare and graciously serve beautiful, healthy food to my friends and family. I would like a really comfy mattress with fine linen, nice clothes made of natural materials and a place to stow them, my electronic gear that enables me to read, learn, and make contact with the whole world, my favorite artwork, and a nice, light, airy place with a great sofa or chair to which I can retire. If I really work at it, I think I might be able to fit those items, excluding the furniture, into 25 boxes, or at least less than 50. Ari did it.

The movers called to say that they were going to be delayed because of heavy DC morning traffic. They arrived only about 15 minutes late. They were extremely pleasant and efficient. They completely wrapped all the furniture in plastic sheeting. Ari had leased a 10 by 10 storage unit in a U-Store-It just a block away. They finished loading the truck within two hours as anticipated and spent about an hour unloading at the storage unit, fitting everything together like a puzzle so that it just fit into the space. While they were unloading, a heavy rain began, and we drove a couple of blocks to Yes Organic Market to pick up some sandwiches, drove back to the storage unit, and ate in the car while we watched them finish unloading. Ari paid them the amount agreed upon with a generous tip, hoping that they will be moving him again in the very near future. Everyone left happy, and that is as good as a move can get! We drove to the corporate apartment, Ari dropped me off, and was at work by 1:30 p.m. I made up his bed, tidied up a bit, and spent the afternoon on my laptop.

Ari had been planning to work only until 6:00 p.m., but his boss called him into a meeting for another hour and he was not able to leave work until 7:15 p.m. Arriving at the corporate apartment, he packed a suit and a few things for the Philadelphia trip, and we headed back to his empty condo to do some last-minute sweeping and wiping of surfaces and to set his Roomba to pick up any remaining crumbs before the buyer does her walk-through today. We didn’t leave DC until almost 9 p.m. Driving through a light rain the whole time, we decided to stop for dinner at Exit 80 off of I-95. The Cracker Barrel was closing in three minutes when we arrived a little before 10 p.m., but the Ruby Tuesday across the road was open until 11 p.m. and we had a decent meal there before we hit the road again, finally arriving home about 12:30 p.m. Needless to say, we hit the sack as quickly as we could. Saul had picked up a new CPAP mask for me, the wrong size because of the store’s mistake, but I was happy to have it, anyway.

Ari had received word on our drive home that an agreement had been hammered out by the agents involved in the sale of his dream house and that it would be waiting for his signature as soon as he could get to a computer to print it out. He was up and working from my office at home by 9:00 a.m., signed the agreement first thing, and faxed it back. We spent a little time together excitedly figuring out how he might arrange his furniture. The presentation downtown went well and he coincidentally met his co-worker who arrived by cab via a train from Baltimore just as he reached the front of the building where they were to do their presentation. On his way back to DC, he learned, delightedly, that the agreement on the sale of the house had been ratified by the other party. Now, there is just a matter of FHA approvals, appraisals, and lender agreements which, hopefully, will go smoothly and as planned, leading up to settlement in mid-May.

Last night, Saul and I and Faith were invited to our friends, Terry and Gene’s, home for dinner, along with Gene’s sister, Louise, and her husband, David. They are all weathering a terrible storm in their lives. Last August, while we were in Florida, and just before Mom died, Louise and David’s two sons and a grandson were killed when their private plane and a helicopter carrying Italian tourists collided over the Hudson River. David is one of the strongest men I know. As a very young man, he left a cushy job in the navy to enlist in the Marine Corps on the eve of WWII.
He saw much heavy action, was at Iwo Jima, and was severely injured, almost losing a leg during the war. Gene was a pilot, flying many missions. Yesterday, when I asked him if he kept in touch with his military group, as my father did, all through these years, he told me that he is the only one alive. Initially, I thought that he meant they had all expired over the years, but later he explained how, during the bombing missions, experienced groups would take on newbies so that there would never be a whole combat team of newbies at the same time. Groups were rotated, and the rest of his group was shot down at a time when he happened to be on the ground. Twice during the story-telling, Terry said that she had always felt that God had saved him for her because God knew what beautiful children they would someday have together. They are now the proud great-grandparents of twins. David is a consummate pilot, flew angel flights for many years, and was lamenting the fact that he has not flown his plane in three years due to problems with his health. They are all counting their many blessings, thankful for their other surviving children and grandchildren, and thankful for having each other into old age, but clearly, a terrible cloud has darkened their sunny outlooks. Terry is a devoted and excellent, if self-deprecating, cook, and prepared a lovely meal for us of tossed salad with blue cheese, walnuts, and vinaigrette; cheese manicotti; roasted asparagus; and glazed beets. For dessert, we had rich, chocolate chip, coconut, and nut studded brownie squares with a wonderful fruit compote.

