I’m glad I didn’t listen to you on this one, Mom

For years, Mom told us that she wanted as small a funeral as possible — just us, the Rabbi, and as few other people as necessary to have a minyan so that we could recite the Kaddish. And every time she said it, we always told her that we were going to ignore that particular wish.

We did.

Mom’s funeral was this afternoon. We would have had enough people for a minyan just between the immediate family and the Rabbi, but there were more than a hundred people there.

Of course the family was there — and Mom’s neighbors and friends from Carriage Hill and elsewhere in Richmond — and her colleagues from Ethyl — and my brother’s friends and colleagues and neighbors — and even some childhood friends of my brother’s and mine. There were friends and relatives I see on most visits, people I hadn’t seen for years, and people I met for the first time today. And I’m sure there were people I didn’t meet at all.

The service itself was short; the Rabbi’s hesped was on target (he said it was due to the wonderful material my brother and I gave him), and two of Mom’s grandchildren added their own remembrances.

Then it was time to actually bury Mom. I put the first shovel of dirt into the grave, followed by my brother.

It wasn’t until we recited the Mourner’s Kaddish that I started crying. I’ve said the Kaddish before, of course; in fact, it’s the custom at Shir Hadash for the whole congregation to join the mourners in the recitation, so I say it nearly every week. And sometimes, I’ve said it for my uncle or my grandfather on the occasion of their Yarzheit. But this time, I wasn’t just saying the Kaddish as part of the congregation or as a comforter — this time, I was a principal mourner, and now I’m obligated to say the Kaddish for Mom for the rest of my life (though, of course, not every day of the rest of my life).

After the service, we stayed around for a few minutes and talked with people before returning to the house for the seudat ha-havra’ah. Not everyone came who’d been at the funeral, but we still had a houseful, and a good time was had by all (if you ignore the occasion). And then we had the first shiva minyan, and yet more talking — and eventually, everyone left.

I’ve taken off my suit jacket, but I’m still wearing the kriah ribbon, which I’ll continue to wear throughout shiva. And I have a shiva candle to bring home with me and light there (we have one burning here, of course).

So Mom, I’m glad we didn’t honor your wishes on the funeral; I know that the people who came out to honor you would have felt left out if we’d had a private ceremony, and that wouldn’t have been right. And all of your worries about making people come out on a lousy day? We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather — about 70 degrees, with just enough clouds to keep people from being dazzled. How did you arrange that?

In the bubble

I flew back to Richmond today, and so I spent most of the day in the travel bubble. I had my laptop, my carry-on, my headphones, my iPod…everything was normal.

But it wasn’t really normal. I didn’t play any music. I didn’t do any crosswords or sudokus. I didn’t read the airline magazine. I didn’t even read any fiction. Instead, I read Saying Kaddish, and I thought, and I remembered.

Something else that wasn’t usual: I’d often phone Mom from the plane to say “hi” — she always got a kick out of my calling from the plane, even though it was just a normal cell call. But today, my phone would have had to be very special indeed to have reached her.

Yes, this was a trip like any other trip…but not really.


Now I’m at my brother’s house, after going over to my Mom’s to look for pictures of her to display tomorrow. While we were there, we started sorting through some of the stuff in her den — mostly books and photo albums, which were fairly easy to deal with (especially the ones that she’d labelled with a “D” for me or a “C” for my brother). I’ve put a pile of stuff on her bed to ship home later. I found a lot of my own stuff, too, such as a box full of 45 rpm records (in awful shape, I’m afraid) and many books, some of which I’m shipping home (I finally found my slide rule manual!).

Both of us were surprised how easy it was to deal with the stuff we were sorting. Of course, we didn’t actually throw anything away yet.


For now, I’m still in the bubble of aninut.
But the funeral is tomorrow, and then it’ll be time to move out of the bubble and into the next phase.

Dealing with stuff

I’ve spent much of today on the phone — with Rabbi Aron here, with Rabbi Creditor in Richmond (who’ll be doing the service), and, of course, with my brother.

I spent 25 minutes with an United Airlines agent — they had the best schedule, and I was able to get a bereavement fare at well under the best other fare I could find on any airline. I was surprised when they needed the name of the funeral director (I thought the name of the funeral home would be enough), but I was able to phone the funeral home and get the information quickly.

And I’ve also been dealing with some of the stuff inherent in Mom’s death, such as calling QVC and HSN and getting them to close out her account and stop sending her email. I’ve also switched her Netflix gift subscription to come to us (since there’s no way to get a refund), and I’ve put some of the movies she recommended back onto her queue so we can watch them after shiva.

Tomorrow, I go to Richmond for the funeral, returning Wednesday. We’ll have a shiva minyan at Shir Hadash on Thursday night at 8.

Mom’s Obituary

This was printed in Saturday’s Richmond Times Dispatch.

Elaine Winer Singer, 82, passed away April 28, 2006, after a short illness. She was born in Richmond on February 7, 1924. She attended Thomas Jefferson High School and Richmond Professional Institute (now Virginia Commonwealth University). She worked in the family grocery business on Oregon Hill, for Virginia Elevator Company, and retired from Ethyl Corporation in 1988. She leaves many friends and family who fondly remember her and will greatly miss her wonderful sense of humor, which continued even during her hospitalization. She was preceded in death by her parents, Abraham Max Winer (z’’l) and Ethyl Weber Winer (z’’l), as well as her brother, Harold Winer (z’’l). She is survived by two sons: Cliff and his wife Michael of Richmond and David and his wife Diane of Los Gatos, California, her four grandchildren: Allison, Cory, Jeffrey, and Meri, as well as a brother, Leonard Winer of Denver, Colorado, and a sister-in-law, Dubby Winer of Richmond, and her nieces Judith Winer Casey of Richmond and Sharon Green of Detroit, Michigan, and her nephew, Darryl Winer of Denver. A service will be held at 3:30pm on Sunday, April 30, at the B’nai Shalom Cemetery in Greenwood Memorial Gardens, 12069 Patterson Avenue. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Jewish Family Services of Richmond or Hospice of Virginia.

