Saturday, July 22, 2006

School Days are Almost Here...Don't Forget Your Toilet Paper!

I couldn't help but be amused at one of the local news stories a couple of days ago. A report on Local 6, one of the Orlando TV stations, focused on school supply lists issued by Central Florida schools. I don't have kids, but back when I was in school, those lists usually contained items like crayons, a box of pencils, a composition book, notebook paper, etc. But apparently some local school districts have items like Clorox Wipes and toilet paper on their list! If you don't believe me, you can view the story for yourself:

You'd think that the potty would be stocked at district expense, but according to John Young Elementary School Principal Regina Ponce, most schools are asking for more supplies from parents and less from the district in order to route money to teacher salaries.

"Any time parents can help us with the less expensive items, then that's where I want to spend the bulk of the tax payer money," Ponce said. "Because those parents are taxpayers and they appreciate "A" schools and quality teachers."

I couldn't help but wonder: What if a parent refused to provide the potty paper? Would their child's right to poop be rescinded? Would the poor kid be forced to collect leaves outside during recess for later use or pray that corn would be served at lunchtime so they could save the cobs? Besides the butt wipes, I wonder if nauseous kidlets have to provide their own bin of that gross-smelling sawdust that gets tossed on vomit.

Some schools also require children to bring ten glue sticks each. At ten glue sticks per child in a class of 30 kids, you're looking at a 300-stick bonanza. Ponce explained that one as follows: Items like these this go into a reserve because getting them from the warehouse where the school district keeps its supplies can take up to a month. Basically, you're providing communal glue sticks to go into a district pool.

Another one that appealed to my wry sense of humor was a request for old socks and T-shirts to wipe down dry erase boards. No fancy-schmancy erasers for Central Florida schools when apparel from the rag bag will do just as well! After all, those high falutin' Office Max dry erasers run a whopping $2.99 each and only last for a year or two.

Thankfully, the Charmin-Gate scandal is limited to Orange County, and Celebration is in Osceola. Our schools have been embroiled in enough other controversies, so I'm glad we can sit this one out and know that the local kids attend plush facilities equipped with toilet paper and genuine erasers, secure in the knowledge that there are well-stocked supply rooms brimming with the hundreds of glue sticks that we all know are essential to a quality education. Meanwhile, over in Orange, I wonder if "chair" and "desk" will make next year's list.

Click here for my Life Coaching website.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

A Different Side of Florida

Even though I typically blog about life in Celebration, we're really just one miniscule spec on America's wang (Homer Simpson's name for the Sunshine State). All kidding aside, there's a lot more to Florida than Disney World, Miami, Daytona Beach, the Kennedy Space Center, and the other big tourist areas/attractions that people typically associate with us.

Now that Figment, my horse, is here, I am becoming well acquainted with a different side of Florida. It's a side that is disappearing all too rapidly...a side dotted with cattle pastures and orange groves. As I drive to the barn, I pass through the gaudy 192 tourist corridor and weave my way through road construction where 27 is being widened to accommodate the strip malls and subdivisions springing up like weeds on either side. Here and there, a bedraggled orange tree speaks of the not-so-distant past when its brethern once dotted the landscape in military rows. Now, there is Walgreens, CVS, and Wal-Mart, plus Taco Bell, Burger King, Wendy's, and most of the other fast food Big Names.

But once I turn off 27, I only have to go a few miles before the scenery changes drastically. Suddenly I'm in the midst of dense copses of trees, broken occasionally by a pasture where cattle lazily graze. There are plenty of horses, too, and groves that still actively produce fruit. There are pristine lakes surrounded by open green spaces, not "lakefront" subdivisions with cookie cutter houses.

The barn where I board Figment is on a bona-fide dirt road. Hopefully it won't be developed for a long, long time...I suspect it will be a few years at least, as there is no easy way to get there. A state park is right across the street, and it's the kind of place where you might see a wild boar rooting along the riding trails or a baby gator sunning itself on a log.

Even though we moved to Florida primarily to be close to Disney World, and even though I love Celebration and find its high density a comforting reminder of my Chicago roots, I love the fact that another world is just a 45 minute drive away. It feels so renewing for me to rediscover the Old Florida whenever I visit the barn. It's heaven to saddle up Figment and trot through an orange grove or weave along the state park trails. I love the crowded, crazy atmosphere of Disney World, but riding in the country fulfills a deeper, more basic need.

