Living Highland Avenue South

Living Highland Avenue South

Running “Over The Mountain”

Not in my wildest dreams would I have sought to be living Highland Avenue South.  Yes, “The South” was always a place I wanted to be but Highland Avenue South in Birmingham, Alabama?  I don’t think so!

Living Highland Avenue South is wonderful. Picture a green and prosperous neighborhood and you get a good picture. Not quite ‘over the mountain’ but just about that spot geographically. It is as beautiful a neighborhood as you could possibly wish for and at the same time living Highland Avenue South is a huge challenge for a ‘flat land’ runner like me.

Living Highland Avenue South

Home on Highland Ave S.

All along Highland Avenue South you can find the most wondrous vistas and at the same time experience the most excruciating training runs.

Suddenly names like Niazuma Avenue become the equivalent of Kilimanjaro. No longer do I think that I can run the upcoming Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in November, no, I think that having signed up for the Pixie Dust Challenge in May of 2015 was cheer insanity!

Whenever I train for the upcoming races – and train I do – I feel exhausted and totally overwhelmed. There are muscles that hurt I did not know I even had and try as I may there is simply no long distance road I can possible map which does not involve some crazy elevation.

Living Highland Avenue South

The Donnelly House

Having said all this I would not want to live anywhere else in Birmingham but on Highland Avenue South.  I recognize that I am blessed to have found a neighborhood that is beautiful, welcoming and historical. I have three parks to pick from, each one of them in literally five minutes walking distance from my doorsteps.

At any given time and everywhere I look there are historical homes and the buzz of Five Points South and the entertainment district. The homes on Highland Avenue South are amazing such as the Donnelly House, a prime venue for weddings located a mere three minutes walk from my home.

Is living Highland Avenue South the Dulcinea of my Dream?

Palms at sunset in Orlando

Palms at sunset in Orlando

So what am I whining about? Nothing much really except for the physical pain of learning to run in a hilly terrain.

But wait, there is a little more. If I am honest I admit that deep inside there is the dream of a place where palms are swaying in the wind, a place that illuminates nightly to a tune that dreams are made off. A home I never called my own, a home that family and friends feel is far fetched for someone like me, a home that no matter what everyone else says, I still desire. Is it a realistic dream? Nope but does it really matter?

For now I will run like if my life depended on it. I’ll be running and living Highland Avenue South and save the dreams of Windermere for a later time.  Windermere after all sounds like putting a name on a windmill. I just hope that – unlike in Don Quichote – Dulcinea will indeed be waiting for me.

 

 

 

ScareFest – Horror and Paranormal Convention

ScareFest, the annual Horror and Paranormal Convention is my first business trip. Armed with our books and a costume my colleague Tanya and I set out for Lexington, Kentucky.  We were to bring attention to one of our imprints – Clerisy Press – and America’s Haunted Road Tripa one-of-a-kind series of haunted travel guides.

Each book profiles 30-100 haunted places open to the public. From inns and museums to cemeteries and theaters, our authors visit each place, interviewing people who live and work there. Books also include travel instructions, maps, and an appendix of 50 more places the reader can visit.

ScareFest - Horror and Paranormal Convention

Over 200 vendors converged at ScareFest7. Film screenings, a gaming con, anime screenings, guest panels and parties were part of what was served to ghoulish fans at ScareFest7.

I am no fan of ‘scary stuff’ but I am fascinated by the paranormal at the same time. I love Halloween and wouldn’t miss any occasion for dressing up in a costume but – at the same time – I am easily scared and in general prefer not to meddle in all things paranormal.

I always wonder why so many people believe in parapsychological claims.

Spiritual or supernatural forces beyond our understanding seem to be the topic of about three in four Americans, according to a recent Gallup survey. So without further due I admit there was some fascinating weird stuff out there and there was – as it is to be expected – some commercialized fun.

In the end I join the rows of all those who want more!

 

Ratatouille – Disturb, Shake and Stir

RatatouilleThe Webster dictionary describes the origin of the word Ratatouille as coming from the verb ratouiller which means to disturb, shake and to stir.

