Monday, February 28, 2011


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It feels like a tremendous amount of time has gone by since I last posted. I barely remember everything I wished to write about, but at least some of the photos will spur me on. There were really good reasons not to write. I had a major hard drive crash and Saul, with all his finagling, could not even get my computer to boot up with an external drive. We made an appointment to take my baby to the Apple Store in King of Prussia Mall the next day, and not even the gurus there could do anything with it. As it turned out, I had to wait almost a week before it was back on my desk again. Both the hard drive, and a temperature-sensing cable had burned out, and the store did not have the cable in stock. I have a time capsule attached, so I fretted the whole week until I knew for sure that we would truly be able to restore my data. That part worked like a charm, thank God! During that week, data for two large jobs began to pile up and I worried also that I would not have time to get them out of the way before all three girls come for the next ten days while Saul is working. After that there are only a few days left before we leave for Kauai for ten days. Once my data was restored, my keyboard stopped working and had to be replaced. I lost a day that way and I can’t even describe the level of discomfort that caused. Then, my fonts disappeared and we decided to upgrade my page layout software. Thankfully, in the last three days I have spent many hours fruitfully, and I have finally gotten those jobs to the point where I am comfortable again. I really love the upgraded InDesign.

We have had a couple really great weekends in Baltimore/DC and I tried not to let the anxiety get to me. The first weekend of February, Izzy and Sami had a birthday party sleepover for 12 girls…

Since I began writing this post two weeks ago, more time has expired and I am struggling to get it posted so that at least there will be one entry for February.

To continue, the birthday party was adorable—six of Izzy’s friends for her actual birthday on Groundhog Day, and six of Sami’s friends for her half birthday because it was the first time since August that Jess was able to assemble six of her friends to sleep over. Since the party activities included nail polishing and cake decorating, I made a nail polish bottle cake surrounded by 14 gingerbread hands with icing-polished nails so that each girl could decorate her own hand cookie. They had a blast decorating them with food coloring markers, extra icing and candy decors. Each hand was as unique as the girl decorating it. We also supervised while each girl rolled her own sushi and made her own personal pizza. During the party, Ari took Yona off to a quiet place and tried to put her to bed. We had brought Alex’s mom, Elaine, along for the weekend, along with my sister, Adele, so there were plenty of adults to help out. According to reports the next day, most of the girls actually went to sleep during the night.

One of our goals for spending the weekend in Baltimore/DC was that Ari’s furniture was delivered that Friday while he was at work, and that went as smoothly as could be. The two guys who delivered the massive wall unit and bedroom furniture were extremely competent, helpful and pleasant. The furniture looks beautiful and fits perfectly in the rooms. They left us enough time to get to Baltimore for a birthday tea for Izzy in her first grade classroom at Waldorf. With the leftover gingerbread from the hand cookies, I made gingerbread stars for Izzy to share with her classmates. Her teacher made a pretty china potful of tea and we all sat around and shared stories about our favorite memories of kindergarten before school ended for the week. Ari left work a little early on Friday so he could see the furniture and joined us in Baltimore for one of Alex’s amazing Shabbat dinners where we were joined by Alex’s sister Naomi, her husband Matt, Alex’s brother Aaron, his wife Stacey, and their three children, Jacob, Lily and Zach.

During the weekend, in addition to the activities of the birthday party, we took Adele on a driving tour of DC, and walked through the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. The day was chilly and soggy. By the time we took our short walk back to the car, we were shivering and damp and decided that the rest of the day’s activities should be indoors. We spent hours contentedly wandering in the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum. Ari bought Izzy and Sami art books from the delightful selection in the gift shop there. Izzy’s came with red/blue 3D glasses and was designed with special backgrounds and markers to enable her to make 3D drawings and doodles. Sami’s was a blueprint for creating 3D architectural models from folding and cutting white paper (sort of advanced origami). Adele mentioned that she loved a good diner, so one day, we had a delightful breakfast at the Metro 29 diner. Waiting to have dinner at a Cheesecake Factory in Bethesda, we were treated to a bird’s eye view of about a dozen couples, dressed for the occasion, doing the tango in the central atrium of the mall—one of the special events for public participation hosted weekly by the mall.

Sunday afternoon, before heading home, we all went to Johns-Hopkins University to meet our cousin, Anne, and watch her son, Max, win along with his team, in a fencing tournament there. The girls were very fascinated with the outfits, protective gear, foils, and electronic tethers. They especially loved helping pull up all the blue tape boundary markers from the large gymnasium floor and rolling it into a big ball for disposal. I had never been up close and live in a fencing match, so it was a great learning experience for me as well. Our drive back on Sunday evening was pleasant, but very tiring after all the weekend’s activities. Elaine’s little puppy, Shana, got along a lot better this time with Jess and Alex’s dogs.

