Friday, December 31, 2004

What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

When I was a tiny child, my mother had a record of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" by Dante and the Evergreens. I didn't know the name of the band, as I was too young to read or to even care. I could tell which record it was by the brown and white label. It was a really creepy version, with lots of 1950s style "Ooooo's" and haunting music.

Somewhere along the line, the record got broken, and then vinyl gave way to CDs anyway. Every December, I would think about that song and wish that I could get another copy. Unfortunately, at the time I didn't know who performed it. I worked my way through a myriad number of versions, but I could never find the one.

Finally Al Gore invented the internet, and I was able to narrow my search. Originally, it had been like searching for a needle in a haystack. Now, I was still searching in the hay, but at least I was looking for a knitting needle. I found a scan of the familiar old brown and white record on a Japanese website. I have no idea what the caption said, but now I knew that I was looking for the Dante and the Evergreens version.

Now I started working my way through rare record stores (this song was too rare even for Ebay, where I had gotten a CD of Robin Gibb's "Secret Agent" album from a seller in Germany after years of searching). All of them told me that the song was not available on CD.
Every now and then, I would also do another web search, and one day it finally paid off. I found a CD through a place called Golden Apple Comics, which apparently has some connection with Dante. It contains 25 songs, but there was only one that I cared about. I immediately placed an order, and finally I had my belovedly creepy song. (If you're curious, click here to visit the Golden Apple site and view info. about the CD. Apparently Dante was a one-hit wonder who became famous with the original version of "Alley-Oop" before dropping into relative obscurity.)

Of course, none of this has anything to do with life in Celebration, except that the song came to my mind because we're celebrating our second New Year's Eve in Duloc Manor. Last year was quite different; we had just closed on our home four months earlier, and it was still rather bare. We didn't know too many people yet, and we were still in the process of getting settled in.

This year, our home is just about fully furnished, and it is taking on that "lived in" look. We'll be off to one neighbor's house for egg nog, and then we'll be ringing in 2005 at another neighbor's party. It's not even 6 p.m. as I write this blog entry, and according to the news, the fatal traffic crashes have started already. I'm glad that I'll be able to just walk home after welcoming the new year tonight.

We did venture out earlier today to stop by Publix (the grocery store). I had a major craving for pancakes, particularly the wonderful blueberry ones served at Max's in downtown Celebration. Unfortunately, it was long past breakfast time, so we opted for IHOP instead. There is one practically right across the street from Celebration, so we headed over to fulfill my hankering for blueberry flapjacks.

Unfortunately, we discovered that we'd somehow blundered into the IHOP From Hell. I realized that we were in trouble when I noticed that all the people at the other tables around us had no food, despite the fact that they'd all apparently arrived quite a while before us. There were three or four parties, and I heard the people at the closest table grumbling about how long it was taking. Then I heard them ask the waitress; she assured them that their food would be up "any minute," but that stretched into an indeterminate length of time.

Of course, the Cosmic Domino Effect Law decreed that all of those poor, hungry souls (including one group of 11 people) would have to receive their food before we had any hope of seeing ours. We waited...and waited...and waited. Finally I decided to take a restroom break. Bad idea!

I entered the restroom and traipsed innocently into the first open stall. UGH! The bowl was completely filled with toilet paper, and the soggy Charmin mess was topped off by a huge brown mountain. Good thing I hadn't eaten yet or I think I would have instantly lost my pancakes. I rushed out and foolishly tried the next stall, where I found a toilet with a coverless tank and a seat liberally sprinkled with...well, I don't think it was lemonade. At this point, my horror had shriveled my kidneys into lima beans and all urge to use the facilities was gone.

Back at our table, we watched as people at the surrounding tables would occasionally hit the Pancake Lottery before starving to death. At one point, our waiter passed by and assured us, "It will only be one more minute." My husband set the timer on his watch, and we took bets as to whether he would run out of fingers and toes on which to count the passing minutes before our food actually showed up.

He had run out of fingers and was starting on the toes when his waffle and my blueberry pancakes finally put in an appearance. They definitely weren't on a caliber with Max's, but at that point I was hungry enough to start gnawing at my own limbs, so I tore in with gusto. At least the meal would fuel me until party time tonight.

Now dusk is settling around Celebration, and it's just about time to get ready for the parties. Hard to believe that another year has passed, and it's time to get ready to remember to write a new year on my checks. To my readers: Happy New Year, and remember to "celebrate" safely tonight!

My email address is

My Celebration website is at

Thursday, December 30, 2004

The Big Chill

Where else but in Florida would people who have fled from frigid states pony up $16.95 a head (not to mention $7 for parking) just to subject themselves to mounds of ice and single digit temperatures?

I'll admit that we were among the throngs who headed to ICE!, the exhibit at the Gaylord Palms Hotel, just down the street from Celebration. It's a gorgeous hotel, but I hate to mention its name in polite company, as it always brings out snickers and lecherous sneers.

We had wanted to go to the ice festival last year, but somehow we never quite found the time. This year, it was on our irrevocable list of things to do. As New Years Eve drew closer, I was beginning to worry that once again we'd miss it. Between our jobs and Disney World play, both my husband and I have been insanely busy this week. Then, last night, the poor man tried to install a Norton upgrade and melted down his PC. He was on the phone with tech support for literally almost three hours. Thank goodness it was a toll-free call. And of course Symantec farms out their call center to India, so the language challenges were just more fuel on the fire. Finally, at four a.m., hubby got his computer to boot so he could uninstall the errant program. After all that, I figured that he wouldn't be conscious until the afternoon, let alone in the mood to go galavanting in a freezer.

Amazingly, he was up even earlier than me. We both had work to do, but by afternoon he was ready to drag me over to the Gaylord. I wanted to see the exhibit, but I thought that the admission charge was a little excessive. Still, when in Rome you do as the Romans do, and when in Tourist Land, you make P. T. Barnum proud. We've only owned our home in Celebration for a little over a year now, so we've still got a bit of tourist in our blood.

As I mentioned earlier, to add insult to injury, you have to pay $7 to park. Even the hotel guests were paying; that fee must be a real detriment to day guests who might visit to eat at the restaurants or patronize the spa. Oh well, who am I to question to policies of the mighty Gaylord?

There were helpful parking lot attendants guiding visitors into spots. We managed to get a good one, not too far from the entrance, so off we headed to experience winter's chill in the midst of the Sunshine State. The line to purchase tickets wasn't too bad, but the queue to enter the actual exhibit would rival anything you might see at Disney World. Okay, so maybe it wasn't two hours long, but we waited a good 20 minutes just to get to the table where parkas were being handed out. Yes, I swear, they were handing out coats! I guess that a lot of vacationers probably don't pack their winter wear when they come to visit Mickey and the gang. Somehow, people in other parts of the country get the idea that Orlando is perpetually 80 degrees or above. Since the temperature at the ice exhibit was 9 degrees, they would have been blue with frostbite by the end without some sort of protection.

My husband and I had brought our jackets, but we took the parkas anyway, since they seemed more substantial. Then there was another wait to enter the exhibit itself. Once inside, you could pretty much wander around at will, oooing and ahhhing at the amazing array of sculptures. According to signs on the walls, they had been created by Chinese artisans. One of the sculptors was inside, demonstrating his craft. If you'd like to see some samples, click here for photos of several of the sculptures, including an awe-inspiring church, complete with stained glass windows.

The church and a gorgeous nativity scene were my favorites. Of course, it's rather ironic when you realize that they were created by people who are most likely athiests, since they are visitors from Communist China. But whatever their beliefs, they still created some striking works of art. I was dazzled by how the backlit stained glass in the church cast a kaleidoscope reflection on the ground.

Another big favorite for me was the ice slide. Actually, there were four slides; two little ones for the kiddies and two full-sized ones for the braver souls. You hike to the top on carpeted stairs. When it's your turn, you sit down (or crash down if you're wearing slippery shoes like I was) into launch position. An attendant then gives you a push and you whoosh down the slide at blinding speed.

Having ridden a fair number of water slides in my day, I've experienced the annoyance of coming to a dead stop. That's a common hazard at water parks, often caused by a combination of low water pressure and the fact that they usually make you sit up rather than lie down. Heels (especially when clad in water shoes) are not terribly conducive to forward motion. It's much better to be lying down in the forbidden three-point position.

Since you were required to go down the ice slide in a sitting position, I expect the same mobility issues. I was wrong! That ice is so slippery; I felt like a runaway bobsled as I whooshed down and crashed into the poor soul below whose job it apparently was to act as a human "brake run" and prevent the sliders from crashing into the wall.

There was also a horse and sleigh made of ice where you could have your photo taken and then review it for purchase at the end of the exhibit. Of course, we had to do it, and it actually came out quite good. There was also the requisite gift shop, but the merchandise was very picked-over. The ice exhibit has been running since November, and the last day is January 2, so I don't think they're replenishing anything anymore.

As you exited, you received a coupon for a free cup of hot cocoa and 10 percent off dinner at any of the Gaylord restaurants. You had to head into the hotel itself to redeem your cocoa voucher (the ice exhibit is in the convention area). When we got there, a wave of memories washed over me. The Gaylord Palms was the place where my husband and I stayed when we found our home in Celebration, way back in 2002.

Originally, we had made the decision to buy a house in Celebration in October, when I was in the area for a convention. My husband had tagged along so he could play in the Disney parks all day while I slaved away at the convention session. Eventually, we bought a condo long-distance, and in December of 2002 we had come to town to see it (or, more accurately, its foundation). On that trip, we met our real estate agents, Richie and Betsy, and ended up buying our triplex instead. That was a real stroke of luck; I love having a yard instead of just a balcony, as well as a big porch with a swing, and I adore our neighborhood in East Village.

On that trip, we had gotten a room at the Gaylord Palms on Priceline for some ridiculously low price. I think it was under $100. Amazingly, they gave us a primo room with a balcony overlooking the Key West section. It was a great hotel. There were only two things I didn't like: 1) there was leftover trash in our room from the previous guests; and 2) they had a neat do-not-disturb system that you activated on your door, but even though we had it on, the maid knocked to find out when she could disturb us. Kind of defeats the purpose!

