Run, Liliane, Run! Part II

Run Liliane Run - Running at PS 144

Running at PS 144

At first I alternated walking and jogging in the streets of my neighborhood. However, I quickly realized that hoping for a green light every time I came to the end of the block was not realistic; after scouting several schools in Forest Hills, I discovered the running track of P.S.144, where conveniently the terrain is marked: “1 mile = 5, 280 feet = 11 laps.”

Next, the European in me needed to convert that into kilometers and soon I was working that track for 33 laps, settling for the simplified conversion that 3 miles equals 5K. In reality, 5K is 3.10686 miles, but considering that I have to get to the school and back, which in itself is over a mile, I knew I had found my training nirvana.

Cold outside

Cold outside

Rain or shine, I showed up at the track at 6.30 every morning; in the evening I concentrated on creating the Merida costume. I love shopping in the fashion district and had a ball picking out the trimmings that would turn the simple forest green ballet outfit into a dress fit for a princess.  A wig was found in far away China, and running with the wig will be the endeavor for the coming week. Thankfully it is still dark at 6.30 a.m., and I am considering doing that trial run at 6 a.m. so that I’ll be back before sunrise.

Merida in the Making

Merida in the Making

On the weekend, I allow myself a later start, and I was looking forward to daylight and warmer jogging conditions. I was not a happy camper when the snow started falling last night and the temperature at the gas station display displayed a meager 4 degrees F, but nothing could have prepared me for the obvious.

Run Liliane Run - Locked Out

Locked Out

When I reached the school I found myself locked out and, of course, the track was nowhere to be seen, as it was covered in an immaculate layer of snow. What had I been thinking? The custodian was cleaning the sidewalk but was not dreaming of clearing the track.

Unwilling to give up, I thought of a place that might be cleared of the snow: The walkways winding through Woodhaven Cemetery were cleared of the white stuff, and it was a beautiful, peaceful 3-mile speed walk.

Run Liliane Run - At Woodhaven Cemetery

At Woodhaven Cemetery

Tomorrow I will give the Flushing Meadow Park a try, as the former site of the World’s Fair should have plenty of cleared walkways. The weatherman promised higher temperatures, and the cold spell seems to be coming to an end. Looking at current temperatures in Orlando, I am wondering how I could possibly be prepared for doing all this in 80 degrees F.

Run Liliane Run Part I

 

 

 

A Skinny Guy with a Funny Name

A Skinny Guy with a Funny Name - Inauguration 2013

Inauguration 2013

As a new Permanent Resident, it was important to me to follow the inaugural events this weekend. After listening to the president’s speech, I could not help but remember Lincoln the movie that I just saw. I was impressed by the brilliant speech the president gave. And while I understand that he, like every president before him, will work towards leaving a legacy, I was thrilled that he chose the Declaration of Independence as a base for his remarks. I felt as if I had asked someone much more eloquent than myself to say what is on my mind. “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths–that all of us are created equal, is the star that guides us still.” And when he affirmed that we cannot walk alone, that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth, it was easy to join the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in their Glory Hallelujah!

Vice President Biden and Ms. Sutomayor

Vice President Biden and Ms. Sutomayor

A president that can say thank you is impressive. Thank you so often is something we do not say enough in today’s world. Thank you for the daily bread, thank you for the love of family and friends, thank you for witnessing an incredible time in history.  A president that values a unique partnership called “friendship,” which is the root of all enduring relationships, does win more than my approval. He deserves what it all comes down to: RESPECT.

I was inspired to see Ms. Sotomayor swearing in Joe Biden and exhilarated when Mrs. Biden was announced as Dr. Biden. We have come a long way. A women is recognized due to her achievements and not because she is the wife of a public figure. We have a president who believes in equality for all. A president who knows that our journey is not complete until women can earn a living equal to their efforts, that our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law. And, yes, our journey is not complete until all our children know that they are cared for and safe from harm.