On February 10, Saul’s birthday, a Memorial Lecture was given by Alex at the Princeton Jewish Center in memory of his father, Maury. Traditionally, Chevra Kadisha (Jewish burial) societies everywhere hold a dinner on the seventh of Adar (according to Bible interpreters, the traditional date of the death of Moses). Maury was a founding member of the Chevra Kadisha society in Princeton. I went to Faith’s class that Thursday morning, and later in the afternoon, Faith joined us for the dinner and lecture in Princeton. The whole family was welcomed warmly and made to feel at home by the heartfelt hospitality of our hosts. The dinner was ample and beautifully planned. Alex gave a wonderful d’var Torah and spoke eloquently of his meaningful Jewish family life with Maury. Afterward, Saul and I took the girls home with us and put them to bed as Alex needed to be back in Baltimore the next morning to help prepare the festivities for the beginning of the writing of a brand-new Torah at Chizuk Amuno. While Saul attended a rare Friday meeting at CHC, the girls helped me prepare dinner to take to Baltimore for Shabbat. Alex was putting in so many hours that he would not have had time to prepare. We took a tray of stuffed cabbage, black and white rice, leftover vegetarian meatballs, Israeli salad, homemade challot and pareve chocolate cake. Jessica defrosted some of Alex’s yummy soups. Alex had a rare opportunity to relax a little before dinner. We got into a terrible traffic jam on the way there and spent an extra hour on the road. After dinner, we took Sami and Izzy to DC with us so they would be out of the way until the launch on Sunday. After a quick breakfast at home the next morning, Ari and I took the girls to the National Building Museum where a special architectural Lego exhibit was being held. Saul stayed behind because he had many papers to read to catch up with his school work. The four of us spent hours among the tens of thousands of Lego pieces constructing our own buildings. Ari and I worked on a gray, black and white asymmetrical design which we never finished because Izzy realized suddenly that she was hungry and we were so into our design that we had not realized that two hours had gone by. We walked a couple of blocks to the Sushi Go-Round and had sushi there, seated at a counter where plates of sushi pass by on a conveyor belt and you grab whatever looks interesting. After that, we toured some parts of the National Gallery across the street that we had not seen with Adele, such as the folk art exhibit. Throughout the museum, docents are stationed to provide hands-on experiences for kids with something called “art a la cart.” At the first station, the girls were provided with cameras and props and learned about camera angle and perspective. They were shown examples of an artist whose specialty was unusual perspectives. Then they were supposed to arrange their props and camera angle to get an unusual perspective. Their photos were printed for them on the spot. At another cart, they were given found objects, like bottle caps, shells, and stones to arrange in three-dimensional fashion within a flat box. At another, they were handed sample pieces of driftwood and bronze treated to look like driftwood for a giant modern art horse statue. After a few hours there, we picked up Saul and drove to Silver Spring to see the 3D movie Gnomeo and Juliet, sort of cute with a few good laughs and nice Elton John music, but the kids just said “ehhh.” We had dinner across the street at a Chinese buffet that was handy, cheap, not too crowded, had a huge selection including unusual food that we have never seen elsewhere, but was of dubious cleanliness. It must have been okay because none of us got sick. The girls were happy with their sushi… again.

The program for the Torah-writing was amazing! The synagogue was teeming with as many people as the cavernous sanctuary holds on Yom Kippur. The first people to write the initial few letters walked down the center aisle under a series of chuppot, each held aloft by four congregants with poles at each corner of the tallit. There were people stationed at various places, including the balcony, who blew multiple shofarot, a spine-tingling sound when they are all on cue together. The obligatory speeches were interesting, and not overly long. A choir, composed of about 200 adults and children who barely fit on the ample bimah, sang a moving and harmonious “Lechi Lach” by recently-deceased Debbie Friedman. Large projection screens on either side of the bimah allowed the entire audience to see, first-hand, the flow of ink onto parchment as the hand of the sofer (scribe) guided each writer in the completion of a previously outlined Hebrew letter. Finally, there was an incredible, beautifully-presented, banquet for hundreds, perhaps over a thousand, congregants, with live music and dancing. It was a great celebration of a momentous occasion, and probably the only time in my life that I will get to see a Torah begun. I was very proud of my son-in-law, Alex, who had worked behind the scenes tirelessly to make sure that everything ran smoothly. We left afterward to begin the long ride home.

