Sunday, October 31, 2004

Son(s) of Skippy

Once upon a time, Celebration had a mascot of sorts: an old, rusty Dodge Dart that greeted visitors as they drove over the bridge into town. To see why he was named "Skippy," click here to see a photo on Tom's website that will make it clear. Skippy polarized the either loved it or hated it. He even caused family discord, much like the Civil War. Instead of one family member fighting for the North and another for the South, one would defend the old clunker while the other declared it should be banished from town. I know this from personal experience, as I was a Skippy supporter while my husband took the other side. At one point, poor Skippy even suffered a vandalism attack; his tires were slashed, and his customized "Bee Fun" license plate was stolen.

Eventually, after having a "For Sale" sign out front for at least a year, Skippy's owner sold his house and hauled off the rust bucket, hopefully to more hospitable environs. Now, all that remains are fond memories and a slowly fading but still visible oil stain in front of Mirasol where it spent most of its time.

I still miss Skippy greeting me as I drive into town, but one day I discovered some "sons of Skippy" scattered throughout the downtown. No, they're not cars, but they have just as much rust and are even more decrepit. If you want to see them, just walk through the various parking lots off Front Street, look at the bike racks, and you'll see Skippy's children up close and personal. I also sent my husband on a photo mission to take some pictures of the best ones. Click here to see the triplets, which he dubbed Jeanne, Frances, and Charlie in honor of the fact that they rusted in the racks with quiet dignity through three hurricanes and are still standing (well, okay, maybe leaning, but they're still there).

I don't know if many people realize that we have lots of abandoned bikes chained to the various racks in downtown Celebration. My husband and I use our bicycles as our main means of transportation, so we use the racks on a frequent basis. It's not hard to spot the abandoned ones, as their tires are completely flat and their chains are so rusted that I doubt they would even move anymore. One is even missing its seat. Someone must have owned them and cared about them at some point, as all three are chained. But unlike Skippy's owner, who took his vehicle with him, the poor, bedraggled bikes have been left to rust and decay as orphans.

Also unlike Skippy, they are not so easily visible, so unlike the poor Dodge Dart, they don't incur the wrath of the "Keep Our Town Beautiful" brigade. That's why they'll probably last much longer than their "father."

At first, the motley "sons of Skippy" annoyed me because they take up valuable rack space. Usually we have no problem finding somewhere to chain our bikes, but space can be at a premium during special events downtown. But now I've adopted the same attitude that I did with the old car: if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Now, when I pull up to one of the racks where they reside, I feel like I'm greeting an old, familiar friend. Just as Skippy once welcomed me into town, Charley, Frances, or Jeanne gives me a friendly "hello" as I prepare to dine at Max's or head over to the Farmer's Market.

Goodings may leave town, Lexin may slowly eliminate the downtown special events (where the heck is Posh Pooch, and did you notice that the "falling leaves" where switched from two weekends to only one?), and condos and townhomes may take over all the downtown parking spots, but at least the "sons of Skippy" will remain.

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Saturday, October 30, 2004

Halloween Eve

It's October 30, Halloween Eve, which I suppose is an ironic moniker, since Halloween itself is the eve of All Saints Day. There had been some debate on the Front Porch (the community intranet) over whether there would be any trick-or-treaters out on October 30. Halloween tends to become a bit controversial because it brings in droves of out-of-town kids, some of whom even arrive on buses. This means lots of traffic, and some people claim that they have literally gone through thousands of pieces of candy. Others claim that would be physically impossible and that we should be honored that people actually go out of their way to come to our town, and thus the debates start.

Being in East Village, I can't really offer an opinion because my house is out of the direct line of fire. Most of the mob scene is concentrated in Main Village because it's the easiest place to find. Most people stay right on the main street, Celebration Avenue, so of course they take the brunt of the onslaught. I don't think many visitors are even aware that Celebration has multiple "villages," let alone any idea of how to get to them.

Personally, I love Halloween and trick-or-treaters. This year, we have to fly back to the Midwest on the Sunday, and we'll be boarding the plane just as things are getting into high gear in Celebration. But next year, I will be home for the holiday, and I hope that we'll get lots of kids because I get a real kick out of putting on a show for them.

Many years back, when my husband and I lived in a townhouse, we would do a little routine. We had one of those scary sound-effects tapes playing in the background, and he would answer the door dressed in a bloody, ripped t-shirt, with a dangling handcuff on his wrist. He'd thrust candy at the kids and say, "Quick! Take it and go before SHE gets here!" Then I'd pop up, decked out in a Grim Reaper-type get-up. I'd grab him by the handcuff, yell, "What, you escaped?! Get back in the cellar!" and start stabbing him with a bloody plastic knife as I slammed the door.

Our house eventually got a reputation. The most amusing moment was when a group of kids came while my husband was taking a potty break. I answered the door, and one little boy, who had obviously been there before and had come back with a group of friends, said, "Aw...where's the show?" I said, "Just give us five and come back!"

We also had another good comment on the Halloween after our home was all but destroyed by a flood in the upstairs bathroom while we were out of town for the weekend. We returned to find the ceilings caved in and the walls damaged so badly that the house had to be gutted down to the studs. It was unliveable for three months, but we returned for the day to give out candy and do our routine for the trick or treaters. One little boy noticed the uncovered beams and studs and the damage that was still visible (the flood had only happened a week earlier). He said in awe, "Wow! Did you do that just for Halloween?!"

We'll have to think of something good to do here in Celebration. I have a large front porch, so next year I will rig up some sort of creepshow. I heard that there will be signs this year to direct the influx to different villages. If that is a success, I'll know I can count on lots of kids next year, so I can go whole hog. The cool thing is, we'll fit right in as Celebration has some really neat and creative decorations. My favorites are the house in North Village that has Area 52, as well as lots of other cool stuff, in the front yard and the one decked out in a pirate theme in South Village. There is also a "jungle house" right on Celebration Avenue.

Meanwhile, even though the final consensus on the Front Porch was that trick-or-treating would be on the 31st only, we made sure that we were prepared tonight with candy, and I turned on the porch light. Sure enough, we did get a handful of kids. I was pleased, as I hate the thought of missing the "official" holiday tomorrow. I was born in late Octoberm so Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, edging out even Christmas.

Tonight we move the clocks back, so that means an extra hour of sleep. It will come in handy, as we woke up bright and early this morning to have breakfast with Richie and Betsy, the real estate agents who found us our home. Even though we've owned it for a year now, we still keep in touch (they actually live not too far from us). Since I had stayed up too late the night before, as usual, I know I'll be dragging come tomorrow. But I can never resist the chocolate chip pancakes at Max's (Market Street Cafe).

After a pleasant breakfast and chat, my husband and I headed over to Epcot to check out the Food and Wine Festival. With all the years we've been visiting Disney, this is the first time we've ever made it to the festival. It was a neat opportunity to "graze around the world." In addition to the usual countries, there were some special ones visiting for the festival, such as Ireland, Poland, and South Africa. The portions are sample-sized (although some are pretty generous) and the prices are reasonable, so you can try many different options without getting overly full.

In case you're wondering what sort of things they serve, here is what I stuffed my face with today: leek soup and whiskey flan (Ireland), Durban spiced chicken (South Africa), marinated lamb (Australia), lobster corn chowder and apple cranberry tart (America), chicken Ticca (India), cherry wine (Poland), cheese soup and maple walnut fudge (Canada), and a lamb gyro (Greece). My husband had similar items to me, and he also tried the mussels from New Zealand. Then we capped it off with fish and chips at the British pavillion. That wasn't a special item for the festival, but it's one of our favorite quick snacks at Epcot.

