Thursday, November 8, 2012

Weathering Sandy

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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 LavĂ©, 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.

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