The Future starts Today

The wings of transformation are born of patience and struggle.  J. Dickens

The wings of transformation are born of patience and struggle. J. Dickens

All changes in life, those we long for and those that happen to us unexpectedly are scary. A healthy dose of fear is what enables us to stay focused and move on.

Change is traumatic at times and comes with melancholy as we leave behind a part of ourselves. Life is not a rehearsal so it matters to cherish who and what is important to us. Often we see the past better than it was while in reality we simply forgot the bumps along the road. I am grateful for family and friends who continue to encourage me to embrace the future, reminding me daily that there is no need for panic as the future, just like the past, comes one day at the time.

I could have prepared for the future as if my life depended on it, yet I am learning that all I really  know for sure is that it will be different, challenging and that I will grow.

So in the next few weeks I will embrace my inner gypsy and go with the flow. Willing, able, excited…and a little scared.

 

 

Humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare

Epcot In Bloom

Epcot In Bloom

Life has been a roller coaster lately and while I am a firm believer in making lemonade when life gives you lemons I think instead of lemonade I will try my luck at Limoncello. But instead of lamenting I want to look back at all the wonderful things I have experienced in the past six weeks.

I visited Orlando twice, did run my third Half Marathon during runDisney’s Princess Half weekend, celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, discovered the new Spice Road Table restaurant, and saw the New Festival of Fantasy Parade at the Magic Kingdom. Another highlight was taking time to smell the flowers at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. Friends and family know that I love going South and it was a blessing to escape brutally cold New York City. Soaking up the sun was wonderful and my days at Epcot were among the happiest lately. What could be more relaxing than watching a heron resting on a floating garden and observing butterflies hatching? I was reminded of the days, unfortunately long ago, when I enjoyed regular visits to Juniper Springs.

Heron resting on a floating garden

Heron resting on a floating garden

Back in New York family and friends provided solace and cheer while Mother Nature kept sending one winter storm after another. A surprise visit from cousins Bjorn and Tom  brought much joy.  On the other side of the country Idan is working hard on a feature movie and Laura is in Mobile, AL working on a production with Bruce Willis – the stuff that makes moms proud!

We celebrate the wedding of Sergio and Nancy and I can’t wait for our trip together with the entire family on the Disney Magic for their religious ceremony at Castaway Cay next month. I truly enjoyed making the bride’s bouquet and I am thinking about what arrangement I could create for the Easter table.

Nancy & Sergio's wedding

Nancy & Sergio’s wedding

Spring finally arrived and while it is still rather cold there is hope for warmer and kinder days ahead. There are still a few lemons lying around but not for long.  I am working on the revisions for the 2015 edition of my guidebook and soon the Facebook page of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids will reach 5,000 fans. There is so much to be grateful for. Even though the guidebook updates are lots of work they are once more what keeps me going when things get tough. My freelance work too, while labor intensive and not well paid, pushes me daily to move on, one word, one step, one day at the time. In the end of the day it is indeed more natural to laugh at life than to lament it.

Run Liliane Run

A few weeks ago I signed up for the Brrrooklyn Half Marathon. I felt confident and excited to do my first ever-non-Disney race and what could go wrong? Nothing really, I was going to do a half marathon the week prior to the race in Anaheim and a few weeks later I would do a half marathon in Orlando, so it would basically be a piece of cake.

What was I thinking? A half marathon in New York in January? Was that really necessary? In my defense I should explain. Running a race has become part of what I do and preparing for the race part of my weekly workout schedule. Additionally, after a year of training for a 5K, a 10K and cranking it up to a 10Miler I got bored doing my training runs at the gym. So signing up for the Brrrooklyn Half seemed like a good idea. A race in Anaheim followed by one in New York in preparation for the ‘real’ thing in Orlando would certainly keep me in shape.

