Category Archives: Tourism

Missing Christmas

Missing Dad Christmas

Christmas came. Christmas 2014 is over. Most of the day I spent by myself, remembering past holidays when my own children were little. And of course, that also got me recalling the wonderful and cherished family members that attended Christmases when my brothers and I were little kids. So I mostly had a day of reminiscing and MISSING CHRISTMAS. My own parents were much younger than I am now when I was a little child and we had large family gatherings at our home filled with lotsa favorite cousins and Aunts and Uncles, as well as my beloved Grandparents. (The Grandparents and all of the Uncles are gone now and I have 1 Aunty left) After devouring a most scrumptious meal lovingly prepared by the fabulous cooks in our family (everybody had their ‘specialties’ which we came to expect and look forward to), the bigger kids would help to clear away dishes and arrange kids in the living room, my Daddy would mysteriously disappear, and soon thereafter Santa would come and hand our gifts. We had joyous holidays at our home.

1st Christmas with Daddy-5 months old-1956

Now my precious Daddy, pictured with a 1-year-old ME in the photo, is celebrating Christmas in heaven, and has been for a few years. I am sad, and the tears still flow because I miss him sooooo much. But I have learned not to be selfish, for I know that this is his ‘reward‘ and it is surely glorious beyond anything that my mind can imagine. Besides, this is Daddy’s very first Christmas in heaven with ALL 5 of his big brothers and his sister and his folks so I’m certain that they’re having a GRAND TIME! I still am blessed to have my darling Mama, pictured with me in the photo of my 1st Christmas, even tho she’s spending Christmas at her Hoosier home in Indiana. She does always hope for that ‘White Christmas‘, whether or she gets it is another story! The only white that I wanna see in the winter is the sugary white sands of the beaches on the Gulf of Mexico!

Mama&Jeannie-1st Christmas

I’m also missing my baby boy this Christmas. That’s him pictured with me when he was a young’un. He lives in PA with his fiancee and wasn’t able to come home to FL for Christmas since he’d just been here in October. But I’ll be seeing him in April when we all gather in Indiana for Mama’s 80th Birthday Celebration!

Mama & Joey Easter 1988

So even tho I spent most of my daytime yesterday MISSING CHRISTMAS, in the evening I did get to have supper with my other 2 kids and my daughter-in-law! We had a yummy meal and then our gift exchange at my son’s apartment. I enjoy living in central Florida; the down-side is sharing my kiddies with the tourists since this is officially ‘The Tourism Capital of the World’! My daughter and my son and his wife DO WORK for a giant Mouse, after all! Even tho it’s not cold here….it is very festive!

Waikiki Chase

Aerial Waikiki

Today I have 2 young cousins that are in Waikiki. They’re first cousins and didn’t even know that the other would be there too until their mothers informed them today of their posts that they read on Facebook! One is there for the Honolulu Marathon Week festivities and the other is just there for a short stopover before she heads for a much-needed 3-week vacation to be with her Mama, who lives on Kauai. Of course, this reminds me of a myriad of fabulous memories and events that I’ve enjoyed in Waikiki throughout the past 40 years, but thinking about the Honolulu Marathon being run tomorrow makes me think about my own WAIKIKI CHASE that occurred 26 years ago. The photo above is an aerial photo that was taken recently of Waikiki but the shoreline is basically the same, although the sandy beach area in front of the Sheraton Waikiki isn’t nearly as expansive as it used to be. The 2 red stars that I have placed on this photo are the beginning and end points of this ‘chase‘.

When my (now ex) hubby was stationed on a ‘remote’ tour-of-duty on the Arctic Circle in the very northern part of Canada, the USAF sent the 3 children and I to Oahu for 14 months to be near Hickam Air Force Base. We assumed this would be our next assignment. It didn’t turn out to be so, Hurlburt Field in Florida’s Panhandle did, but that will be for another story. Our favorite activities were going to the beaches and to the zoo. Luckily, the beaches are free and we had an annual pass that included both the Honolulu Zoo and the Waikiki Aquarium. My daughter loved watching clams and anything else that’d make it’s way into the sand, and running after the birds. My youngest son had his most fun building sandcastles. My oldest son played in the water and chatted with the tourists. That’s one of the main reasons that I usually chose to frequent the beaches with the lifeguard stands….because my 3 kids were ages 5 and under.

We always took a cooler to the beach with our sandwiches and drinks. I kept my wallet in the bottom of this cooler for safekeeping so that I’d not have to have a purse to sling over my shoulder every time the kiddies and I wanted to go into the water. We had a lot of ‘stuff’ that we took to the beach: beach towels, hats, sunblock and suntan lotion, aloe, 2 pairs of sunglasses for each of us, boogie boards, slippahs (flip-flops), assorted items to build sandcastles with, pails and shovels, cooler, bandages, and even an extra swimsuit for each of the kids. I had a couple of big cloth bags that fit all of this stuff and it fit into the trunk of my car. Our car always had this ‘beach kit’….ready for anytime that the mood struck us to ‘hit the beach’!

