Sunday, February 27, 2005

Rain Revisited

Yesterday, I thought the rain was over, but it had only just begun. Late on Saturday night, as I was settling down in bed, I could hear it pouring down outside my open window. The skies had looked threatening all day, but I thought that it was going to turn out to be an idle threat. Apparently the downpour was waiting for the cover of night to cut loose.

Thankfully, the rain wasn't blowing in through the window, so I was able to leave it open. I just love to sleep with a fresh breeze blowing in. Soon enough it will be too hot to survive without air conditioning; the house will be a sealed, icy tomb all summer. I want to enjoy the "window weather" during these precious months when the windows can be wide open to let in the fresh air.

The cats were fascinated by the falling water. We have a cat tree in front of one of the master bedroom windows that gives them a perfect vantage point to see the back door awning and the yard below. They love to be by the open window just about anytime, but the rainstorm made it even more interesting for them. For me, the sound of the rainfall was soothing; it lulled me right to sleep.

In the morning, the rain was still coming down. It was heavy enough to create a waterfall running off the back door awning, which the cats were watching as though it was an exciting television show. My husband looked up the local radar online, and we were under a patch of bright green, indicating lots of precipitation. I knew that we wouldn't be doing any outside activities today.

We slept in, or rather my husband did. I woke up first and spent some quiet time reading. I had stocked up on some new true crime books yesterday, so I plunged deep into an Ann Rule tome. She has written such excellent books as "The Stranger Beside Me" (the story of her personal experience with executed killer, Ted Bundy, with whom she worked on a suicide crisis line) and "Small Sacrifices (the chillinh tale of Diane Downs, who shot her three children and tried to blame a "shaggy haired stranger" for the cold-blooded act). A co-worker introduced me to Ann Rule's books several years ago, which eventually led to a general taste for true crime. I think it appeals to the psychologist in me; I am continually amazed at the acts some human beings are capable of, and through these books, I try to understand how and why. Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer, but the books are as addictive as a train wreck. You know that it's know that you shouldn't look...yet you are compulsively drawn in.

I eventially got my husband hooked on true crime, too. He loves televisions shows like "CSI," so I knew that real-world investigations would appeal to him. My favorite books are the ones that run 400, 500, or even 600 pages and go into the most minute details of the investigation and trial, as well as into the backgrounds of the victim(s) and killer(s). I never get bored with even the most mundane details. Every fact, no matter how minor, is a brush stroke that is integral to the creation of the entire portrait.

I knocked out a couple of hundred pages in a book called "If You Really Loved Me." I thought I had all of Ann Rule's books, but amazingly, I somehow skipped over that one. Now I was devouring it voraciously, eager to plow through the 600 hundred pages. As I read it, I realized that I'd previously read a book about the same crime, written by a different author. Many books cover a case in a very cursory manner; I like the ones that do a more lengthy, thorough job.

I also enjoy biographies; two of my favorites are the biography of Dave Thomas, the late founder of the Wendy's hamburger chain, and "My Life Without God," by Bill Murray (no, not the Saturday Night Live alumnus...the son of famous atheist Madayln Murray O'Hair and the subject of the court case banning school prayer). I also love the "Princess Sultana" books, which tell the true story of a female member of the Saudi royal family. They offer a frightening portrait of what it's like to be a woman in the Middle East.

I haven't been able to bring too many of my books from Chicago to Celebration yet. I have a volumnous collection, so I'll have to figure out how to fit in some bookcases first.

Eventually my husband decided to join the World of the Waking. On Sundays, I like to go out for breakfast; my favorite choice is Max's (Market Street Cafe) in downtown Celebration, but they only serve items from their breakfast menu until 11:30 p.m. Since my husband had slept in past 11, there was no way we could make it, short of skipping our showers and speeding over in our nightclothes. I figured that might be viewed as an anti-social act by our fellow patrons, so I made an alternate choice.

International House of Pancakes was definitely out, since I had a scarring experience there recently. Between waiting over an hour for food and encountering the second-most filthy restroom that I've ever seen in my life (the most filthy was at a beach on Lake Erie in Ohio), I have no desire to go back to IHOP in the near future. Besides, their version of blueberry pancakes means regular pancakes with fruit topping slathered over them. Max's does it the right way, putting the blueberries in the batter.

We've had better luck at the Waffle House, which is right across from Celebration, in the same area as IHOP. It's a chaotic place; you seat yourself, which can be a mob scene when the restaurant is crowded. The menu is somewhat limited, but they serve real waffles, and we usually have good luck with the service. I wish they served blueberry waffles, but your choices are only plain or with pecans. Oh well, by the time we got out of the house it was well after 1 p.m., so beggars can't be choosers.

On the way, we passed downtown Celebration and noticed that one intrepid merchant had braved the rain to set up at the Sunday Farmer's Market. Actually, on this day, that one merchant was the whole Farmer's Market. They were selling fresh produce and actually had a fair amount of customers. I pulled over, and my husband ran out to stock up on juicy, ripe tomatoes and cucumbers.

Once of the advantages of living in Florida is fresh fruit and vegetables all year 'round. My husband and I are both tomato connesuiers, and we hate the dry, tasteless red balls that are passed off in the Midwest during the winter. We always paid more for the "vine ripened" variety, which are a little better, but nothing beats a fresh tomato just plucked out of the yard. Now we can finally enjoy the bounty of a warm climate, even in February.

We continued on to the Waffle House, where only a couple of other booths were occupied. Oddly enough, the service was slower than I've ever seen it, even when it is crowded. There were lots of workers, but I'm not sure exactly what they were doing. I ordered a pecan waffle combo, which comes with bacon, grits, eggs, and toast. I love getting sunny side up eggs and smooshing toasted bread in the runny yolks...mmmmm! A cholesterol nightmare, but a genuine taste treat. I only nibble at the bacon and grits, and I don't touch the egg whites, but I clean up every bit of the toast and golden yolks.

My husband wasn't in the mood for breakfast food, so he had ordered some kind of steak melt. He prounouced it very tasty, with nice, lean meat.

After we ate, we planned to run over to the Racetrack gas station next door to pick up a Sunday newspaper. I own a cockatiel, Bradley, so I buy a paper every couple of weeks to keep him well supplied. When we are home, we allow him to be outside of his cage. He has a wooden jungle gym on top, but I festoon it with newspaper to help keep it clean. For some reason, he also likes to chew on newsprint and create elaborate rippled patterns, using his beak like a pair of pinking shears.

Of course, the moment we stepped out of the restaurant, the light drizzle immediately became a drenching shower. It reminded me of that scene in "The Truman Show" where the downpour follows the title character. We jogged over to the store and managed to grab a newspaper and get it back into the car with minimal sogginess.

Eventually, the rain died down. My husband loves to bike, and he was getting cabin fever, so he took advantage of the lull to take his bicycle out. I took one look at our bushes bending in the driving wind and decided not to join him.

One of our neighbors called to see if we wanted to come over to watch the Academy Awards. Unfortunately, my husband had been negligent in his work all weekend, so now, on Sunday night, he had to make up for it. We went out for a quick dinner at T.G.I. Fridays in the Crossroads, across from Downtown Disney, and then he chained himself to his computer upstairs. But I know he was sneaking a few glances at the awards show because he hollered down to me to turn it on for the fashion award (Edna from "The Incredibles" was presenting it) and also to announced that "The Incredibles" had won the Best Animated Film award. I breathed a sigh of relief; I was afraid that "Shrek II" might take it. I liked "Shrek," but I love "The Incredibles," with its message against celebrating mediocrity and hiding your light under a barrel. Along with "Lilo and Stitch," it's my favorite Disney movie of all time.

It looks like the rain is over; I'm sure that the sun will be back on Monday, just in time for our return to work. The bright rays will dance enticingly outside the windows while we are stuck working inside. Such is God's ironic sense of humor. Oh well, I'll never complain too much about rain in February. I'll just remind my self: It could be could be snow.

My email address is

My Celebration website is

Friday, February 25, 2005

It's Raining, It's (Not) Pouring

Finally, the end of the drought is in sight.

For the last several weeks, the dry season has been taken to extremes. It's been so bad that the brush fire danger has been rising to frightening levels. I love the sunshine, but at some point the rain does need to fall. The other day, we did get an evening shower, but it wasn't much of a match for pervasive dryness.

On Friday morning, I woke up to cloudy, gray skies and knew that the rain had come at last. Sure enough, it pattered down steadily for most of the day. It wasn't one of those monsoons that drenches Florida during the rainy season, and there was no thunder or lightning, but at least it was enough to bring the fire risk back down to reasonable levels.

I was stuck at home working, but it probably would have been a prime day to go to the theme parks. Epcot and Disney MGM have a number of indoor attractions, as does Universal Studio for those in Celebration who care to drive a little farther. When the rain chases the crowds away, the waits are pretty much non-existent for brave souls who are willing to don a plastic poncho and potentially get damp. I'm willing to risk a little wetness in exchange for an absence of lines. But alas, I had to work on my regular job; then, later in the day, calls for my travel agency came in steadily, so that kept me occupied well into the evening.

Since I live in a Craftsman-style triplex, rainy days are always a special challenge when I want to use my back door. Due to the oddly illogical design of the back awning, it turns into my own personal version of Niagara Falls whenever we get anything heavier than a drizzle. I am not exaggerating, as the mildew on my back door and doormat would attest, and the green creeping crud is trying to take over the porch and the sidewalk too. Ever see Stephen King's "Creepshow," with that weird green gunk consuming the people? That's what I think I'll be facing someday. I fight it with bleach and Simple Green, but once the rainy season comes, it quickly turns into a losing battle.

Several months back, I wondered how other owners of similar houses dealt with the issue. Once day I went over to Roseville Corner, which has lots of duplicates of my home. Surprise, surprises...every one of them is equipped with gutters, not only on the houses, but also on the garages. They were present on the model that we used as the basis to select our home, too. They were apparently a standard item that somehow was "forgotten" when our place was built. I am currently going around in circles with our builder, Cambridge, on this issue, and the green gunk may win out and consume me before it ever gets resolved.

