Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Lightening Up… or Lightning Up?

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A long time has passed since I have written. In fact, almost two months have gone by and they have been very productive months indeed. My last blog post was about hoarding and the deleterious effects this can have, sapping one’s time and energy. I am very pleased to say that Saul and I have used the last two months to get rid of almost all the unnecessary stuff that has been clogging our attic storage  spaces, humongous basement, closets, and drawers. The result is that we both feel a tremendous relief at having organized our lives. What is left is the stuff we actually need and use. We were able to sell some of our unwanted items on Craig’s List. The baby grand piano in the foyer that hasn’t been played for many, many years went to a 10-year old boy who lives, literally, around the corner. He came with his father and a piano tuner who took it apart to assess it. Although we had owned it for almost 30 years, we learned a great deal about its previous history in a few minutes. The excitement of this child was palpable when he first laid eyes on the piano. Ari had been the same way when we had purchased it for him. The pool table was purchased by a guy in his early twenties, who came with two friends, a pickup truck, the appropriate tools, and the know-how to carefully disassemble it for moving to a new location. The dented samovar was purchased by someone who offered more than the asking price because we held it for her. We gave away an old coffee table and console table to a young couple that was just getting their first apartment. We sold an old cabinet that nobody but my mother ever liked. We went through carton after carton of old useless papers. We went through thousands of books. We donated cartons of books to Chestnut Hill College, which indirectly sends them to the Phillipines. Saul hurt his back for a few days lugging these, and ten cartons of books with Jewish content to Temple Sinai. Impact sent 20-foot trucks twice to haul away donations and then finally gave up. Adele and Larry came and emptied out half a closet in which I had been storing items for a garage sale. In the end, we hired a wonderful hauling service to clean out the rest. They worked tirelessly in very hot weather and filled a large dumpster on our driveway past the brim and hauled away another packed 20-foot truck with items they felt they could sell. With a few more trunkfuls that we delivered to Impact, we felt elated and that we were finished for the time being. Looking back on the process, it is hard to believe the volume of stuff that has been removed, all of it useless to us and unwanted by our children.

Faith’s last Bible class of the season took place in its usual venue at Temple Sinai and some of the ladies prepared a light luncheon to mark the occasion. I have been attending this class on Thursday mornings for almost 25 years. I hope that, even if the house is sold, I will find occasions to make it back to this area every so often to attend in the future.

I hosted a Mother’s Day brunch for family and friends as I have for many years. It was a lovely day that I knew would be the last time my home would appear pretty much as it had for the last 19 years and probably the last time I would be hosting a big party here. Beginning the following Monday morning, the clean-out process began in earnest.

To mark the end of the Religious School year, we attended a poignant Dalet Class promotion program for Sami.

While Ari was in for Shavuot, we attended my cousin Alan’s daughter Emily’s bat mitzvah. Unsurprisingly, it was a very lyrical and melodic service, in keeping with that part of the family’s musical bent. The synagogue was small and welcoming. Emily, whom we have not seen in a number of years, is a pale and lovely young lady whose resemblance to my maternal grandmother is striking. We were gratified to learn that it was because of her own desire and initiative that she undertook the training and responsibility to become a bat mitzvah. The celebration and luncheon following the service at an historical inn on Philadelphia’s Main Line was lively and fun. The three of us, my brother’s family, and our other cousin, Bob, were able to catch up with Alan’s life a bit and get to know Emily a little better. Adele and Larry and Beth were in the throes of the moving process and could not attend.

About the beginning of May, my niece Beth sold her house next door within a week of putting it on the market. Saul, Ari and I arranged to take off some time to help her drive her stuff and her dogs to Tucson, Arizona, right after Memorial Day weekend. Her fiancé, Paul, bought a condo and is taking a nursing degree there. In addition to packing up and moving across the country, she was faced with the unpleasant task of seeing that her aged dog, Yenta, her companion of 13 years, was put to sleep in the most humane way possible. Yenta had been living on pain killers and could barely walk. She was in no way up to making the long and stressful trip. Beth also gave up her engineering job. She has really shaken up her life.

Our week-long trip to Tucson and back turned out to be quite an enjoyable vacation in many ways. Ari came home for Memorial Day Weekend which was also Shavuot this year. We attended services with Jess and Alex and the girls. The older girls did a beautiful job reading Torah in the main sanctuary at TBS. Ari stayed with us and worked remotely after that. We found that we were all able to leave on Wednesday afternoon instead of early Thursday morning as we had planned, so we were able to get a jump on the driving. Saul and Ari alternated riding in Beth’s car with the dogs, while I rode shotgun in the 20-foot rental truck with whoever was not driving with Beth (because of my allergy to the dogs). Many of the motels along the way were amused that we needed both pet-friendly and pet-free rooms wherever we went. On that first day, we drove about 300 miles, stopping in Harrisonburg, Virginia, around 9:00 p.m. With difficulty, we climbed a slippery grassy hill behind the Sleep Inn to have a late dinner at O’Neill’s Grill just before closing. On Thursday morning, after a motel breakfast, we left around 9:00 a.m. We traveled about 650 miles that day. We stopped at a Cracker Barrel for lunch and it was so hot that Beth had to keep running out to make sure the dogs were okay in the car. The last few hours of the 12-hour drive were the worst part of the entire trip. We drove into a torrential thunderstorm as darkness fell. We were all exhausted and found ourselves on rain-slick roads in the middle of nowhere Tennessee. Ari was having trouble locating a pet-friendly motel within reasonable driving distance. He finally located one, a Jamison Inn, in Jackson, Tennessee. It was adequate. We walked across the parking lot to have dinner at a Buffalo Wild Wings. By Friday morning, we discovered that we were better off leaving by 8:00 a.m. The Jamison Inn had a somewhat nicer free breakfast than usual.

Our third day of driving was much more pleasant. We drove over 700 miles, but by then, we were mostly driving on sunny, flat, lightly-traveled highways where the speed limit was 80 mph. We hit some heavy traffic when we reached Dallas around the 5:00 p.m. rush hour, but we were only slowed down for about half an hour. Having had a sketchy experience stopping for lunch at Cracker Barrel, we decided that snacking in the air-conditioned car was a better bet. I had loaded up with a bag of goodies at Trader Joe’s before the trip, and we supplemented this with purchases at gas stations along the way. Using Google Maps and Trip Advisor, late in the afternoon, I found a barbecue joint in Hope, Arkansas, that was highly recommended and had outdoor seating so we could keep the dogs with us. We never would have found Big Jake’s without the Internet as this gem was hidden on an industrial road behind a strip of the usual fast food joints. In addition to the homey feel and fantastic barbecue and sides, this place is known for its fried pies. With much difficulty, we chose five different flavors from among about two dozen. Hope, Arkansas, coincidentally, has the distinction of being the locale of the childhood home of former President William Jefferson Clinton which, we gathered from the locals, doesn’t get a lot of tourist traffic.

We spent our third night in Abilene, Texas, at a Best Western. We were still full from our late lunch and went to bed as soon as we arrived. In Abilene, the waffle iron at our free motel breakfast produced waffles shaped like the state of Texas. Everywhere we traveled in Texas we encountered things emblazoned with the state shape or the lone star—even on the highway bridges. Also emblematic of Texas, there is the perception of so much space that new things are built next to old things that have not been torn down or cleared away. One example would be a line of four gas stations right next to each other with only the second one in line being functional. The others had been defunct for at least 20 years. That, plus unsightly commercial/industrial complexes and slapped-together, awful-looking buildings made for much ugly scenery along the highways.

Our reward for pushing so hard to get the bulk of the miles behind us in the first few days was so that we could take our time at the end when we were sure to be road weary. Our fourth day became unexpectedly difficult when we traveled the highway in West Texas that took us along the Mexican border. We encountered high winds that were random and intermittent on roads where there was virtually no speed limit and the semis were passing us at 90+ mph while we had, as the saying goes, “the pedal to the metal.” On several occasions, a sudden gust of wind caught us and just about blew us off the road. Ari, who was driving the truck at the time, found himself gripping the steering wheel with headache-producing tension. When we stopped for gas, Saul drove the truck for the last few hours until we arrived in Deming, New Mexico. There was a customs-type border crossing between Texas and New Mexico where cars and trucks are stopped and are subject to questioning guards and possible searches. Luckily, after a brief wait in line and a few questions about our destination, we were waved through. After that, we began encountering road signs telling us that “Dust Storms May Exist” which in my case caused both amusement and consternation. Luckily, despite the high winds in Texas, we did not have a chance to answer this existential question in New Mexico. Unlike our previous days, we stopped at around 4:00 p.m. The brand-new Hampton Inn where we stayed was the best of all our hotels thus far. We had an early and very pleasant dinner at a Mexican restaurant in quaint downtown Deming called Si Senor which, accurately, was highly touted on Yelp. By the time we were leaving, the restaurant had almost filled up.

