Sunday, December 10, 2023

Aah, the Relief of Florida Winters! August through November, 2023

The end of summer and the beginning of fall proved to be unusually hot this year. In August, we got the unexpected news that my first cousin, once removed, Jonathan Mark Horn, had died suddenly. He had just succeeded in establishing United States citizenship for his new wife, Kalina, and set up residence in Tucson, Arizona, when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer, unbeknownst to us. He was our family geneologist and shed much light on our familial connections as well as establishing a relationship with cousins in Budapest. We attended his memorial service online on August 10 (he died August 7), and our discussions about that got Ari researching every mention of our family members that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer over a period of many years. We got to know Mark when he paid us a visit in Florida about five years ago at our invitation.

At the beginning of August, I received a new companion, based on a very high glucose number that was registered during a random blood test after a very high fructose breakfast. I am now the not-so-proud owner of a diabetic glucose monitor which, as of this writing, screams at me almost every half hour after every meal. I am waiting for my next doctor’s visit at the beginning of January to see if I need an insulin monitor.

Erica and Ava paid us a visit during August along with our family friend, Ed, and we spent a very hot day in Epcot, which Ava requested. We began with breakfast at the Ale & Compass in the Yacht Club Hotel, where Sami joined us for breakfast. Despite the Floria summer heat, we had a great time, and minimized the discomfort by traveling from air-conditioned venue to air-conditioned venue.

This was the first summer in over 20 years that we have not hosted “Camp Bubbie and Saba.” Instead, Jess and Alex, Izzy and Yona had a week’s vacation in Israel. Afterwards, as a consolation to us, Jess, Alex and Yona flew down for a few days vacation (during which we were able to preview the new Moana exhibit in Epcot thanks to Sami’s cast member benefits) before delivering Yona to her new boarding school (which she is loving) in Massachusetts. Sami, Jessica and Yona finally got to attend the “Not So Scary Halloween Party” at the Magic Kingdom after previous years’ attempts had fizzled due to bad weather. Ari and Chris finished the summer with a vacation in Athens. Saul and I were lucky to have the family here as we caught our first case of Covid right at the end of August and spent several days in our bedroom while the kids prepared meals for us and dropped them on a table in front of our bedroom door. Thus did we spend our 52nd wedding anniversary.

We are loving our new Chavurah services. We have invented some delicious new vegan salads to enjoy at our lunches there on Saturday afternoons. And we recruited Sami’s skillful talents at tying the intricate knots on tallitot to repair an unusable one for Josh, and tighten up the knots on Saul’s beautiful hand-made one.

At the end of August, our 11-year tenants of our vacation home in the Pocono mountains moved out. While they had been very agreeable and always paid the rent on time, we were surprised to find that the house had been terribly abused during their tenancy. We have an agreement with our friends, Isaac and Efrat, to buy it shortly as a fixer-upper or flip. Isaac has a business with the resources to undertake such a project.

We had a very small (but beautiful) Rosh Hashanah lunch this year as I have stopped making elaborate holiday and Shabbat dinners for the whole gang every Friday. I find that I can’t be on my feet for all the hours it takes to prepare and clean up afterwards. Neither can Saul. We are really starting to feel our age this year. I am striving to host at least once a month, but I think it has stretched to two months.

Our Chavurah services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur took place in a lovely room in the Hilton Garden Inn in Lake Buena Vista. Over 100 people attended over the course of the holy days. Louis did a masterful job as our spiritual leader. Saul and I continue to enjoy our many walks in Disney World. 

Rif and Paul left for a two-week stint in Israel to attend Paul’s cousin David’s daughter’s beautiful wedding. While there, they visited our family, too, and Paul got a much better, whole new point of view, about the country, its culture, and its food. 

We had an absolutely delightful week in the middle of October thanks to our friend, Jennifer, whose “wedding-of-the-century” we attended in Lake Como, Italy, last year. We were delighted to learn that she is pregnant and due at the end of March. The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra booked a full week of programs at the gorgeous Steinmetz Hall for which she was able to get us complimentary tickets for every showing except for Diana Ross. We saw The Birmingham Royal Ballet, Beck, Broadway Royalty: Sutton Foster and Brian Stokes Mitchell, Harry Connick, Jr. and the RPO performing with the Orlando Bach Festival Choir. Jen was even able to arrange tickets for the last concert for our friend Larry. Besides the concerts and the spectacular venue, we had a blast at dinner at Jaleo in Disney Springs, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge for breakfast, and shopping with Jen for maternity clothing and specialty items for her Halloween gender-reveal parties back home. We didn’t know then, because she guarded the secret carefully, but she is having a girl. Unfortunately, almost immediately after returning from Israel, Rif and Paul came down with Covid and we rescued them with T.V. dinners from the newly-opened Lazy Dog restaurant. We learned about this from our friend Larry, who told us about a special Lazy Dog was promoting at the time, and the restaurant has become one of our favorites in the area because of their delicious food, comfortable ambience, and veg forward selections. The timing of their Covid, and our friend Jen’s delicate condition, left them unable to join us for all the concerts we attended, but we were able to meet up on Jen’s last day here for happy hour at Lazy Dog. During October Ari traveled to Cypress on his own prior to accepting his new job.

As our first bout of cool air presaged our delightful Florida winters, we attempted to heat our pool for the first time and discovered that our pool heater, purchased in April of 2020, was not working. The parts were still under warranty. It took us until the beginning of December to finally get it repaired after weekly aggravating calls to Sunblazer/AquaCal about the defective part. Our beautiful LG washing machine flooded the laundry room at the beginning of November and had to be disassembled and reassembled a few times professionally until all the leaks were discovered and repaired.

Our Israeli cousins, Eli and Ayal, were both called up in the draft that followed the atrocities of the incursion by Hamas into Israeli territories that sparked the war in Gaza on October 7. Both celebrated their 30th and 31st birthdays at the same time the war began and were then forced to leave their beautiful young families for an unknown future. At this writing, the war continues and we can only pray for their safe return to their families and a secure peace in Israel in the future.

Our good news was that after several years of applying for British citizenship pre-Covid, and several thousand pounds, Ari became a British citizen with a triple citizenship in Great Britain, U.S.A. and Israel. Luckily, all his passports arrived in good time as he had to turn the others in while waiting for the British one, and not being able to travel at a moment’s notice makes him very nervous. In the same week, after being unemployed for several months immediately after buying his new home, he was made a full partner at RSM, the sixth largest accounting firm in the world.

In one of our walks in Animal Kingdom, enjoying the perfect weather, we got some great shots of a babirusa wild boar and the water lilies in full bloom. We had a few days visit from Marcia, the daughter of friends from up North, as she likes to run in the Disney marathons and she has a sizable collection of medals to prove it. This time, it was the “Wine & Dine” race.

We had more kids than ever this year for Halloween as the neighborhood has blossomed with more and more full-time owners and renters as opposed to short-term vacation rentals. As soon as Halloween is over, Disney immediately switches to Christmas mode, almost overnight. The lights are lovely as we take our frequent nighttime walks in the parks.