Actually, Cambridge was very good about handling the miscellaneous punch list items that came up early in our occupancy, while they were still working in Celebration. But now that builder is done here in town, and suddenly their customer service level has plummeted. Besides the gutters, we have two simple items that they need to handle (a cracked floor tile and a non-functioning outlet). They took forever to send someone out to look at the problems, and now they are trying to say that they will not be covered because our warranty has expired. Duh! I reported the items before the expiration, and then they dragged their feet about sending someone. At the time, I forgave them due to the hurricanes; little did I know they would try to turn it around on me.

They also had the nerve to say that the outlet simply needs to be reset. Believe me, I know how to do that, and I know that it is not the problem. The top part of the outlet works fine, while the bottom has some sort of physical obstruction in it on one side. I can tell that it's going to be an ongoing took several months just to get them to try to deny responsibility. They ignored my bi-weekly phone calls and finally sent a letter. I responded in writing and they're ignoring that, so I guess it's time for the calls to start up again. Ah, the joys of owning a new home!

It looks like me might finally get our last furniture issue resolved soon, too. Last summer we purchased a special-order entertainment center. We bought it from a picture, but in a stroke of supreme good fortune, it matched the wood tone of our other furniture almost exactly. But in their hurry to get out of our house before we discovered that the glass shelves were jammed immoveably into once of the cabinets, the deliverymen did not fasten the bridge correctly. Shortly thereafter, it came crashing down on the t.v. It only damaged the casing, but I was not a happy camper. A repairman came to remove the shelves (which entailed dismantling the cabinet) and said that a new bridge would be ordered, since the old one had been damaged in the fall. Months went by; each time I called, I was promised a non-existent return call.

Now that I am in Celebration full time, I can concentrate on getting loose ends tied up. I spoke with the store manager and discovered that the bridge was never ordered. Worse yet, our unit was discontinued a month ago! She offered an exchange for something different, but I've grown very fond of the entertainment center, so I'm hoping that it can be salvaged. A repairman came out this past week to see if he can rig something up. He took the bridge back to the shop with him, so I have my fingers crossed. It took some looking to find a unit that we liked, so hopefully he can hide the damage and reattach it in a more secure manner. Our new television set is coming next week, so I don't want anything crashing down on that!

But back to the rainy Friday...the only thing that I really missed was my semi-daily walk downtown. I could have gone in between the showers and carried an umbrella, but I didn't bother. Instead, I ended up driving to Herman's for an ice cream treat on my way out to do some business. Even with the threatening weather, the downtown area was hopping with Friday night crowds. The movie theater and restaurants were all doing a booming business, and I had to park a couple blocks away. Oh well, at least that gave me an abbreviated version of my usual hike. There was no bubble gum ice cream, but I didn't care because they still have that godly Mississippi Mud. Peanut clusters are delicious any time, but put them into chocolate ice cream and the Yummy Factor shoots up by 75 percent.

As I drove down 192, the sky was still spitting, but it never really got very steady. I guess it rained itself out during the daylight hours. I'm sure that all of the tourists have their fingers crossed that it will blow over and be gone for the weekend, when the crowds descend upon Disney World and the other area attractions.

That night, the heavens had pretty much rained themselves out. I had to pick my husband up on the airport around 11 p.m., and my windshield remained dry throughout the drive. Saturday, the sky was still murky, but the threat of more precipitation never turned into reality. Still, the clouds were enough to scare my husband away from taking a bike ride. Instead, we spend the day running errands...getting some spare keys made, picking up some items at the Florida Mall, checking some things out at the cell phone store, and the like.

I hate going to the mall because the traffic on Orange Blossom Trail rivals anything that I ever encountered in downtown Chicago. You can take 417 to the airport exit and slip in the back way (Boggy Creek to Sand Lake Road), but sometimes that is just as bad. Thankfully, today the car volume was relatively light. We worked our way down the road: first, Ace Hardware for the keys and some Simple Green to battle the creeping gunk, then the T-Mobile store and a quick stop at the Borders bookstore next door to stock up on the latest true crime paperbacks (I love them, especially Anne Rule, and I've gotten my husband addicted, too), then Bath & Body Works inside the mall for some scented plug-ins, and a grand finale of a mushroom pizza with goat cheese at California Pizza Kitchen.

CPK is across from Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant that I know well from the Chicago area. It's a great place to go with a group of people because the huge portions make sharing a necessity. They also have a cheap but wonderful house wine that I could drink all night. On the way out, we stopped by to see if they have a table in the kitchen like some of the Bucas in Chicago do. Sure enough, they did; you have to reserve it in advance, but it's a great spot, as you get to watch all of the dishes being prepared and carried out into the dining room. Visiting the Florida Mall Buca is definitely on our to-do list.

So that was my rainy Friday and my almost-rainy Sturday. Hopefully the sunshine will return on Sunday so I can slip in some outdoor activities before the work week starts up again.

My email address is

My Celebration website can be found at

Casual Friday

It's Friday once again; the work week is over (well, travel agency runs seven days a week), so that means a couple of days of playtime. It may be a soggy weekend if today's gray, rainy weather is any indication. But that's okay, as the rain is sorely needed to offset the growing brush fire danger.

When I worked on-site at my job in Chicago, Friday also brought another perk. Besides being the gateway to the weekend, it was also the one day a week that I could wear blue jeans. I always envied my husband, who was allowed to wear jeans and t-shirts every day of the week. For me, I had to look at least semi-civilized for four days out of the five. Even on Casual Friday, t-shirts were not allowed, but jeans feel so much better than dress pants even if you have to wear a dressier shirt with them.

Now, every day is a casual dress day for me. That's one of the cool little perks of working at home. I could work in a fuzzy robe and bunny slippers if I wanted to, although I don't go quite that far. My usual Florida "uniform" is a t-shirt and either jeans or shorts, depending on the temperature forecast.

I have never been a "dressy" kind of person. I prefer being outdoor, and as a teenager I spent a lot of my time around riding stables. No sense in wearing anything decent when you're going to be grooming muddy horses and shoveling smelly stalls. My horses are still around, and of course I have cats and a bird too, which adds to the mess potential. My cats are very skilled; they shed the light hair onto my dark clothes and visa versa for maximum mess effect. I did find a great hair-remover brush at Target. It's not one of those sticky rollers; rather, it's some sort of plush material that grabs hair like a magnet. But even with the "miracle brush," it's almost impossible to keep up with shedding felines.

Besides my jeans and t-shirts, another staple of my Florida wardrobe is slip-on canvas shoes. I used to prefer tennis shoes, but that means I actually have to dig up some clean socks and then sit down and lace up the shoes. I go barefoot in the house, so being able to just slip into the canvas shoes at the door before I go out is very convenient. I get them at K-Mart, where they come in white, beige, and black varieties. I've learned that black is the best option in a state where the grass is thick as a jungle and always wet from either a) rain, b) the sprinklers, or c) both of the above. Light colored canvas quickly gets water stains that are hidden if you wear black.

I need to learn to overcome my laziness when I go walking, though, as the canvas shoes are not really geared for long distance hikes. The other day, I wore my white shoes when I walked downtown. I didn't feel a thing, but when I took them off, I noticed a huge blood stain on the heel area of the right shoe. I was bewildered till I looked at my foot, where are skin had been worn away by rubbing from the back of the shoe. It was one of those painless but persistently bloody wounds. Finally I managed to staunch the flow with a Band-aid, but my shoe was trashed. Did I learn my lesson? Heck no...for my walk yesterday, I donned my beige shoes and stuffed some Kleenex down the back.

A great thing about Florida is that its dependence on tourism has created a casual dress code almost anywhere, even at some of the nicest restaurants. When people come to Disney World on vacation, they don't bother to pack their dress clothes. Thus, "dress code" at any of the nicer WDW restaurants typically means no swimsuits. It feels odd to eat at a place like Jiko (a wonderful upscale African-themed restaurant in the Animal Kingdom Lodge) or at the Yachtsmans Steakhouse in the Yacht Club in blue jeans and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, but that's what most people are wearing on any given evening. Oh well, I'm happy to do the same.

I love to stock up on cheapie t-shirts for wearing around the house or in the garden. 192 is a tourist Mecca, a neon strip of fast food and cheap souvenir shops. Everywhere you look, you'll see signs like "T-Shirts, Two for $10." Wal-Mart and Walgreens have cheap shirts, too, so I like to stock up on a batch as ultra-casual wear. They only last through a few washings, but that's fine with me. For $5, I feel like I get my money's worth if I get a few household wearings or gardening sessions out of them, and then I can recycle them as rags.

My "regular" wardrobe, like my husband's, is heavy on the nicer shirts that you can buy at Disney World and on the Disney Cruise Line ships. I know it makes us look like corny tourists, but I don't mind...after all, we spent many years as visitors before we finally moved to Celebration. If someone still mistakes me for a tourist, so be it. We do have Chicago shirts to show some loyalty to our old home, but they still have a Disney flair...we got them when we went to see the "Lion King" play, so they have a huge lion's head superimposed over the Chicago skyline.

If I want to be recognized as a local, I don one of my various "Celebration, FL" t-shirts. I have several in various colors and styles, as they sell the standard shirts all the time downtown and offer special versions at special events like Fourth of July, Founders Day and Posh Pooch. Tourists can, of course, buy them, but they seem to be more of a "local" thing.

I do, of course, have some dress clothes for those rare occasions when I want to look like a decent human being, but I would be content if I never had to dress up again. I love being a casual, blue-jeans-and-t-shirt-wearing kind of person, and Florida is the perfect place for that. In the Sunshine State, every day is Casual Friday, and that's just fine with me.

My email address is

My website is

Thursday, February 24, 2005

I Scream for Ice Cream

If I have one culinary weakness, it would have to be ice cream. I love ice cream in just about any shape or form. I love traditional favorites like chocolate, and adding in goodies like brownie chunks, nuts, or a caramel ribbon only makes it better. I will eat more off-beat flavors, too, like pumpkin pie or egg nog (two seasonal favorites). I even like the really off-beat ones. Does anyone remember Cold Duck Ice, which they used to have at Baskin-Robbins ages ago, when I was a kid? That is long gone, but I still go for some weird ones like green tea ice cream and red bean ice cream (both of which can be found at some Japanese restaurants). My all-time favorite bizarre flavor was Guiness, which literally tasted just like the beer. They used to serve it at an Irish pub back in the Chicago suburbs, but they discontinued it. Apparently I was the only person who could actually stomach the stuff.

