Thursday, December 10, 2015

Another Wonderful Year Zipping By

With all the best intentions for keeping up with this, I still find myself only able to write every few months. We have had all kinds of wonderful visitors over the last few months, and our friend, Larry, has moved into the “compound,” as my kids call it, moving into a lovely home just over a mile away. Very shortly after that, the home across the cul-de-sac from his became available for sale and his sister and brother-in-law decided to buy it immediately. They are intending to use it only as a vacation home and are renting it out the rest of the time. Slowly, but surely, our compound has been growing and we are delighted about it.

Once Camp Bubbie and Saba ended, it was time to catch up with the myriad doctor’s appointments I had scheduled after we visited our new general practitioner in July. As a result, I had an extremely stressful September and October. At the end of April of the previous year, before I turned 65, I had scheduled overdue (for me by one year) appointments for colonoscopies for Saul and me back with our doctor up north who had done several of them on us in years earlier. We had returned north a year and a half ago to see all our doctors for checkups because we had not established any in Florida. As it turned out, as we were about to start our prep for the procedure, I was notified that the insurance that we both had would cover Saul, but not me, because he was already on Medicare. The procedure would have cost us over $2,000.00 for me, but nothing for Saul. Saul had the procedure and when the gastroenterologist reported to me that he was clean, we discussed my situation. He felt, based on what he had seen in the past, and the fact that I was having no symptoms, that it would probably be safe to wait another 10 months until I was eligible for Medicare and the procedure would be covered by insurance. When I awoke from the procedure here in Florida in the middle of September, I was informed that the doctor had removed three large polyps. Thus began the horrible stress of waiting to hear if I had colon cancer. I was told that the biopsy would take a week. At the end of that week, I called to find out the results, and was told that the results were in, but that only the doctor could give them to me and my next scheduled appointment wasn’t until the beginning of October. Dismayed, I was told not to worry too much as if anything dire had been discovered, I would have been called in immediately. After that horrific week of wondering, I decided to put it out of my mind. That lasted exactly 24 hours, because the next afternoon I received a notice in the mail that my mammogram was irregular and they wanted me to come back in for a followup.

About five years ago, when the hospital up north switched from analog to digital machines, I had a scare, and after much ultrasound screening, I was told that the cyst in my right breast was nothing to worry about and I subsequently had a number of screenings over the next few years that were clear. When I received the notice in Florida, I rushed to find out if my records from up north had been sent. After several days of calling, I found that my records had gone astray. Initially, no one would tell me whether the problem was in my right or my left breast. When the electronic files finally arrived, the I.T. people at the hospital spent two days trying, but they could not be read here. So immediately, I called to have another mammogram and found out then that they wanted to rescan both breasts. I had to wait another two weeks to be scheduled. Worry upon worry! After another two weeks like that I showed up scared to death. After the followup mammogram, I was told that the left breast was okay, but they wanted to do an ultrasound of the right. They did that right away, and after a tortuous half hour, sitting half-naked and alone on the ultrasound table, to my tearful relief I found that the right was okay, but I needed to return in six months for a followup, just in case.

During the time I was in mammogram hell, I received a phone call from the gastroenterologist’s office. The receptionist said that the doctor wanted to see me the next morning. Terrified, I asked if this was because I had requested an earlier appointment than the beginning of October, and I was told that, “no, the doctor had requested to see me.” Another sleepless night of wondering what I was about to discover! That meeting revealed that one of the polyps was a pre-cancer that would “100 percent have turned to cancer if let go.” I need to go in for another colonoscopy in January to make sure everything is okay, and now my children and family have a history that requires them to start having regular colonoscopies after the age of 40. I think the doctor and her assistant were shocked at the tears of relief I shed after hearing this upsetting news. I explained how I was told that I would be called in immediately if the news was bad and the nature of the phone call the previous day. As it turned out, the only reason for the 24-hour-notice phone call was because she had a cancellation. She apologized profusely for the misunderstanding and seemed to be close to tears herself at what they had put me through because of an insensitive phone call on the part of the receptionist. She assured me repeatedly that they would be much more sensitive in the future.

Despite all this trauma and drama, I have never felt better physically in my life. Apparently, this is not an indication of anything because, over the summer, I felt so great that it seems I overindulged and my A1C was elevated. The doctor wanted me to double up on my medication, but I am determined to get things under control by dieting sensibly and losing weight. I had lost almost 20 pounds by the middle of October, but Thanksgiving tripped me up a bit and I put 4 back. Saul has been monitoring my sugar every day to make sure it is within reasonable range, and I am determined to keep at it. We finally found a dentist we like here in Florida and both of us had deep cleanings of our teeth that were way overdue. In keeping with the theme of the last few months, I also saw an endodontist that the dentist recommended after my x-ray and was relieved to find that I did not need a root canal.

Amidst all this angst, I have tried to live for the moment. We are very lucky to have an incredible lifestyle here in Florida since Saul retired, and we are grateful for every day that we have each other and we can walk through and appreciate the fantasy and beauty that is Disney World whenever we want. With that in mind, I will continue with some the incredibly wonderful things that have happened in the last few months.

Our friend Larry (who drove down with Jessica in his car), came to stay with us for a few days while his new porcelain tile flooring was being installed and he became an official Florida resident when he received his new driver’s license and Florida license plates. Jessica flew home, leaving her car for Larry to use at his home up north. Larry, leaving his cars here, flew back a few days later, to do his final packing and oversee the moving company. Then he flew back down to await the arrival of his belongings. Shortly after, settlement took place on his Dresher home. He began the process of unpacking and making the home here his own.

On September first, I met with a pulmonologist that my G.P. had recommended to have a sleep apnea study done. On that day, I had a pneumonia (PCV 13) one-time shot that is recommended by the C.D.C. for people over 65. The next day was our 44th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with Ken and Randi at Johnnie’s Hideaway and had a superb meal there. The following day, I spent the night all gooped up and hooked to a monitor for the actual sleep study. I began to become ill right after that, and spent the next several days wondering if I was getting pneumonia as a reaction to the shot. It became so bad that I requested a doctor’s appointment and they fit me into their schedule. Although I did not have pneumonia, I needed to take a Z-Pak for the next 10 days.

On September 8, we headed for our Tuesday night half-price dinner and drinks at San Jose and $6 movie, but the margaritas were so potent that we never made it to the movies. We hung out there until Saul was sober enough to make the short drive home. Our friend Art and his daughter, Marcia arrived for a Disney vacation. Art and his wife Eileen lived directly across the street from Ken and Randi in Warrington and are our mutual friends. We met at the Walt Disney World Swan Hotel for dinner at what was a new place for all of us, Il Mulino New York Trattoria. We chose wisely. Everyone was well satisfied and pleased with their dinners, and the ambience was wonderful. We all liked it even better than dining in Italy in Epcot. After dinner, Ken and Randi went home and the rest of us drove to the Grand Floridian to watch the Wishes fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from the terrace outside of the Gasparilla Island Grill. While I saved seats, they walked down to the docks and were treated to a pre-fireworks display of the Electric Water Pageant. After the fireworks, Marci continued on to another park, and we dropped Art at the Polynesian Hotel and visited for a while before returning home. Art and Marci came for a visit to our homes as well in the days that followed and joined us for Shabbat dinner.

Rosh Hashanah began right after they left and we had a wonderful group of holidays at our synagogue here in Orlando. Although Ari was not able to come in this year from London, and Jess and Alex have huge responsibilities associated with their jobs at this time of year, our congregation made us feel very at home and comfortable. I prepared the usual foods and Ken and Randi joined us for a few of the festive meals, even prepping the table for our late night breaking of the fast after we attended Neilah. The fast was so easy this year, that Saul and I were able to do it despite our blood sugar dilemma. I believe it had something to do with the temperate weather, unusual for Florida. We were invited to the Rabbi’s home this year for lunch in the family’s sukkah on the second day of Sukkot. The amount of rain this year was unusual and so, disappointingly, we had a delicious lunch prepared by the Rabbi’s wife, Sharon, and her mother, who was visiting for the holidays, in the dining room. It is such a letdown when someone takes the trouble to erect and decorate a beautiful sukkah, and it barely gets used! As a hostess gift, we had gone to the International Food Club and filled a basket we bought at Home Goods with an assortment of exotic fresh fruits like rambutan, pomegranate, star fruit, and sabras, as well as candies and snacks from Israel. We felt very privileged to get to know the family and their children, along with another couple who was invited, in this intimate home setting. Saul and I also signed up for a Shabbat dinner in the synagogue’s sukkah where we dined with a really diverse and interesting group of people. It began to rain as dessert was being served. A new tradition that was added this year was a mini nosh break for the whole congregation during Simchat Torah in the middle of the service. As part of the Torah service, each person was called up for an aliyah individually. It is one of the joys of having a small, tight, congregation. I have always been uncomfortable with being the center of attention of a large crowd, public speaking, etc., but I was feeling very comfortable in this more intimate setting. Although we missed celebrating with our family this year, working in the Jewish community as we all have done these many years, always has put a strain on our family time together, unlike other families who have the privilege of just relaxing and hanging out together during the holidays. We understand that this is how it has to be for us.

The Food and Wine Festival began at Epcot during the month of September, so in the evenings, we were treated to a series of wonderful concerts: David Cook, Christopher Cross, Wilson Phillips, Starship, Smashmouth, The Pointer Sisters, Rick Springfield, Sugar Ray, Air Supply, SOS Band, Denis DeYoung, Rick Springfield, Boyz II Men, Jo Dee Messina, 38 Special, Sister Hazel, Big Bad Voodoo Daddies, Chaka Kahn, Maxi Priest, Hanson, etc. Larry moved in permanently right after the holidays towards the end of the month, and we celebrated with a dinner with Ken and Randi at Johnnie’s Hideaway.

On October 1, Jamie and Andy arrived with Presley and Evan for their annual trek to “Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party” and celebrating Evan’s birthday at a character brunch in the Magic Kingdom at The Crystal Palace. Their first evening, they had dinner with Ken and Randi at Chefs de France, while Larry, Saul and I attended that evening’s concert. We photographed them through the restaurant’s window as we were leaving. Evan ran a fever the day after they arrived and Jamie and Andy left him home with Ken and Randi to recuperate while they left to take Presley to the Magic Kingdom. We offered to meet them and spend the day there with Presley, while they went home to help care for Evan, and we switched cars so that we had the child seat for Presley. We had a marvelous day with Presley! It was so much fun seeing the shows and rides with a child who had not done it all before, despite the several times she had been to the park. The weather was beautiful! We had lunch together upstairs at the Liberty Tree Tavern which had reasonable and tasty food and gave us a beautiful view of the stately Haunted House and the Steamboat out of the window alongside our table. At Belle’s Castle, Presley was selected to play the major role of The Beast in the brief performance that takes place. She loved it! We all got to know each other much better! Luckily, Evan had recuperated by Sunday morning for his birthday character breakfast. Having been to one of these breakfasts before, Saul and I met them, and their friends, the Yatskys, who were visiting, after breakfast. The kids were already in costumes that Jamie purchased at Costco and were being made up as pirates in the “Pirates League” boutique in preparation for the evening’s Halloween Party. It was quite a process! Based on our own kids’ experiences with the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where they are made up as princesses, I’d say it was much more fun, interesting, and a better bargain. That evening, Ken and Randi, Andy and Jamie, and Evan and Presley returned for the party all dressed in matching pirate costumes that they had ordered through the Internet weeks earlier. They all looked marvelous!

