Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Soggiest June

I think we might have had the soggiest June on record. As of yesterday, Fox news said that we had moved up from fifth place to second. We got lots more rain today, so I suspect that we have moved into first place.

Only a few weeks ago, I was lamenting the lack of rain. Now, we've got all we could ever want...and more. Ironically, it's very, very dry in Chicago. Too bad I can't package up the rainclouds and send a few over.

Of course, afternoon rain is a fact of life in Florida. Every summer, the midday monsoons move in. Usually, they don't last very long. They just boom with thunderbolts and blast with lightning, disgorge a downpour, and disappear. The problem this month is that they're starting early and staying all day.

When they come at their usual time, it's easy to deal with them. Even in my tourist days, my husband and I became expert at planning meals or indoor activities around the afternoon showers. I feel sorry for the poor souls who are vacationing with the Mouse this week. It's bad enough that they've paid top dollar to take their trip in the peak season. Then they get to plow through the crowds and wait in two hour lines. Now, worse yet, they're getting drenched too.

When my husband and I know that showers are coming, we pack our bright blue ponchos. They offer good protection, especially if you're wearing shorts. But here's an important tip: DO NOT wear tennis shoes. If you do, your feet will be sloshing all day and probably developing blisters. Wear tongs or water sandals for maximum comfort on soggy turf.

Speaking of the sogginess, my floors are a real mess from tracking in wet grass and mulch all week. I have minimized some of it by laying new stepping stones along the garage. I had smaller ones, but they made me feel like I was playing hopskotch. Now I've got nice, big ones that are easy to maneuver on. Hopefully they will cut down on my floor scrubbing.

My house is considered a bungalow, and amazingly, it's standard that the back family room comes with carpet. Ours was upgraded to tile, thank God. I can't even imagine the horror of trying to keep carpeting clean. We almost always park in our driveway and trek through the backyard, so if we had carpet, by now it would have a permanent mud-colored path worn in.

The weather just came on t.v., and rain is in the forecast all the way through Saturday. I hope it blows out early, as the Tugger World Premiere starts on the 2nd at 2 p.m. I don't have a choice on whether to go or not, as my husband and I have volunteered to work in one of the merchandise booths. There are festivities planned throughout the day, from an Air Force fly-over to a premiere of the Tugger movie on big screen televisions to a concert by Jim Belushi and a fireworks display capper. Celebration will be closed to everyone except residents (and, presumably, those associated with the premiere); others will have to park on the outskirts and take a shuttle downtown. We all received passes in the mail to allow us to come and go freely.

The rain needs to hold off on Monday, too, which is the actual 4th of July holiday. Sunday promises to be low key, but on Monday we have another full slate of activities, capped by yet another fireworks display. I will be driving in the parade that morning; my husband won a week's Jaguar rental in a raffle, so he's picking up the vehicle tomorrow, and we'll be decking it out for the parade. Originally I was going to enter Canyonero, but I couldn't resist using the Jag.

I'll be very happy to see my husband, since he's been in Chicago for two weeks (his usual jaunt is one week at a time). The weather there has been at FL heat levels, so at least he's felt at home. Or maybe's hard to get used to boring Midwest landscapes when you're used to palm trees and lush tropical vegetation. I'm sure that Farquaad will be pleased to see him, too. Quaad is definitely his cat, since he's spoiled that cat since kittenhood with handouts of raw beef and half & half. Quaad goes crazy if you say either "Beef" or "Cream." He's always miffed when hubby is out of town, since I'm not nearly as generous with the goodies.

Tonight I'll start my prayers for sunshine, and hopefully it will be a dry (and fun) holiday weekend.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Goody Goody Goodings

At long, long last the Goodings grocery store at Water Tower Place is open!

A new grocery store might not sound too exciting, but the Goodings is in an ideal location. Sure, we have a Publix located a stone's throw away (just off 192, at Xentury City), but getting there means crossing 192 and battling the tourist traffic. Water Tower Place is located right on the outskirts of Celebration, just past North Village. It can be reached by NEV (Neighborhood Electric Vehicle) and even by bicycle if you don't mind braving the world's narrowest bridge sidewalk.

Of course, the Publix is within bike reach too, at least in theory. My husband once went there on his bicycle when we didn't have our car, and somehow he lived to tell the tale. But that's not a journey for the faint of heart; Goodings is within much easier striking distance.

I had been anxiously awaiting the Grand Opening, or at least a soft opening. Rumor had it that it would happen today (Tuesday), so I anxiously watched the Celebration intranet for the latest information. The rumored time changed from morning to early afternoon to late afternoon. Then, finally, I saw the big announcement. Goodings was open for business! My husband is out of town this week, so I was anxious to zip over and check out their selection of ready-made foods. It's too much of a pain to cook for one, especially when you can pick up a nice salad, a fresh sandwich, or a chicken dinner.

After swimming laps at the health club to help offset my decadent eating over the weekend, I headed off to Goodings. It was a little after 9 p.m. when I arrived, but there were quite a few people around. The only reason parking wasn't a blood sport was that many of the other stores were closed. I can't even imagine what the parking lot will look like on Friday and Saturday nights, when cars spill over from the Joe's Crab Shack crowd. For some odd reason, a park was slotted into a huge hunk of prime parking space. Who the heck is going to come to a strip mall and sit in the park?! Seems to me that it would have made more sense to asphalt and stripe that precious land.

I also noticed a new carts scattered throughout the parking area and left willy-nilly in front of the adjacent stores. There was a Goodings employee trying to round them up, but I suspect the Shopping Cart Rodeo will be an ongoing contest.

I headed into the store, which was big and welcoming, with fresh sushi being prepared in a large staging area (my husband's going to love that) and a huge deli section with all sorts of tempting salads. I opted for a chicken/grape/pecan concoction for my dinner. Then I sought out that salad bar and whipped up my lunch for the next day. There were lots of fresh veggies, including some less conventional ones like cold peas and cold corn. I love to slather peas on top of cottage cheese, then add some fresh cut mushrooms. I whipped up my "pea salad" and added a generous portion of alfalfa sprouts and some other veggies. It will be so nuce to have a "fresh" lunch tomorrow. I just hope that kids don't start poking and pawing the food; I tend to avoid grocery store salad bars after witnessing too many grubby hands diving into the veggies and kids licking the pudding spoons in Chicago.

I bought some ham as a treat for my spoiled cats and a piece of cake as a treat for spoiled me. Then I wandered the aisles, searching out impulse items. French Toast Pop-Tarts caught my eye; supposedly they taste like French Toast and have a syrup-flavored filling. That has the potential to be really, really good or really, really bad...we'll see. At the very least, they'll make a quick breakfast on mornings when I'm rushing.

In the very appealing candy section, which looked like something out of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, I found fruit flavored Chiclets gum. That happens to be a weakness of mine; I've always been a sucker for candy coated gum, and Chiclets is virtually the only brand that still offers it in fruit flavors. I come from an unconventional family, where gum was consumed in the same way as candy. None of that chewing till the flavor runs out...we chomp it a couple of times, then swallow it. My brother and I have done that all our lives, and my nephews and nieces are all the same way. Chiclets is a perfect "candy gum"...the only one better was Beechies (fruit flavored or pepsin), but sadly they don't make it anymore.

I headed to the checkout counter with my booty. There were a few other people, but I found a counter with no line. As my purchases were being run up, I noticed a customer service counter (actually, Goodings uses Disney-speak and calls it "Guest Services"). Unlike the market in downtown Celebration, Goodings sells lottery tickets. It's my vice to buy a ticket or two when shopping, although this time I managed to restrain myself. The only FL lottery game that I ever had any luck with was "Corvette Cash," and that one is long gone.

I also noticed a pharmacy that wasn't open yet and a comprehensive liquor store. One of the annoying things about the Xentury City Publix is that they don't sell hard liquor. Now, when I get a hankering for a pina colada or margarita from the trusty Magic Bullet but realize that I'm out of rum or tequila, it's only a three minute ride away.

The store was overstaffed, which I think was for training purposes. The staff seemed helpful and enthusiastic, so hopefully they will carry that attitude forward into the everyday routine.

It will be interesting to see how my husband likes Goodings, since he is a major Publix fan. I refer to the one across 192 as the "Tourist Publix," but he loves it. He is very habitual, so he likes the fact that he knows where everything is. They also tend to have nice pre-made items for the grill, like shishkabobs or chimichurri flank steak or crab cakes. He enjoys their sushi, too, but the fancy sushi bar at Goodings might just win him over. But maybe not...he once visited the horrible tourist Goodings at the Crossroads, near Downtown Disney, and afterwards he needed intensive therapy to get him over the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. After that inciddent, I may have trouble getting him into any Goodings.

I, for one, know that I'll be a frequent patron, if only for the salad bar and deli. I'm always looking for a quick but fresh lunch, so hopefilly they will continue to offer the same tempting selection that they had on their first day.

I'm not sure how their prices compare to Publix, since my husband is the primary shopper in our family. I just tag along to annoy him with my impulse purchases as he methodically stalks the aisles with his carefully prepared shopping list. I don't mind paying a little bit more, but there is a point of reason. I stopped shopping at the little market in downtown Celebration after paying nearly $7.00 for potato salad that sells for half that at Publix.

Actually, now that Goodings is open, I wonder if Towne Center Market will survive. I hope that they do, but the last time I was there, their selection wasn't the best. That, on top of too much "price premium," is a recipe for disaster. Now, even if I just need a loaf of bread or carton of milk, it's just too easy to continue a little farther down the road to Water Tower Place. Parking can be a challenge in downtown Celebration, too, but I'm sure that Goodings is going to have major parking headaches so neither store has an advantage in that arena.

Once my husband has analyzed the Goodings prices, I'll know if we'll be doing our regular shopping there or if it will be more of a convenience place for us. I hope that having a Publix almost right across the street will force them to keep their prices in line. It's a lovely store and a great addition to Water Tower Place. If nothing else, I'll be a regular at that salad bar!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

It's a Bird...IN a Plane!

