Monday, February 1, 2016

An Extravaganza of Parties, Pools, Fantasy, Food, and Warm Fuzzy Feelings

Saul and I tried to take it easy in the week leading up to the arrival of our many guests in December, with pedicures, sleeping in, and long strolls in the parks, but we were just so psyched to see everybody and, at this point I think, addicted to fun. We wanted to make sure that everyone would have as much fun as we did in the preceding months and so, in-between our rest periods, we spent a lot of time in preparation, gathering together all we would need so that we could relax and enjoy along with our guests. What a luxury to be able, in our retirement, to have the health and resources to do this!

Our friend Larry needed to go to Winter Garden to see about a glitch in his furniture order. We accompanied him there on the first Sunday after everyone left and discovered, thanks to Yelp, an out-of-the-way, but locally revered, restaurant that served a mean breakfast—Dixie Cream Café, definitely a place to which we will return. The next day, gathering some supplies at Lowe’s, we photoed an SUV that could probably exist in only a handful of places in the world. The photo alone will do it justice. Suffice it to say that fantasy and whimsy are alive and thriving where we live! Returning to Hollywood Studios for our Monday evening walk, we were finally able to see the 9-minute preview of the new Star Wars movie without huge waiting lines and check out what they had done with the building renovation when we could view it without throngs of people milling around. It was much more enjoyable that way, a fun evening! We walked back to the Boardwalk from there (about a mile and a quarter) and discovered a new (for us) hotel pool complex and a great shortcut to the Boardwalk hotel where we parked. The next day, we parked at The Grand Floridian and hopped the monorail to the Magic Kingdom for our evening stroll. On the way back, we stopped at The Contemporary Hotel to view the fourth Disney huge gingerbread construction and purchase the fourth of the limited edition gingerbread pins for the girls as a belated Chanukah present. Beth arrived in Orlando that evening, but was picked up by her former mother-in-law, Sandra, at the airport and whisked back to The Villages to spend a couple of days with her parents. Before Beth (the first of our guests for the holidays) arrived, Saul and I spent the afternoon and evening in our pool, finally satisfied that we were ready to welcome everyone, and determined to rest, relax and enjoy ourselves as family and friends began to arrive.

We took our friend, Larry, to the airport to fly back to Philly for a weekend wedding on December 17. As we returned, Adele and Larry A. dropped off Beth and visited for while before returning home. That evening, we went with Beth and Ken and Randi to the Grand Floridian to watch the Very Merry Christmas Party fireworks over the Magic Kingdom from the outdoor terrace. We also enjoyed an a cappella group that was caroling in front of the huge Christmas tree in the magnificent lobby of the hotel. Even more serendipitous, as we strolled around the grounds and wandered over to the nearby Wedding Pavilion, we found it open and accessible. We had been curious about the interior for several years and finally had a chance to really explore the facility. The interior was pretty, but a bit of a disappointment compared to some of the other awesome interiors we have experienced at Disney World. Early on Friday morning, we met Ken and Randi for breakfast at Nikko’s Egg City. Ken had arranged for us all to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens in IMAX 3D at the new Cinépolis Polk County theater. Even though it is the closest theater to our home, we had not yet been there, and we were thrilled to find that the facility is state-of-the-art. The feature itself was very entertaining, although not quite as satisfying as the reviewers made it sound. I would see it again. We returned home afterward to start preparing Shabbat dinner, Beth’s choice. Her choices included braided rainbow bread, caprese salad, cod lamaize, and chocolate crepes with vanilla custard sauce. Ken and Randi joined us for dinner. Ari arrived from London on Saturday evening, the same evening that Sami left for Israel with her Confirmation class. Beth accompanied us to Orlando airport to pick up Ari and, after the four of us initially went to the wrong restaurant, we finally found the nearby one where we had previously dined with Ken and Randi, Nona Blue. We had a delicious, if somewhat chilly and noisy, meal on a tented patio warmed only by overhead heat lamps. A large party of firemen and their wives/dates seated at the table next to us had some of the loudest and most obnoxious drunks in their party that I have ever witnessed. After they left, we were able to actually have a conversation and enjoy all of the small plates we shared.

