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Grandkids at Disney

February 21, 2008 by · Comments Off on Grandkids at Disney 

Mimi rides with the grandkids — RJ and Kyra

Taking the grandkids to Disney is as much an American ritual as the World Series; the planning process as complex as compiling baseball statistics., their website, overwhelmed me. But in the end, it’s as simple as sliding your credit card for a grand purchase.

Expectations run high–Mickey promises The Year of a Million Dreams. So we anticipated magical moments, character greetings and family togetherness. And the mouse roared.

Meeting Buzz Lightyear

RJ gleamed as Buzz Lightyear stamped his autograph book. Seeing Kyra’s star struck face as she watched the Princesses dance across the castle stage was, to quote the commercial–priceless.

Kyra gets a kiss from Minnie

I predicted a few meltdowns from these three and five-year-olds, but we only encountered whines. It’s understandably hard to resist the bombardment of everything Disney in ALL those shops. Walt’s marketing predecessors have soared to infinity and beyond.

At the moment, the Princess phenomena reigns supreme. Little girls indulge in royal make-overs, including hair, nails and a head-to-toe ensemble– for a king’s ransom. Fortunately, we brought a costume for Kyra which included her own simple crown. The fact that she wore the dress with her striped sneakers was unimportant.

Kyra and Sleeping Beauty

Meeting the fairy tale heroines was paramount and again Disney delivered, albeit after waiting in an-hour-long boring line. The Princess Pavilion hides within a Toon Town Tent where entry seems almost secretive. Once you are finally given an audience, it’s a photo extravaganza with Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Belle (of Beauty & the Beast fame).

The young ladies portraying these characters are polished professionals, truly charming, sweet and obliging. Professional paparazzi snap frames at the rate of about three per second. Of course, the Disney Photopass permits you to view and buy these pics through your home computer. My daughter-in-law, Amy and I shot our own.

I purchased the deluxe food plan which entitled us to more meals than we could manage. We dined with Winnie the Pooh characters, enjoyed BOMA’s Animal Kingdom African buffet and ate a supercalifragilisticexpialidocious breakfast in the Royal Floridian. Last morning, we met Chef Mickey and Minnie at our hotel, The Contemporary.

The nighttime parade and fireworks were truly awesome and as we walked toward the monorail, we spied four cast members (as employees are called) each holding a placard. The cards spelled out “See you real soon.” An extra touch and just the stuff that makes Disney memories. They must be doing something right, because we left with plans to return.

Fireworks behind the Castle


One Small Step for … Chimps

February 18, 2008 by · Comments Off on One Small Step for … Chimps 

By Debi Lander

One small step for primates: an island retirement village for “chimpanauts.” The NASA veterans, which were rescued from steel cages and biomedical experimentation, now tumble and climb amid palms, cattails and marsh grass on an 11-island complex near Fort Pierce, Florida.

They thrive in a safe haven, protected and contained by the islands’ isolation, thanks to Dr. Carole Noon and Save the Chimps, a charitable orgranization.


Fort Pierce on Dwellable

Mardi Gras 2008

February 10, 2008 by · Comments Off on Mardi Gras 2008 


The first time I visited New Orleans, the city glittered gaudy and brash. To my eye, everything clashed: the gold, green and purple colors in the tinsel garland, Fleur-de- Lis flags, Creole cottages and littered alleys. The smell of stale beer filled the air and everyone wore multiple strands of cheap beads, some bigger than baseballs.

But, my husband joined a krewe, a club of sorts, and we return annually. This year Nawlins smells better; the city bought a new street cleaner–with a deodorizer!

NOLA seeps into your soul. The streets hum a jazzy beat, one that nudges my core. This community loves to party and escape daily life, and frankly, that’s what I come here to do. I now see the tinsel decorations as charming and understand there’s meaning behind the Mardi Gras colors.

After Katrina hit, we missed the water-downed pre-lent celebration. We wanted to support the city, but sadly, there were no hotel rooms available.

Thinking back to our return in 2007, the people just ambled through recovery mode. Everyone talked about hurricane damage, disaster relief and flood zones. Many shopkeepers told me they hoped to stay in business.

But Mardi Gras 2008 ripped with full-throttle frivolity. Super-krewe Endymion, my husband’s and good friend Gary Granfield’s group, returned to their original mid-town parade route. Over a million and a half people, including many multi-generational families, gathered to snatch throws, baubles and stuffed animals. Jay and Gary threw over a thousand strands of beads– each.

Hotels were full; ladies in elegant low-cut gowns and men in tuxedo swirled at traditional balls; Big Ass Beer signs competed with Jesus Saves posters and Elvis and Marilyn Monroe impersonators roamed the crowd. Sure Bourbon Street boasted a lusty and busty "Girls Gone Wild" display, but I found plenty of other choices in Crescent City.

Chris Granfield and I elected a day of relaxation, away from the madness. Spa specialists Valerie and Debbie at Ofadean Salon lavished us with the most awesome massage and facials. We've already booked services for next year!

Another surprising wonder is the availability of seating at the city's famous restaurants. Any other season, you'd have to make reservations weeks in advance. But during carnival, the locals stay home and the college kids don't frequent these places.

Arnaud's Restaurant in the French Quarter, my favorite, has a menu and reputation that never disappoints. We start with shrimp in a Remoulde sauce, just on the edge of too hot, and end with a flaming tableside preparation of Café Brulot. The spicy orange coffee slides down easy, like silken mousse.

And we don't skip Po'Boy sandwiches at Felix's, beignets at Café du Monde, and drinking hurricanes in Pat O'Brien's, while singing along with the dueling pianos.

I've grown to love New Orleans, wearing sequins and wrapping boas around my neck. She's a fun place to be just a little naughty and gaudy.


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