Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Early April Showers, Late Passover

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Once Purim is over, my life is usually a headlong rush to prepare for Passover. Even though Jess and Alex have taken over the larger responsibility of hosting family and friends for the seders, the inevitable task of cleaning the whole house, particularly the kitchen, and changing dishes, utensils, and pots and pans so that I can make desserts and other assorted items for the week is topmost on my mind. This is not a complaint.  I actually enjoy the rhythm of my Jewish lifestyle. I like it when everything is different for a while, and Pesach certainly fills that bill. There is no reaching for a familiar spoon or coffee mug. Even though it is a tremendous amount of work to clean, I love when all is finished and I can get to work cooking and baking, barefoot, on my silky, Murphy’s-oil-polished, crumb-less hardwood kitchen floor.

During the last week of March, we celebrated Faith’s birthday with Larry by dining together at Bonefish Grill. Faith and my mother had always shared a late-March birthday. The food was wonderful and very reasonably priced. Saul and I began by sharing a large, appealing ahi tuna appetizer and then could not begin to finish our gigantic and tasty portions of flaky, tempura-battered fish and chips. Saul and I had the leftovers for lunch during the next two days. We also joined Larry during the week for the early-bird dinner at The Fireside Grill in Ambler.

The weather has been mostly awful these last few days of March and first few days of April. On the first, we awoke to a constant flutter of the largest snowflakes I have ever seen. I was very happy that we had stopped the previous afternoon to pick up a bunch of perky sunflowers for Shabbat. Looking at the unseasonable weather through the vase full of sunflowers on the kitchen table, we enjoyed the peace and beauty of the snowfall, but felt hopeful that spring would be arriving soon. The inch-high coating on our deck as we ate breakfast, gave way later in the morning as it melted, to what looked like water-ice on the ground. Eventually, it disappeared completely as the sun peeked through in the afternoon. Saul and I puttered with a wonderful cheesecake recipe I developed to try to use up a barely-started, three-pound block of cream cheese before Passover. After getting my challah dough ready, we went on a bunch of errands together to the bank and to drop off our income tax to our accountant. Ken and Randi were supposed to bring their friend, Carl, for Shabbat dinner this week. His wife was attending a brother who had open-heart surgery. Late in the morning, Ken called to say that Carl had begged off because he was sick with a nasty cold. Saul and I both enjoyed the preparations for dinner and the cheesecake came out absolutely wonderful. We were joined for dinner by Larry, Faith, Beth, Ken and Randi. Randi brought a crisp and fruity pinot grigio from Bartenura. For dinner, we had homemade challah; deviled eggs; leek and Cope’s dried corn soup;  Israeli salad; baked steelhead trout with lime, caramelized onion, and fresh ginger; and spinach ravioli. The fresh blackberry cheesecake dacquoise for dessert was exquisite and delicious.

On Saturday evening, we were invited to dinner at the new condo apartment of our friends, Mort and Elsa. After over a year of tribulations trying to sell their beautiful, prominent architect-designed home in this terrible market, they were finally comfortably ensconced in their new condo which has sweeping views encompassing sunrise from one terrace, and sunset from another. This was accomplished with a great deal of aggravation and expense even months after the sale of their house had been completed. Elsa unfolded a tale for us, before dinner, of the complicated shenanigans of the new buyers which had undoubtedly sapped much of the joy out of beginning their new life together in their cozy condo. I was feeling very grateful that I can turn my attentions to settling back into my own home after the stress of having it on the market, on-and-off, for over a year. Mort and Elsa had also invited their friends, Sue and Andy, whom we had never met. Later in the evening we discovered that Jess had tutored their daughter, Colette, for her bat mitzvah when Jess and Alex still lived and worked in this area. My cheesecake did double duty on Saturday night also, as I persuaded Elsa to let me bring dessert. With everyone so health and weight conscious these days, no one wants to eat more than a sliver or take home tempting leftovers. Saul and I are in the same boat, so we were delighted to see our efforts spread around and the cake did not go to waste or waist. We had a delightful evening dining with Mort and Elsa and their friends and reminiscing about the highlights of our 25-year friendship.

On Sunday, because the weather looked good when we awoke, we decided to go to visit Saul’s mom at Lion’s Gate. Monday was her eighty-third birthday. The one-hour journey to see her was fraught with tension, as we did not know in what condition we would find her. On our last visit, she had been moved to a more intensive unit than the Alzheimer’s unit, Safe Haven, where she had been originally, and Saul, although he had expected it, had been shocked that she no longer recognized him as her son. This had caused him more than a few restless nights. We found her in the community room just as we entered, sitting in a chair, holding a lifelike baby-doll dressed in pink and wrapped in a small towel. Her face lit up at the sight of us, even though she did not really recognize us. She first said to me  “I know you and I like you.” To Saul, she said, “I think you come from Rachova (her pre-Holocaust hometown), and I think you can speak Yiddish.” They conversed about how she was feeling in a polyglot of languages, she mostly answering in English with a smattering of Yiddish. She had no complaints, no concerns and was not in any pain. Her ankles were not nearly as swollen as they had been on previous visits. We had discussed, ahead of time, that we would not trouble her with any questions that might make her uncomfortable. She looked in good condition, one of the few present who were not confined to a wheelchair, and with her hair still dyed her preferred shade of blond. She was also holding a chocolate-flavored energy drink in a box with a bendy straw. She seemed to have forgotten what to do with a straw as she kept taking it in and out of the box, usually placing it the wrong way in, and did not drink from it even when we encouraged her. Even though the facilities are lovely and comfortable, the time dragged as we struggled to find topics for pleasant conversation considering her impaired capacity. An almost comatose woman in a wheelchair several feet from us made horrible, and apparently involuntary, repetitive moaning noises the whole time we were there, which we tried desperately to ignore. A younger woman, who appeared to have a severe case of Downs Syndrome, stood by me most of the time and patted my hair every so often. It was overwhelming to see so many human beings, devoid of most of their mental and physical capacity, being attended to by a staff that surely has a special place in heaven awaiting them for being able to do such a job day in and day out. When we arrived back home, we both napped for a few hours, so taxed had we been by the experience.

Yesterday, while Saul was off at school, I continued to clean and to move things around in the house to accommodate our move to the other master bedroom and to get ready for Passover. I have been shopping on-line and find the arrival of plush packages at our front door very soothing right now, especially a fluffy, Hungarian goose down comforter that was a dream to snuggle under last night.

This morning, I was awakened by the sound of torrential rain beating on the house. There is a possibility of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Forty-mile-an-hour winds and record cold temperatures are predicted for this afternoon. Rabbi Addison, who gained a new grandson last week, lost his 90-year-old father this week and we are planning to make a shiva call with Faith this evening.  It seems as though we have all grown old so fast. I am happy to have the strength and mental capacity to be able to shake my life up a bit. Passover encourages us to do just that and I am grateful for the obligation and opportunity. We don’t get to choose how our lives will end, but I would be happy to have the strength to prepare for and take care of others to the end of my days, and I don’t mind hard work and shaking up my life to do it.

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