Today, I had been psyched up to work outside on the garden, but when I went out to water the flower boxes, I found the windy weather unbearably chilly. It even snowed in northern New York and parts of New England today, so I postponed my forays into the great outdoors until the weather warms up again, supposedly at the end of the week. The necessary paperwork on Ari’s new house has begun to flow today, and he is trying to hold down his excitement because he has been disappointed so many times this year in his search and in his ability to sell his condo. Settlement on his condo takes place tomorrow, and with luck, by this time next month he will be living with his furniture and his 25 boxes of stuff in his new dream house.

P.S.: This is blog post #200.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Keep Calm and Carry On

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Yesterday turned out to be a tremendously enlightening, laughter-filled, gratifying day. Everything that happened was because we were open to making last-minute, impulsive decisions that changed our plans.

The adventure started with a mid-afternoon phone call on Tuesday from Mom’s hospice volunteer and now our family friend, Marianne, who lives in a Quaker retirement community nearby. Her daughter-in-law, Maira Kalman, was coming into Philadelphia from New York to speak at the Institute of Contemporary Art of the University of Pennsylvania at 6:30 p.m. yesterday. Marianne was scheduled to take a 10:00 a.m. bus trip to the Philadelphia Art Museum with members of her community to view the Picasso exhibit that is featured at the museum right now. The bus was returning at 2:30 p.m., so Marianne was planning to take a cab over to the Institute, meet a gentleman friend, Cliff, at 5:00 p.m. and the problem was how the two of them would get back home when the program was over. Maira was expected at a reception in her honor after the program, and was staying over downtown so that she could attend a morning meeting before catching a train back to New York. I checked with Saul and found that he could meet us at the art museum by 4:00 p.m. after school, and was very happy to chauffeur us, after we viewed the Picasso exhibit, to attend Maira’s presentation and bring us all back home.

The past weekend, and the earlier part of this week was spent attending to the spring details of getting the house ready to go up for sale again. Deep cleaning, shopping for flowers and refilling the flower pots, overseeing landscaping work, having the ice-maker in the freezer fixed, readying the garden for planting, and de-cluttering in general have filled the last few days. On Saturday, we attended services, had a light lunch at the synagogue, and stayed for a program by Kurt Herman, who was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1929. He entered the U.S. thanks to the efforts of Brit Shalom and a far-sighted and philanthropic couple, by way of a Kindertransport in May, 1939, along with 49 other children to escape persecution by the Nazis. He grew up in Allentown, graduating from Allentown High School in 1947, and attended Muhlenberg College for two years, then transferred to Penn State, where he graduated in 1951, then served in the U.S. military from 1951 to 1954. He has been interviewed by Steven Spielberg’s SHOA Foundation, detailing his experience to be used as an educational tool in schools. His interesting tale of how he and many of his family members survived was an amazing amalgam of chutzpah, luck, and empathy. Afterward, our friend Larry accompanied us to visit Saul’s mom at the Alzheimer’s unit of Lion’s Gate in New Jersey. There was a marked difference in her mental state this time, as she just barely appeared to recognize us, did not know our names, and Saul felt he had to clue her in that he was her son. She still professes to be very happy with her circumstances. Her hair was cut neatly, dyed her preferred shade of blonde, and her nails had been polished red and manicured nicely, but she looked as though she had not washed her hair in quite some time, and her behavior and conversation were a bit erratic. Saul showed her movies of Yona on his iPhone which delighted her, but twice, she questioned Saul about the baby’s identity.