Larry’s moving van arrived early the following day and, at his request, we were there to provide support. The move went fairly smoothly. We met everyone in Animal Kingdom much later that afternoon so that we could spend time together, and took Evan and Presley to Rafiki’s Planet so that Andy and Jamie could ride some of the wilder rides at the park, like Everest. A few days later, Larry’s sister, Susan, arrived to prepare for making settlement on the home across from his. The three of us were treated to dinner by her at Bonefish Grill that evening. We returned home to find a package from Beth with honey from her trip to South America to add to my collection. We joined Larry and Susan in Larry’s hot tub the next evening after helping Larry with some modifications to his home. Susan loves Sweet Tomatoes, too, and we had lunch there while she was visiting. After Susan’s settlement that Friday, I prepared an elaborate seared tuna Shabbat dinner for us all and Susan brought a bottle of wine that she had chosen at Bonefish that we all loved and that she had purchased that day, Charles and Charles Cabernet Syrah. We spent a lot of time the next few days rearranging Susan’s home, and moving stuff in from Larry’s home so that it would meet the standards necessary for rental.

Tuesdays are our days for cheap dinner and a movie. The Epic Theater in Clermont has $6 first-run movies every Tuesday, and that day, Ken, Randi, Larry and us had dinner at Ay! Jalisco and saw The Martian. We all enjoyed it. Saul and I spent the next few days of relative quiet hanging out by the pool, having the Pilot detailed, shopping, and baking Pumpkin Face cookies. On October 18, which was right before Larry’s birthday on October 22, Ken, Randi, and Saul and I treated Larry to an awesome dinner at The Tasting Room in the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden. We shared small plates of almost everything on the menu and Larry loved it so much that he wanted to know when we could go back again. The following day was an epic Philadelphia Eagles game and we invited them all over for a barbecue so we could watch the game together.

On Tuesday, October 20, Saul’s sister Rif arrived for a two-week vacation. As we were waiting in the cell phone lot for her at the airport for an extra hour because Frontier Airlines lost her luggage, we got a phone call from Saul’s cousin Bobby saying that he and his wife, children, and grandchildren, were arriving in Orlando the next day for a vacation. All the detailed arrangements for their trip had been made by the children, and he and Sheryl were only along for the ride and perhaps some child care. They were all staying at the Swan Hotel. Bobby was pleasantly surprised to hear that Rif would be here at the same time. He told us that his only free day to see us would be Saturday. That evening, we went with Rif to The Grand Floridian, where we bought an incredible, huge, custom-made salad and some calzones and sandwiches at the Gasparilla Grill and sat at the outside tables where they delivered our food to us and we watched the “Not So Scary” fireworks over the Magic Kingdom. It was a great viewing site as some of the fireworks spread out across the entire park. The next day, after waiting several hours at home by the pool, Frontier delivered Rif’s lost bag as promised, if only a few hours later than promised. To make up for time lost, we decided to watch the IllumiNations fireworks from the lighthouse outside The Yacht Club Resort, and called Bobby as we were on our way there to see if he wanted to join us, as the Swan sits just around the Boardwalk from where we were headed. There was a long session of hugging and talking with Bobby, but Sheryl had been too tired to join us. Afraid that we would miss the start of the fireworks, I urged everyone to walk and talk as we approached the lighthouse. As we reached it, a Disney cast member approached us and asked if we would like to see the fireworks up close from the party boat that she was piloting. It seemed that the boat had been reserved and paid for but there had been a last minute cancellation. She was piloting the boat into the park for a close-up view and would take it there empty if we had refused. We couldn’t believe our incredible good luck as we immediately hopped aboard and headed for Epcot. Our pilot provided a fascinating presentation of the history of the spectacle, as well as complimentary snacks, soft drinks, and protective glasses. Neither Bobby, nor Rif had tickets for the park, but the boat, as promised by our pilot, bypassed the entrance gates to reach its watery close-up viewing site under the International Bridge at Epcot. What an incredible opportunity! Ordinarily, the pilot told us, the boat, which holds up to 10 people, costs just under $400 for this roughly half-hour experience. We were able to treat Rif to three days in the Disney Parks by combining all the leftover tickets from vacations in years past that had accumulated after we bought annual passes. We planned out which three-days, spacing them out so she would be rested and arranged Fast Passes for those days. On Thursday, October 22 (Larry’s actual birthday), after touring some of the hotels, including those at Animal Kingdom Lodge, and, along with Larry, having a huge, delectable and unusual African-themed buffet at Boma in Jambo House, we continued onto Disney Springs so that we could walk off a bit of our over-indulgence. We celebrated once again at Shabbat dinner where I prepared a meal of Larry’s choosing—chicken soup, chicken paprikash, kasha and bow ties, guacamole, and pumpkin-face cookies. Late Saturday morning, we picked up Bobby at The Swan. We spent the afternoon together, socializing, having lunch, and hanging out in the pool. Bobby brought us one of his home-made bottles of afinyek, a blueberry liqueur that comes from a recipe that has been passed down through generations of the Senders family. We opened the bottle and enjoyed cordial glasses of it with lunch. Later in the afternoon, we returned Bobby to his hotel and proceeded to take Rif to our favorite ice cream place, Abracadabra, to experience nitrogen ice cream. For dinner, I used some of our leftover veggies to make shakshuka, especially for Rif, who had only heard about it, but had never tasted it. Later that evening, we picked up Bobby and Sheryl at their hotel and drove to The Grand Floridian where we again watched the special fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from the terrace outside the Gasparilla Grill.

We had been planning a trip to Clearwater Beach to see the Chalk Festival for quite some time, and we were delighted that Rif’s vacation coincided with the Festival on a beautiful day. With Larry, we left early in the morning, in time to buy the tasty bagels at Clearwater Bagel, and wandered among the imaginative and impressive chalk drawings for quite a while. Then, we got back in the car and drove to our out-of-the-way, special beach nearby, Bellaire Beach on Sand Key. We set up our chairs and blankets and stepped into the placid, glass-like, relatively-warm waters of the Gulf and just basked there for a few hours. Eventually, tearing ourselves away, we changed from wet bathing suits into our clothes in the public bathrooms and drove back to Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill that sits directly on the white-sugar-sand beach in Clearwater Beach for their special grouper sandwiches and fries, washed down with ice-cold Shipyard beer. Rif and I took one last, long walk down to the water’s edge before reluctantly getting into the car. Sated and tired, we began the roughly one-hour drive back home to Davenport.

After all our adventures in the previous days, we were relieved to have a day to just hang out with Adele and Larry, who drove down from The Villages to see Rif. We all had been trying to get Rif here for a visit for over two years. Together, we had a meal at Sweet Tomatoes before they drove back home. Contemplating a repeat of last year’s early Halloween dinner at Columbia Restaurant in Celebration, we took Rif for a driving tour of the town, looking for the iconic, haunted-pirate-ship-decorated house that we so admired the last two years. We parked and I went into a tented, temporary, charity-fund-raising pumpkin patch on a town square and found, accidentally, the owner of the elaborate pirate ship decorations, selling pumpkins there. He told me that, alas, he had sent everything to the trash and the pirate house would be no more. Because of vandals, thieves, drunkards and enormous crowds creating a nuisance in the neighborhood, the house was gone forever. The attempt to move it elsewhere in the neighborhood last year had failed. He told me a number of anecdotes of the antics that had occurred in previous years that made him no longer willing to foot the bill for the yearly storage of the props. We decided that our planned trip for dinner at Columbia could wait until after the Halloween crush in Celebration.

Having rested for a day, we spent the entire next day at Animal Kingdom, enjoying lunch outdoors at The Flame Tree Barbecue and walking several miles to see almost all of our favorite attractions. In the late afternoon, we proceeded to Epcot so that we could see the Denis DeYoung concert. Larry had received a coupon for his birthday for a free steak dinner at Johnnie’s Hideway which was about to expire. After another day of relaxation at home, we accompanied him and had an elegant and delicious meal as we watched a colorful sunset through the windows that overlook the picturesque pond that Johnnie’s outdoor deck overhangs.

On October 29, we used another day’s ticket. Arising early, we began at The Magic Kingdom and because of the lack of crowds at the early hour, we were able to experience a number of rides, one after the other, with practically no lines. Between our Fast Passes, we were able to have lunch at “Be Our Guest” in Beast’s Castle, a truly unique experience. We even got to sit next the the windows looking out over the French countryside which depict a snowy winter-scape while the “snow” flutters down constantly. After lunch, we drove to Hollywood Studios where we saw Beauty and The Beast, the Frozen Sing Along, and The Voyage of the Little Mermaid, among other attractions. Getting on the Friendship boats, we again hopped over to Epcot to see the Jo Dee Messina concert. Afterwards, we stopped for a late-night, half-price meal on our way home at Bahama Breeze. We certainly made good use of the park-hopper ticket this day!

After such a long stint in the parks, where we walked over 8 miles, we decided to take it easy on Friday. We were joined by Ken and Randi and Larry for Shabbat dinner, Prosecco with afinyek, homemade challah, Caesar salad, deviled eggs, seared tuna, and homemade leftover desserts from the freezer, such as squares of carob sheet cake and chocolate chip cookies. Rif accompanied us to services at SOJC on Saturday morning. Saturday evening was Halloween, and we had many more trick-or-treaters than in previous years. Note to self for next year: just buy Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and skip the Almond Joy bars. We had enough candy, but the preferred ones disappeared within the first hour.

November first found Saul climbing a very tall ladder to hang Larry’s Frank Lloyd Wright window near his lofty ceiling. Paul’s cousin David had strongly recommended Columbia Restaurant to Rif and we concurred with his advice. We wisely made a reservation for dinner after Halloween and had a convivial evening in the unique ambience of this 114-year-old establishment, along with Ken and Randi and Larry. Rif used her last ticket the following day at Epcot as we sampled the international foods offered during the Food and Wine Festival. We had shawarma at The Tangierine Café in “Morocco,” after which Saul went next door to the special kiosk for Belgium to buy us an assortment of waffles, which we demolished at our table. We went on Soarin’ for one of the last times, as it will shortly be closing to make room for a new, upgraded version and the addition of a third theater. Again, we were able to experience practically everything that Rif would have wanted to see and do at Epcot. The concert that evening was Boyz II Men. The following morning, we awoke to 13 colorful hot air balloons floating over our home. After breakfast, we loaded Rif’s bags into our trunk and toured Wilderness Lodge, our favorite of all the Disney Resorts. Then we drove over to the newly-renovated Polynesian Resort and wandered around the lush, tropical-themed hotel and grounds. Afterwards, we dropped her off at the airport for her flight home. For a few days, we had tried to change her flights to prolong her stay, but we were, unfortunately, unsuccessful.

