Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Epcot at Christmas

On Monday I took a half day off to go to Epcot with my daughter. She made the very hard to get reservations months ago, for dinner at the Spice Road Table restaurant, and then the Candlelight Processional with Neil Patrick Harris as narrator. Epcot rotates a series of celebrity narrators through this event, and NPH and Whoopi Goldberg are definitely the biggest names. The rest were bona fide celebrities like Meredith Viera, but when I think "stage performance before a live orchestra and choir," I really don't think Cal Ripken, Jr. No kidding, he's one of the readers this year. Like the rest of the huge crowd, we wanted the guy with the Tony Award or Whoopi, so it was a very full theater.

We got there mid-afternoon, which was plenty of time to ride on Soarin' (still fabulous) and wander the shops before our 4 p.m. dinner reservation at Spice Road Table. We were starved. Neither of us had eaten lunch, so we were ravenous when we arrived. We weren't sure how the Candlelight Processional Dinner Package worked, and thought there would be a fixed menu for the event, as we'd paid a fixed price. Nope, we got to choose an appetizer, entree, and dessert off the regular dinner menu! Happiness!

We ate ourselves sick: We had the calamari and a precious mini baked brie topped with apricot and rosemary (the rosemary was a fantastic touch) for appetizers. She had the skewers of beef and chicken, I went with the tuna. I considered the vegetarian platter, which sounded really good, but I still have fond thoughts of the vegetarian platter across the way at the Tangerine Cafe, and didn't want to get something so similar for twice the price. It was a case of eating myself sick to get my money's worth, but I've been good ever since, I swear! The tuna was incredible - be warned, it is a bit on the spicy side, full of flavor but with a kick. I happen to love that kind of heat, and I became one of those people who takes pictures of their food.


On a heat-related note, I was reintroduced to the joy of iced mint tea! I used to make this regularly years ago, but stopped for no good reason at all. It was the perfect balance to the spicy calamari sauce and the even spicier grilled tuna, and now I want it all the time again.

It was a great experience and highly recommended. The wait staff is from Morocco and most have excellent English, but our waiter made up for his relatively thick accent with a lot of smiling charm and gesturing. Overall, the food was wonderful and the service excellent, and we will have to do it again sometime. My recommendation: unless you really want to stuff yourself, you could have a very enjoyable meal doing nothing but the appetizer small plates and then dessert, or split one entree, they are generous. That slab of tuna was ginormous, and my daughter's skewers of beef and chicken were not skimpy. We were stuffed to the point of pain by the time we scooped up the last of the amazing pistachio, orange water, and saffron custard dessert. It looked like creme brûlée, but had a totally unique flavor and an incredibly light texture. I'd love to learn to make it, but suspect it would take a week of full time training in their kitchen just to get close to the texture. It made the best creme brûlée I've ever had seem like Jello pudding from a box. We could taste the distinct flavors of pistachio and orange water! The texture and delicate flavors were absolutely amazing.

When were were stuffed to the point of waddling in pain, we wandered a few more shops before it was time for the Candlelight Processional.

Needless to say NPH was a HUGE draw, and even the people with reserved seating like us were lined up long before the show. We became concerned that we'd have to stand around in line even with reserved seating, but were reassured that we could show up 10 minutes before the show and we'd be fine. The reserved seating line grew and grew, and we went from concerned to mildly freaked out because holy shit the line snaked around an insane distance and doubled back twice, and that theater doesn't look that big! They started seating about a half hour before the show, and we saw the line snaking forward and joined the end of it. Despite not standing in line forever, we had excellent seats halfway back in the middle of the theater. Trust Mickey's people, they know what they're doing seating these things.

The performance was wonderful, NPH was delightful, it was all worth it. I didn't take any pictures because I found the other people taking pictures and recording stuff damn distracting, so my phone remained in my bag. We agreed that Delaney wasn't quite ready for it, but would be by next year, when she'll know all the hymns instead of just a couple. YMMV, but I'd say six or seven is the right age to actually sit still and watch this. It's not an active show. It's the reader, the orchestra, the huge choir. Nobody dances and there are no princess appearances. It's a lovely big kid/grownup event, but unless you're raising a tiny choir kid already, it may get a bit boring. And here's a tip - don't sit on the sides up close. There are trumpeters on the wings of the stage. Just saying.