I joined my husband in Chicago last weekend to see "Little Shop of Horrors." It's one of my favorite movies, and I've always wanted to see it on stage. We did catch the Celebration High School production, but I was looking forward to seeing the touring cast from Broadway. (Actually, after seeing the "real" play, I'm even more impressed by the quality of the Celebration High version.) Plays are just about the only thing I'll return to Chicago for these days.

I flew home Monday morning on the Southwest cattle call, leaving poor hubby behind for a week. I got to the airport early enough to be the first person in the A line, which meant that my prospects for an exit row looked good. I have short legs, so comfort isn't the biggest draw for me (even though I certainly enjoy it). Flying makes me nervous, so I head to the restroom at least once, even if I've avoided liquids for several hours before the flight. I like sitting by the window but hate tripped over the other passengers in my row. If I'm in a regular row, I take the aisle as a courtesy. If I can get a bulkhead or exit, I can enjoy the view and still be able to get up with minimal disruption to my neighbors.

The plane had come to the gate and disgorged its passengers, so I knew that boarding would begin soon. Then a group of people came up, pushing a cart with a number of animal carriers. That surprised me, since you cannot bring pets on Southwest. Turns out that Seaworld had sent a number of critters to make an appearance at "Taste of Chicago." Now, they were winging their way home on my flight. Most of them were birds, although a sloth was included in the mix. How ironic...birds flying in an airplane!

The animals all had their own seats and were even named on the boarding passes. Since I was at the head of the line, I could see the passes as the gate agent scanned them. The species for each critter was listened in last name, first name format (for example, "Toucan, Hornbilled," "Conure, Golden" etc.). The trainers pre-boarded with their charges and strapped them safely into the first several rows.

Next was the regular pre-board, and then the lettered cattle call started. I trooped on with the As and headed back to my favorite exit row seat. My happiness at getting it was tempered somewhat by "Linda Blair" behind me. She was not a little kid...maybe 10 or 11. I've sat in front of 3, 4, and 5 year olds who were much better behaved. When you've got a kid behind you, the odds are 90 percent that you'll have some seat kicking, but this girl seemed to be having epileptic fits. She was literally banging her head into the back of the seat! There was no one in the middle seat in my row, but even the guy sitting on the aisle was getting annoyed. The kid would go from head banging to kicking like a mule, and then she'd grab the back of my seat and start jerking in manically. I was waiting for her head to spin and pea soup to shower my hair.

Both the guy on the aisle and I glared at Mom and Satan-ette, but they were clueless. Mom put on the old "I don't speak English" routine. I used to babysit for a Mexican family, so I still remember a few choice curses in Spanish, but I decided that it wasn't worth wasting my breath. The only thing that might have been effective was an exorcism, and I happened to be all out of holy water.

Meanwhile, the flight attendants announced that one of the Sea World trainers would be bringing the toucan down the aisle. There was a stir of excitement throughout the cabin and a run on the overhead bins as people grabbed their cameras. I usually consider myself lucky to live in Florida, but this was one of the rare times that I envied the tourists. They were all equipped with cameras to capture their Kodak moments with Mickey. Since I was going home, I of course didn't have one. A picture of a bird flying in a plane would have been classic!

Rico, the toucan, was quite well behaved as the excited passengers blinded him with their flashes and oohed and ahhed over his impressive beak. He is part of a new show at Sea World, so I'm sure he's used to being the center of attention. I am a bird lover, so I enjoyed seeing him up close. I've been to Discovery Cove, but never to Sea World, so I'll have to check out the show. When I see Rico, I can yell, "I know him!"

Soon enough everyone (human and animal) had to get belted back in, as we were descending into Orlando. It had been an interesting two and a half hours sharing a plane with both Satan and a menagerie. As we touched down on the runway and taxied to the terminal, I couldn't help but thing of the cry from the old "Superman" show: "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Superman!" With just a bit of paraphrasing, it would fit my adventure nicely: "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird IN a plane! It's Toucan Sam!"

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The Longest Day

June 21st is the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. I was sound asleep at sunrise, but I did witness the early dawn on Monday the 20th. I had to do my bi-weekly airport run, sending my husband off to Chicago. He leaves early on Monday morning and flies back right after work on Friday night so he can get back to Celebration as soon as possible.

As usual, we set off around 5 a.m.; the time could have just as easily passed for midnight, based on the darkness and gloom. But by the time I pulled into the driveway an hour later, the sun had taken over and the birds were welcoming the new day in a raucous harmony. Quite a change from my winter drives, when I left and returned under a pitch-black sky.

After an airport drive, I always crawl back into bed for another two or three hours. I'm just not meant to be on an early-bird schedule; I'll always be more of a night owl. True, I drag my carcass off the mattress at 7 a.m. most mornings for my walk, but I trudge along in a zombie-like state that is only relieved by liberal administration of coffee. When I have nothing to rise and shine for, I hibernate like a bear.

It was harder to fall asleep with the sunshine streaming in the window, but eventually I managed to return to dreamland. I awoke a couple of hours later, refreshed and ready to face the world.

It was a typically busy Monday. I had plenty of work to do for both of my jobs, plus I had to run downtown to do chores. I slipped out to do that at lunchtime, combining it with a run to Chick-Fil-A. If you're not familiar with that chain, they serve all manner of chicken-based items: sandwiches, nuggets, tenders, etc. They have the strangest ads, which feature cows urging people to eat more chicken. I supposed that bovines might be glad to see humans focusing on a different farm-based food source, but somehow I just can't buy the notion that they'd sell the poultry down the river to save their own skins. Wouldn't all the farm animals band together to promote vegetarianism? And where do the pigs fit in, since Chick-Fil-A sells sausage for breakfast? Do they have a pact with the cows not to mention them?

Regardless of the silly ads, Chick-Fil-A is conveniently located in Water Tower Place, so I often visit it just because it's easy to get to. It's very rare that an ad or commercial disgruntles me so much that I'll boycott a product. I only have two personal ad-based boycotts currently going on: Charmin toilet paper and Quiznos Subs.

Surely you've seen the Charmin ads with cartoon bears dancing in the woods while wiping their behinds, having apparently just taken big dumps behind their tree "bathrooms." Going "number two" must be a family affair with bears, since Mom, Dad, and the kids are always doing it side-by-side in those obnoxious commercials.

I can just imagine some ad executive sharing his big idea: "Hey, let's base our next campaign on the old saying that bears shit in the woods! Surely shitting bears are synomonous with the idea of ultra-soft bathroom tissue." It's frightening to think that the company heads must have agreed and actually paid for that drivel and put it on the air. The whole concept repulses me and has driven me to buy an alternate brand.

I was one of the few people who liked to Quiznos sponge monkey ads, in which those mutated gerbil-looking creatures with the Clutch Cargo mouthes sang the praises of toasted subs and pepper bars in shrill, out-of-tune voices. I also enjoyed the "raised by wolves" spots. But now they've put Baby Bob in their ads...CGI babies with unsynced Japanese movie mouths are bad enough in general, but when they spout horny blather with the voice of a 40 year old man, it's time to patronize Subway or make the drive to Earl of Sandwich.

Compared with bear feces and freaky mutant infants, the Chick-Fil-A cow looks pretty good. Besides, I am addicted to the honey mustard and Polynesian sauces that go with the chicken nuggets (the cole slaw and carrot salad are pretty good, too). There are other fast food places lining every available inch of space on 192, but I don't usually venture too far beyond Celebration. I don't like either of the two closest offerings: Wendy's and Checkers.

Actually, I should explain: I do like Wendy's, but the one directly across 192 must have the busiest drive-thru in the United States. Never do I go there without getting stuck behind nearly a dozen cars. If I pull up at lunchtime, I don't receive my order until it's time for dinner. They crank the cars through pretty fast, but the sheer volume is overwhelming.

I'm not overly thrilled with Checker's food; they're located adjacent to Old Town, so their convenience might win them some brownie points, but for me that's totally overshadowed by the murder that happened there a few months back. A gunman robbed them through the drive-thru window and then murdered the manager in cold blood. They got him on videotape, but I don't think they ever caught him.

The crime scene tape is long gone, and the restaurant is always packed with oblivious tourists who have no idea that they're eating at the site of a brutal slaying. But when a combination of hunger and laziness led me there one day, I couldn't help but get goosebumps as I sat in the drive-thru lane, right where the murderer had stood. By the time I got my burger, I had lost my appetite; no big loss, since their food is mediocre anyway. That was my first and last visit to Checker's.

On this day, I was quite content with my chicken nuggets, and the cats seemed to approve of my choice, as they surrounded me to beg the moment I walked in the door. Stitch is much too cool to solicit handouts, but Farquaad and Tooncinator have no such scruples. They meow piteously as though they are both starving, even though they each tip the scales at 15 pounds plus.

After work, I had a pedicure appointment at Magic Nails. In Chicago, I didn't have to worry about my toe nails, since they were usually hidden in socks and gym shoes. In Florida, I live in sandals, so I try to keep them at least moderately presentable. The nails on my small toes are so tiny that it takes a microscope to see them, so I get them done professionally whenever possible. Otherwise, I end up with red, pink, or purple-painted toes, since I managed to slap more nail polish onto my skin than on the nail.

Magic Nails has wonderful massage chairs that knead and thump your back while your tootsies are pampered in the foot bath. I went one level up from the standard pedicure, so I got an exfoliation and "foot mask." By the time I was done, my poor, long-suffering feet felt utterly rejuvinated. My only error was picking too light of a polish color. I thought it would hide any chips and wear, but it's so light that you can barely tell it's there. Next time, I'll opt for my usual gaudy purple hue.

While my nails were being done, I noticed that the light of the second-longest day was being overtaken by dark storm clouds. I thought I might get caught in a downpour, based on the threatening rumbles and flashes of lightening, but it was all an idle threat. The sky emitted a few brief spits of water, and then the storm moved off to impose its wrath on another part of the state.

Now, the longest day of the year is over; it's all downhill from here. As the weeks wear on, the sun's dominance will weaken, and I'll be doing both legs of my airport run in total darkness again. In Chicago, shortening days used to mean that summer was fading into fall, soon to be followed by months of miserable winter weather. In Florida, the increasing darkness is not a harbinger of doom and depression. Short days pave the way to a break in the heat, and hopefully to many weeks of gorgeous open-window weather. By the time the Winter Solstice brings the shortest day of the year, I'll be feeling sorry for my snowed-in friends and family in Chicago and remembering why I moved to the Sunshine State.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Conjunction Junction, What's Your Function?