Mom Update #13

My brother just called. My Mom passed away about 1:20am Eastern time (less than an hour ago as I type this).

I called the hospital to talk to the nurse, who told me that it was peaceful. I thanked her and her colleagues for all of their help, both for Mom and us.

Even though I’ve been expecting this for days, it’s still a shock.

Tomorrow, I’ll have to figure out how I’m getting to Richmond; the funeral will be on Sunday.

Mom Update #12

There’s no new news from Richmond; the last time I spoke to my brother, he said that Mom was breathing about 4 times a minute, and the hospice nurse said it should be “soon”.

I’m glad my brother’s keeping me in the loop, even if I jump every time the phone rings. It was especially unnerving when I picked up the phone after working out this morning — the display said “1 new voicemail”, and I couldn’t bring myself to play it until I got home from the JCC. As it happened, the call was from the Rabbi, letting me know she’d be available this morning if I wanted to stop by the shul, but….

She lent me a couple of books: Anita Diamant’s Saying Kaddish and Anne Brener’s Mourning and Mitzvah. I haven’t looked at them yet, but I expect I’ll be doing so on the plane back to Richmond, whenever that is.

In the meantime, I came into the office this afternoon; we were having a departmental Tech Talk that I wanted to hear, and I decided I could wait here as easily as at home. But I think I’ll leave early. There’s a huge pile of mail at home (I’ve been travelling since the beginning of April), and I’m not really doing a lot for IBM at the moment.

Mom Update #11

As soon as we entered the terminal in San Jose, my phone rang. It was my brother, who was at the hospital listening to Mom breathe very, very slowly and infrequently, and warning me that I’m probably going to be returning to Richmond even sooner than I’d thought.

We decided that there was no sense in my rushing back to Richmond (all of my stuff was actually in a separate suitcase, so I guess I could have just bought a ticket on the spot and gotten right back onto the same plane I’d just flown in on) — I might or might not arrive in time, and I’ll be more useful if I’ve gotten at least one night’s sleep.

So I’m waiting for the phone call before I make my next set of travel arrangements.

Maybe Mom decided it was time when we said “goodbye” this morning, or maybe this was the time no matter what. Only God knows — but I still feel that we made the right decision to come home today.

Mom Update #10

We said “goodbye for now” to Mom a few hours ago, and are now sitting at Richmond International Airport (I still want to call it “Byrd Field”) awaiting our flight to JFK and thence to SJC.

When we left, Mom was breathing well and it was clear that she knew what was going on — I know that she wants us to get on with our lives, but I still felt torn about leaving.

Mom Update #9

I’m confused.

Yesterday, we thought that Mom’s kidneys had shut down, since she’d produced no urine all day. But overnight, she started to complain, and eventually (I wasn’t here) they discovered a problem in the catheter; when they fixed that, she put out a full day’s worth of urine in one go (so to speak) and she’s been fine in that respect ever since. She’s sleeping comfortably now.

So as far as anyone can tell, there’s no reason for us to be on 24/7 vigil at her bedside — and so I’m thinking of going back to California for a while.

When this all started last week, Mom told us not to come out — but then her condition got worse, and we flew to Richmond, and I’m glad we did, because we all got to spend time with her while she was able to talk with us. She isn’t talking any more, but she knows when she has company and seems to enjoy us — but I also wonder if all the attention is tiring her out and whether she’d like some privacy (she has always told people not to visit her in the hospital).

So, as I said, I’m confused. As of this instant, I’m leaning towards flying today along with Diane and Jeff, and have bought a ticket — but I’m not happy with either alternative.

I wish someone would invent teleportation.

Mom Update #8: Party!

All of the adults are in Mom’s room now — we had thought about having a family dinner at my brother’s house, but the logistics defeated us (especially the fact that Diane, Jeff, and I had lunch after 2pm), so instead, we’ve gathered here. And we’re doing something I never expected to do: we’re watching American Idol. There’s a Richmond native on the show, and the town has gone crazy over him (including my brother’s family).

He’s about to sing, and I’m sure my typing would disturb the rapt audience, so I’d best stop soon, but before I close, I’ll mention the medical news: there’s no news. Mom’s been sleeping all day, very quietly.

Mom Update #7

Today was an up-and-down day.

We left the hospital about 8:30 and had breakfast at Bob Evans’. It was the first place we’d seen in a long time where they asked us, “smoking or non-smoking?” — that should have been a warning. It wasn’t easy to find non-pork dishes on the menu, either, but we succeeded — both of us had pretty greasy omelets. We’ll try somewhere else next time.

We spent most of the day doing things; I went back to Stein Mart to buy another Hawaiian shirt, then we went to Circuit City to pick up an XM radio for Mom’s room, and then we had lunch at Red, Hot, and Blue — much better than Bob Evans, but Diane wasn’t impressed with her pulled chicken salad. I liked the brisket and would be willing to return. After that, we went to Dave’s Comics and Silly Ass Toys to pick up this week’s arrivals for Jeff — Dave showed us his commercial for Free Comic Book Day, which was quite silly.

Right after that, my brother called. He’d talked with a social worker at the hospital who thought Mom’s vital signs were so good that she could be discharged to a nursing home soon. So I started thinking of returning home sooner…perhaps even as soon as Wednesday.

But then we went to Mom’s apartment to do a little cleanup and to check out her email. I was sure some of her friends would be worried about her, and I was right — so I sent mail out explaining what was going on (and I got a quick reply from her friend in Florida). It felt wrong to be in the apartment without her.

Then we went back to the house for a glass of wine and dinner before returning to the hospital for the evening. My sister-in-law had spoken to a nurse, who wasn’t nearly as optimistic as the social worker. So I decided against buying a ticket just yet.

