The Pitfalls of Privilege

The pre-scripts:

First, this is what my dashboard looks like:

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Yesterday, I found a post on facebook that featured the ways that companies like Target and JetBlue were expressing support for the SCOTUS decision, and I like going out of my way to patronize businesses that are inclusive.  Kudos to WordPress for this show of support; it makes me glad that this is my platform.

Second, fair warning; this is likely to turn into a whiny post.  Proceed at your peril.

Several years ago, I was subbing a Race, Class, and Gender class for a professor of mine; I was technically a student in the class, but I had a Master’s degree and a good 20 years on the rest of the group, so the professor and I mutually agreed that I would be better served taking the course as an independent study.  Since, though her student, I was also her colleague – I teach writing classes at the university – she asked if I would cover a couple of classes for her while she was away at workshops.  During one of those classes, a panel of students from the university’s GLBTQ alliance was scheduled to come and talk to the students.

I should pause here to point out what my regular readers already know; I am a fierce, loudmouthed, insistent LGBTQ ally.  Being an ally is an integral part of my very identity; it’s a foundational pillar of how I understand myself and my place in the world.  As such, it almost never occurs to me that other people might not know this about me, and I’m surprised (and deeply bothered) when I’m subjected to the default assumption that marginalized people have to make about people in the privileged classes.

Back to my story.  It turned out that the staff member of the university’s alliance – let’s call him Alan – who brought the panel of LGBTQ students to the class that day also happened to be a regular participant in my yoga class.  I’d known Alan from yoga classes for at least a year or two by that point, and we’d had occasion to chat a bit here and there in that time; I liked him very much and I got the distinct impression that he liked me, as well.

He got the panel kids settled and, as is common in these kinds of encounters, told his story first; it’s very often the adult/leader of these kinds of groups who breaks the proverbial ice, not only as a means of modeling the process, but also to clear a path and make the space for young people/students to tell theirs.  I remember thinking at the time that Alan did a wonderful job of it, too; he was clear and seemed at ease discussing some rather complicated issues of gender identity to a group of young people (most of the host class were freshmen or sophomores) who likely had little if any experience with even contemplating anything outside of the hetero-normative script.  Once he’d gotten the ball rolling, the kids he brought with him told their stories, the panel opened the floor for questions and discussion, and the class went very, very well.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I’d been planning on getting to the first ever Pride parade in Coastal City ever since I saw the event planned on Facebook; the Supreme Court’s decision about marriage equality on Thursday only increased my enthusiasm for the trip.  I packed up the girls, picked up one of Punk’s friends (who happens to be transgender and has struggled for acceptance in his family circle) and headed over to the staging area; we found our group (the parade participants were – quite ingeniously –  sorted into colors so that, when we all converged downtown from our respective spots, we’d form a human pride flag) bought tee shirts, and marched into our place in the square.

As I was listening to the speakers, I happened to look over and spot Alan.  I knew he’d be there – his name was listed as the point person for one of the color groups – but I didn’t really have any expectation of seeing him; there were a LOT of people there (the SCOTUS ruling increased the numbers quite a bit beyond what the organizers were expecting).  I made my way to him and nearly burst into tears when he pulled me into a hug.

I found him on facebook and sent a friend request when I got home, and he commented on a photo I’d posted of the girls and me in our parade shirts.  I commented that I intended to wear the shirt to this morning’s yoga class, and that my savasana message would likely be heavily influenced by some of the thinking I’ve been doing about the events of the past week or so (it was; I spoke about rejecting the idea of scarcity, particularly when it comes to energy and dignity and equality.  There’s more than enough of that to go around, and granting other people those things does not mean there’s less for you).

Alan hadn’t been to yoga in a few weeks and I wasn’t really expecting to see him, so I was delighted when he showed up this morning wearing his parade shirt, too.  We had a lovely practice – today was a good one – and he stopped after class to talk about the experience of the demonstration and about some of the nuances of the things I said at the end of class.  It was then that he admitted that he kept two facebook profiles; one for his friends and one for his family who, I gather, are not exactly supportive of his identity.

Then, Alan said something that hit me square in the gut, though I tried my best to roll with it.  He admitted that, the day he brought the panel to my class, he was taken aback to find that I was there and that he would “have to come out to my yoga teacher.”  He didn’t say as much, but the assumption in that statement was that he worried that I would judge him, that he was opening himself up to a risk in telling his story in front of me.  Of course, he followed that up with an affirmation about how positive the experience was, and how he understands now that I’m an enthusiastic ally, but I couldn’t help feeling devastated that my presence once made him uncomfortable.

Alan’s admission bothered me so much because I’d already been pondering the cost of my privilege.  The other day, this article put me on my metaphorical knees.  How does one work around being of genuine heart while at the same time being part – through no fault of one’s own – of the oppressor class?  Worse, how does someone like me work through the recognition that it’s just not about us while simultaneously struggling with some very real emotions around intention and representation and assumption?  “Oh, poor me, the privileged, white, straight, cisgender, middle class, English speaking, well-intentioned citizen.  It’s so hard to be an ally.”  Yeah; that shit doesn’t fly.

