Thursday, November 8, 2012

Weathering Sandy

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience. 
Saul and I were beginning to feel DC withdrawal. We had not been there for a couple of months and were beginning to feel homesick for some of our favorite haunts, not to mention our favorite son. With all the commitments and activities we have planned for November, we figured that the last weekend in October would be our only chance for a getaway in the near future. Consequently, we packed our bags, made the house respectably presentable should a realtor decide to pop in with a potential buyer, and headed down to DC about 2:30 p.m. after school was finished for the week.

We drove with relatively little traffic and were greeted with spectacular landscapes of fall foliage from Maryland to DC. Arriving in time to pick Ari up after work, we first stopped at his home to drop off our bags and some perishable food in case we decided to dine downtown. As traffic and parking there were crazy, we stopped back at Ari’s so that he could change, and then decided to take a short, two-block walk over to KBC (Kangaroo Boxing Club) for dinner. Cozy restaurants and unique neighborhood taverns have been popping up like dandelions all over Columbia Heights in recent months. Every block has properties with extensive renovations underway or just completed. It is absolutely amazing how different the neighborhood has become in the last two years. We shared a few beers and a couple of delicious entrees and sides at this quirky and unique little place and then walked home for an hour of television and early bedtime.

Ari had arranged to work from home on Friday morning so that we could take advantage of weekday specials at Harris’s on the Eastern Shore in the afternoon. On our way out of town, we stopped at the new Union Market, which is in a renovated warehouse district and is much like Philadelphia’s Reading Terminal Market. We found some great artisanal food vendors there with many more booths in the process of being set up to accommodate unique vendors. A very artsy grand chandelier made from copper pipe and used plastic water bottles hangs over the entranceway. On our way to the Eastern Shore, we had another gorgeous drive admiring the hues of the thickly wooded areas flanking the highways. After a few hours of dining by the picture windows overlooking the docks and waterway, we drove the few miles to the Queenstown Premium Outlets for some shopping. I picked up some cute new bargain togs at Chico’s and a new cuff-type wristwatch which I love. Craving ice cream, we found the most wonderful, perfect, unpretentious, little mom-and-pop-type gelato place that was so good, it is almost worth making the long drive from DC and braving the Bay Bridge to consume its offerings when the mood for ice cream strikes. The Daily Scoop is truly a gem. We were beginning to hear really ominous things about the approach of Hurricane Sandy by then. Saul and I were planning to leave on Sunday morning to avoid traveling during the storm.

When Ari heard that we would be coming down for the weekend, he planned a day for us of touring wineries in Northern Virginia. We could not have asked for better weather. Stopping for breakfast at Metro 29 Diner, we continued into the farmland areas of Virginia where there exist a concentration of picturesque vineyards. In the crisp fall weather, the scenery was every bit as beautiful as that we encountered when we visited Napa and Sonoma. The first winery we visited was Molon Lavé, which features, among its selections, a number of kosher wines. We purchased three bottles, a white chardonnay, and two bottles of red, called Noiret, made from a hybrid grape. From there, we visited La Grange Winery and sampled a number of wines. Ari bought a bottle of General's Battlefield Red. I was extremely pleased that after sampling at least ten different wines, I was not suffering from a sulphite reaction. I usually cannot drink more than one glass of wine without getting sharp pains under my ears. Ari’s supervisor at KPMG, Jen, was hosting a child’s Halloween party that day. She lives in a beautiful, custom-designed home, perched on a towering wooded hill, in a remote area of Virginia, near the La Grange Winery, which required us to drive for a few miles down a dirt-and-gravel road to reach it. We delivered a few homemade pumpkin-face cookies, and spent a delightful hour soaking up the spectacular ambiance and schmoozing with Jen, her mother, husband, and little girl before the party. Then, we were off to the Chrysalis Vineyards, which were so crowded, that we could not get near the first outdoor tented table to which we were assigned and had to be reassigned to another. There, we sampled ten different wines, some of which were very good, but it was so crowded, we decided to head directly for our car without purchasing anything. While we were having a nice sushi dinner at Konami in Tyson’s Corner, we discovered that we had time to catch the movie, Cloud Atlas, at 7:00 p.m. at the AMC Theater at the Tyson’s Corner Center Mall. We made it just in time and had good centrally-located seats. The movie was fabulous and I was not disappointed after just having read the book, except for a few places where the story line had been changed to simplify the plot for the length of the movie. We were shocked, afterward, to find that it was a three-hour spectacle, so quickly did the time fly. We returned to Ari’s rather later than we’d planned, but the whole day was incredible, perfect, unique, and most memorable.

Breakfast the next morning was delectable and reasonable at our new favorite dim sum restaurant in Silver Spring, Oriental East. While at breakfast, we were notified by our friend, Larry, that classes at Chestnut Hill College had been cancelled for the next two days because of the impending super-storm, Sandy. Students living on campus were asked to return home if possible, or make arrangements to stay with friends. We immediately decided that we would weather the storm together in DC. After breakfast, we set out to put in emergency supplies should the power go out and lest we be stranded inside for a week. We visited Trader Joe’s, Fresh World International Supermarket, and Costco, where, despite the huge crowds, they were the picture of efficiency setting up mountains of cases of bottled water as quickly as they disappeared as well as other desirable items necessary for weathering a storm. A final few items were purchased at a new hardware store, Annie’s, that just opened near Ari’s home. That evening, as the initial rains from Sandy got underway, we drove to the mall in Friendship Heights, parked the car in the lot below, and dined cozily by a big picture window at The Cheesecake Factory. Ari commented on the fact that we all felt as though we had  experienced a lengthy vacation. While at dinner, we learned that Ari’s office was closed the next day due to the storm and employees were advised to work from home as well as conditions permitted.

As the storm, which began in earnest in the wee hours of Monday morning, grew more violent, Ari’s door bell rang at about 8:30 a.m. Ari has been plagued by a leak that travels under his roof deck door and leaks through to a bedroom wall below. This only happens when the rain is extremely heavy and the wind is driving it in a particular direction. After being stood up by three different contractors with good reputations on the web, he had purchased the services of a fourth through a coupon on Angie’s List. They had arranged by phone for the work to begin on Monday, but Ari never believed for a second that the workman and his wife/helper would show up at the height of the storm. They arrived just in time to see the leak as it began to travel down the wall in the second story bedroom where we had been sleeping. Immediately, at his suggestion, Saul and Ari went out to buy a large tarp from nearby Annie’s Ace Hardware which the workman immediately screwed into place across the roof deck, despite the high winds whipping at it, to protect Ari’s interior from further water damage. He was able to trace the path of the leak by opening sections of the damaged wall. The timing could not have been better. While they worked, I made us omelets, and after Saul, Ari and I had breakfast, everyone went to work using the electricity which we feared would shut down at any time, Saul and Ari on their laptops, and me using the washing machine, dishwasher, and stove to prepare food for the week. I made a big pot of beef stew with lots of veggies and potatoes. We also had several containers of vegetable soup that I had brought with me when I came. Of course, we stocked up with all our favorite snacks as well, and you never want to be caught in a storm without some ice cream. Ari has a gas stove, so we figured we could have hot food even if the power went out. Lucky for us, it never did. Jess and Alex and the girls were also okay. None of their large trees came down, and they only lost power for a couple of hours as did the family in Warrington.

On Tuesday, as the storm continued to rage, Ari again stayed home to work. Saul learned that he would not have classes to teach on Wednesday, either, so we decided to stay one more day. The two of them drove to a nearby Home Depot to pick up paint, but later it was decided to let the wet areas inside dry out a little longer before patching and repairing and to construct a canopy over the door to prevent wind-driven rain from splashing against it. As the rain began to subside on Tuesday evening, we all drove to a Home Depot in Alexandria to purchase building supplies that the contractor said he needed and for the workman to pick up in his truck the next day. As it turned out, the contractor and workman did not communicate very well. It was much more material than was necessary and had to be returned after the canopy was finally constructed. The workman did not pick it up until two days after we had purchased it. We drove all the way to Alexandria because it was near the workman’s home so that Ari would not be paying for unnecessary hours for travel time. On our way back from Home Depot, we had a very delicious dinner at Sugar Palm Thai Restaurant in Alexandria, a nice little addition to our extended vacation.