The next morning, Saul and I fried homemade potato chips to use up a supply that had been hanging around for a while. Jessica and the girls were due to arrive that afternoon on one of those unbelievably inexpensive Frontier flights to Orlando. The four of them flew both ways for $19 each, taking advantage of the break for New Jersey’s teacher in-service week. When they landed, we drove directly to Sweet Tomatoes for a late lunch. Immediately after arriving home, Saul gave them a new supply of Disney trading pins that we had ordered very inexpensively online. Sami and Izzy sat down on the family room carpet to sort them. After that, everyone was in the pool. Later that evening, we were all at The Magic Kingdom watching the Electric Light Parade. The next day, November 5, we headed to Epcot. Surprisingly, Yona was just tall enough to go on the easy ride of The Sum of All Thrills with Izzy, but freaked out at the last minute as they began to strap her into the seat for the virtual ride. The concert that Saul and I attended that evening was Sister Hazel, but Jess and the girls opted to use the time to tour the food kiosks and sample all the vegetarian offerings. On Friday, November 6, after a pumpkin pancake breakfast, we went to Hollywood Studios. We came home in time to finish preparing Shabbat dinner, which largely had been prepared ahead of time, homemade challah, chicken soup with the girls’ homemade dumplings, chicken paprikash, black and white rice, jumbo oatmeal peanut butter and raisin cookies, and pareve carob sheet cake. After Shabbat, Jessica wanted to see what had been done with Disney Springs and we thought we would eat at one of the many eateries there. The night turned into a terrible fiasco. As we pulled into the new parking area, every spot was filled and we were somehow filtered into an unmoving line of traffic snaking through the parking lot from which there was no turning around. Hungry and frustrated, we sat there for almost half an hour while the bewildered staff tried to figure out how to get everyone moving again. We wound up doubling back the same way we had entered and gave up on our plans of seeing Disney Springs that evening. While sitting in the parking lot, we made a reservation at nearby Johnnie’s Hideway. We were so pleased when they agreed to seat us a half hour earlier than our reservation, but then the trouble started. We were seated for almost half an hour before anyone approached us. Our waiter apologized saying that they were extremely busy. After we finally got some water, I had to ask if they had any bread. We had already been seated for 45 minutes before we had some bread and our order was taken. By then, our cranky 6-year-old Yona had fallen asleep not to awaken for the rest of the meal. Jess took her meal home in a box. Larry, who was with us, never got his appetizer. Other tables nearby who came in after us were nearly finished dinner by the time our first appetizers arrived. The manager came over several times to apologize and sent us free salads, which weren’t really free as they were supposed to come with our meals. I had ordered a seared tuna entree that was the special that evening. It was delicious, but small for the price, and the last two pieces had wickedly sharp long pointy bones in them that luckily I discovered as I was chewing before they pierced my mouth. The manager looked at the remnants of my meal in disbelief and immediately comped my dinner. Our waiter apologized to Larry for forgetting his appetizer completely. They offered us dessert, but by then, we had been sitting with three children, one asleep, for two-and-a-half hours. Larry wrote an e-note on their site explaining our tribulations from the previous evening and after they acknowledged receiving it, he did not receive any reply for weeks, and when he did, it was a form letter offering him Champagne and dessert in honor of his “anniversary,” not a response to his note. After many wonderful meals there, we all hesitate to ever go there again.

On Sunday, November 8, we parked at The Grand Floridian because the older girls wanted to pin trade there and at the Polynesian. They wanted to spend their last day making the rounds of all their favorite spots to pin trade. To this effect, we wound up at Epcot where the mother lode of all pin trading takes place in front of the fountain near The Electric Umbrella. Saul and I attended the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy concert at Epcot that evening. Everything had to be packed and ready to go the next morning as we had to leave before dawn to arrive at the airport for their 7:30 flight home. Everyone was ready for the drill and our troupers traveled without a hitch, arriving home safely in time for a half-day of school. Saul and I enjoyed the concert so much the previous evening that we returned to see it again and were delighted to find a new set being played.

The medical stuff continued with our mutual dentist appointments the next day. Luckily, we were both delighted with not only the dentist, but her staff who treated us with the utmost skill, care and consideration. They fit us in, once we assured ourselves we were both satisfied, three days in a row, and scheduled me within two weeks for a crown. During that terrible week, the massacres in Paris took place, and when we arrived for the evening concerts, the torch at France in Epcot was lit day and night and the Eiffel Tower remained lit up in red, white and blue for a week. Shabbat dinner was very quiet that week. We went to services on Saturday morning and Rabbi Skolnick presented a moving and intelligent sermon urging sensible dialogue among opposing factions in dealing with the war on terrorism that was brilliantly apolitical and based on the lessons of the parashah for that week. Sunday, we began our preparations for Thanksgiving dinner. We made zucchini casserole, and elegant apricot sweet potatoes. On Monday I saw the periodontist that was recommended by the dentist to see if I needed root canal work and was as unhappy with that office as I was happy with the dentist. The technician cut my gum the first time she put her hands in my mouth, made light of my pain, and then cut it in the same spot even worse the second time. After that she switched to a smaller x-ray appliance. My gum was painful for two days, but at least the verdict was that I did not need root canal. We drove to the post office after that to mail the remaining pumpkin-face cookies and caramel wafer cookies that are seasonal to the Aldi’s here in Florida to Rif and Meredith in Norfolk. Rif had been visiting her daughter right after her visit here. Larry’s college friend, John, flew in that day for a brief visit. John is Larry’s decorating guru and they spent much of their time here hanging his artwork and shopping for accessories for his home. Saul and I went to Hollywood Studios that evening to pick up the special glasses for viewing the Osborne Dancing Lights display. This is the last year for this spectacle, as Disney will be redoing that section of the park.

I met with my new gynecologist on November 17, for an overdue Pap smear. I really liked her a lot. At this date, I guess I am home-free on that test at least. In the evening, we picked up Larry and John and went to The Grand Floridian Café for dinner. After oohing and aahing over the newly-erected, life-size gingerbread house, and enjoying an exceptional meal, we got on a boat at the dock and circled the lagoon to the Magic Kingdom. At the Magic Kingdom, we caught the monorail and rode it back through the Contemporary Hotel, and got off at the Polynesian to stroll around the grounds, and then back to the Grand Floridian for the evening’s fireworks. We learned about the book signing and limited edition trading pins that night and decided to go back for the event a few days later, which we did. Saul and I spent the next day preparing more dishes for Thanksgiving, including making frozen chocolate mousse crepes and vanilla custard sauce. In the evening of November 18, Larry drove to The Tasting Room with John and us for a long-awaited repeat of our earlier meal. John loved it, too, and it did not disappoint us as second visits often do. John was charmed with the little town of Winter Garden. After dinner we stopped at the enormous and sprawling shopping center elsewhere in Winter Garden to look for lamps for Larry’s home, but did not find anything worthwhile. On the 19th, after attending an HOA meeting in the morning, Saul and I did a round of shopping to pick up our final provisions for Thanksgiving. The day after that, we smoked the turkey and made a chestnut, apple bread stuffing. I found an intriguing recipe for a gluten-free bar cookie that involved eggs whipped with peanut butter for the crust, chocolate, caramel, and coconut, all of which I had on hand and needed to use up. They turned out to be an especially big hit with gluten-free Randi, who sampled them before Thanksgiving at Shabbat dinner. I am planning to experiment in the future with the unique crust which has no added sugar and which forms an attractive and sturdy double layer at the bottom.

On November 21, Saul, Larry and I made rounds to the gingerbread displays in the various hotels to purchase the limited edition gingerbread pins that were available as of that date. On our foray to The Boardwalk in the evening, we decided to have dinner at The Big River Grill at an outside table where we could be seated right away. It was a pleasant evening, but the clouds looked a little iffy. In true Florida style, by the time they brought our meals, it was drizzling, and by the time we finished our meals, we were huddled under our large table umbrella trying to stay dry when it began to pour. Our waitress messed up on our beer flight, Larry’s order and the check, requiring her to run out to us through the rain multiple times. We had parked at The Beach Club Resort across the lagoon. We hightailed it through the rain as a Friendship Cruiser neared the Boardwalk dock about 100 ft. away. Saul had left our ponchos and umbrellas in the car, as usual convinced that it was not going to rain that evening. We got on the boat and travelled around in a big circle, to Epcot first, until we reached the dock for The Beach Club. I guess you could say that the evening was a washout.

The next three days were spent preparing both the house and the food for Thanksgiving, shopping with Larry to help pick out fabric for a new chair, and trying out a new restaurant that we had been wanting to check out, 4 Rivers Smokehouse, in Winter Garden that, according to Yelp, has the best barbecue in Orlando. It does! We also continued walking in the evening at Epcot which was much less crowded between the end of the Food and Wine Festival and the beginning of the Thanksgiving holiday crush. The two days before Thanksgiving, I finished up with my dental work, receiving my new crown which looks and feels much better than before. We finally had dinner at Eleven, atop the Reunion Resort and Club with Ken and Randi. They had been rhapsodizing about their dinners there for months, but when we finally went, we all discovered that a new chef was in the kitchen who had not only changed some of the menu, but altered their favorite dishes as Ken says, “from A+ to C+.” Randi’s shrimp dish had to be sent back to the kitchen because the shrimp was cold and raw inside. Saul and I had soup because we were recovering from dental work, and it was way, way too salty. Saul and I thought the prices were outrageous, too. But the setting on the terrace at sunset is truly gorgeous.

Thanksgiving was wonderful! We found really beautiful, inexpensive and delicious fruit at Aldi’s and our discovery inspired us to create a spectacular edible centerpiece for the table. I decided to go all out and use an authentic Madeira lace tablecloth that belonged to my mother which had never been used. I remember her receiving it as a gift from Uncle Jack and Aunt Sarah when they returned from their honeymoon in Italy and Portugal in 1963. I also used antique dishes from my grandmother’s time when they came one-at-a-time in Dreft laundry soap boxes. I also used crystal from my mother that was seldom used that was bequested to Ari, but he left it here when he moved to England. The antique silver plate utensils with our initial were purchased by us at a house sale many years ago. The table looked gorgeous and every item of food we prepared was totally to my satisfaction. The star of the show, the smoked turkey, was exceptionally juicy and succulent. We were also very pleased to host friends from our past, who began the whole Florida movement for our family. Sandra and Tom were once Beth’s in-laws from Syracuse. They moved to The Villages many years ago. Sandra even made a wonderful dinner for us on one of our trips to Florida in the past. Adele and Larry remained friends with them even after Beth’s divorce from their son, Ed, and while visiting, decided to buy the home that was for sale down the street from them. When Adele and Larry both turned 70 in November of 2012, a group of the family, including us, decided to rent a house near Disney World so that we could have a winter Florida vacation, and celebrate their special birthdays. The house was so perfect and the prices in Florida so good due to the recession in 2008, that Saul and I began stalking the particular model in which we had stayed (Jacqueline Bey by Mercedes Homes) until, after 8 attempts to purchase one, we finally succeeded. Sandra and Tom weren’t going anywhere in particular this Thanksgiving, and we were absolutely delighted to host them.