Our object was to arrive in Tucson on Sunday morning. Beth had hired a team of movers to unpack the U-Haul on Sunday morning, but since their hours were not flexible, she rescheduled them for Monday so that we would not be pressured to arrive before noon. After yet another very nice free breakfast, we headed for Tucson feeling that the last 250 miles would be a piece of cake compared to all the long hours of driving we had done, and it was. We arrived about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday morning, almost at the time we had set for ourselves. Paul met us at the gate of the condo complex and Saul, Ari and I switched over to Paul’s Mercedes SUV for the rest of the trip. We drove over to our gorgeous resort, Loew’s Ventana Canyon, within walking distance of the condo complex, and situated ourselves into our beautiful and spacious rooms. While Beth and Paul unloaded her car and small rented trailer, Saul, Ari and I lunched on cool salads at a nearby restaurant called Jasper. Then, we decided to indulge in one of our favorite pastimes, looking at real estate, since there were many Sunday open houses. Despite all our previous driving, we visited three open houses. One home was so cool that we revisited with Beth a few days later. That night, we all had dinner together at a very good Chinese restaurant.

Because we had booked our resort stay in Tucson after June 1, it was no longer prime time, and we stayed for the remarkable rate of $99 a night, which included a $25 per day food voucher that covered the most elegant white-tablecloth breakfast imaginable. Nestled against the side of a mountain, we had breathtaking views of enormous branched saguaro cacti, natural waterfalls, spectacular floral landscaping with soothing water features, and a beautiful pool area with hot tub and mini waterfall. The views from our rooms and balconies were just as gorgeous.

Beth’s movers arrived on Monday morning, way ahead of schedule, and she had to scramble out of bed to accommodate them. Ari went over to assist, while Saul and I hung out at the resort. We met for a late lunch at Beyond Bread. With the two days we had left over, Beth came over and joined us for breakfast and hung out at the pool while Paul was in class. Monday evening, we all met for a congenial and delicious dinner at Fleming’s where I used up a bunch of Bonefish Grill (they are related) gift certificates I found in a drawer when I was clearing out my old bedroom furniture. Lightening up does have its rewards! We helped Beth choose a new living room sofa and went to see the cool house we had seen on our first day in Tucson. On Tuesday evening, Beth met us and we had dinner again at Beyond Bread and dessert at a marvelous gelato place nearby. We were supposed to board the last flight of the afternoon (around 3:00 p.m.) out of Tucson, stopping in Dallas, and on to DC. Saul and I were to be picked up the next day in DC and delivered home to Philadelphia by Alex. Our flight was cancelled due to a huge thunderstorm and flooding in Dallas. In rescheduling, we were able to arrange to split up in Chicago, where we would catch a flight to Philadelphia and Ari would continue on to DC. Saul, Ari and I had a cab take us to a nearby Marriott, where we had a disappointing light dinner in their bar/lounge. It was too hot to walk even a few blocks to a restaurant, and we were exhausted with the whole airport scene. Our flight was rescheduled for very early in the morning on Thursday, so early in fact, that we caught the shuttle with some of our flight crew at dawn. So many flights had been cancelled because of the storm that the airport was pandemonium when we arrived because of overbooking, and we all volunteered to be bumped to a later flight in exchange for $300 in flight vouchers and additional food vouchers. To his chagrin, they managed to find a seat for Ari on the original flight. Saul and I waited comfortably for about 3 hours for the next flight, which was also overbooked. We volunteered again, and this time when we were bumped, we were given $500 vouchers and did not have to wait at all. They held the plane at the gate next to us for 10 minutes while we were re-ticketed through Dallas instead of Chicago. We were hustled aboard and took off almost immediately. Our layover in Dallas of 2-1/2 hours was just enough time to have a lovely meal at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen. We could have volunteered to be bumped a third time and have made another $300 and had our hotel and meals comped, but by then we were road-weary and I had a special reason for wanting to be home on Friday morning.

Our friend, Marianne, had called just as we were leaving for Arizona. She remembered the carrot cake I had made a year earlier on Mother’s Day and told me she had been dreaming about it for a long time. Her twin sister was coming to visit from Jerusalem and they were having a family party to celebrate. She asked if I would make the cake for the family get-together and some cookies for her grandchildren. She offered to pay me, but I told her she could take us out to lunch sometime instead. The first thing Saul and I did when we awoke on Friday morning (after having arrived home courtesy of a late-nate pickup at Philadelphia International Airport by our friend Larry) was go to the supermarket to pick up the necessary ingredients. The cake and chocolate chip cookies were finished by 1:00 p.m. and were picked up later by her son, John. Shortly afterward, we met our friend Larry for an early dinner before Shabbat at the Metropolitan Diner. Shortly after that, by coincidence, Ken, Randi and her sister Sherrie showed up there for dinner also. We moved to their table outdoors at dessert time and passed a pleasant hour schmoozing before going home to light the Shabbat candles. On Sunday evening, there was a phone message from Marianne raving about the cake and inviting us to dinner and an architectural program along with her sister at Foulkeways. It was a lovely evening. As ever, the setting was elegant and friendly, and the food, delicious and ample.

I have waited so long to write, and there are so many important details to record, that I will continue the narrative in another blog post…

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