If you are like me you probably think food, as Ratatouille is a wonderful classic French dish originating from the Provence. Of course there are those who assimilate the word Ratatouille with the rat Remy turned chef in the Pixar movie Ratatouille. Yes, I am guilty of that too.

So to me Ratatouille is really all of the above and it describes perfectly my life in the past three month. Disturb, shake and stir! And God knows I had my fair share of turbulences. It is now three month since I left New York City for Birmingham, Alabama. I am happy to report that I love discovering my new hometown and that I am re-discovering my love for cooking and entertaining.

Caramel Apples - RatatouilleMy blog and some of my freelance writing was put on a back burner but never really extinguished. The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids 2015 is shipping to a store near you and gave cause for celebration.

My latest article for Undercover Tourist was about my favorite snacks at Walt Disney World and I did report about the Frozen Mania that is sweeping The Kingdom of the Mouse.

Running on the other hand was put on ice for a while after foot surgery. Let’s just say it was another ‘disturbance’ in the force. I am up and running again in another and most of all ready for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando early November.

Book signing at Todd English - RatatouilleSo what else? Well, was a book signings at Todd English P.U.B. for Gone Pro Alabama and I can’t wait for Paul Chibeba visiting me here Down South in just a few weeks.

Except for Paul’s visit the most exciting item on the menu is my first business trip. In a few days I will be heading, costume and all, to Lexington, Kentucky to attend ScareFest.

My company publishes America’s Haunted Road Trips, a series of twenty-five books describing places that are known or said to be haunted. We will be presenting and selling our books for three days. I am really excited about this opportunity and hope to stir up interest in some of the most ghostly trails in this country.

It would seem unfair to talk about Ratatouille without sharing at least a good recipe. So without further due I give you Julia Child’s Ratatouille recipe.

Sweet Home Alabama

Wedding party at beachTwo month ago I lost my job of over twenty years. At first there was the initial shock and the fact that I had to tell family and friends. Next I embarked on a four-night cruise to witness the wedding of cousin Sergio. It was wonderful and being surrounded by loved ones was much needed and welcomed.

Back in New York however my type A personality and what I call my single mother syndrome kicked in and all I could think about was finding a new job and securing my future. My son is grown and supports himself but would I have enough resources to retire in ten years from now? Would anybody want to hire me at age fifty-six? So what came next felt like being on a roller coaster except that it wouldn’t end after sixty seconds of thrill and anxiety but it kept running on a loop.Moving

Tempus Fugit and two month later I can report that I found a new job, packed up my home and moved to Birmingham, Alabama. I am waiting for the closing date for the sale of my home in New York and rented an apartment which I hope to move into soon. I am living with friends hoping my furniture makes it Down South soon – there is only that much I can control after all.

I managed to produce five articles whenever my back needed a rest from packing boxes and yes I turned in – on time – the 2015 revisions for the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. I recommended Summer Fun at Walt Disney World and gave tips for visiting Disney Hollywood Studios during Star Wars Weekends. For those who have a green thumb I suggested the Behind the Seeds Tour at Epcot and I kept my books Facebook page up and running with daily tips.

NatureAt times I wonder if I could have done anything differently or simply if I did the right thing. I guess only time will tell. What I do know though is that I am grateful to have found a new job, grateful for family and friends and grateful for the kindness of the people Down South.

While I have not explored much of my new hometown my friends took me on several beautiful outings. Hikes in Red Mountain Park and Oak Mountain State Park provided much needed relieve from anxiety and stress. There is nothing more restoring than the healing powers of mother nature. Onwards! Sweet Home Alabama

The Future starts Today

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. The future starts today!

 

 

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.

Run Liliane Run

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.’

Run Liliane Run

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

Countdown to Spring

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.

Countdown to Spring

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

Christmas

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.

 

Christmas

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.

Christmas

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.

Christmas

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

Antwerp, Orlando, Biloxi

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.