Monday, March 10, 2014

Life in the Bubble

Sometimes, things work out in ways one couldn’t have imagined. Saul and I bought the house here in Florida back in May thinking that we had an agreement of sale for the amount we wanted for our house in Pennsylvania, and we were devastated when the sale fell through and we had to return the sizable deposit, and then when subsequent sales agreements were violated. We tossed and turned at night, having trouble sleeping, not knowing what our responsibilities would be before we would finally be free. We could not have imagined how much we would enjoy our new life in Florida, and that helped us put everything in perspective and get through the months of uncertainty. In the end, we sold our beautiful and beloved home in Pennsylvania on January 10, 2014, to an extended family who agreed to buy it “as is” for a far, far lower price than we had anticipated originally. Little did we know or expect the bullet that we dodged in view of the type of winter weather in the Philadelphia area that began in January and has lasted to the present moment as I write. Had we not sold the house when we did and as we did, we would have had the added aggravation of keeping inactive pipes from freezing in frigid weather, days-long power outages, snow removal headaches, and flooding worries. We dearly loved that wonderful dream home that we designed ourselves, and that rewarded us with 20 years of incredible memories. We had innumerable parties, incredible and unique Shabbat and holiday meals with family and friends, and even set up a clinic of sorts when Aunt Ruth, my mom and I all required nursing care at the same time. Our single-level living with wheelchair-accessible floor plan and bathroom enabled us to take care of Uncle Jack, Uncle Stef, Aunt Ruth, and my mother for a year of hospice care in a loving and inclusive environment. Although my kitchen in Florida is spacious and well laid out, it will probably never equal the state-of-the-art kitchen I designed there. It was a great 20 years!

In the last seven weeks since January 10, a great weight has been lifted from us psychologically, physically, and financially. The polar vortex, a term with which most people were unfamiliar until this winter, has left us feeling that we are living in some kind of delicate bubble here in Florida. While temperatures have been hovering between sub-zero and 20 degrees throughout most of the country, we have been blessed with warm weather and sunny blue skies through most of this winter. Our pool greets me when I slide open our shades in the morning, and most mornings, I open not only the shades, but the multiple sliding doors as well, to invite in the delightful morning breeze that wafts through the screened lanai that keeps out insects and birds. We keep the pool heated to 84°F. and we like to use it not only during the day, but to swim at night under the stars and moonlight when the air is warm enough. Having bought discounted-for-Florida-residents Disney annual passes, we are free to park our cars in any of the four parks and use all the facilities the parks have to offer whenever we like. A few times a week, we choose a park and spend several hours walking there. Being at the Disney parks, which are only 15 minutes from our home, certainly beats walking in the mall. We wake up looking at our palm trees through the window and are tempted to pinch ourselves each morning because we can’t believe we are not dreaming. Life feels like being on vacation almost every day. We wish our friends and family could be here more often to enjoy it with us and worry when they are dealing with shoveling, icy roads, pot holes, power failures, cancellations and cabin fever.

There have been many changes and highlights to our lives in the last few months since I wrote the last blog post on December 16. Ari rented out his home in Washington, D.C. on a two-year lease and moved to a sophisticated, brand-new, two bedroom and bath flat in London to work for the United Kingdom branch of his company. Jessica resigned from her job where she had become very unhappy and took over my business, from which I have pretty much retired this year. We enjoyed the most delightful Christmas holidays. Jess drove down here in one day with the girls and our friend Larry in his Tiguan S.U.V., while Alex led a Confirmation class trip throughout Israel. The girls were in their bathing suits and in the pool within minutes of walking through the door. Jess, finally relieved of all the stress of the last few weeks, slept for almost two days. Saul and I took the girls to the Disney parks multiple times. Sami and I took drawing lessons together at the Hollywood Studios park to learn how to draw some of the animated characters while Saul took the younger ones to the “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” playground nearby. We took them at night to see the sensational Osborne Family Dancing Lights there.