I used to feel it when my husband and I would visit Woodside Ranch, a dude ranch in the wilds of Wisconsin. It's not too far away from Wisconsin Dells, a tourist area with a main strip that looks like 192 on steroids. We loved to visit the Dells twice a year, reveling in the restaurants, water parks, and thrill-ride attractions. Woodside was only a few exits down the expressway, but it might as well have been on another planet.

I remember standing outside the bunkhouse one night, looking up at the stars. They sparkled like diamonds on a sky of black velvet. No other light was visible, save the soft glow from the windows of the bunkhouse and a lone streetlight on the driveway. There were no cars on the lonely road in front and no sounds, save for the distant nicker of horses in the barn across the street. Standing there, soaking it in, the peace somehow filled a deep well in my soul that I hadn't even known was empty.

It's been many years since I've been to Wisconsin, but now I've found my peaceful place in Florida, and I have my horse to share it with.

I guess that the easiest way to explain it would be to share the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, "Out in the Country" by Three Dog Night:

Whenever I need to leave it all behind
Or feel the need to get away
I find a quiet place, far from the human race
Out in the country.

Before the breathing air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone
And take back something worth remembering.

Whenever I feel them closing in on me
Or need a bit of room to move
When life becomes too fast, I find relief at last
Out in the country.

Before the breathing air is gone
Before the sun is just a bright spot in the night time
Out where the rivers like to run
I stand alone
And take back something worth remembering.

Click here for my Life Coaching website.

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Ceiling is Falling! The Ceiling is Falling!

Chicken Little would feel very much at home at Duloc Manor this week. The sky, or rather the ceiling, was literally falling this morning due to a leak in the air conditioner drain pipe.

Actually, the saga goes back a few of weeks. I dragged my sorry butt back to Chicago for the first time in 9 months in mid-June. I didn't really want to, but I've been putting it off for much too long. We had set up a visit with my sister, a dinner date with friends, and I also had a business meeting in the Loop, so I had to steel my nerves, down some Xanax, and force myself onto the plane.

I was flying alone on a Thursday to join my husband, who'd been there working since Monday. It was my first time flying since the fatal Southwest accident at Midway last winter, and my mind had been concocting all sorts of terrible air-disaster fantasies in the many months since I'd last flown. I'm a nervous flyer at the best of times, and a Flight From Hell (Cliff Notes version: unable to land due to weather, forced to divert for fuel and sit on the plane for hours, and then an aborted landing at our original distination) made me even more paranoid. I'm not afraid of a crash, but rather of knowing that I'm "trapped" and potentially unable to land. But Xanax usually chills me out enough to prevent me from running through the aisles in a frenzy of panic, and I'm not too bad unless the flight takes on some of the characteristics of that terrible, terrible day when I was trapped on the plane for hours.

Fortunately the flight to Chicago was dull and uneventful, just the way I like 'em. I chose a window seat in the exit row and prepared to lose myself in a music CD. But the man in the middle seat was quite chatty, so I spent most of the 2+ hours listening to his tales of life and retirement. It made the time go by rather fast, and before I knew it I was touching down at Midway and breathing a sigh of relief as the reserve thrusters assertively kicked in.

I marveled at the fact that I didn't feel any attachment to the condo where I'd lived for almost a decade. It was somewhat more familiar than a hotel room, but not by much. I feel more at home in 5650, my usual room on the Disney Magic and Wonder ships, than I felt in my former abode. The only thing that tugged at my heartstrings was my comedy/tragedy mask collection that still graces the piano room walls. I reminded myself that someday soon they'll be with me at Duloc Manor.

It was great to see various friends and relatives, but I was more than ready to board a Florida-bound plane on Monday. I popped a calming pill and settled in to listen to some music while hubby watched a DVD. I was pretty relaxed, so the fact that well over two hours had passed didn't sink into my skull until the captain announced on the PA that we were in a holding pattern. We couldn't land due to weather. ARGHHHHH!!!! FLASHBACK! FLASHBACK!

I popped another half-pill of Xanax and fought the anxiety that surged through my nerves like an electric current. I pulled out a book in an attempt to focus my racing brain. Then hubby, who always knows just the right thing to say, announced, "Wow, I'll bet we're running out of fuel by now. We're probably going to have to divert to Tampa!"

It was only through a supreme act of will than I didn't totally lose it right there. Instead, I excused myself to the lavatory, where I splashed cold water on my face and practiced slow, measured breathing. I'm a cognitive therapist, and I was frantically forcing myself to look at the situation in a rational framework: "There's nothing you can do about this, whether or not you freak out, so why waste the energy required to panic?" It helped a little, but I still took the other half of the Xanax pill when I returned to my seat. That large of a dose of "happy drugs" typically puts me to sleep, which I figured would be the best option.

At that point, the captain announced that we had been cleared to land in Orlando. Whew! I could feel my comfort level rising as we glided in over the familiar scenery. I wanted to cheer when the plane entered the airspace over MCO property. But suddenly the engines gave a mighty roar and we swooped up into the sky again! I couldn't believe aborted landing. How much closer could this get to my previous nightmare experience? Worse yet, the captain never explained why we were forced to abort. I'm sure it was some mundane reason, like another aircraft in front of us that hadn't moved quickly enough, but I need some reassurance. I just want to know that the landing gear isn't hanging by a thread or that an engine is ready to explode.

My adrenaline vied with the Xanax for control of my brain, but thankfully we landed after a few more circles. I actually managed to stay awake for dinner, but I laid down when we got home at 8 p.m. and didn't stir again for 12 full hours.

We were scheduled to go on a three-day Disney cruise on Thursday for my husband's birthday. Unfortunately, on Tuesday I noticed an ugly brown stain on the family room ceiling. Just great...that gave us 48 hours to deal with it before we had to leave for Port Canaveral. Thankfully, we had purchased an extended home warranty, so even though it would be a major inconvenience, at least it wouldn't cost us any more than $50 to repair.

The warranty company sent a serviceman out on Wednesday. He pronounced it a clogged A/C drainage line, which seemed ironic since we flush it out with Simple Green every month per the builder's instructions. There was no dampness around the mouth of the drain pipe, but water had definitely found its way underneath the A/C unit. The serviceman unclogged it and pronounced it "sound," but I couldn't help a nagging feeling of paranoia that something else could happen while we were away on the cruise.

Like my flying phobia, my house fear is rooted in a past experience. When we were first married, I moved into my husband's townhome. It was a creepy 1970s throwback with an avocado-painted exterior and a vibe inside that would have sent any self-respecting psychic running in panic. Ever seen the "Bad Dream House" episode of The Simpsons? I'm sure that townhome was the inspiration; if I'd seen blood running down the walls, it wouldn't have shocked me in the least.

I always felt that we'd come home someday and find it burned to the ground. While that didn't happen, it did get destroyed by a second-floor flood while we were in Ohio for the weekend. The toilet tank cracked, and the subsequent damage was enough to leave us homeless for three months. The drywall was destroyed, as was most of the flooring. They had to strip Bad Dream Home right down to the studs and rebuild most of the interior. We sold it shortly thereafter and moved into a nice, non-haunted condo.

But obviously water-based destruction is a reocurring theme in my life. Our ceiling had a big, brown stain in the shape of a giant, mutant ameoba, and the paint on the beam between the dinette and family room was cracked and peeling. We put it out of our minds and focused on enjoying our cruise.

Upon our return, we purchased supplies to attempt a do-it-yourself repair job. But we didn't want to start it until we were certain that everything was dried out, so we let it sit for a few more days.

Good choice!

On Sunday morning, I heard hubby grumbling in an annoyed sort of way, tinged with mild panic. The stain was spreading like the lethal slime in "Creepshow," and the whole area was soaking wet again. The cracks had now worked their way almost halfway across the beam. Why oh why does this sort of thing have to happen either a) two days before we leave on vacation; or b) on a weekend?

I called the warranty company, and they had the repair shop call me back. I was assured that we'd be a priority call on Monday morning. There was one call before us, so the serviceman showed up around lunchtime. After eliminating the less destructive possibilities, he realized that he was going to have to cut into the ceiling. Turns out that the pipe joint had come unglued and separated, so all the run-off water was draining right into the ceiling. Ugh!

The serviceman fixed it and patched the hole temporarily with a taped-up garbage bag. It can't be fixed until it drys out completely and until we make sure that there is no repeat performance. Hopefully the new glue will be more effective than the old.

So now Duloc Manor looks very classy; outside, most of the front lawn is dead (perhaps Davy will replace it someday, but I'm not holding my breath), and inside you can sit on the family room couch and admire the "decorator white" plastic trash bag that is nicely counterpointed by a frame of black electrical tape. Perhaps if the beam cracks extend any further, I can pass them off as a new sort of designer rough finish, sort of like distressed wood.

Oh well, I can't complain to much. It looks like the problem is really fixed this time, and since the ceiling had to be cut into to make the repair, part of the restoration should be covered under our warranty too. Not too much of a trauma in the cosmic scheme of things, but I'll still feel better when Duloc Manor is pristine once again.

Click here for my Life Coaching website.

Learn more about Celebration on my website: