Monday, April 29, 2013

Too Sweet Tout de Suite

Tout de suite (in French, pronounced tüt-swʸēt) is an expression that means “all at once.” That is how my life has been unfolding these past few weeks since my last post. Every day has been a challenge in one way or another, good and bad. Let me start with the bad. Almost two weeks ago, I had my yearly physical with my internist. I should probably schedule yearly exams a year in advance, as my doctors are so booked up that my checkups usually are stretched to every year-and-a-half. Saul went in for his checkup two days later, as they will not schedule two in one day in case of cancellations. When I accompanied Saul, I was informed that my blood profile had returned and that my A1C reading was 10.2. A reading over 7 indicates diabetes. The doctor introduced this information by telling me that I must be very sweet. I was horrified. I have been waiting for diabetes to descend upon me all my life, as my paternal grandfather died from a diabetic coma, my father was insulin dependent, and my mother developed mild adult-onset diabetes as she aged. I am in my sixties, overweight since menopause by about 40 lbs., and I have been able to eat whatever I pleased without too much concern for all of my life. I think I have a relatively healthy diet. I don’t do fast food, fruit juice, soda, hamburgers, or vast quantities of melted cheese. I only eat meat once in a while, and I love fresh fruit, veggies, fish, and salads. But, I do have a “sweet tooth.” I expected that eventually, as I aged, my A1C would begin to rise and the doctor would warn me so that I would have a chance to modify my diet and avoid medication. To my dismay, none of that was to be. For the last 10 days, I have been on a strict diet and have had a nasty reaction to the first medication, Metformin. Since the number is so high, the doctor insisted that I try another, Glimepiride. In addition, I have become a human pin-cushion. Thank God, Saul is not squeamish and has been poking me twice a day to measure my blood sugar. We haven’t worked out the One Touch meter very well. I have had to be poked numerous times to get the requisite drop to fill the meter. Hopefully, by the end of the summer, everything will settle into a nice normal pattern again.

The good news (I hope) is that we appear to have won the poker game that now is the procedure for bidding on a foreclosed home in Florida. It is really ludicrous! We bid on this particular house while it was a short sale several months ago and lost it to Fannie Mae, which decided to foreclose, take it off the market, “relocate” the tenants, clean it up, and then put it back up on the market. It is a house that is right around the corner from the house where we stayed in December when we were vacationing with the family, and it has the identical layout. The bank sets a particular price and then investors are invited to bid on it through a broker. Our first bid was a bit under the asking price. After that, we were informed that there were other bidders and we were invited to raise, stand pat, or withdraw, just like with a poker hand. Legally, we are not allowed to know what the other bids are, so if you up the bid, you may just be bidding against yourself. We decided to up the bid to a little bit over the asking price. At that point, we were informed that a new bid had come in and the bank was required by law to inform all the other bidders and again invite them to raise, stand pat, or fold without knowing the amount of any of the other bids. This time, we decided to stand pat and as Saul said, “let it ride.” After last Wednesday, the bank had the right to turn down all the existing bids and open up the bidding to additional investors who would not necessarily be occupying the house. A good sign was that on Wednesday, the last day before it could have been opened to additional bidders, Fannie Mae asked us to produce evidence that we would truly be occupying the house for at least one year after purchase. We sent them a copy of our agreement of sale on our present house. On Friday afternoon, we learned that they had accepted our offer. From that date, by law, we had exactly 10 days to have the house inspected and let Fannie Mae know if we intended to proceed with the sale or withdraw our offer. If we decided to accept, we had exactly 30 days from the  Friday we were notified, April 19, to complete settlement, which we are legally bound to do once we accepted. Let me say that it is more than a little bit scary to buy a house where you have never actually been inside. At our request, my brother-in-law Larry drove over from The Villages, an hour away, to meet the home inspector and insect inspector. After extensive reports by Larry, the home inspector, and the insect inspector, we decided to buy it before we have seen it. We plan to drive down in a few days, after the fact, to take a look.