On Wednesday morning, we were all dreading going back to our routines. We had been spoiled by our serendipitous, almost-week-long vacation. We drove Ari to work in his car, went back to his house for breakfast and to clean up, wash sheets and towels, make the beds, etc. before we left for home. On the road by 1:00 p.m., we had a pleasant ride back and stopped at Houlihan’s in Plymouth Meeting for a very early 4:00 p.m. dinner that was incredibly reasonable as it was a buy-one, get-one-free deal that night because of Halloween. Halloween was postponed this year for many communities that suffered power outages due to Super Storm Sandy. We stopped at a Giant Supermarket to pick up candy, but nobody came to our door this year, either that night, or the ensuing evenings when many communities had rescheduled trick-or-treating.

We returned home to find that we had never lost power during the entire storm, but water had somehow seeped in, despite our new roof, and ruined a small area of the kitchen ceiling that had been restored to a pristine state a few months ago. The hardwood floor beneath had evidently gotten a bit wet, but it was dry by the time we returned home and undamaged. It is a small aggravation compared to the untold hardships caused to millions by the storm, and we feel very lucky. Adding to the aggravation, however, was the fact that our first serious nibble on selling the house had to see it before we have had a chance to repair the damage, an engineer who spent an hour going through the house with the realtor.

Jess and Alex invited us for Shabbat dinner last Friday. Alex’s mom in Cranberry, New Jersey, had lost power and had come to stay with them while the college where she works was closed for the storm. On Friday morning, she and Alex rose at 5:00 a.m. so that he could take her home to clean out her refrigerator and freezer and so that she could go to work. Her power was still not restored when they arrived. After driving around for two hours, she could not find an open route to the college as so many streets were closed due to downed power lines and trees. When she reached colleagues on their cell phones she was told that the internet connection was down and the phones were not working. She decided it was fruitless to try making it in, so she packed a few more things and drove herself back to Jess and Alex’s to join us for dinner. Saul and I went over to Costco on Friday morning and bought a large package of steelhead trout filets, salad greens, and some other odds and ends. Our Shabbat dinner was incredible as Alex used the etrog-honey jelly I had brought them a few weeks ago as a base for glazing the fish. With two different kinds of Alex’s yummy soups defrosted from their freezer, challah freshly baked from frozen dough, a huge salad topped with two different marinated veggie combos from my hoard and the last of Alex’s CSA veggies, creamy mashed potatoes, and for dessert, pumpkin-face cookies and a small chocolate rum cake from my freezer, we feasted like kings. Before lighting candles on Friday night, we took a photo of the women’s head-coverings that Jess and the girls have started to fabricate in preparation for Sami’s bat mitzvah next year.

Saul met with his students at Team Children on Saturday. Saturday evening, we made plans to visit Ken and Randi while our house was being shown at noon. Saul and I were exhausted by the time we left to join them. Other than the two lines of damage on the kitchen ceiling, we wanted everything else to be truly clean and perfect, and I kept finding more things for us to do. We had a gluten-free nosh and conversed for a while when we arrived. Then, Randi and I headed off to shop, while Saul worked on his laptop and kept Ken company as they watched the football game. Randi is an absolute shoe freak (she takes a whole suitcase of just shoes with her when they vacation in Hawaii!) and I had mentioned to her that I had been looking for a pair of real leather riding boots, without buckles and with a zipper for over a year. She made it her mission to help me find them last Sunday, and we did! At the third store we visited, Famous Footwear, I found a pair of Franco Sarto boots I could love. They do have a semblance of a buckle at the top, but I love them anyway. With Randi’s coupon and 20% rewards discount, the price went from $149 to $115. I was very happy and grateful. She is a delight to have on a shopping trip, especially for shoes! We had an early dinner together when the game was over at the Metropolitan Diner.

On Sunday and Monday, warnings began to be issued about another impending storm, a nor’easter which had the possibility of undoing all the work that had been done to repair the power grid in the last few days. My friend, Roxy, who lives in Yardley, Pennsylvania, and my cousin, Anne, who lives in Westfield, New Jersey, had been having power outage nightmares. Roxy, who is recovering from neck surgery, had to move in with her daughter and son-in-law for a week. Anne was prescient enough to have bought a generator after the last big storm and power outage flooded her basement. Her power was just restored three hours ago. Monday (the day Halloween was designated to be observed in Cherry Hill), we were a little disappointed because Jess took the girls trick-or-treating early, before we had a chance to travel there, so that they could attend a pottery class later in the evening. At least Saul’s sister was able to join them and enjoy their activities.

Tuesday was the presidential election and thankfully, the day was the calm before the storm. I attended Faith’s class in the morning. Saul and I went to vote as soon as he arrived home from school. We were the only people voting when we walked in around 2:00 p.m. As we were leaving, a handful of people came in behind us. Many, many people were there very early to vote before leaving for work according to the poll workers. After voting, we had lunch at the Metropolitan Diner, picked up some milk at Costco on the same parking lot and went home to drop it off. Then, we decided to stop into the Obama headquarters in nearby Springhouse and volunteer our services picking up and delivering voters to their polling places. There were so many volunteers that they merely took our names and phone numbers in case we were needed later. Saul is not easily able to canvas on foot anymore, and I do not like to make telephone calls. In any case, our services were not needed and we were very gratified when Obama was clearly declared the winner and we learned that the election would not be contested with the outcome dragging on for months.

Yesterday’s nor’easter was indeed ugly. The day was dark and the icy snow that was wind-driven into every nook and cranny, coupled with the new early darkness as a result of daylight savings on Sunday, made us feel like we were suddenly in the dead of winter. Again, in this area, we were blessed with no loss of power and no additional trees down. Watching the devastation in the New York area caused by this double whammy was sobering.

The roofing guys came this morning, but found no evidence of any missing roofing shingles or leaks. They caulked in a few likely places. As I write this, the ceiling is being repaired, and hopefully will be finished when a new prospective buyer comes on Saturday.

The sun came out this morning and melted away what thin sheets of ice were still clinging to some surfaces. Although it is windy, temperatures have begun to rise, the sky is blue, the fallen leaves huddle like colorful textured blankets across the lawns, and once more it is late fall. We may yet have a few more weeks of service from the dozens of chrysanthemums we bought at Produce Junction to enhance our property for possible buyers and delight our eyes.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Samara’s Corner

How my life has been for the past two years and counting

I know that it has been a couple years since I have done a blog post. I have been thinking about a diary for my bat mitzvah, which is next year, if you did the math, and I decided it would be better to post it on Bub’s blog. But before I start, I think it would be fair if I tell some of the things that have majorly happened with me and my family since that is the year after I stopped posting. Lets see…

10 years old
Let’s see, I don’t think that anything happened when I was 10. I was still in Waldorf when I did my last post, but I was having a great time. Izzy had joined Waldorf and she was having just as good a time as I was. I did my play and she did hers. I went on my field trips and she went on hers, and we weren’t even fighting as much. Yona had just been born and all was well. I was doing Greek mythology and having a great time. We did a Greek play at the end of the year, and I was the main character, and I was so happy at Hebrew school and was doing great there as well. And there was morning and there was evening, a first year.

11 years old
Eleven years old was the most challenging year, so far, in my life. It started when I heard that we were moving. I remember feeling crushed that I would lose everything that I knew, but I knew that we had to have a change sometime this year. We found a new house (after a lot of difficulty) and, finally, we moved in. It was like mother nature didn't want us to move in. We had so many casualties while we were trying to move in. We had 1 hurricane, 1 earthquake, 1 sewer backup and a very bad kitchen, but we persevered and pushed ahead. We got scared by the earthquake, bailed for the hurricane (yes, like you do on a ship) and fixed the sewer problem (which set us back a few months) and, well, we made it, so, there was morning and there was evening, a second year.

My life today at 12 years old
Well, here we are in seventh grade, at the year where you officially take responsibility, but I think that is your life just getting started. The first thing that I found out at school this year (and it is not good) is that my best friend from last year, Alina Young, was not going to be with me. But I got a new friend, Sam Etore. She is sweet, kind and very forgiving. 

