Tag Archives: #Florida

I am a pickleball putz

I am a proud pickleball dropout. After a brief attempt to learn the game from my husband Larry, I realized that being interested in something and having enough talent to play on the most basic level are two different things.

What? You haven’t heard of pickleball? Have you been living under a marinated mushroom? According to the 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are 4.8 million people who play the game in the United States alone. It is the fasting growing sport in the country. 

Until Larry and I retired, I myself had never heard about pickleball. Larry had been involved in sports his entire life—basketball, baseball, and track in his youth and running and cycling as an adult. When he turned 65, we both joined the local YMCA. While I took classes and swam laps in the Olympic-sized pool, Larry started playing the game with friends from Congregation Beth Shalom and other members of the Y. 

Both competitive and athletic, Larry fell in love with the game immediately. He found camaraderie as well as the ability—to quote Jimmy Buffet—“to grow older but not up.”

When we moved to Florida, one of the conditions for where we would live was contingent upon having aerobic classes and a lap pool for me and having pickleball courts for Larry. We both found what we were looking for in our 55+ active adult community. Larry joined the Smashers and found players at his level. To make his life even better, Larry found the Summit County Pickleball Club, (“We play with altitude”) near where we rent in Colorado every summer.

Pickleball not only provided Larry with a great form of exercise but it also provided a social outlet. In Florida, the Smashers had dances and breakfasts; in Colorado, the players had picnics and cocktail parties.

As a matter of fact, it was the social aspect of “pb’ing” at 9100 feet that got my interest. Larry was playing the game at least four mornings a week, and he was meeting lots of people. I, on the other hand, spent my mornings either hiking by myself or with my granddog or, occasionally, swimming lonely laps in a pool that accepted Silver Sneakers. Maybe learning the game would help me become part of a community.

So one day, at my request, I asked Larry to take me onto the Colorado courts during a time set aside for beginners interested in trying the game. After giving me some of the basic rules, Larry gently lobbed me a ball; I hit it. Hey! This wasn’t so bad! Slow lob, hit. Slow lob.”I got this!” I thought

When he started hitting the balls to me at the normal rate of speed, however, I could barely hit it. Only 30 minutes into my private lessons, a slim, athletic couple came onto the court.

“We’d love some lessons, too!” they said. Larry quickly repeated some of the basics, and the two of them took to it like “white on rice.” At that point, they told us they had been playing tennis their whole lives, so this was an easy transition.Larry then suggested the four of us play a game together. 

Now it was a completely different game. Fast lob, Marilyn miss. Fast lob, Marilyn miss. Soon Larry was covering both sides of our court to cover for me. 

You have to understand that I wasn’t even close to hitting the ball. My lifetime lack of hand-eye coordination, exacerbated by vision problems brought on by age, resulted in my swinging at lots of air. The ball was usually two feet above or two feet below my pathetic paddle.

So I did what any normal, mature adult would do in that situation. I told Larry I didn’t want to play anymore, went back to our car, sat in the front seat, and cried.

“I can’t do it,” I told Larry after he finished his session with the two tennis pros. “I hate it! I can’t see the ball. I can’t hit the ball. I can’t even move in time. I’m done.”

I was. And I am. I am in the eighth decade of my life. Up until now, I had proven myself lousy at tennis and baseball and racketball and squash, I have now proved myself to be lousy at pickleball. The benefits of being part of a large group—there are at least 1000 members of Smashers—are totally outweighed by how much I hate trying to hit a stupid ball with a stupid paddle that may result in my breaking a stupid bone.

“You should try playing with us,” some friends have told me. “None of us play that well, and we won’t care if you’re not great at it.”

“No thanks,” I tell them. “I’d rather walk or swim or bike or do an exercise class.” 