This past weekend, it was a busy Celebration Sunday for my husband and I. First, we finally got around to attending church. I've been wanting to do that ever since we made the move, but up until now, our weekend laziness has prevailed. We know several people who attend the Presbyterian church in town, and there is an 11 a.m. service to accommodate late sleepers like us. This Sunday, we managed to drag our carcasses out of bed, dress ourselves in a semi-civilized manner, and make it downtown on time.

I know that the church is rather casual, but I still insisted that we dress up a bit. This meant black pants, a golf shirt, and "good" sneakers for my husband and a sun dress for me. As people arrived for the service, my husband kept poking me and complaining, "Look! Those people are wearing shorts! Look! There are lots of people wearing sandals! Why did you make me dress up?" But I wanted us to appear at least halfway God-fearing and respectful for our first visit; next time, I know he'll insist on dressing down.

The Presbyterian church is the oldest in Celebration; it started out in the AMC movie theater before moving into its permanent church building on Celebration Avenue. The 11:00 a.m. service is "blended," meaning that there is a mix of modern music and traditional hymns. I enjoyed that quite a bit, and I also liked how the sermon had a practical theme that could be tied into everyday life. Quite a pleasant change from the fire-and-brimstone, you're-all-going-to-hell lectures of my youth.

Even better, there was a movie clip from "What Women Want" to illustrate the theme. Any church that shows Mel Gibson clips wins extra points from me (Harrison Ford and Johnny Depp would be fine, too).

It's been a while since I've been to church, so it was nice to have a booster shot of spirituality. When my husband and I bought our Chicago condo, I never sought out a local church there. I'm a Catholic by birth, although I attended several years of Baptist and Pentecostal Sunday School. Rather than attending church regularly, my husband and I continued to support the Catholic church/retreat house near our old home and to visit it intermittantly. When I was completing my Masters degree, I did my internship at a Catholic social services agency. I've always been a believer in doing rather than saying...after all, that's the example that Jesus set.

I always intended to find a church in Celebration once we made the permanent move; our schedules were just too hectic while we were commuting. Now that Florida is our primary home, we can renounce our temporary heathenism and become God-fearing once again. There are a number of churchs in town, and they seem to have some excellent programs.

Despite my Catholic background, I am not tied into any particular faith. I personally practice my own brand of Christianity, as I just can't buy that whole Pope-is-God's-messenger concept, and it seems that the Vatican's wealth would be put to better use feeding the poor and taking care of the sick rather than gathering dust in a vault. I think I got disillusioned watching places like the retreat house and the social services agency running on a shoestring, manned by elderly nuns who work miracles with a total lack of funds, while Church bigwigs live in luxury. I felt more spirtuality in those places, were God's work on earth was really taking place, than in any fancy church.

The good thing about the Presbyterian church is that because it was the first in Celebration, it attracted people from a variety of religious backgrounds. That includes plenty of Catholics, since there was no official Catholic parish in Celebration until very recently. I don't buy the concept that there is only one path to Heaven, and I believe in inclusiveness. Also, they support many charitable programs. As a matter of fact, the day we attended was "Undie Sunday," where parishioners brought new socks and underwear for the needy. I really liked the atmosphere at the church: a good blend of contemporary and traditional, with a message that can be practically applied.

After church, we joined some friends for lunch at Carrabba's Italian Grill. I am not a big Italian food fan, but my husband absolutely loves it. I eat inordinate amounts of garlic, so even though Italian is not my first choice, I can always find something to please my palate if they have a good menu.

Carrabba's is a chain, but they were definitely several notches above Olive Garden. I don't dislike Olive Garden as such, but I consider it the "Taco Bell," or maybe the "Chi Chi's," of Italian cuisine. Passable, with some tasty items, but not really authentic. Carrabba's reminded me more of Macaroni Grill, or perhaps Luigi's House (most people have probably never heard of the latter, but for you Chicagoans, it's owned by the Portillo's chain).

The oil for the bread was godly, and the house salad dressing was sensational. After filling up on bread and salad, I barely had room for my chicken trio plate. My husband ordered some sort of enormous pasta dish that was plentiful enough to fill him up for lunch, with enough leftovers to provide a dinner rerun.

After the meal, our friends asked if we wanted to see "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.," which was being presented by the Celebration Players. I'd been mulling it over all weekend, and the 2 p.m. Sunday show was the last performance. Barring any major traffic jams, we'd have just enough time to make it to Celebration High School, where the show was being held.

My husband groused about needing to work, but I knew that he was just crabby about having to fly back to Chicago the next morning. I twisted his arm, and we all headed off in a caravan to the theater.

If you are a child of the 1970s, you'll recognize "Schoolhouse Rock" for the pop culture icon that it is to late Baby Boomers/early Gen-Xers. Ever since Disney bought ABC, they've been merchandising the daylights out of it (I personally believe that, contrary to the old cliche, Michael Eisner could squeeze at least a pint of blood out of a turnip). But before that happened, when ABC was still independent, "Schoolhouse Rock" lay dormant for years until a troupe of performers from Chicago took it out of cold storage.

In the mid 1990s, they put together a play called "Schoolhouse Rock Live!," that was basically a musical revue of the most popular SHR songs. I immediately dragged my husband to see it and went into fits of glee when they did my favorite, "Rufus Xavier Saspirilla" (because saying all those pronouns over and over can really wear you down).

We purchased "Schoolhouse Rock Live!" sweatshirts (remember, this was long before Disney starting selling just about any sort of SHR shirt imaginable), and the effect of those sweatshirts was stunning. Total strangers would run up to us, exclaiming, "Wow! Where did you get those?!" as though they were refugees from the "Interjections" song. People would spontaneously start humming the preamble to the Constitution (I, like virtually everyone else in my generation, passed my Constitution exam thanks to SHR).

One day, at Disney MGM Studio, we were waiting to enter the now-defunct (and sorely missed) Superstar Television show, where members of the audience were blue-screened into television programs. The host selected us to participate, and we marched backstage to await our instructions in our sequence with the Golden Girls. During a break, the host came rushing back and said, "I just HAD to tell you how much I love those shirts! The entire crew is humming 'Conjunction Junction' now."

Now, of course, SHR shirts are easy to obtain, and a whole new generation is enjoying the ultimate in edutainment thanks to the miracle of DVDs. Rest assured, I own the whole series, and watching them is a guilty pleasure.

"Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr." is an offshoot of the original play. It's shorter, and the cast is made up entirely of children and teens. I had seen the high school's production of "Little Shop of Horrors," which was quite well done, but this was my first "Celebration Players" show.

Overall, it was quite impressive. The story is a "Herman's Head" sort of thing, in which a new teacher frets about his first day in front of a classroom. Various parts of his mind appear in the flesh to show him that being a good teacher is not so hard, as long as you make learning fun.

The sets were simple but well-done (I especially liked seeing the figure of "Bill," everyone's favorite law-to-be). The kids put on a great, energetic performance, and the hour just flew by. I had to restrain myself from swaying in my seat and humming along with those old, familiar tunes. There was just one thing I couldn't help but wonder: "Interplanet Janet" was one of the the heck did they pick the poor kid who ended up playing Uranus?

I only had two disappointments: 1) That the music was not live. The high school's "Little Shop of Horrors" had a live band, but for SHR, the music was pre-recorded. I'm not sure if the Celebration Players usually have a band; perhaps the recorded tunes were just for this particular show. 2) That Rufus Xavier Sasparilla was not included. Of course, that had nothing to do with this particular production; it just doesn't happen to be included in the "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr." script.

I don't know why the "Pronouns" ditty has always been my favorite. It's always been a dark horse among more popular choices such as "I'm Just a Bill," "Interjections," and of course the perennial favorite, "Conjunction Junction." The tale of Rufus is actually sung by the same performer as "Conjunction Junction," but the melody is very heavy on piano (probably one of the reasons that I favor it). Ever since I was a kid, the saga of the aardvark, kangaroo, and rhinoerous has always been my #1.

As I listened to "Elbow Room," I reflected on just how politically incorrect the concept of Manifest Destiny has become ("Sure, we killed all those Indians and took their land, but God told us to do it. What, we're not supposed to listen to God?!"). I'm surprised that some of the SHR songs weren't edited or left off the DVD. After all, the Mouse is well known for his PC altering of history (think "Pocahontas").

But in all fairness, Disney is damned if they do and damned if they don't. They were castigated for wanting to build a theme park that would have "glossed over" slavery. But when they had a movie at California Adventure that showed some harsh truths about CA's history (most notably a Chinese man and his son getting blown up on a worksite), the outcry forced them to edit out the parts that were too realistic.

To their credit, they have left SHR alone, and it stands as a perfect slice of 1970s nostalgia/kitsch. Still, I couldn't help reflect on how the lyrics might go if they were written in the new millenium. For example, take this verse of "Interjections":

Though Geraldine played hard to get, (uh huh)
Geraldo knew he'd woo her yet.
He showed his affection,
Despite her objections,
And Geraldine hollered some interjections:

Well! You've got some nerve!
Oh! I've never been so insulted in all my life!
Hey! You're kinda cute!

Nowadays, Geraldine would be saying, "Well! You're making me uncomfortable." "Oh! You're stalking me." Hey! Back off! I've got a restraining order."

At "Schoolhouse Rock Live Jr.", "Interjections" was the grand finale...fitting, since its last line is the famous, "Darn! That's the end." It had gone by so quickly that I shared the sentiment...I could easily have sat through an extension of my 1970s childhood flashback. But I'm sure the kids were exhausted, as they had put a phenomenal amount of energy and talent into the show.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Friday, June 17, 2005

Heat Wave

The summer heat is upon us!

This is my first summer as an official Florida resident. In the past, as tourists, my husband and I avoided Disney World from June through August. It wasn't just the heat; the idea of waiting in three hour lines with thousands of other hot, sweaty, cranky people didn't hold much appeal. We'd do a last hurrah in May, while the kids are still in school, and then return in September when they've gone back and the temperatures are starting to moderate.