At the same time, my heart broke when I read that article (and here’s where the whining starts).  It seems as callous to dismiss allies’ emotions as it is to dismiss those of the oppressed classes.  It wasn’t fair for the author to project his hostility onto that woman; I have no doubt she was there as an ally for the black community, and I have no doubt that she was probably carrying some pretty hefty emotions with her (how often are white people of good conscience deeply, profoundly ashamed of their whiteness in situations like these?).  He’s essentially doing to her – making assumptions about her based on what she represents to him because of her skin color – that he wants others to stop doing to him.  It’s got to stop somewhere, and while I recognize that I have exactly ZERO right to tell ANYONE how to process their emotions, I couldn’t help feeling a little indignation when reading that piece.

I am absolutely heartbroken to think that I would ever represent a threat to anyone.  Because so much of my identity is wrapped up in being an ally and in being compassionate and nurturing, I felt as though I’ve somehow failed when Alan told me about his misgivings that day, or when I read that someone is made uncomfortable by the presence of someone like me in their spaces.  I have no earthly idea what to do with those feelings though; even though I understand that part of the work of being an ally is in the bone-deep recognition that it’s not about you (notice the emphasis?), I also recognize that an important part of the work of being an ally is in tending to our own souls so we have the strength and fortitude to keep fighting.  I will continue to try to work around the way I feel when I realize that, short of tattooing “I AM AN ALLY” on my forehead, there are going to be times when my presence in a place makes someone uneasy.  I only hope that it doesn’t happen often.

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June 26, 2015

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In Case I Haven’t Made Myself Clear

I have, on the wall of my ‘office corner’ in my kitchen, a postcard that I bought from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum when I was last in D.C. It says “It is not enough to be compassionate. You must act.”

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(please note, as well, the “what you do matters” button.)

I keep that postcard there to remind me that it is one thing to FEEL, but another thing entirely to DO.  Change doesn’t happen if people are standing around, wringing their hands  and clucking their tongues and lamenting the horrid state of things; change only happens when people get off their asses and work to make things better.

Yesterday, I read this post from Chookaloonks.  Go read it; I’ll wait.

As an ally, I have long been conscious of the place MY voice has in the conversations about the issues and problems facing the populations for which I advocate.  I am sensitive (and smart) enough to understand that, as a white, middle-class, straight, cis-gender, educated, English-speaking woman, I enjoy an incredible amount of privilege that many of my brothers and sisters don’t, and that, despite all my effort to be as aware of the effects that privilege has on my perspective as I can possibly be, there are going to be times – perhaps a lot of times – where I just don’t see what others are seeing.

It is because of this awareness that I realize I should probably talk a hell of a lot less than I listen, and so when something like Charleston happens, I tend to step back and hold my tongue. I’ll do some of the things Karen mentioned in her post; I’ll re-post newspaper articles and opinion pieces, I’ll share memes and quotes from others, but I’ll often refrain from speaking in my own voice because I recognize, with a kind of bitter ache, that as part of the majority, dominant group, my voice doesn’t need to be heard.  My job, when something like this happens, is to try to wedge out space for the voices of the people who are affected by the violence, the marginalization, and the discrimination that creates these situations in the first place.  My job is to listen to those people.

Karen’s post got me thinking about that stance, though, and I was instantly reminded of the postcard on my wall when I read her words.  “SAY SOMETHING,” she says, “make it clear, in your own words — not just retweeting or resharing the words of Jon Stewart or someone else — tell folks how you feel.  Take a stand, for heaven’s sake.”

I like to think that no one with even a passing familiarity with me could imagine for even a moment that I don’t abhor, loudly and vehemently, every single aspect of our culture that separates people from one another and allows us to denigrate, demean, and even kill each other.  I despise the pernicious mechanisms in nearly every aspect of our culture – our military, our economic system, and especially our “justice” and “education” systems – that keep some people down while making it easier for others to enjoy opportunity and potential.  More than that, I rail against the culture of ignorance that allows these mechanisms to remain in force; the insistence of some that we don’t even have a problem, much less that they could be in any way responsible for it.  This actually energizes a large part of my teaching practice; I expend a great deal of thought and effort into teaching my children – both biological and academic – to shun the kind of ignorance that allows us to hate one another so casually and so tragically.

So, right here and right now, I want to make sure that I have been exceedingly, transparently, obviously, and painfully clear about where I stand on issues of equality and human dignity.  When I say I’m an ally, I mean it; I’m all in, and I stand at the ready to do more than just talk about it.

Any questions?

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The Big Disney Vacation; Day Six

We have a tradition for our Florida vacations that, much to my delight, we’ve maintained even though the girls are no longer babies; we love the Disney character breakfasts.  A few years ago, someone gave us some shit about this, saying that our kids were “too old for that kind of thing” and generally trying to make them feel bad for enjoying it.  To that, I say, “bullshit.”  Disney does a lovely breakfast buffet and having characters stop by for hugs and photos is a fun way to spend a morning.

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Punk and Bean at a character breakfast in 2004.  I have a picture of them at a breakfast when Bean was an infant (and terrified of Pluto), but that was taken on film and the photograph is tucked safely in a box, inaccessible to me where I am writing from now).

