Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Ides of March (or Toga! Toga!)

How does the Bunny Brigade in Celebration, Florida, mark a milestone birthday for a member born in March? With a toga party, of course!

Since it's the last day of the month, it's fitting to revisit March with the tale of the toga party. And if you doubt that we would do something like this in public, there's a link to incriminating photos a little farther down the page.

It all started shortly before my last jaunt to the Windy city. A few days before heading to Chicago, I had purchased toga material for my husband and I, along with some fellow Brigaders. Joanne Fabrics has an amazing array of printed fabrics to suit all your Roman wear needs. It was a veritable smorgasbord of patterns and colors. At first, I was drawn to a loud nautical pattern, which I figured would fit in well with my cruise obsession (I sailed on my 43rd Disney cruise on Easter weekend, so you might say I'm somewhat obsessed). But finally I settled on a cute, but slightly more subdued, cat print in honor of my unholy feline trio (Stitch, Farquaad, and Tooncinator).

My husband did not join the toga-material excursion, but he had instructed me to pick a nice, plain, solid orange. That is his favorite color, so much so that he painted one wall of his office in our old condo a loud Pumpkin Orange (he would have done it to all four walls, but I stepped in with the voice of reason).

Being an aging child of the 60s, he loves tie-dye, too. When I spotted a "groovy" looking bolt of orange tie-dyed cloth, I just knew that he'd love it. I made a quick phone call to make sure he'd prefer that over the nautical pattern. He gave the thumbs up, so now we were both all set to create our fashionable togas.

Our friends chose a bright green, gecko lizard pattern and a length of cloth covered with cat balls. Yes, really, cat balls! It was festooned with cats curled up in circles.

We headed home with our booty after a brief stop at Moe's in Water Tower Place for lunch. My previous experience with Moe's had been limited to picking up a quick order of guacamole. Now I discovered a delicious item called "I Said Posse" (all of the menu items have weird movie-related names). Basically, it was a vegetarian quesedilla with melted cheese, beans, salsa, sour cream and sauteed vegetables. I also discovered that Moe's has the best green tomatillo sauce that I've ever tasted.

Not too long after the shopping trip, my husband and I had to fly to Chicago for five days. We were slated to return on Friday night, and the toga party was scheduled for that Saturday. We were getting a little nervous when Friday turned out to be a windy, snowy day. What would we do if our flight was cancelled? I certainly didn't want to miss all the fun.

The last time I had pranced around in a sheet was over twenty years ago, when I was in high school. I was in the Office Education Association (OEA), and we'd won some sort of bulletin board making competition. We were able to go to the state contest, which was held in Springfield (Illinois, not the Simpsons' home town, although I'm sure that would have been a lot more fun...I would have loved to see the sights like Mount Karl in West Springfield, Springfield Gorge, the Tire Fire, and the Squidport).

We were put up at a Holiday Inn, and one of the scheduled events in the atrium was a toga party. Of course, that meant stripped-down beds and tons of teens romping around in our hastily prepared Roman finery. It's one of those high school memories that still makes me grin with nostalgia. Back then, I doubt that I could have imagined a 40 year old version of myself parading around in public in Celebration, Florida, in a toga. But here I was, looking forward to it, keeping my fingers crossed and praying that our flight wouldn't be cancelled.

My husband was heading directly from work to the airport on the Orange Line train. I had a rental car (Canyonero's evil twin, the Pimpin' Family Truckster, is still in Chicago, but I need to way transportation from and to the airport, and renting a vehicle is cheaper than a towncar or limo). That meant I would need to leave early enough to gas it up and drop it off before heading to the gate.

As I was driving toward Midway, my husband called to tell me that our flight was delayed by half an hour. That caused me a fleeting bit of worry, since snow was pounding down on the windshield, and I was having a heck of a time figuring out how to work the windshield wipers that were obvious designed for a rocket scientist. Half an hour didn't sound too bad, but I hoped the bad weather wouldn't lengthen the wait.

I was already far enough in my journey to make it impossible to turn around for such a short reprieve. Oh well, we were flying Southwest Airlines, so I figured that would give me a chance to be one of the first in the "A" line. In case you're not familiar with the Southwest cattle call, they do not assign seats. Instead, you get a boarding pass marked A, B, or C, and you board in a group according to your letter. Basically, you just plop down in any available seat. The A group has the best choice, the Bs have it okay, and the Cs often end up with their parties split up and scattered throughout the aircraft. It's even worse on Orlando flights, when the pre-board sometimes equals and A and B groups combined. In theory, the pre-board is only for the handicapped and people with children age four and under (the kid and one parent). In practice, you'll see dozens of "four year olds" who have apparently hit puberty very early, plus at least a dozen accompanying family members and close friends.

We print our boardng passes online as early as possible (12:01 a.m. the morning of the flight), which virtually guarantees that we'll get an A pass. If the pre-board isn't too tragic, that means we have a fighting change to get decent (i.e. towards the front of the plane) seats. We like to sit as far forward as posssible because we only bring carry-on luggage. If you had to wait to claim our bags, getting off quickly wouldn't matter because it would give our luggage some time to arrive. But with carry-on, we like to pop off the plane and get on our way home to Celebration as soon as possible.

This was the first time I had rented a car at Midway, but it wasn't too difficult to find the drop-off area, which is conveniently located on Level 2 of the parking garage. But as I pulled in and waiting my turn for check-in, I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to gas up the car! With a rental vehicle, that is a big faux pax. Most rental companies will charge you five to six dollars a gallon if don't return the car with a full tank. I had no desire to pay such a ridiculous amount (although goodness knows that will probably be the normal price of gas at the pump someday soon). Thus, I quickly pulled out of the return line and headed out of the garage to find a nearby gas station.

Fortunately, there was a Citgo on 55th Street, just a few blocks from the airport. My rental was a gas-guzzling Grand Prix (I had rented an economy but was upgraded, which was fine because I like having a bit more metal around me than a tiny little Focus or Cavilier provides). It slurped the gasoline hungrily, and when its appetite was finally saited, I headed for Midway once again.

The security line was minimal, and soon enough I was at the gate. Unfortunately, the flight before mine was delayed, meaning that all the people heading to North Carolina were in the A, B, and C "cattle chutes." Since I couldn't line up yet, I found a nearby power outlet, plugged in my laptop, and settled down to do a little work while waiting for my husband.

In a symphony of perfect timing, hubby arrived just as the last person boarded the North Carolina flight. I had been planning to shut down my computer to get into the A line for Orlando, which was already forming. But now he was able to pop into the queue so I could work for a little bit longer.

Unfortunately my work was cut short in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Not literal, since smoking in banned in the airport. But the man who had suddenly decided to stand next to me smelled as though he had chain-smoked through at least two packs to boost the nicotine level in his blood so he could make it through the flight. The smell was so pervasive that I almost gagged. Tobacco smoke irritates my allergies, and the smell premeating from his clothing was the equivalent of a football team of chain smokers. I hurriedly packed up my computer and retreated to the A line to join my husband.

Since our flight was delayed, you could feel the tenseness in the waiting area as people waited anxiously for our plane to arrive. Southwest is famous for its fast turnarounds, but as the minutes ticked away, we could see that the delay might be a bit longer than originally planned. Finally the big, brown 737 rolled up to the gate. It disgorged a gaggle of passengers, and before I knew it, the Orlando boarding had begun. I couldn't believe it; there had been no pause whatsoever to allow any time for aircraft cleaning. Oh well, I'm always anxious to return to Orlando, so that was fine with me.

The pre-board wasn't too lengthy, and we were fourth in the A line, so we were able to grab fourth row seats. My husband took the window and I plopped down next to him in the middle. We like to be able to see out because often our evening flights correspond to one of the various Disney World fireworks shows. But then I had a sudden flash of panic; Mr. Tobacco Man had apparently been traveling alone, so with my luck, he would choose the aisle seat next to me and I would be doomed to spend the entire flight gagging into the barf bag while my sinuses let loose a Niagara Falls-style flood.

Suddenly I had a burning urge to tinker with my carry-on bag. I pulled it out from under the seat in front of me and balanced it on the aisle seat, searching through it as though I had some purpose. As soon (or rather smelled) Smoky the Passenger go by, I replaced the bag and settled back to relax. Shortly thereafter, a non-smelly seatmate sank down next to me, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

The flight was relatively non-eventful, although a bit bumpy in spots. The highlight was when we soared over Epcot just as the Illuminations finale burst forth in a blaze of gunpowder glory. I just love seeing fireworks from overhead; it's like a spectacular "welcome home," as I know that Celebration is somewhere down there, right next door to Disney World.

Since we didn't get home too late on Friday, we didn't sleep too late on Saturday. Thus we had plenty of time to research various methods of toga tying before party time. The best resource on the internet is the How To Make a Toga website (click here to open it in a new window). With its guidance, my husband managed to do quite a reasonable job, donning his orange tie-dyed material over a white t-shirt. He rigged up a toga for me, too, but I wasn't pleased with the results. I holed up in front of the bathroom mirror and tried various configurations; finally, just when I was about to despair, I managed to folder my cat-printed cloth into something that vaguely resembled Roman wear. Where's Edna from "The Incredibles" when you need her?

We both had swim sandals that looked fairly authentic (that is, to people who are severely nearsighted or those who have downed at least three drinks). My husband eschewed a headdress of laurels, but I strung some cable ties together and threaded on some leaves from one of my backyard bushes. It was almost party time, and we were ready to roll.

The meeting place for the Celebration toga party was the Coldstone Creamery (an ice cream shop) at Water Tower Place. Our birthday girl had no idea that she'd soon be greated by a toga-wearing Greek chorus shouting out, "Surprise!" in a public store. My husband and I dove into Canyonero before any of the neighbors could see us and drove through town to the shopping center, hoping that we wouldn't be stopped by Osceola's finest.

We lucked out and found a parking spot right in front of Moe's, which is located in close proximity to Coldstone. But we didn't see our fellow Brigaders, so we decided to stay in the car until the others arrived. After all, there's safety in numbers.

