Monday, January 31, 2022

Omicron and On and On…

As our life proceeded into October and November, we truly began to feel a little more comfortable going into the interior of buildings with our masks on, feeling that we were somewhat protected from Covid as long as most people were wearing masks, that we were double-vaccinated and boosted, and feeling that within a few months the worst of the pandemic would be over so that life would return to some semblance of normal. Unfortunately, we were wrong. Fortunately, we were able to ease up a bit during November and December when the entire family, plus, were here for a visit. Now, with Omicron being even more contagious (if less lethal for vaccinated people) we are again feeling hemmed in and nervous about catching Omicron.

Our relatives in Israel (Adi and Ayal with Mor in the photo) with new babies were dealing well with the situation, until the country shut down again due to Omicron. It looks pretty certain that the tentative plans for Yona’s bat mitzvah there will not be happening any time soon or at all.

Our first foray into a building at Disney was when we received Annual Pass Holder exclusive invitations to experience the new Ratatouille ride in a new Parisian section of France in Epcot. Masks on, we enjoyed this cute, imaginative and quirky ride through Disney’s version of a Parisian kitchen as seen through the eyes of Remy the rat.

Saul continues to carve me little love notes in the morning on our bananas.

We met our friends Phyllis and Larry at Epcot, but thanks to good weather, Saul and I were able to refrain from going into any buildings with them, as we have experienced the rides multiple times. We learned that Phyllis had been an early victim of Covid right at the beginning, probably catching it on her flight back home from their Disney visit in 2020.

Our flora (including some beautiful orchids) gave us much beauty and color in the fall months, but as I write this today, we have experienced a hard frost for the first time in several years, and I hope they will all survive.

On one of our evening walks around Disney Springs, we took a gorgeous sunset panoramic photo, which we had committed to a framed canvas. As the canvas turned out rather dark, we decided to backlight it and use it as a night light in our bedroom.

One afternoon, we met with Hannah, the daughter of Saul’s cousin David, along with her husband, Yossi, and children. Due to Covid, we met outdoors at Abracadabra Nitrogen Ice Cream in Kissimmee. In the 57 years that Saul and I have been together, I have never met David, who lives in the U.S., although I know two of his brothers quite well (Israel and William) and we visited recently when we were in Israel two years ago. I also know a fourth brother, Barry, though I haven’t seen him for many years.

We spent a delightful day in nearby, artsy Mt. Dora with Susan and Ted to wander around the huge outdoor Mt. Dora Craft Fair. Susan and Ted treated us to a yummy brunch at a beautiful, art-filled café there called “1921.” Afterwards, we drove through the Lake Apopka Wildlife preserve, where we spotted and photographed some unique birds and alligators up close. Dinner was in nearby Apopka at a seafood and fish restaurant called the Nauti Lobstah. We chose it because a few days earlier, Ted had professed a love for catfish and that was their specialty.

Our shelves under our kitchen island collapsed, and we replaced them with pull-out shelving that Izzy insisted on installing herself. The system is so much more efficient now.

For October’s Magic Dining, Saul and I had an incredible dinner on the outdoor patio of Jaleo in Disney Springs. I added the wine pairing to the five course meal and it turned out to be such a bargain that we returned with Susan and Ted a few days later to experience it again. The second time, the wines were different, but even more delicious than the first group of five.

Within a few days of its opening, we viewed the new fireworks displays at both Epcot and Magic Kingdom—Harmonious and Enchantment, respectively—for the kickoff of the 18-month long celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Disney World’s opening. I think that “Harmonious” is one of the most beautiful displays I have ever seen! In addition, the Epcot sphere puts on a fabulous show of color and music every evening that is just spellbinding.

Yona got braces on her teeth.

Also in October is the Clearwater Beach Chalk Festival. Saul and I made it there this year, but were disappointed to find it a shadow of what it was pre-Covid. This is no reflection on the artists who toiled to create some remarkable works which were doomed to be washed away the following day.

Saul and I continued our 3-mile outdoor walks around the Disney Parks and Disney Springs for many weeks of lovely weather, enjoying the amazing water lillies at Animal Kingdom and outdoor concerts at Epcot and Disney Springs. We were joined by our friend, Jack Bell and his companion, who were staying at a timeshare nearby for a week.

At the end of October, with the help of Jessica and her family. Saul’s sister, Rif, and her husband, Paul, moved down to Florida, just a few miles away, near my brother, Ken, in Champions Gate. One of our first forays was to Clearwater Beach on an absolutely beautiful day in November. We had lunch together at Frenchie’s Rockaway Grill on the beach.

Susan ordered a new sculptural outdoor table and chairs which Izzy and Saul helped to assemble.

Sami had been taking dance at her spectacular campus at New College in Sarasota and we spent a full day there enjoying the locale-specific movements performed by very dedicated dancers with the help of their extremely talented and creative dance teacher and choreographer. Afterwards, we had dinner at a ramen restaurant in Sarasota before heading home.

