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Review Walnut Street Theatre Production of Hairspray

My middle daughter is in love with the theatre, and being raised in the age of High School Musical and Camp Rock, she is especially fond of musicals.  She can sing and dance and just about recite every line in the movie version of Hairspray, so we were thrilled to see that one of the shows being produced during this year’s subscription was Hairspray!

Of course, the night we had tickets, we forgot, and had to call the theatre and re-book.  We’re such idiots sometimes.

This was well worth the wait – and the expense – of rebooking!!  Highlights of the show included Michael Walker, portraying matriarch Edna Turnblad.  Funny, with a believable maternal tenderness, Walker’s Edna was a character to remember.  And as a mom to a daughter who is better than average in the size department, seeing Amy Toporek’s Tracy Turnblad was an absolute delight!  She rocked the role as the plus sized, but determined to find her way in the spotlight of acceptance, Tracy. 

The only complaint I have is possibly the busy curtain in front of which a good bit of the action took place.  Not necessary.

Eilis was so in love with this show, we almost bought tickets to see it again a second time.  We may still before the run is over – it really was that good.  Energetic, uplifting, and always nice to see plus sized girls get the guy, get the respect, and get the spotlight.

I’m Taking a Poll

What is your reaction to gifts that you either don’t want, don’t need, or don’t like?

As a child, I had a grandmother who LOVED to buy us dresses.  Every Christmas and Easter, she would go to the Ugly Dress Shop and purchase for my sister Bean and I the most horrible creations ever produced by the early 70’s designers.  The dresses were always itchy, uncomfortable, God awful patterned monstrosities that sometimes actually fit us.

My mother had no trouble telling us how butt ugly these dresses were.  But she told us AFTER we got them home, away from my grandmother.  My mother never made us wear the dresses, but when my grandmother gave them to us, we had to be polite, be gracious, thank her, and act as if she were handing us an original Dolce and Gabbana couture collection gown.  So we did. 

It was that way with any gift we received.  If it was something we didn’t want or didn’t need, my mother would help us find someone to re-gift an item to.  If it was something that didn’t fit us, it would get passed on to someone that it would fit.  But NEVER did you tell someone you didn’t appreciate the thought behind the gift by telling them to their face that you didn’t want the gift.

Well, apparently, this particular lesson was lost on my husband.  He sees absolutely NO problem with telling someone to just give him cash for an occasion (which we were NEVER allowed to do in our house), or telling them once they’ve given him something “Thanks, but I don’t want it.” 

I cringe everytime someone gives Jim a gift.  I think it’s so rude to show anything but appreciation that someone has taken the time and effort to purchase something with you in mind. 

So, someone tell me I’m right!  Those that side with Jim will have access only to my blogs about bad restaurants, boring movies, and rotten kids.

Carnival Vacation Club Update

A very gracious reader made a comment on a previous post I made about the Carnival Vacation Club, which you can find here – http://skamarakas.com/anna/2008/08/05/carnival-vacation-club-the-little-engine-that-couldnt#comment-618 .  It reminded me that I had not taken the opportunity to update the situation with the club, or the cruise we ended up taking using the Carnival Vacation Club points that my in-laws purchased.

Let’s just say that there won’t be much business from our family coming towards any incarnation of the Carnival Vacation Club.  To begin with, salespeople wearing Carnival Cruise Line uniforms pitch this program to you, and every piece of documentation features the Carnival Logo.  But this is NOT Carnival.  If you try in any way to get satisfaction for the disaster that is the Carnival Vacation Club through the cruise line, they will not be able to offer you any assistance.

My in-laws used their points to book a trip for 7 of us on the Grand Princess.  We jumped through hoops to get people to call us back, to address issues, to fix problems.  We called the vacation club, we called the cruise line, we called Carnival, and left more messages in hopes of getting return phone calls than we could keep track of.