When the others pulled up, we realized that they were wearing normal clothes. They had brought their cloth along incognito, planning to don it inside the ice cream shop. What the heck...I'm an exhibitionist anyway. My husband and I leaped out of Canyonero and paraded through the parking lot in our lovely Ides of March-themed creations.

I can't say we didn't get some very strange looks as we huddled in a corner of Coldstone, making last minute adjustments and skulking about, waiting for the birthday girl and her family to arrive. Her husband, who was the one behind this little escapade to make her birthday "memorable," planned to convince her that they really, really needed to take the kids out for ice cream. Little did she know that there was a bolt of bright shamrock-laden material just waiting for her to don it.

Shortly after 6 p.m., her daughter burst in to warn us that the rest of the family was following close behind. I breathed a silent sigh of relief; I was wondering if the Coldstone workers were wondering what we were up to. I half expected them to point out that shoes and shirts are required, but that togas must be confined to the parking lot. As our birthday girl walked in, we hollered, "Surprise!" at the top of our lungs, and the workers broke into a chorus of "Happy Birthday to You."

Fortunately, she is a great sport, so she happily wound herself into a toga (of course, her husband put one on too). Then he picked up the ice cream cake that he had secretly ordered earlier. He borrowed one of Coldstone's knives, and we headed out to Canyonero for an old-fashioned toga tailgate party. The good thing about Azteks is that they are made specifically for tailgating, with butt imprints on the pull-down gate and built-in cupholders back there, too. There is also a sliding tray that you can pull out to load with food; then roll it back it, plop down on the tailgate, and it's party time.

Our revelry was interrupted when one of the Coldstone workers came sprinted out. He explained that we would have to surrender the knife because having it in the parking lot was a "security risk." I'll be the first to admit that security is a serious subject, but we just couldn't help it...all of us burst into laughter! The idea of a bunch of toga-clad Celebrationites going on a stabbing spree in the Water Tower Place parking lot with a serrated Coldstone knife was just too much for us to keep straight faces. Click here to open up the photo page, including a firsthand shot of the birthday girl breaching security while carving up her cake.

Although it might have been an interesting experience to be hauled off by the Osceola County Sheriff and jailed in our festive sheets, we decided that it would be better to cooperate. After all, there was cake to eat, alcoholic beverages to drink, and some general partying to be done; I don't think they would have allowed us to do that in the holding cells.

The birthday girl hurriedly carved up the rest of the cake and surrendered her weapon. We gathered around Canyonero to begin our partying in earnest; we were parked right in front of Moe's Grill; I wonder what they were thinking and whether they were sending subliminal thought waves of, "Please go away! Please go away!"

But it wasn't the merchants or the sheriff who eventually got us to leave. It was good old Mother Nature sending a mid-March chill. Togas are not the warmest garments, and although I still have most of my Chicago heartiness, the other partiers have lived in Celebration long enough to have a Florida level of tolerance to the cold (i.e. none).

But the party wasn't over; in fact, it was just getting started. We all hopped into our respective vehicles and headed off to warmer quarters in West Village, stopping for culinary supplies at Chik-Fil-A on the way. Once we had moved indoors, it was time to break out the margaritas, too. Sure, they're Mexican rather than Roman, but at that point nobody cared.

Our togas actually held up until the wee hours of the night, which amazed me since they were pieced together with a rickety configuration of safety pins. The only challenge I discovered was using the restroom without utterly destroying my garment. Somehow I managed to slither out of it and then back into it; believe me, I did not relish the idea of having it fall apart and then having to reconfigure it (especially not after a few drinks).

All in all, I'm sure that it had to be one of our friend's most memorable birthdays. As the name of our town implies, in Celebration we really know how to celebrate those old-age milestones. Thank goodness that my husband and I both passed our latest ones last year, so we're safe for a decade.

You can email me at

My Celebration website is

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Horrors of Spring Break

When my husband and I were tourists who visited Disney World a couple of times a year, we became experts at avoiding the peak season and visiting during the slow times. Our favorite periods were just after Labor Day, when most kids are back in school, and right inbetween Thanksgiving and Christmas, when people are recovering from turkey overload and busy preparing for Santa Claus's pending arrival. We became very spoiled; any wait over 15 minutes was considered too long, and often the rides were walk-on.

When we moved to Celebration, things got even better. Now we can head over to the theme parks for a couple of hours virtually any time we choose. In the off season, we can ride to our heart's content. When it's busy, we grab a couple of Fast Passes and have a leisurely dinner, then saunter over to ride at the appointed time. But "busy" is a relative term, and we never visited the parks during a true peak time.

Right now, we're in the midst of one of those peaks: Spring Break. Normally, I would stay far from the Mouse House, but several of our friends are in town this week. My husband is in Chicago until Friday, but I arranged to meet one set of friends (a couple and their daughter) at the Magic Kingdom this afternoon. They planned to arrive right at opening, but I had a web conference and some work before I could leave the house, so we arranged to meet at the "Partners" statue in front of the castle at noon.

On the way, I decided to stop at our P.O. box, which is a little ways outside of Celebration. It's not far from the super-secret backdoor entrance to Disney World, so I figured that I could avoid the 192 traffic and slip over to the theme parks. As I drove to the box, which is in the opposite direction of the main entrance, I marveled at the bumper-to-bumper traffic heading the other way. I've seen the holiday crowds before, at Christmas and New Years, but this was as bad as it's ever been. If I didn't know the backroads, I would probably still be sitting out there in Canyonero instead of typing this in my family room right now.

While turning out of the shopping center where our box is located, I managed to get behind a van with Michigan plates. It contained one of the most dangerous types of the genus Tourista Erratica: the tourist who knows that there's a shortcut but has only a vague idea where it might be. This sort of driver firmly believes that crawling along at 20 m.p.h. will somehow miraculously cause the location of the shortcut to be revealed.

The Van O' Morons almost creamed me because I got into the left lane to turn onto the backroad, and they suddenly decided that that's where they needed to go, too. I've lost count of the times poor Canyonero has nearly been sideswiped. I'd love to get a set of those wheels with the blades that come out to slice up other cars that get too close, just like in the movie "Grease." But alas, I can't find them anywhere, not even on Ebay, so I have to back down when the tourists attack.

I was stuck behind the van all the way onto Disney property. Even though there was a line of cars snaking down the secret street, which twists and bends like the road in "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," the Tourista Erratica in front of me was still not convinced that he was going the right way. Apparently, sporadically stopping in the middle of the road helps with navigation. I managed to avoid being rear-ended by the annoyed conga line of cars behind me, and finally I was able to pass the van when we reached the multi-lane Disney streets.

It didn't take long to find good old World Drive and head off to the Magic Kingdom. I had allowed an hour, thinking it would be plenty of time to park and make it to the appointed meeting place, so it was around 11 a.m. when I passed the toll booths and headed towards the Ticket and Transportation Center. Unfortunately, half the population of the United States appeared to have the same idea. This is the first time that I've ever had to stop once I passed the booth. The line of cars was solid all the way down to the parking lot, and it seemed to move an inch every 15 minutes.

As Canyonero slowly crawled forward, I watched the minutes tick away on my wristwatch. Soon enough, half an hour had passed, and I wasn't even close to the Promised Land of the Parking Lot. I had hoped to use my AAA parking pass to park in the Diamond area, but I could tell that I'd be lucky if I got a spot in the same county as the Magic Kingdom.

Things were looking bleak for making the noon meeting, so I called and left a voice message for my friends. They called back a couple of minutes later to tell me that their daughter was sick, and they were planning to leave the park. How God loves bitter irony! I could picture Him up on a fluffy cloud, having a good laugh at my expense. "So, Barb, you're never going to visit the parks during the peak season, eh? Well, here, let me help you keep that promise, but at least you'll have a thrill-packed visit to the Great Parking Lot Attraction."

At that point, my survival instincts took over, and all I wanted to do was find an exit and hightail it back home to Celebration. Unfortunately, to get out, you must first get all the way in. I continued to crawl along at the pace of an arthritic, three-legged turtle until I finally reached the parking aisles. I buzzed pass the line of cars pulling into their hard-won spaces and headed for the exit. It was blocked by the endless stream of cars coming in, and none of them seemed to likely to let me cross their path. They seemed to suspect that I was somehow trying to cut in front of them. If only they knew the truth...nothing short of five figures in cash could have lured me back into that asphalt hell.

Finally I summoned my Chicago moxie and cut off the most wimpy looking drivers I could spot. My ears burned from the curses that they were surely uttering, but I finally managed to escape. Poor Canyonero was running on fumes by that time, so I pulled into the nearby Hess gas station. It was only slightly less crowded than the parking lot, but after circling a few times like a vulture stalking a wounded deer, I managed to zip into a row with a newly open pump.

Once my trusty Aztek had a full "belly" of the precious golden fuel, I was on the road to Duloc Manor. It's a straight shot down World Drive, although it can be like a demented driving game that you might play on Xbox: avoid the plethora of rental cars that is attacking you from all angles.

Before going home, I decided to drown my woes at Herman's Ice Cream Shoppe. I had been looking forward to my favorite taste treat at the Magic Kingdom, a vanilla/orange juice twist cone from Sunshine Terrace in Adventureland. But fighting the crowd wasn't worth it, so I settled for a cone of Heath Bar crunch. At least parking in downtown Celebration wasn't too bad...or should I add, not too bad for now. Soon most of the parking areas will be plowed under and turned into townhomes. Parking is bad enough during major events like Fourth of July, when ever square inch of asphalt, dirt, grass, and sometimes even sidewalk is covered over with cars. I can't imagine the sheer horror that will occur when what little parking we have is but a hazy memory.

The parking situation is Celebration is a lot like an elephant sitting in the living room. Everyone knows it's there, but no one knows quite what to do about it. Some people studiously ignore it, while others fret without coming up with any solution. I am one of the fretters, and I am as clueless about what to do as anyone else. Oh well, it will make an interesting blog entry somewhere down the road.