Interestingly enough, the Gaylord was originally supposed to be called the Opryland Hotel. For several years, I watched them build the massive structure as I passed it on my way to Disney World. It truly is an impressive place, more like a huge compound than a hotel.

We had decided to stay for dinner at Gaylord. Their restaurants tend to be pricey, but what the heck...we'd already popped an obnoxious amount of money just to park and look at a bunch of frozen water. May as well have a good meal too. We briefly considered the buffet, but it's always too darned much food. You might have the best intentions of eating moderately, but the yummy choices can break the resolve of all but the most iron-willed.

Instead, we opted to eat at Key West, in the restaurant right across from the balcony of our former room. It serves delectable seafood, and there is also entertainment with a Key West-sunset celebration flair. As we ate, we saw stilt-walkers, jugglers, and even a fire eater, not to mention a live band playing Caribbean tunes. Quite a pleasant way to end our outing. We split a combination appetizer, which featured such items as crab cakes, shrimp cocktail, shrimp "cigars," a cold scallop salad, lobster skewers, and tuna tartar. As if that wasn't enough, we topped it off with lobster salads featuring a generous helping of chopped lobster meat, citrus fruit, pistachios, and goat cheese over a bed of field greens. I sure hope that my shivering in deep freeze burned off some calories, because goodness knows I replenished them and then some at dinner!

We've managed to cross our last holiday activity off our list. All that remains is a New Years party tonight, and then the 2004 holiday season will be officially over. Happy 2005!

My email address is

My Celebration website can be found at


Well, it looks like I'll be homebound for much of the next two years, along with my Celebration neighbors and the other locals in Tourist Land. Soon, I-4 will be reconstructed at the 192 interchange as part of a much larger improvement project. There is information posted on the Celebration Front Porch website, and it should be in an area that you can access without logging in. To see it, click here. You can view additional information by clicking here for the Florida transportation website. The Orlando Sentinel did an article, which you can read by clicking here for a reprint.

The first detour, scheduled to begin January 9, will "force westbound motorists on U.S. 192 to drive past I-4 to World Drive. From there, they'll have to take World Drive south and take the westbound entrance ramp there onto I-4, about a mile southwest of the interchange at U.S. 192" (according to the article).

Granted, that interchange needs improvement. Right now, you take your life in your hands entering or exiting the expressway, or even just passing it by while the people who want on or off whiz by you in lane change maneuvers that would make Richard Petty cringe.

But as a result of the roadwork and the closures and detours that it will require, the backroads around Celebration (where many lost travelers are likely to wind up) will temporarily turn into main thoroughfares. One of my greatest pleasures is being able to get to Disney World via World Drive. No need to slog through the tourist hoopla and sit in endless traffic on 192. It was my proudest day when I learned my first shortcut, and since that time, I have a wide repertoire of shortcuts to get just about anywhere, from Disney World to Four Corners to the Florida Mall.

Now all that will change, as the tourists will be routed onto World Drive and will no doubt wander in confusion around Celebration Boulevard and other parts of town after turning the wrong way. The streets of Celebration can be very confusing to the uninitiated. I often run into people who have turned the wrong way after exiting 417, so I can't even imagine what will happen when the poor souls are purposely routed in our direction. Actually, now that I think about it, it might give rise to a new cottage industry. In Hollywood, enterprising souls sell maps to the stars' homes. In Celebration, I can sell maps to Mickey's house and directions on navigating our spaghetti-bowl tangle of streets.

But even with the new money-making opportunities, the traffic congestion will probably turn me into a hermit, living on food that can be obtained in downtown Celebration, or possibly Water Tower Place if they ever actually turn on the traffic light so people can get out without having to increase their car insurance limits and update their wills first.

Better yet, when my husband and I venture out, we can turn it into a fun new adventure. We'll pack extra food, clothing, and camping supplies. We can order the optional camping pack for our Aztek and pretend that we're on "Survivor." So what if the delays stretch into a day or two? As long as we have a full gas tank and enough food and water to get us through, we'll be fine.

Sure, I kid, but in reality, this will be an interesting evolutionary phase; true Darwinism in action. The strong will adapt, using the existing backroads and developing new sneaky strategies to avoid the congestion. The weak will perish in isolation, trapped in homes that have become prisions, too frightened to brave the hostile automotive jungle.

And just think: for two years, things will be so hellacious that by the time it's finally over, the normal traffic jams will seem like a cakewalk compared to Detour Hell. It's like the old story about the guy who asked another guy why he kept pounding his head against the wall. The reply: "Because it feels so darned good when I stop."

I can be reached via email at

My Celebration website is at

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Candlelight Processional

One good reason to celebrate Chrismahanukwanzakah (besides the fact that the Virgin Mobile commercial is so cool) is that you get to start early in December and keep partying for a week after Christmas. Thus, even though December 25th is past, we continued our string of holiday activities with a trip to the Candlelight Processional at Epcot tonight.

For those who are not familiar with it, this is a telling of the Christmas story by a guest celebrity narrator, with a wonderful live band and choir. It has become a holiday tradition for us; my husband likens it to a long, musical version of Linus's monologue in the Charlie Brown Christmas special, although I've pointed out to him that the surroundings would probably be too commercial for Linus's tastes. Oh, wait, wrong Peanuts's the Great Pumpkin that demands sincere surroundings before putting in an appearance.

We've learned that the best (actually only) way to see the Candlelight Processional during the peak season is to book a dinner package, which supposedly guarantees you a seat. There are three pricing tiers. I think ours was around $37 per person, which included dinner at Morocco. You can order any appetizer, main course, non-alcoholic drink, and dessert, and tax and tip are included too.

My husband had booked the 6:45 processional show, with an 8:30 dinner reservation. We headed over to Epcot early, as he somehow got the insane idea that we'd be able to fit in some rides. "But dear," he protested to my guffaws of laughter, "we can always do the singles line on Test Track." The poor man is used to visiting in the off-season, so he easily forgets what the Christmas-to-New-Years crowd looks like.

Hubby soon got a dose of reality as we waded into the crowd of holiday park-goers. Sure enough, the Test Track singles line was over an hour, and the stand-by entrance was two hours. The Fast Passes were long gone. Things were the same at Mission Space, which I won't ride anyway, as I have no desire to toss my cookies. I can ride a roller coaster all day long with no ill effects (I once rode Batman at Six Flags 40 times in a row), but put me on a spinning ride and I become a limp, green-faced noodle.

We ended up at the Wonders of Life pavillion, which more closely resembles something that you might find at a fleabag carnival. It's only open seasonally now, and unless Disney wants to sink a little money into it, it shouldn't be open at all. We did Body Wars, which is dated but still fun. But the exercise bikes that show you a movie while you pedal are mostly non-functional. Some are out-and-out broken, and the ones that "work" have terrible screens that practically make the footage look black and white because the picture is so washed out.

We went to the hands-on exhibits so I could touch the weird coils that feel like they're burning your hand. That has always fascinated me; it's a trick that is accomplished by alternating hot and cold coils. The exhibit is still there, but it doesn't work. There is no sign indicating that it's broken, so lots of puzzled people were touching it and trying to figure out what they couldn't feel anything.

It was really sad to see that Disney would open a pavillion with so many non-functioning exhibits just to draw off some of the crowd. Another example of Eisner economics, I guess.

We left the pavillion in disgust and went to watch the tree lighting before boarding a boat to cross the lagoon to the American pavillion for the processional. We didn't realize that the lighting actually entails an entire 15 minute ceremony, so we were running later than we had planned. By the time we arrived, most of the dinner package people had already been admitted to the theater. We hurried in and found fairly decent seats, even though it was mostly full. After seeing how many people buy the package, I don't think there's much room for "stand-by" people on the busy days.

The celebrity guest reader was Gary Sinise. He did a great job, but I kept picturing him as George to John Malkovich's Lenny in "Of Mice and Men." Saturday Night Live did a great spoof of that movie. It revolved around the fact that Lenny is a more popular character than George, leading Disney to do a remake with twin Lennys and no George at all. John Malkovich, who was guest starring on that episode, reprised his role, and the late Chris Farley played the other Lenny. It was a riot! Of course, they worked their way through a whole litter of puppies, not to mention twin girls.

But I digress...the Candlelight Processional was as awe-inspiring as always. I enjoy hearing the story of the nativity and the true meaning of Christmas. Afterwards, we decided to head to the restaurant to see if they could seat us early so we could see Illuminations. As we headed toward Morocco, we saw the line of dinner package people waiting to enter the theater for the next processional. The line literally stretched all the way back to Morocco, and that is a loooong way! One all those people entered, I doubt there was any stand-by seating left at all.

Just as I predicted, we were able to get a table with only a 10 minute wait. I've never seen Morocco so crowded! Their food is a bit "exotic" for many tourists, so typically it's half deserted. This time, as soon as one party left, their table was cleaned and new people were seated within minutes.

The service was prompt, so we were done with our meal by 9 p.m. We headed out to stake out a spot by the lagoon. We ended up standing right across from the Morocco pavillion, near the boat dock. It has a tall, solid wall, so it's not an ideal place for kids, but for us it was perfect. The only slight annoyance was a man who stood right next to us and then proceeded to light up a cigarette. My husband pointed out that it's a no-smoking area, and he pulled the "No understand English" routine. No problem, since I know enough Spanish to cover a situation like that. That's one of the reason I hate to visit the parks when they're overly crowded. There is little enforcement of the smoking/non-smoking areas, even at the best of times, but during the peak season that flies completely out the window.

Soon it was 9:30 and the show began in a blaze of fireworks. I love the music from Illuminations, especially the part that plays when the globe turns blue. I've seen the show countless times, but I never get tired of it, and I even have the CD to get a fix inbetween visits to Epcot.

The holiday brochure promised a special ending in honor of Christmas. I must say, Disney really delivered. After the regular show, the globe lit up once again in a shimmering rainbox as "Let There Be Peace On Earth And Let It Begin With Me" played over the speakers, counterpointed by a bonus fireworks display.