Tinkerbell Half

Tinkerbell Half

I had fun visiting Expo and loved my first half marathon in Anaheim. I was delighted to run for the first time with a team. It am humbled to have been part of the Special Olympics Southern California team and I recommend anybody who loves to run to consider running for a team that raises money for a charity such as SOSC. It is an unforgettable experience.  What I also should mention is that the weather was simply perfect! It was even a little chilly at 5 AM in the morning but the 45F were paradise for a good race.

The same cannot be said about the 10F at 8:30 AM at the start of the Brrrooklyn Half Marathon. And while I came prepared for the cold nothing could have prepared me for the chilly differences I experienced. It was not just about the extreme cold waiting for the race to start it really was about the fact that participants had very little in common. There was no easy chatting about ‘I love your costume’, ‘where are you from’, or ‘it’s cold out.’

Brrrr - Baby it's cold outside

Brrrr – Baby it’s cold outside

I learned my lesson fast. After all, this is New York! As always I found something positive to focus on: there was no distraction, no chitchatting, no characters and no entertainment along the course and it was terribly cold. You are wondering what’s good about that?  Well, I ran as fast as I could and did the half marathon in a better time than the Tinkerbell Half.

Right now I am a bit like Oscar in Frozen and I am dreaming of summer. I can’t wait for the Princess Half and the milder climate of Orlando. I look forward to seeing my running buddies again and I am delighted to share my latest review of lunch with an Animal Specialist with all Disney aficionados.

Lunch with an Animal Specialist

Lunch with an Animal Specialist

One thing is sure the New Year has started with a bang and I am ready to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly keeping in mind that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.  And this brings me to Saving Mr. Banks.  Have you seen the movie? What did you think? I saw the movie twice, I read the original Mary Poppins again and ‘Mary Poppins She Wrote’ by Valerie Lawson. Here is my review!photo 1

After the Princess Half in Orlando I will be planning a cruise on the Disney Magic for April. I am a guest of a wedding party at Castaway Cay and I can’t wait to witness how one can get hitched enlisting the help of the mouse. In the meantime I keep on running.

 

 

 

Countdown to Spring

Run Merida Run!

Run Merida Run!

The sun was lowest, the night was longest but with winter solstice behind us I started my countdown to Spring. There won’t be a White Christmas and the weather, just like me, has its ups and downs. Either way the days are getting longer and it is only 85 days till Spring and exactly 178 days till Summer!

Of course another countdown has begun. In a few days we will say goodbye to 2013 and welcome a new year. So often we wish for a good year, a better year, a successful one but how about looking back and reflecting on the one that just is about to slip into the past? There are so many things I am grateful for. Exactly one year ago today (December 24) I received my Green Card and my son not only graduated from film school but he also went West to work in his field. I miss him of course but thanks God for planes and I think Los Angeles has not seen the last of me.

In 2013 I set out to shed the weight I had been carrying around with me and weight of all sorts it was. I started running and thanks to the encouragement of dear friends I run my first race. It was a modest 5K that Laura Spencer and I set out to conquer but to me it felt like climbing Mount Everest.  I never knew what a runners high is until I experienced it and I got hooked on running. I discovered a whole community of supporting and caring running buddies and even when in August I did hit a roadblock I kept moving.

So minus a gallbladder I did run a 10K in Anaheim and it was simply heaven when at the finish line my son and my future daughter in law where waiting for me. Encouraged and cranking it up a notch I did run 10 miles in Orlando in October. Eventually I also did shed the physical weight and I am now racing to my final goal both when it comes to weight loss  and as far as my feet will carry me. I am training for my first half Marathon and I shudder at the idea of how this will eventually feel like.

2013 at Disney

2013 at Disney

In the meantime I have traveled both in Europe, Canada and in the United States. My all-time favorite mouse did see a lot of me this year and totaled 39 published stories of which one on visiting Epcot during the holidays and Christmas decoration at Disney resorts just got published today. Last but not least I am working on the seventh edition of my guide book to Walt Disney World with Kids.

I have been blessed to be able to report about my trials and tribulations and it think 2014 will bring some more of the same. Sometimes, more of the same is a good things.

