Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Floods and Tornados

Nothing underscores the difference between living in Florida vs. living in the Midwest as much as a tornado. Having grown up in Chicago, I learned that tornado warnings were as common as dandelions in spring and fall. Every Tuesday morning at 10 a.m. I'd hear the tornado siren tests. Sometimes the sirens would scream in the midst of a storm, and we'd troop down into the basement and nervously ride out the worst of it, hoping we wouldn't hear a "freight train" rumbling overhead. Fortunately we never had a nearby touchdown. I even remember driving with hubby to pick up a propane tank and seeing a funnel cloud dancing in the green sky off in the distance.

We have tornados in Florida too, but it's a much different matter. There are no warning sirens or basements. You're pretty much on your own. Granted, you can turn on the TV, but Fox News et. al. go into frenzies of anticipation the minute the skies even hint that they might spawn a tornado. They break into programming and show the radar ad naseum to the point where you'd never know whether they're tossing off "what ifs" vs. actually referring to a real tornado baring down on your home. It's the classic case of the boy who cried wolf: if a Florida weatherman told me a tornado was in my backyard, I wouldn't believe it until it blew down the door.

But even if you know it's coming in Florida, you're pretty much shafted because 90 percent of the houses have no basements. Duloc Manor is shotgun style, with three exterior walls covered with windows. In the best of times, I love all that sunlight. In tornados, windows become the enemy. We only have one potential cubbyhole to hide in: a Harry Potter powder room under the stairs. It's barely large enough for a toilet and sink, so imagine it being crowded with two adults, three cats, and a quaker parrot.

Actually, we'd probably have to leave our crazy cat, Tooncinator, to the fates. He spends 90 percent of his time under the bed, conversing with the voices in his head. If you touch him in a way he doesn't like, which pretty much includes all touch, he'll bite and scratch the living snot out of you. By the time we could ever get him out and stop the bleeding, the tornado would no doubt have already ripped the house down.

Today was one of those "tornado days," the culmination of a stormy week. Fox News was in a feeding frenzy, interrupting my court shows so the weatherman could play with the various radar views and go over the horrifying possibilities with obvious glee. Sometimes I picture the entire newsroom in a prayer circle, asking the fates to send a killer storm so they can rush out and cover the devestation, thus ensuring plenty of extra air time. They're even worse in hurricane season...any time a fish farts in the Atlantic, they'll already referred to it as a named storm and projecting its killer capability.

For the moment the storms have settled down, although we might have Wave Two tonight. Meanwhile, I'm gauging the odds of whether I'll be able to figure out if a tornado is really heading our way and, if so, how I'll control the manic housepets in the Harry Potter room.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mary Poppins and a Culinary Tour

The longer I live in Celebration, the less I miss Chicago. Actually, I suppose "miss" is a misnomer, since I've never really missed it on the whole. It's more like certain parts, such as my favorite restaurants or the bustling theater district. Food and Broadway shows are the two things that occasionally draw me back, and that's exactly what happened this past weekend when I winged my way north to see "Mary Poppins" and indulge in as many of my favorite foods as possible over the course of 48 hours.

My trips north tend to be as brief as possible, so hubby scheduled me to fly out Saturday morning and return on Monday morning. That way, the cats and Truman, my quaker parrot, could fend for themselves while I was gone. I flew Southwest as usual, and on the way out we managed to snare our favorite exit row seats. Hubby is an A-Lister (frequent flyer who automatically gets a good boarding number), so we were first to board after the conga line of pre-boarders. Fortunately, the "pre-people" posed no threat since they're not allowed to sit in the exits.

It was quite amusing to watch all the people with babies and toddlers flipping out when they were told they had to wait until after the A group boarded. Even though most other airlines abandoned family pre-boarding years ago, especially in Orlando, Southwest kept it for a long, long time. The breeders got spoiled, so they get really irked now that they have to wait until after A. They seem to forget that they could go through the effort to get an A pass themselves if they really cared. The gate agent warded them off and we trooped on board at the head of the A group and plopped into exit row seats 11A and C.

I always find it funny when couples insist that they have to sit next to each other. Hubby likes his window exit, while I prefer an aisle for easy bathroom access. I'm secure enough in our marriage to figure it will survive if someone sits between us for a two-hour flight. Indeed, we soon had a middle-seat occupant...a tall guy who thought he'd hit the jackpot with all the extra leg room. I settled in with my music and headphones and dozed off for most of the flight; hubby poked me awake when we were descending into Midway and I had to turn off my electronic device.

Compared to Florida, Chicago was freakin' cold! It's already flirting with 90 in Florida, but Chicago's temps were in the 60s and 70s, so I was shivering in my thin Floridian jacket. My brother and sister-in-law picked us up at the airport, and we headed to Pepe's for lunch. It's my ultimate favorite authentic Mexican restaurant, and I don't mean Tex-Mex. Ironically, tho', although it was delicious, it wasn't the culinary treat I had anticipated. I think that's because I love Abuelo's so much now that Pepe's has lost some of its charm. It's just not worth the 1200 mile jaunt when I can run 10 minutes down Osceola Parkway.

That evening, we had reservations at a Japanese Teppan restaurant for what my brother and I affectionately call "lard lobster." There is plenty of Teppan in Orlando, but I've never found a place that serves their lobster slathered in a heart attack-inducing mixture of lard and egg yolk. It sounds gross, but it's an acquired taste. We Chicago natives love our heart-destroying culinary concoctions. That old SNL skit with the Super Fans, where at least one of them had a heart attack on every show, is no joke!