Part of the “all at once” nature of these last two weeks is that on the same Wednesday we had hoped to have a decision on the house, Saul was honored by Chestnut Hill College on the occasion of his retirement. Jess had other commitments and could not attend, but sent a congratulatory planted bowl of fresh herbs with the wish that he would now have “lots of thyme” to enjoy life. Larry S. attended, as well as next year’s president of MBI-EE, who also teaches at the college. Ari drove in from DC the previous evening to attend the ceremony and we had hoped to fly down to Florida together, last minute, over that weekend. Since we did not get the acceptance until Friday, it was too late to make arrangements. That was the same Friday that I found out about my diabetes. The retirement ceremonies were heartfelt, touching, creative, and gratifying. Wonderful speeches were made by some of his colleagues and students to express their appreciation. He received a beautifully-crafted, personalized, wooden box, a generous cash award, and a lovely geranium plant that was the centerpiece of our table at the dessert reception afterward. It was very sweet to know how much his teaching and support was appreciated by faculty, administration, and students.
The day after joining the kids for Shabbat dinner on Friday, we celebrated Izzy’s Aleph Consecration at TBS on April 13, a lovely ceremony that began with the 36 students in the Aleph class being escorted into the chapel with a member of their family, where they received a certificate. Since Alex was in charge of the ceremony, Izzy chose her “saba” to accompany her. It was very sweet to watch as the children came up in small groups to competently contribute their parts in the services. The services were followed by a light luncheon with a make-your-own-sundae bar. We ate very lightly, as Jess and Alex had prepared a luncheon at home for us in Izzy’s honor. As we whiled away a few hours over the table discussing our upcoming plans, we were delighted to spend a sweet afternoon with our children and grandchildren. Jess suggested, as we were discussing the plans for Sami’s upcoming bat mitzvah, that I do a painted frame that could be scanned, digitized, and used for her “save the date” and invitation. I loved the idea and set about doing that painting over a period of about four days immediately afterward.

The Friday before last was the one fraught with all kinds of momentous news. As I took the completed painting over to Sami, Saul, Ari and I purchased a bottle of prosecco at Roger Wilco to toast the success of our Florida venture. Jess and Alex ordered Indian takeout for Shabbat dinner from a wonderful nearby vegetarian restaurant, Rajbhog, Alex made a curried squash soup as a first course. Over that weekend we enjoyed spending time with Ari, and together, making plans for the future.

During the week after Ari went back to DC, I was recovering from an adverse reaction to the first medication, and beginning the second medication, which seems to suit me better. Towards the end of last week, I baked and decorated a “ball pit” birthday cake for Yona’s 4th birthday party, which she shared with her best friend from school, Julia. I attended Faith’s class on Thursday, which, by coincidence, featured the Torah portion, Mikketz, from which Sami will read on her bat mitzvah. Its imagery had been the subject of the invitation painting that I had just completed, Pharoah’s dream of seven fat cows being consumed by seven emaciated cows and seven abundant heads of grain being consumed by seven parched heads of grain. Joseph’s success in the interpretation of the dream is what brought our people to Egypt, subsequently to be enslaved when we became too numerous and successful.

Last Friday, Saul took me to the hospital early for another blood test. Afterward, Saul caught up with end-of-the-semester work for a few hours while I got an upscale haircut and then we drove out to Cherry Hill with Yona’s cake to have Shabbat dinner. Alex made yummy miso soup, assorted sushi, and panko-fried fish. The kids had leftover fruit sorbets from Passover for dessert. We brought Sami home with us so that we could all attend Faith’s granddaughter Sophie’s bat mitzvah on Saturday evening in Metuchen, NJ. Sami and Sophie know each other through Faith, and will be attending Camp Ramah together this summer. For the long drive, we also picked up longtime friends and neighbors from our teaching days at Temple Sinai, Joe and Marilyn. The beautiful and athletically-talented Sophie did a remarkable job of leading the service and reading from the Torah. Between mincha and maariv, there was a 20-minute “intermission” for food, and we all had a chance to mingle around the buffet table and catch up with old friends. After the services, a gala party began with a DJ and buffet dinner. We all had a lovely time and arrived back home, exhausted, at about 1:00 a.m. We slept late the next morning, and about noon, we headed out for Yona’s birthday party, which took place at the JCC where Jessica works. About 20 4-year-olds attended with parents and some grandparents in tow. They had a blast playing in the Imaginarium for an hour or so. Then, we were ushered into a room that was set up to color designs for individualized t-shirts. Each child’s name was lettered onto the transfer paper in advance. Then everyone filed out to another room where the tables were set for birthday cake, soft pretzels, fresh fruit and drinks. While the staff ironed on the transfers, the kids were able to spend another hour in the Imaginarium.
After the party, Elaine, Alex’s mom, went home, but the rest of the family went for a.y.c.e. sushi at Winnie Q Restaurant. Rif called Paul to join us there, as he was finished working for the day. Both Yona and Izzy were so tired from their play that they both fell asleep sprawled across the banquettes at the restaurant. We were able to rouse them for a few minutes to down some fried ice cream for dessert. They shared an order. Then we all separated and headed for home.