I felt someone pushing on my purse; at first I thought it was a pickpocket, but it was a kid bumping into it while trying to work her way up front for a better view. Unfortunately, the tall, solid wall was no match for a short child. I put my hand on her head and thrust her in front of me, since there was an opening in the wall that was just about at her eye level, and I heard her exclaim, "Cool!"

The holiday bonus show ended with an explosion of fireworks so intense that I swear the ground was actually shaking. What a show!

Of course, on the drive back to Celebration, we were treated to a show of a different kind. The traffic on World Drive consists mainly of dazed and confused tourists who cut across four lanes with no warning, brake repeatedly, or even stop in the middle of the road at will. My husband and I try to predict who will do what, culminating in a bet on how many people will make a U-turn where the road dead ends at Celebration Boulevard (there's always at least one). Sometimes, we even make "Trading Places"-style bets (a dollar) on the number of cars that will make the U-turn. It makes the ride home much more amusing.

Another holiday event down...a visit to the Ice Festival is on the slate for tomorow.

I can be reach at the following email address:

My Celebration website is

Monday, December 27, 2004

Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

One of the great things about living in Celebration is that you can spontaneously decide to head over to Disney World for some holiday cheer. After my disappointment in the Lexin version of the Celebration snowfall on Sunday, on Monday night my husband decided that we should head to Disney-MGM Studio to witness the latest incarnation of the Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights.

For the uninitiated, the Spectacle of Lights is a display of zillions of Christmas lights and figures made from lights, imported from eccentric Arkansas millionaire Jennings Osborne. He made the news many years back when his neighbors sued him because the electricity-gobbling, eye-searing holiday display in his yard (and the yards of the two neighboring homes, which he had purchased to decorate) was bringing too much traffic. When he lost his court battle, the display was moved to Disney World.

Previously, the display used to be put up along the backlot street which was home to the fake fronts of the Golden Girls house, among others. But when the street was torn down last year to make way for a new stunt show arena, the light display was temporarily retired. This year it's back, bigger and better than ever, on the Avenue of the Americas.

At first, I wondered if I'd like it as well as the original version. Some of Disney's changes are good, but others (biggest example: the destruction and ruination of the original "Journey into Imagination") are the pits. Which way would the Osborne display go? Improvement or disaster?

Fortunately, the "Spectacle of Lights" still lives up to its name, and I actually found it to be even better than the old backlot version. For some reason, seeing all the pseudo-brownstones decked out like the Griswold homestead was really breath-taking. The building density is much closer together than the old fake-front houses used to be, so you get a really impressive, continuous blanket-of-light effect. Of course, the fake snow was drifting down on the mass of humanity, and Christmas carols were blaring on the loudspeakers.

I love the lights, but my favorite part was the "tree lot owner" carrying a Charlie Brown tree. And I mean literally a Charlie Brown tree, complete with the same type of sparse branchs and the one ornament bending down the scrawny top branch. It was a riot! I want one for the "Duloc Manor Chrismahanukwanzakah Spectacle of Tackiness" next year. Click here for a photo of "Crazy Andy" and the holiday tree, as well as a bonus shot of my silver tree (sorry, but only three out of the four color wheels are working) and my "Christmas Story" leg lamp gracing the front window. It's not a work of tacky art yet, just a quick dry run for my big display in 2005.

Of course, being Disney-MGM (the operative word being "Disney") there was plenty of merchandising at the Spectacle. My favorite item was the red light-up drink mugs. At the very end, there was a board displaying photos with captions telling the story of Jennings Osborne and the history of his light show.

I know it was a blatant exhibition of commercialism and excess, but somehow I still felt the Christmas spirit wash over me, even as I was trampled by crazed tourists and had my feet crushed by errant strollers while I struggled for breath among the wall to wall bodies. After all, the holidays were what had brought most of these people to Florida and Disney World. Sure, they might be a little rude and frantic now, but I'm sure that they were feeling the same awe at the display. And of course, that was just one part of a holiday vacation that I hope they were enjoying.

I remember when my husband and I used to visit Disney World between Thanksgiving and Christmas every year. It was such a magical time, and we still treasure those memories, even though we live right down the street from Mickey now. I hope that the people we saw tonight were creating their own special memories. And even with all the gaudiness, there was a lovely nativity scene reminding everyone of the true meaning of Christmas.

The new year is almost here, but I will cling to a bit of extra Christmas for as long as I can. Tomorrow we see the Candlelight Processional at Epcot, and we're still planning to head to the Gaylord for the ice festival. That's the cool (no pun intended) thing about living in Tourist can stretch the Christmas season out just a bit farther. Goodness knows extra Christmas is never a bad thing.

You can email me with comments or questions at

My Celebration website is located at

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Magical Town of Celebration

As I type this blog entry, the sounds of the Disney World fireworks are rumbling outside the family room windows. No matter how long I live in Celebration, I don't think I'll ever outgrow the novelty of hearing that distant thunder and rejoicing in how close I live to Mickey's playground.

It's the day after Christmas, and my husband and I finally made it to the "snowfall" in downtown Celebration. Before the holiday, we were insanely busy. We had family visiting us, so of course we had to show them the parks and the Disney World resort. It's impossible to explain Disney World to someone who has never experienced it firsthand. I usually liken it to a town, but no matter how graphically I try to paint a word-picture, they still picture Six Flags on steroids. They have no idea that Disney World is an entity unto itself.

Then we headed out to Port Canaveral to spent Christmas on the Disney Wonder. We typically head out to sea for Thanksgiving, but this year I gave in to my husband's nagging and set up a Christmas cruise, too. Our nephews and nieces are getting older, so it's not as exciting to be at the traditional family gathering. Actually, since everyone is at or near adulthood (with the exception of two grandnephews), we had our family get-together a week before Christmas because almost everyone had other commitments on the holiday itself.

This year, God smiled down upon us and made the weather nearly perfect on December 25th. Captain John told us that the weather on Disney's Bahamian island, Castaway Cay, had been quite cold for the last three weeks, and definitely not suitable for swimming. But on the holiday it was gorgeous, with plenty of sunshine and a high hovering right around 80. The water was a bit chilly at first, but fine once you got used to it. All in all, it was one of my best Christmases.

Of course, there were plenty of Disney-esque Christmas activities. The terminal, ship, and island are all extravagently decorated. There was milk, cookies, and egg nog, and Mrs. Claus read stories to the children each night. After his journey around the world Christmas Eve, Santa took a detour before heading back to the North Pole to stop on the ship with presents (elf hats) for all the children. There were presents for the "big kids," too: a lovely lithograph poster and a box of chocolates in each stateroom. For Christmas dinner, there was a holiday menu with special items like lobster (in addition to the traditional turkey and ham) and a decadent chocolate yule log for dessert.

I love Disney-style celebrations; I enjoy all the fun (and sometimes corny) shows, parades, and attractions. That was one of the things about Celebration that appealed to me: Disney's ownership of the downtown area, and their events like the paper "leaves" falling on Market Street in autumn and the soap sud snow during the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Years season.

Of course, now a company called Lexin is at the helm, having purchased downtown from Disney. This year, I was anxious to see how the soap sud spectacle would measure up. Last year, the announcement before each hourly snowfall prominently mentioned that it was presented by Disney before launching into several tinny Christmas carols while the blowers mounted on the light poles showered the tourists (and a few intrepid locals) with "snowflakes" that had the distinct smell of baby shampoo.

This year, we didn't manage to make it downtown before Christmas, but since the snowfalls last until New Years, we figured we'd get there sometime between December 26 and 31. On Sunday the 26th, which was the day we returned from our cruise, the sky was gray and murky and the weather was windy and cold enough to almost convince me that I'd somehow been transported back north. That night, my husband and I decided that it would be an appropriate time to see the snowfall. With the temperature low enough to make our breath visible, we figured we'd almost be able to convince ourselves that it was the real thing.

We hoofed it downtown rather than driving. No sense in fighting the tourists for a parking spot when it's only 20 minutes away by foot. Besides, we figured that a little exercise would make us feel less guilty for all the food we'd consumed on the cruise, not to mention the dinner we were about to have at the Columbia.

We arrived about 15 minutes before the hourly snowfall, so we parked ourselves in a bench to do some people watching. Tourists pushed baby carriages back and forth endlessly up and down Market Street. Kids romped in the layer of "snow" that already covered the blocked-off road. In the distance, horse-drawn carriages ferried couples and families on a brief tour of the streets surrounding downtown. Vendors sold candied nuts and other confections, although I noticed that steaming Barnie's coffee and the hot chocolate from Herman's ice cream shop seemed to be the biggest hits.

Eventually the piped-in generic Muzak stopped, and after a breathless pause, the announcement of the hourly snowfall blared out to the ears of the expectant crowd. I have to admit it...Lexin definitely out-cornied Disney this year. The tinny speakers blared out the story of the "magical town of Celebration" and how the wishes of the children brought about the snowfall. Ugh! Cornier than the Hoop-Dee-Doo Revue, and you don't even get barbeque ribs and strawberry shortcake.

I liked Disney's old pre-snow announcement better. They didn't slip in a backstory; they just made sure to work in their name so you knew who was sponsoring the event. Lexin never mentioned their name at all. Of course, considering how messy the downtown area looks these days, maybe they want to remain incognito.

We watched the children romp and play in the blizzard, which still smells like baby shampoo. As the carols finally died away, we headed down Front Street to Columbia for dinner (I would have preferred Max's, but it was packed to the gills with snowfall refugees). I know there really isn't much difference between the Disney and Lexin versions of this event, but somehow I still couldn't help feeling melancholy and missing the Disney connection.

I sort of get the feeling that Lexin is milking their purchase for all they can get and that they will discard it someday. I got that impression when they announced their plans to convert all of the downtown apartments to condos. The apartments over the stores and restaurants were a quaint Celebration trait that I enjoyed. Now, they will soon go the way of the dinosaurs, and the same thing is happening with virtually every other apartment complex in town. Some people are happy about the loss of the rentals and the elimination of any events that attract tourists, but personally I think that it's taking away a big chunk of our town's character.