Sunday was awesome! We began with dim sum at Lam’s Garden, checking off one of Ari’s to-do’s in the States. This was supposed to be a prelude to shopping at the outlet malls, since Ari has lost about 50 lbs. in the last few months and has gone from an extra-large to a medium size. But, this was the last Sunday before Christmas, and I was trying mightily to convince him and Beth that the size of the crowds in Orlando’s outlets would be unimaginable to them. I diverted them into checking out the nearby Fashion Square Mall after breakfast. They were unimpressed until we decided to check out Dillard’s there. We discovered that this particular Dillard’s is entirely a close-out store for all the others in the area. Racks and racks of designer clothing were marked down 75% and then 50% more was taken off at the register. I bought almost an entire new wardrobe that I adore. Beth and Ari bought a number of items also and were very pleased with them as well. We spent so much time there that we didn’t have time or inclination for the outlet malls right before Christmas. We did, however, stop at Costco on the way home so that Ari could buy his obligatory 4-lb. canister of Jelly Bellys for his office mates in London. That evening, we parked at The Beach Club, and the four of us had a buffet seafood dinner at The Cape May Café, a Disney restaurant that we had been wanting to try for a few years. It was very good, and a good value. I ordered my first Moscow Mule there, but was disappointed that it was not served in the iconic copper mug. It was also very sweet, although sweetened with lower-glycemic agave syrup. It was okay, but I had nothing previous with which to compare it. After dinner, we walked for miles around the Boardwalk lagoon, viewing the Epcot IllumiNations fireworks followed immediately by Epcot’s special Christmas fireworks from the Yacht Club’s lighthouse. Eventually, we walked to Hollywood Studios and back. On the way, we had a great view of the Star Wars fireworks there. As I said, an awesome day!

On Monday, December 21, Ari wanted to have a breakfast with authentic Southern grits. I had been raving about how the best grits ever were at Nikko’s Egg City. We drove for a half hour south to get there, and to our famished disappointment, discovered it was closed on Mondays. I had the brilliant idea to travel even further south to the Dundee Diner, but the breakfast was pretty ordinary and the grits were very disappointing. Ari said he would rather have traveled back to nearby Cracker Barrel for breakfast. Later, Beth and Ari had a bonding day getting pedicures, having lunch, checking out local real estate open houses. We picked up Larry at the airport that afternoon. Then, together with Larry, we deliciously checked off another to-do on Ari’s list by having dinner at The Tasting Room at the Edgewater Hotel in Winter Garden. As usual, it did not disappoint. After dinner we went back to Larry’s home so that Beth and Ari could see what he had done with the place and to check out Susan’s new home before the first renters arrived. While there, Saul received a call from our next door neighbors that Kim had been in a fender-bender near Summer Bay. They asked if we were available to pick her up and deposit her at home so she could feed her dogs and let them out. We obliged, leaving Ari and Beth at Larry’s. He encouraged them to take his red Mercedes convertible for the rest of their visit and they met us at home.

Early on Tuesday morning, December 22, we picked up Alex, Jess, Izzy and Yona from Orlando airport. Returning home, we all had an elaborate lox and bagel breakfast. We were joined, as we were finishing up, by Rif and her friend, Alice, who had driven up from Alice and her husband Gary’s home in Wellington, Florida. In another serendipitous turn of events, Alice had invited Rif, a few days earlier, to share a drive down to Florida from New Jersey to deliver a fragile piece of sculpture. She and her husband were then leaving for a pre-arranged cruise over the holidays. After they ate and we cleaned up after breakfast, Alice and Rif decided that they would like to go shopping in Orlando. I told them about the Dillard’s clearance store and Saul and I offered to lead them there, taking two cars so we could return to the kids quickly. The store would be difficult to find even with a G.P.S. We thought the round trip would take about two hours, but we encountered the worst traffic we have ever seen in Orlando. We were actually gone about four hours and worse, when they arrived, most of the merchandise had been thoroughly picked over. Happily, Izzy joined us for the long drive, so we had a great time catching up with her life in the last few months. The other kids didn’t miss us much, as they spent several hours in the pool on a gorgeous day and Yona got to be an “only” for awhile. Ari and Beth disappeared after breakfast, enjoying tooling around Orlando in the red convertible and shopping. Later that day, when everyone returned, we all had dinner at Sweet Tomatoes, except Alice, who decided to drive back to Wellington that night. Having arisen in the wee hours of the morning to fly here, the girls were practically falling asleep during dinner and couldn’t wait to be tucked into their waiting beds.