Adele stayed behind with us for a week and we had a great time together at the parks. We walked for miles around Animal Kingdom, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios. Each day, just as we thought she was flagging, she would ask us where we were going next :o). Adele loves Chinese food, so we had meals at Crazy Buffet and China Tea, our new favorite discovery. Haley and Erik came in for a visit for a few days on Black Friday evening. On Saturday night, Adele and Larry S. went with us to Hollywood Studios to see the Osborne Lights. Larry S. had never before seen them. The special glasses that we picked up earlier created multi-colored snowflake shapes around each individual light, multiplying the effect by six. That Sunday morning, we all decided to have a last-minute brunch together with Ken and Randi, Haley and Erik, and Larry S. to celebrate Adele’s 73rd birthday. We opened all the doors to the house and set up tables and food alongside the pool on a beautiful, warm morning and we spent the afternoon in the pool.

On Monday, November 30, Adele, Saul and I went to Epcot because Saul and I were craving the special Thanksgiving sweet potato waffle sandwiches that we had enjoyed last year. We didn’t stay very long because the new version involved a cranberry bread and was a totally different meal. We were very disappointed! We left the park after a short time and had lunch at Sweet Tomatoes. Then we parked at the Grand Floridian to show Adele the life-size gingerbread house and hopped a monorail into the Magic Kingdom to meet Ken, Randi, Haley and Erik to see the Celebrate the Magic light show on Cinderella’s Castle before the Wishes fireworks. We had arranged Fast Passes, so we zipped through the Buzz Lightyear ride. We found a table outside, across from the Plaza Ice Cream Parlor, with a great closeup view of the castle. Because of Thanksgiving weekend, the crowds were huge, but as Saul waited in line for half an hour to buy ice cream, Adele and I were able to save enough seats at two tables for all of us. Ken, Randi, Haley and Erik joined us after their dinner at The Tasting Room just before the Electric Parade began. We all had great seats to view the Electric Parade, the light show, and the fireworks.

On Tuesday, December 1, we met up with Ken, Randi, Haley and Erik, who had been at Animal Kingdom earlier, and used our Fast Passes to take the Kilimanjaro Safari ride together. They left after that, while Saul, Adele and I went on the Maharajah Jungle Trek. The huge fox bats were particularly active that day and we got great photos of them. That evening, our “cheap dinner and movie night,” Saul, Larry S., Adele and I saw the movie, Trumbo, which we all thought was extremely well done and engaging. It is particularly appropriate, given what is going on in our country right now with fear-mongering politicians and news sources, that we see what damage can be done to well-meaning and intelligent people by creating institutionalized, witch-hunting organizations that paint all people with the same broad brush, regardless of their intentions. The movie is the true, but dramatized story of Academy Award-winning screenwriter, Dalton Trumbo, whose life, along with the lives of many of his friends, were destroyed during the now-discredited, red communist/Senator Joseph McCarthy U.S. Senate hearings era in the 1950s and early 1960s. Trumbo was the leader of what was known as the “Hollywood 10” who spent years in prison and whose families were stigmatized for no good reason during this dark time in our history. The movie illustrates what damage to our lives can be caused as a result of fear-mongering by a few crazy fanatics and how it can subvert the basic values of our Constitution.

On Wednesday, December 2, Haley and Erik flew home in the morning and Ken, Randi, Saul and I attended a much-anticipated, by invitation only, gala sponsored by Yelp at The Orlando Science Center. The evening was billed as “A Gatsby Affair” and we were encouraged to come in appropriate costume. Although Larry, at our recommendation, had set up his own Yelp profile, he did not do it in a timely enough manner to receive an invitation, but was set up as an alternate in case of cancellations. Sadly, he never got an actual invitation. We dropped off Adele at his home for the evening, and Ken drove Randi, Saul and me to the party. I thought the four of us in our formal Gatsby-style clothes looked fabulous, but many of the beautiful young people who attended the party outdid us by a mile. Some must have spent hundreds of dollars on gorgeous beaded dresses and bling-y shoes. People-watching at the affair was almost as much fun as partaking of the multitudinous choices of food and drink. Whiskey and bourbon tastings seemed to be a big item at the party this year, and Randi had a difficult time finding tables offering wine samples, although there were some. I mostly stuck to craft beer. Small batch designer ice cream also was big. We really sinned at a table offering luscious mini parfaits of irresistible flavor combinations such as raspberry/white chocolate, key lime, s’mores, and chocolate peanut butter to name a few. We returned a number of times for the delectable tuna poké served in small, clear cups. Saul and I tried kombucha, a fermented tea drink, for the first time. It was not as bad as it sounds, and we actually kind of liked it. The Brazilian food from Giraffa and the Indian curry from Yak and Yeti were outstanding. We sampled until we had no room left and were a bit tipsy. We did not begin to make a dent in trying all the foodstuffs and libations that were presented. One of my personal favorites at these parties is the guy who represents Medieval Times. I remember him well from last year’s party. He is this gorgeous, soft-spoken, blonde, dressed Robin Hood-style in beautiful leather garb. On his left arm, he carries a striking, tethered, four-year-old live falcon which is not hooded as you would expect in a noisy, distracting crowd like that. He says that she is quite used to being in large crowds. If I was a teenager with posters of heart-throbs on the wall, he would be mine. We weren’t able to stay at the party as long as we would have liked because, this year, there was absolutely no place to sit. Ken, with his spinal problems, could not stand very long and spent a lot of time waiting for us in the car. Standing in high heels for a couple of hours is not my idea of comfortable either, and next time, I will choose wisely and wear the sparkly sandals instead. The evening was brilliant, fun, delicious, and memorable! Along with some great swag, including beautiful stainless steel flasks with the Yelp logo embossed on them, they encouraged us to take home a box of a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts, which we gave to Larry. On top of all that, the whole evening was free. The suggested donation of $10 per person goes to support the Science Museum.

By Thursday, December 3, we had run out of some of our staple items and decided to make a trip to Costco with Adele to replenish our supplies. That is how we happened to find China Tea from Yelp reviews, where we had a yummy lunch before we did our shopping. Saul, Adele and I made dozens of latkes on Friday morning, and in the afternoon, Larry A. came to spend the weekend with us. I made Shabbat dinner for seven of us and we shmoozed around the dining room table for a couple of hours. The next day, Larry A. bought an annual pass and renewed Adele’s and we parked at the Beach Club for the day because Larry had never been to Disney’s Boardwalk area. He chose Hollywood Studios because he had never seen the Osborne Lights. We spent most of the day there, but he also wanted to see the special Christmas fireworks that come after the regular IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot. We used Fast Passes to see Lights, Motor, Action and The Great Movie Ride. The building they closed over the summer where we used to take our character drawing classes and see the cute, animated Mu Shu presentation, among other things, had reopened that day with all its Star Wars renovations. The line for the 9-minute movie preview was a half hour long, so we opted to just walk through the building. For us, it was a big disappointment. Everything had been sprayed with textured gray paint to make the rooms look like the inside of a star cruiser. The once-colorful animation gift shop, through which you exit the building, has also been turned into an emporium for all things Star Wars. We took the Friendship Cruiser to the Dolphin to have a light early dinner at The Fountain, and cruised back to Hollywood Studios to see the Osbourne Lights. Then we left and cruised over to Epcot for the spectacular fireworks. After they ended, we took the short stroll back to the Beach Club where we had parked. It was a brilliant day! Larry and Adele left shortly after breakfast on Sunday, and in the evening, we invited Ken, Randi and Larry to join us for lighting the first Hanukkah candle and for latkes and snacks.

Saul and I have been enjoying our brief respite from company this week. Larry tried San Jose Restaurant for dinner and movie night this week and said he would go back. We couldn’t find a movie we wanted to see this week even for $6. We are in great anticipation of the family get-together for the winter holidays that will begin in about a week. Beth will be arriving first, then Ari, then Jess, Alex, Izzy and Yona. Sami will be leaving for her confirmation class trip to Israel next week. Jess and Alex’s friends, who came last year for New Year’s will also be in the area for the week. Ken and Randi are hosting nieces and nephews and their children, and friends from up north over the holidays as well, so it should be an extravaganza of parties, pools, fantasy, food, and warm fuzzy feelings. We can’t wait!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Camp Bubbie and Saba 2015

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Optimistically, I thought that on quiet evenings during the summer, I would have time to sit for a few hours after the girls were asleep and catch up on my blogging. In reality, our summer was so full of activity, and we were so anxious to spend every possible minute that we could absorbed with our wonderful granddaughters, that we gave up on the idea of catching up until after the girls left. Instead, we tried to take at least one photo every day to trigger our memories so that none of them would be lost as we reflected on the last two months.

The weather at the end of June was a harbinger of the weather to come in July and August. This past summer was the rainiest ever recorded since records have been kept in Florida. On some of our forays with Ken and Randi, we were in such violent and sudden rainstorms that we sometimes waited for an hour before venturing a mere few dozen feet to get to our car in the parking lot. In the days leading up to the girls arrival, we shopped for provisions, prepared a number of meals for future use, cleaned, dusted, washed and remade bedding, and tried to get as much R and R as we could before the serious running around in the parks began. Before they arrived, Sami and I both baked blueberry pies together via FaceTime because the berries were in such abundance both here, and from the CSA to which they belong in Cherry Hill. I also made the most delectable white nectarine custard pie with a bounty of juicy, perfectly ripe, sweet ones from a case that I bought at Costco. On our Tuesday $6 movie night on June 30, we had our usual half-price fajitas and half price margaritas at San José and saw the Disney movie Inside Out, which I thought was okay, but Saul hated.

