Friday, October 31, 2003

The Scary Part 

When I was in grammar school, the two things I loved best about Halloween were the class party and trick or treating at the Maxwell’s house. Oh, yeah…and the chocolate of course.

OK, so when I was in grammar school, the three things I loved best about Halloween were the class party, trick or treating at The Maxwell’s house, and the chocolate. Oh, yeah…and the kooky costumes, too.

OK, so when I was in grammar school, the four things I loved best about Halloween were the class party, trick or treating at The Maxwell’s house, the chocolate, and the costumes. That about covers it.

Can you tell I was a little fond of Halloween back then?

THEN: At school, we always had a class party at the end of the day. We moved our desks into a big circle around the edge of the room (for some reason I absolutely loved this), and everybody shared candy. We got to wear costumes to school and if the weather was nice we would have a Halloween parade on the playground. (Although, is it really considered a parade when everybody is IN the parade, and nobody’s watching?)

NOW: The Christian Right actively tries to squash such Halloween celebrations, stating that children who celebrate it are “consorting with demonic forces, and parents who condone it are imperiling their children's immortal souls”. (That’s a direct quote from Pat Robertson, who can be pretty scary sometimes, if you ask me!) Check out these sites about the anti-Halloween movement, if you don’t believe me:

THEN: Since I was a “walker” (in other words, I lived less than a mile from school so no bus service was provided), after school we got to trick or treat the entire way home. (With lots more stay-at-home mothers back then, trick or treating started as soon as school let out in my hometown.) My favorite place to trick or treat was at Billy Maxwell’s house. Billy’s mom gave out hot buttered popcorn in small wax bags. It was always hot when we got it, and we always ate it immediately. We would sometimes try to sneak back there a second time later, but somehow she always knew who we were.

NOW: If I tried to give out hot buttered popcorn to the kids who come to my door, nobody would be allowed to eat it because they have been instructed not to eat anything that doesn’t come in a sealed package, or that hasn’t been pre-inspected by their parents. There are entire web pages set up just to put forth the Halloween safety agenda:

THEN: Coming up with a Halloween costume consisted of one of two methods: 1) If you were a kid, you wanted to go to the local drug store and buy one. These costumes consisted of highly flammable non-breathable material and a hot sweaty plastic mask secured to your head by a very uncomfortable stretchy cord. I still remember the way these masks smelled and how difficult they were to breathe in. I loved ‘em. 2) If you were a mom, you sometimes tried to “get creative” and make a costume for your child. These costumes ranged from the glued and stapled to the expertly sewed, and usually embarrassed the wearer to no end.

NOW: There are entire seasonal (which means they open around the end of August nowadays) stores devoted to selling amazingly cool (and amazingly expensive) Halloween costumes. You can also buy or rent entire costumes right on the Internet:

I’m not that fond of Halloween anymore. Although I still love the chocolate.

It’s not that I don’t think that the Christian Right doesn’t have a right to their opinion (Halloween does have a rather interesting origin, after all). It’s not that think kids shouldn’t be safe and follow their parents’ Halloween rules. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the ultra-cool mass-made costumes (some of them are true works of art).

It’s just that times have changed, and I find that truly scary.
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Thursday, October 30, 2003

I Don’t Know How She Does It  

Yesterday I stopped by a friend’s place to drop off something on my way to a seminar. It was early evening; she’s probably been home from her full-time job for only an hour or two. My plan was to just pop in for a second, drop off what I had for her and take off for my seminar. Instead, I found her children so appealing and her home so warm and inviting, I ended up lingering and wishing I could stay.

I don’t know how she does it.

Within seconds of my arrival, I had been cheerfully greeted by three merry children, had a happy baby smiling in my arms, and was given a homemade Halloween gift that I incorrectly guessed had been made at school. Not so…Mommy helped them make the cute little black spider pumpkins with pipe cleaner arms and wiggly eyes.

I don’t know how she does it.

With four active children under the age of 9, a husband she quite obviously adores, and a full-time position as a vice president in a business that employs hundreds of people, she manages to find time to decorate her home creatively and beautifully, donate her time and business expertise to worthy causes and community efforts, scrapbook to preserve her family’s memories, dream up (and make) totally imaginative ideas for holiday gifts, read a mass of magazines and books, cook creative meals, do crafts with her children, have dates with her husband, and nurture her friendships. And now she’s started to blog!

I don’t know how she does it.

She is one of the happiest people I know, and she makes it all look so easy and natural. I found myself wanting to just remain there in her world. Looking back at her house as I was getting into my car to leave, it seemed as though the very light pouring out of her windows into the crisp autumn evening was as magical and mysterious as love itself.

I don’t know how she does it. But I hope whatever it is rubs off on me.
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Wednesday, October 29, 2003

RSS = NQSSS, Part 4  

(Really Simple Syndication = Not Quite So Simple Syndication)

Why You Should Try Validating Your RSS File on a Regular Basis

I have been writing in my blog every day. I have also been updating my RSS file everyday and posting it to my server. Just for the heck of it yesterday, I decided to validate my RSS file. Lo and behold, my file would not validate.

Turns out, the ampersand (&) is not an acceptable character in the item title field. Who woulda thunk it? This means that, since the first ampersand appeared in my RSS file (about 2 weeks ago) my feed has not been publishing properly. Once I changed the ampersands to “and’s” it validated.

Lesson learned.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2003

A Moving Post 

Why is it that I can’t remember what I ate for dinner two nights ago, but I can remember the name of every street I’ve ever lived on?

