When I was 9

JayBirdBirthdayWhen I was 9, we lived in a rural neighborhood tucked between our family’s farm and a DuPont plant built for commercial polyester production. Our yard was bordered by pasture land on one side and a railroad track on the other.

The drainage was bad.

I remember the yard flooded more than once. It was a big yard, too, with a small garden and a shed in the back. If it rained hard, which it did sometimes in North Carolina, our yard transformed into a small lake full of minnows and crawfish and the occasional cottonmouth.

Our neighbor kept chickens.

My brother and I would leave pennies on the rails and hunt for them in the mud between the ties after the train had flashed past the house.

We rode our bicycles all over the neighborhood. It was a small neighborhood, situated on a circular drive. Half of the drive was dirt road. We lived where the pavement turned into dirt, right next to the railroad crossing. The neighborhood was called DuPont Circle.

Another neighbor kept a pen of hunting dogs on the other side of the railroad track, about a half-mile back. At feeding time, we heard those dogs baying like they were right in our kitchen.

One night, around Christmastime, we heard a tiny meow coming from under the house. Sometimes farm cats came over to our neighborhood to give birth to their litters. One of the kittens either got left or got lost, and it meowed its displeasure into the night.

I crawled under the house and used my green jean jacket to trap the spitting and scratching gray ball of fur. I brought her out and adopted her as my own. I looked in a book about cats and named her Cattae because I thought it was French for cat. It wasn’t, but that was her name until Grandma Mary renamed her Katy after we moved to Florida.

Grandma Mary moved into that house on DuPont Circle with us after Pa-Pa died.

I turned 9 in 1978. Star Wars was less than a year old. We didn’t know – had no clue, when I was 9 – that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father. What do you think about that?

When I was 9, I wanted to be a veterinarian.

One time, a kid named Bucky who lived down the street on DuPont Circle wrapped a black racer around our front door knob, rang the doorbell and ran away. I answered the door and that snake was pissed. I never screamed louder or ran faster.

When I was 9, we used those yellow Wiffle ball bats as light sabers. Our bicycles were X-wings and TIE fighters. We loved CHIPs and Battlestar Galactica and college basketball.

When I was 9, we had no cable TV, no microwave, no Blu-Ray or DVD, no cell phones.

My dad played in a bluegrass band and danced in a clogging troupe. We had a pig-pickin’ at our house with more than 100 guests.

When I was 9, I played baseball and I loved to read. We played a game called cup ball at Kinston Eagles minor league games. Does anybody play cup ball anymore? We would wad up a Pepsi cup as tight as we could and play a version of baseball, using our bare hands as the bat. If you caught it in the air, or if you pegged them between bases, they were out.

I read Watership Down when I was 9.

I remember all of this, and so much more, about 9.

Today, my older son is 9.

He lives in a nice suburban neighborhood in a house with his father and mother and brother with a small pond and cypress stand across the street. Cattle used to graze on this land. Before that, it was Florida scrub: palmettos, mostly, and wetland.

He loves Star Wars and Minecraft and Pokémon and theme parks and books. I’m reading Watership Down to him at night before bed.

He loves his family and he loves school. He loves playing with his friends and he loves animals. He wants to be a veterinarian.

In nine years, he will be an adult – legally, at least. In 36 years, he will be my age. He will look back at the coming year and remember so much.

And so will I.

So will I.

5 Things Kids Will Love About a Snowy Holiday in Kissimmee

When I asked my son to list his five favorite things about our recent Snowy Holiday getaway in Kissimmee, he groaned. Not because he didn’t want to do it, mind you. He groaned because … well, here’s what he told me.

“Do I have to make it five? There’s so much more than that!”

He was absolutely right. Each stop on our weekend excursion gave us dozens of memories. And we even came in a day late, so we missed the ICE fun at Gaylord Palms (we’ll take that in another time).

I explained to Jay that I wanted our final Snowy Holiday post to reflect the Kissimmee experience from his perspective, so other kids and their parents can know what it’s like. Once I convinced Jay that choosing only five things didn’t mean he was disrespecting the rest of the fun we had, he settled in and wrote down his list.