We spent not quite four hours at the hospital. Mom slept nearly the entire time, though she did perk up a few times, and she seemed to enjoy the music again. I’d carefully left the XM radio at the house, so I couldn’t try it out, either.

My niece is spending the night with Mom tonight, so we’ll get to sleep in a real bed for the first time in a while. I’m looking forward to the novelty.

Mom Update #6

We did wind up spending the night at the hospital last night — we must be getting better at this, because Mom, Diane, and I all slept through the night, only waking when the nurse came in at 6am and had to open the bathroom door, letting more light into the room. And then I think we all fell back to sleep again for a few more minutes.

I played music for Mom again last night just before bed — this time, I went for the full-strength treatment of Frank’s Place, which brought smiles to her face, especially when Sinatra himself was on. The last time I listened to that channel was as we were driving through Palm Desert in December; then, I was listening almost as part of a private joke. This time, I think the audience is more attuned to the music.

Mom Update #5

We’re back at the hospital (for those who are interested, it’s the Forest Campus of Henrico Doctors’ Hospital) and they have been as helpful and friendly as anyone could want. One of the nurses here even recommended Palani Drive as a good place to get smoothies, and she was right. The menu looked interesting, too, so I’ll keep them in mind for later.

Mom was very agitated about an hour ago, so they gave her some Atavin, and now she’s sleeping very quietly. I look over from time to time to see how she’s doing — it reminds me of when Jeffrey was young, and I’d open his door and be sure he was breathing.

It’s not clear who’ll be staying here tonight, but it might well be us.

Mom Update #4

We’ve just gotten back from the hospital. Mom had a mostly-quiet night, and I slept more than I’d expected (I guess the snoring wasn’t too bad after all). Nothing much else to report now; we’ll be back to the hospital later this afternoon.

Mom Update #3

Diane and I are spending the night in Mom’s room at the hospital; they’ve got a fold-out bed in the room and have brought in a recliner, so we can be as comfortable as possible (it sure beats trying to sleep on a regular chair, which is all most hospitals seem to provide). Mom’s been sleeping much of the day, but she did wake up enough to talk to her brother on the phone.

Things are quiet here — even though the hospital runs 24/7, the night is definitely “down”. There are a couple of empty rooms on the hallway, too, which further reduces the hubbub.

Mom was restless about 30 minutes ago, and Diane suggested music — Mom asked for Rachmaninoff, but I only had one piece on my computer. So then I thought about seeing if I could make XM’s streaming audio work over Verizon’s “BroadbandAccess” — and it worked just fine. I put it on the 40’s channel, and Mom clearly recognized the music they were playing…then the Atavin kicked in and she went back to sleep.

It’s nearly midnight — I think it’s time for us to try to join her. It may not be easy, though — Mom snores.

Mom Update #2

I didn’t spend the night at the hospital after all — my niece offered to stay so that I could go back to the house and sleep in a real bed.

I’ve been back here since about 10:30am — they’d given Mom’s some Atavin just before 10, and so Mom’s been sleeping pretty well since I arrived. I’m going to make a quick trip back to the house to pick up Diane and Jeff, and if I’m lucky, Mom will be more awake when we return.

Thanks for your support

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who’s commented, e-mailed, or phoned to express your support, prayers, and love for Mom. I’m passing along the messages.

Mom Update #1

We enjoyed JetBlue’s “ShutEye” service from SJC-JFK (the skycap at San Jose got us seats together instead of being scattered in middle seats all over the plane — but the seats were at the front bulkhead, which meant there was light and noise from the crew, so we had more redeye than shuteye), followed by a quick hop to Richmond; we were at the hospital by 10:30am.

Mom was awake and she was happy to see us (and we were happy to see her!) — all of us spent some time with her before her energy sagged and she fell asleep. We took that as our cue to go to my brother’s house and change, then I came back to the hospital so my brother could get away. Mom was still napping lightly, but a few minutes later, one of my nieces came in, wearing heels. The “tick-tick-tick” was enough to wake Mom somewhat — and a few minutes later, we administered a miracle drug which woke her completely: some of an Edy’s Strawberry Whole Fruit Bar. As the nutritional analysis shows, it’s loaded with energy…and so was Mom!

A few minutes later, my older niece stopped by on her way to work — her timing was great with respect to Mom’s energy level, and they had a good conversation, some of which brought back memories for me, too (especially of a song Mom sang to my brother and me when we were young, and then she inflicted it on the grandchildren, too!). But then the nurse came in and gave Mom some medication, and now she’s asleep again.

My younger niece and I are still here — she’s going to stay through dinner, and then I plan to be here all night (with both of us sleeping, I hope). I doubt I’ll write another update tonight — this one has taken me two hours (hospitals are busy places!).

My most faithful reader

Ever since I’ve started blogging, I’ve had one reader who I could count on to read every entry, to comment occasionally, and even to gently nudge me if I didn’t blog for a long time. I am referring, of course, to my Mom.

But I’m afraid (in more than one sense of the word) that I’m going to lose her very soon, and that’s why we’re sitting at SJC waiting to board a flight to take us back to Richmond.

All was well three weeks ago; then she started to suffer shortness of breath — enough that she went to the doctor, who diagnosed her as having pneumonia and recommended that she be admitted to the hospital for tests. They found the problem: lung cancer. The pulmonary specialist who made the diagnosis told her the prognosis very bluntly and then went on his merry way. That was Friday, April 4, as I was flying home from my trip to the IBM Research Spring Strategy Session.

On the 5th, we flew to Valley Stream for a long-scheduled trip including a few days in Richmond. Mom was back in her apartment and seemed to be doing well — until the night before we went to Richmond. She fell that night and couldn’t get up — but she was able to call my brother and sister-in-law, who were able to help her. And she arranged to have help during the day.