On the weekends, when our Pixie Passes are not valid, we sometimes take walks at Bok Tower Gardens where we love to enjoy our incredible winter Florida weather, feed the koi, listen to the carillon, and get ideas for our all-weather garden.

After Saul and I had a delightful vegan meal at the Grand Floridian Café, we booked a dinner there with Sami so we could all see this year’s two-story gingerbread house and view the Magic Kingdom fireworks, but unfortunately discovered how extreme is Sami’s allergy to hearts-of-palm when I gave her just a taste of my appetizer. 

A few days after that, Saul and I returned from a quick trip to pick up oat milk for breakfast, and encountered a car completely ablaze a few houses down from ours. The occupants were lucky to get out in time and were standing and dolefully watching it burn alongside one of our neighbors. Our neighborhood is built in a circle, so we were able to U-turn and go around the other way to get home as we didn’t dare to pass it.

We acquired a collection of “Loungeflys” during a special cast member sale and party to which Sami was able to invite us. Right before Thanksgiving, she came home with a special gift for us for Chanukah—a Mickey and Minnie Loungefly with a Chanukiah that lights up with individual lights for each night of Chanukah. Love it!!

Thanksgiving was such a pleasure this year! We were having such a good time that I am sorry to say we forgot to take many pictures. Jessica and Yona flew down on the Monday before and Alex joined a couple of days later. Yona’s school had sent her home early because of an outbreak of Covid and foot, hand and mouth disease. Yona had Covid at the beginning of November and so seemed immune for the time and was able to participate in good health. Izzy drove in from college in Marietta, GA, with her friend, Abigail, whom we all thought was a lovely, complimentary addition to our family. When Alex arrived, we had an incredible evening of wining and dining at Jaleo in Disney Springs. In preparation for Thanksgiving, I made two blueberry pies for Kenny to take to Thanksgiving dinner with his sister- and brother-in-law, Laurie and Jules. I was finally able to buy frozen rhubarb at Sprouts, so I was able to make Jessica’s favorite dessert, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie. For Thanksgiving dinner I made: Chestnut Soup, Vegan Stuffed “Turkey” Breast, Butternut Apple Crisp, Zucchini Casserole, Maple-Glazed Balsamic Brussels Sprouts, Lemon Crinkle Cookies, Lime Cornmeal Cookies, and the pie. Yona made a ton of delicious mashed potatoes (the leftovers of which I later turned into mini potato knishes to freeze for our next party on December 22). Alex marinated and prepared a boneless slab of salmon and an alcoholic fruit punch. His mother, Elaine, made cranberry sauce. I supplemented with a pound of Vegan Burnt Ends from 4 Rivers Smokehouse and a tray of their Jalapeno Cornbread. Susan and Ted and Larry joined us, with Susan bringing the wine, as she usually does, and Ted bringing martinis, as he usually does. Rif and Paul flew up to his cousin David’s home in Atlanta for Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving dinner was quite a feast, even if no turkey was executed.  I invited the kids for an early morning breakfast the next day as they had an afternoon flight back home so that Yona could be returned to school in time. Unfortunately, it turned into an all-day ordeal, as so often happens with airlines during the holidays. Izzy and Abigail drove back a day later through driving rain. A drive that ordinarily takes 5-6 hours took them 11, but thank God they arrived safe and sound.

Saul and I discovered a new, for us, vegan restaurant called Leguminati that serves what they call “Crunchwraps” of many different types. The two we shared left us anxious to return to try some of the others on the menu.

Ari and Chris attended a huge pro-Israel rally in London in which an enormous percentage of the Jewish population of England participated, thankfully, without serious incident. London also has a gigantic population of Palestinians and other Arab populations, much larger than the Jewish community there.

I am continuing, with Saul’s help, to prepare food for our December 22 Shabbat get-together. We should be 17 in attendance: Saul, Marilyn, Sami, Jess, Yona, Izzy, Ari, Chris, Susan, Ted, Larry, Elaine, Haley, Erik, Kenny, and Sami’s friends Alisha and Lev. I have decided it will be an hors d’oeuvres and dessert party.

The Philadelphia Eagles won an important game in the last few seconds of overtime, a great morale booster, and we discovered another great morale booster. Our blue vanilla ice cream banana tree suddenly began to bear fruit after we had begun to despair, after several years, that we would never see the promised bananas.

Now, if Florida winters stay mild as they are supposed to be and don’t freeze the bananas on the tree, if everyone arrives for the Christmas holiday safe and in good health, if some semblance of peace and goodwill returns to the Earth, I will be able to again breathe a sigh of relief and thank God for the wonderful life and good fortune Saul and I have been blessed with here in Florida and in our thus-far privileged lives.


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Another Trip to London for Passover and the Coronation—March Through June 2023


March seemed to get off to a bad start when we noticed that a tile had caved in in the corner of our master stall shower. There had been minor cracks in the tile when we bought the house, but we had other priorities 10 years ago when we bought this house and the damage seemed to be nothing to worry about at the time. Clearly, it was time to do something about this. We determined that the tile could not be replaced so it was time for a major renovation. After inspections by several tile companies and our homeowners insurance company, we determined that the damage was not caused by a leak in the plumbing, which would have been covered by our insurance. After interviewing at least five tile companies for estimates, traveling miles to look at tiles at a warehouse, considering all the types of coverings available and receiving estimates that were mind-bogglingly high, we settled on Lujo Floor and Tile, which was just down the road, had a porcelain tile I adored, and was thousands of dollars cheaper than any other estimate. We’re so glad we took our time and interviewed so many companies. Lujo was wonderful to work with, had super-efficient craftsmen, and we were thrilled with the result.

We continued to discover new vegan products at our local Chinese markets, including a half chicken that looked very appetizing and convincing, but turned out to be a bit off-putting because of the mealy texture.

We were notified by our homeowners insurance company, AAA, by letter during this time that our insurance coverage would be cancelled unless we replaced our roof or had an inspection (at our cost) certifying that it was sound. This has become a common occurrence in Florida. Our roof hasn’t leaked, but inspection has shown that it is very damaged and needs to be replaced. To make a long story short. it is being replaced next week by the fourth company who gave us an estimate, 3MG Roofing, and it is completely covered by the insurance company, AAA, (other than our $1,000 deducible) that insisted we replace it. They speedily sent us the money to cover the cost, although our insurance (covering 3 cars and home) went up almost $2,000 a year (unfortunately, also common right now in Florida).

We became annual members of Bok Tower Gardens and spent some lovely Sundays wandering the extensive pathways there during the height of camellia season on some beautifully temperate March days.

Ari took advantage of the last few days of his extensive period of layoff with a vacation to Istanbul, which preserved his elite status with British Airways and was incredibly reasonable. He was hired back at the beginning of April by the company that laid him off, first as an independent contractor for them, and then with a limited contract as an employee until October (at a higher salary than he was making before) when they assure him another position will be available for him. I have included some of his marvelous photos in this post.