And after hearing about all my friends with pickleball-related injuries, I am happy to stick to what I am doing.None of them require hand/eye coordination. None of them are competitive, so I don’t have to always lose. Better yet, I won’t be the player that no one wants on their team. Yes, my short stint as a pickleball putz is over! From now on, my only pickle of choice is a Kosher one in a jar.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Chocolate Almond Heaven

How will I celebrate a milestone birthday during the pandemic?  That hoped-for week away with my family is out. A party at my home is out. Heck! My husband Larry and I can’t even head to my favorite restaurant and indulge in a filet mignon and my free birthday brownie sundae. But there is a silver lining. An Abbott’s frozen custard stand is less than 33 miles away from our Florida home!

The history of one of my culinary favorites began in 1902 when a young and enthusiastic Arthur Abbott traveled the Eastern seaboard with summer carnivals. He eventually found his way to Rochester, New York, where opened a stand across the street from Charlotte Beach on the shores of Lake Ontario and near a bustling amusement park.  

According to Abbott’s website, as word of his frozen concoction spread, people lined up from morning to night. From his newfound success, Arthur was able to buy and train his own racehorses. When he struck it rich after Blue Man won the Preakness, Abbott, in his 70’s, retired in 1957 and turned over his scoops to fellow frozen custard lovers Lenny and Tibby Schreiber. 

For many years, Tibby’s parents owned a kosher meat market in what used to be during the 1930’s, the heart of the Jewish community on Joseph Avenue in Rochester. The franchise is now run by the Schreibers’ daughter Gail Drew and her family. To this day, Abbott’s supports  the Tibby Schreiber Scholarship at the Jewish Home of Rochester for the children of employees of the skilled nursing home who are heading off to college. 

Brenden Drew grew up in the family business where he started taking out the trashing and washing dishes. He now is responsible for business development and franchising. “Every day it is an honor and a privilege to help grow the family business,” Brenden said. “Our family loves supporting our communities and making each one of our guests happy and so do each one of our local owners who truly live the brand”

It took the Shapiros a few more years to discover Abbott’s. In the early 90’s, Larry and daughter Julie went to Western New York for a track and field competition. They spent the night before the race with Larry’s sister and her husband, who lived in Rochester. They grabbed dinner on Charlotte’s Beach, followed by dessert at Abbott’s.

Larry was hooked from the first lick of his chocolate almond cone and soon introduced the rest of us to it.  Everyone who knows me knows how much I love ice cream. But Abbott’s chocolate almond frozen custard is in a class by itself. The chocolate  custard is rich and smooth and creamy and delicious. What makes it outstanding are the roughly chopped  roasted almonds that are stuffed into the custard. As one reviewer on Yelp raved, “It is like sex in frozen form!”

Whenever we went to Rochester, we made sure Abbott’s was on our agenda. Fortunately, as our son Adam spent four years at University of Rochester, so we had plenty of chances to make a stop when we were there.

Sometimes once was not enough. In 2003, Larry and I went to a wedding that was held in a church in Rochester. On the way to the reception, Larry and I stopped at Abbott’s for a pre-dinner cone. The next day, we went with the bride’s parents to another Abbott’s for a second helping. They knew how much we loved this stuff. When Larry had surgery on a torn Achilles tendon a couple of years later, they had the company ship out a couple of quarts to him. He graciously shared it with me. 

At this point, we thought Abbott’s was only located in Rochester. In 2012, however, Larry and I were on  Naples, Florida, strolling down Fifth Avenue, when Larry began running down the street. “Come on! Come on! I have a surprise for you!” And there in front of us was an Abbott’s frozen custard! Yep! Time for another chocolate almond cone.

The Naples franchise closed. Thankfully, another one of Larry’s sisters spends their winters in Vero Beach, and every time we visit her and her husband, we hit Abbott’s. They don’t even have to be there. We celebrated Larry’s 70th birthday by going to a beach farther down the coast and stopping at Abbott’s on the way home.

