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!

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