Monday, December 16, 2013

Hakuna Matata

Hakuna Matata, what a wonderful phrase
Hakuna Matata, ain’t no passing craze
It means no worries for the rest of your days
It’s our problem-free philosophy, Hakuna Matata

We went to see the “Festival of the Lion King” at Disney’s Animal Kingdom park with our friend, Larry, who joined us for a few weeks. The lyrics from this song struck me as perfect for our new retirement lifestyle here in Florida. Although I have known and loved the music for many years, until I googled the phrase, I wasn’t sure if it was a made-up word like “supercalifragilisticexpialodocious” or a real African phrase. Sure enough, it is a real Swahili expression meaning “no worries.” Most of the time, Saul and I achieve this idyllic state, as most of our days for the last few months have consisted of rising in the morning when we feel like it, having breakfast by the pool in gorgeous weather, possibly shopping, doing a small project around the house (there are always ways to improve it), and either swimming in our pool, or enjoying walks in one of the four Disney Parks, or both. Tough, huh?

Since my last post, I can report that we had as delightful and easy a fast for Yom Kippur as anyone could wish because of the temperate weather. Our drive back to DC with Ari after breaking the fast was fine, even though it was late. Saul and I left DC on Sunday, September 15, after having breakfast with Ari. Unfortunately, because of our timing, we spent about three hours in heavy traffic just traveling the first 100 miles of our 900-mile journey back home. Doubly unfortunately, once the traffic eased up, we almost immediately ran over a blown tractor-trailer retread that damaged the undercarriage of our Prius. It sounded much worse than it looked, and Saul, with his amazing talent for quick fixes, was able to crawl under the car with some hose tape that we purchased at a nearby truck stop, remove part of the damaged cowling and tape the rest up so that we could continue our journey. For this fiasco, we only lost about a half hour of traveling time. As we neared the end of our first evening’s trek to Florence, SC, the rain was coming down so heavily that we almost missed our exit in the dark. Fortunately, we were able to get a comfortable room for the night at our favorite Comfort Suites, and left refreshed and well rested the next morning, a clear day, after a satisfying free breakfast. We really were excited to be heading home to our new life.

We arrived home on Monday, September 16, and had dinner at Sweet Tomatoes before 5:00 p.m. We quickly unpacked our car and suitcases and met Ken and Randi at Epcot for the IllumiNations fireworks that same evening. They had been in Disney World at The Swan Hotel vacationing with Jamie and Andy, Presley, Evan, and John and Cindy, Andy’s parents. The next morning, we met all of them at The Art of Animation Hotel where Jamie and Andy and the kids were staying to have a rather chaotic breakfast together. Following breakfast, Jamie and Andy went off to a timeshare pitch, while the parents babysat, and we went home to catch up with laundry and food shopping. The next day, we picked up the “old folks” to see our home. That night, while Cindy, Randi, Jamie, Andy, and Presley were attending the “Not So Scary Halloween Party,” dressed as various characters from Peter Pan in the Magic Kingdom, Saul and I picked up Ken, Evan, and John and had dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack, where Evan was able to play in the restaurant’s playground with me while we were waiting to be served. Afterward, we dropped the three of them off at The Art of Animation Hotel to put Evan to bed and await the return of the others. The next morning, we picked up Ken and Randi from their brunch at The Grand Floridian, with John and Cindy, dropped John and Cindy back at The Swan to meet their airport shuttle, and brought Ken and Randi with their luggage back to stay with us for what was supposed to be two weeks.

We spent Thursday with Ken and Randi relaxing by the swimming pool while the kids fulfilled their self-scheduled activities at the parks. Over the next few days, we picked up provisions for Shabbat dinner at Costco and First Oriental Supermarket, went to see Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios, bought a used wheelchair for Ken from a Craigslist ad (so that we would not have to rely on renting them from Disney), took a late night walk around the lushly-landscaped indoor gardens of the Gaylord Palms Hotel, and shared half price mojitos and small plates at Bahama Breeze. Randi’s sister and brother-in-law, Lori and Jules, became grandparents to a new baby boy, so we spent a day driving to Boca Raton to visit them and to see the new baby, a drive that was memorable in that we were held up for half an hour alongside a car that had just flipped over, while the medics evacuated a badly injured young woman by helicopter. It landed on the cleared highway right in front of us. After visiting the children at home with their new son, we had a lively and delicious dinner together with Lori and Jules, sitting at outdoor tables along the seaside at Boston’s. The next day, we toured Animal Kingdom. Afterward, we picked up Ari at Orlando Airport on his return flight from Paris where he had been vacationing for a several days. He stayed with us for the last few days of his vacation, before flying back to DC. During his stay, we spent some very enjoyable hours making the rounds of the Food and Wine Festival that had begun at Epcot, sampling some really exotic wines and beers from around the world. Thirty different countries were represented at the festival. On Friday, September 27, we shopped for and prepared a Shabbat dinner and were joined by Larry and Adele, who drove in from The Villages so that we could all be together. The strain of the vacation took a toll on Ken’s health and he and Randi decided to return home earlier than planned so that he could receive a few extra treatments from his applied kinestheologist. We took them to the airport on September 29. Ari spent a day shopping with us and just hanging out by the pool before we returned him to the airport on September 30. For the next few days, Saul and I accomplished various odds and ends around the house, including finishing hanging our artwork, a process that began with Ari’s input, assembling a few miscellaneous pieces of IKEA furniture (a television table and a printer table), adjusting some wiring to be more unobtrusive, unpacking and organizing a few last boxes from our move, cleaning out the garage, cooking to use up some leftovers, etc. In between, we swam in our pool and took long walks in the parks almost every evening, enjoying the “Eat to the Beat” concerts that were a part of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, especially The Pointer Sisters.

