Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Front Porches

One of the best things about Celebration is its proliferation of king-sized front porches. While they're not present on all of the home styles, there are enough of them in most areas to create a conjenial neighborhood atmosphere.

While backyards are nice, I enjoy sitting out front because it offers a wider perspective on the neighborhood. You can watch people jogging, biking, or roller blading by, see dog owners enjoying a stroll with their pets, and greet neighbors who venture outdoors. Often, this results in a friendly chat or even a full-blown visit.

I love to relax in the friendly confines of Duloc Manor's front porch. Even though it's a triplex, we're fortunate to have a large enough porch to hang a swing and arrange a chair or two. It doesn't compare to the Victorian homes, with their gorgeous wraparounds that make me sigh with envy, but it's better than the Colonials that have a barren staircase and nothing more.

Originally, our building was slated to be Colonial style. When we were given the initial paperwork, that's what the illustration showed. The Cambridge representative told us to disregard the drawing because it had been changed to a Craftsman, identical to the model we had viewed. That made me very happy because I'd enough room for the swing I'd been dreaming of.

If we'd been stuck with a Colonial, I know I could have gotten an A-frame swing for the backyard. Years ago, I had one in our 70s-era avocado townhome, which had nothing in front but a tiny concrete stoop. In the back, we had a postage-stamp sized backyard with a privacy fence that backed onto a large apartment building. There was just enough room for a swing and gas grill, so I spent a lot of time rocking back there while watching one of the apartment dweller's dogs digging its way under our fence. I think the poor canine was lonely; he seemed like a friendly and harmless sort. At the time, we owned a very dog-oriented cat, so I'd take our feline outside and let him sniff noses with his doggy neighbor.

Since our fence was very high, I would let our two cats loose (as long as I was out with them). But one day, one of them took a flying leap at the fence. He made it halfway up before I was able to abort his escape attempt. After that, he was put on "leash arrest." Eventually, my husband built an open-bottomed cat cage so the kitties could get some air and roll in the grass without running off and becoming road pizza.

In Celebration, our new feline trio is confined to leashes (the original cats got old and went to kitty heaven a few years back). When I'm out on the porch, I tie them out on long enough ropes to allow them to prowl the perimeter of our front plot. I don't allow them to stay out unattended; I sit out on my porch swing and watch while they explore their little corner of East Village.

The porch swing was one of the first items installed when we bought our home. From the first time I saw our front porch, I had visions of sitting outside on balmy evenings, swinging slowly while sipping a lemonade and enjoying a good novel. We also put in a fan to add a pleasant breeze when the days and nights get muggy.

I also bought two rocking chairs from Cracker Barrel just in case guests drop by. One of the best things about front porches is that they attract friends and neighbors. I wanted to make sure that we have plenty of chairs to accommodate company.

Purchasing rocking chairs at Cracker Barrel is an interesting process. The closest Cracker Barrel advertises free delivery to Celebration, but I quickly learned that it was a false claim. After setting up two or three deliveries and having them be no-shows each time, I gave up and went to pick up the rockers. It was a Sunday morning, so the place was packed with dozens of people waiting for seating in the restaurant. Many of them were parked in the various rockers set up in front of the building. The salesperson simply chose two chairs in the style that I wanted, forcing two people to get up. The displaced occupants gave me the evil eye, but I didn't care; if they wanted to remain in my chairs any longer, they would have to pay me some rent.

Now my front porch is a nice little environment for relaxing and entertaining. I have my swing, my chairs, a flagpole, a colorful flowerpot, and various little knick knacks and decorations that rotate with the seasons. I can even work outside if I choose, since we have wireless DSL. But usually I confine work time to indoors and fun time to the great outdoors.

The other night was a good example of front porch sociality in action. I was outside with the cats, and my next door neighbor wandered out and headed over to say hello. A short time later, our neighbor from two doors down arrived home in her car. Spotting us, she joined our impromptu gathering. This was the perfect opportunity to try our my Magic Bullet, so I hurried inside to rustle up my infommercial contraption and some margarita mix. After all, what tastes better on a pleasant spring evening than a frozen margarita?

I love my Magic Bullet. If you're not an infomercial addict like I am, you may have no idea what I'm talking about. Basically, it's like a very versatile mini-blender. It makes anything from salsa and guacomole to chicken salad to smoothies and frozen drinks. You screw the blades into one of the plastic cups, pop it onto the power base, and chop and dice to your heart's content. Up until now, I've only used it for smoothies, iced coffee drinks, and frozen alcholic beverages. But even if I never use it to prepare actual food, it's well worth the price for the drinks alone.

Even though the paid commercials make it look appealing (don't they always?), I was leery of ordering a Magic Bullet. Sure, they always claim there is a money back guarantee, but they don't tell you that the shipping and handling charges are not refundable and that you'll pay another small fortune to send the darned thing back. Fortunately, I found the Magic Bullet at Target at a comparable price. I could purchase it with peace of mind, knowing that I could return it if it turned out to be a piece of junk. But I'm happy to say that so far it has lived up to all of the claims.

One of my neighbors was on an antibiotic, so she had to have a non-alcholic version. But myself and my other neighbor opted for full strength drinks. We must have been quite a sight, trying to drink without spilling the slushy liquid all over us. I had used the mugs that come with the Magic Bullet, but they aren't really geared for margaritas. You find yourself trying to coax some liquid from the frozen mass by tipping up your mug. Then suddenly a big hunk of slush comes barreling out at your face at freight train speed! By the time we had finished, all three of us had been liberally christened with our beverages.

By this time, dusk had descended on our peaceful little cul de sac. The bugs were busily trying to get a buzz by sucking our tequila-laden blood (well, at least two of us...the designated driver bugs were attacking the teetotaling member of our trio). We had doused ourselves with bug spray, but the mosquitos seemed to be immune. Finally, we retired to one of the neighbor's backyards. She has a lovely little patio with a fountain, flowers, and best of all, a huge arsenal of citronella candles and torches. She pulled out a packet of sweet smelling mini-cigars; I'm not a smoker myself, but the other two lit up. Normally, I don't like the odor of cigar smoke, but these smelled more like pipe tobacco. The aroma was rather pleasant, although most of it was blown away by the wind that had suddenly whipped up.

Even though I prefer front yards to back, I have to admit that my neighbor has a wonderful backyard location and set-up. The house next door to hers sits on a curve, so the yards border a large, grassy easement area. It's very open, and her yard is planted with rambling flowers and vines. In contrast, my backyard seems much smaller (even though it's the same size) because of the placement of the landscaping and its closer proximity to the house next door.

We relaxed and chatted as the sun faded completely from the sky. Suddenly, I realized that night had fallen and the clock had eased its way past nine o'clock. I still had some travel agent work to do, so reluctantly we broke up our little group and headed our separate ways.

This fun, impromptu gathering was a direct result of the "front porch effect." I'm sure that such gatherings happen all the time throughout Celebration. If you're a front porch fanatic, you probably know exactly what I mean. If not, give it a try some evening. You may be surprised (and pleased) at the results.

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