Sunday, August 29, 2010

Headlong and Happy Through August

I haven’t made an entry for a whole month, and reading over the last blog post, I am really regretful of that. My kids always rib me for including so much detail, but I know that in waiting a month to write about it, I will have forgotten details about which I so enjoy being reminded when I read it over. The whole month becomes a blur of happy memories, but without the detail, it is just a blur. Camp Bubbie and Saba has officially ended as of this past Thursday. We were so busy enjoying ourselves, and had so much going on, that I never found the time or energy to write.

On the last weekend of July, Jessica drove in with Yona to spend the weekend with us and visit with the girls. On Sunday, Saul and I dropped Jess and the kids at the pool and went to look at open houses in our neighborhood. Within two hours, a huge thunderstorm developed and we retrieved them just before the downpour began. The last week of July was spent preparing for Ari’s housewarming party on August 1. Each day we made a different hors d’oeuvre or dessert to put in the freezer before going off to Beachcomber for the afternoon. The girls had been keen to see our friend, Faith’s, doll collection, and we were finally able to arrange it on a day when she was babysitting for two of her granddaughters who were born around the same time as Sami. Sami created a scavenger hunt, leaving notes among the dolls for the other girls to follow. This was capped by a birthday cake and ice cream party provided by Faith. On Thursday, July 29, after Saul did a stint at the college for a few hours, and Adele came over to join us in our adventures for the next few days, we packed suitcases for the girls and ourselves, food, equipment, serving trays, etc. and headed off to Ari’s house in D.C. We were all so exhausted by the time we finished unloading the car into both Ari’s house and his new rental apartment below it, that we didn’t have the energy to deal with going out to dinner. We ordered pizza, French fries, stromboli, and gyros to be delivered from a nearby take-out place. Ari ordered the Disney movie, Bolt, for us to watch from Netflix curled up on his comfy sofa. Bolt was the movie that stumped us on Disney Trivia Night at Jake’s in Ocean City, because none of us had seen it. I still haven’t seen it because I fell asleep shortly after it began. The girls, who had both been extremely helpful preparing, traveling, loading and unloading, were very pleased with their day. Adele slept in the apartment downstairs, and was very happy for the peace and quiet.

In the morning, Ari found a bag of Hawaiian taro pancake mix, and I made us all taro pancakes along with strawberries, and scrambled eggs for breakfast. After Ari left for work, we began to organize preparations for the party that could not be done well ahead of time. At lunch time, we headed to Columbia Heights Town Center and took Adele and the girls for a late lunch at The Heights. The girls really liked the food, although not what they ordered. We wound up switching lunches, but we each enjoyed what we had. While Saul and I went into the Giant Supermarket across the street to pick up soda and last-minute odds and ends, Adele waited with the girls while they cavorted in the imaginative fountain that spurts up from the sidewalk. Ari was able to leave work at a reasonable hour on Friday, and was surprised to find us in the throes of some of our cooking downstairs and not quite ready to leave. We were going to be the only guests for Shabbat dinner at Jess and Alex’s, so timing was not totally an issue. The traffic between D.C. and Baltimore on Friday evenings is usually horrific, but we soon discovered that we arrived at almost the same time we would have had we left an hour earlier. Alex had prepared a delicious stuffed veal roast and grilled hot wings accompanied by a salad loaded with fresh veggies from Pearlstone, along with the most delicious, sweet local corn that we had tasted in a long time. We really pigged out on the corn. Yona was now walking by herself a great deal, and we all really enjoyed the reunion of the family. It was a beautiful evening. After kissing the girls goodnight, Saul, Ari, Adele and I headed back to D.C.

We tried to take things easier on Shabbat. Our preparations had gone well. The food we had previously prepared and brought had arrived in good condition. Ari was particularly wowed with our surprise, which had been gingerbread cookies in the shape of his house, decorated intricately to evoke the major features of his house, with his address lettered with food-color marker over the door. A few years ago, Saul and I had ordered a kit which allows one to make custom cookie cutters. Saul had spent an hour or two fabricating one that I had designed. When Shabbat was over, we spent long hours into the night doing the final prep work.

