Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Just Peachy

It’s a rare thing, indeed, for a person to NOT like peaches.  I know.  In fact, I think I’ve only ever met one other person who doesn’t like peaches.  Actually, two someones.

How can I not like peaches? 

It began when I was a child.  Canned peaches were a family favorite.  And they were regularly served on our dinner table (and by regularly, I mean nightly – or at least that’s how I recall it – the trauma still fresh in mind).  Quite simply, to me, canned peaches smelled like the most odiferous of … wait for it … stinky feet. 

And that’s where my dis-love of peaches started.

In addition to the pungent odor that didn’t quite agree with my stomach, the slimy goo in which said canned peaches were contained simply made me feel all icky inside.  It was thick and runny.  Snot-like in its existence.  Covering the peaches and making them jiggle about in the same glass bowl that my mother always put the peaches in.  Canned peaches fall in the same category as oysters, as far as I’m concerned.  All ooey and gooey and … ugh.  Just.  Ugh.  And no, I don’t like oysters either.

How the rest of my family could practically inhale the things after dinner, the slimy goo happily dripping down their chins, I have no idea.  Perhaps I was adopted.  (Kidding!  They didn’t allow a single drop of said slimy goo to miss their mouths.  I also might be kidding about being adopted.)

Fresh peaches?  Absolutely.  Not.

Yes, I agree, they are certainly different than the canned variety.  And I know people love the feel, the smell, the taste of the luscious fruit.  Not to mention the nutritional value, what with all the antioxidants and such.

My father had peach trees in the yard.  The deer and squirrels LOVED them.  The proof of which was the disgusting remnants left scattered about the yard.  And which made an even more disgusting mess every time I mowed the yard (and no, I was not about to pick up the leavin’s before I hopped on the mower! Ewwwwww!)

During the summer, the height of peach season, we often drove over an hour to a little town in the Texas hill country, that is renowned for its peach crop.  My mother would load up boxes of them.  I, of course, wasn’t much help.  And then I was forced to ride home (another hour plus!) with the sickening smell pervading every inch of the car’s interior.  My mother, however, was in heaven.

I really wanted to like them.  Truly, I did.  But I just couldn’t get past the smell. 

And in some respects, the texture.  The fuzzy skin.  Ew.  Just the thought of picking them up makes my skin crawl.

My husband must know how very much I love him, when, during peach season, I make a monumental sacrifice by adding them to our grocery list.  As a kid, I watched my mom in the store, picking up the peaches, gently squeezing them, smelling them.  And so, I do the same.  Though admittedly, I’m not really sure what I’m looking for in a good peach. 

Does it smell like stinky feet?  Okay – it must be a good one! 

My lack of love for peaches has become somewhat of a family joke.  My dad thinks he’s real cute, when his peach trees are full and ready to be picked.  I know it’s time because every year, without fail, he calls me to tell me the peach trees are full and they’re ready for ME to come pick them.  My gag reflex tells him he’s done his job.  He’s a real comedian, that one.  And he laughs and laughs and laughs some more.

There was a time, when going to the car wash, I would request “pina colada” as my scent of choice. After a few days, that old, familiar smell stench, reminiscent of my childhood kitchen table, practically suffocated me as I drove.

What.  On.  Earth. 

Convinced that they mistakenly heard me say “peach”, I tried the next time to enunciate better, even leaning my head out the window to clearly say “PI-NA CO-LA-DA”.  Yet the results were the same.  Having learned my lesson, I now simply request “new car” scent.

When my oldest granddaughter was old enough to eat solid food, her parents introduced one new food at a time (infant allergy testing, you know).  Imagine how proud I was when I received a text saying I wasn’t the only one in the family that didn’t like peaches!  My pumpkin-girl and I are kindred spirits!  At the ripe old age of six months, the girl knew what was up!  And peaches.  Definitely.  Weren’t.  It!  My girl!

My loathing of peaches even extends to the color “peach”.  Tangerine and pumpkin, okay.  But the pale pinkish-orangish color of peach.  Nah.  I’m more of a teal type of girl.  Or aqua.  Like the ocean. (Under the Sea)

You may be wondering if I’ve even ever tried peaches?  Why yes, I have!

I’ve tried peach cobbler, a staple in Texas at every barbeque restaurant, buffet and potluck dinner!  Alas, I work my way around the peaches, trying to separate the “cobbler” from the fruit as much as possible.  Do you know how difficult that is?

I’ve even attempted to bite into a fresh peach.  Once.  I timidly picked up the colorful fruit.  Brought it close to my mouth.  Breathed in.  Opened my mouth.  And quickly put it down.

Once in a fancy Italian restaurant, I ordered a Bellini.  Before I knew what Bellinis were.  One sip.  Might as well have put the $6 I paid for the thing into a shredder.

At bunco recently, the host offered up mango margaritas, with a splash of peach something-or-another.  Water for me, thanks!