President Lincoln

President Lincoln

When my son was little, I always loved reading the stories of “Honest Abe” to him, and there is a bust of the 16th president in his room. Lincoln and Obama both share a common story, a remarkable story of rising from humble beginnings to achieving the highest office in the land. Lincoln reminds us that our country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever we shall grow weary of the existing government, we can exercise our constitutional right to amend it, or exercise our revolutionary right to overthrow it.

Lincoln felt that, in the end, it’s not the years of our life that count but the life we lead in our years. So often we are divided in the name of a deity and again it is Lincoln who gives me hope when he stated, “My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

Inauguration 2009

Inauguration 2009

Four years ago I was blessed to be in Washington, D.C., for the inaugural of President Barack Obama. It was a cold day and yet nothing could have kept me away from my spot on the balcony of the United States Treasury. I loved every moment of it and till today hold on to my security clearance pass. I will never forget that day when courage and imagination (not fear) gave us the 44th President of the United States of America.

I watched the official swearing-in yesterday and the president taking the public oath today. As I am putting my thoughts together, the parade on Pennsylvania Avenue just ended and the parties are starting. And while CNN’s Wolf Blitzer is concerned with the fashion statement of the First Lady (Like his co-anchor says, “She is prettier than the President”), I say, well done, Thom Browne from Allentown, Pennsylvania!

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” –Abraham Lincoln.

Run, Liliane, Run!

Run Liliane Run - Disney Princess Royal Family 5K run

Disney Princess Royal Family 5K run

Tada! This is what it read on my flight confirmation from JetBlue, and I could not help but smile and wonder if in some magical way they knew I needed a little Tada! for encouragement. I had just booked my next flight to Orlando, which friends and family would not consider anything out of the ordinary, as it is the home of my beloved Mouse and my favorite Princess. Let’s analyze the word Tada!, which is traditionally seen as an exclamation when something is finished, but being of Germanic origin I want to point out that it can also mean “here it is” or “look at this craziness!” Another approach would be using it as a jovial interjection in making an announcement. I settle for the Germanic approach.

Every year people put running a marathon at the top of the list when it comes to New Year’s resolutions; while running a Half Marathon is out of the question–for now–I decided to participate in the Disney Princess Royal Family 5K race on February 23rd at Epcot. Those who know me will be relieved to know that I am not doing this alone but that a friend, Laura Spencer, will run with me. Unlike me, Laura has run a marathon before and I count on her expertise to make this my Tada! event. In exchange for her counseling, I bring the craziness to our partnership, and I managed to convince her to do the 5K dressed in a Disney costume.

IMG_3363So, except for getting into shape during the next 39 days, there will be lots of planning to do. Number one on the planning list is “what will we wear?” While the reasonable (albeit boring) answer would be a jogging outfit, the real dilemma is to decide which costume to wear. Laura is a fashionista and I am not worried. My favorite Disney Princess is Merida, the Scottish Princess with a love for archery from the movie Brave.  With five dresses, plus a cloak, as well as torn dresses, Merida has a total of 22 different costumes and five different hairstyles. Does anybody understand my problem? My next 39 days are certainly going to be busy.

Merida is a strong-willed, redheaded heroine, skilled at archery, an agile horse rider and full of personality. I am not redheaded and no heroine, nor am I very skilled at archery and horse riding, but I sure am full of personality. What I like most about Merida is the fact that she takes her fate in her own hands. One of the most memorable of her lines is, “If you had the chance to change your fate, would ya?” and the answer is really simple: No.

“Everybody Likes a Compliment”–Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln Film Poster

Lincoln Film Poster

I just I spent one of the most enjoyable 150 minutes inside a movie theater in a long time. Spielberg’s Lincoln surpassed my expectations. No sugarcoating and none of the romanticizing of the beloved national icon that I was expecting from director Steven Spielberg.

Daniel Day-Lewis is the perfect Lincoln, but the biggest achievement is a movie mostly based on dialogue. And what a dialogue it was! Tony Kushner’s screenplay puts the English language at its best. Lincoln speaks with simple words, yet he is eloquent and at times even witty. During his lifetime the media ridiculed the president for his humble origins. The New York Herald described him as “a fourth-rate lecturer who cannot speak good grammar.”  If there ever was a doubt about the brilliant mind behind the author of the Gettysburg Address, Spielberg certainly helped to set that record straight.