We arrived on the 11th and had a nice visit. We knew about the cancer, but we all tried not to let it dominate our time — and so we visited the University of Richmond, went to ComedySportz, and continued on to Washington on Saturday, as scheduled. I could tell that she was a bit weaker than before, but things didn’t seem dire.

Tuesday night, we flew home. I spent Wednesday at home working (clearing 500 pieces of mail can be done as easily at home as in the office!), and all was fine. Until about 4:30pm, when my brother called me — Mom had had problems the night before, and had fallen in the bathroom and hit her head. She wears a ADT pendant, which she pressed — they called 911 and then my brother. She didn’t want to go to the hospital, and seemed to be holding her own, so he stayed with her.

About 7pm (Pacific), my brother called again. Mom was complaining of being terribly cold, so they were going to the hospital. Later on, he said she was unconscious and not expected to live through the night, so we booked tickets for the 6:30am flight and spent most of the rest of the night packing. We got a couple of hours of sleep (which was probably more than he and his wife managed), woke up at 3:15, and were in a taxi at 4:45, en route to the airport.

Just as we turned into the airport, my phone rang. It was my brother, with the welcome news that Mom had had a transfusion, had strengthened, was talking, and didn’t want us to come out. I didn’t believe it until she told me herself — then we had the taxi take us home and went back to sleep. It was the best trip to nowhere I’d ever had.

We woke around 9 and went to work. I was telling my manager about the story when my phone rang — it was my brother, with bad news again. Mom was bleeding and the prognosis was unclear. I kept working, but started investigating flight alternatives.

The phone calls kept coming, and the news got grimmer with each one. So I booked tickets (again), and here we are.

Jeff and I were able to talk to Mom for a minute or so this evening, and each of us told her how much she means to us. She was able to respond, and my brother told me she was smiling.

I told her how much I loved her, and how she had not only taught me to be a mensch, but that she was a wonderful example of one.

If a miracle happens and you’re able to read this, Mom, I know you’ll be embarrassed. And I don’t care. I love you.

And home again

It’s been wonderful not having to set an alarm, although we might have done better this morning if we had set one. Despite that, we still had enough time to have breakfast at Open City before dashing to the National Zoo for a quick cache hunt (we’d also hoped to see the Bat Cave, which Jeff had really enjoyed when we last visited about twelve years ago, but it’s permanently closed).

After that, we made a quick foray to Bombe Chest, the consignment shop of the Jewish Social Service Agency of Metropolitan Washington — Diane had seen a Lenox Seder Plate like the one we’d lost in the Loma Prieta earthquake in their window when we arrived Saturday night; of course, the shop was closed then. This morning, the plate was gone from the window, but only because they’d put away their Passover items, so Diane bought it and we hauled it home with us. Then back to Open City to get dinner for the plane, off to Dulles, and home (via Long Beach).

We managed to watch most of the last two episodes of The Next Food Network Star on the plane, so it’s time to decide: Reggie or Guy.

But even more importantly, it’s time to call it a night. So I will.

Into every trip, a little rain must fall

I was hoping the rain last night had met our quota for this trip, but that was not to be. This morning was very wet — though I can’t really complain, since none of us found puddles or got splashed. We went back to Open City for breakfast, then took the Metro back to touristland. We got Capitol tour tickets for mid-afternoon, then went back to the Botanic Garden to dry off and look around — the Botanic Garden was probably the tourism find of the trip for us.

We decided to go to Ollie’s Trolley for lunch (Metro daypasses are a mixed blessing, I guess). The Ollieburgers weren’t as good as either Diane or I remembered them as having been when we had them at Lums in Florida, but they were OK — and the line was short. Unfortunately, the restaurant lost its water supply while we were eating, so we had to go across the street to Barnes and Noble to find working bathrooms.

Then we returned to Capitol Hill and visited the Supreme Court. There had been long lines there earlier in the morning because the Justices were hearing oral arguments, but there wasn’t an afternoon session, so we didn’t have to wait. We looked around and stayed for a courtroom lecture at 1:30 — while we were waiting in line, we saw some friends from Shir Hadash, much to everyone’s surprise. The lecture was interesting; I do wish we’d been able to sit closer to the front so we could have seen the friezes on all four sides of the courtroom.

The rain stopped while we were in the Supreme Court, which made it far more pleasant to walk over to the Capitol for our tour. We hadn’t made arrangements in advance for a staff-led tour or gallery passes, so we just did the “regular” tour; it was good, though it was difficult to hear the guide at times. Next time, I’ll plan farther ahead (it’s not as though we didn’t know we were coming to Washington months ago!).

Jeff wanted to go back to Air and Space; Diane and I didn’t. So we dropped him off and wandered over to the Hirshhorn to be bewildered by some of the art (at least I was). I like some modern art. But there’s a lot where I wonder why I’m not included in the joke, because it can’t be real — and the Hirshhorn had more than its share of that type. Canvasses in shades of white just don’t do it for me, I’m afraid.

We had less than an hour before the museum closed, which was actually enough for me; then we rejoined Jeff and did two geocaches on our way back to the Metro. We got off at Dupont Circle again, and this time ended up at Thaiphoon, which we enjoyed. Jeff went for the fully-spiced version of Drunken Noodles and seemed to like it (and, of course, he couldn’t cut the spice with a beer!).

After dinner, we stopped at a cache around the corner from the restaurant, then stopped at Larry’s Ice Cream (good, but the portions were pretty small for the price, though probably adequate for the tenth day of a vacation). Before returning to the Metro and our hotel, we found one last cache for the evening.

Tomorrow, we only have a few hours in DC before we have to head for the airport. I had originally thought about taking Jeff to see Georgetown University, but their tour schedule doesn’t quite fit our flight plans, so we’ll do something else instead. There’s at least one cache at the National Zoo….

I’m not wild about Harry’s

It’s been a long day of tourism, geocaching, and eating.