Our friend Larry drove down to stay with us for a few weeks beginning on October 18. Larry, like Ken and Randi and Ari, also decided to buy an annual pass to the park so that we could all come and go at will. On his first Shabbat morning here, he accompanied us to services at Ohalei Rivka, where he was immediately welcomed and rewarded with an aliyah. Over the next few days, we visited Epcot and Animal Kingdom. We dined at various restaurants in the area, Miller’s Ale House, Bahama Breeze, Sonny’s Barbecue, Sweet Tomatoes, First Watch and Ming’s Bistro. One night, we visited Universal Studios City Walk and had a very lively dinner at Margaritaville where Larry imbibed a multicolored and flavored flight of margarita samples. We visited Adele and Larry at The Villages and had a very pleasant lunch with them at Lighthouse Point Bar and Grill by the side of a lake. Saul developed a nasty ear infection in both ears during the first few days of Larry’s visit. He was much better after we visited a nearby walk-in clinic and he began taking antibiotics and ear drops for a few days. He was under the weather for a day or two, though, so just Larry and I went to the parks a few times. Saul missed the Boyz II Men concert at Epcot. At our Shabbat dinner on October 25, I made a number of Larry’s favorite dishes to celebrate his birthday on October 22, including kasha and bow ties, Texas sheet cake, wedge salad with Russian dressing, chicken satay, corn on the cob, and homemade challah. Larry brought with him a collection of etrogim from the Sukkot celebration at MBI-EE. While he was here, we turned them into a collection of etrog/honey jam to take back home with him for our friends. Saul and I went to see Smashmouth at Epcot, an amazing concert. After making arrangements to visit the lodge, Saul and Larry attended a Masonic meeting in nearby Clermont.

At Larry’s suggestion, we took a drive to Clearwater Beach, somewhere none of us had visited before. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the pleasant drive took about an hour and a half. Coincidentally, we arrived to find that their Second Annual Chalk Walk Art Festival was in full swing. We had a delightful lunch sitting on the second floor deck of Frenchy’s, a seaside restaurant. The beach was spectacular white sand, and the calm Gulf water warm even at the end of October. We took off our shoes and strolled a few blocks down along the water’s edge. The artwork was incredible! I even was invited to pose, sitting on the concrete sidewalk inside one of the chalk drawings that was designed in perspective to look three-dimensional, so that it looks like I am sitting in a beach chair! It is one of my favorite photos ever. Another bonus of the trip is that we found a little place that makes the most delicious New Jersey-style bagels anywhere—Clearwater Bagels. We bought a dozen to put in the freezer, a good thing, because we had recently discovered that the one place in our area to get good bagels, A Roll with a Hole, had just gone out of business. On October 31, Halloween Day, we decided to explore Celebration, Florida, a nearby planned community that was to be a prototype a la Disney. We had an elegant and memorable lunch there at the Columbia Restaurant, a 100-year-old family institution that began in Ybor City, a Spanish community that settled in Florida many years ago. In our meanderings through this very charming and unusual town, we happened upon a sizable, Halloween-decorated private house that was the ultimate. In fact, it was not immediately recognizable as a house. The entire front was obscured by a two-story-high, fake facade that emulated a haunted pirate ship. The presentation was so enormous and so detailed that we immediately wondered where the whole thing is stored during the rest of the year. Our meal at Columbia was delicious and memorable. We returned home and spent the rest of the afternoon in the pool, only drying out to hand out candy to the approximately 15 kids who came to the door trick-or-treating.

We had Shabbat dinner that I prepared with Larry on Friday, evening, November 1. He left for home the next day right before we were hit with a driving rain storm. During the following week, we went to a Christopher Cross concert at Epcot. On Tuesday morning, we picked up Adele at The Villages and brought her home to stay with us for a couple of days as Larry was attending a Bridge Tournament in Daytona Beach. We hung out by the pool, ate at Sweet Tomatoes, and spent Wednesday in Clearwater Beach. The weather and water were as beautiful as the first time. We had lunch on the second floor deck of Crabby Bill’s Bar and Grill, next to Frenchy’s, overlooking the Gulf. Again, we walked for several blocks at the water’s edge. Again, we picked up bagels and added some pastries, Adele’s treat. On Thursday, before returning Adele home, we stopped in Celebration to show her the Halloween house and then went for dim sum in Orlando at Ming’s Bistro, because Adele is a big Chinese food fan and Larry is not. That Friday, Saul and I just had a quiet Shabbat dinner together. Within a few days, Ari flew to London for a work-related extended stay.

Also, a few days later, we picked up Erica and Danny, along with Brenna and Ava, at Orlando Airport to begin their one-week planned Disney vacation. Their vacation had been planned long before we had an inkling that we would be buying a home here. We brought them home to drop off their luggage, lunched together on our good bagels and lox, and then we took them to visit their parents, and tour The Villages. We all had dinner together at Sonny’s Barbecue in The Villages. Brenna stayed with Adele and Larry, and Erica, Danny, and Ava stayed with us the first night because of Ava’s allergy to the dogs. The next morning, we awoke to the happy sounds of Ava in the pool with Danny poolside with his cup of French-press coffee. We headed over to their Disney hotel, the All-Star Disney Movie Resort to meet Adele, Larry and Brenna so that they could all check into their rooms. It was a process that took over two hours. After that, we rendezvoused at Joe’s Crab Shack for dinner. After dropping them back at their hotel, Saul and I went to Epcot, taking photos of Epcot’s “England” to exchange for the incredible photos Ari was sending us from the real England. Then, we attended the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert, which was majorly swinging! We met the family off and on for various experiences in the parks. To celebrate Brenna’s birthday, we all had lunch together at the Rainforest Café in Animal Kingdom. Later, we bought Brenna a microchip-controlled set of light-up Mickey Mouse “Glow with the Show” ears which coordinate with various extravaganzas at the Disney Parks. Unfortunately, Danny got sick with a stomach bug almost from the beginning, but toughed things out for a few days until it got the better of him. On Friday, November 15, our friends, Ruth and Giora stopped in on their way down to their winter condo in Marco Island to see our home, have lunch with us, and drop off instructions so that we could stay in their home in Voorhees, NJ, the week before, and during, Sami’s bat mitzvah. Their home is only about two miles from Jess and Alex’s and from TBS, and, more importantly, it is pet free. On Saturday evening, November 16, Saul and I went to the Magic Kingdom to see the castle lit in gorgeous fashion as though it were encased in ice (a la the new Disney movie, Frozen). We hung around that night to see what the park looks like when it is almost empty of people. Unhappily, that is how we discovered that the monorail back across the lake to our car ceases running at midnight, but we were able to take a much slower ferry boat. We felt a bit like Cinderella when the coach turned back into a pumpkin.