It was an incredible weekend, full of sweetness and satisfaction at the wonder of our beautiful families, and, for me, full of gratification at being able to create things that bring joy to all of us. I hope the sweetness continues, not in my diet, where I will have to learn to manage it, but in all our lives. One sweet aspect of even the bad part, is that for the first time since menopause, I can easily fit back into my favorite size 12 clothing that I have stored away for a long time, of which I was about to rid myself in our upcoming move soon to Florida. Fitting back into that clothing, tout de suite, was pretty sweet, too.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Samara’s Corner

Introducing Ramah in the Poconos!  
Hey everybody! So when I wrote my last blog, it was about my life until today, but I forgot about Ramah and everybody was saying that I needed to write about it, but I decided that it would be much better if I wrote a blog post about it so, here goes…

What Ramah is…
Ramah is a chain of camps in America and Israel that are strictly Jewish, nothing else. There are only two that I know of in America—one in California and one in the Poconos. Naturally, being from the east coast, I went to the one in the Pocono mountains. Ramah has been around for very long time. The first time my mom went to Ramah, she was 9 or 10 years old, and she’s over 30 now, so you do the math. Ramah is not even just one camp anymore. It is a series of camps. I know there is a family camp, a day-care camp and a few others. I even have a t-shirt from 1981 for Ramah (designed by my grandmother), so think on that while I explain my experience. 

*Keep in mind that there are age groups that we're in, too,—Notitzim, Tziirim, HALUTZIM!!!!!, Bogrim, Machon, Shoafim, and lastly. Gesher.

The Rules and Tips of the Road…
The first thing that you have to remember at Ramah is that you are not the only one in your bunk, so when you “borrow” something from someone without asking (which you should never do in the first place, but it happens), give it back the exact same way that you found it, or you are so busted for the REST of the time that you are there. The second thing is that you should only pack the essentials in your duffel and take the rest (nail polish, cards, games, stationery, set books, sunscreen, bug spray, etc.) in another bag, so that you have enough room for everything. The third thing (yes, this is going to be awhile, so sit down and relax, especially if your child is going to Ramah this summer) is do not bring a cell phone to camp. I REPEAT, do NOT bring a cell phone to camp because they train the counselors to sniff out a cell phone from a mile away. Parents, if you give your child an “emergency” phone they WILL take it. iPods are fine, though, as long as they stay in the bunk. The fourth thing is that you should NEVER EVER EVER EVER bring a boy into your bunk if you are a girl, or opposite for a boy. I remember last year, a girl in my bunk had a crush on a boy, and brought him onto our bunk porch and flung the door open while a girl was changing for swim. The girl that did it was almost sent home from camp for the rest of the summer so DONT DO IT. The fifth and final thing is that if you only stick with people that you already know from other places, it WILL get very boring. So shake it up, make some friends, and have fun. That was the rules of the road.