The free airline certificates that were promised to my in-laws never materialized, and the resort vacations were so limited in availability and location, that they were completely useless.  The cruise ended up costing them all of their points, plus additional thousands of dollars, but the insult in the whole thing is the fact that the cruise could have been purchased for less money in cash than in what was paid for in points.  Even the guy on the phone at the vacation club cautioned us not to buy more points to cover the additional passengers, warning us that it would be more money to buy the points than to pay for the cruise outright.

It’s nothing but a scam, and the fact that Carnival has accepted money to allow these people to use their name, their logo, and their uniform is an embarrassment to a reputable company.  I don’t know what is being pitched now to unsuspecting, happy cruisers, looking for a bargain and a way to enjoy a discounted vacation in the future, but beware.  Don’t sign anything until you’ve done your homework – and that should convince you that your signature is way too valuable to put on any Carnival Vacation Club documents.

I’m Still Cute…

And yes he is.  My husband was telling his daughters how before he met me, his existence was barely worth living, dating teenage girls at the mall, having free time out the wazoo, sleeping in when he wanted.  Poor him.  But when he told them he was dating teenage girls at the mall, I had to remind him that he was 20 years old when we met, so it’s not like his 40 something year old self was attracting the cream of the 16 year old crop!  In his disbelief that I would allude to the fact that he might not be attractive to a group of teenyboppers, he asked if he was still cute.  I’ll let you be the overall judge, but I certainly think he is.  You could just melt looking at those dimples….

‘Twas the Day After Christmas

And I’m having a bitch of a time trying to pry my husband’s arse off the chair to go do some after Christmas shopping and exchanging.  I’ve been up since just after 5 AM, thanks to the mystery munchkin, who sneakily crawled into bed with us in the middle of the night.  She may be small, but she takes up an awful lot of room.

Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty


Anyway, if I get nothing else, I wanted to stock up on holiday paper goods for the party I insist I am not having next year.  And I love to pick up wrapping paper at 70% off!  I had to pick up a few rolls this year, and hate paying $3 a roll for paper that is going to be ripped and shredded all over the house.

We had a very nice time at my mom’s on Christmas eve.  The girls got some wonderful gifts, and I got a cute leather jacket.  We had my mom’s traditional ham and potato salad, but there was also roast turkey and all kinds of snacks, cookies, and chocolates.  I know why I needed gastric bypass surgery!  We came home to find, as usual, Mrs. Claus has been here while we were away!  She always leaves us one gift to open up on Christmas Eve, and it is always Christmas pajamas for everyone!

The kids actually slept pretty good on Christmas morning.  Eilis and Jim were up first, but it wasn’t long before they were looking for Granuaile and I.

   Little did they know that it’s not a good thing to wake Granuaile before she has had the appropriate amount of unconscious time.

Brighid was the last one to come down the stairs, and she immediately begins regretting asking Mrs. Claus for those cute little boxer short Christmas PJs and wishes she had warm toasty PJs like the rest of us!

The kids all had a great time opening gifts – and it took a good two hours for them to get through the pile!

They’ve been playing Rock Band pretty much non-stop since yesterday afternoon.  I have been praying for an agent to come here and take them on tour.  No, seriously, get these people out of my house! 

We opted not to cook a big meal on Christmas day and have snack foods instead.  It sounded like a good plan to begin with, but it ended up being cook-a-palooza for me!  I made a big breakfast, which I usually do on Christmas day (scrapple, grits, eggs, cinnamon buns); and then made dips, appetizers, cheese platters, grape pizza, and zucchini squares.  It was way more time in the kitchen than it would have been if I had thrown a ham in the oven and kept it there.  But everyone enjoyed the food!

Brighid was the first to fall asleep – on the sofa around 7 PM.  I went up to bed around 8:45, watched a little TV, then fell asleep.  Jim came up after Eilis fell asleep on the chair downstairs, and Granuaile followed.

It was a Merry Christmas – peaceful, quiet, and wonderful fun for the girls.  And that’s really what Christmas is all about.

2008 Christmas Party Wrap Up

Alrighty then.  This is going to be MUCH different from years past, because I was so completely unorganized this year – I know, no difference there – and the party really didn’t come off very smoothly.  Let’s discuss, shall we?


This is my stepmother, Ann.  She will forever be known as my absolute savior and true hero.  I protested this whole party from the beginning.  Not only did we book a cruise at the last minute and spend a week between Florida and the Caribbean, I also spent those 5 days in Florida for my moms panel training.  There was barely time to do the Christmas shopping, let alone the decorating, cooking, and cleaning it was going to take to get the house ready for company.

My stepmother, ON HER DAY OFF, came over and helped me clean the house.  She scrubbed both bathrooms, top to bottom, and left with them sparkling and smelling clean.  All I had to do was throw fresh linens in there and we were good to go.  Then on the day of the party, with me falling behind on everything, she showed up early and not only finished running the sweeper downstairs, she also swept the floors, and helped get everything out and ready.
Were it not for Ann, our guests would have been sitting in dust and clutter, and starving to boot.  I had even enlisted two of Brighid’s friends to help.  They tried.  But they are teenage girls.  Nuff said.
This year, the menu is determined mostly by my mother – who is not even coming to the party!  She won a tailgate party for 30 people from the local grocery store, and because you have to use the food before Christmas, she gifted us with the party food!  Not exactly a holiday menu, but we don’t have to cook some of the stuff, so it’s good.  We had a six foot Italian hoagie, crab bites, hot wings, sodas, chips, potato salad, and a HUGE sheet cake.
I figured since the menu was simple, the old standbys would be good.  We cooked sausage and meatballs, a roast turkey with stuffing (Ann’s recipe – she really had a huge impact on this party – did I mention that yet?), and kielbasa and sauerkraut.  I had all the typical snacks – chips and dips; cheese and pepperoni; shrimp; and a pickle and olive tray.
Desserts I went lighter on due to the enormous sheet cake we had coming in, but still put out a couple of cookie trays, a pumpkin pie, and some cheesecake bites.  We added to that a small sheetcake that Harry and his family brought, and some delicious chrusciki that Aunt Barbara made (using Grandmom Holak’s recipe). 
What went?  Turkey was a favorite this year, and we used about 3 feet of the 6 foot hoagie.  We had nearly a whole crockpot of meatballs and sausage left over, which is rare.  I had almost no stuffing left, and half of the chicken wings were eaten – spicy though they were. 
We went through about half of the sheet cake – but some of that was gifted to people as they left.  Most of the cookies are gone, and the cheesecakes got thrown away.  There was just a bite or two of pie left. 
The plan for next year?  RUN!  This is so hard to do year after year, and Jim wants the big party without participating in the work and preparation for a big party.  As part of my stay at home mom gig, there is some assumption that I am equipped to handle this type of thing.  Nope.  I fell behind in the house cleaning as it was with two vacations right before the holidays, and had mountains of laundry to do.  Granted, Jim washed most of it, but nothing got folded.  Then when you add to the race I was already losing the fact that decorations had to be put up, two Christmas trees decorated, and this party to throw, it’s a lot and it’s overwhelming.  I am going to have to seriously plan out next year’s event if we’re going to have it again – beginning with cooking things in advance weeks before.  And next year, in the absence of his assistance, he’s going to have to hire people.  This is way too much work for me, and Brighid and her friends will be off at college.  If I were a betting woman, I would bet the only way this party is happening is with a good caterer and cleaning crew.

Checking in – The Carnival Imagination, Thanksgiving 2008

My apologies for taking so long to get this blog posted!  It has been in my save box for a year, and I’m finally taking the time to get caught up on things!

DAY 1 – Jim drops us all off at the terminal, and he goes to park the car. Because she uses a wheelchair, they take Dot in through the VIP entrance, and she and Russell take the girls in with them. I wait for Jim outside, then we get in line. The line really moves pretty quickly, and within a half hour, we are on the ship. We are told when we check in that our cabin has been switched, and we are now in E-30. This is next door to Dot and Russ, which is where I thought we were supposed to be anyway. I asked when we checked in if the new room would still accommodate a party of 4, and I am assured that it will.

We come onboard, and we head to lunch first thing. The doors to our deck are closed, saying the stateroom is not ready until 1:30. Dot and Russ are already there with the girls, so we go up and find them. This is our first taste of the chaos that is the Lido deck. Mobbed in an understatement, and there is such confusion! They have multiple stations, which is fine for the pizza and sandwiches, but there are two sides of the buffet inside, both of which have different things. Then there are two grills outside on the deck. One offers mongolian BBQ type items, the other one is a grill with burgers and hot dogs. But the lines for any of them are incredibly long. The sandwich line is at least a 20 minute wait, and the pizza line is really deep. I get in the buffet line on one side with Jim, but I want to try things from the other side. That means waiting twice. Outrageous. I am glad when lunch is finally over.

It is just after 1:30, and we can go down to our cabin. We open the door and find the two lower singles pushed together to make a full size bed; and there is one upper bunk. But we have two kids in our cabin. Jim calls the pursers desk, and they assure us that a rollaway bed will fit into the room for Granuaile. We doubt that, and he asks for someone to come down. A woman comes down and she says there is no way they can get a rollaway bed in the room. She says we’ll have to wait for a cabin steward to come and see what he can do to situate the room. Jim insists that they send someone immediately, but she says they don’t come on duty until 3 PM. He doesn’t want to wait that long, because if we don’t all fit in this room, we are not going to be able to stay on the ship. She says she will have someone come as soon as she can, but she doesn’t see how they are going to get another bed in here.

Rather than wait for something to happen, Jim calls the 1800 Carnival line that we used when we booked the trip. He gets someone on the phone who says they never should have been able to book 4 people in the cabin we are in. He puts us on hold, but when he gets back on the phone, he is back pedaling and claiming that they can indeed get a rollaway bed in here, and on the sailing before ours, they did fit 4 people in this cabin. We are in serious doubt. They are trying to reach someone on the ship who can come and get us sorted out.

Eventually, we do see a cabin steward, who says it is not possible to get a rollaway bed in our cabin, but they can put a mattress on the floor. Um, no. No one wants the baby to have to sleep on the floor. He says he will bring a rollaway bed in and see if he can make it fit. We are back on the phone with the 1800 number, one cell phone has already died, and the second is on it’s way. The staff here are incredibly uncooperative, and we are now being told that the pursers’ desk is involved in a medical emergency and unable to help. Someone will call us back.

The ship has set sail, we have missed the on deck sail away party, and we are getting ready for the muster drill. We are obligated to attend the drill, so we go, although there is definitely a damper placed on our first day of vacation.

We walk back after the muster drill, Granuaile sleeping in Jim’s arms, and we walk into our cabin to find out that our cabin steward has returned, set up a bed, and now we are unable to walk in the room. He has set the bed up so it fits, but in making it fit, we have zero access to any part of the room. To get to the bed for Jim and I, we have to walk over the bed he set up. We cannot walk around the foot of the bed, because with Eilis’ upper bunk down, the foot of the bed meets the side of the upper bunk, so you would have to be about 3 feet tall to make that work. We cannot get into the desk, or the drawers, and now unless you are sitting on Granuaile’s bed, there is no place to sit in the room. We are immediately back on the phone to both the purser’s desk and the 1800 number to see who can help us. The purser’s desk is still embroiled in a medical emergency. The 1800 number tells us they have called the pursers desk and been assured that we are the number one priority after the crisis has been concluded. We have no option but to wait for something to figure itself out. The first day of the vacation has been miserable, there is a definite lack of customer service, and we are beyond frustrated.

It is out of that frustration that Jim starts playing with furniture. He eventually moves the baby’s bed in such a manner that it fits up against the wall at the foot of the big bed. We are not going to be able to use that floor space at all, but we can now use the desk, the chair, the dresser drawers, and we have the ability to get to our bed without stepping on Granuaile. Whoever sleeps in our bed by the window will have to climb over the other person to get to the bathroom, but at least we don’t risk stepping on Gracie.

It appears that everyone else has gotten their luggage on our deck, so we ask someone who says that there is some luggage they can’t identify down in the lobby. Now, when we checked in and were given the new cabin assignment, in addition to insuring us that we would have room for 4 people, they assured us that our luggage would be properly re-routed. We come to find out that our bags were delivered to the original cabin we were supposed to be in. Those people – THANK GOD – told the staff they were not their bags, and those bags were deposited down in the lobby. Jim went down to the lobby, and there sat our bags, among a group of others with no identifiable tags, with the original tags on them indicating the other stateroom number. I wonder what Carnival does if they deliver your bags to a cabin where someone decides to just claim it as their own? Thank goodness for honest people.

We went back to the cabin, luggage in tow, and unpacked our bags.  The ship is so crowded, with a lot of family reunions, hundreds of kids, and it just seems like this might be more hectic than restful.  I’m not terribly optimistic that we are going to have a peaceful and quiet holiday.  But the Christmas decorations are pretty, the drinks cold and fruity, and we’ll do our best to have fun and make it work!

It Is the Day Before The Day that is Christmas Day!

I am heading out to the supermarket to pick up snack type food for Christmas.  It is one of the only times I can ever recall when we will be home for Christmas day – no company coming, no clothes to put on, no fancy food to put out.  The plan is to enjoy the girls opening their gifts; make a nice, hearty Christmas breakfast that includes some favorites for everyone – like scrapple and grits; and instead of a heavy Christmas dinner, we’re going to nosh on appetizers, dips, and snacks for the day.  Even mom is taking the day off!

It’s so wonderful to have all three of my girls here with me.  I don’t know what next Christmas holds for this family.  Brighid will be well into her freshman year at college, and while I hope and pray and have sacrificed the necessary gifts to the gods of Please Don’t Let My Kid Forget About Me When She Moves Out, you just don’t know what her life has in store for her for next year.  This truly could be the last Christmas I have them all here, under my roof, able to enjoy being together.

Well damn, I just made myself so teary, I can’t see the mistakes I’m making!!

So, Mrs. Claus has chosen some lovely pajamas for everyone, and she will leave them on the steps while they are at Dram’s today for Christmas eve dinner.  That is the only gift they are allowed to unwrap Christmas eve.  Eilis has a plan to fall asleep under the table, so she is certain to wake up when Santa gets here.  I think this is her last year to believe.  She’s asking for photographic evidence of reindeer on our rooftop this year, so we may have to have the talk where you threaten to break limbs if the older sibling reveals to the younger sibling that there is no fat guy coming to eat the cookies and leave presents. 

If you have ever received a written invitation to our annual holiday party, you know I have a collection of holiday quotes that I love, and I’m gratetful to have the opportunity to use them this time of year!  This is one of my favorites, by Hamilton Wright Mabie –

“Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love!”.
Believe in the conspiracy, people. 
Happy Christmas!

Got Jesus?

You think this is going to be a religious post, don’t you?  Then you must be a visitor here, and let me introduce myself – I’m Averse to Controversy, nice to meet you.

We’re having our annual holiday open house tomorrow.  So far, we have about 80 people who have RSVPd, but we generally end up with a few more or a few less, depending on the weather and cold season.  The year it was 60 degrees and sunny, we had more than 130 people!! 

