Thursday, December 11, 2014

The magic of Wanamaker's and #TBT

As we continue to get moved into the house, one of my favorite things that I’m doing is putting up photos. We’ve had some older ones printed for collage-style frames, and it really brings back memories.

Facebook is criticized for many things, but say what you will about it – it is good for memories. And #TBT takes nostalgia to a new level with people finding photographs that have long since been forgotten. With those photos come stories from previous generations and lots of emotions.

Today my aunt posted this amazing photo of she and my father from the early 1950s: They were going to see Santa Claus at the John Wanamaker’s Department in Philadelphia.

They surely took the train from Trenton with my Pop Pop and BaBa. He was a railroad guy, and that was the thing to do. The two of them are holding hands and going to see the big guy like a pair with a plan.

He was the REAL Santa, of course. Why wouldn’t he be there? It had the grand pipe organ in the marbled atrium, and there was a narrated Christmas light show.  Maybe I’m making this up, but I think there was a monorail in the store, near Santa’s village too.

(Years later, my parents and my aunt and uncle did the same thing with me and my cousin. During a recent trip home, we were talking about this tradition, and I recalled that during the train trips and the commotion in the hot, crowded department store, I think I got sick once or twice. My cousin corrected me and said, “You threw up EVERY year.”  Sorry about that.)

I still don’t love crowded places, and sitting on hot planes is never my favorite thing in the world, but thank goodness, I’ve become a better traveler. Unfortunately, Wanamaker’s is long gone (it became Hecht’s or Lord & Taylor? and is now Macy’s), but I’m glad that I got to do it.


It’s funny – I’ve been working on the Pennsylvania TourBook all this week, and as I’m getting to Philadelphia, more than anything, I want to get on the train to go see Santa and ask him to see Pop Pop and BaBa one more time. As I’m running around getting  ready for the holidays, this is a good reminder about this time of year.   

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Our very own palms

After nearly two years of living in Florida, this summer, we decided it was time to set down some roots. We were both settled into our jobs and decided we really did like the area.

But every now and then, it still hits us: “Wow. We live in Florida.” 

Sometimes this feeling comes when we’re riding down the highway in November with the windows down listening to reports of feet of snow falling up north.

The other day, it happened when I walked into the Buccaneers’ stadium, and the palm trees were sprouting up. Football and palm trees don’t go together in most places.

And upon returning home, there were our very own palm trees on our property. It’s so surreal that we live in this mid-century modern ranch home, which is SO Florida on its own. (It’s apparently also very hip, which is not why we bought it, but hey, whatever.)


Now that the house has settled in as well, after some major initial repairs, we’re looking forward to  putting our stamp on the home.

We’re still working on putting pictures up on the walls and deciding where some of the furniture is going.

Adding to the moving in delays were the wonderful addition of two kittens – so kitten proofing the house has delayed things like putting up new curtains (perfect for sharpening little claws eager to climb.)

Now that they’re starting to mellow out, and driving into our own driveway (palms and all) feels more natural, we hope that this Florida thing starts to feel more natural.

Until then, I’ll still be a little homesick for the fall foliage. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pictures of you

Years ago, two of my friends lost their mother. They said one of their regrets was that they had very few pictures of her, because she didn’t like to be photographed.

I was sad to hear that, but at the same time, I totally understood where she was coming from. I loathe being in pictures. This is not a new development. Since I can remember, I’ve tried to stand in the back, behind people, or offered to be the one who takes the picture instead. And it’s not really a secret as to why – I just don’t love the way I look.

Anyone who reads this blog knows me well enough to not be surprised to hear this. And most people who know me also aren’t immune from watching me gain and lose - and gain - weight many times through the years. You'll also agree that I’m the one that will encourage others to be in pictures and tell me that I do NOT practice what I preach.

But recently, I’ve been struck by something pretty powerful. I’m not ever going to be as thin as I was however many years ago. My hair will never be that full again. I’ll never have fewer lines on my face than I do right now. And when I do look back at pictures when I WAS thinner or younger or tanner or whatever-er, sure, I notice these things – but the reason I’m in the pictures in the first place is because I’m capturing memories of people and places.

