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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Passover through Mother’s Day 2011

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In April, we spent most of our weekends in Baltimore and DC. We helped Ari repaint his front door and stain a tea cart/wine rack to match his kitchen cabinets. We shopped for annuals to refill his outdoor flower pots and rejoiced in the arrival of spring further south, where the growing season began a few weeks earlier than at home. We served as surrogate parents for Izzy at a religious school program celebrating her class’s finishing of their book, while Jess and Alex were teaching. We thoroughly enjoyed chasing Yona around the building while waiting for the program to start, and we helped Izzy decorate cookies in class. Afterward, Jess and I went shopping in her well-stocked, nearby, supermarkets for Passover supplies, including Seven-Mile Market, a totally kosher Superfresh-size supermarket. We also spent some time at the Cherry Blossom Festival in downtown DC. The proceeds this year were to be used to benefit the Japanese victims of the tsunami. Ari bought a large Japanese print on handmade paper with an artist’s depiction of the train system in Japan and the highlights of the countryside at each station. We took it to be framed at Michael’s in Silver Spring and had some other things framed as well, including a special fabric rendering of a temple that he purchased in Tokyo. This was specially framed at a do-it-yourself framing place in DC.

The week before Passover was spent kashering my kitchen for Passover so that I could prepare certain dishes and desserts for our seder, Faith’s seder, and for the upcoming 10 days that we would be spending in Baltimore/DC. I made seven sorbet flavors this year. The most exotic was fresh guava. The others were grapefruit, strawberry, mango, blood orange, lemon, and banana. I tried two new recipes this year with great success, vegetarian Passover meatballs, and Passover strawberry rhubarb pie. I made Passover potato knishes, Passover egg noodles, chocolate almond bars, and mocha mousse crepes with raspberry/currant sauce. I made lots and lots of Passover rolls using half whole-wheat matzoh meal but, other than when they were crispy and hot out of the oven, they were pretty heavy and I think I will go back to using regular matzoh meal entirely next year. I made a lemon pudding and layered it with egg noodle crepes and fresh sliced bananas and strawberries to make a torte that was delicious, but the texture needs a little more work before I can post the recipe. I bought Mother’s margarine to use, remembering what a wonderful product it was years ago. I will never buy it again, as it was so full of water that there were tiny wet pockets in the sticks and the texture of the mousses was not right because of it. I am so tired of paying high prices for inferior products during Passover. The one bright note was the jams from the Israeli brand, 778, which put to shame the top brands of jam made here, such as Polaner’s and Smuckers.

A few days before leaving, Saul attended a retirement party for our friend and his colleague, Ralph. I made a last-minute trip to the dentist because of a problem with heat and cold sensitivity, and the dentist told me I would need a root canal as soon as possible. I scheduled one with the recommended endodontist for the Thursday after I was returning and took a complete dosage of antibiotics during the holidays. Also before leaving for the holidays, our Prius needed to be serviced to fix a problem with the headlights randomly going out. After Saul and I had breakfast across the street from the dealer, our car still needed a little more time and we decided to look at the new ones. To make a long story short, they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, and within two hours, we had traded in the old one, drove home, loaded up the new, 2011 Prius, and drove in our brand new car (complete with up-to-the-minute traffic reports on the nav system) down to Baltimore. On Sunday evening, Saul and I drove home for the day so that he could teach his Monday classes. We drove back directly to the first seder in Baltimore on Monday evening. Within this month, we have put over 1,800 miles on our new car.

We took Sami and Izzy to sleep over at Ari’s house on the Friday night before Passover and Ari and I made Shabbat dinner there. I felt really badly because, through a misunderstanding with Jess, Yona had been expecting to come also and was wild when she discovered that she was not going in the car with the other two girls. On Sunday, I spent a few hours kashering Ari’s small kitchen for Pesach. I brought my mixer and Cuisinart to DC, along with pots and pans, dishes, and utensils for the holiday. Cooking in Ari’s small kitchen was, surprisingly, a pleasure. There was plenty of counter space and storage space, and everything was right within my grasp for convenience.

Our last seders in Baltimore at Jess and Alex’s were incredibly enjoyable for me. Izzy bathed Inky, the house was spotless, and I did not suffer badly from my allergies as I have in the past. Alex produced a beautiful, full-color family haggadah especially designed for all of us, which made the seder festivities all the more enjoyable. His sister, Naomi, brought new baby Talia Madeline the second night and we were joined by some of her friends and her husband, Matt’s, parents. Neri stayed with Ari all throughout the holidays and joined us for the seders as well. Also present were Alex’s mother, Elaine, our friend Elaine, Alex’s brother and sister-in-law and their children, Aaron, Stacey, Jacob, Lilly and Zach, Stacey’s parents, Aunt Ruth and Anne, her son, Max, and a girlfriend. Sami, who has been studying Greek mythology at school for a while, decided that the theme of our seder this year should be a “satyr seder,” and she fabricated an assorted bunch to decorate the table to accompany the usual toy frogs that keep us amused during the evening. This type of word play from a ten-year-old proves that she is definitely my father’s great-granddaughter. As usual, Alex prepared an assortment of delicious soups, the best matzoh balls on the planet, a delectable assortment of appetizers and salads (karpas) to stave off hunger during the early parts of the seder, and an incredible array of grilled and stewed meats and turkey, accompanied by many side dishes. I, of course, provided desserts. The horseradish root Saul dug out of our garden (which had originally come from Uncle Stef’s garden almost forty years ago) was unusually strong this year and just about gave all of us heart palpitations. We had a good laugh at each other’s encounters with the bitter herb. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves very much through the evening, including all the children.

Jamie and Andy with Presley slept over at Ari’s later in the week on their way down to Myrtle Beach to vacation with Andy’s family. We went to the National Zoo together and had a marvelous day. The animals were all very active and interesting, probably because of the beautiful day and temperate weather. A giant octopus zoomed up to the glass in its aquarium and freaked out Presley whose face was only a few inches away. She told us it was her favorite part of the day. Afterward, I made us all a dinner of warm Passover popovers filled with scrambled eggs, creamy sauteéd mushrooms, and cheese. Accompanied by veggie meatballs, steamed asparagus, and finishing with our chocolate desserts, the meal was quite satisfying. In the morning, I made fried matzoh two ways, my family’s traditional scrambled style topped with sugar, and Saul’s family’s traditional pancake-style matzoh brei with salt and freshly ground pepper. Jamie and Andy left on their journey right after breakfast.

A couple of days after we returned home following Yizkor services on the last day of Pesach and lunch cleaning up leftovers with Jess and Alex and the girls, it was time for me to face the dreaded root canal. There were just a few seconds of intense pain as the endodontist began his work and discovered that I needed more anesthetic.  Then, in the middle of the process, he decided that my tooth was cracked so far down that he could not save the tooth and that it would have to be extracted. At my request to have the process over and done with as soon as possible, he sent me to the offices of an oral surgeon downstairs in the same building. Designated an “emergency,” I waited over two hours with a cavernous hole in the tooth and the fear that the anesthetic would wear off before they could see me. It didn’t. When I was treated, though, I needed a whole new set of anesthetic needles for the extraction, a process which wound up taking only a couple of minutes despite the fact that the tooth broke into pieces as it was being removed. I was given prescriptions for major pain killers. Beth picked them up for me at the pharmacy that evening, but I slept through the trauma of it most of the afternoon and the entire evening. It was the day after the incredible tornado damage in the south and we were under a tornado watch here also. The weather was frightening, dark, very windy, and with torrents of rain, but luckily, the tornadoes bypassed us. I am lucky also that the tooth is in the back and the hole is not obvious. Saul was at school from early in the morning, until late in the evening that day, so I had to face the whole ordeal without his moral support. I am still trying to decide how best to deal with the hole.

Jess came down late that evening, slept over and went to pick up her mother-in-law and her sister, Shirley, early the next morning while Saul and I waited for the early delivery and assembly of our new bedroom furniture, which we love. After touring some very promising houses in Cherry Hill, where we rendezvoused with Jess, Elaine and Shirley, we were back on the road to Baltimore. Sami was playing the lead role of Phaedra in the play by Euripedes at her Waldorf school. She had quickly memorized over 300 lines of very obscure text and a series of dance-like movements to perform. I think she may have a talent for acting. Jess then delivered Elaine and Shirley to Aaron and Stacey’s home and we continued on to Ari’s home where Jess and Alex, the girls, Naomi, Matt, Talia and us were all to meet and have Shabbat dinner together. Alex had leftover entreés from Passover, veal, ribs, and stew, mashed sweet potato, soup, and desserts. I brought challot from the freezer. Ari had wine and grape juice. We had a very lovely and laid-back Shabbat evening together.

The next day was Talia’s baby-naming at Adas Israel in Washington. It was a gloriously beautiful spring day. We drove over to the shul and Alex easily walked the mile-and-a-half distance. The service was lovely, the synagogue impressive, and the oneg Shabbat luncheon afterward ample and delicious. We went back to Ari’s to change into more comfortable clothing and then headed off for Matt’s parents’ home about 5 miles away where a further celebration was taking place. Alex stayed at Ari’s for the afternoon. The catered menu was all vegetarian and very tasty and the weather was so beautiful that everyone hung around for hours, schmoozing outdoors, and watching the many children who were present playing games in the backyard. Back at Ari’s, Saul and I napped away the rest of the afternoon while the kids hung out in front of the t.v. Unfortunately, Yona refused to nap and was very overstimulated and cranky. They all went home as soon as Shabbat was over. We set out for home rather early on Sunday as Saul had been fighting a really bad cold for several days and wanted to get to bed early in order to tackle his overloaded last regular week of school. He only began to feel better after a trip to the doctor and a few days of taking antibiotics. We picked our friend Larry up from Philadelphia airport on Wednesday evening. Larry had been in Italy on a Grand Circle tour for the past three weeks and Saul had covered some of his classes. Thursday morning, I attended Faith’s class and then met Roxy at P.F. Chang’s in Warrington for lunch. She treated me for my birthday, which was two months ago, but it was the first time we were able to get together.

There wasn’t much of a breather for us, either, with Mother’s Day and Yona’s birthday celebration falling the following Sunday. In addition, I was about to meet and entertain Carl and Kelly (Ken and Randi’s good friends) this past Friday for Shabbat dinner. Never having met them before, and they never having experienced a Shabbat dinner, I wanted to make sure that the house and food were especially presentable. During the week I baked the cakes for Yona’s birthday and went shopping with Saul to pick up the supplies I would need for this past weekend. We bought herbs and flowers to replenish our dead planters on the deck, while Danny, Erica’s husband, made the rest of our landscape impeccable with his new landscaping business. I worked in the garden and finished getting it ready for planting. My arms are still aching today from the unaccustomed combination of garden weasel, large outdoor push broom for cleaning up the deck, and vacuum cleaner. In between, I was readying the girls’ rooms for Camp Bubbie and Saba, which will begin officially on June 12 this year. Shabbat dinner was very enjoyable this week. Larry and Faith joined us. Carl and Kelly were just as wonderful a couple as Ken had told us, and we enjoyed having them immensely. For dinner, we had homemade challah; two soups, cold strawberry and leek and Cope’s dried corn soup; two salads, Israeli and Caesar; deviled eggs, guacamole (made with fresh herbs from the planters), tuna and escolar (which Ken grilled perfectly on the Weber charcoal grill); salt-rubbed baked potatoes with sour cream and fresh chives from the garden; fresh blueberry pie with whipped cream and chocolates that Faith brought for dessert. Ari sent me a bouquet of flowers on Friday for Mother’s Day.

Ari brought Izzy up with him on Saturday evening because Sami had a birthday party to attend. Izzy helped me make icing for Yona’s Noah’s Ark birthday cake. We all headed off to King Buffet for a late dinner, and Izzy was so tired that she couldn’t wait to go to bed. Ari helped me decorate the cake and clean up and then we all went off to bed. Izzy, Saul and I got up early Sunday morning to get the house and deck ready for company. Ari got up a short time after that. Jess and Alex arrived with Sami and Yona about 9 a.m. bearing flowers and about an hour later, sent me off to shower and change. By the time I had finished, everything had been set up beautifully for the party and the guests had begun to arrive. Beth did not join us this year as Paul had surgery in Kentucky on Friday and she had spent the weekend there. Ken and Randi, and their kids got together for a brunch themselves in Collingswood. Ken and Randi joined us later in the afternoon. Adele and Larry came bearing bagels, Danny and Erica with Brenna and Ava, cousin Bob, Aunt Ruth, Anne and Ben, and our friend, Larry were here. While we were out cleaning the deck, we said hi to Ilsa and Manuel, Beth’s friends who had come to take care of her dogs. We invited them to join us and they went home to shower and came back bearing flowers also. At my kids’ and husband’s requests, I did not make as elaborate a spread this year. We had: bagels, lox, whitefish salad, herring, cream cheese, deviled eggs, sliced tomatoes, onions, radishes, peppers, romaine lettuce, Comté cheese, cheddar, brie, sliced assorted cheeses like American, Colby and Jack (Anne brought a delicious farmhouse artisan cheese called Vermont Thunder) Israeli salad, guacamole, strawberry soup, orange and apple juice, coffee and tea, and cake and assorted flavors of ice cream. The Noah’s Ark cake was made of mocha-cooked-frosting-covered chocolate medallion cake, topped with a date bread frosted with vanilla butter cream icing. I used graham crackers to make the roof of the ark.

Ken and Randi arrived after most had gone home and hung around for awhile in the afternoon. They had eaten too much during their brunch to want dinner. When Beth arrived from the airport, she joined us and we had dinner at the Metropolitan American Diner. Then Jess and Alex left with the girls for home. Ari picked up some laundry he had done here and headed for home as well a few minutes later. I straightened up the house a bit and Saul and I went off to bed, trying to rest up for the final week of this semester.