We wanted to ride Test Track, but the first time we went over, the singles line was shut down due to a medical emergency (when the park is crowded, the singles line is the only way to ride). The second time, the whole ride was shut down due to technical difficulties. So instead, my husband rode Mission Space, which I avoid since I can't handle spinning rides. I can ride a roller coaster all day long with no ill effects, but spin me around and I'm done for. Then we went over to Ellen's Energy Adventure, which we haven't done in a while.

There are lots of special events going on in conjunction with the festival, such as cooking demonstrations and exhibits. There are special entertainers, too; we ended up leaving when the park started getting noticably more crowded with people packing in to see the night's performance by "Survivor."

Now it's back home and time to do some work. My travel agency runs pretty much seven days a week, and there were requests for quotes waiting for me when we got home. But it doesn't seem so much like work when I can do it sitting out on my front porch, running my laptop off our wireless connection. I specialize in Disney cruises, and it always tickles me when I call the cruise line office for a quote because it's literally right down the street. (If you want to see just what kind of Disney cruise obsessive I am, visit my website at or my travel agency site at

Tomorrow will come all too quickly, and hopefully we'll get some trick-or-treaters before we have to leave. If not, I noticed that my husband purchased some of his personal favorites, so I know that any leftovers won't go to waste.

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Friday, October 29, 2004

Lame Duck Air

Tonight was our very first flight on "Lame Duck Air," my husband's new name for ATA. It's odd to fly an airline that is waiting to leave the city as soon as the bankruptcy court will let them bail. They have no commitment to Chicago anymore; they're just biding their time until Air Tran or America West swoops in to pick the carcass.

Thankfully, everything went smoothly. I can only imagine the apathy if I had any sort of a problem. Last time my seats were erroneously given away on the Chicago leg of a trip, the gate agent got really snotty. She refused to rectify the error, and when I told her that we are Elite members who are supposed to be entitled to "preferred, front-of-the-aircraft seating" (that's a direct quote from the ATA website), she acted as though I'd told her that her mother is a syphillis-ridden streetwalker. This was a few months back, although who knows...maybe she knew what was coming.

Anyway, we still made it home to Florida safe and sound, and even a few minutes early. Better yet, when I went down to Avis to pick up our car (an economy model, booked through Priceline), they upgraded us to a Tracker for free! I always get very excited when we get an SUV because I love to go biking at Fort Wilderness. There's no way to fit our bikes into the micro-vehicles that normally pass for economy or compact. But every now and then we get a free upgrade to a much larger vehicle, and when we do, we load up the bikes and head for Disney World. We typically pedal around the campground and then ride over to the Wilderness Lodge for lunch at Whispering Canyon Cafe.

We drove home, passing the pumpkin carving event at the church on Celebration Avenue. All of the kids seemed to be having a blast. As soon as I got inside, I anxiously tried the phone to see if my new 566 line was functional. Indeed it was, so now I have my phone number that is the same as my address. Crazy, I know, but I'm easily amused.

After settling in, we headed over to Kobe Japanese Steakhouse for dinner. I am a big fan of teppan style cooking. There are lots of teppan choices in the Kissimmee area, but Kobe is far and away my favorite. Their filet will melt in your mouth, and they have the most amazing teryaki noodles. You will never leave hungry, as the multi-course meal includes the noodles, soup, salad, vegetables, and fried rice, in addition to the main course. Kobe always runs coupons in the various tourist publications available at virtually any store in the great Orlando/Kissimmee area, so you're crazy if you pay full price.

Ironically, we never even realized that there is a Kobe location literally right across the street from Celebration, in the strip mall across from the Radisson Hotel. In the old days, when we were tourists, we usually went to the location on International Drive. We knew there were lots of locations, so my husband started thumbing through a coupon book and discovered that we were only minutes away from a delicious Kobe meal.

Now it's bedtime, and as much as I'd like to stay up and read, I have to force myself to sleep because we're getting up early tomorrow. We're going to meet our real estate agents for breakfast downtown (chocolate chip pancakes....mmmmmm!). Even though we closed more than a year ago, they are neighbors as well as our agents (they live in East Village too), and we keep in touch.

After that, it's off to Fort Wilderness to work off the pancakes and enjoy the perfect weather day predicted by channel 9.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The End of an Era

Well, it finally happened, just as I suspected it would. ATA filed for bankruptcy, and Air Tran will be taking over their gates at Midway Airport. I'm not sure yet what effect that will have on my commute, but I've been feeling melancholy all day. It's not just the fact that our transportation home is in jeopardy. It's also a sense of loss, as we've been flying ATA ever since they switched from charter to a full-fledged "vacation airline." In my head, I can still hear the strains of their jingle: "...on ATA, you're on vacation."

For many years, that's exactly what it meant for us: Vacation. They were always reliable and reasonably priced. I can't even begin to estimate how many times ATA took us to visit the Mouse over the course of the past decade or so. Once we started our Dsisney Cruise obsession, we sometimes flew American, but usually it was still ATA.

I've even come to recognize most of the gate crew at Orlando International Airport. At Midway, the personnel shuffles and changes because there are so many flights and gates. At MCO, it's Gate 1, 3, or 5, and the faces are usually the same.

I wonder what will happen to all of those people who we've come to know, even though it's on a superficial basis. I still can't help but feel sorry for them. The airline industry in general is in a financial turmoil. Now, goodness knows how many people will be losing their jobs. For me, the loss of ATA is an inconvenience. For them, it's the loss of an entire livelihood.

Hopefully I'll make it home this weekend. I am anxious to see the legendary Halloween crowdsin Celebration, although we have to leave around dusk so I'll miss most of the hoopla. I hear that not many people make it all the way back to East Village anyway. Too bad...I love Halloween and trick or treaters. I hope that we'll be home to hand out candy next year.

We've really enjoyed biking through town and looking at the Halloween decorations. My favorite is the house in North Village with an "Area 52" theme. Since we're so transient, my decorations are modest: A couple of Halloween flags and yard decorations, but no lights. Once we are in Celebration permanently, my house will be one of the gaudy ones. I love going all out for the holidays!

I'm said that it's the end of an era of traveling on ATA, but I suppose that time marches on. All the more reaason to make the permanent leap to I just need to win the lottery!

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Monday, October 25, 2004


I know that good things come to those who wait, and it looks like I'll be waiting a little longer to get my 566 number. Technically, it is hooked up. It even rings when you dial it. But in reality, in doesn't work in our house at all. My husband poked around in our wiring box, and it looks like they flipped the switch at the phone company but neglected to do the hookup at Duloc Manor.

This doesn't surprise me, as we went through the same experience with our original phone line. It got so bad that I was firmly convinced we would be climbing a pole to make our phone calls like Eddie Albert in "Green Acres." But our first line eventually started working, so I'm sure that the second one will, too. At least I have dibs on the number.

It was a busy weekend maintenance-wise; besides adding a phone line, we had the rep. from Cambridge (our builder) come out to check the last few items on our punch list. Our one-year warranty expired in late August, so I sent the list back then. But with all the hurricane turmoil, it took a little while to coordinate the visit. We only have a few minor things on the list, like a cracked tile and a non-functioning outlet. Overall, I've been very pleased with the quality of our little triplex's construction. Considering that we got through three hurricanes with no water getting in and only minor soffit damage, I really can't complain.

