Posts Tagged ‘shopping’


Although I’ve been trying alternative treatments to correct an ongoing medical problem for the past three years, they were unsuccessful; so I knew I could not push off  major surgery much longer (thankfully for something that was not life-threatening and was benign).  Just what surgical method would be used was up for debate, and required getting 2nd and 3rd opinions until I felt comfortable that I was not only doing the right thing, but with the right doctor.  Each time I wanted to try a different doctor, I had to wait a month or more to get an appointment as a “new patient”; I waited further weeks for tests and lost or unreported test results; still more time wasted waiting for lots of unreturned phone calls – – all delaying the inevitable even further (at the time I did not know that the findings would be benign; I hate to think how much precious time would have been lost if the results had not been good).

Out of desperation I called Dr. B.,  a well-regarded doctor in my home town who, free of charge, runs an informal medical referral service.  (Similar to Rofeh International in Boston and ECHO  (718) 859-9800 and (845) 425-9750 in New York, which work without compensation and no ulterior motives to recommend the best possible doctors for specific conditions and situations requiring medical attention.) When I told Dr. B. my problem he consulted with a colleague, and got back to me within an hour:  he had never personally worked with Dr. F or even met her, but his colleague said Dr. F was at the forefront of innovation, research, and treatment, plus she was an excellent surgeon.  I was impressed that Dr. F’s secretary was able to fit me in quickly, and within minutes  of my visit I knew I had found the right person:  besides her expertise, Dr. F was mentschlich.    She also confided that if we were to have a long-term professional relationship, that she would soon be leaving her current position and moving to another local hospital.  As it turns out, Dr. F had just been appointed head of an entire surgical department at Johns Hopkins Hospital – – so I felt I had made the right choice technically speaking as well; for me, that sealed the deal.  As head of the department at Johns Hopkins, scheduling would be prolonged and her services would not be covered under my current insurance, so I felt fortunate to get her at her “old” hospital before she made the switch.

The three weeks before the surgery were a crash course in saintly living.  I exercised daily, doing weight-bearing exercise, hiking, 4-mile walks, and even a little jogging (my dog was especially excited by all the opportunities for outdoor adventure).  I continued to attend my Tai Chi class 2x a week.  I stopped eating processed food and piled up on fresh produce and daily juicing of kale, beets, ginger, carrots, celery, peppers, cucumber, kiwi; I sautéed lots of Swiss chard, ate roasted sweet potatoes, steamed quinoa, and plain yogurt; I took my usual dose of Vitamin D3 and added Vitamin C.  I cooked up soups, grilled lean chicken and turkey steaks, and prepared ethnically inspired vegetable dishes which I put in small ziplocks in portions sized for my husband and myself, labelled them and put them in the freezer.  I shopped for more than a week’s worth of groceries; I did all the laundry and checked out DVDs and books from our local library.  I bought all the post-op supplies I could think of including ginger tea for nausea, throat drops, a cozy new bathrobe (LL Bean outlet and on sale!) and a new pillow (with a moose on it, of course).   I was ready!  My husband would not be stuck with cooking or shopping and if I needed anything, it would be minimal.

The surgery itself (done in my hometown) was mostly uneventful.   After all that pre-op running around, the best sleep I’d gotten in a week was that 2 hours under general anesthetic!  I was able to discontinue narcotic pain meds within 5 hours of the surgery.  And by the 2nd day I felt really terrific, physically and emotionally.

I remember when I awoke from the anesthetic, the nurse was looking at me and smiling.  “You look just great!” she chirped.  I realized something was funny when the next morning before discharge the nurse said, “Oh, you look just so much better today!”  I was horrified when I finally looked in the mirror – – EGADS!   I literally couldn’t believe that it was me.  Due to the enormous amount of IV fluid pumped into me during the surgery as well as inflammation from surgical trauma, my entire body was completely puffy and bloated.  My eyelids no longer existed – I had beady brown eyes that resembled a weasel.  I looked like one of those animated M&M characters:  a completely round, enormous body on legs.  (When I weighed myself when I got home, and despite fasting the day before the operation, I had gained 9 lbs in 48 hours, so it was not my imagination!)  The circles and bags under my eyes made me look like I had aged 20 years.  If I looked like this now, I hate to think what I had looked like on Day 1, when according to Miss Chirpy Nurse Who Is A Pathological Liar, I looked “just great!”

