Stop and Smell the Roses

We all know the meaning of the sentence, but how often do we really apply the wisdom and stop to smell the roses?

March traditionally brings me to the Florida theme parks, and this year was no different.

At Universal Studios I had the opportunity to join the Krewe of the Jester float and celebrate Mardi Gras. It was a fun experience that I would not mind repeating next year. Universal Studios uses 4 million beads, 12,000 doubloons, and 2,050 pounds of confetti throughout the 50 days of the festival. Laissez les bons temps rouler!

One of my favorite experiences was seeing Rivers of Light, the new sound-and-light show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The animal scenes projected onto mist screens, giant floating lotus flowers spouting water, and the wonderful soundtrack really impressed me. I wish I could have seen the show several times, take it all in, and enjoy the sounds and sights without the pressure of reporting about it.

There were no roses but plenty of other flowers to enjoy at Epcot’s International Flower and Garden Festival. I love the larger-than-life topiaries, the scent of the flower beds, and the inventive gardens on display. The best moment, however, was meeting with friends for a few hours, enjoying the sights and culinary delights of the outdoor kitchens together.

On Sunday, March 12th, under gray skies, I was first in line to review Disney’s newest water park attraction, Miss Adventure Falls, at Typhoon Lagoon. Together with a good friend I braved the 68 F weather to report back about this new family-friendly ride.

So 12 nights and three hotels later, what’s not to like? I do love my job, and I am grateful for all the wonderful opportunities it offers, but I think that, at times, I forget to smell the roses. Gratefulness and appreciation are two different things. To stop and smell the roses is a wonderful philosophical approach to life but a difficult one to practice for a type A person such as me.

I am working on it!

Ratatouille: Disturb, Shake, and Stir

RatatouilleWebster’s 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 of food, as Ratatouille is a wonderful classic French dish originating from the Provence region. Of course, there are those who associate the word with rat-turned-chef Remy 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 months: Disturb, shake, and stir! And God knows I’ve had my fair share of turbulence. It is now three months 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 gives me 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, signed up for the Wine and Dine Half Marathon in Orlando in early November.

Book signing at Todd English - RatatouilleSo what else? Well, there was a book signing at Todd English P.U.B. for Gone Pro Alabama and I can’t wait for Paul Chibeba’s visit with me 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 25 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 tales in this country.

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

Humanius est deridere vitam quam deplorare

Epcot In Bloom

Epcot In Bloom

Life has been a roller coaster lately. 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. 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, ran 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 my 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, Florida.

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 celebrated 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 can create for the Easter table.

Nancy & Sergio's wedding

Nancy & Sergio’s wedding

Spring finally arrived; 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 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 a time. At the end of the day, it is indeed more natural to laugh at life than to lament it.

Flower Power: Epcot International Flower and Garden Festival

Flower Power - Floating Gardens at Epcot

Floating Gardens at Epcot

I am enchanted with Disney and all things magical, for that matter, and there is no plausible explanation for it. However, I discovered during my recent trips to the Kingdom of the Mouse that they each had three things in common: magic, surprise, and a new discovery.

From running the 5K race and being surprised at what I can do to discovering a Whole New World at the New Fantasyland, I was wondering what the next visit would bring. Soon it was time to board the plane to Orlando once more, and I was off on an incredible journey that transported me to the magical Land of Oz at Epcot’s International Flower Festival. It was great to take time to smell the flowers and enjoy a more relaxed pace when visiting. I stayed two nights at The Villas of Grand Cypress and two nights at Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside. Both resorts have immaculate landscaping and offer a perfect reprise from a busy day at the theme parks.

Flower Power - The Lady and The Tramp

My favorite: The Lady and The Tramp

The fact that I visited just around St. Patrick’s Day brought yet another unexpected element of surprise. This time it was Raglan Road at Downtown Disney that captured my attention. Fabulous talent visited during the first Mighty St. Patrick’s Day Festival, and the culinary discovery of Chef Dundon’s kitchen at Raglan Road was a special treat. I can’t wait to return to Raglan Road for a lovely meal and hopefully a 2014 edition of the festival.

Flower Power - Beauty and Beast topiary at NightAt Epcot ‘s International Flower & Garden Festival my eyes had a feast: flowers and topiaries everywhere. I literally made the round of each and everyone of the displays three times. Two cameras and an iPhone were my weapons of choice to capture all this beauty. I wondered how I possibly could convey what I saw through some of the articles I wrote. I hope I did them justice. What really got me excited were the garden workshops and the realization that I could–with lots of patience and the help of a green thumb–bring some of this beauty home. So right now there is a tiny little topiary growing in a Queens apartment, and three offshoots of plumeria are ready and willing–under my care–to produce flowers that I hope to turn into a lei.

Flower Power - Fireworks over Mater

Fireworks over Mater

At night the floral displays were illuminated, and I was smitten by The Beauty and The Beast who where dancing in the moonlight near the France pavilion. I wish Disney would increase the twinkling at night for the 2014 edition of the festival. The festival is going strong through May 19th, and I think I will be back for some more Flower Power before it is all over. In the evening, one of my greatest pleasures was to watch Illuminations: Reflections of Earth, a year-round sound and music show ending in splendid fireworks. This time, however, I did not claim one of the favorite viewing points, but I remembered that from the illuminated Radiator Springs Garden I would get one more fabulous picture: fireworks going off over Mater.

So what’s next? In May I will be back for more magic, more flowers, more surprises, and more discovery as I join thousands of fans on a journey to a galaxy far far away: Star Wars Weekends at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. The weekends run May 17th- June 9th, 2013.