As it is Christmas, I have been trying to teach Granuaile about the baby Jesus, and what Christmas means, and how this is Jesus’ birthday and all that sort of stuff.  She really seemed to be grasping things.  I thought.

So, my stepmother came over the other day to help me get ready for the party.  And Granuaile attaches herself to Ann like velcro.  And she is telling her all about our party, and how it’s Baby Jesus’ birthday, and it’s going to be a great party, with Granuaile and Baby Jesus playing all day long and into the wee hours of the morning.

Yes.  Somehow, the kid thinks there will really be a baby Jesus showing up here tomorrow to have Happy Birthday sung to him and to play with her.

How do you disappoint this little face??

Wrapping Up – The Last Bit of the Weekend

After the torture of the video taping, we head to Teppan Edo for lunch.  We are scattered around 3 tables, and I’m honestly very glad that I’ve had the opportunity to sit near just about everyone on the panel and get to know each of them just a little bit more.  I feel like these guys are family – we’ll be living the same experience for the next year, and I think even if we weren’t able to bond over Disney, these are people I’d still want to be friends with.

Lunch is wonderful – thank you Margaret for the scallops recommendation!  Don’t you love the show the chefs at the Hibachi perform?

After lunch, we have another bit of a photo shoot to do outside the restaurant.  We have to line up on the stairs and a couple of promotional videos are made.  We gather a bit of a crowd, as it’s obvious something is going on, with 16 people lined up on the steps like we were and a camera crew gathering.  I’ve heard that people on reality shows get so used to the cameras being there that they start to forget that they are there.  Are these people on drugs?  The whole time the camera crew is around, I’m worrying about the lack of support my girdle is giving me; whether or not the grey roots are showing through my recently touched up hair; how much botox would have cost before I left; and all sorts of other things people with cameras in front of them should be thinking about.

We just about have time to pack into the bus and head to the Magic Kingdom for a Guestology Tour.  What a great tour – culminating with a ride on the Haunted Mansion and a lovely pin!  I loved this tour!

We head back to Coronado, where our time is very brief.  I take a few minutes to pack up some things so I can sleep a few minutes later in the morning.  We are back on the bus and headed to EPCOT before I know it.

Tonight, dinner is at Bistro de Paris – what a great restaurant, and what HOT waiters.  What is it we have against the French, anyway?  Obviously, the anti-French have not seen the waitstaff here.  The French are our friends, people!  And the more single we are, the closer friends we should be…..

After another amazing meal, featuring so much food it’s embarrassing, we race to catch the Candlelight Processional.  This is my MOST favorite thing ever at any Disney theme park.  I own several CDs of the show, and I can count on less than one hand the number of years I have missed it since Brighid was a baby.  Having just seen it the week before, I get a little homesick waiting for the show to start, wishing my girls were here, but once the first trumpet sounds, I am captivated!

Our narrator tonight is actress Virginia Madsen, and she is enthusiastic and emotional, and really a pleasure to watch.  The pictures I have were actually taken a week before, so if Virginia Madsen looks a lot like John O’Hurley, let’s pretend it’s the lighting…

After the end of the Candlelight Processional. we are escorted to our own private viewing area to watch Illuminations.  There is a lovely dessert buffet set up, and hot coffee and tea to drink – which is so welcome in the cool Florida night air.  I’d love to be able to think of something funny right now, but I’m actually just overcome with emotion at recalling how spectacular Illuminations was, how terrific the weekend was, and how sad it was to see it all come to an end. 

Leeanne is not going back to the hotel with us, so everyone hugs her, thanks her, and says goodbye.  It is the first official closure to the weekend activities 🙁

We left EPCOT and hopped onto the bus back to the Coronado Springs Resort.  We all kind of stood there a few minutes, then everyone just started hugging and saying our goodbyes.  We are all on different flights tomorrow, and although some of us may be taking the same Magical Express transportation to the airport, most of us are pretty well scattered on different trips.  It is so hard to say goobye to these people!