The party, for what we estimated to be about 40 to 50 guests, went very smoothly. We were delighted with our helper, Monty (whose real name is Montserrat, after the city), whom Jessica had arranged from Pearlstone. She arrived early, did everything we asked efficiently, and cleaned up during and after the party. The girls had been very excited about helping serve at the party in order to help out Monty, who needed to keep an eye on the oven downstairs. We discussed it beforehand, and so Jessica dressed them in black and white and provided them with aprons, which made them feel very important. They ran with their silver trays of hors d’oeuvres to the door each time the doorbell rang and practically assaulted the guests until they chose something to eat. They were very proud of helping to prepare everything. As things worked out, most of the family and our friends arrived at the beginning of the open house at 1:00 p.m. and most of Ari’s friends and co-workers arrived after 4:00 p.m., so it never felt like the house was crowded and we were able to socialize in small groups. Julie and Bobbie, who had been at a Phillies vs. Nationals game which went 11 innings before the Phillies won at the new Nationals Park, arrived at the very end just as the last of the other guests were leaving, so we had some personal time to spend with them as well. The day of the party, Yona decided she was now a walker. She didn’t crawl at all through the entire party. Alex made a delicious, fruity, alcoholic punch in a large glass crock that Ari had bought, and that was very popular and kept a lot of people very happy. He also prepared a carved watermelon and fruit salad that was so gorgeous that no one would disturb it, thinking it was a centerpiece. He made a number of other dishes as well. The food was very successful and abundant and some of the leftovers provided a great repast for the following Friday. The girls stayed over on Sunday night. After packing as much as we could into the car, we headed for home on Monday. My work, with deadlines, was beginning to come in, and I was nervous about getting it well underway before leaving for our vacation in Virginia Beach. Otherwise, we would have spent more time in D.C.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I worked on my computer well into the night, finishing up at 3:00 a.m. on Wednesday, but feeling terrific that I could play with Saul and the girls at the pool on Thursday and relax while preparing for my mother’s unveiling and subsequent Shabbat dinner on Friday afternoon. I was greatly worried about the weather. Aunt Ruth, Mom’s sister and an octogenarian, was worried about standing at the cemetery in 90+ degree weather. I also worried about hurricanes and thunderstorms, which we have had in abundance this summer. Family was coming from all over, and I worried about everyone arriving safe and sound and on time. As it turned out, the weather was very hot and sunny, but everyone arrived within 15 minutes of each other. We found a nearby shady tree to stand under while waiting, or we sat in air-conditioned cars for a few minutes. Saul did a very brief (20-minute), but poignant service, covering all the required prayer elements and soliciting words from the participants. After that, everyone rendezvoused at our house and spent a couple of hours before Shabbat dinner socializing and reminiscing. It was a memorable afternoon. Watching all the cousins together with all their little girls of varying ages interacting was beautiful to behold. And the cousins got together and moved Mom’s potentially lethal glass coffee table upstairs so that we didn’t have to worry about babies falling in the great room and creating the kind of facial scar that Jamie received from such a coffee table accident many years ago. I don’t know why I never thought of moving it sooner. Before dinner we used up most of the hors d’oeuvres leftover from Ari’s party—bouchees savelli, mini potato latkes, mini quiche, spanakopitakia, sesame-cheese logs, etc. For dinner, I made strawberry soup; a composed salad with hard-boiled eggs, avocados, cucumber, tomatoes, sweet peppers, and cheese with a hot dressing; vegetable lasagna; cod lamaize; and for dessert we had leftover mini raspberry-topped cheesecakes, mini chocolate peanut butter cheesecakes, mini filled chocolate cupcakes, Presley Bella cake, Yona Rae coconut cake, chocolate mousse crepes with vanilla custard sauce, and fresh fruit. On top of all that, Sami’s actual birthday was Saturday, and she had made her own birthday cake. She and Saul had baked a marble, sour cream pound cake that she improvised while I was at the computer, and later topped the icing with a sugar design with doves that she had made herself.

Saturday afternoon, Ken and Randi, with Presley (they were babysitting while Jamie was training to get a Zumba certification) Jess, Ari, Saul, the girls and I went to the pool and had a lovely afternoon, but when we returned, we learned that Alex’s dad was very ill, so Jess and Alex packed their stuff, taking Yona, and left almost immediately to visit him. I wanted to make Sami’s birthday special, despite the disappointing change of plans. Saul, Ari, Beth, Ken, Randi, Andy (who joined us to pick up Presley) and I took the girls for dinner at King Buffet. Towards the end, Jamie surprised us by joining us for dinner there, too, after her Zumba course had finished. Then, we had two free rides on the carousel in Plymouth Meeting Mall. As it was getting late, Ken, Randi, Jamie, Andy and Presley went home and Beth, Ari, Saul and I bought the girls special credit cards at Krazy City in the mall that allowed them to partake of all the entertainment until closing time. This included arcade games, small amusement park-type rides, rock climbing, a playground area with a ball-shooting cannon, Deal or No Deal machine, water pistol target shoot, motorcycle simulator, etc. etc. At the end, they cashed in the tickets they had won for little prizes. When her mom and dad called, Sami told them it was her best birthday ever!