Vero Beach is 100 miles away, not conducive to regular visits. And we don’t get to Rochester very often. So imagine our joy in discovering that an Abbott’s opened up in Winter Garden, only 33 miles up the road. We celebrated Father’s Day 2020 with our first visit. It was almost as wonderful as we imagined, but we think they didn’t hear our request for chocolate ALMOND, as we realized halfway through our cones that the familiar crunch was missing. Two days later, we had to get a bike tire fixed, and we were only 16 miles away from Abbott’s. So what is a thirty-two mile round trip detour for the love of frozen custard? And this time we not only got plenty of almonds, but the size small was bigger than the previous Sunday’s medium. Heaven!!

We made our third trip up a couple of weeks later. Another bike tire blew, and did another detour. I am sure we will squeeze another visit before my Labor Day weekend birthday. We are running out of bike tires, but we can find another reason.

When we make our trip up for my birthday cone, I will pack a cooler and plenty of ice and we will bring extra home, including a quart for friends in our community who previously lived in Rochester.  It may not be the celebration for which I hoped to kick off my eighth decade. But it’s a sweet start!

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the August 6. 2020, iissue.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Observer of Central New York, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the June 2021 issue.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News, a weekly subscription-based newspaper in Central Florida in its August 14, 2020 issue.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Observer of Central New York, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the June 2021 issue.

My pre-birthday trial run to Abbott’s Frozen Custard in Winter Garden, Florida

“This too shall pass.” Meanwhile we sit tight and alone.

As we tread  carefully through the fourth month of the coronavirus pandemic, the emotional and physical devastation this plague has caused is felt acutely by so many. As our days of sheltering at home continue, it has become much more real, much more personal, much more frightening.

My husband Larry and I are feeling the impact, as I suspect many of you are. Our community already has had two confirmed deaths from the virus. Kathy, a friend from my writing group who had been sick with bronchitis, posted the following message on a on March 30 on her Facebook page: “I have pneumonia and am in the Poinciana Medical Center where I am getting fantastic care. Take care. Be well.” Two days later, her brother Brian Joyce posted that she had been diagnosed with COVID-19 and was on a ventilator. His daily updates report the news that she is still fighting for her life.

Friends and family are all sharing stories of people they know who have been diagnosed with the corona virus and those who have lost the battle. A longtime congregant of our synagogue in Upstate New York succumbed to the virus this week. My son’s brother-in-law’s grandfather in California died after contracting the virus from his daughter. Each day the numbers continue to climb.

Although most of my friends are retired, many have children on the front line as medical staff or first responders. They post and text pictures of their son or daughter in full protective gear or—worse yet—reused masks and garbage bags for scrubs. Originally, it was believed that the virus mostly attacked the elderly and those with underlying conditions. That “reassurance” no longer works, and my friends are worried that their children or grandchildren will contract it.

Any medical procedure becomes a cause for serious concern and even panic. A friend scheduled for cancer surgery was terrified that he would develop the virus and would be told he must cancel. Meanwhile, his wife had to drop him off at the hospital and pick him up two days later. She couldn’t physically be there for him.

Another friend, also diagnosed with cancer, was told by her Florida doctor that the surgery would be postponed until the pandemic had subsided. Fortunately, she was able to find a doctor in her home town of Pittsburgh who could operate within the week. She and her husband made a hasty trip up for the procedure. I am happy to report that her surgery was a success.

Last week,Larry was involved in a bicycle accident when he slipped on some wet pavement. His primary physician insisted Larry go to the emergency room for a tetanus shot and for potential stitches for the gash on his elbow. I freaked out, fearing he would contract the virus in the waiting room. “Please don’t go,” I begged. “Stay home. I’ll stitch it up myself.” That freaked him out. Wearing a surgical mask, he left for the hospital, where he was immediately ushered into a sterile examining room. He came home two hours later, tetanus shot administered and wounds bandaged—none requiring stitches. He had only the highest praise for the medical staff.