We decided to book our breakfast for this trip at the Grand Floridian (we’ve had stints at Chez Mickey, the Polynesian, and the Beach Club resorts).  This was a much more “grown up” character breakfast; we met with Pooh and Piglet, Mary Poppins, and Alice and the Mad Hatter (who gave Bean a tea bag from his pocket by way of inviting her to a tea party) and it was very low-key (unlike at Chez Mickey and the Polynesian, where there were regular intervals of dancing and napkin-waving).  We noshed on Mickey-shaped waffles, some lovely omelets, and all the fruit we could eat.

It was perfectly lovely, and I’ve decided that, no matter how old we get, we’re going to keep going to character breakfasts.  Hell, Mr. Chili and I decided that we might just do a character breakfast our own if we ever go to Disney without the girls…

After the meal, we strolled around the hotel for a bit (it’s GORGEOUS; huge and grandly appointed with chandeliers and wide, sweeping staircases), then made our way to the Monorail station so we could head to the Polynesian resort to look for a Hawaiian shirt for Mr. Chili (which was a good excuse for the Monorail ride, which I wanted to take, anyway).  We perused the shops at the Polynesian, but Mr. Chili didn’t find a shirt to his liking and I was disappointed to find that there wasn’t any good Lilo and Stitch merchandise there; I figured there would be, and I was after something Stitch for my souvenir..

After a bit of shopping, we got back on the Monorail to the Grand Floridian, then back to the car, then back to the apartment to change for Typhoon Lagoon.

Yep; today was a water park day.

We had a fantastic time.  We found a spot in the shade to leave our things, then we headed straight for the lazy river feature, which circles literally the entire park.  We were surprised to find that the water was quite a bit colder than we were expecting; our recollection of our last Disney water park experience (at the now-abandoned River Country) was that the water was significantly warmer, though whether that’s because the water was heated or because we were there during a different part of the year, I don’t know.  In any event, it took us a while to acclimate to the water, but once we were used to it, it was a lovely trip.

Every Disney attraction has a back story; this one’s is that a huge storm hit this little community and changed everything.  The first attraction we hit after the lazy river was the “Crush ‘N Gusher” ride.  Set up as a “fruit washing facility” that was damaged in the storm, the ride is a set of three tube slides that are more like roller-coasters than flume rides; you actually get to go UP as well as down, and it’s a hoot.

*disclaimer* I didn’t shoot this video; I found it on youtube.  It’s a really great representation of the ride, though

We did that a bunch of times, then we heard the alarm horn for the wave pool.

Typhoon Lagoon has a gigantic wave pool in the center of the park, and periodically, it spits out a series of body-surfable waves.  Mr. Chili was invested in playing in those waves, so we made our way to the pool and bobbed about for a bit.  Punk and I swam out into the wave zone, thinking that the big waves would be forthcoming, but we kind of wore ourselves out waiting (note; if you’re not a really strong swimmer or you’re even a little nervous in the water, do not – I repeat, do NOT – swim out into the middle of the Typhoon Lagoon wave pool.  I consider myself to be both competent and confident in the water, and staying out there was a LOT of work for me).  We finally gave up waiting and headed back behind the ‘red line’ where we could touch the bottom and weren’t being tossed about quite so much.

I think we misunderstood the alarm horns, because it was a really long time before the big waves were pumped out; in fact, I’d about given up waiting and was making my way out of the pool and back to our stuff when another alarm horn sounded and we heard the big “whoomp!” of the wave generators.  Mr. Chili was out like a shot and I have to admit a tiny bit of panic when I lost sight of him (it’s a big pool and there were a LOT of people in it; it was hard to keep track of one person).

*I didn’t shoot this video, either.  In fact, I didn’t even bring my phone in the park; it stayed in the glove box of the car the whole day, so I don’t have many personalized images of this part of our trip.  Mr. Chili brought his camera, but he only took pictures of us before we started the day.

After the big waves subsided, we all decided that we were peckish, so we headed to the gift shop to grab a snack and made our way back to our towels for a bit of a rest (seriously; staying afloat in that wave pool is a LOT of work, and I don’t think you realize it until you’re out.  I can’t imagine being a lifeguard at that station; you’d have to be on high alert ALL the time).  Properly restored, we decided to take another trip on the lazy river to the other side of the park so we could check out the other tube rides.  We took a spin on the family flume ride (the tubes were big enough to accommodate all of us at once), we each took a turn down the body slides (those, frankly, are my favorites.  Tube rides are fun, but I like the body slides best) and then Bean and I did an individual tube ride while Punk and Dad beelined back to the wave pool.

The waves were still going when Bean and I hit the bottom of our ride, so we decided to make our way back to the Crush-N-Gusher for another go.  We ended up on the one run we hadn’t hit in the morning, and it was the best one, so we went on it again, then made our way back to the towels.  When Mr. Chili and Punk returned, we took them back to the Crush-N-Gusher to make that run and, by then, the park was starting to close.  We dried off, gathered our stuff, and made our way to the car.  We were pretty wiped out, but very, very happy.

