Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Keeping Busy and Counting Our Blessings

Click here for additional photos.

So we have now almost come up on a year since our lives have changed drastically. Our last hurrah of 2020 was the celebration of my 70th birthday. We went to Boma at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge for an early reservation at one of our favorite buffet breakfasts of all time. In the evening, Susan made an absolutely wonderful dinner in my honor and we schmoozed the hours away. The next day, I made us all Shabbat dinner and, at the end, announced that, for the first time in my life, I was cancelling our regular Friday night dinners because we were beginning to feel that it was no longer safe to meet and hug, kiss, or socialize in any way. That marked the beginning of our self-isolation on March 6, 2020, and since then, Saul and I have practically not left the house. Believe it or not, I consider all this a great blessing. I was lucky to be able to celebrate my milestone birthday before all the grief set in. We are self-isolating in paradise—both in terms of the weather here in Florida, and the beauty of our spacious home with private swimming pool and hot tub. In addition, we are retired, living on a teacher’s pension and Social Security, and have the luxury of not having to worry about being exposed on the job. Neither do we have to worry about losing a job.

Our children, also, have the luxury of good jobs that allow them to work remotely, permanently. Our grandchildren have been attending their classes remotely as well. We are so blessed, I hardly know how to deal with it.

As usual, there are not enough hours in the day for me. I have been anything but bored. This “so-called” down time has been an unusually productive time for me. These are the activities that take up most of my day:

I am proud to announce that I finally did finish putting my “Bubbie’s Kitchen” book up on-line and I am so pleased with the results. The wonders of blogging allowed me many liberties that were non-existent at the time I wrote the book 35 years ago. I was able to include color photos of the dishes in the book, as well as links to related photos of step-by-step processes, videos, links to outside resources, and internal links within the book so that one only need click on a recipe in the Table of Contents to be taken directly to the desired recipe. No more shuffling through pages! During the preparation, I had the opportunity to revisit and update dishes that I hadn’t prepared in many, many years; such as the Caramel Apples, Apple Honey Cake, Tzimmes, Kreplach, and Kugels. In addition, the original book was envisioned as one of six I was planning to write. To that end, I had researched and prepared quite a few chapters from the other books. My cooking classes at Temple Sinai allowed me to test a number of them with real students in real time. A lot of my time, now, is spent working to get the other five books on-line, which involves test cooking and photographing. I love it! Some of the lessons are accessible now by clicking in the right margin of the Bubbie’s Kitchen blog. I am publishing them piecemeal as I complete each one.

When Haley and Erik moved temporarily to Florida, they brought me my father’s violin, which my brother had paid to refurbish for his granddaughter, who had never used it. After a 55-year hiatus, I have begun taking Zoom violin lessons from Jennifer Christie, a friend of the family, who lives in London and plays second violin for the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra there. Unfortunately, the Orchestra has not had many venues this year, despite taking many precautions to avoid Covid, and has shut down completely now that the lockdown in England has been even more strictly enforced. My heart goes out to musicians who are truly suffering from their inability to make beautiful music together. Jennifer is an absolute delight as a a teacher, and unlike my time as a child when I did everything I could to avoid practicing, I am making an effort to practice every day so as not to disappoint her or myself. The instrument is beginning to feel more comfortable as time wears on.

A large part of my day is spent putting up Daily Love Letters from WWII. As of this writing, I have posted 264 days‘ worth of letters spanning the years from 1941 to, at present, 1944. Without the time afforded to me by this pandemic, those letters would have continued to languish in their boxes as they have for 75 years. Each day, when I awaken, I am excited to see what my parents and their friends and relatives are up to. I have learned so much about them and the rest of the family that I never knew. It has been a revelation!

When the weather is nice, as it often is in Florida, we swim, garden, and go for long walks in the sunshine.

After a hiatus of eight years, we were able to resume taking weekly, Thursday morning Bible classes with Faith Rubin, in Dresher, Pennsylvania. It was a joy to reconnect with friends we hadn’t seen in many years and continue an activity that had been a part of my life for almost 20 years prior.

We also attend Zoom Saturday morning services at our synagogue here in Orlando, SOJC; attend classes and discussions with our Rabbi Orrin Krublit; and spend a few moments with fellow congregants on Saturday nights at Havdallah services. We live about 45 minutes from our shul and we can be so much more connected this way, without the grueling drive at night.

Saul and Sami are team teaching religious school classes on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The girls often keep their sanity by playing “Animal Crossing” on Sami’s “Switch.” They even visited the “island” of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris during the election campaign.

