Thursday, June 28, 2007

Universal Madness

Friday night we had no plans for dinner except attempting to get into Margaritaville at Universal's City Walk. 22 people is an awful lot, and they won't take reservations. So, when we went to the hostess and said we were such a large party, she said she could do two tables for 11 in 2 hours and 15 minutes. My cousin asked how long it would take to get 11 tables for two, that was 1 hour and 15 minutes. At this point it was after 7 PM, so no way were we waiting, especially with 4 kids under 7!

So, we all trooped back to the boat to the Portofino and decided to find something there. Now, they have a bunch of restaurants, but most are fairly expensive and we already had reservations for one for the next night. We found a pizzeria/deli that had a little side room with seating for 8 set up, and asked if we could move tables in for everyone. The staff freaked at first, so Dad and I just sat down at the side and let everyone else hash it out. By the time my cousins and uncle moved stuff around, though, it was a perfect little private room. Then we discovered you had to order everything at the counter, which was very busy. It took me almost 15 minutes just to get my very necessary glass of wine. But the food was tasty and everyone finally had fun (seriously, it took about 2 or 3 hours to make this all happen).

I have become good friends with one of my younger cousins, M, over the past year, and we had made plans in advance to go drinking together after dinner way back when we first plannned the whole trip. I also begged my old favorite cousin, B, to join us and even went to his wife to ask if she minded watching their children that night so he could. She, being the wonderful woman she is, said absolutely and even joined us at a hotel bar for the first round. Unfortunately, my least favorite cousin was all put out, so I did the right thing and invited her, too.

Wow, catching up with family you haven't seen in ages is enlightening! I got to hear the entire story of my uncle's divorce and remarriage, how everyone else was getting along these days, and how weird it was that my uncle's ex also came to the reunion despite her successor being there. It hit me that I may barely know these people anymore, but I still really do know them, because circumstances may change but people rarely do!

So, after J left us to put the baby to bed, we went off to Pat O'Brien's at City Walk and had a couple rounds of Hurricanes. I've had them before, but not like this! They were about a foot tall and super-potent. Not to mention delicious! Highly recommended if you can handle them.

Everyone else begged off before the last round, so M & I ended up alone after all. We dished about everyone until the bar kicked us out and met a really sweet couple from Boston on the way back. Very, very fun.

Unfortunately, we had to meet up at 8:00 AM to go to eat & head to the parks and got to bed around 3:00. Oops!

I was surprisingly not hung-over (rum doesn't usually agree with me) and full of energy the next morning. When everyone finally gathered, we went to Universal Studios to pick up our tickets. One cousin had arranged for all of us to have two park tickets and Express passes that get you on a super-short line for each ride. After about an hour, we all finally walked through the gates and headed over to the Shrek 4-D movie. We had one pregnant woman, one uncle with a heart problem, and me who had never seen Shrek and just wanted to go have a cigarette, so we all stayed off and hung out. After about 30-40 minutes, my Dad comes out the door and tells us they hadn't gotten to actually do the main movie, it was broken. He had given up after 20 minutes of sitting there doing nothing, and soon the rest of the group followed. Then about 8 of them decided to get right back online to see it in the other theater. Everyone else was annoyed, so we dragged them off the line and gathered to figure out the next ride we should go to. I suggested that this was silly, we had lots of ages and different ride preferences, and no one was going to get to do what they wanted if we stayed in a group. Also, there's almost no rides at Universal, they're mostly next door at Islands of Adventure!! So I gathered my fellow thrill-ride fans and we finally got to have some fun!

First of all, the Hulk rocks! Great coaster, every moment a surprise and not so hard on the body (I have back problems, so I prefer coasters that are more psychological than physically draining). Also, their Spiderman 3-D ride is unbelievable and actually scary! I've never been that freaked out on a ride before, it was so much fun!! Both Duelling Dragons coasters are fantastic, I keep trying to have a preference, but it's impossible.