But I nearly forgot, there was one more thing I did in 2013 that was just ‘unheard’ off: I learned how to drive a car. So going forward may all who cross my path in the New Year be safe and may 2014 bring many more happy trails.

 

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Xmas Castle and show MVMCP

Christmas at Walt Disney World

It does not matter if your favorite version is by Perry Como, Bing Crosby or even Alvin and the Chipmunks, chances are you know the song! Many artist have given us a rendition of this Christmas classic written by Meredith Wilson and while people are starting to decorate homes and shop for gifts I looked at what can get you into the holiday spirit when vacationing at Walt Disney World.

 

Gingerbread decorating classes at the Grand Floridian Resort

Gingerbread decorating classes at the Grand Floridian Resort

All four parks, the resorts and Downtown Disney undergo a major transformation in early November, and with more than 1,300 decorated trees and 8.5 million lights strung throughout the property getting into the spirit of the season is easy at Walt Disney World.

There is actually so much to do that one can enjoy an entire day of ‘sightseeing’ without ever setting foot in either one of the four parks.  All resorts are decorated to the max and are attractions in their own rights. Check out my recommendation for resort hopping and things to do at Downtown Disney.

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

The Osborne Family Spectacle of Lights

Every year Disney Hollywood Studios puts on the Osborne Family’s Spectacle of Dancing Lights but did you know that a ruling of the Arkansas Supreme Court was instrumental in bringing this amazing show to Orlando? Find out how it all came about!

At the Magic Kingdom it is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that marks the start of the holiday season and Disney goes all out with giant Christmas trees; thousands of garlands, holiday wreaths and lights creating an enchanting atmosphere. Snow falls on Main Street U.S.A., the Beast’s Castle in New Fantasyland is decorated and the park puts on some of the best live entertainment ever. Here is what you can enjoy during the party.

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World Showcase (Mexico pavilion) at Epcot

My favorite park to visit during this time of the year is Epcot.  Holidays from around the world are on display at World Showcase. Stroll from land to land, enjoy the yuletide tales of the storytellers and take in the sounds and the smells of the season.

 

Antwerp, Orlando, Biloxi and how it all ties in

Daughter of Irving Berlin playing his piano at the Red Star Line Museum

Daughter of Irving Berlin playing his piano at the Red Star Line Museum

Really? Oh yes, it does!  I travel for work and at times for fun. Most of the time work becomes fun and very often fun becomes work.  My work for VisitFlanders takes me to many a place and on September 27th  I took a group of fifteen travel writers to the opening of the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp. It was a press trip long in the making. Years of preparation and anticipation finally came to a fruitful end when in the presence of King Philipe and Queen Mathilde the museum was opened under the auspices of non else but fashion Queen Diane Von Furstenberg. Journalists praised the museum and reported nationwide about it.

Between 1873 and 1935 the Red Star Line brought 2.6 million people from Antwerp to Ellis Island. Among the passenger was Israel Isidore Baline and his family, fleeing the increasing anti-Semitic violence in Russia. His family settle in New York’s Lower East Side and he became Irving Berlin, the author of classics such as White Christmas and God Bless America. And it was non other but Beyer Blinder Belle, the architect firm behind the restoration of Ellis Island, who transformed the historic buildings of the Red Star Line into a contemporary museum facility.

Ship Island, Biloxi - Mississippi

Ship Island, Biloxi – Mississippi

Only a few weeks later I attended the SATW convention in Biloxi, Mississippi and went on a day trip to Ship Island. A boat, operated since 1926 by the Skrmetta family, provided us passage. Pelican and dolphin sightings made the one-hour sailing especially enjoyable.

Upon arrival on the island we were treated to a tour of Fort Massachusetts. Eighty-eight year old volunteer guide Jack Madison, a one of a kind storyteller soon had everyone spellbound. The island has rare deep-water anchorage and therefore became an important port for French Louisiana. Later, known as Plymouth Rock, Ship Island was port of entry for many a colonist. The fort was the point of rendezvous for sixty British ships during the war of 1812 and in 1862 Admiral Farragut’s Union invasion fleet set out from Ship Island in an attempt to capture Mobile and New Orleans.