The girls arrived with Jessica at Tampa International, as planned, on July 1, and after a failed attempt to have dinner in Tampa, we drove to our nearby Sweet Tomatoes, where they would choose to eat every day, if we acquiesced. We kicked off our summer at Keke’s Café, which became a new favorite place for them. Taking advantage of the annual passes that were purchased for them during Passover with Ari, Jessica took the two older girls for a day at Universal Studios. Yona was happy to hang out with us in the pool and be an “only” for the day. We rejoined in the evening for an incredible meal in the elegant lounge at Blue Zoo in the Dolphin Hotel. The nitrogen mayo sauce on Izzy’s fish dinner was both delicious and memorably presented from a pressurized dispenser. Following that, we crossed the lobby to have ice cream sundaes at The Fountain. Day One of Camp Bubbie and Saba was a huge success! We spent the next day, Friday, preparing a Shabbat dinner, and hanging out in the pool. Ken and Randi joined us for dinner. We had homemade challah, guacamole, deviled eggs, chicken soup, a tray of smoked turkey that had been frozen since Passover, black and white rice, brussels sprouts with chestnuts, pareve sweet potato cake and cupcakes, and leftover homemade sorbets. Yona was so tired from her day in the pool that we had trouble waking her from her nap; she missed most of dinner, ate a little bit, and then promptly fell asleep curled up on a nearby lounge chair. We tucked her back in bed with uncharacteristically little protest. Day Two was also a big success! We attended services on Shabbat. Later, we all had nitrogen ice cream at Abracadabra. As Shabbat ended on July 4, we delivered Jessica to Tampa for her flight home. We were planning to see the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks from the Grand Floridian terrace, but it was raining quite hard. Having arrived back home late, we found that we had actually timed things very well because we were able to have a great view of both the regular and special fireworks from our car as we were stuck in slow and stopped traffic as we approached the hotel. That made it easy to continue traveling the short distance to Hollywood Studios. The rain subsided, and after parking, we still had time to view the Epcot IllumiNations fireworks behind us across the lagoon, from our park bench, and then turn around to watch the special July 4 fireworks over Hollywood Studios—another great day logged in at Camp Bubbie and Saba! The girls chose to spend the next day at Hollywood Studios where pin trading for this summer really began in earnest and most of the special Frozen events took place. Sami became an expert at booking fast passes for us and took over the decision-making process of where we would go, based on which passes were available and at what times on any given day. Jessica and Alex left for their RCI vacation in Williamsburg, VA.

Having exhausted ourselves the previous day, the girls spent several hours of quiet time sorting and organizing their pin and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom card collections. Additionally, Sami sorted through a number of my old collection of recipe books and ran across a hand-written recipe for schnecken that was given to me by Saul’s mom many years ago. She used to make them in vast quantities for Alex and our friend Larry, but I had never made them myself. The girls were intrigued and decided to make them that morning. The results were very successful! In the evening, we had a light dinner on the terrace outside the Gasparilla Island Grille at the Grand Floridian, and watched the Wishes fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from there. Since Sami was able to book us some good Fast Passes, we spent the next day at the Magic Kingdom. Again, after that, we needed a day off, and the girls used my sizable collection of frozen egg whites to bake a Yona Rae three-layer coconut cake. We prepared a pasta dinner and spent the afternoon and evening with friends Carly, and Peter, and their children Ella, Harrison, Henderson, and Emma. Unfortunately for us, they were due to leave in a few days for their new jobs in Port Deposit, New York.

The girls settled into our summer routine so easily, that shortly, it felt like they had always been here. Izzy arose almost every morning before sunrise and later took breakfast orders. She and Yona would be amusing themselves with iPad games and children’s television while Saul and I were able to take our time rising, getting ready for the day’s activities, augmenting Izzy’s excellent breakfasts, and tidying up. Frequently, Sami would be up early, too, making pancake batter, or laying out the table for breakfast. She and Saul organized, and packed into our backpacks, the supplies needed for our days in the park. She also learned how to do some unique braiding styles on her sisters’ hair. I regret that I never seemed to have the time to learn to braid hers. On Friday, July 10, we made an elaborate Shabbat dinner and were joined by not only Ken and Randi, but Jamie, Andy, Presley, and Evan. We went to services with the girls on Saturday. On Sunday morning, Ken and Randi hosted a breakfast in their home for all of us, including Carly and Peter and the kids. Before Jamie and Andy flew home after a few days here, we all had a beautiful and memorable dinner together in a private room at Johnny’s Hideaway. For a few days, we helped Ken and Randi care for Presley and Evan, and visited the parks together, before the four of them flew back north together. Ken and Randi were beginning their six weeks of revisiting their friends and family up north this summer. Before they left, Saul and I took advantage of their babysitting services so that we could finally meet the new internist we had chosen for our checkups at nearby Celebration Hospital. It had taken us a few months to get an appointment with the actual doctor as opposed to a nurse/practitioner.

While Saul and I dropped off Ken and Randi, Presley and Evan at Orlando International, the girls stayed home and began preparing our Shabbat dinner, Ma Po Tofu with black and white rice. After services on Saturday, Izzy and Yona decided to produce a play for us and spent a few hours arranging costumes and makeup. We especially liked the stripe of white tissue incorporated into Yona’s braid so that she could emulate Princess Anna from Frozen. On Sunday, July 19, we spent the day at Hollywood Studios beginning with an early morning dash to the most popular Toy Story Midway Mania ride for which we can rarely get Fast Passes. We still waited almost an hour for the ride. We happened to be there on the day that Bill Cosby’s bust was removed from its pedestal. A few days later, it was replaced with a bust of Bob Newhart. The next day, we did a monorail hop with the girls so that they could check out and photograph many of the various pin boards that Sami had read about online. We parked at Epcot, used our early morning Fast Passes, took the monorail to the Transportation Center, switched trains for the resorts monorail, and stopped at many of the resorts to check out their pin boards, including The Grand Floridian, The Polynesian, The Contemporary, and Bay Lake Tower (to which none of us had ever been before). Surprisingly, we were all up to our adventures the next day at The Magic Kingdom and even had enough energy left over for a night swim in our pool.

On July 22, Jessica arrived in London to begin her three-week vacation/adventure with Ari in honor of her 40th birthday this year. In addition to staying with Ari in London and walking miles and miles touring the city while Ari was at work, the two of them traveled around London on the weekends, and then had an amazing time together on a one-week-long trip to Barcelona that Ari had arranged. Izzy began a concerted effort to improve her roller skating skills by skating around the neighborhood each day with Saul in tow. We also took them to a special Yelp!-promoted event that was a hands-on art event with artists displays and craft activities using cardboard.

While going through recipes and cooking equipment, the girls ran across a taiyaki pan that I had never used, and would not leave us alone until we had purchased everything they needed to make the taiyaki at First Oriental Supermarket. Except for starting a fire on the stove (no permanent damage) in our initial attempts, because of over-greasing the pans with butter, the taiyaki were a huge success. Sami, with Izzy’s help, made them many times over the summer, experimenting with various fillings, after the first flush of success with the traditional sweetened red bean paste filling. She filled them with cream cheese, peanut butter and bananas, pumpkin butter, and strawberries.

On Friday, July 31, a whole crowd arrived. Erica and Ava were picked up early at the airport by a surprise guest, Brenna’s Uncle Ed, Aunt Beth’s ex-husband, whose parents live down the street from Larry and Adele in The Villages. The girls had made a special breakfast, which included taiyaki, and held much of it in readiness until they arrived. Brenna had been staying with Adele and Larry for a week, and later on, they all joined us. Ed drove back and forth each evening for two days to stay with his parents. The rest, except for Larry, who also drove back, stayed with us. Having prepared most of dinner the day before, we were able to have a late lunch of ice cream at Abracadabra. We had a smoked turkey Shabbat dinner that Saul and I prepared and froze before the summer began, and the girls made chicken soup, pareve carob cake brownies and pareve jumbo oatmeal peanut butter raisin cookies. Over the weekend, we spent a soggy day in Animal Kingdom together and Ed spent a day alone with Brenna at Hollywood Studios, mostly riding the Rockin’ Roller Coaster and The Tower of Terror many, many times. In the next few days, we went to the Magic Kingdom and Epcot together. Erica spent a day with Brenna at Universal Studios. Before she left, she taught the girls to make pretzels. The girls also made ice cream sandwiches with the peanut butter chip cookies they had made. All this baking proved very useful when we needed snacks for the parks.

Izzy developed an ear infection and, after Saul took her to Urgent Care, she was banished from the pool for a few days. The prescription ear drops cleared it up very nicely, but we insisted that they wear ear plugs after that. Friday, August 7, was Sami’s actual birthday, and we planned a special meal and celebration for that evening. The day before, we went to Animal Kingdom and when we returned, Sami, with some help from the others, made a cake topper with Color Flow icing for her birthday cake.  Larry joined us for breakfast at Keke’s on Friday morning. The day was spent with all of us preparing Sami’s birthday Shabbat dinner which included rainbow challah, vegetable sushi, warm spinach salad, seared sesame-crusted tuna, tortellini, and a sour cream pound cake birthday cake. Larry and Adele drove home after dinner. Erica and Ava flew out early the following day, leaving us with Brenna for a week. We all accompanied Erica and Ava to the airport, and then went to services. Saturday evening, we parked at the Boardwalk and took the Friendship Cruiser around to first see the IllumiNations fireworks at Epcot, and then the Frozen fireworks at Hollywood Studios. We spent the next day at The Magic Kingdom. We had some anxious moments when Yona got lost. We split up in a gift shop near Cinderella’s castle and Saul took Brenna to play her game of Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, while I took Sami and Izzy to play their game. I thought Saul had taken Yona, and he thought she had stayed with me. When we met up 15 minutes later, we freaked out to find that she was with neither of us. We ran back to the gift shop where we had last seen her and she had done just the right thing that she had been taught. She calmly went to an employee of the shop and told her we had disappeared. They told her to wait with them and when we breathlessly returned, we were relieved to find her basking in all the attention. She even got a sprinkling of fairy dust (glitter applied with a star-shaped wand) in her hair, which made us worry that she might decide to get lost again! That evening, she was delighted to receive a new doll which was included in part of a package of lotions and soaps that Uncle Larry had won at an activity in The Villages.

We had a shopping excursion to the nearby outlet mall on one of our iffy rain days, as Izzy had completely worn out her walking shoes in the parks, and Sami wanted some dress shoes for synagogue mornings. Sami also got some pretty skirts and tops. We followed up with dinner at Bahama Breeze and ice cream later at The Fountain in the Dolphin Hotel while we waited to view the fireworks at Epcot. On August 12, we had a very special lunch at Sanaa in Kidani Village in Animal Kingdom Lodge. Until then, the girls had only been to Jambo House there. We saw some exceptional animals (including rare tortoises) as we happened to be there while a group of new Disney employees was being shown around. Following a yummy Indian-style lunch in the elegant and unique restaurant, we spent the day at Animal Kingdom. While we were at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Yona was chosen by one of the science lab employees to go behind a “cast members only” door into their glass-windowed work area to learn about different types of animal poop. She was so excited to be there and given so much attention! Eventually, she went to fetch her sister, Izzy, who was not quite as excited about the poop, but also enjoyed the attention. They were both given special plastic cases that were a type used in experiments to test animal urine and feces. We spent the next day at Hollywood Studios. The following day at Epcot, Saul took Brenna to get a henna tattoo at Morocco while Sami and Izzy watched, and Yona had a chance to meet Tinker Bell with me at the International Gate. Cruella Deville was also signing autographs, but no one, especially Yona, seemed to want to meet her. Returning home early to prepare Shabbat dinner, we made an incredible meal in a very short time thanks to our very organized and well-skilled granddaughters. We made rainbow challahs, vegetarian French onion soup, caprese salad, tortellini, and salmon burgers. We still had plenty of home-made cookies, and desserts left in the freezer. Brenna flew home very early on Saturday, August 15. I waited with her until she boarded the plane. Saul and I called the girls and asked if they wanted to attend synagogue that morning. They said “yes” and they were ready and waiting when we returned to pick them up. At the end of Shabbat, we took them for dinner at Ay Jalisco! in Clermont. The restaurant has a great selection of delicious vegetarian Mexican food. The girls really like it! Much later that evening, after the girls were already asleep, we picked up Saul’s cousin, Adi, at Orlando International. Adi spent the next four days with us prior to returning home to Netanya, Israel, after her year of service working at a school in Fort Lauderdale. Adi had only been to Animal Kingdom with her friends, so we spent the next three days, trying to get her to all the great attractions at the other three parks. We spent all day Sunday at Hollywood Studios, all day Monday at Magic Kingdom, and all day Tuesday at Epcot. According to Saul’s FitBit, we averaged about 8 miles of walking each day. The temperatures were hovering around 95°F. for much of it, and we only survived by knowing the parks so well that we moved from air-conditioned attraction to air-conditioned attraction with the least amount of steps. We ate glatt kosher meals at the specified restaurants in each of the parks.