On the other hand, whatever you do if you go to Universal, do not bother with Poseidon's Fury - it is the lamest production I have ever experienced. The attendant said it was fine to bring in an 8-month-old, but failed to warn us that it would scare her silly and she'd cry the whole time. It's full of dark moment and pyrotechnics, why would a baby enjoy it? Why would anyone enjoy it? The kicker was there were exits everywhere and they wouldn't let us use them, even with a wailing baby.

I learned something about Universal in general that day: Universal sucks, too bad their rides are pretty awesome! No organization, clearly lame training for employees, and people just walk into each other everywhere. I have never been stepped on so many times!! It really was a great ad for Disney, to be perfectly honest. They would NEVER make anyone sit on a broken ride for 20 minutes at Disney when it was easy to get everyone out!

In the afternoon we wanted to take all the little kids to Dr. Seuss world, so we started calling around to find the ones that weren't in our sub-group. It took about 20 minutes just to find out who they were with, and then another hour of standing around doing nothing to figure out how to get together. So I took off with one coaster-loving cousin and his pregnant wife (poor thing, she loves thrill rides but couldn't go on them and waited patiently outside everything all day. She wouldn't let us skip anything!) for a few more rides before my left ankle decided it was time to get back to the hotel. We had to get ready for dinner by then, anyway, so it worked out well.

We decided to walk back to the hotel along the garden path (instead of the boat), and it was so beautiful!! Peaceful and full of gorgeous trees and flowers, just what I needed after all the artificiality of the parks.

Luckily, we had actual reservations for a fairly tasty buffet that night, so for once we got to just go sit down somewhere. We all dressed up a little, too, and it was neat to see everyone out of theme park mode. Really great desserts, yum!

Everyone was pretty tired and heading home the next day, so after a couple of drinks with a small group, we all said our goodbyes and made plans for breakfast with the people who were leaving in the afternoon. What a great day!!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

EPCOT Center

A Little Background:

I have giant extended families on both sides, so even though I am technically an only child, I grew up surrounded by people. My father is also an only child, but his side is so close that I have spent plenty of time with third and even fourth cousins. They are all wonderful people and I've stayed in touch with them as much as possible despite my busy life.

My mother came from a family of six children, of which she was the second oldest and sort of the glue that kept the family together despite a LOT of drama. Only two of her siblings are still alive due to very bad luck with car accidents and some terrible illnesses. My two uncles are the oldest and youngest and have never been close at all, it's a real shame. When my mother was still alive she made sure that all of the kids in my generation really grew up together. We had giant family parties and visited relatives as far away as Hawaii on a regular basis, so I really got to know everyone better than any of the other cousins.

When Mom died, most of the family disappeared, only to be seen at other funerals. They were not exactly kind to me during Mom's funeral planning, and then they never bothered to keep in touch. They also blame me for not making the effort, despite my youth at the time. I've been resenting them for years, to be perfectly honest, but I am now an adult and willing to put that firmly in the past and give them another chance. Especially my cousins, after all, they were young, too.

When my oldest cousin called and said she wanted to plan a reunion in Orlando, I jumped at the chance to reconnect.

The Story:

Everyone showed up except for my younger uncle and his daughter, who was busy giving birth to her first baby (pretty good excuse, huh?). My father and I joined the family on Friday (some had been down since Monday) at Epcot Center. Actually, we got there about an hour before everyone else made it, so we rode Spaceship Earth and I stood on the entrance fountain watching for everyone. It was so exciting to see them coming in, and even better to get to hug everyone!

We were only a group of 12 that day, which made it pretty easy to keep everyone happy, especially since Epcot is full of pretty mellow rides (except for Mission: Space and Test Track) so even the youngest kid with us (6) could go on almost everything.

It was so cool! We rode Spaceship Earth again, then checked out the new Ellen Degeneres and Bill Nye version of the Universe of Energy, which was hysterically funny. We lamed out and went on the mellower version of Mission: Space so the people who couldn't handle the regular version didn't have to wait for an hour for the rest of us. I must admit, it was fun but I can't wait to do the full version of it because I love spinning rides! We all got on the single rider line for Test Track, but my cousin A and I got lucky and got to sit together anyway because of a very nice family riding with us who shifted their seating for us. What a great ride!