On this particular day, we were eating lunch at the Ft. DeRussy Beach, which is the military beach at the western end of Waikiki. My daughter started chasing a small flock of birds. I called to her but she didn’t hear me. The wind picked up and she kept running, so I grabbed a boy in each hand and took off after her, leaving ALL of our belongings behind. Every time we got close to her, I’d call out to her but she didn’t hear me. She was 3-years-old and her only thought was to run and laugh as she chased those birds! She was having a blast while the boys and I were barely able to keep her within our sight! The tourists paid no attention and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me to ask a lifeguard for assistance. All I could think of was to get to my baby girl! We FINALLY caught up to her at the eastern end of Waikiki near the zoo. We’d run a total of 1.8 miles in the sand! My 5-year-old son caught her first and we all collapsed into the sand, exhausted. That’s when I realized that I didn’t want to make that long and tiresome trek back. I suddenly remembered that all of my belongings, including my wallet and keys, were almost 2 miles away. I decided to beg for a ride so that’s exactly what we did. I brushed off as much of the sand as we could, and then we went to the road, where The Bus comes along every 10 minutes. I was extremely thankful that the very first busdriver believed my story and let us ride for free!

When we got back to Ft. DeRussy, I was relieved that our stuff was still in the same spot where we left it. I was nervous as I stuck my hand down into the cooler but my untouched wallet and keys were actually there too! We gathered everything and walked to the car. Of course I made the kids pay extra attention to the long path as I drove along the exact route that we’d taken as we ran that 1.8 miles during our WAIKIKI CHASE!!! We were very tired when we got home but the ‘lecture‘ was minimal. My daughter never did catch those birds. She still tries though. She’s studying to be a Biologist with hopes of getting a Master’s degree in Zoology. Guess what? She DOES HAVE a special place in her heart for birds too! Hmmm, maybe it started when she was about 3 on a beach somewhere in Hawaii!

Morning Person

Daytona sunrise7

Mama always said that once I had kids, then I’d learn to become a MORNING PERSON….well, the oldest kid is 32 now so I reckon that if it’s not happened by now then IT AIN’T HAPPENING! Oh sure, I do enjoy the occasional sunrise but mostly I’m a person that’d rather sleep late and stay up late. Always have been and always will be.

I live precisely in the middle of the state of Florida. The tourism marketing folks claim that we’re 45 minutes to the Atlantic Ocean and approximately an hour to the Gulf-of-Mexico. That’s quite an exaggeration. My house is on the eastern end of Kissimmee, away from the theme parks, and it still takes me much more than an hour to get to the nearest Atlantic beach. If I wish to drive to the most beautiful beaches, which are the dazzling sugar-white sandy beaches west of the Tampa area….it’ll take from 90 minutes to 2 hours of drive-time because of the dreadful traffic and seemingly never-ending road construction which winds through Tampa. It’s worth doing it anyway because the beaches and sunsets over the Gulf rarely disappoint.

Once-in-awhile I will have an opportunity to spend a night someplace along the Atlantic Ocean. This is blissful for me and I always will leave my balcony door at least partially open so that I can smell the saltiness and can hear the sounds of the waves as they come-and-go, come-and-go. Other than music and the sounds of children’s laughter, this is surely my favorite sound. I sleep well whenever I’m near the ocean. Yes, I do have one of those ‘sound simulators‘ that imitates the sound of the waves upon the shore….this does assist in helping me to fall asleep during the rest of the year but it’s a sad substitute for the real thing. The photo above was taken the last time that my daughter and I had a weekend getaway in Daytona Beach, 90 minutes to the northeast, and sat on our hotel balcony viewing the sun as it greeted the new day. EVERY time it makes me long to live by the seashore again. We moved from Jax Beach 10&1/2 years ago to come to central Florida to become Disney Castmembers. All in all it was a good move, but I do very much miss our apartment that was directly across the street from the beach. I miss falling asleep to the sounds of the waves and our tinkling wind chimes as the ocean breezes would play with/through them nearly all the time. Walking our American Eskimo dog along the beach (after 5pm as per the law) every evening was a special pleasure for the children.

I’ve also lived near the Gulf of Mexico, though not as close to the actual beach. When my oldest son was in 1st grade and we’d just returned from Hawaii, my husband got stationed at Hurlburt Field (USAF) by Ft. Walton Beach, which is in Florida’s Panhandle. That was an astonishing place to live and the beaches there were the most spectacular of all. Our favorite was the Officer’s Club Beach near Destin and we visited once or twice weekly, along with picnicking. After having having just lived more than a year in Hawaii, my children were already ‘beachbunnies’ and still were wanting to be at the beach more than anyplace else that I could take them to play. I’ve lived on the island of Oahu a couple of times, so that means I’ve also lived near the Pacific Ocean too, both with and without children. I have frequented all of the kid-friendly beaches dozens of times and also have patronized beaches where I’d not dare to take my kids!