We did learn something we hadn't known, because I don't think we visited at Christmas before. (I know it sounds like I live there, but I really don't.) Epcot does a delightful Christmas around the world thing in the countries that celebrate, and it is an introduction to the many faces of Santa. We noticed a pretty display in the back courtyard of Great Britain and wondered what it was for, then went shopping nearby. While we were wandering the shops and my daughter was deciding whether to invest in anything Yardley, I heard a booming voice and stepped outside. It was Father Christmas! We later figured out that Father Christmas, Pere Noel, La Befana and I forget who else appear in their countries around the World Showcase, to talk about Christmas in their countries, and it's very small and personal, not a big stage show. We had to stop and listen to the end of La Befana's scheduled performance, and it was very charming and interesting. Holidays Around the World. Now we're trying to figure out how to fit it into the scant three weeks before Christmas, which is an even smaller window due to our passholder block out dates. Our passes don't work for the two weeks right around Christmas. We'd already planned to do the Magic Kingdom this weekend, and then Delaney has a dance performance and the Apopka Christmas Parade and other things going on, so we may have to postpone Epcot's Christmas until next year. But, knowing my daughter as I do, I suspect it will be squeezed into the schedule somehow.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Blogging in Bed with Tea and Sophie!!

I'm in bed with a snoring Boston Terrier and a cat pestering for more morning treats, writing this from my...shiny new MacBook! I did it. Apple made me do it. I've been saving my pennies here and there for many months, throwing an odd $20 into an online savings account for this purpose, and was halfway to my goal of $1400, when on Black Friday morning I happened to click onto the Apple website from the 10 year old iMac in my office, and saw that Apple was having a one day sale, offering a $150 e-gift card with some Macbook models, and 0% financing for 18 months. I already had half the purchase price in cash. I applied for the financing and was approved in five seconds, and then I spent the rest of the morning dithering over whether I should go ahead and buy, and which model, etc. I ended up with a 12 inch MacBook with the Retina display. It's so tiny and light it's ridiculous. I bought my last MacBook in 2007 and it still works, but it got so old that I can no longer update the OS so its functionality is very limited, to say the least. It was at the time a basic MacBook like this one, nothing fancy, and boy, they've come a long way in the last decade. AND I have an e-gift card for $150, which is going to be put toward a new iPad in a month or so. My iPad is likewise from an earlier era and still works, but is too big and heavy to carry around on a daily basis. I think this Mac might actually weigh less.

I've already prepped the HP Stream I bought a year or so ago for sale, and I'll list it on Amazon today. Someone will want it, it gets a lot of very positive reviews, and of course, one can't expect a $200 glorified netbook to hold a candle to an actual MacBook. It's a good tiny PC for the price, and my lightly used purple Stream will come with a sleeve and a mouse and make some kid happy. I'm loving this little machine so hard already - the keyboard is so big and responsive, the track pad is excellent, it's fast and amazing.

My blog updates should become more frequent as I can now do them from the couch, the dining room table, or the back porch. It was really hard to come home from sitting in a chair staring into two large monitors all day to sit in a different chair and stare into a third. And though this screen is only 12 inches, the retina display makes a huge difference for me in vision comfort. At one point yesterday I had this Mac and the HP Stream side by side on the dining room table, while I looked up how to reset the Stream to Windows factory default for resale, and the difference in the screens was so incredible, no wonder my eyes got tired and I hated using the Stream. This small screen is so crisp and bright and easy on my terrible eyesight.

Delaney spent the night Friday night, and an exhausting time was had by all. She helped me decorate the Christmas tree.

She's such a kid now, a non-stop talker, thinking out loud about everything, sorting out big questions about life and trying to understand how the world works. At one point she briefly got upset about something, I can't remember what, and I taught her a bit of meditation - breathe in, breathe out, just think about breathing - and it calmed her down. She was impressed with how it did work for her, and I'm now thinking that one of those children's meditation books I'd been previewing might be a worthwhile Christmas gift. She FaceTimed with her NC cousins for a bit, and held her first real conversation with her cousin Willa, who is almost two and talking. Of course the older girls did 98% of the talking before it devolved into being silly together; it's hell to be the youngest trying to get a word in.