We do have one very annoying problem that I've been complaining about since the first time I was home during a rainstorm. Our building is Craftsman style, and the roof is designed in such a way that the awning over the back doors of the end units creates a waterfall whenever we get a heavy downpour. It is so bad that you literally can't use the back door during a rainstorm unless you want to be drenched. Our middle neighbor had it even worse...her waterfall is outside her front door!

Cambridge has been telling me that we need to have gutters installed. The roof design seems piss poor to me, so I've been wondering what others in similar buildings think. It's something that stayed in the back of my mind until the hurricanes. The torrential rains made my back door, stoop, and sidewalk a prime breeding ground for mildew. The green ooze is taking over like that slime engulfed those poor people in the movie "Creepshow," although I've managed to beat it back with lots of bleach and scrubbing.

We are the lone triplex in an sea of single-family bungalows, but there is a large cluster of duplexes and triplexes in the Roseville Corner section of East Village. Recently I decided to mosey over and see if they have having the same problems. Lo and behold, every one of them has matching gutters! At first, I thought that they might have just had them installed on their own, but then I noticed that even the garages are guttered. I can't imagine that every single owner would pay for identical gutters on their garages. Even the model has them, which I think is a point in my favor. I know for sure that they were not listed as an optional item, so it seems to me that they should have been installed on our place just like the homes on Nash.

We'll see if Cambridge agrees, and meanwhile I know they'll take care of the minor items on the list. It will be nice to have that all done, although it amazes me that we've owned our home for over a year now. It seems like our closing was only a few months ago. But here we are, getting ready to celebrate our second Halloween, Founders Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas in Celebration.

If all goes well, we'll be back home in Celebration this weekend, ready to try out our new Disney Dining Experience card (more on that in an upcoming blog entry). And who knows, maybe my new phone line will actually work!

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Saturday, October 23, 2004


Just got home from a little jaunt at Disney World (dinner at Artist Point in the Wilderness Lodge, followed by the Wishes fireworks) and found some bad news on the internet. I've been sort of expecting it for a while, but like that river in Egypt, I've also been in De Nile. I kept hoping that something would happen to avert it, but now it looks like that's just a pipe dream.

As those who have read some of my other blog entries know, my husband and I are long distance commuters. We had to buy our home in Celebration a bit prematurely due to the skyrocketing prices that would have priced us right out of the market if we'd waited even a year. This means that our home and our hearts are down south, but our jobs are still up north. Thus, at least two Fridays a month we hop on an airplane for a precious weekend in Celebration, and then we fly back Sunday night.

We normally take American Trans Air, better known as ATA, as they generally have the best prices. Due to our frequent travels, we have also been able to take advantage of their generous ATA Awards Program, which gives us a free companion ticket for every three round-trips. Recently, we reached Elite status, although I've never figured out what that's good for, other than pre-boarding. We are supposed to get something called "preferred, front-of-the-aircraft seating," but I've never met any employee who could even explain what that's supposed to be.

But now ATA is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We hold something like eight sets of tickets from now until December, and we've been afraid to buy more, even with some really good sales. Worse yet, we've been wondering if the ones we hold now will soon become worthless. I've been praying that they would find a way out of their financial woes. They've gotten salary concessions from the pilots and flight attendants, but so far that hasn't been enough. Between the lease/purchase of new aircraft right before 9/11 and the current negative impact of the hurricanes on travel to FL, they are maybe half a step from insolvency.

A month or so ago, it was being rumored that they would be leaving Midway airport. They adamently denied this and even took out ads to say it wasn't so. Now, I have it on good authority they will be selling Midway gates to America West. Their hub will shift totally to Indianapolis.

This is going to have a big impact on our commute. We're stretched pretty thin financially between two houses and a 1500 mile commute every time we want to get home to Florida. With ATA gone, the fares are likely to jump dramatically. We used to fly American or United, but their Orlando fares reached the ridiculous level a couple of years ago, and I expect them to stay there, or even get worse, with a big chunk of competition gone.

Southwest isn't much of a possibility. Our flight days and times are not too flexible due to our jobs, and they don't offer their best fares when we typically travel. Worse yet, direct flights to Orlando are as rare as spotting Mickey Mouse at Universal Studio. Our two-hour flight would stretch to goodness only knows how long if we have to do a stopover. That's not very practical for Friday evening flights.

Oh well, maybe a miracle will still occur. Maybe America West will take over some of the flights and keep the reasonable fares (yes, I know, I'm a dreamer). Maybe some other concession will come about that will be enough to bail out ATA without forcing them to take such drastic measures. I know, I know, Fantasy Land is at the Magic Kingdom, not at Midway Airport, but I can't help wishing. It's better than facing the thought that I might be stuck 1500 miles from the home and town that I love for any length of time.

At least it was a happy day in Florida today. The muggy summer heat is starting to slip into what passes for a "chill in the air" in the Sunshine State. Today was an utterly gorgeous, perfect day, with not a drop of rain. We didn't go to Disney World until late, and we didn't head into the parks because they were very crowded. We enjoyed a nice dinner at Artist Point and then went out to the Wilderness Lodge dock to see if we could see the "Wishes" fireworks at the Magic Kingdom.

Unfortunately, trees were blocking our view, so we hopped on a boat to watch them from the lake. The boat was supposed to stop at Fort Wilderness, head over to the Magic Kingdom, and then return to the Lodge. We got seats outside, and although we missed some of the fireworks when the boat went around the old Discovery Island, we got a wonderful view of some of the show. We also saw the water parade, with the lighted barges on the lake. My favorite fireworks were the ones shaped like hearts, although I was dazzled overall by the wide array of colors. They were gorgeous!

But surprise, surprise! When we got to the Magic Kingdom, we discovered that the boat's itinerary had been changed. Now it was stopping at Fort Wilderness only. I imagine this was due in some way to the massive post-"Wishes" crowds. There was another couple who found themselves in the same boat, both literally and figurately. Thankfully, since our trip had been changed in mid-stream, we were all directed to the woman who was controlling guest traffic for the boats, and she slipped us into the Wilderness Lodge boat line instead of making us wait all the way at the end.

The boat was packed to standing-room-only capacity and we set out across the lake for the Wilderness Lodge. I have always loved the Lodge, which was my husband's first Disney hotel (mine was the Contemporary). I think you always have a deep fondess for the first place you stay on property. On our first trip together to Disney World, which was his first trip ever to Florida, I tried to get the Contemporary, but it was totally book. The Wilderness Lodge had just opened, and the cast member I was chatting with at CRO really talked it up to me. He had stayed there during a cast preview, and his glowing description won me over. We stayed there once and instantly fell in love. I've been to the National Park lodges on which it is modeled, and believe me, Disney has done a superb job.

This time around, the Lodge wasn't "home," but merely a place to pick up our car before heading to Celebration. But I still love soaking in the ambiance as we walk past the geyser, around the pool, and through the gorgeous lobby.

Even though we're not officially tourists anymore, it's still fun to go to Disney World and mingle with the crowds. At night, people seem to get quite chatty on the transportation. In the short span of heading from the Lodge to the Magic Kingdom and back again on the two boats, we chatted with a woman whose family had been coming to Disney World and camping at Fort Wilderness ever since it opened and a lady with a adorable (and exhausted) little girl who chatted with us about their adventures over the last four days. I think half of the fun of going to Disney World is people-watching, and I always enjoy talking to new people. Maybe that's why I drifted toward psychology as my field; people fascinate me, and I love interacting with them.