Peaches and homemade vanilla ice cream?  Yeah, that was a family favorite too.  It’s no wonder that vanilla ice cream (especially when it's homemade!) remains my favorite of all the ice creams in the world.

Having outgrown my dislike of onions and tomatoes, I’d have to say it’s a pretty safe bet that my taste buds, after 54 years, won’t turn the corner on this one. 

Plain and simple.  I. Don’t. Like. Peaches.

So yeah.  I’m weird like that.  I’m the one person you’ll only ever meet who doesn’t like them. 

More for you, you say?  Good on ya!  More for you!

Sunday, October 20, 2019

The Nerve

In the weeks leading up to my hernia repair surgery, I was forced to restrict what I was doing in the gym.  And then, there were the two weeks post-surgery where I couldn’t go to the gym at all.
And I made a lot of bad (fast food) choices.  Because I felt sorry for myself.  
After the surgery, there were another two weeks with restrictions in the gym:  lift nothing more than 15 lbs. and don’t put pressure on the abdomen.  Well …. that didn’t leave much in terms of CrossFit ...
My coaches though, were GREAT, crafting upper body work for me to do - something that allowed me to get moving again!  Even with a 15 lb. bar.
And then, we went to Hawaii for a week.  And I ate all the carbs that Oahu could offer.  Leonard’s Bakery.  Need I say more? 
And slowly but surely, the numbers on the scale went up.  And up.  And up some more. 
Of course, I immediately returned to the gym once home from our island getaway.  And getting back into our dietary routine was an absolute must. 
Because I could no longer fit comfortably in my slimmer-fitting jeans (Three is a Magic Number).
I slowly began to add weight to my barbell.  Pfffft!  I thought. 15 lbs. on a barbell is nothing.
Until I tried working with a 22 lb. barbell. Now that was tough. The next day, putting 35 lbs. overhead proved difficult; it was about half of what I used to be able to do. 
I put 80 lbs. on my barbell for a deadlift.  My most favorite lift of them all.  And it felt good.  But it was nowhere near my heaviest deadlift (217 lbs.). 
It was as if I was starting CrossFit all over (Lift Like a Girl).
It was a chance for me to get back to basics.  Work on my form (and believe me, my form and technique needed a LOT of work!) 
Then one day, about six weeks post-op, as we were warming up, I felt a stabbing pain in my right thigh.  It doubled me over, this feeling like someone had taken a red hot ice pick to my leg.  (Seems like an oxymoron, but the pain was sharp and it felt like my leg was on fire).
I didn’t know what it was.  But I knew it wasn’t right. 
I rolled it out.  I iced it.  And still … the pain continued.  In fact, it got worse.  Worse than the pain leading up to my surgery.
It fired at random.  When I was sitting. When I was standing.   When I was walking.  When I was laying down.  There wasn’t one thing that triggered it. 
And it was debilitating. 
Over the course of those first five days, when it hit, I couldn’t walk for several minutes afterwards, as the zingers just kept coming.  I also developed what could be likened to Tourets Syndrome. The expletives spilling forth from my mouth.  One friend asked if I was having a seizure, the jolt of pain so searing, my whole body jerked in response. 
Because WebMD is your friend, I diagnosed myself with nerve pain. 
My surgeon and an Airrosti doctor agreed, though they didn’t agree on which nerve.  One thought it was my femoral nerve (which makes sense because my hernia was femoral and on the same side as my leg pain) and the other thought perhaps, my sciatic. 
I know I’m not the first person to experience nerve pain, but wow!  This well and truly sucked. 
I dutifully took the prescribed (nerve) pain meds and did the prescribed stretching exercises.   
But there was now a different challenge ahead of me in the gym.  Basically – don’t do anything to set off the pain.  Okaaaaaayyyyy ……  I did say it was unpredictable, right? 
As the weeks went by, the debilitating pain became less frequent.  And I began to categorize the zingers as “major” or “minor”.  Or even “twinges” – little pinches which let me know the nerves were still agitated.  Or, as the Airrosti doc said, that they were pissed off.
My leg felt raw. And it itched. A constant reminder that something wasn’t right  
I even survived a week at Walt Disney World, where we pounded the pavement for an average of nine miles per day.
A third opinion came in the form of a second Airrosti doc, whose theory combined the two previous diagnoses.  He thinks my L3 was tweaked following my surgery, as my body compensated for the newly-acquired mesh which is holding my fascia together at the site of my hernia.  As a result, pain shoots down into my femoral nerve.    
To use the words of one of my friends, it seems I just can’t catch a break. This is now becoming a mental challenge, as much as a physical one.  
Is CrossFit still right for me?  Can I still work out without injuring myself?  Will this pain ever go away?  
I’ve come so far in my wellness journey, I just can’t give up! 
Whatever this is, I’m finally wrapping my brain around a couple of things.  Thanks to some well-meaning friends who I know have my back.  
·         My body is still healing from surgery. Heck, even my surgeon said it’ll be a year before I’m 100% .
·         I might not be as strong as I used to be. And that’s okay. 
·         I’m older.  I don’t have to prove anything to anyone (in terms of the weight on my barbell).  I just have to move.
·         I will gain my strength back. Not to worry. Even if I never get back to lifting 217 lbs., I’ll still be able to lift a huge bag of dog food.
And while I continued to increase the weight on my barbell, I still had little twinges of pain.  I know it’s a good day though, when I leave a little sweat on the gym floor.  And I’ve been doing that a lot. 
One of my coaches even said I looked more athletic than she’s ever seen me.  Two cheers for increasing my form!
Almost 12 weeks post-op and 5 1/2 weeks after the on-set of the nerve pain. The PT assigned by Airrosti doc #2 seems to be working. Either that or the massage I had with the ever-so-wonderful Pedro, him and his magic fingers.  
The constant raw feeling is gone. And it’s been several days since I’ve had any pain in my leg. The twinges barely perceptible.  
And I feel ready to take on the gym and whatever constantly varied functional movements my coaches throw at me. And I’m okay with the fact that the next time I get a barbell overhead, it might not be 70 lbs.  
Now if I can just avoid the cookies and ice cream and breads and booze on this cruise, I just might be able to get back into my size six jeans. 