Where to next? Someplace warm year-around with an ocean within walking distance, I hope.
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Monday, October 27, 2003

Stress Noted 

Recently I was shampooing in the shower when I become conscious of how frantically my fingers were flailing. My shoulders were so tense they were just about level with the bottoms of my earlobes. I was scrubbing my head with such intensity that I am surprised that I have any hair left at all.

I forced myself to relax my shoulders and took a few deep breaths. After all, I was cleansing my body not clinching a deal!

A few seconds later, while I was washing my face I noticed that my shoulders were parked by my earlobes again and that I was massaging my face with the same type of brawn I use to knead bread dough. Once again, I mentally told myself to ease up a bit.

After my shower, while brushing my teeth I suddenly realized that I was scouring them so hard you would have though I was trying to get burnt barbecue sauce off the bottom of an aluminum pot. For the third time in one morning, I willed myself to chill out.

What gives? Does anybody else notice these body tension issues?

It used to be that I only got tensed up like that if I was working on my computer too long or too intensely. In fact I have a big note taped to my keyboard that says “Relax Your Shoulders.”

What’s next? Do I need a note on the kitchen table to tell me to “Ease Up While Eating?” Another note in the shower that says “Slow Down While Shampooing”? And one on the bathroom mirror that says “Breathe While Brushing”?

It’s bad enough that I have a sign in front of my car in the garage that says, “Open the Garage Door. Duh!” I have a hard enough time remembering to read THAT sign.

I need a massage.
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Sunday, October 26, 2003

iTunes Finally Does Windows! 

More good news from Apple! They finally rolled out iTunes for Windows.

Because of the type of work I do (technology writing and computer training) I have always had both an Apple Macintosh and a Windows PC sitting on my desk. I have clients on both sides of the platform tracks, so straddling is a necessity as well as a pleasure. Since I unabashedly like both platforms, I won't bore you with a comparison between the two.

Lately, my Mac has been getting a lot of extra (key)strokes because of my ongoing love affair with my iPod. iTunes, combined with the iTunes Music Store, has been an unbeatable competitor when it comes to managing my music. And the Mac made it so easy...true plug and pay and play.

This was not the case when, after hearing me gush about mine, a few of my Windows-only friends got iPods. Although there are programs other than iTunes that let you use your iPod with Windows, they were all kludgy (not to mention ugly). As a result, I ended up being the "go to girl" for the care and feeding (i.e. programming and uploading) of three iPods in addition to my own! (That's a lot of responsibility, even for a very geeky girl.)

Now I can teach my friends to fish, instead of feeding them! (Although they probably won't let me off the hook for dragging them through the mud in this blog entry!)

You can read more about iTunes for Windows in the following articles:

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Saturday, October 25, 2003

Incredibly Audible 

And now I do the dance of joy!

If you are a regular reader, you already know about the love affair I am having with my iPod (if you are new here, see my 9-15-03 blog). Well, Apple's newest announcement about Audible.com and the iTunes Music Store has me chomping at the bit to crawl into bed with my iPod.

I admit it. I love being read to in bed. And although my husband has read me practically the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy in bed over the past 20 years, let's face it...it's annoying when somebody falls asleep at the good parts. But my iPod won't get ticked off when I get tuckered out! It will read to me all night, whether I am snoring or not.

As of last week sometime, the iTunes Music Store will be making more than 5000 Audible.com audiobooks and other spoken word programs (such as NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross) available for downloading. The cost will be slightly more than what I am currently paying to rent CDs over at BooksOnTape.com, but the convenience of downloading books directly to my iPod may well prove to be worth it! Especially since I won't have to pay for shipping and won't have to return the rented CD after 30 days.

You can read more about this in the following article:

Thank God I got the 30 gig model!
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Friday, October 24, 2003

Miss Stated, Part 3 

With regard to my 10-05-03 blog about phrases or buzzwords that annoy the heck out of me, my friend Ruth sent me a game called “Bullshit Bingo.” If you spend half of your life in meetings, seminars, or long conference calls, this simple game is a fun way to pass the time!

How to play: Print the game card below. Check off each block when you hear these words during a meeting, seminar, or conference call. When you get five blocks horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, stand up and shout BULLSHIT!!

Bull Shit Bingo Playing Card

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Thursday, October 23, 2003

Miss Stated, Part 2 

I've had some feedback to my 10-05-03 blog about phrases or buzzwords that annoy the heck out of me. Apparently I am not the only one out there whose ears (and nerves) are worn out by business buzzwords.

My friend Paula, who quite obviously works in a corporate environment, had these comments to add:

Thanks, Paula!
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Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Of Pixie Dust and Magical Vacations 

(Day 10, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Yes, you CAN go home again...even if you don't really want to. And in this case, I don't mean my DVC "home away from home," but rather my "home where I do the dishes and walk the dog and take out the trash home".

But even though I had to put on a sweater and shoes just to venture out into the cold autumn air here in PA tonight, I think that memories of another magical WDW vacation will keep me warm through the winter. (That, and the ten pounds of pixie dust I hid in my suitcase!)

Only 191 more days until I get to go back!!!

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Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Almost Gone 

(Day 9, Walt Disney World Vacation)
I know I said that I would write about Mission Space (the newest attraction at EPCOT) once I had ridden it a second time. I did ride it a second time, but have decided not to write about because I truly wish that I hadn’t read anything about it before I tried it. The Disney boards over at AOL had a few reviews of Mission Space and I eagerly read every one of them. Consequently, I think my expectations spoiled the actual ride for me. So, just give it a try yourself. Like everything else at WDW, it’s well done and entertaining.