We started the day in good form, having breakfast at Open City (since their website is only one image, check out their parent’s site instead). We were lucky enough to get a table immediately — the line kept building, and by the time we passed them again on our way to the Metro, there were many many people waiting.

After breakfast, we went back to the hotel to pick up our gear (camera, Palm, and GPS receiver) so we’d be ready for anything. Jeff had plotted out our route; we grabbed day passes and set out for our first stop, the Supreme Court. Since it was Sunday, it wasn’t open — but the outside was impressive. From there, we made a quick detour to the Library of Congress to pick up our first cache of the day; luckily, it was on the outside, since the Library was closed, too.

Then we walked over to the Capitol, which was, of course, closed — and unlike the other two buildings, we couldn’t just walk up the stairs any more. Technically speaking, I guess that meant we didn’t quite get to the virtual cache there, but the owner acknowledged the problems in the cache entry, so we logged it anyway.

Our third cache was at a place we wouldn’t have otherwise visited — and it was well-hidden by greenery, too.

By this time, we were starting to get hungry; we didn’t want to brave the crowds at the eateries at the Smithsonian, and we’d found what looked like a good place to eat during our wanderings yesterday: Ollie’s Trolley. Both Diane and I have fond memories of the Ollieburger from Lums, so this seemed like a perfect opportunity — so, after a brief stop to pick up one more cache (and find restrooms), we took the Metro to Metro Center and walked down to the Trolley.

It was closed. There was only one open restaurant visible, also part of the Hotel Harrington: Harry’s Pub. It didn’t look impressive, but we were hungry, so we decided to give it a try. Not a good decision. I ordered a chicken sandwich without mayo — when it came, not only was it slathered with mayo, but they’d given me an extra container of mayo on the side. Jeff ordered spaghetti without meatballs — he got four. Diane’s order came out OK, but her Diet Coke was flat. And when the bill came, they’d charged $13.75 for the spaghetti, which was supposed to cost $9.75 (still outrageous). After I pointed out that problem and the waitress recomputed the bill, the final total was $10 less than the first time around (but this time, I’d checked the math and it was correct). I decided to pay with cash so they couldn’t screw around with my credit card after I left. I still want to hit Ollie’s Trolley tomorrow, but it’ll be with misgivings.

After lunch, we walked over to Ford’s Theater for yet another cache. This one was slightly tricky, requiring some effort to find the right answers. We also toured The House Where Lincoln Died before returning to the Mall.

Diane wanted to visit the Cezanne exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, but when we emerged from the Metro, I discovered we were mere feet from one more cache, so we logged it (with a detour to Starbucks to get the taste of Harry’s out of our mouths). Then we toured the Cezanne exhibit (no lines!) and a bit more of the Gallery before giving Jeff his chance at Air and Space. We stayed there till they closed the place, then walked to the National Archives and toured the exhibits downstairs before paying our respects to the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights — that kept us busy until the Archives closed at 7.

We finished the evening with dinner at Levante’s, which was quite tasty (I had lamb pide, Diane had spinach pie, and Jeff had chicken skewers) — between the entrees and the delicious bread, we were too full for dessert (and they didn’t have anything very chocolaty on the menu anyway). The rain, which was originally predicted for 3pm, started while we were eating, so we dashed back to the Metro instead of walking back to the hotel.

Tomorrow should be another busy day; Jeff wants to go into the Capitol and Washington Monument. I wonder how the lines will be on Easter Monday?

Slow traffic

I had hoped to be on the road to Washington by 11am this morning. Didn’t happen. But we did leave my brother’s house by 11:30; I tried to convince Diane and Jeff that we should make another shot at Ocultado, but I failed in that, too. We did, however, make a quick stop at Stein Mart so that I could buy a short-sleeve shirt; the weather was significantly warmer than it was when we packed for this trip.

Lunch was, as all too often happens, at the Arby’s at exit 126, just south of Fredericksburg. There’s nothing special about this particular Arby’s; it’s just handy.

It’s a good thing we decided to have lunch when we did, though, because almost as soon as we got back on the highway, the traffic slowed to a crawl and stayed that way almost all the way to the Beltway. Of course, the express lanes on I-95 were going the other way. Once we cleared the Beltway, speeds picked up, but I was worried about being able to check into our hotel and make it back to Hertz before they closed at 3:30, so when I saw we were near 11th Street NW, I detoured to Hertz, dropped the car, and picked up a taxi. DC cab fares are weird — they use a zone map rather than a meter, and they add additional charges per passenger and per piece of luggage — so I can’t tell if I was ripped off or not, but $14 seemed pretty high for a short ride. But it beat having to drive back down to National Airport, so I guess the price was right.

We’re staying at the Omni Shoreham, which we got through Priceline for $80/night plus service charges. This, by far, the best $80 hotel I’ve ever stayed in (the rack rate for the room is about $300, and the AAA rate is somewhere over $140 with tax). And, unlike most expensive hotels, they even have free Wi-Fi.

By the time we were settled in our rooms, it was about 3:30; rather than dash to a museum and only being able to spend a few minutes there, we took Metro to Metro Center and then walked over to the White House, then down to the Mall and onward to the Tidal Basin, the Jefferson Memorial, and the FDR Memorial. Then we turned north, stopping at the WW II Memorial en route to the Metro back to the hotel. Lots of walking!

We had dinner at the second-closest restaurant to the Woodley Park Metro station. The closest was McDonald’s. We passed right by it and went to Medaterra, where Diane and Jeff had chicken dishes and I had lamb skewers (I could smell them cooking and couldn’t resist). It was a lovely evening, so we, along with all of the other patrons, chose the sidewalk tables — partway through our meal, they asked us to please switch tables, because they had put our table in front of the cleaner’s next door and weren’t supposed to do so. We were pleasantly surprised when they brought out dessert on the house: saria, a milk custard with berries. It wasn’t chocolate, but it was very tasty.