Two days after Larry’s ER visit, friends were anxiously awaiting the birth of their first grandchild. The impending delivery had made more stressful as it was uncertain whether their son could be in attendance as some New York City hospitals were not allowing any partners in the delivery room. Everyone was relieved to learn that he could accompany his wife during delivery, but the planned birth was still fraught with worry. If either the expectant parents had symptoms, would she have to deliver alone? And would she or the baby contract the virus while in the hospital? Thankfully, the baby was born without complications. The proud grandmother sent me a picture taken in the hospital of the father dressed head to toe in scrubs and a surgical mask gingerly holding the swaddled baby in his gloved hands. All that was visible were the father’s proud eyes. 

The coronavirus has taken much from us, but the inability to congregate, to be with those we love, to hug one another in times of joy or sadness, is the most painful. In normal times, we come together to celebrate the birth of a baby, to support ill friends, to say goodbye to a beloved friend or relative. During this time of a “new normal,” grandparents cannot hold their newborn grandchild. Friends and family cannot celebrate birthdays, weddings and bar mitzvahs. High school and college students cannot celebrate graduations. Jews cannot gather around a huge table or meet in a large room to hold a seder. Most tragically, family and friends cannot even help those who lost a loved ones to grieve, to offer hugs and human touch. 

One day, in the unforeseeable future, the corona virus will be behind us. We will gather together and hug each other tightly and even plant kisses on each other’s cheeks that are wet with tears of joy. We will hold our friends and family not only in our hearts but also in our arms.

On Friday, March 20, for the first time since serving as our spiritual leader, she did not conduct Shabbat services at Congregation Shalom Aleichem in Kissimmee. The synagogue, like thankfully churches, mosques, and other religious meeting places, were closed due to the pandemic. In a letter sent to the entire congregation, The rabbi suggested the following:  At 8:00 p.m. that evening, “when we would all prefer to be together in the sanctuary, let’s do two things that are emblematic of the worship service:recite the Sh’ma and Mi Shebeirach prayers.”

Like Rabbi Allen, Larry and I could not be together with other members of our congregation.. Instead, we set the table with white linens and good china and crystal wine glasses. We lit the Shabbos candles, said Kiddish, and ate the delicious warm challah I had made from scratch. We recited the Sh’ma. Then we prayed for all of those—too many to even count— in need of healing.

Mi shebeirach imoteinu, m’kor ha-bra-cha l’avoteinu./Bless those in need of healing with r’fu-a sh’lei-ma./The renewal of body, the renewal of spirit,/And let us say Amen.

Stay well. Stay safe. Stay home.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York, in the April 16, 2020, issue.

A version of this article originally appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News, a weekly subscription-based newspaper in Florida, in the April 17, 2020, issue.

My friend Kathy in happier times. May she be writing again soon!

Storm lover wakes up to the realization that life is fragile

When I was six years old, I loved summer storms. As the sky turned dark, the thunder clapped, and the lighting shot across the sky, I would watch from the safety of our living room window. My mother assured me that the noise was just God bowling.

When I was sixteen, I loved summer storms. By that time, my parents had purchased a cottage on Willsboro Bay in Upstate New York  From the safety of our porch,  I would watch the rain come down in sheets and the waves rock our boat that was moored 200 yards off shore. 

When we moved to Florida, I still loved summer storms. But I soon learned to respect their intensity and duration. Our state has as many as 100 stormy days a year, and our climate means that these storms can happen any month of the year. Florida also has be dubious honor of being the lightning capital of the United States. I have been witness to their fury again and again from the safety of our lanai. And on several occasions, I have had to take shelter quickly as the weather changed too quickly for me to realize what was coming. 

But now, almost five years after our move, I now see these storms as a reminder as to how fragile our lives can be.

Last July, on what started out to be a beautiful July day a group of fellow residents were playing golf on the course in our 55+ community, Very suddenly, the sky darkened as huge black clouds moved in. The golfers, all seasoned Florida residents, knew what to do. They abandoned their game and headed for their golf carts and shelter. 