Eeyew! Self-portrait, post-op.

Eeyew! Self-portrait, post-op.

The doctor told me that because the surgery was done laparoscopically rather than abdominally, recovery was about 2 weeks.  That number – – two weeks – – kept playing in my brain like an annoying song you can’t get out of your head.  So when complications set in,  two weeks now sounded like a bad joke; I was not mentally prepared to handle setbacks.

A good friend recommended I check a website and recovery forum dedicated to women who had the same surgery that I did.  This was a wonderful resource.  I also learned that while the two weeks marker was valid for the external laparoscopic incisions to heal vs. six weeks for the abdominal version of the same surgery, that internally the trauma and repair was identical whether it was done laparoscopically or abdominally and it could take 6 months to a year before I finally felt like I was back to my old self (naturally the doctors don’t tell you this)!

While I was pretty much horrified by this news (will I be able to lift my kayak into my car once the ice on the lake melts 2 months from now?  Will I be able to lift a log and put it into the woodstove?) I also realized that I simply needed to let it go.  We all think we are in control, but certain things are just not in our hands!  We must do our hishtadlus (make our best effort) – in my case by resting, eating healthfully, walking daily and praying – but the rest is up to HaShem.

I really, really wanted to return to my home in Maine 2 weeks post-op.   (Here’s what I’m missing:  another blizzard this weekend that will bring 24 inches of snow and temps of -30 F with windchill).  However disappointed I may be, it’s not going to happen.  The thought of an 11-hour car ride is overwhelming.  I can’t ask my husband to run to the supermarket on his lunch hour in rural Maine – to get there is 40 minutes each way.  I can’t take advantage of outdoor exercise – I’m basically mostly lying around.  More importantly, I don’t want to overdo it and relapse – I am instead focusing on what I need to do to be able to kayak, fish, hike, and entertain guests this summer – – and to achieve that goal means I must stay put.  (At least we will save on Snow Plow Guy’s snowplowing our driveway, a service I called to cancel for the next few weeks.)

And now for my findings from the other side of the bed on the topic of Bikur Cholim (visiting the sick):

  • Loved getting emails.  Unlike phone calls or visits, I wasn’t compelled to be awake to receive them.  When I had insomnia, I could  read them and respond at unconventional times, like 4 a.m.  It also showed that I hadn’t fallen off the face of the earth, and that you cared enough to be thinking of me.
  • If you are going on an errand, call the sick person and say, “I’m going to “x” – do you want me to pick up anything for you as long as I’m going anyway?”  That way the sick person doesn’t feel like s/he’s imposing.  Also nice:  “Can I do any errands for you that your husband might ordinarily do?”  Being sick is also stressful for the primary (in my case, only) caregiver, who may be completely overwhelmed.  They need a breath of fresh air once in a while, too!
  • Don’t say, “Is there anything I can do for you?” if you can’t do it.  Yes, I know people have busy lives that do not revolve around a person who is unwell.  But if there are only specific favors that you are offering, then tell that person what they are, so both of you don’t feel bad when the sick person makes a request that you can’t or don’t want to fulfill.
  • Try not to sound too relieved  when, after you offer to help but realistically cannot possibly fulfill your offer, I decline your offer (and you sigh dramatically in relief and confess how grateful you are because you don’t know how you would have managed it).  I know you’re busy, and you mean well, but instead you not only make me feel like a burden, your insincerity is upsetting.  It’s better to be honest.  I would much rather hear, “I feel really terrible that I cannot help you, but I’m completely overwhelmed at home with my own problems.  But I am thinking of you and davening for you every day!”
  • Do not feel insulted if someone says they don’t want visitors; respect their wish.  Sometimes post-surgical effects are unpleasant and embarrassing. Despite your trying to do a mitzvah by visiting the sick, remember it’s not about YOU, it’s about the person who is ill and desperately wants to get well.  But also check back – they might be up to visitors a week later.
  • It’s important that the person who is ill not be overly demanding or ask for help too repeatedly.  Which is why I sent an email to people who had offered to help, when my 2-week supply of food began to run low.  “This is a one-time request:  Is  anyone going to Target, WalMart, BJ’s, Sams Club, Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods in the next 4 days?” Admittedly I am very picky (I eat lots of fresh organic produce), plus I wanted to buy some bulk items like toilet paper and paper towels.  Not ONE person could help me!  Yes, I have a husband who can help – but it forces me to rely on him for everything and then he has zero personal time, not to mention that at that point I really do become a burden – – to him.
  • When someone is sick, their world shrinks dramatically, basically to the four walls to which they’re confined.  So everything within that tiny space takes on gigantic proportions and exaggerated detail, because the wider world is not there to distract them.  So if the sick person makes a big deal over what seems like nothing to you, realize that even if it’s not a big deal, it may seem like one to the sick person – – because sadly, that’s all they have to focus on in their line of sight.  Be patient and tolerant – G-d willing this too shall pass.  The sick person doesn’t mean, and doesn’t want, to be “difficult.”
  • If you say to the sick person, “I’ll call you,” then do.
  • If you have a sick child at home, then don’t bring the other kids to visit.  Chances are that the other kids will get whatever virus the sick kid has, and pass it on to the person you are visiting who is unwell.  People who are sick have very little immunity or resistance to disease.  Even a child’s simple cold could be a big deal for a person who is unwell if they catch it, too.
  • Before bringing the sick person or the sick person’s family a meal, first find out if they need it, want it, and/or have any dietary restrictions.

Before my surgery, I had taken care of everything I thought I’d need for a two-week recovery period, except for one thing I knew I wouldn’t be able to do:  walking my very active, athletic dog.  No, it’s not good enough to let him out in our fenced backyard . . . dogs need stimulation on a daily basis beyond the four walls of one’s house.  I’m talking about 10 – 15 minutes per day, 1 – 2x a day.  So I sent out an email response to anyone who asked “what can I do” saying no, I don’t need meals, but if anyone would offer to come by and walk the dog, that would be really helpful and a give me great peace of mind.  The more people who would respond, the less commitment they’d need to make.  Only ONE person responded:  my 10-year-old grandson, Yehudah.  He has been at it faithfully now for 2 weeks daily in all kinds of extreme weather.  I recently sent him a thank-you note and enclosed $5 for his efforts.  He called me back to say, “Honestly Savta, I didn’t expect you to pay me for this, I just wanted to help you!”  Now that is nachas!  And it definitely contributed to my refuah.

The next time I have a friend who is unwell, I hope I will remember how it felt from the other side of the bed to be the one who is sick,  so I can fulfill the mitzva of Bikur Cholim in a positive way.

It may be awhile before I get my old self back, but even if I still look like an M&M, at least I'm feeling better!

It may be awhile before I get my old body back, but even if I still look like an M&M, at least I’m feeling better!

More shopping: Trader Joe’s comes to Maine!

Maine is a mostly rural state with lots of little towns. Even the big cities (Bangor, Portland, Augusta, and Lewiston-Auburn) are really little cities.  When something novel happens here in Maine it is BIG news.  And tomorrow’s opening of Maine’s first Trader Joe’s is, as one reader of the Portland Press-Herald newspaper declared, “the most exciting event in Portland’s history!”  Another writes, “Is it too early to proclaim opening day as a state holiday?”  They were not  being facetious.

Alas, Maine’s new Trader Joe’s is a 90 minute drive from our house.  That’s nothing compared to the devotees who regularly drive 3 hours to stock up at Trader Joe’s closest store unitl now, in Boston.

The other day I was doing errands in North Conway, New Hampshire, which has a giant outlet center with every possible type of upscale designer and regular store, 2 supermarkets, and a Walmart.  I got into a conversation with a 20-something woman who moved there only 2 years ago.

“Is there anything you miss?”  I aksed her.

“Yeah,” she sighed. “I’d kill for a Target!”

Farm Stands and Shopping

My local pumpkin stand

I rely heavily on local farm stands for my produce, mostly because they are closer than the nearest supermarket, which is 45 minutes away; but also because the  farm stand food is truly fresher and tastes better and I like to give the locals my business.  This time of year some farms also offer hayrides and labyrinth corn mazes to explore.

In autumn there are tens of varieties of pumpkins (some kinds are better for pie, others for jack-0-lantern carving), gourds and squash (bumpy, smooth, multi-colored, sweet, mild, large and small) and apples (my hands-down favorite is Honeycrisp), but besides the more common varieties there are also “heirloom” or historical apples native to New England.  There is one farm stand that sells their own milk in old-fashioned glass bottles, as well as  fresh eggs,  honey, and homemade cheese (the cheese is unfortunately not kosher).

What makes the farm stands unique, however, is the way they sell the fruits of their labor.  Usually no one is around.  The  produce is sold by the peck  or the piece (i.e. 3/$1.00) rather than by weight.  You simply leave your money in a basket or cash box and make your own change with the money that’s already there.  The honor system is alive and well in the White Mountains of Maine and New Hampshire.

Yes, we do have supermarkets in rural Maine.  Hannafords is the name of the largest chain store and they are pretty well stocked.  My house sits halfway between two Hannafords:  45 minutes to the west, in New Hampshire; or 45 minutes to the east, in Maine.  Both of these locations also have Walmarts, including one Super Walmart which is also fully stocked with groceries.

Amazingly Hannafords does have a “kosher aisle” that consists of 8 packages of Kedem Vanilla Wafers, 3 jars of gefilte fish, 2 boxes of matzo, onion soup mix, and 4 yarzheit candles.  Yesterday I spoke to the the stock manager in charge of the wine department and asked if he could get kosher wine.  He said occasionally (meaning Pesach time) they get Manischevitz.  I asked if any other brands were available and he said once they got Baron Herzog, but in that understated Maine way of saying things, he said “it wasn’t a big seller.”  He assured me that if I wanted it he could get it, however, and he’d place an order for a few bottles which should be in on Friday’s truck.

In New Hampshire, where taxes are lower, alcohol is sold in State Liquor Stores which are run exclusively by the State.  Not only is liquor much cheaper there (many people come from other New England states to stock up), they occasionally get kosher wines  such as Bartenura, Herzog, and Recanati and the prices are more reasonable than in cities with a large Jewish population.  But the supply is random, tenuous, and you can’t place requests or an order for more.

So far we’ve been bringing up our own supply of hard cheeses and meat; I can get Empire chicken at Hannafords by special order for about $1 more per lb.  If one is willing to pay a premium, one can order virtually anything , including perishables, via the Internet at all sorts of kosher food websites.  The point is, we are not starving.

The long distance to major shopping, and with no neighbors to loan me a cup a sugar, ensure that I plan my menus carefully and that my pantry is well stocked with emergency supplies, especially in the event of really bad weather.

In fact, we see this as an opportunity to eat better.  The stresses of the last few years, plus having “treats” around when the grandchildren would visit resulted in a loss of self-control.  I’ve got 60 lbs to lose and that is one of the many goals I’ve set for myself in Maine.  We’ve gotten rid of all junk and snack foods, relying more on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and are exercising more.  I’m not doing anything drastic so the weight will come off slowly, but I hope to be a little bit thinner and feeling better about myself the next time I visit my “home town.”

As far as other types of shopping, we live about 45 minutes from a major outlet center in New Hampshire.  No sales tax!  While I’ve raided Children’s Place and TJMaxx a few times for my granddaughters, I haven’t really shopped for myself.  It’s funny, but once you live away from the city, you don’t really need much, and when you try to live with what you need versus what you want, shopping is not such a temptation.

There are two stores I love, however.  Reny’s is in Maine and it’s like an old-fashioned Woolworth’s department store.  The prices are great and it feels like I’m in a 60s time warp.  The other store is in New Hampshire and called Christmas Tree Shops.  I wonder how many Jewish tourists avoided this store because they thought it sold nothing but Xmas decorations? In fact it’s like a giant A to Z or Amazing Savings (or Pic ‘N Save if you’re from California).  You never know what you’ll find but it’s always cheap and fun.  I’ve found all sorts of Israeli food there (such as crackers with “Pas Yisroel” written in bold letters) and Elite chalav yisrael chocolate bars for $.89!

That said, the most-visited store when you live in Maine is the hardware store.  There are both a Lowes and Home Depot next to the outlet center in New Hampshire, but big-box building supply stores are shunned by locals, who resent all that they stand for.  Even though the prices at small hardware stores are necessarily higher, Mainers support them vigorously.  Rural hardware stores are crammed to the gills with anything and everything.  Only the proprietor can find what you need, which he does with dogged determination and helpfulness.