Our foray into Epcot with Adi was marked by a harrowing and unusual accident with Yona. Yona insisted on buckling her own seatbelt on Soarin’ for which we had Fast Passes. In the process, she managed to lock her index finger underneath the T-shaped clip. The seatbelt cannot be released, except by the employee at the front, once it has been snapped into place. Yona’s finger was so compressed that we could not extricate it and while she was shrieking in pain and terror, it seemed to take forever for that man to release the locks. At that point, all six of us sprang from our seats, which, luckily, were in the first row right in front of him, and ran with her out of the ride, answering the man that, yes, he should call for medical assistance. We were all the way to the desk at the entrance to Soarin’ before anyone was notified. Once the guy at the desk called it in, help was there within a couple of minutes. Izzy quickly got a cupful of ice from the adjacent restaurant, and by the time professional help arrived, Yona’s finger was already in the ice and we had determined that she could wiggle it a bit. Our first-responder, Anna-Marie, helped us to decide that it did not look like a 911 emergency and cancelled the call. As Yona had calmed down, and we examined her finger more closely, we decided it did not require a visit to a medical facility on the premises either. Ice seemed to be all that was needed. After a few minutes had passed and we collectively breathed a sigh of relief, Anna-Marie asked if we would like to go back on the ride. Surprisingly, Yona said she would. Anna-Marie took us down the wide alley behind the tourist areas at Soarin’ to what she told us was a special V.I.P. door where celebrities are ushered in at the front of the line when they visit Disney. We were met there by a technician whose job it was to find out exactly how the mishap had occurred so that it would, hopefully, never be repeated. Apparently, it had never happened before, as Soarin’ was considered one of the most accident-free rides in all of Disney. This time, Izzy carefully buckled Yona into her seat. Anna-Marie was waiting for us as we left the ride and presented Saul with vouchers for all of us to have ice cream. It was the first time any of us had tasted the kosher Mickey Mouse-shaped ice-cream bars, and they were delicious. Izzy and Yona, allergic to chocolate, were thrilled with their Olaf rainbow sorbet pops. On the following day, we dropped off Adi at Orlando International Airport. We completely vegged out by the pool for the next two days trying to recuperate from too many consecutive days in the parks while we tried to accommodate our various sets of guests. We loved doing it, but exhausted ourselves in the process.

At the spur of the moment, our friend Larry, decided to drive his second car down to Florida as the home he had purchased was not rented for the last week of August. He wanted to have a new porcelain tile floor installed before arriving at the end of September to move in permanently. Equally last minute, Jess found a cheap flight from Orlando to Philadelphia and decided to help him with the drive down. Together, they spent all day driving on Thursday, August 20, and arrived here about 2:00 a.m. Friday. Larry went to his new home, just over a mile away, to sleep for the first time. The girls made a wonderful breakfast and helped prepare a fantastic Shabbat dinner once again while they waited patiently for their mom to awaken. We had chicken soup with dumplings that the girls made, home-made challah, warm spinach salad, maple-glazed Brussels sprouts with chestnuts, black and white rice, and chicken paprikash. The girls made a fresh batch of jumbo oatmeal peanut butter raisin cookies and Sami made pareve carob brownies. With Jessica, we attended Shabbat services. The last weekend that the girls were here, we were finally able to get together with Jelly and her daughter, Olivia, our friends from last summer. Jelly had been our favorite waitress at Sweet Tomatoes a few years ago, and we formed a friendship outside of that last summer. We met on Saturday night at The Fountain at the Dolphin Hotel for a light dinner and ice cream sundaes. Because Sami wore her birthday Disney badge, we were not charged for her sundae. The intention was to watch the fireworks over Epcot, as we had done in the past, and then take the Friendship Cruiser over to Hollywood Studios to catch the Frozen fireworks. Unfortunately, that night, the schedule had been changed to a half-hour earlier and we only got to see the tail end of them from the ferry boat as it docked, so we just stayed on the boat and sailed back to the Boardwalk where we had all parked. No one was terribly disappointed, however, because we all had a wonderful time together at The Fountain, and we did, after all, get to see some spectacular fireworks. Sunday morning, the girls made breakfast and Sami made taiyaki. Larry and Jess had never had them before.

Sami had remembered her special birthday dinner last year at Artist Point in Wilderness Lodge, and wanted to do the same this year. We had managed to snag a reservation for a while after her birthday had passed, and we were luckily able to add Jess and Larry to it. On our last Sunday, we had a phenomenal elegant dinner in the gorgeous Craftsman-style setting and celebrated Sami’s birthday. On Monday, Jess and the two older girls spent the day at Universal Studios, taking advantage of the annual passes they had bought while Ari was here during Passover. Yona was again delighted to spend the day as an “only” with us and after a morning in Larry’s pool and spa, we took her to Abracadabra for nitrogen ice cream. We ordered pizza and had a movie and story night when Jess and the girls returned. Tuesday morning was rainy, and Jess decided that we should check out the Crayola Experience that had debuted a few months earlier at the Florida Mall. We weren’t expecting much having been to the Crayola Factory in Easton several times, but were we surprised! Arriving early, on a weekday when school was already in session in Florida, we had immediate access to anything we wanted in the vast, imaginative and high-tech facility. In the end, we wound up buying annual memberships, which were not very expensive and which allow us unlimited access to all the Crayola facilities in the country. After spending a few delightful hours, we headed out for a last lunch for them at our local Sweet Tomatoes. We had been trying all summer to get a dinner reservation at The California Grill at the top of The Contemporary Hotel. The girls had never been there, and we were wowed by the experience in April for Ken’s birthday. Because of our previous experience in April, Saul had a direct phone number and a name so that he was able to book a reservation for five, even though the regular channels showed that no reservations were available. This was to be our last hurrah before the girls flew home on Friday morning, August 28. Luckily, after much pleading, he was again able to increase our reservation to seven people. The timing was perfect, and we were able to view the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks from the floor to ceiling windows by our table as well as from the outdoor observation deck just as we finished dessert on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, Jess was able to get a swim in with the girls before we drove her to catch her cheap flight home from Orlando International. From the airport, we drove to Downtown Disney, now known as Disney Springs, so that the girls could see all the new construction and each buy a souvenir to remember Camp Bubbie and Saba 2015. Yona chose a miniature set of princess dolls, but the others didn’t find something that day. We spent several hours wandering among the shops, ducking in and out as the rain came intermittently.

Our last full day, Thursday, August 27, we told the girls they could choose to do whatever they wished in the parks. We started out at Epcot because Izzy wanted to do “The Sum of All Thrills” one more time and had talked Yona into doing it with her, but Yona was very disappointed after she was psyched up for it when we discovered that she was too little to even wait in line with Izzy. To distract her from her disappointment, I took her to a nearby installation that had to do with weather emergencies and that was more age-appropriate. She was excited when she was given a sticker and set of special cards for completing a puzzle there. Meanwhile, Saul took Sami to the pin trading stations to trade with the adults. Together we went to Mouse Gear where Sami chose a deck of Disney playing cards as her souvenir and Izzy chose another fleece Disney blanket so that she could have two at home, one to hold, and one with which to wrap herself. Coming out of Mouse Gear, we bumped into Anna-Marie, who was delighted to see us because she had missed getting certain information that she needed from us. She offered to take us through the V.I.P. door to Soarin’ again, but this time, Yona said no, and the other girls were anxious to get on with the day. Even though the weather looked threatening, we decided to take the monorail from Epcot to the Magic Kingdom so that they could complete their level of the Sorcerers game. As we trekked through the gift shops along Main Street, Yona became chilled and was trembling, and I was afraid she had begun to run a fever. I told Saul I would meet him under cover on the second floor of the train station as it was also beginning to drizzle. The girls were able to complete their game before the rain became really heavy and they all got quite wet on their way back to the entrance of the park to meet us. As they arrived, the skies opened up with one of the most violent electrical thunderstorms we had ever seen. I refused to leave until the storm subsided somewhat. Yona was shivering by then and Izzy was kind enough to offer her her new blanket. I wrapped Yona in it and she slept for much of the storm on a bench inside the train station. The Festival of Fantasy Parade was cancelled because of the violence of the storm. When it finally began to subside, after about one-and-a-half hours, we quickly headed to the monorail to get back to our car that was parked at Epcot. After sleeping, Yona felt somewhat better and we pulled into the parking lot to have lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, but then she changed her mind, and we headed back home for lunch. Saul went out to get some children’s ibuprofen after we spoke with Jess and told her that Yona had a 101 fever. We worried about her taking a turn for the worse on her early morning flight home the next day. Luckily, the medication did the trick, helped by a long nap and a good night’s sleep. She seemed fine the next morning. Sami was wonderful in getting everything organized and packed for the flight home. Since she had turned 15, the other two were permitted to fly under her care. Everyone awakened before dawn on Friday morning, dressed, had a quick breakfast and we drove out to the airport. I went through the gates with them and we passed through without incident. I waited with them at the gate until they boarded the plane. The flight home was fine and never were two grandparents more relieved than when we knew they were safely at home with their parents. We thank God that we both had the fortitude and ability to create yet another wonderful, memorable summer of Camp Bubbie and Saba. May God give us the ability to do the same for many more years. It has been such a privilege to be able to spend such quality time with our wonderful grandchildren each summer. We are very, very lucky people!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Springing into Summer

After our exhilarating, but exhausting weekend in Cleveland for Meredith’s wedding, we still managed to do our three-mile walk around Epcot on Sunday evening, and catch The Little River Band’s performance at the American Gardens Theater, there. The band’s performance was worth the extra push, and we had the added satisfaction of appearing on their Facebook page in three of the photos that the band took of the audience. We had so much fun, and were so happy to be in the land of magic and palm trees again that the next night we chose to walk at Hollywood Studios where we observed the changes made to the area where the Sorcerer’s Hat was removed and a Star Wars set had been constructed. We were excited to find that the Toy Story Ride was open to us without a wait a little after hours. This is one ride that we love for which we can never get Fast Passes. They are always sold out. Usually, if we really want to do it, we have to wait in line for at least an hour. The next few days, we finally spent sleeping late and chilling out by the pool. We had an afternoon visit at home from two of Saul’s former students from Chestnut Hill College, Jessica and Chris. He was very gratified to find that he was a great influence for good on some of his students and that they still care enough about him to pay us a visit while in our area. When we were feeling more ambitious, we picked up some fresh supplies at Costco, including a case of surprisingly delicious, KSA pareve, shelf-stable, organic tofu which we used to make another comforting batch of Ma Po Tofu. For Shabbat dinner the following Friday, I managed to make a macaroni and cheese casserole that was pretty tasty even though it was made with gluten-free quinoa pasta, gluten-free flour, and gluten-free matzoh crumbs for the topping. Randi was pretty happy. We also had homemade challah, deviled eggs, seared sesame-crusted tuna, caesar salad, and Israeli salad. For dessert, we are still working on finishing the frozen carob crepes and chocolate hazelnut bars from Passover. On Saturday night, Saul and I went to see the final Garden Rocks concert—Herman’s Hermits, while Ken and Randi went to pick up friends Barbara and Norman from Orlando airport.

