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 CafĂ©, 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.