Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Coincidence, God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous

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Rabbi Sidney Greenberg used to say this all the time, but if ever I believed it, this month clinched it. Jess had agreed to work in Baltimore at Pearlstone during the days leading up to Veteran’s Day weekend. The girls were off from school and we had previously arranged for me to babysit them at Ari’s home in DC while she took the time to complete some outstanding projects. The previous weekend, Saul and I had traveled down to DC just to have some recreational time with Ari, who has been complaining that we are neglecting to visit him with all the brouhaha that has been going on in Cherry Hill. We spent the weekend just having fun, shopping, eating out, watching movies. The whole family was about to pile in on him on the following Wednesday.

Saul drove us to NJ to drop me off at Jess and Alex’s home so that Jess and I could continue on to DC and I would not have to leave my car there. The idea was to have a quick dinner together when the girls finished their after-school activities and then we would get on the road and Saul would return home to finish teaching for the week and attend some meetings. On the way there, we discovered that our friend Larry, who has not been feeling well for weeks, was about to go to the emergency room on the advice of his doctor. By coincidence, we had just driven past his house and offered to take him there, but he wanted to have his car there in case they did not admit him. When we picked the girls up  from their activities, we asked them what they would like for dinner out. They wanted sushi and Jess mentioned that she had discovered an “all you can eat” sushi place nearby. When we all arrived and were seated, we discovered that seated right across from us were Saul’s sister Rif and her husband Paul. They had just been seated a few minutes earlier. Our families have been estranged for over four years and they had never met Yona, who is two-and-a-half. We invited them to sit with us and we squeezed around the large table we had been given. With no mention of the past, we began to catch up with each other’s lives. Eventually, Jess and I headed off with the girls for DC and Saul remained for another hour in conversation with Rif and Paul. Later that evening, he told us that Rif had asked if we could get together the following weekend when Meredith, their daughter, would be in from dental school. During the week, we were able to arrange it, including Ari. Larry was admitted to the hospital and spent the next few days on an I.V., with no other food or drink allowed, while they administered various tests and eventually began treating him for severe diverticulitis. It still hasn’t been determined if that is really the problem. Other friends took his car home for him.

We had a great time in DC. I stayed at home with the girls on Thursday. The weather was gray and rainy. Sami and Izzy spent a few hours making fabulous and fanciful constructions with a box of Ari’s old business cards, scissors, and Scotch tape. They took long baths in Ari’s whirlpool. We couldn’t find Ari’s deck of cards, so Sami set about making a deck of playing cards out of the business cards and then, created money from more cards so that I could teach them to play poker. We spent a few hours, while Yona napped, playing poker rather successfully considering our homemade materials. Ari ordered a delicious vegetarian Chinese dinner that was delivered to our door just before he, and then Jessica, arrived from work. Jessica had finished her projects in one day and was free to play with us on Friday. Saul arrived on Friday in the late afternoon after his meetings. We found out from a call from my cousin, Anne, that Aunt Ruth had been rushed to the hospital early Friday morning for emergency gall bladder removal surgery. By coincidence, she landed in a hospital room just down the hall from Larry. He was able to look in on her and Anne was able to look in on him.

Since Izzy had been learning about money at school, Jess and I decided to take the girls for a tour of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we had checked hours and tours on the net, we discovered, when we arrived downtown, that the Treasury and most other DC attractions were closed on Friday for Veteran’s Day. After wandering around on foot on an unseasonably cold, windy day, we gave up and went shopping at Trader Joe’s for the provisions for our Shabbat dinner. I waited in the car with a napping Yona while they shopped. Jess did most of the prep work and we had as our main course a huge and varied chicken stir-fry on top of rice. We supplemented this with my homemade chicken soup and dumplings that had been in Ari’s freezer, vegetarian hors d’oeuvres from the store, some of the leftovers from the previous evening, and for dessert, we had frozen slices of banana coated with chocolate from Trader Joe’s.

We visited the magnificent Smithsonian American Art Museum on Saturday, as they were having a Lego League event there for kids, but most of the fun was specifically designed for the participants, not the observers. We happened upon a docent-led tour of the miniature model of the museum and so the girls were able to see all the tiny contents of the various drawers. When neither Saul nor I was able to lift Izzy to see contents of one of the higher open drawers, our docent offered to lift her up. I warned the woman how heavy Izzy was, but she said she was stronger than she looked, and indeed, above and beyond the call of duty, she was kind enough to lift Izzy to see the contents of the drawer. In one of the upstairs galleries, tables were set up with boxes of Lego parts, and we spent about two hours there, as even Yona enjoyed building things with Legos. We returned home for a late lunch of our previous evening’s leftovers. We had great breakfasts together during our stay at both the Metro 29 Diner in Virginia, and at the Tastee Diner in Silver Spring, MD. On Sunday, after breakfast, Saul and I drove directly to the hospital to visit both Larry and Aunt Ruth.

During the next week, I had lunch with Adele and we went together to visit Aunt Ruth. We had a very enjoyable family dinner at the Metropolitan Diner to celebrate my brother-in-law Larry’s birthday. A while ago, I invited our friends, Mort and Elsa, for Shabbat dinner. Saul and I shopped and prepared the dinner together and we had a lovely evening catching up with the lives of our old friends whom we had not seen since April. Larry and Beth joined us, and, at the last minute, Anne and her son Ben. They were coming to visit Aunt Ruth, who had some complications and was still in the hospital. Larry, who was released from the hospital a day or two after our visit, was on a special diet, so we made one of our challot without the usual sesame seeds, Craisins, and raisins and some plain mashed potatoes to accompany the lime and maple steelhead trout that he was able to eat. We made faro with sauteéd shiitake mushrooms. We also made a big composed salad with marinated Greek olives and feta, goat cheese, avocado, etc. and dressed it with a homemade sesame, honey and soy vinaigrette. For dessert, I made the blackberry cheesecake dacquoise that Elsa and Mort had liked so much the last time we went there, and Larry, Beth, and Ben (who is allergic to tree nuts) had Costco pumpkin pie with whipped cream and pumpkin ice cream. Larry slept over and we drove him to services the next day.

During services, our learned friend Michael read Torah in honor of his 75th birthday, delivered a thought-provoking sermon about the lives of Abraham and Sarah, and sponsored a delicious luncheon for congregants and friends. When we returned home, Ari joined us in preparation for our Sunday get-together with Rif and Paul. Together, we drove Larry home in his own car and came back in Ari’s car because Larry was feeling too weak to drive.

Although we were all feeling a bit of apprehension about our Sunday get-together, it turned out to be a really lovely day. When we were seated at our big, round, lazy-susan table at Chez Elena Wu, we discovered that Meredith and Sami had dressed in almost the same clothes, dark blue jeans with a magenta shirt. They greeted each other with warm hugs and excitement. Observing this, Izzy leaned over and whispered in my ear with a mixture of distress and wistfulness that she had no memory of Meredith at all. Our bento box lunches were great, as usual, and we mostly had the place to ourselves. Afterward, we walked a few storefronts down and had frozen yogurt. Then, Jess took the girls home and the rest of us went to visit Saul’s mom at Lion’s Gate, practically across the street. It was the first time we have all been there together and the first time in a year that Meredith saw her grandmother. Sima was in her rolling chaise and was smiling to see us all there with her and seemed especially happy to see Meredith and Ari, although she probably doesn’t have a clue anymore about who we are. She did not seem to be in any pain, as probably the fractures have mostly healed by now. She barely speaks. After our brief visit, we went to Jess and Alex’s house where eventually,  a game of Garfield Monopoly ensued for a few hours between Rif, Ari, Sami, Izzy and Meredith. As the hours passed, Jess ordered pizza, and we had dinner together as well. Saul, Ari and I finally had to leave, as Saul had to get up at six for classes the next morning. Ari worked remotely from our house on Monday as we prepared for our last-minute vacation in Hollywood/Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for Thanksgiving. Ari and I had lunch at Eastern Dragon on Monday afternoon, and then wandered around Costco for a little while until Saul arrived home. We packed our bags and were on the way to DC in our Prius late Monday afternoon. We stopped at Woody’s in Northeast, Maryland, for dinner on the way. That evening, Rif called to say that Lion’s Gate had called her because Sima had begun bleeding rectally rather profusely and would probably need a blood transfusion shortly. On hearing this, we immediately called to order trip insurance. A little later, Rif called to say that she had gone over to Lion’s Gate to see for herself how much bleeding there was and to see how her mother was doing. Her mother had been all cleaned up and Rif was pleased with the level of care. The amount of bleeding had diminished. She told us that she was requesting an increased amount of morphine to keep her mother comfortable and they were able to do this, not by increasing the amount, but by increasing the frequency.