Later, I joined my friends for dinner at D'Antonio's downtown. It sounded like I didn't miss too much by missing the park. They had managed to get in several rides in the morning by arriving when the gates opened, but as the day wore on, the crowd swelled like an evil tumor. There were even lines to use the restrooms. Hearing their description reminded me why I've spent years staying far, far away from Disney World during the peak season.

We had a lovely meal, topped off with ice cream at Herman's. I was actually good and skipped the ice cream, since I'd already had a cone in the afternoon. Now that I am committed to my workouts, I am more conscious of what I eat because I mentally translate it into the exercise time required to burn it off. Sometimes I wonder what our forefathers would think about health clubs. After all, they toiled all day at back-breaking physical labor. Now, so many Americans sit on their rapidly spreading butts in front of computers, then pay good money to go to a place where they can hoist weights and physically exert themselves in other ways. Surely people from past centuries would think that we're all insane.

Oh well, soon the kids will be back in school, and my jaunts to the park can resume. One thing is certain: I have renewed my commitment never to go near the Mouse House during the busy season. If I ever entertainment the thought, I'll think back to my parking lot adventure today, and I know that the craving for a ride on Space Mountain or a whirl on the Carousel of Progress will be instantly cured.

My email address is

My Celebration website is

Monday, March 28, 2005

Living Healthy in Vacationland

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided to make some lifestyle changes. We devoted ourselves to healthy eating and regular exercise. He lost over 50 pounds, and I lost over 20. Thus far, we've managed to keep most of it off, but while he is still good about working out regularly, the frequency of my exercise has declined.

I am a night owl who enjoys doing my exercise in the evenings, after dinner. That used to work out well until I started my travel agency. My full-time job took up the daytime hours, and my travel agent responsibilities filled up the nights. My favorite type of workout is swimming, but between driving to and from the health club, doing laps in the pool, and showering afterwards, the time investment is at least a couple of hours. Soon enough, I slipped from going five days a week to three, and then to two or one. Finally, I realized that I wasn't going at all.

For a while, I forced myself to work out at home with my various workout videos and DVDs. I love Leslie Sassone's "Walk Away the Pounds" series, and the "Slim in Six" infomercial set is great too. I also have "The Firm," with a weight pole and stepper that really helps with butt reduction. Unfortunately, my in-home workouts soon fell by the wayside, too. I didn't stop exercisng completely; no matter what, I slipped in a 30 minute lunchtime walk Monday through Friday. But although I was able to maintain most of my weight loss, I wasn't doing enough to continue losing.

Once we moved to Celebration, I knew that I would have to redouble my efforts. There are way too many tempting restaurants at Disney World, from the various countries at Epcot to Boma and Jiko at the Animal Kingdom Lodge to Artists Point in the Wilderness Lodge. Some are more dangerous than others, like Ohana (in the Polynesian hotel) with its neverending skewers of freshly grilled meat and the sumptuous seafood buffet at Cape May in the Beach Club. And after a long day of working, the fast food on 192 beckons because it's so much quicker and easier than cooking.

Both my husband and I have rededicated ourselves to our healthy lifestyle. It wasn't too hard for me; I simply had to remind myself that I have reached the big Four Oh, and that both of my parents died in their early fifties. Granted, my maternal grandparents were spry and healthy well into their eighties, and I inherited my grandmother's body type, but there are no guarantees that I also got her healthful. No sense in tempting fate when I can watch what I eat and get myself moving around.

For eating, this means planning out our meals and making a weekly trip to Publix to stock up on fresh meats and vegetables. We do that Monday through Friday and take the weekend off so we don't feel deprived.

Exercise is a bit more tricky, since it means finding the time somewhere in my busy schedule. My husband gained a couple of hours in his day, since he had to commute back and forth to downtown Chicago via train. Now he spends that time pedaling his bike around town. That's one of the reasons that he loves Florida; here, cycling is a year 'round possibility (at least for him). Personally, I could never do it in the height of the summer, when you can cut the humidity with a knife. But hubby thrives on the heat, and humid air only seems to energize him more.

I am still working two jobs, so even though I work totally from home now, I'm still in the same situation. My workplace in Chicago was only three minutes down the street, so moving to Florida didn't free up any time for me. But I've started walking with a friend early in the morning; it goes against my night owl tendencies, but I've really learned to enjoy it. Celebration is just starting to come alive when I head downtown around 7:30. The wildlife is abundant on the walking paths, and the weather is still cool and pleasant. By waking up early, I force myself to get to bed by a fairly decent hour (if left to my own devices, I'd probably be up until 2 a.m.).

But walking isn't enough to get my weight back on a downward trend. I resolved that after our latest cruise, which we took over Easter weekend, I would join the fitness center at Celebration Health. It has lots of classes and equipment, but the most appealing aspect for me is the two indoor pools. We have several outdoor community pools in Celebration, but they're not really geared to serious lap swimmers and exercisers. Our pool in East Village is a small, round "pond" with a cement island in the center. I've been known to water-jog in circles around the island, but that's a great way to get dizzy.

The pools in North and South Villages and Lakeside Park have lap lanes, but there are usually lots of people just floating around or lounging in the water. Doing laps can be a challenge when you have to work around a human obstacle course. Also, the only heated pool is Lakeside, and even though the water is warm, on chilly days there is no way that you can avoid the inevitable getting out and turning into a human Popscicle.

At the fitness center, there is a lap pool and also a warm therapy pool. Even the lap pool is relatively balmy, and since they are indoors, you can use them in inclement weather (an advantage when you live in the lightning capital of the United States).

Celebration Health is only a couple of minutes from my home. In Chicago, the health club was a good 20 minutes away, or sometimes more if traffic was bad. With the fitness center in Celebration, I can't use the distance or rush hour as an excuse to put off going.

My husband and I had toured the fitness center a while back, and we were impressed with the facility. It's not as large as our old health club, but it has a good variety of equipment and lots of classes. I enjoy group yoga, pilates, and water aerobics, so that's a big draw for me. Since hubby has to return to Chicago two weeks a month, he retained his memership at our old club. But I'm in Celebration most of the time, so I decided that joining the fitness center would give me the boost I need to get back into a regular exercise routine.

We went on our cruise Easter weekend, and although I tried to practice moderation, I still ate more than I should have. How could I resist eggs benedict and blueberry pancakes for breakfast, cooked-to-order pasta and fresh tossed salad for lunch, ice cream topped with M&Ms for a snack, and a thick filet topped with gorgonzola cheese for dinner, complemented with chocolate souffle filled with hazelnut sauce.

One of the best parts of sailing on Disney's ships is their adults-only restaurant, Palo. All of their restaurants are quite delicious, but Palo is special. It has its own galley, where the food is prepared to order. The cuisine is Northern Italian; it reminds me of D'Antonio's in Celebration. Palo has the best lasagna that I've ever eaten, and that's a special compliment coming from me because I don't really like lasagna. Filet mignon is a regular item on their menu (a good option for meat-and-potatoes types who shy away from things like crab and portobello mushroom-stuffed ravioli), but they have various daily specials that often tempt me away from my usual favorites. On our cruise this past weekend, they had a pesto pasta with sun dried tomatoes and potatoes. Yes, potatoes. I know that sounds strange, but it was so delicious. This was the first time I've ever seen it in 43 cruises, but I'm hoping they'll keep it around.

But after a weekend of indulgence, I was ready to renew my commitment to healthy living. Even when I'm on the ship, I try to do a deck walk or go water jogging on Castaway Cay (Disney's private island, where the Wonder docks on Saturday). Now that I'm back in Celebration, I headed over to the fitness center tonight and signed myself up for a year. Making a financial commitment helps to inspire me to get off my lazy butt, and the idea of a refreshing dip in the pool is the icing on the cake.

After completing my contract, I headed off to the locker room to prepare for an evening swim. I was pleased to discover that the fitness center provides towels, soap, shampoo, and even Q-tips, mouthwash, and deodorant! I had packed a bag with everything that I thought I'd need, and my array of supplies rivaled a drugstore. In the future, all I'll have to bring is conditioner and a moisturizer for my face to counter the effects of the chlorine.

There were a couple of people in the lap pool, but they were leaving just as I arrived. I selected a lane, jumped in, and embarked on a 45 minute workout, jogging and swimming back and forth in the water. The pool is deeper than the one at my old health club, and I am only 5 foot 2 inches tall, so the depth added an extra challenge. After I was done, I treated myself to a few minutes in the warm therapy pool, which also has whirlpool jets.

I felt quite good and invigorated after my workout. I love doing laps in the pool because it feels more like fun than a chore. I'll have to check out the exercise class schedule and slip in some yoga and water aerobics, too.

It's still going to be a challenge to fit my workouts into my busy schedule, but I am going to stick to my commitment. I did it before, and now that I'm living in Vacationland, with temptations around every corner, it's even more important to renew my commitment and do it again. I'd love to lose about 20 more pounds, but even if I can just tighten up some of the flab and shrink my butt, I'll be happy.

Well, off to bed now so I'll be bright and chipper for my walk tomorrow!

You can email me at

My Celebration website is

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Easter Exodus

One of the great things about moving to Vacationland U.S.A. is that you'll never get too lonely. Even if your friends still live up north, they're bound to come to Florida sooner or later. Since my husband and I enjoy Disney World, that means many of our friends do, too, so the visits tend to be sooner rather than later.

This year, Easter is a popular time. I guess that our friends from Chicago are tired of the long, cold, dreary winter and itching for an early taste of spring/summer. Two sets of our friends will be in town for the holiday, so it's going to be like Old Home Reunion Time.

We have spare rooms and futons, but our friends will all be staying at other locations in the Orlando area. In one family, there is a cat allergy that would make it difficult to bunk with three long-haired (and continually shedding) felines. Thus, they are splitting their trip between the Gaylord Palms and Reunion. The other family has a timeshare in the area.

I have never been to Reunion, although I am very curious about it because it's another of the Celebration wanna-bes, albeit with several differences. The most notable is that it is gated, and supposedly they are also going to be building an equestrian center. Horsey places are always of interest to me, since my horse Figment is going to join me here in Florida one of these days. I do have some experience at the Gaylord, as my husband and I stayed there once via Priceline while our house was being built. Whenever we came to visit the construction site, we would bid resort-level properties. William Shatner sent us all over, from the Hilton and Hyatt at Downtown Disney to the huge Gaylord Palms convention complex. Even though we got it at a bargain rate, they still gave us a premium room with a view of the Key West section.