Late that evening, we picked up Faith and had dinner at a new pizzeria in Dresher, Anthony’s Coal-Fired Pizza, where we polished off a large traditional pie with caramelized onions. Faith knew Saul would love the “well done” somewhat blackened crispy thin crust. After that, we stopped at a Cumberland Farms to pick up Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, whipped cream, and hot fudge, which we ate with relish at Faith’s table while Saul checked out her new laptop, and while we had long, thought-provoking conversations into the late hours. All around us were Faith’s massive collection of whimsical dolls which did a great job of providing a cheery atmosphere, despite the downers earlier in the day.

All these concerns and responsibilities, coupled with the fact that Ari is moving on Monday to a corporate apartment because he has not yet found a home, had conspired to make me fretful and uneasy. On Monday, in an attempt to dispel some of the gloom, I arranged for us to meet Ken and Randi to celebrate Ken’s birthday, which had been on Sunday. We treated them to a delightful and economical dinner at P.F. Chang’s, which has drinks and appetizers half price from 5 to 6 p.m. every day at the bar during “happy hour.” I had a huge blue-green-colored cocktail in a fancy glass, made with coconut liqueur and blue Curaçao, among other things. As they began to bring us our small plates of appetizers, we ran out of room on the table to put them down and had to keep rearranging the plates, like a puzzle, to make everything fit. We even shared an extremely rich chocolate dessert that Ken chose. We had a blast, but during the night, my thoughts (and perhaps even the food) came back to haunt me as I contemplated the events of the Holocaust, the uncertainty of our futures, and death itself. Which all brings me back to Marianne’s phone call on Tuesday afternoon.

So early Wednesday morning, I was up, preparing to escape for the day (from at least the housekeeping part of my responsibilities) by immersing myself in the world of art. During the bus ride, and over lunch, Marianne fascinated me with stories from her long and most unusual life. Her eclectic and ecumenical experiences during the Holocaust were absorbing and I greatly admire her perspective on life which has been colored and enriched by these experiences in a good way. She is an attentive listener as well, perhaps a skill that she picked up in her years as a hospice volunteer. I spent several hours at the museum, almost the entire time, viewing the Picasso exhibit, which was set up with major works by other cubist artists as well, to give the viewer a sense of the development, history, and context of the whole cubist movement. Thinking about the passion of these artists, their willingness to devote their lives in pursuit of an elusive standard of honest expression, breaking new ground against the accepted art standards of their time, I was struck by how my own petty common concerns can sap my creative energy, indeed, sometimes all my energy.

When Saul met us, we drove over to the Institute of Contemporary Art and found a parking meter alongside the restaurant, Pod, just down the street from the Institute. We greeted Maira, who was going over the media aspect of her presentation with some of the people from the Institute. Marianne’s friend, Cliff, joined us at precisely 5:00 p.m. as expected. Marianne, Cliff, Saul and I set out to have dinner at La Famiglia, just a few miles away, but after less than a mile in rush hour traffic, we realized we would not make it back in time if we continued. We turned around and returned to another meter, and had a lovely, light and quick dinner at Pod (compliments of Cliff and Marianne), a unique restaurant which I believe was designed to mirror the contemporary style and ambiance of the Institute’s exhibits. Sushi and Asian cuisine are the largest component of the menu, and besides the white tables with their modern white chairs lit by luminescent, color-changing florescent lamps, there is a sushi bar with a narrow, industrial-style, stainless steel, conveyor belt from which to choose small dishes of sushi. Marianne and Cliff told us that the restaurant was a refreshing experience for them, quite different from their usual experience at the albeit lovely restaurant at their retirement home.

