Shimon Peres: A Life Devoted to Country and Peace

Shimon PeresShimon Peres never spoke about peace without evoking the security for Israel, and he was fully aware about the importance of the survival of Israel as a nation, but he also knew that there was no alternative to peace.

He persuaded Yitzhak Rabin to accept the Oslo Accords. Peres shook hands with Yasir Arafat, the chairman of the P.LO. It earned them a Noble Peace Prize. We all know what happened next. But even after Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli religious extremist, Peres continued tirelessly to work for peace.

Shimon Peres wasn’t perfect, but he was the first Israeli president to withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon and deal with the economic crisis the country was facing.

Here is what Shimon Peres believed in: “An ancient Greek philosopher was asked what is the difference between war and peace. ‘In war,’ he replied, ‘the old bury the young. In peace, the young bury the old.’ ”

Who will reassure us in the future that Israel will achieve peace? Shimon Peres was Israel’s moderate, in a nation led by hard-line Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peres was an optimist who once said, “What happened until now is over, unchangeable. I’m not going to spend time on it. So I am really living in the future. I really think that one should devote his energies to make the world better and not to make the past remembered better.” This is a good lesson I still have to work on. I belong to the generation who is still hurting from the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, and I often catch myself thinking what could have been.

On his 90th birthday, Peres said that he still believed that he would see peace in his lifetime. I, too, want to see peace in my lifetime and firmly believe that peace is the only way forward. Let’s celebrate a visionary and Israel’s rebirth while, at the same time, we work relentlessly at bringing about a just peace for all. I was disappointed that Arab leaders were notably absent at the funeral, but, following Peres’ example, I want to emphasize the positive, the courageous attendance of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Shimon Peres was one of the last surviving pillars of Israel’s founding generation. May he rest in eternal peace, a peace that eluded him in his lifetime.

I Know Words, and I Love the Oxford English Dictionary

I know words; I just wish I knew the best of words.

Lately, pundits and so-called experts analyze every word that is uttered. Politicians, on both sides of the aisle, use and abuse words so frequently that it becomes important to recall John Locke’s argument to never trust words to stand for things in themselves.

How many words can one make out of glib?

I find solace in reminding myself that there is beauty in words, those we say and those we don’t say. Words we are afraid to say out loud and words we hope to hear one day. Words, when we choose the right ones, can evolve into the most amazing sentences.

The Oxford English Dictionary

Oxford English DictionaryAnother fascinating look at words is available from the New Words List of the Oxford English Dictionary. What is stracciatella? Is it ice cream or soup? How in the world did trout pout and binky make it into the dictionary? Are you wondering if they are working chop-chop at the chop-shop? Is the female version of a cool dude a dudette or a smurfette? Well, smurf and smurfette did not make into the dictionary, but dudette did. But, I am confident that smurfing will soon make it from the urban language dictionary into the OED.

The Oxford English Dictionary was first published in 10 volumes in 1928. Revisions and expansion led to the publishing of 20 volumes in 1989. I wonder how many volumes a 2016 edition would be. Would I have enough bookshelves to proudly display them? Considering that revised and new entries are added four times a year, the books would be quickly outdated. Guess I better continue to adapt to the electronic age.

It would be sacrilegious not to mention the comma, the one I struggle with, the pretentious little mark that can save a person’s life.

At the end of the day, however, I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:

“Occasionally in life there are those moments of unutterable fulfillment which cannot be completely explained by those symbols called words. Their meanings can only be articulated by the inaudible language of the heart.”

TTYL

Cell Phone Addiction—Time to Let It Go!

Cell phone on bikeIt never ceases to amaze me how we seem compelled to check our cell phones constantly. We rarely are truly unplugged and have become addicted to a constant buzz of information that often distracts us to a point that we are oblivious to our surroundings.

I love to bike to work and always worry about the traffic, drunk or texting drivers, and, lately, Pokémon Go players. I wonder if drivers realize that when they are checking their phones while driving they are playing some sort of Russian Roulette. It is no secret that texting and talking while driving, or checking social media while behind the wheel, has started to cost lives. The only biker I caught checking in with his mobile device at least did it while stationary—but in the middle of the pedestrian walkway!

Hot phoneWhen did constant access to mobile communication become necessary or even desirable? The stress of multitasking, working on weekends, evenings, and on lunch breaks, is, of course, furthering all this.

I am by no means perfect. I rarely leave my home without my cell phone and am guilty of taking pictures, checking my mail, scrolling Facebook and other social media far more often than I would like. I have even managed to overheat the device! Yet, it would never occur to me to do so while driving. I am bewildered at how many people put their phones on a restaurant table. Even couples, obviously on a date, are on their phones instead of talking to each other. Why would I ignore someone’s company so that I can check in with other people who may not even be real-life friends? It just seems wrong.

Guests on cell phones at MKThe usage of mobile devices is a real nuisance at concerts and movie theaters. Can we no longer watch a movie without checking our mail? Why are you watching a concert through the screen of a tablet—and at the same time obstructing my view? The theme parks are no exception. Guests are spending a disproportionate amount of time on their mobile devices.

To be present and in the moment is so important. I recently discussed cell phone wedding etiquette with my son and future daughter-in-law. They decided that during the ceremony only an official photographer will be allowed to take pictures, and that we will, like at the movies, ask guests to turn off their mobile devices. Here is to hoping that nobody will try to catch a Pokémon at the wedding.

It’s that Time of Year Again—Revisions

Walt Disney World with Kids 2017After some intense weeks of work, and multiple revisions, my 2017 edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids is finally off to the printer. The annual ritual starts in March with a research trip to Orlando and is followed by a first deadline for updates and new material by May 15th.

This year, however, there were so many changes that by the time June came, I went on a second research mission to the Kingdom of the Mouse. It was fascinating to be at Epcot the day the Frozen Forever ride opened. The ride opened at 9 a.m. on June 21st. I had made breakfast reservations at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for 8:30 a.m. and was allowed into the park shortly after 8 a.m. that morning. It was great to enter the park early and enjoy taking pictures on my way to the Norway pavilion. And yes, it was my ticket to the front of the line once the ride was about to open.

RevisionsNeedless to say, this made all the difference in the world. I exited the ride at 9:10 a.m.; 20 minutes later, the ride broke down. The park was officially open since half an hour and the line for the ride went back all the way over the bridge to the China pavilion. Cast members held up signs indicating that the wait currently was 180 minutes. Unfortunately, the ride broke down quite often that day, and when you add to this the low loading capacity of the former Maelstrom ride, it is no surprise that the wait, at times, was 300 minutes—five hours!

I did experience the new Soarin’ Around the World flight, enjoyed all the new nighttime entertainment at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and saw Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire, the new show in front of Cinderella’s Castle at the Magic Kingdom.

IMG_5666Over at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, I paid a visit to Skull Island and rode the new King Kong attraction. Skull Island: The Reign of Kong really did impress me. This multi-sensory, multi-dimensional ride is absolutely amazing.

Back in Birmingham, it was crunch time. I had to revise the revisions and submit last-minute changes to my wonderful editor Amber Henderson. Amber brings it all together, and while it looks like magic when she takes over, believe me, it is not. It is hard work. A huge research team, editors, fact checkers, indexers, and a layout and art department support the authors. These behind-the-scenes professionals make me look good and are the guarantee that a great product reaches the reader.

This Year’s Revisions Are Over—Let’s Play!

So what is next? Well, it is never too early to start collating data again, is it? In a few weeks, I will once more board a plane and visit my happy place. I am excited to stay at three different hotels, including the newly opened Loews Sapphire Falls. I want to take tons of pictures and videos. But, most of all, I look forward to having more time for friends than during my past two visits. And yes, there will be pool time!

Farmers Markets: Not All Peaches are Created Equal

farmers marketsEvery week, from April through early December, I visit the farmers market at Pepper Place. This is like a pilgrimage to a place where strawberries, peaches, cauliflower, lettuces, and flowers are competing for my attention.

Not everything is peachy, though, and it is sad to note that prices throughout farmers markets in America are anything but economical. Why is it that we have to pay more for healthy food?