Lincoln received 12 Oscar and 7 Golden Globe nominations–quite an achievement. The film ends beautifully and shows Lincoln giving his second inaugural address. The speech has not lost relevance; nearly 150 years after his death, we all could take it to heart once more.

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation’s wounds.”

I left the theater with a newly found appreciation not only for the 16th President of the United States, his leadership, and wisdom, but also with a renewed understanding of the Gettysburg Address.

The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.

Let it rain - Guests exit parksRain is a common occurrence in Orlando, especially during the summer months. Don’t be deterred: There is actually lots to do, and visiting the parks, albeit a little wet, gets much easier. As soon as it starts raining, many people will exit the parks, leaving them a lot emptier for you to enjoy. Take advantage of the exodus. Besides, with masses of people departing, it will be hard to get on the buses or the tram to the parking lot! This is the moment to take out your rain poncho and head for the rides, which have much shorter queues.

Behind the Seeds Tour - Epcot

Behind the Seeds Tour – Epcot

In the parks, go for the indoor attractions and shows, such as The Lion King and The Beauty and the Beast shows, Pirates of the Caribbean, Tower of Terror, The Hall of Presidents, O Canada, Mickey’s PhilharMagic, The Haunted Mansion, or Finding Nemo– The Musical, just to name a few. One of my favorite things to do is to take the Behind the Seeds Tour at the Land Pavilion at Epcot. At $18 for adults and $14 for children ages 3-9, it is one of the more affordable tours offered at Walt Disney World. It lasts about an hour, and you get to go through the greenhouses and labs and see the techniques Disney uses to grow their plants. Kids will love the experience, as they get to participate in activities along the way. Keep in mind that some outdoor attractions such as Test Track and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad will be closed for safety reasons during a rainstorm.

Disney Grand Floridian Lobby

Disney Grand Floridian Lobby

The Magic Kingdom is connected to three fabulous Disney properties by Monorail. Go and explore the Contemporary Resort, where the Monorail actually drives through the hotel. You may want to see if Chef Mickey has availability and enjoy a character meal. If it is late in the day, don’t assume that the fireworks are canceled. If you want to play it safe, stay at the Contemporary and view the fireworks from their rain-protected viewing area. Head to the Polynesian Resort and explore this great hotel. The lobby alone is worth a visit, where a cast member makes leis and is always willing to share stories and knowledge. If you are ready for a drink, the Tambu Lounge on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House is my all-time favorite. You can sit at the bar or in the adjoining lounge, where there are enough electrical outlets to recharge your phone!  The Grand Floridian is just a skip and a monorail stop away. This elegant Victorian resort is said to be modeled after the Del Coronado Hotel in California and will take your breath away. Think palm trees and a grand piano providing live music and an open-cage elevator transporting guests to the second floor shops and restaurants. The Grand Floridian is also home to 1900 Park Fare, a restaurant where the Supercalifragilistic Character Breakfast takes place. Guests enjoy a buffet breakfast in the presence of Mary Poppins, Alice in in Wonderland, The Mad Hatter, Eeyore, Tigger, and Winnie the Pooh. At dinner, the restaurant hosts Cinderella’s Happily Ever After Dinner. And while everybody rejoices to meet the princess and her beau, it is Lady Tremaine and her evil daughters who steel the show.

Character dinner at 1900 Park Fare

Character dinner at 1900 Park Fare

So what else is there to do? There is always the shopping, but you will not be the only one who has this grand idea. The newly opened Splitsville bowling alley in Downtown Disney boosts 30 lanes and offers two kitchens, including a sushi bar, billiard tables, and live entertainment. And wouldn’t it be a great day at the movies? The Downtown Disney AMC has a wide array of latest flicks for you to enjoy, and there is always DisneyQuest with games galore.

Woop-Dee-Doo Show

Woop-Dee-Doo Show

In the mood for a show? The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, a popular family-style dinner show at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, might just be right for you. Contact 407/WDW-DINE to make reservations. Prior to your show and weather permitting, take the boat over to Ft. Wilderness Lodge and explore this turn-of-the-last-century, National Park lodge-inspired property.

Last but not least, just relax at the hotel, play a board game, watch TV, and rest. Tomorrow will be another day at the parks.

Mithrandir, Why the Halfling?

Mithrandir - Gandalf the Grey

Gandalf the Grey

Peter Jackson’s first installment of the Hobbit trilogy brought in $32.9 million over the last weekend of 2012, bringing its domestic total up to $222.7 million and its worldwide gross at $686.7 million. Neither Quentin Tarantino’s Western epic Django nor Tom Hooper’s Les Miserables managed to topple the halfling’s spot at the top of the box office charts. While the journey up will probably end next weekend, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is an undeniable success and has joined the 100 top movies of all time, already claiming a reassuring 56th place. Not a small achievement considering the movie only opened December 16th.

The premiere was held with much fanfare on November 28th in Wellington, New Zealand, when 100,000 fans lined the red carpet where since October a clock on top of the Embassy Theater had been counting down the days and the minutes to the big event. And what an event it was! I know it well, as I was there, equipped with a list of must-see places, a camera, and no VIP ticket to the premiere.

Conveyor belt Wellington Airport

Conveyor belt Wellington Airport

Flying into Wellington set the right tone. I had been treated to an unexpected briefing, as the safety video on board Air New Zealand included elves, dwarfs, and Mithrandir himself. My suitcase emerged from a Hobbit hole and made its way through the shire, a.k.a the conveyor belt; inside the main terminal, a 40-foot sculpture of Gollum greeted me.

Mithrandir

Embassy Theater

At my hotel, hundreds of fans were in Hobbit fever as a pre-Hobbit Premiere party organized by TheOneRing.net fan club was under way and the entire town was in a celebratory mood. Wellington’s Embassy Theater, where the premiere took place, was adorned with a giant sculpture of Gandalf knocking at Bilbo Baggins’ door, and the adventurous Hobbit himself and his 13 dwarfs lined the fifth floor of the New Zealand Post Office building. At Weta Cave I joined a long line of fans to see the free movie telling the story of the famed Workshop and, of course, indulged in a shopping spree.

New Zealand Post Office Building

New Zealand Post Office Building

The day of the premiere, the weatherman in the morning came from the elven community and gave the all clear for a sunny afternoon. A World Premiere Souvenir Edition of The Dominion Post was in front of my door, and Air New Zealand flew a special Hobbit-themed decorated plane low over the cheering crowds. Fans who had been lucky enough to get a spot upfront along the red carpet snapped pictures as stars and VIPs made their way from Reading Cinema to the Embassy Theater.

All too soon, a statuette of Gandalf the Grey, a Weta Cave exclusive, and I had to leave Middle Earth. He did not take the journey home through the airport Hobbit hole but was safely tucked in my hand luggage. The statuette was a gift for my son, who, only a few days after the opening of the movie, graduated from the Film School of Florida State University. He has left Gandalf the Grey in my safekeeping while he is embarking on his very own journey; looking at the wise wizard, his answer to Galadriel’s question (Mithrandir, why the Halfling?) comes to my mind. “…Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps it is because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

Well done, Mr. Jackson I dig the halfling at 48 frames a second. And while purists may criticize the lack of blur and strobing artifacts, I am a convert.

For more pictures and my report live from Wellington, check out JohnnyJet.com http://www.johnnyjet.com/2012/11/the-hobbit-an-unexpected-journey-premieres-in-wellington/

For behind-the-scenes production videos and other Hobbit news, visit Peter Jackson’s Facebook page and The Hobbit Blog.

Places to visit when in Wellington:

Weta Cave
 to view props and get your fill of collectibles, plus a free behind-the-scenes movie.

Embassy Theatre
 is a historic theatre built in 1926. It was the venue of the world premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and host of the world premiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Roxy Cinema, a beautifully revamped cinema in Miramar in Art Deco style, is owned by Richard Taylor and Jamie Selkirk.

Mount Victoria is the location of the first day of shooting for The Lord of the Rings. Mount Victoria has fantastic views of Wellington city and harbor.

Non-Hobbit-related must-dos:

Visit the National Museum of NZ – Te Papa.

Ride the historic Wellington Cable Car to the Botanic Garden.

Visit or volunteer for a day at ZEALANDIA: The Karori Sanctuary Experience.

Splash Pads, Anyone?

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Zone Disney Grand Floridian Resort

Splash pads are becoming more and more the norm throughout the resort hotels and the Disney parks.

A splash pad is by definition a water attraction geared towards little tykes enjoying themselves splashing around in water that drains right away into the ground. The play area is soft and cushioned so that your child does not get hurt. Many of the resort hotels have splash pads; when I recently asked the Disney PR representative if there was a list of splash pads, I was told, “They are everywhere.” So I went on a fact-finding mission.

New and part of a huge upgrade of the pool area at the Grand Floridian Resort is the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party-themed splash zone. Teapots, teacups, and even the Mad Hatter’s famous hat will dump water on young guests. Two mini waterslides and several sprinklers provide unlimited fun. Another fabulous place to get wet is Kidani Village at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Kidani Village Splash Zone

It is easy to have a blast at Typhoon Lagoon or Blizzard Beach; both Disney Water Parks are perfect for a hot summer day. Visiting both during my stay, I think that what I like most is that you can have a wonderful time with the entire family. Teens will love showing off going down Summit Plummet at Blizzard Beach, and the entire family will enjoy snorkeling Shark Reef at Typhoon Lagoon.The best part, however, in both parks is that there is plenty of play area for little tykes. My all-time favorite is Tike’s Peak at Blizzard Beach. Slides, pop-up water jets, and sandboxes provide fun for even the most timid toddler.

At the Magic Kingdom, the best place to get wet is at Casey Jr. Splash ‘N’ Soak Station in the Storybook Circus section of Fantasyland, which opened June 15th. It offers a great relief from the heat and will make your child not want to leave this area. But be aware: You will get wet! And it won’t just be the kids in the splash pad; parents sitting around will also get their fill of water or mist blowing in the wind.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Area Casey Jr. Circus, Magic Kingdom

There is a splash pad located just by Mission Space and Test Track in Future World in Epcot and another one at Innoventions. Again, if you let the kids enjoy themselves, trust me: They will get wet! At Disney Hollywood Studios, beware of the super soaker water gun inside the Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure. This 52-foot-long leaking water hose has the potential to spray the kids enough to warrant a change of clothes.

Splash Pads Anyone?

Splash Zone Epcot

Splash pads in the parks are a good way for the kids to let off steam, but plan ahead and bring swimsuits, towels, and an extra change of clothes. Most of all, make sure that the shoes stay dry. There is no better recipe for blisters than walking in wet sneakers. Also, too much fun in the sun isn’t a good thing, so make sure everybody drinks lots of fluids and lathers on the sunscreen.

At Downtown Disney, two splash pads provide lots of fun, keeping me wondering when Disney will roll out a splash pad at the airport!

Starting Out: Just Do It!

Image

Starting Out

Just do it!

Starting a blog on the first day of 2013? Really? One cannot plan things like that–they are just meant to happen. As with every project, however, this one did not happen overnight and certainly not without help. So let me do first things first. I want to thank my son, Idan Menin, for believing in me–and my family and friends for their support. A special thank you to Janet Forman for all her help and patience, to Gretchen Kelly for her encouragement, and to Benjaman Kyle, who gave me on this very day the final push I needed to settle on the name for this blog and to finally stop talking about it and get started.

I love all things Disney, dragons, hobbits, fairytales, and more. Being the co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids allows me to be “inside the magic” on a regular basis and to report useful, family-specific tips for planning a vacation to Walt Disney World. In April 2012 I started a Facebook fan page and I am grateful to over 3,000 loyal fans with whom I share daily tips on how to make the best of a trip to the Kingdom of the Mouse.

In addition to the book, I have done freelance pieces for Travelmole.com, JohnnyJet.com and I am a frequent contributor to UndercoverTouist.com

Writing has always been my passion, and I am excited to be Starting Out!