Monday, August 30, 2004

The Celebration Reputation

If you are here looking for the triplex/duplex/townhome photos in our ongoing lawncare battle, click here to see the latest additions or scroll down a couple of entries to read all about it. Otherwise, here's my latest rambling entry on life in Celebration:

A recent exchange on the Front Porch (Celebration's residents-only intranet, which features lively, and sometimes heated, discussion forums) reminded me of an aspect of living in our fair town that takes some getting used to: The Celebration Reputation.

"Just what is this reputation?" you might ask if you're not from Central Florida. Basically, when you are visiting one of the surrounding communities and mention that you are from Celebration, the stock answer is, "Oh," spoken in a tone that impossible to duplicate via the contraints of the written word.

"Oh" is such a simple two-letter word, but a person's tone can imbue it with so many shades of meaning. When spoken in regards to a person who has just confessed that they are from Celebration, it typically can be translated to, "Oh, so you're one of those high falutin' people from the Disney town."

I'm not sure how Celebration got that reputation. Even before I had visited, I thought of it as an upscale town, but in a generic sort of way. Granted, our property values have gone through the roof (I am amazed at our home's climb in value after only one year, so I can only imagine how many times over the prices have multiplied since 1995). We have our share of multi-million dollar mansions, but there are plenty of more modest dwellings, too.

The town was deliberately planned to place houses at both ends of the price spectrum within spitting distance of each other. For example, there are condos kitty corner from sprawling lakefront estate homes, and my triplex is right across the street from homes that sell for over twice the price.

Personally, I've never noticed any "class distinction" in Celebration. There is no caste system, with Village Home dwellers outranking the Garden Home sect, which looks down on The Bungalow Bunch, etc. No matter what type of home you live in, you're a welcomed member of the community at large. Occasionally, some online sniping will break out between renters and homeowners or between year 'round residents and snowbirds, but it's usually short-lived.

Of course, that doesn't mean that there aren't a few people who embody the Celebration Reputation. I've only encountered them once, not long after we had signed the contract to purchase our home. Before I go into detail, here's a little background for those who are not familiar with the various Celebration home types: a triplex is actually called an "attached bungalow" in Celebration-speak, and it is the least expensive non-condo home type. We have an end unit, and I think it's somewhere around 1600 square feet, with two bedrooms (technically three if you converted the formal room on the first floor), two full baths, and a powder room. We also have a little front and back yard, a porch large enough to hang a swing, and a one-car garage with room enough to park a car in the driveway (a car-length driveway is a rarity for many Celebration dwellings). Hopefully this will give you somewhat of a mental picture.

At the time we bought our place, it was nothing but a flat, sandy patch dotted with deer tracks and a Lot 64 marker post. But the model was almost identical to the unit we were buying, both inside and out. The only big differences were the exterior paint and the fact that our formal room would have French doors, while the model's had an open wall.

This striking similarity gave my husband and I a convenient opportunity to take measurements and plot out our furniture placement. We were pretty much starting from scratch to outfit our new home, and I worked at a furniture store so I know how long it can take to get the items once you order them. This allowed us to begin our shopping early and simply arrange delivery once our house was done.

One afternoon we stopped by to take some measurements and just generally poke around, doing some starry-eyed imagining of what our dream home would look like in a few short months. While we were there, a couple of locals stopped in to look around. As they explored the model, they kept up a non-stop commentary about how they could never live in such a place and how they just couldn't believe that anyone actually would. You would have thought it was a refrigerator box under a viaduct with a shopping cart parked in front! I got the distinct impression that if they could, they would have formed an angry mob with pitchforks and torches to drive all the triplex and duplex lowlifes out of their pristine town. If they had been my first contact with Celebration residents, I probably would have been a "Reputation" believer.

Of course, as they left, they did concede to each other that such a tiny place might be okay for a vacation home if you didn't have to stay there more than one week at a time.

Perhaps I should have been offended, but I was actually more amused. Having met many other locals already, I knew that those two people were not representative of Celebration at large. All I could do was snicker at their vanity and wonder what unfortunate life experiences had caused them to tie their self-esteem into the size and price of their homes.

When they were gone, I said to my husband, "Honey, we're nothing but triplex trailer trash." (I have an odd sense of humor, but I come from the sort of family where my brother compares himself with pride to Randy Quaid in the vacation movies, right down to his eight children). I liked that label, and soon it became our little inside joke.

Now, whenever we tell someone that we're from Celebration and get that famous "Oh," we quickly qualify our statement with, "But don't worry, we're triplex trailer trash." Most people have no clue what we're talking about, but it still amuses me because it conjures up a vision of Miss Haughty and Miss Big Snoot, the living embodiments of the Celebration Reputation.

Although I joke about it, I think it's unfortunate that so many people in the surrounding areas believe that all Celebration residents are that way. In reality, it's a town full of friendly, down-to-earth, fun-loving people living normal lives in a place that somehow managed to garner an almost mythic reputation. Our snob quotient is no higher than any community with similar demographics. Personally, I believe that our "friendly factor" is greater than the norm, probably because so many people moved to Celebration based on the promise of neighborliness, which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It still drives me a little crazy when people judge me by my address. All too often, when I admit to being from Celebration, I just know they are picturing my palatial mansion, which no doubt features Mickey Mouse as my butler. My home is modest, but even it was the biggest estate in town, that doesn't change who I am.

But I'm learning to my feelings around and to even embrace the reputation. I am just finishing my doctorate in psychology, and my focus is on cognitive/behavioral theory. One of its tenets is that you cannot control what other people think of you or do, but you can control your reaction. So why not have a little fun with it? (By the way, I discuss the concept of embracing negatives and turning them into positives in one of the articles on my professional website. Click here for the index, and select "Embrace Your Feelings."

At any rate, I consider it an honor to have others believe I am worthy of the Celebration Reputation. Those of you who have been following my blog might recall the "drive by heckling," when a carload of teens shouted, "Rich Celebration bitches on your rich Celebration bikes!" while my husband and I were pedaling around town one evening. Rather than let it bother me, my husband and I got a good laugh out of it, especially considering that we were riding our $89 K-Mart specials. But I'll be a "Celebration Rich Bitch" if they want me to be; after all, it has sort of a nice ring to it.

If only they knew they were applying that label to the same people who would actually deign to live in a house deemed too small and substandard for anything but brief vacation stints by those people in the model. But if they want to think of me as "Triplex Trailer Trash," that's fine, too. I'm honored to have such a diverse dual identity.

Maybe someday I will get a custom made t-shirt with "Celebration Rich Bitch" printed on one side and "Triplex Trailer Trash" on the other. That way, I can simply stand backwards or forwards, depending on who I am talking to. Call me what you will, as long as I am a Celebration resident.

If you have comments on my blog or questions about Celebration, email me at

Check out my Celebration website at You can also view my Disney-related travel agency site at and my seminar/life coaching site at

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Slow September

Since I've devoted my last several blog entries to the ongoing Yard Wars, I thought I'd slip in something about the good side of living in Celebration (if you're looking for the jungle photos, scroll down to the entry below this one). Making sure that my grass is kept below a foot and preventing the weeds from turning into something out of Little Shop of Horrors is only a small part of the overall Celebration experience.

And now that it's almost September, we're entering one of the very best times to live near Disney World. Although I titled this entry "Slow September," the dead season at the parks and tourist attractions really starts in the last week of August. The kids are heading back to school, and Mom and Dad have used up all their vacation time. The restless hordes of vacationers slow down to a trickle. And while the tourist-cats are away, the resident-mice will play.

If you are a Florida resident, you can even purchase a heavily discounted annual pass that is only good during the off-season. Since my husband and I like to go to the Disney water parks all summer, we opt for the mega-gold-good-every-day version, but if you are a casual parker, the pass with blackout dates is a great deal.

This Saturday, we drove over to Disney-MGM around noon to have lunch at the Brown Derby and see what the line situation looked like. For the most part, we didn't see anything over 30 minutes, but we grabbed Fast Passes for Rockin' Roller Coaster anyway, since the return time fit nicely into our lunch plans.

Having had a lot of fun wearing our crazy headgear (Stitch ears for me and a monorail running through my husband's head) last time we were in the parks, we had donned it once again. If you haven't already seen the infamouse Bunny Brigade photos in which we are modeling it, click here. One of our house guests gifted us with a picture frame in the shape of Cinderella's castle that will hold a number of photos. We decided to take advantage of various photo ops around the parks wearing our headgear to fill up the frame.

Our first photo of the day was snapped on the main drag after we entered the park. After indugling in my favorite Cobb salad (no other restaurant minces up the ingredients), we headed to Rockin' Roller Coaster. For the first time ever, we were actually in the front seat. I know they snap the picture just as you rocket out of the station at 60 m.p.h., so both my husband and I got a death grip on our "ears." We figured we could hold them on for the launch and then whip them off after the photo. It came out pretty decent, so we bought it for the collection.

We spent the rest of the day bopping back and forth between Tower of Terror and the roller coaster, and the crowd grew more minimal as the afternoon wore on. Soon the posted ride times were only 10 minutes. We were still doing Fast Passes when possible, but often the stand-by line was just as short as Fast Pass. Ah, the wonders of the off season!

On the Tower of Terror, getting a good picture took a couple of tries. The first time around we were in the back row and the people in front of me all had their arms in the air. You could barely see me peeking through a forest of extended limbs. The second time we were in the front, so we had another photo for our collection. Amazingly, with all the bouncing up and down, we didn't have to hang on to our head gear and it never came off.

As we were exiting the ride the first time, we noticed that someone had lost their lunch in the store. I don't consider Tower of Terror to be a vomit-inducing ride, but the brown puddle on the floor was a gross testament to my erroneous thinking. Later, when we were buying our photo, the cast member told me he had seen the vomiter exiting the ride and looking decidedly queasy. He had asked the man if he was okay, and he responded that he'd eaten some barbeque that was not agreeing with him.