It was a fun almost 24 hours of decorating, Christmas specials on Netflix, hot chocolate with marshmallows (though the AC was on Friday night) and talk, talk, talking. She woke up way too early on Saturday. I was exhausted by the time her dad came to collect her at nearly noon. (So was she; her mom reported that she had a screaming tantrum and then passed out for a nap later in the afternoon.)

Ellie hid under the bed. She came out in the night to use the litter box and eat something, but mostly she hid. She's a big coward, and she likes her quiet life with her Mom and her dog sister. Company upsets her strict routine of eating, watching birds, and napping in the middle of my bed. She hides from all company now, and I told Delaney not to take it personally.

There's much more to say and do. I have lots of thoughts about our new Orange Overlord and the future of the country, and voices of sanity I've found, and ways I'm trying to take better care of myself. Expect more regular updates now that I have this delightful little gadget! Christmas came early for me, whee!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Still in New Zealand. Please Forward My Mail to my Empty Field of F*cks.

Seriously. To quote the great Andy Borowitz: "This country is exhausting." I honestly cannot keep up with the daily barrage of unimaginable idiocy. My mild-mannered daughter-in-law posted on FB the other day, sincerely asking her conservative friends if this is what they voted for. No responses. So surprising.

OTOH, today I was behind a pickup truck. It had two bumper stickers: "GOPWTF" and "Do you really think Jesus would have owned a gun and voted Republican?" And I had the opportunity to pull up beside it to see the driver, expecting a Millenial. Nope, a white guy around my age. We are not all crazy in FL.

And of course Hillary Clinton actually won the election by probably around 2 million votes when the count is done, and got more votes than any other presidential candidate in history except Barack Obama. There is that.

And there is the fact that the Electoral College has failed six times in our country's entire history, but two of those failures have been in this century. Al Gore won the popular vote in 2000 (and we know how that story went) and now this. If that's not evidence that it has outlived its usefulness and is now actively circumventing the will of the people (or being manipulated), I don't know what is.

And there is the other number crunching that brings it down to about 25% +/- of the voting-capable population "winning" the election and putting a goddamn (let's just say it) leader of white nationalists into the highest office in a major and heavily armed world power, thank you Electoral College.

And you know, here's the weirdest thought I've had about this: I could hate everything he stands for, but I'd be less scared if I thought he gave a shit about anything involving this country, and wasn't just a front man for a flashy circus. You can fight on policy, you can fight on law. How do you fight batshit crazy? At last check-in, our president-elect has been whining on Twitter about those meanies in the cast of Hamilton for two fucking days. As I said on my son's FB page, if he really cared about being president, this would have been an incredibly easy way to say, "Of course we respect the contribution of immigrants, blah blah...wonderful speech from the cast of Hamilton!" and this would have been a non-story. He could not do that. Think about that.

He hasn't paid much attention to being president since being elected, but has met with his foreign business interests. And let's be clear: this guy hasn't been a "developer" as in building things with his own capital in a long time. He's a brand. Other people do the hard work, he slaps his gold-plated name on it to make it more valuable. And yes, it will be more valuable now, if he's in the White House, and this is of course a breathtaking and illegal conflict of interest. His daughter apparently sat in on a visit with the Japanese Prime Minister, to the amused horror of the Japanese media. Then of course there's the whole Russia meddling in the election with the help of the FBI, and WTF is going on?

Seriously, this situation scares the shit out of me. My best consolation is that it appears he has no idea what it means to separate himself from his business interests, no clue how the government works, no concept of the Constitution and can't stop being an asshole on Twitter, and will probably be impeached in his first year in office by his own people who now have the majority in both the House and the Senate, and that will leave us with President Pence, somebody nobody actually chose with their vote, so that is cold comfort indeed.

Remember those innocent days of a few weeks ago, when earnest liberal opinion writers were saying how the Clintons must step away from the Clinton Foundation, a very highly rated charity bringing life-saving drugs and clean water and good things to poor nations, because otherwise it would LOOK BAD? We can't have any taint of impropriety on the Office of the President! Yeah, thanks for all that, you certainly helped create this pathetic, embarrassing shitshow.

So, it's Thanksgiving this week!!! What am I thankful for? That's a bit of a stretch right now. Such a stretch that about half my coworkers and I have decided we will work Thanksgiving Day, and maybe bring in treats and hang out, working our real estate puzzles together. I don't mind a bit, I have more work than I can say grace over right now. I'm not in the mood to be festive yet. I'm working through the stages of grief, but there will be no acceptance. More on that later. Probably after my very compressed work week ends.

BUT I think things will look up after Thanksgiving. My daughter has wanted to do the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT, and Neil Patrick Harris will be the reader the night we attend. And before the performance we will be dining at a Middle Eastern restaurant on the water, which is entirely appropriate because Jesus wasn't born in Ohio, people. It's just a mother-daughter evening this year, to see if it's something Delaney would enjoy. Her mom thinks it's too much sitting still for her this year, and they do plan to take her to a couple of other church events that they won't have to pay for, so her Christmas will be sufficiently focused on the birth of Christ. Her mom just wasn't inclined to drop those extra bucks on an event with someone who might be BORED, MOM! We are doing the test drive, figuring that next year she will be six and ready for it. It's not like she's getting cheated on Disney Christmas, because a week later we will go to the Magic Kingdom to see the decorations and she can sit on Santa's lap and tell him her insanely long wish list.

The good news? I'm knitting again, and I finished the first Log Cabin destined for Willa. The second? It's a color palette failure. I just wasn't happy with it. So I ripped it back and took two huge 2.5 gallon plastic bags, and sorted the colors. After looking at them for a while, I decided that the two pale colors I regretted buying would really work with cream and pale gray. Meanwhile, I finally pulled out that Cascade Pacific I bought months ago for my own log cabin, but decided on the spot that I didn't want the "moderne" version. I love these bold colors and want them in a more intense stripe. I'm feeling bold and dramatic.

So, when I have the energy to write anything for fun again I will share what I've decided to do to resist the bullshit, on my own small and limited scale. One tiny candle, and all that.






Sunday, November 13, 2016

I've run away to New Zealand.

If only in my mind.

A recap of the weekend, as I attempt to calm the rage-monster about to become a serious alcoholic I've become since Wednesday morning:

I went to brunch with a woman I met when we both joined the same real estate brokerage years ago. Neither of us are still there, and neither of us are making our income from selling real estate, but she still has a hand in here and there. I still have an active license. We are both convinced that the model of real estate is changing, and brokerages don't work anymore, but that's neither here nor there.

What I got from the brunch: it was a very, very long brunch. We sat at an outside table in the shade for 3 hours and tipped the hell out of our awesome server, and got more than our money's worth, mentally and physically (we were stuffed and mildly buzzed when leaving), and I left feeling more peaceful.

We agreed right away that other than a brief "Can you believe WTF just happened to our country" we would focus other things. We talked business and art and our futures and our families. She's moving to an active adult community. I respect her choice and think it may be right for her, but I can't ever see myself doing it. I will visit her when she moves in, when they are having a band and lakeside party or whatever it is, and catch up with her then. Not my personal goal, but I do understand where she's coming from and think it will suit her, and hope it will work out.

I mostly want to get hooked up with her pottery studio, because damn, she's made some lovely stuff, and she's currently building a totem for the lanai of her new home, and it's freaking stunning and would cost a fortune to buy, and I'd love to learn to do that.

Brunch was a dream, and I am so afraid that it is so close to my home. After about three hours of refilling plates and daintily sipping endlessly refilled mimosas and talking and talking, we hugged goodbyes and vowed to do it again in a few weeks. I was not too buzzed to drive, and proved it by two hours later taking off for Animal Kingdom with my daughter and Delaney.

My immaculate new car is now somewhat less immaculate. Delaney barfed into a bag on the way, and some of it missed the bag. She's started being carsick again, and after some reviewing of circumstances we realized that in a big and soft-moving vehicle she needs to sit in the middle, so she can see forward. She's barfed in her mom's RAV4 twice so far, anytime she's on the highway. She didn't have an issue in my small and road-feeling Subaru on a 16 hour round trip to AVL, but yeah, these RAV4s are different, and apparently are too smooth and floaty. Her mother had the same issue, and had it until she was old enough to drive. Life is going to be hard for Delaney because it's now against the law to let her ride shotgun. After puking in my car she rode Expedition Everest AFTER eating a small bag of Doritos, so it's not normal motion sickness. We'll put her in the center of the car from now on. If she can look straight ahead out of the windshield it's okay, but that side view?

It was so weird, because as we were barreling down the 429 to Disney, she got quiet. I looked in the rearview mirror and told her mother that she was maybe asleep, but her eyes were sort of rolled up and half open. Not a minute later she'd grabbed a bag and was trying to carefully barf into it. "I puked." After it passed she was all sunshine and raring to go. On the way home she started messing with me, faking barfing again. "Not funny." "Which (of the reusable grocery bags in the back) should I use? Not Lion Guard!" She selected a a beat up Star Wars grocery bag as the return trip barf bag, and occasionally entertained us by gagging into it between carrying on talking in nonsense voices, fighting exhaustion.
I cleaned the upholstery and it's fine. I'm making my first car payment next week. It's officially part of the family now.

We rode the nighttime safari ride, and saw hippos actually out of the water, and various creatures, and a bunch of giraffes clustered together (no doubt grateful that the nighttime tours were winding down) and then we reached the lion area. Again, we heard the lions roar. The male and two females all started their nighttime vocalizing, and it was just so goose-bump raising, and my daughter tried to record it on her phone. How often do Americans actually get to hear lions vocalize? It was amazing, and most of us were in rapt silence. It was spoiled by the assholes at the end of the truck who couldn't stop talking to EACH OTHER, LOUDLY about the lion. Everyone, including me, started shhhing them, to no avail. "That's a lion! He's roaring!" Oh wow, he's roaring, that's a lion!" shouted over the actual lion, followed by cross talk among themselves about how those three lions were roaring and let's take pictures or some such shit.

Right now, I'm not sure Americans deserve to have nice things.

Yesterday was somewhat healing, but yeah, we are still basically fucked.

So I've run away to New Zealand, thanks to another round of Kindle Unlimited book series. In the Land of the Long White Cloud. I needed an adventure far away, and so far, this is really good.



Thursday, November 10, 2016

Ellie was sent for a reason.

On election night, while I was trying very hard not to focus on returns and still stay positive, there was a helluva crash from the glorified closet where the washer and dryer live. I don't have a laundry room, and I don't mind, because most of my 1400+ square foot condo is devoted to actual living space. No McMansion laundry area here, the washer/dryer live behind bifold doors with two shelves above. For some reason Ellie decided that she'd like to visit those shelves on Tuesday and it ended badly, with a huge crash and stuff falling and she was under the bed for an hour and will never do that again. And I picked up the visible things and didn't think much of it, until Wednesday.

Wednesday was not a good day. See profanity laden screed below. But I needed to do a small load of laundry, and was about to throw these items (like new Target jammies, because I'm definitely not rich) into the top load washer when I noticed shiny things. All over the machine's floor. In Ellie's exploration of the shelves, she'd knocked down one of those plastic clamshell kind of containers of small picture hanging nails, and about 200 of them landed in my washing machine. The tub of my washing machine was essentially full of shrapnel that would destroy anything it touched and kill the machine on the way out. I'm grateful that I saw it and didn't just dump an armload of stuff in on top and blithely turn it on.

And I stood there, staring at the tiny nails, taking deep breaths. And I didn't freak out. I grabbed a couple of kitchen magnets, found one that efficiently fit the shape of the washer's tub, and patiently, very patiently, collected a bazillion tiny nails, and ran a cycle of water through just in case, and then felt save to wash my clothes again.

Tonight she got into my knitting and made me drop two rows in the middle of a freaking afghan. I patiently unknit and reknit a couple of hundred stitches, and am now moving forward.

The last two days are the first times Ellie has ever actively made me fix anything she did. She's pretty much a feline saint otherwise, but somehow now she forced me to take a breath, find my calm, find a solution, and fix things.

Yeah, I think she's in my life for a reason. But I'm still not ready to make nice. I just have a model for moving forward.