So I’ve lived on an island, where I could see the sunrise on one side and go to another side for a sunset….and I did that often. Now I live in a state that’s mostly geographically just a great big peninsula. I reckon I could watch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean in the morning and then cross the state and watch a Gulf sunset in the same day. But I don’t. I go to beaches on both sides but, alas, on different days. I still don’t like mornings so if I do go to the beaches at Cocoa or Daytona or Melbourne, which are MUCH quicker to get to, it’s gonna be late morning or noon-ish. But I do witness plenty of awe-inspiring sunsets, even though I have to fight traffic to get there, over at or near the more splendid beaches of Clearwater or St. Pete or Honeymoon Island. Come to think of it, if I ever bought a waterfront condo or home, I’d rather it be on the Gulf of Mexico because it’s just sooooo much more gorgeous. But real-estate prices and taxes also reflect that plus I’d get lots bigger condos (more square footage) for half the price on the Atlantic side….hmmmm, maybe that’ll be what it’ll ultimately take in order for me to become a MORNING PERSON after all! If I lived at the ocean again, I know that I’d not take it for granted because I like watching the sun come up. Maybe I’d better think about this!

Magnum Kiss

Smithsonian's Magnum P.I. shirt

Meeting and seeing celebrities has been a part of my life since the late 1970s when I attended college in Hawaii. A decade later when I returned to Oahu as an Air Force Officer’s wife with 3 very young kiddies in tow, I’d had many opportunities to teach them that celebrities have lives other than those that are portrayed on TV. We saw sooooo many celebrities that it seemed rather commonplace, especially since Hawaii is a popular vacation destination for them too. I’m thinking this is the reason that my children don’t particularly ‘go nutso‘ whenever they see somebody famous nowadays. This is a good thing because now they either are, or have been, Disney Castmembers and are once again seeing dozens of celebrities. I taught my kids not to pester famous folks for autographs (unless it’s a book signing, for example) or for photos because these people are only hoping to have an enjoyable vacation experience like everybody else! And to think that, for them it all started more than a quarter-of-a-century ago with my daughter and her ‘kiss‘….a MAGNUM KISS to be precise!

I took my children to the beaches of Oahu almost on a daily basis. There were numerous beaches to choose from so we liked to explore different areas and tried to find some of the quieter beaches. Of course we adored the ever-popular Waikiki Beach but my kiddies had a tendency to get away from me quickly there since the beaches were crowded and the children were ages 2, 3, & 5 and very quick. We also tried to go as early in the morning as possible so as not to get too overly pink; besides, the tourists were mostly still kinda hung-over from partying the night before and didn’t usually start arriving until 10:30 or later. By noon Waikiki & Kaneohe beaches are packed. So earlier was better for us. A breakfast picnic on the beach was fun and lovely!

One perfect morning we were at a particular beach, which shall go nameless for the sake of celebrities that enjoy the privacy of this stretch of beaches. I knew of several celebrities that lived in the area because of a former college job that I’d had delivering floral bouquets. So I sometimes brought the kids to this beach because it was usually very quiet and we were often the only ones there! But that morning there was a couple strolling far down the beach and my 3-year-old daughter saw them and recognized HIM before I did. She jumped up and started running down the beach towards them, hollering “Magnum, Magnum, Magnum!”. (she was too young to understand that he wasn’t actually named that in real life) I was embarrassed but had no choice but to leave our things, grab a hand of each of my boys and start running after her! We 3 were so much slower than she was by herself. Of course, by the time we finally caught up, she’d already made her way to ‘the man from the TV‘ and his then-girlfriend Jillie. So there I stood, face-to-face with THE HEART-THROB of the decade, apologizing profusely to Tom Selleck and his girlfriend while he held my daughter and acted like he honestly didn’t mind! Tom and Jillie were the nicest, sweetest people and were extremely kind to my 3 children as we chatted for 20 minutes or so. My daughter didn’t wanna let go of him but he kissed her cheek and she giggled….probably his mustache tickled!

That was a memory-of-a-lifetime for her! Me too! Oh, and by the way….my daughter’s name is Jillian. She’s always liked her name. Sometimes we call her Jillian, and often she goes by Jill. But you’d better believe that after meeting ‘Magnum’s girlfriend‘ that my 3-year-old preferred us to call her Jillie for about a year after that encounter. She was as much enthralled with Jillie Mack as she was with Tom Selleck! For MANY years afterwards, we’d ask her: “Where did MAGNUM KISS you?” and she would always coyly point to her cheek and smile. Such a precious memory to have her very first non-family-member KISS be from such a handsome man! Aaahhh….could I possibly have been jealous of a 3-year-old?

1st Love

My 1st love-age 12-Middle School band

I’m thinking that if somebody looks at this photo before reading this blog then there’s bound to be a bit of confusion. But nope….my 1ST LOVE was band! In this photo I was 12 and had no beaux to speak of, nor did I want any. I had my pals, the boys that I grew up with and played with since childhood and that was all right with me!

I was a ‘late bloomer‘ when I started band. Most of my classmates that’d been interested in playing instruments had begun 2 years before. I started late and had a lot of catching up to do. I certainly did! This was probably the first time in my young life that I’d ever taken anything seriously enough to develop an extreme passion for it. I practiced and practiced and practiced, and I was GOOD! Luckily I had a band director that worked with me to give me lessons during that beginning summer on my own since I’d not had the ‘group lessons‘ that the rest of my classmates previously had. So I started out having to be in the 6th-grade band as an 8th-grader, that first fall when I had my original beginning band experience. It wasn’t fun being with the younger kids, plus my school itinerary was quite messed up in order to accommodate my classes so I practiced even more at home, 2-4 hours nightly (yes, I DID learn to drive particular family members crazy whenever I wanted to!) so that by the time spring term rolled around, I’d moved up to 7th-grade band. I skipped 8th-grade band altogether because I got more than caught up during the next summer vacation….so much so that when I began high school in the fall, I moved to the lead of ALL of the freshman clarinetists! Of course I was 1st-Chair Clarinetist as a Senior and had lots of solos, which I loved!

This evening my daughter and I were watching a TV reality show and one of the given tasks was to learn to march. I found it humorous that the couples were having so much trouble doing so, even after several attempts. My daughter was surprised when I stood up and marched around the house, CORRECTLY, showing her that I still knew how to do every command and make every turn although I’d not done it for approximately 4 decades! She was quite impressed and even asked me to write my blog about my love of band! Awwww!

In my high school we had marching band in the fall semester and concert band in the spring semester. I adored them both! Nowadays, I reckon I was then what was called a ‘Band Geek‘! I spent any and all free time in the band room. Band was my forte. I went to band camp every summer throughout high school at Purdue University. I was awarded the honor of being named to the McDonald’s All-American Band during my Senior year. Unfortunately, I turned down that honor because I was also invited to audition for the American Musical Ambassadors the same year. I chose to do that instead, and was surprised at the auditions to learn that several hundred invitations had been sent out to audition for each individual spot. I did manage to be one of the 2 representatives chosen for the state of Indiana so I got to make a grand European trip, playing 1 or 2 daily concerts EACH DAY in various cities all over Europe! It was the opportunity of a lifetime and I cherish those memories immensely! It was also my first time being away from home but I got a taste of what it was going to be like to go away to college when I returned from the trip. It was so very much fun selecting souvenirs from Europe for my parents and brothers and Gramma! My parents were usually the ones that’d traveled lots, and my brothers and I would always remind them to bring us something. It was a tremendous joy for me to be able to be the one to select the ‘treasures‘ and give them out for a change!

Now my clarinets (I have 3) and my flute and my daughter’s oboe sit in my closet. It would presently cost a lot of money to get my main instrument ‘overhauled‘ in order to get it back into ‘playing condition‘, because it wasn’t a cheap clarinet. For my 16th Christmas, my parents bought me the best clarinet that money could buy, all the way from Paris! When I went to college in Hawaii and took private lessons from a member of the Honolulu Symphony, even my instructor was constantly trying to buy it from me. But I wouldn’t give up my 1ST LOVE!!! I’m just hoping that someday perhaps one of my grandbabies will love music as much as I did. Then my clarinet can possibly come back to life!

Shrimp & Grits

Shrimp&Grits

I am definitely NOT understanding why these Southerners have such a fascination with one of their favorite dishes: SHRIMP & GRITS. Separately, my tastebuds find each of these absolutely delicious. But put them together, and NOT SO MUCH! Last year I posted the following short paragraph on Facebook before after having tried this dish for the 1st time. What followed was a deluge of recipes that astounded me! Here’s what I wrote last year:

“OK, so what’s the big deal about SHRIMP & GRITS? It’s supposed to be something special in the south…..I kept avoiding it even tho I’ve been making grits for my kiddies ever since they were tots & I love shrimp in any way, shape, or form that I’ve ever eaten it. Since I’ve lived in 8 cities in Florida plus 2 cities in Georgia for a total of approximately 20 yrs., I figured maybe it’s time to finally try some of these ‘shrimp & gritstogether…..so I chose a famous restaurant & had my 1st & ONLY taste……YUCK! I’ll stick to eating them separately! So much for that particular so-called ‘southern delicacy‘!!!”

I was surprised that many of the recipes actually came from several of my northern friends! Some even came from pals overseas! And you had better believe that most of my followers that commented were extremely adamant about their LOVE of SHRIMP & GRITS! I had no idea that I’d started such a ruckus. Yes, I did indeed try many of the recipes.