A light drizzle rained down on us as we strolled up the street to the Institute for Maira’s presentation. The room was packed with people. All the chairs were taken, except for two rows in the front reserved for VIPs of the Institute. People were lined up and standing along the walls. We followed Marianne to the reserved seating and sat down to the glares of both the standing people and the Art Institute people, who knew we were not of their ranks and who began to protest. A moment later, when Maira came in, she immediately noticed us, introduced us as family, and insisted that we move to the first row. Then, she invited those standing to come forward to sit on the floor in front, if they desired, as no more chairs were available. She began by posing the question, “If you had to choose between thinking and feeling, which would you choose?” Having just visited Saul’s mom in the Alzheimer’s unit, I knew immediately what my answer would be and was shocked when Maira said that, for her, there would be no question that it would be feeling. Her stream-of-consciousness monologue was flecked with humor and had no traces of the pretension that is sometimes prevalent in the art world. She joked about how thinking too much gets her into trouble all the time, and that her inspiration comes from going with her feelings, which can be very random and unpredictable. It struck me like a bolt of lightening that my fretful thoughts and worries are counterproductive, as life is as unpredictable as the subjects of Maira’s art. The thoughts and opinions of others (over which I agonize way too much) should be irrelevant to an artist truly following her muse. I believe Maira is much admired for her ability to freely explore and honestly represent that which interests her, and she does it in a way that is unique to her, and yet universal in its appeal. She does all this with warmth and unaffected humor.

During her presentation, Maira put up a slide of her painting of Marianne and her twin sister, done from an old photo, as girls wearing what Marianne told me later were what she considered to be the ugliest sister dresses they had ever owned—yellow dresses with a black stripe. Marianne was flattered and became an instant celebrity to the crowd when Maira introduced her as one of the subjects of the painting.

After the presentation, the crowd lined up at a long table where Maira signed books, and a cake in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday was sliced and consumed. Her original speaking engagement on his birthday had to be rescheduled because of the snow, and those in charge, with tongue in cheek, felt it would be fitting to remember him at this late date anyway. For sale at the Institute during the signing, were tote bags and tee shirts printed with the historic poster of the motto that titles this post. Having heard Maira speak, and despite the double entendre of a tote bag having the motto to “carry on,” I plan to strive to adopt this motto into my life as much as I can muster. Sixty years of perfectionism and agonizing over every little thing will not go away easily.

Our evening ended in a breathtaking townhouse on Delancey Place in the home of two patrons of the Institute who provided a catered repast for the selected guests, us among them, as Maira had invited us to join them. Marianne was extremely moved when one of the guests lifted his sleeve to reveal that he has been wearing the quirky wristwatch that her deceased son, Tibor, Maira’s husband, designed and produced many years ago.

We drove Marianne and Cliff home, all of us thrilled with our serendipitous day. I feel a lot happier now, inspired by Maira, not to think (and agonize) so much over how my life will play out. I will try to respond to life as it unfolds with the motto, “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

On the Road, Again

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Having spent just two full days at home after Passover, we again packed our bags on Friday morning and headed off to Baltimore and DC to take Sami home, help Ari pack, continue to check out real estate in the triangle of DC neighborhood where Ari would ideally like to live (Petworth, Columbia Heights), and retrieve all the stuff we had left behind that didn’t fit into the car. Again, Ari was informed that the bank had decided to sell the shell of a house on which he had vastly overbid to a cash buyer. He also was rebuffed by the seller on his offer for the renovated one which was overpriced by at least $100,000.00. Needless to say, he is greatly discouraged as he must move out of his condo by April 28. Luckily, his company came through and is allowing him to use a corporate-owned apartment temporarily while he searches for new digs.