Now, as residents, we're here 24/7. We avoid the heavily-trafficked tourist areas, but here in good old Celebration we're right in the midst of the heat. We had a long, pleasant spring, but now the heat index has shot past one hundred degrees (the temperature itself hovers at a "mere" 90-something). The mugginess bathes you the moment you step outside, and getting into the car is like stepping into a blast furnace.

I had heard many horror stories about summer in Florida, and I wasn't sure I'd be able to take it. Once the temperature starts hovering in the 90s, and the humidity reaches 100 percent, I have a hard time breathing. When I try to fill my lungs with air, it's like drawing in a cloud of water vapor. Chicago gets a few snaps of blistering heat, and I know how badly I've reacted to them in the past. I was worried that the same thing would happen in Celebration.

But surprisingly, I haven't had that problem yet. Maybe my body has undergone a gradual transition that started when we came down in January. Like one of those pod people in "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," it has slowly but completely transformed itself. Or perhaps there are Darwinian principles at work...adapt or perish. I suspect that my once-thick blood has gotten as thin as red-tinted water. I used to be proud that I could swin even when the air was as "chilly" as 70 degrees (which is a downright balmy winter temperature by northern standards). Now, I strongly suspect that I'll be wearing a jacket at 70 and a winter coat if hte mercury dips down to 50.

I reveled in the gorgeous days of the long spring season, and then summer suddenly snuck up on me. I started suspecting the heat was here to stay when my t-shirt ended up soaked after my early-morning walk. My friend and I usually enjoy a Barnie's beverage while sitting on the lakefront after our exercise. I realized that summer was here without a doubt the day that Barnie's air conditioned interior was more appealing than a rocker by the water.

My cat, Stitch, also recognizes the weather change. He is mostly black, so his fur soaks in the heat like a solar panel. He used to explore my entire garden, getting his leash tangled on the flowers and bushes. Now, he takes a few steps out, then collapses on the shady porch or under a bush in the cool mulch.

The unrelenting summer temperatures are taking a toll on my flowers, too. I used to be able to get away with watering them once a day, but now they all wilt if I don't take the hose to them at least twice. My lawn has developed some ugly dead spots, but I've managed to revive them a little. I water them judiciously and transplant the grass that invades my mulched areas into the barren patches.

It amazes me that I can walk and garden and generally enjoy the great outdoors without gasping for breath. My internal temperature gauge is obviously adjusting, but my lungs must be doing so, too. I'm glad because I didn't want to live like a vampire, venturing out only when the lethal sun has slipped beyond the horizon. I like to walk and bike and swim and garden during the daylight. Now, if my albino skin would just take on some protective permanent pigment, I'd be all set.

I know that the temperatures haven't reached their peak yet; it's only June, so we have still have July and then the Dog Days of August to survive. But somehow I think it's going to be easier than I thought. I knew that my husband would be fine, as he thrives on heat that would make Satan weep, but I had grave doubts about myself. Now, surprise surprise...I'm loving the tropic climate.

I never thought the day would come, but I'll bet it happens this winter: the hearty northern tourists will all be laughing at me when I'm bundled up in 60 degree temps. in December or January. When that happens, I'll know that I've become a true Floridian at last.

You can email me at

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Thursday, June 16, 2005

A Blast From The Past

While spending last weekend in Chicago, I got a real "blast from the past." My husband was working on his computer, and he noticed several directories where he'd archived photos of Duloc Manor in various stages of construction. With me gaping over his shoulder, he ran through the dozens of files that brought old memories flooding back. It's only been two and a half years, but it feels like such a long time now that life in Florida is the norm.

The first photos dated back to January of 2003, when we thought that our home would actually be a condo. We had signed a contract sight unseen, so we were very excited to finally view the site of our future home.

At that time, Spring Park Terraces was a vast construction site, with skeletal buildings rising up from the sand lot in various stages of completion. We had selected a second floor condo in a four-unit building, but the first level was barely started. We managed to find an identical building in a later stage of construction, so we traipsed through the debris, ignoring the warning signs, and snapped as many photos as possible. I tried to look past the cinderblock walls and imagine the drywall and fixtures that would make it look like a real home. We also took a few of our actual building, even though there wasn't much to see.

The later photos in that subdirectory tell the story of divine intervention. We had only selected a condo because we didn't think we could afford a regular house. But on the way out of town, we noticed an open house and stopped in out of curiosity. The real estate agents we met there told us about the triplexes and took us out to Roseville corner to see a model. It was perfect! A cozy little home with a front and back yard, and (best of all) it was in our price range.

Next, they took us to a barren plot in East Village that would someday be a full-fledged neighborhood. It was surrounded by reserve areas, with a ballfield and swimming pool just down the street. Even though we had to get to the airport, my husband managed to snap a few hasty photos.

He didn't take too many, since we were locked into the condo contract. We loved the triplex, and the East Village location seemed perfect, but we had already put down earnest money that we couldn't afford to lose. It seemed pointless to document a place we wished we had bought, but at least I convinced him to snap a few.

As luck would have it, we were able to get out of the condo contract on a technicality. Now, those photos weren't just a wistful "what-if" footnote to our Celebration adventures. They were pictures of our real home-to-be.

During the construction process, William Shatner became our friend as we nabbed hotel and rental car deals on Priceline every few weeks. We would select the Downtown Disney area, which could mean anything from the Hyatt or Hilton near the Disney shopping area to the Gaylord Palms all the way out on Osceola Parkway. We would visit the construction site for some updated photos, then drive aimlessly to learn the area.

Each subdirectory of photos represented a different trip. Duloc Manor progressed from a flat slab to a maze of rising cinderblock. Moving through the photographic slide show was like viewing an animation flip book or a time-lapse film. As the walls rose up, they progressed from chicken wire-covered black to insulation-pink to the present-day beige. The yard slowly transformed from a wasteland to barren grass and then to the standard configuration of scrubby little bushes and trees.

It was weird to look at the naked insides of the half-completed building in the photos and overlay the way it looks now in my mind's eye. The dark cinderblock family room is now bright and cheery; I curl up on the soft in front of the television, with cats piling onto my lap. The bare pillared porch is now festooned with flowers, with a porch swing swaying in the breeze. Construction noise has been replaced by the tinkling of windchimes. The bare pipes sticking out of the concrete in mysterious configurations are now plugged into the various plumbing fixtures. The plywood staircase with its rickety temporary bannister is carpeted and solidly closed in.

We have lots of photos of the model, too, since it was almost identical to our unit. We snapped pictures showing the room configurations so we could figure out our future furniture placement. My favorite moment captured in time is the day my husband used the rental car keys to do measurements in the formal room. In the model, it was open, but in Duloc Manor it would have French doors. The photos prove that his unscientific method of figuring where the doors would end was actually uncannily accurate.

I cringe when I see the bordello red wallpaper in the model's master bath and the bright green walls, festooned with parrots, in the Harry Potter powder room. The front bedroom featured an odd framework of twigs on the ceiling, with a stuffed monkey hanging down. It's hard to imagine that room the way it turned out in Duloc Manor (it's my husband's office, and although he's lobbying to paint it pumpkin-orange, it's thankfully stuffed primate free).

We were pretty thorough in creating our pictorial; there's only one other thing I wish we had documented. Since we stayed in so many different hotels, I wish we had taken a photo of each of them. Now, more than two years later, they are a mere blur in my mind. We do have some of our rental cars on film, since they were usually parked right in front of the construction site.

Suddenly, in one of the last subdirectories, the photos changed quite markedly. Mixed in with pictures of the house were various shots taken in furniture stores. We ordered much of the furniture before Duloc Manor was completed, arranging for delivery after the closing. To keep it fresh in our minds, we took photos of the floor models of each set we purchased. How odd to see the same sofa that I've spilled coffee on innumerable times flashing on my husband's computer screen in its pristine showroom condition.

Next up were the photos of closing day; we know that for sure because my husband's video camera is sitting on the kitchen counter (he brought it to document the walk-through). Even though the house was done, and technically "ours," we still continued to take photos of each major change. We were still commuting back and forth to Chicago, and it helped ease our homesickness for Celebration to be able to pull up Duloc Manor on the PC.

Now, I stared in amazement at the pictures of my solar lamps placed inbetween the baby hedges. Those hedges have grown so huge that they tower over the lamp posts, which I finally removed. I marveled at how open the family room had once looked, when it contained nothing but a couch set and two rockers. It used to be an echo chamber, but now it has "shrunk" considerably with the addition of a huge television and entertainment center. Traumatic memories came flooding back when I saw the infamous "topless" kitchen table; it took months to finally get the right parts to fix it. After sending the wrong ones on three separate occasions, the furniture store finally sent a second table which was cannibalized to make ours whole.

In the very last directory, I saw the Duloc Manor that I know and love. Rather than empty walls and bare furniture, the photos showed those little knick knacks, artwork, and other personal touches that make a house a home.

When we finally reached the last photo, I felt like I had just traveled back in time and then returned to present day. During the construction process, I wondered if we were visiting Florida a little too often (even though we were careful to catch airfare specials and get cheap hotels) and taking too many pictures. Now, I'm so happy that we documented every step in the process of buying our house and turning it into the Duloc Manor of my dreams. Digital photos don't take up anything but hard drive space; you can always delete them, but you can never go back in time to take the photos that you missed.

Digital camera: $300
Priceline hotel: $65
Rental car: $15 per day
Plane tickets: $115 roundtrip
Construction memories: Priceless

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Frog Trauma

Since the power washers still have not come, my front porch is still lonely and barren. When the swing is out there, along with my flower pots and various decorations, it offers a sheltered haven for various small reptiles and amphibians. Unfortunately, with all of the hiding places removed, any poor little critter is a sitting duck for my vicious hunter felines.

I didn't think about that when I went outside this evening with Stitch and Farquaad in tow. They aren't allowed to run free, but I keep them on long leashes that allow as much freedom of movement as possible. I knew they wouldn't go too far anyway, since we were in the midst of a thunderstorm. It's just the principle of the thing; they like to be outdoors, even if they venture no farther than the doormat.

Suddenly Farquaad was scratching at the door. I thought that something might have startled him, but then I saw a leg dangling from his mouth. Some poor little critter must have been hiding from the rain on our porch, and hunter kitty had followed his natural instincts. I know it's the circle of life, but I just can't stand seeing anything get caught and mangled. I tried to pry Quaad's muzzle open, but he was having none of it. All he wanted to do was bring his prize catch into the house, where he could torure it at his leisure.

I managed to determine that it was a frog, but every time I got the cat to turn it loose, he immediately grabbed it again and locked his jaws in a manner that would have made a pit bull proud. In a panic, I finally realized that I was going to have to immobilize him and disable his paws if the poor amphibian was going to avoid croaking (no pun intended...well, okay, maybe a little one). I picked him up and grabbed his paws in one hand, stroking his belly in an irritating manner with the other. He made an amazing array of annoyed noises while still managing to keep his teeth clenched. Finally, he released his jaws, and the traumatized frog was free.

Farquaad was in a manical frenzy to regain his prize, but I managed to shove him back into the house. Meanwhile, I had forgotten about Stitch, who was trying to take up where his little buddy had left off. I promptly put him on house arrest, too, and returned my attention to the poor, bloody creaure lying in shock on my porch.

Sadly, one of the frog's legs appeared to be mostly detached from its body. As soon as I saw that, I couldn't look any further. I fled into the house to send my stronger-stomached husband out. He must have thought I was crazy, wailing over a mangled frog when zillions of them probably get smooshed by feet and bicycles or chopped up in lawn mowers ever day. He went out front for a few minutes, then announced that he'd relocated the frog to the flower garden. Its leg wound was very grave, so the poor thing probably went to Frog Heaven, but at least it didn't die in the jaws of a savage cat.

I know that Farquaad was just following his nature. We try to be very careful, but every now and then a lizard or frog sneaks into the house and falls victim to our fe-lion "pride." Usually, by the time I find it, it's long dead and mangled so far beyond recognition that it doesn't bother me as much as a fresh kill. As a matter of fact, somewhere in our house there is a mummified frog corpse that seems to have disappeared into thin air. I saw the cats batting the dried-out, flattened body around the family room, and then it was suddenly gone. I don't think they ate it, but a thorough search under the couch, love seat, and entertainment center turned up nothing. If I ever notice a suspicious smell someday, I'll know why.

Perhaps I am somewhat to blame for the cats' bloodthirsty nature. After all, they live with a crabby cockatiel that loves to torment them. Bradley, the bird, is loose whenever we're home, and he lords it over the family room. He knows that he is under human protection, so when the cats are lying on the couch, he flies overhead and squawks avian obscenities. He lands right in front of them and bites them in the nose, then makes a beeline for his cage. If birds could laugh, he would be in hysterics. He's smart enough to only torment the cats when my husband and I are in the room to protect him. With all that frustration, and years of being teased by feathered prey, it's no wonder Farquaad and Stitch are desperate to catch some helpless litle creature. I think that Quaad vented two years worth of stored-up rage onto that innocent frog.

For the next half hour, Quaad sat by the front door, howling a demand to go outside and finish the job. When we realized that he wasn't going to give up until he tasted blood again, we let him out to show him that his prey was long gone. If a cat can give dirty looks, Farquaad was giving me a doozy as he sauntered back in, his blood lust unrequited. At least he stopped his incessant begging to return to the scene of the crime.

With any luck, the power washers will show up tomorrow (or maybe the next day, or the next...), and the last invisible vestigates of frog guts will be removed from my front porch sanctuary. Even though it looks clean right now, it's stained with red in my guilty eyes. Like Lady McBeth, I'll be chanting, "Out, damned spot!" for a while. And now I'll have a new duty before I bring the cats out again; I'll have to dash around the porch, chasing any errant critters to safety, before I set the furry predators loose.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Wherefore Art Thou, Power Washers?

I am an eternal optimist, even when the evidence is stacked heavily on the side of pessimism. Unfortunately, this leads to shattered hopes. Today is a good example:

All day long, I waited in optimistic expectation for the power washers to show up and render my home exterior as clean and sparkling as new. In theory, according to the documents that supposedly explain where my association dollars go, our triplex building is supposed to be power washed twice a year. In practice, Duloc Manor was completed nearly two years ago, and if it ever actually happens, this will be the first-ever power washing in 20 months. By my estimation, that puts us at least three washings behind.

We were notified by Town Hall that the washing would take place today. My husband and I were in Chicago, scheduled to fly in yesterday, so we hustled home frm the airport as quickly as possible to remove our screens, take down the porch swing, and clear the area of all flower pots and decorative items just in case the workers came early the next morning. Yes, I know it was insane to think they would show up at all, let alone early, but as I said, my optimism knows no bounds.

My husband had been in Chicago all last week, and I joined him over the weekend to see "Wicked." The "Broadway in Chicago" series features some wonderful plays, and that's one of the only things that can draw me from Celebration, Florida, back to the Windy City. In July, I will be winging my way north to see "Little Shop of Horrors" and "The Lion King," and I am still reeling with disappointment that "Avenue Q" is not going to have a touring company. Instead, it is settling into a permanent home in Las Vegas. But someday I vow to see that off-color send-up of Sesame Street and the Muppets; the soundtrack always has me rolling with laughter (as an example, Trekkie Monster, who appears to be a close relative of the Cookie Monster, sings a song titled "The Internet Is For Porn," while two male roomates with a suspicious resemblence to Bert and Ernie perform "If You Were Gay"). The show is wildly politically incorrect, but that's just fine with me.

In contrast, "Wicked" is very politically correct, with themes against prejudice and a wheelchair-bound Wicked Witch of the East. PC or non-PC...either way, I don't mind. I just look to stage shows for two or three hours of good entertainment.

"Wicked" was expected to win last year's Tony, but "Avenue Q" snatched it away unexpectedly. After seeing "Wicked," I can understand why. It's not that it's a bad show, but it didn't live up to its billing. I was expecting to be dazzled by special effects, but the big effect is the Wicked Witch flying for the first time. She didn't even fly on her broomstick; she was just lifted up into the air, holding her broom in her hand. The "flying" monkeys remained earthbound throughout the show. Heck, on the Disney cruise ships, Peter Pan and a friend both fly at the end of the signature show...I expect a little more from a Broadway touring company than a cruise ship show. There is a cool giant talking wizard head, but the back is decorated with what looked suspiciously like a string of old Christmas lights. The "melting witch" effect was simply a shadow behind a screen; for $85 a ticket, I was hoping for something a bit more graphic.

Happily, the performers were all strong singers, but the second half of the show seemed to drag on. There is a surprise twist that I had figured out within the first five minutes, and there were several plot points that conflicted with the movie and books. There was also an animal rights theme that confused me; I have no problem with animals rights, but it didn't make sense in the context of the play. The Wizard had spearheaded a campaign against the talking animals in Oz in order to give the people something to band together against. But it was never explained why the Wizard chose the animals as scapegoats (pun intended). Did he feel threatened by them in some way? Were they driving Oz to wreck and ruin? Were they not cleaning up after themselves in the parks? How did they forget how to talk so easily (you'd have to assume they were educated, since one of them was teaching college classes)? The answers are left to the view's imagination.

Still, it was enjoyable, and I like always like adding another notch in my theater belt. There was an understudy playing Glinda, but she did a superb job (Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, had an excellent voice, too, and turned in a powerful performance). Interestingly enough, the Wizard was played by Marcy's first husband on the old "Married With Children" show (he's the one who left and was replaced with the jock from "Revenge of the Nerds"). I never knew he could sing, but he did a very good job.

The show made me laugh a few times, which is always a plus. Also, we went to Lawry's Prime Rib, my favorite downtown Chicago restaurant, afterwards, so things ended on a high note. Lawry's serves prime rib that is prepared in Heaven and sent down by the angels in enormous silver serving carts. But as delectable as the meat is, it is really only a delivery device for the ambrosia that they call horseradish sauce. They mix horseradish into unsweetened whipped cream, along with some other seasonings. The result is a sauce so good that I always request an extra portion, which I defend to the death from the advances of anyone else at the table.

My brother and sister-in-law joined us for the play and dinner. Even though he is a "macho" truck driver, my brother spends an inordinate amount of time listening to Broadway show tunes on satellite radio. He had all of the songs from "Wicked" memorized long before he ever saw the show, and he's constantly quoting "Avenue Q," "The Producers," and other favorites.

But although it was a fun weekend in Chicago, I was happy to return home to Celebration. My husband and I flew Southwest, home of the cattle call boarding process, but we were anal retentive enough to get an exit row. We check in at 12:01 a.m. to ensure "A" boarding passes and then get to the airport early enough to secure a good place in the "A" line. Usually, there are enough pre-boarders to populate a small state on Orlando flights, but in theory they cannot take the exit rows (you're supposed to either be handicapped or traveling with a child under five to pre-board, and both of those conditions disqualify you from sitting by an exit).

This time was no different; we settled into our preferred exit seats and had a nice, leg-room-enhanced flight to Florida. When we arrived, we caught a quick bite near the airport and hustled home to prepare Duloc Manor for its "big day." I try to hose down to porch and walls on a regular basis, but it's a losing battle. My puny jet of water is no match for the intense filth that seems drawn like a magnet to the light beige, dirt-showing exterior. Finally, I would get to see what happens when a professional goes up against the muck.

Power washing is one of those "new" Florida things for me. In my neighborhood up north, most of the homes are brick, so no one bothers with power washing. I've heard of it occasionally for people who live in sided houses or those who reside in mobile homes, but it's not a common thing. When I told my brother that we had to get home to prepare for the power washing, he looked at me as though I'd lost my marbles. It was as foreign to him as saying I have lizards on the sidewalk or an armadillo rooting in the hedges or that we're stocking up on water for hurricane season. Chicago is such a long way from Celebration.

That evening, my husband removed all of the screens, and we took turns hosing them down. Normally, I love the fact that my house has a window in virtually every available inch of wall space, but my feelings are mixed when they require some type of maintenance. Then we took in the porch swing, door mats, flowers, and garden decor in eager anticipation of the next day's big event. As I looked around my barren porch, I was amazed at how large it actually is. It seemed so bare and lonely without my beloved porch swing.