On December 23, we all took the slightly over one-hour drive to Clearwater Beach for the most delightful beach day. The sandals came off the moment bare feet hit the warm, white, sugary sand. Before we had even dropped our stuff to make camp, 4-year-old Yona had stripped off her bathing suit cover-up and rolled in the sand, making a sand angel. Reprimanded for not waiting for sunscreen, she did not even wait for it to dry before rolling in the sand again. We had a delightful day bathing in the temperate water of the Gulf and basking in the warm sun, even though cocky seagulls snatched Sami’s sandwich right from her hands as we picnicked. Yona took charge of the situation and chased every last seagull away from our area of the beach, looking and sounding so formidable that we all laughed until we cried, including some of the other beach-goers around us. We spent December 24 at Animal Kingdom catching one of the last “Lion King” performances before it was closing for months of renovations. The girls wanted to bake together while they were here and they chose to make dozens and dozens of hamantaschen with me on December 25, 26, and 27, most of which we froze and sent home with them for the upcoming Purim holiday. We hung out by the pool, cooked great meals together, ate out in restaurants, especially Sweet Tomatoes, Kumo, and Woodlands. Right before New Year’s Eve, Ken and Randi flew down and Ari flew in from a month-long stint in London to join us. We shopped for special ingredients, and supplemented by some unique British victuals compliments of Ari, we prepared an amazing feast to welcome in the new year in our new home. New Year’s Day was spent at Epcot where Yona and Izzy met Winnie the Pooh and Tigger.

A couple days after New Year’s day, Jess and Larry headed back home with the girls, leaving in the evening with the intention of driving straight through. About an hour after they left, Jess called to say that they had a flat tire along with a number of other cars who had all hit the same piece of a drive shaft that someone had dropped in the road. The tire was beyond repair, but when AAA came to put on the spare, Larry could not find the key to his locking lug nuts. The car had to be towed to a nearby repair shop and Saul and I left in the Pilot to pick them all up after midnight to bring them back for one more night here. They left after lunch the following day, once the car had been repaired. Fortunately, Ari’s house was available, so they stopped in D.C. late that night to rest up for the remainder of the drive. Ken and Randi flew back on January 5, encountering all kinds of flight delays due to inclement weather in other parts of the country. They had to wait at Orlando airport from about 6 p.m. until after midnight to finally get a flight home and didn’t arrive home until the wee hours of the following morning. Usually, it is a little less than a two-hour flight.

The next day, we began our travels north with Ari to help him wrap up his affairs in the United States in advance of moving to London. It had been snowing in DC, and we watched the temperatures dropping as we proceeded north. We stayed overnight in our usual Comfort Inn Suites in Florence, SC. While Ari wrapped up things in the office, Saul and I began packing up his personal things. Three different management companies that he interviewed all independently agreed that his furnishings were of a quality that could stay, a great relief to all of us because it made the packing far less complicated and meant that he would not have pay for storage facilities while in London. Ari is not one to accumulate a lot of stuff, so we were able to fit anything he wasn’t taking in two suitcases to London into the back of our SUV for the trip back to Florida. During our stay in DC, settlement finally took place (without our presence) on our home in Pennsylvania, managed by the best real estate lawyer ever, Michael Maley. The three of us were able to wrap everything up and be back on the road to Florida by January 14. On the sixteenth, we finally opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate our move to Florida that had been given to us by the realtor who facilitated the purchase of our Florida home. It had been chilling in our fridge since May 17. We had not felt like celebrating until we felt we were free of the other home. On Friday, January 17, our Shabbat dinner was a Tu B’Shevat seder. I had almost everything I needed for the seder either in the pantry or the freezer. It was beautiful!