We went to Animal Kingdom today. It was very hot and the paths were crowded as usual…but the attractions and shows and restaurants were not congested at all. The pizza at Pizzafari is still really delicious; the bats were really cool-looking, (not to mention screaming because they were in heat), the tigers looked like big kittens sleeping in the sun, and Little Red was saved once again.

Gotta pack up tonight as we are leaving tomorrow. I am ready to go home now (pretty much). I miss my cat and dog, not to mention my fast Internet connection. As usual, we are going home with more stuff than we came here with (thanks to that nifty “send your package to your resort” program). We’ll be returning in May, as usual, so we will make good use of those premium annual passes.
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Monday, October 20, 2003

Boardwalk Buses & Back Doors, Being Bagless and Bongo Ball Banquets 

(Day 8, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Having been at WDW around a dozen times, I have a couple of travel tips for those staying at Disney's Boardwalk resort, as well as a couple of shopping and food related tips. (Two of my favorite things to do at Disney are eating and shopping...so I feel qualified!)

If you are staying at the Boardwalk:

Two other tips:

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Sunday, October 19, 2003

Eat, Drink, and Be Disney 

(Day 7, Walt Disney World Vacation)
The EPCOT Food and Wine Festival started yesterday. During the rest of the year, EPCOT’s World Showcase includes tributes to eleven different countries (U.S.A., Japan, Morocco, France, U.K., Canada, Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, and Italy), which boast more than a dozen table-service restaurants and even more counter service places where you can get a quick bite to eat. During the Food and Wine Fest, an additional 25 counter service booths are set up, featuring small food samplings, wine, and beer from all over the world.

The festival also has an “Eat to the Beat” concert series (featuring artists such as Sister Sledge, Three Dog Night, and Chubby Checker), as well as informative seminars (such as Great Beers of the World), cooking demonstrations (saw Martin Yan from Yan Can Cook yesterday) and formal wine tastings.

I started out yesterday at the opening bell: 11 a.m. By 1 p.m. I had eaten my way from Russia to Germany!

Since we entered EPCOT through the “back door” – the International Gateway, we started in the U.K. Because it was a bit early, we skipped over the Great Beers of the World Booth (Bass, Boddingtons, Carlsberg, Lowenbrau, Labatt, and Stella Artois), and flew past New Zealand (lamb chops ands chilled mussels), Spain (gazpacho, paella), and Canada (cheddar cheese soup, salmon with honey maple glaze), heading straight to Russia & Eastern Europe for a favorite from last year: Beef Stroganoff with Buttered Noodles. It's topped it off with a squiggle of cold sour cream on the top. Yum! I was also going to have their potato pancake, but since we still had a whole bunch of booths to visit, I was trying to pace myself.

We hit Greece next. The lines were already 8-10 people deep and the sun was super hot. I was very glad that I'd remembered the sunscreen. Between my husband and I, we tried everything Greece had to offer: baklava, Greek salad, souvlaki, and a spinach pie called spanakopita. Lest you think we are professional eaters or independently wealthy, let me state that portions are very small – smaller than the average restaurant appetizer; three or four bites at most, and the prices are usually between $1-$3 per item. The Greek salad was especially tasty, and the spinach pie was perfectly hot and flaky.

Skipping over Mexico (saved for tomorrow), Ireland (line too long), and Scandinavia (no line due to odd offerings, such as cold poached salmon and smoked trout...I am Norwegian and I don't even eat that stuff), we made our way over to China. We didn’t try their mango mousse, although it looked interesting, but we did try dan dan noodles (perfectly cooked and chilled noodles in a spicy sesame sauce), chicken in peanut sauce (so-so for me), and scallion pancakes (not the best).

We bypassed Poland (although I loved their stuffed cabbage roll last year, the line was too long to try this on day one of the festival), South Africa (saved for another day), and Australia (line enormous due to shrimp on the barbie popularity). By this time it was afternoon, so I decided to end my grazing lunch with a nice Lowenbrau Oktoberfest…which took me about 45 enjoyable minutes to finish while sitting in the shade people watching and listening to oom-pah-pah music.

Today we decided to graze around the world for lunch again. We started by repeating Greece since it was so tasty yesterday. Then we headed to Mexico (lines were much shorter today), enjoying both the chicken taco al carbon, and the chorizo and chicken quesadilla. The corn tortillas have such an authentic flavor and texture to them…they must use lard, which is the only way they could taste that good I think. I went to a wine tasting given by the Trinchero Winery, which is in California. I liked their reserve cabernet, but the others (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and another cab), were sort of ordinary. The seminar itself was very good, though, as it focused on wine aromas.

Ahh, this is the life. Walking, eating, drinking, Disney.
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Saturday, October 18, 2003

Random Disney Musings 

(Day 6, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Just some random Disney musings today...

Some things I’ve overheard this week while at WDW:

I, for one, DO NOT want to go home.

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Friday, October 17, 2003

Verbal Momorrhea 

(Day 5, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Anybody who comes to WDW can expect large numbers of people; that’s a given. And in any large crowd, it is also a given that some people can wear on your nerves faster than others, right? Like the people who think the resort “quiet pool,” means that everybody except them and their cells phones should respect the desired tranquility. Or people who not only let but downright encourage their children to use silverware as drumsticks in a restaurant. (I believe that parenthood brings with it a very large loss of hearing.)

