Taking the Florida Plunge: Looking Back on Six Months as a Disney Local

We closed on our Florida home on August 11, 2017 – just 3 days before the kids were set to start at their new schools. The flurry of madness that preceded that day has, as these things do, settled into a barely remembered blur. And while I do still usually use my navigation system to get around, while I do still have the odd unpacked box in our house, and while there are still very much (and probably always will be) 2 places that I casually refer to as “home” – it didn’t escape my notice that this past weekend marked the six month anniversary of our becoming Disney locals. And that there was a first dose of perspective that came with this little milestone.

None of these things have come as surprises, honestly. But there’s a certain depth of understanding that comes with really living it. And I know so, so many of us daydream about taking these very steps. So, without further ado, the handful and a half of things that I can offer after half a year of life just behind the castle.

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 6.07.23 PM

1. This is still real life.

Again, worth noting, this wasn’t a surprise. But living it drives it home that much more. As the crow flies, our home is about 1.2 miles from Cinderella Castle. There are fireworks at my bedroom window every night. I wake up to the sound of the train whistle and TTC ferry horn and lie in bed with the lower notes of the Electrical Water Pageant streaming in through my usually open windows. Our local park isn’t a playground anymore – it’s Magic Kingdom. And it’s not rare that I take my kids to Epcot for an hour after school for nothing more than to watch the trains in Germany.

But it’s still real life. My kids still get sick. I still have to walk my dog. Most of my time is spent working and cleaning and folding laundry. Arguments and little tantrums still happen and groceries are purchased and budgets are made and life (and death) just otherwise continue as before. I am finishing this very post while simultaneously making dinner and helping my kids to mass produce valentines for school tomorrow. We are not on vacation. We are living our own reality – but we are living it in the place that is “home” for us as it always has been. The once dreamed of “lunch in Epcot” is a real thing. The train whistle still stirs my heart every morning and I am fully immersed in the world that I have always loved. My heart doesn’t have to ache for this place anymore. It is mine and we live our very real, mostly very normal, life with the honor of having it as our backdrop. I am not “living a dream”. I am living real life in the place that is right for us.

2. Parks and Fireworks.

Further to my above thoughts…I don’t go to the parks every day. Usually it’s once or twice a week – sometimes more, sometimes less, and often only for an hour or two. My days are more often spent working or running errands. But the parks are there. Even as I write this at my kitchen table, I’m aware of the train whistle blowing outside and grateful for its closeness. Even if today’s schedule doesn’t permit a ride on the Peoplemover – and it probably won’t – it could…and so could tomorrow’s. The “see ya real soon” note overhead as you exit Magic Kingdom used to make my heart ache on that last day of a trip. Now I simply know it’s true.

Similarly, I don’t run to the window every time the fireworks start. I watch them often. I take the 3 minute walk to the lake by the house when friends are visiting to watch them and their reflections on the water. When time permits, I pull my car over for a minute to take them in when they’re overhead as I’m driving home. But more nights than not their soft booms are just a comfort. A sort of clock chiming the known hour. A background din that’s become like the white noise of traffic when I lived in New York, or of frogs and crickets when we lived in Maryland. Fireworks and ferry horns and water pageants are the background noise of my day. I don’t necessarily run to them anymore. But they are there and I am happier for it.

3. It’s hot out but whatever.

As I type this we’re midway through February and high temps each day have been firmly in the upper 80s. Evenings have been breezy and beautiful. Days like this in February are the up side to half a year of extreme heat and humidity – not just the summer months but pigtailing into late spring and early autumn. I love heat and hate hate hate to be cold, so this works for me. Even my dog, a massive black Great Dane, has been known to lounge blissfully on our lanai in the August heat. We are a summer-loving family. But, while the season of heat and humidity are much longer here, the hottest days here are no worse or more humid than the ones in the DC area that we left. When you vacation here in August, you are running around outside all day in the sauna that is central Florida. When you live here, you’re more likely to be out for an hour or two on occasion and otherwise enjoying your AC like you would be anywhere else. So in short, for us this factor works and isn’t that big of a deal. We are happily trading ice and snow for February days by the pool. But if you hate the sun or something…you know….perhaps consider other locales.