When we were in the summertime, and in the beginning, we were doing the bad kitchen and making it good. Our neighbor did most of it with his friend, the contractor, and it was cool to see the kitchen coming together, and finally it was done. It is grey and sleek and shiny with quartz counter-tops and lots of cabinet space and shelf space. It even has two dishwashers. I have done my best at school, learned a lot and I have joined three clubs. And it is three clubs too many, but I feel that I am making a lot more friends than I did last year, and the best part is that I am still seeing Alina at one of the clubs that I am in. I am the sole person in Ravenclaw at Harry Potter Club and I am proud. And I am having a blast even though I am not in Waldorf anymore. I am having fun at other people’s bar and bat mitzvahs and I have one to attend in every weekend in October and November, and wish me luck on mine as well. There was morning and there was evening and we’re still in the third year.

No wait there's more!
I’m doing a lot more of these, hopefully, so go into Samara's Corner and stay tuned for updates about my bat mitzvah. As for me, reading is not a problem. I have a few books that I think you should read...
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Perilous Journey, Benedict Society 2
The Prisoner’s Dilemma, Benedict Society 3
The Little House on the Prairie series
The Percy Jackson series
The Kane Chronicles
The Heroes of Olympus series
Harry Potter (Do not read her newest book. Everyone says it’s horrible.)
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Stone Soup Magazine
Nancy Drew (old version)
Treasures of Weatherby
Philippa Phishers Fairy Godsister
Tales of Emily Windsnap series
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths
Sticks Across the Chimney

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fall Festivals

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.

Everywhere we go as we have been driving around a lot these last few weeks, I see posters and signs for harvest festivals in every township and hamlet. I love harvest festivals even more than the early spring Philadelphia Flower Show and used to attend every festival I could squeeze into our schedule when the kids were little. Being a cook and gardener, I enjoyed seeing what others had grown, and purchasing foodstuffs and decorations made from the harvest. This year, I only managed to plant a few heirloom tomatoes, and a border of colorful giant zinnias around my raised garden, but no matter. Many herbs in my boxes reseeded themselves, like basil, oregano, mint, chives and thyme. My bay leaf tree thrived. We nibbled on white alpine strawberries that came back and I had a profusion of colorful, long-lasting zinnias on my table all summer.

Ari joined us this year for Yom Kippur and it was lovely to have the whole family together for a change. After the kids’ years in California and Baltimore, Saul and I had been pretty lonely attending services and breaking the fast by ourselves. This year, after our own services at MBI-EE, we attended Neilah services at TBS with Ari, Jess, Alex and the girls and broke the fast together at Jess and Alex’s home. Alex’s mom was staying with them for the holy days, too. I made a coconut flan for dessert. The weather was nice and temperate this year, so the fast was relatively easy. Our services were so companionable, that the day flew by very quickly. Ari tells us that this is his favorite of all our holidays, despite the fasting, because of its pure spirituality.

Alex erected his father’s sukkah on their patio this year. On the Sunday of Erev Sukkot, Saul and I drove over to NJ and we all helped decorate it, along with the help of their gentile next door neighbors whose two little boys had a great time climbing the step ladder along with Izzy to hang the various strings of lights, fruit, veggies, and paraphernalia. Jessica creatively fabricated a chandelier this year from wire, a tube light reel, tube lights, and artificial fruits and leaves.

We had a gloriously beautiful afternoon on the first day of Sukkot so that we were able to enjoy lunch in the beautiful sukkah we had decorated. We took Sami and Izzy home with us that evening and they proceeded to make beautiful spanakopita, for the next day’s lunch, handling the delicate phyllo in cooperation and folding the triangles expertly without any assistance from me. I just sat and enjoyed watching them work together. They attended services with us on the second day of Sukkot at MBI-EE before we went on to Jess and Alex’s for lunch. They were invited up to the bimah and beautifully led a number of the prayers. They were so competent, looked so beautiful and sang so melodiously that Saul and I were kvelling! Five minutes after they returned to their seats, Sami spouted a terrible nose bleed, and we rushed off to the ladies room to staunch it. We were so grateful that it didn’t occur while she was on the bimah! The etrogim were especially large and beautiful this year and the girls expertly held the etrog and lulav in the proper positions by crossing hands as they proceeded around the synagogue during the hoshannahs. Warren promised he would save the etrogim after the holiday for me so that I could again make etrog-honey jelly. The second day, it rained, and we were forced inside. Saul’s sister and brother-in-law were able to join us, though.

Saul and I hosted our two younger granddaughters on the weekend during Hol HaMoed Sukkot as Sami kicked off a b’nai mitzvah year of a bounty of celebrations for friends and classmates. The first of the season was an extravaganza to which Jess and Alex were also invited, an exciting beginning to what promises to be a memorable year for Sami. Izzy and Yona were a joy and were the most enthusiastic helpers in the kitchen. We made a sweet potato cake with brown sugar icing for Simchat Torah lunch. We had lunch on one Sunday with Jess, Alex and the girls at The Cheesecake Factory in Cherry Hill, and once we met at Chez Elena Wu following up at Spoon Me for frozen yogurt. One Sunday, Saul and I tried out the new Elkins Park burger.Org a few days after it opened, on our way home from Cherry Hill. It is a kosher establishment that replaced the more upscale Max and David’s. The burgers were good, but the staff had not yet gotten its act together and the service was slow, confused, and apologetic. We were seated next to the former cantor and choir director of Beth Sholom in Elkins Park, and his wife. I had once designed a logo for her business. Ari had sung in his choir as a boy. We recognized a number of people whom we knew there, so it was a congenial  evening.

We spent both Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah at TBS with Jess and Alex and the girls. I was very excited about the lunch I had prepared for them. For years, I had been looking for a recipe for felafel that would not dissolve into oily crumbs when it was fried. Saul and Ari had bought me the authentic gadget used to make them in Israel, and it had been sitting in a drawer for over three years. After a few hours of research on the Internet, I went back to my favorite Jewish cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Green, Jewish Holiday Cooking, and had great success with her first recipe for felafel. I doubled it and Saul helped me to turn out 92 perfect felafel patties that were scrumptious and authentic-tasting. I also made my own tahina sauce using her recipe, which was yummy as well.

Saul and I made three batches of etrog-honey jelly right after the holidays using the 18 etrogim that were accumulated by Warren at MBI-EE, Alex at TBS, and Faith at Temple Sinai. These I distributed to our friends and the clergy at the various synagogues. Faith has begun her Bible-study classes since the end of the holidays and I am attending both my regular Thursday morning class that I have been attending for over twenty years, and a new class which she has added at MBI-EE on Tuesday morning. I sent a large jar of the jelly with Faith for the Thursday class to sample with crackers. I also made a batch of chocolate almond bars to take to our friends, Ruth and Giora. Ruth had been trying to invite us and Faith over for a Sunday brunch all summer, and she and Giora finally succeeded after the holidays. The chocolate almond bars are her favorite from many years ago.

The weekend before last, Jess brought Sami to sleep over because the party for that Shabbat’s bat mitzvah was followed by an evening indoor swim party at the community center in nearby Plymouth Meeting. What a gorgeous facility with an indoor water park! We have been driving past it for years without noticing it because it is situated a little in from the corner. While here, Jess helped our friend Larry with his haftarah which he was going to read in synagogue in honor of his sixtieth birthday the following weekend. He had been having a terrible time relearning it after all these years. In addition to preparing dozens of children with all types of learning styles for their b’nai mitzvah over the years, Jessica noted the coincidence that it was also her bat mitzvah haftarah. While they worked, Sami and I made pumpkin face cookies for which I had prepared the dough and filling earlier in the week. The next morning, we picked up Faith, dropped Sami at Hebrew School in Cherry Hill, window-shopped for an hour at Cherry Hill Mall because we were early, and drove the few miles to brunch with Ruth and Giora  at their beautiful new home, spending the whole afternoon schmoozing about old times, catching up with each other’s kids’ and grandkids’ lives, and discussing our travels. Then, we drove the couple of miles over to Jess and Alex’s to find them sanding a banister outside the front door. We decided to have dinner together at the in Cherry Hill to see how it compared. The decor was spartan compared to the old Max and David’s, and it was not nearly so clean, but the food was quite good and came out quickly. It seems I almost always have issues with the cleanliness of kosher restaurants. It really shouldn’t be that way!