Jeff is going to plan tomorrow’s sight-seeing; it should be interesting.

Caching in the park

Today felt almost like a summer day in Richmond — warm and humid. But, if my memory serves me correctly, not nearly as hot nor as humid as true summer.

We started the day by going geocaching in Pouncey Tract Park along with my brother and nephew — there were at least three caches there, and we found two of them (the other has a difficulty rating of 4 out of 5; we weren’t the only ones to give up, though I intend to try it again sometime). We called it a morning just in time to beat the first few raindrops, too.

After that, Diane, Jeff, and I went over to my Mom’s house to help her get rid of a pile of obsolete paperwork (that seems to be a theme of this trip!). Unlike earlier this week at Diane’s dad’s house, Jeff didn’t have to man the shredder — instead, we collected several bagfuls of paper to bring to my brother for later destruction.

When it came time for dinner, we made a mistake, although we enjoyed dinner a lot. We went to Peking Restaurant on West Broad Street, where we had two kinds of tasty chicken, and then we had dessert at Celesti Gelati — again, tasty. The mistake wasn’t obvious until we arrived at ComedySportz, which, unlike ComedySportz San Jose, has a heavy emphasis on food — in fact, they have a one item per person minimum in addition to the admission charge. Fortunately, they sold bottled water (it was fortunate in another respect — the air conditioning wasn’t working), but if I’d realized that they served food and had a fairly broad menu, it would have been easier (and probably less caloric) to have eaten there.

The show was great fun; it was slightly different from the shows I’ve seen in San Jose (for one thing, the teams were larger: four people per team), and I’d happily return.

Then it was back to my Mom’s house for the last time on this trip…we stayed there through a thunderstorm, and now we’re back at my brother’s. Tomorrow, we’re off to Washington.

A commercial interruption

Today didn’t go quite the way I expected it to. We slept far better than the night before (thanks to my brother for stopping the clocks!), and I thought we’d get a fairly early start and spend the day at my Mom’s apartment.

But when I went to pour myself a second cup of coffee, I didn’t stop soon enough and got the grounds — and then my sister-in-law gave me the terrible news that they were out of coffee (this might explain why she asked me to pick up some while I was out shopping yesterday). This called for decisive action — and only twenty minutes later, we were en route to Starbucks. And then a quick trip to the supermarket. And then back to my brother’s house.

So we got to Mom’s apartment just before noon…and left an hour later, en route to a campus tour of the University of Richmond — we’re hitting various colleges on this trip, chosen mostly because they’re there rather than because they’re likely to be places Jeff is interested in. But so far, both schools have had personal connections — Diane went to Hofstra as an undergraduate, and I had won a scholarship to U of R on the WRNL-University of Richmond Scholarship Quiz, but I chose to go to RPI instead. U of R is a very pretty campus (probably prettier now than when I was in high school), and it was a good day for a tour. I got distracted, though, because our housesitters called me and told me that we had had a bad leak in the utility room; apparently the shutoff valve for the washing machine gave up the ghost. Fortunately, they caught it early and kept any water from leaking into the rest of the house, and have even arranged for a plumber to fix it before we get home — but I’m sure glad we had someone taking care of the house.

After the tour, we made our other planned stop for the day: Dave’s Comics and Silly Ass Toys. Jeff picked up his monthly order, as well as a few other comics, and then we spent a while in the backroom, talking.

I was planning to go back to Mom’s place, but in the meantime, my niece had gone over there, so we went back to my brother’s house instead. And then to dinner, and by the time we’d finished, she was tired (and so were we!), so we decided not to go anywhere. Tomorrow will be another day, right?

Why is this night different from all other nights?

Tonight, we had Seder at my brother’s house; the company was good and the food was delicious. And in honor of the holiday, I am going to give my son the rest of today’s space, as he shares…

Jeff’s Four Passover Questions

On all other nights we don’t open the door because bugs will get in. Why on this night do we open it for someone we can’t see or expect to show up?

On all other nights we don’t sit around for a long time before dinner starts, instead being on the computer until it’s ready. Why on this night are we here so early?

On all other nights the TV’s on during dinner. Why on this night, why are we falling behind on our watching?

On all other nights when we are asked questions we just answer “fine,” no matter what it is or how many there are. Why on this night why do we only get asked four, which we don’t need to answer with any words?

Happy Passover!

No cleaning today, thanks….

Even though our hotel offered a full breakfast buffet, but it didn’t have anything that Diane or Jeff wanted to eat (I would have been ok with Cheerios), so we started today with a return visit to the Golden Reef Diner for breakfast; it was far better than the Rockville Diner, which we’d hit on our first day of the trip. After that, we packed up, checked out, and headed for Diane’s alma mater.

We had two goals for our visit to Hofstra: take a campus tour, and replace Diane’s old t-shirt. We succeeded in the former, though we didn’t get the full prospective family experience because we didn’t go to the “information session”. The latter goal was more problematic — she did buy two t-shirts, but even though they were labelled as large, they fit more like smalls, which means they may not be ideal for exercising. But they do look good on her, so I’m happy.

We chose not to dine at Hofstra; instead, we went back to Valley Stream and an old favorite, Ancona. We’d never been there for a weekday lunch before, so I didn’t realize that parking might be at a premium. It was, but we found a spot without too much trouble (though I don’t think the person who was lurking halfway down the parking lot liked us), and the food was, as usual, filling and tasty. After that, we went to Ralph’s of Valley Stream for a farewell Italian ice — it’s not clear that we have any reason to go back to Valley Stream in the future, after all.

From there, it was a quick hop to JFK, followed by a long wait in the JetBlue terminal, a short flight to Richmond, dinner at Yen Ching, and then to my brother’s new house. I have to admit to being impressed by the place, especially the kitchen area. We left Jeff there playing with his younger cousin, while Diane and I went to my mother’s apartment, where we talked for a while before eventually admitting we were tired and calling it a night.