4. Internet Friends and Friends in Real Life and the Madness that is Disney Social Media.

If you’re at all engaged in Disney-related social media, you know that the network is massive and at times almost overwhelming. Whether you interact on Facebook or Instagram or via blog or vlog or podcast, etc. etc., the Disney community is massive and oftentimes wonderful. Seeing how hundreds of online acquaintances have panned out in real life has been interesting. For the most part I’ve been incredibly impressed with the power of the community down here – even if it does need to be approached with as much common sense as anything else. If nothing else I’ve had to learn to draw boundaries for my own personal wellbeing, as I’m pretty introverted and just need time to myself to recharge for my own mental health. Not necessarily a point that will apply to everyone – but living in a place that is this social, where events are this constant, where the weather has you out and about constantly, and where friends and family that aren’t local are visiting frequently, it’s been an interesting thing to learn to handle day-to-day for an introvert like me in a way that doesn’t drain me empty.

5. Creating your own happiness each day isn’t easy.

Bear with me here because this gets a little deep. And it’s certainly not Disney or Florida life-specific. In fact it’s something that’s been with me since very soon after I walked away from corporate law well over a year ago.

Being tangibly responsible for your own happiness can be overwhelming – or at least something very new to get used to. It’s something that’s true for each of us no matter what our situation is – but having been effectively stuck in Big Law for well over a decade, unfulfilled by it but feeling that I didn’t have another viable choice that would be responsible to the people I loved, what was lacking in each day, and overall, was to some extent out of my hands. I did everything that I could to make the best of it and have talked about that ad nauseam, but all in all I justified it by knowing that I was providing for the people that depended on me.

When you decide to rewrite your life from scratch, those excuses go away. Your happiness and fulfillment – your feeling about the day when your head hits the pillow each night – are on you in a way that cannot be ignored. If I am not proactive in moving forward into something better, I am aware of it in a way that I can no longer deny. That is incredibly empowering. But it is also a bit intimidating. When your happiness and fulfillment depend on nothing but you, the excuses fall away.

And that brings me to my last sort of realization for the moment….

6. Life doesn’t have to be harder than it has to be.

Again – this isn’t Disney or Florida specific. And it definitely isn’t going to apply to everyone. But one of the big things that I’ve slowly learned to accept over the last year and change is that life doesn’t have to be a constant, self-imposed challenge to the extent that that challenge isn’t fulfilling you or moving you forward into the life that you want. This might all sound a little hokey – but as an extremely Type A person who lived most of her life up until fairly recently equating the “next step” with whatever was the next thing in line to conquer, it’s been an education to learn to be more deliberate and self aware in my choices. Growing up I chose the hardest classes and past times, chose an Ivy League college in New York, studied Japanese, went to Harvard Law, got a job at arguably the best corporate firm on Wall Street, did the biggest deals, tackled the hardest eating regimens. And on and on. I assure you that this isn’t a list of brags. It’s a list of the path that I wanted to conquer – and “conquering” has never been what’s hard for me.

Don’t get me wrong. There was plenty in there that I truly did love. At 18 years old, New York’s energy meshed beautifully with who I was. I adore Japanese culture. Harvard was an extraordinary experience. But so much of my larger choices were based more on what was objectively challenging than what was right for me. They say if you can’t make it in New York you can’t make it anywhere. And so I wanted to be in New York in my 20s – and make it. They say something very different about Florida. But I love it here. And I’ve been learning, slowly, that that’s alright. I’ve spent enough time proving myself to everyone else. I don’t need to be the most impressive person in your Facebook feed. Like I said above, my happiness (or, more appropriately, my fulfillment) is on me, and that’s where my focus is these days. Sometimes (and more) that’s much harder than meeting society’s predefined version of success.

So there it is in a nutshell. My perspective after the last 6 months as a Florida and Disney local. This is a little deeper and less about the fun of living here than might be expected – but it’s the honesty of what came to mind as I started to look back. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s similar for many others, because making a move like this usually comes with a list of reasons that aren’t as simple as loving Mickey Mouse.