However, few things get on my nerves as badly as Verbal Momorrhea. Yesterday I endured what seemed like a very long bus ride with a woman afflicted with this disorder. I’m sure you have seen the malady’s symptoms before and just never knew the correct term for it (unless of course you actually have this condition, in which case you would not recognize it even if you saw yourself on film doing it for 3 hours straight. In fact, you would think it was engaging and cute.)

We boarded a very crowded bus to Downtown Disney. It was so crowded that we had to stand. No problem. Unfortunately, we picked the wrong person to stand in front of. A couple in their late 20s/early 30s, along with their 1-year-old son were seated about 4 inches away from where we were standing. The woman never stopped talking for the entire trip. Most of her barrage was directed towards her child. It went something like this:

Mommy: (in singsongy voice suitable only for Teletubbies) “Ryyy-annn…are we going to Downtown Disney? Do you want to go to Downtown Disney? What are we going to see at Downtown Disney? Can you say “Downtown Disney’? Here we go…the bus is moving! Can you feel the bus moving Ryan? Can you?”

Ryan: (silence…he is, after all a one-year old)

Mommy: (now the baby talk starts, intermingled with the singsong) “Rye-Rye! Is Rye-Rye hungry? Does Rye-Rye want something in his tum-tum? Is Rye-Rye’s belly empty? What does Ryan want to eat? Does he want chicky fingers? Does he want macaroni and cheese? Does he want a cookie? What will Rye-Rye eat today?”

Ryan: (silence)

Daddy: (silence accompanied by a vague drugged expression)

Mommy: (motioning to the man sitting next to her with his daughter on one side of him and a perfect peaceful baby sleeping on his shoulder) Ooooh, Ryan, look at the cute little boy sleeping on his Daddy’s shoulder! Isn’t he cute! Can you wave hello to the little boy’s Daddy?

Ryan: (silence; no wave)

Whereupon the woman attempts to engage the sleeping child’s father in a deep and meaningful conversation about his sleeping child. A conversation he studiously tries to avoid since he was enjoying his ten minutes of peace. I will not bore you with the details, as I am sure you can gauge the content of the conversation from the previous excerpts.

Ryan’s daddy never uttered a word, and neither did Ryan.

Today we spent the entire day and evening at the Magic Kingdom. We even stuck around to see SpectroMagic (nighttime light parade) and the new fireworks show called “Wishes.” AWESOME!

Today’s award for worst example of parenting goes to the father ahead of us in line for Space Mountain. While his daughter tried her very best to stand up tall so she could meet the height requirement, she fell short a good inch. The cast member doing his job said she could not go on because it was not safe. The father plucked his daughter from the line and loudly announced to the cast member “You should feel good now. You just ruined a little girl’s entire vacation.”

If the little girl’s vacation wasn’t already ruined, I am sure it was then.
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Thursday, October 16, 2003

What Would George Do? 

(Day 4, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Every now and then a cast member at Disney (that’s what they call their employees) makes you feel as though Pixie Dust flowed through their veins. We met George K. on one of our fist WDW trips about 5 years ago. At the time, he was a waiter at Spoodles, one of our favorite places to eat breakfast. Besides just being a darn good waiter and a pleasant human being, George always seemed to go the extra mile, whether it be an extra smile, remembering that I always wanted a Cappuccino with raw sugar, or bringing me specially Mickey-shaped pancakes (which were not on the buffet). For a couple of years, each time we went to Spoodles, we were lucky enough to ask for George’s section, and be seated there.

Spoodles has booths with very high solid backs. When you are sitting in a booth you cannot see who is sitting in the booths next to you at all. One morning, we arrived at for breakfast and were seated at George’s station in a booth. It was early and the place was pretty empty. George came to greet us, and then left to get our drinks. I told my husband that I was going to the bathroom and would be right back; in the meantime, he headed for the buffet. On my way back from the ladies room I got a plate of food and sat down where George had placed my Cappuccino. I was sitting there for about 5 minutes or so, wondering why my husband hadn’t returned from the buffet yet. I decided to start eating anyhow (no need for food to grow cold!).

I glanced over towards the buffet and saw George heading towards me with my pancakes. He got about 5 feet from my table when he stopped in his tracks with a puzzled look on his face. He looked at me, and the he looked at the table behind me. He repeated this several times, as though trying to figure something out. I figured he was trying to remember where the pancakes were going. Then he started to laugh.

Walking to the booth behind me, I heard him say (in his lovely European accent) “So, you are sitting here now?”

Apparently, my husband had forgotten which booth we were sitting at and was already halfway through his breakfast sitting in the booth behind me! He just thought it was taking me a very long time to return from the ladies' room and fill my breakfast plate! George never let us forget this morning, and we laugh about it every time.

Last year (2002) we arrived on Columbus Day Monday. We had reservations to eat at Narcoosie’s at the Grand Floridian to celebrate our 15th anniversary, but when we arrived and studied the menu, we decided that we were not in the mood for anything they were offering that night. So we decided to head over to the Magic Kingdom and see if we could get into Tony’s. As it was prime dining time, we were doubtful, but decided to try anyhow, since it was only a Monorail ride away.

The Magic Kingdom was packed. We walked up to the podium at Tony’s and were told that they were not taking any more walk-ins that night. We were disappointed, but figured we’d just head to Casey’s for a hotdog. (Hey, we were at the Magic Kingdom...no need to get bummed!) On the way out of Tony’s we saw a familiar face serving food on the veranda – George! We caught his attention and stopped for a second to say hello. He’d left Spoodles a couple of months before and had been working at Tony's ever since. He asked us if we were eating here that evening and we explained that seating was not available. He told us to wait a minute and when he returned he brought his manager with him and introduced us. He then proceeded to ask her if she could please find us a table in his section because we were special guests of his. So she did!