Ari left for home after a late, leisurely breakfast with us on Sunday morning taking Jess and Alex and Yona as they returned our car from visiting Alex’s parents, and we spent the afternoon at the pool. We were all so tired from our eventful weekend that the girls wanted to stay at home, eat leftovers for dinner, and watch movies in bed for the evening. We didn’t argue.

Because I found the energy to put in hours on my work for the next few days to get caught up, I felt comfortable leaving for the Virginia Beach vacation a day early. My mother’s yahrzeit was on Wednesday, and we decided to head down to Baltimore early so that I would have a minyan at Chizuk Amuno on Wednesday evening. Unlike many of the Conservative synagogues in our Philadelphia area, which have to scramble to get a minyan of ten Jewish adults together during the week in the summer and rarely succeed, Chizuk Amuno had a well-organized and very well-attended minyan in place when Saul and I arrived to say Kaddish. We took Jess and Alex and the girls to dinner beforehand at a nearby kosher restaurant in Pikesville called Accents. Then, we proceeded to D.C. with Sami and Izzy, preparing to spend fun days in D.C. on Thursday and Friday before our shore vacation.

We were awakened very early by one of the most torrential thunderstorms I have ever seen in my life. We were enjoying the sound and fury when suddenly, we began to hear water dripping close by. Water was streaming in from the fire alarm on the ceiling next to our bed on the second floor of Ari’s three-story house. I ran to get a trash can bucket to put under the leak to protect the hardwood floor and began to mop up the water on the floor with a bath towel. I called to Ari, asleep upstairs that the ceiling was leaking. He called down that it was coming in under the door to his roof deck. Within a moment of all that, the fire alarms throughout the house went off sending out an ear-splitting signal. It took us a while to figure out how to get them to stop as they have battery back-ups that powered them despite the short in the electrical system. Ari has very high ceilings, and we had to get a ladder and remove each battery one-by-one until we finally had quiet and the girls could take their fingers out of their ears. Mercifully, the heaviest rain subsided after a few minutes and we managed to staunch the leak at its source.

After Ari left for work, I made the girls breakfast and we went to take care of some errands for Ari, such as picking up a shower curtain bar for the apartment bathroom, as he had rented it and the new tenants were due to arrive that evening. Considering how the water had been pouring in, we were all incredibly relieved to find the sub-ground apartment dry as a bone, especially since the new tenants were driving all the way down from Boston with their belongings in a rented truck and their car. After our errands, we took the girls for lunch at The Heights, where our waiter recognized us from the previous visit. This time, everyone knew what to order. We had promised the girls they could play in the fountain again, but the skies opened up just as we were ready to play. After returning home for a little while to drop off our packages, we decided to visit the National Zoo as the sun was peeking out again. The zoo is near Ari’s house, and is free, so we decided to risk getting caught in the rain. As it turned out, we managed to get in an hour and a half before we needed to leave for Jess and Alex’s house for Shabbat dinner. We especially enjoyed the primate house where the girls sat for a while watching a mother gorilla playing with her baby. We liked the reptile house, too, and when I decided, a few weeks later, to begin reading the first Harry Potter book to the girls, this experience made the episode where the glass disappears in the reptile house especially poignant. As we were leaving, we decided to join the zoo as membership includes free parking and discounts on zoo merchandise. Although entrance is free, parking can be quite pricey. We are hoping to visit a lot.

Ari was not able to leave work in time to join us for dinner in Baltimore, and, at the last minute, Saul and I decided not to take the long trip to Baltimore for Shabbat dinner. Jessica had decided to drive to VB herself rather than try to squeeze all of us and our luggage into one car. From the zoo, we stopped at the Giant Supermarket in Columbia Heights and bought provisions to make Shabbat dinner at Ari’s. With the girls’ help, we quickly prepared a cream of mushroom soup, a tossed salad with thousand island dressing, maple and lime-glazed seared tuna, buttered fusilli noodles, corn on the cob, and for dessert, ice cream. We set up Ari’s new table with tablecloth, stemmed glasses and our Shabbat candles. Ari arrived in time to join us for dinner, and the girls really enjoyed the meal they had helped to prepare. When Jessica joined us in DC the next day, we got a rather late start traveling to VB, not anticipating the amount of traffic we would encounter just outside of DC on our way down. We drove, caravaning in three cars, so that Ari could drive back for work on Wednesday. We arrived with the girls sound asleep and were fortunate to have people meeting us and checking us in, handing us our room keys right at our cars as we drove into the parking lot. Ari had to put his car in another lot, about a mile away, though, because the lot at our hotel was full. Saul followed him there so that he could be driven back to our hotel, although he really wanted to walk. All three girls were so excited to be at the beach, however, that it took us awhile to settle them all in for the night. We had two identical adjoining suites at Ocean Sands, right at the oceanfront, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows looking out over the concrete boardwalk, beautiful beach, and Atlantic Ocean. In the morning, we had a buffet breakfast, put on suits, and headed for the beach.

Our weather was glorious most of the time we were there. Before we left, I had spent an hour or two researching restaurants on, so I was armed with a bunch of $25 and $50 certificates for food that I had purchased for $2.00 to $4.00 on the 80% off sale. One night, we had dinner on the outdoor covered patio of a restaurant overlooking the yachts docked at the marina—Hooks Saltwater Grill. Our waiter was very attentive and efficient and the food was very good. The ambience was priceless. Another night, we had wonderful sushi at an unassuming place where I never would have ventured had I not researched the reviews beforehand—Domo Sushi. A short drive from our hotel, we found the new sister restaurant to the Thai restaurant that had done a cooking demo at Pearlstone for one of Jessica’s programs. Thai Arroy was the most spotlessly clean restaurant I have ever entered. I literally could have eaten off the well-polished floors. The restaurant was almost empty, however, but the food was really exceptionally good. I hope they succeed. If it were in my neighborhood, I would be eating there all the time.

We experimented with breakfast on several days, one day taking a long hike down what the locals call “Beach Street, U.S.A.” to the popular pancake restaurant, Pocahantas. We had a really terrible and overpriced buffet breakfast at Honey Bee. One morning, I cooked us all eggs and taro pancakes in the condo. On the last few days of our vacation, we discovered on the Net that across the street and a little down the block was one of the best restaurants of all. Two houses had been converted to restaurants, one serving only breakfast and lunch, and the other serving only dinner. Neither of these places had a sign, so it was no wonder that we had never noticed them although they were less than a block from our hotel. The only indication that we had found them was a very small sign at the entrance to their driveway showing where to park and giving the names of the two restaurants, Doc Taylor’s and Tautog’s. We had a truly exceptional dinner there, with imaginative and generous appetizers, succulent fresh fish entreés, and irresistable desserts. Once we found this place, sadly on the last two days of our vacation, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner there.

We were happy to discover that Yona liked the sand and surf as much as her sisters. VB provided street family entertainment every night, from excellent magicians, to fire dancers, to jugglers, to singers and musicians. On one of our afternoons, Saul and I took Sami and Izzy with us to play in their pool with the grandsons of Wayne and Pearl, friends that we had not seen in 45 years with whom we had reconnected on Facebook. Wayne had doubled with us on our first date to Olney High School’s Kix and Kapers on May 23, 1964. He and Saul had lived in the same duplex apartment house above a beauty shop around the corner from me. Pearl had been in my Girl Scout Troop #222 in Philadelphia. We spent two pleasant hours trying to catch up with each others’ lives. It was gratifying to see that they had such a wonderful life together, had such great families, and still looked so good. Pearl did not remember Saul at all, and I don’t think Wayne remembered me very much, but we all had a great time finding out about mutual friends we all remembered.

On one day, when it rained, we went swimming in the indoor pool in our hotel, and the girls made crafts at a program there. An exceptional part of our trip to VB was a trip to their aquarium on a rainy day. Next to the one in Monterey, California, it was the best I have ever visited. We purchased discounted tickets at the hotel early in the morning and were there an hour after the aquarium opened. There were many hands-on exhibits that kept the girls occupied. Our prepaid tickets untitled us to a 3D IMax movie about whales and sharks that was amazing. At one point, Sami held up her hand as if to touch a whale that appeared as though it was within arms length. We left shortly after a light lunchtime snack in their crowded cafeteria and were appalled to find a line of several hundred people waiting to get into the museum. We were very glad we had made our last minute decision to visit the aquarium early.