Probably the best ice cream that I've ever had in my life was from a little shop at the Indiana Beach amusement park in Bufu, Indiana or some-such town. It was homemade, and it definitely tasted like it. You could practically feel your arteries harden as the rich, creamy nectar of heaven melted down your throat. The second best was from a riding stable where the owner kept a few cows. He whipped up the ice cream from the fresh cows' milk, and he was a pioneer of unusual flavors like lemon cookie (made with chunks of lemon creme cookies crumbled up in it...mmmmm!).

Unfortunately, the barn owner was also a murderer. It turns out that he had murdered some little boys back in the 1950s and had gotten away with it for decades. Finally he was caught as a side effect of the Brach murder investigation. For more information, Google the name Kenneth Hansen. But in those days, none of us who hung around the barn had any clue. I have fond memories of riding down there for a ice cream cone; my horse knew exactly what I had, and he refused to move unless I saved him the bottom of the cone and slipped him his treat when I was done.

My love of ice cream has accompanied me to Florida; happily, the Sunshine State is condusive to enjoying cold treats all year 'round. I don't have to go too far for my fix, either, as we have Herman's Ice Cream Shoppe right in downtown Celebration.

Actually, my first ice cream addiction was to the frozen cappucinos served at Max's (Market Street Cafe). Both my husband and I fell in love with them; the only thing that made leaving Celebration a bit easier was the fact that we allowed ourselves to stop for one last treat on the way to the airport. Unfortunately, they switched to a new type of machine or some such thing, and their ice cream beverages were not as good anymore. We noticed an abundance of ice chunks...ugh! My new going-home treat became an iced coffee from Barnie's.

Meanwhile, I also discovered Herman's. Although they have excellent food (my husband loves the pesto salad), their ice cream is the true crowning glory. My all-time favorite flavor is bubble gum, which combines two of my favorite vices: ice cream and gum. I come from a very strange family; instead of chewing gum, we eat it. By that, I mean consume it like candy. We pop it in our mouths, chew once or twice, and then swallow it. My brother and I are both living proof that making a habit of swallowing your gum will not result in appendicitis.

My gum-eating makes my husband cringe. I love certain types of candy-coated gum, and once I ordered a huge box from a store that supplies gumball machines as a Christmas treat. Soon enough, I got tired of it and turned the remainder over to my eight nephews and nieces. I don't think my husband believed me about our family trait until the day he saw every one of them rip into the box and immediately start eating the gum. They popped it in their mouths and swallowed it, just as I always did. It may be chewing gum to most people, but it will always be just another form of candy to me.

Anyway, I just love Herman's bubble gum ice cream, but unfortunately they only seem to have it every third or fourth time that I visit. Most of the time, they have a nasty, tooth-jangling concotion called "cotton candy" in its place. Oh well, absence only makes the heart grow fonder.

In order to offset the caloric effects of my addiction, I force myself to walk downtown before I can indulge in a cone. It's only a 20 minute walk from East Village; I'm sure it doesn't burn off even a tenth of the calories in my cone, but it's a psychological thing. I pop into Herman's in eager anticipation. Will they have my favorite flavor, or will I be denied? Will I have to settle for a delicious but inferior choice like Almond Joy, or will I soon be licking a pink, gum-flecked confection?

Today I hiked down for my ice cream; I had missed yesterday due to a rain shower that kept me off the walking path. On my last couple of visits, bubble gum had been missing in action. The last time, they didn't even have the usual cotton candy. Instead, there was a dubious concoction called Superman. I'm not sure whether it was named for its red and blue color; perhaps it actually had powers to render Kryptonite helpless or some other connection to the Man of Steel. No wasn't bubble gum, so I settled for a flavor of which the name escapes me. It was very intriguing...vanilla ice cream with big chocolate chips and cherries mixed in. Not bad, but it still didn't fill my jones.

Thus it was that today I tried again, thinking that the odds must be in my favor. I suppose I could have called ahead, but that would take away all the fun. The anticipation is sadistically delicious. Will I be rewarded or will I be denied? As each step takes me closer to Front Street, my curiosity builds. Will I soon be indulging in my favorite flavor, or am I facing a letdown? It's sort of like scratching an instant lottery ticket, only more tasty.

On this day, Lady Luck was not with me. There was no bubble gum, nor cotton candy, nor even Superman. I was so shocked that I can't even remember the flavor that was occupying the usual spot. In shock, I selected something called Missippi Mud, which turned out to be absolutely godly. It was chocolate ice cream laced with hunks of chocolate brownie and chocolate-covered peanut clusters. Basically, a chocolate lover's dream.

I was still a bit dissapointed, but discovering a wonderful new flavor made it much easier to bear. I walked past the lake and headed back to the walking path, savoring every lick of the cone. It was warm out, so it took some fast tongue gymnastics to stay ahead of drips.

Tomorrow is another day, so I'll try once again for bubble gum. And if it's not there, I'll sooth my sadness with another heaping cone of Missippi Mud. To paraphrase Father Flannigan, "There is no such thing as a bad ice cream."

My email address is

My Celebration website is

Monday, February 21, 2005

In the Dark of the Morning

On Monday morning, my poor husband had to wing his back to Chicago. He'll be returning Friday night, but I still feel sorry for him having to freeze in the arctic for five days while I sashay in the sunshine and play among the palm trees.

On his Chicago work weeks, I have to drag my carcass out of bed to drive him to the airport at 5 a.m. I don't really mind (how can I complain when I get to stay in Celebration, enjoying temperatures in the 80s, while he's stuck with cold, snow, and a daily hour-long train commute), but I must confess that I'm not a morning person.

All my life, I've never understood people who wake up just as the sunny is starting to peek over the horizon, sharp and chipper and ready to plunge headlong into the day. In the morning I am bleary-eyed until I pour some coffee down my gullet, which renders me just conscious enough to pretend that I know what's going on.

But on the flipside, I am a night owl who can keep going strong long after the morning people have dropped from exhaustion. I come from a long line of vampires, and there wasn't much structure in our household while I was growing up. Most nights was I was of pre-school age, I "went to bed" simply by dropping wherever I happened to be at the time. Since the rest of the family was up well into the wee hours, I adopted that pattern too. Once I achieved school age, I was allowed to determine my own sleep pattern, as long as I was conscious enough in the morning to stay alert in the classroom.

My husband is the same way, although he does me one better. He can stay up late and can also drag his carcass out of bed very early the next morning. He survives on miniscule amounts of sleep during the week and then makes up for it on weekend, much like a hibernating bear. On Saturday and Sunday morning, I tip toe around cautiously while he regenerates for the week ahead.

Once, a few years back, we took two weeks of vacation time at Christmas/New Years and didn't actually travel anywhere. We just hung out around our house, relaxing, watching television, and playing video games until the wee hours. Our bodies adjusted themselves to what was probably our natural rhythm. We stayed up till after 3 a.m. each night and crawled out of bed sometime around noon. It was a very difficult adjustment to get ourselves back into a 9 to 5 routine when it was time to return to work.

I would probably do better simply staying up until 5 a.m. to make the airport run. Of course, that isn't feasible since I have to start work in the morning myself, albeit without a commute. Thus, when I hear the cell phone alarm, I know that it's time to start the long, hard journey to consciousness.

While my husband showers, shaves, and dresses, I lie there wishing that it would all turn out to be a dream. But gradually reality overtakes me, and by the time he's ready to go, I'm usually dressed to some level of decency and in possession of enough presence of mind to make the mostly straightforward drive. It's a matter of finding 417 and driving it straight through to the airport. Even though there are two terminals (A and B), when you're not checking luggage it doesn't make any difference which one you're dropped off at. Thus, as long as I can get my husband to one of the two departure terminals, we're all set.

At 5 a.m., the sun is still sleeping below the horizon. Celebration is quiet and still, with virtually no other cars on the road. When we used to come home on Friday nights around midnight during our commuter months, things would be quiet but we'd see at least an occasional living body. In the morning, everyone is apparently still snug and warm in their bed, or perhaps brewing up a pot of coffee and enjoying a hot shower.

Mercifully, at that hour 417 is pretty much devoid of traffic. On Monday morning, though, I had to chuckle. There were only two cars at the toll booth, but apparently the first one in line must have been the long-lost bosom buddy of the toll attendant. That car never moved in the whole time I approached the booth and was there long after I buzzed through the Sun Pass lane. I hope they left eventually so the poor slob behind them could get through, but their headlights never moved for as long as I could see them in my rear view mirror.

Traffic around the airport was minimal, so I drove over to the B terminal and pulled into the first spot where I could find some space. Since his only bag was a carry-on backpack, it didn't matter which airline I dropped him off at. He could bypass all the counters and head directly to Security. At that hour of the morning, all of the Security lanes are open in anticipation of the rush; since the droves of people haven't arrived yet, he can breeze right through.

On the way home, I decided to gas up Canyonero at the Mobil station in Water Tower Place. It's conveniently located but usually jam packed with people, so I figured I could avoid the wild horde if I could remain awake long enough to pump the gas. The gas station was pretty busy for such an early hour, but nothing like the crowd at prime time. The only problem is, that Mobil has the slowest pumps in all of Kissimmee. Sometimes I suspect they must be pumping molasses instead of gasoline. I inserted my charge card, plunked the nozzle into the gas tank, pressed the handle, and waited.....and waited.....and waited. The amount due moved at a rapid pace, while the amount of gas ticked off slow as a crippled turtle. I began to think that it might be time to pick up my husband already by the time the gas tank was filled.

Eventually, the shut-off engaged, and Canyonero was set for another week. It felt so good to finally return home and crawl back into bed. The three cats promptly piled in with me in a furry, purry feline heap, and soon I was back into dreamland for another three hours or so.

My husband returns late on Friday night, but unlike the morning jaunt, I will be bright eyed and wide awake when it's time to pick him up. The night time is my time, and the later the better. I've gotten into the habit of getting to bed around 1 a.m. and then dragging my carcass back out in the morning around 9 a.m. Thus, his 11 p.m. flight will fit right into my natural rythmn.