I’m lucky enough to have traveled to some amazing locations and I hope more are in my future. But in so many of them, I just have landscape shots, because I didn’t want to be in the picture. There’s just one of us at the Grand Canyon. Only one from a day of kayaking through the mangroves on Grand Turk. I skipped a shot entirely at The Southernmost Point at Key West.

On girls’ trips, I would only ever agree to far-away pictures, and certainly wouldn't agree to any close ups.

Selfies with or without friends? Are you kidding?

And what’s saddest is that there’ve been lots of times where I’d offer to take a picture of a couple, and they’d offer to reciprocate with me and my husband, but I declined. How short-sighted and silly. Now, we have those memories of the place, but not of us AT that place.

So I’m coming around. I’d still prefer to be photographed from above rather than below. In soft light instead of harsh. And definitely with other people in the frame. But mostly, it’s time for me to create some permanent memories with me in them.

Two friends were nearly dumbstruck this weekend when I shared the news that I wanted to be sure to capture images of the three of us TOGETHER. My husband is happy that we’ll have more pictures of us. And I hope when the time comes for people to write my eulogy, my friends and family will have lots of photo memories to reflect on the laughter of the places we’ve been and the times we’ve shared – because face it – the friends I’ve surrounded myself with don’t care a bit about that other stuff.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The end is nigh, er, near

No, nothing to worry about. In fact, this is good news.
For the first time in this crazy roller coaster of a ride that has been house shopping, I THINK we are getting closer to the finish line in getting into our new home. We've crossed almost all of the hurdles now. Offer, negotiations, counter offier, contract, inspection, appraisal, addendums, and now we're just waiting for final insurance approval and then those three little words that we so long to hear: "Clear to Close." Oh, and we still need to write another big-@$$ check.
When I look at the calendar, I realize I only have three weekends to pack the house, because I'm occupied for one of them.
So that means that I'm gearing up for a weekend full of purging, packing and general organizing. We can't wait for our new start in our new home in a city that we have really come to love. There's so much to do and still so much we have to explore.
And now we have space for folks to come visit!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

That location, location, location thing is no joke

When we moved to Central Florida, we still hadn't sold our house, and we certainly didn't have the money for a down payment on a house in addition to rent. Besides, we weren't sure if we were going to like it, and we didn't know exactly where in the area we might like to live. 
But now it's been almost two years since we made the move to Florida, and we've decided that we're probably going to stay (employers willing, that is), and we know what neighborhoods we'd like to live in. 
Unfortunately, we can't afford those neighborhoods. At least, we can't afford houses in those neighborhoods that aren't "fixer uppers" in the truest sense of the word. 
We ended up selling our house at a time when the market was really depressed, so we took a huge loss. Nothing we could do. It's just how life is. But the equity we had built up in seven years, plus our original down payment all vanished. Add in moving costs and life, and we're back to "starter house" territory in a market that's much more expensive. 
So we're re-evaluating what's really important to us as we continue our search, and just know that with patience, hard work in looking, and a little luck, we'll eventually find something that's just right. 
We'll keep you posted. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cheap Deals at Disney World

I was talking to a friend of mine who was looking for some inexpensive ways to enjoy Disney World. I had a list, but couldn't find it. Luckily, it was easy to recreate over lunch.

Don't get me wrong - I think we have probably paid for the equivalent of two graduate degrees between the tickets, annual passes, merchandise, meals and, of course, our DVC membership through the years. But we enjoy MORE than just the parks themselves. And some of our favorite magic happens outside the parks.

A lot of this, admittedly, centers around transportation and exploration. But for me, those are two parts of travel that I really enjoy - and since Disney is as big as Manhattan, it's worth exploring.