We also managed to fit in The Great Movie Ride, Millionaire, and Voyage of the Little Mermaid. I was very disappointed in Voyage, as they have shortened the show. It was already a Cliff Notes version to begin with, but now even a person with a raging case of ADHD would be screaming, "Too short!"

My only other agenda item for the day was to get a photo of Lilo and Stitch. I have been stalking them on our Disney cruises, but although I did manage to get a shot wth Stitch once, Lilo had remained elusive. This time, there was no escape...I knew they would both be in the Animation Courtyard, and I wasn't going to allow a little thing like an anti-stalking court order to stop me!

Since we had forgotten to bring our digital camera, I had purchased a disposable just in case. I needn't have bothered, as there was a professional Disney photographer on hand to capture the moment (for a price, of course). The line was practically non-existent, so it was fun to watch Lilo and Stitch interacting with the kids. With the minimal crowd, it wasn't so rush-rush. Just another reason to love Slow September!

We got some great photos to add to the day's booty. What could be better than a shot with Stitch while wearing my Stitch ears? We got one alone with Stitch, since Lilo had slipped off to the side to interact with a cute little toddler who wasn't quite sure he should approach the characters. Suddenly Lilo realized that she was missing from the picture, and she hurried over while we posed for another shot.

On our way out of the park, we purchased our morning photo and the character pictures. The crowd had started to build again, since it was getting close to Fantasmic time, and the ride times were edging up to the 20 minute mark. Quite a change from the summer 1 to 2 hour levels just a week or two before. Although we love Fantasmic, we had decided that we would head over to Artists Point to fulfill my craving for their heavenly portabello mushroom soup. The angels cook it up in huge vats in Heaven and then fly it down to the restaurant fresh each day.

Usually your chances of finding a parking spot at the Wilderness Lodge are only slightly better than being struck by lightning. But now, with the crowd levels drained by the off-season, there were empty spots as far as the eye could see.

After a good meal, we headed home so I could whip out my scissors and fill in our castle frame with a photographic record of the day's adventures. Next week I'll scan the pictures and post a link in another blog entry.

The dead season doesn't last for too long. As September wanes, the crowd density increases steadily through October. There used to be another off-season in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but that has shortened considerably as people have discovered the secret: Enjoy the parks with minimal lines, and have the added bonus of seeing them decked out for the holidays.

Oh well, I'll still enjoy it while it lasts. If you are at Disney World during Labor Day week and see a man with a monorail running through his head, accompanied by a Stitch-woman, be sure to say hello.

If you have any comments about my blog, email me at

Visit my Celebration website at

Saturday, August 28, 2004

My Life as a Radical

The jungle that was my yard has finally been hacked into submission (thanks, Charlie!), but that one tiny battle is a long way from winning the war. My neighbors and I have been lambasted for complaining about the landscaper, Davey, in the wake of Charley, since they have been busy trying to save the trees. What those who toss snide comments our way on the intranet don't realize is that Charley simply brought things to a head. We have dealt with poor-to-non-existent lawn care for at least a year, and the overgrowth that was not mowed from August 5 to August 28 finally spurred the triplex/duplex/townhome owners into publicly breaking their silence.

Interestingly enough, since I posted my photos of the East Village jungle, which can still be found, along with some new photos from South Village, by clicking here, I have heard from several others in the same situation. I am going to dig out my pre-Hurricane Charley photos to post for the naysayers who blame our poor lawn care on the tree-saving efforts. Hopefully I will be able to post some neighbors' photos too, and some of them are much worse than my yard!

All of this has turned me into a radical, championing my very first Celebration cause. Since I have learned that the problem is by no means isolated at my lone triplex, I plan to harness the power in numbers. I am going to start a petition asking that duplex/triplex/townhome owners be provided with the following in writing:

-An exact explanation of the services that we are supposed to receive. At present, we are told things like "You'll get mulch twice a year" (we've never gotten it once, maybe because no one ever specified which year, and "Your lawn is mowed less frequently at some times of the year because it has to be mowed more frequently at others. I think we should know exactly when the mulchings will occur, how often our yards will be weeded, and what criteria (e.g. grass length, rainfall, temperature, or whatever) dictate the frequency of the grass care.

-A procedure for making reimbursement claims for damage. One of my solar lanterns was destroyed by a weed whacker, and I've learned that was relatively minor compared to what some of my neighbors have suffered. Collateral damage caused by carelessness is not acceptable.

-An effective complaint procedure. Right now, we call Town Hall with our complaints, and while things might improve for a while, overall we're in the same boat now as we were a year ago. I think we should be able to deal directly with someone at Davey. After all, we would be able to do that if we were homeowners hiring our own firm. Why should it be any different just because we live in attached houses?

To be fair, this might not entirely be Davey's fault. I suspect that they are geared to large commercial accounts, and using them for the triplexes/duplexes/townhomes was an afterthought since they already do the public areas of Celebration. I'm beginning to think they just aren't equipped and experienced in dealing with small, private yards. Charley has shown quite graphially that while they might respond well to an emergency, it's at the expense of other customers.

If that is the case and they just can't give us the service that we should be receiving due to their own business limitations, we'll petition for our contract to be awarded to another landscaping firm. There are plenty of landscapers who do a beautiful job on the yards of the single family homes all around us. While our jungle grew around us for the past three weeks, I watched as the lawns of all my neighbors were mowed by the various companies they employ. I don't think any of them went longer than a week after Charley with their grass being mowed.

Enough of my ranting and raving. I know that there are bigger issues in the world, like Save the Whales and whatnot. This one is of absolutely no importance to anyone but me and my fellow duplex/triplex/townhome owners. But I'm sure that most other great radicals and agitators in the world started small. You have to cut your teeth on a minor issue before you move on to the big stuff.

So the Great Celebration Lawn Crusade will be the first battle for me. If you live in a multi-family home in our lovely town, watch for me to turn up at your door wielding my petition the week of September 6th. And if you're not a resident, let this be a lesson to not believe all those myths about our town. Perfect lawns are not a reality in Celebration, and if you maintain a jungle, you won't be fined or publicly whipped and placed in stockades in front of the lake. If that were the truth, my neighbors and I would be on permanent display downtown.

Now there's an interesting idea. Maybe we can publicly stockade people who do unneighborly things like not picking up dog poop, letting their cars get rust spots, and hanging tie-dyed curtains in their windows. Then we charge tourists five bucks a piece to toss tomatoes at them, will all proceeds going towards building a combination library/multi-level parking structure downtown.

Hmmmm, maybe the newly molded radical has found her next crusade!

If you have any comments about my blog, or if you happen to be a fellow disgruntled duplex/triplex/townhome owner, email me at

For general information on Celebration (which is a wonderful place to live...despite my occasional tirades, I'd never want to be anywhere else), visit my website at

Friday, August 27, 2004

Rumble in the Jungle

We're back home in the East Village Jungle, the newest village in Celebration. Actually, it's my sarcastic way to refer to my triplex yard, which hasn't been mowed since August 5th (for perspective, Charley occurred on August 13th, and it's now the 27th). You can see photos of this lovely new area, which is sure to become a tourist attraction, by clicking here.

But still, it's great to be home, even though I had to hack my way through the yard with a machete to get there. It annoys me because I like to park in my driveway rather than on the street in front of my house, but that involves trekking through the soggy, mosquito-infested grass (I have stepping stones, but as you will see if you click through to the photos, the greenery has pretty much taken them over).

Oh well, I need to remind myself that I am pompous and self-centered and that I should think of the people who have it worse, like the 80 households in Kissimmee who do not have their power back on yet. I really do feel very sorry for them, as they've been without electricity for two weeks now. In the Florida summer, that has to be miserable. The news just reported that many are going to have severe mold problems because once carpeting gets wet, it becomes a breeding ground for mold if it is not thoroughly dried out. Drying involves fans, and of course fans require power.

As we were flying in tonight, it was weird to see all the bright blue tarps festooning the roofs in little neighborhood clusters. Last week, we arrived in town very late, but this time we arrived while it was still daylight, so we could see a lot of roof damage from 417. Besides the tarped roofs, there were many Florida rooms that appeared to have been crushed by some giant, unseen fist that descended out of the sky. I hope that the tarps and makeshift repairs will keep the water out until the roofs can be replaced. My husband and I lost our home in a flood several years back, so I know just how damaging it can be. It's hard to believe, but it can be just as destructive as a fire.

We were amazed at the progress in the airport repairs, since it's only been a week since our last jaunt through Orlando International. It's still a wreck, but you can see that they are working hard and fast. We noticed some progress on the ceiling and some of the seats restored to one of the boarding areas in the A Terminal.

When we arrived in Celebration, things were starting to look a lot more normal, with the exception of the rigging around many of the trees. The little tree in front of our house has been put up again, and this time it's banded into the ground. Hopefully it will survive; it's looking a little peaked, but then again, it's never really been all that healthy or robust. I like it because I think of it as the "regulation Celebration tree." If you look at any triplex of the same style as ours, there is a tree planted in front of it in exactly the same position.

Since we had gotten home early for once, we headed over to Boma, the buffet restaurant at the Animal Kingdom Lodge, for dinner. Since I knew we should be touching down around dinner time, I had been planning to call for a priority seating. But my husband convinced me that if I did that, I would curse us and our flight would be delayed. I held off on calling until we had touched down in Orlando, and I dialed 1-407-WDW-DINE (one of my favorite phone numbers) as we were taxi-ing to the gate. Thankfully, we were still able to get in.

Normally, when we got to the Animal Kingdom Lodge for dinner, we eat at Jiko, an absolutely wonderful restaurant. It is quite upscale and features cuisine with an African fare (for example, last week I dined on beef rolls with banana sauce and maize tamales, topped off with a mission fig torte for dessert topped with delicious sour yogurt ice cream (I am being 100 percent sincere when I say "delicious," as the ice cream tastes much better than its name would imply).