When we went to lunch at Mexico in the World Showcase us adults got to start doing what we do best - drinking! Their margaritas are really good, they even have a drink called the Fiesta Margarita that is layers of different flavors in one glass. Pretty AND delicious!

We explored the World of Imagination like crazy, taking in the ride and the movie as well as playing with every crazy toy they have there. The kids started to realize I was the fun adult - I turn into a total child the minute I walk through Disney turnstiles! I think that's one of the best parts of not having children, I still have the energy to act like one myself.

We wrapped up the afternoon with a trip through the Finding Nemo ride (Ellen is everywhere in Orlando now - the first thing we saw at Universal Studios was a billboard for her talk show, too) before heading back to get ready for dinner.

The best part of the day was that we were all together, but everyone got a little time alone with everyone else. Perfection!

We were staying at the Portofino Resort at Universal, which was gorgeous and very luxurious. Dad kept saying it looked just like Portofino in Italy except there were no cliffs rising behind the buildings and there were rowboats in the harbor instead of giant yachts. If you go to Orlando and aren't staying at Disney World (and have a LOT of money to spend), I highly recommend it.

Okay, I don't want to make this the world's longest post, so I'll continue this in a little bit. Stay tuned for Universal and the Magic Kingdom...

Hello Again!!

Ahhh, so nice to be home with computer access (and a cable modem)! Two weeks with little chance to post (or read my favorite blogs) was a long, long time.

On the other hand, I have a lot more material to draw on now! Also, my eyes have recovered a bit from my normal amount of computer time.

For the moment, I'm just here to say hello and after I wrap up a couple of things I'm going to start posting about the insanity of too many pets, wedding updates, and what it is really like to experience Orlando with 22 members of your long-lost family.

I missed you all!! I promise, it will be a long time before I'm gone for two weeks again, even if just for my own sanity. Unless I get to take my dream trips to India or Australia, seems like you need a lot more than 2 weeks for either!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Dial-Up Despair

I've got a laptop. It's awesome - a desktop replacement that's designed for excellent graphics (i.e. gaming) capability. It's giant, but the big screen and raw power (at least when it was new) are totally worth the back pain.

I don't actually travel with it much, but I had to bring it up to my sister's house this week and she doesn't have any internet service at all herself. On paper, that's okay, I've got a popular nationwide dial-up ISP loaded and this is partly why I stay a member despite my tasty wireless network at home.

First of all, I pull out my computer and turn it on, and it says there is no hard drive. Ouch! I started feeling around the outside and realized my drive was hanging out a bit from it's slot on the side. It's screw is missing, and it has completely disappeared! No idea when or how it happened, but it's staying in fine so far. I have a bunch of spares at home, so I'm just going to try not to move it all week.

Then, I had a heck of a time trying to log in and find a local access number. It turned out it was the *70 that is used to turn off call waiting screwing up the process. Unfortunately, it took about a half an hour on the phone with tech support and at least 3 restarts to figure it out!! All that after hours of trying to fix it myself.

But yay! I'm online at last! I go to the first page I needed, and the looooooooong wait begins for it to load. I really forgot how bad dial-up is!!

As you may recall, I am partially up here to start planning her wedding, and I'm a very web-based planner. It's tough to check out text, let alone a page full of pictures of gowns! I did get them hooked up with internet access again, but I feel bad that my sister is going to have to look at stuff I send her over this kind of connection. I swear, if I was rich I would get her broadband. Oh, well.

I haven't gotten to read a single blog post (good thing it's been the weekend) and I haven't really checked my email beyond a cursory glance at the "From" lines. I feel so disconnected.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Bad Hair Season

Warning: parts of this post may make you hate me...

I have long, straight, and very thick hair. Over the years I've learned that pretty much everyone dreams of having hair like mine, at least the straight and thick part since they rarely go together, but it's really a pain in many ways. I've been dyeing it since I was 9, and settled on red for good when I was about 18. Despite the long-term mistreatment, it grows about an inch or more per month.