With true serendipity, Saul and I discovered a free, invitation-only party online, sponsored by Yelp with suggested donations to help Harbor House, that was taking place on Sunday, November 17, in Orlando. We put in our names as alternates, as the guest list was already filled, but were awarded last minute tickets when there were a few cancellations. We had an absolutely incredible afternoon, strolling around the grounds and sampling the offerings of dozens of restaurants and vendors from the Orlando area. In addition, there was entertainment by a number of local acts—singing, dancing, magic, guitar, etc. There was even a hairdressing salon set up outdoors if you wanted to sit still that long. Billed as Yelp’s Bohemian Bash, it was an amazing amalgam of food, wine, whiskey, cocktails, and entertainment where we ate wonderful tidbits until we couldn’t move and drank more alcohol than we should have. We went home loaded with more flare and beautifully-packaged desserts than we could easily carry. An added bonus was that, in addition to learning a great deal about what was available around us in Orlando, we met some really delightful people from the area, although of the 500 that were lucky enough to get tickets, we were probably among the oldest.

A few days after Danny, Erica, Adele and Larry all went home, we hit the nearby outlet malls in search of a folding suitcase. We found exactly what we wanted and returned home to pack our party clothes, anything we still had that was warm, and anything we thought might be useful in the kitchen to prepare for the bat mitzvah (about two cartons worth of cake pans, cookie cutters, cake decorating equipment, etc.) and packed up the Prius for our trip to New Jersey for Sami’s bat mitzvah. We left on Tuesday, November 19. We had planned to have lunch at Fresh on the Fly in Lake Mary, FL, again, along Rte. 4, but sadly discovered it was already out of business and replaced by another restaurant. Around the corner, we ate instead at Jax 5th Avenue Deli and Ale House, a bit disappointing, but the food was okay. Staying overnight again at the Comfort Suites in Florence, SC, we later discovered a charming new place along our I-95 route in the college town of Wilson, NC—Quince, A Southern Bistro. Besides the charming setting, we were welcomed with warm southern hospitality and good southern cooking—definitely a great respite from the long hours of driving.

We arrived at Ari’s home on November 20, and walked over to nearby Meridian Pint for a satisfying dinner. Since Ari had been assigned to London with only a few days notice, we were able to get things organized for him that had been left undone, such as emptying his refrigerator of perishable food, etc. During our time in DC, we discovered two new breakfast places that we really liked, Highlands, very fresh food, reasonable, and just a mile from his home; and Mark’s Kitchen in Tacoma Park on our way to New Jersey. Mark’s Kitchen had some really unusual offerings and I was delighted with my savory mung bean pancakes, served with teriyaki sauce, home fries with onions, and eggs. Saul was also delighted with his breakfast sandwich and buckwheat banana pancakes. We made the final drive to Jess and Alex on Friday, November 22, arriving at Ruth and Giora’s with just enough time to open the house, unpack, change clothes, and head over to join the kids and Alex’s mom for Shabbat dinner. We all attended Alex’s family service at TBS the next morning.

Beginning on Sunday morning, our preparations for the bat mitzvah the following Friday and Saturday began. Jess and I went shopping after her Sunday morning classes were over. We delivered everything to the TBS kitchen and I began to bake all the cakes needed to somewhat emulate the tiered wonder that Sami had found on Pinterest. While at Michael’s for additional cake decorating supplies, such as fondant, we were inspired by pearly blue chocolate-filled beads that matched the colors for the party, which were turquoises, peacock blue and copper. I found copper Luster Dust there as well. Jessica had ordered sugar peacock feathers to add to the cake decor, a discovery she had made online. They inspired the rest of the cake. In the months leading up to the event, Jess, Alex and the girls had all been busy with crafts and items that made the affair truly unique. From the acrylic painting I had made based on Sami’s Torah portion, Alex produced beautiful invitations incorporating various elements of the design, as well as birkat hamazon benchers. The girls had spent countless hours producing one-of-a-kind women’s head coverings made from copper wire, beads, and charms. Jess had crocheted the men’s kippot. Leftover wood strips of flooring from their kitchen remodel had been turned into long centerpiece planters which housed herbs and etrog trees that Alex had grown from seeds leftover from last year’s etrog-honey jam. Suspended above each of them were nine delicate glass globes to house tealight candles in a chanukiah-type configuration as this year, ChanukahThanksgiving, and Sami’s Bat Mitzvah all came together in one marathon long weekend. Elaine, Sami and Jess, but mostly Elaine, had labored to produce a gorgeous tallit for Sami to wear that is as unique as she is, with embroidered messages of love in the corners. Alex and Jess grommeted the holes for the tzitzit and Alex and Sami worked together to tie the special knots incorporating the tekhelet of blue into the tzitzit. Sami has worked countless hours this year volunteering for Hazon CSA of Southern New Jersey, a group whose mission is to support sustainable agriculture and local farmers. With this in mind, Jess planned everything from the recycled centerpieces, to the plates and cutlery made from pressed palm leaves and bamboo, to the stacks of fabric towels in the bathrooms, to the local and sustainable sourcing of the meal itself, so that disposable waste did not accumulate because of this event. To date, Sami has personally raised over $2,500.00 for Hazon.