On our way to Baltimore, we took leisurely Route 1 and stopped at Bahama Breeze in King of Prussia for lunch with Sami and to use a $10 coupon they had sent. After lunch, we crossed the parking lot and browsed a bit at Nordstrum Rack. By the time we arrived in Baltimore, everything was ready for Shabbat dinner. Alex had made miso soup, and tons of beautiful sushi, so much, that try as we might, we couldn’t eat it all, and some of the fish ones had to be thrown away. Dessert was assorted homemade cookies that had continued to linger in my freezer. Ari was able to leave work in time to join us, and we were also joined by Abby, Alex’s friend and assistant from work. Whenever Abby comes to dinner, we laugh until our sides hurt. This time was no exception. I guess it is a combination of the chemistry, the wine and beer, her personality, and the fact that we have not known each other long enough to have heard all of each other’s funny stories. We had a great time!

We spent the weekend in Ari’s neighborhood, checking out every house for sale that could be a possibility. In between, we packed up most of his stuff to go into a storage unit down the street from his condo, in case the search takes a while. On Saturday night, Jess met us for dinner at a Thai restaurant called “Little Spice” that we chose from the Internet, near the Arundel Mills Outlet Mall. We were very pleased with our choice, finding many tasty vegetarian dishes, and plan to visit there again. Afterward, we caught a late movie, Date Night, at the Egyptian Theater in the mall. We all liked this lightweight movie which had quite a few laughs, and was reminiscent of True Lies,” but then we are all Tina Fey fans. We were also pleased to find that our favorite dim sum restaurant, Hollywood East Café, has finally reopened after a year in its new space inside Wheaton Mall. By coincidence, we had dim sum there the very first day that they were serving dim sum and it was just as good as last year.

When we returned home, I had almost missed seeing my dormant amaryllis open up. I had almost thrown the apparently empty pot away, thinking that the bulb had shriveled, but kept watering periodically anyway. My faith was rewarded this week as I made it home just in time to catch the tail end of the spectacular bloom. This week was relatively quiet for me, although Saul is constantly on the computer checking up on his students’ work and grading papers. Meetings after school have kept him late a few days a week, but he is enjoying his classes immensely. Monday evening, we arranged to meet Ken and Randi, who had just returned home from Kauai, at Bonefish Grill to hear some more of their vacation stories. Wednesday, Adele, Roxy and I met for lunch at Wegman’s and spent a few hours chatting.

On Thursday, I attended Faith’s class where we read, and summarized for each other, excerpts from a book about the history and circumstances surrounding the Jewish community in Europe during the time of the crusades. Spending an hour that way is extremely disheartening and makes one wonder about the perverted susceptibility of the human race to the teachings of hate, especially with Holocaust Memorial Day right around the corner, and the resurrection of the horrors of Timothy McVeigh in the news because of the anniversary of the bombing and the chilling tapes of his testimony that have just been released. To lift my spirits, Saul did manage to leave directly after class and we had lunch together at an Indian buffet, Sultan, in a shopping center nearby. Our favorite Indian place, in the same shopping center, Greater India, is now under new ownership and no longer belongs to our friend, Gale. Sultan had a much larger variety of offerings, and the food was good, but it was not presented as beautifully, and the place was nowhere near as clean and neat as Greater India had been.

On Friday, Saul was facilitating a U.N.-sponsored, all-day program at Chestnut Hill College, attended by students from at least a dozen local colleges. When he returned home, about 4:00 p.m. he helped me finish preparing our Shabbat dinner attended by Beth and Larry. We had homemade challah, avocado and cod salad with nachos, homemade smoked turkey split pea soup, which had been hanging around in my freezer since last Pesach, fresh ginger marinated cucumber salad, chicken cutlets with satay sauce, rice with lentils, and kasha knishes that Larry had brought from a local bakery. For dessert, we had leftover cookies again, and I am finally making some progress on emptying the freezer of miscellaneous holdovers. “The iceman cometh” this week to repair my broken ice-maker and the loud buzzing in my Sub-Zero freezer.