By the same token, while it drives me crazy to be known as the "Disney Town," I liked some aspects of Disney's ownership of the downtown shopping district. I was impressed by their upkeep and enjoyed the special events, which I fear will dwindle and die out like the apartments. This year, Lexin reduced the number of weekends for the falling leaves to only one, and other downtown events have been "postponed." We'll see what happens with the snow next year. Oh well, if I want my dose of Disney-style Christmas, at least the Osborne Spectacle of Lights or the snowfall on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom is only a short drive away.

In the Lexin backstory, the children of our "magical" town got their holiday wish. I have a holiday wish, too, but only time will tell if it is granted: No matter who owns the downtown or what they do to try to change it, I wish that Celebration will never lose that small-town flavor and the character that makes it unique and such a wonderful place to live.

My email address is

Visit my Celebration website at

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah to You

At the end of my last blog entry, I posted a link to the Flash version of the Chrismahanukwanzakah song. My intrepid husband found a link to the actual Virgin Mobile commercial in Quicktime format:

Click here to see it, and please be patient as it will take a little while to download.

And just in case you missed the Flash one, click here to see it.

I find it hard to believe that the Christmas portion of the holiday season is almost here. Usually it sneaks up on me, but this year it started out slow and then suddenly gained momentum like a speeding locomotive.

Happily, we'll be spending the holidays in Florida...well, sort of. We embark on the Disney Wonder on the Thursday before Christmas, and we'll be spending the holiday itself on Castaway Cay. Then, on the 26th, it's back to Celebration, where we'll ring in our second new year.

I love spending the holidays in Florida. This year, we still haven't managed to get to the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. It's a yearly tradition for us to see their moving rendition of the Christmas story. We'll be doing that, and we're also hoping to catch at least one Christmas dinner show. They have special shows at Arabian Nights and the Dixie Stampede, so it's going to be a hard choice. We're also planning to make it over to the Gaylord hotel for the ice festival. It's just a stone's throw from Celebration, and the ice sculptures are supposed to be very impressive.

We did partake of a little holiday spirit the weekend before last, when my nephew and sister-in-law came to visit. We originally started traveling on at least one of the major end-of-the-year holidays (usually Thanksgiving) to avoid family insanity, but now that we have our house in Florida, the family finds their way to us. It works out a lot better than way, as family dysfuntion seems to decrease when everyone feels like they're on vacation.

My husband is a thrill ride fanatic, so he took my little nephew to the Disney theme parks for some power riding. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law and I spent the day visiting the various WDW resorts to look at their holiday decorations. I love the theme trees at each hotel and the giant gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian. Several of the other hotels feature their own smaller gingerbread creations.

We also poked around Downtown Disney, where the decorations and piped-in Christmas music lends a festive spirit. And while we were there, the crowd was as thick as any shopping mall in December. I know people who swear that they could never feel Christmasy if it wasn't cold and snowy outside, and goodness knows I'm not one of them. I can feel as much Christmas spirit among palm trees and sunshine as I can in a blizzard.

That evening, we all met up at Fort Wilderness to see the Hoop Dee Doo Review. My husband and I see it every couple of years. It never changes, but it's great fun in a corny Hee-Haw sort of way. We had reservations for the late show, so by the time we arrived, it was long after dark and the temperature had plummeted. If I closed my eyes, I could almost imagine that I was back in Chicago. We had all purchased sweatshirts, but they were no match for Jack Frost, who was apparently on vacation down south this year.

As we waited outside, we started conversing with a grandmother and her grandaughter who were waiting near us. Night time at WDW seems to be the time that everyone gets friendly and chatty. Well, not quite everyone...the kids are tired and fussy, but the parents and grandparents are all in the mood to socialize. I've never figured out why, but my guess is that it's the relaxation of being on vacation.

The grandma told us that when each of her grandchildren reaches a certain age, she takes them to Disney World as their birthday gift. They had also done a VIP tour at Bush Gardens that sounded like something I'd love to try. Chatting made the cold a little more tolerable and helped the time pass more quickly, at least for us adults. My little newphew was full of over-tired energy and impatience and kept up a variation of the infamous broken-record "Are we there yet?" routine ("Is it time to go in yet? Is it time to go in yet? Is it time to go in yet?").

Pioneer Hall was decked out in gorgeous holiday finery, and the performers worked several Christmas songs into the show. My husband, sister-in-law, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but my nephew ended up falling asleep at the table. He did, however, manage to wake up long enough to consume the strawberry shortcake dessert.

Soon enough, Christmas will be over for another year and we'll be welcoming 2005 with friends in Celebration. It's been a heck of a year, especially with the hurricane trio. I can't wait to see what 2005 will bring.

And here, in the immortal words of Ween, as written for Virgin Mobile phones, is my all-inclusive holiday wish for everyone:

It's okay if you're a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew,
It's okay if you're agnostic and you don't know what to do,
An all-inclusive celebration,
No contractual obligation,
Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah to you (and pagans too!)

In some ways we're all monkeys,
Well, maybe just a smidgen,
I'm a Scientologist,
That's kind of a religion,

Whose faith is the right one,
It's anybody's guess,
What matters most is camera phones for $20 less.

And there's never any hidden fees,
Oh what a joyous day,
No commitments means I'm proud to go both ways!

Happy Chrismahanukwanzakah to you,
This is gonna be the best Chrismahanukwanzakah ever!

You can email me with questions or comments at:

Visit my Celebration website at

Friday, December 17, 2004

Tis the Season to be Tacky

I must confess that Halloween is my favorite holiday, but I enjoy the Christmas season too. It's a time to celebrate with family and friends, which has an exciting dimension for me since my relatives resemble Cousin Eddie and crew from Christmas Vacation. For Florida residents, there are wonderful Christmasy things to do, like seeing the Candlelight Processional at Epcot or heading over to Arabian Nights or the Dixie Stampede for the Christmas show. If you're a displaced denizen of the north and are lonely for ice and snow, visit the ice festival at the Gaylord or romp around in the soap bubble snowflakes on Market Street.

But although I enjoy all of those things, my favorite part of the season is the tacky decorations. I'm not talking about tasteful, low-key displays; I'm talking major Griswold, and the more tasteless, the better. If I can't hear the whir of your electric meter spinning, you don't have enough lights. If I can actually walk through your yard without bumping into a plastic or inflatable figure, it's too plain.

Thus far, I've had to live vicariously because we are still in transit and I don't have the time or supplies to tart up my home to my, low standards. But there are plenty of cool houses in Celebration to give me my fix.

Although lights and plastic are my usual criteria, I must admit that there's one low-key display that gives me a chuckle every time I pass it. It's on biggest, fanciest house on "Millionaire's Row" as you enter East Village. Last year, that house was professionally decorated, and it struck me as elaborate but sterile. It was pretty, but in a "I can't be bothered myself so I'll just pay to have it done for me" way. Then it was sold, and the new residents obviously have a sense of humor. Up on top of the canopy, you'll see a Santa Claus figure. Take a closer look: he's a "bad Santa," holding a Christmas tree overhead, ready to fling it down to the ground!

Nearby is another great house; the outside is cool enough, but as an added treat, it was on the Holiday House Tour this year, so I got to see the inside as well. I love the annual house tour, which is a fund-raising event in which several Celebration residents open their homes to visitors. You purchase tickets and go from house to house, checking out their holiday decorations and generally being nosy. It's so much fun to see the various homes, floor plans, and decor; I enjoy doing that any time, so the holiday decorations are just the icing on the cake.

This year, there were supposed to be seven houses participating, but one had to drop out due to a family illness. That left six, and I was disappointed to discover that one of those was a model in Artisan Park that I had visited previously. Oh well, that still left five to troop through. My sister-in-law, Margaret, and grandnephew were visiting for the weekend, so I enlisted Margaret to accompany me. The grandnephew is eight years old and wanted nothing to do with a house walk, so my husband hauled him off to Old Town for a couple of hours riding spin-and-pukes.

The first homes we visited were elegant and tasteful. The decor reminded me of a museum, and the Christmas trees and other decorations were lovely. Two of them were located across from the golf course and only a few doors apart, and they were both stunning. Another was one that I have often noticed while biking due to its unique blue color and Victorian charm. Inside, it was decorated almost completely in purple, even down to the pool table felt. One house had many oil paintings, while another was heavy on sports memorabilia. I love seeing those little collections that make a home unique. I actually have one of my own: over 100 pairs of comedy and tragedy masks, plus other lamps and knick-knacks.

But although the homes were lovely, I couldn't help but feel that something was missing. Not one of them had the delightful tackiness that, for me, is the hallmark of the season. Not to worry...back in good old East Village was the house I mentioned earlier, complete with a gaudy yard display and an even more exciting interior, right down to the Whoville roast beast on the kitchen table. Santa was relaxing in the bathtub, and "Christmas Vacation" was playing on the television. Best of all were the various figures from the Rankin-Bass specials. I am a major Snow Miser fan, and nothing says "Christmas spirit" to me like seeing familiar figures such as Rudolph and the Bumble.

The homeowner was in the kitchen dressed as a clown, with a candy reward for any visitor who could located all of the Will Ferrell elves hanging throughout the house. Sure, the other homes had been lovely in their own way, but now I could feel the Christmas spirit warming the cockles of my heart. I had found my favorite house.

I can't brag too much tackiness back at Duloc Manor, although I am the proud owner of what must surely be one of the tackiest Christmas trees in Celebration. It is an atrocious silver monster; not the genuine article from the 1960s, but the closest replica I could find without doing an Ebay crapshoot.

I have fond memories of my '60s childhood and a big silver monstrosity towering in the requisite picture window of our cookie cutter Chicago bungalow. It was loaded down with shiny metallic balls; the more the better, as more balls means more reflective surface area to refract the groovy glow of the color wheel.

A few years ago, I spotted color wheels for sale in a mail order catalog, so I knew that retro silver trees couldn't be far behind. Sure enough, a year later, my husband and I were shopping at Season's End (a holiday store) when I looked up and heard a chorus of angels behind me. There it was: The Tree of My Dreams. It was set up on the display floor in all its shiny silver glory. Once my husband had mopped the drool off my chin, I asked a sales person where I might find a boxed model. "Nowhere," he said; they were all sold out.

