Thursday, September 20, 2012

Rosh Hashanah 5773

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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

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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.