I need to get some stories on set in 3, 2, 1, action… 
My Camp Experience (finally)
The first thing that I did for camp is my least favorite thing—packing. It was hard, organization-challenging, and boring, and I don’t have that many clothes with which to work. When I was done, I didn’t have that many clothes left, so I had to do the laundry every day. They took my duffel a couple days before camp started, so that I didn’t have to shlep it all along on the bus ride. I got on the bus and got there, and didn’t do anything in between except for say goodbye a lot. Then I was at camp, and it was on one of the mountains, so we changed our clocks (which, by the way, are a handy thing to bring on the trip, too), and we unpacked and got ourselves organized. Not just in the bunk, but in our heads, and the first thing that I saw in the bunk was plaques, and I mean in the rafters, on the wall, and a couple on the ceiling, too, and they were the only source of color in the bunk. There was a bathroom with two stalls, two sinks, and two showers, and a schedule for chores and showers on the door. There were also themes for every bunk. Mine was Candyland. (Do not ask me what my plaque was, because I was only there for half of the summer. For the rest of my summer at Ramah, I had a blast, but I want to chunk it down into paragraphs seeing that this one is getting big. 

I need schedules, schedules on the set in 3, 2, 1, action… 
Schedule Confusion
Now we get to the most confusing and best part of camp—ta da, scheduling. Now, I know what you are thinking—“well, I thought that we do that at home.” Well, you don’t. The second day that you are at camp, you figure out your schedule. The first thing that you do is go to the basketball court so that your counselors can show you all of the different sports and stuff like that. Then you go to omanut (oh-mah-newt) and see what arts you can do. Then you go to schiyah (sch like challah, e like eek! and ya like yacht). Yes, I have to do that. And then you go back to your bunk to see what you are going to do. The only things that are required are schiyah, dance, eating, sleeping, and the play. Don’t count on getting into everything that you signed up for, because Ramah is great, but they can’t please everybody. And you can also switch out of things, too. Like, I chose three different kinds of omanut and got two sports and teva. So naturally, I switched out. But they’re not that mean. They do let you have a second choice if you don’t get the choice that you picked. 

And I get the play on set in 3, 2, 1, action…
Yes, there is a group play, and yes, you are required to be part of it.  

There is a play for each of the groups that I mentioned. Every edah has a different play every year. Last summer, our halutzim play was Willy Wonka. We had to memorize all of our lines in Hebrew. I was Violet Beauregard (the girl that turns into a blueberry). It takes about three weeks to finish and make perfect, but it was really worth it.

I love camp and I’m going this summer as a full summer Bogrimer. So, see you there!

Monday, April 8, 2013

March 2013—In Like a Lion and Out Like a Lion

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Although the groundhog had predicted an early spring this year, the weather this March has been unseasonably cold, sometimes frigid, with only a few mild days scattered in to tease us and the forsythia into thinking that spring was just around the corner. There wasn’t a lot of snow, but it was enough to put off buying flowers and putting away sweaters, wool socks, winter coats and gloves. Cartoons have appeared depicting frozen groundhogs, or showing people’s desire to strangle them.

Purim was very early this year, falling on February 23, a Saturday. The two weeks in February leading up to it shaped our plans almost hour-by-hour. We had dinner with Larry at Cheesecake Factory during that week. On Valentine’s Day, Saul and I had a late lunch together at Metropolitan Diner. Then we went to see the movie, Quartet, which we absolutely loved. We were too full to have dinner after that and hit the sack early.

On Friday, February 15, we picked up Faith and had a delightful Shabbat dinner at Jess and Alex’s with the girls. The time has come to begin emptying out the freezer, refrigerator and pantry in preparation for Pesach. I took challahs to them from the freezer, both the regular and rainbow type, and iced a sweet potato cake that was in the freezer with its brown sugar glaze. Alex filled in the rest with sushi, salads, and tofu shawarma. We had an assortment of ice cream with the cake.

After attending services on Saturday morning, we spent most of the afternoon online searching for a place in Ocean City, NJ, where we can be near the beach and boardwalk and have enough bedrooms so that Ari has one, too, all this without breaking the bank. I was really excited when we finally settled on one Sunday morning and thought we booked it through our agency, only to discover on Monday that the owner had booked it for the week we wanted already. A subsequent choice, like the first, also got shut down for the same reason. In the ensuing few days, we finally pinned one down.