Early Tuesday morning, Saul, Ari and I took a cab to Reagan National Airport where we took a two-hour flight, arriving in Fort Lauderdale about 12:30 p.m. Ari picked up our rental car while we claimed our baggage. We had lunch at a Cuban chain restaurant called “Las Vegas,” and checked into our deluxe rooms at the Crown Plaza in Hollywood. From our balconies, we could see the ocean on one side, and the intracoastal waterway on the other. The rooms were spacious, well-appointed, and had kitchenettes with refrigerators. I had found this terrific deal on Travelzoo as a last-minute Thanksgiving getaway, and Ari did the rest of the planning to give us a great, warm-weather vacation for bargain prices. On Tuesday evening, as we returned from a walk on Hallandale Beach across the street from our hotel, Rif called to give us an update on Sima’s bleeding which appeared to have leveled off. That evening, we took a dip in the infinity pool that overlooked the intracoastal and sat in the hot tub for a while. It was a pleasure to be in Florida with temperatures in the eighties and no mosquitoes at night. After showering, I took a nap, and we went for dinner to a Cheesecake Factory where we ate outdoors.

We spent most of our time on Wednesday at the beach, and Saul got a bit of a sunburn. The 77-degree ocean water was turquoise and as calm as glass. We snacked on junk food we had bought at the Seven-Eleven next to our hotel.  That night, we had dinner at Sweet Tomatoes, a chain that is only in the south, and we have been missing it since our first encounter with it in Orlando over the summer. On Thursday morning, we drove to Hollywood’s boardwalk, which was a beautiful, low-key, two-mile stretch of block-paved promenade. We walked for about a mile and, as it began to get hot, stopped at an open-air, French café for a well-made and very inexpensive ($3.49) breakfast. Saul and I waited comfortably at the breezy table while Ari (who had the foresight to wear a bathing suit to breakfast) took a swim in the warm and tranquil ocean. Saul and I discussed vacationing with the family this time next year and found that an RCI resort (Hollywood Sands) was just down the boardwalk. The business office there was closed, but a nice old lady who was in the pool at the resort invited us to go in and see her apartment. We had intended to spend the afternoon in the infinity pool of the Crown Plaza, but the weather became uncomfortably windy and gray clouds began to form. Instead, we took a drive up to Fort Lauderdale, and then down to Miami Beach. We planned to have a Turkish dinner on Thanksgiving at a restaurant on the beach called “Istanbul,” but discovered it was closing by 4:00 p.m.
So much for our little joke :oP  Then we spent an hour calling a number of places for last minute reservations. We finally found a well-rated place on the beach and made a reservation. When we arrived at Jake’s, the staff had turned the tables upside-down and were playing beer pong. We didn’t even go in, but headed back to the car. Ari began to look for other places that might be open and suddenly realized that we had gone to the wrong place. The place where we actually had made the reservation, Ocean Alley was two blocks away. We had a cozy and well-prepared, non-traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with a congenial waiter, while gazing at the dark ocean. Then, we went to see the movie Descendants, but the first theater we visited was closed. We drove to another nearby that we found open. We all enjoyed it, especially for the locations we recognized in Kauai, but I found it a bit melodramatic.

The weather was a bit threatening on Friday, too. For years, ever since I had seen a documentary about it, I wanted to see the Coral Castle in Homestead, FL. After a good breakfast at a popular diner-type bagel place in Hollywood, we drove the 50-mile distance down to Homestead and toured the Coral Castle. It was very unique and I was happy to have visited there. Saul and Ari seemed pleased that we had made the drive, also. We had an early dinner at Sonny’s, another southern chain, and headed back to our hotel to prepare for our early morning flight home on Saturday morning. We were back in DC by 9:30 a.m. Ari packed an overnight bag and a few minutes later, we were on our way home. We stopped at Hollywood East for dim sum as they opened, and then stopped in Baltimore to pick up hardware at IKEA for my new kitchen cabinet doors that were to be installed on Tuesday. My new beautiful granite countertop was installed at the beginning of the month. On Sunday, we met in NJ to have lunch again at Chez Elena Wu. After lunch, Ari dropped Izzy off at a youth group event at the JCC and went to visit his grandmother before heading back to DC. Jess, Yona, Sami, Saul and I walked down the parking lot to the Rave Theater and saw the movie Hugo. Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that it was a 2-1/2 hour movie. Yona was only good for the first hour and a half. Jess took her out and did not see the end. I loved the movie. Sami enjoyed it very much but was unhappy with changes from the book. Yesterday, Jess came with Yonah to do some printing on my computer and joined us at the Metropolitan Diner where all of the family gathered to celebrate Adele’s birthday. Today, most of the kitchen has been completed and it looks completely different—up-to-date and opulent. The two guys who have done the work are perfectionists. We are thrilled with the results.

Aunt Ruth, who was convalescing at the Abramson Center for the last few days was supposed to be returning home today and her daughter, Jaine, was flying in from Minnesota to help her get back on her feet.

Saul and I went to our IKEA this evening to pick up additional hardware for tomorrow. We discovered that we have 73 cabinet doors and drawers, not counting the refrigerator and freezer handles. That was shocking to me. I never would have guessed there were so many. We met Beth for dinner at Pho Thai Nam. Tomorrow, the kitchen should be finished.

I have invited family and friends for a Chanukah party on the Monday after Christmas. Since the reconciliation, Saul has invited his sister and her family to join us once again and they have accepted. Apparently, he and his sister will soon have to deal with the death of their mother. What are the chances, given the number of restaurants in the Cherry Hill area, that all of us would have decided to show up in the same place at the same time?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Weird End to October

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The very weird end to October this year was a freak snowstorm that dumped inches of heavy wet snow onto trees that were just reaching the peak of their fall color and still loaded with leaves. The result was multiple deaths from fallen trees and power lines, a myriad of car accidents, and many days without power for tens of thousands of people. I fear I lost a number of plants and trees to the frost that I would soon have sheltered in my garage.

The last two weeks have been loaded with activity. We had Yona by herself for a delightful weekend, while the others attended a bar mitzvah in Baltimore. I took out my button box and Yona was quick  to learn how to string them and made herself a necklace. She enjoyed being an only child much more than we thought she would. Saul’s colonoscopy went well and he only had one small polyp that was removed without incident. We attended services at MBI-EE on Sukkot. We spent a day shopping for a dinner for 50 people at the synagogue. Then we spent a day preparing the dinner with our friends, Jerry and Betty, and Natalie. We were so efficient that we finished all our prep and had a day off before it was time to actually serve the dinner. The evening of the dinner, we found ourselves with many adept volunteers and were ready to go an hour ahead of schedule, which gave us all a chance to rest and schmooze a bit before dinner. Beth came early after work and helped with the preparations, also.

Our three granddaughters were here for a weekend while Jess and Alex had a chance to attend a special birthday dinner for a friend at a restaurant in downtown Philadelphia, a rare occasion when they got to interact with all adults rather than the family activities that they have been attending for the last eight years. The girls helped us make dozens of pumpkin-face cookies in preparation for Halloween. We watched movies together. We worked on the dollhouse. We celebrated Larry’s birthday with a Shabbat dinner that included many of his favorite dishes. The girls helped decorate his birthday cake. I had to prepare his dinner a day early as Simchat Torah fell on a Friday this year. On Simchat Torah, we attended services at TBS with the kids, and Saul was given so many honors, aliyot, hakafot, closing the ark doors, etc. that he was embarrassed and refused the last one offered, which was to lead the kiddush prayer. After a luncheon there with the congregation, we headed home with the girls to finish the prep for Larry’s birthday Shabbat dinner. Beth and Faith joined us and Larry was very pleased with the dinner, although he has been fighting some sort of bug for a few weeks and hasn’t had much appetite. We had homemade challah, strawberry soup and black bean soup; iceberg lettuce wedge salad with homemade Russian dressing; seared sesame-encrusted fresh tuna steaks; kasha and bow ties; fresh glazed Brussels sprouts; and a decorated Texas Sheet Cake with Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ice Cream and Ben and Jerry’s Clusterfluff ice cream for dessert.

During the strange blizzard we had this weekend, we lost power for about four hours in the afternoon. Saul spent the time napping, while I polished off a NY Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle—a rare and lazy day spent in occasional wonderment gazing out the window at the huge snowflakes falling onto colorful leaves. On Sunday, Saul and I made several more dozen pumpkin cookies, some of which he delivered to a few of our neighbors. We shopped at Produce Junction to pick up lemons and other veggies and fruits, had a leisurely late lunch, and came home to prepare Etrog-Honey Jelly from the etrogim left over after Sukkot. We really enjoyed cooking together.

On Monday, Halloween, I met Saul when he finished classes, and together we continued to Cherry Hill in one car. We stopped on the way to drop off pumpkin cookies to our friend, Laura, and jars of jelly to the synagogue for Rabbi, Cantor, David and Warren. When we arrived in Cherry Hill, the girls were already in costume and hot and delicious veggie pizzas had just been delivered. Sami was a gypsy, Izzy, the goddess Athena, and Yona a princess. They were flushed with excitement over the wonderful day they had experienced at their public schools in Cherry Hill. Evidently, Halloween is a big thing in Cherry Hill. Although it was still light outside, they had already been visited by many trick-or-treaters. After dinner, Jess, Saul and I set out with the girls as the sun was setting to make the rounds of their neighborhood. Alex stayed home to hand out candy. From the warm welcome parties that had been held for them when they moved in, Jess and the girls already knew a large number of their neighbors and their children. Yona was babbling and squealing with excitement everywhere we went. The girls brought in a huge cache of candy after just over an hour. Exhausted, but happy, we made the hour-long trip home, stopping to drop off jelly to our friend, Faith. Saul and I were both asleep by 10 p.m.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Best Yom Kippur Ever

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Ari and I decided this should be the title of the blog because as this past weekend ended, we all had been having such a great time together that I had a difficult time saying goodbye as we all headed home, knowing that the High Holy Days are now over for this year. Ordinarily, Yom Kippur, which requires sitting in synagogue all day and fasting from sunset to sunset, is not a holiday which I happily anticipate.

On Selichot, as we usually do, we and our friend, Faith, had a late, delicious vegetarian Indian dinner at the Elkins Park branch of the restaurant we had already liked a few months ago, Tiffin. We arrived at MBI-EE just in time for the dessert buffet that preceded the Selichot services. Rabbi Addison had chosen the theme of memory for his sermons during the High Holy Days, since many of the members of our congregation have spent decades in the building from which we are preparing to move. Rabbi asked those in attendance to share their own poignant memories from the past, their first memory of being Jewish, and their most important memory of being Jewish. The personal stories that came forth from some of our congregation were unique and fascinating.

Rosh Hashanah fell on Thursday and Friday this year, the last few days of September. Ari came in from DC on Wednesday evening. The three of us attended services and as we arrived, the skies opened and it poured so hard that the parking lot became flooded. We sat in the car for about 15 minutes rather than have to walk through ankle-high water that flowed like a small creek. As the rain subsided, we were able to circumvent the large puddles. Saul gave the Israel Bonds speech this year. I think he did an amazing job, and the co-president, Lori, told him to save the speech because it was so successful financially that he will probably be using it again next year. Rabbi Addison’s sermon was a continuation on the theme of “memory” which began at Selichot services the previous Saturday night. He spoke about the nature of memory, both in terms of Talmudic views of the subject and clinical discoveries regarding memory in the last few years. He also spoke at length about his father, who passed away this past year, and about how his memories of his father have helped to shape his life and will continue to influence him ethically and morally into the future. He quoted from the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking GlassIt’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward,” encouraging us to use our memories, both good and bad, to advance and expand our lives. After services, the sun had come out and the parking lot was almost dry as we exited. We drove directly to Cherry Hill to have lunch with the family, a cooler full of food in the trunk to supplement the abundance of food that Alex always prepares. Our family tradition on Rosh Hashanah is to begin with brachot (blessings) over dessert and schnapps, apples dipped in honey, and round challot. Highlights of our meal included zucchini bread, glazed salmon, farro with mushrooms, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, salad, and carrot cake. Alex’s mom had stayed over, and had attended services with Alex and Jess. After lunch, Saul and Ari went to visit their mother and grandmother, Sima, at Lion’s Gate. She seemed relatively comfortable and pain-free, despite the fractured femur and shoulder, ensconced in a rolling lounge chair designed so that it would be impossible for her to casually get up and fall again in her state of dementia.

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the congregation was again invited to share memories that had occurred within the building. Again, some very remarkable memories were shared. A 95-year-old member, who had raised her whole family in the 54-year-old congregation, was among the most memorable speakers. Beth joined us for services on the second day, and continued on with us to Cherry Hill for a light dairy lunch of leftovers, and Shabbat dinner. Larry joined us also. While Alex finished preparing dinner, Jess, Ari, Saul and I paid another visit to Lion’s Gate. We wheeled Sima into a more private space and had a pleasant conversation around her as she kept dozing off from the medication. Again, she appeared not to be in any pain and was pleasant and smiling while we were there.

Jess had paid an earlier visit to Simon’s, the kosher meat market which had always provided us all with great provisions in past years. There was an additional advantage. We are now close enough that Jess was able to meet Roxy and me for lunch at Wegman’s on her excursion. As a result of her trip to Simon’s, we had a Shabbat dinner that was heavily protein-laden, with duck, chicken, turkey, and beef stew as entrées. I made a pareve carob cake for dessert. On Sunday, Ari, Saul and I drove to Oaks to look at furniture. We scored big that afternoon, as Ari found six perfect dining room chairs to match his table on special, and Saul and I found a great sofa and chaise lounge for the sitting area of our bedroom, at a wonderful price also, at a store called Mahogany and More.

Saul and I got our flu shots courtesy of Chestnut Hill College on Wednesday, and had a nice buffet lunch together with some of the other faculty members in the school cafeteria. It was the most painless injection I have ever gotten, and luckily, neither of us had any real negative reaction. In the early evening, Saul met with the doctor who is performing his routine colonoscopy shortly. Afterward, we had dinner at Bonefish Grill. Listening to the radio on the way home, we learned that Steve Jobs had just died. Just as we were approaching home, the doctor’s office called to say that Saul had forgotten his driver’s license and insurance card and we had to return there to pick them up.

On Thursday, I worked most of the day on a publication that is becoming due as I had done the rest of the week, so it was mostly finished. When Saul came home from school, we went to look at granite counter tops with an eye to replacing our loosening Formica ones and perhaps, refacing our cabinets. Ken and Randi took us out for an exquisite dinner to belatedly celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary at an incredible little restaurant in Warminster that has to be one of the best kept secrets in the area. Off on a little side street in a residential neighborhood, Augusto’s has evidently been there for many years without our being aware of it. Foodies that we are, we were surprised that this gem has been completely under our radar. Ari arrived later in the evening and worked remotely the next day until it was time for an early dinner, and to shower and dress, before heading off to Kol Nidre services. We had butternut squash soup, seared tuna, homemade macaroni and cheese, creamed corn, and Ben and Jerry’s Clusterfluff (now tamely renamed “What a Cluster!” ice cream with triple ginger cookies for dessert. The services went so smoothly and quickly that, what usually feels interminable, was over before we knew it. The three-hour service had such a wonderful flow and pace that we were shocked when we found that we were at the end, much the way you feel when you exit from a long, but really interesting movie. What a unique synagogue experience!

The long service the next day was not quite as fleeting because of the onset of hunger pangs and sleepiness, but again, it was spiritually uplifting and we experienced a warm and welcoming feeling being surrounded by the congregation. We went home for a while after Yizkor to rest and pack up food to take to Jess and Alex’s to break the fast together. We met them at TBS for the end of the service and to hear the blasts of the shofar, which signal the end of the fast. We sat in the balcony with Elaine, Naomi, Matt and Talia as the lights were lowered and the children congregated at the bimah with their glowing, multi-colored light sticks. We were joined for breaking the fast by Alex’s new high school director and her partner. Saul and I were very happy to be surrounded by lots of friends and family. We have had some very somber and lonely break fasts in recent years because Baltimore was too far away  to allow us to join the rest of the family. For breaking the fast, we had lox and bagels, whitefish salad, pickled herring, cream cheese, assorted sliced cheeses and gourmet cheeses, sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, avocados and onions, olives, artisan breads, fruit juices, coffee and tea, assorted ice cream and homemade rice pudding with whipped cream, carob cake, etc., etc.

Sunday afternoon, we did a reprise of a previous enjoyable Sunday at Chez Elena Wu. Alex joined us, and we again sat at a large, lazy-susan table and had bento box lunches of sushi, sashimi, miso soup, veggie dumplings, tempura, and ginger-dressed salad. The service was as cordial as the last time. Saul had been fighting a cold for several days, and we decided not to visit his mother and risk spreading it. In the early evening, we all went to a sukkah-decorating program and pizza dinner at TBS that Alex had sponsored. Jessica had spent a few days drawing outlines on the outside walls of the synagogue where the sukkah was to be erected. Part of the decorating involved painting in the designs, and we all had such fun doing it, including Ari and particularly Yona. As the sun began to set, and I kissed and hugged Ari as he set off for DC, I realized how sad I was to be saying goodbye to all the togetherness, good karma and fun engendered by this holiday season. Ari was sad to be leaving also, and he agreed that it was the best Yom Kippur ever.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The End of September, Not So Good Again

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Each year, as the High Holy Days approach, our tradition requires that we do some serious soul-searching so that we may soberly reflect on culpable behavior, repent for our mistakes, and try to do better in the coming year. Rosh Hashanah, which begins this evening, represents the hope that the new year will bring all good things to us and our loved ones. The metaphor is that God’s book is opened and we pray that we will be inscribed for life. Yom Kippur represents the sealing of the book, with our future year, for good or bad, about to unfold. Before I began writing this, I looked over last year’s September entry. I had all but blocked out my memories of the High Holy Days last year because of the trauma we all felt dealing with Maury’s death.