But I was not to be denied. I had not scaled the mountain only to be denied that last triumphant step to the peak. I insisted that I would take the floor model, complete with cotton display "snow" stuck among its branches. The sales person must have recognized my obsession, as he didn't protest too mightily before digging up a box and stuffing in my silvery prize.

No tacky silver tree is complete without a complement of color wheels. Yes, wheels, as in plural. I have not one, not two, nor even three...MY tree blazes above the spinning fire-hazard glow of four color wheels. I documented the fun of getting the tree to Celebration in an earlier blog entry. We didn't bring our ornaments, so we ended up buying some at the new Super Target on 192.

First we visited the Olde Tyme Pottery Hell Hole or whatever it's called. I like to purchase seasonal decorations there at less insane times of the year, but this was apparently much too close too Christman. The crowd was only slightly less of what you might encounter in the Magic Kingdom on New Years Eve. Since we had forgotten to pack or Tasers, attempting to even get close to the Christmas section seemed foolhardy; I won't even mention the multi-day wait at the checkout counters.

After barely escaping the wall-to-wall mass of humanity, my husband and I headed off to Super Target. Surprisingly, it wasn't crowded at all; we attribute that to the fact that no one can figure out how to get in. With the 192 construction, you'd have a better chance of making it through a minefield than getting into the Target parking lot. And if you plan to make a left turn to get out, pack a lunch and a sleeping bag.

I was anxious to make my tree as tacky as possible, so we bought silver and purple metallic balls. The purple clashes nicely with the blue/gree/red/orange of the color wheels, and the silver shows that I'm tasteless enough to buy ornaments that blend into the tree color. If people spontaneously hurl when they see my tree, then I know that I've accomplished my aim. I also have a "leg lamp" from A Christmas Story that my brother gifted me with early just so I can enjoy it for a while this year. It's going in my window as soon as we return from our Christmas cruise so I can enjoy it till New Years.

This year, the tastelessness at Duloc Manor is relatively low key, but next year, I plan to do a yard display complete with Snow Miser, Heat Miser, and some other fun and tacky surprises.

Speaking of tacky, we have a new nativity for downtown Celebration; not that the display itself is tacky (it's actually very lovely), but the behavior of the tourists must be making Jesus, Mary, and Joseph cringe as they observe from their heavenly vantage point. Since Celebration is located close to the theme parks, some of the tourists apparently thing that everything, including the display, is supposed to be interactive. As we were walking near the lake, my husband and I observed a woman directing her kids to pose arm-in-arm with mary and Joseph so she could take a photo. Sigh! We made some loud observations about disrespectfulness, but the Idiot Family was oblivious. At least I didn't see anyone trying to stick sparklers into the menorah at the other end of the street.

Soon we'll be returning to Celebration; we're sailing on the Disney Wonder for Christmas, and then we head home for the New Year holiday. We haven't seen the downtown snowfall yet this year, and I can't wait to see how Lexin's version compares to how Disney used to run it. When Disney was in charge, every hour they blared a scratchy introductory announcement, followed by several minutes of tinny, theme-parkesque Christmas music. Very corny, which of course means I loved it.

I'm sure I'll do another blog entry before the holidays are over, but just in case I don't, I'll sign this one off with a wish from my very favorite commercial (for Virgin cell phones...if you haven't seen it, watch for it on Comedy Central. It's a riot!): If you are a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew, or maybe you're agnostic and don't know what to do...MERRY CHRISTMAHANAKWANZAKAH TO YOU!

(And if you have no clue what that means, click here for the best-ever all-inclusive holiday song.

You can email me with comments at

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Mickey Mommas

In Celebration, there exists a group so powerful, so influential, and so steeped in tradition that it rivals organizations such as the Stonecutters and even the Bunny Brigade. You could be living next door to a member without ever knowing it. The woman you pass on Market Street could be leading a double life. The group sitting at the next booth in Max’s could be a splinter faction. I’m speaking, of course, about the Mickey Mommas.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but the Mickey Mommas is, indeed, a real group (if you don’t believe me, visit the website at Recently, I was initiated along with another “virgin” as we made our way around the Epcot resorts in a frenzy of drink and dance that started at the brewery restaurant and ended up at the Atlantic Dance Hall.

Actually, I’m surprised that I was even allowed to join the Mommas. They’re been planning their latest meeting since fall, but I managed to bring a hurricane to spoil those plans (I brought hurricanes for scheduled Bunny Brigade meetings too. I really need to find the gypsy I pissed off so I can beg her to remove the curse, or at least sic a leprechaun on her).

This time, I didn’t bring the curse of bad weather, but my husband and I almost didn’t make it home. Our airport experience was a comedy or errors worthy of a John Hughes movie. I take great pride in tacky taste, and one of my prized possessions is a silver Christmas tree. It’s not an authentic 1950s/60s version, but it’s very, very close. Rather than try to find one in Florida, we boxed it up (along with the groovy color wheels, of course) and brought it with us to Midway. We rarely check luggage, but we figured it wouldn’t be a problem this one time. I could pick up our car while my husband claimed it at the baggage carousel. Simple, right? Not hardly!

I knew something was wrong when we got to the baggage check area at Midway and the Lame Duck, ATA...counter looked like the crowd scene in “Hunchback of Notre Dame.” Maneuvering anywhere was nearly impossible, especially for my poor husband, who was precariously balancing the tree box. I said a silent prayer of thanks that we have Elite status, the perks of which include a separate check-in line. But when I reached what is normally the Elite counter, I discovered that ATA’s computer system was totally down. They were using some sort of unholy hand-written check-in system and attempting to get people to line up by flight. It was slightly less organized than herding cats, and I wanted no part of it. The tree box looked like it would fit through the x-ray machine at Security, so I decided that our best bet was to take it with us and gate check it. Otherwise, our flight would be winging its way to Orlando with no passengers, and we would be stuck with the rest of them waiting in Baggage Check Hell.

We made our way to the gate, only to discover that our plane had been diverted to Indianapolis and was going to come in at some undetermined time. Worse yet, due to the computer system failure, there would be no assigned seats. It would be a Southwest-style free-for-all. People started lining up in a line that eventually snaked out of the gate area, down past the moving walkway, and nearly to McDonald’s. But this time I thought our Elite status really would help us, as we would be part of the pre-board.

We were told the plane should arrive around 8 p.m., and we could board after the poor diverted souls deplaned. Sure enough, a few minutes after the hour, a plane arrived and a happy murmur went up from the crowd. But as the passengers who were getting off gamely tried to make their way through the line, the gate agent made an announcement: “This is NOT the plane from Indianapolis. Foolish mortals, your line is useless, as we are going to change the gate!”

I jockeyed into position to sprint to whatever new gate was announced. I know Midway as well as my own home, so I figured I could stake out a position and my poor, long-suffering husband could catch up with the tree. At this point, I wasn’t counting on a pre-board, and even if there was one, I had visions of the entire belligerent crowd stampeding down the runway with no regard for the gate agent’s admonishments.

Finally, the new gate was announced: A4B. Those of you who have never been to Midway and flown from that gate have no idea what kind of special Hell that alphanumeric combination indicates. A4A and A4B are the bastard stepchildren gates of Midway Airport. They are an afterthought and are not even part of the terminal building. They are basically a never ending enclosed walkway that you hike through until you reach Indiana. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you might find the plane. There is a small scattering of seats, but no civilized comforts like water fountains or a restroom. I know the configuration, and I knew that even if a pre-board was called, the poor souls who didn’t get there quickly wouldn’t have a chance. So I bolted like a track runner and actually made it there first because half the other passengers loaded onto the moving walkway (and then stood on it like statues rather than walking for some inexplicable reason) while the other half apparently misunderstood and headed to A14.

My husband eventually caught up with me, and we milled at the head of the growingly belligerent crowd. One poor child, who was an unaccompanied minor, even had a panic attack as a result of all the gate shuffling and then being lost in the middle of a sea of humanity packed in the cattle chute-like gate area. Our plane still hadn’t arrived, so the poor souls trying to board four different commuter flights at the sister gate, A4A, had to make their way through the Orlando mob. The whole thing was like an episode of “Airline” if it were directed by Quentin Terentino.

Eventually the plane arrived and disgorged the poor souls who had been diverted and had suffered their own brand of airline hell that day. They looked happy to finally be at their destination, and a few of them commented to each other that the passengers waiting to board their plane looked VERY unhappy. What an understatement!

Finally the pre-board was announced for families and Elite members. A family had maneuvered in front of me, so I followed them down the jetway towards the plane. I didn’t mind them slipping by; I was gunning for the exit row that we had originally been assigned to, and people with children can’t take an exit. All of a sudden, we heard what sounded like a cavalry behind us and shouts of, “Stop running! Stop running!” A gang of people was galloping madly towards us like the herd coming at Simba in “The Lion King.” Most of them heeded the gate agent’s yells, but one guy totally ignored her and nearly bowled me and the family right over as he swept past us. He wasn’t a “qualified” pre-boarder, but amazingly the agent at the plane door allowed him to board. I guess she didn’t want to mess with someone who was that rude and discourteous; he probably would have let loose a string of expletives and shoved her to the floor in his frenzy to board.

My husband had actually managed to stay pretty close behind me, but now another family shoved the people behind him out of the way and then started to shove him too! He told them, “I am in the pre-board line,” and they got really nasty…they kept insisting that THEY were pre-boarding, and they just couldn’t get the concept that many of the people ahead of them were doing the same thing. The people behind my husband got into the fray, since they didn’t appreciate getting cut off either. My husband was at an advantage; he simply blocked them with the tree box.

Meanwhile, I had grabbed our favorite seats, and I settled in and breathed a sigh of relief. Granted, at this point we were several hours late, but I thought we’d be on our way home to Celebration soon. Alas, Southwest might have the cattle call boarding down to a science, but ATA is not used to it, and absolutely madness and pandemonium ensued. Watching it was more entertaining than any in flight movie could ever be, And of course, everyone was on their last nerve so the boarding mess was like pouring kerosene on a bonfire.