Last Thursday, Larry’s sister, Susan, and brother-in-law, Ted, arrived here by car from Chicago to help him celebrate his special birthday. Saul and I went shopping on Friday morning for the makings of his special birthday dinner. Joined by Larry, Susan and Ted, and Faith, we had deviled eggs, magic rainbow braided bread, quick black bean soup, maple-glazed steelhead trout, creamy onion and garlic mashed potatoes, buttered steamed asparagus, gezer haicarrot cake and chocolate almond bars. Susan and Ted brought us a special, signed, self-published volume of an acquaintance, Dean Eastman, who bought and chronicled his restoration of a section of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Coonley House. We had a satisfying and enjoyable evening chatting together over dinner. On Saturday morning, Larry did a competent job with his chanting of the haftarah, after which the congregation delighted in a Chinese-style luncheon he sponsored that was catered by Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant. Larry’s co-president, Lori, asked if we would all like to get together with them to have dinner out on motzei Shabbat. Ted and Susan had other plans with Ted’s children and grandchildren. On a Saturday evening, we had trouble getting reservations at a reputable restaurant, at a reasonable hour, on short notice. I had so many leftovers from the previous evening that I invited Lori and her husband Saul to join Larry and us for dinner. We spent a few enjoyable hours over dinner getting to know each other better, something that would have been impossible in a crowded, noisy, restaurant on a Saturday night.

Yesterday, although it was a perfectly beautiful autumn Sunday, after all this bustling about, Saul and I just hung out around the house. We needed to catch up with much paperwork and had quite a bit of clean-up to restore the house to its pristine state. I also used the opportunity to complete the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, and finish reading Cloud Atlas, which I think is one of the most remarkable, creative, and well-written novels I have ever read. I enjoyed it immensely and can’t wait to see the movie, which is opening this coming weekend.

The fall has been absolutely spectacular this year. We have not had the early frost or snow which shortens the length of time that the leaves cling to the trees. The nippy air is just sufficient to send them ripening into a kaleidoscope of lush, vibrant color without stripping the trees too quickly. The rainy days that gladden the trees, but make us sad with the prospect of oncoming winter, have not been as numerous as the glorious days of orange and ruddy sunshine. It has been a gorgeous autumn!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosh Hashanah 5773

 If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which almost always falls in September, feels more like a new year to me than the traditional Gregorian new year. For me, it is always an end to the freedom of summer scheduling. With teachers in the family, our wonderful vacations have mostly been in the summer. Saul and I have had the joy of spending many of our previous summers creating the memorable experiences of Camp Bubbie and Saba with our granddaughters. Once school begins, we settle into our new routines for the coming two semesters. We see our granddaughters, who have returned to their school-year schedules, only sporadically. The rush and preparations for the onslaught of a chain of Jewish holidays deflects the melancholy of losing the everyday contact with loved ones that existed during the summer, and softens the blow by creating multiple occasions for family interaction. I do love the holidays!

Saul and I have been consoling ourselves, reveling in our new-found, empty-nest freedom by eating out and shopping on the spur of the moment. When Ari came in for a weekend, we had a very enjoyable banquet dinner with our friends Betty and Jerry and Larry at Jasmine in Glenside. For our anniversaries, Jess and Alex’s sixteenth, and our forty-first, we finally got Ari over to Sushi Kingdom, where we all enjoyed the beautifully-prepared and delicious AYCE sushi and sashimi. Ari’s employer, KPMG, sent an ice cream gift to its employees over the summer, which he forwarded to us. We all enjoyed it together at a birthday Shabbat dinner here for Alex along with a carrot cake that Yona helped me bake. We also finally got to visit Tamarindos with Ken and Randi and Randi’s sister, Sherrie, who had told me she loves Mexican food. Those free, magical margaritas worked their spell on us, and Randi, Sherrie and I spent more time giggling and laughing than I can remember doing in many years. The incredible and imaginative food was an added bonus. Like me, neither of them experienced any headache or hangover after overindulging.  On Selichot evening, we had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Jenkintown with Faith, Larry, and friend and fellow congregant, Michael E., before heading over for a lavish dessert buffet at the synagogue. Rabbi Addison introduced and directed a congregational discussion which culminated with us collectively writing a bit of poetry called a pantoum about our congregation.

Jess and Alex’s new kitchen has been under construction all summer and was finally operational when all the water was hooked up just a couple of days before Rosh Hashanah. I felt great joy as I watched the whole family move around their new sleek and spacious kitchen to prepare, serve, and clean up the visually stunning meal that Alex had prepared for us. After all these years, they finally have a kitchen that is worthy of their talents.

During this past week, we kvelled as on Saturday morning, Jess beautifully chanted a particularly long and linguistically difficult haftarah in the main sanctuary of Temple Beth Sholom. Then, a few minutes later, Sami ably read Torah at the well-attended family service that Alex was conducting. We were joined for lunch at Jess and Alex’s by Ari, who drove in from DC for the long holiday weekend, and an old friend of Jessica’s from Temple Sinai days, Beth L., who drove in from New York. Alex, Jess and the girls shopped for and prepared all the food for the weekend and holiday which was augmented by beautiful produce from their CSA. Our meals were all dairy, as they had put away all their meat implements during the construction. Elaine made a challah, apple cake, and kugel, and I prepared challah, special, multi-colored, braided, round breads, and desserts. Jess had emailed a recipe to me for a peanut butter caramel apple galette that she was drooling over. I made it for us, but it is so much work, I will probably not make it again. I think that I can deconstruct it and it will be just as good in another easier format. We’ll see. On Sunday evening, erev Rosh Hashanah we were joined for dinner by Alex’s sister, Naomi, her husband, Matt, and their daughter, Talia. Ari drove us back and forth from Cherry Hill for our family meals, but the three of us attended our services at Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El. Our new facilities are under construction and, unfortunately, as each stage of construction waits for the completion of the previous stage, our bimah truly looked like a construction site. Fortunately, the warmth of the people in our congregation makes up for any deficiencies in ambiance.

Accordingly to our beliefs, a new year has now begun. The metaphor that guides our contemplation of our lives is that of a book that has opened in which our deeds are recorded and measured. The book in which we are inscribed will be sealed on Yom Kippur next week. Unlike the secular new year, which is welcomed with merriment, revelry and abandon, the Jewish new year is welcomed with thankfulness for our blessings, followed by fasting and contemplation to atone for our sins. We pray to be inscribed in the book of life for a fruitful and healthy year to come.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sweet Summer Memories

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.

After Sami returned from Camp Ramah, Jess and Alex’s family left immediately for a one week seashore vacation with Alex’s mom, brother and family, and sister and family at Spring Lake, New Jersey. Larry stayed on with us, convalescing until they returned and it was time for us to begin an abbreviated Camp Bubbie and Saba this summer with all three girls for three weeks.

During this period, Beth sent us an email to tell us that she and Paul had decided to drive down with the dogs, stay at the Trump International, which is dog-friendly, and get married in a Las Vegas chapel on August 11, just about the time the older girls were scheduled to go home to begin two weeks of art camp. Since we had the airline vouchers from being bumped on our way home from Arizona, we decided to use them to attend the wedding. Saul had the brainstorm that we could use our RCI timeshare to find a place there for points. Then, we had the incredible good luck of being online searching when an opportunity came up to book a condo at a gold crown resort, The Grandview, for the unbelievably low price of of 7,500 points. It usually would be about 50,000 for the week. Once we had all our arrangements in place, Jess asked if we would consider having Sami with us for the week since it was her twelfth birthday. Since the condo was off The Strip (about 4 miles away) and since it did not contain a casino, we agreed. There was plenty to do in Las Vegas for a week with a child that did not involve casinos.

The three weeks of camp flew by in such a blur that I can only list the highlights of our summer in no particular order. On an absolutely gorgeous day when there was no chance of rain and the temperature was in the eighties, we decided to leave early and spend the day in Ocean City, NJ. We ate breakfast, packed a lunch and snacks, loaded our beach gear into the SUV, and were on 9th Street beach by 11:00 a.m. We finally tore ourselves away from the perfect ocean at 4:00 p.m., showered off the excess sand on the boardwalk, changed into our clothes in the nice public bathrooms, and had a relaxing sit-down dinner inside an air-conditioned boardwalk restaurant, Clancy’s by the Sea. Then we strolled the boardwalk for a while, and had ice cream at Kohr Bros. Of course, no trip to OC would be complete without amusement rides at Castaway Cove. That night, we drove the girls to their house where Alex was waiting to see that they showered and put them to bed, saving them another hour of traveling to our house. Jess was with Ari that evening, having attended a conference in Baltimore. We picked the girls up the next morning and spent the day at the Philadelphia Art Museum where we saw the Arcadia exhibit. The girls made incredible collages in the children’s art room. Izzy actually constructed a three-dimensional roller coaster with the materials available, and Sami used the materials to make a doll for Izzy to put on the ride. She also took home materials which the docents offered in order to make a doll at home the next day. The museum also gave us wonderful cloth bags in which to store the artwork as we toured the museum. I was a bit nervous about taking a 3-year-old into the Arcadia exhibit, but Yona was fascinated with the phone-like, self-guided, audio gadget. Izzy was the one who embarrassed me with her loud and indignant questions about the nudity of the statues on display. The surrounding patrons all had quite a chuckle as I struggled to explain. At the end, the museum provided comfortable drawing stations, cards,  crayons and markers so that we were able to draw our impressions of the exhibit. We spent an hour there, dropping our final efforts into a clear plexiglass box for the staff to put up in slots along the walls on display and admiring the work of other museum-goers.