By the way, one of the many things I love about my older son is his propensity for joy, especially when it comes to spending time with friends. I am reminded of this every time I watch him meet someone new. Most of the time, he and his new friends begin to play and interact as if they had known each other all their young lives.

I saw it in action again in Kissimmee, when Jay met the kids of my fellow attendees at the Experience Kissimmee media event — Marisa from Adventures of Tampa Mama, Carlee of Frugal and Fun Mom, and Melissa of JonahBonah. All four kids had a blast, and Jay made my heart melt a little when he told me his real favorite thing about the weekend: “Hanging out with my friends.”

The Snowy Holiday kids: four Floridians frolicking on the ice in Celebration. Photo: Carlee Chambliss Colonneso, Frugal and Fun Mom

The Kissimmee Snowy Holiday kids: four Floridians frolicking on the ice in Celebration. Photo: Carlee Chambliss Colonneso, Frugal and Fun Mom

Top 5 things my third-grader loved about our Snowy Holiday adventure in Kissimmee:

5. Encantada Orlando Resort.

When we arrived on a Friday afternoon, we were blown away by the size and comfort of our townhome at Encantada. We have stayed at several theme park resorts and non-affiliated hotels throughout the Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista area. Now that we know about the amenities and affordability of Encantada, we will add it to our vacation rotation.

Snowy Holiday

He loved Encantada Orlando Resort so much, he vowed to buy it one day and live there.

4. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

More often than not, this wonderful night-time event at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom would top the list of any kid who spent a weekend in Kissimmee. We managed to work our way right up next to the Cinderella Castle stage for a super-close view of the Frozen holiday show, then we rode the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and a couple of other rides before grabbing a snack at Casey’s on the way out of the park. It was the perfect way to begin our weekend.

Snowy Holiday

We were that close to Elsa and Anna during the Frozen show at Cinderella Castle.

3. Feeding dolphins at Sea World.

Jay had been to Sea World before, but he had never interacted with the dolphins at Dolphin Cove. There were three animal interactions on tap this trip, including the Penguins Up Close Tour and the chance to feed a two-toed sloth and pet a ball python at the animal ambassador pavilion. He will always remember the first time he touched the chin of a dolphin and dropped a fish into its mouth. So will I.

Snowy Holiday

He fed this dolphin a lot of fish.

2. Go-karts at Fun Spot America.

At Fun Spot America, we could have braved the 300-foot SkyCoaster, which is the world’s tallest of its kind. We didn’t do that. Maybe next time. As it was, Jay and I had a blast riding the multi-level go-karts. It had been years since I drove a go-kart, and this was Jay’s first time in the passenger seat of a two-seater. We went pretty fast, and the turns were tight. We will most definitely be riding go-karts again soon.

Snowy Holiday

We went very fast on the multi-level go-karts, but we never tipped over. Somehow.

1. Ice Skating at the Town of Celebration.

Skating at Now Snowing was an amazing experience for both of us. I had never been on ice skates before, and Jay had only done so once, during a summer camp field trip. It took a few minutes for me to convince him to give it a try — during which time I felt like I was trying to convince myself, too. We strapped on our skates and, even though the surface was hard white plastic instead of real ice, we “glided” along with few spills and lots of laughter. Now, we can’t wait to go skating on real ice as a family.

Snowy Holiday

A Snowy Holiday selfie on skates in the Town of Celebration.

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Holiday Text to Win Sweepstakes

Experience Kissimmee is offering a chance to win a three-day, two-night Snowy Holiday for you and three of your closest friends or family members.

Here’s how to enter:

Text “snow” to 82257

Or …

Go to the official sweepstakes website, SnowyHoliday.com, and fill out the entry form.

The prize includes two nights at a Kissimmee destination resort, theme park admission and tickets to local attractions for the winner and three guests. To learn more or to follow the winter fun, follow Experience Kissimmee on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: We were invited on the Experience Kissimmee Snowy Holiday media event to review the fun winter activities available in the Kissimmee area. Park entry and accommodation were provided for review purposes.

Making Memories on a Snowy Holiday in Kissimmee

My first time on ice skates, at the Now Snowing Christmas event in the Town of Celebration. It took some convincing, but Jay finally joined me. He looks pretty happy about it, doesn't he?