But not long ago, my husband read an article in Disney Magazine featuring various buffet restaurants at the Disney World resort. He was drooling by the time he had finished perusing the description of Boma, so we decided that we would try something new.

Boma was as good as the article claimed, although the food might be a bit exotic for some tastes. I was in love with the salads, which featured things like sliced watermelon rind in ginger and a curried potato salad, as well as a fruit salad straight from Heaven and cold corn seasoned heavily with cilantro. That is where I concentrated my culinary focus, although I did try some seafood soup and a few of the starches (they were good, but not things I could readily identify). My husband is more of a Renaissance Man, so he tried a little bit of everything.

Even though our stomaches were near bursting, we had to try the desserts too. My award for Most Delectible is a split between the banana budding and the coconut "cake," both enhanced with a generous drizzling of vanilla sauce.

I ordered iced tea to drink, while my husband went for two ends of the spectrum, with a presspot of Kenya coffee and a glass of Gameskeepers Reserve wine (his favorite at Jiko). Interestingly enough, he said that he will stick to the coffee next time because wine doesn't enhance the varied flavors of a buffet meal in the same way that it does a single entree. My husband, the wine connoisseur! Hard to believe he never would have dreamed of using wine to enhance a meal just two or three short years ago. I think that our frequent cruise ship jaunts have turned him into a lush. You can read the trip reports for some of our 38 Disney cruises by clicking here for my Disney Cruise Line blog, or visit my website at

At any rate, our meal was an excellent experience. I typically hate buffets because I have seen too many gross goings-on at various restaurants, like a kid licking several desserts and then placing each one back, to be taken by some unsuspecting soul. But I will make an exception if the food is very good (Chef Mickey's is one buffet I never turn down), and I have placed Boma into that category.

The rain was threatening, so we didn't walk out on the savannah to see the animals after dinner. Animal spotting is one thing I always enjoy doing after a good meal at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Oh well, I don't have to worry. It's bedtime as I write this, but I'll just try to get up at sunset tomorrow morning, and perhaps I'll be able to spot some exotic critters in my own private "savannah" on my overgrown lawn.

Visit my Celebration website at and email any questions or comments to

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Life Goes On

As I write this, Hurricane Charley is now almost two weeks off into history, and life goes on in Celebration along with the rest of Florida. Granted, for us it is much easier than the harder-hit areas just a few miles away. The minor roof damage in Celebration is barely noticable compared to the houses covered in tarps because their roofs are all but missing in Kissimmee, Poinciana, and many of the surrounding areas. Power restoration was never an issue for our town, since we never even had a blip in electricity. Meanwhile, our neighboring communities waited through long, sweaty days with no refrigerators, let alone air conditioning; many of them couldn't even find relief in a cool shower because their water was off, too.

No doubt about it: Charley carved a swath of tragedy and destruction, destroying people's lives. But even in the wake of disaster, the mundane problems in life continue, too. In Celebration, people park illegally by the school. They speed and run the stop signs, causing heating discussions on the Front Porch intranet. Online, people also stress about the condominiums that are slated to be built in the parking lots downtown and the upcoming elections.

All of those issues seemed to be critically important before Charley struck. Then, suddenly, they paled in comparison to the destroyed homes and loss of life. Things cooled down for a while, and people concentrated on organizing relief efforts and ways to help in the surrounding communities.

Still, even in the aftermath, the small problems continue. They just get put into a new perspective. But that doesn't make them any less annoying, especially as time goes on and the disaster fades into the past. The only thing is, you have to be careful A.C. (After Charley), because some people think that it's politically incorrect to mention any problem smaller than death, or at least dismemberment.

Case in point: Months and months before Charley struck (actually, ever since we moved to our triplex), the lawn care has been spotty at best. It's included in our monthly maintenance fees, and we don't have any say in the selection of the landscaping company. Since we've moved in, it has always been Davey, the company that handles landscaping for the parks and public areas of the town, too.

Typically, our grass grows into a lush, green jungle that takes over the flower beds and attempts to choke out the bushes before someone finally shows up to beat it back with a weed whacker (yes, they cut our lawn with a weed whacker!). In the process, our bushes and flowers often suffer fatal blows along with grass, and the mulch flies around like brown confetti, while the weeds remain virtually untouched.

Prior to Charley, the grass was already getting long. Then, in the immediate aftermath, Davey was understandably preoccupied with trying to clear trees from the roads and to prop up the ones that might be salvagable (ironically, many that were propped up toppled right back over a week later when another storm came through).

As the days wore on and the thicket grew more lush, my neighbors and I began to wonder if we'd ever see Davey again. Normally when it gets too bad, I get on the phone to Town Hall. But even though it had been many days since Charley, I didn't want to seem insensitive.

Then I saw a post from another duplex/triplex owner on the forums at, so I had to toss in my two cents. The retribution was swift! I was quickly labeled (quote) a spoiled, self-centered, pompous whiner (end quote), because I would (quote) complain about such unimportant issues in the face of genuine suffering by others (end quote). Of course, this was posted by an anonymous person, as such judgemental missives normally are.

Shame on me! People are homeless, people are dead, and all that I can think about is my yard! A proper approach would apparently be to wait until the grass reaches my roof. Since I knew that yard care was supposed to be included when I bought the house, I don't own a lawn mower to cut the grass myself. Interestingly enough, I don't think many of my neighbors own one either...even though who live in houses. In Celebration, doing your own yard work is as rare as finding something for free at Disney World.

Being a cognitive psychologist (see my website at ), I don't let other people's name calling bother me. The lynchpin of cognitive therapy is that you can't control externals, including other people, but you can control your own reaction to external factors. Why bother to get distressed over someone else's opinion? I'm more likely to wonder what life experiences made them so judgemental; perhaps it's their own way of dealing with tragedy. But I do find it fascinating that the duplex/triplex owners are expected to continue to pay for services that they never receive, with no refund.

If that makes me a whiner, so be it. I was already called a "Rich Celebration bitch" in the famous drive-by heckling chronicled in a previous blog entry (click here to read it). This was mild by comparison.

All kidding aside, I know just how lucky I am that one of the worst problems in my life is the condition of my lawn. I know firsthand what it's like to lose your home to a disaster, as my husband and I experienced that several years ago. We lost items that can never be replaced and were displaced for almost three months. It's a horrible thing, but life doesn't stop around you when disaster strikes.

I have tried to do what I can to help my neighbors, and in the meantime, I thank God that my own life and the lives of my neighbors are pretty much back to normal. Part of that normalcy is complaining about the mundane, everyday things. The threads on the Front Porch have shifted from relief efforts back to downtown parking and pre-election snipes. My biggest worry isn't whether my home might be blown down while I'm stuck 1500 miles away; now, my biggest fear is that I won't be able to find it because it will be surrounded by an impenetrable forest of green. Life may throw some curves balls, but eventually life goes on.

Check out my Celebration website at and email any comments to

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Happy Anniversary

We finally made it back home to Celebration, just in time to celebration our one year anniversary. Hard to believe that we've owned our house for twelve full months now. Seems like only a month or two ago that we were just getting ready to close and were in the whirlwind process of setting up furniture deliveries, juggling utility hook-ups, and praying that we could find a company willing to sell us home insurance. It felt strange to beg insurance companies to take our money.

Up north, the insurance companies fight to sell you a policy, but in the Land Of Hurricanes it can be a real challenge. Our problem was that we were honest about the fact that we'd be commuting back and forth from another home for a year or two. Once we revealed that, all of the companies wanted to classify us as a vacation rental, even though I'd rather walk over hot coals and broken glass barefoot, with bamboo shoots stuck under my fingernails and nails stuck in my nostrils, than rent out my home to hordes of destructive vacationers. That's not even allowed in Celebration; I know there are many other areas where people buy properties strictly to lease them out, but we bought our house to be our home. It makes no difference to us that we are stuck commuting 1500 miles every couple of weeks, but apparently it makes a lot of difference to insurers.

But we did finally find an insurer and get everything else sorted out. It all came together on August 21, 2004, and we became the proud owners of our modest but beloved Celebration home. And now, one year later, it had survived the seasonal onslaught of love bugs, nearly catching on fire from a screwed up connection at the electric meter, an endless parade of service personnel trying to fix our endlessly screwed up furniture, and, most frightening of all, the wrath of Hurricane Charley.

Celebration was actually spared the worst of Charley's fury. Sure, we lost a lot of trees, and many people had roof shingles and soffits blown off, but that's nothing compared to those who lost entire homes, and even their lives, in other parts of the state. As I type this blog entry, a news scroll on Fox 35 says that the hurricane's death toll has risen to 25.

When my husband and I landed at Orlando International Airport Friday night, we were stunned to see most of the ceiling tile missing in the A terminal. The seating areas were all roped off, and we could see that the repair effort is going to be massive.

We haven't bought a car in Florida yet, so we rent one while we are home. At Avis, there was a severe car shortage caused by the fact that many people who couldn't get flights last week simply drove their rentals home. That is compounded by the gasoline shortage in some areas. People can't find a station to fill up their car before returning it, so the onsite rental companies have to take them to be gassed up before they can go back out. Even though there was no line at the counter, we waited in the garage half an hour for a car to be brought from the gassing/servicing area.

By the time our car showed up and we got on the road, the witching hour had arrived and it was now officially our anniversary day. As we drove on 417 towards Celebration, we could see some of the tree damage even in the dark. It was more apparent when we arrived in town, although many of the fallen trees had been righted and propped up with stakes. I was heartbroken when we arrived at the street by our alley, where the new condominiums are being built. There was a park across the street from the condos, shaded with a canopy of green from many old, original trees that had been saved during the development process. Now, most of them had tumbled like a child's toys.

The next day we went biking around town, and we were amazed at the number of felled trees through every village. It wasn't just the small, recently planted trees that hadn't had a chance to root deeply yet. Many of the older giants had been pushed over or even snapped off like toothpicks. Later, we went driving down Celebration Boulevard toward World Drive, and the palm trees lining both sides of the street had tumbled quite literally like dominoes.