The next morning, after my exercise walk, I hustled home eagerly, hoping to see the workmen. No dice. My neighbors had contacted Town Hall the previous day and were reassured that things were proceeding on schedule, so I assured myself that they would show up eventually. But as the day wore on, my optimism gave way to weary acceptance that I had been fished in. My flowers wilted in the blazing sunlight; I had moved them onto the lawn, but they are used to the shelter of the shady porch. I wandered out front like a lost soul, forgetting that I had no swing to relax in when I brought the cats outside. I called Town Hall and left a plaintive message: "Are the power washers still coming?" But alas, I received no reply.

As I type this, it's after 8 p.m. and all hope is lost. My optimism has wilted like the poor impatiens that I moved out in the merciless summer sun. I waited nearly two years for this day, and it looks like I'll be waiting a little longer. At least my neighbors in the building empathize; they, too, know the roller coaster ups and downs that go with living in a triplex in Celebration. We are thinking about forming the East Village Triplex Trauma Survivors support group.

Oh well, tomorrow is another day. They say that hope springs eternal, so perhaps my faith will be renewed along with Wednesday's rising sun.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Curse is Not Reversed

Last year, it seemed like every weekend we were scheduled to fly into Florida, another hurricane reared its ugly head. For all three hurricanes, we literally were scheduled to fly to Orlando and had our flights cancelled. I became convinced that I had inadvertently ticked off a gypsy and was suffering the effects of an arcane curse. I mean, come on...three hurricanes in a row? And all three plowing through Central Florida with a fury that is usually reserved for coastal areas?

This year, I figured that the curse had to be over. Surely one bad season is enough. But here I am, preparing to fly to Chicago today, and Tropical Storm Arlene is busy whipping up a windy, rainy mess.

Granted, Arlene is not a hurricane and is not on a direct collision path with Celebration. But she's close enough and strong enough to have a profound effect on our weather. According to the weather forecasters, we'll get a dose of strong, windy thunderstorms starting today and running throughout the weekend.

I don't think my flight will be cancelled, but chances are high that there will be a delay. If lightning starts crackling through the sky, Orlando International Airport will shut down their ground operations. In the Land of Lightning Strikes, it's not safe for ground personnel to be out working on metallic equipment, surrounded by metallic aircraft. And even if we just get a soaking, the heavy rains will probably mess things up by inhibiting visibility.

I'm not a very brave flyer, even in the best of circumstances. Add bad weather to the mix and it a recipe for a white-knuckled terror ride. Worse yet, since I'm flying Southwest, I will need to stake out a good position in the "A" line in order to have my pick of seats. I prefer an aisle seat towards the front of the plane for two reasons: 1) My nervous bladder necessitates at least one trip to the restroom, and I hate tripping over strangers from an aisle or window seat; 2)I only bring a carry-on bag, so the quicker I get off the plane, the quicker I can be on my way.

Only totally inexperienced travelers would dare to check luggage for pick-up at Midway Airport. Waits of more than an hour are the norm; tonight, I'll probably be back at my condo while my unfortunate fellow travelers are still praying for their bags to appear. Worse yet, the baggage handlers are a cruel breed, on a par with the dentist in "Little Shop of Horrors." They will toss two or three "teaser bags" onto the belt almost immediately. An excited murmur of expectation will ripple through the crowd, but soon their hopes are shattered. Those bags will circle endlessly, taunting the waiting throng, since they are decoys that don't belong to anyone. Any real luggage is still a good 45 minutes away from making an appearance.

On one memorable trip, the wait was so long that the impatient crowd started amusing itself by tossing various items on the empty belt. By the time any bags showed up, there were several food items (candy bars and a bag of potato chips) and a Buzz Lightyear doll making the rounds. Of course, since we were in Chicago, someone who was not Buzz's original owner tried to "claim" him, resulting in a heated dispute. Fortunately, he eventually made it back to the correct person.

Being up front in the A line is critical because the number of people pre-boarding in Orlando often rivals the entire population of Osceola county. Florida apparently attracts the world's largest number of pubescent "four year olds" (the supposed pre-boarding age limit). Handicapped people are also allowed to preboard, and every now and then you can witness a miraculous cure. Perhaps Southwest serves water from the Shrine of Lourdes, because my husband witnessed one such incident with his own eyes. A girl on crutches preboarded with her family, dragging herself along as though she might collapse at any moment. After take-off, she decided to use the restroom, and Praise the Lord! She was cured! She headed down the aisle like an Olympic sprinter. But alas, her cure was short-lived, as another family member whistled and pointed to the crutches. Suddenly her limp was back, even worse than ever, as she returned to retrieve them.

Once the pre-boarders have taken over the plane, the seat pick can be rather limited. I have no problem with hanging out in the A line for an hour or so to ensure a decent seat. The challenge arises when there is a delay, which triggers my nervous bladder. If I'm with my husband, he can hold my place in line. But if I'm traveling along (which I am today), I am torn between temporarily abandoning my bag and hoping it won't be mistaken for a bomb before I can sprint to the restroom and back or suffering my way through an unknown timespan of crossed-leg discomfort.

That may be the situation today if the storms decide to roll in around my flight time. I restrict my liquids before leaving for the airport, but it doesn't help. I think that my bladder would suck out my eyeball fluid if it had to, just to make my life inconvenient.

It wouldn't break my heart if my flight were cancelled altogether, but I can't wish for that because many of my fellow flyers probably have to get to Chicago today. Actually, I'd be somewhat disappointed, too, because I am returning to see "Wicked," the play about the college years of Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West in Oz. You've got to admit that it's an intriguing story idea. Everyone fully expected "Wicked" to walk away with the Tony Award last year, but it was glommed by an off-Broadway upstart called "Avenue Q," featuring dirty-minded Muppets and their human counterparts living in a New York apartment building where Gary Coleman is the superintendent (no, not the real Gary Coleman...he is played by an actress). I was hoping that "Avenue Q" would have a touring company, but instead it moved to a permanent home in Las Vegas. Oh well, at least I'm seeing "Wicked," "Lion King," and "Little Shop of Horrors" this year.

So far, the rain in a no-show, so we'll see. I'm sure that it's saving its fury for when I climb into Canyonero and head off to 417. I am planning to park off-site, so I may be swimming to the shuttle bus.

Arlene is an early bloomer, since we're barely a week into the 2005 hurricane season. She's a surprise to some people, but definitely not to me. I thought that my curse ran out last year, but obviously it's alive and well like some bizarre version of the Stephen King novel "Thinner." Oh well, I don't mind being stuck in Florida. I just don't want to get stuck on the Chicago end!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Swim Season

The other night, I was tempted to head over to Celebration Health for a few laps in the swimming pool. The delicious peach ice cream at Coldstone, not to mention an evening snack of Oreos, had undoubtedly offset any benefits of my morning walk for the next two weeks. I figured that I needed to burn a few more calories to at least maintain the status quo.

But I was still working, and the huge video file that I was uploading took longer than I expected. I had some travel agency work to do, too, so journeying to the club would take too long. Then I had a bring idea: why not swim right down the block, in the East Village micro-pool? It had been a long time since I'd enjoyed a dip right in my own neighborhood. I'd be able to get in some exercise and still get home in time to finish up the travel reservations.

We live at one end of the East Village play field, and the pool is located at the other. I was too lazy to get out my bike, so I just hoofed it. I was clad for action in my swimsuit and flip flops, with my purple Figment towel flopping jauntily on my shoulder. There were some dark clouds off in the distance, but it looked like any lightning and rain would hold off long enough to get in some pool time.

When I arrived, there were two boys already in the pool, continuously jumping off the center island. I've never really understand why the island was installed, rather than making the pool larger. It's small enough to begin with, and the big concrete island takes up valuable real estate. Vandals are constantly ripping down the umbrella in the center, and it's a magnet for jumping and diving. That makes it virtually impossible to actually swim laps, and with all the craziness I've witnessed, I'm firmly convinced that someone is going to break their neck, or at least crack their skull, when diving into the shallow water someday.

I dipped my toes into the water, expecting an unpleasant chill. But a few weeks of temperatures in the 90s had warmed the liquid to a balmy, comfortable level. Instead of easing my way in, I was able to take an immediate plunge. Swimming laps was out, but I was able to do some water jogging while avoiding the flying bodies.

Shortly thereafter, another family arrived for an evening swim. They began a spirited water football game on one side of the pool, while the leapers focused on the other. I weaved my way through the bodies and managed to get in a nice little workout. Even with people all around, I can mentally move myself into my own little world while exercising. It's a sort of meditation time for me, when I ponder any pressing questions in my life or simply contemplate the state of the world.

On this evening, I remembered the last time that I'd been in the East Village pool. I was amazed to realize that I hadn't been there since my husband and I moved to Celebration full time. The "big move" was in Jnauary, and our local pool isn't heated, so our winter swims had been at nice, warm Lakeside.

Previously, visiting the pool had been a melancholy occasion. When we were coming to town on weekends, we'd gotten into the habit of taking a dip on Sunday morning before getting ready for our flight back to Chicago. The pool would usually be virtually deserted, and we'd paddle around and try to ignore the fact that our time in Celebration was rapidly ticking away.

My deep thoughts on those occasions were usually focused on what it would be like to live in Celebration full time. I would ponder how we could manage that logistically and wonder how long it would take. I dearly loved visiting our house, but 48 hours goes by too quickly. It's like dangling a moist, delicious devil's food cake under a starving chocoholic's nose. You let them have one bite, then suddenly take it away. The taste is sweet, but now they're worse off because the sample leaves them craving it all the more.

The last time I was in that pool, late last summer, I had no idea that my dream would be fulfilled a mere few months later. Now here I was, jogging around with no depressing thought of catching a plane. What a luxury!

All too soon, I realized that dusk had given way to true darkness, and the hour was approaching nine p.m. The Disney Cruise Line office is open until 10, so I needed to hustle back to Duloc Manor to get in my last phone calls of the day. Then I could update client paperwork until bedtime.

As I walked home, I noticed that the new townhouses lining the park are nearly ready for occupancy. One of the end units has a really cool two-tier porch. It's the only one with a two-story porch that I've ever noticed in all of East and South Villages. The outside and inside lights were on, and I could see that the interior was almost done. It looks like my favorite townhome will be hosting its new occupants soon.