Next weekend, we are off to Baltimore/DC again to help Ari with the final packing in preparation for his move on Monday—his stuff to a storage unit, and himself to a corporate apartment until he finds that house out there that was meant for him.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Passover 2010 and Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum

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When Ari, Saul and I arrived at Jess and Alex’s home for the first seder, we were greeted by a sweet vision of sugar-plum fairies in the form of Yona and Izzy wearing the frothy sister gowns that I had nabbed on sale at Talbot’s Kids that Sami and Izzy had worn to Erica’s wedding. Everyone was just putting the finishing touches on the beautiful table setting and we sat down right on schedule to begin our child-friendly, but traditional, service using Alex’s custom-designed, full-color haggadot which had been imaginatively illustrated by Izzy. As always, not only the service, but the food was truly amazing. Our karpas was a vast array of unique vegetable dishes, all prepared by Alex. In addition to the usual crudité, there was homemade guacamole, salsa, baba ganoush, boiled potatoes, hard-boiled eggs and onions, home-cured pickles, Bloody Marys, olives, etc. Alex spurns the usual gefilte fish in favor of an artfully garnished salmon and sea bass appetizer with individually prepared sauces. The horseradish we had picked in our garden was the hottest ever this year! The theme of this year’s seder was a discussion of the contrasts of the different practices and order of the services from those which took place during the Middle Ages.

In attendance the first night were Jess, Alex, Sami, Izzy and Yona; Saul, Ari and me; Elaine and Maury; Aaron, Stacy, Jacob, Lily and Zach; Arnold and Susan; Anne, Aunt Ruth, Max and a girlfriend, Tamara. The second night, Max and Tamara were not in attendance, but we were joined by Larry; Elaine S.; Naomi and Matt, Peter and Nina, and Matt’s friend, Jeff. Larry and Elaine slept over at the house; Anne and Aunt Ruth stayed in a nearby suite hotel in Whitemarsh for two nights; Saul and I stayed at Brookshire Suites across from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore for two nights, and Ari drove home each night. The room rate was very reasonable with a deal from, but we were dismayed to find that the parking was by valet only and was $30.00. Our photos of the seder are very limited as Jess and Alex preferred that there be no photography during the hag (the first two and last two days of the holiday).

For dinner, Alex had also prepared three different soups (very usual for him), traditional chicken soup, lamb, and a beef and cabbage borsht, all delicious. We added his superlative matzoh balls, and my homemade Passover noodles. For dinner, we had roasted turkey, grilled chicken, lamb, beef, a sweet and a savory quinoa pilaf, mashed potatoes with cauliflower, sweet potatoes, asparagus, and my Passover potato knishes. For dessert, we had mocha mousse crepes with strawberry sauce, chocolate almond bars, nine flavors of sorbet, and macaroons and fresh fruit salad brought by Stacy and Aaron.

During our time in Baltimore/DC, we took the opportunity to visit the new Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum of the Smithsonian, which is on the grounds of Dulles Airport, with Anne who suggested it. The experience was beyond our imagination as every type of aircraft, from the tiniest ultralight, to the space shuttle, to a full-size SST, were artfully displayed within the gigantic gleaming hangars that house the collection. The only disappointment was that the airplane on which Saul worked when he was in the navy back in the 1960s, the RA-5C (Vigilante), was not among the hundreds on display according to a docent, who helpfully looked it up in a catalog at his fingertips. I was absolutely wowed by the scale of the space shuttle, Enterprise, (under which I posed) because on a television screen, it looks like a normal-sized aircraft.

During the week, we were informed that Saul’s aunt, Hannah, had died suddenly. We decided to attend the funeral, which was on Thursday afternoon at Goldstein’s in Southhampton, PA, with interment at King David Cemetery in Neshaminy. We spent the day driving the three hours each way from DC. We decided not to attend the gathering at Saul’s cousin’s Elaine’s home following the interment as we would have been too tired for the long drive afterward. There is no shiva during Passover, but the family decided to sit shiva from Tuesday evening through Monday morning following Passover.

On Friday evening, for Shabbat Pesach, Alex prepared, in addition to all the leftovers which were copious, three different types of shawarma (lamb, chicken, and spicy chicken) and a tossed salad with his homemade dressing. I added to the mix of desserts a large matzoh cake meal crumb-topped apple pie that I prepared in a rectangular Pyrex dish at Ari’s house and lemon-curd-filled matzoh cake meal cream puffs. To fill in among Alex’s leftovers during the rest of the week, I made a vegetable soup, topped with additional noodles that I prepared again, a few more batches of Passover rolls, scrambled eggs, and several batches of matzoh brei. Ari went shopping during chol hamoed in Rockville at a glatt kosher Passover store, and picked up additional supplies, such as Israeli chocolate spread, tea, chocolates, and sweet potato cake.

Saul and I left Ari’s house early on Sunday morning so that he could teach a session on the Middle East at the Pearlstone Center where Jessica is the programming director. We had breakfast together with the guests in the sunny dining hall before going off to the sessions. Saul’s session went so well, despite some vehement disagreements between “hawks” and “doves,” that a number of the participants would not let him leave, and the session ran overtime by almost an hour. Then it continued with a few of the guests in the lobby while we waited for lunch to be served. While he taught his session, I picked up some pointers at a chess class that I decided to attend. After lunch, we met Ari in DC just in time to tour an open house that he wanted us to see. As of this writing, Ari has been on tenterhooks, waiting to hear if an offer has been accepted on a shell of house that needs to be gutted and refurbished, and negotiating for a vastly overpriced restoration that he truly loves.

Alex’s sister, Naomi, won four tickets in a lottery to be a guest at the White House Easter festivities, so Jessica brought Sami and Izzy and their other grandmother, Elaine, down to DC for the day. We had decided to visit the zoo first, but the weather was gorgeous and the zoo was so packed that all the parking lots were full and we spent 45 minutes in a line of traffic weaving through the zoo that was eventually turned around and filtered out of the park. Instead, we took the girls to a playground near Ari’s house and had our Passover picnic there. Elaine said that the White House fair was incredible, with tons of activities for the children, including craft projects, and face painting, lots of beautiful food, including fresh fruit, of which they could partake during Pesach.

We attended services, including yizkor, at Chizuk Amuno on Tuesday and joined Jess and Alex for lunch as we prepared to return Alex’s parents to their home in New Jersey, and ourselves back to the northwestern suburb of Philadelphia where we live. During lunch, we were surprised when Jess mentioned that Sami was on vacation from school for the whole week and, on the spur of the moment, we decided to bring her home with us. By leaving a lot of our stuff behind, we were able to cram ourselves into the Prius for the long ride home. After unloading our car, we broke Pesach with a late meal of sushi at a new nearby restaurant, Ooka, for which I had a coupon.

On Wednesday, while Saul was at school, Sami and I went shopping. We had a mission of finding her new sneakers for school as there were gaping holes in the ones she was wearing. We replenished our post-Pesach food supplies at Costco and had lunch there. Then we tried Marshall’s and several stores at Montgomery Mall. We found her great sneakers and Crocs at Famous Footwear and I even got a pair of cute flats half price as a result of a two-fer deal, and some nice solid plain cotton tee shirts at Gap Kids. When we returned, I helped Sami make a sour cream pound cake to take to the shiva at Saul’s cousin Bobby’s house in Warrington. Their lovely home was filled with people. The cousins invited Saul to lead the service at the suggestion of their rabbi, who was Orthodox from Chabad, and feared that he would have to contend with women and non-Jews at the service. Sami had a chance to meet many of Saul’s relatives, most of whom she rarely sees, and some of whom she had never met, including quite a few children with whom she played. We returned the following night with Sami, and Saul led the service once again.