During our bike trip, we stopped downtown to enjoy some iced coffee from Barnies, and we decided to grab a quick lunch at Market Street Cafe. It wasn't too busy, but some sort of silent signal must have gone out over the airwaves. As we approached, so did literally five or six other groups of people. Four of them walked in literally right in front of us, and the rest behind. It was funny to see so many people apparently get the urge to eat at the cafe right at the same time. My husband had a hankering for a burger, but one of the daily specials tempted him away. It was spinach and mushroom quesadillas, and I'd admit they were wonderful! They tasted almost like spinach dip served up on flour tortillas. But I didn't suffer too badly with my usual chili cheese nachos.

For dessert, we headed over to the grand opening of Cold Stone Creamery at at the new Water Tower Place shopping center. They had passed out free coupons to Celebration residents, but we decided to save that until later. The store had pledged its first day profits to Give Kids the World, so we figured it would be best to pay cash (a free coupon is zero percent profit!). Cold Stone takes their home made ice cream and mixes in your selection of an array of delicious accompaniments, like candy, nuts, fruit, and/or marshmallows. Mmmmmmm!

Then, we took a drive down 192 to the old section of Kissimmee to see for ourselves all the destruction we'd heard about. The farther away from Celebration we got, the worse the damage seemed to be. First, we saw a lot of downed and destroyed signs. Then, we started seeing roofs partially destroyed. As we continued down the street, the partial damage turned into entire roofs covered by makeshift tarps. Eventually we turned into Kissimmee and headed to the old downtown area. Our mouths dropped open in horror as we saw boarded up stores and severely damaged buildings, many of which did not appear to be salvageable. The people still had a sense of humor; the old movie theater marquee proclaimed: "Now Playing: Gone With the Wind."

We went a little farther before finally turning around to head back home, and we saw homes that didn't appear to have their power back yet. Roofs and porches were destroyed and trees had toppled over onto buildings, where they still remained.

If someone had bet me last year that we would see a hurricane of this magnitude before we had even owned our home for a year, I would have taken them up on it. Now, I know just how vicious the storms can be, even this far inland. I'm just thanking God that we got off so easy. I wish we could be in town full-time to help with all the volunteer efforts that have sprung up in Celebration to help neighbors in other towns. At least we were able to help by sending donations. If you want to help a great cause, consider making a donation to "Give Kids the World" by clicking here. This resort, which helps grant the wishes of terminally ill children who want to visit Disney World, sustained heavy damage in the hurricane. They can use any assistance to get up and fully running again.

While we were driving home from our Field Trip of Horrors, the skies opened for a typical Florida summer monsoon. I still haven't gotten used to driving 90 percent blind in a solid wall of rain, but this time it wasn't so bad because traffic was barely moving. A combination of the storm and construction had slowed things down to a crawl, so I just stayed in the far right lane and focused on the taillights in front of me until the storm finally let up.

When we finally made it back to Celebration, we discovered that the accompanying wind had toppled many of the trees that had been righted so meticulously. Many were blocking the roads, including the one in front of our house. I am attached to our little tree, that has graced the front of our house ever since it was built, but I'm afraid that this second shock might have been too much for it. My husband and I managed to get it upright, but unfortunately it wouldn't stay in position. Finally we just gave up and moved it out of the street, lying it carefully in the grass.

Originally there was an outing planning for the night of Aug. 21, but Charley has disrupted the normal social flow of the town. Instead, my husband and I decided to celebrate our first anniversary by heading over to Disney World and dining at Jiko, one of my favorite Disney restaurants. There are two restaurants at the Animal Kingdom Lodge; Boma is a buffet, and Jiko is a very upscale sit-down eatery. I love the food, which has an African flair. I am in a rut and almost always order a selection of appetizers as my meal. My favorites are the beef rolls with banana sauce and the lamb rolls with mint sauce, although the tomato/cucumber salad with watermelon dressing is always a good, light option. After our meal, we traditionally walk out onto the savannah to see if any animals are around. On this night, we saw lots of hooved creatures, including giraffes, zebra, and wildebeests.

All in all, it was an excellent celebratory meal. Afterwards, we debated capping the night with a viewing of Fantasmic at Disney-MGM, Illuminations at Epcot, or the Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. But sloth won out, and we simply headed home to call it an early night. Now my husband is upstairs working, and I am downstairs blogging when I really should be working on my travel agency website. I have a part-time travel agent business that specializes in Disney cruises and Disney World/Orlando/Kissimmee vacations. You can view my business website at After almost 40 Disney cruises and too many trips to Disney World to count, I like to consider myself something of an expert.

It's been quite a year, but I can honestly say that no matter what, I've never once regretted our spontaneous decision to by a home in Celebration. Looking back, it's amazing to me that we made that decision with absolutely no pre-planning. No financial plan, no job plan...nothing more than love-at-first-site with a little town that we had just visited on a lark. Sounds crazy, I'll admit, but if it was some form of insanity, then neither my husband nor I have come to our senses yet.

I guess I do have one regret, and that is the fact that we are not in Celebration full time. Sure, we get home at least twice a month, but it's still not the same as having our primary roots in my beloved new hometown. My only wish as the day of our first anniversary draws to a close is that when we celebrate number two, we do it while living here full time.

You can visit my Celebration website at Email me with any questions or comments at

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Virtual Storm Postscript

As the day after Hurricane Charley draws to a close, so does our personal experience with the "virtual storm." When I first started this blog, the idea of a hurricane actually hitting my house was the farthest thing from my mind. I figured I would use it to capture a snapshot of everyday life and to hopefully dispel some of the persistent rumors about my new hometown. Up until yesterday, that was true.

But now here I am, using my blog as a way to keep my worries at bay as much as possible and to record this experience while it's fresh in my mind. I know that the intensity of experiences fades over time. I hope I have captured enough of the flavor of what I am feeling now so that someday I can look back at these words and remember what my first hurricane was like.

Throughout the day, I've been in almost constant email and phone contact with our friends and neighbors in Celebration. In just a year, we've made so many good friends, and it makes me feel good to know we can all count on each other. Many people have helped me, and I have tried to do my part in spreading the word, too. One of my neighbors is a cruise director who is even farther from home than I am at the moment. She's off cruising around Alaska and getting her news from CNN, so I've been able to get in touch and let her know that her place is safe, too.

I know that the friendliness of our town is often the stuff of myths, and even ridicule, by those who live in other areas. We're seen as a Stepford-like land of eternal happiness and community spirit. Ridicule us if you will, but we really do have something special.

Right now in Celebration, there is a prevailing spirit of "Let's pull through this together," as people help their neighbors clean up, pass around photos and war stories, and look for ways to assist in the area beyond our town boundary, which were hit even harder than we were.

As I've mentioned in other posts, our community intranet is called "The Front Porch," and that is exactly what it acts as. Most of the time, it's full of light banter, news items, complaints about typical issues like dog poop, and debates that sometimes turn quite heated. Even though you are not anonymous on the Front Porch, people still say things that their keyboards that I don't think they'd ever come out with face to face.

But at a time like this, it's also full of news and information. People looking for help link up with people willing to give it. People share what they can, whether it be photos, damage reports, referrals, information, and help with repairs. Someone has even started a thread to organize a community picnic as a way of saying "thanks" to all the service personnel who have been working so hard to help us.

Davy, the town's landscaping service, has been working long hours to handle the downed trees and get the roads cleared. The people at our Town Hall have been on duty to answer inquiries and coordinate clean-up and repair efforts. I called them to find out about soffit repair, and they returned my call with amazing speed. I would definitely say that thanks are in order; it's great to see how quickly people mobilize when disaster strikes.

Before this experience, I always thought of hurricanes as thunderstorms on steroids, but now I have learned a new respect for their strength and fury. I never thought one could cause so much damage inland, but seeing the photos of entire areas with their trees uprooted and tossed around like kindling has shown me just how mistaken I was. Outside of town, traffic signals are askew, hotel and store signs have been blown right off their poles, and shattered windows are boarded up. The damage seems like an eerie nightmare, but it's for real.

The hurricane followed an odd path, almost like a tornado. One side of 192 (the tourist strip) is relatively untouched, while the other side looks like the aftermath of war zone. I haven't seen it live yet, but so many peple have shared their graphic descriptions and photos that I almost feel like I have.

I've done a virtual "walk-through" of just about every area in town, from North Village all the way back to Artisan Park. Thanks to the many photographs, I have surveyed the fences that were dismantled like Tinker Toys by the vicious wind and marveled at the power of Mother Nature to topple huge trees as though they were matchsticks. Most of the pictures show the aftermath, but one of my neighbors also shared pictures of the actual storm, with winds bending a tree sideways! She is a brave soul...I would have been huddled in my powder room, which is the sturdiest and most sheltered room in my house. It's situated under the stairs like a "Harry Potter" room, so it offers a modicum of safety when storms threaten.

She also took a photo of the radar on the television screen showing the green swirl with its menacing red center positioning itself over the Orlando/Kissimmee area. I would never have thought to take that picture, but what a great idea...that is an image to save for posterity! If anyone ever questions the size and severity of the storm, seeing that red mass will remove all traces of doubt from their mind.

The power is still off in many areas; Celebration is very fortunate to have maintained electricity throughout the storm. There is a gas station and a couple of restaurants in our Water Tower Place shopping center that stand out like beacons among the darkened storefronts up and down the street. From what I've been hearing, people have been flocking to them likes moths to a lightbulb. With so many power lines downed, it's uncertain just how long it will be before people in neighboring communities are restored.

I have also heard that the airport had severe damage at three of its terminals. I hope that doesn't bode bad tidings for our flight home next Friday. Even though I've seen photographic evidence that our house is safe and have talked to people who have seen it, I can't help but worry. Our triplex may be modest, but it's still my dream home, and Celebration is more of a hometown to me than almost anyplace else I've ever lived. Logically I know that it's fine; the soffit damage is relatively minor, so barring any really bad wind and rain, it shouldn't sustain any further damage before we can get someone out to fix it. But I still won't feel completely at ease until I see it in person. Then I can breath a sigh of relief.

By the time I get home in a week, I suspect that the worst of the damage will be under control. There will be no way to completely restore all the trees that were destroyed, and some of the repair work is going to be going on for a while, but all in all life will be just about back to normal. But even if I didn't witness the worst of it firsthand, I know that I'll never forget all the photos and descriptions that I experienced at my keyboard.

For me, it was a "virtual storm," and I know that can't possibly compare to the experience of actually being in it, huddled somewhere in your home for shelter and fearing for your life. But even vicariously, it still an intense experience and one that I hope never to repeat. In my prayers tonight, just like last night, there will be a big "thank you" for sparing me and those I care about from the worst of it.

If you have any questions or comments about Celebration, feel free to email me at

For general information, visit my website at


It's the morning after Charley hit Celebration, and although I'm still 1500 miles away, it's not hard to learn about the aftermath. The community intranet is buzzing with war atories, as Celebration residents discuss the loss of trees, roof shingles, and even chunks of their houses.

My next door neighbor took in my flag, but it turns out our care taker didn't bring in the swing. Thank goodness the winds mainly hit from the back; they still caused damage, but nothing major like a window break or damage to the porch rails caused by a wildly flailing swing.

My little backyard took a nasty hit (I have decorations like wind chimes and solar lanterns back there), and the soffits sustained quite a bit of damage. The tree fell on a neighbor's car, but thankfully the little park across the street from us did not have any large trees. There is a nearby park-like area with some big ones, and apparently it took a very bad hit. Such a of the things I love about Celebration is how the woodsy areas and little parks are blended throughout the community, and in many cases beautiful old trees were saved. But you can't argue with gale-force winds.

You can see our damage by clicking here (will open in a separate window, so you'll need to disable your pop-up blocker if you have one), thanks to my neighbor who sent these photos. We have received photos from three of our friends, and it really eased my mind to see things firsthad; even though there is damage, it's relatively minor and should all be easily repairable.

You can also see some photos of damage throughout town on Tom's website by clicking here (will open in a separate window). Yesterday I was watching the winds buffet the downtown on the webcam, and his photos show the results.

But although we withstood some damage, we are actually the lucky ones. Celebration was very, very blessed. We can look in awe at the trees and branches blocking the roads and the chunks of roof and house debris that were torn off our dwellings, but we are safe, and the material things can be fixed and replaced.

Charley continued on to South Carolina, and on its way, it killed what the news is calling "a significant number" of people in a trailer park before crossing the state line. That's a sanitized way of saying that the storm brutally ripped the fabric of people's lives by mowing down their loved ones, and that fabric might be patched but it can never be fully repaired. I'm sure they were going about their everyday lives just days ago, maybe knowing that there was a chance that a storm would hit them, and maybe tear up their home, but never believing that they could wind up dead. Right now, the death toll in FL is being reported at around 15.

Although it pales in comparison to the human toll, the storm knocked out power to 1.3 million homes in Florida, and the cost of the damage is already estimated to be in the billions. Celebration still has power, but most of the surrounding area does not. Kissimmee and St. Cloud really got battered.

I can't even imagine the traffic jams and confusion between the downed power lines and traffic signals that are out, with wires and trees littering the roads and flooded areas blocking them even further.

Amazingly, all but one of the Disney World parks are open, although some of the rides are not running. The Animal Kingdom is, of course, the park that remains closed. It is such a lush, beautifully landscaped park. I can't even imagine what the winds did to the trees and how much clean-up they're going to have to do. And worse yet, I can't imagine the hordes of driving tourists adding to the traffic that is already snarled by blockages and non-functioning traffic lights.

One heartening thing in the light of all the devistation is the spirit of neighborliness that emerges. Throughout Celebration, people are banding together to help each other out, and many are volunteering to assist others in the surrounding communities. We are a close-knit community, both in good times and in bad. It's going to be a long, difficult clean-up, but the spirit of helping others will make it a little bit easier. The community intranet is full of people thanking their neighbors for helping out, and I am thankful too. Being 1500 miles away is driving me crazy with worry, but my mind is eased a little by knowing that my neighbors are keeping an eye on things and keeping me up to date.

Charley is the worst hurricane to hit Florida in over a decade; that's always a threat when you live in the Sunshine State. Florida is a paradise of warm winters and beautiful beachs, but it comes at a price. The threat stays in the back of your mind and usually doesn't emerge, especially when your home is as far inland as Celebration, but you never know when the next "big one" is going to descend quite literally out of the blue.

Feel free to email me with any questions or comments at

For general information, visit my website at

Friday, August 13, 2004

The Virtual Storm

In the almost-year since we purchased our home in Celebration, we've celebrated many firsts. Our first Founders Day, our first downtown paper "leaves" and soap-bubble snowfalls, our first live alligator sighting, our first Florida resident annual passes for Disney World...the list goes on and on. But one first I could do without, that came today with a vengence, was our first hurricane. And, as luck would have it, we ended up experiencing it long-distance, since we are stuck up north.

Actually, this year Florida experienced a rare one-two punch from back to back storms. The worst of Bonnie stayed away from Celebration, but her little brother Charley hit it head on.

We have been commuting back and forth from our old house to Celebration almost every week, and on the day of Charley's wrath we were scheduled to fly out at 7:10 p.m. When he had booked the plane tickets, my husband had joked, "We can't fly out on Friday the 13th!", and of course I had to mock him for being superstitious. Now, as the day approached, it looking like bad luck was going to descend on us in the form of driving rain and triple-digit wind speeds.

On Thursday night, I was already worried. I am a timid flyer at best, and the thought of landing in a hurricane had me wondering if it would be a good idea to somehow get bootleg Xanax and wash down with a few vodka chasers to dope myself into a stupor on the plane. A few months back, we had been flying back from Celebration to the midwest and were trying to beat a thunderstorm, but we didn't make it. The plane circled for a while, and then the pilot announced that we were running low on fuel so we were either going to divert or attempt to make a landing. A few minutes later, he got back on the PA and said that we were going to head down.

As we descended through the storm clouds, the plane rocked back and forth in a way that I'd never experienced before. I've been in turbulence where we've had some nasty drops, but never any rolling. I managed to keep my panic in check by chatting with the flight attendants, who were seated in jump seats across from us. One man across the aisle mentioned the movie "Final Destination." If you've never seen it and you're a timid flyer...DON'T. Early in the movie, there is a very graphic plane crash scene that takes my paranoid nightmares and brings them to life on the screen.

I was still maintaining a facade of calm, but one of the flight attendants suddenly said to the man next to Mr. Final Destination, "Are you okay?" The poor guy was white as a sheet! Apparently he had seen the movie, too, and was having flashbacks. The pilot had just cut back the engines in preparation for landing, and the poor guy blurted out, "It sounds like the engines stopped!" The flight attendant reassured him that everything was normal...or at least as normal as possible, considering that we were rocking side to side like a manic amusement park ride.

Landing safely on that night was one of the happiest moments of my life. I'm sure that we were never in any real danger; the pilots probably handle severe weather situations regularly. But for a paranoid person like me, it feels like a narrow escape from certain doom, and I'm sure the guy across the aisle felt the same.

At any rate, after that I certainly wasn't looking forward to landing in the midst of Hurricane Charley. I was counting on that fact that our flight would probably be cancelled. But my husband was praying that it wouldn't be; no matter what, he wanted to get home. He kept saying, "The storm should be over by 9 p.m. and we're scheduled to land after 10," overlooking the fact that even if the airport remained open, flight delays throughout the day would no doubt start a domino effect.

On Friday morning, my husband woke up early to do online check-in and grab our favorite exit row seats. "See!" he crowed triumphantly to me. "Our flight is still showing as 'on time.'" I was too sleepy to point out that it was only 6 a.m., and the airlines are notoriously slow about updating their websites.

All day Friday at work, I kept checking the news online. My co-workers, who knew my dilemma, clucked sympathetically at my husband's obsession and periodically emailed me links to the latest news items. The photos and news stories painted a grim picture of Charley's rampage across the state. I found myself uttering little prayers for the poor souls caught in the storm's path. I knew that things were probably going to get quite grim, as Disney World had announced that its theme parks would be shutting down at 1 p.m. Believe me, the Mouse is money-hungry and only shuts down in the most grave of circumstances. The Typhoon Lagoon water park and the Animal Kingdom didn't even open at all, and the campers in Fort Wilderness were relocated to hotels.

I grew up with regular tornado warnings throughout the spring and fall, and although I never experienced one firsthand, several have struck frighteningly close to home. I actually did see a tornado once, but thankfully it was up in the sky and didn't touch down. But hurricanes are more frightening because they move so slowly. At least with a tornado, if you get hit, it comes through and is gone in a matter of minutes. A hurricane unleashes its 100+ mile an hour winds and torrential rain for what has to feel like an eternity. And worse yet, a hurricane can spawn tornados on the poor victims who have suffered enoug already.

By 3 p.m., I checked the airline website, and it finally announced that all flights into Orlando International Airport had been cancelled for the rest of the day. This is the first time in my life that I can honestly say I was glad not to be going to Florida. But I couldn't help but worry about all of our friends who were sitting ducks in Charley's path. Here I was, safe and sound 1500 miles away, and they were facing the onslaught of a vicious storm.

I knew that our house would be fine, as I had contacted our house cleaning service to make sure they took in anything that might go blowing around the neighborhood Wizard-Of-Oz-style. I didn't want my porch swing to crash through my living room window or my trash can to pay a visit to neighbors across the alley, or maybe even a street or two over. But houses can be replaced, whereas people cannot, and I prayed that everyone in town would remain safe. In my earliest research on Celebration, I had read about the construction issues with the original homes, and I wondered how that might affect their soundness when confronted with Mother Nature's fury.

When I got home and logged on to the internet, I discovered that I wasn't so cut off from Celebration after all. Thanks to the miracle of the internet, I could experience a virtual storm right from my keyboard. Of course, I could log onto weather sites and see radar, and even generic photos and film clips. But better yet, between email and the Front Porch intranet, I could get firsthand reports almost right as they happened. I could "hear" how my beloved town was coping, and I could even watch the storm (at least in the downtown area) via the Celebration Hotel's web cam.

(Note: If you'd like a quick glimpse of Celebration right now, click this link:

My husband stayed glued to the Weather Channel, while I toggled between email and the Front Porch to experience the virtual storm via live updates from Celebration residents. Thankfully, as I write this blog entry, Charley has pretty much passed through the town, and most of the reports are centered on downed trees, missing roof shingles, and leaks in roofs and around windows. No injuries, thank God...just a lot of clean-up. Our house is right across the alley from a construction zone, so I wonder how it fared in the midst of wind gusts that were probably close to 80 m.p.h., if not more.

If all goes well, we will be home next week and can see for ourselves firsthand. By then, I imagine that things will be mostly cleaned up and life will be proceeding as normal. I'm just happy that no one was hurt, and the property damage sounds relatively minor.

People think of hurricanes as sticking to coastal areas, and that is usually true. By the time they reach an area as far inland as Celebration, they've lost most of their power. But Charley proves that even Fantasyland is not immune to Mother Nature, and every now and then she unleashes her fury just to remind us who's really in charge.

My virtual storm watch is over, and although Celebration got off relatively easy, there were many poor souls who did not. I am keeping them in my prayers, as well as the others who are still in the storm's path. Florida may seem like paradise, but it's not without its dangers, as Charley just reminded everyone in a very graphic way.

If you have any comments about my blog or questions about Celebration, please feel free to email me at

For lots of information about my hometown, visit

Friday, August 06, 2004

Florida for Northerners

It is very rare to meet a true, born and bred native of Florida. Almost everyone who I’ve met who lives in the Sunshine State originally came from somewhere else. Usually it’s from somewhere else in the United States, although I’ve met my fair share of Brits, too (which makes me happy because I can get a fix of real, brewed-from-the-leaf tea and scones with Devonshire cream at Sherlock’s in downtown Celebration).

I do know a few people who are actual native Floridians. One dear friend has roots that go deep in Key West that her ancestors are pictured in the history books making cigars. But most, like me, were victims of a mistake at birth. Somehow, we were born in the wrong state, but like a human version of a turtle or spawning salmon, we carry the instinct to return to the place where we should have been born.

Most of the transplants, like me, seem to come from places with bitterly cold and snowy winters. It’s easy to dream of a white Christmas when you come from a balmy climate, but after nearly four decades of digging out a buried car in sub-zero temperatures and scraping an inch of snow off the windshield, I’d be happy if I never saw another snowflake for as long as I live. Of course, in Celebration I can have my cake and eat it, too. All I have to do is go downtown during the Christmas season (along with hundreds of tourists) and watch the soapy snowflakes cover Market Street. That’s enough snow for me.

Also, I love to swim and bike, and being able to do it for only a small part of the year is not how I like it. Being able to hit the bike trails or go to a water park almost all year round is like Heaven.

But I did have to make some adjustments, and some were little surprising, even though my husband and I had traveled to Florida so often,. Visiting, even for a week or two at a time, is much different than living here 24/7. Here are some of the biggest adjustments that this northerner had to make:

No Basements.
Every home that I’ve ever lived in prior to moving to Celebration has had a basement, with the exception of my condo. Since Florida is basically swamp land, the homes are built on slabs, and basements are as rare as a non-soap snowflake in Celebration, I miss the extra storage space and the place to hide from tornadoes. I grew up not far from an area that seems to attract tornadoes like Floridians attract mosquitoes (which, by the way, are not much worse in Celebration than they were at my old home). Therefore, it’s been pounded in my consciousness than you need to have a basement as a safety zone,

I never thought of Florida as having a problem with tornadoes. In my mind, I’ve always associated it more with hurricanes, and Celebration is far enough inland to avoid most of that danger. But a few years back, a killer tornado struck the Kissimmee area. I don’t remember the exact year, but I recall that it was right around the same time that Universal Studio Florida was planning to open their new “Twister” attraction. The unintentionally poor timing caused them to delay the opening out of respect for the victims.

Just in case that ever happens again, I have already made a mental map of the safest spots in our house. We have a “Harry Potter” bathroom under the stairwell, so that’s where I plan to hole up with my husband and the menagerie (or at least the cats and bird…the fish are probably going to have to be on their own).

St. Augustine Grass
I am used to lush, plush velvety lawns that flow like seas of emerald and gently caress bare feet. But Florida is a state of extremes, with droughts part of the year giving way to monsoons for the rest, so grass must be very hearty to survive. Thus, throughout most of Celebration, you’ll find that the lawns are planted with something called St. Augustine grass. Unlike the grass I’m used to, this variety has tough, thick, prickly blades. It sends out runners and loves to invade mulch beds. It may be rough, but it certainly is hearty; in some quarters it is actually considered to be a weed. But I guess that’s a good thing, as it’s nothing if not persistent. It has the ability to make it through droughts and monsoons like. I was worried about my lawn this year because the spring was extremely dry, and many of my neighbors’ lawns developed huge brown patches. Mine stayed fairly green (I learned that the trick is to make sure that your sprinkler heads are not blocked so that the small amount of reclaimed water that you’re allocated reaches the widest area). But even the browned areas have sprung back pretty nicely now that the rainy season is upon us.

Torrential Downpours
Speaking of rain, that was another big adjustment. I’m used to droughts, and goodness knows we got some pretty vicious thunderstorms back in the Midwest too. But in Florida, rain has some traits that took some getting used to. Actually, I already knew about the first trait from my many visits as a tourist. During the rainy season, a thunderstorm comes almost every afternoon/evening like clockwork. The sun can be shining brilliantly, with not a cloud in the sky. Then, slowly but surely the cloud cover will ease its way in. Suddenly you realize that what was once baby blue is now a threatening shade of gray. Then you hear the ominous rumble of thunder and see Mother Nature’s fireworks reminding you that Florida is the lightning capitol of the United States. You know that the daily storm is upon you, so you’d better hunker down and deal with it.

Sometimes these storms are mere spit, with the light show in the sky far outweighing the pitiful amount of water trickling down to the earth below. At other times, they are an absolute monsoon, enveloping you in a fall of water. At times like those, visibility is maybe as far as the tip of your nose. That’s not a good thing if you happen to be driving, as I can personally attest.

The first time it happened to me while I was in a car was on I-4, heading to Orlando. The local Best Buy didn’t have the type of computer that my husband wanted in stock, but supposedly another location did. Traffic was bumper to bumper due to construction, and we needed to get home within a specified amount of time because we were expecting a delivery. It soon became apparent that we’d never make it to the store and back quickly enough, so we exited the expressway and changed direction for home. We had only gone a couple of miles when the wall of water hit, It was as though we had suddenly been teleported to a location somewhere beneath Niagara Falls. It was all I could do not to panic, but I knew that would be a fatal mistake. I snapped on my flashers and prayed fervently to God. He got Noah through the flood, so I prayed that he would guide me and my modern day ark safely through to dry land.

It seemed like the rain would never end, and I spent the whole time in abject terror that someone was going to rear end me. I followed the dim glow of taillights in front of me and hoped that my flashers were visible to whatever poor slob was doing the same behind me. Eventually we made it home and discovered that we needn’t have worried about the delivery because the truck didn’t show up until around 10 p.m. (but that’s another story).

The next time was on the way to the airport. We were driving down 417 was Niagara Falls let loose again. Once again, it was on with the flashers and out with the prayers. I stayed in the right lane with the rest of the wimps while people roared by us on the left, doing at least the speed limit (65 m.p.h.) and probably more. I was amazed that they thought they could see well enough in front of them to go that fast and that they thought they could ever stop in case of emergency. Once we got to Boggy Creek Road, we stopped at the Circle K and waited for the storm to cease. My husband said, “But what if we miss our flight?” and I pointed out the obvious: With the thunder, lightning, and wall of water, there wouldn’t be any aircraft taking off or landing for a while.

Thus far, those are the only two times that I’ve been caught out on the road in a downpour that bad. Most of the time it’s just a storm of normal ferocity. The only other challenge when we have heavy rain is getting in and out our back door. We like in a Craftsman style home, and we almost always park in our driveway and use the back door rather than the front. Unfortunately, the builder installed a squared awning over the back door but no gutters to divert the water. Thus, every time it rains, we have to run through a sheet of water any time we want to go in or out the back way.

The rain actually has a benefit for natives: sometimes, if it sticks around for a while, it chases all the tourists out of the theme parks. After an hour of two of storming, they give up and return to their hotel rooms. Then the sun comes out like nothing ever happened, and you can head to Disney World or a water park and enjoy the almost non-existent lines.

Another odd things about Florida storms is just how concentrated they can be. It can literally be storming like blue blazes over Typhoon Lagoon or Disney-MGM and be sunny and dry at the Magic Kingdom (or visa versa). It reminds me of “The Truman Show,” where Truman is on the beach and the rainmaking equipment malfunctions. A downpour starts, but it is concentrated only over his head. In Florida, it might be raining on one side of the street and be bone dry on the other.

Pnemonia-Including Air Conditioning
It goes without saying that in the summer, air conditioning is an absolutely necessity in Florida. The summer heat is often the kind that rips your breath from your lungs the moment you step outside. When you climb into your car, you feel like you’ve just sat down in a blast furnace.

But then you enter a building and brrrr! You’re suddenly transported to the Antarctic. For some reason, it seems (or at least to a wimpy Midwesterner like me) that Floridians tend to keep their air conditioning set at pneumonia level. Once you live in Florida, I think you develop some kind of super resistance that allows your body to withstand the hot/cold extremes with no ill effects. I guess that I need just a little more time to get used to it.

Wearing Coats on “Warm” Days
Back when we used to visit Disney World in the November/December/January season, I used to laugh when I’d see Floridians bundled up like Eskimos when the temperatures were in the 60s. If, God forbid, the thermometer hit the 50s or below, they acted like it was the Ice Age. My husband and I would head over to the water parks on 70-something degree days. Having come from below zero temperatures, that felt downright balmy to us, but the poor lifeguards would be huddled with jackets over their swimwear.

Everyone keeps warning me ominously: “Someday it will happen to you.” But currently I think we return to the Midwest often enough to keep up our northern heartiness. Although it will be nice to know that I’m turning into a true Floridian when it finally happens, I will miss enjoying those half-empty water park days in the winter.

Before we bought out place in Celebration, I never knew what a lanai was. Soon I learned it’s the sort of thing that northerners would consider to be an outdoor patio. But they usually go far beyond that, with elaborate outdoor kitchens, spas and/or pools and perhaps even an outdoor fireplace. They are usually screened in to keep out the bugs and allow for year ‘round use. Many are like entire outdoor home extensions. We went on the 2003 Holiday House Tour, and many of the homes had gorgeous lanais. Some of them were almost as big as my house!

Before we decided to move to Celebration, we figured that we would move to Florida in ten years or so, and part of my dream was a house with a Florida room (I didn’t know about the whole lanai thing back then, but I think that’s what I would have gotten). Unfortunately, my triplex is not conducive to that sort of set-up, but I still admire the ones that I see around town.

Creepy Crawlies
Some folks complain about the mosquitoes, and I’ll admit that they’re plentiful, but no more so than they are in the Midwest. I must have been born with sweet-tasting blood, because I’ve always been a target for the little blood suckers no matter what state I happen to be in. On the flipside, my husband rarely gets bit. I look like Pleakley in “Lilo and Stitch,” with masses of welts covering my body, and he has nary a bump.

But the bugs that I had to make the biggest adjustment to were the “saw palmetto bugs,” i.e. cockroaches. Back in the midwest, having roaches in your house is a surefire sign that your housekeeping skills have plummeted to the dregs. In Florida, I’ve been told that roaches are relatively common, and also supposedly larger than the variety that I’m used to.

To combat this, we’ve had Terminex spray our house on a quarterly basis from the moment we moved in. It must be effective because I’ve never seen a bug anywhere inside, with the exception of those that occasionally fly in with us. I think they treat the yard for fire ants, too. I had my first experience with those at Typhoon Lagoon, when I inadvertently stepped on one of their hills in my bare feet. Trust me, those little buggers can bite!

Termites are another big danger in Florida. We had them in the midwest, too, but they were not nearly as common. Perhaps it’s because the homes there are made of brick, while in Florida they use a lot more wood. Thankfully, since we’re in a triplex, regular preventative treatments are part of our association dues.

We also get assaulted by love bugs in the fall. During our first year in our home, I learned that something about its beige color seems to attract them more than the neighboring buildings. Every day I would be out on the porch sweeping the pesky little critters away, and by the next morning they would be back with a vengence.

The lizards take some getting used to, too, although thankfully I’ve not afraid of reptiles. They are actually rather cute as they hop around on the sidewalks. They are small and shy, so they won’t bother you, but they do get suicidal when they see a bicycle approaching. Something about seeing that tire heading their way makes them want to jump right in front of it. I’ve never actually splattered one, but I’ve come close on countless occasions.

I’m getting used to ‘gator sightings, since I know which lakes to find them in, but the “wow” factor hasn’t worn off completely yet.

Mold and Mildew
When we did our walk through, our builder warned me to always pour Simple Green into the drainage line of the air conditioner unit to prevent the mold from getting a foothold. But it still attacks my sidewalks, and I imagine it will reach the exterior of my house someday. Thankfully, so far it hasn’t invaded the interior, and I hope to keep it that way. Sometimes while biking through town, I see houses with that tell-tale greenish hue. Hopefully the power washings that are supposed to be included in our association dues will keep it away from our place.

Pervasive Fading
Before we lived in Celebration, I used to notice faded siding, flags, and decorations and wonder why people would put out such old things instead of throwing them away. Then, once we moved in and I erected a flag pole, I quickly learned that the items I saw were probably not old. The Florida sun fades things almost instantly. Back in the midwest, I could put out a seasonal flag and reuse it for several years. At my Celebration house, it’s noticeably bleached out after only one season.

Originally, our house was supposed to be painted gray with dark blue trim. I’m not sure why, but somewhere along the way the color got changed to light beige. After seeing how much fading the darker colored homes in town have undergone, I’m glad that ours is a light color. I know that it will fade, too, but at least it won’t be noticeable.

Tile Instead of Carpet
I’m used to houses with wall to wall carpeting, with tile only in the “wet’ areas (bathroom and kitchen). In Florida, I was surprised to discover that many homes have tile throughout their first floors, with the exception of maybe one or two rooms. Our house is all tile, except for the formal room. It seemed really odd to me until we had lived there for a little while. Between the sand and the continually damp grass, we are constantly tracking in dirt and wetness. I can’t even imagine trying to keep a carpet clean. We have an area rug in our family room, and the formal room can be closed off with French doors. The stairs and the upstairs bedrooms are carpeted, too, but the tile in the downstairs living areas is a necessity.

Sweetened Iced Tea
Once upon a time I used to drink iced tea with as much sugar as I could cram in without overflowing the glass. But during a diet I stopped adding sugar to my tea and coffee, and I totally lost the taste for it. Now, if there is even a spec of sugar in my iced tea, I absolutely cannot drink it.

I quickly learned that down south, sweetened iced tea is as common as grits and sweet potato pie. If you want tea with no sugar, you’d better specify that when ordering it or you’re liable to get a drink sweet enough to make your teeth jingle.

But in Florida, the danger of sweetened tea at restaurants is far outweighed by the smoking regulations. Smoking is prohibited in the interiors of all Florida restaurants. Most have outdoor seating areas where you can light up, but inside there is no smoking allowed. It’s such a treat to go out to eat and not have to specify “No smoking,” only to wind up in a booth right next to the smoking area, with absolutely no separation. Or better yet, you never have to hear, “There’s an hour wait for non-smoking, but we can seat you in the smoking area immediately.”

It’s probably only true in touristy areas, but in the Kissimmee area you can purchase luggage at almost any store. I don’t just mean places like K-Mart or Target, where you would expect to find it. You can find it virtually anywhere, from the grocery stores to the pharmacies. I can’t imagine who would buy it, as I would think you would already have brought all the bags that you need with you. But my husband theorizes that people probably load up on more souvenirs than they expected and then have to buy an extra suitcase or two to haul all the Mickey paraphernalia home.

Besides the proliferation of luggage, there also seems to be a Disney ticket outlet and a Sony outlet on every corner. I know that the Disney ticket booths are generally timeshare scams, illegal sellers of partially used multi-day tickets, or both. I haven’t figured out why there are so many Sony dealers yet, but I know it has to be some kind of tourist trap.

Insulated Grocery Bags
On one of our first trips to the Publix grocery store, my husband and I noticed that they sell insulated grocery bags. We bought one on a lark, and I’m glad that we did. When you buy frozen food and transport it home in 90-plus degree heat, it can quickly dissolve into a soupy message. Even if your car is air conditioned, you might get stuck in traffic and the pitiful amount of cold air being pumped out of your vents is no match for the oppressive Florida sun. Having an insulated bag buys you a little more precious time to get your frozen food to the freezer intact.

Legal U-Turns
This was one of the biggest adjustments for me, especially in view of the fact that drivers in Kissimmee would make a New York cabbie shudder in fear. Where I come from, U-turns are always illegal. If you are really desperate, you might try to sneak one in, but if a cop is anywhere nearby you’re going to get a ticket.

In Florida, they are totally legal just about anywhere at any time. When you are in a left turn lane, you can count on the fact that at least half of the cars in front of you are making U-turns rather than going left. I was always used to turning right on a red light when the traffic on the cross street had their left signal. In Florida, that’s a bad idea, as it’s a great way to get creamed by a U-turner. Unfortunately there is no way to signal a U-turn, so you’re better off waiting for a green light.

The good thing about this is that you never have to worry about blowing past your destination. Oops, passed it by? No problem! Whip your car around and you’ll be right back there.

These are just a few of the little quirks that I am still getting accustomed to. But the one thing that takes no adjustment at all is the year ‘round weather. The sugaring tea, invasive insects and crazy drivers are no match for the appeal of never seeing snow again.

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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Only in Celebration

One thing that I love about Celebration is that it's the kind of town where you can walk into a bar with a monorail on your head and not be carted off to the loony bin.

I guess I should back up a little and explain why any adult would be walking around with a monorail (or Stitch ears, or bunny ears, or of course Mickey ears) on their head in the first place. It all starts with the Bunny Brigade, a group created by a fellow resident (you know who you are, Jan) who is a self-described "Defective Stepford Wife." Initially, it was just photos of people (and an occasional house pet) wearing bunny ears on our community intranet. If you are not a Celebration resident, and you can only view the public information, you have no idea of the mass insanity that goes on in the forums of the residents-only section. Access to the whole site is reason enough to move to our fair town.

Eventually, photos weren't enough anymore, and a meeting was planned at the Town Tavern. Adding an additional layer of interest, the first meeting of the Bunny Brigade would coincide with the arrival of the Tampa Bay Bucaneers. Each summer, the Bucs take over the Celebration Hotel as their "base camp" while they conduct their training at Disney's Wide World of Sports. We had just missed their visit last year, as we closed on our house in the tail end of August. Now, we were in for another new Celebration experience: coexisting with the Bucs for a month or so.

Our group meeting wasn't all fun and frivolity...we also had a higher purpose. One member of our group (Isabel, you know who I'm talking about) was determined to get a photo of at least one the Bucs in bunny ears.

In preparation for the meeting, I started a search for appropriate headgear. Unfortunately, for the two weeks prior, I was stuck back in the Midwest and at a severe time deficit due to working two jobs and fitting work on my doctoral project inbetween (I know it's scary to think of someone like me as a mental health professional, but I am almost done with my Doctorate in psychology). I had planned to scout some costume and trick shops, but I never found the time. If it was spring, I might have had more luck at K-Mart or Wal-Mart, but by August the Easter bunny and his wares are pretty much in hibernation.

I have a friend who is a fellow Disney fanatic, and she loaned me a set of Mickey ears that I doctored up with purple and pink cardboard. My head gear came out looking like something you might find in a third grade Easter play, but at least it was recognizable as bunny ears. Click here to see the resulting photo.

I hand-carried my ears for the flight home to make sure they wouldn't get mashed in the luggage. I got some strange looks, but thankfully we had a really crazy flight attendant on board. His antics (such as imitating various singers over the PA system) drew away any attention that my purple bunny ears might have drawn. One lady sitting behind us overheard my explanation to another passenger, and it turned out she was a frequent visitor to Celebration. Normally she stays at the Celebration Hotel, but for the past two years she's had to stay elsewhere because her visits have coincided with the Bucs.

Whenever I mention that I'm from Celebration within hearing range of others, or I'm wearing a Celebration t-shirt, it almost always starts a conversation. People are insatiably curious about the "Mickey Town." I always try to correct their misperceptions, but it's a losing battle. Sometimes I hear peope discussing our town, and I just hold my tongue and internally snicker at the things that they say. A couple of flights ago, the people across the aisle from us were talking about it. There was a couple from Chicago sitting next to a Floridian from the Orlando area, who was telling them all about Celebration. It was hard to keep myself from jumping in as he spouted the usual nonsense; you'd think that someone who lived nearby would know better.

We got to town around midnight on Friday night, and noticed a lot of Osceola County sheriffs and their cars scattered around Celebration Avenue. My husband theorized that it probably had something to do with the Bucs' arrival. On Saturday morning, we decided to head over to the Contemporary Hotel for lunch and then pop over to the Magic Kingdom to grab a Fast Pass for Buzz or Space Mountain.

After lunch, my husband suggested that we browse through the hotel stores on the off-chance that they might have some more professional-looking rabbit ears. I knew it was a long shot, since Walt lost the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit an awfully long time ago, but you never know. After all, Rabbit is one of Winnie the Pooh's buddies, albeit not one of the most popular. We figured we had nothing to lose.

I didn't find actual rabbit ears, but I did find something even better, at least in my estimation: Stitch ears. "Lilo and Stitch" is my all-time favorite Disney movie (how can you not like a cartoon with such classic lines as "Thus far you have been adrift in the sheltered harbor of my patience" and "Oh, good, my dog found the chainsaw!). The ears stood up and had sort of a rabbit shape if you used your imagination, so I decided that they would be the perfect accessory for meeting up with the Bunny Brigade.

Meanwhile, I also found a headpiece that, when worn, made it appear that you have a monorail driving through your head. You'll find a link to a photo a little later in this bog entry. Since I already had Stitch, who better to wear it than my poor, long-suffering husband? He put up a token resistance, but after more than a decade of marriage, he's learned that when I get one of my hare-brained ideas (pun fully intended), it's usually easier just to give in.

Not only did I insist on buying the head gear, but I also decided that we should wear it to the park. So off we went to the Magic Kingdom, arriving just in time for the 3 p.m. parade. We plunked down on the curb, and hubby was subjected to the first of a stream of continual comments from cast members and guests alike. They ranged from "Did you know that you have a monorail running through your head?" to "Where did you get that? I want one!" We never saw them in any stores inside the park, so I suspect they are only sold at the monorail hotels.

My absolute favorite comment was from one enthusiastic little boy we met in Adventureland. We had gotten a Fast Pass for Buzz, and then headed over to Sunshine Terrace to get vanilla/orange swirled ice cream (my personal favorite, made with an actual orange juice swirl) and then take a quick spin on the Jungle Cruise. We were sitting on a bench, eating our ice cream, when the little boy came running up to my husband. He said, "If you're an airplane, I love you!" (When you see the photo, use your imagination and the monorail might be able to pass for misshapen wings). I started laughing so hard that I thought I was going to choke on my food!

I love crowd watching, and Adventureland lives up to its name; it seems to be the place where we have our most memorable encounters. We met "Runaway Granny" there a few visits back. She was the poor elderly woman whose family said, "Wouldn't it be fun to let the wheelchair go?" as they walked over the incline at the entrance to the land. And they did! The poor woman picked up speed; I saw her coming out of the corner of my eye just in time to step out of the way. One family member bolted after her and managed to grab one handle of the wheelchair, but it went into a spin and was in danger of tipping. Thankfully my husband managed to grab it and avert disaster. The rest of the family caught up, and one guy said, "Sorry about that. We had a runaway granny there!" Throughout all this, that poor old lady never said a word. I imagine she was probably used to such antics. the rest of the day, my husband and I would look at each other and suddenly say, "Runaway granny!" and we'd both burst into laughter.

But anyway, back to the monorail hat and the Bunny Brigade. By the end of our visit to Disney World, I halfway wished we had bought some extra monorails as we could have made a fortunate selling them to our fellow guests. A few people commented on my Stitch ears, but I didn't get nearly as much attention as my husband. I tend to be the more exhibitionist type, while he is more quiet and laid back, but throughout our marriage I have been a very bad influence on him, and I think he enjoyed being the center of attention.

That evening, we headed over to the Town Tavern in downtown Celebration. With the Bucs in town, I was a bit worried that parking might be a challenge and that the streets might be crowded, but everything was relatively quiet, especially for a Saturday night. At my insistence, we wore our head gear into the tavern. We were meeting everyone in person for the very first time, so I wanted to make sure that we were easy to identify. And that goes back to my original assertion at the beginning of this blog entry: Celebration is the kind of town where you can walk around like that and maybe get some weird looks, but no one is going to call the men in the white coats to take you away. In the worst case scenario, we probably looked like lost tourists who had wandered away from Disney World.

We didn't have to wait long for the festivities to begin, and as the evening wore on and the drinks flowed, more members of the brigade donned head gear. Click here to see our fashion statements.

The tavern was relatively quiet, and there were no Bucs to be seen. But later that night, one of them did show up, and of course we were all nudging, pointing, and whispering, anxious to see is Isabel would carry through with her threat to get him to don bunny ears for a photo. Sure enough, she went over to his table. We couldn't hear the conversation, but although he didn't put on the ears, he and his friend joined her for a photo, and they made makeshift bunny ears with their fingers. (When not looking for unique sports photo opportunities, Isabel is also a conventional photographer. You can see examples of her lovely work at

Inspired by her boldness, even though I felt like a total fool, I went over to their table and dragged my poor, mortified husband as my photographer. They were very nice about it, holding up their fingers and chanting, "Celebration Bunny Brigade!" as he snapped away. To see for yourself, click here. Previously, being from another state, I wasn't a Bucs fan, but the poor guy was such a good sport that I'll be rooting for the Tampa team this year. That's another cool thing about Celebration...where else can you go to the local bar, sit around in crazy headgear, and have the Bucs come in?

The party quite pretty late, and my husband and I had a blast meeting up with people I had previously only known online. Even though our Technology cornerstone might not have become reality the way it was originally planned, I think that the Front Porch intranet fulfills it in much more practical way. I have been a Disney Cruise Line fan for years, long before I ever visited Celebration (visit the cruise line office was the reason I came in the first can see my obsession on my website at I was very active in online Disney communities, and one of my co-workers said, "That's not good. You should be interacting with people face to face. All the internet does is make people get farther apart."

I thought about that, and then I thought about all the people I had met online who I later met in person on Disney cruises or at the parks. Out of all of them, only one turned out to be the scary type that you read about in internet horror stories. The rest were all great, and there are several I've kept up with and become long term friends with. I've even met a couple of people who actually lived pretty close by, but I never would have met them if we hadn't linked up online. I suppose there are people for whom the internet is a way to get further isolated from the rest of humanity. But for many people, it's a way to keep up with old friends and make new ones.

Irony had a little twist lined up for me that night. Back when our house was being built, a very kind neighbor to be took photos of the construction process for me to keep me up to date. Even though we've been in our house for almost a year now, we still hadn't met him in person due to our insanely busy and chaotic schedule. Last Thanksgiving, we went on a cruise on the Disney Wonder and discovered afterwards that he had been on the very same cruise! It would have been great to meet up on the ship, but we didn't find out until it was too late.

Now, as we were in midst of our revelry at the tavern, it turns out he was sitting at the bar right behind us! He overheard our conversation (we weren't being exactly quiet) and figured out who I was. We had missed each other on the ship, but Fate decreed that our paths would finally cross.

We didn't cause too many eyes to bat, although we did have one man come up to us with dollar bills stuck in his ears. He said, "What am I?" and we all looked on in puzzlement (my husband guess, "A Democrat?" "Nope," he proudly announced, "A Buck-in-ear!"

Finally members of the Brigade began drifting away, and I realized that it was after midnight. The old saying "Time flies when you're having fun" had once again been proven true. Why can't the hours at work ever go by that fast? My husband and I had been toying with the idea of going to Typhoon Lagoon in the morning, but we decided that sleeping in would be a better option.

So if you think of Celebration as a staid, dull Stepford community, I hope that perhaps I've changed your mind. I would never want to live in a plain vanilla town; make mine a quadruple scoop with a rainbow of flavors. If you ever happen to be in town, bring your strange head gear and join in the fun.