Our niece, Haley and her husband, Erik, moved to nearby Tampa in May right after her 40th birthday. We were invited to the Florida celebration of the party titled “Forty and Floridian.” The photos from their housewarming party appear at the end of the photos. They live in a three-bedroom penthouse apartment overlooking the river in Tampa that is just beautiful.

The Flower and Garden Festival began at Epcot and we have never seen Epcot look more gorgeous. Unfortunately, we have noticed a great scaling back of the food at some of our favorite restaurants in Disney and a concurrent rise in the prices. We have enjoyed many of the Garden Rocks concerts that accompany the flower show at this time of the year.

Once a month, on Thursdays, we sometimes attend a seniors get-together at SOJC. At one, I had a chance to do some ballroom dancing with an older group who came to demonstrate their skills, and at another, we all had a chance to create our own bouquets with flowers that we were provided.

At the end of March, London experienced a rare hailstorm much to the chagrin of a small, wild fox that had sought shelter on Ari’s fenced back patio. Wild fox roam the streets of London at night and are a common sight. They seldom live past adolescence as the conditions of their existence are so difficult and most starve. It left to find better shelter when the hailstorm began and never returned.

As Passover approached, Saul and I did our best to prepare our house for the arrival of Jess and Alex, Yona and Izzy, and eventually Alex’s family for the seders. We used up stored foodstuffs in the closets, refrigerators, and freezers, and cleaned them. Saul and I had made arrangements to be in London for the seders and the coronation of King Charles III, a total of six weeks from April 2 to May 10. Right before we left we were lucky to be able to visit Disney’s Easter egg display at the Grand Floridian Hotel, which was set up a bit early this year, and see a Garden Rocks Concert by the Pointer Sisters (originally from Philadelphia). We had a few days before Passover to spend with the kids during which time Izzy helped us package some of the artwork I had created for Ari  many years ago and which has been languishing in our closets ever since Ari moved to England 10 years ago. Now, he finally has his own beautiful home and furnishings. Thrillingly, they arrived with us in England with no damage whatsoever.

We flew to Heathrow via Newark and, despite taking Dramamine, Saul got sick during our rather rough landing. So did a number of other passengers, and the flight attendant admitted to me that she, herself, was rather ill during the landing. We were much luckier making our airline connection going than we were coming back as we were offered a wheelchair ride for Saul to our gate by an employee who was returning it nearby. After a brief time, Saul felt better.

Ari met us at Heathrow and we took an Uber the short distance back to his new home. Towards evening, we discovered one of the perks of his new neighborhood, an incredibly great pizzeria with a wood-fired oven, just down his short alleyway and across the street, L’Oro di Napoli. The menu had several delectable vegan choices, and afterwards, I cheated with one of the best cannolis I have ever had (one of my guilty pleasures). Before arriving, I had sent Ari a long list of the ingredients I would need to prepare a kosher Passover seder. He and Chris made a trip to shop at a store in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in London, Kosher Kingdom, and shlepped everything back in an Uber so that I could begin preparations right away to kasher and cook. Once I was satisfied that preparations were well underway, we went for a long walk on Shabbat through the beautiful park-like areas adjoining his home in Hanwell. I had never been in London for bluebell season before, and the gorgeous wildflowers grew effortlessly in wide swaths everywhere we went, even appearing in cracks in walls and sidewalks. In the few days before Passover, we ate out at various neighborhood restaurants around Hanwell and nearby Ealing, including Big Bites CaféTonkotsu Bar and Ramen, and Ichiba Food and Drinks.

Saul’s cousin Adi, the one for whose wedding we flew to Israel with his sister, Rifka, in 2019, gave birth to a beautiful girl named for her mother, who died at the beginning of Covid. She is named Libby, meaning “my heart.” Her brother’s wife also had a new baby girl in June, whom they named Shakedd Tzvia, also named for her grandmother.

Having prepared most of a week’s worth of food, Saul, Ari, Chris and I were free to enjoy the most relaxed seder we have ever had, and during chol ha moed, we were free to travel around London, and stock up on needed supplies to finish out the week. It was a joy for me to see the market where Ari had shopped, which, in a small space, managed to supply a mind-boggling array of kosher-for-passover products that rivaled any kosher warehouses where I had shopped in New York. We hosted Ari’s friend, Marian, who arrived after several train connections from the other end of London, at a Passover Shabbat dinner. It was the first time we had an opportunity to meet Marian in person, and we enjoyed the evening chatting with her immensely.

During our travels around London during chol ha moed, we shopped for furniture and accessories for Ari’s new home. We spent most of a day trudging from store to store in a large Westfield upscale mall. While there, we purchased a beautiful, decorative round mirror that Ari ordered to be delivered and additional kitchenware that he needed. Saul and I hung Ari’s art and photo collection while he was working from home and also during his few days in the office. We visited an IKEA in London and sat in some comfortable chairs that Ari eventually decided to buy a few months later.

At the end of Passover, we spent a few days together traveling into and around downtown London. We had lunch at another Wulf & Lamb vegan restaurant (a different one than where we met Julie and Jon for dinner on our last trip). It was equally great. Ari had made reservations for the Wallace Collection, which housed the largest, and most beautifully displayed collection of “old masters” it has ever been our pleasure to view. One of the paintings that really struck a chord with me was of the Biblical characters, Judah and Tamar. The story is one of my favorites dating back to the 24 years I spent studying Biblical texts once a week with our good friend, Faith Rubin. We attended a vintage car boot sale for charity located in King’s Cross in Coal Drops Yard. 

On another occasion, we took a bus to Brentford to a nearby nursery, Hillier Garden Center, where we purchased everything we needed to set up colorful, flowering, permanent gardens on the small patios in front and in back of Ari’s new house. In addition, when all the supplies were delivered about two weeks later, we planted culinary herbs as well which Ari has been sharing with friends. The nursery was near to the home where Pocahontas lived when she was in London. Ari had been telling us that he had never tried the restaurant, Ran Thai, less than a block from his home. We decided to try it that evening and were delighted with the ambience, the offerings, and the sense of humor of the owner. Accordingly, we had dinner there more than once during our six-week stay. After dinner, we went home and hung Ari’s mezuzah. 

One of the great perks of Ari’s new neighborhood is its proximity to an incredibly reasonable and well-stocked Lidl supermarket, which is about two blocks away, a small Nisa market with long hours that is literally across the street, and a halal market which stocked almost everything needed to prepare Middle Eastern delicacies. It was a great luxury for Saul and me to just be able to walk out at any time to get whatever ingredients we needed to prepare a recipe instead of getting in our car to drive to a nearby supermarket. In preparing our first non-Passover dinner at Ari’s, I modified the challah recipe I have been using for over 45 years with amazing results. England’s “strong bread and strong whole wheat bread flour” were the inspiration. As always, the local yeast adds its own flavor as well. We created a more savory challah using the “Everything Bagel” sprinkle that we brought to Ari from the U.S.