Before dawn on Wednesday, December 23, Ari, Beth, Alex and Jess arose to play their pre-scheduled round at Disney’s Magnolia golf course. They grabbed travel mugs of coffee, and tea and snacks to get them through the morning. Izzy (ever the early riser), shortly after they left initiated the new waffle iron that Beth had sent us. Those of us left behind had pumpkin waffles with maple syrup and whipped cream, frozen homemade strawberry/banana smoothies, and steamed oatmeal with berries. While the others spent several hours golfing and then went to lunch, Saul, Rif and I spent the time in the pool with the girls. In the afternoon, when all had returned, we went for a drive to Abracadabra so that we could introduce Alex, Beth, and Ari to the experience of nitrogen ice cream. Ken and Randi stopped over in the late afternoon with their house guests, Randi’s niece Stacey, her husband Shawn, and their two boys. They had come to see our house and so that the kids could meet and play together. We couldn’t decide on a restaurant for dinner that would satisfy all of us and feared that we would not be able to get a reservation for such a large number, so we decided to meet later, after dinner. Since the evening weather was delightful, we were able to snag two adjacent outdoor tables at Big River Grill at Disney’s Boardwalk. Their group wound up at Blue Zoo in the nearby Dolphin Hotel. While we were waiting for dinner, Izzy and Alex went to play carnival games just across the boardwalk from where we were seated and Izzy won. She chose a sock monkey as her prize. As we were finishing up dinner, our waiter offered to take her across for a different game and had an “in” with the cast member in charge. Together, they won her a light saber. Also while we were waiting, Rif went with the girls to watch some of the clever street performers on the Boardwalk. When Ken’s party met us as our dinner was ending, Stacey and Shawn were anxious to get on the road to spend a few days at Stacey’s mother’s new home in southern Florida. The boys did not have time to spend trying to win a light saber like Izzy’s and, when she realized how much they admired it, she magnanimously offered it to them to keep. We are all so impressed with Izzy’s generosity of spirit. She started life as a very self-absorbed child, but has turned into the most amazing, sensitive, empathetic, and intelligent eleven year old. We headed for home after viewing Epcot’s fireworks from the Boardwalk.

We spent a leisurely day together on December 24, as it was Beth’s last day with us before she was due to fly home to Arizona that afternoon. Ten of us had breakfast at Keke’s Café in Clermont. While everyone hung out at the pool afterwards, a few hours later, Saul and I headed off to deliver Beth to Orlando Airport. As evening fell, we met the rest of the gang for dinner at a vegetarian Chinese restaurant in Winter Garden, Garden Café, which was a first time for us, but oft to be repeated I believe. Since we were nine people, along with Larry S., we were able to try many of the dishes on the menu. The Yin-yang soup, which was particularly photogenic, was okay, but it was overshadowed by the other two we ordered, shark’s fin and velvet corn. Especially wonderful was a curried lamb dish… with vegetarian lamb, of course. Although the portions were quite large and we all ate until we were full, the bill was very modest especially considering that these dishes are very labor-intensive. We divided up differently into the two cars in which we arrived because Larry, Rif, Ari, Alex and Jess wanted to see Star Wars. Unfortunately, we later discovered that when they arrived at the theater, they found the movie was sold out. By the time they arrived back home, Saul and I had put the girls to bed and were asleep ourselves.