But honestly. I really love Mickey Mouse too….. ❤

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 6.09.26 PM

 

 

 

#ArtfulEpcot: Mexico’s El Artista Hambriento at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

Last weekend I hit Epcot for some train watching and Photopass fun with the kids…

26903921_10155790547542559_1856120455720398415_n26805313_10155790547527559_4991345494630096061_n26814938_10155790547627559_1498487664227374678_n

…so of course I had to knock out another booth while we were there. And that booth was Mexico.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento

Throughout Epcot’s various festivals, Mexico has always been a favorite of mine. Did it measure up again this time? Welllll……

  • Mixiote de Cordero: Wrapped slow-braised lamb, marinated in tres chiles paste and spices ($8.95)

Once when I lived in Manhattan my roommate saw a guy chasing another guy through Union Square with a brown paper bag. He threw the brown paper bag and it exploded against the street and had been full of…..

Oh never mind.

I don’t even know why the bag of poop story popped into my mind just now.

Seriously though. You have to giggle at this one a little. As far as the taste goes? I mean – I guess it’s pretty good meat? If you’re paleo or keto or otherwise craving a bag of slow cooked protein, this works. Otherwise it’s just a bag of meat. A pretty good, $9 bag of meat. So moving on…

  • Tacos de Puerco: Two corn tortillas with slow-roasted pork shoulder, marinated in ancho paste and served with sweet plantain puree garnished with pea tendrils ($9.95)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Tacos de Puerco 1

These weren’t bad. I wish I had more to say about them. The description sounds AMAZING on paper. They had a nice little kick and there was a barely there, wanted to taste it more bit of sweetness from the plantains. I didn’t love them as much as, say, the shrimp tacos that Mexico has featured at other festivals, though. The sauce was more heat than taste and my American palette tends to want a little crunch with my food. And honestly, the price trend continues – because $10 is a lot for what’s on this plate.

  • Atole de Fresa and Mexican Concha Bread: Warm strawberry drink served with Mexican concha bread ($3.95)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Concha Bread

So…um….my picky 7 year old loved this? I wasn’t thrilled. It was basically a slightly sweet, pretty dry roll and a cup of warm strawberry yogurt. The yellow on top was pretty nondescript. Like it had a little texture but wasn’t sweet enough to be noticeable on the taste front. At least the strawberry “drink” dip cut the dryness? Otherwise…nope. Don’t waste your calories here.

  • Frida Guava Margarita ($13.75)

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Mexico Booth El Artista Hambriento Frida Guava Margarita

Holy freaking expensive drink. Was it tasty? Yes. It was delicious. But the $14 price tag is borderline offensive for this thing. I’m not even convinced there was alcohol in it. If you want a sweet, tasty drink and couldn’t care less how much you spend on it, have at it. Otherwise, there are probably better places to blow $14.

#ArtfulEpcot: Morocco’s Mosaic Canteen at Epcot’s International Festival of the Arts

I wasn’t wasting any time on my first trip to Epcot’s 2nd International Festival of the Arts last week. I have, however, wasted too much time in getting around to writing up the second country that I sampled that day. So without further ado, today, I give you Morocco.

Like Japan’s offerings, I love how these dishes jump off the plate onto the camera. If Artful Epcot’s food items are nothing else, they are lovely.

  • Spiced Beef…or Hummus Trifle: Layered hummus topped with spiced beef, pine nuts, and dry cherries served with pita chips ($9)

It’s a little laughable that this is listed as “Spiced Beef” on the menu board. It’s name in the Festival Passport, “Hummus Trifle”, makes so much more sense – since it’s the hummus that dominates here. This thing looks SO good on paper. It’s hard to go wrong with beef, dried cherries, pine nuts, and hummus. And don’t get me wrong. It’s fine. But this is essentially a huge cup of hummus with a few chips and some so so meat crumbles, pine nuts, and cherries on top. It wasn’t bad. If you’re craving hummus it’ll hit the spot. (And bring extra chips because they give you more hummus than you can possibly scoop up with the 10 or so chips that they give you.) But generally I think you can do better than this at Epcot right now. And for $9 you can definitely do better.