At the corner, I passed a large family, or more likely some sort of combined group, as there were more than half a dozen people, most of them toting swim noodles. They appeared to be headed to the pool for a refreshing night swim.

Celebration Health is my preferred venue for serious exercise, but the neighborhood pool is a great place for a quick interlude. Soon I was back at Duloc Manor, refreshed and ready to tackle the second half of the workday.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Seamy Side of Celebration

My last blog entry discussed the WFTV expose on health violations at Orlando-area restaurants. Now, I'm firmly convinced that their next inspection will focus on the seamy side of Celebration...more specifically, my beyond-messy home. I can see it will start with a somber voice-over:

"Celebration, Florida. It has a reputation as a pristine, upscale community. But let's bring our cameras past the neatly manicured lawn and rainbow-hued flower bed of a typical East Village home. The porch swing sways sedately in the breeze, and the stained glass 'Welcome' sign in the window lulls casual visitors into a false sense of security. But cross the threshhold and you'll enter another world: The World of the Hellacious Housekeeper."

Duloc Manor used to be relatively low maintenance. It's a modest sized home, and most of the first floor is tile, so in theory it should be easy to clean. But as soon as we added our pets to the mix, it turned into the Land of Cat Hair and Bird Dander. Cat litter crystals turn up in the most unlikely places, and the kitties add their own touches to the interior decorating by barfing up hairballs on a weekly basis. Living here full time also means that my husband and I are continually tracking in grass and mulch through the back door.

On top of that, the water contains an uholy mineral that results in an instant toilet ring that intensifies with every flush. Multiply that by three bathrooms, and you've got an ugly mess. I won't even get into my water-spotted mirrors and the fact that dirty dishes seem to mate and multiply in my kitchen. And every time I microwave lunch or dinner, it explodes and spatters all over the nuker's interior like a dead whale loaded with dynamite (I know that for a fact, as a bizarre Fox special once showed a town that tried to dispose of a whale carcass by blowing it up).

Normally I keep up with things pretty well, and I call in reinforcements (a house cleaing service) once a month. But this week, the mess has gotten away from me because we were on a cruise over the long weekend. While we were gone, the dust and cat hair continued to build, and the toilet rings evolved to a new Darwinian hardiness. I was hoping to devote some time to cleaning when we got home, but job responsibilities intruded.

It's several days later, and I'm still trying to get my work under control. That's sort of like a one armed juggler trying to keep three watermelons aloft, since I have two jobs and am travelling to Chicago in a couple of days. I hate flying because it wastes nearly a whole workday. Even if I bring my laptop, the battery is dead within an hour. But most of my work requires internet access, so that doesn't matter anyway.

At this point, I'm pondering the wisdom of knitting some clothing made entirely of cat hair. That would probably make more sense than constantly brushing and vaccuming the furniture and doing a full-body patdown with a lint roller every time I leave the house. It would only take one vaccuming session to yield enough hair for a full outfit. Better yet, if I can roust Tooncinator, my crazy cat, from his next under the bed, I can find enough to clothe an entire third-world nation. Toonce is very large and very furry, and he sheds profusely. His under-bed den is out of reach of the vaccum, so the hair nest builds up until my husband does his monthly bed move so we can do a thorough cleaning. Sometimes the hair is so thick that we're firmly convinced we've discovered a fourth cat.

Perhaps I should also mulch the first floor of Duloc Manor. Many steakhouses have sawdust floors, so why not wood chips? I wouldn't even have to buy any supplies. If I stopped sweeping and Swiffering, I'd probably be able to track in enough to coat the entire first floor within a week. The odd thing is that no matter how much mulch I clean up in the house, the amount in the backyard landscaping never seems to dwindle. It must multiply like the lizards and frogs.

I'd really like to know what rocket scientist designed the triplex landscaping in the first place. We have a nice garage and driveway, so I rarely park in front of the house. My husband and I constantly parade through our yard to the back door, and neighbors visit frequently, too. It would seem a no-brainer that people would continually be trooping through that area...but some brilliant designer decreed that there should be a mulch bed and bushes completely ringing the yard! Thankfully, several of the bushes died within weeks of being planted, so I removed their twiggy skeleton bodies. But anyone who comes through the yard still has to navigate the mulch pit, and the chips are magnetically drawn to their shoes.

My husband's theory is that the designer assumed that the triplex owners would park in their garages and enter the yard through the garage door. There are three things wrong with that logic: A) No one, and I mean no one in the state of Florida parks in their garage. Three-quarters of the state is occupied by northerners who are used to having a basement. Now that they live on a slab, they turn to their garage as an auxiliary storage shed. B) Most people own two cars. Even if one is in the garage, the second one would be on the driveway, meaning that someone would still be traipsing through the yard. C) Neighborliness is encouraged in Celebration, and neighbors often forgo the formality of the front. We are back and forth so much with the people next door that we're worn a visible path in the grass. Why close off the backyard with landscaping when people will most likely be using it for egress?

Eventually we are going to have a brick walkway installed, but for now we just plow through the mulch. Between getting the landscaper to draw up the plans, submitting them for architectural review, and then getting the job actually done, I figure that the walkway might happen sometime around 2007.

I do maintain the illusion of cleanliness by hosing off my porch each day. When I'm done, it's clean and pristine. But 24 hours later, it's once again scattered with "landmines" left by the frogs and lizards and assorted flower petals from my overflowing pot garden. I wash it all down again, taking my place in the Great Circle of Life, knowing that it will be deja vu the next morning. I figure that if the exterior looks clean, I might be able to sucker passersby into thinking that we live like civilized humans inside.

Oh well, with any luck I can get things under control before the camera crew comes calling. I'm going to call in the house cleaning reinforcements, and hopefully my happy home will soon be halfway sanitary and liveable. If not, watch for me on WFTV news!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

A Great New Diet

Warning! Not a blog entry to be read before eating!

Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time knows that my husband and I love to support the restaurants in and around Celebration. Even when we were still tourists and didn't rent a car, we ate our way around Disney World property. In a decade or so, we managed to sample virtually every restaurant at WDW. One of our favorite treats was to book an all-inclusive package. The name seems to change every year, but the package benefits are always similar. You can choose from a variety of dining locations, including some of the pricey ones like Yachtsmans Steakhouse and the eateries at the Grand Floridian, and the meal is included in your package. You pay one fee up front, and then you stuff your gullet with as much fine dining as you can handle.

Depending on the plan specifics, you might be eligible for two or three meals a day. You typically get to choose an appetizer, main course, side dish, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. Since the tip is also included, based on what your meal normally would cost, many of the servers are expert in helping you maximize the dollar amount. Whenever we vacationed on "The God Package," as we called it, we were never happy unless we saw Mickey crying as we pulled away from the hotel at the end of our trip.

Now that we live in Celebration, we obviously don't do vacation packages anymore. But we purchased the Disney Dining Experience card, which offers a 20 percent discount at virtually all WDW restaurants. It even provides a lesser discount at Max's in Downtown Celebration, which can be combined with the Market Street Cafe VIP Rewards Card (as you might have guessed, I'm a money-saving fanatic). Now we eat out at Disney World a couple of times a week; we try to vary our routine, but we seem to end up at Jiko, Artists Point, or Ohana most frequently.

Since we are residents, we have a car, so we've expanded our dining horizons to the whole Orlando area. We tend to gravitate to the Crossroads, Sand Lake Road (Dr. Phillips area) and I-Drive, where Chevy's, Bahama Breeze, Melting Pot, TooJay's, and Cage Tu Tu Tango are favorites. If we feel like staying closer to home, Logan's Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Perkins, Friday's, Bennigan's, and Cracker Barrel can all be found (often in duplicate and triplicate) right out on 192.

Due to all the temptation, it's been a constant struggle to eat healthy most of the time and to keep up a regular exercise schedule. But this week, I discovered a wonderful way to diet: simply visit the WFTV website at (link will open in a new window) and watch the video about restaurant sanitation. UGH!!! When viewed shortly before going out to eat, it's a very effective appetite suppressant.

A fellow resident posted the link on Celebration's Front Porch intranet, since some of the restaurants featured are pretty close by. Fortunately, I have never patronized any of them, as I was ready to toss my cookies by the time the clip was done. There is a restaurant called China One in Champion's Gate that I've actually heard good things about. But when I saw the food stored on the floor and the loosely wrapped, bloody pork resting right on top of an open bowl of pineapple chunks, any chance that I would ever try their cuisine flew right out the window. The mold in the ice machine was unappetizing, too, but I eat blue cheese and the "blue" is mold, so I supposed it would be contradictory to have a problem with "blue ice." Perhaps it actually has antibiotic properties that protect diners from illness that could be caused by the pork-tainted pineapples.

There was another restaurant where the clean pots and pans, as well as food, was stored outside in a wide-open shed! Dead and live roaches were found everywhere, including actually crawling on the workers.

But what I found most amazing about the whole sequence was not the atrocious violations but the fact the restaurants involved actually allowed a camera team inside. WFTV hired a professional inspector and asked permission to enter the businesses. To me, that says these places are so clueless that they don't even know that they're doing anything wrong.

After watching the video, I searched the internet, trying to find online restaurant inspection reports for the places that I regularly patronize. I found a link for District 4 (Osceola and Orange counties) on the official FL government website, but all it did was run some weird executable file that has probably placed my laptop under the control of Governor Jeb.

The restaurant that I most wanted to look up was the IHOP across from Celebration on 192. Of all the places where I've dined in Florida, that's the only one where I actually feared for my health. The dust was half an inch thick on the ledges, and the few glimpses that I got of the kitchen while waiting nearly an hour for my food were enough to turn my stomach. But if I needed to be sick, I would have been out of luck. I had dared to attempt to visit the restroom, and the toilet was missing its tank lid. Worse yet, the bowl was filled completely with paper, and someone had simply "let go" a nice, big pile on top of the mess. By the time our food arrived, I don't think I ate more than a few bites.