It was too late. A bolt of lightning struck two of the men. One was thrown to the ground, shaken but okay. The second person was struck full force, and the electric travelled through his body. By the time he was brought the the hospital, he was brain dead. The doctors kept him on life support long enough for his devastated wife and children to say their good byes. 

What are the chances of getting hit by lightning? According to Wikipedia, it is one in 700,000. For my neighbor, the odds were 1:1. 

What happened that fateful morning? Did they give each other a kiss before he headed out the door? And what were their last words to one another. “I love you! See you later.”Or was their conversation ordinary and mundane. “We need to pick up some milk” or “The Red Sox are playing the Yankees tonight.” Or were their last words those that she regretted? “You promised you would fix  that leaky faucet!”

I am 69, and my husband Larry is 71. The specter of death hangs over us a little more heavily than it did twenty—or even ten—years ago. Friends die suddenly from heart attacks or slowly from cancer. No matter, their loss is sad. 

Sad, but not tragic. To me,”tragic” is the death of a 31-year-old daughter to leukemia. Tragic is losing a nineteen year old granddaughter to a car accident on a rainy night one block from her home. Tragic is losing a sixteen year old grandson who had been severely disabled since he was a baby. And tragic is losing a husband from—literally— a bolt out of the blue. 

“Biz hundert un tzvantsig!” (May you live to 120!”) is  a popular Jewish blessing for a long healthy life. Each loss, whether the number of years were short or long, whether their death was sad or tragic, is my personal reminder to treat each moment with gratitude. “Life is so transient and ephemeral; we will not be here after a breath,” said Dr. Debasish Mridha,  an American physician and philosopher. “So think better, think deeply, think with kindness, and write it with love so that it may live a little longer.” 

Some of us are fortunate enough to live a great deal longer.My mother’s first cousin Eli Helfand passed away last April, three months after his 100th birthday. A World War II veteran and a graduate of Clarkson College, Eli spent almost all his working life in Richfield Springs, New York, where he owned and operated Ruby’s Department Store. He had two wonderful marriages, raised four strong, independent children, and got to enjoy his five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

What I remember most about my cousin Eli are our strong family connections. During the Depression, when his parents were struggling to get their Upstate New York store afloat, Eli spent summers and school vacations with my mother and her family in New York City. He introduced my parents and served as best man at their wedding. Eli drove the car that the newlyweds took from the city to Alburgh, Vermont. Mom shared the front seat with Eli’s mother Rose while my father sat in the back seat with all the wedding presents, including a floor lamp that Bill had to hold for the eight hour trip. My parents remained close to Eli and Florence, who attended my parents’ 60th anniversary. When Florence passed away and Eli remarried, he and Marty became an integral part of not only my parents’ life but also of mine. We visited them at their homes in Otsego County in New York as well as their retirement home in in Englewood, Florida. 

Eli and I share another close connection. His daughter Marsha and I are only weeks apart in age.  We spent time with each other as children as well as our four years as students at University at Albany. We have attended each other’s weddings as well as those of our children. 

In August, 1962, I spent a week with Marsha and her family at their cottage on Canadarago Lake. We played and replayed Ray Steven’s (what now would be considered politically incorrect)song about Ahab, “the sheik in the golden sand.” We baked cookies. We went swimming and boating. And when the storm clouds moved in, we ran back inside. From the porch windows, we watched the lightning flash across the sky and listened to the thunder echo off the surrounding hills. We turned the Ray Stevens second back on and danced around the living room in our bare feet. We were safe in the childhood belief t that life would treat us kind and that we would  live forever—or at least for one hundred twenty years. 

A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish World News, a bi-weekly subscription-based newspaper in upstate New York.

Eli Helfand (Z”L) 1919-2019

Hometown Tours

A number of years ago, Larry’s sister Carole had her annual Fourth of July party in her backyard in Saratoga Springs. What made this party special is that our niece and her significant other had made the trip up from Virginia, the first time he had ever been to Saratoga County.