At the end of February, Saul began complaining about a rash, but it was minor and not very troublesome, so we were just speculating about whether something was different about our detergent or whether he was eating something different. On Tuesday evening at 1:30 a.m., my eyes suddenly shot open with the thought that he might possible have shingles. I spent the rest of the night awake, watching him sleeping soundly and waiting for the alarm to go off at 6:00 a.m. so that I could ask him if the rash was on one side of his body only, one of the symptoms that I learned about as I perused the Net in my distress that night. Although it was not, he arranged to see the doctor the next morning in between classes. Thankfully, it was not shingles, but a minor rash, as we had originally thought. So we dodged yet another bullet. We were planning to spend Saul’s entire spring break week in DC with Ari beginning on Thursday, but decided to delay until Monday because we decided to get the shingles vaccination. That whole process became such a boondoggle that we wasted a few days of our vacation, and still have not received the shots.

On Wednesday, the day that Saul got an all-clear from the doctor, we met Faith for dinner at The Metropolitan Diner. As we were finishing, about 7:00 p.m. we got a call from Randi advising us that Ken had been rushed to the hospital on Kauai on Monday evening with horrible pain spasms in his lower back. On Tuesday, he was airlifted to the hospital in Honolulu in case he needed a neurosurgeon. Randi asked us if we could go to their house, get the discs that contained previous MRIs that had been taken of the area from their files, and ship them by FedEx overnight to Honolulu so that they could be compared with the tests they were about to perform. By some miracle and with a lot of help from two wonderful women at the FedEx center in Ft. Washington, we managed to get to the house in Warrington, find the discs, and get them to the FedEx office two minutes before the office was due to close at 8:00 p.m.

In the ensuing weeks, Ken endured a three-hour angiogram, among other tests, in Honolulu which did not lead to a diagnosis. In great frustration, he finally opted to return home a month early from his vacation to see other doctors here. As I write this, his pain and his frustration at not having a diagnosis have continued through a number of doctors’ visits of various specialties. He finally obtained an appointment at the Mayo Clinic in Minneapolis and has scheduled a flight there on April 16.

The shingles shots fiasco delayed our spring break plans to spend the last week of February and beginning of March with Ari in DC. We were told that we shouldn’t be around small children, pregnant women or health-compromised adults right after receiving the shots, so we delayed getting them until after the Purim festivities on Saturday evening at Beth Shalom in Cherry Hill. Very early Monday morning, after Saul took a fasting blood test, we discovered that Abington Hospital does not give the shots as our doctor (who also does not give the shots) had told us. We drove back towards home and then decided to have breakfast at a restaurant we had never before tried while we waited for Costco to open. The restaurant, next to a gun shop, had apparently gone out of business. By then, Costco was open and would take our insurance (the shot costs $188 each at Costco, and about $240 elsewhere). While we waited for the shot to defrost, we breakfasted on churros and smoothies. Half an hour later, we were informed that Aetna would not cover the shot if they administered it. Only our doctor or an approved clinic could administer it so that we would be covered. We then called Aetna, who suggested we get the shot at a nearby Minute Clinic (inside a CVS). While we waited to speak to someone there, on hold on the Bluetooth in our car, we had time to drive over there, only to finally be told that no Minute Clinics in Pennsylvania administer the vaccine. By then, we were so frustrated that we decided to return home, grab our bags, and take our chances in DC. At least our drive was relaxing with light traffic almost all the way. We picked up Ari relatively early from work and had dinner at our new favorite restaurant, The Heights, near Ari’s home.

As we continued our quest to get shingles shots, we wasted most of a day of our vacation on the phone with various representatives at Aetna until we finally got one who really got involved for a few hours, making all the phone calls to various places with us on the line. Eventually, she gave up, telling us that the only way that Aetna would cover the shot was if we picked it up frozen and took it to a doctor to be administered. She told us that the vaccine was good for several hours after defrosting. We decided to table the process for the time being and later, back at Chestnut Hill College, Saul learned from a colleague that a friend of hers had suffered a case of shingles for doing just that. The live bacteria had multiplied too much in the two hours it had taken her to get the frozen vaccine to the doctor. I think, perhaps, this is the dumbest thing I have ever encountered when it comes to health insurance coverage, and I have encountered a lot. In the meantime, after various colleagues encountered the same runaround, the college is looking into having someone come to administer the shots there.

Returning to spring break in DC, we had an absolutely marvelous time in the days we had left. We all had a completely unplanned culinary trip around the world. One rainy evening, we randomly stumbled on Jaleo in Crystal City after unsuccessful attempts at finding a quiet place downtown, a tapas restaurant owned by José Andreas, my fourth favorite chef in the world, after Thomas Keller, Ferran Adria, and Michel Richard. We had exquisite small plates there and sampled cheeses, foods and wine, imported from Spain, that are available nowhere else in this country. The next evening, it was still raining. We ate at the Indonesian restaurant, Satay Sarinah in Alexandria/Van Dorn. Ari often has lunch from their food truck parked near his downtown DC office, and he wanted to try the restaurant from where the food originates. It was very clean and pleasant, though very spare in decor in its ethnically diverse strip mall location. It was my first Indonesian food, and seems to be a cross between Thai and Indian. Very nice. Ari was in Tysons Corner all day on Thursday for recruiting business. Saul and I had lunch, again, at The Heights, and then stayed in and watched The Chronicles of Riddick and The Sorcerer's Apprentice on television. The next day, hungry and in desperation to find a restaurant where we would not have to wait an hour for dinner, we bagged a much-sought-after reservation at Thai Xing (pronounced “crossing”). This place is a quirky little venue that usually books months in advance ever since it was “discovered” by Anthony Bourdain. It usually takes months to get a reservation, but they said that if the three of us could get there within 15 minutes, they would take us. The food is a set menu, depending on the season, several courses brought out in a specific sequence as they are prepared, with no printed menus and no choices. Supposedly, the cachet is the authenticity of the dishes. It certainly was not the ambiance. Our “table,” in the basement of a DC townhouse, was a flea market-purchased desk and a large brass tray on a stand. Saul sat on a beat-up office chair, while Ari and I chose a makeshift window seat. The food was delicious and plentiful. We especially enjoyed a pumpkin dish and a beautiful salad presented on a large banana leaf. The main course was salmon. The meal cost $40 per person and did not include any alcohol. It was a great serendipitous experience that we all totally enjoyed, but it was way too expensive. During that afternoon, Saul had been perusing Facebook and pointed out to me that our friend Susan’s husband’s granddaughter, Madeline Rile Smith, was exhibiting a piece of her glass art that evening at a gallery in nearby Anacostia. I mentioned it during dinner, and we all decided to attend, arriving an hour before closing. She and her mother were absolutely shocked and delighted to see us there. We totally enjoyed looking at the avant garde art and meeting Madeline.

No international trip would be complete without China, so we had dim sum twice in a row, once at Silver Fountain, our new find, and once at Oriental East. Ari had all but demolished the chicken soup we made together on a previous visit, so we purchased the ingredients and made another batch of nine quarts. This time, Ari assembled it completely by himself with my instructions from the couch as I was considering a nap. His next-door neighbor, Hazel came over, to ask about the difference between her oil and his gas heating bills as she was considering switching over. The difference was shockingly huge! We chose and ordered a special front door for his home at Home Depot, which turned out to be a several hours-long project that seems to have turned out futile, as the company that makes the fiberglass doors refused, several weeks later, to make one wide enough to fit the opening. We finally bought a “real” vacuum cleaner (not a robot) at the new (and surprisingly uncrowded) Costco in DC. All too soon, it was time to return home and go back to our routines, but only for a short while as the advent of Passover changes everything.

When I heard that Ken and Randi were returning early from their Hawaiian vacation, and knowing what a nightmare the return flight was likely to be for Ken, I spent a couple of days shopping and cooking to stock up their refrigerator with Ken’s favorite foods. He had not been able to eat for a few days at a time while hospitalized, so he returned quite a few pounds lighter than when he left. I was grateful that I cooked, because within a few days, Randi, with her lowered resistance from all the stress, caught the flu. Thankfully, Ken did not catch it, too.

During March, Saul and I attended the Philadelphia Flower Show for the first time in a few years. We had been disappointed at the high cost and quality of the show in previous years, but decided to give it another try. It was very sparse this year—not crowded, but that was because there was tons of space between each display in which people could move around, lots of floor space, not many exhibits. We had a mediocre lunch at The Down Home Diner in historic Reading Terminal Market, but the Bassett’s ice cream we had for dessert was as good as it was 30 years ago.

Our realtors up in the Poconos found a suitable tenant to sign a one-year lease for the property, and we agreed. The young couple just moved in a few days ago, and it looks, so far, like it is going to be a win-win situation for all of us. He works at a Wal-Mart, has a great credit rating, is very handy and willing to fix things, and said that they absolutely love the house.

Saul and I spent a day driving to Ocean City to check out the place we had reserved from online photos for our family vacation this summer. After a couple of hours of trying to get in to see it with various keys that the realtor collected from a number of his offices, we discovered that someone had broken off a key in the lock. It was a bitterly cold day, lightly snowing from time to time, and we consoled ourselves with lunch at a nostalgia location for us, The Crab Trap in Somers Point. Driving back, sorely disappointed, we were again consoled with a lovely Shabbat dinner with Jess, Alex and our granddaughters. We rescheduled when Ari was here during the week of Passover, packing our own picnic for the day, and were wowed when we finally got in to see it that the reality was even better than the photos. We can’t wait for summer! As an added bonus, we spent about two hours checking out the new Revel Casino in Atlantic City, which is gorgeous, and now my favorite. Ari also lost some money to the slot machines, but we had a great time. On our way back, we stopped to take the older girls and Jessica to see The Croods at the Marlton Theater, stupid, but funny and cute, and in 3D, visually stunning.

Backtracking again, I spent the week before Pesach, converting over the kitchen, shopping for supplies, and cooking for the holiday. The first seder took place on Monday evening, March 25, this year, Jessica’s birthday. I decided that I missed all the traditional foods that Alex doesn’t make. Ari was going to be with us for the whole week, and for a few days, Beth, so I figured it would be okay to make small quantities of the things I was missing for a few years now to eat during the week. I was going to be making larger quantities of desserts for the entire crowd during the two seders at Jess and Alex’s home. Alex doesn’t like to make desserts. Among the foods that I only make once a year during Passover are: gefilte fish, homemade chrain (fresh ground horseradish and beet relish), chopped chicken liver, brisket, stuffed cabbage, smoked turkey, matzoh apple kugel, and Passover potato knishes. Saul and I had very little hope of finding the live or very fresh carp we needed for the gefilte fish. We checked in at Assi Market, but the manager told us that even though they usually carry it, this time of year, the truck arrives without any. On Sunday, a week before the seders, he said he would order it and to check in with them the following Friday to see if it was really on the delivery truck. Lo and behold, when we called on Friday morning, they said that two had been delivered. The market is only five minutes away, so we ran over and found the most beautiful, large, fresh carp I have ever seen. I was intending to take only one, but after cleaning and gutting, the fish weighed only 7 lbs. I figured by the time we removed the head and fileted it, I might only have two to three lbs. of actual flesh. I decided to take the second one also. We rushed it home and Saul broke it down and fileted it while I prepared the stock. It was the best, most delicious gefilte fish I have ever made. We stopped at Wegman’s in Warrington to pick up and drop off some items to Ken and Randi, who was in the middle of her flu. There, we were surprised to find an interesting array of kosher for Passover food items that we had not expected to find. At $17 to $18 a lb. from the kosher butcher, Simon’s, I had decided against making brisket, knowing that it shrinks to almost half its size when I cook it. At Wegman’s, I found glatt kosher fresh meat sealed in blister packs for about $8.00 a lb., so I bought a small brisket and some stew meat. Both were outstanding. Ari claimed it was the best brisket I ever made. I used the stew meat to make a delicious beef and cabbage borsch with the cooking liquid from cooking the cabbage for the stuffed cabbage, the trimmings from the leaves and the core of the cabbage, the root vegetables pureéd from a large batch of chicken soup, and a jar of tomato sauce. After Wegman’s, I met Jessica at Simon’s Kosher Meat to pick up my part of the Passover order, fresh chicken liver, ground beef, and some chicken necks for soup. Ari picked up several packages of fresh Empire kosher boneless chicken breast on his way here from the Costco in Maryland that stocks cases of kosher meat for their large Jewish clientele. Everything is way cheaper if you can find it at Costco. Saul and I made eight different sorbets this year—lemon, orange, pineapple, banana, mango, strawberry, grapefruit, and sabra, along with the usual mocha mousse crepes, flourless chocolate almond bars, and strawberry rhubarb crumb pie. I even had a chance to experiment with a pink birthday cake for Jess that turned out wonderfully, a classic sponge cake with a frosting made from pure organic coconut oil, Passover confectioner’s sugar and grape juice. I had a blast cooking during the week before Pesach and absolutely everything turned out superior this year. I never felt the exhaustion I usually experience as I spread out the labor over the whole week and Saul helped tremendously. I even finalized a large publication at the same time for my business.