Actually, we'll be on the go ourselves this week. Tomorrow (Thursday) morning we leave on our 43rd Disney cruise. It's just a short one, from Thursday to Sunday, but it's always nice to have an escape at sea. It's been a busy, busy week between my regular job, where a major project is going on, and my travel agency. Between the two jobs, I've had both of my laptops running for the last two weeks, with the telephone glued to my ear. I can't even remember the last time that my husband and I were at the theme parks. We work hard, but we play hard too, so now we'll be loafing on our verandah, getting pampering treatments at the spa, and soaking up the sun and swimming through the ocean on Disney's private island, Castaway Cay.

When we return on Sunday, there will still be more holiday fun in store. In the morning, when we return from Port Canaveral, we are joining our neighbors for church and lunch. In the evening, we are meeting some of our Chicago friends for Easter Dinner (at the China pavillion, of all places!). My poor husband has to fly back to Chicago on Monday morning, but I'll be joining our other friends at Disney World during the week.

It's been interesting to see how the swarm of tourists has been steadily swelling. The spring break crowd, which built up steam over the past two or three weeks, has melded seamlessly into the hordes of people on an Easter exodus. The weather was a bit chilly over the last two weeks, but now it's warming up and the humidity level is rising. Those from cold and snowy environments will relish an early taste of summer.

My husband is busy packing for tomorrow's journey to the port. For a man, he is very domestic, so I happily leave the luggage to him. I handle the big picture, planning and organizing the trips. He attends to the small details, like how many t-shirts and swim suits and what sort of shoes and dress clothes to bring.

After years of flying into Orlando International Airport and taking a towncar to the ship, it still feels strange to drive our own car. Once, a long time ago, there was a family from Florida at our dinner table on one of our Wonder cruises. I remember how I envied them when they said they'd be packing up on Sunday morning and jumping into their car for the short jaunt home. I thought, "How wonderful it must be to live right near Disney World and the ship!" Little did I know that the Fates were nodding their heads together with some special plans for me; I'd be a Floridian myself much sooner than I ever thought possible.

Someday I want to drive out to Jetty Park near the port and watch the cruise ships pull out of Port Canaveral. When the weather is nice, it's amazing to see how many people line the shore to wave bon voyage as the massive ocean liners head out to sea. I think it would make a lovely weekend outing to head out to the beach and then wave goodbye to the Magic or Wonder (depending on the day of the week).

But tomorrow I won't be on the shore; I'll be one of the lucky people on board the ship. Although I enjoyed waving from my verandah, this time around I plan to be in the spa, in a pleasant semi-coma from the relaxing effects of a massage.

Soon enough, the holiday weekend will be over, and it will be back to business as usual. But for now, I'm looking forward to making the temporary switch from full-time Floridian to part-time tourist and losing myself in the vacation fun.

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My Celebration website is

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Theater in Celebration

I must admit that I am a major theater buff. One of the greatest pleasures of living near downtown Chicago was the ability to see so many touring shows. Almost all the biggies come through the Windy City at one time or another. Via the Broadway in Chicago series, I've seen shows like Lion King, The Producers, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, Evita, Cats, and many more. I've also seen some smaller productions at little North Side theaters, too, such as Gilligan's Island and The Real Live Brady Bunch (starring Davy Jones and Danny Bonaduce) that have been quite good. Chicago also had a branch of the Blue Man Group, and I even saw Puppetry of the Penis, on stage, which was an absolute riot. If you're seen it on HBO, the live show is pretty much the same thing, with the guys right in front of the audience and also projected on Jumbotron for the benefit of people seated in the back rows.

As you can tell, my taste in theater is quite diverse. I already have tickets to see Lion King again this summer, and also Wicked (the story of the early years of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West from "The Wizard of Oz"). Normally I hate returning to Chicago, but I don't mind so much when it's to see a good show. I am waiting with baited breath for a touring company of Avenue Q to get started. If you've never heard of it, it's a demented parody of the Muppets that stole the Tony award right from under Wicked's nose. But while it stars puppets alongside the human cast, it is definitely not for children. With songs like "The Internet is for Porn" and "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist" and story lines centering around things like a gay puppet and his straight roomie (obviously inspired by Bert and Ernie), this one is for the big kids.

My favorite part is that they all live in a New York apartment building where the superintendent is Gary Coleman. No, not played by Gary Coleman. The character is Gary Coleman, and it's usually played by a short African-American woman. Sadly enough, it's not hard to envision poor Gary getting so down on his luck that he'd end up managing a tenament someday. After all, Willis turned to a life a crime, and I think Dana Plato robbed a video store, too, before eventually dying of a drug overdose. Compared to that, becoming a super would be anticlimatic.

But even though Celebration is a long way from Chicago, it is not bereft of theater experiences. I was pleased to learn that there is an active community theater group, and Celebration High School also regularly presents plays. We missed the recent community production of Harvey, but we made it a point to see the high school production of Little Shop of Horrors this weekend. The New York revival production of Little Shop is currently on tour and scheduled to visit Chicago this summer, but tickets have not gone on sale yet. Since it's one of my all-time favorite plays, I was pleased that there was a local production to give me a "fix" until I finally see the Broadway version.

The play had showings all weekend, but my husband and I decided to attend the Sunday matinee. Sunday is a quiet, lazy day for us. We usually roll out of bed late and then head over to Max's or one of the local pancake houses for a weekly breakfast treat. Make mine blueberry pancakes with bacon or country ham, plus a couple of sunny side up eggs with toast to smear in the runny yolks. Sure, I can feel the cholesterol clotting my arteries while I eat, but it's sooooo good!

After that, we usually head over to the Farmer's Market to pick up some fresh produce and maybe run to Publix for the week's supply of groceries. For the rest of the day, we just laze around (my husband, of course, slips in a bike ride) until it's "Simpsons" time on Fox.

Today we altered our plans slightly. We got a later start and lunched at Red Lobster, since the wait at Cracker Barrel was unreal. I had quite a hankering for cherry-covered pancakes, but I adjusted my sights and had clam chowder and coconut shrimp instead. Then we drove over to Celebration High School to catch the 2 p.m. show.

When we pulled up, there was a fairly decent crowd of people waiting for the doors to open. While we waited, my husband and I plastered our faces against the window to see the cast photos hanging on a poster inside. We tried to guess which of the kids would be playing which characters, since they weren't in costume in the pictures. Soon enough the doors opened up and the crowded headed inside to meet Seymour, Audrey, Mr. Mushnik, Oren the dentist, and of course Audrey II.

We plopped into two seats at the end of the front row and thumbed through the program. My husband pointed out an ad for auditions for Schoolhouse Rock Live, which is going to be presented by the Celebration Players later this year. I was estatic! As a child of the 70s, "Schoolhouse Rock" was an integral part of my Saturday mornings. Those brief little edutainment bits were responsible for helping a whole generation to pass their constitution exam. I can still remember a whole classroom of teens humming "We the people..." as they anxiously filled out their test papers.

Before Disney bought ABC (and thus the rights to the Rock) and merchandised the beejeezus out of it, it existed mostly in the memories of people in my generation. It had long since faded from the airwaves after an unfortunate attempt to bring it into the computer generation by making some new bits about Chip and Scooter the Computer. Ugh! But someone revived it as an off-Broadway show called "Schoolhouse Rock Live," and as luck would have it, it showed up in a tiny Chicago theater. I was there, of course, and to my delight, they were selling "Schoolhouse Rock Live" sweatshirts. In thos dark, pre-Disney days, you couldn't find anything with "Schoolhouse Rock" on it, so my husband and I snapped them up.

For a long time afterwards, whenever we would wear those shirts, people around us would spontaneously start humming "Conjunction Junction" or exclaim, "Wow! I remember that!" One year, we wore them to Disney World, and we were selected to be in the "Superstar Television" show. That long-gone (and sorely missed) show consisted of people from the audience being placed via blue screen magic into sitcoms such as "I Love Lucy," "Cheers," and "The Golden Girls." About 15 minutes before the show, the host would come out to select the lucky participants from a seat of people that had crowded around. It was always a treat to be in the show, but the odds could be pretty slim on days when the parks were crowded.

That day, my husband and I were quite excited; it was our first time ever being picked. We were selected to be the couple who visits the Golden Girls. As we settled in backstage, the host stopped back and said, "I just had to pick you guys so I could tell you how much I like those shirts! The whole crew is humming their favorite Schoolhouse Rock bits now." Those became our lucky shirts, and we wore them until they finally faded into oblivion. By that time, Disney was selling a whole line of Schoolhouse Rock merchandise, so we were able to get replacements, but it wasn't nearly as much fun because it was no longer unique.

You can bet I'll be front and center when the Celebration Players present their show, wearing my Conjunction Junction t-shirt. Actually, my favorite of all the bits is Rufus Xavier Sasparilla, but for some reason poor Rufus never became a mainstream hit. That's okay; I'll always love him and the aardvark, kangaroo, and rhinocerous that cause such a fuss sometimes when he takes them all the bus.

But this time around, it was Little Shop, a show I love so much that I have most of the movie dialogue memorized. When the lights went down and the opening monologue started, I amused my husband by mouthing the words. Granted, it was a high school production, but the kids really did a fantastic job. There was only one main set (the flower shop), but they still managed to convey the idea of all the scenes. They did rig up a dental chair for the big Seymour vs. Oren scene, but the funniest part of that had to be Oren's special nitrous oxide gas mask. It was a riot; when he stepped onstage wearing that contraption, the audience all cracked up. My husband is the sort of person who wants "giggle gas" just for a teeth cleaning, so now I know what to get him for Christmas.

The bum who spent most of the time at the side of the stage also got lots of laughs. During the intermission, he staggered around the theater, coughing loudly and trying to bum a buck off various audience members.