Katie wanted to show Swamy around the city, and Larry offered to give the tour. We piled into the Prius, Larry behind the wheel with Swamy next to him for the best view. Katie and I took seats in the back, and we began our excursion.

Larry’s first stop was not the race track or the Hall of Springs or Congress Park. Nope. He immediately drove to Avery Street and parked outside a white two-story colonial. “This is our first house in Saratoga,” Larry explained. “I spent hours playing stoop ball right there on those front steps. My friend Tommy lived down the street, and Al lived around the corner.”

When Katie and I suggested that Larry show Swamy more of Saratoga Springs tourist spots, he assured us he was getting there. But the next stop was in front of another house down the street. “That is where my piano teacher lived,” he offered. “His wife was my fourth grade teacher.”

My niece and I began to giggle. We knew where this was going. Our next stop was in front of one of the gates at the race track, where Larry sold newspapers and, when he turned eighteen, beer to the patrons. This “site” was accompanied by a story as to how Larry was once accused of not having the exact amount of money at the end of the day, and how he had proven his honesty to the manager. We saw the field where Larry played baseball into the summer nights, his old high school, and the outer limits of his newspaper route.

Swamy did get to see a little of the true tourist places but only as we drove by on Larry’s sentimental tour of the “real” Saratoga Springs. By the end of the hour, Katie and I were laughing out loud. Swamy, who is a sweet gentle soul, smiled throughout and offered an occasional “Very nice!”

Recently, I shared this story with my friend Marcie. Rather than thinking it was funny, she told me that she totally got it. Completely. Marcie had grown up in Boston, and after her daughter graduated Northeastern, she insisted that the two of them take a tour of the “real” Boston. Marcie drove her daughter to her old synagogue Agudath Israel, the house where her father had lived in the once thriving Jewish neighborhood of Dorchester, and her old school, Girls Latin. “My daughter thought that she knew Boston because she had been to Fenway Park and walked the Freedom Trail,” said Marcie. “But she knew nothing unless I introduced her to the Boston that was my home.”

It then hit me that one’s home town, no matter how heralded or how small, was not about the tourist spots. It was about memories. Keeseville is just a dot on the map. When Larry first visited me there in 1973, I didn’t bring him to Ausable Chasm, our one claim to fame. He and I took a walk over the swinging bridge and the steep steps up to Pleasant Street. We circled around past my old high school. I pointed out the church right across the street. “When I was a child, all my Catholic friends crossed themselves when they walked past it,” I told him. “I did it for a while until my parents explained to me that Jews ‘didn’t do that.’” Then we walked home over the keystone bridge.

For over thirty-six years we did similar tours for our out-of-area Clifton Park guests. No visit would be complete without a drive past the little red school house where my children went to nursery school, a walk through the Vischer Ferry Wildlife Preserve, and a stop for apple cider donuts at Riverview Orchards in the fall or ice cream at the Country Drive-in in the summer. None of these places would be in Lonely Planet or even local “What To See” guides in the Capital Region. To us, however, they represented what best in our hometown. Not to say that we wouldn’t bring guests to the State Museum or the Saratoga Battlefield or even Cooperstown. However, when it comes to important, we know.

Our home in Florida is less than forty minutes from Disney; Legoland and Sea World are even closer. When guests come, I am sure that these world-famous attractions may be on top of their ‘must see’ list. But after only few months, we already had selected off the grid locations, starting with the view of Pacer Pond from our lanai. On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Larry and I woke up to the sight of four birds, two lizards, and an alligator that Larry named Brutus, whose size rivals anything one can see in Gatorland. We found a great custard stand down the road, and the Disney Wilderness Preserve is only four miles away.

So, my dear Larry, now I ‘get it’ too. You showed Swamy the best that Saratoga Springs had to offer you, and I know you will do the same for our future Florida visitors. Just warn them about Brutus before they step out into our back yard.

Photo courtesy of Commons.wikimedia.org