Shrimp is my 3rd-favorite meat, following Salmon and Scallops. I’m a seafood-lover. I probably enjoy preparing each of these at least 2 dozen ways on a regular basis. Cheesy Grits has been a favorite of my children since they were young’uns. It can be the breakfast or lunch meal alone, or served as a side dish at supper. When we were stationed in Hawaii, I knew to pack several boxes of grits. A decade before, as a college student at Chaminade University in Honolulu, I’d been saddened to learn that no grits were to be sold on the island of Oahu. The entertainer Al Harrington (who played Dr. Ben Kokua in the original ‘Hawaii 5-0‘) used to tease in his stage show to the tourists “What…you no like our POI? Well, we Hawaiians no like your Grits either!” This delighted the Mainlanders and caused a wave of laughter and applause (every time) throughout the audience. By the way, I DID like the poi, but I never could get Al Harrington to let me make a bowl of grits for him! (he used to chat with me in Waikiki as I sold tickets to his show)

This photo is of the SHRIMP & GRITS that were my supper tonight. Yep….I’ve tried everybody’s recipes. I still don’t have a particular fondness for them and would prefer them separately! But I was gonna have Shrimp tonight anyway and my daughter was hungry for Grits so I figured that I may as well make up my own recipe and write about it!

Remembering Corcovado

Corcovado sunset

 

This photo is a beautiful sunset image of the Cristo Redentor, or ‘Christ the Redeemer’, statute atop Corcovado Mountain in Brazil. Yes, I HAVE been all the way to the top of that mountain! I was fondly REMEMBERING CORCOVADO as I’ve been perusing photos from very long ago, this one from the mid-1970s.

I was still a teen, a college freshman, when I convinced my family to let me do a semester in the jungles of Brazil as a student missionary. There were a handful of us from the college, and one day the missionary took us into Rio de Janeiro on our way to someplace else. We were very young and naive Christian students that seemed shocked at the big city! I’d never seen so much flesh displayed as on the beaches there in Brazil! I thought that I had seen bikinis before, after all I’d been to Waikiki….and Hawaii was (and is) my favorite place on this planet. But nothing prepared my eyes for Copacabana Beach and the string bikinis and thongs on both females and males of all ages. Needless to say, the missionary wasn’t letting us dawdle there, we were passing through on our way to the old train to take us up the mountain. Corcovado means ‘hunchback‘ in Portuguese, which is the language of the Brazilian people, the only country on the South American continent to not speak Spanish. I probably learned about 5 words of Portuguese throughout my time in Brazil, but since our group was working at a youth camp in the jungle, it mattered not to the children of Brazil. I think they delighted in hearing us trying to sing their hymns because they clapped and laughed and gave us lotsa hugs anyway!

The train made it’s way up 2&1/2 miles to the top of Corcovado Mountain, which is in the Tijuca Forest, a national park. We then had to climb more than 200 steps. At that point it was so very foggy that we were unable to see any of the 125-foot statue except the base because we were up so high that we were literally in the clouds! We waited a long, long time with our cameras ready to snap photos. The clouds were moving fast but they were so numerous that it seemed that we were in the midst of some sorta ethereal white cotton candy forest and all we could see were the toes of Jesus! It was surreal ‘standing at the feet of Jesus‘, knowing that He’s there but not quite being able to see Him. Oh my, just like in REAL LIFE!!! We stood thataway for more than an hour before the clouds moved for only 3-4 minutes, just long enough for everybody to GASP, and then to get a couple of pictures. Then the clouds covered the statue again. The tour guides said that some days are like that all day long but that those are also usually the days with the most magnificent sunsets from below, which did certainly prove to be true for us.

Looking out over Rio de Janeiro was one of the most amazing vistas I’ve ever personally witnessed. We could see the Atlantic Ocean, all of Rio and Copacabana Beach, and even further than Sugarloaf Mountain, which stands ‘guarding’ the other end of the city of Rio de Janeiro. One day in Rio was all that we had. REMEMBERING CORCOVADO plays in my mind as being the inspiration of that trek. We still had an extremely long and arduous journey to our mission camp, somewhere along the Rio Parana. This was the remotest locale that I’ve ever visited in my life. We worked hard for weeks, ate rice and beans with every meal, and were rewarded with the smiles and friendships of the Brazilian children. All in all, a most satisfying mission!

LAST DOLL

birthday dolls for my 58th

Yesterday my 58th birthday came and left. My daughter bought me a couple of adorable dolls, pictured above. My mind wanders back to my LAST DOLL that my folks had verrryyy reluctantly bought me more than 45 years ago for Christmas when I was probably 12 or 13. I was much too old to PLAY with dolls but I’d gotten it into my mind that I wanted a Raggedy Ann doll! You see, I’d never been a little girl to play with baby-dolls although my Mama and Gramma had bought me plenty over the years. They’d even tried to entice me to play ‘dress-up’ and ‘tea party‘ by sewing little outfits for the dollies but I still wasn’t interested. I did, however, go through a period of playing Barbies with a little girl that lived about a mile away but I think that was just an excuse to get to ride my bike alone down the country road and antagonize the big ugly bull (that was fenced-in) as I passed by! Also, I thought it was fun when it was MaryLou’s turn to come to my house because she many more Barbie dolls and so we’d sneak into my brother’s toybox and get out his G.I. Joe’s to use as ‘boyfriend dolls’ because we had more than enough girl dolls for just the Ken and Alan dolls! My oh my, how annoyed my brother would get when he would catch us! That somehow made it worthwhile. Those dolls had all been stored away or given to charity several years before, so my folks were probably thinking I was silly for asking for a Raggedy Ann doll. I didn’t really wanna PLAY with it; I just wanted it to look pretty on my bed. After all, most of my friends had one from their childhood and that’s when I’d realized that I didn’t have one. So on Christmas morning, one of my gifts was indeed the Raggedy Ann doll. Mama has the photo in her scrapbook of me in my jammies holding the doll and the inscription says “Jeannie’s last doll”. (I’m tthinking that she figured that if she wrote it down, then that’d make it true!)