But I'm not looking forward to his next trip back to Chicago, as I will be accompanying him on that one. Not only will I have to wake up at an ungodly hour, but I'll also have to be conscious enough to drag myself through Security and to the gate, and then onto the plane. Worse yet, we'll be flying Southwest, so we'll be part of the massive cattle call. Even if we have A boarding passes, we don't get the luxury of sitting in our seats until boarding time. There are always tons of families flying to and from Orlando, and most of them seem to think that the "5 and under" pre-board means any child either under or over the age of 5. And of course, they all have a huge gaggle of family members, friends, neighbors, uncles, aunts, and cousins in tow. If you don't manage to get on right after the pre-board, your chance of getting a good seat is on a par with the chance of finding a home for under $100,000 in Celebration.

Oh well, once I get on the plane, I can drift off to dreamworld. And our flight home will be a late one...just the right time for a night owl like me.

My email address is

My Celebration website is

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Weekend Warriors

The honeymoon is over.

Once upon a time, coming to Celebration for the weekend meant an escape from our everyday routine. It was a time to play...sort of an extension of our vacations. Sure, there were things to do around the house, but most of the time we bummed around at Disney World and did fun things. Celebration wasn't officially our primary home yet, so coming here was still something of a treat. When you hop on a plane to get somewhere, it feels special. Sure, the flights became routine, since we were doing them an average of twice a month, but the sense of reality hadn't yet kicked in.

Now things are different. Celebration is definitely our home; we love it, but it doesn't feel like "vacation time" anymore. We work Monday through Friday; even though we don't have to commute (my husband used to face an hour-long train ride, while I only had a five minute drive), worktime still makes a day seem more routine. Add to that all the housework that never seems to be done and the other responsibilities of day-to-day life, and time becomes a scarce commodity. I know that Disney World is right down the street, but it might as well be 1200 miles away when you have so many other things that need to be taken care of.

Fortunately, there is still something called "the weekend." Just as it was in Chicago, it is very precious here in Florida. It means that most of the job resposibilities can go on the back burner, and we can devote ourselves to fun, fun, fun.

This weekend, we were actually pretty busy with routine chores, but we also found some time to unwind. On Friday night, we went to visit some friends for margaritas and a movie. Since nothing is too far from anything else in Celebration, we rode our bikes rather than driving. We watched "Mars Attacks," one of the few Tim Burton movies that I have never seen. I am a major Johnny Depp fan, and thus, by extension, I have become a fan of Tim Burton's since so many of his movies feature Johnny. My all-time favorite is "Ed Wood," the black-and-white semi-biography of the worst Hollywood director of all time.

Johnny Depp plays the title role: Ed Wood, an enthusiastic but clueless cross-dressing writer/director/actor who created some of the worst movies of all time, including the (in)famous "Plan 9 From Outer Space. He also befriended horror actor Bela Lugosi, who had gone from stardom to drug addiction and financial ruin in the twilight years of his life.

Ed featured Bela in several of his movies, and also befriended a motley assortment of "misfits and dope addicts," as his girlfriend Dolores characterized them. While I think that Johnny Depp does a fantastic job, Martin Landau steals the show as Bela. See the movie and you'll understand why he won the Academy Award.

Johnny wasn't in "Mars Attacks," but there was plenty of star power, including Jack "You Can't Handle The Truth" Nicholson and Glenn Close, among many others. The movie was hilarious, and it was even more enjoyable due to Tim Burton's ecletic taste in sets. His movies always have a 1950s/1960s flare to the set decor, no matter when they are supposed to actually be taking place. The movie was a total send-up of 1950s grade B alien flicks. I'm sure that the real Ed Wood himself would have loved it. There was something for everyone...lots of laughs and lots of "quality kills."

After the movie, my husband and I mounted our bikes for the ride home. I was wearing a t-shirt and shorts, and the night had turned quite chilly. Thankfully, I haven't lost my Midwestern hardiness yet so it didn't phase me. To someone from a northern climate, anything above 30 in February feels downright balmy.

It was around midnight, so the bike path to East Village was virtually deserted. Once we reached the street, we heard lots of voices. There must have been a party at one of the houses that had just broken up. There was a gang of people tipsily making their ways to their cars. This was right next to where a group of townhomes is currently under construction. Most of the construction sites around town have Port-A-Potties for the workers; just as we passed the one by the townhome, the door burst open and (presumably) one of the party goers staggered out! I have no idea why he would choose a dirty, chilly outhouse over his host's restroom, but obviously I didn't know the full story.

We rounded the curve and reached our home, where we were greeted by hungry cats demanding their delayed dinner. Our spoiled creatures have dry food out all the time, but they think that they'll starve to death if they don't get their daily supplemental can of Fancy Feast.

We slept in this morning (Saturday), then dragged ourselves out of bed because we had lots of things to take care of. Routine things, not fun things...we hate going shopping in and around the mall because it's always so trafficky. But there were several things that we needed, so we decided to finally take care of them.

We always take 417 to Orange Blossom Trail (or sometimes to Boggy Creek if we feel like coming in the "back way" to the mall area). This was one of those days when we were grateful for our Sun Pass. The line-up of tourists heading to the airport stretched like a backwards conga from the manual lanes. It was so nice to whiz right through the automated lane.

First stop was Home Depot, where we wanted to see how much it would cost to have a whirlpool installed. We have been bouncing back and forth between getting a hot tub outside and putting a whirlpool into one of our bathrooms. We have a powder room and two full baths, but one only has a shower and the other has a micro-tub. My husband and I are big "bath fans" who love to soak for hours, and whirlpool jets are the cherry on the sundae. Granted, we don't have much room, but they make whirlpools that fit the footprint of a standard bathtub, so we want to see if that's an option.

We wandered aimlessly around Home Depot, trying to find someone to give us information. In front of most items, there were optimistic signs proclaiming, "We can install this for you!" But those signs were conspicuously absent from the area in front of the tubs.

Finally we caught a worker who pointed vaguely to the front of the store. We headed off in that direction, where we found the contractor desk. There was one woman shuffling papers and a man punching some numbers into a computer. Eventually, we caught the woman's attention and asked if they install whirlpools. She didn't know, so she asked the man. At first she ignored him; then, when she asked again, he snapped, "I'm going home, and I have no idea who's coming to replace me." Good customer service attitude. Finally the woman made a couple of phone calls and said, "I don't think we do that."

We started to head out and found another desk at the other end of the store. It had signs about installing all sorts of things, but tubs weren't one of them. We asked, and sure enough, the answer was, "No." My husband pointed to the signs and said, "Look! One of them is turned backwards. I'll bet tubs were on that." Sure enough, if I squinted, I could make out backwards letters that spelled out "Showers and Tubs."

One chore aborted. Oh well, on to our next stop. My husband needed a filing cabinet, and he'd found one he liked on the Sauder website. Sauder makes assemble-it-yourself furniture, and we have a ton of it already. He'd found that Kane's Furniture stocked the piece he wanted, and Best Buy supposedly did too. He'd gotten a price from Kane's over the phone, but rousing a live person amidst phone menu hell at Best Buy had proven to be an impossible task. Since it was on our way, he figured he could check in person. We were also in the market for a big-screen television; we'd found a nice, reasonably price model on the Circuit City website, but we figured we could see if Best Buy had anything comparable.

On the way, I spotted a Valvoline Oil Change garage. I am very judicious about making sure that Canyonero gets regular oil changes, so I pulled in. The bays were all filled, but we were the next in line so we figured it wouldn't take too long. Sure enough, within a few minutes, one of the bays opened up.

In the Chicago area, you turn your car over to the attendants, and then you have to leave the garage area and go to a designated waiting room. There are signs everywhere, stating, "Insurance Regulations DO NOT Allow Customers To Remain in the Work Area." Conversely, in Florida, all of the customers hung around their cars, watching the work in progress. Some of them even stayed in their cars while the work was performed!

Happily, our oil was very clean, meaning that Canyonero is in good working order. We treated the vehicle to synthetic oil, since the valves have been tapping a bit on start-up. Hopefully that will take care of the problem; at least we're all set for another three months or three thousand miles.

Amazingly, the traffic on Orange Blossom Trail wasn't too bad for a Saturday The road was crowded, but at least we were moving steadily, and soon we arrived at our next destination. But just as we'd been shot down at Home Depot, Best Buy was also a disappointment. Turns out the Sauder website had lied; they didn't carry the filing cabinet and couldn't even special order it. Also, their big screen televisions were at least $500 more than what we'd found at Circuit City (which was planned as our next stop).

At Circuit City, we quickly located a floor model of the television that we wanted. However, the price was a hundred dollars more than what we'd found on the internet the week before. Fortunately, we'd brought a printout, which also indicated that online orders receive free delivery. We showed the salesman, and he said that the stores will match the online specials. Unfortunately, the online price had expired; fortunately, although the price had gone up by $100, you also received a "free" home theater with your purchase (speakers, woofer, and radio/DVD/CD player) that coincidentally was a $100 value, and the free delivery deal was still going on. We needed another DVD player anyway, so we decided to purchase the t.v.

But the Fates were still not ready to smile on us completely. Lo and behold, that television was out of stock at every single Circuit City in the greater Orlando area. We were still able to purchase it, but we won't receive it for several weeks. Worse yet, my husband's credit card was declined! We figured that something had somehow raised a fraud alert flag, but it was decidedly inconvenient. Oh well, no problem...I just whisked out another card and we completed the sale.

Next up was Petco to pick up some Tidy Cat Crystals cat litter and a new sisal scratching post. For the most part, the cats have been confining their scratching to their existing posts, but I wanted to get another one just to be sure. We usually shop for our critter supplies at PetsMart, but we didn't feel like swinging over to John Young Parkway.

Unfortunately, Petco's price for the litter was outrageous when compared to Petsmart. I did find a nice scratching post/perch for our formal room that will allow the cats to sharpen their nails and then climb on top to look out the window. There were actually three, and two were marked at $89, while one was marked $69. We couldn't see any apparent difference, other than the color, so we opted to save $20. I also picked up a cardboard contraption called an "Alpine Scratcher" to try on crazy Tooncinator, who I've caught clawing the carpet. Cardboard scratched are horizontal, so I thought we might like that.