The rest of the day was very low-key.  We went back to the apartment for dinner, then Mr. Chili, Punk, and I wandered down to the central pool to watch Big Hero 6 on the big screen (Bean was wiped and wanted to stay in the apartment scrolling through Tumblr).  The ladies had some trouble getting the movie to work (at one point, Mr. Chili got up and offered to help, it was that bad), but it was eventually sorted.  I decided not to stay through the whole film; I was tired and I didn’t want to pass out on the deck chair, and while I enjoyed Big Hero 6 when we saw it in the theatres, I wasn’t overly invested in seeing it again, so I wandered my way back home and did some reading.  Mr. Chili and Punk came back from the movie a little less than an hour later, and we all slept the sleep of the water-logged.  We wanted to make a relatively early night of it; tomorrow is our last full day here and we’re planning to have the whole Magic Kingdom experience.

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The Big Disney Vacation; Day Five

Today was a low-schedule day.  Our big plan for the afternoon was to see Avengers; Age of Ultron, and I had managed to make a plan for us to meet with a girlfriend from college (who was also one of my bridesmaids) who lives in the Orlando area for dinner.

We began the day in the apartment, enjoying a leisurely breakfast of cereal, watching the river, and generally chilling.  Mr. Chili got online and bought the movie tickets while I was texting with Anne Marie about where and when we should meet for dinner.  She and I decided on a spot at Downtown Disney called Paradiso 37, and I made a plan to head over there before the movie to make reservations (it’s Friday, after all).

We finished breakfast, tidied up, showered, dressed, and strolled down to the boat landing to catch the next run to Downtown Disney.  While we waited (we timed our walk exactly between the runs, so we were watching a boat leave as we were walking in the other direction.  It wasn’t really an issue, though; the weather was fine and we were on vacation), we admired the flowers, checked out what movie was going to be screened at the pool later tonight, and perused the gift shop for the resort for a Hawaiian shirt for Mr. Chili (he really likes the uniforms that the Old Key West employees wear, and was hoping to find a similar shirt in the shop.  No such luck, but it was suggested to us that we should stop by the Polynesian and check out their gift shop).  The boat arrived, we got on, and enjoyed a lovely float to Downtown Disney.

Bean and I hoofed over to the restaurant and asked the nice lady at the podium if we could reserve a table for 8 at 5:30.  That it’s Friday should have clued me in to the idea that making reservations might be a bit more difficult than I imagined, because that nice lady looked at me like I was crazy.  She could give me reservations, she said, but the only openings she had were all after 8:45.  Since Anne Marie and her boys wanted to make an early night of it (they’re running a 5k tomorrow morning), that wasn’t going to fly.

Undaunted, Bean and I headed over to the T-Rex restaurant down the way, but we got almost exactly the same story; nothing available until after 8:00.  I figured that the tune would be the same all over the place, so I texted Anne Marie to ask her to call a Macaroni Grille Mr. Chili and I had seen on our way to pick up the rental car to find out if THEY could seat us before bedtime.  She made the reservations while we were watching previews, and just like that, we had a plan.

The movie was good for what it was.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, though I liked the first Avengers film much more.  There were a couple of promising directions that the story started to investigate, but it never really followed through.  I think that a nuanced and in-depth story was sacrificed for action and special effects – which were good (see “the movie was good for what it was”), but I have to admit leaving the theatre a tiny bit disappointed.

The timing worked out that we needed to head right back to the boat to get back to the rental car to meet Anne Marie and her boys (her husband wasn’t able to join us).  That went pretty seamlessly; the boat we needed to get on was just disembarking its incoming passengers, so we were able to get right on.  We walked back to the apartment, got the car keys, and arrived at the restaurant literally just as Anne Marie and her kids were parking their car.

We had a lovely dinner together.  I hadn’t seen my friend in a very long time – years, in fact – and it was very nice to catch up.  She is a wonderful person, and I have long admired how she moves through the world.  She’s always seemed to me to be a little bit of peace and calm among the noise and chaos, and I aspire to her grace.  I was very, very grateful that she took the time to visit with us – and that she was willing to brave traffic on a Friday night.

After dinner, we said our goodbyes and made our way back to the apartment, where we enjoyed some ice cream and down time.  It was a quiet day, but a good one.

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The Big Disney Vacation; Day Four

EPCOT!

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If you’ve ever been to the Walt Disney World complex, you’ll understand when I tell you that the whole place exists in this weird vortex that does freaky things with time and space.  You’re there with literally tens of thousands of other people (the statistics I found say that visitation averages about 50-60 thousand people visiting a day), yet with a few exceptions, I never felt that there wasn’t enough room for everyone.  The place my husband chose for us to stay (Old Key West resort; it’s GORGEOUS) was spacious and quiet; there are 761 guest rooms at the resort, and while a block of them was closed for refurbishing and I suspect that the place wasn’t at full occupancy, we never once felt like we were jammed in with too much humanity.  We went during a relatively low concentration period, and while there were a few places where it was clear that we weren’t the only people on vacation that week, we were never overwhelmed by traffic, lines, or crushes of people.