For Paul’s birthday in November, we had a large box of Boston Cream donuts (his favorite) after dinner from The Donut King. For Rif’s birthday in December, I made her favorite cake, my carrot cake, and we lit up one of three Christmas puddings that Ari had brought from London.

Jessica, Alex, and Yona flew in for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah, which came together on the same weekend this year. Ari also flew in from London. The “compound” joined us for candle-lighting and donuts from Donut King, a local institution of many years. Our Thanksgiving feast was buffet-style this year and was totally vegetarian. Izzy and Sami, as is their custom, made a new hanukkiyah for this year’s celebration with votive candles housed in little lanterns adorned with clay snails, mushrooms, and other flora and fauna. Izzy had been producing a great number of pottery items all semester for a pottery course she was taking. She proved to have a great talent and love for the medium with a distinctive style all her own. We used a set of cups she made for an additional hanukkiyah. As Hanukkah progressed, we enjoyed having the whole family together, producing homemade sufganiyot (donuts) to be photographed for my Bubbie’s Kitchen series of e-books, sprinkling our Shabbat table with chocolate Hanukkah gelt, and taking walks with Ari at our nearby timeshare, Summer Bay, which we booked so that he would have quiet time to work remotely, rising at 4:00 a.m. daily for his overseas work schedule.

On the last two nights of Hanukkah, Ari’s friend Chris flew in from London to join us. We lit the final candles of the holiday together. Chris and Ari took advantage of a late moonlight soak in the hot tub. The next morning, Ari, Chris, Saul and I went to dim sum with Chris so that he could experience the American version with carts, and then to Dillard’s Outlet Store to shop for Chris and Ari. Again, after New Year’s, we revisited Dillard’s Outlet so that the girls could look for bat mitzvah clothes. We were very successful in our shopping trek and on Jessica’s recommendation, I got a beautiful designer dress for the occasion as well.

Beginning the following Monday morning after Chris arrived, Ari, Chris, Saul and I began a whirlwind trip of the four Disney Parks so that Chris, who had never been there, could experience as much of them as possible before their scheduled trip to Miami and Key West. We had the most wonderful, warm weather for our forays into the parks and with unbelievable luck, Chris was able to experience most of the rides in all the parks, not to mention trips to some of the hotels where life-size gingerbread houses, carousels, and a giraffe! were displayed. We had a great time together! We had a sumptuous buffet breakfast at our favorite restaurant, Boma in Animal Kingdom Lodge, and, as usual, it did not disappoint. Ari and Chris then headed off to explore Florida further on their trip to Miami and Key West, which, by that point, was a good way to relax after their frenetic days at Disney. Other than the inconvenience of taking Covid tests after a scare with the Omicron virus, and a few days of feeling a bit under the weather while they relaxed, despite their clear tests, they enjoyed the trip very much. Chris, who had started a new job in London, returned to England shortly after they returned.

We were excited to learn that Sami, who only has her thesis to defend before she graduates from New College in May, was hired full-time by Disney to be a concierge in the Yacht Club Resort, which is one of Disney’s luxury hotels. So far, she is enjoying her new job immensely.

Ari’s flight back to London was delayed, and thanks to his prowess at finding great places to vacation, we had a memorable three days, at the end of December, on Treasure Island, adjacent to St. Pete’s Beach, on the west coast of Florida. Our lovely and functional two-bedroom cabin, with a pull-out sofa-bed (Blue Waters), was directly across the street from Sunset Beach, which did not disappoint based on its name. Watching the sunsets each evening from our beach chairs on the sugar-sand beach after a day of soaking in the restorative temperate waters of the Gulf of Mexico, we all felt privileged to be alive and so lucky to have such great weather! Treasure Island is less than an hour-and-a-half’s drive from our home. Rif and Paul met us there and the five of us (Rif and Paul, Ari, Saul and I) had a wonderful time exploring the area’s fun and great restaurants, such as Caddy’sChill, and La Croisette.

Izzy helped pressure wash the outdoor furniture before our New Year’s celebration. Ari, true to form, purchased even more fireworks than last year. New Year’s Eve fell on Friday evening this year, so we began our usual Shabbat dinner late in the evening with an assortment of hors d’oeuvres and desserts instead of the usual sit-down meal. For kiddush, I made a round challah decorated with the numbers of a clock to commemorate this special Shabbat. We had an assortment of some of the unique desserts and snacks that Ari purchased in London. The evening weather was temperate for the use of the pool as we watched some of the spectacular fireworks from around the world on television. We were surprised, and greatly impressed by the fireworks that were set off all around our neighborhood on New Year’s Eve. Some of our neighbors must have spent a fortune on fireworks for the occasion. Izzy and Ari had a great time setting off our fireworks. Izzy’s friend, Ansley, joined us for the evening, as well as the usual crew, plus Rif and Paul.

We had a Boxing Day (December 26) brunch, appropriately enough, at Rif and Paul’s new place, after which we continued to help them unload boxes and organize their stuff. They are enjoying retirement immensely and are especially happy sitting on their new lanai enjoying our spectacular weather.

We slept in on New Year’s day while the girls headed off to Elaine’s for breakfast. When they returned, we hung out in the pool in our beautiful Florida weather, sipping mojitos made with fresh mint from my garden and other libations. Yona prepared an adorable snack for Jessica to have in the pool. One of Yona’s other talents (besides baking and food design) is in drawing highly imaginative, manga-type characters in her vast collection of sketchbooks. Dinner that evening was an ample and delicious spread of vegan food that Jess and Ari picked up from Loving Heart in Clermont. We had not been there since Covid began and were very impressed with the quality of the food.

In the next few bonus days we had with Ari because British Airways had allowed him to extend his return flight, we returned to Dillard’s as mentioned previously, had a so-so dinner on the patio of Bahama Breeze, hung out by the pool a few times, and visited the huge Outlet Mall in Orlando. On our visit to the Outlet Mall with Ari we discovered a nearby restaurant that has become our new “find of the season.” Café Tu Tu Tango has an inviting outdoor seating area and a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. with the most imaginative and varied tapas menu that has something to please everyone. The drinks, at half price, also are expertly prepared, with interesting and varied cocktails. We liked it so much that we returned a few days later with Rif and Paul, and then Saul and I returned with Steve and Jen.

On January 4, we spent an afternoon with Paul and Rifka and Ari at Animal Kingdom, finishing with a delicious meal at the quirky Yellow Dog Eats.

We were saddened both to return Ari to Tampa International for his return flight as Izzy returned Jessica and Yona to Orlando International for their return flight. The one happy note is that Saul and I had a remarkable meal just a minute or two from the airport at Bayside Mall. Aside from being a beautiful, upscale mall, there is a huge avenue of restaurants with outdoor seating available. We opted for Doc B’s and were wowed by the delicious and imaginative choices and presentation of the dishes we ordered. Ari, in turn, had the most amazing long-delayed flight back from Miami International that evening. He had a huge, free buffet in the business-class lounge, his own personal bartender, and a comfy easy chair to relax in during the eight-hour layover, as he was the only one in the lounge. Thankfully, everyone tested negative for Covid after their return flights and did not have to quarantine.

Also in January, Sami had a brief stint as a waitress at a new Ford’s Garage that opened in the nearby newly-constructed town of Hamlin and consequently, we were able to attend two soft openings with free food—one night with Larry and one night with Rif and Paul. We managed to find tables outdoors and semi-outdoors where we were comfortable despite Omicron and the chilly weather.

With what I thought was all the excitement over, I embarked on a course of dental work that I had been delaying. A major molar was extracted, leaving me with practically no bite for two weeks. Then, the temporary kept falling out and needed to be re-glued a few times. Then, I decided to replace missing molars on the other side with implants, so another healing process began.

We had an abbreviated Tu B’Shevat seder with just Rif, Sami, and Izzy in attendance during a Shabbat dinner in January.

The wildlife here in Central Florida never ceases to amaze us, and one day, lounging by the pool, we recorded a large raccoon eating berries from the tree next door. One must be careful coming down our street so as not to hit the giant sandhill cranes which wander about seemingly unconcerned by the traffic.

Just when we began to think that things were beginning to settle down, and we were looking forward to our friend Jennifer spending 10 days in Orlando performing with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Dr. Phillips Center, we were in for a shocking surprise. Jennifer let us know on the Monday morning after the orchestra arrived from their tour in California, that according to the doctors at Advent Hospital South the previous evening, she was in the process of having a miscarriage. We invited her to come and stay with us so that we could look after her during the ordeal and picked her up from the hotel where the orchestra was lodged. It turned out to be quite an ordeal as she hemorrhadged and we wound up transporting her from Celebration Hospital Emergency Room (which informed her that there might be a three-hour wait to see a doctor) to Advent Hospital South where she was seen by the previous evening’s staff almost immediately. Unfortunately, she took a scary turn for the worse when the routine procedure was done, and I wound up spending the night at the hospital with her to make sure she was okay. Her fiancé, Steve, flew in from London within a few hours, and we put them up for a few more days until the doctors told Jennifer she was well enough to fly home with him. In the midst of all this angst, the drainage system for our entire house backed up so that we could not use any of the sinks or toilets. We were running down to our friend Susan’s house to use her facilities until the plumbers arrived to clear everything.

As of this writing, we have had a hard frost in our area. Much of our beautiful flora has died, including our two blue vanilla banana trees. The front of Izzy’s car was smashed when another teenager, who had not cleared the frost from her windshield ran into her. Fortunately, no injuries. This came on the heels of Sami’s car’s 12-volt battery dying right behind ours in the garage, so that we could not get out for an appointment. Yesterday, on the way to pick up Sami from work and Jessica from the airport, Izzy got such a flat tire that it needed to be replaced.

We’ve taken a philosophical approach to all this. So far, every situation has been handled and all have come through with no major damages. That is saying quite a bit and we all are counting our blessings. I only hope that as Omicron goes on and on, and we do not seem to be getting back to “normal life,” that we will stay upbeat and continue to give thanks that we have the resources and health to handle each emergency and continue to enjoy the privileges we have in our lives. 

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