On the next evening, Saturday, we really began to celebrate with a very special Chef’s Table dinner at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Haven. We arrived to find an antique car show in progress along the main street of quaint Winter Haven and we took some photos before sitting down to dinner. Ari and I ordered the wine pairing to accompany the various courses and Saul had a few sips of each one. The meal was amazing! The next day, we took a drive to Clearwater Beach, but Ari’s experience of Clearwater, due to the damp weather, cold water, and piles of seaweed at the water’s edge was nothing like the previous experiences we had had. I hope he will come back to enjoy it as we had done before on numerous occasions. Meanwhile, back in the north, the whole polar vortex thing had begun with snow and ice storms, school closings and power failures. Sami and the girls used some of the time for creative projects at home. On January 22, the dining room table and chairs I had ordered back in May finally arrived! They were worth the wait. I just love them. While he was here, Ari helped me to pick out lighting fixtures and home accessories that had been put on hold until the sale of the house. I ordered and received some items of furniture that had been waiting in my shopping carts online for months. The whole house really started to come together beautifully. On good weather days, we hung out by the pool, or enjoyed the parks. We finally got to try the new restaurant in The Magic Kingdom, “Be Our Guest.” We waited in line for about 45 minutes and had lunch there, which was a unique experience. On entering, you choose your meal from a computerized menu at an ordering station that looks a bit like a casino slot machine in a very elegant castle-like setting. You are presented with an artificial rose-shaped homing device and choose any table in one of three French-castle-themed rooms straight from the “Beauty and the Beast” animated movie. We sat next to a wall of soaring Palladian windows which appeared to look out onto a night-time French countryside in which it was snowing. There was actual, artificial snow falling outside the windows. The homing device allows the waiters and waitresses in French colonial garb to find you and serve you the appropriate choices from a glass-encased, mahogany-framed rolling cart reminiscent of the cribs they use in hospitals to wheel out premature newborns, or perhaps Snow White’s tomb. We discovered at lunch that if you find an employee with a clipboard as you leave, you might be able to snag a dinner reservation that evening based on the day’s cancellations. We had been unsuccessful at booking dinner reservations there even a few months out, so we were delighted to be able to book really late reservations for the same evening. The dinner service is far more formal and expensive, but not unreasonably so. We felt we had a very wonderful dinner in a unique setting for a reasonable amount. We were happy to be able to view most of the fireworks show outside the castle before we went in for dinner. I also was absolutely delighted to be able to celebrate with a glass of French Sancerre wine from the Loire Valley, which I have not been able to locate by the glass since we dined in Paris over 20 years ago.

Trying to squeeze in all the fun we could before Ari was leaving for London for at least two years, we spent more sunny, warm days by the pool, and, the night before his flight, we had dinner at Monsieur Paul’s, an upscale French restaurant on the second floor above the regular French restaurant at France, Chefs de France, in the World Showcase of Epcot. Dinner, again, was truly wonderful, although I was a bit disappointed not to be able to get my beloved Sancerre by the glass there. Our wonderful, authentically French waiter, however, recommended a French pinot noir to accompany my meal which was quite good. That night, beginning at about 2:00 a.m. I became very ill with what I feared was food poisoning. I was aghast to think that Saul, and especially Ari, would have to deal with what I was going through while involved with packing, airports, and a long airplane flight. There was not a single food or beverage that we did not share at dinner the previous evening. In the morning, to my relief, I learned that both Saul and Ari had slept well and were feeling fine. By 6:00 a.m. I was feeling okay and felt fine by 8:00 a.m. after a two-hour nap. Apparently, I had been the unfortunate victim of a nasty 4-hour stomach virus. I later found out that Randi had experienced the same weird symptoms back in Pennsylvania a few days before they arrived here in Florida at the beginning of February.

A couple of days after Ari arrived safely in London, Saul and I met Adele and Larry at First Watch in The Villages for breakfast. We brought Adele home with us for a few days to visit. On the way back from The Villages, we spent the whole day shopping to put in provisions for the visit from Ken and Randi, and subsequently, Haley and Erik. We discovered that The Villages have a very active Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. (they even import the water from NY!), but we decided we prefer the Clearwater bagels even more. We stopped at Tuesday Morning in The Villages, Aldi’s, B.J.’s, Walmart, and the Cagan Crossings farmers market. We had a beautiful Shabbat dinner together with the groceries I had purchased along the way. Saturday evening, we took a walk to the Epcot gate from Disney’s Boardwalk. Adele had never been at The Boardwalk and was really taken with how realistically it mimicked the Atlantic City of our youthful vacations, albeit for only short distance. The weather was threatening rain the whole time, but we lucked out and only experienced a light drizzle for a few minutes. As all the restaurants there had at least a half hour wait, we decided to have a late dinner on the way home at Bahama Breeze, which has a late-night, half-price happy hour menu of appetizers and drinks. We had a great time schmoozing in the happy atmosphere of mostly-vacationing families.

The schmoozing continued with the arrival of Ken and Randi and we all spent a lovely, warm and sunny day hanging around the pool. Larry came to pick up Adele and we all had lunch together. For Izzy’s birthday on February 2, we sent her a robotics kit with several motors that allow you to assemble and build whatever you choose. She made very good use of it in the large expanses of time available due to all the school closings for snowy, icy weather in February. We had brunch with Ken and Randi at First Watch in Orlando on February 3. While we were traveling back, the outside temperature registered 93°F. on our car’s gauge, even as the weather in PA and NJ was in the teens. Unbelievable! Another unbelievable sight that day was an ultralight airplane flying over our house. In advance of their stay with us, Haley and Erik sent us a floating chess, checkers, and backgammon set that can be used in the pool.