To get back to the specifics of the time that has elapsed since my last post, we all made arrangements for Jess, Yona and Ari to visit for at least a month from just before Thanksgiving to New Years. This turned out to be a complicated logistical nightmare considering the necessity to quarantine from each other because of possible exposure on the flights here. In the end, it all worked out beautifully. Saul and I are owners at a timeshare resort called Summer Bay, which is a mere two miles away. We have accumulated a zillion points because no one has or was planning any vacations in the past year, or for the foreseeable future, for that matter. We used our points to book an apartment there for the purpose of quarantining for two weeks beginning November 24. Ari was trying to arrange his flight for then, but England locked down and did not allow traveling until December 4. In the meantime, Jessica flew down then with Yona, Izzy joined them at the resort, and the three of them quarantined at the timeshare for ten days. They came here frequently, but we social-distanced on the lanai until their quarantine period was over. Then, Izzy and Yona moved back in here and Jessica moved in with her mother-in-law, Elaine, about 45 minutes away. By then, we had managed to book another two weeks at Summer Bay so that Ari could quarantine there. We picked him up at the airport in the beginning of December in two cars, gave him one to drive to Summer Bay and the rest of us returned home in the other. Ari also visited us frequently during his quarantine, but again, we socially distanced on the lanai until he was cleared also. We were able to book the apartment at Summer Bay all the way to December 31, so Ari had his own apartment, regardless of quarantine, for almost the entire length of his visit.

Our vegetarian Thanksgiving meal was a wonder! We had Chicken-less Chicken Soup with Whole Wheat Matzoh Balls, Hummus and Baba Ganoush with assorted chips, Balsamic Roasted Vegetables, Vegan Dried Fruit-Stuffed “Turkey” Breast with Wild Mushroom Gravy, Maple-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts and Pomegranate Seeds, Pickles, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, Pumpkin Seed-Praline Pumpkin Pie (made with the flesh from Sami’s Halloween-decorated pumpkin), Marinated Salad, and Fresh Cranberry Relish. The Four Rivers Smokehouse provided us with Vegan Beyond Burnt Ends, Fried Okra, Coleslaw, and Jalapeno Cornbread. Our lovely neighbor, Julia, across the street, contributed not one, but two Sweet Potato Pies. We had quite a feast with enough left over for a carefree Shabbat dinner the following evening. As if all this bounty wasn’t enough, Yona (who loves to bake) made cinnamon rolls over the weekend.

Jess and Izzy undertook a long journey at the beginning of December. They drove to visit Life University, which is Izzy’s first choice for college, outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The drive took about 6-1/2 hours. They spent the night in Atlanta in an unused in-law suite in the basement of their friends’ home (The Dorsches). They loaded their bedding into the washer the next morning, waved to their friends from a distance, and went on a very physically grueling, but extremely gratifying tour of the college. The college was everything they had hoped for and beyond. Unfortunately, the stress of the entire excursion took a toll on Jessica and she developed a mild case of Shingles on the way back. It took several days before we all realized that she had something beyond a rash or insect bite, and a doctor diagnosed her over Zoom. Luckily, Saul and I, after several years of trying, received our Shingles shots at the beginning of this past year, just before Covid struck, and luckily, it was a mild case for Jessica.

Jess and Alex bought Saul a Soda-Stream for Chanukah. Our hot water heater broke, but, in a stroke of unbelievable luck, Susan had a plumber on-site that morning to install a Japanese toilet (a long, complicated story) and Saul nabbed him an hour later to fix our heater. He had the parts on his truck. We dodged a big bullet. 

My cousin, Alan, posted on Facebook that his mother died peacefully during December. Aunt Ruth was my mother’s brother’s wife. She was in her mid-90s and the oldest member of our family.

Ari had very little problem flying in until he reached Miami, one of only 13 airports in the U.S.A. that accepts international flights. There, social distancing was non-existent, and he felt very unsafe.

As Chanukah approached, Jessica, who has a religious school Zoom class, had ordered supplies to be mailed to her students families so that they could do a craft project for Chanukah together online. When the supplies arrived here, the girls sat down to separate and package the kits to be mailed. The project miraculously, arrived just in time for Chanukah and was a great success. Yona and Izzy made Pumpkin-Filled Dreidel Cookies with Hebrew-letter cookie cutters Jessica ordered from Amazon Prime. Every year, it is a family tradition for the girls to make their own Chanukiah. With a quick, masked, and socially-distanced trip to Michael’s, they picked up the supplies to make what I think is the best, most imaginative, and most beautiful Chanukiah I have ever seen from clear Christmas ornaments, Femo, and paper folded into many colored lucky stars.

Ari, sun-deprived in London, spent many hours basking in the sunshine here, going for long walks around the grounds at Summer Bay, for which we joined him on a few occasions, and checking out the trails in some of our local parks. He also spent a lot of time on the lanai and in the hot tub. Our neighbor, Julia, gave us a big bag of freshly-picked pecans from her children’s trees. Ari and Izzy found it very therapeutic to spend a few hours shelling them all. I used them to make a quantity of mini-pecan pies, which I then shared with Julia and her husband, Gus. Sami’s therapy is making gorgeous and delicious pleated vegetarian dumplings and various other Asian specialties such as tteokbokki, taiyaki, sushi, summer rolls, etc. We take a lot of joy from our food! One morning, we had a family brunch, for which I prepared banana pancakes. Susan gave Saul a gigantic Chanukah nightgown as a gift. It fit perfectly! She also gave us a delicious, crunchy, whole wheat boule of bread that she bakes. At the beginning of Chanukah, Ari watched through the window of the lanai as we lit the candles. By the end of Chanukah, and Shabbat Chanukah, he was finished quarantine and we were able to embrace together as a family. It was a joy to have son, daughter, and granddaughters all here at the same time. With Ari living in London, it is a rare occurrence!

We celebrated Christmas Eve with a movie at home and a delicious vegetarian Chinese banquet, picked up from a new discovery Ari made nearby—Shanghai Chinese Food. We also discovered two Indian restaurants that had pick up, one completely vegetarian, and the other with an extensive vegetarian menu. We liked Amber, the second one, better. Christmas Day was on a Friday, this year and we took the opportunity to light up a Heston Blumenthal Christmas Pudding that Ari brought with him (along with other British delicacies) that had been soaked in Courvosier for 18 months. We added a bit of our own Courvosier and the results were spectacular and delicious.

Ari made it his mission while here to bring all our electronics up-to-date. In this, he succeeded admirably! He and Saul opened our computers and replaced components, backed up files, and modified our setups, so that now, our old computers fairly fly through their tasks!

Our New Year’s Eve was really wonderful! The weather, even at night, was warm enough to enjoy the pool and hot tub. We used a projector we have had for many years to project the movie, “Soul,” onto the wall of our lanai so that we could have, as Jessica called it: “A Dive-In Movie.” Our neighbors went all out on fireworks displays this year (legal in Florida and sold in temporary stands on every shopping center parking lot, and even in Costco), probably because there are very little other outlets for “safely” celebrating this year. Being outdoors, we had the benefit of watching very professional-looking displays for hours all around us. Ari, last year, caught the fireworks bug, and a little before midnight, he began setting off the ones he had purchased on the street in front of our house, along with Izzy, the intrepid one. He promises that, based on what he has learned each year, next year’s display will be even better. I feel blessed because, as of this writing, everyone got home safe and sound with no fingers missing and no Covid 19.

Ari had moved in with us, as his reservation at Summer Bay expired for the last few days of his vacation. Izzy had decided that she wanted to go back home to celebrate her 17th birthday with her Mom and Dad and sister. Although both Jess, Yona and Ari were supposed to go to Orlando Airport at the same time for their respective flights home on January 4, everything changed. When Jess tried to book an additional flight for Izzy, she found it more expedient to change the date to January 7 and take the same flight. On January 4, we arranged to have a picnic near the airport before dropping Ari off for his flight. Saul, Ari and I had discovered an absolutely wonderful vegan restaurant, Dharma Fine Vittles, on one of our excursions when the girls were visiting their other grandmother, Elaine. Ari, who was always looking for interesting places to walk here, discovered that there was a park and walking trail near Dharma. The first time, we packed our suitcase-like, folding picnic table in the trunk, picked up our food at the restaurant, and headed around the corner to find the park. It turned out to be a lovely, gated playground replete with picnic tables. On the trip to the airport, we convinced the girls to accompany us with the promise of good food and an outdoor picnic. It was a beautiful day and the girls wanted to linger there after the picnic and play “Set” on Izzy’s hammock which they laid on the ground. Saul, Ari and I left them, to drive about a mile away to a walking trail that surrounded a lake. As we headed back at the appointed time to pick up the girls, Ari received a notification that his flight had been delayed two hours. This meant he would miss his connecting flight from Miami to London. He thought perhaps he could reroute through a later flight from New York instead, so we dropped him at the nearby Orlando airport and told him we would wait for half an hour to hear from him in the cell-phone waiting lot. As it turned out, the airport was a zoo. An air traffic controller in Jacksonville had tested positive for Covid, and they shut down the entire control tower to disinfect. All air traffic from southern Georgia to central Florida had been grounded. People and families who were trying to get home after the holidays were stranded at the airport for at least that evening. Airlines were not obligated to find them accommodations because the grounding had not been their fault. Ari was advised, emphatically, to go home and rebook until the mess got straightened out. The blessing was that we got to spend three more days of vacation with our children! Sadly, we drove them all to the airport on January 7 for their respective return flights home.

As I said earlier, as of this writing, everyone made it home safely with no collateral damage of missed schooling or work. Jessica’s entire job takes place on-line. All the girls’ schooling takes place on-line. Ari is just wrapping up at the KPMG job he has had for 10 years at the end of January, and is about to begin a new job in the middle of February for a company called EPIQ that, by contract, will be entirely remote into the foreseeable future.

As exhibited in the photos attached, I am continuing to keep busy with my aforementioned tasks. Saul is assisting me by scanning the hundreds of pages of WWII vintage letters we are bringing to light, and we cook together and photograph the results to bring forth the materials that I need to complete my courses of instruction on Jewish cooking. We have scheduled ourselves to receive the two Covid vaccine shots on February 26 and March 22—hopefully, in time to have real, in person, Passover seders this year. We intend to continue quarantining until the bulk of the crisis has passed and we have, as a community, achieved herd immunity. Here’s hoping that life will return to some semblance of what passed for normal last year, and that we will have a better world and a more united country in the future.

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