With everyone pitching in, we were able to complete all the preparations that had been planned right on schedule. Ari flew in from London the Saturday before the bat mitzvah, worked in DC for a few days, drove to Cherry Hill on Wednesday, and stayed with us at Ruth and Giora’s. He was, as always, a tremendous force for good, keeping everyone cool and on track, always pointing out what is truly important when we all get stressed over the details, and lending a hand wherever necessary. He spent several hours tying multicolored ribbons around the napkins which draped from the plates down the sides of the tables, adding a colorful touch to the room. On Friday morning, we returned his Mercedes, which was at the end of its lease period to the dealer in Cherry Hill, ahead of his returning to London. Jess and Alex were especially happy to host their friends, Rabbi Menachem and Liz, and their three children from Berkeley, CA. Their friendship dates back to JTS days and with all the demands of family life and synagogue congregations, they have had precious few moments to spend together over the last 17 years. Menachem was the best man at their wedding. Every child had one corresponding to their age with whom to relate, and they all seemed to get along famously.

Wednesday evening, Jess had arranged a professional photographer to take formal shots of the family as no photographs could be taken during the Shabbat festivities. It was a happy and productive evening. The photographer, Sheena Levi Photography, a friend and co-worker of Jessica’s was very professional and exhibited a creative and delightful personality. Elaine hosted the Thanksgiving dinner for the family this year and we so appreciated the delicious food and all the effort she lavished on the details, especially after our daily labors to ready everything for the bat mitzvah.

The actual event was far more than a warm and unpretentious service and meal. On both days, Sami handled almost all aspects of both services with poise and expertise. We all knew how smart and creative she is, but we were nevertheless wowed by the amount of preparation and knowledge that she exhibited. She was a superstar! Entering the candlelit hall, we were impressed with the creativity of the beautiful setting, sparkling with not only the suspended tea-light-illuminated, glass globes, but the fairy lights that twinkled beneath the sheer fabric of the buffet tables and lattice panels. The seating arrangement, listed on a board next to the cake at the entrance was also unique and beautiful. The families and friends, who had come from near and far, moved about the long tables and actually engaged in lively conversation. The food was delicious and beautifully presented on the buffets. The servers were efficient and friendly. And, as is usually the case with Jessica’s affairs, the weather was great, too. The evening was lovely in every regard.

Saturday’s main event was attended by over 300 people. If Sami felt any nervousness or pressure, she did not show it at all. In addition to leading the entire service, she flawlessly read in Hebrew all but a small section of the entire Torah portion. She even impressed the part of the family that attends Chabad services regularly with not only her fluency with Hebrew, but her accuracy as far as the trope (rhythmic cantillation) of the reading. During the previous week, we had all worked at the synagogue to prepare four items for the meals—the cake, a dozen challahs, butternut apple crisp, and baked ziti. Everything was greatly appreciated by the guests. The cake, especially, turned out spectacular (better than the model on which it was based) and weighed about 60 lbs. when completed. After an enjoyable and sociable afternoon feasting and catching up with friends and family members we have not seen for far too long, we were ready for a long nap. As evening approached, Jess and Alex and Menachem and Liz headed off with the kids to a nearby indoor water park at the Hotel ML where some of the relatives were staying. Saul, Ari, and I decided, after we rested for a while, to pack up and leave for DC that evening, rather than waiting for morning, as Ari needed to be delivered to Dulles Airport by 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, and we feared getting caught in traffic on the holiday weekend. We secured Ruth and Giora’s home, stopped in Havre de Grace on our way home for a light meal at Laurrapin Grill, and were in bed in DC before midnight.

The next morning, we arose early to have a dim sum breakfast together at Oriental East. Arriving back at his home, we helped him finish his laundry, get his house together for his absence, helped him pack for the trip back to London, and delivered him to the airport right on time. Saul and I decided to sleep for one more night in DC before heading home. We had dinner one more time at Meridian Pint and then hit the sack early so that we could be on the road very early to avoid the DC traffic in “the mixing bowl.” We arose at 3:00 a.m., packed our Prius with our overnight stuff, and were on the road home by 4:15 a.m. When we left DC, the temperature was 30°F. and we were in winter coats, scarves, sweaters, wool socks, etc. We couldn’t wait to get back to our balmy Florida home. Encountering very little traffic at that hour, we fairly flew through Virginia and were in Florence, SC, our usual stopping place, before lunch time. We decided to press on and we were feeling great, both psychologically from our happy, contented, and productive week with family and friends, and physically, from the great food, lack of stress, and anticipation of resuming our warm, retired, Florida lifestyle (Hakuna Matata). We had a late lunch at Dickey’s in Pooler, GA, and decided to try to complete the drive in one day. By the time we reached Georgia, we had ecstatically stripped ourselves of coats, scarves, sweaters, and socks. We stopped at Sweet Tomatoes in Kissimmee for dinner as the sun was setting, and walked in the door of our home before 8:00 p.m. It was 72°F and it was sweeet! We lit our first Chanukah candles in our new home in Florida the last three nights of the holiday.

Tuesday, after unpacking everything, stowing all our winter duds far away, and catching up with our laundry, we spent the warm evening wandering at Epcot, taking more photos of “England” for Ari and our other Dr. Who enthusiasts, and viewing the special extra fireworks added onto the already-spectacular IllumiNations show. On Wednesday, we went to Downtown Disney to catch the movie, Frozen, in 3D. The weather was so beautiful that we strolled for hours by the lake, lounged under the palm trees in the public square, popped in and out of art stores, and lunched outdoors at Bongos Cuban Café before reluctantly leaving the sunshine to enter the opulently-appointed theater to see the visually-stunning animated movie. To our surprise, Downtown Disney is undergoing some sort of massive reconstruction project and we can’t wait to see what is being added. Thursday, we went shopping to replenish our supply of coffee for our newly-pilfered Tassimo (from Ari). We located a really well-stocked Bed, Bath and Beyond, and were gratified to find that their 20% off coupons were honored if you picked up the coffee there, instead of ordering it online. On Friday, we restocked our pantry and refrigerator with the most wonderful stuff. The Aldi Supermarket in Clermont has beautiful, fresh, mostly-local produce at bargain prices. On the way back, we stopped at a roadside farm stand to buy freshly-picked, locally-grown strawberries, that were expensive, $4.00 a box, but incredibly beautiful, sweet, and delicious. They were a variety that was long and slender, unlike the usual generic tasteless ones. Also on our way home, we stopped at the Friday afternoon farmers market at nearby Cagan Crossings, something we have been meaning to do for months. There, we picked up the most amazing eggs from a local farmer who cares for his chickens in a true free-range setting. He cannot sell his eggs directly because they are not pasteurized as commercial large egg producers are required to do. So, his business is billed as “Rent a Hen.” Technically, you are not buying eggs, but picking up the output of your rented hen. He has many different varieties of chickens and they lay eggs ranging in color from blue through various shades of brown and beige. The eggs, which we have been using all week, are wonderful! We also bought homemade tamales, hot, from a local husband and wife team, and my favorite Jubilee orange tomatoes. We sampled delicious, freshly-popped artisanal caramel and salt popcorn from two local guys, but we’re waiting for company to come before we buy some as I would probably be tempted to snack on it incessantly.

On Saturday, we attended services at our new shul, Ohalei Rivka, especially to say kaddish to remember Saul’s dad, who died right after the end of Chanukah many years ago. The synagogue was packed to capacity in honor of a bat mitzvah that was taking place that day. During the next week, as blizzards began to hammer practically the entire country, including the Philadelphia area, we were enjoying record high temperatures and sunny skies in Florida. We spent whole afternoons enjoying our pool, further exploring our surroundings, and taking long evening walks in the Disney parks which culminate with incredible fireworks and light shows. We discovered the seasonal Osborne Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Park, truly an overwhelming and sensational experience. In the midst of all this warmth, we were experiencing man-made snow flurries in the park. Wow!

During our week with Jessica and Alex, we ate twice at Rajbhog, a completely vegetarian, southern Indian restaurant with an incredibly complex and delicious menu. On both occasions, even though I overindulged, my sugar measured in the low 80’s afterward, the lowest it has measured since I started monitoring it several months ago. I was incredulous, but then Liz pointed out that certain spices, especially turmeric and cumin, are extremely efficacious in lowering blood sugar. Since then, I have been experimenting with adding spices to my food with very good results. In conversation with our favorite waitress at Sweet Tomatoes, whose nickname is Jellie, I mentioned the fact that we had left behind, in the north, a vegetarian, southern Indian restaurant, that was capable of lowering my blood sugar substantially every time I ate there. She proved to be extremely knowledgeable on the subject, suggesting various spices and a homeopathic spice-based capsule that supposedly works in conjunction with traditional medication. She also recommended a vegetarian, southern Indian restaurant in Orlando, which she and her family have been frequenting for at least eight years, Woodlands. Saul and I immediately went there for their buffet lunch, and again, after overindulging in the unlimited buffet, including a sweet dessert called payasam and fresh wedges of Florida oranges, my blood sugar was normal. Today, we had lunch at a non-vegetarian Indian restaurant just about a mile from our home, Dhaba. I have high hopes for my blood sugar reading tomorrow! Rajbhog was the yummiest, but I would rather be living here.

Another signed agreement on our house in North Wales fell through when a home inspector managed to convince the buyer that a new dimensional roof on top of the first one was not really a new roof because it was a second layer, and they wanted us to remove both roofs to install a third new one. We are now awaiting the results of a third signed agreement that is supposed to be settled by December 31. We substantially reduced the price because they agreed to such a speedy settlement, and will take the house “as is.” In the meantime, the latest home inspector is about to drill holes through the outside stucco to check for mold with no liability on his part. We are fully expecting this deal to fall through as well, not because we think they will find mold, but because our life is so wonderful now, we expect that there must be some reason for us to worry. In that regard, we just keep reminding ourselves how lucky we are right now and that we should not let the stress of dealing with our former home creep in to wear away at our present happy state of being. Hakuna matata!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Our New Life in Florida

Since I began writing this blog five and a half years ago, there have been long periods when I have been so busy that months have gone by before I had time to make an entry. This is, by far, the longest period of time that has passed and for good reason. Almost everything about our life has changed and I am happy to say, so far, we are loving our new home and lifestyle in Davenport, Florida, about a 15-minute drive from Disney World’s gates. As I write this, Saul sits beside me at Ari’s dining room table in DC to help me get all the important stuff together to get some semblance of an accurate story of the last five months of our lives. We are presently in the north for the Jewish high holy days and right now, we are between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which we decided to observe with Ari at MBI-EE in Philadelphia. We have been driving from shul to Jess and Alex’s so that we can be together for family celebratory meals. We have been staying overnight with both Ken and Randi in Warrington, and Ari in DC in between. We actually moved out of our home in North Wales, PA, on July 25, and the moving van arrived with our possessions in Florida on July 30. There was a somewhat frenetic, and anxiety-ridden period between May and September, which was more than offset by an absolutely delightful summer, probably one of the best in our lives.

During the month of May, we drove down to Florida in Ari’s Mercedes (to use up excess mileage on his lease) to see the new house we were about to purchase. We took advantage of an extra timeshare week we had previously purchased from a promotion at Summer Bay, just 10 minutes from the home. We were delighted with our first encounters with our new home. It was much cleaner and in better shape than we had expected. The purpose of this particular trip was to find contractors to get the house ready for our move. It rained almost the entire time we spent in Florida, an unusual situation, as mostly it teems for a few minutes every day and then the sun comes out within a short time. We did have a beautiful several hours sitting by our pool while waiting to meet various contractors. The last party in our old home was our annual Mother’s Day brunch. The next day, we began packing in earnest. Shavuot fell in the middle of the month, and we observed it with Jess and Alex at TBS. Before setting off for DC, we spent a delightful afternoon with our friends, Marianne and Cliff who live in the retirement community, The Foulkeways. Marianne was Mom’s hospice volunteer. The facilities where they reside are convenient, safe, and aesthetically pleasing almost everywhere you look. Their newly-constructed greenhouse held some real treasures, including a priceless and ageless bonsai. A few days later, we drove to Ari’s and spent a day with my cousin, Anne, who was attending a conference in DC. We toured the Lincoln Memorial, Korean Veteran’s Memorial, and National Arboretum. We had a fantastic lunch at and toured the American Indian Museum, and we were joined by Ari after work for a delightful twilight dinner outdoors on the canal in Georgetown at a restaurant called Sea Catch.

Settlement on the house in Florida went smoothly without our presence, except for a last minute fiasco that involved a glitch in the timing of our bank’s wiring the money. Luckily, we were having lunch with Ken and Randi when we learned of it and were just five minutes from the bank that was handling the transaction, so we were able to rectify the situation in record time, and we assumed ownership of the property on May 17, as planned. The last week of May and the first few days of June were spent back in Florida. Ari drove us down and worked remotely every weekday from a two-bedroom condo that was loaned to us by Ken’s friends Rich and Sandy. Rich was in Kuwait as a contractor at the time, and was really excited about the upcoming birth of his first grandchild. I am sorry to report that we were all shocked and dismayed when, shortly after returning to the U.S., he died suddenly and unexpectedly the day after some surgery for a blocked artery. We mourn the loss of this wonderful husband and dad who was so looking forward to becoming a grandfather. It makes us appreciate the blessings of spending time with our own grandchildren even more. While on this trip to Florida, we chose furniture and televisions for our new home, arranged for repairs, and modifications to the walls and floors, arranged to have it painted inside and out, chose a wood floor-look, porcelain ceramic tile to replace all the carpeting, and bought some basics such as a folding table and chairs to work and eat on, and anti-gravity chairs to lounge in by the pool or inside to watch television. We slept every evening in the condo. We returned north a few days before our scheduled one-week vacation in Ocean City, NJ, with Jess, Alex, Ari and the girls.

During June, our week at the beach was pure bliss. The house we had rented was reasonably-priced, fantastic, gorgeous, and convenient for our needs. The weather was great. If there was any downside, it was that because we were vacationing so early, just before the end of the school year, the big summer crowds had not yet arrived, and some restaurants and attractions were not fully open to their regular summer schedules. The beaches had been restored (to our amazement) after a winter of dastardly storms, to luxurious and pristine condition. We had a wonderful time! Beth came in at the beginning of June and spent a day helping us pack, joined by her friend, Megan with her baby daughter, for a few hours. Our friend, Larry, stopped in to show us his new red Mercedes convertible. The girls returned home to Cherry Hill after our vacation for a few days to partake of the celebrations of the last few days of school, and then Izzy and Yona returned with us to begin this summer’s session of Camp Bubbie and Saba. We all saw Sami off on the bus for her full summer at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and then began the drive down to Florida for the third time this summer setting out in both of our cars. We spent the first night in DC with Ari. We left the Prius in his garage and continued onto Florida in the Pilot so that we would be able to drive home after returning Ari’s Mercedes following his flight back from Orlando on July 7. From DC, on our several trips down, we have begun staying at the Comfort Suites in Florence, SC, which is very close to the halfway mark and allows us to break the driving into two approximately ten-hour sessions, which is about as much as any of us can stand. The hotel has been very recently completely refurbished, is very reasonable if you bargain with the registration employee at the front desk, has a sofa-bed that accommodates the girls, provides free warm popcorn and freshly-baked cookies, and a sumptuous DIY breakfast by common motel standards.

Now that we have made so many trips down and back, we have discovered a number of treasures along I-95. One of these is a small, non-descript, down-home restaurant in Hardeeville, SC, called Gwen and Franny’s Fried Chicken. On the trip with Ari, we stopped at a barbecue buffet place, about 10 miles off the road into the middle of nowhere in SC to eat at Sweatman’s, which looks exactly like Cracker Barrel tries to look, but is the real thing, complete with bearded, overall-clad, farm types, rocking out front on the porch. Demolition Coffee in Petersburg, VA, was a charming and artsy place for lunch. Virginia is the most tedious part of the trip to my mind as I always feel that we are in it forever on our way down. There is a diner right off of I-95 in Rocky Mount, NC, called the Highway Diner which provides authentic, respectable, diner-type southern-style food in the usual retro diner atmosphere. Also, we liked a barbecue place called Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Pooler, GA, a franchise, but good nevertheless. We discovered a virtual shack in Georgia, Altman’s Restaurant, that has very ample baskets of the most delicious fried grouper nuggets along with fries and hush puppies. The girls all loved them, especially picky Yona, and the staff is delightful with their southern hospitality. Down the road is a touristy, falling-down, farm stand that sells very expensive (but worth it) freshly-made peach slushies that the girls covet, and dense loaves of fresh peach bread, among other delights. Off of Route 4 in Florida, in an upscale shopping center located in an upscale neighborhood, is a superb fish restaurant called Fresh on the Fly, where we had an incredibly imaginative and delicious meal on the way back with Ari.

We arrived in Florida with the two younger girls on June 22 for the southern portion of Camp Bubbie and Saba. The first week, we stayed in a two-bedroom condo at Orange Lake Resorts, also a 10-minute ride from our new house. We needed to use points from our timeshare this summer or we would have lost them, and Summer Bay was completely booked for that particular week. As it turned out, we discovered that Orange Lake has even more amenities than Summer Bay. There were four huge pool complexes on the resort’s property, each with a different character. The first one we explored was geared for teens and singles, with tiki bars, loud live music, and giant water slides. The second had a tube river that snaked throughout the complex, smaller water slides, and a zero-entry pool that led to the deeper parts. The third, where we spent most of our time, was geared to families with small children as it had a huge kiddie pool that was only 18-inches deep everywhere. Other parts had water slides that kept Izzy amused when she tired of playing with Yona. There were also activities for children, such as a scavenger hunt, which Izzy and Yona won on one of the days we were there. The fourth area was one that we only viewed from the car and involved huge blow-up slides and moon-bounce type constructions that required additional fees. We availed ourselves of a camp day for a small fee, which allowed Saul and me to drop off the kids for the morning to try to get our Florida driver’s licenses. We succeeded on this, our second try. We had failed to have all the correct paperwork on the first attempt on our initial trip down. The week at Orange Lake enabled us to oversee the completion of the preliminary work on the house and delivery of some of the furniture we had ordered so that we could begin to live there with the girls for the next few weeks. I had filled the Pilot SUV with all the household items I thought I would need for our stay there ahead of the actual moving date of July 25. Ari drove down to join us and arrived on June 29. Within the first few days, armed with our new Florida drivers licenses, we purchased discounted annual Disney tickets for ourselves and the two girls which allow us to access the four theme parks anytime for free for 365 days of the year with free parking. Ari also bought a not-discounted annual pass for about $150 extra, so we could come and go to the parks whenever we wished. We then began a utopian week of exploring the parks for a few hours in the cool mornings, returning home for lunch and a few hours of swimming in our pool, showers, soaking baths, long naps, dinners out, and perhaps a few more hours in the park, swimming in our pool by moonlight, or vegging out in front of the television with ice cream. One night, we went to see Despicable Me 2, which we loved, but Ari became ill with a sinus infection toward the end and spent a day or two in bed with a fever. On the Fourth of July, after a day in the Magic Kingdom, the girls watched fireworks launched in the neighborhood, and viewed them from the hood of the Pilot parked in our driveway. Saul has been wonderful at walking around the parks this year without the use of a motorized cart. We explored areas of the park that we never had time to see before and discovered shortcuts for getting around, such as boarding the locomotive as soon as we enter the Magic Kingdom to circumvent the Main Street crowds and long walks in the hot sun. We dropped Ari off at the airport in Orlando on July 7, so that he could return to work, leaving his Mercedes for our use and return trip with the girls. We began our drive back with the two girls beginning on July 16, stopping to visit Larry and Adele at The Villages.

We arrived in DC on July 17, and spent the night in Ari’s vacated apartment downstairs. His three-year tenants had moved out the previous week and he was entertaining two sets of married friends from his college years who both had two-year-old daughters. Steve and Sarah flew in from Oregon with their daughter, Ayla, prior to beginning a six-month stint teaching in Argentina. Zach and Claire drove in with their daughter, Ava, from Richmond, so that they could all meet up. To facilitate all of us descending on him at the same time, I was very proud and gratified to see that Ari had prepared dinner for all of us. He made my recipe for Mediterranean vegetable lasagna and, while we were waiting for him to arrive from work, we put together a giant salad from veggies he had purchased supplemented with veggies from Zach and Claire’s garden. Saul and I volunteered to babysit once the kids were asleep so that the four could go down the street for a few drinks and adult conversation like in the olden days before kids. The next day, we all decided to visit the Smithsonian Natural Science Museum. The weather was very hot and they hiked with all the girls the several blocks to the Metro and back. Saul and I drove so we weren’t quite as tapped out, although we also had to park and walk from a few blocks away. All commented about how impressed they were with Izzy, her intelligence, sense of humor, and responsibility that she assumed for entertaining the other girls. They left the museum to have lunch at Ari’s, while we continued home to NJ, stopping to take the girls to a good Chinese buffet, Teppanyaki Grill and Supreme Buffet (which they loved) in Laurel, MD. The next day, Claire asked to see Ari’s vacated apartment and, within a week, without advertising, her brother had rented the space for a year. We arrived at Jess and Alex’s shortly before Shabbat and had a wonderful meal and reunion since the girls had been with us for over a month.

We had real crunch time now to finish packing before the arrival of the movers. Just one week on our own with the added blessing of Jess and Alex coming, sans girls, for a weekend to help organize and do the heavy lifting necessary to accomplish everything we needed to do to move out of a 4100 sq. ft. house we had lived in for 20 years, along with some of the possessions of three previous generations of my family who had lived in the Philadelphia area. The girls went to stay with Alex’s mom for that weekend. The husband of one of Ken’s employees, Ryan, gave us an estimate from a moving company, Clemmer Moving, that we felt was very reasonable, and as it turned out, we were delighted with them for the way in which they accomplished both the loading and unloading of our possessions. We had planned for some of our furniture to be delivered to DC, but the cost was prohibitive because of the size of the truck and the narrowness of Ari’s street. In the eleventh hour, Saul and I rented a 20-foot truck, which the moving guys loaded for us, and which we then drove to DC that evening after the movers had finished. Alex’s brother-in-law, Matt, met us to help us unload and pick up some furniture which we gave to him and Naomi. We slept at Ari’s and returned the truck in DC the next morning. Ari followed us in his car, and we continued on to Jess and Alex’s where we dropped him off to work remotely while we shopped for supplies for a huge Shabbat dinner for ourselves, Ari, Jess, Alex, Izzy, Yona, Rif, Paul and Meredith (who was in from Ohio), Faith, Larry, Naomi, Matt, Talia, Aaron, Stacey, Jacob, Lily, Zach and Elaine. Sami was still at camp. After dinner that evening, we drove back to DC in two cars, the Mercedes and the Prius. We rested on Saturday in DC, and then Saul and I began the drive for our permanent move to Florida on Sunday morning, July 28.

In hindsight, everything went down just about perfectly except for one enormous fly in the ointment. The Philadelphia area began experiencing record rainfalls and flash flooding during this past summer. While we were in Florida, a small leak in our basement, which we thought had been repaired previously, began to leak again unbeknownst to us during the torrential downpours. On the day that our buyers came to do an inspection, let in by Ken and Randi, it was raining in torrents and they discovered the leak. They then proceeded to send in their own assessors for the problem and informed us that the problem might require an expenditure of 40 to 50 thousand dollars to repair. In the meantime, the company that had waterproofed Ken’s flooded basement very competently, Dry Basements by Dean Bender, assessed our problem and assured us that they could repair the problem and guarantee their work for under five thousand dollars. We met with the buyers and offered them the guarantee with an additional thousand dollars to install a water-driven backup sump pump that would work even during a power failure. To our shock and dismay, they decided to withdraw their offer. We had to return their entire good faith deposit, or risk taking the house off the market while legal proceedings ensued for several months. All this went down on June 20, the day before we were scheduled to leave for Florida with the girls. We called a local realtor we had previously interviewed, who came over within hours of our call. We signed a contract with her to sell our house, and I tried to clean up as best I could within the few hours left to me so that the house would be presentable as realtors brought prospective buyers through, something I definitely thought I would not have to worry about. While we were away, I also paid a maid to come and clean as I hadn’t had time beforehand to scour bathrooms and showers, and to clean any mess left behind by the waterproofing company. All this was to no avail. No one rushed in to buy the house in the vacuum left by the previous buyers, and the long period until the final date of settlement which was to be September 27, eliminated the prime months during which we might have sold the house more easily. Now that the house is almost empty, it will be even more difficult to sell and we have lowered the price twice. It remains to be seen how all this will play out, but it is a great worry at the moment. We console ourselves by realizing that everything came together for us to get the house in the first place. Perhaps the delay in selling it will turn out to be bashert (an intended or fated outcome) in some other way.

Despite all the worry and aggravation, Saul and I were really excited to be heading back to Florida on our own to meet the movers. We loved the new colors we had chosen for the house, the beauty of the floors, which have all the beauty of wood with none of the drawbacks, our screened pool and lanai, the gorgeous Florida sunsets, which we can contemplate every evening, the palm trees and tropical foliage, the proximity of the Disney parks which we can stroll around in any time we get bored, nightly fireworks, of which we have never tired, and the air that surrounds us all the time of people enjoying themselves on their hard-earned vacations.

We had almost three weeks in the house to get things together before Jess was to fly in on Friday, August 16, with all three girls. She spent that weekend with us, and flew back herself on Monday morning, August 19. In those three weeks we unpacked and put away everything but our artwork. Although the new house is only 2550 sq. ft., I find I have many empty closets and drawers. I was very happy with my choices about what I chose to take, and what I chose to leave behind. I am very pleased so far with the new furniture I chose. One of the reasons we haven’t hung the artwork yet is that some of the furniture is still on order and has not yet been delivered and I want it all in place before we figure out what to hang, and where to hang it. Because of the high ceilings, pieces that looked large in the old house look much smaller in the new one. Saul replaced the old stove with a glass and stainless steel one we purchased at Lowe’s because it was just about non-functional. I brought my microwave from home because the one above the stove was downright dangerous, turning itself on and off randomly. Eventually I bought a new one at Lowe’s to put above the new stove because it cost almost the same amount as buying a plain vent would have cost. That has yet to be installed. The two of us had a blast playing with our new “dollhouse.” We decided to purchase a Hemnes solid wood bedroom set from Ikea for Sami’s room and spent two days together assembling it. It is perfect! When our mutual friend, Irv, came in from California to stay with Adele and Larry, the three of them slept over and spent a couple of days with us. We explored stores and restaurants in the area and found a great mom-and-pop-style place, A Roll with a Hole, just 10 minutes away, for New York style bagels. Finding good bread in Florida is really a problem. Most people there prefer the mushy soft-crust type of bread, and that is what most stores and bakeries carry, although we can get excellent bread at our favorite nearby cheap-y restaurant, Sweet Tomatoes. We also found a great, homey Mexican restaurant, La Fiesta Mexicana, but it is in Haines City, about a 40-minute drive away. Izzy and Yona really loved it when we took them there one afternoon. In downtown Orlando’s Chinatown, there is a restaurant, Ming’s Bistro that serves very respectable dim sum to which Chinese Americans will drive for an hour or two from as far away as Tampa when the craving hits them. Our three weeks alone were wonderful, but life was about to get even better with the arrival of our three granddaughters.

Jess was content to hang out by the pool for a few days, but as soon as she left, we took Sami to get her annual pass to the park. We were excited to show her all the fun discoveries we had made at the parks, but using our Disney apps, she soon had an agenda of her own, which included character drawing lessons at Hollywood Studios where the two of us learned how to draw Stitch while Saul took the others girls to the “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” playground. She also signed us up for different secret agent-type adventures in the various sections of the Magic Kingdom that involved cards and keys that revealed hidden video screens with short animations in various places around the park. We went to the parks for a few hours almost every day, returning home in time to miss the afternoon showers, but with enough time to get in a few hours swim in our pool. We ate at Sweet Tomatoes, of which the girls never tired, so frequently that not only the staff, but regular customers, recognized us. We kept everyone so busy that almost two weeks passed before the two little ones realized that the toy box from their old room with all their favorites in it had been sitting in the closet in their room. Saul and I ordered and assembled bookcase headboards for their beds. All their rooms are a combination of the new and the familiar and it all worked beautifully together.

When the time came to return home for the beginning of the school year and the high holy days, the girls were torn between not wanting to leave this idyllic lifestyle, and excitement about returning to their newly-decorated bedrooms at home, their parents, Inky, friends, and new teachers. During our visit to Adventureland, Izzy, Yona, and I climbed the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse as envisioned by Disney. Izzy had never read the book, The Swiss Family Robinson and thought that the treehouse had something to do with Peter Pan, so we downloaded the free audio version of the book and began to listen to the entire 12 hour dialogue on the drive home. Saul and I had both loved the book when we were children, a fact we just discovered. He read it four times and I read it twice, but that was over 50 years ago. We really enjoyed hearing it yet again. We stayed comfortably in the Comfort Inn Suites in Florence and returned the girls home in time for another wonderful Shabbat dinner with Alex and Jess. That night, we drove to Ken and Randi’s and stayed with them for a few days. Ari drove in also in time for Rosh Hashanah and slept there as well. After Shabbat dinner with Jess and Alex, the girls, Elaine, Ari, and Rif and Paul on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the three of us drove back to DC in one car. This past weekend, we toured the extraordinary gardens of the mansion called Dumbarton Oaks. The hot and humid weather in DC, along with the plethora of spectacular wandering stone staircases that meandered up and down from garden to garden caused us to give up long before we would have liked. We will be revisiting as soon as we are able. This evening, we are preparing to return to Philadelphia when Ari finishes his work day so that we can observe Yom Kippur with our friends and the congregation at MBI-EE. For Neilah, we will be with Jess, Alex, the girls, and Alex’s mom at TBS. After breaking the fast with them, we will begin our much-anticipated journey back to our new life in Florida where Ken and Randi are due to join us for a few weeks. We are greatly looking forward to it!

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.