My first time on ice skates, at the Now Snowing Christmas event in the Town of Celebration. It took some convincing, but Jay finally joined me. He looks pretty happy about it, doesn’t he?

We stood on the edge of the rink and watched the skaters slip and slide and trudge and glide across the faux ice. The expression on Jay’s face was a portrait of conflict. I could tell he was intrigued, but it was equally obvious it would take some serious convincing to get him out there.

For a third grader with a Star Wars LEGO obsession, money talks.

“I’ll make you an offer, Jay,” I said. His eyes remained fixed on the little girl in our party. She was a couple of years younger, and she was having a blast on skates. The warmth of her smile would have melted the surface if it had been real ice.

“My offer is this,” I said. “I’ll give you $20 – right here, right now – if you go out there and skate with me.”

His eyebrows shot up and he turned his face toward me to see if I was serious. I was, but there was a limit.

“You have five seconds to decide,” I said. “Five … four …”

He laughed and looked over at his two new buddies, both from Florida, both a bit older than Jay, neither all that inclined to go skating, either.

“Three … two …”

He laughed again and yelled, “Maybe!”

“One. Buzz! Offer rescinded,” I said, not feeling the least bit guilty.

Snowfall in Central Florida? Ice skating? Winter? Yes, yes and yes.

Snowfall in Central Florida? Ice skating? Winter? Yes, yes and yes.

Would I have paid up? Sure, why not? But the idea wasn’t to bribe my son into participating in the incredible winter fun at the Town of Celebration’s annual Now Snowing event. It was to illustrate to him just how fun it actually would be. That semi-serious offer of $20 meant a lot of potential fun — and a lot of LEGOs.

It was an offer he could refuse, though, so I resigned myself to enjoying the “snow” and the other winter fun on tap that night. (Not to mention the impending supper of roast pork and sangria at the Columbia restaurant.)

Jay and his friends watched the little girl slide and smile her way around the rink a few minutes more. Then, as I was about to make my way to the wandering carolers near the tall Christmas tree, he changed his mind.

“Dad?” he said. “I want to do it.”

“Really?” I said. “Even without the $20?”

“Yep,” he said. “Even without the $20.”

The thing about winter in Central Florida is there’s no snow and very little ice. Skating takes place indoors or on temporary rinks set up for the holidays.

Before that night in Celebration, I had never had ice skates on my feet. Jay had, but only for a day during a summer camp field trip, and it had been at least two years – an eternity for a third grader.

The Snowy Holiday party had a great time with our hosts, Experience Kissimmee. Here we were together at SeaWorld, with a couple of new sea lion friends.

The Snowy Holiday party had a great time with our hosts, Experience Kissimmee. Here we were together at SeaWorld, with a couple of new sea lion friends.

You know what, though? I wasn’t nervous. Once I figured out how to strap on the skates, it was a smooth ride. We held hands the first time up the rink, each of us taking slippery little baby steps along the wet, plastic surface. I let go of his hand, and off he went.

Then … it snowed.

It was, without a doubt, the highlight of a weekend full of incredible Snowy Holiday memories in Kissimmee.

Here are the other highlights, each of which easily would be a keystone moment for any family vacation:

I already shared our impressions of our amazing accommodation at Encantada Resort and our first night fun at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party during our first day in Kissimmee. We missed out on the Gaylord Palms ICE interactive exhibit and show, but we’ll be back for that one day.

At SeaWorld, Jay met a king penguin named Cobie and fed a dolphin. The park was decked out for Christmas, and my animal-loving son got to interact with creatures he never would come into contact with otherwise. We also got to visit the baby manatee we met during the summer, and she certainly seemed to be thriving. It’s always eye-opening to see up close the conservation and rescue efforts of the animal care staff at SeaWorld. I wish they could somehow cut through the rhetoric on both sides of the controversy and really get the word out about the important work they do to help animals.

At the Town of Celebration, we reveled in the “snowfall,” listened to the Victorian-era Christmas carolers and, as mentioned, went “ice” skating for the first time. Funny that two dudes from Tampa ended up eating dinner at the Columbia, but it was fortuitous because a member of our party introduced me to a garbanzo bean and spinach appetizer that I later made for my family on Thanksgiving. Yes, it was delicious.