Caveat: Be aware that in places where you go through a guard house, you may be asked for picture ID. They are making sure people have a legit reason to be there and not trying to get out of paying for parking for the theme park. As a hotel guest, I appreciate that. So give them the reason for your visit: See the marina, the hotel or the restaurant, to ride or rent a boat, rent a bike, etc. I recommend Wilderness Lodge for the MK activities because rules can be stricter or have time limits at the monorail resorts, because guests of the hotel have first dibs. Boardwalk can be tough if there’s a big convention. If all else fails, park at Downtown Disney.

The Polynesian boat dock on the Seven Seas Lagoon.
Happy exploring:

  1. Sail the many seas: Disney has a gigantic fleet of ships on several bodies of water. If you park at Wilderness Lodge, you can ride on Bay Lake between there and Fort Wilderness. (See Fort Wilderness entry). 
  2. You can also sail to the Contemporary, and change boats to the Magic Kingdom loop and ride around on the Seven Seas Lagoon to the Grand Floridian and the Polynesian.
  3. While you’re at one of those properties, why not jump off and explore the hotels and the gorgeous grounds. Get a Dole Whip at the Polynesian. Or have a cup of afternoon tea at the Grand Floridian (you need reservations for that last one, but it’s a neat thing.) There are also walking trails all over for a lovely day.
  4. You can change modes of transportation and get on a monorail at one of those hotels. Get off at the Ticket and Transportation Center. Then relax on the monorail out to Epcot. 
  5. If you happen to have a season pass, you can go in the park and then get on the boat at the International Gateway for your next adventure. If not, hop on a bus to Boardwalk. 
    Disney's Boardwalk.
  6. Boardwalk is a free entertainment district unto itself. You can also just drive there. Yes, the restaurants and clubs cost money, but in the evenings, lots of street performers come out to entertain, and the boardwalk shops have lots of interesting things to look out. You can also take a wonderful cruise to Epcot, the Swan or Dolphin hotels or the and Yacht and Beach Club resorts. (And explore those hotels!)  If you walk or take the boat to the International Gateway in the evening, you’ll be able to see some of Illuminations. 
  7. If you don’t mind spending a few dollars, the Fantasia mini-golf course is nearby. 
  8. Downtown Disney is a fun place to explore and it is free if you don’t buy anything. The Lego store is amazing, as is the toy store, and we love the Art of Disney gallery. There are often special events, shows and festivals going on. All free. 
  9. You can take the Sassagoula River Cruise boat ride from Downtown Disney to Saratoga Springs, Old Key West and then to Port Orleans Resort. (Again, explore at your leisure, eat at any of the restaurants – they are all public.)
  10. $$: For something special, book a horse and carriage ride at Port Orleans. 
  11. $$: You can rent bikes and/or boats and many of the marinas. 
  12. At most of the resorts (especially the Deluxe and DVC resorts) they show evening movies under the stars – sometimes out on the beach.)
  13. At Fort Wilderness, there’s a nightly marshmallow roast. (It might cost a few dollars.)
  14. At the “monorail” and “wilderness” resorts, you can watch the electrical water parade go by nightly. 
  15. Wishes at the Magic Kingdom.
  16. Watch the nightly Magic Kingdom fireworks "Wishes" from the beach at the Polynesian, Fort Wilderness, or Ticket and Transportation Center. They pipe the music in. (Be aware that especially at the Polynesian, you must be a resort guest to gain access to the beach for this during peak times.)
  17. $$: For something different, see a movie while you’re having dinner at the Downtown Disney movie theater that serves a full menu in some of the theaters. 
  18. $$: Bowl at the Downtown Disney Bowling Alley.
  19. Want to see the animals but not go into the park? Go to the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Both Jambo House and Kidani Village have Savannah areas to watch the animals. Their hotel gift shop also has very unique items.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Palm frond mirages

I was talking yesterday with one of my coworkers about the strange phenomenon that still happens to me occasionally. It's most often at off-ramps, or when I'm stopped in traffic. It's especially bad when I'm down near the theme parks.
I'll suddenly have to remind myself that I LIVE in Florida. I'm not just here on vacation.
It's because of the palm trees.
Before we moved here, we came often enough to know our way around. One of the very first things you see when you land at Orlando International Airport is palm trees. They're everywhere.
And it meant you were on vacation.
But now, they're everywhere.
And it's just where we live.
It's been a blessing this winter to be under these warm leafy fronds while everyone we know has been buried in snow and ice. So I'm not complaining at all.
And it has been about 18 months since we moved down here. For all practical purposes, I think we're settled in to the state. Heck, it's been almost three months since I've been at my new job.
Come to think of it, maybe feeling
like I'm on vacation occasionally isn't such a bad thing after all.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another milestone before focusing on what's most important

Well, I turned in my second biggish thing this week. Still working on lots of smaller things, social media stuff, and several medium projects, and am in the middle of something brand new, but at least it keeps me busy.

It’ll be two months since I started next Wednesday. Hard to believe that time has gone by so quickly.
I had a great opportunity to go to a social media conference yesterday with a lot of interesting speakers. I hope we’ll be able to use some of what we got out of it here – just like anywhere, change sometimes comes slowly – but at least there’s momentum and people talking about moving in the right direction. And I’m really pleased to be part of a team that is leading that charge.

Now that that assignment is turned in, I can focus on what’s most important for a few days – family. 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

For Inspiration: Assignments for a new year

One of the hardest things for me when I start a new job is remembering all of the new names. I was especially afraid of that this last time because the team is much bigger than at my last job and I'm not great at remembering for

But during a staff meeting today, I was able to go around the table today an mentally check off everyone and match names to faces. So that's a pretty good feeling.

Everyone got their assignments for the year, too, so we can plan out what we'll be spending our time on - which generally appeals to my type-A personality.

Today was also energizing because I found out that some of the people who've been working here for a long time had some of the same questions I do about some of the new projects that are coming up. So that's comforting. It gives me the feeling that I'm on more equal footing with them.

As far as the work itself, I'm pretty comfortable that I'll be able to research and write everything well - it's just a matter of putting everything in the right place and making sure I don't crash the content management system, which is pretty complicated. It's not hard, but there's a different screen for almost every process. I'm sure in a few months it'll be second nature.

All in all though, I feel like my transition is going pretty well. I'm very thankful and feel so lucky.

It's a great environment and the people are funny, smart and helpful. We even cut up a bunch during the team meeting. Everyone obviously works really hard, but they know that at the end of the day, they have done what they can. Of course, there are frustrations like anywhere else, but we work through those, and I'm finding it much easier to just let those things roll off my back.

I feel like I've really gotten into the groove.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A change in the wind: Part 2

December 2013 was a whirlwind.

I left my job at Intelliguide, and sadly, some wonderful people. But I easily shed the things that sent me looking for a new opportunity  in the first place - most of all, hours that were too long and some crazy clients.

When we moved to Central Florida, (and even when we visited on trips), we passed this giant building just off of I-4 with a four-story glass atrium. Now I work there. Kind of crazy.
Atrium of AAA National Building in Heathrow, Fla. at Christmastime.

And really, it's the path of everything that came before now that led me here. I wouldn't have been considered without my travel connections at Northstar. So for that, I am very thankful.

So since November, it's been crazy busy with visits from my parents, Jay's mother and grandmother, leaving a job, starting a job and two holidays.

It's a new future and a chance for a fresh start. I feel sort of like Mary Poppins - there was a change in the wind, and when I let go and let it take me where I needed to go, I ended up with this new job, better hours and a new outlook on the future.

Speaking of letting things go, during some time that we had off, we saw the new Disney movie, "Frozen." So much of the music is wonderful, but the breakout hit, "Let it Go" had a line that just really stuck with me - and I think I'll try to embrace it.
View from the Lakeside Cafe. 

"It's time to see what I can do, to test the limits and break through, no right -- no wrong, no rules for me, I'm free."

We only live once and waiting to be rich enough, thin enough, smart enough or successful enough to try other things defeats the purpose of living a full life. I would say let the storm rage on - the cold never bothered me anyway, but I feel like our seas are getting calmer all the time. So, instead, I'll just toast to changing winds.