We decided to leave VB a day early to avoid a last minute rush (checkout time was 10:00 a.m.!) and to get Jessica and the girls home in time for Shabbat. We had lunch at our newly-discovered restaurant, Tautog’s, down the street, and Saul and I drove separately from Jess and the girls as we were headed to Ari’s house. Jess decided to take a detour to avoid the heavy tunnel traffic, but wound up going in a circle around the naval base in Norfolk and arriving back at the same place where she had decided to take a detour. After several hours of sporadically heavy traffic, Saul and I had an early dinner with Ari at Café Asia down the street from his office. On Sunday, we retrieved Sami and Izzy and headed home for the last few days of “Camp Bubbie and Saba.”

Saul began his new semester on the Monday after our vacation, and the girls were wonderful about keeping themselves occupied while I worked on finishing up my publications. On Tuesday, one of those gray days when it kept looking like it was about to rain, I took them to the pool anyway, and we discovered that we were the only ones there. After about an hour and a half, it did begin to rain and I was sorry that our last day there this season was so lonely.

Saul worked 10-hour days on Monday and Tuesday so that we could enjoy our last day of camp with the girls and so that we could host Sylvia and her son Elie, Saul’s cousins who were visiting from Israel. On Wednesday, the last day of camp, we took the girls for pancakes at Cracker Barrel. Then we took them to Chuckie Cheese’s to use up all the tokens and tickets we had saved from a previous visit. Our friend, Larry, who had just returned from Russia, met us there with presents for us and the girls including paint-your-own Matrioshka dolls, an assortment of flavored vodkas, and honey in a little bear container for my collection. The girls redeemed their tickets for little prizes.

Later in the day, we arranged for many of Saul’s cousins from the area to meet at kosher Max & David’s Restaurant in Elkins Park for a small family reunion. At dinner were Sylvia and Elie; who had been driven in from New York by cousin Willie; his brothers, Abie and Bobby, who came with his wife, Cheryl; his sister Elaine, Saul, Sami, Izzy and me. Dinner was delicious and the staff very accommodating in this lovely setting. Elaine brought a family album with lots of old photos. Sylvia had grown up in Philadelphia and New York and had been close with the family before making aliyah to Israel as a teenager. After dinner, the men went to Young Israel in Elkins Park where they found a minyan so that they could say Kaddish for their mother, who died a few months ago. We waited in the car with Sylvia and the girls until they finished so that we could retrieve Elie to take him home with us. Saul was driving the two of them to Newark Airport the next day. The most remarkable thing happened after that. Sylvia’s mother had a store in East Oak Lane many years ago, a community right next to Elkins Park. As the sun was setting, at Sylvia’s request, we drove her through her old neighborhood so that she could show Elie where she grew up and went to school. As darkness fell, we arrived in front of the duplex apartment building where she had lived as a young girl. She and Elie got out of the car just after we turned into the street. Just then, an approachable-looking young man came down from the upstairs apartment to retrieve some groceries from his car. Sylvia spoke to him and found out that he did live in her old apartment and she asked him to invite her and Elie inside so that she could show Elie the apartment. And he agreed! The apartment was just as she remembered it, and it meant a great deal to her to be able to see it again and show it to her son. The number of unplanned coincidences that needed to align for all this to occur at just the right moment was truly mind-boggling!

We spent the rest of the evening at home reminiscing, and I took out our family tree, which is emblazoned on a chuppah cloth so that we could clarify some of the ancestors. Then I took out the accompanying book that has a page for each name. Sylvia and Elie began filling out their pages. When we awoke the next morning, we found Elie perusing through the book some more. After we all had a big breakfast of lox and bagels and salads, Saul set out for Newark airport while I helped the girls finish packing up all their stuff. Unfortunately, on the way back from the airport, Saul encountered a tremendous traffic jam. He returned just in time to load the girls’ baggage into the car to head for Baltimore so that we could meet Jessica in time for her to take them to an open house pot-luck supper for the opening event of their Waldorf School year. I spent about six hours in the car that day, but poor Saul was driving from 9:30 a.m. until 8:00 p.m.

Larry and Beth joined us for Shabbat dinner the next day and we marked Beth’s birthday, but after that, Saul and I spent practically the whole weekend sleeping.