Christmas Day fell on Friday this year, so it was a perfect opportunity to prepare an elaborate Shabbat dinner and begin preparing some make-aheads for our New Year’s Eve Party. Jess and Alex and the girls headed off early to Universal Studios to meet friends of theirs, Jill and Jeff, who were here in Orlando vacationing with their three girls. Much of the dinner came from the freezer as I had put things aside over the last few months that I knew that the girls would like. We had chicken soup with homemade dumplings and matzoh balls that the girls had made over the summer. With a lot of help from Rif and Saul, I made a pareve version of my Magic Rainbow Braided Bread, leaving out the parmesan cheese. We also made two pies, lemon meringue and crumb-topped apple cranberry. I used coconut oil in place of the usual margarine that I use when making a pareve pie crust and the two crusts turned out flaky and even more flavorful. Also pulled from the freezer was a tray of sliced, smoked turkey in gravy. Leftover from Thanksgiving dinner was my cranberry apple chutney. I made guacamole and chips, fresh spinach salad with warm sesame dressing, and black and white rice. The kids returned from Universal shortly before sunset, and as we kindled the Shabbat candles, I felt an awesome sense of joy and contentment because I was experiencing one of those now-very-rare occasions where my whole family was here together enjoying good times and good food. Sami was missing and greatly missed, but we all were consoled knowing that she was having a great time in Israel on her Confirmation Class trip.

Saturday, December 26, was an absolutely beautiful, warm Florida day. We had a leisurely lox and bagels breakfast together, spent the afternoon by our pool swimming and snacking, and had a Shabbat nap in the afternoon. After dinner and havdallah, we all headed for Epcot. We parked at The Beach Club, and strolled to the International Gate, where Ari bought Rif and Alex “Epcot After Four” annual passes as belated Chanukah/birthday presents. Jill and Jeff were staying at The Beach Club, and we all were able to meet up together and enjoy some of the park’s delights, such as margaritas from La Cava del Tequila in Mexico, beer from Germany, the Three Caballeros boat ride, Soarin’, the Candlelight Processional, and IllumiNations, among others. As the park closed, we drifted back to The Beach Club lobby to schmooze for a while, inhaling the luscious perfumed scent of the hotel mingled with the scent of gingerbread spices from the huge gingerbread carousel with its white and dark chocolate horses.

On Sunday, December 27, Rif and Alex relaxed by the pool in the afternoon, while Saul, Jess, Ari and I took the girls to The Magic Kingdom. We arrived in time to view the Christmas Parade coming down Main Street. Yona befriended a Victorian-costumed cast member, a middle-aged lady who told me she had been working at Disney for 16 years. She stood guard over Yona allowing her to view the parade unobstructed from a walkway (a big no-no at Disney), and shooed away all other employees who tried to get them to move. Jess and Ari took Izzy on Space Mountain a few times with our Fast Passes, while we occupied Yona with some of the more tame rides and activities that she likes. We had an amazing afternoon! In the evening, taking advantage of the “Epcot After Four” memberships, we all went there and divided up into three groups. Jess went with the girls to meet their friends, Jill and Jeff and their kids; Ari and Alex went off in search of booze; and Saul, Rif and I met Ken and Randi at the Candlelight Processional concert. After the concert, Saul, Rif and I took the Friendship Cruiser over to the Dolphin Hotel and had a bite to eat in the lounge at Blue Zoo. There, I had a more authentic Russian Mule that was served in the iconic copper mug, and it was not sweetened. It is fast becoming my new favorite cocktail. We had been on our way to see the Star Wars fireworks, but we were too tired to stick around to view them at midnight. Eventually, we walked back to The Beach Club, met the others, and headed for home.

On Ari’s last full day here, Monday, December 28, we finally felt it was safe and long enough after Christmas to approach Orlando’s Prime Outlet Mall. We were wrong! I went shopping along with Ari, Jess and Alex while Saul and Rif stayed home by the pool with the girls. We spent almost 45 minutes just riding around and around the enormous parking lot, stalking shoppers who were leaving to see if we could find a parking spot, but being beaten out by other stalkers who were there before us; and all this with a handicapped sticker at our disposal, too! Because of the vast number of stores, we found the shopping only moderately crowded and frenzied. Ari was able to find almost everything he wanted to take back to London, in part, because we were mostly shopping in the higher end stores, such as Brooks Brothers and Saks. Jess was able to find some good buys for Alex, too, so we went back satisfied with our afternoon efforts. On our way home, we decided to meet Ken and Randi; Rif, Saul and the girls; and Larry S. at the new Manny’s Chop House that had just opened on U.S. 192 near our homes. We switched cars, putting the child seat into the Prius so that Jess and Alex could continue on to Epcot to meet their friends and graze for dinner there. Our dinner at Manny’s was a fiasco in many ways, beginning with our call-ahead reservation not being registered, a rude receptionist, and a long wait for a table. After that, we all squeezed into a small booth with three of us on outside chairs. They were out of the one dish that Ken always orders. Larry’s dinner came long after the others. All the steaks that were ordered had to be sent back because they were horribly overcooked and they messed up the side dishes as well. The owner of the restaurant eventually came over to apologize and, along with offering us all a free dessert, she comped us for some of the bill. Rif was especially happy with her slice of key lime pie. After dinner, we met up with the others at Epcot. That night, while Saul went to see the new Pixar Shorts where Captain Eo used to be, Rif, Ari and I went on Soarin’ for the last time. It has now closed for renovation. The others watched the fireworks. We all met back at The Beach Club where we had again parked for the evening. We said goodbye to Jill and Jeff there as their family was going home the next day.