The lard lobster was good, but like Pepe's it didn't wow me like I expected. The side dishes were rather bland compared to my favorite (and unfortunately now closed) Orlando Teppan place. Still, it was fun to dine with family, although I don't miss them as much as I probably would if I lived in pre-cell phone days.

The next day was the main reason for my visit: "Mary Poppins" at the Cadillac Theater. Hubby had managed to snag front row balcony tickets so we'd be in a perfect position to see Mary fly. Driving the Dan Ryan Expressway was no more fearsome than good old I-4. We parked near Lawry's, which was where we had dinner reservations, and walked over to the theater. I was surprised at the number of little kids, since the play is nearly three hours long. I think the Disney movie version is pushing it, especially in today's ADD society, and the play doesn't have the cartoon sequences to capture the kiddie's attention.

Surprisingly, the wee ones seemed engaged for the whole show...or at least the ones seated near me. Part of that might have been due to the fact that Mom was bribing them with Skittles through most of the second act. I had wondered if I'd get a bit bored myself, but it was so fast paced that the three hours flew by. Mary flew too...literally. She did it onstage a couple times, building up to the grand finale where she soared over the audience. We were in a perfect spot to see it, as she flew pretty much right over our heads. I thought that would be the highlight, but I have to admit the dance scene in which Bert literally dances upside down came pretty darned close.

The play isn't just a Broadway version of the movie. The story is somewhat changed, making Mrs. Banks a former actress rather than a suffrage activist and making Mr. Banks a lot more of a jerk. Also, there were more parts from the original Mary Poppins books; most people probably didn't realize that, but I read them all as a kid so I was pleasantly surprised to see Mrs. Corry and her gingerbread shop and the live statues.

The staging is really the best part of this show. I didn't like it as well as "Lion King," but that's not to say that it's not a great production. It's just that "Lion King" is so different. "Mary Poppins" is more of a traditional musical with some amazing scenery changes and special effects. Right before my trip, I had been wondering if it would be worth the bother of visiting Chicago for a whirlwind 48 hours. Happily, it was indeed worth the trip.

Afterwards, it was off to Lawry's and a dinner of the best prime rib on the planet. Being Mother's Day, the restaurant was packed to the gills but we had a reservation so we were seated promptly. The prime rib was as delicious as ever. It's carved right at your table, and our carver was in an overly generous mood as he plopped the equivalent of half a cow on each of our plates. I slathered the meat liberally with the heavenly whipped cream horseradish sauce that is a Lawry's hallmark. I also had spinach and creamed corn as sides; they were good, but I don't miss the creamed corn as much these days, since hubby has the recipe and makes it frequently at home. Now if he could just figure out how to slow-roast a freshly slaughtered cow.

As I indulged in my culinary tour of the Windy City, I imagined the abuse I would soon be enduring from my Wii Fit. I've lost a lost of weight just by cutting out desserts and most sugar, but I recently got the Wii Fit to add some regular exercise. If you're ever seen Japanese game shows, you know what a cruel streak they have in Japan. In the Wii Fit, this manifests itself in blatantly calling you "overweight" and demanding that you justify any gains by selecting a reason. Unfortunately, "Gorging self on favorite foods on hometown tour" is not among the options.

Oh well, I figured that I couldn't do too much damage in just 48 hours. Monday morning came all too soon, and I had to drag my carcass out of bed at 5:30 a.m. to make it to the airport for my early morning flight. Hubby was staying in Chicago for business, so I bid him farewell at Midway and went off in search of my gate. My boarding number was so-so (A24), so I wasn't holding out much hope for an exit row. I figured I'd just grab any convenient aisle.

When it was time to board, I discovered to my amazement that 11A (the exit row window seat) was still unoccupied. Even though I usually take an aisle, I figured I could grab that seat without guilt since there was plenty of room to get in and out to the restroom. There was a man sitting on the aisle, and we almost lucked out with an empty middle till a rotund dude hustled on the plane at the last minute and wedged himself between us (I say "wedged" because I could feel the armrest straining). Oh well, I figured it wouldn't be too traumatic since I planned to spend most of the flight reading or napping. The guy did try the old "lean over and read with my magazine in your space" ploy, but I quickly thwarted that with pressing needs to lean down and rummage in my bag and then set up an intricate pattern of items on my tray table, which make that maneuver impossible to maintain. He got the hint, and peace reigned for the rest of the flight in our comfy little exit row.

Back at the airport, I had to endure the special hell of taking a bus to the Blue Lot. Normally we park in the Red Lot at the South Exit, which is very convenient to 417. Sadly, it's been closed for a while now so everyone has to park in the Blue Lot, way out by the North Exit. Better yet, even though half the population of Orlando was waiting for the shuttle bus, they sent a micro-shuttle with a capacity of literally only nine people, although that was reduced by the fact that there was little room for any luggage. I was lucky enough to make it on board, but I felt bad for the huge crowd of people who were left behind as the driver shrugged and said, "Another bus is coming." Things were so tight on board that adults were literally sitting on each other's laps.

Oh well, I made it back to the lot and breathed a sign of relief as I headed for 417 to return to my hometown of Celebration. I suppose that a part of me will always be a "Chicago Girl," but every time I return there is less and less to miss. Now I'm a thin-blooded Floridian at heart...I probably won't go back to the Windy City for a year or two, when "Shrek the Musical" finally makes its way there. And if the rumored new theater ever gets built in downtown Orlando...heck, I might never have to go back!