The other weird thing about the WDW complex is that it’s situated in a relatively small area of land.  It’s only 43 square miles (for contrast’s sake, my little town is 384 square miles) but it houses four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios), two water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), the Downtown Disney shopping/dining/entertainment complex and a shit-ton of resorts and hotels.  Despite all this stuff on the property, the feel of the place isn’t that everything is piled on top of everything else.  It only takes a few minutes to drive from Old Key West to Epcot – we could see some of the Epcot fireworks from one of the bridges on the resort – but there is no other indication that everything is close together.  The layout and design – along with some very skillful landscaping – mean that everything feels spacious and open.

Our fourth day was planned as an open-to-close at Epcot.  We got up, showered, doused ourselves in sunscreen, piled in the rental car, and headed over (the trip took us exactly six minutes from parking lot to parking lot; I timed it).  We were guided to a parking spot (the location of which we all noted but failed to mark down in any kind of meaningful way; this will be an important detail later in my narrative), and walked to the front gate.

Our magic bands granted us entrance to the park, and the first thing we did was seek out the picture of Mr. Chili’s work husband’s kids on the legacy wall so that we could take a picture of us pointing at it and text it to him (he was living vicariously through us during our vacation week; he and his wife have a timeshare in Orlando and absolutely LOVE it there, but he wasn’t able to get away for this week).  That done, we stopped to admire some of the topiary (the International Flower and Garden Festival was still going on, much to my unmitigated delight), then we made our way to the big silver ball at the beginning of the park (see the picture above) to go on the Spaceship Earth ride.

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Because it was still early, we were able to pretty much walk right on.  We settled into our little pod (I rode with Bean; Punk and Dad were in the row ahead of us) and were welcomed by Dame Judi Dench, who is the narrator for this iteration of the ride.  We were treated to a slow-moving journey through the history of human communication from paintings on cave walls to the invention of papyrus and all the way through to computers and (mostly) modern communication (there was no mention of things like Facebook, Twitter, or text messaging; I think maybe the technology is advancing faster than the animatronics people at Disney can keep up).

I’d like to pause here to appreciate how awesome my daughters are.  As we were walking off the ride, the FIRST thing that BOTH of my girls commented about was the representation of a black woman in the computer section of the narrative.

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“Mummy!  There was a BLACK woman with NATURAL hair who WASN’T a secretary!  It was AWESOME!”

Seriously; that’s what they remember (well, that, and Bean noticed that the Romans were speaking bits of Latin that she could understand and translate, and that geeked her out).

We were still talking about the Spaceship Earth ride when we arrived at the Test Track.  Again, Bean and I were paired up and Punk and Dad went in together.  The idea here is that you “design” a car on a console and the details of your creation are loaded into a computer to be tested on the track.  Our car was a freaky looking thing – we didn’t know how much time we were allotted, and we may or may not have spent too much time fussing about color and wheel options.  Punk and Dad’s car looked better (“of course it does, Mom; Dad used to do this actual thing for a living!”), but at the end of the test, our vehicles came out about even.

Anyway, after you are shuffled out of the design studio, you’re loaded into a cart for the testing.  Another touch of the Magic Band loaded our design into our seats, and the car took us through a series of “tests” that measured things like performance, economy, aerodynamics, and such.

About 3/4 of the way through the ride, though, everything came to a sudden and unexpected stop (not a jarring stop, though; we were in a slow part of the ride).  An automated voice came over the speakers telling us that our “test trial has been temporarily suspended” and that we were to “please remain in your vehicle as it will begin moving momentarily.”  About ten minutes later, though, we were starting to get a little antsy and, just before I was about to give up and make a phone call, the ride started up again.

The fun part of this ride is when they take you outside and whiz you around the building.  Our little car got up to about 60 miles an hour on the straight away, and then we were pushed through a bunch of good, hard, positive G banking turns.  That part was a hoot, and I got off with a big grin on my face despite the long wait.

From there, we wandered about enjoying the flowers and the topiary and the butterfly exhibit.  We spent a fair bit of time oooh-ing and ahhh-ing at butterflies in the enclosure behind the Tinkerbell topiary pictured above.  I even managed to find a couple of dragonflies in the process.

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From there, we stopped for a few photo opportunities, then decided to make our way to the World Showcase.

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I think that Epcot is my favorite WDW park.  Granted, there aren’t a ton of rides, but there’s a zillion things to look at, and that is often more entertaining for me than roller coasters or swirling teacups.  We decided to “do” the World Showcase counter-clockwise, so we began our journey in Canada on the right end of the horseshoe that is that part of the park.

We wandered around the Canada exhibit, then made our way to England where we bought a snack (a couple of packets of British cookies) and took a little break.  There was some window shopping and some flower and topiary viewing and some general oooh-ing and aaah-ing at the spectacle of it.  We meandered over the bridge to France where we bought a (mediocre) crepe and found the Beauty and the Beast topiary and did some more window shopping (I got spritzed by some expensive French perfume in the process, which could have been much worse than it was; I saw her moving in and held out my left wrist for her prey.  The perfume wasn’t offensive, but I did end up washing most of it off in my next restroom trip).

Next comes Morocco, which turned out to be my least favorite exhibit; I was fascinated by the languages I heard being spoken in the shops, but the middle eastern aesthetic just doesn’t appeal to me, though the fountain and a lot of the tile work was exquisite;

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Observe the Bean, all grown up!