We were seated almost immediately right on the veranda at a romantic table for two. We were able to catch up with George, ask about his family, get teased about the Spoodles booth incident, and enjoy a wonderful Italian dinner. On top of that, we had the perfect seats to watch that evening's SpectroMagic Parade stream by (about 15 feet from us) while we ate dessert. Speaking of dessert, George overheard us toasting to our anniversary and insisted on treating us to dessert. His manager decided to give us 20% off the entire check as well! Talk about pixie dust! Our cups runneth over with it, thanks to George.

So this is why we went out of our way yesterday to go to where George works now (Wilderness Lodge Canyon Café) and give him a What Would Walt Do pin. He’s worth the trip! He loved the pin and especially enjoyed that we’d come all the way to the lodge to visit him. He asked where we were eating that night and we told him Artist Point, which is another restaurant in the Wilderness Lodge. Don’t you know it, when it came time to order dessert, our waiter said “George asked us to give you a complimentary dessert, on him, tonight.” That’s George!

Today we shopped and sunned…a relaxing day. (Other than the challenging bus rides with particularily vexing parental units, which I will elaborate on tomorrow!).
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Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Disney Harmony 

(Day 3, Walt Disney World Vacation)
Since we were last here, two new attractions have been launched at Walt Disney World: Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Mission Space. We managed to take in both of these attractions yesterday, and were very happy with both, although my personal favorite between the two was Mickey’s PhilharMagic.

PhilharMagic, located at the Magic Kingdom, just made its debut on October 9th. It is a 3-D film that incorporates music, 3-D movie effects, and magical “extras” such as smell-o-rama, well-timed water spatters, and effective wind gusts (the latter of which scared the crap out of the 6-year-old boy sitting next to me; be warned). The film has Donald Duck “borrowing” Mickey’s sorcerer’s hat and going on a wild adventure through some of Disney’s most-loved films. The music includes songs from The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King, as well as others, with Donald getting to interact with the characters from the animated films. One of my favorite aspects of the film is the animated orchestra – it reminds me very much of one of Mickey’s old cartoons, “The Band Leader,” (which of course it is supposed to). PhilharMagic is a celebration of Disney animation and music that should not be missed. I can’t wait to go back later this week.

Mission Space, located at EPCOT, made its debut a few weeks ago. I am going to hold off writing about it until I visit it again. I was so nervous for my first “training session” that I don’t think it sunk in! All I know is that I want to do it again.

Today we engineered the day to allow us to visit one of our favorite cast members at WDW: George K. We’ve known George since our very first visit here and wanted to give him a “What Would Walt Do” pin for consistently exceeding our expectations on every visit. I will tell you more about George another day. In the meantime, if you want to know more about the WWWD cast member recognition program, visit the WWWD site.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Inappropriate Theme Park Footwear 

(Day 2, Walt Disney World Vacation)
EPCOT’s nightly fireworks (called “Illuminations”) are nothing short of spectacular, no matter how many times you’ve seen the show. The fireworks take place in and around the World Showcase Lagoon, which is a huge man-made lake. Beginning at dusk, there are enormous torches surrounding the lagoon, then at 9 p.m., when the show is about to begin, you hear the announcer blow the torches out, and the entire place goes dark…one second later the sky is filled with fireworks set to riveting Disney-style music. It’s completely awe-inspiring. The fireworks not only light up the sky, but are reflected in the lagoon as well, making the water resemble one of Edvard Munch’s more colorful canvases.

Seconds after the fireworks (before the last embers have left the sky), thousands of people want to exit EPCOT simultaneously. This is when my husband and I find a comfortable bench where our toes won’t get run over by exhausted fathers pushing strollers or inexperienced EPV (electric personal vehicle) drivers. While the madding crowd whooshes by, I play a little game with myself called “Spot the Inappropriate Theme Park Footwear.”

It’s amazing what some people will wear on their feet to a theme park. While I don’t seem to spot as many high heels as I used to, I still see an amazing array of pinched toe cleavage and non-supportive flip-flops. The most alarming footwear last night was a pair of 4-inch platform slides on a very pregnant young woman. I feared for the safety of her unborn child. But other than that, white tennis shoes seemed to be de rigueur.

I am apparently not the only person who plays this strange game. There is a website that actually has pictures of inappropriate theme park footwear on it. I am not kidding. Look here at bad shoe.com. But it was my idea first. :-)

Today we spent half the day at EPCOT and half the day at the Magic Kingdom. At EPCOT, we did the brands new Mission Space and Spaceship Earth. At the Magic Kingdom, we kept with the Space theme by doing Space Mountain. We also saw the new PhilHarmagic 3D attraction, which was amazingly fun. I will write more about Mission Space and PhilHarmagic tomorrow. We are off to Pleasure Island now, where I will go to one or more Comedy Club shows and my husband will drink in the live music in a non-smoking atmosphere! Gotta love these annual passes!

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Anticipatory Firsts and Needless Anxiety 

(Day 1, Walt Disney World Vacation)
My mood remains buoyant despite the fact that we are now sitting on the second plane of the morning. The first plane was broken so after boarding we never even moved from the gate. So we are already an hour-and-a-half off schedule. No worries; we will get there eventually.