We took the girls to DC for a few days. Our first evening, we walked with Ari to a nearby favorite Thai restaurant, Thaitanic II. Then we walked a few blocks more into the heart of Columbia Heights to get frozen yogurt. Yona was so animated that she regaled us with “the chicken dance.” After our visit to the National Arboretum earlier in the summer, we couldn’t wait to take them there. If anything, they enjoyed it even more than we did. We made the mistake of showing them the koi pond first. Eventually, we had to carry Yona away kicking and screaming so that we could show her the rest of the place and only got her to quiet down when we promised to show her the frog pond. As they closed, we left to pick Ari up at work downtown and found a convenient parking spot so that we could have dinner at a very nice kosher restaurant, Eli’s. We spent an afternoon at Glen Echo Park where I finally (after three years of waiting for the perfect opportunity) got to ride on the sumptuously ornate old carousel. Alex’s sister Naomi met us there with her daughter, Talia. Afterward, we took the girls to lunch at a nearby Whole Foods and found the most wonderful little homemade ice cream joint called Wow Cow around the corner in the same tiny strip mall. On a rainy day, we spent a few hours in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History.

Back at home, we spent an afternoon preparing Shabbat dinner for Jess and Alex. Faith and Larry joined us. The girls planned and shopped for the meal. We made cupcakes together at Yona’s insistence and iced them with all the leftover colors of icing that have been accumulating in my freezer. We spent an afternoon at Wheaton Village. Sami, particularly, was in heaven watching a team of artists as they blew various colors of glass into pretty pumpkin shapes in preparation for the fall season. She was disappointed to learn that she must be at least 16 to blow glass in their workshops. As she toured the shops and museum she insisted on taking many photos of all the pieces that interested her. She was particularly taken with tiny glass and clay animals because she likes to work in miniature. We spent a nostalgic day at Beachcomber’s Swim Club as the guest of our friend Larry C. We went to the township’s castle playground several times and, by coincidence, happened to be there on the one day that the fire truck comes and sprays the fire hoses for the day camp kids. The girls declined to get wet this year. It became our habit to follow forays at the playground with homemade ice cream at Freddie Hill. It became a joke with the girls that we were going to smell poop, a reference to the rather pungent farm animal zoo on display for the children. After initial consternation on Yona’s part as Izzy ribbed her, she got the joke and was very happy after that to go and smell poop.

One of the highlights of our summer was attending a production of “The Wizard of Oz” at the Kelsey Theater of Mercer County Community College where Alex’s mom, Elaine, works. She invited us to join her with the girls for this screening of the classic movie. The costumed actors from the theater group provided grab-bags full of props so that the audience could participate in the action, much like Rocky Horror Picture Show fans do at their screenings. In the bag were kazoos for the witch’s music, lollipops for the munchkins lollipop league, soap bubbles for the arrival of Glenda, the good witch, Chinese yoyos for the tornado, balloons for the wizard, etc. Oversize yellow brick-printed beach balls were circulated through the audience as Dorothy and her companions traveled down the proverbial path. An Oz trivia contest was held and prizes were awarded, as well, for those in the best costumes. The winner was dressed as Dorothy’s house that had fallen on the wicked witch. Afterward, we took the girls to dinner at a nearby Friendly’s where Yona had dessert first in the form of a clown-shaped sundae.

Eventually, it was time for the younger girls to return home as we prepared to leave for Beth’s wedding in Las Vegas. Saul, Sami and I went to the hair salon where they spent an hour blowing out Sami’s thick long hair and ridding it of frizz. I had mine straightened also. I was very nervous about the flight. A big storm had arisen and Adele and Larry had what Adele termed “the flight from hell” as they were delayed on the runway, right before takeoff, for several hours and then had a very turbulent flight. Ari, also ran into the same problem. Jessica, who flew that evening, was not so bad. They all flew the day before the wedding. We were scheduled to leave the same day as the wedding, and any delays would have precluded our being there in time. Fortunately, the weather cleared for us. All our flights were on time and we only had a little turbulence. Saul, Sami, and I arrived in time to pick up our rental car, check into our amazing condo, change our clothes and meet the rest of the family at Trump International in time to leave for the wedding chapel, a five-minute ride away.

Ari, particularly, was delighted to attend a wedding in a little, somewhat tawdry, Las Vegas chapel called “The Always and Forever Chapel.” In fact, attending one of these weddings was on his bucket list. Beth, as always, looked half her age and beautiful in a lovely tangerine dress with a matching, jaunty, straw cowboy hat, which Sami adored and appropriated almost immediately with Beth’s approval for her walk down the aisle as a flower girl. We tried to buy one for Sami the whole time we were in Vegas, but never found its match. Larry and Adele, in casual dress (Larry in cargo shorts), gave away the bride to Paul, who was dressed in a nice casual white shirt and black trousers. Paul alternated between beaming and appearing a little awkward, which was very charming. The wedding was broadcast live on web cam to other members of the family and friends, in addition to Ari Skyping it to Ken and Randi when they had a problem. The service was mostly generic and the abundant silk flowers which adorned the chapel lent themselves well to photographic opportunities. It was all over in about half an hour. For the reception, we adjourned to the legendary buffet at the Wynn Hotel and Casino, which also provided great photo ops with its over-the-top abundance of fresh flowers everywhere, accentuated with great hanging globes of multi-colored flowers. Back at the elegant Trump International, after a mind-boggling and stomach-stretching feast, we regrouped, toasted the new bride and groom, and headed off to our respective lodgings.

The next morning, we joined the rest of the family for a lavish breakfast, ensconced on thickly-upholstered chairs in the lobby of the Trump International. Adele and Larry headed off on the hotel shuttle for the airport after that. Paul went off to play golf in the desert heat, which he told me he enjoys!? Afternoon temperatures while we were there were hovering around 103°F. Nighttime temperatures were around 98°F. as the masses of concrete and asphalt radiated the heat they had absorbed during the day. Beth, Ari, Jess, Sami, Saul and I crossed the street to enter a massive shopping mall famed for their well-showcased fashion shows, which allowed us to walk for blocks in air-conditioning to take in various casinos. We strolled the streets of Venice at The Venetian, watching the gondolas traverse the indoor canal, marveled at the size and scope of Caesar’s Palace, getting lost along the way, and picked up tickets for a performance of Cirque du Soliel’s Mystere that evening at Treasure Island. We shopped and snacked and had a marvelous time just gaping at everything around us. Sami went back to Trump International to hang out at the pool with her mom and Ari and Beth, while Saul and I returned to the condo to rest up a bit for the evening. This was our first live Cirque performance, and we were definitely wowwed, although Ari said he was feeling unaccountably angry at the beginning, perhaps having something to do with his fear and dislike of clowns as a child. One of the main characters was a massive and mean-spirited clown “baby.” He also doesn’t like audience participation-type acts, which were also a feature of the show. The rest of us loved it. After the show, we all had an enjoyable late-night dinner in a Grand Lux Cafe in the casino.

The following morning, after an early-morning foray at the South End near our condo to pick up groceries for the week we met for a gigantic breakfast at the nearby, and highly recommended (on the Web) Peppermill Diner. Then, we drove Jess to the airport for her flight home. When we returned, we met Ari, Beth, and Sami at a souvenir shop. They walked on to tour the Stratosphere and took Sami to see Circus Circus while we waited for them in Ari’s room at Trump International. Saul was having trouble walking long distances in the heat and was having a problem with the bottom of one of his feet. I wasn’t doing too well walking in the excessive heat either. Returning to our condo for a rest in the afternoon, we all regrouped later for a snacky dinner at Lobster Me in the Planet Hollywood Casino complex. I had been overdoing the food for so many meals that I couldn’t eat a thing that night, but felt better after sipping ginger ale for a while as we wandered the shop-lined streets of Planet Hollywood. Saul left us to return to Trump International as we traversed the crowded, oven-like streets outdoors to catch the fountain show at the Bellagio and to wander for several hours taking in the ambiance in various casinos. Early the next morning, after a light breakfast at the condo, we arrived at Trump International to take Ari to the airport. Beth and Paul were ready to start their six-hour drive back to Arizona with the dogs and we said goodbye to them at the hotel. After taking Ari to the airport, we drove to the Silverado Casino to see their aquarium, which Sami and Saul particularly loved. Saul dropped me off at the South Point Casino, down the street from our condo, where I bought sunscreen so that we could hang out at our pool. But we never went. After several days of too much sun, heat, and food, we had mac and cheese for lunch and just hung around the condo and watched movies all afternoon. On most evenings after that, we would venture out to tour some more of the casinos, Excalibur, MGM Grand, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Paris, and New York, New York. Each had its own delights, aside from the casinos themselves.

We set aside one day to tour Hoover Dam, less than a two-hour drive from Las Vegas. Sami was particularly taken with the angel statues and knew all about them from one of her Percy Jackson books. The vistas were amazing, but the heat was unbearable, climbing to 118°F. We did not want to take the time, or spend the money, for the guided tour, but other than the souvenir shop, nothing else was air-conditioned. So we did not stay long. Sami was fascinated by the large and beautiful collection of native American jewelry in the souvenir shop, particularly the turquoise jewelry, which she had never seen before. We told her we would try to find her a piece of native American jewelry for her birthday, but not at a tourist trap. Then, we traveled over that most amazing and most precarious-looking bridge that can be viewed from Hoover Dam into Arizona to buy a lottery ticket for one of the largest jackpots in history. Understandably, Nevada frowns on lotteries. They want the money to stay at home in the slot machines. Our one-hour journey took us through barren desert to one of the most God-forsaken spots I have ever seen, The Last Stop. The place was bustling as people lined up to purchase lottery tickets. Saul was interviewed by a local newsman as he waited in line and appeared on a local news channel. After that, we headed farther into the desert, thinking we could give Sami a glimpse of the Grand Canyon with just a couple of hours drive. After a while, I Googled Grand Canyon West and discovered that it was not the real Grand Canyon, but a smaller geographic phenomenon on an Indian reservation, for which there was a huge fee. We turned around and headed back to Las Vegas. On the way, passing through Boulder City, I found a jewelry shop, Begay Indian Jewelry, that specialized in native American jewelry that had a pretty good reputation on the web. I did not want Sami’s gift to have been made in China. She chose a lovely fetish necklace.

On our way home, we decided to try the buffet at the M Casino, which was just down the road from our condo and which also was highly touted on the Net. It turned out to be every bit as good as the buffet at the Wynn, perhaps even better, and it was far cheaper. The spectacle of a great Las Vegas buffet is difficult to describe, much as a three-ring circus is difficult to describe. There are so many amazing things going on at the same time that one cannot possible absorb all of them. You can focus on a particular act and enjoy it to the fullest, or just let the entirety of the spectacle wash over you until your senses are flooded. This is the essence of Las Vegas, and it is best experienced in small doses. We resolved to return to the M, but not for a few days.

During our stay in Las Vegas, we hung out at our condo pool, toured a hand-made chocolate factory with a very extensive and beautiful cactus garden, viewed the collection of French Impressionist artwork at the Bellagio, ate incredibly-intense gelato in a number of beautiful settings, and watched high-end fashion shows. On the last evening, we went to an outlet mall so that Sami could pick souvenirs for her sisters. As it turned out, we bought her a nail kit that provides a unique stamping method that creates designs on nails. If anyone can develop expertise in learning this intricate technique, Sami can. The other girls have already delighted in being so decorated.

After our flight back, during which we again stopped at Dallas airport for a meal at Pappadeaux’s, school began for Saul. Sami went home for the last week of art camp with Izzy, and Yona came to stay with us for three weeks as an only child. Mostly, Yona and I hung out at home while Saul was at school. Yona loves being at home and being the sole focus of attention. We painted, cooked together, strung beads and buttons, watched movies, read books, played with toys and had a great time together. Yona loves water and could spend an hour in the bathtub every day. When Saul would come home, we would shop, have dinner out, ride the carousel and play in the children’s corral at Plymouth Meeting Mall. She went home on the weekends, but never protested about being in either place.

One of my favorite days with the family was something billed as “The Mess Fest” at the Franklin Institute. Families were supposed to dress in old clothes to experience messy activities. The day began with Jess’s car breaking down after she filled it with gas to meet us there with the girls. The problem turned out to be a dead battery, which luckily, was still under warranty. We continued on to Jersey and picked them up to take to the museum. Alex took care of the car. The museum provided a plethora of imaginative, hands-on experience that involved creating a bubble-monster, painting with toothpicks and shaving cream, walking through troughs of cornstarch mixed with water, blowing ribbons of soap bubbles through a mesh-wrapped straws, chasing water beads around a plateful of sand, shooting off Alka-Seltzer rockets, exploding multi-colored balls out of trash cans, etc. etc. In the one off-note of the day, a demonstration to create elephant toothpaste went awry. The crowd was warned multiple times that the chemical reaction should not be touched as it could permanently dye skin and fabric and cause rashes. The children sat in a semi-circle well back from the large bottles while the adults stood behind them even further back. The initial explosion sent clouds of orange goop flying through the air to land on those in the very back, including me and Saul. As promised, the orange coloring did not wash off, but I was not so worried about my clothes. I had forgotten about my new Coach handbag which had large iodine-colored spots all over that did not even lighten with soap and water. We went, splotched with orange stains, to dinner at Singapore in Chinatown. Luckily, as soon as the clothes touched OxiClean, all stains disappeared. I made a poultice with it for my handbag and went lightly as I had ruined the last Coach handbag cleaning it with saddle soap. I didn’t do too much damage this time. I love Coach bags, but I am not very lucky with them.

All the girls have gone back to school now. I love having my freedom back, but I also really miss our time together.

My computer had a major crash this summer and I was dismayed to find out that at the Apple Store, it is characterized as a “vintage” computer. In my head, it was only a few years old, but in reality, it was seven! That was put in perspective by the 18-year-old who was kind enough to carry it out to the car after the hard-drive had been somewhat restored. I realized that he was only 11 when I bought it! This is my first blog from my new laptop computer, a 15-inch MacBook Pro with 2.6 GHz Intel Core and 8 GB of memory. May it last another seven years! I am planning to buy a large cheap monitor to which I will link it when I have intricate desktop publishing work to do. The eyes are not the same after seven years either!

My summer was so chock-full of sweet memories, that I have probably left out a few. Getting my photos together since the crash so that I could get back to my blog on a regular basis has been a trial, but, little-by-little, I know it will coalesce. Computers are always changing the way we live, and I am determined to keep changing with them. I am enthralled by the possibilities in modern life presented by instant access to information through laptops, iPads and smartphones. I’m looking forward to a more regular updating of my blogs and that includes trying out new recipes and continuing to catalog the old ones. I have resolved that the house will be sold when the right buyer comes along. I intend to enjoy it without stressing in the meantime. I am looking forward to the changes and adventures of tomorrow as long as we can encounter them in good health.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lightening Up… (continued)

If you are reading this on Facebook, slideshows and videos are often attached. Click on this live link to my blog: if you would like to get the full experience.

Our whole third week of June was spent clearing out junk and room-by-room, fulfilling a four-page punch list that was given to us by the realtor who had sold both Beth’s house and Jamie’s house in record time, Linda Ventola. This included such items as replacing bedspreads, towels, bathmats, lamps, chandeliers and faucets. We stored, moved, donated and sold many items of furniture. We gave away my large color Tektronix laser printer to a Masonic brother of Saul’s. We wrapped most of our art, photographs, and cherished bric-a-brac in bubble wrap and stored it away. We covered our old-fashioned looking sofa with a new, leather-look slip cover. We washed all our windows inside and out. Linda recommended a cleaning service that was remarkably efficient. Having cleaned my house myself all these years, it was a pleasure to have absolutely everything spic-and-span all at one time. Except for Passover, I clean on an as-needed basis.