The next few days, I worked tirelessly to almost complete both publications that had deadlines before the girls were due to arrive for a week here. My computer was finally behaving and I loved the new upgraded software I was now using. On Thursday, I attended Faith’s class, having gotten my work under control. Saul decided that it would be easier to meet Jessica and pick up the girls directly from his school rather than coming home to pick me up first. I used the couple of hours to put in a supply of food from Costco and the supermarket so that I would not have to take the girls out myself during the week. I especially purchased lots of supplies for baking vast quantities of hamantaschen. The girls’ Waldorf School puts on a Purimshpiel every other year, and Jessica volunteered to arrange for the hamantaschen. Others were supposed to help, but I think we probably baked enough during the week to supply the whole school. Sami and Izzy were excellent helpers. We baked for a couple of hours each day and made at least two flavors each time. The work went so fast with me rolling, Izzy cutting, and Sami filling and pinching, that we made hundreds by the time the week was over. Yona was content to sit at the table in her booster seat watching us work and looking at the Sprout network on television. Occasionally, we would give her a warm cookie, which she ate by sucking out the middle and then nibbling the leftover cookie. She liked all the flavors, including poppy seed and prune.

Friday morning, we took all of them to Nordstrum Rack in King of Prussia to get much-needed shoes. We bought Yona her first pair of sneakers—two shades of pink with Velcro closings. Izzy and Sami each got a pair of sneakers, and Izzy got white dress shoes. We got back home just in time to have some lunch and prepare the challah dough and soup. Faith came in the afternoon with her granddaughter, Hilary, who is only one week apart in age from Sami, and took the girls to Michael’s to buy them knitting yarn. They came home with not only that, but novelty items as well, a plastic snake that grew in water for Izzy, a set of wind-up walking feet for Sami, and an Elmo puppet book for Yona. Faith and Hilary joined us for Shabbat dinner along with her son, Jon. While I was shaping the challot, I gave each girl a lump of dough and they each made their own individually-shaped challah. Hilary  made hers in the shape of the letter “H.” Larry was not feeling well that evening, and Beth was away on vacation. I made a simple dinner of leek, potato, and Cope’s dried corn soup; cheese tortellini; spinach salad with hot sesame dressing; steamed asparagus; with hamantaschen and ice cream for dessert. Gale force winds on Saturday kept us from going to services as we had planned. The girls’ cousin, Brenna, who lives nearby, came to play with the girls on Saturday afternoon. They played nicely together. We ordered pizza to be delivered on Saturday night, and afterward, the girls climbed into our bed to watch an old movie I had recorded on TiVo, Puss in Boots, with Christopher Walken, a really B movie that he must have made long before he became famous. He played the cat that changes into a man. Erica came by to pick up Brenna later in the evening. On Sunday, we baked and iced two Presley Bella marble angel food cakes in honor of Sister Lisa’s birthday. Saul took them to work on Monday so that one could be shared with colleagues and the other with housemates. In the late afternoon on Sunday, we went to Faith’s house for knitting lessons with Hilary. The girls were more interested in playing with Faith’s vast collection of dolls. Larry met us there also. He was feeling better and Faith had invited him also for an ice cream party of epic proportions. The table was set with all types of cookies, pretzels, candy, toppings, and a large selection of ice cream flavors. We all pigged out. As it turned out, Izzy cast on stitches on a set of Faith’s needles with lightning speed and taught me to knit sitting on my lap so that I could follow her fingering. She complained that the back of her neck was hot from my breathing on her. Having knitted a bit 30 years ago, I was able to knit a small blanket for her mini teddy bear by the time we were ready to leave. She has already made her own knitting needles and a scarf for herself at school as part of the first grade curriculum at Waldorf.

On Monday, Presidents Day, Brenna was off from school and Erica picked up the two older girls and took them home with her to spend the day with Brenna. They had fun playing with all her toys and had felafal for dinner there.

During the beginning of the week that they were here I got very little sleep. Yona kept waking in the middle of the night and screaming. I didn’t want Saul to lose sleep because he had to be at work, so I spent hours holding her until she would go back to sleep. Then, we realized that we were creating a monster as the intervals grew longer and the screaming grew louder. We decided to spend only 20 minutes with her at bedtime, and 20 minutes if she needed a diaper change in the middle of the night. The screaming intervals grew much shorter after the first 15-minute temper tantrum and by the end of the week, there was barely a whimper at bedtime or nap time. During the week, she was very cooperative about using the potty. Considering her age, this is most remarkable. I think she will probably be completely trained by the time she is two. She is also very verbal. These days, we can mostly figure out what she is trying to say.
Wednesday evening, we took the three of them out to King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting. They had been indoors all week and I thought it would give them a chance to run around the mall and get some exercise. Then we rode with them on the carousel there for Izzy’s birthday and bought them punching balloons. Yona did not seem to like the carousel very much. She is the first one not to adore it. They all had such a grand time with the punching balloons, however, that almost every mother that walked by had to buy one for her child as well.
On Thursday, we made the filled chocolate, almond, coconut cupcakes that I had submitted for a recipe contest. Izzy has been reminding me for six weeks that she never had a chance to taste the prototype of those cupcakes. The two of them practically made every step of the cupcakes themselves as I was busy with Yona while we were putting them together. It really is a yummy recipe. If it doesn’t win, I will post it shortly on my recipe blog. The girls were wonderful helping with laundry and cleaning up so that we could finish packing for the trip back home Thursday afternoon. We met Jessica at Bahama Breeze in Towson, where we had a very long, drawn-out dinner together. The manager stopped by to apologize for the long wait for our dinners. At least the girls’ food came right away, but they were finished eating dinner by the time our dinners arrived.

Saul had a conference to attend at the Sheraton in Baltimore on Friday. We drove to DC after dinner, and got up at 5 a.m. the next morning to drive back to Baltimore. Alex took Yona to day care and Jess, on her way to work, dropped the older girls and me off at a nearby strip mall to spend the day at Barnes & Noble so that I would not have to deal with my allergies to the dogs all day at her house. Until it opened up at 9 a.m., we had pastries in a nearby Starbucks. When it opened, I read tales to the girls from an adaptation of Arabian Nights until Izzy grew restless. The girls shared a stuffed pizza pretzel and a large rice crispy treat at the café there. Then I bought Izzy a vanity book that had a lock and key, and Sami a book called Uber Origami. After that, the girls both chose lemon sorbet at a Cold Stone Creamery. Then, we shopped for a while in Pier 1 Imports, where luckily, they had a whole rack of imported novelty toy items for Easter that kept the girls amused for half an hour while a hailstorm suddenly materialized and raged outside the store for a while until we were ready to leave. From there, we went to Café Fresh where I had a half sandwich, veggie chips, and peach juice while the girls played with their new books. After that, we spent an hour in Trader Joe’s picking up a few odds and ends and searching for the elusive stuffed bear “Meep,” which we never found. Jess met us a Trader Joe’s and did some heavy-duty shopping there. After dropping the girls at home with Alex, Jess and I headed for the new Seven-Mile Market, an entirely kosher supermarket. Arriving home and unloading the groceries, Jess then drove Alex and me over to the synagogue so that Alex could prepare for a family Shabbat dinner that evening for Izzy’s classmates’ families. I waited, reading, in the library there until it was time for dinner. The program was adorable. After the usual brachot, (blessings) and a buffet turkey dinner, Alex narrated a story about King Cyrus of Persia and his Shabbat encounter with a Jewish man named Nehemiah. The story was told with the class acting out the scenes in front of a series of long backdrops which the class had created for the occasion. After dessert of fresh fruit and cookies, and the birkat hamazon, (blessings after the meal) Saul and I headed back to DC.

The next morning, we breakfasted at Metro 29, and then set out to find headlights for Ari’s car, batteries for our key fobs for the Prius, which had just about stopped working, and haircuts, which we all needed before our vacation in Hawaii in a few days. We found all those things in a strip mall near Tyson’s Corner in Virginia. Then, we went to Tyson’s II, which is about as upscale a mall as I have ever seen outside of China. There is a unique type of shop there called “The Grooming Lounge,” which specializes in pampering spa-type services for men only. On the spur of the moment, because they had one opening, Ari decided to have his back hair removed by waxing before our beach vacation. The process, which they told us would take a half hour, took an hour and a half. Ari said that the process was no more painful than he had anticipated, and that he would probably do it again as necessary. While waiting for his appointment we found a beautiful area rug that he is considering buying for his bedroom made from pieced-together strips of cowhide that is naturally and subtly colored. The showroom of Bo Concepts, to give an idea of the upscale nature of this mall, has a full free buffet on the weekends with wine, bottled water, cheeses, fresh fruit, Italian salami, antipasto, assorted olives,  etc., etc. A live string quartet was performing all afternoon standing atop the floor model area rug that Ari was considering purchasing. For dinner, we had an absolutely delicious and very reasonably-priced Thai meal at Sawatdee in Arlington.

On Sunday, after dim sum at China Garden, we drove to Belfort Furniture where Ari purchased a headboard for our bed at his house. His headboard is still on order there and we found that his second lamp has not come in either. They will be able to deliver both headboards together this way. The flower bulbs Ari and I planted last fall are starting to poke through in his garden despite the violent weather this past weekend. We stopped in Baltimore on the way home to drop off an extra set of Ari’s keys to Jessica and pick up our insulated bag, which had transported the hamantaschen to Jessica’s freezer and which we plan to take back to Hawaii to gather exotic foodstuffs for our meals there. We leave way early on Thursday morning and all my work is done!