At the starting line of the multi-level go-carts at Fun Spot America in Kissimmee.

At the starting line of the multi-level go-carts at Fun Spot America in Kissimmee.

On Sunday, the final day of our Snowy Holiday, our group went to Fun Spot America in Kissimmee. It is one of two Fun Spot parks in the area. This one features the world’s tallest SkyCoaster, a 300-foot-high hoist-and-drop that sends victims … I mean thrill seekers … plunging at 65 mph. Some in our group braved it; Jay and I chose instead to ride the multi-level go-cart twice before jumping aboard the RockStar Coaster and spending an hour or so in the arcade. We had never been to Fun Spot, even though we were always intrigued by the iconic SkyCoaster towers we saw on the horizon during our many trips to Disney World. We will go back, and I can’t wait to take my younger son on the go-carts.

We did all of that on our father-son weekend in Kissimmee. When I asked Jay on the ride home what he’ll remember, he immediately told me the ice skating. He’ll soon share his top five experiences on a guest post, so keep an eye out for his DadScribe debut in the next few days.

During the drive home, as the last remnants of adrenaline receded, my son grew quiet. His head drooped. I saw his eyes flicker and knew sleep was close. There was energy enough for one last question, though.

“Dad?” he said.

“Yes, buddy?”

“When do I get my $20 for skating?”

I looked in the rear-view mirror and answered his sleepy grin with one of my own. There’s no way to put a price tag on a moment like that.

“I’ll owe you,” I said, and my son fell asleep in the back seat while I drove us home.

_______________

Holiday Text to Win Sweepstakes

Experience Kissimmee is offering a chance to win a three-day, two-night Snowy Holiday for you and three of your closest friends or family members.

Here’s how to enter:

Text “snow” to 82257

Or …

Go to the official sweepstakes website, SnowyHoliday.com, and fill out the entry form.

The prize includes two nights at a Kissimmee destination resort, theme park admission and tickets to local attractions for the winner and three guests. To learn more or to follow the winter fun, follow Experience Kissimmee on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Disclosure: We were invited on the Experience Kissimmee Snowy Holiday media event in order to review the various winter activities available in the Kissimmee area. Park entry and accommodation were provided for review purposes.

‘I wish every day could be just like this’

The first night of our Snowy Holiday in Kissimmee: the Magic Kingdom and Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.

The first night of our Snowy Holiday in Kissimmee: the Magic Kingdom and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

The late-night line at It’s a Small World moved quickly, but slow enough for the boys to spot the thousands of dollars worth of coins patrons have tossed into the water below the gangway. The coins coat the bottom of the Small World queue pool like a freshly minted metal carpet.

And if you throw one in, you can make a wish.

Jay tossed in a penny, closed his sleepy eyes to silently beseech the … I don’t know, the spirit of Disney? To grant his wish. Which was:

“I wished that every day could be just like one,” he said.

Me, too.

We boarded the Small World boat with our friends, waved goodbye to the attendant, and proceeded to join the singing automatomic children of the world as they repeatedly warbled the most powerful ear-worm on the planet.

Friday began our father-son Snowy Holiday, a three-day adventure that came our way at the kind invitation of Experience Kissimmee. There could have been no better way to kick it off than to attend Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at the Magic Kingdom.

By the time we walked up the ramp to the monorail late Friday, we already had experienced enough theme park fun to fill a “normal” weekend. But we’re just getting started.

I picked up Jay from school in Lutz Friday afternoon. An hour and 15 minutes later, we arrived at our base of operations for the weekend — our townhome at CLC Encantada Resort. I am always pleasantly surprised by how quickly we can make the trip from Tampa to the theme park area of Kissimmee and Lake Buena Vista. It’s great to know we can get here fast — and for just the cost of gas.

Encantada is a hidden gem, and it’s surprisingly affordable. The “rooms” are full-sized town houses. Ours has a hot tub. When we walked in, Jay was amazed.

“This place is HUGE,” he said, then he looked through the blinds at the lanai and spotted the hot tub. This two-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath place is fully appointed with the comforts of home. In fact, Jay later said he wanted this to BE his home. Can’t do that, but because we live so near in Tampa, it’s practically in our back yard, anyway. We will be back.

Our base of operations during our Snowy Holiday, Encantada Resort.

Our base of operations during our Snowy Holiday, Encantada Resort.

We joined our party at the Encantada clubhouse and headed over to the Magic Kingdom. This was our first time at the Very Merry Christmas Party, and we were blown away immediately when it started to snow on Main Street USA.

We knew that Queen Elsa would soon arrive to transform Cinderella Castle into a Frozen ice palace, so we weaved our way through the Main Street crowd and managed to get right up close to the stage. It wasn’t long before Anna, Kristoff, Elsa and Olaf made the scene for the Frozen Holiday Wish show.

Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff hanging out on stage in front of Cinderella Castle during the Frozen Holiday Wish show at Magic Kingdom.

Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff hanging out on stage in front of Cinderella Castle during the Frozen Holiday Wish show at Magic Kingdom.

You know, it’s hard to believe Frozen came out less than a year ago (Nov. 27). It seems like it’s been part of our culture for a lot longer than that. Disney has wisely incorporated iconic characters and a themes at the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot.

I have Let it Go stuck in my head right now.

After the Frozen show, we made our way over to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. I had ridden it during the day a couple of weeks earlier — on the same day it caught fire because of a fireworks accident, actually. My initial impression was that it’s a nice “kid” coaster, and I knew Jay and his new buddies would love it. The line activities are perfect for boys and girls age seven to about 11, and we’ve found that the wait times are significantly shorter than the time listed at the front of the queue.

But Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at night is a completely different ride. When you can’t see the dips and turns coming, they are much more thrilling than they are during the day. I don’t think I’ve experienced a ride that transforms so substantially — in a good way — at night. Jay loved it, and one of his buddies asked immediately if we could do it again.

From there, it was off for ice cream and a stroll through Frontierland over to Adventureland to ride Pirates of the Caribbean. Small World was going to be a quick respite before we hit Space Mountain, but somewhere between Spain and Australia, Jay hit a wall and we decided to head back to our Encantada townhome. We slept like logs.

Today, it’s off to SeaWorld, followed by an evening of winter fun in the Town of Celebration. Follow along on on our Snowy Holiday using the DadScribe Instagram feed and Twitter account.

Holiday Text to Win Sweepstakes

Here’s the part where I tell you that Experience Kissimmee is offering a chance to win a three-day, two-night Snowy Holiday for you and three of your closest friends or family members. That’s right: You can do this, too.

Here’s how to enter:

  • Text “snow” to 82257

Or …

  • Go to the official sweepstakes website, SnowyHoliday.com, and fill out the entry form.

It’s that simple. The prize includes two nights at a Kissimmee destination resort, theme park admission and tickets to local attractions for the winner and three guests. To learn more or to follow the winter fun, follow Experience Kissimmee on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Kissimmee Winter: a #SnowyHoliday Right Here in Florida

CinderellaCastleWinterWe’re going to North Carolina next week for Thanksgiving. My folks live on a farm up there. Our boys love hiking through the woods, searching for animal tracks, imagining they’re Civil War soldiers or ancient explorers.

It’s a world removed from our home in suburban Florida, where the horizon is a silhouette of swaying palm trees and a “cold” day is defined as one that requires wearing long pants and maybe a sweat shirt to school.

Knowing it’s a bit chillier up there this time of year, my 8-year-old son, Jay, asked with hope in his voice: “Dad, will there be snow at the farm?”

I had to tell him that there probably would not be snow, that even though it will be a lot colder than we’re used to, it rarely snows in Eastern North Carolina this time of year. He was visibly disappointed, but then I reminded him that we don’t need snow in North Carolina next week, because he and I are about to embark on a snowy holiday this weekend – right here in our home state of Florida.

We were invited by Experience Kissimmee to spend a weekend having all the winter fun the Kissimmee area has to offer. Jay and I and a group of blogger friends will stay at Encantada Resort, take in Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Celebration at Magic Kingdom, check out SeaWorld Orlando’s holiday preparations, dive into a media preview of the Now Snowing holiday event at the Town of Celebration, and take a Boggy Creek airboat ride at the headwaters of the Everglades.

Jay and I met a big shot with big ears and a big hat last year at Disney World. As Floridians, it's great to have all this right here in our back yard.

Jay and I met a big shot with big ears and a big hat last year at Disney World. As Floridians, it’s great to have all this right here in our back yard.

Whew. That’s a lot, but because of school and work commitments, Jay and I won’t be able to join our friends in Kissimmee until Friday afternoon. The fun we’ll miss includes a media preview of the amazing ICE! interactive exhibit at Gaylord Palms Resort, dinner at Sunset Sam’s, breakfast at the Market Street Café, a holiday treat cooking session at the U Can Cook school in Celebration, a visit to Chocolate Kingdom and lunch at Flipper’s Pizzeria.

(Wait, what? There’s a Chocolate Kingdom? And we’re MISSING it? Oh, we are so coming back for that.)

This is a wonderful way for my son and me to make new memories in an area, Kissimmee and Central Florida, where we have had some of our best times together as a family. Walt Disney World, of course. But also SeaWorld and LEGO Land, and the fancy resort hotels we’ve been fortunate enough to stay at occasionally.

We are a theme park family, yes, and now we’re going to get to experience some of the other fun that is, after all, only a short drive up the interstate for any Florida family. It is great to know that all of this is right here in our Florida back yard, so we don’t have to spend a small fortune to make lifetime memories at attractions millions of people travel thousands of miles to see every year. Yes, Florida residency does have its perks.

Before we head out for our adventure, I want to let you know that Experience Kissimmee is offering a chance to win a magnificent, three-day, two-night Snowy Holiday for you and three of your closest friends or family members.

Here’s how to enter the “Holiday Text to Win” sweepstakes:

  • Text “snow” to 82257

Or …

  • Go to the official sweepstakes website, SnowyHoliday.com, and fill out the entry form.

The prize includes two nights at a Kissimmee destination resort, theme park admission and tickets to local attractions for the winner and three guests. To learn more or to follow the winter fun, follow Experience Kissimmee on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

And to follow along with our adventure this weekend, keep an eye out here, on my Facebook page, the Twitter account and Instagram feed.

There might not be snow on the ground in Eastern North Carolina next week during our Thanksgiving trip to visit family. But we are going to see snow. In Florida. This is going to be so cool.

ExperienceKissimmee

What’s Important

What's important? This, always.

What’s important? This, always.

What’s important?

It’s a question. The question, really. It’s also an imperative statement reminding you to recognize and acknowledge something you ought to appreciate in the moment.

I’m thinking about what’s important. Do you know?

These things we write. These stories we tell. This used to seem important. It might have been, sometimes. I’m not sure anymore.

Now, on a bright Sunday afternoon, I sit on the couch with a football game on TV and watch my older son skip in and out of the house. He’s outside in the November sunshine playing with friends. He’s inside getting a cold drink of water.

I watch him from the couch. He comes in through the sliding glass door and reaches up on tiptoe to retrieve a plastic cup out of the cabinet. He is not tall enough yet for this act to be performed casually. It takes effort, this reaching up. On tiptoe, nothing is easy.

He gets the plastic cup and opens the refrigerator. I hear filtered water pour into the cup.

I watch him, and he sees me watching him. I don’t say a word while he finishes drinking his water. He puts the cup on the kitchen table and, before he heads back outside, he walks with a purpose across the family room toward me.

He grabs me in a hug and kisses me on top of my head. He kisses me again, then pats me on the head.

“I love you, dad,” he says.

“I love you too, bud,” I say.

And just like that, he’s back outside running in the sun, playing soccer with his friends in our back yard.

Was that important? Did it matter?

Do you care? Probably not. Nor should you. It’s my life. It’s my memory. You have your own.

Of course I care. It was one significant exchange during a languid weekend that will be otherwise remembered, if it is remembered at all, for a visit by my wife’s sister from Massachusetts. The sisters spent Saturday night away while the boys and I hung out and watched Shrek.

Did that matter just now when you read the title of the movie we watched Saturday night? Was that important?

It was a detail, a small dash of color. I might have said we watched “something” on TV, or we played board games. Maybe we went to the beach and lit a bonfire and drank Jack Daniels all night while surf fishing for the giant hammerhead shark that patrols the Gulf of Mexico just off Tampa Bay. Maybe that was someone else, or us in the future. Or maybe it never happened and never will happen.

Does it matter?

What’s important?

Right now, my wife and two sons are hunched over a toy circuit board on the family room floor. The TV is turned on — halftime of a Carolina basketball game. It’s muted. As I tap away at a blog post on my laptop, they fiddle with the circuits. A doorbell, a Morse code signal box.

“We got this light working,” she says. “How come nothing else is working, though?”

They’ll figure it out.

But so what if they don’t?

Does it matter?

What’s important?

I feel like whatever it is, I can almost reach it. It’s right there on the lowest shelf in the cabinet. All I need to do is reach a bit higher. I’ll get it if I keep reaching. Just a little farther.

And you’re watching. I see you watching. But I’m reaching, up on tiptoe, where nothing is easy. When I find it, I’ll let it soak in for a good, long time. I won’t let it go until I know the answer. And then I’ll come to you, if you’re still watching, and I’ll grab you in a hug.

I’ll kiss you on top of your head and kiss you again. Then I’ll go outside to run in the sun, where nothing matters but the grass and the trees and the laughter of children under the bright, blue sky.

 

 

 

 

 

Food, Wine and a Day in the Sun

DayInTheSun

One year later, we walked around the world together. The light kissed our cheeks and the breeze tossed our hair. It was a cool day, a good day. A day of food, a day of wine. A day together in the sun.

Epcot’s 2014 International Food and Wine Festival has come and gone. We were there late in the process, a week or so before the finale. It was a cool Saturday, a bit windy. It’s not often we get a taste of autumn around here, even on the day after Halloween.

November 1. The date meant something different this year. It used to be sugar hangover day, a day of trick or treat recovery … and of birthday anticipation. A year ago, it was supposed to be a Disney day, too. That didn’t turn out as planned.

You don’t “recover” from something like that. You get through it and adjust. And on the one-year anniversary, a year after one of the worst nights and weekends of our lives, we went to Disney World for the International Food and Wine Festival — just me and my wife.

This was a day for us. It was a day to enjoy the cool temperature, a day to feel young.

We began the morning at the Magic Kingdom, showing up at rope drop, eager to get started, impatient to taste our freedom. Our feet barely touched Main Street USA as we dashed to the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. The wait in line already was officially an hour, but we boarded in 37 minutes. It was fun.

That night, a fireworks accident set the ride on fire. No one was injured, and it re-opened an hour later.

We rode the Mine Train, then walked onto the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean. We thought about Starbucks on the way out, but the line for $6 coffee was longer — by far — than the lines for Mansion and Pirates. So we found seats on the monorail and headed to Epcot.

The two tickets issued by Disney public relations (for review purposes) were park hoppers. That gave us the run of the place, basically, for a day. Why not take it all in, we figured? Why not go for a three-park day?

That would be too much, as it turned out. We would later decide to forgo Hollywood Studios, but that was the beauty of the day — we had options, and those options were limited only by our energy level and ambition.

Instead, we did something we could not have done if our sons had been with us. We ended our day at the Grand Floridian. More on that later.

Before we knew where we would end our day, there was a world to traverse.

We ate this:

What we ate at Food and Wine. 1) America: Fresh baked carrot cake with Craisins® and cream cheese icing; 2) Italy: Filetto di pollo, con funghi al marsala — Chicken tenderloin, cremini mushrooms, marsala sauce and ciabatta bread; 3)  France: Boeuf bourguignon — Braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes and Gratin de crozets de Savoie — Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese; 4) Scotland: Vegetarian haggis with neeps and tatties — Griddled vegetable cake with rutabaga and mashed potatoes; 5) Poland: Kielbasa and potato pierogi with caramelized onions and sour cream; 6) Ireland: Warm chocolate pudding with Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur Custard (gluten free); 7) Ireland: Kerrygold® cheese selection — Reserve cheddar, Dubliner with Irish Stout and Skellig; 8) Grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies (gluten free); 9) Roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll, Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen beer.