Friday, September 20, 2019


“The sky is blue.”  Says my friend, who listed this as her response to a philosophy exam question and received a not-so-favorable grade.  My response: “oh … no, no, no, no, no!”

I’ve always loved a beautiful sunrise.  Even better, are the sunsets.  And the clouds.  I’ve even learned to appreciate a rainstorm (It’s Texas.  We appreciate any amount of rain).

Before I retired, my work day began at 7:30.  The lobby of our building had floor-to-ceiling windows and each day, as I made my way up to the second floor via the stairs in the atrium, I looked east, and often caught the sunrise.

A beautiful array of pinks, then oranges, then yellows.  On a very good day, there were also purples.  Lavender, turned into the prettiest shade of violet.  The sky eventually giving way to the blue that my friend would see.

A few years ago, I attended a Walk to Emmaus (Leaps & Bounds).  It was after this retreat, that I began to see sunrises in a different way.  God’s masterpieces, as it were.  And what a magnificent painter He is!  And each morning, upon reaching the 2nd story landing, I had a new appreciation for what I witnessed.  And I started my day with a smile.

It made me thankful for a new day.  And I often wondered how many other people were awestruck by the very same sunrise.

As we checked off the #1 item on my bucket list, I woke early one morning and tried to catch the sunrise.  Though cloud cover made that a little difficult.  Still, the sky was filled with pinks and even blues, or maybe it was grays.  The sun trying desperately to break from behind the clouds.

When I moved back to my hometown of San Antonio several years ago, I found some like-minded weirdos who liked to awaken before the roosters, throw weight on their backs and walk purposefully through the streets of our city (What the Ruck?). 

It was on these days, that we (including my friend, the finance major) were treated to some pretty spectacular beginnings of the day.  Various shades of orange often emerged, from peach to the brightest of tangerines.  

And still, my friend saw blue.

If you were to ask me to describe the most incredible sunrise I’d ever seen (and really, you are wondering, right?), that’s easy.  It occurred in Kruger National Park, South Africa.  We left our camp in time to enter the park before sunrise.  As the sun crested the savanna, our guide stopped the jeep.  And we sat.  In awe.


Bold oranges gave way to blood red skies.  And as the reds faded to orange, and the orange to yellow, a giraffe and her calf, passed by.

My granddaughter, my pumpkin-girl, and I often find ourselves looking into the clouds.  Spotting various animals, most of which are smiling.  Watching them as they chase us home, often shape-shifting into something else by the time our destination is reached.  Wondering whether these clouds, puffy, and white, might give way to the grays, and provide us a much-needed rain shower.

Growing up, rain showers almost certainly meant playing indoors, because it was too dangerous to be outside.  Lightning and all. 

Until the rain was over and you were sent outside to read the rain gauge.  And hope that by the time you made it back in to report the amount, that you were actually able to remember it!  Adults, for whatever reason, were always interested in how much rain Mother Nature had provided us.

But as a kid, rain showers yielded something else:  mud puddles!  The better to splish and splash through, preferably on one’s bike.  The brown goo spraying every which way.  And while my dad might’ve taken pride in washing his truck every week, it was a good day when I got to wash my bike.  Because it meant a good time had been had.

When the sky turns gray, and then black, we, the responsible drivers in San Antonio know that it’s better to stay off the roads.  For drivers in our fair city revert to their 15-year old, driver’s permit-carrying selves at the sight of the first rain drop. (Life in the Fast Lane).