It's late now, and my husband is already sound asleep, so I guess I should get to bed. No sense in worrying about ATA until they make the official announcement. It could never know. And if it doesn't, it's going to be interesting to figure out how to accomplish the 1500 mile commute on a regular basis. I feel more at home in Celebration than anywhere that I've ever lived, so no matter what, I'll find a way to get here.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2004

The Furniture Follies Continue

I have a dream, and it's a very simple one. I dream of the day when the furniture in my house is all put together and each fully assembled piece is in its correct place. It's been over a year now, and that dream is still moving forward at a snail's pace. At this rate, it will probably become reality when my husband and I are dead of old age and my nephews and nieces are fighting over who gets the house like birds fighting over scraps by the downtown lake.

Lest anyone think that I am exaggerating the furniture follies, I now have material witnesses. My poor neighbors volunteered to let in the serviceman who was supposed to take apart our two wardrobes and move them upstairs. By the time it was all over, I think they realized it would have been easier, and more painless, to volunteer to donate a kidney.

A little background: Previously, when the wardrobes were delivered, the workers twisted, pushed, and pulled them at almost every angle, then declared it impossible to fit them up the stairwell. They argued for almost an hour on the phone with the furniture salesman; he insisted that they take the wardrobes apart, bring them up, and reassemble them. They declared that they only do deliveries and would just as soon load them up and take them back if he kept giving them crap.

Eventually, the salesman said that he would arrange for a service man to come out and take care of the issue at no additional cost. You'd better believe that I noted that fact in big, bold letters when signing the delivery slip. I've been through lots of issues with this store already over the delivery arrangements, and I've learned to get everything in writing and to always take names.

Sure enough, the salesman had arranged nothing. The service department called me, but said they would not come out unless I paid. As if! At this point, they should be paying me for the months and months of inconvenience.

I called the furniture store, and it took a few tries to reach the store manager to get it all hashed out. Most of the time, the person who answers the phone literally refuses you to transfer you to the manager. But finally I reached her and she set things up with the service department; now, the trick was arranging for someone to be home, since they only work on weekdays and we're usually only home on the weekend.

Our very kind neighbors volunteered to let the service man in. I don't think they realized that this was akin to volunteering to walking over barefoot over a mixture of hot coals, rusty nails, and broken glass. I won't even go into the tedious phone tag and screwed up schedules, lest I suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But finally everything was coordinated and the Day of Reckoning was on hand.

Of course, the serviceman was running late. When he finally showed up, my neighbor was surprised to see only one person. The wardrobes are enormous, so dismantling and moving them would seem like a multi-person job. But lo and behold, the serviceman suggested turning them on their sides and lifting them over the side of the stairwell. It worked!! All this time, and they could have been easily transported upstairs by the original deliverymen. My husband had suggested this approach to them, and they insisted that it was impossible. But between the serviceman and my neighbor, the wardrobes were soon in their rightful place at the head of the stairs.

We haven't been home since the latest chapter of the Furniture Follies, so I can't wait to get there this weekend. No more huge, galompin' wardrobes taking up half the space in our kitchen. Instead, we will finally have the additional storage space that we've been craving. I love our house, but I miss having a basement or useable attic. The wardrobes give us the equivalent of an extra closet.

Now we have just one more piece of furniture to go. We're still waiting for part of our entertainment center which came crashing down on our television due to being installed improperly. It's only been a few months...surely there are only a few more to go.

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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Strange Things Make Me Happy

It doesn't take much to make me happy. Oh sure, I'd love to win the lottery or receive a surprise inheritance from a long-lost relative. But since those happenings are few and far between, I've learned to appreciate the little things, like finding a good parking spot at the mall or discovering that the wait time is only five minutes on my favorite rides at the Magic Kingdom.

I look at it this way: God must have thousands, if not millions, of people praying for a lottery win. Since there aren't nearly enough mega-prizes to go around, it's not realistic to expect Him to fulfill all those prayers. If you pray for something more realistic, like "Please let me make the next five green lights so I can get to the store before it closes," He can afford to be more generous because it's a much easier task. Over time, God has granted me many of these small favors. Sure, they're not life changing, but I am always appreciative.

Recently, another of my silly little wishes came true. To fully appreciate it (or maybe not), it's necessary to delve back a bit into Celebration's history. Originally, all of the phone numbers were in the 407 area code, with a prefix of 566. It was like the old days, when numbers started with a prefix (like my grandma's number, Fulton 4924, or Waterfall 5942 at my earliest childhood home). But instead of a word, you could tell a Celebration neighbor, "Call me at 5942," and they would know what you meant and add the 566.

Then, as the town expanded, a new area code and prefix was added: 321-939. By the time we purchased our home, that was the standard, and we were endowed with a newfangled number that marked us as Johnny-Come-Latelys. I felt a little better when one of our neighbors pointed out that the new numbers are NASA/Disney Word (321 = countdown and 939 = WDW), but I still coveted 407-566.

I should also add that I have a weird compulsion where numbers are concerned. It's not a Rain Man thing (I am a mathematical moron), but rather an obsessive-compulsive fixation. I like phone numbers to be simple and easy to remember, preferably with lots of repetition, like 333-3300 or 252-5222. Usually you don't get much say in your number assignment, so my Celebration phone number was less than satisfactory.

At the time we started our phone service, I was told that no 407-566 numbers were available, so I had to settle for NASA/Disney. The last four digits were a string of random numbers, although I did like the fact that they made a triangle on the keypad. At least that made them easier to recall. But the obsessive-compulsive part of me coveted the phone number bestowed on my next door neighbors, which ends in two zeros. They didn't request it; it was just the luck of the draw.

I rarely gave out our home phone number, since we usually use our cell phones. We got the land line mainly for DSL, so it got to the point where I would be startled if it actually rang. My husband also used it to dial in to work, so it was busy most of the time anyway.

But when I started my travel agent business, I discovered that he was often on the line when I needed to make arrangements with clients or to call in reservations to Disney Cruise Line. Cell phones are notoriously unreliable in Celebration, so it wasn't feasible to run a business while being dependent on the whims of variable signal strength. We have both T-Mobile and AT&T; AT&T is normally the more reliable of the two, but "reliable" often means only one bar. It's so annoying to try to set up a cruise reservation with your client's voice drifting in and out. I felt like that "Can you hear me now?" guy on the commercial, and that gets old in about two seconds.

We decided that it was time to add another line, and this time I was determined to get a 407-566 number. I wasn't enough of a dreamer to expect it to be a "good" number, like 566-5600 or 566-7788, but I didn't care as long as it was a "real" Celebration number.

A while back, on the Front Porch intranet, someone had been seeking a 566 number with the last four digits spelling out something relating to their business. Someone else suggested that they search the phone numbers they were interested in on the internet. If no listing came up, they could dial the numbers to see if they were assigned to anyone. If not, they could make a special request to the phone company.

Just for the heck of it, I plugged in the digits in my name, "Barb," with the 566 prefix, and also my four-digit address number. "Barb" was already taken, but nothing showed up for my home address. I dialed it, trying to think about what I would say if someone actually answered. But surprise, surprise...all I got was a recording that it was not in service. I immediately contacted Smart City, the local phone company, to see if I could claim it as my own.

Lo and behold, it was available! Now, not only would I have an original Celebration number, but it would be next to impossible to forget. If I could remember my home address, I'd know my phone number too. My husband likes the whole NASA/WDW concept, so our old phone line can be his.

