Monday, December 13, 2010

Two Great December Weekends in Baltimore/DC

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We had planned to spend the first two weekends of December in Baltimore/DC. The first weekend fell during Chanukah. Saul had a luncheon meeting at CHC on that first Friday, so we were not able to leave on Thursday afternoon as we usually do. I wrote the previous blog post at Saul’s office desk while he attended the meeting, and we left directly from school. Saul’s meeting took hours, and, as it turned out, taking the fast route over I-95, we arrived in Baltimore at sunset, at the exact same time that Ari arrived after work on Friday. We lit the Chanukah candles together on the family’s new chanukiah, which they had all participated in crafting. Sami and Izzy made some teeny tiny dolls that were to be added later, which Saul photographed before candle-lighting. My favorite is the baby with pacifier and teddy bear. We lit the Shabbat candles, and together, we helped put dinner on the table. As usual, dinner was ample and delicious. Prepared by Alex ahead of time, we had great soup, salad, warm challah, good wine, chicken, potato latkes (which I had made earlier and frozen) veggies, rice, and my leftover desserts, including the pumpkin pie we had forgotten on Thanksgiving, which we put into the warm oven, and which was so good that Ari and Jess said they would never eat pumpkin pie any other way. We left Ari’s car in Baltimore and went back to DC together.

During the weekend, we revisited China Garden for dim sum, previously the scene of a frustrating early-afternoon meal with our cousins, this time, arriving at 11:30 a.m. as our waiter suggested. The food and selection were exceptional on this particular weekend. We then stopped at Ari’s office nearby to drop off some cookie packages for his co-workers, and then had a very inconvenient time as Ari accidentally left his keys on his desk when we left. The security guard would not let him back into his office to retrieve them even though she had seen us enter and leave the building. We even needed to go through a security check with her so that she could enable our car to leave the parking garage. Luckily, we had keys to Ari’s house, and he had an extra key to his car in his briefcase at home. The panoramic views in the photos above were taken from Ari’s office window as they will be moving to a building on the other side of the river shortly.

We also had breakfast at the classic Capital City Diner that, at the cost of two years of battling with DC’s licensing red tape, came to fruition as the result of two men with a passion refusing to give up their dream. The place was so tiny, and so crowded, that we decided to sit at the counter just about two feet from the griddle where two Asian ladies were furiously at work turning out classic Southern breakfasts. The Trinidad neighborhood around the lot where the diner had finally come to rest was a bit sketchy, but we were encouraged by the class of people going in to eat. We were not disappointed, as the food was good and reasonable, and all the people working there were extremely personable and pleasant, even funny, despite the very close quarters in which they work. Afterward, Ari said that he felt that he had partaken of an authentic experience from the past that is not widely available anymore, and we were glad we had chosen to sit at the counter. I highly recommend the malted waffles and pancakes.

From there, we returned Ari’s Comcast boxes as, in desperation, he finally contracted for the same satellite dish services as Jessica. The lines to return the boxes were, surprisingly, incredibly long there—a final insult added to the injury of countless service calls which did not fix his problems. He is sorry he did not change over sooner, as he is now thrilled with the number of channels available through DirecTV and the new reliability of his wifi service from Clear. On this occasion, he was delighted to be with his old dad because there was a much shorter line available to senior citizens. On the way back home, we decided to stop and meander around DC’s aged Florida Avenue Market, a huge complex of dilapidated buildings, outdoor flea markets, hole-in-the-wall novelty and electronics stores, and loading docks akin to a combination of Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal and 9th Street Italian market areas. We didn’t buy anything, but Ari now knows where he can obtain all sorts of unusual foodstuffs, such as double-yolked eggs by the dozen, super jumbo eggs, whole fresh-caught fish of every type, and ethnic specialties of many nations. The complex is eventually due, like our Reading Terminal, to be refurbished and polished as a tourist destination. The girls had playmates over on Sunday, so we did not spend a lot of time with them on this particular weekend. After traveling back to Baltimore with Ari to pick up his car, we took the leisurely trip home on Route 1.

This past week marks the last full week of Saul’s department chairmanship at CHC. It was very full, but we managed to get in a few extra experiences, also despite the fact that the weather has turned suddenly frigid. At the beginning of the week, all I wanted to do was sleep. I guess the unexpectedly cold weather put me in hibernation mode. Saul and I went to Metropolitan Diner on Monday night for a light dinner of soup and sandwiches and were delighted with the delicious choices and price. We had been planning to get haircuts afterward, but both of us were exhausted early and went home to bed. On Tuesday, again, we only wanted to be out of the cold and under the nice warm down comforter. Wednesday was the last night of Chanukah, and I had forwarded an email that I had received to Ken about a Texas Hold’em tournament at Gimaro that evening. Randi was game, and we all decided to have dinner there on a coupon and register for the complimentary poker game afterward. Beth joined us for dinner only as well. The deal is that a group called River Chasers gives you chips with which to play at no charge whatsoever. The winner of the tournament gets $100 in cash. The top five winners, based on points, have a chance to win a trip to the Borgata where they can win up to $10,000 in cash prizes. We could tell that there were a number of regulars at our table who follow the games around to various restaurants, but since it wasn’t costing us a cent to play, we were very relaxed about it. Randi lost all her chips fairly early. Saul, Ken and I played for about two hours before I lost everything on a pair of fives in the hole, and then Saul lost everything on a pair of aces in the hole. Ken played for an additional two hours after we left, with Randi nodding off by his side. Ken came in fifth, and the nice guy, Damian, who was sitting next to him at our table, came in second. About 50 to 60 players had started. When they registered their full names with the man from River Chasers who supervises and manages the tournaments (we had only exchanged first names at the table) the guy who was sitting next to him overheard his name and was flabbergasted. It turned out that Ken, who had never met him in person, had, through his employment agency, placed him in his engineering job alongside Andy, Ken’s son-in-law. He asked Ken if he could hug him, so grateful and happy was he with his job, and Ken obliged. Needless to say, it was a very pleasant evening which left all of us feeling good on various levels, although I can’t imagine having enough time or inclination to follow the games around to various restaurants. Saul and I lit the last Chanukah candles when we returned home, always a poignant time for us as we remember his father’s tear-stained face as we lit the last Chanukah candles he knew he would ever see. He died the next afternoon after having had two sets of bypass surgeries, over time, and eventually losing both legs to diabetes. He died after a long period of decline at home in bed. On Thursday evening, we went to TBI to say kaddish for him. I attended Faith’s class on Thursday morning, where we continued to study Maimonides and, this week, discuss his 13 attributes of faith.

On Friday morning, we had a date in small claims court where we are suing the company that improperly installed and serviced our very expensive, high efficiency, Lennox HVAC system back in 2006. It wasn’t until this past fall that our new guys discovered that the cause of many of our problems over the years was that a wrong part had been installed in the thermostat from the beginning. The hearing was frustrating and upsetting because the judge informed us that he only is willing to read the top page of the evidence that we were asked to submit and seemed to expect us to have every fact, figure, and date pertaining to the case available off the top of our heads. Our new heating guy, Josh, and his wife, Sheila, who had done us a favor by taking time away from their business to testify on the technical aspects, were as unprepared as we were, and were extremely upset at the implication by the owner of our previous HVAC company, that they were not nearly as competent as he. I hope the judge was able to read between the lines (at least) and understand the huge expense, aggravation, and inconvenience we have been put through over these last four years. If not, at least we were able to return some of the aggravation, inconvenience, and grief to the owner of the incompetent heating company. After the hearing, for which we were allotted one hour, we gave Josh and Sheila a cookie package, and headed out to Baltimore.

Stopping to get Izzy’s car seat from Jess, we continued on to pick up the girls from Waldorf at the end of their school day. They each, in turn, expressed great joy at seeing us there, very gratifying to both of us. This week, Jess made Shabbat dinner, as Alex in his professional capacity was asked, at the last minute, to be present for a dinner involving future bar and bat mitzvah parents at the synagogue. We had an early dinner, as Ari had to work late and could not make it to Baltimore. We had two of Alex’s pareve soups from the freezer, pumpkin black bean, and what Jess calls “bornisht,” cabbage borscht without meat. “Nisht” means “not” in Yiddish, and borsht is a type of Russian soup, so the name is a pun meaning “not the usual borscht with meat.” She baked pre-made, store-bought, challah dough that is a fund-raiser for the synagogue school, so we had warm challah and honey for our brachot. She made shell pasta with butter and parmesan, and kosher fake crab (surimi) salad with avocado which is one of Alex’s specialties. For dessert, we had warmed pumpkin pie that I had brought her a while ago from Costco, and which she had frozen. The pie did not seem to suffer from the freezing, as I had thought it would, and was delicious topped with ice cream and whipped cream. Again, as the timing worked out, we arrived at Ari’s house in DC at exactly the time as he did. Saul and I were up bright and early the next morning and back on our way to Baltimore to hear Sami read Torah in front of her class. Ari slept in. The class was delightful and her teacher, Abby, conducts a lively, informative, and interesting service. She asked Saul to do hagba at the end of the Torah service, and it is the only time in my life that I have ever seen him struggle to lift the Torah. It was one of the heaviest ones he has ever encountered, and unbalanced to boot, because most of the parchment is rolled around the left etz hayim (wooden roller around which the parchment is rolled) at this season of the year. In addition, the table on which it reposed was a regular table and about a foot lower than the usual platform on which it rests on the bimah. I touched the left etz hayim briefly when services were over and I don’t know how he was able to even budge it. After services, we had a light luncheon at the synagogue together in honor of their December birthday people. Saul and I then headed back to DC. After I took a nap on Saturday afternoon, Saul, Ari and I had a delicious and surprisingly reasonable Thai dinner at a restaurant that is new to us in Arlington, Sawatdee, and saw the movie, Red, at the nearby movie theater. Red, which has a lot of really big stars in it, like Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Richard Dreyfuss, Morgan Freeman, and John Malkovich is a far-fetched story about retired C.I.A. agents that is reminiscent of The Over-the-Hill Gang, and enjoyable in exactly the same suspend-disbelief way.

On Sunday, Saul and I were up by 6:30 a.m. to pack up and head out on a gloomy, rainy day to Baltimore once again to chaperone for Izzy’s Hebrew school class chartered bus trip to the Baltimore Science Museum. The program is designed specifically to address the lunar nature of the Jewish calendar, about which they have been learning. During the planetarium show, the calendar pages that included the Hebrew months of Cheshvan, Kislev, and Tevet were projected onto the ceiling with the various phases of the moon included and the pertinent holidays noted. Afterward, the children were ushered to a room where they constructed movable paper sundials. The adults, in a separate room, had a discussion of Rosh Chodesh, led by Sami’s teacher, Abby. Each parent was given a beautiful color certificate with their child’s name in Hebrew and their individual birth date, both on the Gregorian and on the Hebrew calendar. Sami had an after-Hebrew-school program on Sunday, so Jess, Izzy, Saul and I had lunch together at Panera, while Alex took a napping Yona home so that he could watch a football game. Eventually, we were on the road again, racking up the miles in the murky, cold rain to return home. But both weekends were delightful and definitely worth the trip. Thanks to the Prius, the trips are much less expensive than in the Pilot. I just wish we lived closer, but at least both kids are within a few hours driving distance on the East Coast.

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