We had Shabbat dinner the Friday before the seders at Larry’s, along with Faith, Lori, her husband, Saul, and their son, Jordan. Ari drove up from DC that afternoon. He left the office early and made it here by around 8:00 p.m. Because he was not feeling well, he was not able to eat much, but had a few pieces of the smoked turkey leg that had just come off of the kettle grill, some of the chometz that I traditionally leave on the kitchen table and a lot of coconut water. We had breakfast at Duck Deli, met with our accountant about taxes, and had dinner at The Metropolitan Diner. On late Sunday afternoon before the seders, after our friend Faith came over to help us dig up the horseradish from our garden, an older couple who had seen the “For Sale by Owner” sign on our lawn, came to look over our house. They said that their married son, who lives only a mile or two away, had seen the sign. They loved the house, and after some discussions and haggling at the kitchen table, agreed to pay our price. We received a check in the mail from them a few days ago, so it looks like the deal is on.

The seders were stupendous as usual. Alex outdid himself in preparing our personalized family haggadot, chock full of photo montages of everyone in the family and friends that attend the seders, pertinent drawings that all of us have supplied over the years, anecdotes, and blessings for each other as well as the traditional readings. We were supposed to pick up Beth at the airport the Saturday evening before the seders, but her flight was flying through Denver and was snowed out by a huge blizzard there. The earliest she could arrange to arrive after that was Monday evening after the first seder, so she opted to cancel, a great disappointment for all of us. The weather was terrible the evening of the first seder and we all feared for black ice on the drive home. Luckily, we all arrived home without incident. The first seder was attended by Jess, Alex, Sami, Izzy, Yona, Elaine W., Anne, Bobby, Michael E., whose youngest daughter had a baby that evening, same birthday as Jess, Elaine S., Naomi, Matt, Talia, Rifka, Paul, Ari, Saul and me. The second seder was attended by Jess, Alex, Sami, Izzy, Yona, Elaine W., Anne, Aunt Ruth, Bobby, Larry S., Aaron, Stacey, Jacob, Lilly, Zach, Ari, Saul, and me. The food was incredible as usual with Alex’s vast array of karpas to keep us  occupied “culinarily” until the sumptuous meal and his ingenious devices for keeping the kids engaged throughout the service. During Passover week, Ari worked long hours remotely during the day. We began to look at properties in Florida in between. Although he had not been feeling well when he first arrived, after several days, he became himself again. Unfortunately, I caught the norovirus the day after the seders and was under the weather for a few days. Despite the fact that I had prepared and handled all that food, no one else caught it, thank God. We managed to meet Jess one night at Neshaminy Mall to see the movie, Oz The Great and Powerful. Shabbat dinner during Pesach was real homemade shawarma at Jess and Alex’s, and Rifka joined us for the evening. Ari returned home on Monday with a supply of Passover food for the following day and beyond. Putting away all the Passover paraphernalia was relatively easy this year with Saul’s help and the organization of the new kitchen. We met Faith at Aman’s Bistro for an after-Passover vegetarian Indian dinner.

We have found an exciting property in Florida on which we have begun negotiations. Saul will be retiring in just over a month, and our lives appear to be changing dramatically, hopefully for the better. The weather is still harsh and chilly, but the crocuses and daffodils have begun to appear, so spring must certainly, finally, be just around the corner.