All cleaned out!

Not really, but we’ve done all that we’re going to do; we shipped seven boxes out this afternoon (many to Diane’s dad — he thought he’d seen the last of the pillows in the attic…), and Jeff spent the entire day shredding papers. In the end, we’d filled up about six trash bags and a dozen bags of paper (half of which were the result of Jeff’s shredding efforts). There is still a ton (probably literally) of stuff that we left in the attic pending a decision by Diane’s brother (things like ancient oscilloscopes); we just know that we don’t want any of it.

We had lunch today with Diane’s childhood friend — who took us back to International Delight Cafe. The food was good, but I think their ice cream is better. We didn’t sample it today, though; instead, we went across the street to Ralph’s.

We also took Jeff comic shopping; the store he likes (Time Warp) had moved to a new location; I didn’t realize it, and drove to their previous location, only to find them gone without a trace. Luckily, I had their number in my phone, and they talked us in. I hope Jeff’s other favorite comic shop (Dave’s Comics in Richmond) hasn’t moved!

Tomorrow, we’re going to go tour Hofstra University (if they’re really open — it’s Spring Break), or at the very least go to the bookstore so that Diane can replace a rather old T-shirt. We also should be able to do some geocaching, I hope. And then, tomorrow afternoon, we’re off to Richmond to visit my family for Seder. But I bet we’ll hit Ralph’s one more time before we leave town.

What Serenity Character are you?

You scored as Hoban ‘Wash’ Washburne. The Pilot. You are a leaf on the wind, see how you soar. You have a good job, and a stunning wife who loves you (and can kill people). Life is good, which is why you can’t help smiling. Now if you can just get people to actually listen to your opinion things would be perfect.

Hoban 'Wash' Washburne

81%

Simon Tam

69%

The Operative

69%

Kaylee (Kaywinnet Lee) Frye

69%

Inara Serra

56%

Zoe Alleyne Washburne

44%

Capt. Mal Reynolds

44%

Jayne Cobb

38%

Shepherd Derrial Book

38%

River Tam

31%

Which Serenity character are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Dig we must!

That was Con Ed’s motto when I was young, at least according to Mad Magazine (and if you can’t trust Mad Magazine, who can you trust?). And that was how we spent today — digging through Diane’s Dad’s papers and other things. Jeff spent most of the evening on shredder duty (he filled up two bags full, but there’s lots more to do tomorrow), while Diane and I sorted stuff and decided what to eliminate and where to send what survived.

We also enjoyed talking to the people who are renting the house — and they were most gracious hosts, feeding us lunch and dinner (and I’m sure that they would have given us breakfast if we hadn’t breakfast at the Rockville Diner before coming over; we’re going to try somewhere else tomorrow. While the food at the diner was OK, they burned the coffee, which is inexcusable), as well as helping us with the work (and also having gotten rid of a lot of stuff over the past few months, saving only things which looked possibly valuable or interesting).

In exchange, we got them interested in The Next Food Network Star, which we tuned into as a result of reading a story in the Murky Nooz, and which hooked us quickly. Next week’s episode is a double and leads directly to the voting — it should be interesting.

But that’s next week; tomorrow, we have more digging to do, as well as packing and shipping (Diane’s Dad thought he got rid of all of this stuff when he moved, but we’ve got a boxful for him!). I hope we can finish up tomorrow so that we aren’t stressed out Tuesday before our next flight; fortunately, Diane’s brother is going to be here in the next month or so and he can deal with what we can’t (we’re leaving all of the electronics for him to pick through, for example).

We were disappointed in one aspect of the evening, though — Ralph’s was closed by the time we got there. Fortunately, the International Delight Cafe was just across the street (in fact, we’d parked in front of it). They serve food, but at 10:30pm, everyone in the joint was looking for dessert — including us. And with 80 flavors of gelato or sorbetto, the only problem was choosing. Jeff, of course, went for chocolate, while Diane and I were slightly more adventurous (she had Koko Moka Fudge; I had that with Bavarian Mint). The ice cream was good, if a little on the gummy side; I’d go back cheerfully (though I’ll probably hit Ralph’s again tomorrow — it’s easy to find ice cream at home, but Italian ices are only available here as far as I can tell).

In the spring, thoughts turn towards Ralph’s

Today, we flew back to JFK for a long-planned vacation trip, starting with a few days of cleaning out Diane’s Dad’s house now that he’s moved to Tucscon. This time around, we flew JetBlue, and left from Oakland (significantly cheaper than San Jose), so at least I didn’t make precisely the reverse of my trip of yesterday — but it was close enough. JetBlue was fine, as always, and the food we packed to bring on the plane was tasty (and their snacks were OK). It was Jeff and Diane’s first time on JetBlue, and the DirecTV was a hit (and I didn’t mind it, either — in fact, I probably watched the most of the three of us).

Hertz gave us an upgrade to a Volvo S60, which was a nice surprise (and I prefer it to the SUVs they’ve been giving me in California). I didn’t expect to have any trouble finding the hotel, but I was wrong — even though I had the address. I knew it was near where Merrick Road and Sunrise Highway cross; I didn’t realize it was actually on the ramp between the two westbound streets, and therefore only reachable if you’re travelling west. We, of course, were travelling east from JFK, so we had to overshoot and look around.

But while we were searching, we passed the Rockville Center location of Ralph’s Italian Ices. I hadn’t expected them to open until at least Easter (and maybe later, based on the weather here lately), but they were lit up and taking orders at the walk-up window. So Jeff and I had our first ices of the season.

And now we’re in the hotel, waiting to feel tired enough to call it a night. I have a feeling I’m going to be the first one to fade.

Sleep?

When I attended the (late, lamented) IBM Systems Research Institute, I spent 10 weeks in a Manhattan hotel; for the first couple of nights, the traffic noise kept me awake — but I eventually adapted and learned to sleep through fire engines and everything else that New York City had to offer.