Next is my favorite part of the World Showcase; Japan.  I LOVE this exhibit.  Almost everything I’ve experienced about Japan and Japanese art and culture delights me; I think it’s all beautiful.  We arrived at the showcase in time to watch a taiko (drum) performance

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and then the girls and I spent the better part of an hour in the enormous, interconnected shops in the ground floor of the great hall.  I came this close to buying a lovely set of four rice bowls, each delicately painted with differently colored dragonflies, but decided against it; I’m trying very hard to simplify, and bringing more clutter into my life, regardless of how pretty that clutter may be, was counter to my purposes.  Bean got herself a little figurine of her Japanese horoscope animal (a little bunny with a teeny-tiny fortune tucked inside) and we delighted in looking at the art, sampling the incense, and admiring the kimonos and parasols and fans.

After roaming a bit, we decided that we were starting to get a little hungry (and a tiny bit cranky).  We’d built into our schedule for the day that we would go home for lunch (remember, we’re only about six minutes away). so we did a quick wander through the Germany exhibit (mostly to look at the model train set up), and then made our way out of the park.

Remember when I said we’d noticed – but not noted – our parking space?  Yeah; it took us a good ten minutes to find the damned car.  By the time we did, we were hungrier, hotter, and crankier than we were when we started, so the trip home was a good plan.  We enjoyed some sandwiches on the cool breeze of our riverside patio and I read portions of this website that Dingo sent me out loud to my family.  Mr. Chili was stressing a bit about our reservations in the China exhibit later that night, and this didn’t help to ease his concerns at all (though the bit about the Norway pastry shop and the tea stand in China had us laughing practically out of our seats… more on that later).  We made some plans for the rest of the afternoon, relaxed, and felt much better by the time we decided to return.

THIS time, we made a point of marking where we’d left the car (I love cell phone cameras; I just snapped a picture of the lane name and number) and then stopped in some of the shops that we’d buzzed by on our way out of the park a few hours earlier.  The girls were engaged in some low-level pin-trading (do you all know about this?  The idea is that you buy a lanyard or other pin-carrying device and any number of pins.  Then, you encounter cast members or other guests who are also displaying pins and, if both parties are willing, you trade.  The cast members are pretty good about it – they’re willing to give you anything they have – but you might run into resistance from non cast members (though the girls and I wondered why, if you’ve got a pin from which you’re not willing to part, you don’t just leave it at home; that’s what they did when they scored one they had no intention of trading away…) so we bought a couple of pins.  We found a GREAT one for Mr. Chili, who decided that he was going to have a Mickey silhouette theme going on his baseball cap; it was the Epcot ball with Mickey ears to go with his Great Britain and globe Mickeys, and it was perfect.

The rest of the afternoon was spent just wandering about the World Showcase.  We didn’t spend much time in the American exhibit (Bean wins the quote of the day with, “I think we’ve had quite enough of the “American Experience,” thankyouverymuch”), and we gave China only a cursory run-through (stopping, of course, to have a look at The Joy of Tea).  The girls and I sought out the “wyking mousse…with the horns” and I made sure to get a picture:

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We doodled around for the rest of the evening, had a smattering of dinner at the Nine Dragons restaurant in China (it was okay; I like our local Chinese food better), and then I found some ice cream while Mr. Chili staked us a good spot in the Japan showcase from which to watch the park-closing fireworks.DSC02561

It was SPECTACULAR.

We literally danced our way out of the park (I’ll figure out how to upload the video I took of Punk and Mr. Chili), found our car with no trouble (this time!), drove the six minutes home, and fell – exhausted but entirely satisfied – into bed.

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The Big Disney Vacation, Day Three

Subtitled, “You’re a wizard, Chili!”

Today was our big day at Universal.

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I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but Mr. Chili is something of a rocket scientist (no; literally.  He’ll tell you he’s “just a mechanical engineer,” but for the last decade or so, he’s been doing his mechanical engineering thing on shit that goes into space on rockets and does amazing and magical things. In MY book, that makes him a rocket scientist).  Last month, he was in Florida to witness one of his toys getting hurtled into space on top of a rocket.

He was here with one of his co-workers (who also happens to be a very good friend of his (I jokingly refer to Mark as Mr. Chili’s “work husband”) and, while they were here, they did all kinds of fun stuff and ate at all kinds of nice restaurants.  Mr. Chili felt bad that he did all those things without us (he’s good like that!), so we’ve been recreating his experiences since we got here.  Our first dinner here was at a lovely Italian place because he ate there with Mark and his wife while waiting for launch day, for example.One of the things that totally geeked my husband out was his trip to Universal Studios to see the new Harry Potter attraction.

We’d been to Universal a couple of times before, and we’d been to the Hogwarts/Hogsmeade site a bunch of years ago, but that didn’t prepare me for the literally amazing experience that is Diagon Alley.

We were among the first people at the park (on a “low attendance” day; Mr. Chili had crowd forecast maps… seriously) and made our reasonable way to the site (I only saw one or two people sprinting across the park; I gather that, on some days, the rush to the place resembles the Running of the Bulls, but I didn’t see anything even remotely resembling that on the day we were there).  Even the approach is magical; one rounds a corner and a street (specifically, Grimmauld Place) comes into view; row houses, shops, a BT phone booth, the Knight bus, and King’s Cross station.  Over a bridge, and you’re there.

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We stopped at 12 Grimmauld Place to take some pictures of the girls in the doorway (one of them pointing up at Kreacher peeking out from behind the second story curtain!), and to notice that the bricks on 12 are darker than the bricks that make up the rest of the row, then we made our way to talk to the conductor of the Knight bus and the shrunken head (does he have a name?), which is a very cool, interactive thing; it actually talks TO you.  The conductor asks your name, and the head repeats what you tell him and introduces himself.  They tell jokes, they sing songs; it’s all very cool.  Even though I really didn’t like the shrunken head in the movie, this was undeniably cool.

From there, we headed right to Diagon Alley.  The entry to the thing looks just like it did in the movie; the wall is open and the bricks are tilted and it’s just amazing.  The cobblestone street is lined with shops; Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes‘, Madame Maulkin’s, Flourish and Blott’s, a quidditch shop, a bookstore (which, much to my profound disappointment, was just a display), Olivander’s, and the FREAKING LEAKY CAULDRON!  Seriously; we spent the first ten minutes just gawking in geeked-out, nerdy amazement.

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The view up the street is to Gringotts, and the effect of it cannot be overstated; the dragon from the vaults is perched on top of the building, and every 20 minutes or so, the thing starts to roar and then spits out an enormous fireball, the heat of which can be felt from the street.  We decided, since the crowds were still really small, that we’d head to the “Escape from Gringotts” ride, and it was great.  We stashed our stuff in a locker and headed into the lobby, which was EXACTLY like it was in the film; giant crystal chandeliers, and goblins on high desks working on ledgers.  They’d occasionally look up at us – one of them nodded at me – and they each had little idiosyncrasies; it was fascinating and I’m a little sorry that we didn’t have to wait longer because I feel like I missed a bunch of really neat stuff in the lobby.  Anyway, the lead goblin at the end of the lobby directs you into the office behind his desk where our goblin guide comes to search a desk for the keys to the vaults.  After he roots around for a bit, Bill Weasley comes in to help, and to explain to us what we’re doing; we’re to get into an elevator to go down to the vaults where we’ll board a trolly for our tour.

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Along the way, of course, mischief ensues.  It turns out that we decided to take our tour at the same time that the kids were robbing Bellatrix Lastrange’s vault for the horcrux, and she and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named are tearing around trying to find them.  There are trolls tearing up tracks and swinging clubs at us, Nagini is hissing around, and at one point, I actually jumped from the 3D effect of a wall being blown apart (the ride is a combination odyssey and physical props, though the wall blowing out bit was 3D).  The kids mount the dragon and leave it to Bill to guide us safely out of the vault, but not before the thing spits his fireball and blows our hair back with hot air.

It was amazing.

After that, we collected our things from the locker and went shopping.  Really, even if you never buy a thing, the shopping is cool; there are quills and ink, there are badges and pins, there are ties and hats and robes and GORGEOUS real wool Hogwarts sweaters (the pretty dark ones with the red stripe at the bottom), there are quidditch ball sets and wizard’s chess sets and journals and train tickets and….really; it’s amazing.

We took in a show (we saw the Tales of Beedle the Bard troupe doing the Fountain of Fair Fortune), then we took in a bit of lunch at the Leaky Cauldron.  Bean had mac and cheese (natch), Mr. Chili had cottage pie, I had the Guinness stew, and Punk had an order of fish and chips.  Butter beer to drink (of course) and I had the Peachtree Fizzing Tea, which was yummy.

Thus fortified, we did some more shopping and sought out more magical spots.  OH!  I forgot to mention; when we landed, Mr. Chili headed straight for the Universal shop in the airport and bought a magic magic wand.  Apparently, there are RFID wands that, when swished around in specific spots, make things happen.  At the blacksmith, for example, magic magic wands (as opposed to plain old regular magic wands) work the bellows and repair some goblin armor.  At the stationery shop, a flick and swish makes a feather quill pen levitate.  There are spots all over the place, and while we had some trouble with some of them (the sun sometimes gets in the way, apparently), the overall effect is fantastic.

We walked through the streets, got a frozen butterbeer (Punk decided she wanted to try all the varieties; it comes cold, frozen, hot, and as ice cream.  She got everything but the hot; it was too warm outside for it), and then made our way through Knockturn Alley (don’t miss it; the Dark Arts shop is cool).  From there, we decided it was time to go to Hogwarts.