The main characters were quite well chosen, and the supporting case was strong too. All in all, it was a very enjoyable time. At the end of the first act, my husband glanced at his watch and couldn't believe that an hour had flown by already. The show was so fast paced that the time slipped by in ultra-fast motion.

I was also quite impressed with the plant, Audrey II. According to the program, it was from I never realized there was an actual internet site that rented man-eating plants for plays! At the final curtain call, the performer who played Twoey was thankfully labeled with a sign that read "The Plant" so he could get his rightful applause, since he had been hudden behind the scenes during the show.

The kids earned themselves a standing ovation, and I was very pleased that we had gone to see the show. When we moved to Celebration, part of what we were looking forward to was participating in community events. Meld that with my love of theater and Celebration is a perfect place, with its high school shows and the Celebration Players. Sure, I love attending big Broadway-style productions, but there is something so neat and unique about seeing a hometown play. Hopefully I'll get a chance to see the professional production of "Little Shop" this summer in Chicago, but today's version will always hold a fond place in my heart as my first Celebration play.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

Back in the Saddle Again

My husband is finally whole again...he finally has his new bike.

After moping around Duloc Manor for the last several days, he's back in the saddle, zipping around town on his new blue Schwinn. He was quite discouraged yesterday after visiting two Targets and a K-Mart without finding a bike to his liking. Today, he decided to try Wal-Mart, as he'd found an interesting prospect on their internet site. Like his old bike, it was a cheapie, and he liked its looks in the accompanying photo on the website.

Thus we spend Saturday afternoon tooling down 192 in Canyonero, heading for the Wal-Mart Super Center on 27. There is another Super Center in the opposite direction on 192, but I would rather walk on hot coals after someone has pulled out my toe nails with a pair of rusty pliers than go to that store. It is always literally jam packed with a cranky mix of tourists and locals blocking the narrow aisles and clogging up the checkout counters with lines that snake for miles. The parking lot is always a joke; I used to think people parked campers there because Wal-Marts allow camping in their lots. Now I know it's really because most of the available parking spaces are a two-day hike from the actual store. Families can pull up in their mobile home and send out a "shopping party" consisting of one or two people while the rest of the family members wait in comfort.

Actually, it wasn't so bad until the major construction project on 192 got underway. It's a trafficky road even at the best of times, but the ripped-up road doubles (or possibly triples) the congestion factor. It's not even summer yet; I can't imagine what that street will look like with the real crowds come to town. Sure, it's Spring Break at the moment, but that is like the trickle from a leaky faucet compared to the full-fledged gusher that will flood Kissimmee in a few short months.

It can be trafficky getting to 27, too, but I like that Wal-Mart much better. It can be crowded, too, but never as bad as the 192 Wal-Mart From Hell. Even when there are a lot of bodies, it's easier to maneuver because the aisles are wider. I've never had to park farther than half a day's hike from the store, and getting in and out is a breeze. There are stop signs that allow you to turn out of the parking lot with minimal danger (although in Florida, stop signs are merely a suggestion so you still have to be cautious). Then you follow the short boundary road to a stoplight where you can easily make the lefthand turn onto 27. From there, it's only a few short blocks to the link-up with 192.

Since it was Saturday, the store was jam packed with more people than usual. We needed to return some over-door clothes hooks (which prevented the doors from closing), so I took care of that while my husband took off in search of bikes. After the transaction was processed, I headed off to the toy department. It wasn't too hard to find, as they had scads of bikes literally hanging on the ceiling. But when I arrived, my husband was nowhere in sight. No problem...I whipped out my handy-dandy cell phone and discovered that he had made a couple of stops along the way for other things that we needed. Most notably, he had found new toilet seats; I know that sounds strange, but I absolutely cannot stand the cheap plastic seats that the builder installed in Duloc Manor. They are so flimsy that they buckle if you sit on the toilet with the lid down. I'm no lightweight, but I'm not nearly big enough to require two airplane seats either. I think it's reasonable to expect that I should be able to sit on a toilet seat lid without being afraid that it will crack.

In our travels yesterday, we had found some sturdy wooden seats. But we have elognated toilets, and of course that was the only style that was out of stock. Actually, they had plenty of the right style, but in woodtone rather than in white. Somehow I didn't think that would blend in with the snowblind decor of my home. We didn't get to pick our options when we purchased it, so it came with white walls and cabinets already pre-selected. Wood would definitely clash with the white cabinetry in all three bathrooms.

Thankfully, this Wal-Mart had three white seats that my husband had snapped up. No longer would my fanny be in danger if I dared to sit on the throne to dry off after a shower or to clean the litterbox in the Harry Potter powder room.

But my husband's fanny was still lonely, with no bicycle seat to park on, so he joined me in the toy department to see if he could remedy the situation. At this point, I should note that both of us suffer from odd birth defects. As a female, I am totally missing the "shopping gene" that most of my sex possesses. With the exception of Bath and Body Works, where I could easily spend hours (if not days), I cannot stand shopping. Conversely, my husband was somehow born with that gene. He can poke through stores for ages, analyzing every small detail of every product, while I am ready to gouge my own eyes out with boredom. When he's shopping for something very specific, like an electronic item (or, in this case, a bike), there's no hope of getting him out of the store in anything resembling a reasonable timeframe.

To kill time while he tested every one of the dozen or so bikes within reach, I headed over to the Home and Garden section. I wanted to get some yard decorations to go with the flowers I'd purchased a few days before. The moment spring is in the air, I am ready to start playing in the dirt. I want to plant and prune and water, and of course I need some cutsie statues and whatnot to spruce up Duloc Manor's regal grounds.

I found a cute little angel on a swing, so I plopped her in the shopping cart and added a couple other household necessity items that we'd forgotten on our previous jaunt. Back in Toys, I found my husband still agonizing over his decision. He wasn't too thrilled with any of the bikes, but he was running out of options. Even if we had dared to brave the Evil 192 Wal-Mart, it's unlikely their selection would have been much better. They cater to tourists, and bicycles are typically not a hot commodity among visitors to Disney World.

He did find one possibility; he was mentally going back and forth over a big, blue Schwinn, trying to justify its $159 price tag. Finally he decided to go for it. Now he'd have a real rich bitch bike to parade in front of the drive-by hecklers with.

He wanted to look at a couple more items, so I set up camp with our shopping cart and the bike at an out-of-the-way location near the store entrance. It was easier than trying to manuever everything while he stocked up on paper and ink cartridges and took a quick peek in the Men's Clothing section.

The bike was parked right in front of my shopping cart, and I was leaning against the cart's handle, amusing myself by people watching. Oddly enough, an older man walked up to the bicycle and proceeded to pick it up! Since it was the last one in its style, I said, "I'm sorry, but that's my bike." It seemed unlikely that he had suddenly decided to grab the one and only Schwinn sitting in the Pharmacy section, but who knows. "Oh, that's okay," he assured me. "I just wanted to see how heavy it is." Hmmmmm. Oh well, I've seen stranger things than a man getting a sudden desire to test the weight of a bike in Wal-Mart.

Fortunately, my husband showed up soon after, and our little procession chugged along to the checkout lines. We stacked all of our booty on the counter, mindful to separate the paper and ink cartridges because they needed to be rung up on a different ticket. They are a business expense, so that makes it easier to track them.

A couple had joined the line behind us, and like me, they must have been people with the talent to choose the worst possible checkout counter. Normally, I'm the person behind whoever is holding things up, but this time my husband and I were the ones causing the delay. First, our charge card was declined. Visa still can't accept the fact that we've moved to Florida, especially when we make a string of purchases like we had done over the past couple of days...we bought a lot of incidntal items as a side-effect of the bike hunt. The card fiasco involved getting a manager, poking some buttons on the processing machine, and generally not making any progress. All they needed to do was call, but for some reason they were reluctant to do that. Finally, we just used a different card, and I could feel the silent mental waves of the poor slobs behind us thinking, "Deadbeats!"

But the capper was when they realized that part of our order was being rung up separately. Now the mental waves had turned decidedly more hostile. I studiously ignored their hatred. After all, what I could say? I could make up something interesting: "Jeez, next time I'll be more careful to steal a card from someone with a larger credit line," or "I was going to pay for the whole order at once, but you know, I just don't like you so I've split it up just to make your life miserable." But that would have been like pouring a gallon of lighter fuel on a smouldering inferno, so I held my tongue. I had no desire to excaberate "checkout rage."

On the way out, the man ahead of me set off the shoplifting alarm. Oddly enough, even though I hadn't stepped through the sensors yet, the Wal-Mart Greeters/Guardians were firmly convinced that it was our bike that had done it. I tried to point out that I hadn't even tried to go through with the bike yet and that maybe they should check with the guy who was now hightailing it out the door. They looked at me as though I were speaking in tongues and went through my receipt with a fine tooth comb. Maybe the cashier had managed to signal them that I was a credit card deadbeat.

Finally we made it out and loaded up Canyonero. Then it was off to Cracker Barrel for a celebratory lunch before returning to Celebration, where my husband could play with his bicycle like a kid with a new toy on Christmas morning. While he transferred the lights, rack, and water bottle holder from his old bike to the new one, I planted my flowers and spruced up my yard with my new acquisitions. Since I was in and out a lot, I tied up Stitch in the backyard, which is a lot easier that trying to keep him from sneaking out every time the door opens. He had a grand old time rolling on the sidewalk, nibbling the grass, and getting his leash tangled in the bushes.

My poor husband thought he was ready to go, but since he had his tools out and was in a bike-tinkering mood, I buttonholed him to attached the front basket to my bicycle. It's been gathering dust in the garage for a couple of months, and now that the Town Centre Market is open, I need to be able to haul the occasional gallon of milk or loaf of bread.

He attached my basket, and at long last, he was ready to take his new Schwinn for a spin. His old bike sat forlornly in the corner of the garage, its front brake non-functional due to the crash and its severed odometer cable dangling over the front tire. He claims that someday he's going to try to fix the brake, but I suspect that will be around the same time that I collect the free lifetime Disney World passes I'm supposed to receive as a Celebration resident.

It was good to see my husband pedaling along once again, suited up his new helment and pedaling Rich Bitch Bike #2. He fitting it with a new odometer, and so far he's off to a relatively modest start (five miles). That's because he didn't get out until late; knowing him, tomorrow he'll be off on a marathon ride.

I'm glad that things are back to normal at Duloc Manor. We're a two-bicycle family again, and the toilet seats are safe and sturdy. The Great Bike Search was getting old; even though it's usually against my religion to pay triple digits for a bicycle, in this case it was well worth it. Hopefully it will prove to be durable, and hopefully my husband has learned his lesson and will stay off the boardwalks in the wet weather. I'm not looking forward to shopping for another replacement any time in the near future.

You can email me at

My Celebration website is

Friday, March 18, 2005

Demise of the Rich Bitch Bike

Readers who have been following my blog since its early days may remember the story of the "rich bitch bikes." A long, long time ago, my husband and I were out biking at Celebration Avenue and Waterside. Since it was after dark, our $59 K-Mart special bikes were tricked out with flashing Mickey head lights on the valve stems. As we rode along, a carload of teenagers pulled up to the stop sign at Waterside. They had to wait while we crossed Celebration Avenue, and apparently that didn't make them too happy. As they peeled away from the stop sign, they yelled, "Celebration rich bitches on your rich bitch Celebration bikes!"

I probably should have been shocked and appalled, but instead I was amused. In Chicago, we have drive-by shootings. In Celebration, it's a drive-by heckling. And I have to feel sorry for them if they consider a cheapo K-Mart special to be a "rich bitch" bike. Granted, the flashing Mickeys added another five bucks or so to their value, and I'm sure they looked really pimpin' in the dark. But still, although we indulge ourselves in some top-notch things, our bicycles are definitely not one of them.

For me, my bike is a quick, easy way to get around town when I don't feel like driving. It's a "workhorse," so I don't need anything fancy, as it's liable to get banged up and scraped up in bike racks. All it needs to do is get me safely and reliably from Point A to Point B.

For my husband, his bike is his primary sources of exercise. He rides literally miles and miles every chance he gets. He used to just guesstimate his distance, but recently he bought an odometer and quickly racked up over 200 miles on it. He thinks nothing of biking out to the high school, then down Celebration Avenue and around North Village before heading back into the heart of town. There, he rings the lake and eventually heads back to East Village via the Lake Evalyn trail, which links into the bike path that runs behind East Lawn, along the lake.

Lately, I have been walking most mornings around 7:30 a.m. with a friend. We start downtown and head wherever our whim takes us on any particular day. One morning, my husband decided to be ambitious, too, and head out on his bicycle when I left the house for my morning constitutional (normally he bikes in the afternoon or evening). It was a wet and somewhat gloomy day, but according to the televised radar, the rain was supposed to stop for a while.

Towards the end of my walk, heading on the East Village bike path towards downtown, I saw my husband pedaling towards me somewhat erractically. He stopped to complain that the boardwalks were very wet and slippery; while crossing one and making a tight turn, he had managed to skid out and fall. He didn't look any worse for the wear, and he said that he felt fine, so I bid him adieu and told him I'd see him at home.

When I arrived at Duloc Manor, I was greeted by a gory sight. When my husband took off his socks, he discovered that he'd manage to dice up his leg pretty good. As near as he could figure, he was injured by the bike pedal. But he hadn't felt anything while he was riding, and his sock had hidden it. Fortunately, his wounds weren't deep, but they were the kind that like to bleed non-stop. They were too wide for standard size Bandaids, and we didn't have any gauze pads in the house, so they pretty much had to bleed themselves out.

In the fall, the odometer cable had somehow managed to snap. That odometer was my husband's pride and joy, as it proved his cycling prowess. Now, after only 200 miles, its lifespan had come to a premature end. He had also managed to damage the bike itself beyond repair (well, it probably could have been fixed, but the cost would most likely have been more than it was worth brand new). He even confessed that he had broken his helmet. I am very insistent that we both wear head protection whenever we go for a ride. Now, I could finally say, "I told you so!" and point out that if the helmet hadn't been on his noggin to take the brunt of the fall, the crack would have been in his skull.

The next day, his side had blossomed with technicolor blotches, and he had an interesting purple and blue pattern mottling his hip. He was also quite stiff and sore; I know he was missing our whirlpool tub back in Chicago.

For hubby, being without a bike is like being without one of his limbs. We planned to go bike shopping almost immediately after the accident, but the rain had come in earnest and kept us inside for most of two days. We both had lots of work to do, and we just didn't feel much like shopping in a storm anyway.

This afternoon the weather was crisp and sunny, and he could wait no longer. We hopped into Canyonero and headed over to Super Target to select another cheapie bicycle. They were out of the $59 models, but they had some for $79 and up. My husband debated being a big spender and popping over $100 for a Schwinn, but finally he settled on a fire-engine red $79 "house brand." He looked it over, decided he could live with it, and when to check out and load it up in the car while I busied myself in the Garden Center, snapping up flowers for my yard.

By the time he had returned, I had loaded the cart with brightly colored annuals and was working my way through Housewares. There are still so many little odds and ends that we need for Duloc Manor and that we always seem to forget. We tried to remember as many as possible: bowls, baking sheet, storage containers, and the like. I also spotted a set of Chef Tony's "Perfection Series" infomercial knives, which I've been searching for for a long time.

Many months ago, I ordered the Ultimate Chopper, another kitchen essential hawked by Chef Tony. It came with a free knife from his set as my "bonus gift." I loved the Ultimate Chopper for the short time that it actually worked, but then the blade housing broke and rendered it useless. I packed it up and sent it back for a refund, but just as Chef Tony had enthusiastically promised on my television screen, the knife was mine to keep. It so unbelievably sharp! We used it for everything, including things it wasn't meant for because it was too large, resulting in lots of wounded fingers. I vowed that if I could find a set of those knives in the store, I would buy it. Having the right sized blades for each cutting job would save lots of wear and tear on our poor digits.

I had seen the knives at Target in Chicago, so at the Super Target, I asked a worker if they carried them. He promptly reponded, "No, we don't." But sure enough, I stumbled across a shelf full of "As Seen on Television" products, including those wickly sharp blades. I plopped them in my cart and added a Magic Bullet, which is apparently the succesor to the Ultimate Chopper (although, sadly, it's not endorsed by Chef Tony). I've been glued to the television on several Sunday mornings watching a manic team of people whip up all sorts of delicious concoctions with the Magic Bullet. The frozen drinks always have me drooling. I have Barnie's cold coffee syrups, which I generally mix with milk. The Bullet would allow me to add the dimension of ice. And if it turns out to be a dud like the Ultimate Chopper, I have a place where I can physically return it instead of having to worry about shipping.

We headed home in our tightly-packed Canyonero, toting the brand-new bike, plants that were spilling dirt everywhere, and my infomercial goodies, several bags of other necessary houseware items. As soon as we had unpacked, my husband was ready to try out his new prized posession. He had been suffering from cabin fever brought on by the rain, coupled with cycling withdrawal...not a pretty sight. Now, finally, he could get out for a nice, long, stress-relieving ride.

He was back in the house within two minutes, grumbling curse words under his breath. Turns out the new bike was useless, as the front tire was totally misaligned and the brakes weren't functioning correctly. He hadn't been able to try it out properly at the store because the tires had no air. Now, after pumping them up, he had discovered that his new bike was a total bust.

Thus, that evening we found ourselves braving the traffic on 192 yet again. He was hoping that Super Target would have a duplicate bike so he could do a simple exchange. Unfortunately, there were no more $79 bicycles, and none of the others caught his fancy, so he got a refund and we headed to the old pre-Super Center Target located a little farther down the road.

Before hitting the Target, hubby wanted to check out the offerings at K-Mart, where the original rich bitch bikes were purchased. While he went cycle scouting, I decided to hunt for some canvas slip-on shoes. They are only a few dollars and are perfect for bumming around the house, running out on errands, gardening, or whatever. Im the past, I've always bought them at K-Marts in Chicago, so I hoped I could find the same shoes in Kissimmee. I tend to wear them out very fast, and I was down to my last two pairs.

I asked a worker in the shoe department, "Do you carry these?" I held up my foot, which was clad in one of my K-Mart shoes to punctuate my question. She shook her head, "No we don't have anything like that." Remembering the guy at Target who said they don't carry Chef Tony knives, I went on a scavenger hunt anyway. Sure enough, bingo! There were tons of my favorite comfy canvas footwear, identical to the ones I was wearing. Of course, there were only three pairs in my size, so I immediately snapped them up. Sadly, I discovered that my husband had failed in his Blue Light Bike Quest, so I paid for the shoes and we headed onward to Target.

On the way out, I spotted one of those cranes where you try to pick up a stuffed toy prize. I am pretty good at them if they are fair (i.e. if they have any small modicum of grip). Unfortunately, most of the time the claw descends and closes a barely perceptible micrometer before ascending empty-handed. I've also run into cranes with some grip that are programmed to literally slam up and then slam and swing crazily just before they stop over the prize recepticle. Those drive me crazy, as I can almost always pick up a prize, and I feel so cheated when the darned thing drops it because it just smacked into the wall.

This time, although it didn't have much grip, I was able to position the claw over a stuffed Easter Bunny that was lying in a perfect position. Since it was lengthwise, the claw didn't have to close very much in order to get a secure grip. So now I had a bunch of new shoes and a cute little bunny, and my poor husband was leaving empty-handed.

Next stop was the old Target, where they had quite a few bikes, but none like the one that my husband had returned. He grimly poked and prodded them all, running through the cheapies all the way up to a real rich bitch bike, at least in my miserly opinion: it was $200. But none of them tickled his fancy, so once again he left empty-handed.

Now it was time to head home, but with a short detour at Ross. I had been seeing their ads on t.v. all week for dresses under $20. That sounded almost scary, but as the models pranced across our television screen wearing some really cute little numbers, I thought maybe it was legitimate. I can use a couple of new dresses for the summer, and Ross was right there on 192, so we zipped over. It was after 9 p.m., but the sign on their door said that they were open till 9:30, so I knew I'd have a bit of time to do some quick shopping.

I had never been to Ross before, but the moment I walked in the door, I suspected that the commercial had been misleading. It was a crowded, disorganized place, and I wouldn't dress my cat in most of the items that I passed on my way to the dress section. All of the dresses were crammed together on crowded, groaning racks shoved together to form claustrophobic aisles that anyone other than an anorexic would find it nearly impossible to maneuver through. I gingerly poked at the offerings and discovered that I have dishrags that look better. Not one of the dresses looked even remotely like what the commercials had shown.

Hoping that the stop wouldn't be a total waste, I wandered over to the swimsuits. Most of them were eye-searingly gaudy, but I found some in normal colors that were reasonably priced. I snatched them up and dragged my husband away from the dress rack, where he seemed to have gone into a coma of horror. Since the store was closing, half of Kissimmee had worked its way into the check-out lines. Only two lines were open, although they eventually opened a third in hopes of dissipating the crowd sometime before midnight.

We hopped back into the car, and I felt a small rush of sympathy for my husband. We had come out on a mission to get him a bicycle, but I had purchased all sorts of goodies while he was still empty handed. His face wore the dejected expression of an orphaned cyclist cruely deprived of his trusty cycle.

Not long after we arrived home, he trotted down the stairs waving a piece of paper. He'd gone online and discovered a likely candidate at Wal-Mart. And only $59, too. Sigh! Thankfully, it was too late to head out again tonight, but I know what I'll be doing tomorrow. Canyonero will be heading down 192 to 27, and I'll have my fingers crossed that Sam Walton's Four Corners store will have a bike to satisfy my hubby. The intrepid East Village cyclist will ride once again.

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Thursday, March 17, 2005

In Search of a Spa

Close proximity to Disney World is one of the best perks of living in Celebration. But when your home is in a tourist area, you have access to some other neat things, too. For example, name a type of food and it's available within reasonable striking distance. Better yet, you won't have to pay full price; just grab a coupon book at one of the racks you can find in virtually any store and chances are good you'll find a discount for your restaurant of choice.

Food aside, I just love the fact that any time I've got a hankering for a spa treatment, I can almost always get a same day appointment somewhere nearby, be it in Celebration, at one of the Disney World hotels, or a resort/spa in the surrounding area. In Chicago, there is an excellent spa just minutes from my condo. Unfortunately, in order to indulge in a hot rock massage or a pampering pedicure, you need to do some advance planning. Generally, you must call at least two or three days in advance; if you want a weekend appointment, you're got to book it at least a week ahead of time. With my busy schedule, I don't always know when I'll have a time gap until it actually occurs, so that makes it difficult.

In the Disney World/Kissimmee area, it seems like almost every major resort hotel has a spa. Since most tourists are in town for a limited amount of time, they are geared to short-notice callers.

Celebration itself also has some options, most notably the spa at the Mirasol apartment complex. But since that one caters to a local clientele, it generally requires more advance notice than the touristy locations. The fitness center at Celebration Health also offers massages, but again, they tend to be patronized by the local crowd so last-minute appointments are hard to come by.

I learned this when I embarked on a search for a spa yesterday afternoon. My back and shoulders had been nagging me all week, but by Wednesday they had stiffened into hard, cold marble. It hurt just to move my head. I carry all my tension in my shoulders, even at the best of times, but I suspect that all my work on my laptop is provoking my problem areas more than usual.

When I worked on location in a business office, my set-up was at least halfway ergonomic. I had an adjustable chair with a back support, a wrist rest for my keyboard, and blocks to adjust the height of my monitor. Now, my "work station" consists of the family room couch, and the height of my laptop is pretty much limited by the height of my lap. I don't think there's any way known to man to make a laptop keyboard and touch pad ergonomic. I feel pretty comfortable while working, but apparently it's taking a toll (or maybe my back is just just being persnickity this week, since I've been working at home for over a month, and this is the first time it's been a real problem).

At any rate, I decided that I needed a good deep tissue massage to work out the knots and impart some flexibility back into my stiff, aching muscles. If I had been back at my Chicago condo, I would have slipped into a tub of soothing hot water and kicked on the whirlpool jets. Unfortunately, the bathtub in Duloc Manor would make Mini-Me feel crowded, and it most certainly doesn't have jets. Massage was my only workable option, and it was already mid-afternoon, so I knew I'd better pull out the phone book and start dialing.

I have always been a "spa person." When my husband asked me to marry him, in the interests of full disclosure I warned him that I am very high maintenance. I've never been one to mess with my hair or take the time to apply artful makeup. The only "hair styles" I bother with are those that require a brush and no more than 10 minutes with the blow dryer. Makeup is something that I reserve for special occasions (and I mean very special, like a wedding or funeral).

But while I'm not high maintenance on things that affect my outward appearance, I totally indulge my inner self. Massages, reflexology, facials, pedicures, body wraps...ahhhhhh, that's the life! I wanted my poor husband to know exactly what he was getting into; what I didn't realize was that he would quickly become as bad as me. Now, he loves massages just as much as I do, and when we're on a cruise, he will schedule a seaweed wrap every day if I let him. We both work hard, but we make sure to play hard too. When you have lots of day to day stress, it's all the more important to focus on your inner well-being.

In my search for a massage, I struck out on my first two calls (Mirasol and Celebration Health). I had been prepared for that; Plan B was to start working my way through the various massage offerings at the Walt Disney World hotels. I started with the Animal Kingdom Lodge, since it's not as well known as the locations with full-blown spas, like the Grand Floridian and Saratoga Springs. Unfortunately, after listening to an endless recorded message, I discovered that I would have to leave a message for a call-back. Not a feasible option when time is of the essence.

I tried the Contemporary, another lesser-known massage place. I managed to get a human being on the phone this time, but unfortunately they were all booked up. Next up was the Yacht and Beach Club, where I was denied once again.

It was time to start calling the actual spas; I started with Saratoga Springs, which is conveniently located right by Downtown Disney. It's actually the revamped/rebuilt Disney Institute, which had a spa in its original incarnation that survived the transition to Disney's newest DVC resort.

Like the Animal Kingdom Lodge, Saratoga Springs had the Long Intro Recording From Hell. I don't need an ad nauseum recitation of the spa services; I already know that I'm calling a spa. Can't they have an option at the beginning: "To skip the boring, 20 minute spiel, press 1"?

I managed to make it through to the recitation of the menu options and gamely pressed the magic number that would connect me to the appointment line. Of course, "all agents were busy assisting other guests," so I settled in for a wait. A minute or two later, I was abruptly disconnected without ever speaking to a human. I hit redial, secure in the knowledge that I could cut off the spiel by punching the designated number again. Once again, I pressed it, and this time I didn't even spend any time on hold before promptly being cut off. Grrrr! A spa is supposed to be a place that reduces stress. I hadn't even made an appointment yet, and already I was gritting my teeth into powder. I tried one more time, and this time I got the "stay on hold for a while before we hang up on you" treatment. It almost became a vendetta, but I restrained myself by remembering that valuable time was wasting away.

Next up was the spa at the Grand Floridian. As I was clicked into the scary netherworld of Hold yet again, I wondered if perhaps there was no one at any of the Disney World spa switchboards. Perhaps the spas really didn't exist at all; instead, it might part of an elaborate marketing ploy.

I didn't get much further in that train of thought, as someone finally came to the phone. (Actually, I know quite well that the Grand Floridian's spa exists, as I have been there before, as well as at the spas at the Marriott World Center and the Gaylord Palms, and I've also had an aromatherapy massage at the Animal Kingdom Lodge). But all my trouble was in vain, as they were completely booked up too.

It was beginning to look like I'd have to leave the Bosom of the Mouse for my massage. Many of the surrounding hotels have spas, too, but I didn't really want to drive too far. I racked my brain and remembered that there are some upscale non-Disney hotels in the Downtown Disney area that might have some spa offerings. I tried the Hyatt and the Hilton without success, and the Wyndam, like AK Lodge, had recorded instructions to leave my name and number. In a business that caters to tourists on the go, that seems like an oxymoron. I'm sure that visitors to the Orlando area really feel like sitting around their hotel room waiting for a call-back.

I toyed with calling the Marriott World Center or the Gaylord Palms. The Gaylord in particular has a wonderful spa that is affiliated with the famous Canyon Ranch. Unfortunately, their prices reflect their upscale affiliation. I wasn't too thrilled about paying a premium; it wouldn't be so bad if I had the time to lounge around their sitting area, drinking tea and snacking on fresh fruit, or if I could take a dip in their hot tub, but my schedule was too tight for an hours-long full-blown spa experience.

It looked like my only other option might be to raid the bottom of the bird's cage for an old Sunday newspaper. The massage ads in the Sunday Sentinel never cease to amuse me. Sadly, I get the impression that many of them are thinly veiled ads for prostitution. When you see words like "All Female Staff, We'll Make Your Dreams Come True!", flanked by a photo of half-dressed women with porno-flick-pseudo-ecstacy expressions on their faces, it's hard to imagine that the services are legitimate. There are some real massage parlors mixed in among the places that cater to lonely businessmen looking for a happy ending, but I didn't feel like sifting through them.

Then it dawned on me: What about the Swan and Dolphin, the red-haired stepchildren of the Disney World hotels? Even though they are in a prime location in the Epcot resort area, they often get shunted aside in people's minds because they are not directly owned by Disney.

I dialed the Dolphin and struck paydirt. They had a massage appointment only one hour away! I'd have just enough time to take a quick shower and buzz over to Disney World. Once you leave East Village, it's a short jaunt to World Drive via Celebration Boulevard. Just pass under the magical arch and voila! You're on the Mouse's property without ever having to face the gaudy neon wasteland of 192.

I know the roads at the Disney World resort quite well, but even if I didn't, it's nearly impossible to miss the Dolphin and the Swan. You can see the gaudy pink and teal pyramid rising up in the sky in the distance almost as soon as you enter Disney property. Those hotels were under construction the first time I ever visited the Orlando area, and I remember cringing at their gaudiness even then. Michael Eisener must have a weakness for giant, tacky icons, as so many sprang up while he was in charge.

I could have lived with the Swan and Dolphin, which are actually quite low-key as far as Disney tackiness goes. But to this day I consider the Value resorts (the All-Stars and Pop Century) to be hideous eye sores. To me, "Theming" means something tasteful, like the Polynesian or Port Orleans. It does not mean taking a Motel 6, slapping on primary colored paint and tossing giant icons around the property willy-nilly.

The iconic horror is not limited to the hotels. It broke my heart the day they erected the uge sorcer's hat in front of the replica of Grauman's Chinese Theater in Disney MGM Studio. To me, Grauman's equated Hollywood; it was an appropriate icon. Same thing with the Earful Tower, a replica of the water tower at the Burbank Studio. Not that I have anything against Sorcerer Mickey, but what does he have to do with studios and film making, other than being in a movie? It takes away from the original character of that park and it's old-time Hollywood (of course, I suppose it's not much of a studio anymore anyway, especially since they shut down the animation production facility there).

Ah, but I digress. I didn't care what the Dolphin looked like, as long as there was a message therapist waiting for me inside. I, of all people, know not to judge something on its ugly tacky outside; after all, remember that I drive a Pontiac Aztek.

Besides, I knew what to expect, as I had been to the Dolphin before. Ironically, it was while attending a conference there that I ended up visiting Celebration, which of course led to buying Duloc Manor. I pulled into the parking lot and found a spot near the convention center. As I walked past the banquet halls and meeting rooms, heading toward the rotunda lobby, I couldn't drifting through these hallways, blissfully unaware that her future self would someday return as a Celebration-dwelling Floridian.

Finding the spa was like making my way through a twisting, turning maze. Down two floors, then follow the signs to the pool. Once there, I had been assured that I would find the fitness center, where the massage therapy rooms were tucked inside. Sure enough, I found it with 15 minutes to spare. I as given a robe, slippers, and a locker key so I could prepare for my hour in Heaven.

Promptly on the hour, the massage therapist escorted me into a treatment room. Since I had chosen an aromatherapy massage, the first order of business was to choose my oil. They all had optimistic, promising names, like Rejuvination, Balance, Stress Rejuvination, and Relaxation. Generally, I like lavendar (which is found in most relaxation blends), but I decided to go out on a limb and choose something totally different. I went with Balance because it smelled quite intriguiging, although I have no idea what sort of essential oils it contained.

I spread out on the bed and lapsed into a coma of relaxation. I could feel her working my resistant muscles, and their cracks and creaks made me cringe. But somehow she managed to pull out the knots, and by the time she was done, it felt soooo much better. The pain wasn't completely gone, but it was at the lowest level that it had been in days.

I didn't want to up, but I knew that I had no choice. Reluctantly, I dragged my carcass to the locker room, where I decided to wash my hair before heading back to Duloc Manor and more time at my PC keyboard. I hated to take a shower and slough off the wonderfully scented oil, but I also didn't want to walk around looking like my hair hadn't been washed in weeks and like it might catch fire if you lit a match nearby.

Fortunately, the shampoo and conditioner were even better smelling than the oils. They were some sort of spa brand that I had never seen before, so I lavished them on and reveled in the hot water and the profusion of blissful-smelling suds.

All too soon it was time to drag my carcass home. Thankfully the rain that had been threatening all day had held off so I didn't have to get soggy on my way to the car. As I drove back to Celebration, I realized how good felt not to have my shoulder tendons throbbing. Things had been looking bleak during my first several phone calls, but I knew that eventually I'd find a spa and I'd been proven correct. Just another reason to love living in the Tourist Capital of the U.S.A.

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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Immediate Gratification

Spending five days in Chicago gave me a renewed appreciation for the winter weather in Florida. Just yesterday, I was watching the snow fall for the second day in a row. I couldn't venture out without a coat and the heat cranked up in the car. Today, after a two hour flight, I am sitting in front of an open window, reveling in the sunshine and the pleasant breeze. Outside, it's warm enough for kids to be playing in the East Village pool. Coat? What's a coat? I am perfectly content and comfortable in my t-shirt and shorts. In Chicago, I forgot some house plants in my car until evening, and the poor things all froze and died. In Celebration, I just came home with two hanging pots of flowers for my backyard.

It's a real treat for me now, but I can't help wonder whether I will become jaded over time. Soon, warm winter weather won't be something to marvel at; instead, it will be what I expect, and I'll grouse when the mercury dips below 60. I'd like to think that will never happen, but I already take my proximity to Disney World for granted. Once upon a time, a vacation with the Mouse was a once or twice yearly treat. Now, it's just another one of a long list of activites that I can indulge in any time I please. If we go to the parks and they are too crowded, we just turn around and leave because tomorrow is another day.

I realized just how used to immediate gratification I have become while I was chatting with my co-workers. While I was in Chicago, I stopped at the office to join them for lunch. Someone asked if I had been to Disney World lately, and I replied that I hadn't been to the parks in weeks because I've been so busy. I added, "But we have made it over there for dinner a couple of times."

To me, the idea of dinner at Disney World is just as natural as breathing. It's the equivalent of driving over to the mall in Chicago to go to Red Lobster, T.G.I. Friday's, or Olive Garden. Now, instead of the chains, we just drive to one of the Disney hotels and dine at Jiko, Ohana, or the Cape May Buffet. Or, if we're feeling really ambitious, we slip into one of the parks to eat at Morocco or Canada at Epcot or Brown Derby or 50's Prime Time Cafe in the Studio.

But to someone who lives 1200 miles away and considers Disney World a vacation destination rather than the big tourist trap next door, I guess that sounds rather odd. It would have sounded that way to me once, too, but now it's just the way things are. I don't think I'll ever get tired of it, but I supposed that being able to indulge my Disney fanaticism whenever I please has rubbed off a little bit of the pixie dust.

Of course, that's not limited to living next door to Mickey and friends. More and more, I see patience and waiting giving way to immediate gratification. It's not just true of me, but of the whole world around me. On one hand, it's nice to have easy access to the things that you love. On the other, having to wait makes them somehow more valuable when you finally do get them.

Case in point: I grew up long before the era of DVDs, and VCRs did not become popular until I was out of high school. Before that (believe it or not, youngsters!), I had to watch what the original three networks cared to put on, and too bad if I missed a show that I really wanted to see. That was before cable, so the pickings were pretty slim in the first place.

For movies, the two big options were 1) See it in the theater; or 2) Wait forever and then see the badly mangled, commercial-laden network premiere that might come years later.

From today's cable-Tivio-DVD perspective, it might sound like I led a miserably deprived childhood. Now, you can record programs without a second thought and get just about anything you want at the local video store. You don't wait years to see a favorite movie after it's theatrical release; at most, it will be a matter of months. Complete collections of your favorite television shows are as close as your local Border's or Barne's & Noble, unless you prefer ordering from

But there was a certain pleasure in being denied that immediate gratification. Having to wait made victory so much sweeter when a favorite show finally graced the airwaves. Probably the best example of this is the plethora of Christmas specials that were broadcast every holiday season.

I grew up with those scary but beloved Rankin-Bass classics like "Rudolph," "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," and "The Year Without a Santa Claus." Sure, like every child, I looked forward to Christmas for the bounty of presents, but that was only a small part of it. Once the Thanksgiving meal was over (yes, back in those days, the Christmas season didn't start the day after Halloween), I knew that it was time to start snapping up the new T.V. Guide every Sunday. Soon enough, I'd get to see my old pals Snow Miser, the Bumble, and Burger Meister Meister Burger on their long-anticipated yearly visit. And of course there were the lesser luminaries of the Christmas cartoon season, such as the clock-dwelling mice in "Twas the Night Before Christmas" and Frosty the Snowman vs. the evil magician who owned the magic hat.

There were some B-rated shows, too, like the abysmal "Rudolph's Shiny New Year," with the Dumbo-eared Baby New Year, and "Nester the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey" (someone at Rankin-Bass must have had a large-ear fetish). I watched those if nothing better was on, but they weren't no-misses like the others.

There is a saying that anticipation is greater than realization, and I believe it's true. Seeing the shows was great, but the delicious build-up was so exciting. It was an integral part of my childhood Christmas season.

There were other non-seasonal shows that inspired that same excitement. Every year, the "Wizard of Oz" would be shown with great fanfare. It was almost always sponsored by Singer sewing machines. Other movies that I waited for with baited breath included "Yellow Submarine" with the Beatles, "The Incredible Mr. Limpet" with Don Knotts, and "Gay Puree," an obscure cartoon about cats in France, with main characters voiced by Robert Goulet, Judy Garland, and Red Buttons. Now, I own them all on video or DVD, either purchased or taped from a cable channel.

And of course I own all of my holiday favorites on DVD. I can sing along with Snow Miser and his mini-me minions any time I please. I buy my favorite movies as they come out; I am counting the days until "The Incredibles" is released later this week.

It's great to be able to have all of my favorite movies and shows at my fingertips, but something is missing. I'll never have that warm feeling of excitement when I come across a gem in the T.V. Guide or that excited buildup to Christmas with those seasonal cartoons as a big part of it.

Immediate gratification is nice, but maybe us humans weren't meant to be indulged in every little desire. When you have to wait for something, or work for it, it has more meaning and you have more appreciation. I'm sure that those who grew up in generations after mine can't imagine what it's like not to have movies and t.v. shows at their fingertips. They don't even have to wait until they get home to view 'em. Now, there are portable DVD players and entertainment systems built right into cars.

Just as those kids can't relate to what my long-ago anticipation was like, I supposed it's inevitable that I'm learning to take things for granted that I once viewed as special. Warm weather all year 'round, with no more blizzards and sub-zero temperatures? Not special anymore, just par for the course. Heading over to Disney World on a whim, catching a few rides at the Magic Kingdom before hopping over to Epcot for dinner at Morocco? Not a yearly treat...just another ho-hum day in Paradise.

As much as I hate returning to Chicago, maybe it's good for me. It will be a regular reminder that once upon a time those things weren't part of my everyday life, and I should count myself very lucky that they are now.

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My Celebration website is