Although the holidays are mostly a pleasant time spent enjoying special meals with friends and family, ours have certainly had their share of trauma at this time of the year. I think it began many years ago when Uncle Ed died suddenly in the hospital of an aneurysm following surgery after being struck in the head accidentally by falling debris while doing repairs around the house. Because of a family split, my mother had not spoken to her brother for several years. When she received a Rosh Hashanah card with a personal note asking for forgiveness, she and I immediately went to visit him in the hospital and they made their peace, unbeknownst to any of us, only a few days before his sudden death. We attended his funeral right after Yom Kippur. Saul’s father was rushed to the hospital hours before Kol Nidre many years ago, and Saul spent that evening at his bedside. He required a second round of bypass surgery after that. My mother signed herself onto hospice just a few years ago just as the holidays were approaching. She died late in August the following year. Larry’s parents both died at this time of the year, a year apart. Perhaps it is merely coincidence, because we know so many people, or perhaps it is the serious way in which our tradition at this time of year asks us to contemplate our mortality, but I have begun to feel a certain amount of trepidation as the holidays approach. It is remarkable, also, that as part of our tradition, a person’s death during this season is taken as a sign that he or she were notable among the righteous, and so, perhaps, we walked among angels.

A few days ago, we received a call from Saul’s brother-in-law, Paul, that he had received a call from Lion’s Gate at 4:00 in the morning that Saul’s mother had fallen and that she had fractured her femur and collarbone. He told us that the leg fracture was not bad and that nothing much needed to be done about it except to give her pain medication to keep her comfortable. Collarbones heal on their own. The next day, we had a conference call from his sister, Rif, who had accompanied a friend returning her car down to Florida, and Paul. Evidently, their mother was taken to the hospital and had remained there. Her surgeon was pushing for her to have surgery and gave Paul the impression that it was very serious and that the surgery should be performed despite her advanced dementia. He went to see her in the hospital and found her happily finishing a hearty lunch, moving about in bed freely and not in any apparent pain. Thus began the tearful, hour-long discussion of what to do in this difficult situation. Putting her through the expensive surgery would surely cause more pain and she would not exactly be the ideal candidate for rehab, not to mention that she would forget from moment to moment that she could not just get up and walk away. After a long discussion, Saul and his sister agreed that she should be sent back to Lion’s Gate in the hospice program, so that she would be able to have access to any pain medication she needed to keep her comfortable. Jessica went to visit her the next morning in the hospital and also found her healthy-looking, cheerful, moving about freely in bed, and with a good appetite. She was on pain medication and was feeling okay. Jessica also learned that she had broken her shoulder, not just her collarbone, but the doctor was not recommending surgery for that. The next morning, while the nurse was away from her station, Sima got out of bed and fell again. They did a c.t. scan because she couldn’t tell them her name or what year it is and they did not seem to be aware of the advanced dementia when Paul spoke with them. Luckily, she did not do any further damage. Today, she is back at Lion’s Gate in the hospice wing with an “elixir” of pain medication. Tomorrow, after services and lunch, we will go and visit her there. We sincerely hope we made the right decision, but there is no way of knowing. Before her mind disappeared, she told all of us that she did not want to ever suffer if given the choice. She had seen way too much suffering all her life, especially as an inmate of Auschwitz as a teenager. We hope that this is the decision that will cause her the least amount of suffering and that somehow, the bones will heal themselves in time, or that she will just die a peaceful, medicated death in bed in a place that really has cared for her very well over these last several years.

Like Alex cooking soup last year to deal with the death of his father, I have been busy in the kitchen, compounded by the fact that my freezer needed to be emptied for 24 hours. My Sub-Zero freezer had created huge chunks of ice at the bottom so that my drawers were frozen to the bottom and could not be opened. I spent an afternoon with a hair dryer, and Saul turned off the water to the ice-maker. Since the home warranty we have doesn’t cover ice-makers, we called in the people who had replaced the ice-maker a couple of years ago, First Rate Appliance. They sent a man who told us that there was nothing wrong with the ice-maker and that we needed three parts replaced, the thermostat, and two different types of drain heaters to the tune of $429.30. I gave them a check (big mistake) for $150.00 as a deposit. But then, we realized that we might be covered since it was not the ice-maker, and we called the home warranty people back. They agreed to cover the repair. The new company, that the home warranty company sent, Home Zone, checked it out and told us those parts were not necessary. According to their instructions, I turned the freezer off for 24 hours, sending Beth whatever would fit into her freezer. The man came back and fixed my freezer as he said he would the next day. Now, I will have to try to recover my $150 from the rip-off company.

I made a bunch of dishes to use up defrosted items like phyllo, puff pastry and frozen strawberries that didn’t fit in Beth’s freezer. Some will soon be appearing on my recipe blog. Last weekend, Saul took the fruit down from our two quince trees and I spent the afternoon cleaning and slicing the sink-full of ripe fruit and turning the results into jars of natural ruby red slices packed in light, vanilla-scented syrup. Some of this, in turn, was made into a strawberry, quince, and dried cherry strudel for us to enjoy during the holidays. We also found the time to turn a small sheet of thin copper that we ordered over the net into a copper roof for a bay area of the dollhouse. It looks amazing! I have found that, besides cooking, for some reason, staring at the progress of the dollhouse when I am stressed is a useful way to make me feel relaxed. Perhaps it is the eternal nature of a dollhouse. They get passed down through the generations and allow grown-ups, as well as children, to escape reality into a fantasy world of their own creation.

May all of us be inscribed in the book of life this year so that, come next September, I can write a happier and thankful blog post.

Monday, September 19, 2011

We Launch Into Our New Lives

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We have been driving back and forth from Philadelphia to Baltimore for almost eight years and I thought it funny recently when I spoke to Saul about having lunch at Thai Orchid (which used to be on our way to visit the kids in Baltimore) on our way to see them. The restaurant is not on our way to Cherry Hill. I haven’t quite gotten used to the mindset that they are an hour and a half closer now and a lot more accessible.

We have had some really good times despite the melancholy that reigns sometimes after the girls go home after “Camp Bubbie and Saba.” Saul and I console ourselves with the privileges of empty-nesters, which is to say that we are able to just pick up and go anywhere whenever the impulse strikes and we don’t have other commitments. For the last few weeks, we have had relaxing, last-minute, dinners in restaurants that we like, reveling in our ability to have an uninterrupted adult conversation.

Our 40th wedding anniversary, which occurred at Labor Day Weekend, was a total washout because of my high fever caused by cellulitis. After spending Friday morning at the doctor, and the afternoon at the dentist to see if I had a gum infection, I spent the rest of the day in bed while Saul ate leftovers for Shabbat dinner. I spent Saturday afternoon in the emergency room of Lansdale Abington Hospital, afraid that the rash on my left ankle was due to a reaction to the antibiotic the doctor had prescribed for the fever, Clindamycin. Saul spent much of the time catching up with paperwork and prep for school that had been put off during the summer.

Jess, Alex, Elaine, Saul and I had a conference call with Sami when she returned from her first day at middle school and she absolutely loved it. One of her teachers turned out to be Alex’s camp counselor and was well known to our family as well. Jess and Alex (Ari, Aaron and Naomi, too) went to the same overnight camp as children, but didn’t really know each other then. Sami made two new friends and had lunch with them and was very happy. The next day, when she went to the teacher to explain who her parents were, after school, she missed the school bus as he enthusiastically hugged her and told her she looked just like her mother. Jess had to pick her up. Izzy was equally happy about her new school and friends. Yona had a few days before beginning her new day care.

The following weekend was such a wonderful, impulsive, and enjoyable one that we have been pleading with Jess and Ari to institutionalize it so that we can do it once a month from now on. Saul had to be present for Team Children in the morning. I was speaking to Ari on the phone while Saul was there, and we decided that it was such a beautiful day for a drive that we would meet on the Eastern Shore at Harris’s for a leisurely late lunch by the waterside. Then, we spent the evening browsing in the Queenstown Outlet Shopping Center, where I found some great buys on outfits that I love for the holidays. By 11 p.m., we arrived at Jess and Alex’s house and visited with them for an hour. We left Ari’s car in NJ and he drove us home in our car. We were in bed by 1 a.m. In the morning, we spent a little time schmoozing, a little time shopping, and then we drove back to NJ to meet Jess and the girls for lunch. We had intended to have lunch at the Afghan restaurant that we had enjoyed a few weeks ago, Ariana, but when we arrived, we found that it is only open for dinner on Sunday. That particular strip mall had a number of other ethnic restaurants from which to choose—Indian, Mexican, and Chinese, as well as a coffee shop and pizzeria. We chose the Chinese because, as usual, the girls wanted sushi, which was available there. The restaurant Chez Elena Wu, was a great and pleasant surprise for us. We weren’t expecting much, given the impromptu nature of our visit, but we loved it so much we can’t wait to return. We all had bento box lunches. The menu provided for a wide range of choices of soups and entrées and everything was delicious. The miso soup was exceptional, as were very delicate and flavorful vegetable dumplings, and the best ginger salad dressing on the crisp salad that I have ever had. The fresh and expertly made sushi was prepared by a sushi chef as the girls watched. Even the tea was a cut above the usual with a nice smoky oolong flavor. The tempura veggies were light, crispy, and ungreasy, as they should be. The glazed salmon was a hit, too. Also included in the bento box lunch was a California roll, which was the usual, and a big scoop of good steamed white rice. Everyone loved their lunches and we ate everything. We had the whole, nicely-appointed and exceptionally clean restaurant practically to ourselves, a boon with small children. The seven of us sat at a lazy susan table, which was very convenient. Our waiter was also unfailingly attentive, and polite, and was very understanding of our requests.