Farmers Markets Connect Consumers to Local Food Growers

We all agree that nothing is better than getting fresh produce from vendors at local farmers markets. I want to be able to get the fresh produce, preferably organically grown vegetables and fruits, but, like so many other enthusiasts, I cannot afford the price tag.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 8.16.32 PMFarmers are able sell their produce directly to the public, bypassing a lot of middlemen, and customers are willing to pay a little more. How much more are customers willing to pay, though? Affordability is an important aspect for every shopper. We should be able to get a better deal on fresh, high-quality produce as farmers are selling directly to customers, allowing them to retain every dollar.

So why is it that prices at farmers markets are more expensive than those we see at grocery stores? While I have no conclusive answer to the question, I believe that it is all about the quality. It is important to keep in mind that the produce you find at farmers markets is very fresh and lasts longer than what you can buy in a grocery store. Last but not least, freshness and quality contribute to better tasting fruits and vegetables.

Ideally, I will have my own garden one day. In the meantime, it’s all about the home-grown, and I can’t get that in the stores.

Forty-Nine Less Rainbows in the Sky—Love Is All We Need

“If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving one be me.” ~W.H. Auden

LoveIt is with a heavy heart that I am writing this post today. This weekend has brought tragic news to my home away from home. First came the sad news of the killing of the Voice singer Christina Grimmie, and next I wake up to hear about the horrific shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Words cannot describe how I feel. My feelings however, are nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to what the families and friends of the victims are going through. The people of Orlando have my deepest sympathy as their city is hurting. I have family and friends in the LGBT community. An attack on them is an attack on those I love. It has to stop!

And, give me a break, a call for more arms is as irresponsible as what some of our elected officials are putting out today. How is it possible that Dan Patrick, Lt. Gov. of Texas, tweets Galatians 6.7? (“Don’t be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.”) The tweet was deleted later, but that does not mean anything. Words hurt. Words kill.

I really prefer to focus on the good, on the helpers. A big thank you to all who answered the call for blood donations, to those who brought water, food, and sunscreen to the donors in line. To the law enforcement teams who have seen such unspeakable horror. To everybody who goes out of their way to give back to the community. May love, light, and hope shine upon all of us.

Love and peace for all of humanity should be a major concern to us. A concern as important as our daily bread and water. A concern that is not based on nationality or religion. It is doable, but we need to want it. I want it. I am not an idealist, and I know it is not easy, but I also know that I do not want to live in a world where we kill each other.

I started the post with a quote, and I want to end with one. “Life is best when you build bridges between people, not walls.” ~Muhammad Ali

My Beautiful Family

“A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.” ~Ogden Nash

familyMy family is small, special, loving, beautifully diverse, and at times, like all families, under the weather.

I have a loving son and a caring, soon-to-be daughter-in-law. But I also have a grand dog. Yes, you are reading this right. The cat person has fallen in love with a dog. And an amazing dog he is. He is the cutest mixture between a dachshund and a beagle, and his name is Gambit.

Gambit loves to eat. As a matter of fact, he pretty much loves to eat everything, but nothing prepared me to watch him savor a bowl of broccoli when he visited with his mom and dad this month.

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 8.31.05 PMIt was wonderful to have my family here in Birmingham, it meant the world to me. And even though Idan arrived on crutches and Laura had a nasty cold, we managed to visit some of my favorite places, including Pepper Place Market. Gambit enjoyed all of the attention he got wherever we went. He felt right at home at the farmers market and acted like the connoisseur he is, daring to be picky about the treats that were so generously offered.

As always, time flew and soon it was time to say goodbye. British novelist Jane Howard said, “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.” I sure know I do. Howard also knew that we all need to learn, “maybe most importantly of all, to cherish the company of those who can make us laugh, who can forgive us our shortcomings, who can restore us and evoke in us a feeling of purpose in the face of absurdity.”