That Friday, we went to Jess and Alex’s for a special Shabbat dinner to say goodbye to Sami who was leaving for Camp Ramah on the following Thursday. By Sunday, Father’s Day, we were sick of rearranging and going through boxes of dusty papers and books, but the clean-out work was almost done and we had completed much of the four-page list and were feeling very satisfied as the house began to shape up. Jess was checking out items for her new kitchen at IKEA in Plymouth Meeting and afterward, decided to drive over with Sami and Izzy to assess our progress and have dinner with us. Alex had taken Yona to visit his mother in Cranberry. We had dinner at Tamarindo’s, which worked out beautifully because they had vegetarian and fish options that we all loved. Saul had a whole crispy-skinned grilled red snapper and, of course, I was high on their incredible free margaritas. Jess presented Saul with a new cover for his iPhone that had photos of the girls laminated into it. I slept like a baby that night between the margaritas, the fact that the house was almost completed, and that we were signing the papers to put it up for sale the next day.

Linda seemed extremely pleased with the choices we had made based on her list and we signed the papers while her assistant, Michelle, photographed each room. Within the next couple of days, we finished most of the final touch-up that was necessary.

On Wednesday evening, June 20, Melrose B’nai Israel Emanu-El officially moved out of the building that it had erected as its home for over 50 years and into its own wing of a building occupied by Keneseth Israel on the Old York Road Corridor a few miles away. After a light dinner and mincha service, with klezmer accompaniment, our 11 Torahs were removed from the aron ha kodesh (ark) and placed in the hands of people seated in a number of convertibles that had been assembled in the parking lot for the purpose of moving them to their new home. The temperature outside was in the high nineties, but at least it was not raining. While the congregants drove over and waited for the Torah procession to arrive, our ranks swelled as we were joined by many other members of the community and members of KI. The convertibles parked at the police station a few blocks away and selected members were honored with the privilege of walking the Torahs the final distance and carrying them into their new home, among them, Saul and Larry, who is presently co-president of the congregation. The event was so well attended that every chair in the facility was pulled into service and there was standing room only in the back. Welcoming speeches were delivered and our first ma’ariv service was held in the new building. A lavish dessert buffet followed. Our friend, Faith, who attended also, met us a little later at Friendly’s for ice cream to celebrate as there was such an unexpectedly large crowd surging toward the dessert table we were a little “cowed.”

Early Thursday morning, we drove to Cherry Hill to see Sami off on the bus to camp. Then we took Izzy and Yona to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden for the day. We had a blast there! The crowds had not yet arrived and Yona had an entire tank of manta rays practically to herself in a special tot area that was built especially for small children. For once, Izzy was too tall for an activity. On the third floor, a large area had been opened designed especially for children so that they could climb, crawl, play, and make music. We stayed until Yona showed signs of exhaustion. Saul was thrilled because after he dropped us at the entrance, he discovered a parking area right next to the handicapped area especially for hybrid cars. The temperature hit 102 degrees that day, and we were very thankful for the short walk back to our car.

We called his sister to see if she wanted to join us for a late lunch. She had just moved into her new apartment and when we arrived to pick her up, she came armed with coupons for a nearby Chinese buffet that was excellent. Yona had fallen asleep almost immediately when we got into the car and it took her almost an hour before she was fully awake in her umbrella stroller in the restaurant and ready to eat something. The selection of food was so extensive, feeding the koi in the fountain in the lobby so entertaining, and the afternoon so hot and humid that we lolled there for several hours sampling various tidbits before taking the kids home. We were so full that dinner was out of the question. As we returned home, Saul got a phone call from our Craig’s List ad about our pool table, the last item left in the basement. We had arranged for Danny to clean and paint the floor, and were afraid he would have to paint around it. Therefore, we were delighted that evening when the three guys arrived with cash, a pick-up truck and the know-how to move it out.

The next morning, the house spotless, lock-boxed, uncluttered, and ready for presentation, Saul and I packed our bags and headed for a mini-vacation with Ari in DC. We had a great, relaxing time. I had not done any personal shopping for summer clothes since last year and most of my tops had small holes in them from repeated washing. Why are most clothes now being made out out of tissue-paper thin cotton or non-breathing rayon or polyester? We spent an enjoyable afternoon together at the Queenstown Premium Outlets and sitting at the waterside at Harris’s on the Eastern Shore. Ari, Saul and I were all extremely pleased with our purchases. We ate out together at some of our favorite places. We did little chores around Ari’s house, like hanging art, doing laundry, stocking the refrigerator, etc. During the week, while Ari was at work, Saul and I took a drive through the National Arboretum. With scores of trips to DC over the years, we had never known it existed, and had been driving by within two blocks of it since Ari’s days at GW. To say we were blown away by the size of the grounds, the beauty of the landscaping, the incredible buildings and facilities, and the diversity of the flora and fauna would be an understatement. And of course, like most of the activities of this type in DC, it is all free!

We returned home in the evening of June 26. Our friend Larry, who is single, was due to have laparoscopic surgery on the morning of June 27 to repair a fistula. Larry has not been in good health since back in September of last year and has been in and out of the hospital while doctors have been trying to find the source of the problem. A bout that put him in a hospital while he was traveling in Cuba recently was the last straw. We waited at Abington Hospital, along with his friend, Ken, while the surgery was performed. When it was over, the surgeon told us that he had discovered a hard baseball-sized mass that required more extensive surgery to remove. Larry wound up with a larger incision and two resectionings. The mass turned out to be benign. The surgeon told us that he would be hospitalized for at least a week. We had expected him to convalesce with us after two days. We stayed with him for a few hours when he was brought up to his room. Then together, we made the decision to return to DC as he would be under constant professional care and would have plenty of friends to visit him and look after his needs. We could always return home in three to four hours if necessary.

We used Thursday to catch up with mail, laundry, and finishing a publication on which I had been working. Saul, who is now president of the faculty senate, had scheduled a meeting at Chestnut Hill College for Friday late morning. On Friday morning, we again packed our bags, headed to the meeting, delivered the disc for the finished publication to my client, and then traveled on to DC. We picked Ari up from work and had an early dinner at The Heights nearby in Columbia Heights, Ari’s neighborhood.

Later that evening, a huge thunderstorm with over 80-mph winds swept through DC downing huge trees and power lines which caused a near catastrophic power outage for more than 1.5 million customers in Virginia, DC and Maryland. We were among the lucky ones because we did not lose power at all. During the following week, and for 11 days in all, temperatures in DC hovered around 100 degrees. With no air-conditioning, and facing a possible week of those temperatures with no power, and in some cases, no clean water, families all around the area underwent hardship and stress, while road crews came by the hundreds from as far away as Canada to work under sweltering conditions to restore power as quickly as possible. Everywhere we traveled, unusual conditions prevailed. In Target, people were sitting around on the floors near electrical outlets, cooling off and charging their cell phones. A Thrift Drug that had retained their power while most of their neighborhood had lost it had been just about cleaned out and was in the process of restocking. Traffic lights that were dead for days, even at large intersections, required careful traversing with the prevailing understanding that they were to be treated as two-way stop signs. The Motel 6 chain in certain areas near DC was charging $500 per night. The local news channels interviewed people that had to trash large quantities of expensive food stored in their freezers and refrigerators. The malls were inundated with people trying to cool off and get something to eat. Several people were killed or maimed by falling tree limbs. During the height of the storm, I was never so happy to be in a 103-year-old, three-story, brick row house. Despite all this, we elected to stay in DC in the comfort of Ari’s air-conditioned townhouse because as things turned out, Larry was hospitalized for almost two weeks.