Next up was Kanes, which was on our way home. After our luck thus far, I was afraid that the file cabinet might be out of stock, even though my husband had called ahead to confirm its existence. Or perhaps he misheard the price and it would be some ungodly amount, and then they would decline our charge card. Fortunately, the cabinet was in stock and the price was only $3 more than the quote, since there had been some sort of sale on Friday, when my husband had called. We completed the sale, tossed the box in the back of Canyonero, and headed toward 417 and home.

We had made reservations to eat at Cape May Buffet in the Beach Club at 5 p.m. We were going with our next door neighbors to celebrate our permanent move-in. I am not a big buffet fan; I've seen too many kids wipe their noses with their hands, then manhandle various food items and toss them back into the serving trays. But the food at Cape May more than makes up for the grossness/disease potential (I feel the same way about Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary and Boma at Animal Kingdon Lodge too).

We couldn't take Canyonero because one of the seats is still missing as a result of the Kitty Karavan. Leaving a seat behind in Chicago was the only way we could fit in the cat and bird cages. Our neighbors had never been to the Beach Club, so they said we could take their car if my husband or I would drive. My husband prefers to be chauffered on Disney property, so I agreed to take the wheel.

Cape May's buffet offers all-you-can-eat clams, mussels, and shrimp; I am not big on any of those items, but there are plenty of options even if you're not a seafood fan. I focused my attention on the moist, delicious baked chicken and fresh mashed potatoes, along with corn bread and a variety of salads. My husband adores the seafood options, so he took the opportunity to gorge himself. We are both good about eating healthy items all week, but weekends are our "treat days" when we can let the discipline slip. Everyone in our party had dessert but me. It's not that I was being dietary; I just prefer the ambrosia salad to the other dessert items.

Our neighbors had never been to Cape May before, but they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. After stuffing ourselves with a delicious meal, we went for a walk down to the Yacht Club and back so we could admire the lake and the sight of Boardwalk's neon just across the water.

Then we headed home so my husband could put together his new filing cabinet while I could do some travel agency work. Not a "vacation-like" weekend, but we'd managed to get a lot accomplished and also to toss in some fun, too. Tomorrow (Sunday) we'll have breakfast at Max's in downtown Celebration if we can drag our carcasses out of bed early enough and then pick up some fresh produce at the Farmer's Market. We'll probably find something fun to do, but we won't stay out too late because my poor hubby has to fly back to Chicago on Monday morning; he'll be stuck in the cold and snow until Friday night, poor man.

It's a far cry from our "Disney Days," but I'm happy that our lives in Celebration are settling into the comfortable rhythm of regular, every-day life. Florida is our home now, the place where we work as well as play. Living next door to Disney World just happens to be one of the fringe benefits.

You can send me email at

My Celebration website is

Friday, February 18, 2005

Window Weather

For the past several days, the weather here in Celebration has been definite "Window Weather." It's sunny and warm (not hot) with a mild breeze that feels so good when you're sitting in front of the window. It's the perfect time to air out the house and get some of that freshness inside. I have an Oreck air purifier, which helps when the house is sealed, but nothing can beat Mother Nature.

Each morning, we're been opening all of the windows on both floors; at night, we usually close up the downstairs but leave the upstairs windows open. After dark, the air takes on a bit of a chill that makes it perfect for sleeping as long as you snuggle up under a light blanket.

I'm glad that most of the construction nearby is done. When it's in active progress, opening your windows is not a good idea unless you want to live in the Dust Bowl. Last year at this time, the construction crews were busy erecting condos and townhomes just down/across the alley from us. I can see the yucky dirt remnants on the outside window sills, and it's nothing that I would want blowing into my house.

We still have construction in this area of East Village, but it's behind us and on another street, so we have a "cushion" to keep the construction dust at bay. Slowly but surely, the flat, vacant fields are all being turned into brand-spanking-new homes. My memory of my first sight of our neighborhood, when virtually none of the present homes existed, is fading, but I still have the photos to remind me.

I miss having a screen door; our first floor is a "shotgun" arrangement, meaning that there is a clear path from the front door to the back. Apparently, in the pre-air-conditioning days, that allowed people to get a breeze going through the house so things would get too sweltering in the summer. Now it doesn't matter; when it's hot outside, you simply crank up the air and don't give it another thought. But on a day like today, a breeze running from end to end of my home is an appealing idea.

The cats just love it when the windows are open. In the master bedroom, we have a giant "cat tree" by one of the windows, with multiple levels of perches. Ironically, Farquaad prefers to be on whatever perch poor Stitch has claimed than to stake out his own. Thus they lie in a furry pile, sniffing the fresh air and peeking at whatever activity is going on below. Sometimes they go into my husband's office, where they sit up on their hind legs like meerkats to see what's going on in the front of the house (the master bedroom overlooks the backyard, so they like variety).

Downstairs, they can arrange themselves on the arms of the couch to get a closer look at the backyard. But for some reason, they seem to prefer being overhead and peering down regally like Egyptian gods overlooking their subjects. Poor Tooncinator peeks out every now and then, but he mainly hides under the bed in abject terror of some unknown threat.

Three cats means three litter boxes, and that's another reason that I love Window Weather. I don't like any sort of "cat smell," so I wage a constant battle. My Oreck units and scented plug-ins from Bath & Body Works are my main weapons, but I prefer using natural means. Nothing smells as good as fresh air circulating throughout the house.

I love to venture outdoors when the weather is like this, too. It's still such a novelty for me to be basking in the warmth and sunshine in February. Walking downtown for an ice cream cone has become my semi-regular evening treat. Yesterday it was so gorgeous outside that I sat down by the lake to eat my treat before heading back home. The area was teeming with locals and tourists alike, enjoying some of the nicest weather imaginable. It felt so good to sit and rock and watch a group of children fishing while scattered groups of people chatted or relaxed in the other chairs.

The only slight unpleasantness came when a pair of cigar smokers passed by; then they came back around again. Ugh! I don't know what they were smoking, but it smelled like what you'd wind up with if you wrapped one of my horse's "road apples" in dried leaves and lit it on fire. Perhaps they thought they were doing everyone a favor by sharing their Eau De Horse Turd, but I was glad when they finally left for good.

There were countless others out on the walking trail, taking advantage of the perfect day. Walkers, joggers, bikers, roller name it, and they were there. I debated taking the long way home, but my husband was out grocery shopping and I wanted to time my arrival close to his because he was going to be starting dinner. Another great aspect of Window Weather is that it's perfect for outdoor grilling, and we've been taking full advantage lately.

Of course, even when we lived in the Midwest, my husband never allowed ice, snow, and sub-zero temperatures to keep him from cooking out. Before we were married, he invited me over for a steak dinner. It was freezing cold outside, and I was thoroughly absorbed in a television program while he prepared the meal. He was utterly offended that I hadn't realized he was grilling the steaks outside. But I hadn't been paying attention, and it was beyond my comprehension that someone would actually cook outdoors in the midst of a bleak and bitter Chicago winter. I figured he had just used a George Foreman indoor grill.

That was at his old townhome; after we got married and moved into our condo, grilling became much easier. To use our old grill, you had to deal with the annoyance of propane tanks that always seems to run out of gas at the most inopportune times. During one memorable experience, we were rushing to get a refill as a thunderstorm approached. As we drove down the street, the sky turned an eerie green color. Sirens wailed in the distance, and up in the sky we actually saw a funnel cloud! Fortunately it didn't touch down.

At the condo, we had a natural gas connection on the balcony. No more tanks; just turn on the valve, stick in the lighter, and voila! The ease of lighting came in handy when we had a wasp infestation, too. One spring, a hive of nasty, stinging insects decided to build a home in the grill. Easy enough to deal with...just light it up and burn those suckers out.

My sister had a similar issue with her grill once, but it was mice instead of wasps. She would brush her dog outside in the yard each evening, and a mama mouse used the dog fur to construct a nest right inside of the nearby grill. Being very soft-hearted, Sis waited until the babies were grown and gone before stripped and disinfecting the grill "guts," as well as replacing the lava rocks, to remove any traces of the unwanted former tenants.

Here in Florida, we have a mini grill that uses tiny little butane tanks. Eventually we'll probably get a larger model, but for now our little Wal-Mart workhorse does the trick. We've grilled all manner of goodies, from burgers and steaks to chicken kabobs and corn to lamb chops. I also like to wrap some fresh sliced mushrooms and chopped onions into a little foil "packet," along with a sprinkling of butter, and allow them to saute over the flames. It makes the perfect topper for anything from a burger patty to a filet mignon.

Today's meal with be a steak for my husband and a lamb chop with mint jelly for me. We've both just finished working, so we haven't had time to get outside and enjoy the gorgeous weather yet. Later, we'll be heading to a friend's house, and I think we'll be taking out bikes. I rarely ever drive to any destination within Celebration. If it's within walking distance, I lace up my tennis shoes. If it's a bit too far to hoof it, I get out my bike. Why use gas, create pollution, and stress out over finding a parking space when you can get to your destination and get some exercise at the same time?

Of course, my attitude will change when the oppressive summer heat takes over. That's when Canyonero's air conditioning wins me over. But for now, in the lovely "window weather," I want to be outside as much as possible. I don't know how long it will last, but I plan to take full advantage of it while it's here.

You can send me email at

My Celebration website is located at

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Spontaneous Pleasures

Sometimes I wonder why everyone in the U.S. doesn't want to move to Florida. Even if you're not a Disney fanatic, how can you pass up year-'round sunshine? A cold snap here is in the 30s, and that's 30 above, not 30 below (which the wind chills back north often dip to). You know that people are spoiled when they pull out their jackets and bundle up as soon as temperatures hit the 60s. Sure, it's hot as Hades during the summer, but that's what God made air conditioning for.

Of course, if you love Disney World, living near Orlando is the icing on the cake. You can't get much closer to the House of Mouse than Celebration, and that opens up many opportunities for spontaneous pleasures.

This afternoon was one of those times. Amazingly, my husband and I had not been to any of the theme parks since driving the animals down from Chicago, although we did have a celebratory dinner at Jiko in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Our need for a "Disney fix" was becoming more urgent, but we've been so busy that we just couldn't find a way to slot it into our jam-packed schedules.

Today the weather was absolutely gorgeous, with plenty of sunshine and temperatures that were flirting with the low 80s. My husband suggested that we head over to the Blizzard Beach water park for an hour or two just before closing time, when the crowds have typically abandoned ship already. My job has some flexibility; as long as there is no meeting or other scheduled event, I can work at it pretty much any time. I like to stick to regular business hours just to keep myself disciplined, but an afternoon break sounded appealing. I could picture myself drifting down the lazy river in an inner tube, dipping my toes in the water and marveling that it's February.

But then my husband got busy with his work and backed out of the water park idea. I was disappointed; the weather seemed too lovely to stay inside for the peak part of the day. Then, around 2:30, the phone rang. It was our neighbors, who were planning to gather up their children and head over to the Magic Kingdom. They wanted to see if we wanted to join them, and the answer was a resounding, "Yes!" We set up a 3 p.m. meeting time, and my husband and I both took quick showers and popped on some appropriate theme park touring clothes. He gets a perverse pleasure out of wearing the "wrong" t-shirt (for example, wearing a Universal shirt to Disney and visa versa), while I just donned one of my Celebration shirts. I like giving the subliminal signal of "I'm a native" if anyone happened to read my tee.

We piled into the van and headed off down World Drive. I'll never, ever get over the novelty of being able to go directly from Celebration property into Disney World. I still get that special thrill when driving through the gates. Back in the days when Disney was a twice a year vacation treat, those gates signaled the transition from the real world to the fantasy land. We immersed ourself in the magic; usually we never even left Disney property for the length of our trip. Now it's no longer fantasy land for me. It's better because this is my real world; the fantasy land is my next door playground.

We headed to the Magic Kingdom, hoping for minimal crowds. After all, it was a weekday, and February is not a peak vacation time. But lately there hasn't been much of an off-season at Disney World, and we were dismayed when we saw the volume of cars in the parking lot. If it was any indication of the crowd density inside the theme park, we were going to be swimming upstream in a sea of humanity. Oh well, no matter. When you live near the parks, you lose the urgency to accomplish as much as possible as quickly as possible. Those who have limited time must make the most of every moment. For us, if we miss something today, there's always tomorrow or the next day to return.

For some odd reason, the Cast Members herded us to the Resort Monorail instead of the express. This plunged us into the Monorail Ride from Hell, as the thing inched forward like it was anemic. It reminded me of Sauzer's Kiddieland, a tiny "traditional" park we used to visit in Dyer, Indiana. In its heydey it was a cool place, but in the last few years before it shut down, it was on a par with the worse rundown fleabag carnival you can imagine. We went there primarily for the bumper cars, which were vicious old-style vehicles dating from the pre-liability lawsuit days. They moved like lightning, and because there were no rules, you could slam people head on (which is forbidden at most "regular" amusement parks). Whiplash was a given, and I lost count of the times I racked my knee as it slammed into the front of the car due to the impact of yet another high speed collision.

Although the cars were our favorite, we occasionally rode the roller coaster too. It was a little metal Galaxy, and after you had piled in, rotating tires in the track were supposed to push you to the chain lift. Unfortunately, the tires had ceased to function ages ago. Thus, passengers were required to reach out and grab the poles alongside the track, literally pulling the coaster train to the lift hill. It's true, I swear to God! I was probably insane for riding that thing, but the general lack of maintenance or attention to basic safety made it a lot more exciting than Space Mountain.

Anyway, as the monorail limped along, I was becoming convinced that soon we'd have to drag it along somehow like that Sauzer's roller coaster. We eventually made it to the Polynesian, where we sat...and sat...and sat. I was beginning to get the impression that we could get out, take the boat to the Magic Kingdom, spend a couple hours, and when we got back the same monorail would still be sitting there. FINALLY the doors closed and the darned thing got moving again. Since it was the resort monorail, we had to suffer through a stop at the Grand Floridian (although thankfully it didn't sit there for too long). Then, at long last, we arrived at the Magic Kingdom station.

In these post-9/11 days, you have to submit to a bag search before going to the entrance turnstyles. I usually have some sort of purse, fanny pack, or backpack crammed with everything but the kitchen sink. Thankfully, the search is usually pretty quick, and then you can head into the park. We all have annual passes to accomodate spontaneous visits; there is a discounted AP, with certain blackout dates, but everyone in our litle group is a Disney fanatic so we all have the full-blown, 365 day deluxe versions.

Main Street was crowded, but not overly so. Our friends headed over to Cosmic Rays to get some food for the children. My husband and I had eaten late lunches, so I dragged him to Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland, where they serve the most sinfully delicious concoction of soft serve ice cream swirled with frozen orange juice. I am not a big fan of Dreamscicles, but those vanilla/orange swirls are the food of the gods. My husband, in his male foolishness, always opts for an expresso float. The poor man doesn't know what he's missing.

After our ice cream interlude, we linked up with our friends. They were just finishing up their meal, so we headed over to Stitch's Great Escape to see if the line was reasonable. It wasn't too bad, so my husband, our friend, and his older daughter decided to see the show. His wife had to stay behind with their younger daughter, so I decided to skip it, too. I haven't seen it yet, but goodness knows I'll have plenty of opportunities. I've heard it's pretty much just a rehash of the old Alien Encounter show anyway.

We decided to ride the Wedway People Mover while we were waiting. It never has a line, and it's so cool to be a vouyer in the Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear rides. I also like the model city that represents Walt's true vision of Epcot. I wonder what he would think of how his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow turned into a theme park rather than a town. Some people think that Celebration is modeled on his ideas for Epcot, but it's not even close.

As we left Wedway, we realized that the guys had been trying to call us. I dialed my husband on my cell phone, and he said that Stitch had broken down while they were waiting. We arranged to meet over at Timekeeper, which was due to start in a couple of minutes.

Unfortunately, we just missed Timekeeper; the doors literally closed as we were about to step through them. Since this was a spontaneous trip with no specific plans, we headed off to find something with a minimal line. Buzz Lightyear was over half an hour, so that was out. When you live near Disney World, you develop a sort of "Line ADD" that makes you reject any wait over 10 or 15 minutes. We headed over to the Carousel of Progress, which is usually walk-on except for the very busiest seasons. I know it's corny, but I absolutely love it. I did get creeped out this time around when my friend pointed out that the son in the last scene looks a lot like Christopher Reeve. I had never paid much attention, but this time I really looked and realized that all of the Audio-Animatronic people in that last scene are very creepy. That scene was added in a refurb, but I think that the old figures in the previous three scenes are more realistic.

When we were done there, we headed off to Adventureland to check out the Jungle Cruise line. It was maybe 10 minutes, so we hopped in and prayed to the Tiki Gods that we would get a good skipper. I hate it when they stick to the official spiel, which I know so well that I could recite it backwards and forwards. The best skippers ad lib and toss in their own jokes. My favorite is when they point to the ruins in front of the tunnel and say, "Disney's first attempt at the monorail" (it would make more sense if you could see the ruins, which truly do look like a collapsed monorail track). We were in luck...our skipper was great! He did my monorail joke and tossed in tons of others that were off script, keeping us laughing the whole way. I know that ride is corny, but it's still one of my favorites.

Next up was Pirates of the Caribbean. It had a fairly hefty line, but after an initial stand-still, it moved very quickly. It's a classic, although my husband is disappointed because he's figured out how they do all the special effects. I kept my eyes out for Johnny Depp, but no luck. You'd think they could add an Audio-Animatronic version.

When we got off the ride, twilight had descended. It was time to call it a day; we'd spent three hours already, and we'd managed to do quite a bit considering the crowd and the never-ending monorail ride. We headed out of the park and hopped a monorail to the Ticket and Transportation Center. This time, thankfully, we moved steadily and were soon at the parking lot and piling into the van.

When we got home, the real world was waiting for my husband. The poor man was sucked into a work phone call that lasted so long I thought he was going to get a califlower ear. I logged on to my computer to get some more work done, too. Somehow it wasn't as difficult now that night had fallen and I had gotten a healthy dose of sunshine and fresh air.

Celebration is a wonderful place, both on its own merits and due to its location next door to Mickey. I love the simple pleasures of life here, like a spontaneous visit to the theme parks. Sure, work is still a necessary evil, but it's great not to have to go on vacation to spend your playtime with the Mouse.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Cult of the Sun Pass

I'll admit it, I'm a cult member. I resisted for a long time, but finally they broke my will with their hard core, relentless techniques. As I sat in endless lines, watching the cult members whiz on by me, my resolve slowly melted and faded into the cliche, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Now I have to confess that I, too, am a member of the Cult of the Sun Pass, with a beeping box mounted on my windshield to signify my supplication to the Great Tollway God.

You may wonder why I resisted at all. After all, Florida is the Land of the Tollways (as well as the Sunshine State, the Hurricane Magnet State, and according to Homer Simpson, America's wang.). Worse yet, those tollways are clogged with dazed and confused tourists, telling their life stories to the tollbooth attendants while those of us who know where we're going grind our teeth to powder and create new bald patches while pulling out our hair in frustration. At least with Sun Pass you have half a chance; you can use the Sun Pass Only lane, which is virtually tourist-free, except for the occasional illiterate soul who doesn't glance at the signs until it's too late.

For me, it's a personal issue. The whole thing smacks of Big Brother. I can just imagine some government official sitting in a back office somewhere, pouring over records of the comings and goings of masses of Floridians. For what purpose, I don't know. I don't really know why it should matter to me, either. After all, it's not like I'm robbing banks or convenience stores and making my getaway on the tollway. But I just have a vague unease whenever the government gets a bit too nosy. I'd rather hand over my dollar and travel in relative anonymity (which is an illusion, since there are cameras at the toll booths too, although supposedly they only snap photos of deadbeats).

My annoyance at the invasion of privacy eventually was crushed under my greater annoyance at spending precious minutes at the toll booths. In Illinois, they have the same sort of thing (dubbed I-Pass), and I lived my whole life without it. The sea of toll lanes there goes on as far as the eye can see, and long lines are rare except at rush hour. I never felt any urge to get an I-Pass. It just didn't seem like it would gain me anything, other than perhaps eliminating some frantic fumbling if I dropped the coins.

In Florida, it's not even peak tourist season yet, and already I've faced some interminable waits. There are far fewer booth than Illinois and a far greater number of dazed and confused drivers. Not too long before the "Big Move," I think that the toll booth attendants actually switched shifts before the moron five cars in front of me finally deigned to go on his way. Those sorts of people are immune to horns and the waves of hatred being mentally directed at them from the line of cars behind them.

Thus, the next time we went grocery shopping, I purchased my Sun Pass transponder at Publix. I didn't have Canyonero (my Aztek) in Florida yet, since that was going to be our transportation for bringing our menagerie down. I figured I should buy the unit in advance, and it would come in handy for that long drive from Chicago to Celebration (or at least the last part of it). I logged onto the appropriate website, charged up my Sun Pass with money, and figured that we were ready to go.

Unfortunately, the initiation of my Sun Pass unit would have to wait. We somehow managed to pack it in the unreachable bowels of the car. With the frigid weather that lasted pretty much our whole journey, we didn't want to open the tailgate and search for it for fear of giving the bird a chill. We only went through one toll booth anyway, so we didn't have to worry about any hold-ups. Even if someone had devoted 15 or 20 minutes to telling their life story to the toll booth attendant, it would have seemed like nothing compared to the four hours we had just driven (and stopped) through the Atlanta ice storm.

We were eager to break in our virgin unit, and we had a Disney cruise scheduled for that Thursday. Driving down 417 and 528 would be the perfect opportunity to give our Sun Pass transponder a good workout. My husband mounted it on the windshield with the little Velcro strips provided in the package. Supposedly, it had been activiated via some remote magic when I registered my charge card online. We made the turn off Celebration Avenue toward the toll booth to enter 417, our eyes glued to the light that should flash a cheery shade of green, accompanied by a beep. We drove through the Sun Pass lane...and nothing.

Well, actually something did happen, but that was the red violator light flashing ominously while an alarm buzz announced to the world that we're deadbeats. I half expected a SWAT team to materialized and forced Canyonero off the road, but fortunately nothing happened. I am still picturing a ticket showing up in the mail, but there wasn't much I could do.

The next toll booth was a manned one, so I pulled up and shared our dilemma with the attendant. She took the transponder and waved it frantically at whatever magical sensor deducted the money. Nothing. Sigh! Just my luck to grab a defective unit from the the stack at Publix. We paid cash and continued on our way.

As we drove along, I instructed my husband to dig the Sun Pass handbook out of the glove compartment and find the toll-free number. Surely it was worth a phone call. After working his way through Voice Prompt Hell, he managed to get a (presumably) live human on the line. She told him that in an Aztek, the box should be mounted on the passenger side rather than near the rear view mirror. She seemed to think that would cure all our troubles, but my husband explained that the toll booth attendant had waved the darn thing around as though she were having an epileptic fit and it still hadn't worked. No, his phone friend assured him, that didn't make a whit of difference. Move the box and it will work.

Big Brother had spoken, so he dutifully moved the box. Nervously, I approached the next toll booth, prepared for abject failure once again. I just knew that I'd never see the green light, never hear the beep of success. I prepared to stop and hand over my cash when I heard it! It sounded like the voice of angels, and that green light blinked like a ray of hope sneaking through the black clouds of misery. Our Sun Pass was officially working.

I know the person on the phone insisted it was due to the box location, but I'm not buying it. If that were the case, it should have worked when the toll booth attendant waved it manually. I'm sure they pressed a button or flipped a switch on some giant control panel somewhere. Oh well, no matter. I am now a member of the elite faction. Lines of tourists stretching like a metallic snake down the roadway? No problem. Just veer left and buzz through the Lane of Privilege. In the mood to rob the Circle K? Don't forget to pop the transponder into the handy metallic bag that comes with it, which supposedly prevents it from registering (that's probably just a Big Brother that and it goes into super tracking mode.

Yes, it's an annoyance, but it's like the tourists and the gators and the humidity...a small price to pay to live in a place where you can stroll around in shorts in the middle of February. Poor Canyonero will have to bear the Mark of the Cult. It's another fact of life in the Sunshine State.

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Monday, February 14, 2005

Feline Follies

One of the most amusing things about our move has been watching our three spoiled felines adapt to life in a new environment. All three lived sheltered lives in our Chicago condo before the Big Move. Two of them never knew much of anything else, since we owned them from kittenhood. The third was a former alley cat, adopted from the local shelter, but he quickly adapted to a pampered indoor life.

At the condo, they did occasionally get to go on a "field trip" out onto the balcony. Since it's up on the third floor, they had to be under close supervision to make sure they didn't try to prove (or disprove) the adage that cats always land on their feet. Stitch, the reformed alley cat, also enjoyed going on excursions into our front hallway. Tooncinator, the deranged son of a feral car, would poke his nose out sometimes too, but not for very long. Farquaad, the waif kitten rescued from a dumpster, had enough of the outside world in infancy, so he wouldn't even go near the front door. He did, however, check out the balcony on occasion.

Coming from such a sheltered background, I'm sure it was a major shock for the kitties to be shoved into a huge cage and driven 1200 miles to a totally different environment. Our home in Celebration is quite different in layout from the condo. Our condominium is mostly ranch style, although it does have a loft. But the main living areas are all on one level, so the cats rarely bothered to go upstairs. Conversely, Duloc Manor is two stories, with a formal room, family room, powder room, and kitchen/dinette on the main floor and two bedrooms, each with a bathroom, upstairs. Our time is divided pretty equally between both floors, especially since my husband's office is in the spare bedroom. This means that the pack of felines also divides its time, since our cats enjoy being underfoot.

I'm amazed at how quickly the cats learned to barrel up and down the stairs so fast that I'm surprised they don't leave tracks of fire. When they gallop headlong down the stairs, I'm often firmly convinced that they're going to slam right into the wall at the bottom. Somehow they must use their claws to brake themselves on the carpeting, or else they just have remarkable control, but they've never had a "wreck" yet.

Our home is a kitty paradise in many ways. Cats love to be as high as possible, looking down regally at the world from a superior perch. The house is loaded with lots of potential areas that could be considered "kitty jungle gyms." In the family room, we have an entertainment center with a bridge that was immediately claimed by two of the three cats. It's very tall, so they access it from the railing of the stairs. Both my husband and I were certain that they'd also be on top of the kitchen cabinets, but thankfully that hasn't happened (at least not within our view). That's only because they'd have to climb on the kitchen counter, then use the refrigerator as a springboard, and we do not allow them on the counters or table. Still, I've already caught them and the counter by peeking through the back door window when they didn't know I was there, so they've probably been on the cabinets too.

Upstairs, Farquaad (aptly named, since he believes that it's all about him; Kuzco would also have been an appropriate name) loves to sit on the railing that runs the length of the hallway and overlooks the staircase. My husband and I are firmly convinced we're going to have to rush him to the emergency vet one night when he loses his balance and lands badly on the stairs below. So far he's managed to keep his balance, and there's virtually no way to keep him off that railing, so we'll just keep our fingers crossed.

Quaad has also learned how to jump from the railing onto the top of our warbdrobe cabinets. The wardrobes are massive structures at the top of the stairs, and I never thought he'd figure out a way to get up there. It would be a challenge to the Flying Wallendas, but that cat was up there within minutes. He also likes to climb all over my husband's desk and hide in various cubby holes. I you try to catch him and drag him out, you'll soon feel like you're playing a rigged version of "Whack a Mole." When a cat doesn't want to be removed, they are very adroit at avoidance maneuvers. Then, every hour or so, he'll do the obligatory "Come out for petting and block the monitor/sit on the keyboard" routine.

Stitch, our "dog cat," has not been much of an exploratory climber. We brought their "cat tree" (a scratching post type of contraption with three perchs) from Chicago and put it in the master bedroom, overlooking one of the windows. That's good enough for Stitch; he luxurates on the top perch, watching the world below. Often, Farquaad joins him, but rather than claiming an unoccupied perch, he had to wedge himself on top of poor Stitich. I think that's a remnant of when he was a tiny kitten and "Uncle" Stitch adopted him. Back then, they both fit up there comfortably, but now Farquaad is a massive cat and Stitch is no lightweight himself. It's amusing to see how they contort themselves around each other and jockey for a better position.

Farquaad also managed to get himself onto the highest shelf of our bedroom closet through some supernatural means. Then he thought he was in trouble when both my husband and I crowded in, so he resisted all attempts to bring him back to earth. Like all cats, he has the uncanny knack of staying just out of reach. Eventually my husband managed to shag him down, knocking down my table top Christmas tree and various other items in the process. Hopefully the memory of the trauma will keep His Highness from climbing up there again.

Quaad has a knack for favoring places that I wish he wouldn't favor. I try not to be obsessed with material items; when you have kids and/or pets, it never pays to get too attached to anything breakable. I could handle the destruction of most of the items in my home, but there are a few irreplacable exceptions. One of them happens to be the bedspread in my master bedroom. It was carefully selected to fit in with the Disney Cruise Line theme, and it would be nearly impossible to replace. To protect it during the day, I spread a quilt over it. At night, I turn it down, figuring that the majority of uncovered bed area would have to be more attractive to felines than the tiny covered portion. Of course, Quaad never lies on the quilt, preferred my precious comforter. At night, he somehow manages to compress his bulk into something small enough to lie right on the turned down comforter, where he sheds in contentment. Sigh! I should have know it was a losing battle.

Tooncinator, the crazy cat, originally took up residence in the master closet (his hiding spot in the condo). However, we quickly got tired of the cat hair, and I arranged my shoes to artfully make it difficult for Toonce to wedge himself in. Now he has staking out a spot under the bed, which was also a condo "safe spot" for him. Occasionally he deigns to come out, but just for very short periods of time. He'll eat, drink, do his business, and then his agorophobia kicks in and it's back to his hidey-hole.

Occasionally he will feel extraordinarily social and venture onto the sofa to soak up some petting. He's more likely to do that with me than with my husband. It's not that he likes me better; it's more a matter of disliking me less. He likes to sleep curled up next to my face, which often makes me feel like Roy with Manticor the mauling tiger lying beside me. In his youth, Tooncinator sunk his fangs into me a couple of times when I moved and startled him in his sleep. Now that's he's getting older, he has calmed down somewhat, and he hasn't fanged me in the night for a few years (during the day is another story). Still, the possibility is always there.

Toonce also likes to drink out of a water bowl on the bathroom sink. I have no idea why; all I can figure is it's better than the main water dish, which he and Farquaad like to sully by spitting dry cat food into it. Then they proceed to fish it out like grizzlies in a salmon run until they get bored. Some always remains, and it bloats into a smelly, mushy mess.

We have designated certain areas of the house as "No-No Rooms," meaning that they are off-limits to felines. The formal room has that designation, and it's enforced by continual closure of the French doors. That is the only carpeted room on the first floor, which means it would be a cat-barf magnet. Somehow they have a talent for horking up hairballs only on carpeting. Since the formal room is closed off, they do it in the master bedroom, but at least that's not easily visible to company. The laundry nook is a no-no room when not in use, and the broom closet and furnance nook are also supposed to be feline-free zones.

Every now and then, we'll open one of those zones just to give the cats some excitement. It was hilarious to watch them the first time we opened the formal room. They had to roll all over the carpet and rub their faces on every stick of furniture to mark it with "their" smells, just in case some other errant animal might come along and think it's not already claimed. They were very put out when I removed them and locked the doors. Even Toonces had come downstairs for the "No-No Room Safari," and he clawed vainly at the window panels trying to get back in.

This morning's adventure was the furnace nook. The door is halfway up the wall, since it's actually a niche in the wall where our air conditioner/heat pump unit is housed. There's only enough space for the unit and a spare filter or three. Cat bodies are remarkably versatile, so all three managed to wedge themselves in at one time, although they were cheek to butt. Then, they started nipping each other's butts, starting a chain of offended hissing. Eventually we managed to pry them all out, and of course all three had to plop down and wash casually while processing their latest excitement. Perhaps they were wondering just how much additional uncharted territory remains in Duloc Manor; like Christopher Columbus, they are determined to map every inch of the New World.

Because of alligators, cars, and other dangers, I won't let the cats go outside by themselves. Yards are much different than balconies, so outdoor excursions are conducted on a leash. Thus far, the only cat who has shown much interest in going out is Stitch. Before he came to the animal shelter where we adopted him, he was living in a field. I guess the bad memories have faded, and now he's remembering the fun of the "wild." He quickly learned that when I pick up his leash, it means that I'll take him outside. We hang out on the porch and even go for walks around the block, much to the bemusement of my neighbors.

At the moment, Stitch's enthusiasm has been somewhat curbed due to the "wind chime incident." I have a little Mickey head windchime stuck in the dirt at the foot of my porch. A few days ago, Stitch decided to suddenly run along the base of the porch, catching me by surprise. His leash got tangled on the windchime, pulling it out of the ground and making quite a racket. This frightened him more than he already was, so he tried to take off at a run. When he reached the end of the leash...snap! He wasn't hurt, but I'm sure it wasn't pleasant. He changed direction and sprinted up the stairs, pawing frantically at the front door. Normally, he wants to go out whenever he sees a door open. Now, for a couple of days, he had no desire to go anywhere near the door. He's slowly but surely getting more gutsy, going out for short jaunts. But he still doesn't want to leave the porch, and he gives that wind chime the evil eye.

When his buddy Stitch is outside, Farquaad howls like a dog, and he pokes his head out the door when we come back in. He is a wimp cat, and I think that going outside would freak him out, but I'll probably give it a try someday.

Toonces hates the doors because he knows that the beep of the alarm system means that a stranger might be coming in. Both he and Farquaad immediately hide whenever we have a visitor. With Toonces, that's just as well, as I have no desire to see our home insurance premiums soar after someone gets savaged. With Farquaad, it's a shame, as he's a very friendly, loving cat with people he knows.

Stitch, on the other hand, is our Wal-Mart greeter who must be underfoot from the moment someone takes a step in. If they sit on the couch, he has to be right there next to them. He just knows that their sole purpose in visiting is to pet and admire the pretty black and white cat. If the visitor is a service person who has come to do some job or repair, Stitch is happy to supervise. Between his friendliness and love of walking on a leash, I suspect he may be a reincarnated dog. He got nose to nose with the neighbor's dog today and didn't even bat an eye.

When we piled the poor kitties into a cage and drove them through an ice storm, I wonder what was going through their little feline minds. I felt so sorry for them and wished that I could explain what was going on, but sadly I don't speak Meow-ese. It couldn't have been too traumatic, as they settled in almost immediately and act like they've lived in Duloc Manor all their lives. And as much as I enjoy watching "Animal Planet," nothing can compare with the Feline Follies that occur in our home live every day.

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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Posh Pooch (and the "broiler incident")

Many months ago, the tradition of dining with your dog in the outside areas of Celebration's restaurants was curbed due to a health dept. complaint. But they say every dog has his day, and that is certainly the case this weekend, with the Posh Pooch event that has taken over the downtown areas (except the dining patios, of course).

This is actually an annual event, but this time around it was delayed a couple of times. Turns out that this was a perfect time of year to hold it. The February weather was quite comfortable, in contrast to the late spring/early summer heat that can make canines pant in their doggy fur coats and make both them and their owners hot, cranky, and miserable.

At the moment, I only own cats, although I have designs on a micro-dog (think Chihuahua size, although I'm not locked into a particular breed; small enough to travel on an airplane easily is the only requirement). But I am a dog lover, so it was lots of fun to see canines of virtually every shape, size, and color. I felt like someone had dropped me into Dr. Seuss's "Go, Dog, Go." Big bogs....little dogs...dogs wearing hats. Okay, so maybe none of them were driving cars, but plenty were riding the NEV train.

I had volunteered to work a couple of hours at the photo booth, so I arrived shortly before noon. It was a brisk, sunny day, so I decided to stroll from East Village rather than drive. At most, it's a 20 minute walk on the bike path, and you pass by two lakes so you can't beat the scenery. I left my husband snoozing at home; he had spent Monday through Friday in Chicago, and his return flight was delayed. I picked him up at the airport Friday night, and it was almost midnight by the time we got home. Then he revealed that he'd brought a Caron's Ribs dinner as a surprise. "Why didn't you tell me so I wouldn't eat something else for dinner?" I asked. He replied, "Because then it wouldn't have been a surprise." No disputing that logic!

Common sense told me to save the meal until the next day, but as soon as I got a whiff of those ribs, my stomach ruled. Thus, when saner people were snug in their beds, he and I were trying to figure out how to use the broiler on our oven.

Actually, the "broiler incident" could be a blog entry by itself. It was like something out of a sitcom. We don't use the stove a lot; that's why God invented microwaves. Our stove is a fancy glass-topped affair that came as a free upgrade to our house, and it has more buttons and switches and whatnot than a NASA control panel. We've used the oven maybe twice, and we've never bothered with the broiler. But it's against the law (at least in Chicago) to insult Carson's Ribs by placing them in a microwave. They are meant to be coated with sauce and broiled until they sizzle.

I realized that we didn't have any oven-safe trays or pans. No problem...I just rigged up some foil. Then I heated up the oven, opened the drawer at the bottom, and popped the ribs in. A few minutes later, I peeked in to check their progress. Strange...they were still as cold as they'd been when I removed the ice packs from the take-out box.

"Are you sure the broiler is in the bottom?" my husband asked? I was born and bred in houses with gas ovens, so I replied with an indignant, "Of course! Where else would it be?" He shook his head skeptically and said, "I don't know. I think that's just a storage drawer."

I played around with the buttons some more to make sure that the broiler was on. I opened the oven door to see if things were heating up inside and was met with a blast of heat like I'd opened the door to Hades. I half expected Cerberus to jump out and bite me. "See!" my husband said adamently. "The broiler is in there!" After recovering from my brief bout with heat stroke, I peeked in, and sure enough, there was a red hot element. Duh! Gas stove, bottom. Electric stove, top. A new life lesson for me.

We managed to get the ribs cooked without any further ugliness and ate our delicious midnight meal. But that late night feast, combined with a week of waking up before 6 a.m. for the commute to downtown Chicago and a nasty cold, had exhausted hubby's reserves. He needed a good, long sleep to recharge them.

Thus it was that I headed to the event by myself. The walk was very pleasant, with lots of people out and about on foot and bicycles. Soon enough I arrived and checked in. I was slated to operate the printer, as I had no desire to even attempt taking photos. Point and click is about my speed; I'd rather leave artistic stuff to the professionals. Fortunately, a friend of mine who is also a professional photographer had been recruited to handle that end of things, so I didn't have to worry.

The event appeared to be well attended, and all of the dogs were remarkably well behaved. There were only one or two snarling/snapping incidents, which isn't much considering the volume of people and their pets. The booth wasn't too busy, although the printer kept things lively by giving a "general error" message after it spit out every couple of prints. I would prefer a "specific error" message, but it refused to give any further details. Turning it off and on again (the universal panacea) proved to be effective. It went through a couple of bouts of adding strange lines to the photos, too, but overall things went smoothly.

When my stint at the booth was done, I went for a little walk. I didn't see anything to buy since, as I mentioned, I only have cats. I was very amused by the "No Cat" signs on the lamp posts that featured a silhouette of a feline cross out by a Ghostbusters-style symbol. My cat, Stitch, is leash trained and is larger than many canines; I wonder if I could have passed him off as a strange-looking dog.

In addition to the booths, there were many special events, such as pet tricks, frisbee and police dog demomstrations, and the like. The dogs still had to keep off the restaurant patios, but there were plenty of dog-friendly tables and chairs set up out in the streets where man's best friend could dine with dignity.

Posh Pooch will run tomorrow (Sunday) too, so if you're a Florida local, pack up the pups and come on down! Hopefully the weather will be as picture-perfect as it was today.

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