I have been so freaked out the past few days that sometimes I wonder if I should bother going on vacation. I always seem to get like that right before a trip. Every bit of laundry has to be done and put away, the dishwasher has to be run and the contents put away, the fridge has to be cleaned, trash emptied, clean towels left out for our house sitter, toys and special treats left behind for the dog. I get crabby trying to tie up loose end in my office…sending out vacation notices, changing the voicemail message, making sure invoices are sent out, bills paid, SPAM deleted, and e-mails answered. I must have checked that the plane tickets were in our carry-on bag at least a half-dozen times (including the minute I got in the limo for the ride to the airport.)

Day One of vacation is full of anticipatory “firsts.”

In Orlando, the first ride of the day is always the monorail to the airport baggage claim. After a few minutes of “luggage anxiety,” during which I am convinced I will never see my one-and-only perfect-fitting Diesel jeans again, followed by the celebratory relief at spotting and snatching our bags from the carousel, there’s the first step outside into the warm humid Florida air. This I soon to be followed by the spotting of the first palm tree, and the first Walt Disney World road sign!

These “firsts” are followed by “room anxiety,” during which I obsess over where our room will be. Will we get the view and floor we requested? Will the room be ready? Will there be noisy people next door? (I know, I know…I have anxiety issues.”) And, since this is Disney we are talking about, there is the first glimpse of our perfect room, with the great view of the Boardwalk (we are right over the DVC sign, for those of you who have been here). Have I mentioned that I really like coming here? It’s like a giant all-encompassing anti-anxiety pill.

Today we went to EPCOT and walked around the World Showcase…drinking in the atmosphere, along with some Octoberfest beer. The Florida heat (91 degrees), the German beer, and the 3 a.m. wakeup call created the perfect combination for our first nap of the vacation. I felt positively drugged and seriously contemplated ordering room service and not leaving the room until tomorrow…but I forced myself to snap out of it, and we headed back to EPCOT for dinner and the fireworks.

More tomorrow…sleep beckons!
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Sunday, October 12, 2003

Me and the Mouse 

Tomorrow my husband and I leave for a 10-day trip to visit Mickey & Minnie et al in Florida.

I love just about everything about Walt Disney World. It's fun, it's clean, the cast members are friendly, the resorts and pools and spas are gorgeous, the restaurants are wonderful, and the fireworks are romantic and spectacular. When I am there, I feel like I am twelve years old. My husband and I wander around starry eyed, holding hands.

I know that some people don't find Disney very relaxing, but we do. Admittedly, it's probably because we don't have children and we have been there about a dozen times already. So we can sleep late, eat whenever we want, and not feel like we have to rush around to fulfill a trip agenda.

We joined the Disney Vacation Club four years ago, and it's been just right for us. It's Disney's version of a time-share. But in true Disney fashion, it's a little bit better than the average time-share -- more flexible, nicer rooms, higher standards, etc.. (Read more about it on the DVC website, if you want to know how it works.) Our home resort is Disney's Boardwalk Villa's, which is conveniently within walking distance of both the EPCOT and MGM parks.

So, for the next few days, I will happily be sharing my "Disney Moments" here in my blog (assuming I can make the necessary connections!).

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Saturday, October 11, 2003

Perfect Puttanesca 

Forgive me for indulging in one more recipe post! Pasta Puttanesca, also known as Hooker’s Pasta, is my all-time favorite pasta dish, and I wanted to share my recipe for it.

I read a story once that told how this dish got its name. (I think it was in one of the Frugal Gourmet’s cookbooks.) Apparently hookers used to make this dish for their customers late at night. The ingredients are all things that would be in almost any kitchen cupboard, and since it could be made quickly and easily, the ladies could keep their "operation" going.

While the pasta is cooking, make the sauce (it only should take you about 8 to 10 minutes to put it together and cook it):
  1. Put the capers, garlic, and olives in a small food processor and mince. If you have to do this by hand, chop all of it it together so it combines a bit. It needs to be chopped small, but don't make it mushy like a paste.
  2. Put the olive oil in a heated pan.
  3. Add the tomatoes and anchovy paste and stir to combine.
    PLEASE, if you do not like anchovies, either don't make this dish or try this recipe at least once WITH the anchovies...they add so much to the flavor (and NOT fishiness!).
  4. Add the olive/garlic/capers mixture and stir gently to combine
  5. Cook the mixture for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add the crushed red pepper during the last minute or so of cooking.
  7. Drain the pasta and toss with the sauce.

This recipe is for two servings.

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Friday, October 10, 2003

Love Song 

Sixteen years ago today was our wedding day. The above poem, by Rainer Maria Rilke was read at our wedding.

5,840 days later, the essence of the poem still holds up under the harsh light of time.

140,160 hours later, our souls still touch at all points.

8,409,600 minutes later, we are still drawing one voice from two strings.

504,576,000 seconds later, we still come first in each other’s lives.
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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Happy Thanksgiving! 

My husband and I cooked a Thanksgiving dinner today. Yes, I know it’s only the second Thursday in October, which seems a very long way from the fourth Thursday in November (unless you count it in shopping days), but we had a lot to be thankful for today.

We didn’t eat a morsel of it (unless you count the mashed potatoes that I gleefully licked from the spoon when we were cleaning up), which was what’d we’d planned to do anyhow. One of our best friends, who’s still in the hospital, got some good test results yesterday afternoon. (Yahoo baby!) His wife has been spending most of her waking hours at his side in the hospital, and her brother (who just happens to be visiting here from abroad) has been mostly left on his own to fend for himself (and learn to surf the Internet). So what says, “I am thankful for the good news!” better than a huge turkey dinner with all the fixings?

I know they were appreciative of the meal, but I feel like my husband and I are the lucky ones to have friends who we can do something like that for. True friendship is magic.

Can I get a big AMEN on that?
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Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Grandma Anna's Chicken Soup 

This is my Grandma Anna's recipe for Chicken Soup. I learned it on chilly autumn afternoons after school. I'd come home and she'd be watching Young and the Restless or The Mike Douglass Show and cooking chicken soup. The secret is the rutabaga -- so don't leave it out!

  1. Make yourself a highball to enjoy while cooking.
  2. Wash the chicken (get rid of the insides!) and put it in a really big pot.
  3. Cover the chicken with cold water.
  4. Add the vegetables and spices to the pot.
  5. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down the heat to simmer.
  6. Simmer the soup for at least two hours. Have another highball while you're waiting.
  7. In the meantime, prepare the rice or egg noodles separately and set aside.
  8. Remove the chicken from the pot and de-bone it. (OK, OK, Grandma never used to do this, but I always do because I don't like "surprises" in my soup.)
  9. Shred or slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to the pot.
  10. Add the egg noodles or rice to the soup pot.
  11. You can add extra water or broth, if you think you need more liquid.
  12. Continue simmering the soup for a few mintes to warm the egg noodles or rice, and the chicken. Serve piping hot with lots of bread and butter.
  13. Play Bingo or Canasta after dinner.

Serves a lot of people -- at least ten or so, and it freezes well, too.

I am STILL stuck on Young and the Restless--just like Grandma Anna. I TiVo it every day!
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Tuesday, October 07, 2003


Last night, just as I sat down to write my blog entry, my husband came into my office and asked me to take him to the hospital emergency room. ASAP. Over the past few days he had been experiencing some complications from a hernia operation he'd had a couple of weeks ago. Apparently, he'd finally had just enough of the pain to acquiesce to emergency room care. (Something I'd been trying to talk him into for four days.)

Hence the abbreviated blog entry yesterday.

I've had enough of hospitals. Truly. Since September 11th, I have spent countless hours in three different hospitals in two different states, for too many reasons.

It all started on September 11th with my brother (in NJ) having elective surgery on his ear to correct a hearing problem he was having. Since his wife had a trial that day (she's a lawyer) and couldn't be there, and I didn't want my mother to have to sit all on her own waiting for him, I offered to accompany them. That day started at 6 a.m. for me, and I didn't get home until around 10 that night. (The operation went well, my mother wasn't lonely, and I am very glad I was there to help my brother.)

The next day, my husband had to get blood work done in advance of his upcoming hernia operation, so we went to the local hospital (PA) for a couple of hours. Simple enough.

The hernia operation itself came on September 23rd -- also at the local hospital. That day started at 5:15 a.m. and we were already home by early afternoon. (Well, my husband was at home, I was at CVS getting prescriptions filled for what seemed like the rest of the day.) Then the at-home recovery started. I work at home, so I was here to help when needed. I came to realize that my real challenge was in keeping the "stuck at home blues" at bay. This is not a task that I take to easily. While I am fully capable of fetching water, heating soup and making ice bags, as well as helping with various man-chores, such as backwashing the pool, taking out the garbage, and removing drowned mice from the pool filter, I am not very sympathetic to whininess. But we managed, and to this day remain married.

In the meantime, a close friend was having pneumonia-like symptoms for a couple of weeks and, after a few outpatient tests, ended up in a hospital a couple of towns over, where he remains still, today. So I got to become familiar with the interior of that hospital as well. He should be getting out soon, thank goodness.

Last night's trip to the emergency room topped off my month-long hospital run. We attempted to go to the local hospital less than a mile away, but it was packed wall-to-wall with limping, hacking, bleeding and otherwise unhealthy people. So we went to the hospital a couple of towns away, instead. We arrived at 9:30 p.m. My husband was poked and prodded and tested and questioned. After getting a needle in the buttocks that looked to be the width of a basketball inflator pin, he was released about half-past twelve.

I could not wait to go home and take a shower to extract the antiseptic smell from my pores and scrub the imprint of the uncomfortable hospital visitor chair from my butt.

Three-and-a-half-week period. Three different hospitals; two different states. No more, OK? That mercury retrograde thing was supposed to be over September 20th, but I fear that I accidentally replaced it with my own personal retrograde, and I am telling you right now, NO MORE. I just plain refuse. Nobody else I know is allowed to get sick or hurt. Ever. Got it?

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Monday, October 06, 2003

Post Poned 

This post has been postponed due to my husband asking me to take him to the hospital emergency room ASAP.
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Sunday, October 05, 2003

Miss Stated 

Some phrases or buzzwords that annoy the heck out of me:

Do you have phrases that you find annoying? Send 'em to me and I will compile a list of phrases to be exiled.
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Saturday, October 04, 2003

RSS = NQSSS, Part 3  

(Really Simple Syndication = Not Quite So Simple Syndication)

News Aggravators, um, I Mean Aggregators

When I first wrote on this topic (see RSS = NQSSS, Part 1) I had created my .rss text file and uploaded it to my server. I used a validator (FeedValidator.org) to make sure that my coding was good. I also placed an icon linking to my .rss file in the left column of this blog. In RSS = NQSSS, Part 2, I was trying to make my blog available to the general public, I submitted my .rss file to several different sites that collect this type of information (Aggregator.UserLand.Com , syndic8, NewsIsFree.com, and Feedster).

Sometime after that last post I also stumbled across BlogStreet.com and submitted my site there, which is why you see the BlogStreet icon in my left panel there. (According to their direx, I don’t have to leave it there forever…just until they add me to their database, and then I can remove it.)

Then I started getting involved in other projects and forgot about all of this temporarily. I figured I would eventually hear back from one or more of the sites I submitted my URL to, but so far I haven’t. So I have no idea whether I am actually in their database or not. I will be patient (who, me?) and wait a bit longer.

Today I started doing a little bit more reading on the topic and came across the Bloglines site. Bloglines is a free Web-based news aggregator.

Don’t worry…I had no idea what that meant, either. Apparently, it’s the reason WHY I had to make my blog available as an RSS file in the first place. RSS files “feed” news aggregators. A news aggregator is a program that, at regular intervals, reads a set of information sources in one of several XML-based formats (such as RSS). When the program finds new data (blog postings, news, etc.), it conveniently displays them (typically in reverse-chronological order) on a single page.

If you ever worked with a newsreader program back in the heyday of Usenet News, then you are already familiar with the basic concept. You find news feeds (such as blogs that publish an RSS file, like mine) that you are keen on and then you subscribe to them. Subscribing means you tell the news aggregator software that you want to read these sources on a regular basis.

But apparently there’s more to this. If you are reading a blog (or any other data source that is published as an RSS file, such as a news site), you can choose to grab that info, place it in your own blog and then comment on it. So really, news aggregators and blogging software are really just two sides of the same coin. Where blog software is for writing, news aggregators are for reading. Note that I could not find a way to do this on the web-based Bloglines, so it might be something you can only do if you download a news aggregator to your own hard drive. (Either that, or I just haven’t figured it out at Bloglines yet.)
So my next step is to find a news aggregator and download it to my computer.

You’ll know more when I do!

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Friday, October 03, 2003

Hot & Sour Craving Soup 

Autumn’s chilly air always makes me want soup. There’s a Thai restaurant in Philadelphia that has amazing hot & sour soup. It’s shockingly hot, with a heat so intense that it tricks you into eating it quickly in a failed attempt to put the fire out. (If you love spicy food as much as I do, that last sentence will make perfect sense.) Their soup isn’t like the cornstarch thickened soups that are served at most Asian restaurants; the broth is clearer and the sweet and sour flavors are incredibly well balanced. It never failed to clear my head.

I craved this soup. So much so that I worked on trying to duplicate it at home for months. While I don’t think my recipe is anywhere near the same as theirs, I do get a very strong craving for it…hence the name “Hot & Sour Craving Soup.” The first time I made it correctly, I ate it for five days in a row!

Ingredients:How To:

  1. Bring the chicken stock and the fresh ginger root to a slow boil for two or three minutes.
  2. Remove the ginger slices and discard. Turn the heat down to medium low.
  3. Add the rest of the liquid ingredients, the sugar, and the white pepper. NOTE: Don't inhale as you add the white pepper! Stir gently.
  4. Add the bamboo shoots and the tofu. Stir gently.
  5. Bring the soup to a slow boil again and quickly add in the lightly beaten egg while stirring. Remove the pot from the heat immediately and continue to stir to break up the egg pieces.
  6. Place the soup in bowls and garnish with scallion and cilantro.
Serves four as an appetizer, or two as a meal.

This soup won second place in a local recipe contest. If you give the recipe a try -- let me know how you liked it.
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Thursday, October 02, 2003

More About the Mattress 

More About the Mattress

Last night I remembered something else about the whole used mattress buying experience. Because I lived in a basement apartment, and the only door opened directly onto steps that went down and to the left, I never actually got the mattress into my apartment. No matter how I tried, it wouldn't fit.

So, I sold the mattress and box spring that same day to a girl who lived up on the 3rd floor. I told her about the man and what he’d said about his sister. She laughed and handed me the cash.

Easy come, easy go.
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Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Remembering a Bit of Found Poetry 

The summer before graduate school (1982) I moved into my own little basement apartment in a small town not far from campus. The apartment was just right for me – knotty pine walls, a block from town, and very inexpensive. I decided that I needed a new mattress, and not having much (ok, any) money, I started searching the newspaper classified ads for a used mattress.

The ad I answered read something like “Double mattress, practically new, very clean, $50.00.” The man’s voice was full of gravel and smoke. He gave me directions to a sod farm a couple of towns over from where I was living, so I hopped into my old gray Omega and headed out to the farm with a girlfriend.

The man was in his 60’s, dressed in farmer’s overalls and a dark flannel shirt. Although he had obviously just showered and dressed (his wet hair was slicked back and the scent of fresh soap hung about him), everything about him seemed permanently stained the color of the rich soil surrounding his little house…his hands, the knees of his trousers. When he shook my hand in greeting, it felt more like the surface of cement than living flesh.

He ushered us into the spotless and spare living room, where the mattress and box spring leaned up against the far wall. He introduced the items like they were old acquaintances, which I guess they were, being more than twenty years old. He and his sister had lived alone in the house almost all of their adult lives, and she had recently died.

I was pleased with what I saw. Both pieces were covered in a rich golden floral fabric and looked well cared for.

I remarked to the man that the mattress and box spring looked brand new, and, although I am writing this account nearly 21 years later, I will never forget the poetry of his exact reply: “They belonged to my sister. My sister was a clean woman; she never married, you know.”


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