One of the new forays that we took was to visit the Sir John Soane’s Museum in London. We waited in a short line outside as only a limited number of people are allowed in at a time. Once inside, we understood the reason as the home is a multi-floored labyrinth filled with architectural pieces from antiquity, including the empty, intricately carved tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh, Seti I. The rooms and alcoves are tiny and quite claustrophobic, but filled in every conceivable spot with wonders from the past. Our walk back to the train station that day took us past the Masonic Headquarters in London, which we visited with Rif and Paul back in 2019. At the next corner, we photographed and chatted pleasantly with a motorcycle group affiliated with the Freemasons. The walk itself proved to be very interesting. Saul was nearly bonked on the head by a bus rear-view mirror while photographing a “traveling pub” which serves drinks while the patrons all contribute to pedaling around London. Above the train station, Tottenham Court, there was a brand-new 360-degree immersive video installation.

On another excursion we visited the most amazing Hindu Temple, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. Photographs were not permitted inside the building, but suffice it to say that it is one of the  most incredible and intricately carved examples of architecture I have ever seen. Saul and I learned a great deal about Hinduism, which we always had thought to be a polytheistic religion. We learned that all their deities that are depicted in carvings and art stem from a central concept of the unity and order of the universe. The temple is the focus of a very tight-knit and community-oriented group of people for whom it is truly the center of their lives. We were so happy that we were able to tour this remarkable building and highly recommend the tour to anyone visiting London. It truly should not be missed.

We happily discovered another perk in Ari’s new neighborhood of Hanwell. In Britain, there long has been a tradition of “Sunday Roast,” which usually means slices of roast beef, lamb, and/or pork and Yorkshire pudding, accompanied by sides of “bubble and squeak” (mashed potatoes and cabbage) and a number of other veggie side dishes. In London, every pub has its own version of Sunday Roast. To our delight, not one, but two, neighborhood pubs in Hanwell had delicious options for vegan Sunday Roast with an absolutely delicious nut roast provided cheerfully alongside the other veggie courses in the nearest one, The Green.

After perusing hundreds of options online and in stores for months, Ari decided to go ahead and order a bar cabinet from The Cotswold Company. We were all very pleased with it when it was delivered and assembled.

We all developed a real weakness for Coronation Crisps (Thai chili-flavored potato chips) as the actual Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla drew closer. It was only a few steps away to pick up another bag every time we ran out.

We met Ari’s long-time friend, Andrew, for dinner one evening at a unique restaurant called Kasa and Kin which bills itself as the home of contemporary Filipino flavors. It had a wonderful selection of vegan and vegetarian options which were very unusual for that ethnicity. Our meal was wonderful and we regretted not having the opportunity to visit twice during our stay. We also purchased an assortment of some of the inviting-looking Filipino pastries from their in-house bakery to take home with us.

When asked what some of the highlights of this trip were, I would have to include the day we spent with Ari and Chris at Wisley Gardens. I have visited many botanical gardens in my life, including beautiful Longwood Gardens in Downingtown, PA, where we went on our honeymoon. In London, the gardens are superlative, especially around royal estates. Our experience at Wisley would have to be one of the top three. We arrived by Uber on an absolutely perfect spring day when millions of tulips of every conceivable variety were at their short-lived peak. A well-juried craft fair was taking place in neatly-spaced white tents along our route and colorful vistas spread before us in every direction. I can’t begin to describe the joy I felt just gazing on these wonders of nature with loved ones by my side. The conservatory contained flowers of the most unusual shade of aqua-blue that ordinarily bloom every 25 years under the right conditions, but the professionals had figured out a way to have them blooming more often. Greenhouses abounded with special categories of plants, such as those that grow in crevices, or carnivorous  ones, all presented in the most quaint and artistic settings. Truly a joyful day! To gild the lily (pun intended), we took an Uber to an ancient nearby village, Kingston on Thames, where we strolled the well-worn cobblestone main street soaking up the ambience and history of our surroundings and then strolled the promenade alongside the River Thames to enjoy the sunset (and people-watch) at our outdoor table at Riverside Vegetaria, an award-winning vegetarian restaurant nestled among the myriad restaurants lining the river.

As May began, we found that “the king and the queen could go back to the green*” (*Billy Joel reference) as Steve and Jen drove over to see Ari’s new house and join us at The Green for Sunday Roast. Steve and Jen were the regal bride and groom for whose “wedding of the century” we flew to Lake Como in Italy last year. We had a brilliant time together enjoying our Sunday roasts and soaking up the neighborhood atmosphere, and then walked back to Ari’s to schmooze for a few hours over drinks. Jen is a numbered violinist in the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and gave me Zoom violin lessons for over a year during the pandemic when the Orchestra could not perform.

On another of our excursions with Ari, we took the nearby Elizabeth Line train at Hanwell Station into central London where we had lunch at Market Place Vauxhall, a compendium of interesting ethnic food stalls, crossed Vauxhall Bridge in the rain, visited The Tate Museum, and walked for miles afterwards. As we approached Westminster Abbey, we walked past trucks starting to set up for the Coronation, saw the restored Big Ben and listened to its chimes from a pub across the street. We considered going straight home after that, but on the way back to the nearest train station, we caught a bus from Charring Cross to have dinner at Stem & Glory (a new, and wonderful, vegan franchise) which was in a quiet square in Farringdon, ironically across from “Butcher’s Hall.” 

Ari took us to have dinner at an obscure find of his that appears to be an informal gathering spot for singles and groups of friends looking to have an inexpensive date night or gathering. On our way back to a nearby train station from another excursion in Central London we took an escalator up to Market Hall on Oxford Street. One can walk around the warehouse-like setting and choose from many vendors an eclectic variety of food and drink. There is something to suit every taste and pocketbook and tables are set up to accommodate from small groups in wing chairs around a coffee table, to long tables for larger groups, or small tables for small groups. There are no time limitations as to how long you can “hang out” in these comfortable spaces as there would be in a restaurant.

About two weeks after we had selected the materials to assemble Ari’s gardens, they arrived by truck from the nursery and Saul and I began work to plant everything. All arrived in good shape and has continued to thrive since we planted. The difficult part is now done and Ari will be able to replenish as necessary as plants die off.

At the beginning of March, Jess, Alex and Yona sold the large home they were in for the last few years and moved into a new house a bit further away from the synagogue. Their furniture fit very nicely and Jess appears to be a master of organization at facilitating such things while holding down a full-time job at the same time. Yona will be going off to a private boarding school she selected in September, and my children will now be empty nesters (other than during the past 20 summers’ Camp Bubbie and Saba) permanently. As with us, a rainbow shone over their new digs on the first day they moved in.

We had timed our London visit to not only coincide with Passover, but also with the Coronation of King Charles III and Queen Camilla. In the U.K. this was an all-day televised affair and, having learned our lesson about epic crowds during the Queen’s Jubilee last year, we opted to celebrate at home with our television, British flag augmented floral centerpiece, and homemade Coronation Quiche, Coronation crisps, and other quintessentially British delicacies.

The day after the Coronation, a Coronation Celebration! concert was held at Royal Albert Hall. In a stroke of luck, by refreshing his computer screen several times looking for good seats a few days prior, we happened upon a box on the third level containing four seats, just off-center of the hall and for a very minimal increased fee from the regular seats. We booked it immediately, figuring this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was, in every aspect, just that! Our friend Jen was playing violin there with the Royal Philharmonic and, additionally, it was the Royal Choral Society’s 150th Anniversary Gala Concert, so there was a choir of at least 150 voices backing the full orchestra. The program highlighted favorite historical musical excerpts of the last 150 years. There was also a sing-along with the entire audience at the end to music and lyrics especially written for the Coronation. Everyone could download and practice the music before the concert. To say it was a memorable afternoon would be an understatement. During the intermission, we peered over our balcony to discover that the royal box (denoted by a crown carving above it) was just below us and two boxes to the left. Our friend, Steve, Jen’s husband, was two boxes over from us on our level, and we shared a champagne toast together when Jen came up to join us during the intermission. The whole experience was particularly poignant for me because, in the course of creating my WWII blog, based on my parents’ prodigious quantity of letters and photos sent to each other during the war, I learned of my father’s affinity for concerts at Royal Albert Hall. He often wrote about the size, acoustics, and the great maestros, and wrote very perceptive reviews of his experiences. Among the artifacts I have from this time period are programs which he sent home to my mother with his letters. It was a glorious opportunity to connect with him, his love and appreciation of great classical music, and the Royal Albert Hall itself, which is every bit as majestic as he described it. 

We met Steve at the end, and caught up with Jen (who had secured us a few precious copies of the program) and proceeded to walk a short distance to a restaurant called Stein’s Berlin Restaurant. We had a delectable dinner together. After, we strolled about a mile through Kensington to Hyde Park and had libations outdoors at the Serpentine Bar and Kitchen on a glorious spring day in a magnificent park setting while the sun had begun to set. At the closing of the restaurant, we proceeded on the park’s meandering path, having transferred our remaining drinks to disposable plastic cups. In a coincidence of fate, we passed the verdant spot where Steve had proposed to Jen exactly two years earlier. Jen was almost moved to tears by the serendipity of it all. Continuing past the park to Ari’s old neighborhood, Paddington, we all said our goodbyes and caught our respective trains back home.

On our last night in London, we arranged to meet Ari’s friends, Rebecca, Eldan, and Marian at a downtown restaurant, Caravan City. Chosen for its proximity to Marian and Rebecca’s respective offices and ample selection of vegan dishes. Marian is a vegetarian. We regretted that we have so many photos of our dinner, but none of us. It turned out to be one of our last memorable and convivial dinners in London.

Our flight back from London was a nightmare. Despite downing the stronger British version of Dramamine, Saul again became ill on landing in Newark. We didn’t have much time after landing to catch our flight to Orlando, so despite his illness, we had to pick up our luggage and begin running to our next gate, which we could not find. No one in the airport seemed to know how to direct us to where we needed to be and we walked in circles trying to find our exit to a tram for taking us to another building where we needed to catch our plane. The other building was at the far end of a packed tram ride. Taking the escalator down from the tram, no buses awaited to take us the mile-long walk to the entrance to Terminal A, and being short of time, we huffed our way to the entrance. Once inside, we walked about another six blocks to the farthest check-in for our T.S.A. pre-check approval and discovered we needed to go back to the first one we passed because our tickets were not marked as T.S.A. pre-check. We went through the whole gamut of removing shoes, belt, keys, etc. and discovered in the process of heading for our gate that some element of our carry-on luggage had been left behind for special scanning, so again we back-tracked. We just made it to our gate in time and were the last ones to board the plane. Depending on how you look at it, we were lucky or unlucky because the plane’s air-conditioning was broken and we could not take off until it was repaired. We sat on a plane that had temperatures inside of about 90 degrees for over an hour. Once it was repaired, the pilot pulled out all stops to get us to Orlando speedily. We were met by Rif and Paul at the airport, and were never so happy to be back in our own beds at the end of the ordeal.

Once we had rested up from our journey and restocked the house with food, Rif suggested that we attend the AAHC Asian Cultural Festival taking place in nearby Ocoee that looked like a fun day. It was a much smaller gathering than we had anticipated and was rather like attending a ballet recital while not knowing anyone performing. We enjoyed the performances for an hour or two, roamed the grounds set up with fast food tents for a short while where Paul decided to order two drinks that looked beautiful, but were undrinkable, and then decided to have dinner together at Yellow Dog Eats.

Sami has become an avid crochet artist and among her creations is a whimsical witch’s hat adorned with all kinds of crocheted vines, flowers, small creatures, and toadstools. She also recreates stuffed animals based on Dungeons and Dragons and anime characters and creates beaded jewelry using perler beads and other types of beads. Her creative soul is undiminished almost since birth.

In the ensuing weeks, we have continued our three-mile walks through the Disney Parks. A new addition to Animal Kingdom is a pair of black-and-white swans in the pond at the entrance.

I have begun cutting down on the number of times per month that I host Shabbat dinners for “the compound.” Saul and I are finding that standing for hours while we are preparing has become very taxing on the legs. Nowadays, we take turns sitting as each task is completed. A sour cream pound cake that stuck to my fancy bundt cake pan was marvelous at one of our dinners converted to a gorgeous trifle with our beautiful fresh fruit here in Florida, some vanilla custard sauce, some jam, and some whipped cream. 

A wonderful new change has come into our lives with the formation of a chavurah (friendship group) which meets for religious services in the homes of some of the families with whom we have become friendly over our years of synagogue membership. In the last 10 weeks that we have been meeting, our services have been attended by two to three dozen people and are followed by congenial lunches where we have formed stronger bonds by getting to know each other better. Through Alex and Louis and other sources, we have acquired prayerbooks, chumashim, and a Torah, which is on loan from another synagogue. In connection with this, on the Sunday after one of our first services, we attended a book launch in the home of one of our members which describes his challenges in life with an “invisible disability.” The book is called “In the Eyes of the Statue” by Lon Michael, a poignant autobiography that should be required reading for anyone who teaches.

Through the end of June, we continued to attend the “Garden Rocks” Concerts that are part of Disney’s Flower and Garden Festival, although with the increasingly unusually hot weather, and frequent violent thunderstorms and hailstorms, we are finding it more and more difficult to take advantage of our Disney annual passes. We try to walk either very early in the morning, or around sundown.

As the month drew to a close, we attended Haley and Erik’s “Forty and Floridian” party celebrating their recent move to Tampa, Haley’s 40th birthday at the beginning of May, and their beautiful new penthouse apartment overlooking the river. On our drive to the party, our windshield was hit by a pebble which caused a small crack which in the week that followed before we could schedule a repair, grew across the entire window. Jess, Alex, Yona and Izzy took an extended vacation, first to visit Ari, then two weeks in Israel, followed by another two weeks in London. Izzy returned a bit earlier to resume her classes in Marietta, GA, at Life University.

As of today, everyone is back home from their travels, safe and sound, with wonderful, unique, life-affirming memories that are truly a blessing. What more blessings could anyone ask for?

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Seven Months of Family Vicissitudes

We had an absolutely fabulous time in England and Italy over the beginning part of the summer (see previous blog post). That left late July and August for all the medical stuff we had been putting off for a number of months leading up to this grand vacation. Accordingly, my cataracts, which had been worsening at an increasing pace were surgically repaired about two weeks apart with amazing results. I expected my eyes to feel different or irritated after the procedures, but miraculously, they felt exactly the same only with my old clear eyesight back. What an incredible relief that was when it was all over! Then, a few weeks later, I had a large and painful cystic lump removed from the bottom part of my middle finger. It had been surgically removed 20 years ago, but had gradually grown back had recently become a big annoyance any time it received the slightest bump. The surgery was quick, effective, and left practically no scar. Again, an incredible relief to have that all finished! Our other doctors appointments, eye checkups, wellness checkups, and cardiac checkup for Saul were all very positive. Only my A1C test remains a problem, but I assume that will be a problem for me for the rest of my life, unless there is some miraculous breakthrough in diabetic medication in future years.

Shortly after we returned in July, Sami, who had been faithfully wearing her mask (and was practically the only one to do so) at her job as a concierge at a Disney hotel, came down with Covid. Although she became ill in the middle of the day, they insisted that she finish her shift as there was no one to cover for her. She entered the house through the pool bathroom door that attaches to her bedroom so as not to contaminate us by walking through the house. For the next week, we blocked her doorway with a table on which we placed food, drink and medication for her, and she spent the week in bed. Luckily, only the first few days were rough and Saul and I succeeded in avoiding the dreaded virus.

In our travels restocking the house after our lengthy vacation, we happened upon a delightful, hippyish, restaurant near Costco, Hungry Pants, which provided a really interesting vegan breakfast, although the restaurant is not completely vegan. In the evenings, we were able to catch up with some really wonderful shows at Epcot’s outdoor American Theater at the end of the Food & Wine Festival—Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Christopher Cross, and Air Supply. Yona and Jessica had flown from London back to NJ following Alex home, and then spent a week touring private schools for Yona in the New England area. Before they returned to Orlando to celebrate Sami’s 22nd birthday, Yona had a few days as an only child, drawing in her sketchbook, recreating her mother’s ballet recital pose, creating interesting costumes and makeup, and as ever, baking her wonderful cupcakes and cookies. Besides, celebrating with Sami and hanging out by the pool, in our travels, we happened upon a brand new restaurant named Jacked Up Vegan, that on a Sunday, handed us three separate menus, one including brunch, from which we could choose anything we wanted, including an amazing assortment of unique mocktails. We had an incredible feast that day.

Paul had been having a problem walking, and found a marvelous doctor here in Celebration who was able to reconstruct the bones in his toe. Although he was getting around with a knee scooter for a while, after a few weeks, he was able to join us for a walk through Disney to do a “gingerbread crawl” to view all the various huge installations in many places in the parks and hotels. The Israeli branch of the family continues to grow and thrive.

Orlando is home to a month of “Magical Dining” which means that participating restaurants offer various three course menus for a fixed price of $35. Although it is difficult to find places that accommodate both vegan (for us) and meat-eating diets (for friends and family), we were able to greatly enjoy two that met those criteria—DoveCote and Vinia. The proprietor at Vinia was extremely helpful. Paul was still on his knee scooter and he met our car in front of the restaurant, told us where to park in the back driveway so that Paul could roll up the ramp and be seated comfortably. The food was absolutely wonderful, but is a bit pricey when Magic Dining is done. The same can be said for DoveCote. For our 51st wedding anniversary on September 2, we were able to snag an early morning reservation at Boma, our favorite breakfast buffet at Jambo House at Animal Kingdom Lodge. Sami and Izzy surreptitiously arrived while we were breakfasting, paid our check utilizing Sami’s cast member discount at the hostess station, and left. It was a lovely anniversary surprise.

Cousin Ellen arrived and was staying with Ken. We arranged a day at the Morse Museum of Glass in Winter Park and had a fantastic, multi-course dinner together at Sebastian’s Bistro in the Caribbean Beach Resort. Some weeks later, we repeated the same dinner with Ari and Rif and Paul. After dinner, Saul, Ari and I took a long stroll through the resort area and the Riviera Resort area, completely around the lagoon at the center. 

One of the other downsides of these last seven months was that Ari was laid off the week before the purchase of his beautiful new home in London. That certainly put a damper on our joy. The system in England does not leave one without a parachute, however. He was put on what is known in England as “garden leave” which requires his company to extend him three months salary, in addition to his month’s worth of unused vacation and sick leave pay. Unfortunately, in the present economic climate, and although he has been diligent about seeking new employment, no offerings have been forthcoming as of this writing. An upside, if you can call it that, was the death of Queen Elizabeth and her funeral a few days after he moved in. That gave the entire country a few days off and he was free to attend and photograph the various ceremonies. Little by little, he acquired the bare basics furniture that he needed to live comfortably.

We had a tremendous hurricane when Ian blew through Florida, but after Irma, we at least knew that our windows would hold and not blow in, so we could weather the storm more comfortably at home, only moving into the garage our outdoor furniture and potted plants. We had a very scaled-back Rosh Hashanah lunch this year with only Elaine attending. Jessica managed to visit Saul’s parent’s graves in Mt. Sharon cemetery up north as is our custom at this time of the year.

In between festivals, the Disney Parks are not so crowded. There was only one ride in all the parks that I had not been on, only because the lines were always so long for a pretty insignificant ride. On a slow day in Magic Kingdom, Saul and I finally got to ride the Astro Orbiter. We tried to squeeze into one spaceship, but it was too small, so we rode separately. Afterwards, we photographed a practically empty plaza that is usually crowded with people.

In ten years that we have lived in Florida, we have only had harmless geckos in the house a handful of times, therefore, we were greatly surprised to find one on the handle of Saul’s hairbrush one morning. They are very beneficial at eating harmful insects, so we generally trap them and release them back outside. At Sami’s job, there was a cupcake contest during Halloween, She made mini bundt pumpkins which were sweet potato cake with an orange-dyed brown sugar icing and won a prize for them. 

Saul and I continue taking advantage of the beautiful winter Florida weather and the nearby Disney Parks for long, interesting strolls, getting some great Animal Kingdom photos and enjoying great concerts at the American Theater at Epcot, such as Boyz II Men. The trash cans at Disney are kept so spotless that you can eat off them, literally. We happened upon a couple who had purchased a set on Etsy designed specifically for that purpose. Unfortunately, in November, Saul and I came down with Influenza A a day apart. We were given this news in the emergency room in Celebration Hospital, where I required an I.V., unfortunately, but we were relieved to find that at least it wasn’t Covid. The upside was that Saul was okay for my ordeal in the E.R. so we knew what he had and what medication he needed. We both laid in bed for a week, while Sami put a table in front of our door, and brought us tea, her homemade soup, and medication. Luckily, we were over it just in time for the family to fly in for Thanksgiving, and luckily, before we came down with the flu, I had already begun preparing for it. Izzy drove in from her college in Marietta, Georgia to join us, and it was such a pleasure to have the whole family together again.

Another upside of Ari’s situation, was that he was able to spend an extended period of time with us during December and into January. During that time, Beth visited us with her delightful friend, John. A visit from Sami’s friend, Max, overlapped with Ari’s visit, and we had an incredible day doing a “gingerbread crawl” around Disney after Saul and I had a great, early-morning breakfast at Boma together with Rif and Paul, Sami, Max, Beth, John, and Ari. As usual, the gingerbread installations were mind-boggling.

One of our favorite places to spend a gorgeous, breezy, Florida-winter afternoon is Chef Art Smith’s Homecoming Kitchen. Our favorite table is on the screened, covered deck, overlooking the lagoon. After that, we walk off our meal with a stroll around Disney Springs, sometimes skirting the golf course that is part of the Saratoga Springs Resort on the other side of the lagoon. We began our evening at Cirque du Soleil’s “Drawn to Life” at this restaurant. The tickets were a present from Sami. The show itself is so amazing that afterward, I felt that the whole world should see it sometime. When people ask me if the tickets are worth the money, I can only rhapsodize enthusiastically that “yes, yes, yes”! they should see it.

This year for Chanukah, I just made lots and lots of my vegan, oil-free latkes, as it turned out that not only did we like them better, but everyone else was happy eating them as well. We all got together for latkes, donuts from Donut King, light snacks, drinks, and lighting the Chanukah candles together. Izzy came in for an extended period of time because she was on winter break. Chanukah also coincided with Rif’s birthday, and for the Shabbat dinner celebrating her birthday, she requested a carrot cake and coconut flan for dessert among other things. Elaine invited us over for a Shabbat dinner at her house one Friday. For New Year’s Eve, Ari and Izzy went out to buy fireworks again, with each year producing a more elaborate display. We hosted a New Year’s Day breakfast of lox, whitefish salad, with the accompanying accoutrements, and leftovers from the previous evening.

After Jessica’s family left, Ari made it his mission to find interesting new restaurants and things to do here in Florida. One morning, we had breakfast at the Maple Street Biscuit Company in Celebration before heading off to Disney so Ari could ride the new “Guardians of the Galaxy” ride in Epcot. One morning we took a very long walk and explored areas in Saratoga Springs that we had not seen before, such as the “Tree Houses” section of the Resort. We wandered so far afield that some Disney cast members offered us a ride back to the main resort on one of their maintenance golf carts, for which we were very grateful. We had breakfast at the Celebration Diner on a Sunday morning, explored the Sunday Farmer’s Market there, and then took a long and scenic walk completely around the lake there—something I did not know was possible in all my ten years of visiting Celebration. 

Another unique and interesting excursion that Ari had proposed was visiting Tarpon Springs, apparently the hub of one of the largest Greek Orthodox communities in the country, for Epiphany. We invited our friend, Ed, who now lives in The Villages here in Florida, was formerly married to Beth, and lived next door to us up north for a few years. Ed is Greek Orthodox, had always wanted to see the unique ceremony performed there, and happened to be free on that particular day. Towards the end of our two hour ride, in Wesley Chapel, Ari had even scoped out a wonderful restaurant, The Brunchery, now known as Egg Town, that had delicious vegan fare as well as the usual Southern fixings, for breakfast. We found a convenient parking spot in Tarpon Springs, and after the service (during which we waited in a large crowd outside the church) which is held in the large and imposing church for members only, the community, led by their priest and church officials leads a procession of community members and competing teenagers for a few streets down to the water. There, the appropriately-dressed teenagers swim to a ring of boats as the competition is about to start. The priest, from a dock opposite the ring of boats, throws a large golden cross into the lake. The teenagers dive from the boats and the first one to retrieve the cross is blessed and guaranteed a year of good luck and prosperity. It was a very chilly day as we stood outside the church, but thankfully for those wet souls, the afternoon sun produced our usual Florida hot weather. The town holds many activities in their social halls, including food and dancing, but the venues were so crowded that after observing the Greek dancing for a while, we opted to find a nearby Greek restaurant for a late lunch. We lucked out in that we found parking and a not-too-crowded, highly-rated restaurant in which to have a congenial repast. Before heading home, we patronized the Greek bakery across the street for a supply of braided bread, baklava and other similar Greek pastries made with phyllo, walnuts, and honey.

In the course of our conversations, we realized that Ari had never gone with us to Bok Tower Gardens. We had once tried, during Covid, but the crowds were so overwhelming that we opted to go for a walk around a lake in a nearby vicinity. We went to visit Bok Tower on a beautiful temperate day and added this unique experience to Ari’s repertoire. The camellias were in full bloom, along with other beautiful flowers, and the campanile player was giving lessons in the tower to a student.

Perhaps the most unique of all our day trips was our visit to “Solomon’s Castle.” A quirky and clever artist who built his pieces from discarded industrial materials and found objects, Howard Solomon created his “castle” in Ona, Florida. Unfortunately, most of the property was built on swampland that flooded severely during Hurricane Ian. But our visit proved most worthwhile, anyway, and we were wowed by the body of work he produced, his clever use of shiny outcast offset print plates to clad his castle, his themed, stained glass windows, the ark he built to house a restaurant and gift shop, and his exemplary antique car collection. Before Ari found this place, I had never heard of it or the Florida town where it resides in “the middle of nowhere.” The day we visited, there were a surprising number of people there for the tour and to patronize the restaurant. On our drive back home, we received a most shocking phone call. Saul, David and Max had been the closest of friends in high school. Several years ago, they discovered that they were all living in Florida. Before Covid, we had all gotten together here in Orlando several times as all the wives knew each other from high school days as well. The shocking news was that Max had gone out after breakfast for his daily several-mile walk and was hit and killed by a car as he was crossing a roadway. Our shock and dismay was nothing compared to that of his wife and two daughters. It was a very sad reminder to us that no matter what petty upsetting and inconvenient traumas we were experiencing, they pale by comparison to what others are enduring, and we must make the most of each day we are given.

We revisited Animal Kingdom with Ari and were pleased to see that the Tumble Monkeys and the flying Blue Bird Ballerina have returned to the Festival of the Lion King Show. At Hollywood Studios, we also took a picture in front the the access door that serves as entrance and egress for the cosseted guests staying at the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Hotel. On the same excursion, we had lunch at a new restaurant for us—Veggie Garden Vegan Vietnamese Kitchen. The food was exotic, and very flavorful, not to mention reasonable. Saul and I went back on another occasion in February, only to find that the restaurant is closed on Wednesdays. The door was open and the two ladies who were having lunch (employees) went into the kitchen to see if they would serve us, but the kitchen staff was afraid if we were seen eating that others would demand to be served as well. In desperation, we wound up eating at a vegan place that we had passed many times, Loving Hut. It doesn’t look very inviting from the outside, but the pho we had there was probably the best vegan pho we have ever had. Ari was here for the start of Disney’s Festival of the Arts, and we all got to sample some of the delectable offerings in the kiosks around Epcot.  We also went there with Rif and Paul for an evening concert, although they were not so happy with their samplings. We also went back to Celebration for another stroll around the lake before Ari left for London.

The evening Fantasmic show at Hollywood Studios had been shut down for a few years because of Covid until the last few months. The crowds had been huge as soon as they reopened, but Saul and I ventured over there one evening, shortly after Ari left, to see the new iteration. The costumes and sets had all been refurbished (the show had gotten a bit shabby in recent years), and some of the “politically incorrect” skits, such as those involving Pocahontas had been replaced with more recent movie characters like Moana. It was nice to have the show back again in all its glory. I couldn’t resist posing with one of the 3-D chalk drawings at the Arts Festival at Epcot. I love them, but I will henceforth limit myself to ones I can stand on. I had a terrible time getting up from my sitting position on the pavement, even with the wall alongside to bolster me. Another new addition to Epcot is a little thing, but it creates lots of joy for both adults and children waiting for others at the restrooms outside the Odyssey Building. A box that looks like the back of an air conditioner blows prodigious amounts of soap bubbles filled with smoke that wafts away as you pop the bubbles. 

Many times in our excursions around the parks, we will see people taking pictures of their families and offer to take the photo for them so that they can be in the scene also. It usually affords a chance to chat a bit with far-flung visitors, who can be very interesting. One evening in Epcot, just such a situation presented itself. Usually, we take the photo with their camera, but they were having trouble with their flash. So we took the photo with our camera and shared it with them. They were, perhaps, the most interesting of all the people we have met. They are Jewish Canadians from Montreal who might be interested in moving to our area and wanted to discuss neighborhoods that we thought would be good to check out. What made them the most interesting, however, was what Eli Batalion does for a living. He and his friend, Jamie Elman create an award-winning Yiddish comedy web series on YouTube, Yid Life Crisis, which provided us with hours of hilarious, if very irreverent, entertainment. Every segment is performed in Yiddish with English subtitles and a bit of French thrown in as well. Saul only occasionally gets to hear or speak Yiddish, so this was really a joy for him, and he loved when he got to explain to me the nuances of Yiddish that are lost in the English translations.

Towards the end of January, Paul and Rif treated us to a concert by Jason Isbell at the Walt Disney Theater in the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. My cousin, Ellen, had mentioned wanting to see a show at the theater, and in all this time in Orlando, I had to Google it to learn about it. What I didn’t realize was that there are three theaters side-by-side in one absolutely architecturally-stunning modern building. Seeing these venues were almost as good as the concert itself, which was, believe me, excellent.

As the Festival of the Arts wound to a close, we enjoyed the “Disney on Broadway” concerts at Epcot, featuring the amazingly talented Broadway actors who wowed us with their superb voices and snippets of their acting and dancing roles. We watched an artist who created a painting in front of the eyes of a large crowd using his fingers and brushes. When finished he, surprisingly, flipped the canvas upside-down to reveal an artistic portrait of Minnie Mouse. A first for us, even after 10 years of exploring the Disney Parks, was discovering a small remote section of Dino Land in Animal Kingdom that we had never accessed. It may not be there much longer as I understand the area is due to be replaced shortly with a “Zootopia” theme.

Although we had just been to Bok Tower Gardens with Ari, we couldn’t resist the invitation, as members, to get a little closer to the inner sanctum beyond the fanciful, dragon-encrusted, locked iron gates of the tower. In front is the tombstone of Edward William Bok, who funded the building of the tower and gardens. Once a year, the gates are opened for members to pose in front of the elaborately decorated brass doors at the entrance to the tower. The doors depict the story of Genesis. We waited in a long line for about 45 minutes for the privilege, but it was fun chatting with those around us who had such diverse life stories.

We had a nice crowd for a Shabbat Tu B’Shevat (Sabbath New Year of the Trees) seder and dinner this year. I love the scavenger hunt of trying to find a nice assortment of fruit for the centerpiece and the four symbolic categories that represent the four seasons. Winn-Dixie, thankfully, had the four different colors of Kedem grape juice for the brachot (blessings) that accompany the four platters of tree fruits and nuts. The whole meal was designed to showcase the bounty we enjoy that the trees provide for us.

At the beginning of February, we received a photo from the Israeli cousins that the family is growing by leaps and bounds.

A downer in February was discovering one morning that some of our ensuite shower tiles had cracked and collapsed into the floor. A small hairline crack in a few tiles had apparently led to water seeping in and destroying the integrity of the wall behind. The upside of that same thing was that the old shower tile could not be repaired, and I got to choose a stunning, new, large, marbled-porcelain tile pattern that will have practically no grout lines, will go from floor to ceiling, will surround the adjacent bathtub, and, to boot, I can now redesign and have a wheelchair-accessible shower, which I hope we will never need. Not a good time for the expense, but it was one of the things we considered redoing because of the hairline crack when we bought the house ten years ago. As if this weren’t enough, during this crisis, our insurance company sent us a letter saying our policy would be cancelled unless we replace our roof.

When Sami visited London, and we needed to get her to Tampa International Airport, Rif decided to join us for the ride. Paul was involved with a Ham Radio convention at the time. After dropping Sami at the airport, we travelled on to Clearwater Beach where we snagged a really good parking spot and watched the gorgeous sunset from our table at Frenchy’s Rockaway Grill on the beach as we had dinner before leaving for the drive back home after rush hour.

During February, we continued our strolls in the Park as the weather continued absolutely beautiful, and planted our seeds—heirloom tomatoes, unusual basils, and flowers. When Sami returned from her fabulous London vacation, we worked together to produce the best hamantaschen we have ever made to distribute to friends and neighbors during the March holiday of Purim.

Breaking with tradition, Saul and I booked a flight to London for Passover this year. We plan to Zoom into the family seder, which Ari usually does himself, and it will probably take place here in Florida when Jess, Alex and Yona arrive to enjoy their spring vacation. 

It certainly has been several months of uncertainty and trauma, highs and lows, ups and downs, but we are trying to take each day as it comes and make the most of it. Having written all this down now, I realize that the good far outweighs the bad, especially when compared to the problems many others face. We will try to keep a positive outlook, no matter what the future holds because we know that we are uncommonly blessed.