Monday, January 23, 2012

Cocooning in January 2012

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We haven’t done a whole lot in January. As it was when Saul’s father died, the responsibility of finding a minyan every day to say kaddish for Saul’s mother, and the time spent traveling back and forth to join at least 10 others in prayer, takes a large bite out of the spontaneity that we enjoy and usually try to incorporate in our lives. For almost a year, it seemed as though every time we started on a project, it was time to wrap it up and head off to synagogue. Saul’s father died at the same time of year as his mother, and so, added to the initial shock of death, shiva and shloshim, is the natural indisposition of the weather—the ice, snow, freezing rain, hail, and early darkness—which makes getting out of the house each day at an appointed time a real trial.

The first two weeks of this month, Saul was on the tail-end of a month-long, mid-semester break. On both of those Shabbatot, we journeyed to Cherry Hill to have dinner with the kids. Rif joined us on that first Shabbat, during which Yona was banished from the table because she absolutely refused to close an umbrella which Jess had compromised on letting her hold at her seat. Several days later, we picked up Yona for a few days so that Jess and Alex could go unencumbered to visit Alex’s best friend, Menachem, now a rabbi in Berkeley, who was attending a conference in Baltimore at the Pearlstone Center where Jessica works. We arranged to meet Jess and the girls at Sushi Kingdom on a Wednesday evening so that we could pick up Yona. Again coincidentally, as we were just starting dinner, Rif and Paul appeared and joined us.  For the second Shabbat, TBS hosted a family program called Sugary Shabbat, which was something that Alex never would have conceived or designed, but is a long-standing tradition at TBS that he cheerfully facilitated. We drove over to Cherry Hill in the late afternoon for the well-attended family service, which Alex led with his usual boundless energy. Afterward, a dessert buffet ensued during which families played a game of M&M bingo using the candy as markers, and an enormous amount of candy, cookies, pretzel sticks, marshmallows and icing were used to create fanciful constructions which were then demolished by the participants. Jess had given the older girls an early dinner, and Yona, whom we were returning after her two days reveling in being an only child with us (she was an angel), had a late dinner with us adults before being packed off to bed. After dinner, we returned home with the other two girls in tow so that we could spend the weekend together.

We had planned to all attend services at MBIEE on Saturday morning, but Izzy, who had packed hastily while we were all tired the previous evening, had not brought appropriate clothes with her. I hung around with the girls on Saturday morning, while Saul went off to shul. We had a big bagel breakfast together, watched some movies, and assembled the Lego Guggenheim Museum model that Larry had bought for Izzy as a Chanukah present. When Saul returned, we played Garfield Monopoly in the afternoon. When Shabbat was over, we went to King of Prussia and bought lots of new clothes at Nordstrom Rack (great bargains) for Sami, who is now a petite woman’s size and difficult to fit, and some new tops for Izzy. Then, as Bahama Breeze had a two-hour wait, and the Mall food court was closing, we wound up having a very late dinner at King Buffet in Plymouth Meeting. The girls could not have been more delighted, or more appreciative. They have worn hand-me-downs without complaint for most of their lives, and King Buffet is their favorite place to eat.

Alex was off (a rare occasion) for the Sunday of MLK weekend. Since it was one of the first days of this winter that was bitterly cold, we decided to meet for breakfast in New Jersey and spend the afternoon indoors at the Adventure Aquarium in Camden. Jess called ahead for reservations at Ponzio’s, a long-standing, classic New Jersey diner. Despite the large crowds waiting, we were seated almost immediately and breakfast was delicious, served efficiently, and the menu offered many non-meat choices. We left for the aquarium, less than 10 miles away, in two cars. We were absolutely wowed by the scope and size of the facility. One of our first encounters was with a tank of rays that could be patted with two fingers. Every hour, a 15-minute time-out was observed, during which no hands were allowed in the tank. Shockingly, when the period was over, and hands returned to the tank, the rays headed right for them at the edge. They evidently enjoy being touched and patted! During certain periods, sardine-type small fish could be purchased to feed to them. I also loved the jellyfish displays. Watching the phosphorescent jellyfish undulate is endlessly fascinating to me for some unfathomable (pun intended) reason. I could literally stand there all day until someone drags me away. The huge tanks hold enormous hippopotami as well as other aquatic creatures and they oblige by swimming right along the glassy walls so that they can be observed from, literally, only a few inches away, something that could never happen in the wild. At the end of the afternoon, we returned home with all three girls as school was closed on Monday for them. Saul, however, began his new semester on Monday. We were all so tired from our excursion to the aquarium that we ordered in pizza, and we and the girls all went to bed early, without protest, even Yona. On Monday, Izzy and I baked her birthday cake in the three-dimensional lamb pan from Wilton that I used for “The Cat in the Hat” cake a couple of years ago. This one eventually will be turned into a standing, 3D, roller skate. I continue to marvel at how well the girls have learned to bake and cook. Other than a little help with fractional measurements, about all I am needed for is to clean up. While we made the cake, Sami kept Yona amused with retro cartoon clips on my computer. For lunch, the girls made soba noodles with Japanese-style shiitake mushroom sauce, probably the only dish that makes all three of them happy. They have very different tastes, usually, when it comes to food. Even Yona got into the act, standing on a chair, beginning to learn how to slice the fresh mushrooms with a tiny garnishing knife. On Monday evening, Saul and I met Jessica at Wegman’s in Warrington to have dinner there and return the girls home for school the next day. Wegman’s was the perfect place to meet. There is a children’s area with tiny chairs and picnic tables, a television tuned to “The Disney Channel,” and kosher rotisserie chicken. The children were not confined to their chairs as in a restaurant. We were extremely sorry to say goodbye to the girls as the next scheduled meeting will not be until Izzy’s birthday weekend a few weeks from now. We may have to go sooner if the “withdrawal pains” get to be too intense.

In the meantime, the return to a regular routine has meant long weekdays in the house for me. When the weather gets cold and nasty, I get OCD about cleaning and keeping the house in order so that being indoors doesn’t depress me. I find that the short winter days have a tendency to do that to me; but there is also the satisfaction of curling up under a fluffy down comforter with a good book, my iPhone Kindle app, or the NY Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle. Having the ability to do that at will is a great satisfaction and joy to me.

This past Shabbat, we were all tired from the first week back to routine and the nasty change in the weather. I shopped on Thursday afternoon and made Shabbat dinner at home—homemade challah, leek and Cope’s dried corn soup, buttery steelhead trout glazed with Meyer lemon,  Brussels sprouts and chestnuts glazed with maple syrup, homemade coleslaw, Israeli salad, salt-rubbed giant russet baked potatoes, followed by an assortment of leftover homemade holiday cookies from the freezer and coffee. Larry, Faith and Beth joined us. On Sunday, Ari called to say that he had arrived safely in Atlanta for a week-long business seminar. We did not go out the entire weekend. Snow and freezing rain made travel anywhere extremely hazardous. Like me, however, Saul enjoyed curling up under the covers, usually with his laptop, watching old movies, eating yummy leftovers, and getting some much-needed rest.

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