My husband loves to watch the rain.  And it’s something I’ve grown to appreciate over the years.  We’ve even been known to get out of bed and sit on the patio at 3:00 a.m. when a thunderstorm, with it’s booming thunder and brightest of lightning, rolls through.  Of course, it’s pitch-black outside at that time of night, save for the moments when the sky is lightened by said bolts of lightning.

And after the really big rain showers, my husband gets a text from my dad.  Asking how much rain we had in our rain gauge.

Our pumpkin girl’s favorite color is currently “rainbow”.  She’s 4.

But really … who can blame her?  What with the orange-orange, lemon-yellow, and raspberry red.  Oh wait.  That’s something else entirely.

I dare say, at her age, looking for rainbows, with its multiple colors (literally, all the colors of the rainbow, ya’ll), makes for a very good day.

And at the end of the day, as we send the sun on its journey to the other side of the globe, we are presented with another mesmerizing image.  One that often, in my opinion, surpasses the beauty of the sun’s daily debut. 

We don’t live on the side of the town that often has the best sunsets (that’s reserved for those facing west).  But on occasion, if the clouds are situated just right (and maybe the atmosphere contributes to this?  I don’t know.  I’m not a meteorologist), we are treated to beautiful hues of pink, meshed with orange.  My phone, as it adds light to the picture, will often display purples too. 

I can tell we’re in for one of these beauties when our living room turns its own shade of pink.  And I run outside (first to the back of the house, then to the front) as the colors seem to envelop us, surround us, before dipping out of sight, making way for the moon.

And the views from atop the Tower of the Americas isn't all that bad either.  (of course, for me, it's especially nice when the view includes my hubby!)

When we travel, and the day’s blue hues begin to give way to something even more spectacular, we often make it point to watch the sunset over drinks.

I love the sunsets in New York City.  The sunlight shining onto the many skyscrapers, and in turn, the glass of the skyscrapers reflecting the sunlight.  And as the last bit of sun hovers over the Hudson, dipping slowly behind Lady Liberty, the city lights bring the city to life.  And the moon shining brightly above the dark blue sky.

There’s also something pretty spectacular about watching the sun set over the water. 

There is a phenomenon I’ve only witnessed once.  It happened in Hawaii a few years ago.  And honestly, I don’t know if it happens anywhere else.  On a good day, a cloudless day, as people gather along Waikiki Beach to bid Aloha to the day, you must wait for it.  Wait for what, you ask?

Well … you can’t blink, because you literally might miss it.  So I put my camera down.  And I waited.  Just as the sun makes its final descent, there it is.  A green flash.  A very pleasant surprise.  And I thank the local surfer dude who encouraged me to wait it out and keep my eyes open.

Some of the most remarkable sunsets we've been treated to occurred this year.

In the Philippines, over a couple of ice cold San Miguel pilsners, we watched as the bangkas, the spidery outriggers that dotted the waters along the island’s coastline, bobbed up and down slowly.  Behind them, the sun changed from orange to red to blue to purple to yellow then back to orange again.  No (photo) filters were necessary.

And then there were the sunsets in Africa.  One, on a sunset river cruise on the Chobe, various shades of orange filled the soon-to-be night sky.    

And the next night, as I made my way to the patio of our lodge, regrettably without my camera in hand, I was treated to the most amazing sunset I think I have ever seen.  Brilliant shades of deep reds and striking purples.  Merging together.  The light bouncing off the river, highlighting the marsh’s tall grass. 

And I stood there, soaking up the moment.  It lives on only in my memory.  But what a memory it is.

This.  Was so much more.  Than a single shade of blue.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The First Cut is the Deepest

When I was six, during a routine doctor’s visit, my doctor identified I had a hernia.  Now … you might be wondering how exactly a six-year old gets a hernia.  Honestly, I’m not sure.  I was a tomboy.  I liked carrying my sister around piggyback style.  A lot.  And while she is older, and thus, was taller than me (back then, anyway), it’s not like she weighed an excessive amount.  Add to this fact, that most groin hernias occur in young men.  Maybe I’m just a medical anomaly.

I had my first hernia repair surgery before I turned seven and entered first grade.  It’s the first thing listed on my medical history, besides being born.  Not surprisingly, I have a few vivid memories from the whole experience. 

I recall the smell of the hospital.  Sterile and anti-septic.  And not in a good sort of way.  In my memory, it was almost pungent.  I remember them placing the blue shower-cap- looking hat on my head; “now you’ll look like one of us!” the nurse said cheerfully.  As if the thought of someone cutting into my tiny body would be less scary because I have on a special hat.

I remember the ride to the OR, in the elevator, with a couple of medical staff around, and I think my mom was there too. 

I remember them trying to put the gas mask on me.  If I thought the hospital, in general, smelled, then this was 10 times worse than THAT!  I tossed my head from side to side, fighting the anesthesiologist with all of my might.  Or as much might as I could muster given that I think they actually had me strapped down.  The mask finally secured to my face, they asked me to start counting.  I didn’t get very far.

Of course, I don’t remember the surgery itself, but I remember crying because I didn’t want to stay in the hospital overnight by myself.  And my mother, who, in my opinion, should be nominated for sainthood, stayed with me.  Doing her best to sleep in the most uncomfortable of vinyl-covered chairs.

The spidery stitches covered with a yellow-ish, rubbery-looking material.  Lest, I become too curious about removal of said stitches.  And I wasn’t very happy with the doctor wanting to remove them either.

And there were no piggyback rides for the foreseeable future.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  My son is complaining of pain in his groin.  The diagnosis, a muscle strain.  Rest, along with a lot of ibuprofen, is prescribed.

But then something happens.  I start having pain in my groin.  On the left side.

Pain that is unpredictable in its timing.  Stabbing pain that is akin to being stabbed with an ice pick (not that I really know what it feels like to be stabbed with an ice pick).  Pain that is constant – lasting several hours in duration.  Pain that occurs during a workout.  Pain that occurs five hours after a workout. 

I think I’m taking this whole “sympathy pain” just a little too far.

After more than two weeks, I decided I should have this checked out.  My doctor referring me to a surgeon because she can neither confirm nor deny that I have a hernia.

Another two weeks pass before I can get in to see the surgeon.  And the pain has subsided.  But why not get it checked out, right?  Just to be sure.

One physical exam later, and the surgeon cannot definitively say that I have a hernia; nor can he definitively say that I don’t.  And he orders up a CT scan.  If it is a hernia, he (the surgeon) will call me to discuss options.  If it’s not, his MA will call to discuss treatment plans. 

In the interim, I’m advised to lift nothing heavier than a gallon of milk.  I have a newborn granddaughter (our little bean) that weighs more than a gallon of milk!

Due to the lack of pain, I push the envelope at the gym.  Adding weight to my barbell, little by little.  Tired of waiting for the results, not to mention, not lifting as heavy as I normally do (I mentioned I have a thing about lifting heavy things, right?), I anxiously call the surgeon’s office looking for answers.

“Mrs. Miller”, the nurse says, “I talked to his MA and they said he will call you after he’s out of clinic.”  “He”, I ask, “as in, the surgeon?”


Okay – so I know what I’m dealing with.  Or at least I think I do.

Before he shared the results of the CT scan, my surgeon wanted to ask … what side I was having the pain on.  Doesn’t yield a lot of confidence, does it?  “My left”, I said.  He goes on to say how that is all very interesting.  He double-checked his clinic notes – and yep!  It says right there, I reported pain on my left side.  And CT scan did show a hernia.

On.  The.  Right. 

And nothing on the left.  Confused, he even looked at the film himself and yep!  There it was!  A femoral hernia on my right side.

We discussed options (to have surgery or not have surgery, that was the question).  And after talking with the hubs, we decided it would be best to have it fixed, rather than waiting for it to get worse (which, in all likelihood, it would, because, you know … heavy things … yada, yada, yada.)

So here we are.  Five days post-surgery. 

I did not fight them as they put the mask over my face.  I actually rather welcomed it, knowing that I really did NOT want to be awake for the procedure.

I awoke with three new incisions on my abdomen, the procedure having been done robotically.  One incision for the camera, two for the robotic “arms”.  Lovely.  

I’ll spare you the pics of my innards (Before, during, and after pics were complimentary with the cost of the surgery.  That's a nice perk, don’t you think?)

Pain meds and pizza became my guilty pleasure.  And junk food.  When picking up my meds, Keith asked if I would like anything else from the store.  Kit Kat!  I want a Kit Kat!  And now we have a 1 lb., 0.1 oz. family pack of miniature Kit Kats in our pantry.

Personally, I think this whole recovery thing is not going to be a big deal. 

Oh, how wrong I was.

No one bothered to tell me was that I could expect significant pain in my lungs.  My ribs.  My shoulders.  And my sternum.  Now why, pray tell, would that happen, when the operation was below the belt (provided the belt was on a pair of mom-jeans)?

Apparently, when surgery is done robotically or laparoscopically, they pump your body full of gas.  And then there are the fluids – all the stuff from the IVs that get added to the mix.

What’s left, after the surgeon has left the operating room, is not nearly as "fun" as having the hernia to begin with.

My lungs threatening to push outside of my ribcage, pressing against them with every fibrous tissue.  I swear, I must have cracked several ribs, or bruised them at a minimum, just trying to catch a breath.

A stomach that makes me look like I’m starting my second trimester (even though I know that’s impossible given mine and Keith’s respective medical histories).  The bloating so bad, it led me to tears on night two because it had been a while since I’d seen my stomach looking like THIS!  Or maybe it’s just the 1 lb., 0.1 oz. bag of Kit Kats.

Pain in my right shoulder (why the right, I have no clue) that practically immobilized me upon waking the next morning.  The knot in my shoulder would make Quasimoto envious.  “That”, the person who called from the hospital to check on me, “is a result of the gas trying to find its way out of (my) body”.  Like … through what orifice??? My armpit???

As nighttime approaches, the pain moves into my rib cage.  Making it extremely difficult to get a good, much less a deep, breath.  And forget getting comfortable.  It’s not happening.  Perhaps I’ll eventually just pass out from exhaustion, my body numb from such duress.

And then … there is the pain in my collarbone and shoulder (of all places!) that comes with each burp or yawn.  I mean … extracting the gas from my body is great and all, but really??? 

And finally, on day five, there are pains in the area of what used to be my hernia.  Pain that feels like the incisions are being reopened without the benefit of anesthesia.  Pain that drills into my hip bone, almost making me nauseous.  That could be the Kit Kats too, though.

So for four weeks, I can’t lift anything weighing more than 15 pounds.  At least my little bean still weighs less than that.  And I’m not supposed to put any pressure on my abdomen, lest I rip the sutures on the inside.  But I can walk.  30 minutes every day. 

At least I scheduled the surgery (and recovery time) to coincide with the CrossFit Games.  I might not be able to CrossFit right now, but I can watch others do so.  Yeah … I’m watching people work out.

After those four weeks, I should be well and good.  My incisions should be healed.  My belly should be back to its previous and much flatter, version.  I can once again wear clothing that’s not categorized as “loose-fitting”.  And the people around me will be happy that the gas has left my body.

I can be confident that I am healed.

And I can go back to lifting heavy things.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

It Was All Started By A Mouse

My love of Disney began on a Sunday night.  Sometime in the 70’s.  As Sunday nights were meant for “The Wonderful World of Disney”.  I can’t say that any one program (usually a Disney movie) had a profound impact on me.  But what I do remember … are the feelings.

Of excitement.  Of happiness.  Of joy.  Of wonder.  Of magic.

I have a vague recollection of wanting to visit Disneyland; though, as a young child, you might have guessed I didn’t really have a voice in vacation planning.  You might also imagine my excitement, when in 1978, my parents finally decided it was time to visit Walt Disney World (WDW) in Orlando, Florida.

We journeyed by car, making stops along the way, to see this roadside attraction (in my opinion, distractions because it only delayed our impending arrival at WDW) or have lunch at that roadside park (food?  who can eat at a time like this???).  The anticipation building in my 13-year old heart with every mile. 

We were going to Disney World!

We stayed in a Best Western (because we always stayed in Best Westerns on family vacations).  Certainly not one of the two existing on-site resorts, Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.  Those were reserved for the rich and/or famous, or so I was led to believe.  My father wasn’t German, but he had penny-pinching down to an artform.  Still does, actually. 

Our arrival in Orlando, if not on-site, then at least within the same vicinity as WDW, cause for celebration.

Two days.  One park.  (Magic Kingdom, because that was Walt Disney World at the time.) 

There are a few things I recall about that first visit.  My first glimpse of Cinderella’s castle as we rode the ferry to the park entrance.  My excitement barely containable as we passed underneath the train station.  My anticipation, palpable.  And then … walking down Main Street, U.S.A..  Getting closer and closer to “The castle”. 

Cinderella's Castle circa 1978
The joy I felt as a young child watching Walt’s movies on Sunday nights, suddenly filling my heart. 

I remember there were no organized queues to see the characters; it was simply a free-for-all, which I gladly got in the middle of while my parents sat atop the train station. 

Yes, that's me!  The one in the red/blue/green striped shirt!

I remember the parades.  And how I fell in love with “Baroque Hoedown”, the infectious theme music for The Main Street Electrical Parade.

Photo credit:  my mom
And the rides attractions.  My favorite, without a doubt, and one which I still mourn today (because it’s since been closed and re-imagined into something a bit more … princess-like) was 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I’ve long been fascinated with all things underwater (Under the Sea) and this was no exception.   Climbing aboard the Nautilus and exploring the depths of the ocean and all of its creatures.  Oh, how I longed to dive and explore the ocean floor in the same way the divers (animatronic though they may be) did on this attraction.

Yes, this was taken in 1978 too!
My first rollercoaster was Space Mountain.  I wanted to ride with my Dad because I was only a wee bit scared.  And who knew when I’d ever get the chance to ride Space Mountain again.  It was, after all, an E-ticket attraction, and we only had so many E-tickets to use during our visit; back then, you bought A, B, C, D and E tickets for the attractions, with E-tickets being the “big ticket” rides.

Fast forward 15 years.  The Wonderful World of Disney has ended its run on TV.  And my five-year old son is proving to be quite the fan of Disney’s animated movies.  Evan’s first movie (in a theater)?  The Jungle Book.  And even though we left halfway through (he needed a nap – bad timing on my part), I think he was officially bitten by the Disney bug.  At the ripe young age of 2. 

When VHS was introduced, there were countless hours spent watching Disney movies.  The Lion King, Aladdin and Toy Story, among the favorites.  (So you can imagine our excitement when this year, all three will be in theaters again!) 

Five years later.  And I’m taking my 10-year old son for his first visit to “The World”.  First and foremost, I must share with him, the enchantment that is seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time.  I think he was as speechless as I was.

There it was.  The joy.  The wonder.  The magic. 

And thus began a tradition which we continue to this day:  Magic Kingdom and seeing the castle is always the first thing on our “to do” list when at WDW.

We made it through all four parks in four days.  We sought and found as many characters as possible, taking pictures and filling Evan’s autograph book.  

It was during this trip that we had a quite unexpected one-on-one interaction with both Minnie & Mickey.  With no one else around. 

It was early in the morning in Animal Kingdom.  We were walking down a path to a part of the park we later found out was closed (which explains why no one else was around!).  When who walks out, but the big cheese himself, along with his best girl.  They run to Evan and smother him in hugs.  I’m left standing there, slack-jawed, fumbling with my bag, and I missed the photo op (at least of the hug).  It was our favorite memory of the trip.

Eager to plan our next trip, I started visiting Disney-related message boards. 

I found a trip report (i.e., a trip diary, of sorts) by one Kevin Stringer from the U.K.  Kevin’s writing style was detailed and humorous.  To the point that my office mates probably thought me crazy as I giggled my way through his tales of traversing the Disney parks over the course of my lunch hour.

I outreached Kevin, sharing my appreciation for his writing style and peppering him with no less than 552 questions about planning a Disney vacation. 

And thus began a friendship which now spans over 20 years (and still counting).

Visiting various Disney message boards became habit.  I soaked up all the info I could on how to plan the perfect Walt Disney World vacation.  Or as perfect as one could be. 

And I gained more “Disney Friends”.  A group of people from different backgrounds and from all over the world.  Who know the value of Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust.  

Postcards from Mickey
It was these very friends, and others who were headed to WDW in the year leading up to one of our trips, that helped me bring a little bit of the magic to our mailbox.  Each month, they sent postcards to Evan “from Mickey”.  Saying how much he was looking forward to seeing him.  Couldn’t wait to have some fun.  

The cast members at our resort (our on-site resort, I might add) got in on the fun too, and had a welcome letter made out to Evan in Mickey’s “own handwriting”, welcoming him and wishing him a magical stay.

I learned the “language of Disney”.  Commonly-used acronyms amongst Disney-philes that, if you are lucky enough to be one, you will recognize:

MK = Magic Kingdom
AK = Animal Kingdom
ToT = Tower of Terror
BTMRR = Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
SSE = Spaceship Earth (that’s the big, round, golf-ball looking thing in Epcot)

Now you try:  IaSW = ???

It was from these boards (and from corresponding with Kevin) that I discovered there’s so much more to WDW than just the four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom). 

There are water parks.  And mini-golf.  And big-kid golf.  And a petting zoo.  And trails to ride on horseback.  And shopping.  And water mice (mini speed boats you can take out on Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon).  And fishing.  And resort hopping (visit the different resorts to find out where you might like to stay next); and for the over-21 crowd, there’s bar-hopping and bar-hopping among the resorts!  And a night-time district which includes a rollicking piano bar.


And then there are the details.  Because no one does detail the way Disney does detail.  It’s these little things that keep us coming back time and again. 

The way that the characters stay in character.  From Tigger hopping up and down.  To Pooh signing his name in the way that Pooh does.  To Cruella Deville never smiling.  To Cinderella’s step-sisters fawning over the men and trying to reel them in; on one trip, as we passed the evil step-sisters, one of them called out to Evan to try and get his attention, motioning to him, the universal “call me” sign as we walked past. 

The leaf imprints in the concrete sidewalks in Animal Kingdom.  The cobwebs (reportedly) blown into The Haunted Mansion.  The costuming of the cast members and why you’ll never see a cowboy-clad street vendor walking through, say, Tomorrowland; the utilidors, underground tunnels, make this possible.  The hidden Mickeys placed throughout the parks; different items, such as 3 plates, placed in the shape of a Mickey-head.  Prayer flags hung around the queue area for Expedition Everest.  And the “drainage ditch” that runs through the middle of the walkways in Liberty Square, representing how sewage was drained in the 1700’s.  Cool stuff like that!

And the food!  Or more importantly, the snacks!  I mean … who doesn’t like a chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream in the shape of a Mickey-head?  Or a Mickey-head shaped rice krispie treat (my personal favorite)?  And what’s better on a steamy Florida afternoon, than a deliciously sweet Dole Whip (pineapple soft serve)?  I’ll tell you what’s better:  a dole-whip margarita!

And the attractions.  I don’t even know where to begin with this one. 

Of course, you have the classics, the ones designed by Walt and which can mostly be found in Fantasyland (what some call “the kiddie rides”).  But no one can put you in the middle of a storybook, a la Peter Pan (something else I recall from my first visit and which is a must-do on every trip) the way Disney can.  Or allow you to stamp your passport 11 times in the span of an afternoon.  Or put you on the back of a banshee, gliding through the floating mountains of Pandora. Or send you screaming through the “streets of Los Angeles” with Aerosmith blaring on the radio; a favorite since it opened, mine and Evan’s record for riding Rock-n-Rollercoaster in one trip:  15.

Or qualifying for American Idol.  Evan didn’t qualify, but he did perform on stage.  Too bad they typecast this Texas boy and had him sing “Achy Breaky Heart” - not exactly his niche.

In 2001, Kevin and I decided it was time to meet.  It was the first of many WDW vacations that our families would take together.  And with each trip, we’ve had a rotating group of Disney Friends, a cast of characters who’ve joined our merry band whilst touring the parks.  People who “get it”, this fascination (obsession?) that we have with the Disney Parks. 

Look at how little the kids were! (2001 - top left)

Disneyland Paris
While visiting the Stringer family in 2003, Evan and I made a side trip to Paris.  Not necessarily to see Notre Dame.  Or the Eiffel Tower.  Or the Arc de Triomphe.  But to go to … you guessed it … Disneyland Paris.  (and yeah, we did go see all those ‘other things’ in Paris too!)   

Keith took me to the motherland, the land that Walt built, the place where it all began, aka Disneyland, in 2013.  I was so excited to walk in Walt’s footsteps.  To experience so many of the attractions that Walt himself had had a hand in creating and bringing first to the 1964 World’s Fair and then, to the park. 

It was everything I thought it would be.  And more.

Given that I was somewhat of a (self-proclaimed) Disney World aficionado, I was quite surprised to see that one can walk a mere 100 yards between the two parks on the west coast (versus spending 20 minutes or more on a bus to traverse the more than 10,000 square miles of the park on the east coast).  What’s more, our hotel bordered one of the parks and had its own entrance into said park!  You can’t get much closer to the magic than that!

And I was not emotionally prepared.  As we stood in front of Sleeping Beauty’s castle at the end of the day.  Waiting for the fireworks show to begin, the castle aglow.  And as the night sky lit up behind the castle in only the most spectacular of ways that Disney can do, there came from the speakers, Walt’s voice, Walt’s words:

“To all who come to this happy place; welcome.  Disneyland is your land.  Here age relives fond memories of the past … and here youth may savor the challenge and promise of the future.  Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America … with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”

I stood.  Gob-smacked.  Tears in my eyes.  And the biggest smile on my face.  My heart filled with those old familiar feelings:  happiness, joy, wonder, magic.

Shanghai Disneyland
In my lifetime, I’ve made 18 Disney-related trips (and ridden Space Mountain at least that many times, probably more), if you consider trips to the parks on both coasts, Disneyland Paris, Shanghai Disneyland, and a Disney Cruise.  I certainly hope that one day I can complete the circle and make it to Tokyo Disneyland/Tokyo Disney Sea and Hong Kong Disneyland; though Keith has sworn off any future Disney trips, except for ones that involve our grandchildren, I think I could convince him if I flutter my eyes just right.

Over the years, Evan and I have maintained a tradition.  In addition to going to the Magic Kingdom (and seeing our beloved Cinderella’s castle) first, it’s also the last park we visit each trip before hopping the Magical Express (yes, that’s the name of their transportation system that runs between the airport and the resort). 

There is a bench that sits near the hub (or rather once sat, I think it’s gone), along the walkway between the castle courtyard and Adventureland, where we spend our last few moments.  Taking it all in.  Sitting silently and staring at the castle.  Yet sharing this moment.  Together.


And then we make the long walk down Main Street, USA.  Stopping several times to look back at the castle.  The sounds of the barbershop quartet singing in the background.  The Mickey balloons blowing in the wind.  The smell of Disney popcorn emanating from the street vendors’ carts.  And the characters standing in Main Street plaza, with children and their parents, anxiously awaiting a picture.  And an autograph.

And we say “See ‘Ya Real Soon”. 

And by “real soon”, I mean, in just a few months.

Why yes, I AM going to Walt Disney World again.  Trip number 19 and my 13th trip to WDW is less than 90 days away.

Considering my ‘aficionado’ status, a girlfriend of mine, who hasn’t had the pleasure of experiencing WDW, says I’m the only one she’d want to go to the Happiest Place on Earth with.  And while I’ve found other things to occupy my time, and I’m not as obsessed with trip planning the way I used to be, I’m still just a wee bit excited.

I won’t take Christina by the hand as we walk down Main Street, USA, but I can promise you one thing:  there will be tears in my eyes when we do make that walk.  And upon seeing “The Castle”, I know my heart will be full. 

Of happiness.  Of joy.  Of magic.  Of the wonderful world of Disney.