Sunday, we sprang right back into our delightful and somewhat athletic retirement routine. As we were breakfasting on Sunday morning, we were visited by our favorite Florida avians, a family of sandhill cranes. We joined Barbara and Norman along with Ken and Randi so that we all could experience the last day of the flower and garden event at Epcot. We saw the special previews of Tomorrowland, rode Planet Earth and Soarin’, marveled at the variety of butterflies displayed at the special butterfly exhibit, got great seats at the packed last performances of Herman’s Hermits, had dinner together at Chefs de France in the World Showcase, and watched the incredible IllumiNations fireworks over the Epcot lagoon. The weather has been unusually hot, even for Florida, this spring. We had a great time, anyway!

Barbara and Norman were able to purchase very discounted 4-day passes for Disney, because of Norman’s military service, by purchasing the tickets at Shades of Green. They took a day to recharge on Monday, but after that, in order to take advantage of the passes, we spent a lot of time in the parks for the next few days. We all recharged on Monday. I had everyone over for a late brunch. We hung out in the pool for a few hours. Then, after Saul and I napped, we met them in Celebration for the Monday, free “Jazz Meets Motown” night at the Bohemian Hotel, where we lounged on the veranda, and had drinks and appetizers. Tuesday was spent at Animal Kingdom, where we saw The Festival of the Lion King (which I could do every day!), and had great seats for the bird show, “Flights of Wonder.” Saul and I left them at the entrance to “It’s Tough to be a Bug.” We took a well-needed siesta, and then later met them at Ay! Jalisco for Mexican food (which Norman loves), and pitchers of frozen margaritas.

Wednesday, we had been hoping to spend a day together in Clearwater at the beach, and the weather had been a bit iffy, but by noon, it appeared to be clearing, so we packed the Pilot with our gear and headed out. Because of the late hour, and all the construction along the public beaches, we could not find parking. Saul and I had an early breakfast, so we pulled into an ice cream shop where Saul ran in and got me a delicious black and white milkshake. We spend a few hours lounging on Bellaire Beach, on Sand Key where there is always parking. The water was warm and so calm that even Ken could enjoy it and Randi came in up to her waist. For dinner, we found parking at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the Beach where the staff was very accommodating and we had yummy grouper and two orders of their special fries.

The others spent time at Hollywood Studios and The Magic Kingdom, and Saul and I did not want to spend a lot of time in the hot sun, so we met them for various intervals in those parks. Towards evening, we met to attend a performance of Fantasmic, but the weather was so hot and humid, that we were all melting even after the sun went down. We also had a delightful evening at the lounge at Blue Zoo in the Dolphin Hotel, and dinner together at The Grand Floridian Hotel, where afterward, we watched the fireworks over The Magic Kingdom from the terrace there alongside the Seven Seas Lagoon.

In the intervals leading up to Shavuot, which began Saturday evening this year, May 23, Saul and I prepared a quantity of cheese blintzes together, some of which we froze for future use. We attended the tikun leyl Shavuot at SOJC, where we participated in a Torah quiz, heard an invited speaker who had as her topic, admirable female Jewish role models, and later studied and discussed the ramifications of some interesting quotations that appear in our liturgy. Saul and I spent the next two days observing Shavuot.

The following Monday evening, we met Ken and Randi at Abracadabra (which, btw, comes from the Hebrew words  אדברה קדברה which loosely translates as, “It will happen as I say”). A parking valet at The Beach Club Resort had told us about this unique nitrogen ice cream place, and it was even better than our expectations! It took us a while to get there, but it is now a must-do for anyone that comes to visit in the future. Describing it in words, just does not do the experience justice. The ice cream itself is incredible, much more dense than the usual, available in a cornucopia of customized flavors and textures, delicious, plentiful, and inexpensive. That evening, Saul and I drove straight to Epcot to walk off our calories!

During the month of May, Ari got the opportunity to go to Israel on business again and we had a blast for an hour or two experiencing the vicarious thrill of walking the labyrinthine streets of the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem with him on FaceTime. Towards the end of the month, he took a trip to Oxford and we enjoyed that as well.

On May 31 and June 1, Saul and Randi, who like that sort of thing, volunteered to help out at the huge, worldwide gathering of travel agents that takes place in Orlando every five years, called the International Pow Wow (IPW). They had spent a few hours at an orientation in preparation, earlier. Over 6,500 representatives from countries all over the world converge here to learn about travel opportunities in the U.S. The group is so influential that Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Universal Studios, and Sea World each shut down to the general public early on different nights so that they can host this group exclusively. Sheerly by luck, Saul and Randi were assigned to the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress the first day, which housed the Israeli, and U.K. contingents. After the second session, where they were assigned to the Convention Center, Ken and I met them at nearby Johnny’s Hideaway for a delicious sunset dinner on their outdoor patio. On the way there, we stopped to photograph a family of sandhill cranes meandering down the middle of the street. Finally, the weather was spring-like and temperate, although we were able to watch dark clouds gathering with flashes of lightening off in the far distance.

Tuesday, June 2, Saul and I left for Baltimore, starting our journey with a hearty breakfast at Nico’s Egg City. Jessica, who has taken over my desktop publishing business in my retirement, has expanded it to include party planning. This is not such a stretch, as preparing printed materials and graphics for an event is preliminary to her additional professional experience of planning events for organizations and seeing to all the details that allow the event to flow smoothly. Jessica had been hired professionally by good friends to plan and coordinate every detail of what turned out to be a three-day, three-location venue for several hundred guests that was the bat mitzvah for their youngest daughter. Saul and I, with our catering background, were her professional staff. We stopped in Florence, SC, on our trip north at our usual Comfort Inn Suites, and, if anything, found it even better than before with the addition of incredibly comfortable new mattresses and bed linens. We had some interesting travel experiences using Yelp to suss out exceptional restaurants on our journey. In Manning, SC, we happened upon a place (D & H Barbecue) where practically the whole town arrives for the dinner buffet on Tuesdays. Luckily, we were there early. We met Jessica on Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore after checking into the Pikesville, Hilton. We spent the entire afternoon and well into the evening on Wednesday, setting up for the Saturday night event at Har Sinai, a truly exceptional venue. After picking up some last minute items, we dined together at a popular Mexican restaurant in Pikesville, Mezcal, before crashing back at the Hilton in preparation for our long and strenuous day on Thursday.

Between Wednesday, and the beginning of the first festivities on Friday evening (at which Jess, Alex, our three granddaughters, and us were all invited guests, as well) these are some of the things we did: We moved around tables. Wired the tables underneath with blinking fairy lights. Put on tablecloths adding unique hand-made lace and bamboo center fabrics. Alphabetized two sets of place cards, and set up a unique place card frame that Jessica had designed and built. The place cards, which Jess had printed with a unique logo designed just for Danielle, were attached to the ribboned frame with mini wooden clothespins. Jess also used the logo as part of an infinity symbol printed on tee-shirts that were given out as party favors. On Saturday afternoon, the place cards were held by full-size clothespins. Folded and sealed with ribbon almost 150 cloth napkins. Assembled the centerpieces, which involved filling large, tall glass jars with gravel, anchoring large manzanita branches in them using sections of pool noodles, hanging the branches with clear, wired, glass, globe-shaped tea light holders. Arranged the napkins on the tables based on the number of chairs at each table for which Jess had a schematic. Moved a heavy door on a stand to its location at the entryway which had a giraffe painted on it. For a few generations, everyone who dined with the host family was measured for height and received a mark next to the giraffe. Jessica covered the mostly-filled-in door with a layer of clear plastic and provided sharpies so that the guests would be able to create a unique sign-in board. Also at the entry were a unique receptacle for receiving envelopes, signs that Jess made to direct adults and kids into different places for the cocktail hour, and a display that illustrated the mitzvah project Danielle had done for Ronald McDonald House. We moved large artificial trees onto the corners of the dance floor, strung them with fairy lights, and connected them at the tops with strings of star-shaped, color-changing solar lights. Saul got on the internet to figure out how to change up-lights that Jess had rented for the walls from colors to white. (Remember from science class that white light is the result of combining all the colors?) Saul and I made 34 brown paper cylinders wrapped in elaborate wire-edged ribbon to house the lush flowered plants that Jess had purchased as centerpieces for the venue at Chizuk Emuno on Friday evening, and Saturday afternoon. Created an amenity basket for the ladies room that thoughtfully included ear plugs for the loud music which were appreciated by many of the guests, including some of the teenagers. Prepared a basket to hold brightly-printed cotton socks for the kids. Created a lit path to highlight the proper entryway into the building by wrapping a bannister with fairy lights. Wrapped 13 multi-wicked, beeswax havdallah candles with foil holders so that hot wax would not injure anyone during the intimate havdallah service on Saturday. Before the party on Saturday evening, Saul and I lit and placed all the tea lights, electric tea lights, and firefly jars, and Izzy turned on all the under-tablecloth fairy lights. The DJ had lights as well that kept the ceiling over the dance floor twinkling all evening.