After lunch, Jess took the girls shopping for a cell phone for Izzy. Saul, Ari and I visited Saul’s mother at Lion’s Gate, which is across the street. Saul has been very antsy about going there. We were supposed to visit the previous Friday when I got sick. His mother no longer recognizes any of us, probably doesn’t know who she is anymore, and doesn’t remember that we have been there five minutes after we leave. While she is always smiling and content when we visit, it is a shock to see her this way, and it leaves Saul, especially, disconcerted and sleepless for a few days. We had not been to see her for several months, and Saul was worried that perhaps she was suffering and we would not know. The visit this time put that fear temporarily to rest, at least. She was pretty much the same as the last time. We went to her room and found that she had many baby dolls, both boys and girls reposing there. She had been carrying a boy doll when we arrived and added a girl when we visited her room. When we left, she was positioning the two dolls on the chairs where we always find her when we visit. Other residents were playing bingo with a staff member when we left.

We parted after a rendezvous and brief visit back at the house in NJ. Ari drove back to DC over a much more pleasant and shorter route than when he comes to visit us, and we drove home, stopping for a brief shopping foray at IKEA in Plymouth Meeting.

Wednesday, we met Ken and Randi for dinner at Bonefish Grill. On Thursday, Jess asked us to meet the girls’ school buses and pick up Yona from day care and some time in Alex’s office. She left early in the morning to spent the day working at her job at Pearlstone Center in Baltimore, and Alex had tons of work preparing for the beginning of the school year. I drove to CHC and met Saul after school and meetings and we drove over to NJ together to meet the girls. There was a special program from Izzy’s school at Springdale Farms. Jessica told us it was a harvest festival. I took a Zyrtec when I discovered from the flyer that it involved a hayride (hay fever :P), corn maze, and cider with warm donuts. Just as we arrived with the three girls, the outdoor temperature dropped suddenly about 20 to 30 degrees and a gale-force wind began to blow, followed a few minutes later by heavy rain. As Alex arrived to meet us with jackets, we had just enough time to finish our donuts and cider and go home. Izzy was very disappointed. Alex made the girls dinner as Saul and I headed for a dinner on the road and then home. On the way back, I snapped a photo of the most beautiful sunset I have every seen in my life as we headed over the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia. The photo, which I took as an afterthought from the car window, a little too late, doesn’t begin to do it justice.

My brother was hospitalized on Thursday when, during a routine checkup, he complained of pains in his leg and it was discovered that he had a large dvt (deep vein thrombosis) at the top of his right leg and two smaller clots in his lungs. My dvt ten years ago was in exactly the same place. He was released on Saturday morning, once his blood had been thinned enough to a safe level.

Friday, I had a doctor’s appointment for my yearly checkup. Before we left, I poached pears and made the dough for the first of the year’s round challot. On the way back from the doctor, Saul and I stopped at CHC to pick up my car from the day before, at Impact! to drop off a bag of unwanted clothing, at Babies R Us to pick up a gift for Jamie’s “sprinkle” on Sunday, and at Trader Joe’s to pick up some odds and ends, and then went home to finish preparing dinner. We were joined at Shabbat dinner by Larry, Faith and Beth. Dinner was homemade challah, homemade guacamole with multi-grain chips, beet borsht with warm boiled potatoes and sour cream, seared sesame tuna, homemade potato salad, buttered steamed asparagus, and a warm, sautéed pear dessert.

On Saturday, we went to synagogue. The day marked the end of the shloshim (30 day mourning period) for the father of our baal korei, (Torah reader) David, and his sister, Atarah. It was, coincidentally, the end of the shloshim for Atarah’s husband, Ira, who had lost his mother. We attended a Shabbat luncheon, sponsored by the bereaved, at which David delivered a shiyur (study session) in memory of his father.

Sunday morning was Jamie’s surprise “sprinkle” or little baby shower. She had been in a minor car accident earlier in the week in a loaner car while hers was in the shop, and had been hospitalized overnight as a precaution because her air bag had deployed. Randi and Haley managed to pull it all together for the party. Jamie had begun having some contractions the night before, but got through the party okay. Ken, Andy and Saul (who was kind enough to drive Adele, Beth, Erica and me to the party in Delaware) hung out at a sports bar for a while during the party. Ken was feeling a bit under the weather, too, but managed to get through everything okay. On the way back, we stopped at the tax-free Costco in Delaware to pick up a few items.

Jess and Alex’s devastated house has begun to come together nicely. The outside pipe was repaired this week, and her powder room and foyer are just about complete. The replacement flooring is curing at her house, ready to be installed in a few days. The girls each have their own rooms which they are settling into nicely, and a playroom where they spend most of their free time. It was a blessing that they all had great experiences with school from the beginning. Ari is becoming more comfortable with his new job and is settling into that new routine. Neri has begun his military service. Saul’s new school year got off to a shaky start with lots of cancellations for flooding, but now is kicking into high gear. Our paths and patterns have changed, hopefully for the better, in a way that will bring us all closer together.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

My Attempt to Catch Up with the Last Three Months of My Life

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This is the longest period of time I have gone in several years without writing a blog post. My life has been so full and hectic that my journal has gotten away from me, and I have missed writing it and feel like a delectable portion of my life has somehow escaped, although heaven knows I have really enjoyed almost every moment of it. I had started writing a post the day after Neri’s graduation from AHA, but never finished, so I have included that part and continued on with what I can remember from there…
Since my last blog post, I attended the end-of-year party for Faith’s class at the lovely home of longtime class member, Ellen. Ellen’s kitchen has just been refurbished and was done beautifully. About 20 class members attended, bringing a delicious and varied assortment of potluck dishes—everything from salads to desserts. With her usual aplomb and literacy, Faith took us through some of the intricacies of life during the period of the Jewish expulsion from Spain. We spent some time discussing the life of Hannah Mendez, a fascinating and powerful woman of that time. Years ago, I read the Naomi Ragen book, The Ghost of Hannah Mendez, which is an exciting fictionalization of her life. I adored the novel! Saul arrived home late from his first day of teaching summer session at CHC, and we headed out to visit our friends, Ruth and Giora, in their new home in New Jersey. Because we got off to such a late start, we encountered a tremendous amount of traffic during rush hour. Finally arriving, we were delighted to find them very well settled into their magnificent and spacious new place. They had finally sold their previous home in a 55-and-older community which had strangled them with restrictive policies and invasive regulations. We discussed our lives, children, and plans for a satisfying retirement and fulfilling old age (we hope!).
My son Ari’s “little brother,” who was three years old when Ari was a high school junior at American Kibbutz High School in Israel, graduated from high school, after a year on a basketball scholarship, in Greensboro, North Carolina, from the American Hebrew Academy (AHA). Needless to say, we racked up even more miles attending the ceremonies. Neri’s mom, Efrat, had come to the U.S. a week early so that she could tour for a while. Saul, Ari, and I picked her up at Newark Airport on Sunday, May 22, and she stayed with us for a week while Ari returned to DC, and Saul taught summer session. Her English was quite good and we managed to communicate, with the addition of me throwing in a lot of my Hebrew nouns. I know the names for lots of things, but can’t speak a word because of my lack of ability to use verbs. I had lots of computer publishing work to do at the time, so during the mornings she took long walks around the neighborhood, learned about the working farm museum (Roth Farm) across the street, and met the farmer and his wife. In the afternoons, when Saul was finished, we visited shopping malls, toured downtown Philadelphia, including Chinatown, visiting The Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Zoo. We took her to our favorite, kosher, vegetarian, dim sum restaurant in Chinatown, Singapore, where the Chinese proprietor, Peter, whom we have known since he opened his doors 25 years ago, greeted her with a “Shalom,” and surprised her with his knowledge of Judaism and Israel. Although the kibbutz where she resides is totally secular, she eschews pork and seafood products and was disgusted by the idea of a Philly cheesesteak. She was very conservative about trying new foods here. She seemed very interested in suburban landscaping, habits and lifestyle, which are very different and very isolating compared to the social nature of life on the kibbutz, even a kibbutz which is no longer officially a kibbutz and has lost many of the communal habits of the past. We had a great time together, and, because of her questions, I did quite a bit of soul-searching about aspects of my life that I just take for granted.