What we ate at Food and Wine. 1) America: Fresh baked carrot cake with Craisins and cream cheese icing; 2) Italy: Filetto di pollo, con funghi al marsala — Chicken tenderloin, cremini mushrooms, marsala sauce and ciabatta bread; 3) France: Boeuf bourguignon — Braised short ribs in cabernet with mashed potatoes; and Gratin de crozets de Savoie — Wheat pasta gratin with mushrooms and Gruyere cheese; 4) Scotland: Vegetarian haggis with neeps and tatties — Griddled vegetable cake with rutabaga and mashed potatoes; 5) Poland: Kielbasa and potato pierogi with caramelized onions and sour cream; 6) Ireland: Warm chocolate pudding with Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur Custard (gluten free); 7) Ireland: Kerrygold cheese selection — Reserve cheddar, Dubliner with Irish Stout and Skellig; 8) Australia: Grilled lamb chop with mint pesto and potato crunchies (gluten free); 9) Germany: Roast bratwurst in a pretzel roll, Schöfferhofer Grapefruit Hefeweizen beer.

While still at the Magic Kingdom earlier that morning, we attached our daily tickets to our My Disney Experience account and secured a Fastpass+ reservation for Soarin’ at Epcot. We landed the 1:25-2:25 p.m. hour, which melded well with our goal of eating our way around the world at a leisurely pace.

At 11 a.m., when the festival kicked off in earnest at World Showcase, we had the place virtually to ourselves. There were no lines at any of the kiosks, which gave us the luxury to stroll from country to country and consider our many options.

Scotland was first. Vegetarian haggis — basically, turkey stuffing with delicious spices. Through Canada, where filet mignon from le Cellier would eventually draw some of the longest lines of the day (Mexico, with its ribeye taco, and Belgium, with its waffles, would rival Canada for line length).

On past the United Kingdom and into France. Around the world we walked. Morocco, Japan, America (.38 Special was on stage that night, but we would miss it). Italy. We paused and watched the shadows shorten from the stairs overlooking the lagoon.

Beth in Italy: a smile on her face and the breeze in her hair.

Beth in Italy: a smile on her face and the breeze in her hair.

There, I saw my wife as if for the first time, as if she and I were strangers in Venice, thrown together by fate and food. You ever experience that? A moment of revival. The veil of daily life falls away and life is new again, if only for a minute.

That’s what happened when I saw her sitting there on those steps by the water in Italy. She sat on the steps, framed by blue sky and dense greenery. The autumn sun peeked over her left shoulder and teased her shadow toward Spaceship Earth across the lagoon. The breeze took her hair and she smiled. She smiled at me in that moment, there was no one-year anniversary to process, no birthday to celebrate, no crowd at Epcot.

There was her, and me, the sun and the food. 

We thought about our options. We were free to do whatever our hearts imagined, if what we imagined involved food, wine or themed rides. There was another thing we could do, and it was Beth’s idea — why not hop aboard the monorail and explore a Magic Kingdom resort?

The Contemporary was a thought, but it had to be the Grand Floridian. We bid farewell to Epcot, where the crowd had begun to thicken and the lines had begun to lengthen. We changed trains at the transportation center, moving easily from the Magic Kingdom-Epcot line to the resort line.

An outdoor balcony at the Grand Floridian. Ideal for rest, relaxation and one last Food and Wine Festival memory.

An outdoor balcony at the Grand Floridian. Ideal for rest, relaxation and one last Food and Wine Festival memory.

We walked off the monorail and into a Fitzgerald short story. The massive lobby was white, like diamonds piled on silk curtains. A live band played across the way. Patrons lounged and snoozed on the gilded furniture below.

At our window seat in Mizner’s Lounge, we shared our last hour over drinks and a delicious flatbread appetizer. We contemplated a return to the Magic Kingdom. Small World? Hall of Presidents? The night parade? Fireworks?

No. As tempting as it was to stay — it is always tempting to stay — it was time for our walk around the world to come to an end. We had seen what we wanted to see, eaten what we had wanted to eat, drank what we wanted to drink.

We had been who we needed to be, if only for a little while.

Our day in the sun was over. But we will be back in the spring, and it will still be there.