We were very busy, but incredibly pleased with the results of our labors. Saul and I were extremely impressed with Jessica’s creativity and preparedness for this marathon weekend. From our point of view as guests, we loved all the other arrangements that had been made. Friday evening began with services, outdoors in Chizuk Amuno’s atrium, led by a young and charming a cappella group accompanied on this occasion by guitar and keyboard. The small Shabbat dinner was intimate and all the dishes at the buffet which included fish, fowl and vegetarian entrees, prepared by the in-house caterer, were delicious. The service on Saturday morning contained many poignant moments for the family as Danielle chanted her Torah and Haftarah portions flawlessly. Saul and I also were delighted to be in the company of our family once more for this occasion. The luncheon buffet for almost 250 people, was, again, beautiful and delicious. The caterer was masterful in keeping the easily accessible buffet stations around the room looking meticulous and being supplied constantly with items that were appropriately hot or cold throughout the serving period. Even the bagels were warm on the buffet after an hour had passed. One of the desserts was hand-scooped ice-cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies. The potential was there for a melted mess, but with the efficiency of the caterer, this never happened. The a cappella group provided music during the luncheon, and charmingly went from table to table (a la gypsy violinists or Mariachi bands), taking requests. At the end of the luncheon, Jessica recruited us to deliver some of the floral centerpieces to the golf club where a Sunday morning brunch was scheduled for the family. By Saturday evening, after resting for a very short period, most of the work was done except for lighting everything. The food at the gala event was exceptional. Among other hors d’oeuvres, Saul and I practically gorged on mini Peking duck crepes and not-so-mini herb-crusted lamb chops. Izzy came over from the kids’ buffet to sit with us and check out what the adults were eating. Her curiosity and tastes in food are way beyond the usual teenager. Fifty teens and children were present, mostly seated at the head table that ran practically the length of the large room. The dance floor was hopping at all times. Almost all (including some of the adults) took advantage of a professionally-run photo booth activity next to the dance floor.

My girls all looked beautiful and we had a great time. We tried to linger to help Jessica break down and pack up some of the paraphernalia. Alex left right after dessert with Sami and Yona (who was already asleep). He was leaving early on Sunday morning with Sami and Yona so that he could attend a ball game while Sami babysat. Izzy came back to the hotel with us when Jess sent us off. Jess stayed until about 1:00 a.m. and, along with the staff, was able to do most of the packing. Although we had been planning to leave really early on Sunday morning to drive back to Florida, we stayed, at her request, to clean up the final packing business, until 10:30 a.m. At that point, we began our drive back to Florida, and she and Izzy went off to the brunch at the golf club.

Although we were tired, we both felt great about the weekend and physically good. We decided to drive as far as we could and stop only if we felt it would be a hardship to continue, or bad weather intervened. Because it was relatively early on a Sunday, the DC traffic was creeping instead of at a standstill, and I located a really great restaurant in Fredericksburg, as we were getting really hungry and we were past the bulk of the traffic. We thought we were going for dim sum, but Peter Chang’s turned out to be a truly different Szechuan restaurant with dishes we had never seen before. We were incredibly impressed with the dishes that we ordered and are sorry that it is so far away. We would go out of our way to eat there again, but not 850 miles! Thus fortified, we were able to drive the entire way home with just the snacks we carried in the car and a quick late night breakfast at Cracker Barrel in Pooler, Georgia, arriving home about 2:30 a.m. The thought of sleeping in our own bed after a week of motel mattresses spurred us on. Our friend Larry, had set out for our house the day before so that he could be present for the settlement on his new home nearby on Tuesday. He arrived a few hours before us and was asleep when we came in. He left his cute, little, red, two-seater convertible in our garage to await the time he will actually be moving in, probably September or October.

On Monday, we did a walk-through of the house, and attended the first of Epcot’s Tribute Band Summer Concert Series—“Sounds Like Summer.” The name of the band was DSB, and it was a tribute to “Journey.” They were actually quite good, and on a Monday evening, it was like having a live band personally performing for you. The next morning, the three of us had breakfast together at Keke’s Café in Clermont. Larry couldn’t wait to eat at this exclusively-Florida chain again. We finished about 45-minutes early, so we dropped Larry at the title company, just a minutes away, and Saul and I spent a few minutes returning some clothing I had bought to nearby BJs. By the time we got to the settlement on time, Larry and the agent had almost finished all the paperwork early. When the realtor arrived on time, there was perhaps another 5 minutes to totally finish up. The whole process went without a hitch. Ken and Randi came over to swim in the afternoon and we made a reservation to have dinner at The Grand Floridian Café and hopefully watch The Magic Kingdom fireworks from the terrace by the lagoon. Larry had never been to The Grand Floridian. Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and we left as a giant thunderstorm seemed to be moving in our direction. Although the settlement went without a hitch, taking care of details like meeting Verizon for internet service and the alarm company to transfer service, Comcast service and postal service, and photographing the contents of the house, ate up most of Larry’s time on Wednesday. On our way back from the post office for Polk County, we stopped into a relatively new restaurant near our house, Ovations, which was highly rated on Yelp. We were lucky enough to be there on “Wine Wednesday.” A free bottle of Sycamore Lane wine in a choice of merlot, cabernet, pinot noire, chardonnay, etc. came with the purchase of two entrees. The waitress brought us four sample glasses and we chose the cab, which was quite good. Our food was wonderful as well, and beautifully presented. It was good enough that we would go back again, even without the free bottle of wine. That same Wednesday, Ari was in Copenhagen for business, just for the day! Even with his limited time, he was able to take some amazing photos around the city.

On Thursday, before Larry flew home from Orlando Airport, we all went to see some magnificent samples of homes that are being constructed nearby in a large development called Windsor at Westside. From the airport, Saul and I drove to Costco to get some provisions for Friday night and the weekend. Friday, Saul and I took the long drive to the Davenport Post Office again to check into some missing checks that we discovered had been written, but not cashed. We had no luck tracing them. We stopped at a farm stand on the way back and picked up a tremendously sweet large seedless watermelon, corn-on-the-cob, and some other produce for Shabbat dinner. We went to Hollywood Studios on Saturday night to catch some of the last of the five weekends of “Star Wars.” We were hoping to catch the presentation with Frank Oz, but it was so hot and the waiting line so overcrowded, that when we were told we would probably not get in, we gave up and went home. We came back a little later to view the show and fireworks, and were so impressed that we returned for the last performance the following evening.

Lauren, a colleague of Saul’s who had been here a few months ago, and was traveling to Disney’s Fort Wilderness to vacation with her husband, four children, and two dogs with a pop-up camper in tow, texted to say that they had had a blowout on the road, but all were safe. The experience, along with a heat stroke episode with her youngest son, delayed their arrival and put a damper on much of the rest of their trip. We did, however, manage to spend a few wonderful evenings with them. We had dinner together at Sweet Tomatoes, drove to Disney’s Boardwalk, where we watched a street performer, toured some of the Boardwalk resorts, watched the fireworks over Epcot, and in the same evening took the boat ride to Hollywood Studios where the “Frozen” fireworks had begun. We discovered a comfy bench outside the park where the view of the fireworks was spectacular. On another evening, we met them at Animal Kingdom Lodge, where they enjoyed watching the wildlife on display and seeing the two magnificent resorts there, Kidani Village and Jambo House. From there, we all crammed into our Pilot and surprised them with the nitrogen ice cream at Abracadabra. The kids loved it, even though the weather was very rainy and they were not able to bounce in the multiple amusements that reside in the back. Viewing a gorgeous sunset as the rain began to subside, we picked up their van back at Animal Kingdom Lodge and Lauren followed us to The Grand Floridian. We shared light sandwiches at Gasparilla Grill at outdoor tables on the terrace and watched the Magic Kingdom “Wishes” fireworks together. The family was able to get the necessary repairs made on their camper during the week, so their trip back home the next day, went relatively smoothly.

While we were entertaining Lauren’s family, another family was being hosted by Ken and Randi. Rich and Sandy were kind enough to lend us (and Ari) the use of their two-bedroom condo near Universal Studios, for two weeks, two years ago when we were meeting with contractors in advance of moving into our home. Originally, we met them through Ken and Randi, who, over many years, as neighbors and business associates, had developed a very close and personal relationship with them and their two daughters. Rich had made the arrangements from Kuwait for us to use their condo, as he was spending extended periods there and in other countries abroad on business. In my last conversation with him from there, he told me how excited he was to be coming home soon, as his daughter was about ready to deliver his first grandson and he planned to spend more time in the States from now on so that he could spend time getting to know him. Shockingly, right after he returned, but shortly before his daughter gave birth, he had a heart attack. At the hospital, they thought they had repaired whatever damage had occurred, but apparently they missed some bleeding in the heart behind where they had repaired it and he died suddenly. Needless to say, the family was completely devastated, as were Ken and Randi, and all the rest of us who knew them. As Father’s Day approached, Sandy’s girls, Cheryl and Karen, arranged a girls’ getaway vacation in the condo so that their mom would not be alone and they could have some fun together. This past weekend, Saul and I met them, along with Ken and Randi (who had dinner with them the previous evening at Blue Zoo) on Saturday evening, after they had spent the day at Epcot. The “U2” tribute band was performing their last set of concerts Saturday evening. We only caught a few minutes of their concert because the sporadic rain and thunderstorms had caused a delay, and we decided to have dinner nearby in the Wine Bar in “Italy.” Afterward, we watched the fireworks over Epcot from the boat at the International Gate as we chugged over to Hollywood Studios to our now favorite bench to watch the Frozen fireworks. It was, again, a delightful and spectacular evening that we all spent together.

I used the occasion to invite everyone to have Sunday brunch with us and spend the afternoon in the pool, before they were departing. Saul and I awoke early, went to the nearby Publix to pick up extra provisions, and came home to prepare everything. Ken and Randi came over a bit later to help get the brunch ready, and the timing worked out beautifully. The weather cooperated and we had a relaxing afternoon schmoozing in the pool together while sipping Champagne cocktails that Randi prepared. Eventually, Karen and Sandy drove themselves to Orlando airport for their flight home, amid promises that they would come and visit again soon. The rest of us had a hasty Father’s Day dinner with Cheryl at Johnny’s Hideaway on the way to drop her at Orlando airport for her flight back to Chicago. From there, we decided to stop at Ken and Randi’s before heading off to Epcot for the first Billy Joel tribute band concert, but we all ran out of steam by that point. Ken was unwilling to give up the idea of ice cream at Abracadabra, however, so we all headed off there for a Father’s Day treat on the longest day of the year, the summer solstice.

One week from tomorrow, our girls are due to arrive to begin our summer of Camp Bubbie and Saba. The photos we have been receiving of their end-of-school-year activities leave us feeling very far away. We can’t wait to see them in person! Jessica is flying in with them on July 1. She is leaving on July 4, after which she and Alex will be vacationing together for a week at an RCI resort in Williamsburg, VA. After that, she managed to find a reasonable flight to London. In honor of her 40th birthday, which took place at the end of March, she will join her brother for a three-week vacation in London, and together, they are hoping spend a few days visiting Paris, and perhaps Santorini. Also during the summer, Erica has plans to come for a visit with us. Brenna and Ava will be staying with us, too, at that time, and we will be sending Brenna back by plane a week after Erica leaves. In the meantime, I keep wandering into the girls rooms (which are usually closed off) in great anticipation of the coming summer!