Sunday, August 28, 2005

Spa Times

Thankfully, after a somewhat stressful week, things are calming down. True, our irrigation is still non-existent in the backyard, but the rain has taken care of most of the watering chores. My yard still looks a mess (unavoidable with a major project), but I bought some nice annuals and dressed things up a bit. And best of all, our spa is in place and in use...even when our stress levels soar, help is just a few steps away in the form of hot water and 71 massaging jets.

My husband and I have quickly gotten in the habit of two soaks a day. We take a quick afternoon dip, then cap off the night with a pre-bed soak. I enjoy the "disco lights," which cycle through various colors, casting an glow over the spa that ranges from eerie (red) to calming (blue and violet). It even has an orange phase that my husband, with his Dreamscicle-walled office, loves.

So far, the water has remained clear, although the pH has measured high for the last two days. I've been elected as the "Pool Girl," so it's up to me to maintain some sort of balance and to keep the spa from turning into a murky, algae-infected swampland. Thankfully, it has an ozinator...I'm not sure what that means, except that it's a critical component that keeps the darned thing clean. Between that and chlorine, mixed in with two products descriptively named "Spa Up" and "Spa Down," I'm hoping to keep the water at least semi-sanitary.

At night, the mosquitos quickly seek us out the moment we head out to soak, but we ward them off with the misters. That was an optional feature, and I'm so glad that we got it; otherwise, we'd be bloodless, itchy lumps of flesh (at least from the shoulders up) when we finished our soaks.

The spa has seven seats, each offering a different configuration of therapy jets, so we typically work our way around to each of them. Sometimes I flash back to volleyball games in junior high: "Rotate!"

When the cats know we're outside, they watch plaintively from the back window. Stitch and Farquaad enjoy going outside (Tooncinator would rather hide under the bed), but we only allow them out under strict supervision. Since it's too hard to keep an eye on wandering felines while wallowing in watery bliss, we leave them on house arrest while we're in the hot tub. Thus we have to put up with the guilt as those wide kitty eyes (remember Puss in Boots from "Shrek"?) stare at us accusingly.

Today, our afternoon swim was pre-empted by rainstorm after rainstorm. We got home a little later than usual because we had to run to downtown Orlando after church, and then we stopped at Cafe Tu Tu Tango for a late lunch on the way home. It's always hard to decide what to order, but today it was much easier than usual. The daily specials were so tempting that we got one of each. That's the great thing about a tapas (all appetizer) get to try several things.

We had smoked tomato soup with five-cheese grilled cheese sandwich, salmon with saffron crust and onion flan, and beef spring rolls. Dessert was an intriguing variation on a banana split, including banana nut ice cream.

Hopefully this evening the rain will let up and we can slip in the spa for a quick soak.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Friday, August 26, 2005

Three-Ring Circus

Today is the big day...Spa Delivery Day...and it's been a three-ring circus! This morning, I was breathing a sigh of relief because everything seemed to be in place. We'd selected our hot tub, our plan was approved at the Architectural Review Committee (ARC) Meeting, our slab was laid, and delivery was set. What could possibly go wrong?


Well, not everything, but quite a bit. Coincidentally, I had contacted Davy, our landscaping firm, about some dead grass in the front, weeds, and bush trimming. They came out this week to check things out and discovered that our back sprinklers were no longer working. I had noticed the bushes looking kind of wilted over the past week or so, but we've gotten a lot of rain so the damage wasn't as apparent as it would have been during a dry spell. Normally Davy maintains our irrigation, but since it was damaged during installation of our pad, I have to go back to the contractor. With a big ol' slab covering most of the yard, I'm hoping the repairs won't be a nightmare.

Also, I discovered that I'd misunderstood a major point. I thought work could proceed right after the meeting where I got approval. Turns out I was supposed to wait for a letter and permit. Being very anal retentive, I had timed everything so work would begin immediately after the meeting. I thought I had dotted all my i's and crossed my t's, and now I was in violation! Fortunately, contrary to all the rumors of a Gestapo in Celebration, they are very reasonable and did not haul me off to the dungeon.

There were a couple of other minor issues, but we were able to work those out too. Still, I couldn't help but feel embarrassed that I had made such a major faux pas. I am a supreme planner, so it destroys my sense of order in the Universe when I think I've plotted something out carefully and. Ah well, as they say: "The best laid plans of mice and men..."

And of course that still leaves the irrigation problem. I have contacted the contractor, so we'll see how that goes. Davy had two ideas on what the problem might be; hopefully it can be rectified without destroying the pad (and moving the spa!).

Meanwhile, the spa is now in place in our backyard. It's all filled up and ready to be used. Hurricane Katrina will probably bring rainshowers later, but hopefully we'll be able to take an inagurual dip first. After this three-ring circus, I can use the relaxation!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Waiting for the Weekend

This week, I'm more eager than usual for Friday to roll around. While I always enjoy the weekend, this Friday (hopefully) will be the delivery day for our new spa. But now there is a threat to our carefully laid plans, as Tropical Storm (soon to be Hurricane) Katrina works its way towards Florida. By coincidence, Friday is also the predicted day that we'll feel the storm's greatest effects.

I can't complain too much because Central Florida will most likely be spared most of Katrina's fury. But it looks like we'll get some wind and rain that will make installing and testing the hot tub a challenge.

Apparently, the deliverymen connect the spa to the electrical source and wait around until it is filled so they can filly test it. That way, you know immediately whether there is a major problem like a leak or non-functioning jets. Somehow, I can't imagine that they'll want to do electrical work in driving rain or be around a giant water-filled container in the lightning.

Oh well, we're fully prepared just in case Katrina decides to be merciful. We drove out to Orlando to pay off the balance on the hot tub and to pick up some aromatherapy beads. Our tub has an above-the-water scent system, so we selected Orange and Wildberry scented beads. Wildberry was my husband's choice; personally I plan to drop in the Orange, close my eyes, and pretend that I'm riding "Soarin'" or the now-defunct "Horizons" (anyone remember the orange harvest in the desert and the accompanying scent?).

Since we were at the showroom, we also spent some time drooling over the floor model, trying to imagine it in our backyard. It's been more than six weeks since we initiated the whole spa purchase process; it started with my initial contact with the Architectural Review Committee and progressed through getting approval, ordering the spa, and making sure the yard would be ready when it finally arrived.

When we were done at Vita Spa, we headed off to Rec Warehouse. While we hadn't purchased one of their spas, we'd seen a very cool giant spa umbrella. I am a Northern Albino who burns within seconds of sun exposure unless I'm coated with an inch of SPF 200 sunscreen. Unfortunately, that can wreak havoc with a hot tub's chemical balance, so I've have to go au natural. With a nice, big, adjustable umbrella, I'll be able to protect myself from the worst of Old Sol's rays.

Happily, they had an umbrella in stock, although we had to wait a little while because the store was packed with customers. It must have been official Pool-and-Spa-Buying day in Orlando. But finally our order was processed, and my husband crammed the long carboard carton into Canyonero. Thank goodness for the folding front seat! He was smooshed behind me in the back seat, and I drove along next to the jutting carton, praying that no one would sneak into the extended blind spot on my right.

I had a book club meeting scheduled; I thought we'd be home in plenty of time, but traffic in the city is never predictable. We ended up taking a side road home, and by the time we approached Orlando International Airport, I realized that I was not going to make it. The meeting was located back in Orlando; once I dropped hubby off in Celebration, I knew I'd never make it back in time.

Instead, we stopped at Don Pablo's, a Mexican restaurant near MCO. I had a hankering for Mexican cuisine, and we'd never been there before. It turned out to be a good choice; yummy (although spicy) salsa and such a variety of menu choices that we had a hard time picking from among them. We started off with guacamole as our appetizer, and my husband ordered Carnitas for his meal while I opted for something called Drunken Lobster (lobster chunks that are dipped in beer, then breaded). Then, we split our meals so we could each try two items.

I was drooling over the intriguing margarita menu, but I forced myself to iced-tee-total due to the challenges of driving next to the giant umbrella box. My vision was already obscured; I figured I'd better not dull my senses.

After our meal, we headed home and stashed the umbrella in the garage to await the arrival of our spa. Of course, we might not get to use it for a while; I don't think we can anchor an umbrella of that size to be secure in hurricane-force winds.

If Katrina blows in on Friday, I will take all the blame. It's like the thunderstorm on the day that our concrete pad was poured and the last hurricane, which came a-calling on the day of the Celebration Front Porch Picnic. Making outdoor plans in Florida is a sure way to attract nasty weather. I'm just hoping for enough time inbetween the rain bands to get the spa set up and ready to go.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Frigid Chicago Fall

Okay, it has finally happened. I've lost my Midwestern hardiness, and now I'm a cold weather wimp. This was graphically proven to me this past weekend, when I returned to Chicago for a brief visit. My husband and I went out to dinner with a group of friends, and afterwards we stood outside the restaurant, chatting for a while. It was in the mid to low 70s, and suddenly I realized that I was cold!

I used to love it when the fall chill started to creep into the air. I was born in October, and fall has always been my favorite season. Sure, I have always loved spring in Chicago, when winter's long, vicious chill is finally chased away and the barren landscape turns green once again. But there's something special about October; I love the crispy, multicolored leaves, the smell of bonfires and fireplaces, and the coming of Halloween, that Holy Grail of holidays for sugar-addicted, voyeuristic children like myself.

Sure, Christmas presents are fun, but the excitement climaxes in mere minutes; you rip them open, and suddenly the best part of the fun is over. When I was a kid, we'd head out early with a shopping bag and trick or treat for hours, wandering from one end of the neighborhood to the next until our booty was too heavy to carry. Back then, there were no worries about razor blades or peanut allergies. We all knew the "best" houses, where homemade popcorn balls or taffy apples were distributed.

When I got too old for trick or treat, I'd go on hayrides at the various riding stables where I worked as a teenager. Back then, the rides were horsedrawn; now, all the barns in my old Chicago stomping grounds have switched to tractors, and it's just not the same. There was something hypnotic about the clip-clop of the drafthorses' hooves as they pulled the wagons down the street and the people inside held spirited hayfights and passed around jugs of homemade watermelon wine.

Later still, after I got married, my husband and I became haunted house connoisseurs. We visited every spook house within a 50 mile radius, sometimes dragging along a niece, searching for the ultimate scare. I had a couple of favorites. One was called "Area 54"; they blinded you with cornea searing lights before spinning you around and thrusting you into complete darkness. The climax was getting shot at with machine guns before you finally "escaped." The other was a haunted house with permanent sets, held in an abandoned church. Because they could leave it set up all year, it was much more elaborate than most. The best effect was a room where you were locked in and buried under gray plastic balls like the ones at Chuckie Cheese's (it's much more terrifying when it happens unexpectedly and in total darkness). Sadly, the church was sold, so it was dismantled.

But now, if I were still in Chicago, I'd have to particpate in all the fun while wearing a thermal insulated jacket. While my husband and our friends stood around comfortably, I was shivering in my shoes. Hubby still heads up north ten days a month, so he hasn't lost his hardiness yet. But a summer spent in the Florida sun has turned my blood as thin as red ink. I retreated to the warm environs of the car while the others snickered at me.

I remember when I used to gasp at the Florida heat and wonder how people tolerated it all summer; now, when I stepped off the airplane in Orlando, I felt the humidity smack me on the jetway and sighed in relief.

I do have one worry: officially, it's not even fall in Chicago yet, and already I'm ready to break out a jacket. I'm going to have to wear a full body thermal suit with heated undies by the time January rolls around!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Internet is a Frightening Place

There's a good reason that I'm a workaholic, which I discovered this weekend. When I have too much free time, I can get into trouble...the internet offers way too many temptations.

Normally, when I'm online, I spent the majority of my time working on at least one of my two jobs. But last night, I had finished one after several long hours, and I couldn't do the other because the website I needed to access was down.

Thus, to kill time, I searched for the lyrics to my favorite tune from "Team America: World Police." (It's a long story why, but to make it short, I wanted to show them to my brother.) Unexpectedly, I found a Flash presentation set to the "Team America" song that had me laughing my ass off at 2 a.m. Before you click the link, please be aware of the following:

The song contains the "F" word...actually, it contains it many, many, many times. If you have ever seen the "South Park" movie and/or have heard the Terrence and Phillip "Uncle" song, you'll know what I mean. Remember, "Team America" is a movie by the South Park creators. If the "F" word offends you, do not click the link.

It also contains other vulgarities, and the Flash presentation shows those vulgarities in detail, albeit in very quick flashes. There is even some brief porno involved. If that would offend you, or if you are under 18, do not click the link.

If you are a sensitive soul who prefers a world of political correctness, do not click the link.

If you read my blog entry about "Wonder Showzen" and viewed the clip despite all my warnings, then promptly went into heart failure, do not click the link. While this clip is not as...well, bizarre as..."Wonder Showzen," the language and quick flashes of porno could send you into a relapse.

Also, be warned that the file is over 6 meg. That shouldn't be a problem if you are on DSL or a cable modem, but it might drive dial-up users to suicide.

If I haven't scared you off, be sure to make sure that there are no impressionable children anywhere near the computer, and then click here

I spent yesterday night watching that clip and busting a gut over the "terrorist cat," among other parts ("broom guitar" is great, too). You definitely need to watch it more than once to take in everything.

As I watched it, I realized that the internet is a frightening place. These days, you can find just about anything if you look hard enough. In the past, I have found video clips of things as obscure as "Wanda the Witch" (a 1970s clip from "Sesame Street") and several entire websites devoted to Bill Jackson (his name won't mean anything unless you grew up in Chicago in the late 60s/early 70s, when you would have know him as B. J., companion of Dirty Dragon and the Blob in Cartoon Town).

Just for yucks, I also tossed in a search on "Kimba, the White Lion." Others of my era may remember that show, and they might even think, "Gosh, that's an awful lot like the 'Lion King.' A lion cub whose father dies and who appears to him in the stars...who has a baboon and a bird as advisors...who battles evil hyenas and a black-maned lion named Claw...nah, coincidence!"

Apparently, Kimba (originally a Japanese cartoon) has resurfaced in various redubbed formats over the years, but I am a purist and only like the version I remember as a kid. Imagine my surprise when I found a website with a video clip of the opening. Yes, the real 1960s opening! If you're a former Kimba fan, or if you'd just like to see Simba's origins, click here and then select the appropriate format when you get to the webpage. Don't worry, this one is totally G rated.

Ah, the power of the internet! People of obscure interests can unite and share their obsessions with the world. It amazes me to realize that it's only been a part of popular culture for a little more than a decade. Now, both of my jobs are centered around the world wide web, and I surf its voluminous waves in my spare time. Soon, I'll have to enter treatment for internet addiction ("Hi, my name is Barb and I'm a netaholic.")

Oh well, I guess it could be worse. Searching for obscurities is better than internet gambling or porno!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Celebration to a Tee

Given the sky-rocketing housing prices in Celebration (as well as FL in general and many other parts of the country), many worry that we're floating atop a real estate bubble. Thus, my husband was quite amused when he found a t-shirt with the the logo below:

Personally, we're not too worried about the bubble. We purchased our house with the intent of making Celebration our permanent home. We never thought of it as an investment, even though I must admit that I'm floored at how much its value has risen. Unfortunately, for us that just means higher taxes. If the housing prices crash, it won't matter. It will still be the same old Duloc Manor, regardless of its paper value.

But many people do, indeed, think of our town as an investment vehicle. I can't say that I blame them; where else can a house price nearly double in a couple of years? If I had the ready cash, I'd be right there snapping up some condos with the rest of 'em.

Still, the negative impact is that it has changed the character of Celebration. Two recent ads in the community newspaper summed it up quite nicely. Both were for real estate agencies; one touted the investment opportunities and the chance to make a quick buck. The other said something like, "Do you remember when Celebration was more about community than investment? We do."

I, like many others, came to Celebration seeking community. Happily, even with the rampant real estate rampage, I've found it. It's a wonderful, friendly place where people know each other and neighbors get together for coffee or barbeques (or, in the case of the Bunny Brigade, celebrity stalking or a game of croquet). Granted, there are a lot of empty investment properties that leave "black holes" in the neighborhoods, but so far that hasn't been able to overcome the good things about our town.

People worry about the number of rental properties; there are a huge number of homes and condos for rent at any given time. But when all of the apartment complexes were converted to condos, that took away a huge chunk of Celebration's rental inventory. The only "official" apartments left are the garage apartments owned by private homeowners. I was sad to see that happen because I felt that the original apartments were vital to the character of our town. Now I just figure that the privately owned homes and condos that are being rented out are taking the place of those lost apartments.

The only thing that would ever drive me out of Celebration is if the town's character shifts from a warm community atmosphere to a playground for the rich & snobby and/or transient vacationers. Granted, we're not exactly bursting with low-income people right now, but even though most people are doing well economically, they're neighborly and down to earth. We do have snowbirds, but most come to town for months at a time, rather than just a couple of weeks a year. That's the Celebration that I know and love; if it dies out, I might as well leave as it will be just like a hundred other cookie cutter Florida subdivisions.

Personally, I don't think that the real estate bubble will burst completely. The astronomical growth may slow, and even stop, but I don't think prices will ever go down. After all, we're Celebration, the Disney Town, and that infamy will always be worth a premium. Even if the town's character changes completely (and for the worst), people who never knew it before won't even know the difference.

A tragic thought. I pray that it never happens.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Heat Goes On

The Dog Days of Summer are definitely here in Florida, where we broke one heat record on Monday and tied others on Tuesday and today. I suspect we might have broken another one today. When I was out picking up a late lunch, the radio announcer said that the temperature was 100 degrees. Whew! I know this is the tropics, but I associate triple-digit temps more closely with the desert.

Still, it hasn't been too bothersome, since I've been inside most of the the time. When you're in air conditioned comfort, you quickly forget how vicious and relentless the sun can be. Even my cat Stitch, who loves to go outside on supervised jaunts, has his energy quickly sapped. His black coat soaks in the heat, so he moves a few steps, then collapses and rolls. I'm not sure what that's supposed to accomplish, except for getting his coat filthy so he can spend hours washing it.

I haven't ventured onto Disney property lately, but I suspect that the water parks are reaching capacity every day. Right outside of Celebration, Water Mania (a rather small and shabby park, at least compared to Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) has been doing a booming business. Every time I visit the Water Tower Place shopping center, I can hear screams of delight as kids rocket down the water slides just across the street. I can even see their bodies plummeting on the tallest slides, which tower up into the skyline. I swear you must need an oxygen mask to get to the top, and I can't even imagine the super wedgie that you have by the time you reach the bottom.

Today, I decided to treat myself to Coldstone Creamery. That place can be downright dangerous from a healthy eating standpoint, but it's so delicious. For the uninitiated, at Coldstone you select an ice cream flavor and various items to be folded into it. Then the workers plop the ice cream onto a frozen slab and mix in the candy, nuts, crushed cookies, or whatever. My personal favorite is a variation on their Black Forest concoction. I like the chocolate ice cream, fudge sauce, and cherry pie filling, but I substitute yellow cake or graham cracker pie crust for the usual brownies. Otherwise, it's just too chocolately (it grieves me to say that anything is too chocolately, but sometimes too much of a good thing is not so good).

My first attempt at a Coldstone treat was in the early afternoon. The line stretched all the way down the counter, and there was only one person working! Considering how long it takes to mix each order by hand, I knew it would be dinner time by the time I reached the cash register. Reluctantly, I headed home with my taste buds unfulfilled.

I briefly debated stopping at Herman's, the ice cream shop in downtown Celebration, but my hankering was for chocolate ice cream with mix-ins. Even if I got a cone in one of my favorite flavors, like Bubble Gum or Mississippi Mud Pie, I knew that my craving for Coldstone would resurface like that annoying tooth in the Wendy's commercial that keeps bleating, "Ranch! Ranch!"

Instead, I headed home to work, promising myself that I'd re-emerge in the evening, when the crowd would most likely have thinned. Sure enough, I returned a bit after dinner time, and I was the only person in the story. Ironically, there were three workers to wait on the lone customer, whereas one poor guy had been stuck taking care of the enormous afternoon stampede.

Even though the sun was on its way to setting, the oppressive heat was still hanging around. My ice cream turned into mush the moment I walked out the door. No problem; I have a unique way to minimize Coldstone's impact on my diet. I simply pick out all the mix-ins, and when I'm done, I pitch the remaining ice cream. It was easier to pick out the cherries and pie crush from among the melty goop.

When I returned home, it was like stepping from the Sahara into the Arctic. The air conditioning was cranked way down to help the paint dry faster. Today was the big day on which the Great Duloc Manor Painting Project was completed. The master bedroom and bath were the last two rooms to get their make-over; now, they are both a soft, soothing shade of blue. It's quite a counterpoint to my husband's office at the other end of the hall, which was the first room painted. It's a bright shade of Dreamsicle, since my hubby's favorite color is orange.

Eventually the heat wave will give way to fall. If I were in Chicago, I'd be feeling a sense of depression, knowing that the cooling air would mean that winter is not far behind. But in Florida, I'm happy that fall is approaching. I'm looking forward to being able to open the windows again and get some fresh air into the house. Spring was so beautiful this year; if autumn is half as nice, we'll be lucky.

We'll see if the heat continues could be another record-breaker.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Monday, August 15, 2005

World of Wings

Lately, I'm spending most of my time holed up in the house to avoid the heat. We're in the clutches of a vicious heat wave; we set a new record today by hitting 97 degrees, and tomorrow's swelter may be another one for the record books. I always used to think of summer in Florida as regular temperatures dancing around 100, but in reality that's rather unusual. I thought that I would be suffering in the heat and humidity, but my body must have adapted because I take it mostly in stride.

It's still quite different from what I was used to in the Midwest. Instead of bitter Chicago mornings spent sitting in my car, waiting impatiently for the windshield to thaw, I've switched to opening a vehicle that feels like a blast furnace and waiting for the A/C to make it tolerable.

But overall, I don't mind it too much, and when it gets overwhelming, I join my fellow Floridians in becoming a summer vampire. I stay inside, where it's nice and cool, and I chug bottles and bottles of water if I happen to spend any time outdoors.

I did venture out briefly today at lunchtime to check out Celebration's newest eatery. It's a place called WOW (World of Wings) that just opened at Water Tower Place. We already have lots of chicken at WTP, courtesy of Chik-Fil-A, but WOW's menu is more expansive. It offers additional items, from burgers and wraps to fajitas. That's good news for my husband, who is one of those rare souls with an allergy to chicken. Because of this, our mutual meals at home are chicken-free (he whips up a mean version of Chicken Paprikas, with turkey instead of the title bird), so I like to indulge when we eat out. If we stop at WOW, there will be something for both of us.

Since it was Monday, WOW was having its weekly special of 35 cent wings. I was totally intrigued by their choice of sauces, which range from three hot varieties, honey BBQ, sweet & sour and peanut to citrus salsa, coconut curry, and taz raspberry. Thus, I selected an 8-pack of wings, split between coconut curry and raspberry. Unfortunately, since the store had opened literally that very day, they didn't have raspberry sauce yet. No problem...I just switched to sweet & sour.

There were some intriguing side dishes, such as honey mustard cole slaw and sweet potato fries, but I didn't try them; I'd already purchased a salad from Goodings, so that seemed like overkill. I will definitely be exploring them on my next visit.

I was hoping for a nice, cold unsweetened iced tea, but unfortunately they didn't have that yet either. That's probably a good sign, as they had the soda dispensers in yet, and Nestea wasn't one of the options. I absolutely cannot stand the slop that comes out of a tap and is called "iced tea" by some restaurants. If it ain't fresh brewed, it ain't going down my gullet. Hopefully the fact that there was no tea dispenser means that they'll be getting a container for the real variety.

On this first day of business, the workers seemed eager to please but somewhat overwhelmed. There was some confusion over my change (they shorted me by $2), but we got that straightened out. Since I was taking my food to-go, I plopped down near the counter to wait for my order (they also have booths and a bar area for eat-ins).

Soon enough my order was ready, and I headed home to indulge. It took a while to make my way through downtown Celebration, which was somewhat akin to a salmon swimming upstream. At certain times of the day, there's a nasty little traffic jam at the downtown stop signs. But even though it took some time to make it back to East Village, my wings were still nice and hot when I finally reached my house.

I had assumed that the sauces were served on the side, but I soon discovered that they are slathered onto the wings themselves. Each meaty morsel is breaded and bathed in a generous portion of sauce. This makes them very tasty, but VERY messy. I had planned to laze on the couch while eating, but Farquaad was lurking around trying to steal a piece, so I ended up just standing at the kitchen counter. Since Quaad was meowing piteously, I tossed him an occasional chunk of meat.

The wings were good-sized, and the sauces were quite tasty. The curry coconut tasted just like its name; I love a strong curry flavor, and I noticed little coconut flakes. The sweet and sour tended to the sweet side, which is just fine with me. It had some type of yummy little fruit pieces in it.

I give a big thumbs-up to WOW, although I think I'll opt for the chicken tenders next time. The wings were fine, but they're just too darned much work. No matter where I get wings, I'm always annoyed with having to pick and dig to get all the meat. With the tasty-looking white meat tenders, I can simply dive in without any effort.

It's nice to have a new dining option at Water Tower, joining Coldstone Creamery (a dangerous place for an ice cream fanatic like me), Joe's Crab Shack, Moe's Southwestern Grill, Planet Smoothie, and Le China. I enjoy all of the downtown Celebration restaurants, but now there are so many expanded choices without ever leaving town.

Tomorrow is going to be another scorcher, but I may slip out to WOW at lunchtime again. Or, better yet, I might run to Coldstone; what good is a record-breaking hot day if you can't use it as an excuse for ice cream?

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Sunday, August 14, 2005

In Living Color

Our home's new paint job is almost done. Like the scene in "Wizard of Oz" where Dorothy's black and white house lands in Munchkinland and she opens the door to a Technicolor world, Duloc Manor's stark, white walls are now alive with color.

The light pastel hues didn't worry me too much. After all, if I hated them, it wouldn't be too hard to simply paint over them with a neutral shade. My biggest worry was the family room, for which I'd selected a vivid maroon. I wanted a bold splash of color in at least one room, and our lamps and sofa pillows contain that shade of red. The sofa itself is a neutral brown, selected to hide the coffee stains caused by my careless cup-balancing, and our furniture is an orangey-brown oak. Thus, I figured the maroon wouldn't look too badly out of place.

Many of our friends have bold primary colors in their homes that look really good. After seeing so many houses splashed with color, I'd slowly but surely started to feel adventurous. Eventually, this culminated in my selection of the candy-apple maroon paint.

But I have a loathing of dark, dingy houses, and my big fear was that the darkish shade of red would make my family room seem too gloomy. It is ringed with windows and opens onto the sunny, white-cabineted kitchen, but I still thought it might be overwhelming. And once such a dark shade has taken over a wall, the difficulty level of changing it is slightly worse than herding cats.

My chosen maroon was so dark that we had to purchase tinted primer. Even with that preparation, the wall hungrily soaked up two coats of paint. The primer was bright pink; it gave me flashbacks to my teenage years, when my bedroom was a similar color. We were living in a dilapidated home inherited from my grandparents. My walls were cotton candy pink, but the floor was checkered with white and mint-green squares. To add to the hideous combination, my bedspread was an orange and brown quilt. At least that wasn't as bad as our livingroom, where the walls were an ugly shade of brown that I dubbed "Bridle Path Tan," or the back porch, which was festooned with an eye-searing shade of "Violet Beauregard's Blueberry Surprise" (the surprise was that anyone would buy such a terrible shade of paint).

After living with that horrible mixture, it's no wonder that I'm a little gun-shy of wall colors. But I knew that the groovy pink wall would be short-lived; soon enough, it would be transformed into a deep, warm maroon to complement my decor.

The color was only being put onto two walls; with our open floorplan, we decided to keep the largest wall, which goes all the way up the stairwell, in a neutral shade of off-white. Both of the colored walls have windows, so I was fairly confident that the house would remain bright and cheerful.

The painters applied two coats over the pink primer; they half suspected that it might need one more coat, but once the walls had dried, the coverage was nice and even. They did an expert job in the corners, keeping the line of maroon straight where it met the two Irish Mist (i. e. white) walls. The ceiling remained white, too, so they had the additional challenge of trimming the top. I marvelled at their steady hands; if my husband and I had attempted the job ourselves, the cursing would have been audible all the way to I-4, and the white edges would have been mudged with red.

Once the walls were done, I could start to visualize the "final product." But they were still wet, so we had to wait overnight to put back the furniture and wall hangings. The next morning, I awoke and wandering downstairs to discover that my impatient husband had already hung the pictures and pushed back the sofa and loveseat. When I found him, he was in the process of rehanging the blinds. With the sunlight streaming in, I breathed a sigh of relief; my deep red wall looked quite lovely. The color matched my pillows and lamps, just as I'd hoped that it would, and it made a nice counterpoint to the brown couch and my colorful Disney artwork.

It's oddly patriotic, too; our kitchen is painted a light shade of blue, with white cabinets and white wood chairs. Since it's wide open to the back of the house, the overall effect is quite patriotic.

The painting of Duloc Manor is still in progress, but the family room was the only area that I was worried about. The rest of the colors are quite tame in comparison. Between the richly pigmented walls and the new concrete patio lying just outside of the family room window, my home has changed quite a bit from the place that we purchased two years ago. At that time, it was sterile and white, with nothing to give it character. Now, it's full of the touches that give it a comfortable, homey feeling.

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Bunny Brigade Addendum

As you peruse my earlier entry, here are some photos to provide you with a visual interpretation:

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Of Backyards and Bunnies

It's all my fault. I admit it. It was entirely due to me that the Bunny Brigade Croquet Extravaganza almost got rained out.

You may wonder how I have such power over time and space. It's simple; on the afternoon of the scheduled Brigade get-together, my new concrete patio was poured. There's no faster way to attract a monsoon, other than getting your car washed and forgetting your umbrella.

I've been waiting anxiously all week for the patio, which is the first concrete step (pun intended) towards getting my new spa. Next comes the electrical work, and then the spa itself. I received approval from the Architectural Review Committee this week, and all the grass was removed from my backyard in anticipation of the concrete pour. Thus, I've been staring out at a barren sandpit, using my imagination to fill in a cement slab, topped with my nice, new whirlpool.

Finally, on Friday morning, the workers showed up to do the last few tasks in preparation for the pouring. This happened to be the very same day that the Bunny Brigade One-Year Anniversary Get-Together and Membership Drive would take place. Originally, we had planned to stalk to Tampa Bay Bucs, who are staying at the Celebration Hotel during their training. That had been our original event last year, so it seemed only fitting to return to the scene of the crime. But then we learned that the players would be out of town at an exhibition game, so we switched to a croquet match instead. Since I have a perfect "croquet field" right across the street from my house, the bash was moved from downtown to East Village.

While one of our main activities is imbibing in alcoholic libations, we were hoping to actually play a game. Thus, it would be an outdoor event. Wescheduled it for 7 p.m., hoping that any afternoon thunderstorms would have long since blown away. Usually, the storms are brief, discharging just enough rain to drench the tourists at Disney World before rolling out and leaving clear, blue skies in their wake.

That morning, the workers diligently prepared our yard for the pour. They capped off the sprinklers and made sure the form was in place. The cement truck was supposed to show up at 10:00 a.m., but lunch time came and went without any sign of it.

The truck finally rumbled down the alley in the afternoon. In came the hose, and out poured the concrete. I could barely contain my excitement as my backyard was transformed from a messy mudhole to the start of a wonderful new habitat. I hate it when my yard is in disarray; even though I tend to spend more time out front, on my porch swing, I like my backyard to be in order, too. We usually park in our driveway rather than on the street, but that's been impossible during the construction process. Also, I was anxious for things to be put back together so I could plant some flowers.

My front yard has lots of colorful blooms, but I never did much with the back, other than to toss in a few marigolds and impatiens. My backyard is a decent size, especially considering that we're in a triplex; it's actually larger than what some of the houses have. But for some reason, I never really did much in the back. I briefly considered putting out some patio furniture or a hammock, but it just never happened. It's almost been like having wasted space; a nice, green plot being used for nothing, other than occasionally letting my cats out to graze. Now, with the spa, I'll be spending lots of time back there. I'm looking forward to putting in a lush garden and making it a pleasant, stress-relieving sanctuary.

The weather appeared non-threatening as the truck disgorged its load of gray glop and the workers smoothed it over. Upstairs in his office, my husband was warily eyeing a yellow and red weather band hovering ominously on the radar. But I wasn't worried, even when thunder started rumbling the moment the workmen left. In Florida, your house can shake from thunder while lightning crackles viciously overhead and you still won't get a drop of rain. Despite hubby's worries, I decided to remain optimistic.

My optimism quickly waned as a I saw a few raindrops splash against the window. I thought that the sky might be spitting a little just to taunt me, but soon the rain was drumming steadily down. The workers returned with a huge plastic sheet and unfurled it over the freshly-poured pad. They had just manage to secure it when Mother Nature let loose with a vengence. It was one of those Florida monsoons where you can't see an inch in front of your face. Even with the plastic in place, I knew that the waterfall that pours off our back awning would leave an indentation. I rushed outside with a garbage can and tried to divert the worst of the downpour. Unfortunately, it kept shifting, so I looking like Bullwinkle frantically trying to position the bucket to catch Rocky the Flying Squirrel at the end of their cartoons.

Unlike the typical wimpy afternoon rains that blow in suddenly and then abruptly disappear, this one settled in to stay a while. I stood on our back stoop, soaked to the skin, wondering what effect Mother Nature's fury was having on my newly-poured slab. Meanwhile, out in front, the croquet field was rapidly turning into a swamp. When the rain finally seemed to be slowing, the workmen came back to check the cement. They took off the tarp and tried to resmooth it, but no sooner had they started than Monsoon, Part 2, began. They had just managed to get it into decent shape and re-cover it when the rain started coming down harder than before.

Upstairs, my husband was grumbling and cursing at the radar. The yellow and red blob was parked squarely over Celebration, with no intention of moving out quickly. Of course not...our newly poured slab had attracted it like a magnet.

Eventually this second torrent slacked off, and the workmen returned once again. They rechecked the slab and assured us that it would be fine. After all, in Florida, afternoon rains are a fact of life. Thank goodness the monsoon had at least held off until the pouring was done.

After all that rain, I wasn't sure whether the Bunny Bash would still go on as planned. In Florida, the blazing sun can quickly dry out even the wettest field, but the on this day the clouds decided to stay. But we decided to go ahead and see if anyone showed up. If the rain returned, we could simply move the party across the street to Duloc Manor.

Even with the gray sky, it appeared that the rainstorm was over. Even though the grass was still rather soggy, it wasn't so bad that we couldn't bash some balls around. The leader of the Brigade arrived with her husband in tow, plus important supplies like a croquet set, bug-repelling spray and candles, beer, and snacks (jalapeno poppers...mmmm!). She had a stash of extra ears (after all, one of the main tennets of the Brigade is to don odd headgear), and even a light-up rabbit to place on my porch as a beacon to would-be Bunnies.

Thankfully, the earlier flood hadn't scared off the hearty partiers. Soon we had a nice little group that was ready to start swinging mallets. A couple of people were reading the rules, which sounded quite complicated to me. I decided to play bartender in order to avoid attempting to play a civilized game. Over the past couple of days, I had made and bagged extra ice to whip up frozen libations, with the help of my Magic Bullet (infomercials rock!) and T.G.I. Fridays pre-mixed Mudslides and Pina Coladas.

My huband joined in the game, while I remained at fringes, drinking and chatting. It appeared that a semi-organized croquet tourney was going on; we got some odd looks from passing drivers, but we weren't wild enough to attract the attention of the sheriff.

After the game was over, we all bathed in bug spray and pulled up camp chairs around the citronella candles. The beer was still flowing freely, and my husband had dug up a bottle of our favorite cheap Publix wine. I had a Hungarian grandmother who raised me on Mogen David wine and 7-Up, so I have a fondness for sweet wines that would be most suitably consumed out of a brown paper bag. We managed to tough it out for a little while, but the mosquitos were apparently bent on getting a buzz from our blood. They forced us to give up and move the party into my family room.

People drifted in and out throughout the evening. All told, about a dozen Bunnies showed up at various times. This first anniversary event also marked the Brigade's expansion beyond international borders, and our new Belgian member celebrated his initiation by bringing an offering of psychotropic beer (if you're wondering about the significance of this, click here for the shocking truth about Belgium).

As the hour grew late, my husband decided to drive out the Bunny Brigade by subjecting them to shocking television programs. No, nothing as shocking as "Wonder Showzen"; he dug out my favorite episode of Comedy Central's "Drawn Together" and horrified everyone with a sex ed film about the special hug performed with a giggy and a pee pee. If you have no idea what 'm talking about, click here to go to Comedy Central's video library and select "Foxxy Sex Ed."

As the last of the Brigade hopped off into the night, I couldn't help but reflect on what a year it's been. Back when I became a Charter Member, I was still a commuter stuck in Chicago most of the time. I lived vicariously through the Front Porch (the Celebration intranet) and donned my bunny ears 1200 miles away in solidarity with the far-away Bunnies. That very first meeting, held in the Town Tavern, was the first time I actually met many of my Celebration friends in person.

Now, there are all sorts of memories...being "kidnapped" by a NEV train after our 24-hour drive from Chicago, stalking celebrities like Davy Jones (and intimidating unsuspecting high school bands at Disney World by acting like crazed fans), eating carrots by the lake while waiting for the fireworks, the consumption of countless certainly has been an interesting 12 months.

I felt a little bad about being responsible for the rain, but at least this year we didn't have a hurricane; last year, after the charter meeting, three hurricanes in a row delayed any further outings for a while. But I'd better be careful what I type; we're not out of the woods yet, so we could still end up with a monster hurricane before we reach the safety of November. will probably happen on the day my spa is scheduled to be delivered!

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

One Step Closer

We're one step closer to getting our spa installed. I received my approval from the Architectural Review Committee, which means that I am "legal" to proceed.

Celebration has a reputation as a town full of "Porch Nazis" who strictly enforce a long list of ridiculous rules. In reality, our covenants are no more restrictive than those in any other planned community. They're aimed at maintaining our property values and keeping the town looking good.

If you want to make a change to your home's exterior (for example, major landscaping changes, a screen room, fence, pool, whirlpool, etc.), you must submit your plans to the Architectural Review Committee. They make sure that what you're proposing falls within the rules and fits in aesthetically. If so, you get your blessing; if not, you may need to make some modifications.

Friends of ours recently added a screen room, patio, and whirlpool, so they gave me some pointers on what I'd need to submit. Since we're only putting in a patio and whirlpool, my plans didn't need to be quite as elaborate. I stopped by before a previous ARC meeting to get a preliminary idea of what information to submit. Then, I worked up my plans and submitted a packet at the last meeting. Tonight, my proposal was scheduled for a vote.

Technically, you don't have to show up in person, but I wanted to be there in case there were any questions. I had turned in a survey, drawings showing the current and proposed state of Duloc Manor, and photos of our existing yard, indicating where the changes would go. I also snapped a picture of my neighbor's yard, which is an exact mirror of my own. Last year, she had pavers and a garden put in, so the photo illustrated what a similar yard with a patio would look like. The triplex model has a concrete patio almost identical to what I'm putting in, but it's long since been sold to a private owner, and I didn't think they'd take too kindly to a stranger skulking about with a camera, snapping shots of the back of their house.

I also attached brochures from the two spa manufacturers I'd been considering when I turned in the paperwork; since that time, I had narrowed down my choice to a Vita Cabaret. In essence, my proposal was pretty simple...lay a concrete patio of approximately 15 x 16 feet and slap a big ol' spa on the slab. Originally, I was planning on a smaller slab, but the workmen I consulted suggested that it be larger in order to make it more symmetrical. The larger size will work out very well, as it will border our mulch beds in a nice, big, tidy square.

The only thing I was missing was a calculation of how much "coverage" there would be on my lot. In a townhome/triplex, the total cannot exceed 75% of the lot. Being mathematically challenged, I had missed that part of the proposal. Fortunately, the committee allowed me to work out the calculations while they considered other proposals. There were six on the agenda, but I was the only resident who showed up in person.

I did some fast multiplying, tallying up how much space my house, garage, driveway, and sidewalk currently occupies. Then I added in the proposed concrete slab. Fortunately, I was still well below the maximum. The board voted its approval, and I headed home to tell my husband the good news.

Now I'm in the final stages of preparing for the new spa. It should be ready for delivery at the end of the month, so I'm busily coordinating the concrete and electrical work. With any luck, we'll have our slab poured this week, and I'll be speaking to the electrician very soon.

Every time I gaze out the family room window, I picture a blissful, bubbling spa. I feel like Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation," peering out into his yard and fanasizing about the swimming pool he was planning to buy with his Christmas bonus. My little corner of East Village isn't quite large enough for a pool, but the spa will make a worthy substitute. Hopefully in a couple of weeks I'll be blogging about the joys of soaking in my long-awaited tub.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Shopping in Tourist Land

When I lived in Chicago, I always hated to go shopping in and around the mall. We actually had two large malls that were equally close to our home, but I avoided both of them as much as possible due to the crowds. Actually, weekdays were relatively quiet, but on Saturday and Sunday the people were jam-packed wall to wall. You needed a taser just to get from one end of the mall to the other.

Little did I know that Florida would be even worse. Here, there is no real "weekend," since the tourist population is so high. When you're on vacation, every day is a weekend. Thus, the malls and major stores tend to be almost as crowded Monday through Friday as they are on Saturday and Sunday (at least during the peak season).

My husband and I are forced to venture out of the Celebration "bubble" a couple of times a month to stock up on cat litter, household items, garden stuff, and other necessities that cannot be purchased at a grocery store. We vary our shopping between Wal-Mart, Target, and sometimes K-Mart; for hardware, it's Lowes or Home Depot. My husband tends to prefer Wal-Mart, but the problem is that I classify all of the local Wal-Marts as "evil." I base that classification on the ease (or lack thereof) of getting a parking space in the same county as the store, of managing to maneuver through the crowd without having to attach a cow-catcher to your cart, and of finding someone who actually knows the answer to the question you are asking.

We used to vary our shopping between the Wal-Mart on 192, near Medieval Times (a tourist destination almost as popular as Disney World itself, judging by the continuous crowds; one day, I fully expect to find a queue line just to enter the store) and the one on 27, just off 192 (still touristy, but cleaner and more organized, although its rating slips farther every time we go there as more people discover it).

Then, not too long ago, a new Wal-Mart opened on Osceola Parkway. For me, it had a built-in an advantage from Day tends to be quicker to get to because it's so easy to hop into Osceola from Celebration. Once you're on the road, there is rarely any traffic worth speaking of, especially when compared to 192.

The first couple of times we went there, the crowds weren't too bad. But now people know that it's open, and it's become a clone of the 192 location. Sometimes I actually get dizzy from continually circling the parking lot, looking for a vacant spot. Usually, I just park at the bitter end of the row (when you live near Disney World and enjoy the convenient restaurants, a little extra walking will never hurt you). Unfortunately, I've been to that Wal-Mart when no spots are open, including the far-flung ones. On those cases, you just stalk the lot like an urban predator, ready to leap the moment you see a car backing out.

That was the case this weekend, when we headed down Osceola Parkway to pick up some caulk, hangers, furniture casters, and other odds & ends. The lot was wall to wall people, but after some futile wandering up and down the aisles, I lucked out...a car had just backed out. Before anyone else could notice, I jammed down the gas pedal and raced to the precious parking spot.

With Canyonero safely tucked away, we headed into the store. Even though the masive amount of cars should have forewarned me, I was still awed at the sheer size of the crowd inside the store. I suspect I could retire comfortably on the proceeds of just one week of sales at that store...heck, one day's profits would probably be sufficient. The tourists definitely outnumbered the locals, although both groups were well represented. Once you've lived in Florida for a while, you develop a sixth sense for telling the two groups apart. Of course, sometimes it's obvious: I pegged the young woman parading around in a wet bikini, a towel loosely draped over her shoulders, as a visitor right off the bat.

Our shopping excursion started off surprisingly well. Normally, any Wal-Mart in the greater Orlando/Kissimmee area only has one or two bags of the cat litter we use. This weekend, we lucked into the Mother Lode...half a dozen bags. Granted, it takes us a while to go through that much litter, even with our trio of oversized, messy felines. But since I hate shopping so much, I'd rather load in as much litter as Canyonero's shock absorbers can take so I don't have to return to Wal-Mart for as many weeks as humanly possible.

Unfortunately, our shopping trip quickly went downhill. We wandered aimlessly, trying to find the furniture casters (actually, they're more like discs that allow you to move large items like desks, entertainment centers, etc. without getting a hernia). We exhausted several theories on where they might be located...the most logical was my husband's guess that they might be near the paint section, since people who are painting would be likely to want to move furniture. No dice. Finally, he found someone who pointed him in the right direction. Inexplicably, the discs were located next to screw-in wall hooks and chains.

Next up, I was on a mission to find another cat hair "miracle brush." I found one previously at the 192 Wal-Mart, but someone had tossed it in the wrong place and I just happened to run across it lying among the plant pots in the Garden section. I never found its correct location, and therefore I couldn't buy another one. Unlike a lint roller, the brush is reusable, and it picks up pet hair like a magnet. It's the only thing that keeps my couch from disappearing under a huge clump of cat fur, never to be seen again. By running it over my clothes before leaving the house, I also manage to avoid being mistaken for a short Wookie.

After a long, futile search, I asked a worker in Housewares for assistance. She looked at me as though I had grown two heads. Finally, she beckoned me to follow her, and we did a strange Ring-Around-The-Rosie from Housewares to Garden to Furniture and back again. Then she suddenly stopped and informed me that I needed to go to Automotive. She pointed to a clerk milling around the Automotive counter. Unfortunately, the Auto clerk didn't speak a word of English and had to find a second person to translate. After some confusing bilingual back-and-forth, the translator said that I needed to go back to starting point. Sigh! The only worker putzing around among the household goods was the woman I'd spoken to originally. I aborted the wild goose chase and resigned myself to looking like a cat hair-covered Cousin It.

At least we found most of the items we'd come for; I breathed a sigh of relief as we headed for the checkout counters. While my husband tended to the payment process, I slipped off to the restroom (I'd unwisely indulged in an obscene amount of iced tea at Chevy's a couple of hours earlier). CLOSED! Arghhh! Apparently it was being cleaned. I wish I'd had my camera, as I strongly suspected that I'd run into a sight as rare as Bigfoot. I've been in plenty of Wal-Mart restrooms, and none has ever been what I'd call "clean." Their normal condition leads me to suspect that someone runs a mop around the floor and wipes off the sinks maybe once or twice a year.

My husband suggested that I could wait to see if the cleaners would finish soon, but I quickly rejected the idea. Considering the absence of workers in the main part of the store, I had visions of a wild Wal-Mart associate party going on just beyond the cleaning cart. They were probably in there skating around the tile on furniture disks, dueling with lint brushes and tossing handfuls of precious crystal cat litter around like confetti.

Instead, we retreated to the parking lot, eager to return to the safely of the Celebration bubble. As we loaded Canyonero, another vehicle hovered anxiously, ready to swoop into our spot the moment we abandoned it; other cars passed him jealously, shooting death glares because he'd gotten there first.

I can't complain too much about the crowded stores. After all, I knew that I was moving to Tourist Land, where crowds and traffic are an everyday part of life. I don't want to be like the people who move to an "airport-adjacent" home (in the immortal words of "Reno 911") and then complain about the low-flying planes roaring overhead. But it does indeed make shopping an adventure; it feels like I'm on a scavenger hunt in the pages of a "Where's Waldo?" book. And where else would I get such a strong sense of accomplishment from something as simple as finding furniture disks? I know that someday I'll score another lint brush, too; I just hope that it happens before the cats die of old age.

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

Light Show

One of the nice things about living in Celebration is that you can run over to Disney World just about any night to catch a fireworks show. There's no need to wait until the Fourth of July...every night of the week, weather permitting, Disney-MGM has Fantasmic, while Epcot has Illuminations, and the Magic Kingdom has Wishes.

But this week there's been no need to go to Disney World. Every night, there's a light show right here in town, courtesy of Mother Nature. Granted, the only color is white, and the flashes don't come in fancy shapes like smiley faces or Mickey ears. Still, it's quite impressive (and intimidating) reminds me of why Florida is known as the Lightning Capital of the United States.

Often, the summer storms come in the afternoon. But this week, they've been coming later, which means greater visibility of the crackling bolts of electricity in the sky, punctuated by rumbles of thunder. Today, they started rolling in just before sunset. I took the cats out for a brief stroll in the front yard and watched in fascination as the last remnants of the powder blue sky were taken over by intimidating black clouds. They rolled in from the preserve area across the street, with vicious lightning bolts flashing uncomfortably close by. I quickly gathered up the belligerent kitties and herded them into the house.

The light show has continued throughout the evening, although the only rain so far has been a light spit. There is heavy rain in other areas, so the monsoon will probably be coming to us soon.

When the weather is like this, the news is usually peppered with tales of lightning strikes and house fires. That always makes me nervous; I know how easily lightning can strike a home and how damaging it can be. Our condo in Chicago took a hit while we were on vacation a few years back. Thankfully, it didn't start a fire, but it destroyed many of our electronic devices.

Here in Florida, we plan to add power surge protection as soon as we get the line run for our new spa. Progress Energy offers a protective service for a convenient monthly fee. Some people have lightning rods, too, but I lost faith in those after a news report a month or two ago. It showed a home with a roof peppered with lightning errant bolt struck it dead on, neatly avoiding the rods and starting a fire in the attic. I guess if you're meant to take a strike, nothing is going to help you.

The Midwest has occasional lightning displays, but they pale by comparison to the Sunshine State. I did witness a lightning strike once, albeit indirectly. I was in my apartment with the front door open when I suddenly saw a blinding flash, punctuated by an explosive sound. Turns out a tree up the block had been struck. I ran out with my neighbors to gawk at the smoking trunk. Fortunately, no one was injured, and it didn't damage any homes.

Flying back and forth between Chicago and Florida frequently last summer, I learned that it's not at all uncommon for the afternoon thunderstorms to shut down Orlando International Airport. When there's lightning in the vicinity, it's not safe for the baggage handlers and other personnel to be out on the tarmac. Thus, outgoing planes stay at the gates, and incoming aircraft must sit on the ground while impatient passengers mill around inside, anxious to deplane and begin their vacations.

As I type this, I can hear the rainfall becoming more steady, and the lightshow continues unabated. I didn't hear the booms of Illuminations or Wishes tonight, drifting over from Disney World; the weather no doubt washed them out. But the tourists are still getting an impressive show, courtesy of Mother Nature...and they don't even have to pay an admission fee.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Chaos Continues

My husband is in Chicago this week, but I am surviving amidst the chaos. Slowly but surely, the bleak, white walls of Duloc Manor are taking on a rainbow hue. I especially like the powder room, which is now a bright, cheery yellow. It's the only room in the house without a window, so if we ever have to hole up in there for a hurricane or tornado, maybe the color will get our minds off the imminent danger. If the house gets destroyed, the lemony drywall will hopefully attract rescuers to our location in the rubble.

The foyer and formal room are much more subdued, painted in subtle hues. The same cannot be said of my husband's office, which has received its first coat of orange...yes, orange. Thankfully, it's lighter than a pumpkin, but it's still darker than a Dreamsicle. His futon cover is beige, black, and purple, so he's got quite a color combination going on up there. All I can guess is that it's a throwback to his Polish genes.

The first floor is still in disarray, but I can work around it pretty easily. As long as I have room to sit and balance my laptop, I'm fine. I did have to tiptoe around paint cans and drop cloths when I took a bath last night, since our only tub is located in the bathroom adjacent to the office. I've always found it odd that the master bathroom only has a shower, but who am I to second-guess the wisdom of the Great Builder Gods?

I needed a good soak because I've started doing my exercise DVDs again, and my muscles are feeling the burn. I don't mind, as the aches simply confirm that I'm actually exerting my lazy body. But the tub is a real pain in the was apparently created with Mini Me in mind, and no normal-sized human can get a decent soak in its shallow, narrow confines.

Oh well...soon enough, I won't have to soak my aching muscles in the micro-tub anymore. I finalized the order for our hot tub, so within a few weeks I'll be able to totally immerse myself and luxuriate with chin-deep water and full-power jets. We ended up buying the first spa we looked at, despite my husband's annoyance with the manager. The winning factor was the fact that I actually fit into the lounge seat.

I have very short legs, which causes me endless annoyance in everyday life. From clothing, where I have the challenge of finding petite-length pants in lard-butt sizes, to horseback riding, where I have to keep my stirrups at a child's length, I continually curse my genetics; I have my grandmother's build (hopefully I inherited her other genes, too, since she lived a healthy life well into her 80s). I was amazed that both my husband and I found the Vita lounger to be comfy. He was fine in the Caldera model, but there was no way I could use the back jets and the feet jets simultaneous. I had to contort myself to reach one or the other.

I have a concrete contractor lined up, too, and I will hopefully get approval from the Architectural Review Committee next week. Then, it's more chaos as the backyard is buried under a slab of concrete and my new toy is installed.

Once again, I realize how lucky we were to end up with a triplex instead of a condo. Having a yard was a big draw for me, mainly because I love to be surrounded with a colorful, blooming flower garden. Now I realize a secondary benefit: there's no way a hot tub would fit onto a condo balcony! Our backyard isn't huge, but it's a fairly decent size. Our hedge makes it look deceptively small because it's not on the property line. But even when the part right behind the house becomes a slab, we'll still have a big, grassy area along the garage. I'd like to put out some patio furniture, but my husband insists it would look tacky (remember, he's married to a woman who puts a silver Christmas tree and Christmas Story "leg lamp" in her front window).

The spa itself will look very nice, but I figure I can add a touch of tackiness to that, too. It's nearly eight feet by eight feet, which is plenty of room for my inflatable raft. Don't be surprised if you're driving down an alley in East Village someday and catch sight of a woman passed out cold on a neon green plastic float in her hot tub.

I'll be so happy when all of the interior and exterior work is done and my home is back to normal. Actually, it will be better than normal...freshly painted walls inside and a nice, big, jetted tub in the back. Chaos is always a pain, but at least it's temporary...and I know the end result will be well worth it.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Monday, August 01, 2005

All's Fair in Love and War

During wartime, anything is fair game. If you saw the movie "Caddyshack" and witnessed Bill Murray's battle with the gopher, you know exactly what I mean.

I am still engaged in my own uneasy war with wildlife. For a long time, I had negotiated an unsteady truce through the liberal use of cayenne pepper. But my armadillo enemy is still waiting in the wings; if I pepper my mulch bed, he'll stay away, but if the cayenne is washed away by the rain and I haven't had time to reapply it, he'll dig a hole to China.

Armadillos are amazingly single-minded creatures. One they have gotten into a routine, it's nearly impossible to break. This one loves to cause a bustle in my hedgerow, and he's continued on for months now. Even when I've peppered the yard, I can see the evidence of his visit. He'll poke around a bit, then get a snoutful and go on his way, leaving a patch of pushed-around mulch.

The afternoon Florida rains, combined with the yard sprinklers, have made it a challenge to keep up with planting my pepper landmines. As a result, I find a tunnel to the center of the earth at least once a week. On those days, my mind dances with visions of vicious armadillo torture. I picture various ways to destroy my nemisis in glorious Technicolor detail.

So if I had the chance to commit dillo-cide, would I actually do it? God, with His wicked sense of humor, decided to put me to the test the other night. I had been out, and in the meantime we'd had a lovely monsoon so I knew the pepper was gone. As I pulled my Aztek into the alley, who should be crossing right in front of me but Mr. Dillo himself?

Immediately I felt a murderous glee. Sure, armadillos have formidable claws and body armor, but I figured the little bugger would be no match for Canyonero's tires. He was ambling along, bold as brass...he might as well have had a bright red target painted on his body. All I had to do was gun the engine and my dillo problems would be history. The nasty little bugger would be a smoosh spot on the pavement, and the turkey vultures would be thanking me for breakfast in the morning. Since my 'Tek is maroon, I wouldn't even have to worry if there was some residual gore splatter.

There was only one problem...I just couldn't do it!

I sat behind the wheel, watching the dillo as he crossed my driveway without a care in the world. Without even seeing it, I knew that a lovely mess was waiting for me in the yard. Here was the opportunity to destroy my problem once and for all...but I just couldn't harm a living creature.

As destructive as he is, Mr. Dillo and his kin were undoutedly here long before me. Perhaps in the old days, before the land was cleared and Duloc Manor was erected, my lot was a prime armadillo diner. I just couldn't stand to smoosh him for doing what comes naturally.

Finally he had crossed the driveway, heading for the preserve land. Obviously he had completed his rounds for the night, so he was in no big hurry. I parked the car and cut through my yard, casting a sideways glance at the Chinese portal that had been opened once again.

Sighing, I made a mental note to reapply the pepper. I'd had my big chance, and I'd blown it...but still, don't we all need our nemesis to make our life complete? Ahab has Moby Dick, Captain Kirk has Kahn, and and Maggie Simpson has the freaky, one-eyebrowed baby. I have my armadillo, and the war marches on.

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