Yes, I know that this whole thing is crazy. A phone number area code and prefix doesn't really matter in the cosmic scheme of things. There isn't a secret society of 566 prefix holders (or if there is, I haven't found them yet), and all of these digits don't mean a thing to people outside of Celebration. But in my number-obsessed mind, it's cool to finally have real Celebration phone number instead of a new-fangled one.

Coincidentally, the installation date for the new phone line is also my 40th birthday. I just hope that it will work; when our original phone line was installed, it took a week or two of back-and-forth before it was reliably functional. My husband is fully convinced that our two lines will somehow be crossed and that our DSL will cease to function. Or, worse yet, that our change will somehow have a ripple effect on our poor neighbors (since we're in a triplex, that is entirely possible).

But I am taking the glass-is-half-full viewpoint. Luck was with me to get my new 566-address number, so surely God will smile upon the installer as well and guide his hands to the right connections. We will be back home next weekend, and the line should be up and functional by then, so we'll see.

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Saturday, October 09, 2004

Adventures in Biking

Saturday was quite an adventurous day, spent mainly on our bicycles. Being without a car this weekend turned us into semi-homebodies. We slept late and were finally roused from our slumber by the arrival of the Terminex man. He tried to call first, but for some reason our cell phone service was spottier than usual this weekend. We rarely use the house phone, so he didn't have that number. I had assured him that we would be home all day, so when no one answered he just came over.

A few weeks ago, I saw wasps searching for a place to nest on our front porch, so my husband and I had doused them with household cleaners (the most lethal thing we had on hand). Although I didn't realize it, the little suckers had moved to the garage and built a nest back there; the bug man found them and sent them to wasp heaven. I know I am overly paranoid when it comes to bugs infesting my home, but I just don't want them to get a foothold so we have quarterly pest control service. I know that it makes a difference because our neighbor in the mirror unit got an infestation of ants, whereas we have no problem with them. She started up bug service, too, and that has ended her problems.

After that was done, my husband and I decided to buzz around town on our bikes to check out the porch sales. It was rather late, so we knew that all the good items would be long gone. But being on bicycles limited what we could buy anyway; I don't think we could have balanced exercise equipment or patio furniture on our little bike racks! We thought it would just be fun to see how many people were participating and how well sales had gone.

Most of the people we chatted with had done quite well. Their larger items were gone, and they tended to have only a few odds and ends left. I got a trash can for my bedroom, which I somehow managed to secure onto the bike rack. The only peculiarity was that I had to sit way forward on my seat because it was right up against my butt. I must have been quite a sight, pedaling along with that trash can for a backrest!

After checking out several of the sales, we decided to head to Max's (Market Street Cafe) for lunch. My husband never gets tired of them, and I can usually find something tasty. Their food is pretty much diner-style items like burgers, meatloaf, and open-faced turkey sandwiches. They have wonderful crinkle-cut french fries, not the nasty, coated, skinny ones like McDonald's.

We parked our bikes in the rack between the local travel agency and the Town Tavern. Chained in the same rack was a forlorn, rusting ten-speed that I've seen there for months. I doubt that its chain could even move anymore, and even if it could, there would be no way to actually ride it because it has no seat. Abandoned bikes seem to be a common sight in town lately. Just the night before, in a different rack, we saw a bike with a tattered seat and flat tires that has been around forever too. Skippy, the rusty Dodge Dart that welcomed visitors to town on Celebration Avenue, is long gone, but I'm thinking that the seatless bike could take his place as our new emissary.

I was a bit worried about leaving the garbage can unattended but knew it would look crazy to carry it into Max's. Despite our reputation as a no-crime town, I've heard of everything from bikes to scooters to mail being stolen. My husband put things into perspective: "If someone steals a garbage can, they're welcome to it because they obviously need it worse than we do." So with those words of wisdom, we headed off to lunch.

Max's was quite busy; downtown, in general, was buzzing with both locals and Columbus Day tourists. The wait for seating was about 10 minutes, and soon enough we were sitting down to a lunch of salmon burgers and fries (make mine topped with bacon and cheese, please).

The bike trip downtown hadn't been too hazardous, although we noticed that Celebration Avenue had a lot more traffic than usual. Much of it seemed to consist of SUVs and pickup trucks loaded down with porch sale finds. We saw a constant parade of vehicles laden with furniture and other bulky "treasures." We haven't lived in our house long enough to have aquired enough excess stuff to sell, but when we do, we'll surely participate.

After lunch, my husband decided that he had a wild craving for a drink from Planet Smoothie, located in the Water Tower Place shopping center. This involves biking over the Celebration Avenue bridge with the narrow "maze" side walks and crossing several hazardous intersections, including the entrance to 417. We've done it before without getting splattered (actually, my husband has done it many more times than me because he is the more adventurous bicyclist). On this day, a nice, cold smoothie sounded good, and we weren't in a hurry to get anywhere, so I said, "Why not?"

Why, indeed! I had no idea that we were about to embark on a perilous adventure in biking. The traffic was absolutely ceaseless; besides the yard sales, I think people were being drawn in to the Disney liquidation sale at the grade school. There was an endless conga line of cars, many with the seeming intent of scoring fifty points by nailing a cyclist. The narrow sidewalks of the bridge were the least of our worries; getting across the street in one piece at the intersection on its other side was the much greater challenge.

We braved the 417 ramps, and then came the quest to actually enter Water Tower Place without getting run down by the cars turning in. The entrance is a quite a danger, as there is no traffic light, and Celebration Avenue is a busy road. There has already been at least one automobile accident, and I had no desire to become the next statistic, especially on a bike.

Once inside the shopping center area, I thought that things would calm down, but they were actually worse. Between the cars (many of which seemed lost) and the construction equipment, it was like being trapped in some computer role-playing game, with a new danger lurking around every corner.

Actually, while all these melodramatics were going through my mind, my husband was tooling along as though he didn't have a care in the world. I stopped and dismounted at all the busy intersections, walking my bike across, while he just zipping along, somehow timing it perfectly to cross between the traffic. He had an instinctive sense of the traffic light timing. He would get way ahead, then pause to wait while his wimpy wife walked her bike across the roads and struggled to remount without dislodging the trash can. We must have been quite a sight.

By the time we finally reached Planet Smoothie, I was exhausted and dripping sweat. My husband looked as chipper and energetic as when we first started out. When he goes biking on his own, his route takes him all the way back to the high school and then up to North Village and out to the town entrance by the Celebration Place office buildings. For him, our litle excursion was just a warm-up (although he did admit that the traffic was heavier than usual).

A nice orange smoothie made me feel better, but the ride had been much more treachorous than I'd expected. We were planning to bike up to 192 on Sunday and take the bus to our mailbox, but now I had no desire to repeat the trip. I said, "Why don't we just get that over with now?" Oops, we didn't have the mailbox keys with us! It had never even crossed our minds to take them, since that was on Sunday's agenda.

At this point, I decided that I'd rather take the long way home. If we passed the office buildings and took Celebration Boulevard, we could stay on the sidewalks and avoid most of the crossings and traffic. My husband was very agreeable, as he looks for any excuse to lengthen his bike rides.

We pedaled down Celebration Boulevard, which was deserted compared to Celebration Avenue, and entered town from the opposite direction. Then we headed downtown via Campus Street; we were out of cream, which is a life necessity since we are major coffee drinkers, so we needed to make a quick stop at Goodings.

Once we got home, unbelievably my husband said, "See you in a little while. I'm going out for more biking." He was serious! I definitely married a glutton for punishment. Myself, I collapsed onto the couch. I had some Disney cruise quotes to do for my travel agency, but first I thought I'd have a short rest. "Short" turned into an extended period, as I never stirred until hubby returned an hour later.

Last year, we didn't have a car at Christmas time, so we did a similar trip into even more hazardous territory; we biked to Logan's Steakhouse across 192 and then went to the Publix. It wasn't nearly as challenging as this time around. I think that the opening of Water Tower Place, coupled with the yard sales and the Disney liquidation sale drawing lots of people into town, added to the hazards.

As it turned out, we didn't have to repeat the biking adventure on Sunday. We ended up going out to dinner with a neighbor and stopping at our mailbox on the way home. (by the way, for new residents who might be thinking of getting a box: If there is a wait list at the post office, there is a UPS Store with boxes right in Water Tower Place. It didn't exist back when we rented our box, and because I have a business that uses it as the mailing address, it would be too much of a pain to change it).

I like to eat at the various Disney World restaurants, but I didn't think there would be much availability with the Columbus Day holiday. I had initially tried to book Ohana at the Polynesian, which is a perennial favorite, but it was booked solid. That was no surprise; besides having great food, you get a wonderful view of the Wishes fireworks at the Magic Kingdom. They even dim the lights and pipe in the music during the show.

We ended up at Cape May at the Yacht and Beach Club; it was my first time there, and it turned out to be quite good. It was a "clam bake" buffet, with lots of shrimp, clams, and mussels. For those who don't like seafood, there were other goodies like carved beef and barbequed ribs. I am a salad person and enjoyed the various offerings, including a delicious seafood salad and ambrosia salad that could easily have been my dessert (although I had to sample the apple cobbler from the dessert bar).

All in all, it was an adventurous day, and I didn't have to feel as bad about consuming mega calories at a buffet because I knew I'd already worked at least some of them off.

I'm already working on the rental cars for our next two weekends at home. Last year, it was no problem to get a car through Priceline in October, and the best deals seemed to pop up at the last minute. This year, cars are scarce and expensive, even when it's not a holiday. I couldn't believe that rates of $200 per day were actually coming up last Thursday! I don't think we've ever paid more than $20 per day, and I considered that high; the norm can be as low as $13, and the average is $15 to $16 at the major on-site rental car agencies.

But I know that we can survive, even if we're relegated to our bikes and feet. If I survived the trip to Water Tower Place, I can survive anything!

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Friday, October 08, 2004

Trapped in Paradise

We're home in Celebration, but this weekend we face a strange dilemma: we're "trapped in paradise." We couldn't get a rental car, so we'll be relying on our feet and our bicycles. We might even try a bus adventure on Sunday.

You may be wondering, what does a rental car have to do with it? As weekly commuters, we are in an odd situation. It is actually cheaper to rental a car each weekend than to have our own in Florida. The biggest stumbling block is needing to get to the airport each Sunday. If we had a car, we could drive it there, but then where would we leave it? The parking rates would add up very quickly if we left it in a lot near Orlando International. If if had "auto pilot" and we could somehow send it home, we'd be stuck at the airport next time we came to town.

Then, of course, there would be car payments, maintenance and insurance. All of these things would add up quickly to a large monthly outlay. Compare that to Priceline, where I can usually get a car for the weekend for anywhere from $13 to $18 per day, and you can see why it makes no sense to buy one.

Because of our weekly commute, I have become quite an expert on most of the car rental agencies inside the airport and outside of the North Exit. Typically, through Priceline we get either Alamo, Avis, Budget, or National (on site) or Hertz (offsite). When Bill Shatner can't find anything for me, I turn to Thrifty, which is right across the street from Hertz. Even though both of them are off site, their shuttles are always waiting ride outside the airport door. You jump on and are at the office in minutes. I've literally gotten done at Hertz and Thrifty more quickly than at on site Alamo, which seems to have the most consistently long lines.

I've learned the quirks of each rental agency. Besides long lines, Alamo tends to have pushy agents who try to trick you into buying the supplemental insurance. Their favorite line is, "Do you want the deluxe coverage, or just the basic?", implying that you have to take one or the other. I've heard them get downright nasty with people, lying to some customers by telling them that Florida law requires them to buy a supplemental policy, They especially like to pull this with internatonal visitors. But not all of their agents are like that; there are just a few bad apples.

Even though National shares the same garage space and cars as Alamo because they are the same company, their attitude is much different. No hard sell at all; just fill out the paperwork and head to the garage to pick your car.

Being able to choose your own vehicle is a big reason that many people like Alamo and National. Most agencies assign you to a vehicle, but with those two, you wander around the garage, poking through the various available cars in your class, until you find one that appeals to you. Don't want a car that smells like stale smoke? No problem! Sniff them all till you find one with a pristine smell. Hate a plain white car? Look around until a fire engine red beauty catches your eye.

The other two I've dealt with onsite at the airport, Avis and Budget, assign a car. I like them both, although Budget's cars tend to be a bit older and more dinged up. But they're in good mechanical shape, and I like Budget a lot because they once upgraded me from a compact to a Ford Escape SUV! I had always wondered if Priceline customers would be treated differently because of the cheaper price, but I've ever found that to be a problem. I think we've been upgraded by every one of the car rental companies at one point or another.

Hertz, like Avis, tends to have nice, well-equipped cars. Thrifty's are not bad, either, and because I am a Blue Chip member, I can bypass the counter line. I haven't joined the other agencies' clubs because I can't use them when I rent via Priceline. Thrifty doesn't work with Priceline, so I book them on my own when I can't get a bargain any other way.

It's very rare to not be able to get a car. The only other time that this happened was Christmas, and that's understandable. This time, I had no clue why almost every agency had no cars available, and the two that did wanted $99 per day (by Friday, that had gone up to $199 a day!). Finally my husband glanced at the calendar and realized that it is Columbus Day weekend. I never realized that it was such a popular holiday for travel to Orlando!

Fortunately, I was able to reserve a towncar. I have an ad for Happy Limo on my Disney Cruise Line website,, and I have used them many times for past Disney World trips. My husband and I usually still take a towncar when we go to Port Canaveral for our cruises. I dispatched a desperate email and reservation request, and they quickly comfirmed. Whew! We wouldn't be stuck at the airport; we'd at least be able to get home.

As we prepared for the flight to Celebration, we marveled at how crowded the airport was. The security line was the longest that I've seen it in months, and the plane appeared to be full. When we arrived at Orlando International, we found ourselves swimming in a sea of people heading for the baggage area. Fortunately, we bring carry on only, so we were able to continue on down to the ground transportation area. We linked up with the towncar driver and were on our way home.

417 wasn't trafficky, but the toll booths were more backed up than I've ever seen them. Thank goodness the towncar had Sun Pass! I think the drivers probably spent more time waiting to pay tolls than the total time actually spent driving (i.e. moving) to Disney World.

Soon enough we were pulling into Celebration and heading to good old East Village. It always feels so good to be home, and I long for the day that I won't have to leave 48 hours later.

Since it was still fairly early, my husband and I hopped on our bikes to head to the Columbia restaurant for dinner. We took the bike path rather than the streets, since it was already dark. The path is well lighted, but there are still many trees down due to the onslaught of hurricanes, so that added a bit of a challenge. We had a delicious meal, and we could feel slightly less guilty about the calories since we'd actually exerted some energy to get there. But honestly, I think it would take about a hundred trips from East Village to downtown to even put a dent in the calories my husband consumed in his dulce de leche cheesecake.

Tomorrow we'll have lots to do around town, since it's the big porch sale. We will eat well, because there are plenty of restaurants within biking distance, and we can also get to Publix if we're up for the challenge of crossing 192. We did that last Christmas, and it worked out quite well. We even have an insulated bag to help transport frozen goods via bike.

The only slight problem will be the fact that our mail is delivered to a P.O. box that is a few miles away from town. It's possible to get there via bus, but the bus stop is all the way on 192, outside of Celebration on the tourist strip. It should be possible to bike there, leave the bikes, and do a mail run if we're feeling ambitious. Now, that will be an interesting blog entry!

But other than that, we're pretty much self-sufficient. Celebration is a great little place to be "trapped," with lots of good food downtown, plenty of places to walk and bike, swimming pools, a movie theater, and of course my beloved Farmers Market on Sunday. I'm ticked at Bill Shatner and Pricline for not coming through for me, but I can think of much worse places to be trapped than "paradise."

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Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Land of the Tollways

Florida is famous for palm trees, beaches, Disney World, NASA, and (more recently) hurricanes and blue-tarped roofs. But there is one unsung aspect of life in the Sunshine State that you'll quickly learn about unless you never stray from the airport or wander more than a few blocks from home: the toll roads.

I have grown up around tollways, but to me, a toll is typically 40 or 50 cents. Paper money and toll roads just don't go hand in hand in my mind. In Florida, especially around Disney World, you'd better get out the folding green. For example, if you take 417, also known as the Greenway, from Orlando International Airport to Celebration, you'll pony up $2.50 for a ride that takes less than half an hour. Even if you take I-4, the "freeway," you'll still have to pay up on 528 (the Beeline) if you access 4 via the airport's North Exit. And if you take Osceola Parkway, be prepared to get a second mortgage on your house.

Of course, there are plenty of shortcuts and sideroads that locals use to avoid the tolls, not to mention the hordes of tourists. You learn them almost by osmosis; some are disclosed to you by friends and neighbors, and you stumble across others while exploring the terrain. But sometimes the lure of the tollway is just too great to resist, and the convenience outweighs the cost. We always take 417 to the airport because (unlike the giant parking lot known as I-4), it rarely has traffic jams. You zip along, never pausing except to hand over another dollar every mile.

Actually, there are some delays on 417, but it has nothing to do with traffic density. Rather, it is directly related to what I have dubbed the "Life Story People." They are generally out of towners who can't just hand over their money to the toll collector and be on their way. They have to ask for directions and go into their whole life story while they're at it. A typical conversaton might go something like this:

"Am I headed the right way to Disney World? Will I know it when I see it? Is it big? Will Mickey Mouse be there? You know, I've wanted to see Mickey in person ever since I was born 40 years ago. Speaking of my birth, let me tell you about it, and every ensuing year up until this year moment, in excrutiating detail..."

Meanwhile the line of cars behind Mr. Life Story stretches back to the airport and beyond.

I have learned a few strategies to lessen my changes of getting behind one of the Life Story people. First and foremost, avoid the cars in which the driver is also a) simultaneously reading a map that is spread out over the steering wheel; b) erratically applying the brakes every few seconds; c) weaving continuously over the center line; or d) all of the above. A large amount of luggage strapped to the top of the vehicle is, of course, a dead giveaway and a sign to stay far, far away at toll booths.

Second, look for a car with license plates that list a specific county rather than the generic "Sunshine State" slogan. A "Sunshine State" plate is a sure sign of a rental car, i.e. a tourist. Better than a county is a vanity plate or one touting some cause, such as "Save the Manatees." Still better is some type of bumper sticker like, "My child is an honor student at (insert name of local school here)."

Third, avoid vehicles that pause just in front of the booths for several seconds before pulling up. This is a sign that not only are they a lost tourist, but they had no idea that getting to Disney World was going to cost more than their hotel room. Not only will they share their life story with the toll collector, but they will simultaneously be conducting a search for any last penny they can find.

Speaking of "last pennies," we had an interesting encounter last time we flew home. Most Florida toll booths are manned, but the ones at the entrances and exits are often "Exact Change Only." This usually means quarters; the toll to exit from 417 onto Celebration Avenue or to get onto the tollway is 50 cents.

Unfortunately, the toll basket is often broken. I've lost count of the times when I've tossed in my coins and waited in vain for the little light to turn from red to green. Finally, I just floor the car, trying to ignore the "Toll Evader!" siren and praying that I'm not going to find a ticket in my mailbox.

On this trip, at the Celebration Avenue exit, the car in front of us pulled into the Sunpass lane (that is for people with pre-paid toll transponders). It has a gate that goes up when your payment has been recorded, but the gate didn't raise so the car backed out just as I approached and cut in front of me in the coin lane. It didn't seem to pause very long before peeling out. At the very same instant, a cop pulled into the Sunpass lane and saw what had happened. On went the lights, and the car ahead of us was pulled over before he'd made it more than a few feet towards the traffic light.

Meanwhile, as I tried to toss in my payment, I realized that the coin basket was pulled askew, and the machinery inside it was making some God-awful noises. I tossed in my quarters anyway, but of course they didn't register. I was scared to death that if I went through, the cop would nab me too! Finally I had to go, and sure enough, the "Deadbeat" lights and siren went off on the toll lane. But the cop was intent with the other car and ignored me.

Now I started wondering...had the other person put in money, too, and been unfairly nabbed because of the broken basket? Should I interfere, or should I just mind my own business? My good citizenship got the better of me, and I pulled in front of the car, leaned my head out the window, and hollered to the cop that the toll booth was broken. He replied, "This guy didn't even try to pay." That might well have been the case; I had given it a go, and if the cop had witnessed a blatant non-payment, I wasn't going to argue. I didn't have a clear view of what the other car did, so he could very well have been a scofflaw. Why would you try to save a measley 50 cents and take the risk of ending up with a big bucks ticket?

Interestingly enough, one of the only good (i.e. not terribly, horribly bad) effects of the hurricane was the suspension of tolls throughout Florida in order to expedite evacuations. It felt so strange to drive 417 without poking my husband to hand over money every five miles. And for our September 9 cruise, we made it all the way from Celebration to Fort Lauderdale without paying a dime...otherwise, the tolls would have cost more than the gas!

But as nice as it was to not have to pay, I'll happily cough up money for the tolls as long as we see another hurricane again. 100+ mile per hour winds are not worth the free pass.

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Monday, October 04, 2004

The Return of Autumn

In Celebration, you can easily tell that Autumn has returned. No, it's not because of a chill in the air, although the love bugs swarming around might serve as a hit. And it's not because of the falling leaves in hues of red and orange and gold. We've got lots of falling trees, but the leaves tend to stay put on the limbs of the hurricane survivors. The one sure sign of fall is the return of the Farmer's Market downtown on Sunday mornings.

I was so pleased that one of my favorite traditions can begin again. Every Sunday morning, I love to walk or bike (or occasionally drive) downtown to get an icy cup of fresh-squeezed lemonade with a fancy little flamingo straw and to select a cookie from the French pastry vendors. Should I pick the turtle style or the peanut butter filled? Decisions, decisions! My husband is always on the prowl for the coffee booth, where he gets fresh-ground Banana Foster. It's one of the few flavors that can tempt him away from Barnie's.

The first time I attended the Farmer's Market, living in Celebration was a dream, and I had no idea just how quickly it was about to come true. As I strolled the aisles that very first time, I was sad that I couldn't buy anything because I knew that produce and crafts wouldn't do too well on a plane.

The next year, unbelievably, I was a homeowner in Celebration. During that happy fall last year, I was still in a state of shock that suddenly I was a Floridian. Granted, I was doing a long commute back north, but my husband and I had taken a huge step forward in our ultimate goal of making Florida our home base. Now I could shop for trinkets for my home, like a wreath or houseplants or whatever else caught my fancy.

This year, the novelty of home ownership and the joy of being a resident of Celebration hasn't worn off yet. But it's tempered somewhat by the fact that our town has weathered three hurricanes in one year. Still, at least it felt like a bit of normalcy to see the canopies set up and to recognize many of the vendors from last year. The lemonade man was there, as was my husband's coffee booth, and of course the pastry stand. Suddenly it felt as though no time had passed; I slipped back into my Sunday morning routine as easily and comfortably as I slip on an old, comfy sneaker.

It will be a challenge to come downtown by bike for a while, since there are still trees and debris down on many of the bike paths. And with Lexin having sold the downtown parking lots to Issa, who knows if there will still be room for the Farmer's Market when new townhomes or condos go up and the parking and open space disappears.

But it's hard to worry too much about the future when I'm savoring the carmel filling of a cookie as I stroll contentedly among the booths. There have been a lot of changes in the three seasons that I've been coming to the Farmer's Market. Goodness knows that many have been major, but most have been pretty good. Hopefully when I look back next year on the Fall, 2004 season, I'll beable to say the same.

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Saturday, October 02, 2004

Creme de la Cash

This weekend (October 2 and 3), downtown Celebration hosts the Creme de la Craft event, but in my case it's always more like Creme de la Cash. I can never make it through all the booths full of tantalizing wares without buying at least one (or two or three or four...) new decorations for my house.

This year, my new additions included two plaques for the wall next to our front door (I rotate them seasonally), created by a local artisan. I bought one of her plaques last year, and it held up very well against the elements, although it did come inside for the hurricanes. One of the new plaques is a generic autumn pumpkin design, but I couldn't resist the's a little painting of Barnie's, with the motto "A friendly place, Celebration, FL." As addicted as I am to their flavored beans, it's natural to hang a tribute to Barnie's on my porch.

We also bought two posters at the Celebration Foundation booth. My husband has deemed our front room "The Celebration Room," so we already have two prints with scenes from town in there, not to mention last year's cute little Celebration snow globe. The two new posters are in the same watercolor style as one of the others, and the color scheme of one will fit right in with the existing decor. The other is heavier on reds than yellows and blues, so it will go in the family room to offset the pervasive Disney theme back there.

But best of all was a plaque that we mounted above the address on our door frame. It has a little castle painted on it; technically, it's a sand castle, but if you squint a bit, it definitely evokes the Magic Kingdom. The thing I really like about it is that the artisan was able to personalize it, so it bears the name of our beloved home: Duloc Manor.

You might be thinking, "Okay, but don't you live in a triplex? Isn't it more than a bit pretentious to give such a grandiose title to such a humble abode?"

Perhaps, but it's just an example of my very cynical sense of humor. One of my all-time favorite movies is "Shrek," and my favorite part was when donkey and the title orge arrive in the town of Duloc. The main street is pristine and sparkling clean, with piped-in music and quaint souvenir shops. And who can forget the Small World-esque puppets singing that catchy little jingle:

Welcome to Duloc, such a perfect town,
Here we have some rules, let us lay them down,
Dont make waves stay in line, And we'll get along fine,
Duloc is the perfect place,
Please keep off of the grass, Shine your shoes, Wipe your....face,
Duloc is, Duloc is, Duloc is the perfect place.

The very first time I ever walked down Market Street, Celebration's main drag, I heard the Muzak wafting from the street speakers and noticed the squeaky-clean atmosphere and the tidy row of souvenir shops. I turned to my husband and said, "We're in Duloc!"

The name stuck as an inside joke between the two of us, probably because we quickly decided that Celebration was the "perfect place" for us. We referred to our future house as "Duloc Manor" even before we selected it. For the brief time when we thought we'd be moving into a condo, we referred to it by that name like expectant parents who have already christened their unborn baby.

Once we found our triplex, the name seemed even more appropriate. We had originally selected a condo because we thought that's all we could afford, even though I longed for a front porch and a back yard. When we found a place that offered both of those things, and in a price range that we could actually manage, we knew that it was truly the "perfect place."

Now the rest of the world will know it, too, or at least the ones who wander into our corner of East Village and happen to look at my address. I doubt that anyone will understand what it means unless they read this blog, but my home will always be stately and majestic "Duloc Manor" to me.

Anyway, since we hadn't had lunch yet, we grazed among the offerings at the various food booths. Whenever there is an event downtown, my husband makes a beeline for the Columbia and a glass of ice cold, refreshing sangria. He also purchased some of their garlic shrimp...delicious! And for him, no downtown event is complete without picking up some spicy tuna rolls at the Seito booth.

I opted for clam chowder from the Town Tavern, since the Plantation Room didn't have a booth (they have exquisite crab cakes). The sloppy Joes being served by Max's (Market Street Cafe) looked good, but the soup managed to tempt me away. The chowder was very hearty, with plenty of potatoes and clams. It was served in a cute little plastic "mug" with a handle, which made it easy to sip as we strolled around the booths. I topped it off with bubble gum ice cream and freshly-squeezed lemonade from Herman's.

I also sought out the "Orlando Sentinel" booth. They always attend our local events, and they hand out colorful pens and notepads. I would be totally lost without my brightly colored pen and "Orlando Sentinel" paper near the phone. As usual, I was able to stock up on my favorite goodies. They also raffle a gift basket, but so far I've never had any luck with that.

The downtown events are one of the things that I love about Celebration. It's so neat to spend a Saturday afternoon strolling among the craft booths and pausing to have a snack while sitting on the lakefront. I have my fingers crossed that Lexin, the company that bought the downtown from Disney, will continue to hold these traditional events. Founders Day is coming up in November, so I'm anxious to see how this year's festivities will compare to last year's.

Even though the "great dog controversy" is still raging on the Front Porch intranet, it didn't seem to be affecting Barnie's. My husband and I stopped in for some iced coffee and fresh beans, and there were two or three dogs in the outside seating area. They didn't seem to be mauling anyone or jumping and drooling on the patrons, and I didn't see any health officials lurking behind the trees.

As a matter of fact, we saw quite a few dogs in general at the craft show. They are not banned from downtown, just from the patio dining areas, and I was glad to see that people were still bringing their canine friends along. I enjoy stopping to pet a dog every now and then. No matter what kind of mood I'm in, I can't help but smile when I'm patting the head of a tail-wagging pooch.

Oh well, perhaps I'm naive. Perhaps the child on our town seal is not biking with her dog tagging along behind her. Perhaps she's actually fleeing in terror from Max's, and the hell hound is chasing her after devouring the hamburger that he snatched right off her plate. But happily, this afternoon the dog owners and non-dog owners seemed to be getting along peacefully.

As the afternoon wears into evening at Duloc Manor, I am busy putting up my new decorations. I love changing with the season, and summer has somehow slipped into fall. The love bugs are back, infesting my porch, the days are growing shorter, and the craft festival has once again come to town. I have some new decor and a new stock of "Orlando Sentinel" pens. Life is good!

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