When everyone was finally on the plane, there were still three people without seats. I could overhear the gate agents, who had come on board to try to sort things out, mumbling that the plane was not oversold and that the problem was probably people with lap children who had seized the opportunity to grab seats for their unticketed babies. The flight attendant was reluctant to make an announcement, but finally she did. Of course, no one owned up to their “seat theft,” and with the mess of hand written boarded passes, it would be nearly impossible to figure out who was truly ticketed.

Their next step was to offer incentives for people to give up their seats. One man sitting in the aisle across from us offered his, but he wanted a different type of compensation. When they said, “We can’t do that, sir,” he said, “Well, then, f--k you!” I was shocked! It totally came out of the blue. I couldn’t believe he would be so nasty for no reason, but the agents just brushed it off. I imagine they’ve seen much worse.

At this point, it was getting so late and I was so exhausted that I was ready to throw in the towel and give up going home. I love Celebration, but it wouldn’t kill me to skip a weekend; I figured the poor souls who didn’t have seats might need to get to Orlando more badly than I did. But when my husband and I volunteered, the gate agent said we would have to take a flight to Orlando the next morning. I explained that wouldn’t work for us because we didn’t want to go out and then turn around and come back in less than 48 hours. I told him we could do it any other weekend, but he said no, it had to be that Saturday morning. He didn’t seem to understand that I was saying we go to Florida every week.

The flight attendant understood what I was saying, so she tried to explain it to him, but he was adamant. Fortunately, three other people volunteered, so all was well than ended well. For some reason, we remained at the gate for another 20 minutes after that, but eventually the door was closed and the plane taxied away and took off into the night sky to wing its way south with its cargo of 243 cranky, tired people.

Thankfully, the gypsy curse had apparently run itself out, and we arrived in Orlando safely, albeit many hours late. Since midnight was long past, meaning that technically a new day had begin, I was a little worried that my rental car reservation might have cancelled out. Happily, there was no problem, and I even got upgraded from economy to a gas guzzling, road hogging Ford Taurus Land Barge. We didn’t pull into our driveway until nearly 3 a.m., but thank God we were home in Celebration at last, and I could finally become a Mickey Momma on Saturday night.

As you can imagine, we slept quite late. Since I was meeting the Mommas at 6:30 p.m., we didn’t have much time so we headed over to the Florida Mall to do some shopping that we’ve been putting off. It was now or never, as I don’t go near malls from Thanksgiving week until mid-January. The traffic was as hellacious as usual, but on the way home we inadvertently discovered a shortcut that my neighbor had one mentioned. Actually, it’s not a shortcut in mileage, but even though you drive out of your way, there is no traffic so it’s much faster. We took Sand Lake Road to Boggy Creek, which we could then take to 417 near the airport. Once on the Greenway, it’s a fast (although expensive) jaunt to Celebration.

There was one more little roadblock awaiting us. The car ahead of us at the Celebration exit toll booth sat there for an inordinate amount of time. Finally, a very desperate-looking British tourist ran back to our car, waving a dollar and begging for change. We chucked a couple of quarters at him; no sense in taking his money, as he’d be needing many dollars if he was planning to do lots of driving in Florida.

I got ready for the Mickey Mommas meeting, while my poor husband buckled down for a night of work. Like me, he has a part time job in addition his main one, so weekends are still a work day. I had checked my email and phone messages (I am a part time travel agent, so my job easily follows me from one state to the other). Nothing much was happening, so I was free to go.

Soon the van pulled up and I was on my way to Disney World and the Boardwalk. The Mammas were founded by Jan, who is also the Grande Dame of the Bunny Brigade (which is actually a co-ed offshoot off the Mammas). Like the Brigade, some type of special accessory is a requirement. For this outing, she provided a bag of flowers, from which we each chose one to adorn our hair. Actually, I had brought my Stitch hat (which makes it look like he’s eating my head), so I clipped the flower on top of that. It’s sad that I’m such a shy, inconspicuous person.

Most of us were well aware of what we were getting into, but one Momma had no idea that she would be joining us. She thought she would be busy at home, but her husband knew that she needed a night out, so he’d made secret arrangements for the van to pick her up. To ensure that she’d be ready, he told her they would be having dinner at the Town Tavern. Imagine her surprise when she stepped outside to find a strange vehicle idling at the curb, with a passel of laughing Mommas trying to duck out of sight.

Once we were all in the van, we headed off the Boardwalk, where two other Mommas were already waiting at the brewery restaurant. Jan had made a reservation, and it was a good thing, as there was a long line waiting for admission at the door. We breezed past the waiting hoi poloi and settled in to get started with drinks (and food for those who wanted it). Even though it’s a brewery, I opted for a pina colada because fru-fru cream drinks are my favorite. I also had a bowl of cheese & beer soup; I’d had a late lunch, but it had still been a while, so I thought it best to get something non-alcoholic into my stomach for the long night ahead.

I knew already knew some of the Mammas from the Brigade, and I was meeting some for the first time. Once again, I realized what a great choice it was to move to Celebration. Where else could I find so many kindred souls? When I post on the community intranet, my motto is: “Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional.” It was so nice to discover that so many people share the same philosophy.

Most of the Mommas in attendance were veterans, but as I mentioned earlier, there was one other virgin. She was only on her third month of living in Celebration and hadn’t yet discovered all the neat things you can do at Disney World without ever going into the parks. Boardwalk is a great night spot. There are carnival games, street acts, restaurants, and of course bars and clubs. We were planning to make our way around the Epcot resorts, as the area is also flanked by the Yacht & Beach Club and the Swan/Dolphin, and to end up at the Atlantic Dance Hall. There are other fun places on Boardwalk, including Jellyrolls (a dueling piano bar) and the ESPN sports club. Yacht & Beach Club has am excellent seafood buffet called Cape May, which I detailed in a previous blog entry, as well as a nautical themed bar and an ice cream parlor called Beachs & Cream. I don’t know much about the Swan & Dolphin; I attended a conference at them once, but I didn’t spend much time exploring. They are not actually owned by Disney, so they’re sort of red-haired stepchild resorts.

We spent a while at the brewery and then headed toward Yacht & Beach Club. Our timing turned out to be perfect to catch the Illuminations fireworks at Epcot. The park is only a short stroll from Boardwalk, so you get an excellent view. We joined the crowd of people gazing at the sky and murmuring appreciative oohhs and aahhs. One of the Mammas pointed out how lucky we are. We were surrounded by people who had saved up for their vacations, perhaps for a long time. They were there for maybe a week or two, and then they’d have to head home; if they’re lucky, they might be back again in a year or so. But those of us who live in Celebration can have this experience whenever we have the urge. I feel that fascination every time I drive over to Disney World, and even when I hear the echo of the fireworks as I sit out on my front porch. I’ve always hoped that I’ll never lose it, so it was heartening to see that Mommas who have lived in Celebration for years still feel that same childlike glee to live next door to Mickey.

We hiked over to the Yacht Club and managed to find the bar, but in an abrupt change of plans, we decided to skip the drinks and head right over to the Atlantic Dance Hall. I was still feeling good from the pina colada, so I was ready to go anywhere and do just about anything. I had never been to the dance hall before, and I was in for a pleasant surprise. It is a large place with plenty of tables, a bar, and a dance floor with a giant video screen. It is smoke-free, which is a big plus for an allergic person like myself. In Florida, all restaurants must be non-smoking by law, but bars can allow smoking if they make minimal or no money from the sale of food. But even though the Atlantic only services alcohol, it is a non-smoking venue. For those who enjoy a cigarette, you can easily step right outside to light up.

We whiled the night away drinking and dancing. The Atlantic doesn’t serve frozen drinks, but I was quite content downing Fuzzy Navels on the rocks. I also enjoyed the dancing, although I was a little nervous to start. A few years back, while dancing in a club on the Disney Magic cruise ship, my knee cap popped off quite suddenly and unexpectedly, teaching me a new definition of pain. Actually, the injury itself wasn’t so bad; the pain came when they popped that sucker back on. I was stuck in a cast and wheelchair for the rest of the cruise, and the cast remained for many more weeks, followed by a few rounds of physical therapy. For the next year or so, I had to wear a knee brace while dancing, but eventually the doctor told me I should be okay boogying without it. I still have a latent fear that the bolt of pain will suddenly strike and I’ll drop like a buckshot deer. But with a couple of drinks in me, the fear gave way to my sense of fun and my love of music and dancing.

In between physical exertion, we sat at our table and joking around. I learned something new; the more alcohol you consume, the funnier the word “nipple” becomes. By the end of the night, my face hurt actually from laughing. We had started on our journey at 6:30 p.m., and I was shocked to realize that somehow the clock hands had fast forwarded to midnight. The majority of the Mommas were ready to call it a night, although two did stay on for a while longer. The rest of us trooped back to find the van in the vast expanse of the Boardwalk parking lot.

The ride home was an adventure, too. Jan was driving, and she was blatantly disregarding any instructions on how to get home to Celebration. Eventually we realized that she knew full well where she was going and was taking an alternate route just to confuse us. Soon enough, we had reached town and were dropped off at our homes one by one. At Duloc Manor, my husband had long since collapsed into bed. I briefly logged onto my computer to see if any of my travel clients had sent any urgent messages. There was nothing needing my immediate attention, so I headed upstairs to bed. I was no longer a virgin; now I was a full-fledged Mickey Momma. Another milestone of life in Celebration! If those who believe we are a Stepford town full of perfect, demure and obedient housewives could witness of Mommas meeting, they’d realize that we’re a place that lives up to our name. We love to celebrate!

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about the Mommas, here's the website address again: You won’t see photos of our outing (yet), but you’ll see plenty from past events.