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King’s Cross Station is amazing (I’m using that word a lot, and yes, I DO know what it means, Inigo!).  The entryway has some sort of magical illusion that makes it look as though the people in front of you really ARE going through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 (the only bummer is that you can’t watch yourself go through).  When Mr. Chili came here a month or so ago, he was kicking himself for not stopping in the little British food shop in the queue, so we made a point of going in (there was no line at the time and people were just walking right by it on their way to the train) and buying a load of Aero bars (the sweet trolley goes by in the hallway of the train, but you can’t buy anything from it, so we had to supply our own sweets).  The Hogwarts Express is gorgeous; a giant red engine and a bunch of cars that are divided into cabins.  We made our trip from “London” to Hogwarts with just one other couple in our cabin, and it was wonderful.  The inboard side of the cabin is, apparently, some sort of shadow puppet screen; the kids go by (I don’t think they got Emma Watson to do the voice, though; I think the girl sounded much more like Ginny than Hermione), the aforementioned sweet trolley goes by, Dementors go by.  On the outboard side, there’s a movie screen that shows images of London, we go by the Malfoy estate, we watch dark wizards flying by on their clouds of black smoke, we see the enchanted car, and finally, we come around the corner and see the lake and the forest and the castle.  Hagrid greets us at Hogsmeade and there we are.

I found Hogsmeade to be less magical than Diagon Alley, but that may have just been because it was crowded and hot and there felt like less to do there.  Mr. Chili and Bean went on the Dueling Dragons roller coaster while Punk took a nap in my lap, then we got up and made our way to Hogwarts, where the girls and I got in line to go on the ride while Dad went to find someplace shady to sit.

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The queue takes you through parts of the castle, Professor Sprout’s greenhouses, and then back into the castle, where there are giant sculptures of famous witches and wizards (though I wish they’d had identifying plaques on them) and talking portraits.  We spent some time with the Fat Lady, wandered through the Dark Arts classroom, then were shown into Dumbledore’s office, where we were welcomed to a tour of the castle and a lecture with Professor Binns.  As we made our way into his classroom, though, Harry, Ron, and Hermione appeared on a balcony (they were under their invisibility cloak) and told us, sure, we could stay for the lecture, but it’s DEAD boring (as Professor Binns is, in fact, a ghost), and they’d be willing to sneak us out (“It will require a bit of magic,” Hermione told us) so we could see a quidditch match.

We were loaded into benches and then Hermione cast a spell on our group and we were thrown through the floo network which sent us outside where we met Harry and Ron in their quidditch robes.  As we passed a bridge connecting two parts of the castle, we found Hagrid holding an empty chain leash asking us if we’d seen a dragon (oops!), then we swooped under the bridge and ran into said dragon.  The dragon proceeded to chase us, Harry, and Ron into the Dark Forest where Ron fled from the spiders (which spit at us) and, as we tore through the forest, Hermione told us to follow her voice to get out of the forest.  We flew to the end of the quidditch pitch where we found Harry and Draco.  The snitch flies in front of them and they jostle each other trying to get at it.  Then we ran into Dementors.  Harry cast a patronus spell and we left him to deal with them while we flew around the moat and into the castle dungeons – the Chamber of Secrets, to be specific.  We dodged the skeleton snake and collapsing beams and eventually made our way out into the open again.

From there, we flew to the observatory of the castle, flying down and through the castle, through the great hall, then passed by the quidditch team congratulating us and Dumbledore welcoming us back to visit any time.

All of that was provided for you courtesy of Bean; I had my eyes closed through most of the ride.  Motion odyssey rides wreak havoc on my system, and I didn’t enjoy the ride at all.

After that, we found Dad and the girls decided the wanted to go on the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, so I held everyone’s stuff and watched them roll by (this being a family friendly coaster (“all positive Gs,” says my husband), they all came off with smiles), then we decided to get back on the Hogwarts Express and head back to Diagon Alley and some of the aforementioned butter beer ice cream (which was yummy) while we watched Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees do their singing thing.  Bean found a couple of things to buy in a shop (a gift for her best friend and a sweatshirt for herself) and then we decided it was time to go.

We went on the MIB ride in the next section over, and that was fun.  You’re put in a cart, given a noisy cricket sort of ray gun, and told to shoot as many aliens as you can find.  Our boat earned a rating of “celestially average,” which is much better than we did the last time we went on that ride; Will Smith told us that time that, if we hadn’t been in a training simulator, we’d all have been bug food.

After that, the girls went on the Simpson’s ride and Mr. Chili and I sat our butts down for a bit.  Once the girls were back (it’s another motion ride, they said, and we’d have hated it), we made our way to the Rock-it roller coaster so Mr. Chili and Bean could partake (Punk and I found a bench with a good view of the first part of the coaster ride to wait).  They both came off smiling, and Bean said she wanted to do it again, but we had reservations at the Hard Rock Cafe and needed to head over; besides, we were all pretty hungry by then.

I don’t think I’ve ever eaten at a hard rock before, but I enjoyed it.  The food was pretty standard for these kinds of chains (Punk and I shared a burger, Mr. Chili got a bbq chicken sandwich, Bean got chicken fingers, and we split a plate of potato skins between us), but the atmosphere was a hoot.  The music was way too loud (we gave the waitress our orders through a complex combination of sign language and menu-pointing), but everyone – from the guests to the wait staff to the busboys and hostesses, was singing (and occasionally dancing) along.

A quick run through the gift shop (where Punk bought a tee shirt and got $10 off with the coupons one of the roving managers left at our table) and we were off for home again, exhausted but delighted.  It was a really, really good day.

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