Neri’s graduation was quite an experience! We drove with Efrat down to DC on Friday after Saul’s last summer school class, (Efrat and I waited for Saul in his office at school and toured the college a bit), rendezvoused at Jess and and Alex’s in Baltimore for Shabbat dinner, and stayed with Ari for two nights, touring DC, before driving to Greensboro, NC, on Sunday for the graduation on Memorial Day. We arrived early in the afternoon on Sunday and were absolutely amazed by the beauty of the campus, which was designed by architect Aaron Green, who was hired to create the campus using organic architecture, a design philosophy conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright in which local building materials are used, and buildings are integrated into, and become part of, the natural landscape. We were impressed by the quality of the faculty and students that we met, and were hosted for hors d’oeuvres in the beautiful, on-campus, home of one of the Israeli faculty members’ family before the awards presentations the evening before graduation. After the awards, we dropped off Efrat and Neri at a nearby country club for an evening of festivities with the graduating class families and retrieved them later in the evening, after we had dinner together at a nearby barbecue restaurant, Smoky Bones, returning to our hotel rooms with Efrat and Neri. We attended graduation the next morning after breakfast at the hotel, checked out, and had lunch in the school cafeteria. After that, we jammed everything that Neri had accumulated during his year in the U.S. into the back of the SUV and began the long 5-hour drive back to DC. We stopped along the way to have dinner at a Cheesecake Factory in Fair Oaks, VA. The next day, Saul and I drove home, while Neri and Efrat spent the following 10 days with Ari in DC until it was time for them to return to Israel.

We met on the morning of Friday, June 10, at the house on Imperial Drive in Cherry Hill that Jess and Alex were supposed to be buying and moving into immediately. What happened that day fatefully impacted the rest of the summer and ultimately our lives. It was like a family reunion that day. Present for the home inspection were Saul and I with the three girls, Jess and Alex, Alex’s mom Elaine, Efrat, Neri, and Rochelle, the real estate agent. We were all excited about the house and the ease with which everything had finally fallen into place. After the inspector left, all of us had a wonderful Shabbat dinner at Elaine’s in Cranberry, NJ. Ari returned to DC and Efrat and Neri returned home with us so that we could drive them to Newark airport for their flight home to Israel that Sunday. Neri was due to start his mandatory three-year service in the army a month later. When we returned from the airport, Jess arrived with the three girls and their summer wardrobe to begin “Camp Bubbie and Saba.”

Camp Bubbie and Saba began early this year, on June 12, and ended late, on Thursday, September 1, when Jess arrived for lunch with Elaine, Alex’s mom, and helped to finish packing up all their stuff from the summer. An hour after they all left, I came down with 103° fever which eventually turned out to be from cellulitis caused by a mosquito bite on my foot that I received on our last evening together. Sami had asked if we could go to Owowcow for ice cream. She had gone there earlier with us and Ken and Randi without her sisters, who had gone home for a few days. We had delectable ice cream sitting outside in the dark, in the country, at picnic tables. I am just now recovering from the ordeal, but the memorable evening was worth it.

This was Yona’s first year of camp with us, and we were a bit limited in our activities by the lack of attention span of a two-year old and her tendency to have monumental temper tantrums. When she was good, though, she was very, very, good and it was a source of delight and wonderment in watching her encounter new experiences for the first time. The weather was iffy the first few days and we launched the summer with an exciting visit to the Crayola Factory and lunch outdoors at a café down the street, which left us and the girls in a great anticipatory state of mind for the rest of the summer.

We were to have three full weeks before our family vacation in Orlando began. During that time, we spent many days at Beachcomber’s Swim Club, visited The Franklin Institute, baked and cooked together on rainy days, worked on the beautiful dollhouse that was given to us by our friend, Natalie, and often visited the big castle playground where Yona could sit on the swings for hours. Just by chance, we were lucky enough to be there on the one day each summer when the fire department shows up for an hour or two to create a giant, moving, arc of water for the summer day camp kids to play and cool off under. We all got soaked, gladly, on a scorchingly hot and humid summer morning, and followed that with water ice at Rita’s.

Two major problems colored our summer darkly this year. The home inspector discovered, on June 10, that the beams underneath the house on Imperial were rotted and that the all-brick house would have to be jacked up and the beams replaced. Beth, our extremely competent family engineer, strongly advised against getting involved in this procedure, pointing out all the things that could go wrong. Thankfully, we had retained a wonderful real estate lawyer, recommended by our cousin, Anne, who helped us out of the deal and was a blessing when it came to dealing with all the complications that followed as Jess searched to find another satisfactory home. It was crucial to Jess that they be moved in somewhere in Cherry Hill in time for Alex to begin his new job on August 1, and for the girls to be registered to start school in September at the schools they would actually be attending permanently. Considering the housing situation right now, that would have seemed to be a snap, but as it turned out, became quite complicated. One house that they wanted had a tenant who could not move out in time, one that seemed to be available in time turned out not to be and the owners would not negotiate on their high price, one on which they put a deposit, turned out to have been sold the day before, unbeknownst to the realtor, one that was just about to go on the market needed too much work. With each passing encounter, hope diminished and time seemed to be running out. In the midst of all this, we began a two-week Orlando vacation. Jess found the house they wanted days before we left. Rushing through everything, we were assured that all our paperwork was in order before we embarked on our long drive. As it turned out, each day of our vacation was spent scrambling to provide some other piece of paper that the mortgage company suddenly decided was necessary. Thank God for email and pdfs! We did not find out for sure that the mortgage was approved until the day before we were to return home.

We had an incredible vacation in Florida. We stayed in the house next door to the one in which we had been staying two years ago when we had to cut our vacation short to rush back to Mom’s bedside as she began “actively” dying. It backed up to the edge of Summer Bay’s lake and so provided great privacy and beautiful sunset views as we used our in-house pool. The weather was mostly sunny for the whole two weeks, and we were lucky enough to have a few days where the temperatures were high eighties and low nineties as opposed to the usual high nineties. The girls, as last time, reveled in the craft programs at the clubhouse down the street. The huge wading birds that we fed last time were still in evidence and Sami would look for them every day and rush out to feed them bread crumbs. We found some great restaurants and had delicious and unique breakfasts at First Watch, and a variety of dinners at seafood, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese and Thai restaurants. We also discovered a chain called Sweet Tomatoes that was perfect for our family, and was only a 15-minute drive from our house. It was a buffet with incredibly fresh and organic local produce and salads, house-made soups (at least two of which were vegetarian), specialties and baked goods, including gooey brownies that were to die for and real ice cream (not the cheap soft serve), all for an incredibly cheap fixed price. We happened upon it when Anne flew down for a few days to join her son Max and his friends for the final space shuttle launch at Cape Canaveral. They had won tickets in a lottery. We all met there and gorged until we couldn’t move. The servers there couldn’t have been nicer, as well.

We bought three days worth of tickets to Disney World and saved money by not buying park-hoppers this time. Each day, we visited a different park, but did not go to Animal Kingdom as we had been there many times before. We first went to the Hollywood Studios park because it is the least-crowded of them all. This time, we avoided the parks on July 4, and were glad that we did. Our wait times were not terrible and we were able to see all the major attractions before we were too hot and tired and needed to return home. On the day we went to Epcot, the weather was temperate enough, and we found enough places to rest and rejuvenate that we were able to spend the entire day there without returning home. We had a nice, sit-down dinner by the lake at an outdoor table in a British-themed restaurant as the sun set and the fireworks began. We visited areas of The Magic Kingdom where we had not ventured before, catching some new shows as well as a retro one in a revolving theater that has not changed since I saw it at the New York World’s Fair back in 1964. Everywhere we went, Izzy was in her glory because she was finally tall enough for all the wild rides. Sami, who was fearful at first, began to enjoy some of the wilder rides, too. I was mortified when I dropped my new sunglasses as I got into one of the cars on one of the most popular new rides with a long, long line. They fell in such a way that they jammed, upright, in a tiny crack between the moving sidewalk sections. The ride was shut down for a few minutes while a mechanic was consulted about whether it was safe to continue operating. They decided it was safe and left the sunglasses there because the mechanic could not figure out how to extract them and needed to wait until closing before trying to figure out how to remove them without damaging the machinery. I hope it wasn’t as bad a problem as it looked to be at the time.  Although I was practically tearful in my apologies, and I know I caused great difficulty, the people managing the ride were as pleasant and cheerful as could be and were apologizing to me for not being able to retrieve my sunglasses. On our day at The Magic Kingdom, we went home in the afternoon for a brief nap, and returned in the evening for additional rides, a light dinner and fireworks.

The three days at Disney in the heat were enough for Saul, me and Alex. Jess and Ari spent a day at Universal Studios, especially to check out the new Harry Potter park. They loved it. Saul and I took the older girls to the splash park at Summer Bay a few afternoons when they grew bored with our own little pool. Summer Bay also had a great July 4 fireworks display, which we could see close up by just walking to the end of our street. By taking a wrong turn one evening, on our way back from a restaurant, we discovered a Disney employee parking lot where we could just pull into the back, find a good spot, and watch the fireworks from The Magic Kingdom whenever we felt like taking a short drive. A few times, Saul, Ari and I went prowling for real estate nearby. Hearing the statistics about the number of foreclosures in Florida cannot begin to approach the dismal reality of driving through certain developments there. There are incredible bargains to be had, but it is difficult to know which newly-built developments will become tomorrow’s slums. We had a great time in Orlando, and we hope someday to be able to take family vacations that way on a regular basis.

The other problem that clouded our summer was our air conditioning at home. Two weeks before we left for vacation, our top-of-the-line, four-year-old system ceased to work. We paid over $9,000.00 for the system and it has never worked properly from the first day. We won a lawsuit in small claims court this year against the original installer, J.A. Smith, but had to drop it when we discovered that we could not answer an appeal ourselves without a lawyer. We hired a lawyer and paid him $600 to answer the appeal, but then dropped everything when it appeared that the lawyer’s fees would run more than the $3,100.00 we had been awarded by the court. Our trusty people at Renaissance kept putting us off. Josh had broken his hand and had more work than he could handle. I told them that if the system was not fixed by the time we returned from vacation, I would be going elsewhere. We also called customer service every day for a week at Lennox, who made the system, and emailed them. They finally returned our call when we threatened to get a lemon lawyer to represent us. (The lemon lawyer, btw, would not touch a case for something so small as a $9,000.00 HVAC system.) Lennox finally sent three engineers, who spent three hours evaluating the system to figure out what was wrong with it, but refused to speak with Josh at Renaissance because he was not a licensed dealer. Then they sent a report, which arrived late, after we had already left on vacation, saying that the system had been installed improperly, could be fixed, and that they would not honor the ten-year warranty because of the improper installation. They supposedly listed everything that needed to be fixed. We returned home from vacation to some of the hottest weather this area has ever seen—over 100 degrees for over a week and in the nineties at night. We had air conditioning from our other 18-year-old system, in our bedrooms at night, but staying in the rest of the house was unbearable, and it was even too hot to go to the swim club. Josh did not get the system fixed in time, and we contacted our home warranty company about the problem. The home warranty company sent, at our request, a Lennox-certified dealer to look at the system (Alpha Mechanics). When he was done, I had little confidence that the problem would be fixed in any kind of timely manner. He wasn’t sure that he was a Lennox dealer to begin with, spent an hour on an automated phone system trying to speak to someone at Lennox and then was kicked out of the system, and he gave me no indication of how long it would take to get it fixed. In desperation, I found a highly-rated HVAC company on Angie’s List and called them that evening. I was willing to pay almost anything to get the system fixed promptly. Sila sent a rep within hours. We met with him that evening and he promised to have the system up and running within two days. A workman arrived the following afternoon and said that he would have the system up and running by the time we returned from a synagogue event welcoming Jess and Alex to the community that evening. Saul helped him fish some wires through the walls and we gave the guy dinner before we left so that he could continue to work until it was fixed. Later that evening we received the distressing call that he was not able to fix it, that it would cost almost $2,000 to fix, or they could install a new Lennox system for $9,000. If we fixed it for $2,000, they would only guarantee it for two more years. We slept uncomfortably on the dilemma that night and I decided that there was no way I would ever buy another Lennox product. Saul paid them $1,500.00 for the seven hours of work and parts. Later, when we complained in a report on Angie’s List, they agreed to settle for $750.00 and returned our money once I took down the bad report.

To salvage what we could of Camp Bubbie and Saba, we packed our suitcases and moved down to Ari’s in DC where we had fun for a few days visiting the Smithsonians, the National Zoo, and playing with Legos and other building toys at the National Building Museum, while I wrangled with the problem, explaining my dilemma for two hours to a sympathetic ear at Angie’s List. They were very helpful. In the end, we had to rely on the company that the home warranty had sent originally. A few days after we returned home, they sent an experienced guy, who fixed the problem in two hours for the cost of our deductible. Amazing how many thousands of dollars can fly out the window if you take a wrong step in one of these matters. We purchased a contract with Alpha Mechanics to service our HVAC systems from now on.

Jess and Alex were able to make settlement relatively smoothly and move into their new house a week before Alex was due to begin work, as they had hoped. And the girls were registered for their schools in Cherry Hill in a timely fashion, which had been Jessica’s one goal in all the uncertainty. There were quite a few bumps. Jess had the beautiful hardwood floors refinished before they moved in, but the refinishers had failed to cover the air conditioning vents while they were sanding. For two days, Jess had no air conditioning until it could be fixed. The plumber who came to fix a leaky pipe and install a new high-efficiency washer and dryer had to be called back the same day when the air conditioning guy punctured a plumbing pipe that had been run through the air conditioning vent. Then all hell broke loose when a clog developed from the tree roots on their heavily wooded lot invading the pipes. Raw sewage backed up and ran out of the toilet in the powder room contaminating large areas of the dining room, laundry room, office, and most of the powder room. Half of the newly refinished hardwood floors had to be removed, and the drywall in those rooms cut halfway up the wall and replaced. The beautiful breakfront from Saul’s mother was a total loss because it was standing in sewage for a day, and Jess also lost the vanity from the powder room. Within a month, her new house was to be totally ripped apart. Luckily, homeowners’ insurance is paying for most of the repairs and replacement, except for the replacement of the sewer line that runs from the house to the street. Jess and Alex have to pay the several thousand dollar cost of replacing the line, but once it is done properly, they will never have a problem again.

On top of all that, Hurricane Irene hit and knocked out their power. Their sump pump stopped and their basement filled with four inches of water. They bailed for a few hours until the power came back on  and the sump pump finished the job quickly.

We did have a few good weeks. Before all this happened, we had a lovely Shabbat dinner there, joined by Beth and Larry. I helped the girls bake a spectacular coconut cake for dessert, and they spent a few hours making figures for the top out of marzipan, a substance that Sami recently discovered at the supermarket. I realized when she asked me about it that it is the perfect medium for her creative urges. As we carefully packed the cake for the journey to NJ, Beth made a comment about how great it would be if it collapsed because we could just dig in and have a big hunk before dinner. She was hungry. We were all shocked when we opened the box that she had been very prophetic. The cake had collapsed in such a manner as to be beyond repair. Beth did get to eat a big hunk before dinner with her hands and so did Larry. Izzy had a temper tantrum when Jessica interrupted her attempt to take a big bite before dinner. Luckily, we have before and after photos, so the work on the marzipan figures has been preserved in some way.

On July 24, Elaine had Maury’s unveiling, over which Alex ably officiated. About three dozen friends and family members gathered on a wickedly hot Sunday morning. Afterward, we had lunch together in a private room of a nearby Bertucci’s.

Additional highlights of our summer: Pajamarama at Barnes & Noble; Kids Concert at the Abington Art Center; seeing Spy Kids in 4D; new Smurf 3D movie with Yona on my lap; an earthquake that struck while Saul and I and the girls were having lunch with my friend Roxy on the second floor of Wegmans, (ironically, Ari, who, in DC, would have been nearest to the epicenter in North Carolina was away on business in Southern California); driving to Ocean City, NJ, to dip our feet in the ocean for an hour and then a few days later, just before Hurricane Irene struck, taking the Sami and Izzy there for a glorious afternoon on the beach, giant slices of pizza for dinner, rides at Pirates’ Cove, and ice cream at Kohr Bros.

When we were teenagers, we used to go to the beach for a day because we couldn’t afford to stay overnight. In describing this to the girls, we became aware that they had never been to the beach for just a day, and that they didn’t realize it was within the realm of possibility. They absolutely loved their day at the beach and showered happily when we got home very late as I had demanded even though they were dead tired and half asleep.

We had free carousel rides for Sami’s birthday at Plymouth Meeting Mall and dinner at King Buffet. We found great food including a huge bowl of vegetarian udon at the upscale food court in King of Prussia Mall, and the best gelato ever. Yona loved pink kitchen at Pottery Barn Kids there just like her sisters always did. The synagogue and the neighbors in Cherry Hill were wonderful in welcoming Jess and Alex to the community. We celebrated a special birthday for Beth at an incredible party/barbecue prepared by Erica and Adele. The girls met lots of the Cherry Hill neighbors and kids at parties held for them, and lots of families and kids from the synagogue festivities. We discovered a new favorite ice cream place, Owowcow in Ottsville. The girls learned how to install real ceramic tile by installing a glass tile floor in their dollhouse. They made wonderful kiln-fired ceramics at Beachcombers, and learned lots of new art skills.

We had an incredible summer, despite all the tensions and upsets. Ari started a new job which he seemed to like very much and went on vacation for two weeks with us between jobs, so at least there was no tension there. Everyone stayed healthy until the very end, we bonded with Yona, and we created wonderful memories that are sure to last a lifetime! What more could we ask?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Whirlwind Weekend as the Mileage Piles Up

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Saul gave his finals the first few days of last week and then spent a whole day Wednesday rushing to complete his paperwork and get his grades in so that we would be free to spend Thursday in Phoenixville at the Kimberton Waldorf School with Sami. A number of Waldorf schools get together each year for an Olympics-style competition. Jess and Alex could not attend because of work schedules, Jess had late evening duty at Pearlstone for a conference on Saturday, and they had a black-tie, late night wedding to attend for Alex’s cousin, Lisa, on Sunday night. Because of all that, Jess asked me if we would take all of the girls for the whole weekend and Saul and I agreed.

Thursday dawned absolutely beautiful and with ideal temperatures for an outdoor Olympics competition. The Baltimore Waldorf fifth grade was bussed down and arrived at Kimberton about 9:45 a.m.  Saul and I arrived about 10:30 after an absolutely gorgeous 1-hour drive over country roads and through an old covered bridge to the picturesque school setting on the other side. Climbing a hill with our shaded folding chairs, and crossing the field past a burning Olympic torch, we found that we had just missed Sami’s javelin toss, one of her better events. According to her teacher, her form was beautiful. The next few events that we witnessed were not so good, as Sami is one of the worst runners we have ever seen. Because of this, she was terrible at the long jump, not getting any momentum at the end. She was the only left-handed discus thrower on her red-tunic-clad team (Sparta), but sent the discus a respectable distance. Despite her inability to run quickly, her team won the final relay race of the day. She was also quite good at wrestling, a sumo-type event where the weight and size-matched opponents locked hands and tried to push the other out of a chalk ring drawn on the grass. Gold and silver medals were only awarded to the two top-scoring competitors of the day. Everyone else received a beautiful bronze medal, congratulations, and a hand-shake. Delicious powdered sugar-covered butter cookies were distributed from baskets at the closing ceremonies. A spirit award was given to a boy and girl on each of the four teams—a laurel wreath with which they were crowned. A Greek-themed lunch was available for purchase in the school’s lunchroom and was quite good— spanakopita and Greek salad with feta and olives. We sat at a table with Sami’s friend, Acadia, and her parents, and the father of another Baltimore Waldorf classmate, Jacob. The navigator took us on a slightly different route home which was even nicer than the drive there. When we arrived home, Beth called, and Sami invited herself next door to visit. She came back with a beautiful acrylic painting she had done there of Hobbs, Beth’s new Cairn terrier, painted to look like a lion.

Jessica arrived with the other two girls already asleep late that evening. Yona awoke and gave her a hard time going to bed, but finally, after about a half hour, all of us were asleep. Yona woke first in the morning, followed by Izzy and then Sami. I toasted bagels and made Sami hot oatmeal and eventually we all breakfasted, watching children’s television. Jess left early to pick up her mother-in-law and sister, Shirley, to look at some more houses in Cherry Hill. She is so overwhelmed right now with the upcoming move that she forgot to take Yona’s car seat out for us to use. Leaving Saul to babysit, I went to Costco in the afternoon, buying us a new one, purchasing a few items for dinner, and picking up a hot pizza for lunch. Our guests for dinner on Friday night included Faith and her son, Jon, and granddaughter, Hilary, and Larry. Beth stopped in just for a few minutes to say hi as Paul is still recovering from his surgery. We had homemade challah, homemade chicken soup with mini bow-tie noodles, hummus with chips, tossed salad, and sesame-flavored brown basmati rice. My right arm has been very achy for a week now that I overdid the gardening, vacuuming, and sweeping, so while I went to lay down for a while while Yona was napping, Sami and Izzy made oatmeal-peanut butter-raisin cookies for dessert. They cooperated beautifully according to Saul, and the cookies were great. They also made tiny individual challahs while I was braiding the dough. Faith brought perky salmon-colored gerbera daisies in a bouquet, and Larry brought each of the girls a stuffed animal.

Saul tried on his full ceremonial regalia for the girls to see before he left for commencement at the college, which took the entire day. He left about 11 a.m. and did not return until 5:30 p.m. The girls and I just hung out, watching videos, playing games, and doing crafts. I gave Sami and Izzy two pairs of old panty hose, an old pillow, a button box, and my sewing kit. They each made a stuffed bunny rabbit. We ate leftovers for lunch and dinner on Saturday.

On Sunday, we cleaned up the house, made beds, did laundry and ate lunch. Erica decided to join us with Brenna for an afternoon at The Franklin Institute. She followed us downtown with Sami and Brenna in her car so that we could continue on to put the girls to bed in Baltimore afterward. We all had a marvelous time at the Institute. The girls made paper, went through “The Heart,” played with static electricity, water, sand, sports apparatus, did puzzles, climbed through and over tubes, and generally were running around and active all afternoon. When the museum closed at five, we headed for Baltimore. Not having had any snacks all afternoon, the girls were ravenous as we searched for a place to have dinner that would be quick and child-friendly with vegetarian choices. We reached Christiana Mall in Delaware a little before six, but The Cheesecake Factory there had a half-hour wait. We settled on Ruby Tuesday, around the back of the mall, because it has a salad buffet. It was practically empty and the hostess was as slow and clueless as they come. Our waiter saved the day, though, by making excellent suggestions and bringing out a constant stream of dishes as they were ready. In addition to the salad buffet, we ordered what turned out to be a big bowl of creamy artichoke and spinach dip with warm chips that kept everyone satisfied. Izzy took the leftovers to school the next day for lunch, and Yona thought it was a delicious soup. Our waiter brought us warm chip refills, lemonade refills, cheesy hot biscuits, and perfectly cooked pasta with chunky marinara for the kids. Saul and I ordered two different fish dishes, trout and mahi, and both were quite adequate. By the time we had finished, however, more than two hours had passed and we still had a long drive ahead of us before we could put them to bed. The ride was a real nightmare for a good portion of the time as we encountered a thunderstorm, torrential rain that was blinding as we crossed the Susquehanna River with tractor trailers on all sides. Of course, this was the time that the girls decided to get difficult until I lost my cool and read them the riot act. It worked! Within a few minutes of singing “calming songs” after that, they were all asleep. The rain ceased on the last half hour of the drive, and they all settled into their beds as soon as we arrived. Jess and Alex returned from the wedding in DC a few hours later, and we decided to take the shorter drive to DC instead of going home rather than chance encountering more rain in the dark while we were tired. We spent the night at Ari’s house and in the morning, cleaned up, watered plants, hung up some of the artwork that he had framed, and put a dimmer switch on his dining room lighting.

That evening, Ari was expecting Menachem and Liz, Alex and Jess’s friends from Berkeley, California, who had been invited to the White House for a luncheon with President Obama. They were unable to find a hotel room anywhere near DC, so Ari was delighted to put them up for two nights and pick them up from the airport. Menachem, who was Alex’s best man at his wedding, is a rabbi in Berkeley. Alex, Jess, Menachem and Liz had all been in the joint program at JTS undergraduate school together.

We left Ari’s house on Monday and decided to stop in Baltimore on the way home for a few reasons. We knew that Jess is now working from home on Mondays and thought she might be able to lunch with us, and Sami had left her Kindle in the car under our umbrella stroller that we had used for Yona in the museum. When we arrived, Jess and Alex, who had just stopped home to have some lunch with Jess, were just sitting down to lunch. Our attempts to reach Jess by phone that morning had failed because Alex had set their phones to mute during the wedding the previous evening. Alex ate his lunch and went back to work, and Jess decided to join us for lunch. We had a relaxing and satisfying vegetarian Thai lunch nearby, and were glad to have the opportunity to just have a long, quiet conversation with Jess without distractions from the kids. Our ride back home over the scenic route was untroubled and relaxing. We were glad we had spent the night in DC.

Tuesday and Wednesday have been full staff development days at CHC for Saul. Tomorrow, his summer school classes begin. Tomorrow is also the last class of the year for Faith’s class and, according to tradition, will be followed by a festive luncheon, which this year is at Ellen’s home. I’ve been trying to take it easy the last few days because my right arm is still achy and getting pins and needles occasionally. Despite overdoing things by picking up Yona, it seems to be a little better each day. Tomorrow evening, we are invited to have dinner with our friends, Ruth and Giora in New Jersey. We are really racking up the miles on our new Prius, but enjoying our new toy very much.