On July 4, we had breakfast at a dim sum restaurant we recently discovered in Silver Spring, Oriental East. It was as good as the others we usually frequent, but was much less expensive. Then, we went for a drive out to Costco in College Park, but found it closed for the holiday. Since we were already part of the way there, we then drove to Arundel Mills where we toured Maryland Live! the new casino there. Ari played the slots for a while and won a grand total of less than $2. At least he didn’t lose! We spent a few hours happily and successfully shopping at the mall before heading back to DC for the national fireworks display. We arrived half an hour early and found a parking spot near a high school that sits on one of the highest vantage points overlooking the Washington Monument. We let the air-conditioning run until it was time to walk a block down to view them. They were as spectacular as we remembered from picnicking on the fourth, by Lincoln’s left foot at the Lincoln Memorial, on the National Mall, for several years while Ari was in college. The crowd in which we were standing, fueled by much partying and beer, was high spirited and, at various intervals, broke into spontaneous renditions of “America the Beautiful” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Returning to Ari’s, we discovered that we no longer need to stand in a crowd in 90-degree weather. From his roof deck, we had a 360-degree view of multiple professional fireworks displays, some so close that the ashes were falling onto the roof and we discovered later that we had all been blackened from leaning on the railings. The displays, both homemade and community, continued until well past midnight. Next year, we hope to host a party at Ari’s house. During our time in DC, we also saw the movie, Moonrise Kingdom, which was offbeat and charming, at the E Street Cinema. We tried a new restaurant that opened down the street from Ari, Kangaroo Boxing Club, that has johnnycakes that are habit forming. We also discovered a great joint in Silver Spring, Urban Barbecue.

We drove back home on the Sunday afternoon following July 4. Not a soul had visited to look at our house the entire two weeks we had been away, and since it had gone on the market. Very discouraging! On Monday, after unpacking our suitcases, we went out for breakfast and a dozen bagels at Manhattan Bagel. Then we began shopping to restock the house, first at Trader Joe’s, then at Costco, and then to Produce Junction. Around noon, we got the call from Larry that he was expecting to be released shortly. We went home, unloaded all the groceries, and then drove to Abington Hospital. We all waited, impatiently, for three more hours until they finally released him just after he had dinner. As we drove home, we called our friend, Faith, who was picking up Larry’s mail and asked her to join us at home for pizza and also to bring the mail. I called and ordered the pizza and it was delivered just a few minutes after we arrived. Larry was in good spirits, being out of the hospital, and joined us for a slice and to schmooze for a little while.

On Tuesday, while I did laundry from our trip, I made Larry some scrambled eggs for breakfast. It was the first decent night’s sleep and decent meal he had had in two weeks. I spent the afternoon preparing some food for the week, deviled eggs, cup custard, kasha and bow ties, and seared tuna.  A visiting nurse came to see Larry and change his bandage.

We all took it easy on Wednesday. I blogged all day while Saul spent most of the day reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a rare pleasure for him. We had watched the English language movie together at Ari’s, which had spurred him to read the book. Now, he has to see the movie again so he can understand what he was watching. We defrosted a big container of Alex’s smoked turkey soup with matzoh balls and had it for dinner. Larry’s health has been improving with each passing day.

By Thursday, Larry needed us to take care of something at the bank for him, and while we were out, we decided to have lunch at a new Hibachi Buffet Restaurant that was opening a little north on Rt. 309. We were disappointed to find that it was still under construction. We decided to have leftovers again for lunch at home. Later in the evening, while Larry turned in early, we treated Ken and Randi to dinner at Earl’s in Peddler’s Village. I had been holding a certificate for the place for almost a year. When I called to make a reservation and gave them our last name, they knew Saul’s first name from a previous reservation. We have not eaten there in at least six years, so I was shocked that our name was still in their database. The ambiance of the place is top notch and the food is all locally-sourced. We shared a couple of appetizers, and salads. Our entreés were expertly prepared and beautifully presented. The service was friendly and very efficient. We went back to Ken and Randi’s for a while after dinner to catch up with each others’ lives and try to plan a trip to Florida for Thanksgiving.

Since there had been no calls on showing the house, and no signs that there would be, I decided to mess up my kitchen by making Shabbat dinner at home. Our realtor told us that she had sent out 3,500 flyers initially and received not one response. Very discouraging! First thing in the morning, Saul took Larry to his doctor for removal of his staples. I stayed home and blogged. When the guys called to say they were on the way home from the doctor, and it went okay, I made a batch of challah dough and got ready to go out to lunch with them. They picked me up and we drove over to nearby Metropolitan Diner where the owner, Jill, who was a student at Engineering and Science of both Saul and Larry, stopped by our table to chat with us for a while. We drove across the parking lot and I ran into Costco myself to buy a few items while the guys waited. Then we made yet another trip to Trader Joe’s so Larry could walk around a bit. I spent the afternoon preparing dinner—homemade challah, chicken soup and matzoh balls from my freezer, baby spinach salad with hot sesame dressing, chicken paprikash, kasha and bow ties, steamed cauliflower, and jumbo peanut butter, oatmeal, and raisin cookies. Faith joined us for dinner. I really missed Beth! Larry went off to bed early, Faith left shortly after, and Saul resumed reading the book that was consuming him. I polished off the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle in two hours before I fell asleep. I am now playing the puzzle on the iPad that Larry gave me for my birthday, and it is so much nicer to use than pencil and paper! I am allergic to inks and toners, so taking the iPad to bed with me to read a book or play games is so much cleaner and hypoallergenic!

Larry wasn’t up to Saturday morning services yet, so we stayed in and relaxed on Saturday, having a large, late, lox and bagels breakfast. I caught some old movies on television and put the house and kitchen back into its formerly pristine state, while Saul finally finished the book. Larry’s co-president, Lori, and her husband, Saul, came for a visit on Saturday evening.

Sami was due to return from her half session of camp on Sunday and the kids were leaving the next day for a beach vacation with Alex’s mother and sister and brother’s families. Saul and I drove over to Jersey with all our beach paraphernalia for them to use, hugged and kissed our granddaughters to pieces, and had an early dinner at Yuki Hana, a new all-you-can-eat sushi joint that is near their home. Sami chose the restaurant, having been seriously starved for sushi at Camp Ramah. From her conversation, we could tell that she truly enjoyed camp very much. We headed home early right from dinner, as most of Sami’s clothes had not arrived yet from camp or had disappeared in the laundry and Jess needed to buy her some things to take on vacation. Later that evening, a violent thunderstorm rolled in with continuous loud crashes of thunder and lightening right over our heads.

This morning, I went with Saul to the doctor for him to have overdue blood work and a routine check-up. The regular nurse was on vacation and the substitute gave up after two sticks. As a result, we had to spend an additional hour and parking fees at Abington Hospital for them to take his blood sample. He had been fasting for the sample, so he was quite hungry by the time they were finished with him. We had a nice breakfast at Lancer’s Diner, across from the Willow Grove Naval Air Station, where Saul had been stationed for boot camp and training when he was a teenager. Jacksonville Lancers was also the name of his drill team while he was serving time in the Navy. Gazing at the airfield through the large windows as we had breakfast brought back lots of old memories for both of us. The day turned into a rather hedonistic one in the end. We drove from Lancer’s to Grin Nails in Spring House where we both had mani/pedis. Neither of us has done this in a few years, and Saul was long overdue. His feet in sandals were positively awful and we bought him a great pair of casual shoes on our shopping trip to hide them. Among our wonderful treatments as we sat side-by-side were hot rock massages to feet, legs and backs. While I had taken Saul with me for pedicures a few times a couple of years ago, he had never had a manicure before. I think he enjoyed it almost as much as the pedicure. By the time we arrived home, I think Larry, who has been feeling better each day was getting cabin fever. He wanted to drive somewhere where he could walk a bit with a shopping cart for support. We had forgotten to get Saul fish oil capsules that he takes for his arthritis on our previous forays, so we went back, yet another time,  and bought some other odds and ends as well. Larry was doing so well and it was such a beautiful day that we asked if he wanted to go for a drive to Owowcow for ice cream. He had never been there and was game for it. We drove the 23 miles to Ottsville, and each of us had the 5-scoop, $5 special because we could not decide on just one or two flavors. None of us were hungry for even a light dinner after that. Returning home, we lounged for a couple of hours before we finally were up for some food. I made Larry another scrambled egg and Saul and I had tea and crackers.

In the afternoon, as we had pulled up to Costco, our realtor called to tell us that since we had put the house up for sale, nothing had gone up for contract except a couple of houses that were very low end. She felt that the record heat and July 4 holiday week had made people lethargic about looking for new homes. We decided to wait and see if things pick up next week. With Larry convalescing here and the girls coming for an abbreviated Camp Bubbie and Saba next week, we are not pushing at the moment. We are enjoying our “light” house for now and trying to remain positive. We feel that we have done everything in our power to make this happen, and that it will happen when it is time. Both of us believe that things happen a certain way for a reason and we are content to wait and see how the future develops.