On the morning of December 29, Saul, Rif, Ari and I finally went to Egg City for breakfast, and Ari agreed that their grits were the best he had ever had. We went home to help him pack his stuff for the trip back to London. We decided to stop at the International Food Club on our way back from the airport as it was not that far out of our way and Rif had been wanting to see it. Jess and Alex and the girls met us there after their day at Universal. We arrived in the parking lot at exactly the same time. Shopping with separate carts, we had to be careful not to duplicate each other’s purchases. We were able to find some great foodstuffs to prepare for our New Year’s Eve party. Rif left with Alex and Jess for home, while we headed to Garden Café to pick up an order of vegetarian Chinese that Jessica ordered as they were heading home. The order was almost ready by the time Saul and I arrived. We weren’t sure how the food would be after the 45-minute, traffic-laden trip home, but it was just as good as the dinner on Christmas Eve and we had the added benefit of being able to just relax and put the girls to bed afterwards.

The weather was iffy on the thirtieth, and we wanted to be able to relax and enjoy our party, so most of the prep was done a day ahead. Working together, we were able to produce a prodigious amount of really beautiful food, much more than we thought we would need for the party, but we managed to either eat or freeze the leftovers so that nothing went to waste. Our party food included deviled eggs, spanakopitakia, falafel, Israeli salad, puttanesca-stuffed artichoke bottoms and trumpet mushroom “scallops” topped with baked mozzarella pearls, potato latkes with sour cream and applesauce, assorted cheese board with grapes and kumquats, dolmas with hummus, guacamole with multigrain chips, crudités, pepper and eggplant salads, pasta shells with satay sauce, winter pasta with butter, masala potatoes with dosas, gingerbread, sweet potato cake, carob sheet cake squares, chocolate mousse crepes, mince pies from London’s Waitrose supermarket, pizzelles, homemade peanut butter cookies, halvah, chocolate-covered pecans, assorted nuts, and almond joy candy bars left over from Halloween. That evening, we had a yummy Mexican dinner at Aye! Jalisco and managed to put away two large pitchers of margaritas. Even so, after dinner we were able to continue cooking for several hours… and without cutting off any fingers!

On December 31, Jess and Alex took the girls to Universal Studios early, where they met other friends, Adam and Alex and their three children who were vacationing here. The five of them were invited guests to our party that evening, as were our Florida friends, Jelly, John, and their daughter, Olivia. Larry S. joined us also. Ken and Randi celebrated at The Grand Floridian Café with their guests, Neil and Paula and Randi’s sister Lori and her husband, Jules. Adele and Larry were supposed to join us also, but Adele wasn’t feeling well that afternoon and Larry called to cancel. They were supposed to sleep over at Larry S.’s home that evening, as all our beds were full. Working with Rif and Saul, I fried up beautiful and delicious falafel right after breakfast. In the afternoon, we made gingerbread and royal icing so that the six kids would have a project to occupy them—assembling and decorating a gingerbread house and gingerbread people and teddy bears. We need not have worried, as the evening was warm enough for the pool and the kids had a blast swimming and playing in it for a few hours. Jess was concerned about getting back early from the park in order to help prepare for the party, but all worked out well, and I encouraged them to stay as everything was under control. For dessert, the older girls assembled the most incredibly imaginative gingerbread house that they decorated to look like Hagrid’s house, inspired by their trip to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts at Universal Studios. The younger ones had a great time decorating and eating the cookies. The grownups relaxed with with beer, wine and cocktails while keeping an eye on the little ones. All the kids were still up at midnight when we watched the ball drop, had champagne with peach sorbet, and blew our noisemakers. I only hope the whole year goes by as smoothly, easily, and filled with fun as our party did this year.