Ever since my own children were preschool age, we’ve enjoyed numerous trips to DisneyWorld. As an Air Force family we did get to live in Florida a few times, plus Texas, Hawaii, and Georgia. All the times that we lived in Florida or Georgia, we kept Annual passes to the theme parks in the Orlando area. We would visit as often as possible. When the children were very small, of course we were more limited on which attractions that they could ride on. Growth spurts meant excitement because it added more rides in each of the parks that they were tall enough to go on. It got to the point that they didn’t wanna go on some of the old rides that they considered ‘kiddy rides‘….for example, my VERY FAVORITE at Magic Kingdom: ‘It’s a Small World’. Naturally, I told them that they had to go on that because it’s my favorite! It got to the point where it became a joke/battle: “Mama, do we have to go on ‘Small World’ again this trip”? I ALWAYS said, “YES, WE DO”! They’d try to trick me, make me forget about it, etc., etc. but I always won. I simply said that if we didn’t ride that attraction….well, then I’d be singing that song all evening in the motel room! Ten years ago, these same kids of mine and I became Castmembers at ‘The Most Magical Place On Earth’! Still, whenever we go to Magic Kingdom on our days off….the joke remains. Altho now I’m in a wheelchair and one of my darlings is pushing me, while trying to steer clear of Fantasyland hoping that I won’t think of ‘It’s a Small World’, we usually still ride that attraction! The kiddies are now 29, 30, & 32….they still say “Do we have to?” and I still reply “YES WE DO”! It has become our tried-and-true time-honored tradition for them to TRY! After all, I’m old now. I’m disabled. I don’t know how many years I’ll still be able to enjoy it so I wanna ride my favorite!!!

A couple of weeks ago my daughter and I were in the Disney Store in the biggest mall of the area. Normally I don’t go to malls and I cannot even recall the reason that she talked me into it on this particular occasion, but I agreed. I saw a display of ‘Small World’ dolls. She saw it too and quickly turned my wheelchair around….she was hoping I’d not seen it yet but HA! I had! Too late! I told her that I ‘just wanted to look‘ so I was looking at how cute and how BIG they were PLUS they were on sale AND she gets a hefty Disney Castmember discount on top of that. Just as we were about to turn around….that’s when I saw her at the very bottom: the Hawaiian doll! (I’ve been to Hawaii 11 times, have lived there, attended college there, my children have lived there too, many of my friends still live there, it’s my favorite place of all!) She was soooo cute and adorable. I picked her up and pressed her tummy and she sang the chorus to ‘It’s a Small World’. My daughter immediately said “Ohhhh, now that’d get annoying really fast so please don’t even think about it.” I started to put the doll back but when I tapped her tummy the second time, she sang the song in Hawaiian and I WAS IN LOVE!!! My dear daughter said “Nope” and wheeled me outa that store fast! We headed towards the food court, looking at a few kiosks along the way. I ordered my Chinese food and she ordered her vegetarian meal. We talked about our upcoming birthdays. She finished her meal much sooner than I did so I told her to leave me there for awhile. As she hurried away, I thought I heard her muttering “I know I’m gonna regret this”! When she returned, I pretended NOT to notice the Disney Store bag that she slipped onto the back of my wheelchair and tried to contain my smile!

I’d forgotten about the gift until we returned from my birthday supper last night. That’s when my daughter gave me the doll and I suddenly remembered about it; I was so thrilled that I called a couple of people and let the dolly sing into their voice-mail! Yeah, that might’ve been a bit over-the-top but it was fun! She also gave me a little Maleficent doll. Maleficent has always been my favorite Disney villianess and the recent movie of the same name was deliciously delightful. I soooo enjoyed Disney’s re-imagining of the character for this movie plus the casting of Angelina Jolie was a remarkable choice. So I got my 2 cutie little ‘dolls’ for my 58th birthday. Who would’ve ever guessed that? Hmmm, 45 years ago my Mama’s prediction wasn’t exactly correct but will this be my LAST DOLL? I just do not know! What’s this second childhood that I keep hearing about? Am I getting to the approximate age for that yet? Could all these years at Disney have helped that along? We’ll see! Oh, and as for my daughter….I’m sure it comes as NO SURPRISE that she was already tired of hearing ‘It’s a Small World’ shortly after giving me the doll! Awwww….well, her birthday is next week!