After a few days with us, Ken and Randi left in our Pilot for a pre-scheduled stay at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, and were very pleased with the doctors they encountered, the state-of-the-art facilities, and Ken’s test results, as well. After a few days there, on their drive back, they picked up Haley and Erik when they arrived at Orlando airport. Ever the consummate foodies, Haley and Erik, began their vacation, along with us, at their favorite steak restaurant, Charlie’s Steak House, on Rt. 192 near Celebration, as good a steak house as I have ever experienced. Thus fortified, we proceeded to celebrate Saul’s birthday with a string of amazing and decadent food experiences. After seeing the poignant movie, Monuments Mentogether at Downtown Disney’s AMC theater, we finally were able to fulfill our reservations at Fulton’s Crab House. On two previous occasions, we had had to cancel at the last minute. Our meal was, again, a home run, and I have to say that Fulton’s makes the best Bloody Mary I have ever had, bar none. Next up was another encounter at the Chef’s Table at the Edgewater Hotel. We were just as pleased with the experience as the first time with Ari, a great relief, because you never know when you laud a restaurant to someone if it will come back to haunt you with a fiasco on the next occasion. Everyone was just as pleased as we were with both the food and service. They were a bit surprised at the ambience, having expected a big, glitzy hotel from our unwitting description, instead of the quaint, bohemian atmosphere that prevails. Following this, Randi’s sister Lori and her husband, Jules, drove in from Boca Raton. They were staying at The Swan Hotel and walked down The Boardwalk to meet us for lunch at Big River Grill and Brewing Works. We sat at a table outside, soaking up the warm sunshine, and keeping a wary eye on the hovering rapacious seagulls. Afterward, Jules and Lori returned to their hotel and we hopped on a ferry boat which deposited us at the gates of Epcot. We spent some time rocking with The British Revolution band in the garden at Disney’s English Village, and roamed around Epcot, meeting with Haley and Erik who had spent the day at Epcot with Erik’s mom, Betsy, and his brother and sister-in-law, with their little boy. Erik’s family had dinner reservations at The Garden Grill in The Land Pavilion, while Ken and Randi, Saul and I, Haley and Erik, and Jules and Lori had reservations in France to celebrate Saul’s birthday on the actual day. We met Betsy, Haley and Erik at Test Track and walked Betsy over to the other side of the park to meet her children for dinner. Then we walked back to have a late, elegant, but very noisy dinner in the crowded downstairs restaurant, Chefs de France in “France.” Saul has two birthday cakes with candles in the photo because we were also supposed to be celebrating Jules and Lori’s anniversary, and the staff got their signals crossed.

As part of their vacation, Haley and Erik had pre-scheduled all of us, including Erik’s family, for a dinner at Mama Melrose’s in the Hollywood Studios park which included special seating for the evening’s performance of Fantasmic! The package deal enabled us to order absolutely anything from the menu, which, thanks to our knowledgeable and efficient waitress, enabled us to take more than we could eat with us in packages, which we snacked on a few hours later while watching the show on the stadium seats that surround the lagoon where the show is presented. Before the show, we had time to experience “The Great Movie Ride” together. Our foodie experience the next day was in Celebration at the Columbia Restaurant, which Ken and Randi had loved, and couldn’t wait to share with Haley and Erik. We had a late, delicious, dinner with a waitress who kept us entertained with funny stories as she waited with trepidation to see if one of the owners of the restaurant would arrive from the airport before closing time. We had a few false alarms, but he was a no-show, as we were among the last to leave at closing time.

We spent several hours on a few different occasions looking at condos in the area, as Ken and Randi have decided to sell their house and move nearby. Haley and Erik have just rented out their home in the suburbs and were getting ready to move into an apartment in the city of Philadelphia. They found a chair that they liked online from a chain that has outlets near us, Rooms to Go. We finally located the appropriate chair on the floor of the outlet in Kissimmee. We drove to see it and then, ever searching for the new food experience, Erik had previously discovered, by searching online, that nearby Lakeland was having a gourmet food truck extravaganza. Somewhat reluctantly, we all agreed to take the drive. We were glad that we did because it did turn out to be a very unique and delicious experience. As the sun set though, the evening turned distinctly chilly, and we were glad to abandon the windy, green expanse of the town square, surrounded by food trucks purveying every type of food imaginable, for the warmth of our heated S.U.V.

The next morning, after dropping off the four of them at the airport, Saul and I went to buy provisions for Shabbat dinner. We went to B.J.’s and discovered in the midst of our shopping that we had missed a phone call from Betsy. Erik’s brother, wife, and son had driven to Florida because they could not find a peanut-free flight. Their child has a life-threatening allergy. Betsy, who is afraid of flying, had taken a two-day train ride down. Because of severe ice-storms in North Carolina, her return train had been cancelled and she was unable to book another night at her hotel because it was full. She was stranded with no place to stay and no transportation. Haley managed to book a flight for her the following day. Saul and I left from B.J.’s immediately when we heard the situation, and went directly to pick her up. We had relaxing, no fuss, Shabbat dinner together. In the morning, I gave Betsy a few of the Lorazepam tablets that I take when I fly, and she said, over breakfast, that she felt it kick in to calm her down. We also plied her with lots of fresh ginger tea to settle her stomach. During the drive to the airport, she was freaking a bit because she couldn’t find her driver’s license for identification that she had been holding that morning. When she arrived back in Philly, after an apparently smooth and uneventful flight, she laughingly texted us that she had stuffed it into her bra for safekeeping and then forgotten that she did it. Luckily, she remembered in time at the airport. Erik’s brother and family also returned home after driving through some harrowing weather, safe and sound.

Having overdosed, happily, on lots of wonderful food, we spent the following week detoxing by eating healthily at home, swimming, walking in the parks, and shopping a bit. Not long after, friends of Jessica and Alex from their life in Baltimore came to stay at the Disney Resorts for a few days during Presidents’ Weekend. Alice, with her daughters, Leanne, and Danielle were here with her sister and her sister’s two children for a brief family vacation. On two of the days, we met them in the afternoons at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom and enjoyed the spectacular weather and made use of our “Tables in Wonderland” discount card. The first day, we lunched together at the new Moroccan restaurant at Epcot, The Spice Road Table. It was the only really poor Disney experience we have had. The portions were so tiny (think half a breakfast-sized sausage, or two olives)  that we were compelled to order more food, also tiny portions, so the bill was quite large, over $120 for the eight of us. Although they had told us at the front that they accepted the discount card and the waiter had also nodded off on it when we showed it to him when we ordered, when it was time to pay the check, the card was rejected. We were ticked off enough to complain at Guest Services, but, while sympathetic, they did nothing to rectify the situation. At the Magic Kingdom the next day, we waited in line at “Be Our Guest” so that they could continue to enjoy the rides. They absolutely loved the lunch there and felt it was a good value and fabulous ambience. They had scheduled reservations well in advance for dinner at Tony’s Town Square Restaurant, and Saul and I were able to add ourselves to their reservation when we stopped in to check. We went on many of the rides with them, using our Fast Pass Plus to save them time waiting in some of the lines. It was such a fabulous day that we stayed with them until after dinner to view the light show on the castle and fireworks.

The following week, I began experimenting with food. I turned me and everything in the kitchen bright yellow preparing fresh turmeric that I had purchased at First Oriental Supermarket in an attempt to make a liver detox tea from a recipe that Jessica found online when we realized that the spices in the Southern Indian food at Rajbhog and Woodlands were very effective at lowering my glycemic index. The tea, which included cinnamon, coconut milk and honey among other things, was delicious, but did not do enough to lower the numbers based on the amount of work to prepare it. Luckily, OxiClean in a bucket was successful at removing most of the stains, or my Cuisinart would have been ruined; probably my kitchen counters, too.  One of my best experiments involved incorporating several cups of a variety of high protein, non-glutinous flours into my challah recipe. I will be putting that recipe on my other blog shortly, and may never make it with all standard bread flour again because it was so delicious, healthy, and beautiful.

On February 22, we went to the Magic Kingdom in the evening to walk and found ourselves there until almost midnight because we had such a good view of the Electric Parade and the light show and fireworks. As we were leaving, we discovered that the entire monorail system had been shut down, and I was leery of getting on an overcrowded ferry boat at night to get back to our car. We hung around for a while, getting really close up photos of the parade a second time in the very uncrowded park, and by then, the monorail had been repaired and we got back to the car in record time.

During the rest of February, we continued to enjoy the great weather, swimming in our pool for a few hours every day, eating out occasionally, checking out condos for Ken and Randi, organizing our house, and walking in the parks. We could not be more contented. We also spent a few days searching for flights to London and were rewarded with a very good price. We will be in Europe for almost two months. We also arranged to have all our medical checkups back in Pennsylvania with our long-time doctors. We scheduled routine physicals, colonoscopies, and a mammogram for me all within a one-week period at the beginning of May.

At the beginning of March, we went to the AMC theater at Downtown Disney to see a matinee showing of The Wind Rises, the new, and probably the last, Miyazaki movie, as he is set to retire at 73. It is a beautiful and haunting tale based on real-life characters. When the movie ended, I felt very sad that such artistry will be at an end. Following the movie, we had a leisurely dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack where the chef makes us a special preparation of spicy chili citrus sauce that allows me to indulge without raising my glycemic index.

On March 4, we attended the Plant City Strawberry Festival. It was a huge extravaganza covering several acres of tract with carny rides, street food stands, midway games, livestock shows, pig races, sales booths, displays of local crafts, preserves, quilts, sewing, knitting, etc. as well as a huge stadium with country-western performances by well-known groups, such as The Oak Ridge Boys. Thousands of people were in attendance. We walked around for several hours, but the heat and humidity got to us after three hours of walking and we decided not to stay for the performance of Brenda Lee. After a quick late lunch at a Sonny’s (I could not bring myself to sample the fare at the questionably sanitary booths) we collapsed at home. We had lucked out bagging a reservation at Victoria and Albert’s, an uber upscale restaurant at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel. We had tried for months to get a reservation, and one last try a few days before my birthday had succeeded. That was another reason that I didn’t want to risk doing damage to my system with carny food.

We spent the morning of my birthday at Epcot where Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival was just opening. The park, which is usually beautifully landscaped anyway, was exceptionally gorgeous with the addition of topiary gardens, myriads of flowers planted in designs around all the water features and lagoon, breath-taking bonsais, and herb-surrounded booths selling ethnic delicacies from around the world in the World Showcase. The weather was beautiful and temperate, so we strolled for hours. In the afternoon, we met a realtor, so we could take Ken and Randi on a virtual tour of another possible condo, on which they bid, but subsequently, the bank withdrew from the market. We rested for a few hours in the afternoon, too excited about our 9:15 p.m. reservations to take a proper nap beforehand. The experience was scintillating on so many levels, probably the second or third best of my life, just after The French Laundry and an incredible meal in Paris many years ago. It was my first time at the Grand Floridian Hotel, which is over-the-top in a way that only Disney can pull off. Under the elaborate white portecochère, a complimentary valet took our car and directed us to the restaurant on the second floor overlooking the soaring skylit lobby. A full orchestra in period clothing was adding beautiful music to the majestic spectacle. The entrance is so tucked away that we had trouble finding it and had to ask at the gift shop. Even the salesgirl was not quite sure where to find the entrance. We were met by a receptionist and greeted by a hostess in Victorian garb who ushered us through a set of double French doors to our table. The room was small, housing about two dozen tables and was done in shades of peach, gold and tan. A large table with a huge fresh flower arrangement was the focal point at the center of the room. Our waiters were dressed in Victorian morning suits and were pleasant and low-key, but were extremely well-versed in their craft. Our customized menus were presented in leather cases. I ordered the wine pairings and Saul helped me with a few sips of each one (seven in all), although they poured a complimentary quantity of Champagne for him right at the beginning. I drank all seven of them, for the most part, over the next three hours without any sulfite reactions or headaches, something to which I am very prone. I was able to walk out (with a very pleasant buzz) in my high heels, and had no hangover the next day. We finished every morsel and drop of everything we were served, except for the last course of exquisite bonbons, which they wrapped for us and added to a complimentary bag at the end along with a remarkably good, freshly-baked loaf of orange-date-nut bread spiked with Triple Sec, our souvenir menus, and a long-stemmed red rose. Writing about the delights of the meal itself would take several pages, but suffice it to say that each course was gorgeous to behold and was a wonder of contrasting tastes and textures. The employees in Disney World always tell you, “Have a magical day!” My birthday was, definitely!

We went to synagogue at Ohalei Rifka for services on Saturday, took a nap after lunch in the afternoon, and then returned to Epcot to walk because the weather was so perfect, and because there was a rockin’ concert by the Guess Who. We bought some delicious sandwiches from the nearby kiosk, and ate them while we watched the concert under the starry sky. Then we watched the IllumiNations fireworks show over the lagoon, walked back to the Boardwalk to pick up our car from the complimentary valet at the hotel there, and drove the 15 minutes back to our beautiful home. I can’t imagine life being any better. May the Florida bubble never burst!

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