On New Year’s Day, Saul and I, and even Izzy, slept a bit later than usual. When Saul and I upgraded our iPhones to 6Ses, we gave our old ones to Izzy and Sami. Jess ordered a new case for each of them, and the back of Izzy’s case was a Lego board. We awoke to find that she had given new meaning to the term “mobile phone” as she made it into a vehicle with her mini Legos. Jess and Alex went off before dawn to play a very early, nine-hole, scheduled round of golf at the more difficult Palm Course. The early, nine-hole schedule was supposed to include breakfast, but they discovered that no vegetarian options were available to them. Subsequently, when Jess called about the glitch, a manager called them shortly after from a wedding on his day off to apologize profusely and offered them another complimentary round of golf with a vegetarian breakfast. Unfortunately, they never had the opportunity to take advantage of the offer. When they returned, Saul, Jess, Izzy, Yona and I headed for Hollywood Studios. Jess had set up Fast Passes several days earlier for some of the rides and for the Frozen Sing-Along. Yona did not want to see the new Star Wars pavilion and we had to practically drag her in. Once inside, she was absolutely charmed by the rather scary-looking Jawa creatures roaming around. Each carried a sack that contained scavenged items from other visitors. Without any verbal exchange, Yona made a deal to swap one of her Mickey Mouse stickers for a new rain poncho. Then she traded another sticker for a birthday hat. Izzy traded a transportation card for a paper clip, and then went to another Jawa to trade it for an eraser. Once Yona realized what was going on, she would have spent the entire afternoon there trading stuff with the Jawas. Having leftovers from our party proved to be a great boon, because we were able to stay at the park for several hours and still get home in time to set up Shabbat dinner, especially because I made the magic rainbow challahs which don’t require as much rising time as the regular ones. Saul and I had a wonderful evening enjoying Shabbat dinner with Ken and Randi, Larry S., Neil and Paula, Rif, Ari, Jess, Alex, Izzy and Yona.

On Saturday morning, January 2, Jess, Izzy, and Yona spent the morning categorizing and rearranging the pin board in her room so that there was a Mickey Mouse configuration in the center, and room for more pin collections. Saul and I babysat that evening so that Rif and Larry S. and Jess and Alex could all go to see the new Star Wars movie at Universal Studios City Walk. Following the movie, they had dinner and drinks at Margaritaville. Sami flew back from Israel that evening, arriving the next morning. We arranged a “movie night” at home for the girls and put them to bed early.

Our next door neighbors, Paul and Kim had invited us over to see their Christmas trees (plural), and we finally had a quiet day to take them up on their offer. Their three trees each had a different motif and the girls really enjoyed seeing them and playing with their two dogs. We had lunch at Sweet Tomatoes that afternoon. We went to Epcot that evening to see the fireworks.

On January 4, Rif lounged at home, while Jess, Alex, Saul, the girls, and I took advantage of our annual passes to The Crayola Experience at the Florida Mall. We spent a few delightful hours there and then decided to have lunch. Not finding anything suitable at the mall (a new conveyor belt sushi place was a week away from opening), we tried to have lunch at Garden Café, but found it closed on Mondays. Because of this, we made another great vegetarian discovery. Not 10 minutes away was Dandelion Communitea Café. Although the day was a bit chilly, the garden setting was so charming that we decided to sit at one of the outdoor tables. The food was well-prepared, imaginative, and reasonable. We were delighted to add this place to our repertoire. We stopped at Costco on our way back to Epcot so that Jess and Yona could use the bathroom, and wisely, I ran in and bought a fleece coat so that I wouldn’t be cold as the temperature was about to drop drastically when the sun set. Larry S. picked up Rif and we met at the Boardwalk Hotel for a wonderful evening at Epcot. Yona was cold as the evening wore on because her jacket was too light, so Saul, Rif and I decided to have fish and chips in The Rose and Crown in “England.” That way, we would be out of the cold and still have a good vantage point for the fireworks. As it turned out, Yona was invited by a waitress there to kick off the fireworks with a magic wand from the outdoor deck right below us. She even was presented with an official certificate to remind her of the rare occasion. By then, Larry, Jess, Alex, and Izzy, who had eaten their fish and chips outdoors on the patio next door, had joined us inside. This was the last full day of our vacation as Jess, Alex, and the girls were leaving before dawn the following morning.

After dropping them off at Orlando International, Saul and I drove directly home and climbed back into bed, sleeping until almost noon. Later that afternoon, Larry came with Adele and his bridge partner, whom he introduced to us, before leaving Adele here so that he could play in a several-day-long bridge tournament near Disney Springs. That evening, we took Rif and Adele to Hollywood Studios so that we could all see the beautiful Star Wars fireworks from our bench outside the park.

On Rif’s last day here, the four of us wandered around Disney Springs for a couple of hours. Rif had wanted to return to Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge’s Jambo House after the fantastic meal we had there on her previous visit, and Saul had managed to snag an early reservation for five of us. We had invited Larry S. to join us, but he declined, and as it turned out, the fifth person wound up being Larry A. who called just as we arrived for our reservation. He and his partner had decided to call it quits after the first round and he had cancelled his reservations at his hotel. During dinner, however, she called to request that he return to complete the evening rounds, and he left right after dinner. Lingering over our delectable meals after he left, we decided to proceed on to Epcot to further take advantage of Rif’s “Epcot After Four” annual pass on her last night here. By coincidence, we were able to have a good vantage point for the Star Wars fireworks from a bridge at Epcot that we happened to cross at the right time. After IllumiNations, we returned home, and Larry arrived from his tournament about the same time. The next day, we all had a leisurely breakfast together and Larry and Adele decided to return home shortly before it was time to take Rif to the Airport. That afternoon, the initial work began on our pool when the contractor and his help arrived to remove a section of our pool screen so that equipment could get through.

It took us about three days of laundry and cleaning to get the house back to its pre-vacation state, during which time we tried to catch up with our rest as much as possible. We continue to walk in the parks about every other day and usually put in three to five miles. After about 10 days of unseasonably cold and rainy weather, the work on our pool, spa and deck commenced in earnest as the pool was drained and the guys with sledgehammers, jackhammers, and pickaxes began to remove the concrete on the section of deck where the spa is going in. Ken and Randi went on vacation to Mexico for a long weekend with Haley and Erik and Betsey and Horace, an early special birthday celebration for both Randi and Betsy. They had an awesome time! We attended Rabbi Skolnik’s monthly Tuesday morning class and arranged to meet for lunch at a kosher food truck that is visiting our area from Chicago for two weeks. Saul and I shared a brisket sandwich, baked beans, and coleslaw, which were very good, but very expensive. The rabbi had a chicken sandwich. We had six-month check-ups with our new internist.

This past week was especially exciting because we were treated to a visit from Saul’s first cousins, Abe and Bob. We stay in touch, but haven’t seen them in several years. With impeccable timing, the two flew down from the Philadelphia area right ahead of a massive snowstorm that socked in almost all of the East Coast. Even our weather in Florida was unusually cold and rainy for the time they were here. We picked them up at the airport on Thursday evening. On Friday, the one full day they were here, the weather was truly horrible as predicted. Fortunately, we had a lot of time to just sit around, schmooze, and reminisce. By mid-afternoon, we knew that we would not be going anywhere, and we began to prepare the Tu B’Shevat seder that preceded our Shabbat dinner. Despite the bad weather, we had a wonderful short seder and meal. We were joined by Ken and Randi, and Larry S. Beginning and ending early, we were able to spend a blustery, but clear evening viewing the fireworks at both Hollywood Studios and Epcot by cruising around the lagoon on Disney’s Friendship cruisers. We delivered Abe and Bob to The Orlando Hotel around noon the next day so that they could pick up a rental car to continue their Florida vacation. They were driving down to Miami to meet their brother, Willie and sister, Elaine and her husband, Michael, so that the siblings could spend some quality time together in Willie’s condo. It was really nice seeing them, and we hope they will return soon. In the meantime, we are awaiting the next round of guests in a few days, David and Karen, friends from our teenage years who have just moved to Florida. They are spending two days here and it should be great to revive some of the old memories we shared together many years ago.