But that was over 20 years ago, and I’ve clearly lost my adaptation to such conditions; I spent far too much of last night listening to the traffic on the Grand Central Parkway instead of sleeping. But eventually, I did drift off, only to be awakened by my alarm clock at 5:30am.

Somewhat to my surprise, I wasn’t the first customer for breakfast, but I think I was the second person in the dining room. Breakfast was fine and reasonably quick. So was the traffic on the way to Kennedy, and I was in the new American terminal well before 8am. The check-in area there looks like it’s at a modern airport, unlike the old check-in area — even though I had checked in via the web, I got in line in the hope that my upgrade had cleared. It hadn’t, but the agent moved me to seat 10B, which gave me a bit more legroom. Then I had to hike over to Terminal 8, because that’s where the San Francisco flights are. Terminal 8 is still its old grubby self, though there were signs claiming it would be updated by spring 2007.

The flight home was uneventful, but as soon as I turned on my phone when we landed, it told me I had a bunch of voicemails. And dealing with that kept me busy the rest of the day (well, I also zipped into the office to deal with a small problem on my computer there, which made me feel better even though it was probably a mistake to go in).

More anon….

The meeting’s over….

The second day of the Research Spring Strategy meeting was as interesting as the first — and probably more educational for me, since it featured talks from our Physical Sciences folks, who did a great job of making what they do comprehensible to a software person like me. I usually don’t like long, PowerPoint-heavy meetings, but this one was an exception; I came away with a new appreciation for the role that IBM Research plays in the company and what my colleagues in other parts of the division do.

That said, it was still a long day, and I had to resist the temptation to gobble sweets. I didn’t quite succeed, but I indulged far less than I did yesterday.

I’m flying home from JFK tomorrow morning at 9:15am, so I decided it would be a good idea to be close to the airport instead of on the wrong side of two bridges. But as far as I can tell, there are no decent hotels near JFK (certainly, the ones on the IBM list didn’t look impressive when I Googled them), so I’m at the Wyndham Garden LaGuardia instead. It may be just as quick to take a taxi from here directly to the terminal than to take a shuttle from a JFK hotel to Federal Circle and transfer to the AirTrain — and it’s certainly cheaper than holding on to a rental car an extra day (just in case anyone from accounting is reading this blog…).

The Wyndham is OK so far; my room is a bit too close to the Grand Central Parkway, so it’s noisy — but I’ve survived worse. And they had free copies of the New York Times in the lobby, so I had something to read during dinner. I think my plans to use the exercise room have been derailed, though; I made the mistake of checking my email right after dinner, and when I looked up, it was well after 9:30pm — I think sleep is a higher priority than exercise at this point. Morning is going to come earlier than I want.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in San Jose any more

My hotel put a new copy of Westchester magazine in my room today; one of the cover stories was definitely not something I’d see at home: “Cater your Seder”. It turned out to be a one-page item listing a half-dozen caterers — but that’s probably five more than would be available in San Jose.

The Research Spring Strategy meeting, which is the reason for this trip, took up the whole day today; it was interesting, and might influence some of what I do this year. It was also probably rather fattening; I made the mistake of taking the bus over for the continental breakfast, which was nothing but carbs. And then both lunch and dinner were buffets, served on large plates, with lots of desserts as well as some actual food. I didn’t fill up my plates, but I did sample quite a few of the desserts (I didn’t finish them all, at least). And there were more goodies available at morning and afternoon break — those I was able to skip without feeling deprived. It’s a miracle no one fell asleep during the meeting.

When I got back to the hotel, I felt compelled to use the workout room. For some reason that I don’t understand, the hotels here feel compelled to overheat their exercise rooms — this one must have been close to 80 degrees. So I worked up a better sweat than usual, but I don’t think I actually exercised as much as I’d like to have done.

Tomorrow is the second and last day of the meeting; neither “breakfast” nor dinner is included tomorrow, which may be just as well.

I haven’t done this in a while, either

My string of avoiding business travel came to an end today; I’m at the Hilton Pearl River, near IBM Palisades, where I have a two-day meeting beginning tomorrow.

So far, the trip has been pretty smooth, though I took my chances this morning — my flight from SFO was at noon, which didn’t give me enough time to go to the office. But instead of staying home, I worked out at the JCC after dropping Jeff off — then, when I came home, I did a bit too much e-mail. So I didn’t leave the house until 10:15am…and it was raining hard. Luckily, there weren’t any accidents or delays on my way to the airport, and I got to the gate almost five minutes before they started boarding the flight.

I hadn’t flown American on business for close to a year (since they dropped the SJC-JFK non-stop and JetBlue came to town), but I’m Platinum for Life, so I was still able to request an upgrade, and it cleared, somewhat to my surprise. Transcontinental Business Class isn’t what it used to be — the meal choices were a warm roast beef sandwich or a salad with chicken. I went for the roast beef, and it was OK (I had brought a turkey sandwich with me in case I didn’t get the upgrade — it would have been just as good). At least they still have the warm nuts. And I didn’t have a seatmate (which astonished the flight attendant — she said there were many people in coach unhappy because their upgrades didn’t clear). And we arrived at JFK about 30 minutes early — though we had to wait for our gate.

The drive to the hotel wasn’t bad, either. As soon as I arrived, I saw one of my colleagues sitting in the lobby — she had thought she was staying at this hotel, but her admin had booked her into a different hotel. She was waiting for a taxi. I commiserated with her a bit until her taxi arrived.

I had a quick bite from the bar — if I’d read the room service menu, I probably would have had it in my room, instead. Unlike most hotels, this one doesn’t rip you off if you order room service — the items are the same price as in the restaurant or bar. They do add a 19% tip and a $2 service charge, but that’s not unreasonable for the convenience.

Tomorrow is going to come early — I plan to take the shuttle to IBM Palisades, and it leaves here at 7am. So it’s time to call it a night.