  • Mediterranean Flat Bread with Za’atar, Olive Oil Artichokes, Olives, Mozzarella an Feta Cheese ($8)

Artful Epcot Epcot International Festival of the Arts Morocco Mediterranean Flat Bread

Isn’t this lovely? It pops on your tongue just as beautifully as it pops off the screen. The flavors are fresh and simple. The za’atar (a middle eastern spice mixture) is fresh and bold, the cheeses aren’t overpowering, and I’d take a good artichoke as a boyfriend any day. Don’t get me wrong. Nothing about this is going to turn your culinary world upside down. It’s simple and fresh and just good. And it’s huge!! For $8, it’s a solid lunch any day of the week. Two enthusiastic thumbs up. Fine holiday fun. 😉

  • Chebbakia: Hand-twisted strips of fried dough coated with honey, rosewater, and sesame seeds ($7)

Artful Epcot Epcot International Festival of the Arts Morocco Chebbakia

If you like a classic middle eastern dessert or have a sweet tooth that you need to punch in the face, this will be your jam. I wanted to taste more rosewater. (I always want to taste more rosewater.) But this was chewy and sweet and sticky and sated my often insatiable sweet tooth. The sesame here (unlike the sesame in Japan’s taiyaki) was not overpowering, but just added a bit of interest to the overall taste. For $7, this wasn’t the cheapest dessert, but it was certainly rich and big enough to serve two people. I think you should go get some.

 

#ArtfulEpcot: Japan’s Takumi Table at Epcot International Festival of the Arts

We kicked off Artful Epcot and the second annual Epcot International Festival of the Arts this past Friday, January 12th, and I came in swingin’ with my passport in hand while the kids were in school.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Festival Passport

Where did I start, you ask?

In Japan, of course.

The sooner you eat somewhere for the first time, the sooner and more often you can eat there again. Because science.

Takumi means “artisan” in Japanese. There are only two food items at Takumi Table this year – one savory and one sweet.

 

Before we even dig into the details of these items, I’m going to stop and comment on how BEAUTIFUL everything offered at Festival of the Arts is this year. If Food & Wine blogging is a never ending battle with dishes that won’t pose for the camera, Festival of the Arts is a veritable runway show of edible little supermodels. And true to Japan’s always impressive attention to detail, they’ve again chosen to plate their foods on and in dishes that teeter on the edge of disposable and almost make you want to wash them and tuck them into your purse to reuse at home.

But let’s stop talking and start eating…

  • Chirashi Sushi and Haupia Pearl: Salmon, Tuna, and Yuzu Miso with Coconut Tapioca Pudding ($7.50)

Chirashi Sushi and Haupia Pearl Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

I’m not moaning. You’re moaning.

Oh you’re not? Okay. Maybe it’s me after all. The worst thing about sitting here writing this review is having to look at this without eating it (again).

Chirashi is happy, lazy sushi. Because instead of being a tidy little roll, it’s just a big ol’ pile of the same delicious ingredients. But in usual form, Artful Epcot has found a way to make even chirashi as beautiful as it is delicious. The rice is perfect. The seaweed salad is crisp and chewy and not fishy at all. The mound of salmon and tuna on top is fresh and soft and perfect. And it all sits on slices of orange that add a citrus-y pop to the whole thing.

And then. You guys. When it’s over and you’ve licked that side of the plate clean?? There’s this lovely little shot of sweet coconut milk and tapioca and fresh fruit that is so refreshing and good that its only fault is not being huge.

I cannot wait to eat this again. I want to write poetry about it and have it for lunch every day until February 19th.

But onward…

  • Taiyaki Dessert: Japanese Stuffed Pastry, Sweet Red Bean Filling, Sesame Cream, and Raspberry Sauce ($4.50)

Taiyaki is a lovely little fish shaped cake typically filled (as here) with sweetened adzuki bean paste. It is thought to have originated in Tokyo during the Meiji era (1868-1912), but now you can find it all over Japan.

Like most taiyaki, Artful Epcot’s version was almost too pretty to eat. But unique to most taiyaki, it was bedded next to an unattractive pile of too much sweet sesame paste and whipped cream. It was warm and sweet and teetered on the edge of delicious so closely that it broke my heart.

I love me some adzuki bean paste. Not overly sweet but soft and mild, it’s wonderful nestled inside some warm dough.

Taiyaki Dessert 3 Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

So why was it leaning up against a pile of whipped cream that appeared to have come out of a can?? WHY??? And why was it sitting in an ugly pile of sesame “cream” that wanted to put hair on my chest when I tried (admittedly, with my tongue) to clean it off the fish??

Listen. Give this a try. The cake itself is warm, soft, mildly sweet perfection. I plan to go back and get it again – just asking them to hold the whipped cream nonsense and put the sesame cream on the side so that I can control how much (or how little) touches my fish. And in rare form, I’ll bring a friend – because this thing is RICH. Try it. But don’t be surprised if when you’re done eating you’re cleaning the sesame out of your teeth and still looking at something like this…

Taiyaki Dessert 4 Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot

I’m sorry little fish tail. I couldn’t handle you.

This booth had two food offerings and I just wrote a full on book about them. I hope the ones to come make me want to prattle on less because momma doesn’t have time to write a novella about all 19 booths…..

In the meantime, one passport sticker earned. Lots to go-

Takumi Table Japan Pavilion Epcot International Food and Wine Festival Artful Epcot

Have YOU had the chance to visit #ArtfulEpcot yet? If so, what did you eat?? If not, what’s on your short list for when you get there??

#ArtfulEpcot – Epcot International Festival of the Arts

Epcot International Festival of the Arts

It’s a new year and we’re kicking off another grand Epcot festival!! Epcot’s inaugural Festival of the Arts was just last year and this year we’re getting it back and bigger. It runs from January 12th through February 19th and includes a wealth of unique musical, visual, and, of course, culinary bliss. Festival goers can also see Disney on Broadway events every weekend and take in a long list of seminars, food studios, and other artists. You can even have your hand in a little bit of interactive art of your own….

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Artful Epcot Mosaic Painting

Luck as it was, the kids are (omg finally) back in school after the holidays and I’m more or less walking again after completing my first Dopey Challenge last weekend (recap to come), so I was able to run over to Epcot during the festival’s opening day to wander World Showcase and scratch the surface of its food offerings.

Epcot International Festival of the Arts Festival Passport

SO. FREAKING. EXCITED.

(Ignore the nails……I’ve been a little busy……)

Bottom line – I don’t care if it’s because Disney is aiming to bring in guests in its “off season” (bwahahaha…off season…right) or because they’re too tired to move the Food & Wine food booths and are just thinking of ways to repurpose them year ’round instead. There’s a lot to eat, you guys. This little passport lists 19 booths full of new food and drink. And I’m ready to dig in and start earning my completion stickers.

 

 

Happy New Year, My Friends

The following is nothing more than a repost of my off-the-cuff thoughts leading into 2018 elsewhere on social media – for no other reason than that they are a part of the over story that I am gathering here….

Image may contain: 19 people, people smiling, child and outdoor

 

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t exhausted and overwhelmed by the idea of putting together a recap/New Year’s message this New Year’s Eve. I’m used to tongue and cheek telling years not to let the door hit them in the ass on the way out. That wasn’t me being negative so much as just having honest reactions to a chain of truly difficult times. To say that 2017 was different would be a vast overstatement and a disservice to the last 365 days, myself, and everyone else on this wild ride with us.

2017 was the year of diving into life head first. Whether it was selling our beautiful home in Maryland, packing up, and relocating to the land of Disney locals. Or the very start of my little Etsy shop. Or letting myself just write again with the birth of the new blog. Or the growth of a wonderful community. Or registering for Dopey. Or, or, or….. It was the year of learning as we go and not knowing until we tried. It was the year of not fearlessness – but of facing fear head on and walking forward anyway. It was a year of growth and change and gratitude – all in the light of the acute knowledge of how short life is.

I’m not big on resolutions. I tackle goals every day and tomorrow won’t be any different. I have no weight I feel the need to lose in the new year. No languages I feel the need to learn. I’m good with how much I exercise and how well (or not) I eat. If 2017 was the year of not being afraid to go in dirty and learn as I went, 2018 will be the year of settling in. Of finessing these big changes. And, hell, who am I kidding, of picking a list of new things to jump into boldly and blindly.

New Year’s is one of those rare holidays that we don’t have to preface with “if you celebrate”. So celebrate – all of you. Be safe and stay warm and good luck opening the door to this new year and all of its possibilities. Looking through the 1000s of pictures I have from this last year, if anything was wildly apparent it was just how surrounded we are by wonderful people who love us.

Love each of you back and more and am so grateful to share this planet with you. Live big and live good.

 

Motherhood and Its Tears

“Mommy why don’t you sing Rockabye Baby to me at night anymore?”

“Honey, that’s actually not a song that I ever really sang to you….”

“Yes you did. Will you sing it to me one last time tonight?”

And like that I’m in tears. Over the end of a ritual that started at the same moment that it ended.