Gorillas Laugh

Gino at DAK

Ten years ago when we drove 3 hours from Jacksonville Beach to DisneyWorld to see about getting summer jobs, my youngest kids and I had no way of knowing that our lives would never be
the same. Little did we know, we’d turn that part-time summer job into full-time careers and wouldn’t be returning to Jax Beach. We’d learn a new way to point, we’d learn to ‘ad-lib’ at the drop-of-a-hat, and we’d learn to always carry a bandana in each pocket to wipe sweat. My 2 youngest kids would quickly find out that Animal Kingdom is the hottest park on purpose because of the critters and luxurious foliage and that the animals’ comfort was more important than people’s! My daughter was excited to get assigned to the Pangani Forest Trail because that’s where she’d get to educate Guests about the Western Lowland Gorillas, Colobus Monkeys, Naked Mole Rats, numerous species of birds, meerkats, hippos, and a few other animals. She was deliriously happy because she wanted to become a Zoologist and, at the time, was just beginning college. She was definitely in the right place. The gorillas quickly became her favorite, even though they were very intimidating. Her stories she told when she came home were so much fun, especially when she discovered that GORILLAS LAUGH!

I’m glad that the laughter that my children bring to my life hasn’t stopped now that the 3 of them have become adults. When they were small, their cutesy and endearing antics would be things that I’d mention in letters that I’d write to my Mama and my Daddy and my Gramma. I couldn’t help but share these wonderful moments with my loved ones because we lived far away, moving around from Air Force base to Air Force base, and these were ways for the grandparents to feel connected and to help to add a ‘personality‘ to the many photos that I’d share. The kiddies were all a humorous bunch, but each in a different sort of way. My youngest boy was a natural clown; he’d say or do things at the oddest times that would make me laugh so much that I’d often have tears coming down my cheeks! The funny thing is that he didn’t even mean to. My oldest boy was, and is, an attention-seeker. He was always looking for and making up ways to make us laugh, which often leads to some of the worst jokes ever (he gets this ability to come up with stupid jokes from my brothers, unfortunately). Both of my sons haven’t changed in this respect….they’re still silly and corny. My only daughter has a totally different kinda way of making me laugh. You see, she’s your typical average everyday ‘genius‘….and everything that comes along with ‘the package‘; and by that I mean that SHE HAS LITTLE COMMON SENSE! That, in itself, is so very funny at times. The older she gets, the smarter she gets (she’s definitely surpassed me long ago), and of course, the smarter she gets….more and more ‘common sense‘ flies away somewhere! And oh! Did I mention that she’s also blonde? But she IS SUPER INTELLIGENT! I kid you not! Of course, my brothers adore teasing her. Add her vegetarianism to the mix and family get-togethers can be quite rough on her sometimes as her Uncles have probably had about a year between visits to come up with more dumb jokes and to pick on her! I never worry though, she’s one smart cooky. Over the years she’s learned to reply with some rather quick-witted retorts!

Back to the gorillas. At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the Pangani Forest Trail has 2 troops of Western Lowland Gorillas. The bachelor troop usually consists of 4 guys. They are separated from the family troop but Guests can view them from afar. However, both troops definitely can sense and can smell each other so this can be rather interesting at times. The family troop is a breeding troop and consists of a silverback and females and young gorillas. This number has changed many times in the 10 years that we’ve been here and I cannot wait to be 1 of the first visitors to that park when a new baby gorilla is allowed out into the gorilla habitat! Yep, those gorillas are now MY favorite too. I’ve sat and stared at that silverback for an hour or more at a time because as far as gorillas are concerned….he is 1 gorgeous specimen! He’s also a good breeder. He currently has offspring at many zoos across the country. My daughter tells lotsa stories about him.

Disney treats their animals like royalty. Their habitats are fabulous. I legally cannot tell you how nice their ‘backstage‘ areas are. They are tended to constantly by Animal Keepers & Veterinarians that specialize in their fields. None of these animals were collected from the wild. Disney is very ethical about this.

The family troop of gorillas has a big thick glass window so that Guests can view them. This only encompasses a teeny tiny portion of their vast habitat and the gorillas have the choice whether or not they want to ‘see the people‘. Often there aren’t ANY of them near the glass at all for the Castmember (who is basically acting as a ‘docent‘, explaining about this species) to refer to. There’s a heavy rope there to prevent Guests from pounding on the glass. The Castmember stands between this rope and the glass, with her back to the glass while facing the Guests and talking as folks are listening and peering out at the rocks and up the hill trying to spot gorillas. Or sometimes, especially in the hot afternoon, the big sleepy sliverback will be laying with his butt next to the glass where it’s cooler! Ohhh, how many times has my very patient daughter had to bite her tongue and NOT tell the Guest “No, I cannot tell the 400+ pound gorilla to turn over just so that you can get a better photo of his face!” Instead, the standard answer is “He’s actually displaying appropriate behavior. Facing you would be more of a challenge.” One day she came home to tell me the best story EVER! It seems that she was lecturing more than usual because none of the gorillas were visible and she didn’t want the Guests to be disappointed too much. There did seem to be an ever-growing crowd, however, and she assumed that the gorillas still weren’t nearby since nobody was taking photos yet. At this point, I must interject that these large apes are extremely intelligent primates….as of just 2 years ago, new research concluded that Humans and Western Lowland Gorillas are about 98% identical on a genetic level! My daughter and her fellow Castmembers at Pangani Forest Trail know each gorilla by sight and their characteristics, just as I know each of my children. I reckon that I ought NOT be surprised that these gorillas probably also recognize each of these Castmembers that they see on a daily basis too! Sooooo, when the silverback snuck up behind her and raised to his full big 6-foot-tall height and pressed against the glass, she still didn’t know he was there until she heard the audience gasp. Of course my 4′ 10″ daughter looked over her shoulder & was startled, jumped backed, and I’m sure her eyes were as big as those of all of the Guests as they were snapping their photographs wildly. What happened next delighted and surprised her tremendously….the silverback LAUGHED! His shoulders were actually moving up and down and up and down as he was having fun that he’d made her jump! I wish SO MUCH that I’d have been there because I know for sure that by this time, after the initial shock, she was giving him ‘the look‘ (I know ‘that look‘ very well).

A few months later my daughter left Pangani Forest Trail and moved on to another role within the same theme park–to drive the Kiliminjaro Safaris tours. It’s right next door to her former workplace so every few days she’d stop by and check on the animals that she became so fond of. On the Safaris attraction, there are many more animals that she gets to see on a daily basis and educate Guests about. Every once in awhile she’ll pick up an extra shift at Pangani Forest Trail. One time she hadn’t worn that familar green costume in a few months (her safari costume is khaki-colored) and she was looking forward to spending an hour or more with the gorillas. When she got to the family troop, the silverback saw her, recognized her, and then turned his back on her and wouldn’t look at her! She was puzzled. Later, she found out that he was probably mad at her for leaving! He didn’t understand why she’d come by sometimes in another color and I suppose he didn’t like it. Awwwww. It’s been 10 years now that she’s enjoyed her time at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, no matter where she’s working as long as she’s seeing animals daily. But I don’t think my daughter is ever going to forget the day that she found out that GORILLAS LAUGH!

Silly Hats

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Hats! Hats! Hats! It seems that my family certainly enjoys hats. Myself, as I’m getting older, I find that I’m having fun with SILLY HATS. Some of them are downright corny! I have so many hats that my walk-in closet has a wall entirely of hooks and that still isn’t enough for my ballcaps. I also have cowboy hats, straw hats, sun hats, fedoras, berets, Mickey Mouse ears, etc., etc.

I’m not quite sure when I began wearing hats but I’d guess that the reason ‘why’ is because I was always fair-skinned and my folks were possibly attempting to protect as much of my face and neck from sunburn as the hat could. Being an outdoor kid in farm-country, my reason was probably fairly similiar to that of my parents: I didn’t want any more freckles! My brothers and I didn’t really have a large collection of hats long ago, we just grabbed whatever cap was hanging by the back door on our way out to do our chores or to play or whatever.

Times have indeed changed now! One of my brothers rarely wears hats but the older one is almost always seen with a ballcap. He was the sports jock of the family. Nowadays, his photos usually show him sporting a cap with either Chicago Bears or Cubs or Bulls or Indiana Pacers or Indianapolis Colts logos. My youngest son doesn’t like to wear hats unless it’s absolutely necessary but my daughter and my oldest son almost always are wearing a cap, just like their Mama….and their Uncle….and their Grandpa before!

As a college student in Honolulu, ballcaps once again made sense, especially to keep the sun out of my eyes while surfing and my thigh-length braid fit perfectly through the hole in the back while also helping to hold the cap onto my head. Besides, my family in Indiana had fun sending me ‘care packages from home’, and these often included caps proclaiming that I was a ‘Hoosier’ or from ‘Indiana’, as if I’d forget! A decade later when my three children were small and the U.S. Air Force moved us to Oahu, my fair-skinned kiddies wore lotsa hats plus sunscreen and sunglasses. I didn’t even realize the vast assortment of hats that we’d accumulated until it was time to move on to our next assignment (in Ft. Walton Beach, FL) and I started packing ALL THOSE HATS!

Ten years ago, my children and I moved to central Florida ‘just for the summer’ to become Castmembers at DisneyWorld; we’re still here! I don’t know if it has something to do with the quirkiness of the Guests that visit here from around the world, or if it’s the genuine cheerfulness of everyday life here in this area….but I’ve found that this area truly is a very HAPPY place and I really do like living around tourists and all of these asorted cultures! The older I get, the bolder and more eccentric I’m getting too. So now I have some hats that I would not have ever dreamed of wearing when I was younger! Such fun it is to put on these SILLY HATS and see what kind of reactions I can get outa my adult kids now!