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.