I’ve taken longer than usual to make this blog entry, and I promise to be more prompt next time. It surprised me to hear from several readers wondering when the next installment of my blathering would be posted. I started this entry immediately after the Mommas meeting, but then my travel agent business had a busy spurt, and before I knew it, it was already Thanksgiving. We spent the holiday on the Disney Wonder, and then I had to play catch-up with my business when we returned. But now I’m all caught up, and I’ve already got my next topic all planned out. My ambition for this holiday season is to have the tackiest Christmas tree in all of Celebration, and since my silver monstronsity made it safely through the ATA luggage gauntlet, I'm off to a good start. My efforts will be chronicled in my next blog entry, coming very soon.

You can email me at and visit my Celebration website at

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Founders Day Meets the Bunny Brigade

Although cloudy skies and occasional light drizzle threatened to make Founders Day a wash-out, enough pixie dust blew over from Disney World to keep the downpour at bay. Our second Founders Day in Celebration (I think it was the ninth one overall) turned out to be a fanciful frolic filled with friends, food, fun, and frivilous headgear.

Actually, our day started out at Downtown Disney, as I needed to do a little shopping. I knew we were in for trouble when I saw a sign for "Festival of the Masters" parking. I had no idea what that was, but anything dubbed "Festival" doesn't bode well for crowd size. Sure enough, the parking lot was an absolute zoo, and Downtown Disney itself was packed with wall to wall people. The festival turned out to be an art show and competition. We didn't stay too long, but I was utterly fascinated by the "street artists" creating works of art on the sidewalks with colored charcol sticks.

One good aspect of the festival was that they were passing out coupon books at the information booth. The discounts were for good stores and restaurants, like World of Disney, Wolfgang Puck's, and Ghiardelli's. We wanted to grab lunch at the Earl of Sandwich, a wonderful British sandwich shop, but the line was three queues deep. Since each order is freshly made, we estimated that it would have taken half an hour at best. Instead, we hopped in the car and headed to T.G.I. Friday's at the Crossroads shopping center right outside of Disney World.

By the time we were done eating, it was time to head home and get ready for th Founder's Day festivities. The sky looked threatening, and when my husband looked up the radar online, the green blob appeared to be headed our way. But it also looked like it was breaking up, so we kept our fingers crossed. As an added precaution, we also loaded umbrellas and rain ponchos in our backpack and wore our water sandals. Nothing wards off rain better than actually being prepared for it.

When there is a big to-do downtown, we usually just walk or ride our bikes. This time, we hoofed it down the convenient boardwalk that links East Village with Lake Evalyn before continuing on the Stetson parking lot. It's only about a 20 minute walk, and it lessens my guilt for pigging out on the tempting culinary delights available at "Taste of Celebration."

First on our agenda was the town photo. Since we were in it last year, we didn't want to break with tradition. It is my ambition to hang a new one in our foyer each year as a challenge to house guests to find us among the sea of faces. We arrived just as the community service awards were being given out, which is a prelude to the photo. The threatening gray clouds appeared to have scared many people off, as the crowd seemed smaller than in 2003. But there was still a goodly sized gathering. We all crowded in, pasted on our best Celebration smiles, and immortalized another year in the town's history. If you'd like to see how the town photo is accomplished, click here for a picture of the picture-taking. That page also contains a gallery of Bunny Brigade photos, but that's getting ahead of the story.

As you arrive for the photo, you receive a raffle ticket. Afterwards, you gather round to see if you've won a prize. Last year, in a stoke of irony, I won a round of golf even though I never played the game in my life. This year, you chose which prize you wanted to be in the drawing for rather than having one big drawing for assorted prizes. I cast my lot into the drawing for a gift basket, while my husband tried for a copy of the new book about Celebration. We haven't seen it yet, but it's an "official" Disney-sanctioned version, so it should be interesting. But this year Lady Luck had other plans, and our tickets weren't drawn.

We spent a while chatting with people we know and also some who we're acquainted with via the Front Porch intranet. I always enjoy meeting people in person after following their postings online. In some ways, Celebration is like two worlds: the real world and a virtual one that often takes on a life of its own. I don't know what percentage of people in town actually visit the intranet regularly, but there is definitely a core group of die-hards. In many ways, it's as vibrant as the actual town.

Then we headed down Front Street to search out the Bunny Brigade. Jan, our founder and grande dame, had staked out some prime lakefront seats. At first, the crowd was sparse, as the threatening weather seemed to be scaring people off. Slowly but surely, the volume of people began to grow, and more and more members showed up in their tell-tale headgear.

Although bunny ears are the official headgear of the Brigade, they are not a cast-in-stone requirement. My own headgear typically involves Stitch in some way (I have two different types), and my husband wears a monorail that appears to be driving through his head. Tom (whose site, features lots of photos, Founders Day memories, and other neat stuff, dubbed it the "Ear Force." As long as you are willing to don some sort of ostentatious object on your head, you are a welcome member.

This was the first Bunny Brigade meeting since Charley, Frances, and Jeanne came to town. The hurricanes caused the cancellation of our previous get-togethers, so I was a little nervous that the weather might have its way with us once again. Happily, other than a couple of minor sprinkles, the evening turned out to be gorgeous weather-wise.

The Bunny Brigade crowd grew, and the food and drink flowed freely. If you didn't follow the previous link, click here for some scenes of the Brigade throughout the evening. "Taste of Celeration" is a part of Founders Day, which simply means that the local eateries set up booths out on the street. They have the same offerings for every special event, but "Taste of Celebration" makes it sound more exciting.

My husband always gets sushi from Seito, and I opted for the clam chowder from Town Tavern. I was lusting after an apple in bourbon sauce from the Celebration Hotel, but the first time my husband went to get one, their booth wasn't set up yet. The second time, they told him that the apples would be ready in 45 minutes. The third time, they gave him a free cup of soup to get him to go away and stop bothering them. Apparently, they discovered that they didn't have the necessary ingredients, so the apples never materialized. We also indulged in a salad and sangria from Columbia, plus a cranberry scone from Sherlocks.

We had arrived at the lakefront around 5 p.m., and the fireworks were schedule for 9. It's amazing how quickly four hours can go by when you're having so much fun. We all sat around chatting, eating & drinking, taking photos, and just generally having a ball. We even did a round of the Chicken Dance, which was being played by the band down at the intersection of Front and Market Streets. I don't do dances that require complicated steps (and I consider anything harder than moving backwards or forwards a challenge), but that one was simple enough even for a coordinationally-challenged person such as myself.

I had fun last year, but it was totally different because my husband and I didn't really know anyone. We knew our immediate neighbors, of course, but we hadn't met a lot of people in the community at large. Just one year later, we're a part of the Bunny Brigade and know so many wonderful people.

We had met many of the Brigade members at the first meeting, but this time there were also lots of new faces, which made it even more enjoyable. Some were people we didn't know at all, and others were online acquaintances who we were finally meeting in the flesh.

The crowd never seemed to grow as large as I expected, but that was sort of nice. I don't mind crowds and tourists, as I knew that those things would be facts of life when I chose to live here. But it's nice to have a little break every now and then. With the Fourth of July madhouse still fresh in my mind, I was happy that the sea of humanity was a little less overwhelming for Founders Day.

Still, I brought my pool pass, because I refuse to use the porta-potties. When the crowd is massive, there is usually a line. I never saw one this time around, but they still didn't look too appealing. I'd rather use my pool I.D. card and use the facilities at Lakeside Park.

I took a quick potty break shortly before the fireworks were scheduled to start, and on the way back to our chairs, I decided to use up my last food tickets on some ice cream from Herman's. They were also selling funnel cakes, and apparently some silent call had gone out for every person in attendance to suddenly line up to buy one. I thought I had plenty of time, but I waited at least 15 minutes. By the time I finally had my frozen chocolate treat, the fireworks were only minutes away.

Soon, it was the time that everyone was waiting for. The lights dimmed, the music cranked, and suddenly the sky above the lake lit up in an impressive show, punctuated by ooos and ahhhs. The grand finale was to the tune of Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," which is of course our town theme song.

After the fireworks, the crowd started breaking up. Some of the Brigade headed home, while others moseyed on to the Town Tavern to continue the fun. My husband and I decided to head back to East Village to crash, as it had been a long day. For some reason, our commute and the late Friday night flight always seems to sap my energy, and I don't regain it until sometime on Sunday.

We headed back down the boardwalk, which is conveniently lit at night. As we shuffled home, my husband and I discussed how events like Founders Day are the reason we moved to Celebration. Try as I might, I just can't imagine something like this happening back in my Midwest home town. They do have a big Oktoberfest celebration, but it's most just a carnival and a lot of beer drinking. Sure, there are carnival games and plenty of drinking on Founders weekend, but something is fundamentally different. At the Oktoberfest bash, you don't see neighbors getting together, and you feel no sense of community. It's just a bunch of strangers coming to an event that could be in just about any town, anywhere, with no sense of "ownership."

In Celebration, even with the droves of tourists, the core of the town remains intact, and the community spirit is there. That's something you just can't buy; we were reminded once again why we don't sell our house for a profit and move somewhere else in the Kissimmee area. We might have a nice, big, fancy house, but it would be an isolated isle, just like the condo we are leaving in the Midwest. In Celebration, we didn't just buy a house, we bought a home, and there is a big difference.

It's after midnight now, and another Founders Day is over. My husband is upstairs snoring, but I wanted to get my thoughts down while they are still fresh in my mind. This Founders Day was even better than the last one, and I'm already looking forward to the next one in 2005.

Visit my Celebration web page at

My email address is

Friday, November 12, 2004

Let the Festivities Begin

This Friday marked the kickoff of the Founders Day activities. Unfortunately, my husband and I were on the late flight home, so we missed out on the carnival and game booths. Hopefully, this will be the last year that we miss the first day of Founders Day weekend. I know that the activities probably sound like a bunch of hokey small-town stuff, but that's what I like about them. What kid doesn't try to win a goldfish at a local fun fair at some point in their life? What small town doesn't have fun-raiser booths with games and food and goodies? Those are the things that make up memories and Americana. I grew up with them, and now I want to be able to see them again in my adopted home town.

Unfortunately, by the time we rolled over the bridge on Celebration Avenue and approached downtown, most signs of life were long gone, as it was already close to midnight. We saw a few teens cruising around on foot and an intrepid soul making a withdrawal at the Cash Station, but the revelers and carnival goers were long gone.

We could see the skeletal canopies already erected on Market Street, waiting for the crowds of townies and tourists that will descend on Saturday. My husband insisted on making a detour; ever since I did my blog entry on Charley, Frances, and Jeanne, the motley trio of abandoned bikes that are slowly rusting away in the racks downtown, he's been firmly convinced that they're going to be removed. I explained to him that downtown is owned by Lexin, and all you have to do is look around to see that keeping up appearances is not one of their strong points. They're too busy trying to figure out how much more land they can sell for townhomes and condos. The only way they'll remove those bikes is if they figure they can fit another condo complex on the space where they currently reside.

But no, I couldn't convince my husband that his worries were for naught. So I cruised into the parking lot near Barnie's, where one of the trio resides, and showed him that it was safe and sound (well, okay, not so sound, but still chained in the rack).

We passed the flagpole, with the blue tarp already secured below it, hiding the newly installed bricks bearing the names of Celebration's newest residents. Just last year, we were among them. Now, we're "old timers" who get to watch the newbies go through this annual rite. Bricks are only installed for those who buy brand new homes, not resales, so once the last village is sold out, this event will fade away. But for now it's fun to watch the mad scramble as people rush to find their little rectangle of immortality.

Actually, now that the blue tarp has been named Florida's state flag in honor of our history-making hurricane season, I was amazed that A) Our state flag would be treated so disrespectfully, i.e. laid out on the ground; and B) Tarps are finally readily available again.

We headed to home sweet home so we could crash in bed and rest up for the second day of festivities. Saturday marks the latest meeting of the famous (infamous?) Bunny Brigade, so that should make for some great photos and another good blog entry. Granted, the Tampa Bay Bucaneers won't be around this time, but I'm sure that we can find new and exciting ways to amuse ourselves and to cause a scene. Once I get a few glasses of Columbia sangria into my husband, he will be game for anything.

The big capper will, of course, be the fireworks display. We have folding camp chairs that we bring downtown so we don't have to search too hard for a spot to watch them. We'll just sling the chairs over our shoulders and hoof it on the path from East Village rather than fight the traffic. Hopefully I'll remember to douse myself with bug spray first; my blood is apparently so sweet that they'll come from miles around to taste it. Once, while sitting out on my porch swing, I covered myself from head to toe in bug spray...everything but the bottoms of my feet. While out there, I slipped off my shoes. Bad idea! Those suckers actually bit up my foot bottoms! Nothing will drive you crazier than itchy foot soles.

Oh well, off to Dreamland now so I'll be bright and chipper for Day Two of the festivities. We have an early flight out on Sunday, courtesy of ATA's bankruptcy-fueled schedule distruptions, but at least on Saturday we'll be able to spend a full day of small-town frolicking, frivolity, and fun.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

All my life, I've been in the midst of cold, snowy winters. I've had enough White Christmases to make Bing Crosby happy for the century and beyond. I many know people who say, "It wouldn't be Christmas without snow. I'd never want to live where I'd never see snow again." Believe me, I'm not one of them!

For me, a green Florida-style Christmas is ideal. If I want to see snow, I can call my relatives up north and let them describe it or pop in the DVD of "Christmas Vacation" or "A Christmas Story" (annual traditions in our household). Or I'll head to downtown Celebration or over to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney World to watch the soap bubble snowflakes. That's the only kind of snow I need to see for the rest of my life.

That's not to say that Florida doesn't feel Christmasy. Even though it's not Thanksgiving yet, the holiday preparations have already begun. I'm seeing adds for the Candlelight Processional at Epcot and the Christmas parties at the Magic Kingdom. Last time we were at Disney-MGM Studio, the Osborne lights were already being mounted (ironically, with cable ties manufactured by my employer).

On the home front, I'm eagerly awaiting the Holiday Home Tour in Celebration, which is a prime opportunity for nosy people like me to see my neighbors' houses, and of course I'll be romping around when the snow-bubbles fall on Market Street. Considering Lexin's actions thus far as the current owner of downtown Celebration, I'm wondering if this will be the last year for that event. Oh well, I'll enjoy it while I can.

Next weekend, I think we'll go shopping for some Christmas decorations. I have high hopes of finding a silver 1950s-style tree, complete with color wheel. I have one at our Midwest home, and I'd love to find one for Celebration. I know it's corny and hokey, but nothing evokes my childhood memories of waiting for Santa Claus like an aluminum tree. I know that today's models are made of plastic, but they're still reasonable facsimiles.

I'm hoping the stores aren't too jam-packed yet; I make it a rule never to venture near a shopping center or superstore from Thanksgiving through mid-January. Of course, I don't think the Wal-Mart on 192 could be any more crowded during the holiday season than it is at any other time. After all, there are only so many bodies you can cram into a finite space, and between the locals and tourists, that place is virtually always at capacity.

To me, it seems like paradise to spend a Christmas season being able to walk and bike outside, and maybe even to swim. Very few bare, skeletal trees, and no grass covered with a layer of dirty-gray snow...just beautiful, live greenery. What a treat to see that in December and January!

We'll have lots of fun visiting the various Disney World parks and hotels to see them in their holiday finery, and we'll also have to go over to Universal for their Grinch-themed celebration. There are plenty of other attractions, too. The Dixie Stampede (Dolly Parton's dinner/show) also puts on a special show for the holidays. We saw it in Tennessee many years back, so I'm eager to see it on my home turf. It was something we planned to do last year, but we never quite got around to it. I am also hoping that Celebration Health has a living nativity again this year. We stopped by to see it last year, and I was very impressed (although some of the critters looked less than cooperative).

Hard to believe that the holidays are almost here. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...but far away from me!

You can view my Celebration website at

My email address is

Sunday, November 07, 2004

What a Difference a Year Makes

Next week in Celebration, we celebrate the annual tradition known as Founders Day. As the name implies, this self-proclaimed holiday marks the anniversary of the founding of our town. Actually, "founding" is a relative term; I'm not sure whether it marks the day that Celebration was announced, that the lottery for the first homes was held, that ground was broken for the first buildings, or that the first residents moved in. I think it might commemorate the hoopla of the lottery, but don't quote me on that. Anyway, it's a good excuse to line Front Street with food booths, hold fishing tournaments, a carnival, and other fun small-town-style events, and cap things off with a big fireworks display over the lake.

Another neat thing about Founders Day is the "Town Photo." Basically, everyone in town is invited to Lakeside Park to crowd together for a picture that turns out something like a page from "Where's Waldo." I have no idea what percentage of Celebration residents actually show up, but last year the turnout looked pretty good to me. You can buy a print of the photograph afterwards, so I purchased the jumbo version and hung it on our foyer wall. Guests love to search for my husband and I among the sea of faces. Actually, we're pretty easy to find, since we're right at the end of a row, and we purposely wore brightly colored shirts.

This year, I'm especially excited because I feel like Celebration is truly my home town. Granted, I felt that way from the moment we first visited and knew that we had to buy a home here, but now we have twelve months of wonderful memories behind us. Last Founder's Day, we were still "newbies." We had closed on our home only two months earlier, and we were still in a transition stage. We didn't have much time to get to know the town because we were still too busy with all the little tasks that come with buying a new home. There was a constant parade of servicemen and deliveries that kept us tied to the house in those early weeks; it took a while before we could breathe a sigh of relief that all the major tasks were done and settle in to enjoy life in Celebration.

That first Founders Day was still a lot of fun. I'll never forget the thrill of finding our brick under the flagpole downtown. (For those who don't know what I'm referring to: A brick is placed beneath the flag for every person who purchased a brand-new home in Celebration during the previous year. The bricks are unveiled on Founders Day weekend, and there is a mad scramble as all the new residents try to find theirs.) After a long, fruitless search, I was almost convinced that it was all a practical joke; I thought that the people claiming to find their bricks were actually sadistic residents just yelling, "There it is!" to convince the rest of us that our bricks were there somewhere. But eventually I found our next door neighbors' brick, and then ours. Now, as hokey as it sounds, whenever we have out-of-town visitors and we're driving with them down Celebration Avenue, I always have to stop and drag them over to see the brick.

Also, ironically, on that first Founders Day, I won a round of golf at the Celebration golf course. Each person who participates in the town photo gets a raffle ticket, and the prizes are announced after the picture is taken. The irony lies in the fact that I have never golfed once in my life, unless you count the putt-putt courses with windmill obstacles. I ended up trading with someone for a Seito gift certificate; monetarily, it was worth a lot less, but my husband adores sushi, and I was glad that the golf was going to someone who would appreciate it.

But the big difference now is that back then, my husband and I didn't really know anyone in town, other than our immediate neighbors. We had a vague idea of the small-town politics and had seen many familiar names as we haunted the Front Porch intranet. But we couldn't put faces to those names, and although we loved Celebration, we hadn't crossed over yet into feeling the community spirit.

Now, twelve months later, we have a wealth of wonderful memories to draw on. In the past year, we've met so many people and had so many wonderful times. We've became members of the "Bunny Brigade" and stalked the Tampa Bay Bucaneers (I won't even try to explain that here, but you can read details by clicking here to read my blog entry. We've made lots of friends and even went on a Disney cruise with our neighbors...and during hurricane season, no less! And our house survived three hurricanes (even though hurricanes "never come this far inland"). We've discovered fellow Disney fanatics who don't think we should be committed for our devotion to "The Mouse." We've experienced the mad tourist influx during events like Fourth of July and learned all of the backroads and shortcuts that are necessary for survival when you live in the Kissimmee/Orlando area. Most of all, we've discovered that we are truly home.

The Founders Day photo on the wall is no longer just a sea of nameless faces. Now, we can put names to many of them, and we marvel at the fact that we were surrounded by so many friends we simply hadn't met yet. This year, we'll be there for the picture yet again (and with God's wicked sense of humor, I wouldn't be surprised if I win another round of golf). But this time, we won't just be in Celebration...we'll truly be a part of it.

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