Of course, I've spent a lot of my life trying to get my hair to curl, which is difficult at best. More mistreatment! I have gotten two perms and both fell out in about a day. I've tried hot rollers, sleep-all-night-in-them rollers, spiral rods, steam rollers, every kind of curling iron, and whatever other bizarre gadgets are supposed to add texture to hair. I don't even want to think about how much I've spent on styling products that did nothing to help.

A big misconception about straight hair is that it's easy to find a stylist with any idea of how to cut it properly. In fact, it took me nearly 30 years to find the right one! Luckily, he worked in a salon just a few blocks from my current home. He gave me long layers and a very soft face frame, which are so perfect that I can simply air-dry and brush it, or give it a good blow-out (which he taught me how to do properly) and it looks like I spent hours on it. Best of all, it actually will take a curl now! I had no idea the right cut could accomplish so much.

So, in April I was about to schedule an appointment when I got a card in the mail saying he and a colorist from the same salon were leaving abruptly and opening their own salon a block from my place. Great news, but I need a freakin' haircut!!

Finally, the other day I got another card from them saying the new salon was opening. I went by yesterday and it's STILL NOT OPEN!!! My stylist gave me a tour and explained the massive amounts of problems in getting it all going, and I completely understand, but I repeat: I need a freakin' haircut!

At this point my hair is basically like a blanket with a mind of it's own and ragged edges. It flies into my mouth and nose whenever I give it a chance. It whips me every time I turn my head. Worst of all, it sometimes wraps around my neck while sleeping and tries to strangle me. I won't even go into what happens when I try to kiss my boyfriend or, heaven forbid, have sex. Does my hair actually hate me?

The kicker? The salon is finally opening next week, and I'll be out of town for the next two weeks!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Late Night Text

On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, I got the following text message from my sister:


Now, this is at 2:25 AM, and apparently she didn't think I'd be up (despite my lifetime of insomnia), but I immediately knew in my gut that she was engaged, and I was hoping one of the favors would be standing up for her as MOH (maid of honor, for those of you who don't frequent wedding sites). So, I called her back immediately and I was totally right! Yipppeeeeee!!!!!

The other favor, for those of you who are curious, was to come up and pet-sit for her giant menagerie for a week. She's got a bunch of parrots, a dog, 5 cats, and assorted aquariums that always seem to have something new in them, so it's a huge job. I used to live with her, though, so all the animals are used to me, and I could sure use a week in the country! Plus, I'm going up a few days early to start the wedding planning. I can't wait to see her!!

The weirdest thing is, I love her fiancee already and I'm meeting him for the first time on Friday. He treats her like she deserves and makes her feel good about herself, so he's automatically my favorite guy she's ever been with! He's also been nice and very funny on the phone with me, always a good sign!

They are probably holding the wedding in a friend's backyard (which I hear is really nice, hopefully I'll see it this weekend) and they've set the date for next July.

I've been asked to do a lot of the planning, as I love organizing and planning events of all kinds, but this is my first somewhat traditional wedding (the one other time I was MOH, it was a destination wedding and very tiny). I've become a wedding site junkie already, and it been less than 2 weeks!!

The thing is, I'm more happy for her than I would be for myself, it's just the way I feel about any of her good news. Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that I'm not really the marriage type myself, but if I change my mind someday, at least this will be great practice, right?

Here's my question, for anyone who has had a wedding or planned one, how do I make sure this is as easy and stress-free for her as possible? I'm the sort who is at my best when under pressure, so I'm not so worried about myself, but I also want to make sure I'm giving her what she wants, not what I want (luckily, our tastes are fairly similar). Any advice at all would be appreciated.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Strangers Sharing a Drink and Conversation

Okay, so I started two blogs about things I'm passionate about, but it's been hard to keep them going. I started with specific topics because I've always heard that they are the best blogs, but all the ones I truly love are about random musings on various subjects. So here goes nothing...

This is my life. I'm always amazed that I'm willing to post stuff to blogs (my own and others) that I'm not willing to say to anyone but the closes people in my life. There's something safe about being so anonymous, sort of like meeting a stranger in a bar.

So, pull up a stool and order the drink of your choice, and let's get to know each other, even if we forever remain "strangers".