Wednesday, September 28, 2005

CROA Organizational Meeting

Tonight was the organizational meeting for our new CROA (homeowners') board. Since our intranet is still down, I'm posting a news-style write-up here. I know that it will be of interest mainly to my Celebration readers. To my out-of-town audience, sorry if it's not the most exciting information. Hopefully it will give you an idea of the inner workings of our town, especially if you're a potential resident. If you live in Celebration, you'll be able to view the meeting in its entirety on cable channel 12:

CROA Organizational Meeting, Sept. 28, 2005

The CROA board held its organizational meeting on Wednesday, September 28, to elect officers for the upcoming year and to set meeting dates for the remainder of the year.

At the meeting, recently-elected board members James Ryan (District A), William Pelaia (District B) Thomas Sunnaborg (District E) and Charlie Eldredge (At Large) were introduced to the near-capacity audience of residents.

Lee Moore was re-elected as president of the board, with William Pelaia elected as vice-president, Tom Sunnaborg as secretary, and Jim Ryan as treasurer. Charlie Eldredge was elected as a member of the Celebration Joint Committee. While all of the officers were elected unanimously, Charlie Eldredge prefaced his vote for president with a call for board members to adhere to "the highest standard of ethics and honesty."

Two budget workshops were slated for October. The first, which will allow board members to go through the budget line by line, will be held on October 17 at 1:30 p.m. The second, which will consist of further discussion of the budget items, will be held at 6:30 p.m. on October 24. A meeting to vote on the budget was scheduled for November 21 at 6:30 p.m. Additional meeting dates and times will be determined later.

The board discussed mailing a "Committee Interest Form" to allow Celebration residents to express their interest in serving on various committees. These include the Architectural Review Committee, the Covenants Committee, the Safety Task Force (which is expected to become a permanent committee), Community Watch, the Communications Committee, and the Recreation Committee.

Prior to adjournment, new board members were given the opportunity to bring up topics of interest or concern. William Pelaia brought up several questions, including how Florida's Sunshine Laws apply to CROA. Pat Wasson of Town Hall explained that there are differences between the laws that cover governmental bodies, like the Celebration Community Development District, and those that cover homeowners' assocations like CROA. It was explained that members cannot discuss business in a quorum (i.e. four board members) outside of the meetings. Also, while government meetings are open to the public, a homeowners' association meeting is only open to its members (i.e. the residents).

Thomas Sunnaborg ennumerated several issues that residents had brought up in various arenas, such as in-person forums and online. These included the Celebration Blvd. connector, funding of the CJC, a request from Lexin (owner of downtown) for CROA to share the cost of hiring a special events coordinator, short-term rentals (which are forbidden in Celebration), whether recycling is taking place, the CROA election process, the status of a library to be located within Celebration, the status of a potential skate park, and the status of the 851 Building purchase.

Pat Wasson shared the status of several items, including the Lexin request, which she said had not been put on a board report as either an informational or action item. She reported that a short term rental being advertised in the Siena condos has been dealt with and that recycling is being done, although trash is being mixed with recycleables that were separated by residents, and then everything is separated later. She stated that she spoke with the county manager about the library, and he said he did not believe it would be approved by the county commission due to potential parking issues. However, she said that she spoke with library manager Ed Kilroy, who will be touring the 851 Building with her on Friday as a potential location.

Status of the potential skate park was also given; the Recreation Committee has reviewed three bids and is checking with the insurance company to see if it would be covered. They will also be considering potential locations. The 851 Building is slated for its mortgage closing on or around October 15, and there are three space planning bids to assess the cost of transforming it into a community center.

The above is a Cliff Notes version of the meeting, but hopefully it will be informative for my fellow residents until they can see it on Channel 12.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Cold Turkey

I'll admit it...I'm an addict. I've been forced to go cold turkey, and the withdrawal symptoms are not pleasant. I know that my supply has dried up, but woefully I keep seeking just one more fix...just one more I want one more!

My "drug of choice" is the Front Porch, Celebration's intranet site. Like many other computer-geek residents, I used to visit it several times a day. It was a high-tech version of the old guys sitting in front of the barber shop in Mayberry or the womenfolk gossiping at the supermarket or over the back fence. It had a lot of static information on organizations in town and upcoming events, but the most popular part was the resident-only forums. There, behind password-protected "walls," the true Celebration came to light. The discussions were lively, and sometimes quite heated, but always very addictive.

Like most addictions, the Front Porch got me through some really tough times. Back when my husband and I were spending most of our time in Chicago, with precious bi-weekly 48-hour stints in Celebration, the Front Porch was my lifeline. It kept me in the thick of life in Celebration, even though I was 1200 miles away. I could make contact with friends and keep up on gossip. Even with four inches of snow right outside my window, and a chill wind blowing outside, I could tap away at my keyboard and imagine myself looking out at palm trees gently swaying in the breeze under the warm caress of the sun.

We made our first Celebration friends via the Front Porch. Long before we met them face to face, we already knew them in the virtual world. Celebration wasn't an alien new neighborhood to us; it was "home" almost immediately, thanks in large part to the online community.

When we moved to town permanently, I still mainlined a daily Front Porch fix (well, actually, several times daily). Sure, I could use the phone or talk to people face to face, but the intranet remained an integral source of community gossip. It was the quickest way to spread the word to a large group of people. The wedding described in my blog a couple weeks ago is a prime example...thanks to the Front Porch, the entire lavish affair was pulled together from scratch within 48 hours.

It was great for more mundane uses, too. Need a recommendation for a business? Turn to the Front Porch. It's where we found our house painters and first-hand information about the spa we eventually bought. Want to give something away or lend a helping hand? It's where I gave away our kitchen light fixture when we bought a new one and loaned out our cat cage to a neighbor.

We even had a Front Porch Picnic to allow regular users to put faces to names. A massive rainstorm cut into attendance, but 30 intrepid souls still braved the monsoon to chow down and meet their fellow computer addicts.

But a couple of days ago, the Front Porch vanished into thin air, the victim of hackers who destroyed it and left a salute to Bin Laden in its place. No more news items, no more schedule of events, no more discussion forums, no more anything. Just a few mocking black lines of text on a stark white background. Our Technology cornerstone had crumbled...the Front Porch had disappeared.

Now, those of us who used it regularly are stumbling around like shell-shocked zombies. How could one of our main communication tools have been taken from us so suddenly? It's something you never think about; the intranet was always just there, just like electricity or the telephone. You never believe it could disappear in the blink of an eye.

Right now, there is just a lonely homepage, and I don't know how much (if anything) of the original Front Porch will be salvagable. I feel so lost...I often searched the forum archives for information, and I never thumbed through a phone book because I preferred the online resident directory. All that info. I depended on has vanished somewhere in cyberspace.

Thankfully, there is another discussion forum at where the lost souls of Celebration can get a small measure of comfort. But it's not quite the same as the Front Porch, as users can sign up anonymously. On the intranet, you had to post under your true identity, which kept most conflicts at a dull roar. But anonymity breeds courage, so things can get pretty crazy at the other forum. Also, it's not restricted to Celebration residents only, so the ambiance is different than our insular little site.

If this story has any moral, I guess it would be this: 1) Back up your data judiciously. You never know what can happen; I'm at a total loss to imagine why hackers would target the Celebration, Florida intranet. I always thought they targeted big sites, like Ebay or Amazon, not "gossip central" of a Podunk town. 2) Don't take anything for granted; know how easily it can be here today and gone tomorrow.

Well, enough blogging...I'm off to the forum for my fix.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Settling Down

Now that the "Katrina Wedding" is over, things are settling down in Celebration. As promised, here is a photo of the happy couple, courtesy of "Imagery by Isabel":

We had a bit of excitement with the CROA election, but this year's campaign was mild compared to years past. Now, the off-season is upon us...downtown is quieter, the nights are cooler (although it's still in the 90s during the day), and we're in that seasonal holding pattern of quiet until Halloween. As soon as the last pumpkin is carved and the last trick or treat bag is emptied, Santa Claus will take over. Remember when the Christmas season didn't officially start until the day after Thanksgiving? Now, I'm waiting for it to move up to Labor Day.

Since I am a rebel, I've decorated my front yard for Halloween already (you're supposed to wait until 30 days before the holiday). My birthday is in mid-October, so if pressed, I can insist that it's actually birthday decor, which will put me within the legal limit. I didn't do anything too crazy, just some light-up pumpkins and a large inflatable black cat that freaks out my real cats whenever I take them outside. I've got a definite cats-and-pumpkins theme going this year...they're even featured on my porch flag.

My Halloween decor might be low key, but some of the houses in town go whole hog. This year, there will be a trolley tour to check out the best-decorated homes. I love the Holiday House Tour, so I'm looking forward to this new event. Of course, Christmas is better because you can actually go inside the homes. This year, I'll be participating myself, so I'll be stuck around the homestead. The owners don't have to be present because the Women's Club takes care of everything, but I want to be on hand to hear reactions to "The Tackiest Display in Celebration" (that is my goal). I'm not going to do much outside, but the interior will more than make up for it.

This lull time is a great time to visit the theme parks. We headed over to Disney-MGM last week with friends to see the new X-Treme Stunt Show. Problem is, it's not like a typical Disney show that runs every 45 minutes. Usually, it's like Itchy and Scratchy'd better hurry to see the 12:00 parade or you'll have to wait for the one at 12:15. But I suspect that this new show takes a lot of time to set up, so it runs at spread-out scheduled times.

Oh well, we simply modified our plans to lunch at the Brown Derby. I love their finely-chopped Cobb salad, which is one of their signature items. I used to be a big fan of their grapefruit cake, too, but a while back I think they changed the recipe. It's "milder" now; maybe grapefruit was too exotic for bland tourist tastebuds.

We've also had a revolving door of out-of-town friends over the past weeks. Most of our friends are fellow Disney fanatics who know that September is the perfect time to avoid the crowds. Thus, they all wing their way to Orlando right after Labor Day. That's the great thing about moving to Florida; you'll never be too lonely because your old friends will eventually vacation in the Sunshine State. And of course, that's doubly true if you run with the Disney-obsessed crowd.

Many of the people we know stay strictly on Disney property. They don't even bother to rent a car; they head right from the airport to the bosom of the Mouse and rely on internal buses to get around the Disney World resort. Now that we live here, we enjoy broadening their horizons, introducing them to the many wonderful restaurants scattered around I-Drive and in Doctor Phillips.

We usually give them a brief tour of Celebration, too. Many are surprised that it's not a cookie-cutter community or that it's so close to Disney World. If they have children, we always stop downtown so the adults can indulge in Barnie's Coffee while the little ones play in the fountain.

I enjoy this peaceful time of year. It's a time to get caught up before the hectic holidays descend. Being busy is good, but sometimes you just need to kick back and take a breather before the next round of Life.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Celebration Residential Owners Association Annual Meeting

I just returned home from the Celebration Residental Owners Association (CROA) Annual Meeting, a yearly shindig held after the election. Despite what many people think, Celebration is not truly a "town." We're really just a large development, governed (and I use the term loosely) by a homeowners' board, in addition to an alphabet soup of other agencies.

Below is a summary of the meeting, written news story style (I used to be a stringer for a daily paper many years ago, and old habits die hard). I decided to post it here rather than on the community intranet so people who don't have access can read it. I know that many of my blog readers are considering moving to Celebration or are in the process of building a new home, so it will give an interesting glimpse into our current top of mind issues:

The Celebration Residential Owners Board held its annual meeting on September 19 in the Celebration High School theater.

The meeting featured a presentation by Sheriff Bob Hansell, a review of the past year, committee reports, and questions from residents.

In Hansell's report, he noted that the budget process went "real well," with an increase of 12.1% approved for the next fiscal year. Hansell said that he will be fulfilling his promise of a 24/7 deputy for Celebration, beginning in January or February.

Hansell also said that, due to the high growth in the Poinciana to Four Corners area, a full-service West Side Command Center will be established. However, although there is a possibility that it could be located in Celebration, he said that the site has not been selected yet.

Hansell reported that non-violent crime in Celebration decreased by 24.13%. He noted that much of the credit goes to the residents who watch out for their neighbors.

The sheriff mentioned several areas of current focus, such as the Jessica Lunsford Act, which is designed to protect youngsters from sex offenders. "We have 244 offenders in this county," he said. "Know who your neighbors are; that's the best defense." He also said that he is focusing on eliminating meth labs and monitoring gang activity.

Hansell said that he would like to step up enforcement of traffic laws. He explained that a lack of manpower has made this difficult in the past. He also said that while the Florida Highway Patrol currently takes traffic accident reports, often resulting in a wait of several hours, the Osceola County officers will soon be able to handle reports when no injuries or fatalities are involved.

CROA President Lee Moore gave a report that included an update on the purchase of the 851 Building. He noted that a bid from AmSouth Bank has been approved for the purchase of the building. He said that AmSouth's terms were very attractive and that closing is scheduled for mid-October.

Reports were delivered by several committees. The Architectural Review Committee reported that it had processed 420 applications in the past year, and that applications have been averaging 35 per month. The Covenants Committee reported that there were 1432 infractions in the past year, up from 772 a year earlier. The Safety Task Force presented its recommendation that the budget for off-duty deputy coverage be kept the same as the previous year and that traffic enforcement be stepped up.

The new Special Events Committee was highlighted, and the Recreational Committee presented a photo show of several events that have gone on over the past year, from soccer to Friday Night Out to aquatic programs. They noted that their accomplishments have included lighting additional tennis courts and proposing a new skate park. The Emergency Management Committee and the Communications Committee were also discussed.

Questions from Celebration residents capped the evening. One popular topic of discussion, brought up by several participants, was dissatisfaction with the current state of technology in town. Specific areas addressed included internet access and cable television.

Residents also expressed concern about the proposed Celebration Boulevard connector road. Matt Kelly of The Celebration Company said that traffic dictates whether the developer must build the road and that currently he does not believe that the traffic level justifies it. In response to a resident query, he denied that there are any current plans to develop the land as residential. He said that any attempt to do so would have to be approved by the county.

The low voter turnout for the CROA election was also discussed; just over 600 residents cast their votes in the current election. One resident remarked that the large number of non-owner occupied homes might be at least partially responsible for the lower turnout.

It was affirmed that the annual Farmers Market will return to Celebration in October. Due to the construction on the former downtown parking lots, it will be held at the 851 Building.

It was also affirmed that parking concerns have made the county reluctant to locate a library in the current site of Celebration Town Hall.

Other concerns raised by residents included the large crowds of out-of-town children on Halloween who trick or treat in Central Village, poor upkeep of common areas, roads in bad condition due to contruction traffic, and the status of a proposed dog park.

The newly elected board members will be installed in a later organizational meeting.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Friday, September 16, 2005

An Affair to Remember

My husband and I just got home from the "Celebration Town Wedding." Although I don't have photos yet, I want to post an update so all of the people who sent such nice comments after my last blog entry will know how the fairy tale turned out.

For those who didn't read my last entry, a local resident has been housing 30 people from Louisiana who lost everything in Hurricane Katrina. Among them was a couple who had been planning to get married. They decided to go ahead and have a small ceremony by the lakefront downtown. Soon the townsfolk got wind of it (thanks to the Front Porch intranet) and turned into a real-life Cinderella story.

It started with an offer from a local photographer and mushroomed from there. Soon, everything from hairstyling to flowers to food to entertainment was being donated by local businesses and restaurants. The best part is that it all came together in less than 48 hours, and most of it was planned online. The posts flew fast and furious as residents coordinated every last detail of the big event.

I had originally volunteered to provide champagne for the wedding toast. Unfortunately, I discovered that we couldn't have alcohol in the area (the ceremony took place in front of the lake, but the reception was held at Lakeside Park). No problem...I figured I could switch to sparkling grape juice. This afternoon, I headed out to Sam's Club with a fellow resident to load up on the juice and some bottled water. Surprise, surprise...NO sparking grape juice! One of the clerks informed us that it wouldn't be in stock until the holiday season.

Our next stop was Target, where they did have some juice, albeit red instead of white. At that point, we were desperate, so we bought a dozen bottles of the dark stuff. At least it would still be bubbly and non-alcoholic.

Another resident had provided plastic champage glasses, so my husband and I picked them up on our way to Lakeside Park. We headed out early to help with the set-up; I wanted to see the big event come together from start to finish. I had witnessed the thread take on a life of its own on the intranet, and I couldn't wait to see how the fairy tale would turn out.

Our own local "Griswolds" were already there (at Christmas, their home is straight out of the classic "Christmas Vacation"). The wife had stepped forward as planner/coordinator, and along with a team of other intrepid souls, she had somehow managed to pull everything together without forfeiting her own sanity in the process. As the clock ticked closer to 6:30, she made sure that everything fell into place.

The weather was rather sticky, but at least there was no rain. The couple had lost everything in Hurricane Katrina; now, ironically, Hurricane Ophelia was keeping the wedding day dry (its position farther down the coast as kept the rain away from Florida for the past week or so).

Everything was rapidly coming together, both down by the lake and in the reception area. The stairs downtown were festooned with flowers and an archway. The green expanse of lawn at Lakeside was suddenly dotted with tables and chairs. Since the bride's favorite color is blue, there was a definite blue color scheme. Even most of the guests donned blue clothing.

Once everything was set up for the reception, we headed down to the lakefront stairs. The bride and groom pulled up in a horse-drawn carriage, and I broke out in was so beautiful! We're less than 10 miles from Cinderella's Castle in the Magic Kingdom, but right before my eyes a real-life fairy tale wedding was taking place. The bride looked as radiant as any princess (and perhaps a bit overwhelmed by the vast sea of strangers that had turned out to wish her was definitely a case of the old axiom" "A stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet."). She and the groom exchanged their vows in front of the misty-eyed crowd. Then, it was off for a carriage tour of Celebration while the party moved down to Lakeside.

Virtually everything was covered, even down to small but important details like insect repellant (in Florida, the bugs declare war at sunset). We did temporarily run out of bottled water, but one resident had a stash that he was able to quickly bring. At first glance, it didn't look like there would be enough food for the vast, hungry crowd (just a little over 100 people had RSVPed, but the turnout appeared to be closer to 200). But somehow there was plenty; as my husband commented, it was like the Biblical story of the loaves and fishes. Olive Garden had donated salad, breadsticks, and lasagna, and residents had provided some other items to supplement the Italian feast. There was lemonade, coffee, bottled water, and for dessert there were cookies and brownies to supplement a lovely wedding cake donated by Goodings.

So many local businesses provided items; it would take forever to list them all. The residents opened their hearts, too, and packed the gift table until it was nearly sagging. The bride and groom are generously going to share their good fortune with their fellow Louisiana "refugees."

I hadn't met the happy couple until the day of the wedding. They were so sweet! After losing their home, car, and virtually all their posessions to the flood waters, they deserved a day of happiness. Hopefully, in time the memory of their Celebration wedding will overshadow the memories of loss.

They had all of the traditional wedding activities: first dance, toast, wedding cake, etc. The crowd ate and danced and generally partied as the sun slowly set in the background. But all good things must come to an end, and the "town wedding" finally wound down. As the guests departed, the cleaning crew swept in with such efficiency that when they were done, you never would have guess that any event had taken place.

This festive affair was a vivid reminder of why I live in Celebration. I can't even begin to imagine something like this ever happening in any of my former home towns. In most places, people live an isolated life, even when they are surrounded by others. In Celebration, we're not just a bunch of individuals...we're a real commmunity, and the sum of our whole is great than its parts. People who think we're a Stepford town, or worse yet a snooty community, would have quickly changed their opinion if they had witnessed the wedding. We were simply a bunch of people banding together to help others in need and to bring some happiness of a terrible tragedy.

Photos will be coming in my next blog entry.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

From Devastation to Celebration

Usually, when the eyes of the world are on Celebration, it's because of something negative. From the early school and construction problems to the present-day Stepford reputation and internal struggles, there certainly is enough turmoil. But buried beneath the outer conflict is an inner community of warmth and caring. No matter how much the residents battle, they're always ready to pull together to help someone in need.

One of the most acute demonstrations of this warmth is going on right now. Yesterday, one of our residents, who is housing 30 Hurricane Katrina refugees, posted a message on the community intranet about a young couple who lost everything (home, car, personal items) in the New Orleans flooding. Despite the turmoil, they are going ahead with their plans to marry. Since they literally fled with nothing, they were planning a simple ceremony on the steps in front of the lake in downtown Celebration.

One of the original cornerstones of Celebration is Technology, and its most tangible manifestation is the popularity of the Front Porch intranet. Within less than half an hour, the first resident stepped forward with a donation (a talented local photographer who offered to do the wedding photos). Soon, there were offers of babysitting for the couple's son, a "limo" ride (in an electric vehicle), music, cake, food, drinks, a honeymoon room at Disney World, videotaping, hair styling, manicure, pedicure, a dress, a wedding arch, a horse-drawn carriage, gifts from local businesses...the list goes on and on. Even though we're eight miles from the front gates of the Magic Kingdom, a real-life fairy tale is definitely unfolding.

By tonight, I suspect that the discussion thread will have over 100 responses. As of right now, it's nearing 80. At first, the offers were somewhat scattershot, but now things are getting organized, and the plans are solidifying nicely.

It's impossible to feel the full impact of this outpouring of generosity without reading the entire thread. I get goosebumps every time I go through it. But here are a few selected clips:

The Post That Started It All
Wedding downtown on Friday for Hurricane displaced family...

Hello all....

Some of you may know I am housing several people in my home from New Orleans. One couple was engaged and going to get married later this year. Well that was before Katrina. After losing their Home (was in St. Bernard), one of their Cars and all personal artifacts but they can still see light at the end of the Tunnel.

They will be getting Married this Friday at the Steps to the Lake at the end of Market Street at 6:30 PM.

Perhaps some might want to stop by and maybe even bring a gift or perhaps well wishes.... As they literally have nothing, the odds of duplicate gifts does not exist...

The First Offer, Posted Less Than Half An Hour Later
I would love to donate my photography for their wedding, if they'll have me.
Please call me, or have them call me...
I'd be more than happy to provide an entire album for them.
Hope to hear from you soon

p.s. Maybe they can take a look at my web-album gallery to decide if they'd like my services.

Other Misc. Snippets
"I hope the whole town shows up to give this couple a wedding to remember!"

"I just spoke to the bride-to-be... she's LOVELY! They lost EVERYTHING, including their own pictures. I cannot wait to give them photos of new happier memories.
Come on guys, let's give them a wedding of a lifetime!"

"This kind of feels like the making of Cinderella..."

"The Spirit of Celebration is alive and well...."

"Oh this is so awesome!! To be involved with giving them awesome memories to ease the horrors they must have seen back at their home!"

"We started with a small wedding at the lake.............I love this town!!!!!!!!!!"

"I am in awe of the generosity of some of the people who have posted so far. WOW!"

"I'm reading and crying over here..."

" I read this post I also cried....we are so blessed to live in this community where each of us makes available our gifts and talents to help neighbors in need."

Celebration will always be thought of as the "Disney Town," but we're so much more. We're a community in the truest sense of the word, willing to help our neighbors whether they're from next door or from another state. That's why I never want to live anywhere else.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Jinx

A big part of the reason my husband and I moved to Celebration is its proximity to Disney World and Port Canaveral (home of Disney Cruise Line). Better yet, the shoreside office of the cruise line is right at the entrance to town. I can't think of a more appropriate location for fanatics like us, who have cruised on the Magic and Wonder a total of 45 times since 1998.

Beginning with our first Disney Cruise, all those years ago, we also started a tradition of sailing every September. Since hurricane season typically peaks in late Aug./early Sept., the rates are very reasonable. For six years, we saved a bundle and never had a storm negatively impact our trip.

Then, in 2004, our luck ran out. The hurricane trio (Charley, Francis, and Jeanne) wreaked havoc on cruise ship schedules in Florida. The weather was so bad that one of the Disney Wonder's cruises was abruptly extended because it couldn't return to the port. Our sailing on the Wonder was the correct length, but it departed from Fort Lauderdale rather than Port Canaveral (it did manage to return to its home port).

After last year's mess, I reasoned that we would be safe this year. After all, what are the odds that two cruises, exactly one year apart, would both have to be diverted due to a hurricane?

Apparently pretty high! Or, more likely, our luck has run out, and now we've become a jinx.

Tropical Storm Ophelia decided to hang out just past the Florida coast, closing down Port Canaveral. On the Weds. before our cruise, Disney Cruise Line announced that the Wonder would be sailing out of Fort Lauderdale. Once again, we faced a multi-hour drive due to Mother Nature's wrath.

Last year, I wasn't a happy camper. This year, with Hurricane Katrina's vicious attack on Louisiana and Mississippi, a diverted cruise seemed like nothing when compared to people who lost their homes, and even their lives. The worst natural disaster in American history has a way of putting minor problems in perspective.

Also, having been through this routine before, I had learned the best way to handle the transportation. Disney Cruise Line was running buses from Port Canaveral to Port Everglades, but the prospect of nearly four hours crowded on with dozens of cranky, impatient travelers was not very appealing. Instead, we did a one-way car rental from Thrifty, which is located right outside of Celebration. There is a location right near the entrance to the port, so we drove out to Fort Lauderdale, dropped off the car, and took the Thrifty shuttle to the ship.

When the cats and bird saw us packing their luggage, they knew we'd be temporarily abandoning them. Between our cruises and trips to Chicago, they're learned what it means when we load up our bags. Stitch, who normally makes a beeline for any open door, had absolutely no inkling to go outside. "Smart cat," my husband said. "He knows that if he goes out and we accidentally leave him, he's stuck outside for a long weekend!" Poor Stitch had been found abandoned in a field according to the shelter from which we adopted him. Now that he has a comfy home, he doesn't want a rerun of the "stray life."

Bradley, my bird, knows what the luggage means, too. We leave him loose when we're home, but I lock him in his cage while we're gone to keep him safe from feline predators. Problem is, he doesn't want to let me put him into the cage before we go. It took a bit of chasing him around the family room, but finally I managed to contain him.

We picked up our rental car and took the turnpike to I-95 and made the trip in 3 1/2 hours. That got us to the ship a little before 1 p.m., well ahead of the poor devils on the buses.

The cruise turned out to be a wonderful vacation, other than rough seas the first night. My husband and I are not prone to seasickness, but many of our fellow cruisers were praying to the porcelain god that night.

Meanwhile, Ophelia moved off toward North Carolina, so our path was clear to return to Port Canaveral. We hopped a van to Disney World, planning to have a neighbor pick us up at one of the hotels. But the van driver was very nice and offered to take us right to our house once he had dropped off the other passengers. After a stop at the Swan and All-Star Movies, we headed to Celebration. I think we got the poor driver totally lost, as we directed him into the back entrance to town. By the time we reached Duloc Manor, I think he was dizzy from East Village's curvy and confusing streets.

It may have started out dicey, but it turned into another great Disney cruise. My only wonderment is whether the jinx will continue next year. Once again, we're booked for the same week in September, 2006, although it will be a four night cruise next time around. Will we be departed from Fort Lauderdale once again, or will three times be the charm that breaks the curse? Only time will tell.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Friday, September 02, 2005

Katrina Relief

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the people of Celebration (like others around the country) are pulling together to help out the victims. Right around this same time last year, we were getting together to assist local victims of the Hurricane Trio (Charley, Frances, and Jeanne). Now, the devastation may be farther away, but the outpouring of assistance is just as great, if not greater.

One advantage that we have is a strong community intranet. Rather than depending on word of mouth, many Celebration residents have an instant communication tool at their fingertips. Right now, the most active threads on the internal discussion forums are virtually all about Katrina relief efforts. Residents and church groups are banding together to collect and deliver supplies and money, and even to offer housing to refugees.

While people around America are opening their hearts and wallets for the hurricane victims, I think that Floridians feel a special bond. For us, there's a feeling of "There, but for the grace of God, go we." Our state is in a particularly vulnerable area, and Floridians have weathered some savage hurricanes over the years. Katrina could easily have come our way, so we can't help but have a special empathy for others in an even more vulnerable area who took the full brunt of the storm.

Every time I see the news footage, I am saddened to realize that something like this could happen in America...people deprived of the basic necessities, such as food and water, crammed together in unsanitary conditions, and corpses lying among the living as people cower in fear of rape, beatings, and shooting. In my wildest nightmares, I can't imagine what it would be like to be suddenly homeless overnight, with every single one of my earthly posessions gone, willing to fight for a simple drink of water.

But if efforts like Celebration's are being duplicated across the country, hopefully the nightmare will be over soon.

For those who wish to donate, I strongly recommend the Salvation Army:

The Red Cross seems to get most of the press, but I am a meticulous donor who researchs where my dollars go and how much overhead a charity has (i.e. how much of my dollar actually goes to hands-on work). The Salvation Army's financials are the best (if you don't believe me, just compare their director's modest salary with the six-figure income of Red Cross's head!).

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Another Month Down

It's hard to believe that it's September already. In Florida, it's harder to tell than in Illinois. Back in the Midwest, a chill is normally poised to slip into the air as soon as August is over. It's almost as though God flips a switch on Labor Day, and suddenly the summer heat is gone.

For years, my husband and I had a tradition of going to Wisconsin Dells for Labor Day weekend. Usually, it was still warm enough to swim, but I always felt melancholy on those trips. As I floated down the Lazy River at Noah's Ark, our favorite Dells water park, my heart would feel heavy as I realized that it was my last local water fun of the year. As soon as the last tourist cleared out, I knew that the seasonal workers would be stacking the lounge chairs for the last time, draining all of the pools, and locking down the buildings for a long, cold winter.

Now, September is no longer the hearld of summer's end. We've still got a month or two of heat left, and the water parks at Disney World are open all year long. Too bad my blood has thinned too much to visit them in December anymore! And I never miss our visits to the Dells because the 192 tourist strip is like Wisconsin Dells on steroids.

It's another month of hurricane season down, too, but unfortunately Hurricane Katrina has already turned 2005 into another year that will join 2004 in infamy. I thought that last year's destruction was bad; I remember driving through downtown Kissimmee and thinking that it looked like a war zone. Now, my television is filled with scenes from Louisiana and Mississippi that look more like a third world country. How tragic to see thousands of Americans with no homes who are lacking the basic necessities of life.

I guess that's the paradox of living in Florida. When a hurricane threatens, we pray that it will turn away. Unfortunately, when it veers away from us, that often means that it sets another area in its crosshairs. And as bad as it is to live near the ocean, it's ten times worse to be below sea level. Unless you're a hermit, you've seen the massive flooding on the news. It will be months, or even years, before there's any semblence of normalcy.

But in Florida, we've been spared so far this year. The only ripples that have reached us are some extra thunderstorms and a gas-buying frenzy admidst spiking prices. Hurricane season is winding down, thank goodness...I don't think the U.S. can stand another disaster while it's still coping with Katrina's wrath.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: