Friday, March 14, 2008

Lizard Soup

Apparently our hot tub is some sort of Futurama-esque suicide booth for amphibians and reptiles. As we headed out to lunch, we had no idea that suicidal little critters were lurking. Since it was Friday, we decided to take a break from our respective jobs and have a nice luncheon at Chevy's. They are a wonderful combo platter with a steak taco, chicken taquitos, and a seafood enchilada to which I am totally addicted.

Even though it's technically the start of the weekend, we resisted the temptation for a margarita indulgence and stuck with iced tea. My combo plate was delicious, as always; it's a limited time special, so I live in fear of the day they retire it. I love the taquitos, but they're not a regular menu item.

Granted, Chevy's isn't authentic Mexican, but if you go in knowing that it's actually a wonderful restaurant. We go there several times a month and never get tired of it. I suppose that's not surprising, since we were the same way with Chi's Chi's back in Illinois. Ah, I still miss their Enchilada Cozumel, stuffed to the gills with fake crab meet and smothered in some sort of yummy white sauce. Chevy's seafood enchilada is very different, with real crab, shrimp, and a green sauce that ranges from tangy to downright fire-breathing, depending on the chef's mood. I always get a side order of sour cream to tame it down.

One of my favorite memories of Chi Chi's is going out for dinner and margaritas with a group of co-workers. We conspired to secretly tell the servers that it was one person's birthday, even though it wasn't, just to see her horror at suddenly being surrounded, forced to wear a giant sombrero, and being serenaded with an off-key celebratory song. It taught her totally off guard, but she actually handled it with good grace (perhaps the accompanying free order of fried ice cream helped).

My husband and I frequented the local Chi Chi's from the time we started dating until it finally closed its doors. I guess I'm not the only one who misses it; click this link for a blog devoted solely to creepy abandoned Chi Chi's buildings.

The closures were due to a bankruptcy filing, following on the heels of an unfortunate Hepatitis outbreak (although I think it was actually the fault of a supplier). But even tho' it's not quite the same, Chevy's still makes a worthy substitute.

After our meal, we decided to take a dip in the hot tub before returning to work. The tub has had some mechanical issues lately, so we haven't been using it as much as usual. Now it looks like everything is sorted out and it's back in good working order, so we donned our swim wear and hopped in.

We were just entering a state of relaxation when I pointed and asked, "What's that?" at a big, yellowing blob bobbing on the water's surface.

Hubby said, "It's a, wait, it's a dead lizard!"

My mind immediately went "Ugh!" as I recalled the time that a dead frog had created a rather gross mess. Apparently it jumped in the path of the cover just before we closed it; by the time we reopening it a few days later, the unfortunate little critter was in a nasty state of decomposition.

But as hubby flailed frantically atthe lizard, trying to splash it out of the tub, I noticed its head move. "It's alive!" I yelled. "Grab it!"

Hubby is not big on amphibians and reptiles, so there was no way he was going to touch the poor little thing. I grabbed it and cupped it gingerly in my palm. Sure enough, it was blinking and hyperventilating to beat the band but it was indeed alive.

I held it as it recovered its composure, then released it onto the edge of the hot tub. It took a while to regain its whits, but finally it departed for locations unknown.

I knew that it couldn't have been in the rub for long, although I have no idea why it would leap into hot, bubbling waters unless it was suicidal. Oh well, hopefully I'd given in a new lease on life. I settled back, snuggled against the jets, and trying to return to relaxation.

A few minutes later, hubby pointed at me and yelled, "Frog!" I glanced at the side of the tub, where a plump green mini-frog was hanging next to me, apparently considering a leap into oblivion. I managed to scare him away, and fortunately we weren't bothered by any additional depressed wildlife before the end of our soak.

In pondering the situation later, I realized that the lizard probably wasn't too serious in his attempt. A truly suicidal member of his species would have paraded in front of the neighbor's cat, Pearl, which would have virtually guaranteed a gory demise.

In the meantime, we've popped in a bit of extra chlorine to combat the lizard soup, but I think we might have to add a sign for the local reptilian and amphibian critters: "Warning! No Lifeguard on Duty."

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spring Sneaking Up

One odd thing about living in the State of Eternal Sunshine is that without clearly defined seasons the year seems to fly by at lightspeed.

Back in Chicago, the bleak, gray days of winter seemed to drag on forever. The span from December to March seemed to last for at least a year. Here in Florida, we have a few cold snaps but nothing too wicked or consistent. Thus it's already March, with Easter looming just around the corner, and my mind can barely comprehend that Christmas is over.

One good thing about spring is that I can plant flowers without worrying that they will succumb to one of the rare but deadly sub-freezing cold snaps. My yard has been barren, but recently I bought a few flowers to start the springtime spruce-up. As the warmth increases, I'll keep adding until I have a rainbow blooming in my yard.

The days are also slowly but surely getting longer, but I'm still reeling from the return to Daylight Savings Time. Between that and a propensity for drinking coffee late into the night, I've been wide awake at 2 a.m. and barely conscious at 10 the next morning. Since I'm self employed and don't have a tight schedule to follow, it's that much harder to get back onto a "normal" schedule. I've always been a night owl anyway, so all it takes is the smallest excuse to get me back into a noctural rhythm.

My husband is a night owl, too, although he has to keep to a tighter schedule for work. The cats have always been readily adaptable. As long as they're near at least one human, they don't care what that human is doing as long as there is a warm body they can snuggle against. It can be on the couch, on a chair, or in the bed...they're not fussy.

Truman the Quaker Parrot started off downright narcoleptic, but he too has adapted to the household schedule. Now he stays up late, then crawls into his Happy Hut and sleeps like a dead thing until 9 a.m. or later. Once he's in the hut, he's downright comatose. But I'm glad that he stays up longer now; when we first bought him, he'd go to bed promptly at 5 p.m. What's the good of having a pet bird if it spends most of its time as an unconscious lump of green feathers?

Spring is continuing its relentless march forward, and summer is just around the corner. In Chicago, it would mean a transition from the threat of snow to balmy weather to heat, but here in Florida it's simply a change from warm to hot to ultra hot. And that's the way I like it.

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Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mickey's Backyard Barbeque

Over the years, hubby and I have done virtually every Disney experience possible. We've seen the Hawaiian luau, piloted Segways through Epcot, viewed Illuminations from a pontoon, eaten at the Hoop-De-Doo Review dinner show, driven a golf cart around Fort Wilderness, and taken a horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds of the Port Orleans Resort.

One thing we've never gotten around to was Mickey's Backyard Barbeque. I've seen blurbs about it on the internet, and it's always sounded intriguing, but it's one of those things we've never quite gotten around to. Thus I was quite pleased when a friend asked if we'd like to join her at the barbeque this weekend.

She and her husband were sailing on the Disney Magic with another couple who we also know. On the day of their return, they thought it would be nice to cap a week at sea with a Disney dinner show. We were pleased at the prospect of seeing the other couple again, since they live out of state, and looking forward to a new Disney experience.

Our reservations were made, so it was simply a matter of meeting up in the Fort Wilderness campground parking lot at the appointed time. The barbeque is held on the opposite side of the campground, so you have to park and catch a bus. Although the picnic pavillion doesn't open until six, we wanted to allow plenty of time to catch the bus and perhaps to wander around a bit and check out the nearby store.

On the appointed day, as I was shaving my legs in the shower, I somehow managed to chop my wrist with the razor. I'm not quite sure how it slipped, but I looked like a failed suicide with two neat slices (one from each blade) just below my hand. They were superficial cuts, but the kind that bleed and sting like mad, and they were too long for a bandaid. Thus I rubber banded a folded paper towel in the appropriate spot; I figured that everyone would peg me as an escapee from the suicide watch ward. The double irony is that I am a counselor! But heck, there's no way that I would off myself before I got my Mickey Bar.

Fort Wilderness is an easy jaunt down World Drive, but I managed to shoot past the turn-off and we had to make a U-turn at the Contemporary. But we managed to arrive at the appointed time, and our friends were already waiting. As we walked to the bus stop, I could smell the pungent Eau de Equine, since the stop is right next to the Tri-Circle D Ranch, which offers trail rides. To me, as a horse owner, it's actually a very comforting smell but I don't know just how appetizing it was to the others heading over to dinner.

After a short bus ride, we located the pavillion; then it was off for a restroom stop and some browsing before returning to get in line. Since the seating is first-come-first-served at picnic tables, it's good to get there early if you want to be close to the stage.

First, your photo is snapped for a souvenir shot that you can buy later. Then you join the line, where cast members hand out lemonade, punch, and beer to make the wait go by more quickly. Several of the characters came out to greet everyone, so the time passed quickly and before we know it, it was 6 p.m. and the pavillion was opened. Because we were close to the front of the line, we had our pick of tables and selected a spot near the stage where we'd have a perfect view of the show. Basically it consists of music, singing, dancing, and a trick roping demonstration, all punctuated with a great deal of character interaction.

The characters were still out and milling around, so we got some great snapshots even before dinner was served. Goofy, Chip, and Dale were all hamming it up and interacting with the guests as everyone got settled into their places.

Below are a few character shots, taken at various points throughout the evening:

The hosts, Tumbleweed and Saspirilla Sal, gave a little introduction, and the buffet lines opened around 6:15. There was a hearty spread of salad, cole slaw, potato salad, chicken, ribs, hot dogs, burgers, macaroni and cheese, baked beans, corn on the cob, and utterly delicious corn bread. For dessert, there were watermelon slices, Mickey ice cream bars, and a variety of other frozen treats. It was pretty tasty, considering that it was picnic food. I was very pleasantly surprised, especially by the mac and cheese. The buffet remains open for two hours, so you can graze later if you choose to. Personally, I was so stuffed after Round One that there was no way I could have had anymore, but hubby did grab another burger and Mickey bar halfway through the evening.

Plenty of beverages are also available, including all-you-can-drink beer and wine, which made my hubby's eyes light up in delight. Although he's not a big drinker, he has developed a fondness for wine. Unlimited availability often tempts him into one of his rare but amusing bouts of inebriation. Since there were three types of wine available, he had to try them all...and then had to try some more...thank goodness I was the designated driver!

The show is a little pricey by Disney standards, but once I had experienced it I could see that you're pretty much paying for the unlimited alcohol and the character interaction as well as for the show. Overall it was definitely worth it.

This show is a good one for families with wiggly kids that don't like sitting still. Much of the time is spent with everyone out on the dance floor cutting the rug with the characters. Mickey and Minnie joined the others, and besides dancing they spent some time visiting with the people still sitting at the tables. They didn't just visit with the kids either; they stopped by several times at our adult table, and we got some wonderful shots. This was probably one of the best character interaction opportunities I've seen.

Granted, Disney has character meals but they're usually rather rushed as they go from table to table, under pressure to make it to everyone. At the barbeque, it's more laid back because they are out on the dance floor, literally dancing with guests, and they also take opportunities to visit with those who aren't up and about. The whole thing just seemed a lot more relaxed, and watching them dance with little kids and cut up with the gyrating crowd made it seem like a much higher quality of interaction.

In the midst of all the dancing, Travis the trick roper put on a nice little show with his lasso. It was very impressive! We had a perfect view, since our table was right up along the dance floor where he performed.

The band was really good too. My favorite was "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," as I am a big violin/fiddle fan, and it takes a lot of talent to do that one right.

The whole experience lasted a little over two hours, although I noticed many people leaving earlier. That's another reason that this experience is good for those with kids in tow. If the kids get restless or cranky, it's very easy to leave. You will miss some of the dancing, but if you've had your meal and the young un's have already spent plenty of time with the characters, overall you're not missing out on a lot.

There was a patriotic finale at the end, with all the characters parading around the dance floor and then posing together for a final photo op:

The hosts lingered for a bit at the end, so I managed to grab a quick picture with them:

I have to admit that I liked this show much more than the Hoop De Doo Revue. Hoop De Doo is cute, but it doesn't have the characters and the audience stays seated because it's all a stage show. There is some limited audience participation, but nothing like the backyard barbeque! Mickey's Backyard Barbeque is very energetic and much more interactive; I can imagine that for some of the children who got the chance to dance one-on-one with Mickey or Goofy, it was a real highlight of the trip.

We were luck to have picked a perfect weather day; because it's in an outdoor pavillion, I imagine that it can be pretty miserable on a hot summer day. Also, there wasn't a capacity crowd so I suppose the character interaction might not be as liberal when the house is packed.

We all had a really great time. Before I knew it, the show was over and we were hopping back aboard a bus. Hubby was rather wobbly with wine-induced balance issues, but I managed to maneuver him into the car for the journey back to Celebration.

This is another reason why I love living here so much. What a treat to be able to pop over to Disney World just for a dinner show. As I was walking to the restrooms outside the pavillion, I could see the bright lights of the Contemporary Hotel just across the water and hear the wail of the watercraft horns as they transported guests to and fro. I soaked up the Disney ambiance; it brought back wonderful memories of days gone by, when we used to visit as tourists. Back then, the enjoyment was always impeded by the thought "Only __ more days of vacation to go."

Now there's no such thought. Now an ambiance fix is only a short drive away. And no matter how many experiences we have, there's always something new to do. I'm so glad we finally got around to trying Mickey's Backyard Barbeque. It was most definitely a worthwhile experience.

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