A Cruise to Remember

New OrleansA Birthday like none other started with a train ride, a journey of over seven hours, from Birmingham to New Orleans. I booked a last-minute cruise that would call on ports in Mexico, Honduras, and Belize. I love trains and it was wonderful to simply board the Crescent in Birmingham, sit back, relax, and see lovely small towns along the route. The journey through Alabama and Mississippi to the final destination in Louisiana was so wonderful that I knew instantly that I would do this again.

I love New Orleans. I love everything about the city: the good, the bad, and the ugly. This was my fifth visit to Nola, the third since Katrina, and it felt so good to be back. Meeting up with Millie prior to boarding the ship was all I could have asked for.

cruiseMy first day on board the ship was exactly what I had wanted. There was no more cell phone connection and no more emails. Nothing but blue skies and the soothing waves of the sea. I loved it so much that when we arrived at our first port of call I decided that I would not join any shore excursion but simply walk around Cozumel for a couple of hours and spend the rest of the day onboard, relaxing and enjoying a pretty much empty spa.

IMG_7781Our next stop was Roatán, an island in the Caribbean, off the northern coast of Honduras. I joined a group for a visit to Gumbalimba Park, located in West Bay. While I wish I could have gone there on my own, I found what I wanted: white faced Capuchin monkeys. The monkeys were hilarious and absolutely cute, and interacting with them was unforgettable.

The little rascals where so adorable that, even though I was warned, I did not realize till it was too late that one of them had snatched my sunscreen right out of the pocket of my camera vest. But, as I said, they are so amazingly cute, that I would have given them pretty much anything but my glasses for a chance to interact.

There is so much more to see and do at Gumbalimba Park, but the Capuchin monkeys are the highlight of any visit. The park has beautiful landscaping, and I loved the flora and fauna.

IMG_7757

You can sign up for zipline canopy tours, snuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and more. The monkeys are the stars, but I was also amazed to see iguanas, big and small.

IMG_7767

Iguana or lizard? This is the question I never could solve, but I sure enjoyed meeting some of the smaller little fellows.

IMG_7750

Gumbalimba Park is also home to a huge population of parrots. They are so used to visitors that many will interact with you. They are stunning creatures and absolutely beautiful.

IMG_7776IMG_7777

One of the things to remember when visiting Gumbalimba Park is to respect wildlife. Do not approach the monkeys if they have a baby with them, as the mom and dad might feel threatened.

IMG_5022

The next port of call was Belize City. All I wanted was Mayan ruins, and so I signed up for a visit of the Mayan ruins of Lamanai. Like with everything in life, the good stuff is not in walking distance and so I went on a long, long bus ride to the Mayan site of my dreams. Be prepared for a two-hour bus ride and another hour on a boat.

IMG_5064The reward, however, is a Mayan city in the middle of the rain forest. Lamanai means “submerged crocodile” in Maya. The site is simply amazing, but nothing tops climbing to the top of the 125-foot High Temple to see the jungle canopy spreading beneath.

IMG_5053Check out the Mask Temple begun around 200 BC. Modified several times over the years, it has two 13-foot masks of a man in a crocodile headdress. Our guide told us that the two masks are the same person at different times in his life.The masks are considered some of the finest big masks in the Maya world. In order to protect the originals from the elements, the masks seen by visitors are fiberglass replicas that have been placed n front of the original limestone masks. Deep within the temple, archaeologists found the tombs of a man and a woman. Our guide told us that the women’s skull showed a fracture that indicates that she was put to death when her husband, the presumed leader of that time, passed away.

IMG_5122The next day, I went for some more Mayan history when the ship was in port back in Mexico. I had visited Tulum before and decided that this time I would head for Chacchoben, also known as “The Place of Red Corn.” The Mayan culture, customs, language, and beliefs are fascinating to me, and I hope that I can visit many more similar sites in the future.

After another day at sea, the ship returned to New Orleans, where I enjoyed a few more hours of the Nola vibe. I am grateful for all the experiences I had. I saw people work so hard, for so little, especially in Honduras and Belize. I wish for a future where cruise ships will not only bring eager visitors to distant shores but also real change to the destinations. I want to see a day where the money that guests cough up for shore excursions goes to those who really need and so deserve it.

 

Old Key West: My Favorite Spring Retreat

IMG_3224It is always a real treat to be at Old Key West, Disney’s first time-share property. Modeled after the Caribbean-style residences and guesthouses of the Florida Keys, the resort is the least Disney-esque of all Disney properties. To say that I love staying here is an understatement. I have been blessed to do so four times, yet I still get excited every time I get to go back.  I would love one day to stay here for an extended time and indulge myself in everything the resort has to offer.

IMG_7535Old Key West  has the roomiest accommodations in all of Walt Disney World. Each villa has a private balcony with views of the golf course, a pristine landscape, or the waterway. I stayed in a two-bedroom villa featuring a king-size bed in the master bedroom, two queen beds in the second bedroom, and a queen-size sleeper sofa and foldout chair in the living room. It is perfect for a family of six and can accommodate up to nine guests. I love to have a full kitchen, especially for longer stays. Walt Disney World offers lots of great restaurants, but there comes a time where I really enjoy having a meal with family and friends in a private setting.

Pool Time at Old Key West

Old Key WestOld Key West has four pools. The main pool also has  a hot tub, kiddie pool, a water play area, and (most amazingly) a free sauna inside the idyllic lighthouse. The other, smaller pools are located near buildings 19 and 20; buildings 39, 40, and 41; and another one near building 55. These are basic pools with plenty of towels and a hot tub. The bonus is that they are “quiet pools” where loud play is discouraged. Runners will enjoy the resort, as there are plenty of well-marked routes for a nice run. Want to golf? Search no more, as the golf course is right there on the premises of the resort and absolutely immaculate.

The resort has only one restaurant. Olivia’s is nice and offers casual dining. On the menu: seafood including conch dishes, slow-cooked prime rib, and Key Lime Tart. It is fine for a meal or two but nothing to write home about.IMG_3213

Disney Springs is only a boat ride away. Boats run every half hour; unless you are in a hurry, they are really a good choice. I love sitting back and enjoying a ride down the Sassagoula River. Keep in mind that the last boat back from Disney Springs leaves by 11:30 p.m.

There is something special about returning to this quiet and beautiful resort after a long day in the parks. I love sitting on the balcony of my home away from home, unwinding, sipping a glass of wine—and feeling that I am on vacation.

IMG_3432I love the parks, but I could see myself staying at Old Key West for a LONG time without ever leaving the resort. So I want to leave you tonight with my favorite view, taken from the balcony of my Old Key West Town House this March.

Next month, my son and future daughter-in-law will be visiting my new home here in Birmingham.  I can’t wait to finally share with them my world, the one outside of Walt Disney World.

Spring Has Sprung in Birmingham

Spring in BirminghamGranted, we did not have a bad winter, but that doesn’t prevent Alabamians, and transplants like me, from welcoming spring. It is prime season for hiking, and Birmingham has great trails at Ruffner Mountain and Red Mountain Park.

It is also a great time to visit Birmingham’s Zoo and the Botanical Gardens.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.31.28 PMDid you know that the Botanical Gardens are Alabama’s largest living museum with more than 12,000 different plants, 25 unique gardens, and over 30 works of original outdoor sculpture spread over 67.5 acres? My favorite is the Japanese Gardens, and I love sitting on a bench looking at the reflection of the bridge over the pond.

Another great spot to enjoy quiet time with a good book is the sculpture garden of the Museum of Fine Arts, and it is always great to celebrate the rebirth of nature in one of the many parks along Highland Avenue. If you like a little more action, be sure to be on Highland Avenue for the Do Dah Day parade. It is a riot only outdone by the October Dachshund parade.

Another Lovely Place to Celebrate Spring is Juniper Springs

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 10.27.19 PMI also got to spend a few days of absolute bliss at my favorite place: Juniper Springs, Florida. Located in the Ocala National Forest, it is one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast. It is a place that Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, the author of The Yearling, cherished. If you have not read her books, check them out. The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1939. My favorite, however, is Cross Creek, published in 1942.

March is also the month when I get to go to Walt Disney World to do research for the next edition of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids. This year it will be a challenge, as many new attractions are announced but not open yet. But that is for another post.