Hurricane Katrina whipped Ship Island severely. West Ship Island received most of the damage due to a 30-foot tidal surge, which wiped out all facilities on the island. In 2008 hurricane Ike, followed two weeks later by hurricane Gustav brought more devastation to the island. In 2009 reconstruction of the visitors and park service facilities began and today Ship Island, who also overcame the 2010 oil spill, is back in business.  Ship Island is eleven miles off the Mississippi Coast and offers pristine beaches for swimming, shelling, hiking and bird watching. The sand dunes and the beaches are among the best I have ever seen. The National Park Services provides tours of the fort March through October.  And while there were Park Rangers around when I visited, I also know that due to budget sequestration and government shutdown the island has not seen many rangers over the entire summer and continues to depend on wonderful volunteers such as Jack Madison. I sincerely hope that sufficient funds and attention is given to Ship Island to preserve this historic and natural treasure for future generations.

The Red Star Line Museum and Ft. Massachusetts are both journeys into the past and an encounter with the present. Migration might have a different face these days, but is still as relevant as ever.

Florida Sunset

Florida Sunset

So now you will wonder how on earth Orlando ties into all of this? Well, it really all comes naturally! Orlando and Florida generally are home to “Snow Birds” and while I am not yet one of them, I am regularly visiting for my work on the Unofficial Guides and as an avid runner I also cover runDisney events. My latest article about running the Twilight Zone of Tower 10-Miler was published by www.undercovertourist.com.  Having lived close to 30 years in the North I understand the wish for warmth and sun. One day I will spread my wings and follow the flock down South.  In the meantime I delight in telling stories, celebrating the path that leads me there.

The Magic of RunDisney

Running through Sleeping Beauty's Castle is a special treat for all runners

Running through Sleeping Beauty’s Castle is a special treat for all runners

Running a 10K is exhilarating but running through a Disney theme park is an experience. When I ran my first runDisney race, a 5K earlier this year at Walt Disney World, I knew that I wanted more.  I signed up for double the distance committing to the 10K race at the Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend in Anaheim and started planning my trip.

Things didn’t go as smoothly as anticipated though and after fighting the heat wave in New York I really did hit the wall when a sudden gallbladder removal literally stopped me in my tracks. I did not do too well on the limited dining plan at Lenox Hill Hospital but I was determined to run again as soon as possible. Three weeks later I packed my Merida costume, wig and crown and flew to Los Angeles.

Running through Disney's California Adventure

Running through Disney’s California Adventure

A day before the race I went to a runDisney MeetUp and got lots of tips from Jeff Galloway, the 1972 US Olympic Team runner and official runDisney training consultant. Tara Gidius, the Diet Diva, provided great nutritional guidance and our group got to meet with ‘N Sync member Joey Fatone, and Sean Astin of Hobbit fame.

Runners meet Alice and Mad Hatter at Mile 5

Runners meet Alice and Mad Hatter at Mile 5

The big day had finally come! My son and future daughter-in-law joined the many spectators who cheered on the runners along the way and promised they would be waiting for me at the finish line.  The course winding through Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure was a lot of fun. Everywhere we were greeted by cast members, and even Alice, Mad Hatter and the Rabbit came out for photo opportunities.  In the parks all the rides were running, creating a festive atmosphere. In the backlot areas we even got to get a sneak preview of a float soon to be used in the Halloween parade.

Halloween Float sneak preview

Halloween Float sneak preview

At the second mile marker I decided that it would be best to take off my Merida wig.  It was close to 90F and all runners were grateful for the water distributed at several stations along the way.  The next four miles flew by and it was wonderful being greeted by my family at the finish line. For a full report on the race and the preparations leading up to it read my article for UndercoverTourist here.

One happy princess just crossed the Finish Line

One happy princess just crossed the Finish Line

Right now I am back on my training schedule preparing for the next adventure, the 10 miler Tower of Terror race at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in October.  I am excited and I see a half marathon in my future. The runDisney races are extremely popular and while I have a bib for another 10K I was unable to secure a half marathon bib for the Princess Half at Epcot in February of 2014.

For the longer races I will work on a more modern version of my Merida costume and the wig will have to be adapted too. In the meantime I will be planing my next Disney vacation. In October I will be staying at Disney’s All Star Music Resort and I bought park hopper tickets from UndercoverTourist. If you are looking for a great deal, fabulous service, free shipping, no hidden fees and a generous refund policy, search no further. I have used the company many times over the past years always to my entire satisfaction. As a matter of fact we recommend them without hesitation in our guidebook.  UndercoverTourist also sells tickets for Universal, SeaWorld, LegoLand, GatorLand and various dinner shows.

About runDisney: In Orlando the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend presented by Cigna, takes place in January followed by the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend in February, Expedition Everest Challenge in May, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler in October and the Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend in November.  Disneyland hosts the Tinker Bell Half Marathon Weekend in January and the Disneyland Half Marathon in September during Labor Day Weekend.  More than 125,000 running enthusiasts participate in runDisney events each year. For more information, visit www.runDisney.com

Lacing up my running shoes: defeat simply not an option

Launching PR campaigns have much in common with running a Marathon. Both require a lot of training, focus and a firm will to produce results. I often wonder about measurements, ROI and the bottom line. Why do I run? What do I do once I have reached the goal? Is it enough to see my efforts mirrored in the media? What else is it that I want?

Tower of Terror at Disney Hollywood Studios

Tower of Terror at Disney Hollywood Studios

Since the beginning of May I have been training for a 10-miler race in October in Orlando. In the meantime I am registered to do a 10K race at Disneyland in Anaheim and I signed up for another 10K in Orlando in February of 2014.

When the heatwave hit New York City I started to think that the October race was appropriately named the Twilight Tower of Terror 10-miler and I decided that for the longer training runs I would be paying the neighborhood gym a visit. The Tuesday and Thursday 2 miles morning runs I kept on doing outdoors. I felt confident that all was under control and nothing could have prepared me for what happened next.

At Lenox Hill Hospital

At Lenox Hill Hospital

Next was a trip to the hospital and an unforeseen gallbladder surgery. The hospital stay and the included dining plan was nothing to write home about and even the cute Minnie Mouse my colleagues brought to cheer me up was wishing for room delivery from Victoria & Albert.

Back home and on an improved dining plan I am trying to figure out how best to continue training for the October race.  I walked 2 miles today and while it was not easy I felt encouraged that it is doable.  I have one month till the Princess 10K in Anaheim and I know I will do it, one step at the time.

So why do I run? I think that it is mostly to prove that whenever I ‘hit the wall’ I can somehow overcome my physical and emotional limitations, a chance to overcome all obstacles. It is not about the medals but about the determination that with every mile the word defeat is eliminated from my vocabulary

Father’s Day in Saskatoon

My dad with his father Leopold Opsomer

My dad with his father Leopold Opsomer

Waiting for my return flight from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan where I attended the annual conference of the Travel Media Association of Canada I am thinking, like so many today, about my dad. Do we need a special day to remember our fathers? I miss him every day not only today and yet admit that the pain of him being gone for so long somewhat intensified waking up this morning. However the true reason why we need Father’s Day is to remind young men, the future father’s to be, that Father’s Day is everyday. In so many homes children are growing up without engaged fathers and millions of kids grow up without any male role model in their lives.  Yet there are many dads out there that are engaged and that struggle between their obligation to work long hours to provide for their families.  Let’s just say that the workplace is often not very accommodating to mom’s and dad’s and It becomes increasingly difficult to leave work behind even when at home.

Idan with my brother Rene

Idan with my brother Rene

I was fortunate to have a loving, caring and engaged father in my life and a mother who stayed at home for most of my childhood. I have so many fond memories of spending time with my dad. He himself did not have his dad around for many years as grandpa Leopold Opsomer died during WWII when my father was only ten years old.

And yes, I am a single mom so my own son did not enjoy having his father around for many important milestones in his life. He was however very lucky to find loving role models in his uncles both in Belgium and in Israel. I am grateful for all the love and care they provided and the support they gave to both of us on so many occasions. It is the overall network of extended family and friends that helped him grow up. It indeed takes a village!

Idan with my brother Peter Opsomer

Idan with my brother Peter Opsomer

There are so many children in foster care and in need for a good home, a father or two, a family.  I wish laws would make the adoption process an easy one so that eager men can become someone’s father on Father’s Day and every day. I am wishing a very Happy Father’s Day to all dads and those who take on this so important role for somebody special in their life.

 

Home Sweet Home

Nailed it! Got my driving license .

Nailed it! Got my driving license.

Not cooking a meal for two months and mostly sleeping in hotel beds gave me a real craving for Home Sweet Home. There is something to be said about cooking your own meal and waking up in a familiar surrounding.

So how did it ever get so crazy? It started with me studying for my learners permit and taking up driving lessons with Sr. Carlos. Between the lessons and a press trip to Flanders there simply never seemed enough time to ‘play house’. The driving lessons where intense.

Behind the wheel - finally!

Behind the wheel – finally!

Carlos drilled me every other day and I still smile remembering his enthusiasm even in the face of some of my worse moments.  The parallel parking exercises drove me, and him, crazy. The 3-way U-turns where my favorite and according to him the best in my repertoire.  He felt that if I could nail these two items, the rest would just be icing on the cake – his words, not mine. To make things worse it was time for the annual revision of my guide book, time was running through my fingers and it still seems like a miracle to me that I did indeed get that license on my first attempt.

Star Wars Weekend at Disney Hollywood Studios

Star Wars @ Disney Hollywood Studios

Once I had dealt with the car situation, handed in the revisions, I was off to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Star Wars Weekend. It was a first for me and I really enjoyed it. I took tons of pictures, interviewed celebrities, met lots of fabulous characters and indulged in some galactic shopping. I am now the proud owner of an Obi Wan Kenobi lightsaber umbrella and the author of three Star Wars articles.

Grave of Elvis Presley - Graceland

Grave of Elvis Presley – Graceland

From Orlando it was off to Memphis, the hometown of the original Peabody Ducks and Graceland, the famous mansion that was home to the King of Rock’n’Roll. The Peabody hotel was my home for three nights and I loved my excursion to Beale Street where every Wednesday night Bike Night brings together young and old showing off Harley’s, and other unusual modes of transportation.

Graceland is impressive but I must admit I would not want to live in it. Touring however was wonderful and quite moving. Located about 9 miles from Downtown it is one of the most visited private homes in America with over 600,000 visitors a year. Elvis Presley died at the estate on August 16, 1977. Elvis is buried on the grounds in the Meditation garden.

On Beale Street, Memphis

On Beale Street, Memphis

His parents Gladys and Vernon Presley, and his grandmother are buried next to him. A memorial gravestone remembers his stillborn twin brother, Jesse

Next I returned to Orlando for the monstrous 24 hour all-nighter at the Magic Kingdom. Walking on Main Street U.S.A. in the middle of the night and meeting Mickey and Minnie in their pajamas was lots of fun but absolutely exhausting. And of course all this fun does not come without a prize – more articles to be written.  So here is the first one: Up All Night!

With Mickey in Minnie in our PJ's

With Mickey in Minnie in our PJ’s

So what is next? Some good home cooking followed by the launch of the Red Star Line campaign in New York and a press conference celebrating the cookbook of Alain Coumont, founder of Le Pain Quotidien. In between a short a trip to the Canadian Travel Media Conference which this year is being held in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Last but not least there are vacations in West Palm Beach and Los Angeles on the horizon. Life is good!