Now I know how to curb my appetite when needed. Simply follow the link to the WFTV website before every restaurant visit...safer and more effective than diet pills. Plus, it gives me a reason to stick to stick to two of my favorite restaurants. Both are rather pricey, but now I have justification. At the Melting Pot, you cook your own food. At Jiko, you can view the kitchen from the dining areas. No food on the floor or bloody pineapples there, thank goodness.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Monday, June 06, 2005

Wake Time/Sleep Time

This week, my erratic, night-owl-leaning body clock is quite thrown off. I try to stay on a regular schedule by waking up for an early morning walk and avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and evening (it has a long-term effect that leaves me wide awake in the wee hours if I drink it after 3 or 4 p.m.).

But we were on a cruise from Thursday to Sunday, which wreaks havoc with any semblance of a normal schedule. On the ship, I like to partake of the nightlife and then sleep in until it's time to head to the spa (where I tend to nap even more while on a massage table or in the heated tile loungers in the sauna/steam room area). And now that we're home, my walking buddy is out of town for part of this week. To top it all off, I had to drive my husband to the airport on Monday morning at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. I crashed as soon as I returned home, and the cats all piled into bed for an extended sleep time. I can sleep late as long as I'm willing to work late, so I had a nice, long snooze. Then, I made the mistake of consuming iced tea around 3 p.m., followed by homemade Barnie's in the early evening. Now, it's approaching 1 a.m., and I'm still working off the caffeine buzz, knowing that I will regret it tomorrow morning.

Hard to believe it was 20 hours ago that I drove my husband to the airport. The fog imparted an eerie feel to the normally routine drive down 417. Even with my driving glasses on, everything looked fuzzy and hazy, as though I was viewing it through cotton gauze. To prevent being lulled into sleep while piloting Canyonero home, I put on my favorite station, WDBO. It was much too early for the radical talk shows, but I listed to the building traffic horror on I-4 (it wasn't too bad yet at such an early hour).

In the winter, I drove hubby to the airport in darkness, and the sky was pitch black when I returned home, too. Now, as the days lengthen, the night sky is usually starting to yield to daybreak by the time I return to Duloc Manor. The black is edged with royal blue, and I know that the sunshine is peeking over the horizon. It reminds me of the Drive From Hell, when we trekked through the Atlanta ice storm on our move to Florida. It was just before daybreak when we hit the first vestiges of hellishness. The expressway was closed down due to an accident, and I sat wedged in the forward-tilted driver's seat, watching the sun rise with tedious slowness while my neck, back, and shoulders found new ways to cramp and spasm. That was probably the longest daybreak I've ever witnessed in my life; time slows to a crawl when you're waiting to resume your 18-turned-to-24-hour drive with a menagerie of animals in the cargo area.

Now, barring intensive therapy, I'm apparently doomed to remember that drive whenever I'm on the road in the wee morning hours. Oh well, the flashbacks shouldn't get too intense because it's highly unlikely that I'll encounter an ice storm anywhere close to Celebration.

The house is very quiet when my husband is out of town, although the cats see to it that I don't get too lonely. The only challenge is to force myself to get out for a while; otherwise, I become too wrapped up in my work and the clock gets away from me. Usually, if I haven't been out during the day, I force myself to visit the health club at night. In the hour or two before closing, I usually have the lap pool at Celebration Health almost all to myself. I doggedly paddle back and forth, cheating through the use of a swim noodle since I prefer the deep lane (it's 6 feet deep, and I'm only 5'2"). Deeper water makes for a more challenging workout, especially if I decide to throw in some water aerobics.

But on this day, I went out at lunchtime; my neighbor and I needed to do some errands downtown, and then we headed over to The Earl of Sandwich for lunch. That's probably my favorite eaterie at Downtown Disney, although Wolfgang Puck Express is a close second (squash soup and goat cheese pizza...mmmm!). Normally I get an All-American (turkey with ranch dressing and cranberry sauce), but my neighbor and I decided to each get something different and then split our choices. That turned out to be a great idea, as I discovered that the roast beef and ham/cheese sandwiches are both divine.

Even though it was lunch, we got there around 3 p.m. I topped off my meal with a large iced tea. Caffeine has a lasting effect on me, so even though it's nearly 12 hours later, I'm still suffering from its stimulant action. The cats know that it's past 1 a.m., i.e. a reasonable bedtime, so they are lurking around the family room, trying to entice me upstairs.

I have to work tomorrow, so I'd best stop my blogging and heed the cats' advice. I'll probably be a zombie in the morning, but I'll have to make a pledge to myself to avoid any caffeine. It will take a concerted effort, but tomorrow I'll overcome my night owl programming and get to bed at a decent hour.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can there ever be too much of a good thing? Lately I've been wondering that as our town gears up for the premiere of a new movie, "Tugger, the Jeep 4 x 4 That Wanted to Fly." "Tugger" was created by Genesis Orlando, a Celebration-based company started by former Disney animators.

For a long time now, there have been sneak previews of "Tugger's" progress. My husband and I were anxious to see them, but they always seemed to coincide with a time when we were in Chicago (that was back in our "commuter days"). Now, the movie is complete, and since its roots are here, the big premiere is being held on the company's home turf.

I've known for a while that "Tugger" was going to premiere over the Fourth of July weekend. It seemed appropriate, since that is a major event for Celebration anyway. What I didn't realize was that this was not going to be low-key. It will be a full-out extravaganza, complete with an appearance by James Belushi's band and a fireworks display capper. Rumors are pegging the number of expected attendees at 60,000 (think Magic Kingdom-sized crowd), although I'm hoping that a more reasonable estimate might be 40,000 to 45,000.

There is another aspect that is causing a great deal of controversy: on July 2, the date of the premiere, Celebration will be closed off to everyone but residents. Passes will be issued to those of us fortunate enough to live here, and we'll have to show them at the entrance to town in order to re-enter our "bubble." Of course, that's only for those foolish enough to attempt to leave in the first place. I'm already picturing the back-ups and the carloads of crazed, argumentative tourists, so I plan to bunker down in East Village for the entire Fourth of July weekend. It will be good practice for hurricane season anyway.

There are also fears that our little burb might not be able to handle such a huge onslaught of visitors. Personally, I have never experienced anything of this magnitude. Up until now, Fourth of July has been the largest event that I've seen in town. All I can remember from last year is cars parked on any available inch of surface space and people squabbling madly over "their" spots to watch the fireworks. My husband and I didn't have to be a part of that; we lucked into a perfect viewing spot that was virtually deserted, but I'll never disclose it short of torture.

We had walked downtown on the Fourth with our neighbor, who was meeting a friend from Kissimmee. This very brave friend drove and parked downtown amidst the insanity. After the fireworks, we literally got home to East Village on foot before she even managed to drive out of town.

My imagination is multiplying July Fourth by a factor of 10 to try to get some perspective on "Tugger's" potential magnitude. Of course, it could all be a wild exaggeration; then again, that dire prediction of 60,000 could come true. I'm steeling myself for the worst but hoping for the best: another fun gala Celebration event.

This is where I wonder: Is there ever too much of a good thing? I've been very vocal about our parking issue lately because I believe that if it gets too bad, it has the potential to kill downtown Celebration as it currently exists. No tourists and residents equals no stores. No stores equals empty buildings with soaped-over windows. In the hot residential real estate market, I supposed they could be converted into condos. But part of the reason I moved here was because of the vibrant commercial downtown. With the stores gone, we'd be just like any other cookie cutter Florida resort development, only a lot more pricey.

Big events draw visitors, which in turn draws money, so I'm happy to see an event like "Tugger" that will help to support our downtown. I also think it will be interesting to see how well the off-site parking works. While residents will be able to get into town with their passes, others will be routed to parking lots and shuttled in. If that goes well, it could be a model for the future. If it fails, then we know we need to find another solution. Although it will be inconvenient to wait in line to drive home and then pony up a pass, I would be willing to do that a few times a year as a trade-off to keep our downtown lively and to host special events.

When I moved to Celebration, I knew that I would be trading some privacy and convenience for the opportunity to live in the infamous "Disney Town." For me, the trade-off was worth it; we've only been here full-time since January, but I can't imagine living anywhere else.

But I can understand the worries of many of my fellow residents, too. You can read them at, but you will need to register for the message board. Basically, since we've never dealt with something of this magnitude, people are worried about what will happen if the crowd gets out of control. And what about the mess that tens of thousands of people are sure to leave? Will they be roaming the streets and trampling people's yards? Hopefully these things won't happen, but realistically there is always a chance.

"Tugger" is being held on July 2, and our usual holiday extravaganza is taking place on the 4th. Will we be able to hit the "reset" button that quickly, recovering from the big premiere and getting ready for Round 2? We'll see.

Another sore point with many residents (myself included) is that there was virtually no communication within the town. I am getting used to the fact that our official newspaper, Celebration News, is a sanitized Pollyana version of what's going on. If you want the real scoop, go to the unofficial sources. First and foremost, there's the Celebration Independent, the "rebel" newspaper. Some people deride it as the Co-Dependent, but I think it serves a very useful function. It offers a different, and often more realistic, view of what's gong on in the steamy underbelly of Paradise.

Second is the discussion forum. Granted, we have a lively intranet, but that is for residents only, and it requires posters to use their real names. On 34747forum, you can take on a secret identity to say crazy things and bash your fellow posters at will. Of course, I'm saying that with tongue in cheek...even though things can get nasty over there, if you read between the lines, you will learn a lot. It was on that site that myself, and quite a few other residents, learned just how large this event might be and that we would need passes to get into town on the 2nd. The current issue of Celebration News, which came out after the poo-poo hit the fan, mentions the event in rosy tones that make no mention of the logistics.

Personally, I think (hope) that "Tugger" will be a good thing for our town. I was very disappointed when Disney-MGM shut down their animation studio and morphed from a real working animation facility to a clone of the lame California animation tour. I'm proud that Celebration is home to Genesis Orlando, and I'm hoping that this first movie will launch them on to continued success. My only fear is that it might be too much of a good thing, but I won't know for sure until after the last celebrity has headed back to Hollywood and the straggling tourists have been shooed onto the shuttle.

Will Celebration survive? And perhaps more important, will Tugger get his wings? Tune in shortly after July 2nd for the verdict.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: